La Féline, 1942 (dir. Jacques Tourneur)

I named my musical incarnation after this movie, La Féline (Cat People), that the French immigrant Jacques Tourneur directed in Hollywood during the Second World War. It features Simone Simon as Irena Dubrovna, a deranged stylist convinced that she descends of a cursed Serbian community, that makes her transform into a dangerous feline when she feels angry or jealous.

It's supposed to be a horror movie, yet the horror scenes are never explicit, precisely to enhance the trouble, like for instance, in the very famous scene of the swimming pool where Alice – that Irena considers as a rival – is surrounded by the growls of an invisible animal threatening her, in synchrony with the moving reflections of the light on the surface of the water. Alice wonders if she hallucinated, but when she gets out of the pool, she finds her peignoir lacerated and torn to pieces.

With this sense of the elusive, where the sensations are both intense and shifty, and with his way to disclose Simone Simon’s animal elegance, the subtle fierceness on her sweet face, Tourneur mastered what I probably prefer in movies: the play with the occult and the obvious, reality and the shimmer of our projections, the ambiguity of life and people, that you can never overtake, in the end.

Similar for its way to explore the inmost depths of desire, but in a quite different style, colored, psychedelic, ‘cinetic’ (like the art of one of the characters in the movie), I would also advise the superb La Prisonnière by George Clouzot, 1968.


L’Enfance Nue, 1968 (dir. Maurice Pialat)

Maurice Pialat invented a very peculiar cinema all along the sixties and seventies that can be seen in complete opposition with, for instance, the aesthetics of the Nouvelle Vague (although François Truffaut helped to produce this film): no dandies, no French Parisian sense of humour, no lightness nor seduction. Most of the time, Pialat’s movies of this period are very silent, played by unprofessional, rural, uneducated actors, acting their own life, in the country, or where the city is not especially fashionable.

L’Enfance Nue is the story of François, a child from the Public Assistance, carted around from one family to another because as he grows old, he becomes more and more difficult to adopt. Families pass him back one after the other, and he ends up with an old couple, Pépère and Mémère, where love and affection seem eventually reachable. What follows is heartbreaking. Think My Childhood by Bill Douglas, for the naturalism and the bareness, except that Pialat’s movie is in colour: the colour of sadness, due to abandon, but mixed with the last traces of hope.


Nashville, 1975 (dir. Robert Altman)

I am a big fan of a lot of Robert Altman’s movies, like John Mac Cabe, or the incredible Three Women. But Nashville might be the greatest shock, maybe because it is about the music business, during the fantasized period of the '70s about the conflict between the Nashville’s Institution, The Grand Ole Opry’s traditionalist, and established industry and the emergence of a new « outlaw » generation. The filming is partly behaviourist, a bit distant, documentary-like, refusing most of the cinematographic effects that would allow identification, that would comfort your feeling that one character is on the right side. It is cruel about what it is to aim to an artistic carrier as a singer, and cruelly true.

I love the scene when Barbara Jean, the adulated country singer, getting a bit old in the business – let’s say in her late thirties – starts to divagate during a show, talking about her mother, their relationship. This classic topic of country songs turns to an awkward public confession, her voice breaks, she cries, and nobody knows how long the silence that follows will last until it becomes really uncomfortable, definitely non-spectacular. Nashville is all the way long dealing with the question of authenticity, and it happens where it is not expected.


Hard to be a God, 2013 (dir. Alexei German)

I read that it took Alexei German almost six years to shoot the movie, and six more years for its montage and postproduction. It is adapted from a Russian science fiction novel, in a way that only Russian directors — like Tarkovsky, Klimov, or Vlacil — would do it - like a total fresco of humanity — unless that the action here is supposed to take place on another planet, in Arkana, where a group of scientists have been sent in a mission. There, it is all about dirt and villainy, low instincts and human stupidity. But the movie is at the same time incredibly beautiful, all in black and white, and variations of grey.

Every sequence looks like a vast painting, comparable to Hieronimus Bosch’s ones, filled with details, small scenes and apocalyptic visions, like this dog crossing the screen hobbling along with an arrow stuck into his body. Sent to this filthy planet where people seem to live like in some very obscure Middle Ages, the main character, Don Rumata, is sometimes playing a sweet jazz melody on a sort of clarinet, maybe as a souvenir of the beauties that Humanity was capable of. (Even for the spectator, music allows moments of relief among the grunts and screeches and the permanent chaotic chock of everything – things and human beings, excrements –, during the whole movie). But then a child stops and says: "What is this? I hate that sound." This is probably the most desperate vision of it all. I wouldn’t say it is a very entertaining movie, but certainly a unique and brilliant one.


Peking Opera Blues, 1986 (dir. Tsui Hark)

Last but not least, a hong-kongese comedy, a rejoicing modern vaudeville, even if it is also a drama, a poignant melody, and a breathless action movie. Tsui Hark looks there like a juggler in full possession of his means - adventure, laughter, tears, theater, ballet, comic — no need to choose, it is all mixed in this homage to Chinese opera.

The story itself is both hard to tell and disarmingly fluent on screen. As China enters a period of political confusion, three women join forces - the rebellious daughter of a general, wore and dressed like a man, a failed actress and a little thief. And the three characters/actresses are unforgettable and unforgettably free - their social positions, but also their gender, their identity, are constantly an object of play and of joyous experimentations. That sense of movement and fluidity works suggestively with the depiction of China’s firmly structured traditions at the beginning of the 20th century. Suddenly, without any denial of the current tragedies, Tsui Hark reconciles us with humanity.

***

La Féline's new album, Triomphe, is out now via Kwaidan Records. Listen to 'Séparés (Si Nous Etions Jamais)' below.