Criterion Sunday 64: The Third Man (1949)

There’s a certain kind of ‘cinema of quality’ prestige big budget production, especially from the UK, that I am somewhat allergic towards, and for many years I’d lumped The Third Man in with that. However, rewatching it again recently I realise the problem is with me when it comes to this film, because it’s not only glorious — and it truly is spectacular, even if just for the depth of its shadows and the luminosity of the light in those sewer sequences, though it’s sustained throughout by canted framings and canny compositions — but it’s also rather less triumphalist and morally clear-cut than you might expect from its American-in-Europe plotline. The film’s world is one of moral grey areas, a position staked out by the Harry Lime character (Orson Welles, in what amounts to a brief but memorable cameo), and constantly questioned by its pulp novelist protagonist Holly (Joseph Cotten). He has come from the US to Vienna just after the end of World War II looking for a job with his friend Harry, only to find himself at Harry’s funeral wondering what happened. No one has a clear story, and the details seem to be being hidden by the various forces — the city is split between four occupying armies, with their own respective languages — as well as various shadowy characters who interact with them at an official or semi-official level. It’s a film about profiteering, which makes clear the moral equivalency between wartime acts and those same acts outside wartime. It also features some excellent performances by Cotten as well as Alida Valli as Lime’s girlfriend Anna, but primarily it’s a triumph of writing and direction, whatever snobby canards towards Carol Reed’s “non-auteur” status the critics might throw.

Criterion Extras: A packed reissue includes an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, retailing the Reed-as-non-auteur line pretty hard.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Carol Reed; Writer Graham Greene; Cinematographer Robert Krasker; Starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli [as “Valli”], Trevor Howard, Orson Welles; Length 104 minutes.

Seen at Paramount, Wellington, Saturday 2 May 1998 (and most recently on DVD at a friend’s home, London, Sunday 29 November 2015).

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Before Sunrise (1995)


FILM REVIEW || Director Richard Linklater | Writers Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan | Cinematographer Lee Daniel | Starring Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke | Length 97 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), June 1997 (and more recently on Sunday 16 June 2013) || My Rating 3.5 stars very good


© Columbia Pictures

With Before Midnight, the third in the trilogy, coming out in cinemas next week, I wanted to re-visit the story so far. This first film is from 1995 and introduces the series’ protagonists Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy). It turns out that it’s set on 16 June (1994), making my timing in re-watching it rather auspicious. While fashions may have changed in 19 years, this story of two earnest young people in their early 20s finding love while on holiday is still immensely charming.

That date of course is not arbitrary: it is set on ‘Bloomsday’, which is to say the date on which James Joyce set his novel Ulysses, another story taking place in a single city over the course of a single day. It’s a nice little tip of the hat, though looking for further parallels would probably be stretching things, as Before Sunrise is primarily a romantic film about two people getting to know one another. It’s that journey which forms the entirety of the film — the way they connect with one another via conversation — starting on the train where they meet and then wandering around Vienna, from where Jesse is imminently flying out back home to the States.

What’s charming about the film is that it doesn’t try to be anything more melodramatic or forced, it just wants to follow the natural rhythms of their conversation in the course of their wandering. Through what they say, the two reveal themselves to each other and to us: Jesse is embittered by a recent failed relationship, while Céline is impassioned about social justice and the state of the world. Some of their discussion brings to mind a certain kind of cynicism and ennui familiar from the 1990s, while a lot of it is just the natural earnestness of 20-somethings who still have their lives ahead of them, and want to change the world, or at least make their mark.

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