Row House makes a boring movie bearable
If you think that “French v. Hong Kong New Wave” sounds inaccessible and pretentious, you’re right. Even so, I was compelled by my love of film and French to leave my warm dorm room for the chilly streets of Lawrenceville Friday night. Full disclosure, I could only sit through one of Row House cinema’s four screenings of both French and Hong Kong new wave films. Don’t get me wrong; the theater was lovely, clean, and entirely functional. The film, however, was hard to get through (potentially due to my underdeveloped film knowledge — pun intended).
I’m pretty clueless when it comes to film-making and film history, so here’s the relatively minimal context I learned for this film screening: New Wave is a film movement that is characterized by significant innovations to the medium (like location shooting) as well as a uniquely socially conscious voice centered around cultural and political issues of the time. French New Wave is attributed to filmmakers of the 1950s and ‘60s who were moving away from the mainstream period pieces largely written by French novelists. Row House showed Made in the U.S.A. and Le Cercle Rouge to illustrate the work of this movement. Similarly, Hong Kong New Wave sought to upend the status quo by creating grittier, rougher films that were also distinctly Hong Kong. Their films were made in Cantonese, the dialect of most residents, rather than the industry-dominated Mandarin films that were shot by transplanted mainland filmmakers. The spirit of this movement was shown with the screenings of Fallen Angels and The Killer at Row House. I’m fairly certain that the parallels between the New Wave movement in different countries are vast, complicated, interesting, etc. Unfortunately, I know nothing about them and was drawn to Le Cercle Rouge mainly because of my conversational knowledge of French.
Le Cercle Rouge is about two men and their male friends as they plan and execute an “elaborate” heist. Main characters Corey and Vogel are attractive criminals who are mustachioed and clean-shaven, respectively. Corey is sprung from prison after making a seedy deal with a corrupt prison guard in which he agrees to do one last job. Meanwhile, Vogel escapes from a train bound for an especially secure prison and is now on the run from the French police. From the moment that Vogel dives into Corey’s trunk, the two are fast friends, and begin plotting a good old-fashioned jewelry heist once they get back to Paris. I won’t spoil the ending, because it was pretty unexpected. However, like most of the movie, it was also anti-climactic.
Overall, I had the same general thought as I always do when watching old movies, which is “aww.” It’s usually an, “aww, that’s cute” with mild condescension and apology at the parts that feel obsolete. Still, there are valuable moments of perspective that can be gained from old films. For example, scenes from Vogel’s train escape yield some remarkably beautiful and enlightening images. First, we are shown the open and solitary countryside and forested areas where Vogel has taken shelter, and soon after, this visceral landscape is quickly transformed by the occupation of myriad police officers as they form lines and begin to comb for the fugitive. The once peaceful and isolated hillsides are now swarming with beings, creating an intense atmosphere for the chase. This type of imagery is timeless.
Additionally, although the film takes a general crime drama format, there are many unexpected moments scattered throughout that take a strangely light-hearted tone. For instance, there are two different scenes that depict the uncompromising detective, Mattei, at home, feeding his three cats. The cats are not integral to the plot in any way, so I’m led to believe they are there for comic relief and character development. It’s scenes like this that feel quintessentially “old-fashioned” because they are stripped of every gimmick, reliant on their premise in order to be funny. I appreciate it because it makes me wonder about what was considered funny back in the day and how things have changed. Maybe 45 years ago it was crazily absurd for a full-grown man to go home to an apartment of cats and be so loving towards them. Maybe, it got some belly laughs back then, but this is usually one of the points where I think, “Aww, how cute,” and move on.
Overall, the film was a drag, but the beer selection was great and the seats were decently clean and comfortable. Row House likes to have fun with its audience by discounting ticket prices to patrons that are in costume, and offering a Twilight Zone pinball machine in the lobby. Needless to say I’m excited to go back next week for a series of Miyazaki screenings in full costume. In general, I recommend visiting Row House Cinema on Butler St; just don’t go to see a film that you know nothing about because you’re told that it’s old and important.