Movie Diary 5/5/2019

The Fall of the American Empire (Denys Arcand, 2018). I can’t say I have always loved Arcand’s French-Canadian interrogations of society (which include Jesus of Montreal and Stardom), but watching his new one, I found myself grateful for his ambitions and his longevity – and the regular kvetching. This one is a kind of loose descendant of The Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions, but it also functions as a heist movie. Given our grifter culture, how can this not be appropriate? Arcand’s penchant for sweeping pronouncements and fairy-tale touches is still present, and so, splendidly, are two of his regular actors, Remy Girard and Pierre Curzi. It’s not always clear how we’re supposed to take all this; Curzi, for instance, plays an investment banker (or whatever the slippery term would be) whose actions are probably responsible for the world’s problems, yet we end up rooting for his latest machinations to work, and the actor’s weathered charm is irresistible. Whatever its flaws – and it has its share- the movie is pleasantly grown-up. (Screens in May at the Seattle International Film Festival.)

Greater Love Hath No Man (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1911). 16-minute Gold Rush western, with a plucky but inconstant female miner moving from one man to another. But the emotional heavy-lifting is done by “poor Jake,” the spurned lover, who will sacrifice himself in the end to protect his former ladylove from marauding – ah – “Mexicans,” who seem to be causing problems at the camp. The film ends with rousing action, including a dense final shot in which dozens of men and horses are choreographed to maximum effect in the frame. If undisputed early-film pioneer Guy-Blaché wasn’t a great director, she was certainly a heckuva producer.

Falling Leaves (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1912). Consumption and a miracle cure are the elements of this extremely effective 12-minute heart-tugger, which shows enough dynamism within the frame to suggest that indeed Alice Guy-Blaché was a great director, or at least a gifted one.

Tramp Strategy (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1911). Comedy of mistaken identity too complicated to summarize, except that it allows a tramp to infiltrate a fancy home and have himself a high old time, which involves some very funny moments and interesting games with audience sympathy.