Playing Wed March 14 at 7:00 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
Coverage of the “Hysterical Excess: Discovering Andrzej Zulawski” series at BAM thru March 20: J. Hoberman for the New York Times; Kristin M. Jones for The Wall Street Journal; Michał Oleszczyk for The House Next Door; plus our roundup on Possession. Stay tuned for an Alt Screen feature from Dan Callahan.
Subtitles are projected live care of BAM and the Polish Cultural Institute, so suffice to say, this is an all too rare opportunity to catch this one on the big screen.
Jeremiah Kipp provides further convincing, for The House Next Door:
Beautifully photographed in expressively vibrant hues by renowned French cinematographer Jean François Robin, using the visual style of Żuławski’s camera that pursues actors as they careen through streets, up winding staircases, and rushing through hallways into common spaces that they routinely demolish hand-over-fist, L’amour braque is one of the best kinds of entertainment: unclassifiable. Opening with a heist with the fluidity of a musical number timed to the choppy nervous rhythm of heavy breathing and adrenaline-infused panic, four men with guns, dressed in jumpsuits and Disney character masks, bash their way into an opulent bank. The handful of robberies and break-ins throughout the movie are punctuated by a purple haze of bombs going off, flamethrower carnage, and cackling verbal nonsense that’s a crazy mix of pidgin French, slang, poetry, pop culture references and allusions (some literary, some historic, some seemingly private jokes meant to throw us off).
The dialogue was written by Etienne Roda-Gil, a much revetred, audacious experimental songwriter taking his first stab at screenwriting. The resulting text moves beyond Dostoyevsky and is nowhere near the self-conscious cool of Beneix or Besson films. It seems to have been written in the spirit of radical, love-crazy joy and hot idealism, as well as a belief that we’re all damned in the end. Roda-Gil and Żuławski are an inspired team, both radical spirits willing to push for something beyond our narrow definitions of naturalism, and the sheer soaring reach of the script winds up getting much closer to the depths of the human heart.
Travis Crawford for Film Comment:
Demonstrates that, beneath the “hysteria” that tends to dominate most discussion of his work, there lies a rigorous formal approach (eye-catching wide-angle shots and fluid mobile camerawork) and an intense thematic focus. The chaotic nature of Zulawski’s subject matter should not overshadow the discipline of his vision.
L’Amour braque (85) is one of his most aggressive and unhinged – Zulawski’s own description of the film is “epileptic.” Here, Sophie Marceau, the filmmaker’s longtime personal and professional muse, careens through a frenetic free-form riff on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot as filtered through a neon cinéma du look gangster saga.
Alt Screen contributor Michael Atkinson, also for Film Comment:
It’s easy to be inflamed when characterizing Zulawski, because he is himself a creature of extreme experience. Take a fairly prototypical example: L’Amour braque (85), a Tourette’s-syndrome French-gangster version of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, in which an opening bank robbery sequence is performed (by actors and camera) as if by the Ritz Brothers on acid, the soundtrack a caterwaul of hoots and yowls, the claustrophobic framing of the actors threatening at any moment to give way to hysterical Hair-like dance numbers. In which the dialogue is a stylized, rhythmic pidgin even French audiences had difficulty deciphering. In which Woo-style shoot-outs bloom out of lovers’ agony and blaze over a pink Cadillac’s hood in front of the Folies-Bergere. In which homicidal rapists do handstands before setting their victims on fire. In which every moment is acted as if at the absolute peak of skull-splitting emotional crisis-spontaneous vomiting and seizures are commonplace..
A preview from Callahan’s Alt Screen feature:
There’s a highly erotic scene in L’amour braque (1985) where Marceau ties up the male lead, puts make-up on him so that he’ll look “ridiculous,” throws him on a bed, sucks in her phenomenally plush lower lip, then dribbles a foamy white gob of spit onto his face. This is a very charged moment, and what makes it so is the sense of the man’s wide-eyed emasculation.
The spastic people in Zulawski’s movies are always stomping and charging and striding into rooms while his often rather low handheld camera shakily follows them as they have their street theater-like seizures (“Shift asses! Shake heads!” cries a hooligan in L’amour braque). He favors these handheld shots to match the combustibility of his characters’ emotional states, and he makes grave physical demands on his players.
Zulawski violates just about every mandate of what might be termed a well-made film, ignoring plot, structure and sometimes character to just survey the chaos he keeps whipping up, where brief moments of intellectual or even spiritual insight streak across the landscape of his films like heat lightning. His despair is genuine, and it seems to have a religious basis. “You got religion?” asks one punk of another in L’amour braque, and the other punk cries, “No!” but it’s obvious he wants some.
Daniel Bird on the challenge of subtitling the film, in collaboration with Zuwlawski, to The House Next Door:
Żuławski is a real writer. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with him on the English subtitles for Mondo Vision’s forthcoming DVD releases of L’Amour Braque and L’Important c’est d’amier. L’Amour Braque was a particular challenge—it was written by Etienne Roda-Gil, an anarchist and surrealist who wrote song lyrics. The French dialogue is a mixture of verse, slang and quotations. I spent two weeks over Christmas with Żuławski working hard to come up with English dialogue that preserved the rhythm and melody of Roda-Gil’s French, not to mention finding equivalent colloquialisms and similarly crazy imagery. It was hard work, but I learned a lot from Żuławski.
Tumblr user Elektra Luxx shares her favorite snippet of dialogue:
‘Love, love, we fuck love. In a few months, your girlishness, beauty and youth has disappeared. You have grown old and your face scares me. Reaching rock bottom drives reality towards self-destruction, as if beyond the last dam there is only deathly slime. Now you’re just anyone. You’re back on the market stalls. You exist through your love affair. But it’s not you who sets the prices of what’s on offer. The hand that turns you inside out so cruelly is the hand that dictates the law of the meat market. The murderous paw of a creature that finds pleasure in watching actors getting wasted, lustful like dogs, tails wagging.
Bird discusses Zulawski’s process and that particular excerpt with Moon in the Gutter:
It was interesting to see how Zulawski adapted the screenplay, particularly from the first two books of Jerzy Zulawski’s ‘Moon Trilogy’. Also, it was interesting to see how Zulawski had imposed his ‘artistic personality’ onto the project, particularly through his uses of ellipses in the narrative. Zulawski identified passages taken from The Gospel According to Thomas, Meister Eckhart, Buddha, Norman Mailer to name just a few. Also, the language is so overwrought, and bizarrely poetic that it sometimes poses a real problem to translate. Take that excerpt.
I mean, it is not often that you come across such dialogue in a film. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of the dialogue you are supposed to write for film. Working with Zulawski on dialogue is demanding, often exasperating but always exhilarating. For all the chaos in his films, Zulawski is very disciplined filmmaker. He’s always very prepared and focussed. I have yet to hear him say ‘what are we doing today?’
Erich Kuersten for his blog Acidemic:
An insane little miracle which prefigures the anarchic Joker scenes in The Dark Knight, including the maniacal burning of mass amounts of money and gleefully lysergic/anarchic assaults on the conventions of the bourgeoisie and capitalism! Did Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger see this movie? Or are they and Braque’s director Andrzej Zulawski birds of a feather? Or is Zulawski more like a slavering psychedelic poet, post-Panic Movement/post-gialli post-Godardian in his heedless kineticism, surfeit de style and spastic physicality? Or did someone just dump LSD into the Parisian water supply, like they’re supposed to do in that Goat-staring film? Any way you slice it, Zulawski is is an original and it’s just a real treat to find an underseen auteur of his maniac caliber presented so lushly.
But you would think that two hours of nearly nonstop shouting, kicking over vases, affronting the mores of capitalism and frothing at the succulently lipsticked mouth would grate on your nerves, but Zulawski is such a master of pace and rhythm that he never gets you too worn out or cranky. And what works too is that though these guys are all insane–and maybe this is just the French way–all the passers-by and authority figures go along with their gags; everyone’s got a sense of humor and when a crazy Marxist sticks a gun to your temple in Zulawsksi country, it’s considered declasse‘ to panic or plead. One must do the right thing and smile and pat the man’s hand in encouragement and go into a calm, submissive state (Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan). Sudden gunfights erupt, cars get smashed and people run around throwing smoke bombs and breaking windows and all it gets from the gendarmes is that famous Parisian shrug. What ever happened to these kind of films?
Adisakdi Tantimedh for Bleeding Cool:
A completely bugfuck adaptation of Dostoyevski’s The Idiot that relocates the story to contemporary Paris with bank robbers and gangsters, it was the movie that made Sophie Marceau a star in France and she also ended up living with Zulawski for the next 17 years. I could almost picture a pitch meeting: “It’s The Idiot, only the innocent, saintly “idiot” is a bank robber with a heart of gold, his evil best friend is a gangster and the woman they both fall in love with is a femme fatale!” Come to think of it, I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t tried to do a straight version of this pitch, but Zulawski’s adaptation is anything but straight. The obsessive love triangle at the heart of The Idiot seemed to give Zulawski the perfect vehicle on which to hang his recurring themes: the destructive, screaming, psychotic nature of Love. There’s a feeling of sheer fucking insanity throughout the movie and I think that’s Zulawski’s point about Love. Zulawski draws on different references in filmmaking, taking his cues from comics, Eastern European theatrical theory that favoured intense and unrestrained primal screaming from the actors, the crime genre, Sam Peckinpah and a sly political outlook. Naturalism and realism were completely optional to him: why have people walk into a room and talk to each other when you can have come run in screaming at the top of their lungs, occasionally hit someone and then run out again? Then there are the high-speed car chases and machine gun fights, just because he can. It’s like a parody of what you think European arthouse movies might be if you were on speed. It moves at a frantic pace, there’s nothing slow or lugubrious about it at all, there’s lots of sex, nudity, blood, violence and then there’s the oddball poetic wordplay and puns to keep things from getting too dull. And the thing is, it’s not a mess. It’s made with the utmost planning and calculation – you can’t film those elaborate scenes of actors screaming and fighting with each other in a single take without a lot of preparation. You can’t film a high-speed car chase with shoot-outs and crashes on the streets of Paris without serious planning. This was filmmaking with the utmost discipline, even if the story was completely batshit. If you crossed Michael Bay with Andrei Tarkovsky, you might end up with someone like Zulawsiki. He has a completely unique and comprehensive point of view and he’s managed to get the funding and resources to realize it. And this being France, it’s a hit.
Kipp also issues a disclaimer:
If you’re just starting out with the films of Andrzej Żuławski, best not to dive into L’amour braque first—though it’s one of his most rewarding films if you’re up for his cinema, which western audiences often feel is cranked up to a fever pitch of intensity that veers into overacting. Yet somehow we’re able to accept the rhythms of David Lynch, which are hyperreal in their own way yet pushed in the opposite direction, so slow it seems to be happening underwater or so entrenched in subconscious yearning that we label it “dreamlike” when in fact it’s more “real” in its portrait of American life than most cinema, period. Żuławski, on the other hand, is aggressive, eruptive, vibrant, and sometimes the characters lapse into seizures and lose control of their bodies or wind up bleeding spontaneously or shrieking in a kind of anarchic passion. Why do we have an easier time accepting David Lynch’s quieter level of super-activity, whereas Żuławski is often considered too much? It’s the human heart splashed onscreen like the durable, noisy muscle it is, stripped of false sentiment and politesse. And L’amour braque, which could be translated as “mad love,” is maybe the best title of any Żuławski film.
But there are additional demands on the viewer for L’amour braque, including a narrative that is straightforward but obscured (or illuminated, depending on how you feel about the content) by the poetry of the language. While Żuławski isn’t making this film as some kind of snooty game for smart people to play “guess the reference” (you feel his cinema more in your entire body, really—including your very guts), one has to be adventurous and willing to ride the wave of satire, allusion, loquacity, and the stitched-togetherness of it all, as well as the ultraviolence; it’s a thick, tastebud-blasting stew of high culture and pulp convention, two qualities that don’t often go together, but truly are what we get from someone like Dostoyevsky. Remember, he doesn’t spend 500 pages philosophizing in Crime and Punishment before the murders take place—there’s a brutal shock less than 100 pages into the book, followed by a second murder so unfair and unexpected that it’s a slap in the face, followed by a long stretch of guilt in the aftermath of horror. L’amour braque is like that: an action picture for those curious to discuss what morality is, what love and trust and goodness are all about, and how difficult they are to realize in this crazy and unpredictable nightmare world. And ultimately, at the end of the day, you’re either with it or you’re not. But I hope you can catch a sense of my enthusiasm from this review—are there any others willing to take the plunge into the maelstrom of love and madness?