Les Tribulations d’un chinois en Chine
The suicidal scion, ennui-ridden child of fortune, must have the Kafka nightmare applied to him, that he may know felicity.
Matthau modeled himself on Belmondo in A New Leaf (dir. Elaine May).
A damned amusing, grand film, where it’s “six-thirty as usual” in Jules Verne’s N domain, among other things.
The more she strips behind her fan (she wears it), Ursula Andress, the more fully-clothed she is, a joke from Méliès.
Insurance metamorphoses the charade into a gangland killing at the behest of the prospective mother-in-law.
Hong Kong is the center of the action.
A French critic says, “hélas, la magie n’est plus là,” the Catholic News Service Media Review Office says “failed”, it played the Paris Theater in New York as Up to His Ears and Robert Alden of the Times there called it “a dandy.”
Le Roi de cœur
The heathen Heinies prepare to depart, miserable as God leaving France. The entire town has been made a booby trap for the enemy general (cp. Is Paris Burning?, dir. René Clément), a Tommy’s sent in to defuse it.
“Herr Oberst,” a certain Adolf enquires in 1918, “meine Weltanschauung?” De Broca and his Méliès nutters, all that is left of the evacuated town, entertain “ein Schotte”, the Scotsman, for so he is, whilst les boches seek him out.
Explosives are not his pidgin, “ornitholography specialist”. Le Balcon (The Balcony, dir. Joseph Strick) or Le bally con is implied in the lunatics’ vocations, if not Castle Keep (dir. Sydney Pollack). The system of names from the vegetable kingdom suggests the Parnassian nomenclature faced by Rimbaud, at the very least.
He is the King of Hearts in the game, crowned at the cathedral (Ophuls’ Le Plaisir for the putains, in the town square Forbes’ The Madwoman of Chaillot). “The fish in the pond, the bird in the bush, the lamb in his wool, friends in our thoughts...and ourselves—in our voices... like the scent of the rose. That is grammar and the Law. We have decided to be happy... and nothing can stop us!”
J. Hoberman (Village Voice), “specious whimsy.” TV Guide, “charming antiwar fable”.
One finds Rimbaud in odd places, Antonioni’s The Passenger, and “The Return of the Hero” (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, dir. Herschel Daugherty). The famous final image (or nearly) of De Broca’s film is from Jacques Becker’s Ali-baba.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “a theme that even Bizet might have found vieux chapeau.” Time Out, “excessively whimsical”. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), “totally false... outrageous... if you’re feeling muddleheaded, you might find yourself charmed and enchanted by the conceit.”
De Broca films one of the most famous bits in all of French literature, “I have strung ropes from belfry to belfry; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.” A concrete blockhouse bears the weapon, sealed. “I’ve got ‘o get in there!” Time Lock (dir. Gerald Thomas) has a similar literary theme.
As Antonioni does, and Daugherty, De Broca gives the impression that the full weight of his art is thrown into the balance. “D’un côté les putes, de l’autre les généraux! Ah oui, tu as raison. La vie est simple.” Why a Briton? Because Will Hay wrestled with a bomb on Big Ben in My Learned Friend (dirs. Dearden & Hay).
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “heavy-handed whimsy”. Welles’ The Stranger (and Les Tribulations d’un chinois en Chine) on the belltower.
The hilarious final battle on the town square, in which ignorant armies clash by night or nearly, raised the critics’ wrath most particularly (this was to be the ending of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, too close to Dr. Strangelove, he decided).
Rimbaud was not come to destroy but to fulfill “grammar and the Law.”
Le Jardin des Plantes
The title has been given in English as The Greenhouse, but what is being referred to is evidently the zoo and botanical gardens in Paris’s fifth arrondissement. De Broca’s style encompasses “Je vous salue Marie”, Giulietta degli spiriti, Fanny and Alexander, Le Roi de cœur, Zazie dans le métro, Little Miss Marker, Gregorio y su ángel, Le Ballon rouge, Jeux interdits, City Lights, Atlantic City, and Hope and Glory, all of which are cited, sometimes with the utmost subtlety and sometimes as a lark.
This stylistic ease and fluidity is remarkable enough in itself. Isolating scenes for analysis sort of misses the point, as they are constructed with a very pliable scrim, you might say. The execution of the hostages is shot from a distance at an angle as a night exterior, with the headlights of a Gestapo car small but glaring in the far background, and pulls back slightly to bring Bonnard into frame. It’s a composition related to George Segal’s Holocaust monument (here the isolated figure faces the scene), but its precise delicateness of touch makes it an independent relation.
There is a constant supply of very charming jokes (a Francophile guard is named Wenders, a British paratrooper eyes the rhinoceri and says, “quel rosbif!”) amid a sense of disillusion and despair brought by good sense and common decency to some of the acts of heroism that made up daily life under the Occupation.