Backlog #28: Madame Bovary (1991)

Arrow Films’ eight-film boxset “The Claude Chabrol Collection” features seven films that the titled director made between 1968-74, all psychological crime thrillers, all low-key slow burners snugly housed within Les Trentes Glorieuses and all very good (four in my view, as I will outline later, are brilliant).

The last and latest, in this extremely good value collection of classic French cinema, was made twenty years after the rest and stands apart from the rest so much, you’d think the compiler was either ignorant, padding the box out or just having a bit of a joke. The eighth film in the collection is a competent literary adaption, of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Well-made, yes. Worthy, more than a little. Interesting, not really.

The performances are all perfectly fine. Jean Yanne’s charisma is still there and actors playing Bovary and Rodolphe are more than OK. As the heroine, Isabelle Huppert is superb as you’d expect, but she’s too old really (although her casting isn’t quite as memorably misguided as that of Audrey Tatou as Thérèse Desqueyroux, a virtually identical example of this kind of dull-but-worthy genre).

From a British perspective, it reeks of a classic-drama-on-ITV-sunday-night TV movie piece, produced to tick boxes and meet tax and budget allowances for 1990. Perhaps that’s too cynical a view on my part regarding our noble recent tradition of mass market drama; Madame Bovary is a quality film, it just is little more than an adaption for the sake of one. It leaves as much of an impression as an advert for a Renault 25.

Backlog #29: Anne and Muriel (1971)

Nowhere near as good as Jules et Jim and a good deal duller: for a start, the two English girls, whilst very worthy, aren’t Jeanne Moreau. JPL’s flaws as a leading man aren’t going to help much either: he isn’t a Henri Serre, let alone Oskar Werner – whilst he can pull off a convincing seventeen year old suffering from inertia, an interesting romantic hero he can not. Whilst the earlier film had thrill in its first third and then reflection (albeit overextended); Anne and Muriel meanders inexorably between Paris and Snowdonia as young Claude listlessly liaises with the titular heroines. Watching three people fall in love can be as tedious as watching just the two.

The film is partially redeemed by the intense emotion of the reunion tryst at the end (Stacey Tendeter is excellent here) and, as you’d expect, the excellence of Georges Delerue and Nestor Almendros.

Hermann with a Type 50

I finally got to the end of the thirteen parts of Danger UXB the other day. Danger UXB is a fictional dramatisation of the activities and lives of a Royal Engineers bomb defusal section, dealing with enemy munitions during the blitz of 1940-41 and the years following. It was broadcast in its 50 minute installments in early 1979 and was made by Euston Films, the film production arm of the independent station Thames. A moderate success, it was overshadowed by the more successful Euston Films series made around it, such as The Sweeney and Minder.

It’s bloody good stuff. All of the episodes feature one or more intensely gripping bomb defusal sequences, where the bomb defusal officer (primarily the lead character Brian Ash) engages with disarming the fuse of a series of more and more difficult explosive devices (from using a widget to short the fuse’s circuit to drilling its casing and steaming out the explosive to disarming the fuse by dowsing it in liquid oxygen). If his nerve fails, or he is just unlucky, can incinerate him in a millisecond and leave a crater 100 feet wide.

One of the series’ creator John Hawksworth’s goals was to present an accurate history of the progression of bomb development on the Nazi Germany side from the viewpoint of the British military, civil defences and expertise of scientific academia attempts to combat its ingenuity and destructiveness. Although this aim of technical accuracy went to the length of 10 minute lectures of bomb development being trimmed down at the insistence of Hawkworth’s bosses, the viewer is appreciative of the insight offered.

Another goal is to present a portrait of life in a lethal and intense area of military responsibility, of the realities of military life in mid-20th century England and more widely, of general life in London during the blitz.

As he no doubt intended, it made for great television, for example the sequence in the second episode where Ash, tackling a scorching bomb that is embedded in the wall of a burning factory, that he has no chance of defusing cleanly, decides to task a calculated risk and kicks the bomb out, trusting that it will land intact.

As I’ve hacked this attempt at an overview out, I could write a hell of a lot more than 400 words about this series, but I’d probably best come back to it another day.