Now-or-Never Movies of the Month

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12/02/2008 12:31 PM |

On three successive Tuesdays beginning today, the French Institute Alliance Française spotlights the well-nigh unknown Quinto and Jean-Gabriel Albicocco. The L’s Cullen Gallagher thinks you should see their movies, and says as much, below.

Looking for some great movies that you’ve never heard of? Something off the Criterion-beaten path that is just waiting to be rediscovered? Throughout December, the French Institute will be highlighting the work of two filmmakers who have unfortunately fallen through history’s cracks. Refracted Light: The Films of Quinto and Jean-Gabriel Albicocco examines the unjustly neglected careers of this father-and-son team. And since none of their movies have been released on DVD (and only one of Jean-Gabriel’s was ever released on an unflattering VHS, now long out-of-print), this series is really a golden opportunity worth taking advantage of.

The series opens today with son Jean-Gabriel’s debut feature, The Girl with the Golden Eyes (La Fille aux yeux d’or). Made in 1961 in the wake of the cinematic explosion known as the French New Wave, the film is astonishingly well-composed and assured in its style. The black-and-white cinematography by father Quinto is entrancing as it plumes the moral depths of its characters, and manages to capture both the seductive glitter of their upper-class milieu, as well as the unsettling moral ambiguity of their actions. Recalling Louis Feuillade’s silent serial Judex (1916), we are introduced to the main character, a handsome young man wearing an oversized feline mask, as he circles a scared young girl and alternates fingering a dark rose and sharp knife, all the while a blazing fireplace casts a theatrical spotlight on this charade of performance and perversity. The film’s score by classical guitar virtuoso Narcisco Yepes only adds to the atmosphere of elegance and exoticism. Accompanying the film is an early short by Agnes Varda, The Riviera—Today’s Eden (Du Côté de la Côte) (1958), which Quinto photographed.

The centerpiece of the retrospective is The Wanderer (1967) an adaptation of Alain-Fournier’s novel Les Gran Meaulnes. Like a rural fairy tale, the film begins with a young boy getting lost in the woods; like Alice, he ends up wandering through the proverbial "rabbit hole" and into a seemingly supernatural world of enchantment. What begins as a boarding school Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) soon turns into an elegiac tale of lost fantasy and the life-long struggle to recapture a fleeting moment of magic. Starring as the mystifying beauty is Brigitte Fossey, best known for her roles in Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games (1952), when she was only six years old, and in Francois Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women (1977). Outdoing even himself, Quinto’s cinematography evokes the intoxicating beauty of the imagination through a pallet of smeared hues, shimmering lights, and wide-angle lenses that bend the image to his every whim. The only one of the Albicoccos’ films to ever be released on video, the print was cut by more than ten minutes; thankfully, the 35mm print screening at The French Institute is listed as the complete 115 minute version, restoring the missing scenes.

Closing out the series is rarely screened He Who Must Die (Celui qui doit mourir) (1957) by ex-pat American-in-Paris Jules Dassin, whose Hollywood career came to a premature end when he blacklisted due to his Communist background. Jean-Gabriel was Dassin’s assistant on this film about tensions surrounding Turkish immigrants in Greece during a theatrical production of the Passion. Preceding the feature is another early short by Varda — this time, O Saisons, O Châteaux (1958) – that also features Quinto Albicocco as cinematographer. Like everything else in the series, both Varda shorts are nearly impossible to see. But this is what great repertory programming is all about: resurrecting lost gems and giving them a new life. So, put your Netflix queue aside for a few evenings, and enjoy a truly cinematic experience with two filmmakers who define the splendor of the big screen.