Directed by Chantal Akerman
August 10-16 at Anthology Film Archives
Max et les ferrailleurs (1971)
Directed by Claude Sautet
August 10-16 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
It would be hard to conceive of a more passive soldier of fortune: khaki-clad Almayer (Stanislas Merhar)—gone sallow in the jungle heat, and trapped in a hopeless goldmine-spoils reverie—only seems to rise from his chair when he hears the low rumble of a boat approaching. Another man, the trader Captain Lingard (Marc Barbé), appears to have made all of Almayer’s decisions for him: where to live, whom to take for his wife (the Malaysian Zahira), and where to send his mixed-race daughter, Nina (Aurora Marion), for a course of proper European instruction.
In Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman’s loose Conrad adaptation Almayer’s Folly, the principals lash out impotently against their worldly positions, but a story moves forward nonetheless. Lingard succumbs to illness—one of the most striking images of the film, shot by Rémon Fromont, finds him drifting on his deathbed in a flooded room—and so he’s no longer able to pay Nina’s tuition. She returns home, her spirit broken by the curriculum. Almayer claims his love for his daughter is all that sustains him, though his contempt for her native country seems to deepen; he begins to sing Chopin loudly whenever he hears the place’s “inferior” music. But he must eventually face his daughter's departure with a wanted militant.
Akerman privileges natural continuity—the abstract shimmering patterns that light and rain form on the water’s undulating surface, the dense maze of the jungle flora, the rhyming pale blues of the river and the sky—over the more prosaic plot-point variety. Exactly when and where Almayer’s Folly takes place remains unclear; most of the trappings suggest the mid-20th century, but a city-streets scene reveals what appear to be new-model cars; characters make reference to Malaysia, but speak Khmer. Combining this unsettled setting with a rapt raw-durational approach, Akerman creates a fly-buzzed pocket out of time, in which the entire colonial enterprise seems to be collapsing into heat paralysis.
Documenting a more proactive (and less emblematic) pushback against midlife ineffectuality, the late Claude Sautet’s 1971 film Max et les ferrailleurs (aka Max and the Junkmen) is just now getting its New York theatrical premiere, capping Lincoln Center’s rehabilitative career survey. A stone-faced Michel Piccoli stars as Max, a former judge now doing detective work in a Paris of card games and smoldering ashtrays.
Unlike Almayer, riches are not his object—Max has a private income. That he always seems one step behind the bank robbers he’s pursuing has made him the object of derision among his colleagues, so he contrives to lure broad-shouldered fellow former serviceman Abel (Bernard Fresson)—a scrap-metal merchant whose spotty record includes a Foreign Legion stint in Indochina—into organizing a bank-branch stickup that Max can then swoop in to stop. The detective poses as a boastful banker during chaste sessions with a German-immigrant prostitute named Lily (Romy Schneider), who eventually reports the easy-mark particulars back to Abel, her live-in boyfriend. (Later, we see Max meticulously repairing a mantel timepiece, as if in sly acknowledgment of the premise’s long-shot clockwork.)
Lily and Max gradually develop a meaningful tenderness, but the film is more social portrait than doomed romance. Sautet shows Abel and his in-over-their-heads accomplices (some of whom are “not quite all there,” according to one detective) enjoying carefree communal life in a suburban café, before the cop sets his predatory-justice scheme in motion. Crushingly, Max et les Ferrailleurs makes plain that the folly belongs to everyone.