I don’t normally write about movies to watch on TV, but today I’m making an exception because we have seen 3 dynamite French films on the Criterion Channel recently. The last time I wrote about our fondness for the Criterion Channel, I recommended watching a true classic from 1934 named L’Atalante. Today I am recommending 3 more that I know are currently available on this channel that specializes in restoring classic films from the past. The 3 are in order of making, and all of them are exceptional movie experiences. Criterion offers a free 14-day trial with no obligation to subscribe.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is the oldest and most surprising of the 3. Our movie book calls this 1928 silent film a masterpiece, and it is. It’s the best really old film I have ever seen. The woman who played Joan of Arc, Renee (Marie) Falconetti, never made another film, and almost every shot of her is a closeup of her very expressive face. The film focuses on the historical Joan of Arc and her trial and execution in the 14th century. Blood spurts at one point. Watch it and wonder how a film could be any better.
The 2nd film is more familiar to modern audiences thanks to Disney. Based on a 1757 French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast was made as a film in 1946 by noted director Jean Cocteau. The Disney film used a lot of Cocteau’s ideas in remaking Beauty and the Beast like the fantastic candelabras, but both films stick well to the original fairy tale. Ruth and I have been privileged to see this film 3 times. It is thrillingly fantastical and stars a French actor who had a long career as the Beast/Prince. His name is Jean Marais. Please track it down and watch it for an enchanting movie experience.
The 3rd and last film is the most controversial. Lola Montes was a long film made in 1955. Many consider it director Max Ophuls best film even though it was criticized when first released and pretty much ended his movie career. Half circus and half a look at the life and passions of a real 19th century woman, Lola Montes is played in a series of very elaborate dresses by a controversial French actress who many consider a forerunner to Bridget Bardot named Martine Carol. Filmed brilliantly in Eastmancolor and one of the first CinemaScope extravaganzas, Criterion has done a fantastic job of restoring this sumptuous production. I had a devil of a time looking away from its conclusion when Lola is in a situation where she must make a death defying leap during a circus act. This film interweaves the story of a real woman with clowns, ringmasters, paraders, and a true circus atmosphere that still works despite the passage of time.
If you prefer something more recent, the Netflix movie this week, The Ice Road is a predictable but unusual film staring action man Liam Neeson as a very challenged truck driver in Manitoba, Canada. Ruth especially liked this ice filled movie.