Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Max et les Ferrailleurs (1971)

WHO: Claude Sautet (whose best-known work is probably his writing and assistant direction of Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face) directed and co-wrote this film.

WHAT: I wavered a great deal in my decision to use the French title of this film: Max et les Ferrailleurs. Most reputable sources I've found that refer to the film as Max And The Junkmen note that this is an alternate title- even a populist like Leonard Maltin calls it Max et les Ferrailleurs in his movie guides. Though I generally find certain English-language writers' preferences for original film titles for foreign-language films a somewhat grating affectation in non-scholarly circumstances, in part because it's inconsistently applied by most practitioners (how many La Grande Illusion adherents have you seen use the title 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile or Varjoja paratiisissa in place of 4 Month, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or Shadows In Paradise? And don't get me started on Slavic or Asian languages!), I do recognize there are exceptions that can occur when films get an international reputation before they find release in English-speaking territories. Who calls Tati's film My Uncle or Antonioni's The Night? Nobody I've encountered. 

And so the French noir Max et les Ferrailleurs, though not nearly as well-known (or, arguably, as easily pronounceable) as Mon Oncle or La Notte, seems to be on a similar path at least in this regard. Though released in France in 1971, it for some reason only first made it to US cinemas a year ago thanks to Rialto Pictures, which chose to distribute the film under the French title, and the subsequent reviews from this long-in-coming run use the original title as well. Here's en excerpt from a rave by Jaime Christley:
one of the highlights of Max et les Ferrailleurs is a Goodfellas-esque montage of the crooks Max has his sights on, with an explanatory voiceover. This tour de force may go by undetected, but consider that, instead of introducing each perp with Guy Ritchie-esque, collectible-trading-card pizzazz, each hoodlum takes the stage before a policeman's roving surveillance camera, and the sequence is cut so seamlessly as to appear to be a single take, all of which is matched up to the speaker's nonstop verbal catalogue. With magnificent gentleness, Sautet sketches a half-dozen indelible portraits, so that when we see them again, we exert no effort in extracting them from our mental inventory.
WHERE/WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 4:45 & 8:55, only at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: Once upon a time, pretty much every Rialto Pictures release would end up playing a Frisco Bay venue for at least a week-long run, whether at the Castro or the Opera Plaza or a venue of some intermediate size. That's no longer true, and some recent restoration releases from the New York-based company such as Went The Day Well? and Léon Morin, Priest have only managed to play a night or two at the PFA before seemingly exhausting all their national tour dates. Max et les Ferrailleurs getting a two-day, four-screening stand at the Castro along with another recent Rialto release, Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic, is paltry compared to hefty bookings of a decade ago, but that says more about the numbers of Frisco Bay movie watchers who prefer to wait for a DVD release of an unearthed catalog title, than it does about the relative excitement that should come with the rediscovery of a film like Max et les Ferrailleurs when compared to, say, the US premiere of the Japanese-language Godzilla (which got a full two-week run in 2004, and returns to Frisco Bay this Friday at the Paramount in Oakland) or Melville's Army of Shadows (which played for weeks at local theatres).

I'm just happy for two days and four screenings. Too many venues playing films in one-night-stands in an age when every 35mm screening of a particular title might be the last before a DCP sweeps in to dominate bookings, makes for a lot of hard choices and, I suspect, leads many film fans to give up in frustration and turn away from repertory cinema to alternative distribution methods. I'm glad I won't have to decide between Max et les Ferrailleurs/Un Flic at the Castro and High Sierra at the Pacific Film Archive tonight; I could theoretically see both if I can wait a day for the Sautet. Here's hoping another recent Rialto 35mm rerelease of a newly-restored milestone, Jean Luc-Godard's Le Petit Soldat, is able to come to a local theatre for at least as many days as this Sautet/Melville bill is getting.

HOW: Max et les Ferrailleurs and Un Flic screen as a 35mm double-bill.

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