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Here in the States, French actor Michel Piccoli might not have the name recognition of Gérard Depardieu, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, or Yves Montand, but the Paris-born thespian has quite a resume, consisting of more than 150 films and Best Actor awards from Cannes and Berlin. Among the myriad internationally renowned directors he has worked with are Louis Malle, Jean Renoir, Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Corbucci, René Clair, Liliana Cavani, Marco Bellocchio, Jacques Demy, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Rivette, Leos Carax, Manoel de Oliveira, Theodoros Angelopoulos, Bertrand Tavernier, and Nanni Moretti. In conjunction with the March 23 premiere of a new 4K restoration of Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour, in which Piccoli plays Henri Husson, who gets Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) interested in a local brothel, Film Forum is presenting a seventeen-film celebration of the ninety-two-year-old Piccoli’s wide-ranging career, which dates back to the mid-1940s. Below is a look at three Piccoli faves.
LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) (BLOW-OUT) (Marco Ferreri, 1973)
Saturday, March 17, 4:10
Sunday, March 18, 7:15
Monday, March 19, 4:20
Thursday, March 22, 9:50
Fed up with their lives, four old friends decide to literally eat themselves to death in one last grand blow-out. Cowritten and directed by Marco Ferreri (Chiedo asilo, La casa del sorriso), La Grande Bouffe features a cast that is an assured recipe for success, bringing together a quartet of legendary actors, all playing characters with their real first names: Marcello Mastroianni as sex-crazed airplane pilot Marcello, Philippe Noiret as mama’s boy and judge Philippe, Michel Piccoli as effete television host Michel, and Ugo Tognazzi as master gourmet chef Ugo. They move into Philippe’s hidden-away family villa, where they plan to eat and screw themselves to death, with the help of a group of prostitutes led by Andréa (Andréa Ferréol). Gluttons for punishment, the four men start out having a gas, but as the feeding frenzy continues, so does the flatulence level, and the men start dropping one by one. While the film might not be quite the grand feast it sets out to be, it still is one very tasty meal. Just be thankful that it’s not shown in Odoroma. Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, La Grande Bouffe is screening March 17, 18, 19, and 22 in Film Forum’s Michel Piccoli series. Bon appetit!
CONTEMPT (LE MEPRIS) (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
Saturday, March 17, 2:00 & 7:00
Sunday, March 18, 3:20 & 9:45
French auteur Jean-Luc Godard doesn’t hold back any of his contempt for Hollywood cinema in his multilayered masterpiece Contempt. Loosely based on Alberto Moravia’s Il Disprezzo, Contempt stars Michel Piccoli as Paul Javal, a French screenwriter called to Rome’s famed Cinecittà studios by American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance ) to perform rewrites on Austrian director Fritz Lang’s (played by Lang himself) adaptation of The Odyssey by ancient Greek writer Homer. Paul brings along his young wife, the beautiful Camille (Brigitte Bardot), whom Prokosch takes an immediate liking to. With so many languages being spoken, Prokosch’s assistant, Francesca Vanini (Giorgia Moll), serves as translator, but getting the various characters to communicate with one another and say precisely what is on their mind grows more and more difficult as the story continues and Camille and Paul’s love starts to crumble. Contempt is a spectacularly made film, bathed in deep red, white, and blue, as Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard poke fun at the American way of life. (Both Godard and Coutard appear in the film, the former as Lang’s assistant director, the latter as Lang’s cameraman — as well as the cameraman who aims the lens right at the viewer at the start of the film.)
Bardot is sensational in one of her best roles, whether teasing Paul at a marvelously filmed sequence in their Rome apartment (watch for him opening and stepping through a door without any glass), lying naked on the bed, asking Paul what he thinks of various parts of her body (while Coutard changes the filter from a lurid red to a lush blue), or pouting when it appears that Paul is willing to pimp her out in order to get the writing job. Palance is a hoot as the big-time producer, regularly reading fortune-cookie-like quotes from an extremely little red book he carries around that couldn’t possibly hold so many words. And Lang, who left Germany in the mid-1930s for a career in Hollywood, has a ball playing a version of himself, an experienced veteran willing to put up with Prokosch’s crazy demands. Vastly entertaining from start to finish, Contempt is filled with a slew of inside jokes about the filmmaking industry and even Godard’s personal and professional life, along with some of the French director’s expected assortment of political statements and a string of small flourishes that are easy to miss but add to the immense fun, all set to a gorgeous romantic score by Georges Delerue. Contempt is screening March March 17, 18, 19, and 22 in Film Forum’s Michel Piccoli series.
UNE CHAMBRE EN VILLE (A ROOM IN TOWN) (Jacques Demy, 1982)
Sunday, March 18, 1:30
From the very opening of Une Chambre en Ville (A Room in Town), French New Wave director Jacques Demy announces that the 1982 musical melodrama is going to be something a little different. As a rising sun changes color over a construction site across the Loire River, what appear to be closing credits run up the screen, set to Michel Colombier’s romantic score, as if the film is ending. But Demy and cinematographer Jean Penzer are only getting started, shifting from black-and-white to color to black-and-white again as they cut to the hard streets of 1955 Nantes, where a shipyard strike is under way. Riot police are in a stand-off with hundreds of male and female strikers, characters on both sides singing instead of talking and shouting — in a scene that eerily evokes Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, which came thirty years later. Soon the intricate plot unfolds, as the striking, and broke, François Guilbaud (Richard Berry), who is renting a room from former baroness Margot Langlois (Danielle Darrieux) and dating doe-eyed Violette Pelletier (Fabienne Guyon), instantly falls for femme fatale Edith Leroyer (Dominique Sanda), Mme. Langlois’s recently married daughter, who is already fed up with her impotent cheapskate of a husband, television salesman Edmond Leroyer (Michel Piccoli). The over-the-top drama plays out in wonderfully garish rooms of deep, intoxicating colors, which are echoed by Rosalie Varda’s (daughter of Demy and Agnès Varda) costumes, which even go so far as to have Violette wearing violet and Edith going bare beneath her luxurious fur coat, with no one changing clothes over the course of the two days in which the story takes place. As the strike continues, the main characters connect with one another in good and bad ways, especially when straight razors and guns are involved.
Writer-director Demy, who transformed the movie musical in the 1960s with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort (the latter also featuring Darrieux), includes no Hollywood-like set pieces in Une Chambre en Ville, no dancing, no choruses — essentially, no real songs at all. Instead, all of the dialogue is sung by the actors (or dubbed in by someone else) as if in regular conversation. Inspired by a real shipyard strike in his hometown of Nantes in 1955, Demy takes on such concepts as wealth, class, authority, home, family, and, most of all, love — both real and imagined, unrequited and lustful — in the vastly underrated film, which is quite entertaining and very funny despite its dark themes. And be on the lookout for more echoes of Les Misérables throughout. A recent digital restoration of Une Chambre en Ville is screening March 18 in Film Forum’s Michel Piccoli series.