Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (1958)

ascenseur

Jules: Louis Malle pre-empts Jean-Luc Godard’s advice about girls, guns, and movies, but also adds a stuck elevator, a forgotten grapnel, a shopgirl, a streetpunk, and a gull-wing Mercedes-Benz to the mix. We join Jeanne Moreau on her existential walk of shame as she waits for news from her special forces lover and his perfect plan to murder her wealthy husband. The ready-to-hand surroundings of late-Fifties Paris intersect in a kind of metaphysical perfection with the desolation of Miles Davis’ score (which, judging by the album liner photos, was recorded in one session, with Moreau in attendance). In eighty eight perfect minutes, Malle essays desire, ennui, jealousy, and dread, before a final disintegration of all emotion.

David: Once again the plan for a perfect crime falls into the hands of very imperfect criminals, in the form of not one but two pairs of star-crossed lovers. Though tightly plotted, Malle’s jazz-toned noir closely preceded  and presaged films like Breathless, The 400 Blows and other first works by seminal French new wave auteurs.

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Le Mans (1971)

le-mans

David: Steve McQueen departs the sixties at high speed, driving for team Porsche. The Le Mans car race pushes the limits of endurance over a non-stop 24 hours as McQueen pushes the envelope of stone-face cool, shifting his schtick into the autistic spectrum uttering barely a word of dialogue for the first half hour and not much thereafter either. A racing manifesto and vérité documentary infused with the barest hint of plot somehow feels curiously innovative. Death hovers over the proceedings and the film deals creatively with the edge where speed flips into sudden violence.

Jules: In retrospect, it sometimes seems like race car drivers could have accrued the occupational reputation of, say, naval divers, or firemen, or test pilots. But, for whatever reason, we shower the fastest drivers in the world with money, fame, and fandom. Why are we attracted to the words and actions of these particular technical experts, rather than others? This film calmly and methodically lays out some of the (artistically embellished) facts for our consideration. If Freud’s ‘death drive’ is true, perhaps it intersects the world of motor-sport, industry, and media, and provides something by way of explanation.

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