Daily Film Thoughts: Capra & Cassel

The first film I saw today was apart of TCM’s tribute to Frank R. Capra. The main reason I saw it was for some more Barbara Stanwyck, but what I got was perhaps Capra’s greatest and certainly most underrated work. The film I am talking about is 1931’s The Miracle Woman.

The Miracle Woman

The Miracle Womanbegins with Florence Fallon, later Sister Faith (Barbara Stanwyck) in a cathedral. She’s standing at the podium talking about her father – the former priest of the church being forced into retirement. She reads her father’s letter to the on-looking audience. However, the letter ends abruptly, leading Florence into an anti-Christian frenzy; citing direct lines from the Bible she has memorized and leading the crowd out the door in a haste. This, on the occasion of a out-of-town businessman being in the audience. Still frustrated, she curses him out as well – he smirks and says he’ll help her by getting revenge to all of the followers of this church and every hypocritical catholic. She complies and the story goes on from there.

Cut to a few weeks later in an empty apartment. A blind man is standing in front of his window listening to the radio the woman across from him has on. He shouts “Can you turn that down?”, she complies. He begins to write a letter to his apartment landlord and friend, Mrs. Higgins (Beryl Mercer). It’s a suicide note – he feels unfulfilled in this world, blind and has had many failed attempts in writing music for companies. When he goes to jump out of his window, he hears Sister Faith’s voice over the radio talking about quitters and blind people – his smile radiates his void apartment. He feels good about life again thanks to Sister Faith.

He seeks a relationship with Sister Faith and so on and so forth. It’s a very endearing film that touches on many levels — whether they be philosophical, religious or love-induced. It’s predictable (for the most part), but genuine. And for a film released in 1931, I’m sure it was quite the inspiring piece of celluloid – as it is quite inspiring even today.

Stanwyck and Manners give two wonderful performances – both their best of their careers (albeit, I don’t know much of Manners’ work). Stanwyck’s conflicted heart and her fraid and frail soul without much faith are cause for some of her most emotional and emotionally detached scenes. With Manners, his empty eyes contrast with his warm soul wonderfully when he expresses himself through mannerisms and facial gestures.

With only a few minor black spots (Hardy’s awkward performance as Hornsby, the manager for Sister Faith), this is a film no-one should miss. Oh, and did I mention it contains one of the prime examples of perfect cinematography as well? I suggest you see this. [10/10]

And onto Vincent Cassel and Mesrine: Part Two (aka Public Enemy Number One).

Mesrine

Having seen part one (aka Death Instinct) at TIFF and once more a few weeks ago, I’ve been anxious to getting to the second half of the story. The first was a great set-up to the sequel – however, the sequel was quite the letdown compared to the set-up.

Jean-Richet Francois brings part two to this uncompromised and focused biography of one of the most beloved criminals in French history, Jacques Mesrine – played by Vincent Cassel in his Cesar winning role.

This film is exactly like the first without as much surprise. Perhaps if it was one long film, it would be a better product, but you expect what you saw from the first part and you do, so it falls flat in terms of at all changing the approach, but stays consistent.

This film starts off with Mesrine in a police car – he’s been caught once again and being sentenced once again. Comissioner Broussard (Olivier Gourmet) is speaking to the press about why they had to shoot him and how they caught him. He is the primary foe of Mesrine in this one, as the entire world was in the last one. He’s still slick, enjoyable and has a sense for plotting, but he grows more tired with age.

In jail, he makes another accomplice in Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric) and they become good friends. Out of jail, he gets another girlfriend/accomplice in Sylvie Jeanjacquot (Ludivine Sagnier). It’s the same pattern as before – a highly enjoyable crime/thriller with an outstanding cast and a feel for the semantics that come with a budget – good visuals, lots of violence and a score that is intrusive.

If subtlity is your thing, avoid this entire thing at all costs. However, if you’re like me and enjoy fast-paced entertainment with strong signs of cinematic quality, I suggest you see this as soon as possible. If not for the wonderful cast dishing out great performances. And props to my favourite Dardenne regular, Mr. Gourmet in a role that you love  to hate. [8/10]

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