Michael Haneke’s film won the best director prize at Cannes in 2005. The plot is simple. Georges, a successful public intellectual with his own television program, and his wife Anne receive an hours-long video tape which shows only the front of their home from across the street. The sole purpose of the tape seems to be to make them aware that they are being watched. Disturbing drawings follow. There then follows a video shot from a car. A visible street name allows them to trace the location as a run-down apartment block.

This leads Georges to the flat of Majid, an Algerian man who turns out to be someone from his past. That this visit is also being secretly recorded becomes apparent when it becomes the content of a later tape. In what appear to be flashbacks, we learn that when he was six years old, Georges’ parents were on the point of adopting Majid, the same age as Georges and the son of their Algerian farmhands. Majid’s parents had disappeared after what was called the Seine river massacre. This was an incident in 1961 during the Algerian War for Independence when demonstrators in favour of independence were shot or drowned in the Seine by the French police. The Seine river massacre was not officially acknowledged until 1998.

Georges’ parents prepare to adopt him, but disturbed by the six year old’s story that Majid killed a cockerel in order to scare him, the boy is sent to an orphanage. The disturbing drawings are connected to this incident.


La Bataille d’Algers was released in 1966, four years after Algerian independence from France. It was an Italian Algerian co-production, directed by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, and won the Lion d’Or at the Venice Film Festival. It was initially banned in France and wasn’t shown generally until 1971 and not until 2004 uncensored.

Algeria had been invaded in 1830 and had become a part of France in 1848. The war for independence was started by the FLN in November 1954. By late 1957 the army had succeeded in dismantling the FLN organisation in Algiers but demonstrations broke out again in 1960. Tanks were deployed and civilians were shot in the street but, dismayed by the brutality of the methods used and the breadth of support, France conceded independence in 1962.

The film covers events in the city of Algiers between late 1954 and late 1957. It is shot in black and white and some of the scenes might easily be newsreel or documentary. It was filmed mostly on location in the Casbah. Ali la Pointe is shown grafting on the street and then in prison watches the execution of an FLN fighter. Radicalised by the experience he is recruited to the FLN by El-hadi Jaffar and rises in the organisation. After a sequence of bombings and shootings and reprisals, French paratroopers under the command of Colonel Phillipe Mathieu are deployed to restore order. Mathieu’s strategy succeeds. Jaffar is captured. Ali la Pointe’s hiding place is betrayed and, refusing to surrender, he is blown up. But at the end of the film this is shown to be only a temporary victory.


The film we saw at last week’s film club is called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is a documentary made in 2010 by Werner Herzog about the pre-historic cave paintings in the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of southern France. In order to preserve the paintings access is strictly limited to small scientific teams and it is not possible for the public to visit the cave. Herzog was allowed to take portable cameras, cold led lighting and a small crew into the cave.  A narrow metal walkway runs through the caves which the team had to keep to. This is to protect the cave floor which is covered in cave bear skulls and other objects. The film was made in 3D. Herzog doesn’t see the value of 3D for film-making but was persuaded it would work for this project because the cave painters took advantage of the natural contours and bulges in the rock walls. Our copy was in 2D so it is impossible to tell how much was lost of the effect of depth.


We recently watched La Règle du Jeu at the local film club. Francois Truffaut, who like other nouvelle vague directors was  inspired and influenced by Renoir, called La Règle du Jeu ‘le credo des cinéphiles, le film des films’. I interpret this to mean something like the ‘manifesto’ of film making. But if it is, it is a difficult manifesto to interpret and it is difficult to be sure of Renoir’s intentions when he made the film.

Filming on La Règle du Jeu started in mid-February 1939, and was completed by the end of March. The film opened in Paris on July 8th 1939, originally in a 94 minute version. Although some critics recognised its importance, it was not well received by the public and was a commercial failure. Renoir re-edited it down to 81 minutes, but it was banned by the French government and subsequently by the Nazis. The original negatives were destroyed in an allied bombing raid in 1942, and the film had to be re-assembled after the war. The reconstruction, completed with Renoir’s help in 1958 by Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, was shown in 1959 at the Venice Film Festival. At 106 minutes it is longer than the version which opened in 1939. This is the version we have today.


At the weekend our local cinema ran a short season of French films as part of the annual French Arts and Film Festival. We managed to get to a few of them.

Les Emotifs Anonyme is an amusing comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Améris.  Angélique belongs to a mutual aid group for people who are very awkward in personnel relationships. She is also an anonymous master chocalatier, selling her chocolates through the shop of M. Mercier. After his death she joins, as sales-women, a failing chocolate factory run by Jan René van der Hugde, who is equally awkward, and is being helped in private sessions by a psychologist. The course the film takes is unsurprising. The secret chocolatier returns to save the business and the couple muster the composure to get married.

The lead roles are played by Isabelle Carré and Benoît Poelvoorde. We saw Poelvoorde a couple of years ago in Anne Fontaine’s film Coco avant Chanel, playing Etienne Balsan.