Started Saturday with Jean-Pierre Melville’s When You Read This Letter, a French crime thriller with a plot that takes a lot of interesting turns. After a car accident killed their parents, Thérèse (Juliette Gréco) leaves the convent before taking her vows to care for her younger sister Denise (Irène Galter). A timely decision because Denise crosses paths with a scoundrel, Max (Philippe Lemaire), who is working to get into the good graces, the bed, and the purse of rich, married Irène Faugeret (Yvonne Sanson). Denise’s attraction to Max regrettably leads to his raping her, and the guilt she experiences causes her to attempt suicide.
In a bizarre twist, Thérèse blackmails Max into marrying Denise. That Denise is happy about this and that Thérèse wants her sister to marry a rapist are difficult to accept. Further complicating matters is Max professing his love for Thérèse. It’s unclear if he is sincere and it’s surprising she isn’t completely turned off by the idea nor that of his offer for them to run off to Tangiers. Even up to the climax, it’s unsure of the characters’ mindsets, which makes the film engaging even with the questionable choices the characters make.
At the festival, they make it a habit to tell the audience before each screening to turn off their phones and other devices, but it would be nice if they made a point to mention Apple watches also, because they are so annoying.
The Merchant Ivory team followed up their Oscar-winning A Room with a View with another film based on an E. M. Forster novel, Maurice (1987), although director/co-writer James Ivory, recent Oscar winner for Call Me by Your Name, the first script he had written on his own, revealed that they almost made a treasure-hunting film starring Tom Cruise. Ivory saw Maurice as the other side of the coin where people who can’t be with the person they loved. Forster almost destroyed the manuscript and it was not published until the year after his death.
In 1909, Maurice Hall (James Wilby) is a student at Cambridge. There, he meets Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) and their friendship develops into a deeper love, but not only is it kept secret but Clive doesn’t want things to become sexual between them. This is understandable after their classmate Lord Risley is jailed for propositioning a sailor. To Maurice’s dismay, Clive gets married, which leads him to seek a cure for his homosexuality. While visiting Clive’s estate, Maurice is noticed by a servant, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), who pursues him. After a night together, Alec wants to meet Maurice at a boathouse, but Maurice is concerned Alec will blackmail him.
Although I wasn’t sure about the story’s happy ending because of the era it is set in, surely there were homosexuals who had happy, fulfilling lives together. Plus, it’s fiction so why not inspire? The characters came across as realistic people whose actions and motivations were believable, and the cast did a marvelous job bringing them to life.
Filmmaker John Sayles was on hand to introduce Sam Fuller’s Park Row (1952), which he called “advocacy filmmaking.” Fuller had been a newsboy and a crime reporter at 16 back in the ’20s, so clearly understood the subject matter. Daryl Zanuck wanted to change the title and make it with stars, but Fuller took out $200k with which he built a three-story set.
Set in 1886, Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) was a newspaper reporter for The Star until his mouth and attitude towards his employer gets him fired. With the help of Charlie Leach (Forrest Taylor), he starts his own newspaper. The Globe‘s success leads his former boss Charity Hackett (Mary Welch), publisher of The Star, to grow worried. She tries to recruit his workers and offers a merger. When she fails at both, the rivalry becomes dangerous. Fuller has crafted a fun story, although one the players are introduced, there’s little surprise at the eventual outcome.
My next slot was still undecided but listening to filmmaker John Carpenter’s introduction of Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1932) seemed like a good start. Then I could leave since I had seen it before, more than 30 years ago. However, Carpenter’s enthusiasm and the idea of not having to get into another line got me to stick around for my first, and what would be my only, repeat viewing of a film this festival.
Based on the infamous exploits of Al Capone, Scarface stars scenery-chewing Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, whose rise and fall are detailed. Tony works for Italian gangster Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) and they take over the South Side of Chicago. Johnny is content with his operations, but Tony isn’t. He ignores Johnny’s orders and moves into the North Side, which is run by Irish gangs and sets off a war. Tony also has plans to replace Johnny. Not just as gang leader, but openly goes after Johnny’s gal Poppy (Karen Morely). Tony also doesn’t like the relationship building between his sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak) and his friend/fellow gangster Guino (George Raft). The police eventually come after Tony and his comeuppance is well deserved.