Ginger and Fred

Directed by Federico Fellini
(France, 1986)

 Review by Lois Siegel

If you have never seen a film by Federico Fellini, you are in for a treat. He has been called “the flamboyant Italian master of the imagination.”

Ginger and Fred stars Giulietta Masina (Amelia) and Marcello Mastroianni (Pippo). One thing you can be sure of, Fellini never lets you down. The images force you to glue your eyes to the screen. You don’t even want to read the subtitles because you might miss a precious glimpse of an unusual face.

Fellini deals with faded stars, an indirect reference to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. He succeeds in touching us all because we all grow old and obsolete. Fellini explores the fantasized reminiscences of a duo dance team featuring his wife Giulietta Masina, famous for her angelic face and sad wanderings in La Strada, and Marcello Mastroianni in one of his most poignant roles as a has-been star.

Fellini also critiques the effect the media has in creating and maintaining images. His film is modern for his time. He provokes with a bombardment of billboards and vendors of all kinds. The film screams: advertise, sell, buy. Television appears everywhere. The human being must be entertained to prevent boredom with the real world. TV is our escape, our drug, our placebo. His strongest attack is on television with its prize shows. One big give-away show features a spaghetti-eating contest with red-sauce-smeared faces. As the channel changes, we see a gourmet chef with indescribable blobs of goo intercut with violence – a fist to the gut.

There is also a holiday TV special with an array of bizarre characters, including a woman whose dress lights up like a Christmas tree, a troupe of 24 midgets called “Los Lilliputs,” a lady who has placed a soft-focus screen in front of her face to make her look younger and Rambo-type musclemen. Reporters and interviewers are constantly present. One lady is interrogated because she left her husband and children for an extraterrestrial.

Fellini fills the screen with look-alikes. His TV announcer looks like Liberace. A fake Ronald Reagan pops up from time to time. His music is circus tunes mixed with rock. The result is rather perverse sounding. There is a revolving TV studio stage and motorcycles that parade in a circle replacing the usual procession of carnival clowns.

Finally, the moment arrives for Ginger and Fred to reappear on a large stage. The orchestra begins playing. The sadness and confusion of those fading from the golden screen in isolation and loneliness is frighteningly portrayed by Masina and Mastroianni. Fellini’s dark and gloomy images imprison us in our own worlds and, as in a labyrinth, refuse to let us out.

Ginger and Fred fantasizes about the effects of Hollywood on the stars. The film is haunting.

Fellini is best known for his films 8 1/2, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita. For more, watch this interview with Marcello Mastroianni by David Letterman:

Running time: 2 hours & 5 minutes
Available: and YouTube

Love On The Run

Directed by François Truffaut
(France, 1979) 

Review by Paul Green

With observations about the films of the Antoine Doinel cycle and their importance in the career of filmmaker François Truffaut.

Love On The Run, a delightful bit of whimsy, marked the fifth and final collaboration between director Truffaut and his alter ego (or “acteur fétiche”) Jean-Pierre Léaud, a pairing that began in suitably spectacular fashion with the release in 1959 of The Four Hundred Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) and saw the director walk away with top honours at the Cannes film festival.

Love On The Run (L’Amour en fuite) is said to be a film that Truffaut had neither planned nor wanted to make, that it was a project he was more or less forced to take on following the commercial failure of his previous outing, The Green Room, in 1978.

That said, the prospect of working once more with Jean-Pierre Léaud and of wrapping up the Antoine Doinel saga once and for all (Doinel was the character Léaud always played) doubtless appealed to the director.

Following 400 Blows, Doinel turns up again in Antoine et Colette, a 25-minute short that was Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 omnibus film Love at Twenty, featuring sketches from five international directors and, incidentally, a very hard film to find. In this charming short, Antoine and Colette (a young Marie-France Pisier) meet at the “Jeunesses musicales” at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, and Antoine embarks on his awkward courtship of Colette, a courtship that sees him spending more time with Colette’s family than with Colette herself.

Through the 1960s, Truffaut worked on a number of projects (including The Soft Skin and The Bride Wore Black) before returning to the Doinel series in 1968 when he made Stolen Kisses, wherein Antoine, now 20, gets out of the army, works at a number of idiotic jobs and has an affair with a client’s wife before settling in with his future wife, Christine, played by Claude Jade.

In 1970, Bed And Board sees Antoine and Christine married and raising a son, Alphonse. The hapless Antoine, ever the arrested adolescent, stumbles into a hilarious affair with a Japanese woman from work, and husband and wife are soon separated, albeit amicably.

When Truffaut picks up this thread nine years later in 1979, Antoine and Christine are still separated but more or less reconciled. In the meantime, he is in a relationship with 25-year old Sabine, a salesclerk at a record store. Sabine, who is as perceptive as she is intelligent, is committed to the relationship, while Antoine still cannot make up his mind. Then he and Christine are off to see the judge who will finalize their divorce, said to be the first divorce by mutual consent in France. Typically, Antoine is almost late for this appointment.

While leaving the courthouse at a run – Antoine is always running somewhere – he is spotted by Colette, the girl from the Jeunesses musicales, who has since become a lawyer. Later, they meet by chance at the Gare de Lyon where Antoine is seeing Alphonse off on the train for his summer vacation. On an impulse, he hops aboard Colette’s train (without a ticket), and they get to reminiscing about their lives. Of course, Antoine becomes enamoured of her all over again, but Colette, who is wiser in these matters, will have none of it.

The key to appreciating the films of the Doinel saga is knowing that Truffaut – the quintessential humanist of French cinema – invested a great deal of himself in the character of Antoine. The problematic family life and the up-and-down relationships with women marked by betrayal and reconciliation – it’s all there.

Some of the critics took Truffaut to task over his liberal use of flashbacks in Love On The Run. I think they work brilliantly, both for viewers who have seen the earlier films and will savour these scenes, and for those who have not who will be afforded valuable insight into the “sentimental education” of Antoine, as well as the evolution of his relations with Colette, Christine and Sabine, the three most important women in his life.

Yes, François Truffaut ties up a lot of loose ends in Love On the Run. Antoine gets his act together and is restored to the good graces of Sabine with the aid of a story about a torn-up photo pieced together with scotch tape. Perhaps another kind of flashback.

Some years ago, the Criterion people, I think it was, released a five-film box set called something like “The Adventures of Antoine Doinel”, a title that might have worked just as well for the film at hand.

At any rate, in October 1984, not five years after the release of Love, Truffaut tragically succumbed to a brain tumour, thereby depriving France and the world of one of its most talented filmmakers. He was only 52. It was said that actor Jean-Pierre Léaud had a breakdown shortly after and was never quite the same again.

The films in the Antoine Doinel cycle are among the best loved of Truffaut’s oeuvre. Of course, they take nothing away from his other films, particularly such classics as Jules and Jim, The Story of Adèle H. and The Last Métro, to mention a few. It’s simply that the Doinel films are more personal, and there is more of Truffaut in them.

French with English subtitles.Running time: 92 minutes. All the films mentioned above are available at Glebe Video. Some are likely available on YouTube.

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