During my research on a certain subject I sometimes come across a bit of information that seems irrelevant and that I dismiss automatically and yet it seems that my brain has retained it without knowing where it came from. In this case it was a mention of Jeanne Moreau when I was researching Gena Rowlands that popped in my head after I wrote about the Cassavetes’ films.
The Proprietor (1996) like Cotton Mary (1999) that we had a brief look at in the film group (see under resources on main menu: British Films 1997-2006) were both directed by Ismail Merchant. They both elicited in me a state of dismay. I do not quite understand this effect because my love of the cinema is so strong that I do tolerate films that are not to my liking, films that make me feel angry by their content, pedestrian films, obscure films. I love experimental films, and even films simple in their narrative and cinematography interest me. I always find something to think about. In a bizarre way, I feel I cannot bear to see either of the above two films again to get to the bottom of this aversion. I am not the only one to feel both films are bad. They both had limited distribution and very very modest audiences, considering the Merchant/Ivory brand (see Lumiere database). Of Cotton Mary the film group said it was unwatchable. Ebert said of The Proprietor : “…an astoundedly bad movie. I could hardly believe my eyes. Or my ears, or my memory…”.
In The proprietor Jeanne Moreau (68) plays the part of a famous writer who sells her flat and cherished objects in New York to buy the flat she inhabited in Paris as a child. We have here a great actor and a subject about an aspect of ageing that to my knowledge has not been explored in film. The return to one’s roots, the attachment to acquired objects, the unresolved problems. So much possibilities and we are served an unwatchable film. The only reason I viewed the film till the end is that in spite of the appalling direction and narrative Moreau managed to hold my attention as she invested in the shallow character some of her magic.
I will leave Merchant’s films alone and try to get The Old Woman Who Walked in the Sea (1991) and hope that old Moreau (63) features in a film she deserves.