Cinephilia can be fraught with the unexpected. Now that the Valhalla is gone and the programming of the Chauvel has been taken over by those with mysterious powers to select next to nothing of interest, those seeking the small art house movie that was once the preserve of those venues seem to have keep their eye out on cross-harbour venues like the Cremorne Orpheum. That’s the place where As it is in Heaven has taken the lion’s share of the million bucks the film has grossed at the Oz box-office. It’s not huge by a lot of standards, after all, The Lives of Others has already taken double that amount. But no matter there are now small art house movies which are headed exclusively or near exclusively to Cremorne and its satellites. Finding a place for such movies at the Palace or Dendy Cinemas in the city, the east or the west is apparently difficult. The most recent film to go this route is The Italian which has garnered high praise but is also having a very limited release, which does not include the mainstream art houses, if I may use what might be an oxymoron. With The Italian the distributors have managed to find one south of the harbour venue, Hoyts Paris Cinema in the heart of Fox Studios, or as its now called the Entertainment Quarter.
I headed there for my usual Saturday morning treat session yesterday and after walking seeming miles from Oxford Street arrived breathless just as the feature was due to start. As I was entering somebody emerged from the cinema to say the screen was “just black”. The ticket-seller got onto her walkie talkie and summoned somebody. A couple of minutes later, the somebody walked into the auditorium and announced that the film would start in a couple of minutes. It didn’t.
As time passed one fairly loud conversation started up between two oldish couples sitting near each other. Oldish? Well the first words were: “Did you read the write-up in the paper.” (‘Write-up’ is a word another, older generation uses.) “No. I read the short bit in the Metro” “Oh”. “Do you know what it’s about?” “An Italian kid gets adopted by a Russian family”. “Oh”. ….I may have discovered Generation O, a group even older than Generation A.
At this point one member of the participating couples has to repeat this to her until now silent male companion. “IT’S ABOUT AN ITALIAN KID WHO GETS ADOPTED BY RUSSIANS”. “O…..(very long pause) DID YOU EVER SEE THE BICYCLE THIEF” says the aging male partner…………..(very long pause). “O, what’s that?”
Somewhere near this point we’re told that the problem can’t be fixed. Having looked at the projection box for signs of activity every now and then during the fifteen minutes or so that has passed, I realize that there are no projectionists at all in the building. The person making the announcements is the young, under 25, manager. She has exhausted her bag of options and has to call up help. She offers us a comp and as well we can go watch another movie which is shortly to start. This is Orchestra Stalls, a French comedy directed by Daniele Thompson which I avoided in the recent French Film Week.
The original decision to avoid the movie was the correct one. From the start it piles on ridiculous amounts of cloying sentiment. A young woman visits her aging aunt in a nursing home in Macon. Somehow or other, inspired by the aunt’s tales of life at the Ritz, she decides to head for Paris and emerges from the Metro near the Avenue Montaigne. The rest of the action takes place in that street as the young woman gets a job in a café and thus gets to deliver coffee to the performers, musical and theatrical, at the nearby Theatre Des Champs-Elysees, engage in other little adventures and come in contact with the next door auction rooms. We also get lots of nice shots of the also nearby Eiffel Tower and the Pont d’Iena. Couples and singles play out little romances, breakups and coincidental meetings. Everything ends happily. Some of the contrivances are more ludicrous than others. Chief among these contrivances is the casting of the world’s worst actor, Sydney Pollack, as an American film director who is in Paris to make a bio-pic of Simone De Beauvoir. Why it is that other directors keep casting Pollack in these roles is something that eludes me. I would have thought that after his mind-numbingly unconvincing performance in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut the game would have been over. But no, here he is again lumbering his way through English and, worse, French dialogue in a voice that carries neither an ounce of modulation or a skerrick of conviction. Sydney has one line in the movie, which he delivers to his putative De Beauvoir “Never do anything for free”. Am I correct in assuming that this line especially reflects Sydney’s own deep and heartfelt thoughts? It seemed to have the most convincing delivery.
I’m still yet to see The Italian and with the Sydney Film Festival approaching it’s dropping down the priority list already. When I emerged from Orchestra Stalls I was told the problem had been fixed and a session of the film was starting at that very moment. I passed. ...But I probably was the only other person in the room who had seen The Bicycle Thief.