100 ans, Danielle Darrieux, et on a toujours soif de vous*

darrieux coverDanielle Darrieux in Max Ophuls’s “Madame de…,” playing at the Cinematheque Toulouse Thursday. Image courtesy Cinematheque Toulouse.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

I’ve spent the past month or so in the company of the most charming, droll, drop-dead gorgeous, glamorous *and* down to earth, alluring, funniest, romantic, and timeless of French actresses — the one who formed the mold for all the others who followed. Since Danielle Darrieux died at the age of 100 on October 17, I’ve been catching up on some of her films, from Henry Koster’s 1938 American comedy “The Rage of Paris,” in which the 21-year-old Darrieux plays a New York chorus girl who poses as a Parisian femme du monde to bag a millionaire through the 1958 “Drole de Dimanche” and “La Vie a Deux,” the latter a series of sketches about troubled marriages. I haven’t yet had time to re-screen Jacques Demy’s 1967 “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort,” the musical in which Darrieux, portraying the mother of Françoise Dorléac and her real-life sister Catherine Deneuve (whose model she may have been, although Darrieux is smarter), was the only cast member whose voice wasn’t dubbed, the actress also being such an accomplished chanteuse that not only did she sing, but her singing often set off the plot. (And when I say she sang, I don’t mean that she was another one of those French actors who thinks s/he can sing, a la Gerard Depardieu in his new album covering Barbara. I mean that if she wasn’t an actress she could have been a full-time singer; the sheer warmth and beauty of her voice even went against the high-pitched ((Frehel)) or morose ((Piaf)) tonalities that were the mode when she came up. Grover Dale, our colleague who played opposite Darrieux in Demy’s film, told the DI and AV, “It was apparent that Danielle was a wise and melodious woman. What a privilege it was… just being in the vicinity of her music.”)

Unfortunately, the only film I’ve screened which seems to be part of the  Cinematheque Toulouse’s tribute, running through December 13, is Max Ophuls’s 1953 “Madame de…,” a 19th century melodrama in which she cheats on Charles Boyer’s dignified general with Vittorio de Sica’s caddish baron, which screens in the French Midi city Thursday. What that film has in common with all the others — besides Darrieux’s blood-warming singing — is that she inevitably succeeds in re-conquering a man she’s betrayed, rejected, or otherwise disappointed: James Mason as a traitor she’s double-crossed, who can’t help smiling at how he’s been out-foxed at the end of the 1952 “Five Fingers”; Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who falls for her anyway after spending most of “The Rage of Paris” trying to unmask her before his enchanted best friend, the millionaire (and in which film, like any good comedian, Darrieux’s not afraid to show herself at unflattering angles, as when she gets stuck in a collapsed window, leaving only her pajama-covered butt projecting into the room); Bourvil as the estranged husband who finally relents after spending most of a “Drole de Dimanche” plotting to kill her (there’s a droll scene in which a very young Jean-Paul Belmondo, pursuing the couple in a roadster with Bourvil’s landlord to try to derail his plot, pulls out a trumpet to mimic a police siren to get the car ahead of them to pull over); and most of all a heartbreaking Boyer, who finally challenges de Sica’s baron to a duel not for cuckolding him, but for abandoning Darrieux and sending her into a mortal spiral. At one point Boyer’s general (whose own cheating, it should be pointed out, is one chain in a series of seemingly chance events sealing his wife’s doom), agonized by her growing distance from him and apparent determination to let go of life, tells her, more with regret than rancor, “I’m not the figure you’ve made me out to be.” As an actor, part of Darrieux’s gift was to make all her partners better than they were. (If Boyer was always a deft comedian, I’ve never seen him so poignant; he almost steals the show, his character’s fate seeming just as tragic as hers — and it’s clear that being a helpless witness to Darrieux’s demise sets this off.)

Darrieux Madame de ballroomDanielle Darrieux and Vittorio de Sica in Max Ophuls’s “Madame de…,” playing at the Cinematheque Toulouse Thursday. Image courtesy Cinematheque Toulouse.

For her part, Darrieux was as brilliant a comedian as she was a heartbreaking tragedian. If her desperate, eyes-shut refrain “Je ne vous aime pas, je ne vous aime pas” while pounding her head against the door of her mansion as de Sica parts on the other side, meant to convey the opposite of “I don’t love you,” is devastating, her impeccable rhythm in a fracas with her lover in “La vie a deux” is also an example of verbal repartee and physical timing that should be required viewing in every acting class.

In the one film I haven’t yet had the courage to watch in its entirety, “Crime doesn’t pay,” yet another of the formulaic ‘sketch’ films that were popular in Europe in the early 1960s, Darrieux, still ravishing at 45 and having derouted yet another male who would have had her hide, ends the film with a semi-deliriius, flirtatious, luxuriant “J’ai soif” from her bed. 100 ans, Danielle Darrieux, et on a toujours soif de vous.*

PS: Darrieux isn’t the only grande dame of French cinema we’ve lost this past year. Jeanne Moreau, Michelle Morgan (at the age of 97), Emmanuelle Riva and, most recently, Anne Wiazemsky, one of Jean-Luc Godard’s muses, 70, have also disappeared. (To hear an audio broadcast, in French, of Wiazemsky’s autobiographical story “Mon Enfant de Berlin,”  click here.) All these deuils are enough to make one regret that the State no longer throws national funerals for departed giants of the theater, like the mass procession for Sarah Bernhardt. (Whose name pops up in “Madame de …” when Boyer, having confirmed Darrieux’s infidelity but refusing to discuss it, proclaims, “Tonight we shall speak only of Sarah Bernhardt.”)

*100 years, Danielle Darrieux, and we still haven’t got enough of you.

 

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La mystere de Stael

de stael smallIn the month before he threw himself off a building in Antibes on March 16, 1955, Nicolas de Stael churned out 350 paintings. And yet even if de Stael’s life had ended 11 years earlier, when he was just 30, he still would have shattered the art world with the oil “Astronomy – Composition,” painted on a 90 1/2 inch long, 40 1/2 inch tall slab of wood in Occupied Paris, the same year de Stael held his first major exhibition at Jeanne Bucher’s seminal abstract art gallery on the Boulevard Montparnasse. Looking at just a photo of this phenomenal, precise oeuvre — on sale in tonight’s Artcurial auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art in Paris — even makes one re-think the appellation “abstract,” which implies the opposite of “concrete” or, in the construct of the post-War battles for aesthetic hegemony, “figurative.” What one sees here, though, is a painting in which the observer’s universe figures into the calculation of the meaning. One can only hope that the State will calculate the oeuvre’s importance and pre-empt its sale. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 700,000 – 1,200,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial. — Paul Ben-Itzak

If you have a lemon tree, make art: Foujita in Montparnasse

foujita lemon pickers small

As an illustrator, Kees Van Dongen can’t be beat. (Check his ethereal covers of Proust’s gossamer ladies for Folio’s editions of “Remembrance of Things Past.”) But I just can’t see what makes “The Tall Doe in Black Stockings,” a 40 x 32 inch oil of a thin naked flapper painted in 1922-23, worth between 1.2 and 1.6 million Euros, Artcurial’s pre-sale estimate for tonight’s Impressionist and Modern auction in Paris. So if you’re looking for a representative of the Montparnasse epoch of the School of Paris — in all its international splendor — we propose instead Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886 – 1968), whose 1918 “The Lemon Pickers,” an 18 1/4 x 12 inch watercolor, ink, and gold and silver leaf on paper, is estimated at a paltry 100,000 – 150,000 Euros. Not just for its intrinsic value, but because Foujita, born in Japan and artistically flowered in France, in the hybrid nature of his oeuvre defies the false debate current among some French pundits between “multi-culturalism” and “national identity,” demonstrating that far from being antithetical, they have forged the synthesis that is the cosmopolitan French and Parisian culture. Signed in French and in Japanese (of course) at lower right. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

Vanishing Acts: Waiting in Limbo with Maguy Marin & Lutece

marin umweltCompagnie Maguy Marin in Maguy Marin’s “Umwelt.” Photograph by and copyright Christian Ganet and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2015, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS — One of the endurance tests of a work of art is its malleability over time. When I first saw Maguy Marin’s “Umwelt” 10 years ago in its Paris premiere at the Theatre de la Ville – Sarah Bernhardt, if the choreography was dense, the dance’s spirit was still unrelentingly slapstick, with nine performers taking turns surging rapid-fire — alone, paired, or in triplets — from the opening between three lateral walls of mirrors, le tout, mirrors and humans with their various props (baby dolls, turkey drumsticks, army helmets, guns, aprons, foliage, blonde wigs, laboratory jackets, pills, buckets of dirt…) buffeted about by wind machines as they engaged in everyday human interplay and gestures ranging from kisses to left hooks, with the occasional flashing of buttocks and genitals tossed in to remind you it was, after all, European modern dance. (And to ensure the ‘unfamily friendly’ label from the constipated directors of the Joyce Theater; who needs the NYPD — which swooped down on Anna Halprin’s frolicking performers at the Kaye 50 years ago — when the pre-censoring is done in-house?) Even the bombastic score — played by a single strand of twine which crossed the downstage from one spool to another, caressing the strings of three prostrate electric guitars en route — couldn’t perturb the frothy demeanor of the movement. What outraged me was that where no one had walked out of the same theater during a Wim Vandekeybus spectacle the previous week which projected graphic images of children being tortured and killed, 40 spectators fled “Umwelt,” the more optimistic work. On Friday December 4, though, at the opening of the reprise of “Umwelt” on the same stage, I started sobbing at the first appearance of the performers. With their bright pedestrian outfits and variety of human shapes and ages, in their frantic running back and forth, fighting against the torrential currents of the wind and lost in the confines of the buckling rows of mirror-wall centurions, they seemed to be the innocents killed November 13, discombobulated and disoriented over what had just happened to them, trapped in this antechamber between existance and the afterworld like Captain Kirk hovering between two dimensions, juggling the detrius of their lives on Earth until we the survivors could set things right. At the moment, the verdict is still out, as we too seem to be hovering like Kirk between two worlds — or at least two worldviews, that of trepidation and fear and that of persevering hope.

To receive the complete article, first published on December 11, 2015, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

The first draft of history isn’t Journalism, it’s Art

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

If we can no longer count on mainstream journalists for a reliable first draft of history, we can still turn to artists, whose only patron is the muse. (After all, “Guernica,” the most searing souvenir we have of Franco’s Axis-supported atrocities, was created by Picasso, who, when asked by German officers visiting his Paris atelier during the Occupation, “Did you make this?” answered: “No, you did.”) I take solace therefore in work by Robert Combas, Jean-Michel Atlan, Arman, Karel Appel, Pierre Alechinsky, Kader Attia, Etienne-Martin, and Antoni Clavé, all of which – like most of the 269 lots in today’s Artcurial’s Post-War / Contemporary and “Humanus versus Animal” auctions in Paris – tells unfiltered stories with social, political, historical, and/or literary implications. Let’s start with the oeuvres in which these resonances may be the least evident without some context, two untitled oils by Jean-Michel Atlan (1913 – 1960), both of which owe their very existence to the Algerian-born Jewish artist’s cunning during the Occupation, as documented by the critic and novelist Michel Ragon.

To receive the complete, illustrated article, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews and other articles by 150 leading critics of performances, films, and exhibitions on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archive for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

Escape from 9-11 & Terrorism: Maguy Marin’s Brave New World revealed in Paris

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Author’s Note: The first dance response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — today more relevant than ever.)

PARIS — AIDS had its Tony Kushner to write it a fantasia, and now 9-11 has its Maguy Marin to furnish a plan for action, an artist who both captures the actual calamity and lights the escape route. With her new “Points de Fuite” (“Points of Escape”), which premiered last night at the Theatre de la Ville – Sarah Bernhardt, Marin not only affirms the appropriateness of an artistic response to 9-11 and the aesthetic potential of such an expression, but its absolute necessity to finding points of escape from the despair, depression, rage and helplessness which continue to emanate from our literal, moral, and political ground zero in the wake of September 11.

To receive the complete article, first published on February 13, 2002, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

Paul Lombard at Artcurial: Doing Justice to Art History

lombardacleger90detail smallFernand Léger (1881-1955), “Project for  Paul Eluard’s ‘Liberty, I write your name'” (Detail), 1953.  Gouache, ink, and collage on paper, 13 x 51 1/8 inches.  Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 80,000 – 120,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

It’s a pity that Paul Lombard was too busy becoming a lion of the law — among other celebrated cases, working on the Chagall, Picasso, Balthus, and Bonnard successions and valiantly defending one of the last men to be executed in France before it banned the death penalty in 1981, Christian Ranucci, in the belief that his client was innocent — to take up a third career (he also wrote books) as a curator. Judging by the breadth and intrepidness of the late Marseille-born advocate’s collection, which goes on sale Tuesday evening at Artcurial in Paris, Lombard was not only an expert in various domains of the law (notably authoring a book on divorce), but could have given seminars to the major museum curators, whose ethos in recent years (with the exception of the Pompidou) seems to be driven by marketing concerns at the expense of curiosity, archeology, and preservation (of art history, I mean), most exhibitions repeatedly trotting out the same artists in new conceptual configurations or combinations.

A perusal of the Artcurial catalog for the Lombard auction confirms that in building a collection which documents several through-lines of art history between them spanning more than 200 years, Lombard, who died in January at the age of 89, was guided by two principles (both familiar to defense lawyers): Explaining (in this case, the sources of artistic movements and individual artists’ inspirations), and shedding light (here, on previously obscure aspects of artists we thought we already knew everything about).

To receive the complete article, including more images, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@@gmail.com .