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Un Film de Jo

 

My family has identified a film genre called “the Jo Page Movie.”

Generally these movies feature someone like Mark Harmon playing some sort of smooth-talking psychopath who charms the pants off somebody like Madeleine Stowe playing the psychiatrist who is helping the Mark Harmon character deal with issues related to his recurring nightmare that he has killed his wife.

The viewer doesn’t know whom to trust, but by the time the Mark Harmon character and the Madeleine Stowe character have had a few rolls in the hay and the psychopath has had some strange visits from the dead wife’s creepy brother, played by somebody like Peter Coyote who may or may not be real and who may or may not be avenging his sister’s death, the viewer figures out that Madeleine Stowe is in some pretty big danger.

Of course, Madeleine Stowe is also in love, which means that she has lost her mind, too. She decides she can save Mark Harmon, in spite of his diabolical eyebrows. So she goes on a road trip with him to his dead wife’s hometown, filmed in some place that’s supposed to look like Mackinaw Island, but in the off season, when it’s easy to find yourself alone with your psychopathic patient on the Mackinaw Bridge which is mysteriously deserted and, unaccountably, open to pedestrians.

And we all know what’s going to happen now! Mark Harmon is going to try to kill Madeleine Stowe on the Mackinaw Bridge! And only Peter Coyote can save her! Except that Mark Harmon has disabled Peter Coyote’s car at the entrance of the bridge and Peter Coyote is running—very breathlessly—toward the spot where Mark Harmon is choking Madeleine Stowe, dangling her perilously over the mighty waters of Sault Ste. Marie, her long hair a silken scarf in the wind.

And guess what? I won’t tell you what happens next!

Because this is not a real movie, but a composite of the kinds of themes that comprise the genre of “the Jo Page Movie.”

Yes, I like lowbrow movies. B movies.

Most Jo Page movies don’t have Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Berman for directors or feature Max Von Sydow in drag and Gregory Peck as the psychopath. Mostly they are just pretty awful. For years now I have been trying to wean myself of this unhealthy attraction to shlockly, formulaic, low- budget, badly-acted, utterly addictive movies.

So a few months ago I decided that French films were the answer to my problems. Vadim, Varda, Vigo. Berri, Bresson, Becker. Lecomte, Lelouche, Lumiere. The French invented movies, for heaven’s sake. I’d be healed toute de suite.

“There haven’t been any good French films since Shoot the Piano Player,” a friend told me, nose so high I thought it was the altitude talking. “French cinema peaked with the New Wave.”

I went on with my quest.

And what I found out was this: There are some pretty highbrow French movies out there, some so ponderous that I had to keep eating popcorn just to stay awake.

The recent dud, Caché, is a good example. I think it’s a dud, but critics loved it. It’s highbrow to the hilt, which is to say that nothing whatsoever happens in it. Daniel Auteuil, the French Aiden Quinn, plays the host of a smarty-pants book talk show. He and his wife, Juliette Binoche, give all these chi-chi little dinner parties in their monochromatically decorated Parisian flat. A mystery sort of unfolds around all this.

You find quite a few movies like that. The loopy Julie Delpy shows up in a lot of them. And there are plenty of movies with High Moral Purpose, too. I like these. I especially like reading about these.

On the other hand, it’s just not all Issues and Ambience. In Graham Guit’s Le Pacte de Silence, Gerard Depardieu plays a passionate priest—with a troubled past, of course—who finds himself involved with beautiful troubled twins, one a winsome nun, the other jailed for a murder she may or may not have committed. Need I say more?

In The Tenant, Roman Polanski paints his fingernails, pulls out his own teeth and jumps out of windows trying to prove that he may or may not be the creepy suicidal previous occupant of the flat he has rented. “I am not Simone Choule!” he screams. Plus de creepy.

Les Diaboliques is delightful romp about a wife and mistress who collude to murder their man, the harsh headmaster at the school where they teach. They hide his body in a murky swimming pool, but soon students start seeing him alive and in the flesh!

I think that with a little patience and a little luck, someday I’ll discover a movie featuring Madeleine Stowe as the ex-model spending an off-season vacation on Mackinaw Island where she runs into her demented ex-lover, a former photographer, played by Daniel Auteuil and his jealous wife, played by Catherine Deneuve. There will be a tussle on the Mackinaw Bridge and Madeleine Stowe will be dangling perilously over the waters of Sault Ste. Marie—Deneuve’s hands around Stowe’s neck while Auteuil wields his camera—when all of a sudden Peter Coyote arrives on the scene, breathless, and just in time.

—Jo Page

jopage@graceniska.org

 


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