15 MAY 1964, Page 14

Mediterranean Waves



So we have had the Swedish New Wave, the Spanish, the Japanese, the American, British and French. The first to appear after the Roman Empire had fallen (out of competition) was the Japanese. There is, in fact, an excellent Japan- ese director called Oshima who makes movies a bit like Godard's, but, alas, national pride .doesn't allow teenage sex and violence num- bers to be entered for Cannes. So it is becoming apparent after a few of their pictures that the mainstream of the Japanese New Wave is symbolism. Its subject is men with buckets.

The current example is Woman of Sand, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. It's about an entomologist, tramping through the sand-dunes looking for insects. But his guides lead him into a huge sand pit, and every time he tries to scramble up the sides, he always slides down again, which like everything else in the film is Freudian in a Japanese way. Then there's the woman who lives in a house in the sand pit, who (he thinks) has trapped him. Except how could she, because she can't get out either? Anyway, after dark she starts shovelling sand into buckets, and the villagers haul them away. Then for the next hour nothing much happens except he keeps trying to escape and sometimes - when they're wiping sand off each other's naked bodies with damp cloths, they get carried away. The long and short of it is that she gets, ill and it turns out she's pregnant. You can't tell under that Japanese clothing. When she's taken away, he gives up trying to escape and waits for her. So there he is, living in a sand pit just like the insects he was collecting.

This tale, dolled up with some tricksy camera work, is classic sucker bait for film critics. It has the main qualification for serious contender in the Great Art Stakes, being not just symbolic but adaptable. This is the film via which any' critic can expound his own credo, because it can be taken to symbolise almost anything. There are suggestions that it may get the grand prix.

The Spanish New Wave, which emerged only last year, is represented by The Girl in Mourn- ing, the second film of Manuel Summers. This is a pleasant if rather coy comedy about a girl who loses her fiancé because she is not allowed to talk to him during frequent six-month periods of mourning. If jokes about black underwear and painting father's crutch black grow a little thin, the film still pleased me because it was free of that aggressive boredom that makes 'sortie de secours' the most inviting phrase in the French language. All through festivals, I find myself longing to see an American film, prefer- ably in 'scope and colour.

But the American films so far at Cannes are in neither. The interesting one is The Best Man, from a play by Gore Vidal, directed by Franklin Schaffner, whose attractive first film, Woman of Summer, was shown in Britain last year. He conies from television, now the usual source of new American directors, and his origins are more evident in the occasionally slapdash style of The Best Man than they were in its carefully made predecessor. Both, Schaffner and Vidal were in the Kennedy circle: Schaffner was an adviser on television, Vidal was a candidate for Congress. The film concerns a party convention at which there are two main candidates: the rabble-rousing Cliff Robertson and the intel- lectual Henry Fonda. It is very much a writer's film, and Vidal was in Cannes denying at his press conference that the film had anything to do with real events, but admitting in private that it had. The play, he said, was written before the novel Advise and Consent. The film, 'how- ever, must acknowledge the Preminger work as an antecedent.

Two other American movies in or around the Festival are from that standard outlet for new directors, the low-budget goodwill movie. This year's theme, not surprisingly, is race relations. And this year's message is that Negroes are people. Just like us.

Both race movies try to see things from the point of view of the Negro. The heroes are a rather un-negroid Negro (One Potato, Two Potato) and a black-skinned occidental (Black Like Me). The year's new scene is that of Negro rejecting white. One Potato, Two Potato tries to show an honest view of inter-racial relation- ships. It quickly turns soggy and has one great liberal moment when black grandpappy joy- fully holds up half-caste baby. Honest intentions degenerate into sentimentality. Black Like Me essays a jazzier treatment for its story of a journalist who dyes his skin to feel for himself what it is like to be a Southern Negro. Described in its publicity material as the most commercial film on its subject, it intersperses scenes of race repression with ruthless conversational plugging of the idea that Negroes are sexier than whites. All calculated to pull in lots of good, honest, liberal money.

The British New Wave •was said to have started with Jack Clayton's Room at the Top. But looking back, one realises that the new films were very little better than the old ones: as before, but, with the setting Northern and working-class rather than Southern and middle- class. Clayton's third long film is the official British entry and it is dreadful. The idea of using Harold Pinter to adapt Penelope Mortimer's The Pumpkin Eater showed considerable lack of awareness. Psychological investigation is hardly his forte. On occasions there is some good and Pinterish dialogue. Structure and de- velopment, however, are nowhere to be observed. The deficiencies should, of course, have been filled in by the director. Except for James Mason, who can probably manage by himself, Clayton has not inspired his actors to make anything out of the characters they play. An enjoyable guest spot by Maggie Smith seems not to belong to the rest of the film. All this is shown in a stolidly academic camera style, in- terrupted occasionally by moments of technical daring which are ugly without being meaning- ful, and usually conditioned by an obsessive but uncomprehending recollection of Anton ioni.

The German and Italian contributions have been undistinguished, ranging from a mindless German burlesque of an American mystery, Death in Beverley Hills, to a dreary movie about a man who married a hairy lady, The Ape Woman, with Annie Giradout covered with hair everywhere except where it would spoil the strip number.

The only consolations, and those qualified, have been the French and Swedish entries, which I hope to write about next week, as the major French film has not yet been shown. This is Jacques Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. of which I have high hopes. But, as with the new Truffaut, I may be disappointed.