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Miller on Moullet

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Luc Moullet is by his own admission more comfortable on a precarious high mountain pass than in the company of other filmmakers. He's proud of his miserly, shoestring-budget aesthetic, and opposed on principle to fussiness and pretense.  He is for a cinema that makes things visible, not obscure.  The DVD release of 7 of his roughly 30 films will bring his comic social critiques to well-deserved wider renown.

Nowadays, we have become increasingly aware of the consequences of eating habits dependent on foods that don't originate locally, and come instead from faraway places.  For anyone concerned with the topic, Moullet's 1978 film Genesis of a Meal is required viewing.  Moullet and his partner commence the film with a frugal repast consisting of tuna, omelet and bananas.  Moullet decides to trace the origins of the foods on his plate. This sets in motion an investigation of the industries of agriculture, poultry farming and fishing. It takes him to examinations of first and third world labor markets, multinational corporate practices, and French colonialist history.

Moullet juxtaposes the well-paid French captain in Senegal with his underpaid African counterpart.  He makes it seem incomprehensible that the wages of dock workers in Ecuador whose backs strain under thousands of boxes of bananas should be lower than those of the French workers who complain of health problems as the same boxes slide by on an automated belt.  Moullet shows indistinguishable supermarket shelves in France and Africa, claiming he can no longer tell in which country the shots were made.  What can the difference be when it's impossible to discern the distinctions between life in one place and another? Still the French prefer their tuna in a can with the face of a sailor from Brittany, even though the contents were packed in Africa.

This is far from a dry document even if it is couched in the form of a white paper. Moullet interweaves his predilection for analysis with conscience and humor. He observes the toylike qualities of the industrial belts that shuttle bananas, eggs, cans of fish.  The value of human existence remains paramount in his sight.  Fittingly he turns his gaze on himself at the end, acknowledging the inextricability of his film from the very processes that he exposes.  He too has had to pose as an overseer, like those who pace behind the African women canning tuna, earning more money, but doing less work.

Anatomy of a Relationship from 1976 also finds Moullet turning his gaze on himself. The film is the study of the sexual vicissitudes and emotional fallout undergone by Moullet and his girlfriend.  Testament to his courage and honesty, his hang-ups and shortcomings are put nakedly on screen. He laments being born in the age of the sexual revolution, feeling unequipped to conform his desire to satisfy his girlfriend's needs.  The approach melds autobiography and fiction: Moullet the character receives a windfall in a fashion related to one Moullet reportedly did receive. The complications between fiction and fact emerge further at the end, when the co-director of the film, Moullet's real-life partner, appears to debate the ending of the film with Moullet and the actress who has played her in the film.

A 2001 documentary about Moullet, The Man of the Badlands is included in the set of discs.  Moullet leads us on a tour of southeastern France, the region of his origins.  It's where he set the majority of his films and where he at one time based his professional activities.  He established his business once at the highest elevation in France, all part of a joke related to being an “Auteur” a homonym in French for “heights.” He revisits the sites of his past and of the settings of his films in the rugged French badlands. This documentary affords Moullet a chance to discourse on the opportunism and perspicacity required to be a director. He is as droll and unique as his films.

In the 1993 film Up and Down a motley bicycle rally climbs one of the filmmaker's beloved mountain passes. For Moullet, it's a sustained climb, as one subtle sight gag and deft social spoof outraces another.  Like the race, Moullet's films require effort but offer a remarkable view.

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