might not expect Fats Waller to provide the theme song for the docu-memoir of
Marcel Ophüls, the director of The Sorrow
and the Pity. However, those who closely followed the filmmaker’s career
know he had already used Waller’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Waiting at the
End of the Road” as the opening music for his Northern Ireland documentary, A Sense of Loss. Ophüls just like Waller. Viewers will learn a few more things about Ophüls
when he turns the camera on himself in Ain’t
screens during the 2014 New York Jewish Film Festival.
the son of Max Ophuls, filmmaking is in Marcel Ophüls’ blood. It also meant he was born Jewish in Weimar
Germany. In Misbehavin,’ his most dramatic recollections chronicle the family’s
life in exile, spanning France, Switzerland, Spain, and eventually America. While Ophüls generally hopscotches from
subject to subject as the mood strikes him, he gives his formative war years
the focus they merit.
rest of the film is a mixed bag, but there is plenty of interesting bits for
film lovers to chew on. Ophüls’ encounter
with the sixty year old (but apparently still sultry) Marlene Dietrich turns
out to be everything you would hope.
There is also plenty of good Hollywood dish on Preston Sturges and Howard
Hughes, from the perspective of the senior Ophüls. Strangely, he only revisits
his own films obliquely, rather than in-depth.
Nonetheless, Misbehavin’ helps
put his controversial war crimes film The
Memory of Justice into perspective. Commissioned by German television, it
is controversial for equating American military operations in Viet Nam with
National Socialist genocide. According
to the director, he tried to avoid such “relativism,” but control of the
picture became contested and a version not authorized by Ophüls aired in
often acknowledges his tribulations in passing asides that leave inevitable
questions dangling in mind air (like “what did he just say about his suicide
attempts”). Yet, perhaps the strangest sequences
involve a suspected affair between his wife, Régine (still living, but not
talking) and his dear friend, François Truffaut. Ophüls even puts the question to Jeanne Moreau,
in an interview she seems to find just as baffling as the audience.
There is probably more of Ophüls sauntering
about in Misbehavin’ than anyone
really needs and it starts slower than molasses. Nonetheless, the documentary provides a
unique first-hand perspective on Golden Age Hollywood, the Nouvelle Vague, and
WWII. It also proves he has good taste in music. Recommended for fans of either Ophüls, Ain’t Misbehavin’ screens twice this
coming Wednesday (1/8) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s
NYJFF, co-presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Labels: Documentary, Marcel Ophuls, NYJFF '14