Monday, July 17, 2006

Sam Fuller and Luc Moullet

Brigitte and Brigitte
(Luc Moullet, France, 1966, 35mm 71 mins.)

"The young American filmmakers have nothing to say, Sam Fuller even less than the others. He has something to do, and he does it, naturally, without forcing it. This isn't a small compliment."
-- Luc Moullet

Last week, I received my order for Sam Fuller's autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking (2002). The first thing I did was to look up Luc Moullet in the index, since the late writer/director (Shock Corridor, The Big Red One, etc.) appears in this film. Well, Fuller doesn't reminisce about Brigitte and Brigitte, but he does recall his first encounter with Monsieur Moullet:

"During rehearsals one day [for 1954's Hell and High Water], Victor [Francen] brought a French movie magazine to the set. It was called Cahiers du Cinéma (Cinema Notebooks). It had a distinctive yellow cover and was edited by a man named André Bazin. The magazine's contributors were young men named Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Luc Moullet. I'd never heard of the magazine or its writers. The publication was refreshing, with passionate, in-depth articles about techniques and themes in contemporary movies. Victor translated a few passages from Cahiers that praised me and my work. I was surprised and thrilled. That was the beginning of a long love affair. I was a fan of the magazine for many years. Cahiers was a fervent supporter of my work. Luc Moullet later wrote an article ["Sam Fuller sur les brisees de Marlowe," 1959] comparing me to Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe, for Chrissakes! I could hardly shave after that came out, having to look at myself in the mirror, the ghost of Doctor Faustus over my shoulder."

In truth, Fuller merely cameos in Brigitte and Brigitte--as "Samuel Fuller," naturellement--but it's a charming bit, nonetheless. Moullet's absurdist comedy actually revolves around two young women who meet in a Parisian train station. Both have recently arrived from the provinces to attend the illustrious Sorbonne.

Though one is small, dark, and right-wing (Françoise Vatel, who also stars in A Comedy of Work and The Smugglers), the other taller, blonder, and communist (Colette Descombes), they're both wearing the same preppy outfit (wool pea coat, plaid skirt) and their hair is styled in the same chic 1960s manner. They're even toting the same patent leather handbag.

[b&b image]

An instant friendship is forged. The Brigittes get an apartment together and do everything as a twosome--sightseeing, studying, dating. It's a Gallic Ghost World as directed by a more upbeat Godard. Brigitte and Brigitte is certainly as post-modern, since it's also a film about film, like A Band of Outsiders. In other words, the Brigittes, like the ménage à trois in The Dreamers, are constantly watching, reading up on, and even interviewing people on the street about movies.

They find it difficult to come to any firm conclusions. One filmgoer, for instance, claims Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Jerry Lewis as the best filmmakers, the next claims those three as the worst. Who to believe? All they know is that Fuller is The Man. Alas, they find it easier to come to a conclusion about their friendship. As with Ghost World's Enid and Rebecca: It isn't built to last.

Moullet is now into his fourth decade of filmmaking (32 films and counting). He started writing for Cahiers when he was 18 and released his first film, four years later, in 1960. Fellow Cahiers scribe-turned-auteurs Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol also cameo in this minimalist gem that the notoriously grumpy Godard described as "revolutionary." (Rohmer plays a professor, Chabrol a lecherous uncle.)


Samuel Fuller (1912-1997), meanwhile, who also began his career as a writer, would go on to appear in the films of several other directorial disciples, including Steven Spielberg (1941), Wim Wenders (The American Friend), and Finland's Mika Kaurismäki (Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made with Jim Jarmusch).

Next up: Comedy of Work and A Girl is a Gun aka An Adventure of Billy the Kid (with French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud).

Brigitte and Brigitte plays the Northwest Film Forum July 21-23, Fri. and Sun. at 7pm and Sat. at 9pm (plus Sat. and Sun. at 5pm). The full series, FRENCH KING OF COMEDY: SEVEN WONDERS OF LUC MOULLET, runs from July 21-27. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave., on Capitol Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here. You can also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.


  1. Thanks for writing this. Now I have an added incentive to see the Moullet film. I recently finished reading A Third Face and have been making my way through the Fuller films I've never seen. Unfortunately, many aren't on DVD so I've been resorting to Scarecrow's VHS copies of Baron of Arizona, Steel Helmet, etc. I wish there was some way we could get a Fuller retro going in Seattle.

  2. I'm with you. I've lived in Seattle for awhile, but have had few opportunities to see Fuller's work on the big screen. Sorry to say I missed the NWFF's screening of "The Big Red One - The Reconstruction." Incidentally, I've met a few locals who've interviewed him. I'm jealous!

  3. If you missed this series, you can soon get caught up via DVD. According to Dave Kehr (The New York Times), "Not easy to see, even in France, several of Mr. Moullet's films have been gathered in a box set by the French company Blaq Out, and Facets Multimedia of Chicago will be distributing American versions of two double features from the set. "The Smugglers" ("Les Contrebandières," 1967) paired with "A Girl Is a Gun" ("Une Aventure de Billy le Kid," 1971) were released last week; "Brigitte and Brigitte" (1966) and "Up and Down" ("Parpaillon," 1993) will appear on Jan. 30.