UP AND DOWN (France / 1992)
While Luc Moullet may not be as great a filmmaker as many of his French New Wave counterparts, hes been unjustly ignored, both at home and abroad, until recently (a traveling retro and a DVD box set have gone a long way to open a few eyes). This well-regarded Cahiers critic has made more than 30 films thus far -- many of whom are emblematic of his "passion" for American genre films (he was particularly fond of Fuller), as they demythologize them in an absurdly comedic fashion (not surprisingly, Straub once called him "undoubtedly the only heir to both Buuel and Tati"). Even though Up and Down (Parpaillon) doesnt quite belong in that category, in its own way it does humorously "deconstruct": in this case the French affection for bicycling. Reportedly inspired by Dadaist playwright Alfred Jarry's The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race, the film is shot near Col du Parpaillon, an intricate and challenging mountain pass in the southern French Alps, where a bicycle rally is held annually. Like a few other Moullet efforts, Up and Down takes a little getting used to, but once one becomes aware of the films rhythm and structure, many small, delightful capsules are to be had. We learn that this year the rally isnt organized properly: the old-timers constantly moan about the lack of refreshments along the way, and become even more incensed when smoke-emitting cars whizz by (a couple, it turns out, driven by cheaters who simply unleash their bikes from the trunk midway through the ordeal). In an almost clockwise fashion, the film visits a plethora of amateur riders one by one, as they get mired in all sorts of predicaments. The humor -- both slapstick and witty, not unlike some of the Tour de France-related gags in the wonderful animated film The Triplets of Belleville (2003) -- is well-supported by Moullets uncommonly mobile camerawork, which also beautifully captures the scenic locales of the Alps. And the filmmaker heightens the stakes (metaphorically speaking, that is) with the long, dark and troublesome Tunnel du Parpaillon, near which the journey culminates. "For me," Moullet once wrote, "there isn't intelligence and stupidity, but intelligence-stupidity." That quote makes a little more sense after viewing Up and Down.
*UP AND DOWN is now available on DVD in the U.S. (Facets). It is featured alongside Brigitte and Brigitte (1966) on the same disc. Moullet's The Smugglers (1967) and A Girl Is a Gun (1971) are also out, while the wonderful Anatomy of a Relationship (1975) and Genesis of a Meal (1978) will be released in March.