Three Films About Max Jacob
(three films Whit Stillman, Derek Jarman, and Rossellini never made...)
[This is what happened when I read Rosanna Warren’s biography. Most quotations are from her and roughly real, but some I made up; events sometimes rearranged in time, assigned to wrong person like coats at a party or deaths in Dialogues of the Carmelites, etc etc. Like many things, it’s not as long as it looks. Apologies to these three directors and also Radiguet, I guess.]
November 2, 2023
The Harlequin Theater in Washington, DC is only half-full when the theater’s owner, a small, stocky, bearded man whose name I didn’t catch, appears suddenly behind the podium at the front of the theater and says, “Welcome, creatures!”
With the slightly hoarse voice of a carnival barker, he launches into the pattering, zigzagging tale of the strange origin of the three films we’re about to watch: three movies by three different directors, all believed lost, all mailed together to the Harlequin Theater three weeks ago, in an azure cloth held together by packing tape. “The way a crazy person wraps things,” the theater owner says, and a laugh jerks out of him like a small escaping bird. Every film starred an unknown actor who never worked again. And every film was about Max Jacob.
I’m not here for Max Jacob. I’m here because three of my favorite directors made a movie about him—three directors whose themes and techniques and obsessions have never struck me as overlapping at any point. Who is this guy? Canny, savoring, our host says, “Max Jacob! A Jew and a Catholic. A peasant singer, a bourgeois shopkeeper, a cosmopolitan; a martyr. Picasso’s godson and Cubism’s godfather. He loved God with all the outlaw fervor of faggotry and fathered poets as numerous as the stars in the sky. A shlimazl, a magician, a furious proselytizer who wouldn’t pick a side. Hypocrite-apostle! A bad friend,” and he pauses here, knowing we’ll love the shaggy-dog story more if it’s got a sorry heart, “who never lost a friend.”
“You wouldn’t have heard of him,” he says, and his laugh is joyous, ancient, the laugh of every afterparty since God rested on Day Seven. The lights in the house go out.
“The Future”: a film by Whit Stillman (1999)
camera crawls wincing—but also chop-licking—thru disorder: stained mattress on blocks, squeezed paint tubes, stiffening uncleaned paintbrushes, flasks, mugs, jars, cigarette butts (some stubbed out in a shoe), little bag of roasted chestnuts (also in shoe). Easels and canvases everywhere
dim & soiled light
white mouse in a drawer—shooed out—hand extracts slender & elegant black & white pipe.
guitar starts to strum
not a musical instrument: opium pipe
making up a fix
Chris Eigeman! He falls across the screen and stays there
humming not quite in key w/guitar
oh my God Chris Eig is Picasso!
ok 3 guys: PP, Apollinaire (Matt K from LDODisco), Max Jacob (“Carmine Profano”? really?)
MJ: “I am a toy in the hands of the bourgeoisie!”
battle to be King of Art Mountain
lol his cousin, re MJ’s poetry: “So that’s success? … Well, well! You could write a little better, all the same!”
diff cousin, a banker, buys a Picasso; to client: “You like that? I don’t. I don’t see anything in it. It’s Max who made me buy it.”
parties, wine jug, fifteen different kinds of cubism
scientific cubism, orphic cubism, physical cubism, genital cubism, cubism seen from a very long way off
Apollinaire seems like kind of a creep
MJ calls PP “Mon Soeur Bleu”; throws blue tablecloth over him, it becomes a habit ← like a nun’s habit, not like an ether addiction
which MJ also has
they all treat ether like it’s so much sadder than their opium… Max passed out in street at dawn, sad wino
PP, MJ leaning over balcony, looking down on street far below, crawfish sellers & whatnot—magic hour—long silence, then PP takes Max’s arm: “Let’s go in, we shouldn’t think of such things”
Max glance sympathetic, very quick to look away again—thoughts of suicide
oh man, this scene where MJ recites Verlaine from memory
incredibly overdone, lugubrious to the point of camp but… night is falling…
we are genuinely rapt
lolol then he gasps out SILENCE… SILENCE and flops down on the floor. ok
opposite of Josh hymn from LDOD, it works even though it’s exaggerated, instead of working even though it’s tossed off in embarrassment
Stillman’s so into these guys!
dogs in foreground, cubists squabbling in background
monkey in foreground
MJ: “It’s beside the point to describe a winter dawn. If you care to read a description of this type of meteorological phenomenon, you’ll find it in any well-made novel of manners.”
Ap is a bad influence
wants to be mad young king
MJ is dancing on table, Ap grabs him, pulls close & says “Our eyes devour everything they touch, and when our eyelids close rapidly like jaws, they gulp down the universe.” RUN MAX!!!!!!
“I can fart the Marseillaise”
more sad Max dancing on tables
they have a turtle to eat the bedbugs
omg this courtroom scene. They’re asking Max about the guy who got stabbed with the corkscrew and he’s just “murmurmurmurburbleunintelligibleCORKSCREWmurmurmurmurmumblebumbleCORKSCREW”
Max fake sobbing—real tears
even the guards are laughing!
ooh the stabbed guy’s not laughing
bandaged and bewildered
are these guys the villains, actually?
…THEY STOLE A THIRD IBERIAN STONE HEAD?!
PP threatens to shoot guy for dissing Cézanne YES!
Picasso adopts her but seems to be getting… very Woody Allen about it :/
Oh lol these Germans! “explain your aesthetics” he just fires the revolver in the air
I’m back on their side now… they did return the stone heads
oh no, smash cut to Picasso un-adopting Raymonde, Max packs her off with a doll
it feels like they just sold her to this hotel… Max seems sad but doesn’t say anything about it, I guess what can he do
somehow this smile (“Profano”) is so heartbreaking
Max almost gets fired for being queer; threatens duel; they are going to go and duel with him (this seems to be real?) but then they get high instead. Stillman’s always so gentle about stuff like that—low consequences
even these guys admit they don’t understand what PP is painting
PP swears off drugs after the suicide at the house
Ap would be an influencer today for sure
lol this rando minor artist whose mom sends the maid over to clean his studio
they stole his sofa!
THEY’RE SLEDDING DOWN MONTMARTRE ON HIS SOFA
Whit Stillman directs a Muppets chase scene! Top hats and handcarts full of flowers go flying! THEY JUST KNOCKED A MAN OUT OF A BATHTUB WHERE HE WAS BEING DRAGGED THROUGH THE STREET, WASHING HIMSELF I’m in tears
the Michael Mann of sofas
more parties… parties to make fun of a person
faking having the DTs although this frothing at the mouth bit seems more like rabies
Gertrude Stein cameo!
PP has a new apartment with a maid
MJ to Ap, compares the universe to an onion… seems very into it, Ap eats a ring of onion raw
MJ says he had a vision of Jesus
I am shocked to report that he says Jesus is “masculine and young”
and “standing in one of my own landscapes”!
ooh “I was undressed by lightning.” That’s a good line and he really sells it.
a bit undercut by then telling us about the six doppelganger monks
he was a beggar woman? what is this thing with the statue?
oh this smash cut to darkness is cool
—Open the door! Let the light in.
—Wait! I beg you, let me get dressed.
—Don’t get dressed, open the door.
a little Terence Malick but I like it—shaft of light—oh lol now we’re stumbling around knocking the Cross against the doorway, it’s slapstick
“My Cross is the Hebrew Tav [I think he says tav]”
“corresponds to the number 9: 2x4 + 1 = reason and will” ??????
is this supposed to be ridiculous?
lol this lady lecturing him on how “we are not granted visions of God or his son but only guardian angels.” He’s being sort of truculently meek about it
“Is it better to understand than to pray, or better to pray than to understand?”
ooh banter between Ap and MJ w/this camel story—the camels are Jews—“How can I prove I’m not a camel?” First mention of politics so far I think
THE GREAT WAR
MJ: “One has to understand their language: light retreat means bloody defeat, & great victory means a light advance.”
evacuation; total chaos; everybody staring up at the German fighter planes like cows; people shooting at the sky
“Are Our Soup Kitchens Breeding Bolsheviks?”
MJ to hospitalized bohemian: “I congratulate you on being wounded. And I thank you. It’s good for the honor of the whole brotherhood.”
“the grinding mechanism of pleasure”
he gets baptized, PP his godfather: “We were brought up in all this! It’s all new for you!”
“I heard a banging on the door & a voice saying ‘Open up!’ & I thought it was the priest w/the sacrament. But it was only a nasty old police officer!”
he has definitely had sex with some of these cops
“You go to the movies, then?”
What if I did? Didn’t Our Lord go there?
I like that Stillman really cares about the aesthetic theories here. Not the 57 varieties of cubism stuff but like, prose poem “must be a piece of sky speckled w/reality. Situated far from us in order to exist & reflecting us in order to interest us.”
now they’re squabbling over who invented the prose poem
everyone talking about how Max is always awful at weddings and funerals; “He’s jealous of love and envious of death”
“He’s cruising, in fact”
Max starts acting out The Passion Of The Christ, but slapsticky… Christ pratfalls a third time…
wait lol I think Reverdy is having an actual religious experience
Did this really happen? He’s praying (Stillman wisely doesn’t let you hear/see what he’s saying)
“And when of the Polish lancer, his limbs cut off and his bottle broken, nothing remained but his eye, the eye sang ‘The Two Grenadiers.’”
more aesthetic theory: “Poverty, purity. Riches in art are called bad taste. A poem is not the display window of a jewelry shop.”
then PP flounces in, lights a cigar: “I AM GLORY.”
“Art is a lie, but a good artist is not a liar.” “Personality is only a persistent error.”
lol Diego Rivera accuses PP of stealing “my method of indicating foliage with green dots!”
one of his new Catholic friends sends him an antisemitic book; retort: “As for Jewish finance, I’m still looking for it!”
...writes flattering letter to author that also tries to persuade him of the wisdom of the Kabbalah??? Why did you do that, Max Jacob?! “Well, who else would say it to him?” ???
v. low moment for Max with this failed seduction scene
“I would consider even indulging in your vices, if only to gain your poetic power,” but Max is like, no need
at least he doesn’t run a casting couch?
shaving the next morning w/guy, who’s still a bit leery of him: “Poetry is an invented dream. But how to reconcile the lie with the sincerity that is the power of all great works?—But come, Marcel, how do you manage to have such smooth cheeks?” & splashes himself with eau de cologne.
“my traditional apology paté”
“The sense of evil isn’t hypocrisy, it’s the fear of God”
you should just go to confession, like taking an aspirin for hangover (this said w/that Metropolitan style urgency Stillman always does when he’s joking-not-joking)
Ap wounded in war; banquet in his honor devolves into food fight
“Oh, Marie pushed Modigliani down the stairs”
out in the car with his philosopher friends; he is uneasy when they talk about being Jewish
he pisses on side of road and loses his ring
“It’s my savings account!” He makes them all search for it
oh lol/yikes “The grass is damp!”
they find it. Wiping hands on car. Yeesh
parallel w/Gospels, I think—lost coin (they don’t say this)
Max flirting in a letter: “What a shame that The Imitation [this is Imitation of Christ] forbids ‘inordinate affections’! I’m obliged to forbid myself the feelings I have for you, but also, what refined joy there is in this struggle with oneself.”
professional beggar woman (is this significant?) living above him: “Fine goings-on! Sacre-Coeur in the morning, orgies at night!”
whoa Ap has Spanish flu
dying: “Above all, don’t tell my mother! I want to die in peace!”
news photo of signing armistice in railroad car
funeral cortège… MJ turns it into a carnival
shouting out funeral orations for all the living artists
ooh MJ: “And now, I’ll be the leader!” joking-not-joking
ends with Jacob capering in a funeral cortege and turning it into a carnival. Love Train as totentanz.
final screens black, these words:
L’impasse de Guelma has its corregidors
And the Rue Caulaincourt its dealers in art
But the Rue Ravignan is the one I adore
For my standard-bearers’ interwoven hearts.
There, cutting designs in my beloved gems,
My greatest faults were those in my own poems.
Views Jacob as essentially hypocritical and silly, but w/capacity to open out into great generosity (like Nick thingummy in Metropolitan) and religious vision (like Charlotte in LDOD). PP & Ap harmful in ways Max wasn’t—“careless” like Daisy and Tom B—Ap dies before he can do too much, PP the only really awful thing we see is the business w/Raymonde. They’re not hypocritical like Max, and they are generous like him, but somehow he is the only truly appealing one. He seems lighthearted even when he’s groveling; they seem resentful even when they’re being high-handed. —No, that isn’t right, though—you do end up seeing all that there is to love in them, even Ap. You love them b/c you see them thru his eyes, maybe?
Gothic vibe orchestral music over final credits: this is why the film was lost for so long—originally Johnnie Taylor’s “I Found a Love” but dispute over rights. Subtitle added for this screening says they replaced w/Poulenc “La dame auveugle” w/lyrics by MJ.
“The Friends of Pain and Glory”: a film by Derek Jarman (1992)
v different opening—camera from above on rocky coast, emerald sweep of trees, looks like Merrie Old England
a child is singing
Gothic cathedral spires
carved Crucifixion scene at crossroads
ohhhh boy here we go, kid is singing:
My dear little mother, if you love me,
Protect me from the Jews;
protect me from the Jews.
Fade to black
opening voiceover: “Many of his pals thought he was a ‘joker.’ Max is a card” and tarot card comes spinning through the blackness: the Hanged Man
“He makes puns. Frightful misbehavior.
“Poetry is a vast pun. The poet associates, dissociates, turns over the world’s syllables….
“Max Jacob is a tightrope dancer, Max Jacob at the boardinghouse table, Max Jacob with his great Jewish melancholy, his conversion, his monkish good humor, his faith which he never exploits, his Breton imps, his cattiness, his heart of gold, I love him, I admire him, and we all owe him something….” (and all of these have tarot cards falling to signify them: tightrope dancer → The Fool, boardinghouse table → nine of cups, faith → Temperance, imps → Moon)
and now we see that the speaker is, of course, Max Jacob
MJ voiceover: “One fine day, I left for Paris, in the month of February, with no trunk and no overcoat, having stolen 29 francs from my mother’s desk drawer. Which corresponded to the price of the trip.”
Paris Métro style curlicued, graceful ironwork signs, but they’re spelling out the details of the Dreyfus Affair
then become Cubist, Picasso-style, still antisemitic
lol this officious military guy stamping CONFIRMED HYSTERIC on his file
MJ: “Military discharge meant holidays, and on holiday I still am.”
Party scene! A parade of cute youth. One crude caricature of a woman, who does get to say this fairly scathing bit: “These high-society guys are like the rest: The little piggie! The little piggie! ...They live only for the little piggie!”
later: “Is this to say that the war between the sexes is destined to conclude?” “Yes! through the creation of a third sex, composed uniquely for pleasure and in no way implicated in our vital interests.”
MJ slips away from the party to drink with the chauffeurs downstairs
they don’t believe he was partying with duchesses and whatnot so he describes the duchess’s jewels, the butler’s mustache. Now they think he’s a master burglar!
The religious vision again! This time we actually see it. I think this Jesus was his Caravaggio.
Angels in America style terrifying female angel (or maybe not female? It’s Tilda Swinton), says: “Didn’t God intend you to die of joy while loving?”
MJ: “I have indeed been, at times, a sodomite.”
Angel: “Heaven is the nape of Man’s neck; but Man is only one heaven: there are others. ...Have you ever thought of the question of doors, wrists are doors, ankles are doors…. The waist is a door. Learn Hebrew!”
this movie so far is basically barroom cabaret scenes intercut with medieval woodcuts and bestiaries and kitsch holy cards come to life; I am mesmerized and baffled
more sex with cops
snatches of poetry: “All the pianos are dead, eaten up by rats; Nobody sees the angels passing by, but they recognize each other”
Max tells this cop the story of how he was arrested for, basically, cruising; police commissioner “berated me for ‘the vices everyone knew you to indulge.’ The commissioner was preparing to throw me in jail when I opened my mouth. I cannot recall precisely what I said, but my words were so sweet, so celestial, full of such virtue, that the commissioner and even his constables had their hearts softened, tears poured down their faces, and they fell to their knees at my feet to adore me.” I’ll bet they did.
“In the harbor of my heart, there’s no sandbar or riptide; enter, vessels, you’ll be sheltered in pools of tenderness.”
Princess Ghika (Tilda Swinton again) as proto-fascist in brownshirt garb with armband; in a dream/vision as the Pope in giant miter; and her husband the Prince (Little Nell)
I love how much of the poetry he’s using, and this rando Max actor’s baritone keeps slipping between rueful and sly, but a lot of this film is Max either successfully or unsuccessfully wooing a series of youths with curly hair. I think most of them are supposed to be famous poets? Do not know who “Radiguet” is.
In block letters laboriously I trace
I’ll always be a schoolboy in this art
Scholar foolscap collar we wear a crown that glows
The one who receives is worth him who bestows
laughing, heading out to the ballet—then camera whirls and it’s a full-on jump scare as he’s hit by a car
hospital horror; abandoned in a hallway on a hard chair; you can see their breath
stripped by a male nurse (lol) and made to take an ice bath (whoof)
oh, this terrible giant hospital room full of beds with moaning people—like war horror—or no, of course, no, this is an AIDS movie
MJ making his fingers dance along the hospital linen, singing:
Farewell, muse, go let people know
This festival evening in town
In the prisons where they keep us down
We die from having loved them so.
Dawn in the hospital; friends come—all those tarot cards again, all those interchangeable faces
MJ as a Prior Walter type, sitting up indignantly in his hospital gown to insist, “I was run over by a luxury car!”
blaming his ravaged appearance on “vice and dissipation”
treatment for pleurisy: red-hot needle applied to the naked back
“I’m transforming the prose poem and the verse poem, and I open my side to the spear thrust of Longinus, but one can’t know what it is. I’ve failed poetry and heaven!”
More of them are sick now. Another poet, hallucinating and on the verge of death, in the hospital, tells Cocteau (his lover): “Listen to something terrible. In three days I am to be executed by God’s firing squad. ...The order was given. I heard the order.”
Cocteau, mad with grief. Max advises confession and communion. Instead he goes to the ballet and then smokes opium.
MJ uses this seminarian as his model for the Passion
seminarian runs off with a man, uses his cassock as a beach towel
has to leave seminary and go back to the army to clean toilets—malingers & gets caught reading Gide Corydon instead
Max paints Christ naked, twisting at the hips, rising from the tomb
Max scolds seminarian: “You have no innate sense of honesty” & he’s like “I was born without it, #yolo”; Max here really does sound like a father, e.g. this isn’t about God, it’s about keeping the gendarmes away from you. He’s still sending this jackass money!
Legion of Honour, new young friends; some of them are fascists; his hotel room is a carousel
MJ as Arcimboldo head made of fruit, with every hand reaching out to grab a bunch of grapes or an apricot
O God who repairs worlds
look at the world I am!
open my rib cage, touch my loins
with the finger that wrote in the sand a mystery
He escapes to a monastery
“I came here to work… but it’s the inner life one needs to change, not the décor.”
I forget the long secrets of your little ear,
your childish smile, mayfly I daren’t kiss,
your eyelids blinded by my lips.
(Jarman shows us the words in fire against the dark stone of the monastery wall, plays with fading words and letters in and out, so may I dare kiss appears first, then fly is added; blind flares up as the rest of the poem fades, then mayfly reappears & lingers for a startling full second)
vision of a crowned, suffering Cubist-style face
a scene with all those beautiful young men we’ve seen flickering through this story now being called up for army service
rushed, almost perfunctory scenes of Nazis in Paris—Jarman more interested in and adept at depicting the victims, not the perpetrators
oh these are the scenes that were lost when the film warehouse was raided to evict the squatters, that’s why it’s patchy
writes a letter from the train car to his last prison: “Let God’s will be done. The gendarmes are charming. Max.”
final illness: hallucinations in his cell. Grabbing at the air, flailing: “I see trees, marching!”—Macbeth?? that blind man in the Gospels???
to the doctor: “You have the face of an angel.” Last words.
Black screen, voiceover: “Do you think, spoiled child of the sun, that poetry turns up the ace of hearts like love? … For great poets, poetry has been research into suffering.”
(Jarman has this sweet tooth for sentiment! Self-pity, here with a Catholic “holy card of Our Lady of Sorrows” twist) ← now that I’ve seen the Rossellini I feel like this was unfair of me
Music is Poulenc again, from Le bal masqué “Finale (Caprice)”
looking to see if they name the MJ actor in the end credits; nope
“The Dice Thrower”: A film by Roberto Rossellini (1947)
program says btw that RR often used nonpro actors, but at the time of the film’s release, there were lots of rumors around the rando who plays MJ in this one: ppl said he was a Jewish refugee recruited from a Displaced Persons camp, or else a collaborator from the Republic of Salò acting under assumed name.
Opens w/Max doing commedia/slapstick style Stations of the Cross—the Pagliacci of the Christ—for the inevitable audience of interchangeable artistic youths
one of those faces made for b&w film—ruts, pores, shadows
a deep cry of anguish from the crucified clown
then he’s up and bouncing on the balls of his feet again, grabbing one of them to be his cross
he urges these handsome young men to throw dice for his “rags”—his poetic patrimony
they head for the tavern—everyone is laughing
in the tavern, discussion with a worried Jewish friend, “Kiki”: Hitler; right-wing attempted coup in France. Why has everybody got it in for the Jews? Max says, “Suffering, like sugar, preserves God’s chosen people.” Kiki very much like: :/ that does not explain anything
“Do you remember Jouhandeau?” An ex-youth; wrote about MJ’s claim that if he sinned, next day before dawn he would do Stations on his knees, beating his breast etc etc, and by this drama “in the end, God is tricked.”
“Yes, he said my Stations had ‘a desperate and ravished tenderness.’ A good review at last!”
Have you seen his latest thing? & flaps open the newspaper to show Max: “How I Became an Anti-Semite.”
MJ seizes it, runs a finger along the columns: “Ah, here I am!”
“He doesn’t name you.”
“I am his third exemplary odious Jew. The Jew who pretends to be a Christian.” declaims: “‘I still hear him whispering in my ear (after his contortions), “And in the end, God is tricked.”’”
How do you suffer your way out of that? MJ: “Let’s learn to suffer with the grandeur implicit in the high destiny of our people!” Rossellini finds the comedy in this, the melodrama and MJ’s awareness of the melodrama, but it’s not entirely joking. Then MJ: “Anyway, what do we have to prove? Our tradition has been around far longer than his—when it comes to faith, he is nouveau riche.”
another attempted seduction: “I’m a little old man with a small, ruddy face, and big feet. I’m bad, stupid, toothless. I’m imbecile, weak in the head, absent-minded, mean, pious, tearful, gossipy, chatty. I speak only of myself, I complain about everyone. I’m dirty, poorly dressed, pretentious, easily duped, jealous, incapable of sustained conversation, but fairly friendly and polite.”
Well I’m seduced! This poet is not.
They debate the nature of the self: modern man is shards! No, MJ says, Christ unites the shards into a prism. So that you can give the prism of yourself to Him by suffering.
alone, the younger poet has gone to bed in a separate cell, he works out the lines: “Mystery is in this life, reality in the other: if you love me, if you love me, I’ll show you reality”
He returns home to Brittany
1937 Picasso (Marcello Pagliero) shows up on his doorstep Jan 1, w/his son and Dora Maar (& his chauffeur!). PP: “It’s New Year’s Day. Whom should I see, if not family?” MJ: “You’re mistaken. It’s the Day of the Dead.”
MJ: No, I won’t come back to Paris with you—you’re surrounded by Surrealists and Communists! I hate those guys!
1939: his family loses their lease, house will be torn down; he schleps all his books, clippings, paintings to the library—another Way of the Cross
then goes and has drinks on a veranda with the mayor and some painters and whatnot
mayor, boosterish & unpersuasive: “Mobilization doesn’t mean war!”
We look out, w/MJ, over the chestnut trees & the river
They leave MJ sitting there alone. Next thing we see is invasion of Poland.
Refugee children housed in the hospice recreation hall
Vichy begins 6/22
rough faces of deserters—unshaven, chiaroscuro, confused and groping with their eyes
secretly moving the local saint’s relics out of the crypt, away from the front
bombs, hospital evacuated, MJ stays to help
stories: “A gentleman, his wife, and their daughter tried to commit suicide by slitting their wrists; they were taken to a doctor, but a Spaniard drove off with their car and all their fortune.”
dying horses under scouring, white summer light
a millionaire wandering the streets with his moneybags clutched to his chest
the mayor flees
MJ, irrepressible: “No more mail! No telephone! No telegrams! What peace!” lol as towns and bridges burn in the background
an episode: MJ overhears French soldiers planning the rape of a teenage girl. He warns her away from them, everyone is like, “Don’t be a prude, Max!” (this bit is played for very grim comedy)
Increasing tension moment by moment until at last two women from the town step in and get the girl away
a burnt-out car in the road, photographed with horror and anguish—the car as stand-in for corpses
purses scattered along the roads by fleeing women
Here come the Germans
German officer points at MJ: “You’re a Jew!”
German: “No, you can tell by the nose. [to churchman who’s protecting Max] You like Jews?”
Church guy: “I don’t like subtleties. Men should help one another out of charity.”
German posts a guard outside the basilica.
Fall 1940: MJ forced to register as a Jew; “In a concentration camp, maybe I’ll have the leisure to expiate my sins.”
oh my God, this scene where they won’t stamp JUIF his Legion of Honor card and he has to insist. “Oh no, Monsieur Jacob, not on the card of the Legion of Honor!” “But yes! Besides, the honor is Jewish.”
mails his last food as care packages to starving friends in Paris
his siblings put up sign on the family store: LIQUIDATION: PROFIT FROM THE LAST DAYS
later the Germans come by and put another sign over it: JUDE
1942: “My friends are my native land.”
Gestapo enters his room: “Police!” MJ: “Enchanté” (Max Jacob, putting the “camp” back in… yeah I’ll just leave that there)
they interrogate him about his background, he pulls down a biography of himself and says all the info they need is in there
more gallows humor as they read out lines of poetry and weird things from his letters and make him explain them
arrest of literary resistance people—some of the same youths from the first scene
anonymous letters warning him to flee
argument w/his sister: She says she dreamt of a “translucid angel” who walked with her amid music; MJ: “That was a vision of Paradise, which you deserve,” Delphine (sister) like, no it wasn’t and no I don’t. Whose Paradise?
Chestnut trees blossoming
his sister dies
Max in a garden, wearing the yellow star—has to run when he hears people coming, we see sign saying Jews can’t use the garden
MJ meets resistance friends in a cafe: joking, smoking cigar they give him, the beloved clown. At the end, though, he pockets the cigar stub. You never know when you’ll get another one.
at vespers in the basilica, wearing the yellow star
RR’s Max is Catholic martyr—a St Francis for an even more violent age
winter 1944: his brother killed, his other sister arrested. MJ writes to everybody on her behalf but she’s sent to Auschwitz and immediately to the gas chamber.
Ash Wednesday: yellow star and ashes on forehead
next morning: 3 Germans in trenchcoats. Arrested. Monk comes out to the scene, as does a dr, who gives him a flask of booze & some long johns. Germans insisting he’ll be back for his things. Landlady makes him take a quilt. MJ: “A shame—you’ll never get it back.” Landlady: “You see! Fat lot of good it did you to pray so much!”
Villagers have gathered—don’t know what to do—MJ shakes their hands and gets into the car
1st prison: a crowd of other Jews, men women & children, tiny cell, no toilet, people piss on the mats
he sings a song for the kids:
Gentlemen cats and gentlemen thieves,
If there are cats and if there are thieves,
Gentlemen cats, don’t scratch me!
Gentlemen thieves, don’t frighten me!
they all laugh, they love him
reading imaginary tarot cards: “The Hierophant. Every word, even the most terrible, is a torch whose fire is the Being of God. 6 of Wands. Soon we shall eat 6 baguettes.”
writes letter to churchman guy from the train car to Drancy: “letter from a drowning man, written courtesy of the gendarmes. I wd like to tell you that I’ll soon be at Drancy. I have some conversions in progress. I trust in God and in my friends. I thank Him for the martyrdom that has begun. Max Jacob. I forget no one in my continual prayers.”
Drancy, prison camp in the courtyard of a giant Modernist housing project
processed with crowds; given number, letter, green sticker
squalor, grooved concrete floors, filth
coughing… here it comes
MJ says he has to die as a Catholic—seems embarrassed—doesn’t want the other Jews to think he’s separating himself from them: “You see, I’ve given my life to this passion.”
slow trickle of other Jewish Catholics in the prison camp into the room where they’re keeping his body
they arrange his body respectfully, put a rosary in his hand; signs of the Cross, mumbled and seemingly disjointed prayers, a little too low to hear
Max’s room, still disordered, cigarettes cold in the ashtray—zodiac signs on the walls, letters from friends, paints, dishes, turmoil—gouache of Picasso he never got to finish, PP glancing over left shoulder with huge dark eyes, seeming to follow Max’s friends as they divvy up papers and art
Young man quickly, as if ashamed, grabbing up MJ’s rosary: “For my father”
Several more moments of that scene, and then—close credits
Virgil Thomson “Stabat mater”
When the lights came up after the Rossellini, I looked around, but the owner of the theater had vanished. Even on their website there is no mention of his name.
“Study for the portrait of Max Jacob,” painting by Jacques-Emile Blanche, photographed by “Giogio,” via Wikimedia Commons.