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Poets' Favorite Movies

Hélène Cardona & John FitzGerald

Helene Cardona's Movies

These are films that took me on a journey and that have stayed with me through the years.

Ponette, by Jacques Doillon. An extraordinary film about a little girl, whose mother dies, and who comes to terms with her death. Played by Victoire Thivisol when she was only four years old. Absolutely breathtaking. I had the pleasure of working with her in Chocolat.

Dreams, by Akira Kurosawa. A beautiful collection of short films inspired by dreams. The photography is stunning.

Uncle Vanya, by Andrei Konchalovsky. The best film adaptation ever of the Chekhov play. With a unique sense of humor that is absent from most Western adaptations.

Burnt by the Sun, by Nikita Mikhalkov. Simply loved this film.

Nostalghia, by Andrei Tarkovsky, son of poet Arseniy Tarkovsky. A slowly unfolding meditation, like a poem.

Au Revoir les Enfants, by Louis Malle. Very moving, set in a Catholic boarding school during World War II. Based on his personal experience.

The Double Life of Véronique, by Krzysztof Kieslowski. A gem.

The Magic Flute, by Ingmar Bergman. A tale for adults and children alike, with Mozart’s music. The camera panning the faces of the audience is like a series of portraits.

The Conversation, by Francis Ford Coppola. A little masterpiece.

Suddenly, Last Summer, by Joseph Mankiewiscz. Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, with a screenplay by Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. A classic.

John FitzGerald's Movies

This was an interesting exercise. I never really noticed, but most of my all-time favorite movies seem to star Paul Newman. The Hustler is one, with Newman as fast Eddie and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a movie I watch any time it is on. Redford and Newman pair again in The Sting, another entertainer (as was the music by Scott Joplin). I have a legal background, and loved The Verdict, about a down and out ambulance chaser who gets an accident case that reminds him of why he became a lawyer in the first place. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a great performance, as was Hud, and Cool Hand Luke. I never realized I was such a Paul Newman fan until now.

Another memorable movie for me is A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando, of course, ranks among the icons of the industry. But I also love John Wayne. The Quiet Man is one of my favorites. Perhaps because it’s set in Ireland, and even features Maureen O’Hara speaking Irish against the background of Innisfree. A great movie I can see again and again. There aren’t many John Wayne films I don’t like, but True Grit is another standout. The one-eyed Rooster Cogburn takes on all comers. No grit? No, not much. He has a rat writ writ for a rat. I am an unlikely fan of the western genre, and loved Big Jake, McClintock, and The Cowboys. I am also a big Clint Eastwood fan. Unforgiven is top of the line. When Clint picks up that bottle and takes a few swigs, we can see all hell breaking loose. He switches from a broken down pig farmer to a killer of just about everything that ever walked or crawled on this earth before our eyes.

While I still can’t pass up a good Bruce Lee flick, like Enter the Dragon, I also love feel-good movies, and most movies with Irish backdrops. Thus, I am enamored by The Secret of Roan Innish, Waking Ned Devine, and of course, Chocolat, which features Johnny Depp doing an Irish accent, and my very favorite actress, Hélène Cardona.


In John and Hélène's case I was interested in both the international perspective they could bring to their choices and also in the idea of movies as a shared experience. I asked them to supplement their lists with examples of films that had been important to them both.  — Ed.

John: Hélène and I both enjoyed the movie Gloomy Sunday. We saw it in a local arts theater, where it had run a year straight on word of mouth alone. The movie revolves around a true life song, "Gloomy Sunday," that because of its haunting nature, caused a number of people in 1930s Budapest to commit suicide when they heard it. One of the stars of the film, Hungarian actress Erika Marzosan, was at the screening. Although all of the dialog is in German, the actress did not speak a word of it, but learned her lines phonetically. They had flown her in specifically for the year anniversary of the run.

Hélène: The Illusionist, directed by Neil Burger, is a wonderful film that John and I saw recently. It’s a very clever love story set in Vienna in the early 1900s, beautifully filmed, with a gorgeous score, great performances and a surprise ending. It’s very rare now to see a film that leaves you elated and uplifted. The Illusionist is a magician and the acts he performs are so stunning they are beyond anything anyone has ever seen. They are filmed in such a way that you’re witnessing pure poetry.

John: Hélène and I are what you might call “movie buffs.” Of course, Hélène is in the business, so we attend a lot of screenings and receive numerous screeners. I am not much of a critic, and am eager to suspend disbelief wherever possible.

Hélène: John mentioned the screenings, and I have to say the British Academy has been very good to us. I first entered parallel worlds reading novels. I’d open a book and would be living in two worlds at once. Then came the theater (the stage) and movies. The great thing about growing up as a teenager in Paris is that I’d go see films all the time. There are movie theaters there that play old classics on an ongoing basis. So I’d see the new releases and all sorts of films. I consider the screenplay the backbone of a film. Yet the striking visuals, a stunning photography, as in Terence Malicks’ The New World, for instance, and the music, a score as haunting as that of Philip Glass in The Hours, will tell the story in a very direct way, affecting you on an emotional level, that cannot be explained intellectually right away. Film, music and poetry work in the same way, in the sense that you know you've been moved. But you don't know what happened at first except that you've been stirred in the depth of your soul. They're experiential.

John: Fanny by Joshua Logan. It stars Leslie Caron, who gives an incredible performance. It’s one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and it’s timeless—the dialogue so well written and funny it keeps you in stitches.


A citizen of the United States, France and Spain, Hélène Cardona is a poet, actress, translator, interpreter, teacher and dream analyst. She holds degrees from Hamilton College and the Sorbonne, Paris, where she wrote her Master’s thesis on Henry James. She speaks French, English, Spanish, German, Greek, and Italian. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, she studied with Ellen Burstyn at the Actors’ Studio and played Candy in Lawrence Kasdan’s Mumford and Fuffi Drou in Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat. Her first book, The Astonished Universe, a collection of poetry about consciousness in English and French just came out from Red Hen Press.

A dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, John M. FitzGerald is a poet and attorney in Los Angeles. He attended UCLA and the University of West Los Angeles School of Law, where he was editor of the Law Review.  His poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. Spring Water, a novel in verse, is a Turning Point Prize selection. His other collections include The Mind, Telling Time by the Shadows, The Charter of Effects, and Question Creation. He has just completed his first novel, Primate, and has turned it into a screenplay. He has lived in England and Italy, and currently resides in Santa Monica.

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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach