The Story of a Three-Day Pass (Melvin Van Peebles / France, 1968):
(La Permission)

One band of outsiders deserves another, Melvin Van Peebles in his feature debut shares the resistance with the Nouvelle Vague. The perfect furlough for the Yankee soldier stationed overseas (Harry Baird), "the captain's new colored boy" (as his own reflection sneers in the split-screen mirror) but from Friday to Sunday a free man in France. Parisian tours, parks and nightclubs and catacombs, hepcat shades and cigarettes replace Army greens yet they're still a uniform. (His invitation to the dance is eventually accepted when the tinted lenses are knocked out to reveal the outsider's vulnerability.) "Confidence is the key to military strength," the shopgirl (Nicole Berger) prefers tenderness, they're off to Normandy. A year after Sidney Poitier could barely smooch Katharine Houghton in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a full-on romp—the overhead angle of nervous anticipation gives way laughingly to a carnal collage between the sheets. "Le rapprochement franco-américain" (cf. Àbout de souffle), jump-cuts and freeze-frames are nothing if not the language of jazz. (Gance's floating dolly breezes through, on its way to Spike Lee.) The Clock, Hiroshima Mon Amour, The Happy Road. "Today we'll see how a man can unchain himself!" Fantasies—his lordly manor, her jungle marauders—before the sweet dream of lovers on the roof above racist cretins. Rain inevitably comes to the sunny beach, Demy's sailors from another angle, "un vrai soldat." The expatriate's affair, a Van Peebles pit stop lyrical and barbed. Flamenco plus "Roll Me Over in the Clover," a hymn from home courtesy of the Harlem Royal Crusading Angels. Disillusionment back in the barracks, perhaps, "but then again I'm not a philosopher." In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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