The Story of a Three-Day Pass
Independent filmmaking vanguard Melvin Van Peebles didn’t arrive in American theaters fully formed with the one-two punch of 1970’s Watermelon Man and 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He actually whet his cinematic chops with this French-made 1968 gem, which follows the various misadventures of African-American GI Turner (Harry Baird), who’s stationed in France and getting a three-day pass before being awarded a promotion. Turner heps it to Paris, where he gets absolutely mod in a pair of tapered slacks, plaid sport coat, porkpie hat, and dark black shades. He skims through the city alone for his first day, and meets the friendly, gamine Miriam (Nicole Berger) that night, and they decide to alight to the beach for two days of off-season sun, sand, and alone time and where they encounter some sidelong glances. Less a poignantly incisive race commentary than a lighthearted romp, Three-Day is most notable for Van Peebles’ nascent visual panache. You can see the director trying every idea in his head for his first feature, and it turns out some luscious results: Note the scene when Turner enters the Paris bar where he meets Miriam, and you can sense the germinating seed for one of Spike Lee’s signature stylistic tricks. The Story of a Three-Day Pass isn’t going to knock you over, but it’s refreshingly and lovingly of its time, a Paris-to-Normandy Shadows by way of Chappaqua.