View Full Version : Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2016

Chris Knipp
01-27-2016, 07:23 PM
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2016 (http://www.filmlinc.org/daily/lineup-announced-for-21st-rendez-vous-with-french-cinema/)
March 3-13

Diane Kruger in Disorder/Maryland (Alice Wincour)

For updates and discussion go to the Rendez-Vous General Forums thread HERE. (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4103-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34352#post34352)

Links to the reviews:

21 Nights with Pattie /21 nuits avec Pattie (Jean-Marie & Arnaud Larrieu 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34443#post34443)
Apaches, The/Des Apaches (Nassim Amaouche, France, 2015 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34438#post34438)
Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (Eva Husson 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34424#post34424)
Dark Inclusion /Diamant noir (Arthur Harari 2016) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34440#post34440)
Decent Man, A/Je ne suis pas un salaud (Emmanuel Finkiel 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34425#post34425)
Dheepan (Jacques Audiard 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34444#post34444)
Disorder/Maryland (Alice Winocour 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34428#post34428)
Fatima (Philippe Faucon 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34421#post34421)
The Great Game/Le Grand jeu (Nicolas Pariser 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34423#post34423)
Lolo (Julie Delpy 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34435#post34435)
Much Loved (Nabil Ayouch 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34442#post34442)
My King /Mon roi (Maïwenn 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34439#post34439)
The New Kid /Le Nouveau (Rudi Rosenberg 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34431#post34431)
Parisienne /Peur de rien (Danielle Arbid 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34441#post34441)
Standing Tall /La Tête haute (Emmanuelle Bercot 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34429#post34429)
Story of Judas /Histoire de Judas (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34427#post34427)
Summertime /La Belle saison (Catherine Corsini 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34436#post34436)
Three Sisters /Les Trois soeurs (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34422#post34422)
Two Friends /Les Deux amis (Louis Garrel 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34430#post34430)
Valley of Love (Guillaume Nicloux 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34420#post34420)
Winter Song /Chant d’hiver (Otar Iosseliani 2015) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4104-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2016&p=34432#post34432)


Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 06:47 PM


[This review originally appeared when the film was shown as part of the San Francisco Film Society's November 2015 series "French Cinema Now." For my other coverage of this series see here (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4063-SFFS-French-Cinema-Now-Series-Nov-19-22-2015). ]


Wandering in the desert to please a dead son

From 2015 Cannes Competition and not the worst of the group, it has been noted (Van Sant's other two-hander, Sea of Trees, wins that hands-down) comes Guillaume Nicloux's slight, if wearisome, effort. Take two French cinema icons, Isabelle Huppert (62) and Gérard Depardieu (66), keep their own first names and personalities, mix in flimsy backstories, making them a long divorced couple. Add a sad, "spiritual" pretext: their estranged gay son, a recent suicide, has summoned them from beyond the grave in letters they've recently received. And plunk them down in California's Death Valley in the summertime, where the son, the unseen "Michael," has given "Isabelle" and "Gérard" a series of tourist sites and times to show up, promising to "appear" to them. Add scenery, digs at Americans, a few pseudo-Lynchian touches. And what do you get? Ninety minutes with two very interesting actors (who haven't been together since the late Maurice Pialat's 1980 gangster romance Loulou) with not enough to do. (This new film was produced by Pialat's widow, Sylvie.)

While more known for a noir focus, Nicloux has recently exhibited a taste for playing around with celebrity, shown in his recent The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, written by and starring the said Houellebecq. Here, the tiny, dry, pouty Huppert, who seems to skip around the scalding desert settings with relative ease, makes a startling contrast to the gigantic, obese, wheezing, plain-spoken Depardieu. "Isabelle" seems more convinced some spiritual event will occur. The desert is, arguably, a spiritual place. "Gérard," whose bulging gut and naked torso are seen even more often here than in the actor's recent star turn as a Dominique Strauss-Kahn stand-in in Abel Ferrara's considerably more interesting Welcome to New York (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3024), says it's all just "sand."

The directness of Depardieu's self-impersonation here shows early on when "Isabelle" asks him how he's been these last three-plus decades. He says "I've gotten fat." She says "Whatever pleases you." He answers, "How could it possibly please me?" At first, the two actors' charisma, presence, and ease in front of the camera are exciting and hopeful. But there's never enough happening; Nicloux relies entirely too much on the mere presence of his stars, and has too little of his own to add.

And some of it is predictable and clichéd. The choice, to begin with, of Death Valley, beloved of Antonioni and other European cineastes as a place for mystery and magic to happen; it often doesn't. Great vistas overwhelm dialogue; heat brings action to a standstill. The classic dumb American comes up to the couple knowing they're famous French actors and asks "Gérard" for his autograph. He signs it "Bob De Niro," which later that evening gets an angry reaction from the duped chap. "Isabelle" sniffs disapprovingly at goods in a local convenience store but winds up at one point sipping prefabricated noodles in a cup sitting in bed, watching an infomercial. But these light, humorous touches are undermined by the film's lugubrious obsession with "Michael's" imposed schedule, which becomes like Stations of the Cross given the extreme heat, especially for "Gérard." Transportation between Stations however is by big "Gérard"-piloted SUV -- only the spartan "Isabelle," who's also a vegetarian, nixes use of air conditioning.

Despite all this both, sleeping side by side in a shared motel room, soften and warm toward each other as the action unreels, and "Gérard" reveals he's sick, though he says he still feels fine. Unfortunately, the tight-lipped dialogue leads to no other big personal revelations from the two characters. They seem to have no lasting relationships since the divorce to report. It appears both virtually abandoned "Michael" early on, that being a possible element in his final depression, experienced while living with a boyfriend in San Francisco. "Gérard" knew "Michael" at least well enough to hotly deny "Isabelle's" suggestion he might have had AIDS; she admits she didn't see him at all for seven years and didn't even attend his funeral. This project seems partly undertaken as a way to seek forgiveness, and "Michael" may be inclined to give that. Meanwhile "Isabelle" has sore rings around her ankles, and "Gérard" develops them around his wrists: bad parenting stigmata?

A strange, creepy late-night encounter between an undershorts-clad "Gérard" and a misshapen young woman in the motel tennis court is the main qualifier for the term "Lynchian" or "pseudo-Lynchian" to Valley of Love. But this is not Lynch or sub-Lynch. The best it has to offer is celebrity, stark scenery harshly photographed in wide screen format by dp Christophe Offenstein, and the eerie musings of modernist American composer Charles Ives. Don't bother. Life is short.

Valley of Love, 92 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 2015.; about ten festivals, including London, Warsaw, Vienna, Stockholm and Chicago. French theatrical release 17 June (AlloCiné press rating: 3.4). UK, 20 Nov. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now (http://www.sffs.org/exhibition/fall-season-2015/french-cinema-now#.Vr59dLkrInU) series (Vogue Theater, Nov. 19-22) , showing Nov. 22 at 1:30 p.m. Also the FSLC-UniFrance 2016 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema's Opening Night film, Thurs. Mar. 3, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. with an introduction only by Isabelle Huppert and Guillaume Nicloux. Strand Releasing is bringing out this film in the US and it opens in NY at the Film Society of Lincoln Center 25 Mar. 2016.

Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 06:55 PM


An Moroccan immigrant mother meets the challenge of French culture

While Jacques Audiard's Dheepan, about the dramatic dangers and cultural struggles of Tamil refugees in Paris, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Philippe Faucon's Fatima, closer to a number of French films about immigrants, quietly explores the day-to-day life of an Moroccan mother in Lyons with two school-age daughters. The younger, 15-year-old Souad (Kenza-Noah Aiche), is acting out and doing badly; the older, 18-year-od Nesrine (Zita Hanrot), is simply terrified by the linguistic and intellectual challenges of the start of a pre-med program. Meanwhile, their mom, Fatima (Soria Zeroual), funds them by working as a housecleaner. We see Fatima patiently support her daughters even when they express contempt for her humble role. The movie plays down the underlying theme: Fatima is Fatima Elayoubi, who taught herself French and wrote a book about her experiences.

Faucom's film, his eighth feature, meanders quietly, seeking a sense of the quotidian, shifting focus from one daughter to the other and to the mother. The girls speak French to mom and mom replies in Moroccan dialect. The girls ward off young Arab boys who want to date them; the older finally gives in and spends time with a playful boy. Fatima uncomplainingly sells her gold jewelry to raise money and endures daily humiliations. The father (Chawki Amari), an amiable man who has worked in construction and is fluent in French, meets regularly with the younger daughter.

Various incidents show what the three women have to contend with. A landlady suddenly finds she doesn't have the key to an apartment she's renting, when she sees Nesrine's dark skin and Fatima's head scarf. A rich women Fatima comes to clean for seems to have purposely left money in her son's jeans to be washed to see if she will pocket it. When Fatima starts a friendly conversation with another mom at her daughter's school the lady says she's in hurry and dashes off. There is trouble with fellow North Africans, as when a woman complains that one of the girls has not greeted her on the bus.

Fatima understands French, but is obviously shy and embarrassed about using it. When Souad mocks it, she points out to her that in the village, people laugh at her (Souad's) Arabic. Meanwhile, we begin to see Fatima working at her own studies. After a fall down a staircase that leaves her too much in paid to go back to work after several months' leave, despite no broken bones or torn ligaments, she begins putting together odd sentences in literary Arabic that she writes in a notebook. They are evidently the beginning of what was to become her book, Prière à la lune. She shares her writings with an Arab woman doctor she sees regularly due to her injuries.

The film engages as authentic because it is low-keyed. It doesn't spell out the real Fatima Elayoubi's story in detail, and stops before her recognition as a writer of a book that depicts the travails of so many North African women who came to France in the Eighties and lived an invisible life, victimized by prejudice and hampered by lack of education and poor French. (You can find more about Fatima in a French column on the website À la rencontre de l'autre (http://www.babelmed.net/progetto-ue/96-mediterraneo/3180-pri-re-la-lune-au-nom-de-toutes-les-fatima.html), and one from Glamour (http://www.glamour.com/magazine/2006/12/global-diary-france). Faucon was born and grew up in Morocco and Algeria, and his films have often dealt with North African themes.

Fatima, 78 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight 20 May 2015 and five other festivals followed, with, theatrical release in Belgium and France 7 Oct. 2015. In France it received the rave reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.4/24), and later won the Louis Delluc Prize (which kicks off the French awards season) for Best French Film and it received four César nominations including Best Film. It was reviewed at Cannes by Justin Chang of Variety (http://variety.com/2015/film/festivals/fatima-review-cannes-1201516710/) and Leslie Felperin of Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/fatima-cannes-review-797120). It was screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance) Feb. 2016. Feb. 19 it was announced that Kino Lorber had acquired the film for US distribution.

As might have been predicted from the critical acclaim and prior awards (but it had big competition), Fatima won the 2016 César for Best Film.

US theatrical release from 29 August 2016 NYC (Film Society of Lincoln Center).

Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 09:43 PM


Bruni Tedeschi opens up Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' with fluent Comédie Française performances

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's sunny, fluent film adaptation of Three Sisters, one of Chekhov's most notable plays, is a glorious feast of vintage acting since nearly all the cast comes straight from the Comédie Française, and though the limited budget shoot, funded by Arte for French and German TV, took place in little more than three days, they deliver fluent and lived-in performances in a film whose editing allows the action to breathe, and includes some memorable moments, like an impeccably dressed little boy with copious scarf solemnly pouring dirt on the face of his recumbent dad, and an odious bourgeoise dressing down a weeping old lady retainer and saying she's useless and should go back to her village.

The script of the film, dedicated to the memory of director Patrice Chéreau, co-written with Noémie Lvovsky, retains the the play's essentials, including period and costume. But it jazzes things up from time to time, including an opening scene with a young woman relieving herself on a bidet and chatting with a nude girlfriend whose perfect breasts are highlighted by the sunlight streaming from an open window. Later there's a un-Chekhovian mad and surreal nighttime sequence when everyone seems high. And the score isn't decorout and classical, but a sparse scattering of arresting modern songs in English. Most notable among these, repeated at the end, is Lou Reed and John Cale's "Smalltown" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6L0UD_zn4A), which ends, "There's only one good use for a smalltown,/you hate it and you know you have to leave" -- suggesting an option the fading rural aristocrats and military men of Three Sisters can only dream of.

The action takes place in a sun-dappled garden in summer, with a feeling of calm and open space redolent of landed gentry comfort, with a small French chateau filling in for the family estate of the two unmarried sisters and the one unhappily married one. Winter scenes inside it look out to snow flurries outside. In all seasons the siblings are joined by the play's population of men in uniform, debtors, pensioners, and spouses, who regret the present, declare their secret loves and unveil hidden paternity, and dream of a better future for humanity, and perhaps for themselves.

Three Sisters/Les Trois soeurs, 110 mins., was adapted by Lvovsky and Bruni Tedeschi from a French translation of Chekhov's Russian play by André Markowicz and Françoise Morvan. Funded by and made for Arte TV and shown on German and French Television 4 Sept. 2015, the film received the French Film Critics Guild's "Best French Fiction 2015" television award. Accepting it, Bruni Tedeschi said she'd fallen in love with the whole cast and would have married any one of them. Since it was not released in theaters, there were no French film reviews or AlloCiné press rating. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 FSLC/UniFrance series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, its first showing in the US, presented to the public on Wed., Mar. 9 at 3:30 p.m. and Fri., Mar 11 at 6:30, both including Q&A's with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 10:05 PM


Politics as a deadly game of intellectual manipulation

In French journalist Nicolas Pariser's directorial debut Le grand jeu ("The Great Game"), an elegant, low-keyed political thriller, the game is misdirection and deception in which key players follow Nietsche's advice, "Whatever is profound loves masks." Devious charmer Joseph Paskin (the great André Dusollier, in prime form) "just happens" to run into handsome has-been writer Pierre Blum (Melvil Poupaud) at a casino. Joseph is there to gamble, obviously (or so he says), but Pierre is there for the wedding of his ex-wife. None of this is by chance and Joseph has a use for Pierre. There conversation is a combination of wit and naiveté. We gradually enter a world we'll never quite understand, where events at the top are all a matter of hidden manipulation, and a writer can make a difference, if properly used. And Joseph, a lawyer of shadowy function who works behind the scenes of power, turns out to have a writing job for Pierre.

It emerges that Pierre wrote a political novel 15 years ago that was much celebrated. He had ties with the extreme left whose leader, however, he detested. He has written nothing since. Pariser gradually explores Pierre's life and experience in interesting ways. The beauty of the film is its use of surprises and sudden shifts. I love a moment when someone bursts out toward Joseph from a corner, glimpsed in the moment before attack, and we cut immediately to an opening at the gallery run by Pierre's ex-wife Caroline (Sophie Cattani).

We witness cynical discussions at the Élysée Palace, the center of French power, where it's said that whoever wins elections, the same clique runs things at the top. In his latest scheme to to bring down a top minister, Joseph is warned he's going fatally far. "Your trouble," a minister's aide tells him, "is that you can never stop." He may not be a casino gambler as he pretended, but he has the same kind of addiction to risk.

There is a glamour of secrecy, knowingness, and danger surrounding Joseph, but Pierre has the glamour of the faded golden boy, the handsome loser who once had everything and now lives on the edge of nothing. It tells all that he's just moved into a tiny "chambre de bonne" (a garret) no one knows about and changed his phone number but Joseph leaves a note for him there setting up a meeting.

Joseph explains to Pierre how a book can launch other books, and a plethora of writing on one side can bury writing on the other: more words, he says, can work better than censorship. We're in a very French world where ideas act as Molotov cocktails and a book, one Pierre's hired as a kind of "nègre," a ghost writer, to produce, may foment revolution. It works, but not as planned: the person who warned Joseph was right, and everyone is now in danger, including Joseph, Pierre, Caroline, and an artistic leftist young woman Pierre becomes drawn to, Laura (Clémence Poésy) and the group of radical separatists Laura belongs to, among whom Pierre temporarily hides.

Le grand jeu stands out for its intelligence and originality, but while the only-40 Pariser shows impressive maturity, he doesn't quite know how to construct a thriller. Things meander a bit after the book's published, and one's disappointed that Caroline and Laura aren't more interesting, Pierre's rapport with them more electric. And it's unfortunate that Joseph, the most complex figure in the tale, virtually disappears in the later reels. Still, while it makes some sense for Peter Debruge in Variety (http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/le-grand-jeu-the-great-game-film-review-1201577146/) to say this film suggests "how a sophisticated French helmer might spin the ingredients of a John Grisham-style potboiler," the whole point is that it's a film that only could come out of France. It make me think of a favorite of mine from a decade ago, Emmanuel Bourdieu's Poison Friends/Les amitiés maléfiques (NYFF 2006 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1851-Ny-Film-Festival-2006&p=15995#post15995)), about cruel intellectual manipulation and deception among ambitious Sorbonne students, which similarly is smart and exciting in a very French way.

The Great Game/Le Grand jeu, 100 mins., debuted at Locarno (out of competition) Aug. 2015, several other minor festivals; with a theatrical release in France 18 Nov. and reviews were excellent (AlloCiné press rating 3.7/26). Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center/UniFrance series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, its US premiere, showing: Fri., March 4, 2016 6:30 p.m. and Sat. Mar. 5, 2016 at 9:15 p.m.., both times with a Q&A with Nicolas Pariser, Clémence Poésy and Melvil Poupaud.

Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 10:27 PM


There'll always be young. . . sex

Eva Husson's sun-drenched first feature focused on French summer teenage sex orgies isn't long on plot but is not without it. The setup is that all we're watching is an episode remembered by a shy girl called Laetitia (Daisy Broom)and her more aggressive bleach-blonde friend George (Marilyn Lima). Laetitia is most interested in Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre), a poetic-looking music-mix guy who isn't into crowds. George wants to keep the attention of Alex (Finnegan Oldfield, a vivid young actor who shone in Thomas Bidguin's Les Cowboys (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3156)), and so she encourages the setup of organized group sex gatherings. This leads to what a blurb calls "a pulsating, slow-motion bacchanal pitched somewhere between the world of Spring Breakers and that of Larry Clark." There are moments when Alex and his almost-twin best mate Nikita (Fred Hotier) seem like the serial deflowerer in Larry Clark's Kids. Gus Van Sant and Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides have also been mentioned. Perhaps surprisingly, Husson has said she was obsessed with Wong Kar-wai while making the film. A truly key element is the "sun drenched" cinematography of the film's dp, Dane Mattias Troelstrup, like Husson a graduate of AFI in Los Angeles, which makes lovely use of the time and setting of the action, summer on the French Riviera, specifically Biarritz. And none of this would work without a team of in-shape and willing young people fully prepared to disrobe and engage in (presumably simulated) group sex, long sunlit living room and bedroom parties of glimpsed, sometimes slo-mo bodies.

The film, which bypassed Cannes and turned up at the putatively more friendly venue of Toronto, got mixed reviews upon its French theatrical release, some quite good, some bad, leading to a poor AlloCiné critics rating of 2.9. But Les Inrocks and Cahiers, always touchstones, liked it pretty well. Their Jecan-Philippe Tessé wrote: "The film finds its way , chugging along , because it doesn't just put its concept on the table ( a pitch , a look), but always seeks to question it." Les Inrocks' critic Serge Kaganski wrote what AlloCiné considered the most enthusiastic review. He praised the young actors, saying Finnegan Oldfield (clearly a "Jeune Espoir Masculin" of the moment) "cuts like a rasor." He called Marilyn Lima "a little Bardot, and said Daisy Broom has an "eye-teasing sexiness," and that Lorenzo Lefebvre "is full of dark beauty." Writing from a summer Paris screening, Variety's (http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/bang-gang-film-review-1201590517/) Guy Debruge acknowledged Husson's proceeds as if she's unaware Sofia Coppola and Larry Clark and Gus van Sant have already "made the same movie" but adds, "That’s not to say that Husson brings nothing new to the mix."

Let's try to say what's new in the mix. First of all perhaps how social and well-off this suburban French Riviera group is; the delicate opening on a sylvan scene with birds chirping. The way orgies are like a party, and though people are doing drugs and drinking, they show little ill effect. Most of it's at the house of Alex (Oldfield), whose mother is away in Morocco, and his relationship with her is friendly and relaxed. He takes calls from her from time to time and always says he misses her and that all is quiet, and well. But this being now, no kid is without his or her iPhone, "Bang Gang" group invites are sent out by email, you can have a video of your first time, and their doings turn up soon on social media, with upsetting results at school later. There's also a hamster rescued from the school lab and running news stories about train derailments. At the end, when the summertime orgies are over, the film returns to some of the main characters and their voiceovers provide introspective analysis. True, Peter Debruge in his Toronto Variety (http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/bang-gang-film-review-1201590517/) review comments that the film's "Virgin Suicides-style voiceover" "sounds as if it was written and added at a very late stage," which is to say that while this movie has charm and panache, it's not without a thrown-together quality. Perhaps that's appropriate.

Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story/Bang Gang: Histoire d'amour moderne, 98 mins., debuted in the Festival du Film Francophone d'Angoulême 26 Aug. 2015, also showed at Toronto, London, Gothenberg, Rotterdam. French theatrical release was 13 Jan. 2016 (AlloCiné press rating 2.9). Coming to US cinemas as A Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Screened for this review in the FSLC-UniFrance Rendez-Vous 2015 edition, Feb. 2016.

Toronto film brochure. (http://medias.unifrance.org/medias/194/74/150210/presse/bang-gang-une-histoire-d-amour-moderne-dossier-de-presse-anglais.pdf)

Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 10:47 PM


Rounding up all Ahmeds: tribulations of an ordinary man trapped by circumstance

Or two ordinary men, really, because a young French victim of a mugging makes a mistake, and accuses an innocent Arab man, whose face he just remembers because it was in a job interview film. But Eddy (Nicolas Duvauchelle, who has a tragic James Dean quality, and a back covered with tattoos) has alcohol and rage problems, which are going to lead him downhill. This is a powerful film, which blasts us with its extreme closeups and the shocking intensity of its action. It's a well made, and superbly acted film, rich in messages about class, ethnicity, and the trap of wage poverty. But the only trouble is, it's not clear what the point of it all is.

Ironically, a violent incident proves a stroke of good luck for Eddy, when he plunges into a fight involving young car radio thieves in front of a cité (housing estate), and he gets badly beaten. At the hospital he seems to be considered a hero, and his estranged wife Karine (the beautiful Mélanie Thierry) takes him back in, temporarily anyway, and gets him an entry-level job at the big box store Homea where she works and is cozy with the manager, Régis (Nicolas Bridet, underused). Eddy and Karin's tow-headed little boy Noam (a surprising Johan Soulé) worships his dad and strikes macho poses to match him: sometimes we wonder why.

Though Eddy does well moving boxes around at Homea, he is impatient to be promoted, and the fact that Karine is on a first-name basis with Régis is part of the anger and frustration that he feels. He has also begun to live up to what he's called, an "enfoiré," a fuckup, when he mistakenly picks out a young Arab, Ahmed (Driss Ramdi) in a police lineup. Ahmed was about to start a job and about to get married. Now he goes to jail. The French legal system pushes such accusations with a confrontation, and protects the accused as well as the aggressed-against. But Ahmed's life is interrupted only because of his name, and where he was when police did ID checks at a traffic jam. As for Eddy, still a drunk, still angry, still his own worst enemy, he is going to get in more and more trouble. "I'm not a bastard," the French title says, but Eddy's tragedy is that he keeps looking more and more like one, and he can't seem to stop the downward spiral. There is almost a Bressonian resonance about this sad tale.

Director Finkiel seems a slow developer, but won a César for his short film Madame Jacques on the Croisette, and the Louis Delluc prize in 1999 for his featureVoyages. Nicolas Duvauchelle has played a series of gritty roles, and performs memorably here. He's currently remembered for Polisse and the TV seies "Braquo." Mélanie Thierry first gained notice for a lead role in Bernard Tavernier's The Princess of Montpensier. Jay Weissberg wrote an excellent review of this film for Variety (http://variety.com/2016/film/festivals/a-decent-man-review-1201670636/) based on a viewing at the Dubai Festival 13 Dec.

A Decent Man/Je ne suis pas un salaud, 111 mins., debuted in Aug. 2015 at Festival du Film Francophone d'Angoulême, and was shown in Dec. at Les Arcs European Film Festival.It enters French theaters 24 Feb. 2016. U.S. Premiere. This film comes out in France 24 Feb. 2016. Screened for this review as part of the FSLC/UniFrance 2016 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, the film's US premiere. Showing Sat., Mar. 5, at 1:00 p.m. and Mon., Ma. 7, at 1:45 p.m.

Trailer. (http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19559901&cfilm=231605.html)

Chris Knipp
02-12-2016, 11:58 PM


Fragmentary and arbitrary and crabwise recounting of the last days of Jesus

Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, who was born in Algeria, has made films, admired for their seriousness and fine visuals, that range from Arab Paris ghetto to French folk tale; he already made a period, costume film in his 2011 Smuglers Songs, set in France in the eighteenth century. Here he plunges into a stage of the life of Jesus when his fame was growing and Judas (played by the director) was his closest disciple.

The Story of Judas is a radical, personal rewriting of the story of the last days of Jesus shot in Algeria using largely Arab actors. Some parts may give one a fresh outlook, but others feel amateurish and arbitrary. Ameur-Zaîmeche is striving for an offbeat, neorealistic feel to the action, somewhat in the manner of Pier Paolo Pasolini. But early scenes seem completely aimless and unfocused, if not downright silly. No scenes have true emotional resonance. In short, Pasolini's Gospel According to Matthew this is absolutely not. Some parts just seem like stalling for time while the filmmakers try to think up some dialogue.

Much emphasis is put on the casting of the money lenders out of the temple. Except that it's an open-air space, and what happens is that a lot of wooden cages of animals, presumably for sale, are opened and smashed up, turning the cleansing of the temple into a PETA demo. Later, Judas discovers a scribe has been painstakingly recording all the sermons and miracles of Jesus, and Judas sets out to destroy these records. Is this as if they were incriminating evidence to be used by the Roman authorities, perhaps? It's not at all clear. But another big scene consists of Judas tearing up documents and burning them.

Perhaps Ameur-Zaïmeche means to present Judas as the closest of Jesus' disciples, but this doesn't come through, mainly because the film hardly follows Jesus at all, except for an early scene of Judas carrying Jesue after his forty days in the desert, playing Saint Christopher. a zipped-through Last Supper, consisting of a few closeups and shots of food and wine. There is an oddball, mildly interesting sequence where Jesus is condemned by the Roman authorities, but there, Judas isn't even present. Pilate seems at the mercy of Jesus, who reads his mind and relives him a violent headache, then advises him to go on long walks.

The French critics spoke pretty highly of this film when it came out 8 April 2015, as indicarted by an AlloCiné press rating of 3.9 based on 19 reviews. But viewers, whose ratings came in at a terrible 2.4, pointed out that while a revisionist life of Jesus is allowable, it needs to be called that -- and above all to be less fragmentary and more plausible. See the detailed description (http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm-220033/critiques/spectateurs/)of the film by the AlloCiné viewer who goes by the moniker "poet75," who calls the screenplay "calamitous." The more one examines details of the film, the more they seem absurd and, as an approach to the life of Jesus, unenlightening.

Story of Judas/Histoire de Judas, 99 mins., debuted at the Forum section of the Berlinale, winning the Jury Prize. It got raves at its 8 Apr. 2015 French release (AlloCiné press rating 3.9/19).

Chris Knipp
02-13-2016, 12:00 AM


A bodyguard in a tense mansion with problems of his own

Alice Winocour, who collaborated on the script of the Oscar-nominated Turkish-language film Mustang (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?4080-MUSTANG-(Deniz-Gamze-Erg%FCven-2015)&p=34162#post34162), is known for her unusual, finely textured costume debut about the controversial hypno-theripist Jean-Marie Charcot, Augustine, starring Vincent Landon. For her sophomore directorial effort the writer/director swerves into genre territory with a home invasion thriller. She still begins with mental problems, since her protagonist, Vincent, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, is a French Special Forces post-Afghan PTSD sufferer with night panic attacks, terrible headaches, and bouts of paranoia. Seeking distraction he gets a job as a security guard with other ex-servicemen at the eponymously named coastal estate "Maryland" of Lebanese financier Whalid (Percy Kemp) whose trophy wife (Diane Kruger) he becomes responsible for guarding while her husband's off on business. Excitement follows.

As Guy Lodge pointed out in his Canes review for Variety (http://variety.com/2015/film/festivals/disorder-review-maryland-matthias-schoenaerts-diane-kruger-1201498599/), this not only takes Winocour more into mainstream territory than the rather airless, "porcelain" Augustine but has strong export potential given both its exciting action and Schoenaerts' current high international profile. The versatile and hunky young Belgian actor, who just gained UK and US attention with "a triple-shot of English-lingo period romances," Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite francaise and A Little Chaos, here returns to the hard man persona that gained him his rep with Bullhead and Rust and Bone. Schoenaerts has both a sweet, sensitive face, and access to a dangerous edge of animal violence. Disorder likewise delivers its violence with the arthouse éclat of a Cannes debut and a classy European gloss.

Schoenaerts is terrific here, as he always is, and ideally suited for this role. The only shortcoming of the film is that its suspenseful action needs some tightening up. It's not a mistake, perhaps, that forty-five minutes pass before things get really tense and exciting when Vincent is chauffeuring Jessie and her little son Ali (Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant)to the beach and he senses the car is boing followed. But once things heat up, things are allowed to meander to much at the mansion. And there is a fantasy final shot that's just a cheat. There are parts of this film that are just great; unfortunately not all of it. There is no reason why Winocour couldn't have segued into full-blown genre in the last third: it would have strengthened not weakened, the focus on Vincent's characgter to do so.

Disordder/Maryland, 101 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2015 and was subsequently shown in over a dozen other prestigious festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and San Francisco. At its 23 Sept. 2015 French release the critical response was uneven (AlloCiné press rating 3.0 averaged from 28 reviews). TRAILER (http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19555357&cfilm=232284.html)

US theatrical release 12 Aug. 2016 (Metacritic rating 67%).

Chris Knipp
02-13-2016, 12:02 AM


A wild French juvenile survives the system

Again a film that needs trimming, but we get a fulsome view of the awesome acting abilities of newcomer Rod Parasot as Malony, a juvenile delinquent with big time rage and impulse control problems, a penchant for stealing cars, a ditzy mess of a mom (Sara Forestier). He seems doomed, yet the French system seems more forgiving than some, and he has a humane judge (Catherine Deneuve) and a caring counselor (Benoît Magimel) on his side, as well as a girlfriend. Paradot is an incredible oyung actor who makes one think of the young Leo DeCaprio, whom he even somewhat resembles, and it's not surprising that he's one of this year's César nominees for Most Promising Actor (Jeune Espoir Masculin) -- along with Finnegan Oldfield (for LES COWBOYS), seen in BANG GANG in this Rendez-Vous series. Malony's gf Tess is played by Diane Rouxel, and she's a Most Promising Actress nominee.

The film takes us in and out of the office of friendly Children's Judge Florence Blaque (Deneuve) more times than we can count, and there are many impassioned meetings between Malony and Yann (Magimel) and Yann and the judge. It emerges that Yann was once somewhat in Malony's place. Magimel, who started acting at 14 and has won many awards and been in many notable films, looks burnt out at 41, and it's believable when his character says he doesn't think he can go on. Judge Deneuve too loses faith in Malony, but only once; she even visits the juvenile center where Malony is being held, for his birthday, and when Malony comes to see her carrying his baby, they hug. Too good to be true? A little, and sometimes the temper tantrums and fights among the boys seem over-the-top. The point is more than amply made that Malony is truly a bad boy: he just can't stop stealing cars and flying into rages, and his first sex with the adoring Tess is more alike an assault.

This is where some of the excess needed to be trimmed, to make way for the time when Malony starts to settle down and have hope and faith in himself. But Bercot proves adept at directing chaotic emotional scenes, particularly involving young guys. (She played a movie full of such drama herself opposite Vincent Cassel in My King/Mon roi, the role that got her the Best Actress award at Cannes. Since Standing Tall was chosen as the opening night film at Cannes, Bercot was certainly a presence at the festival. And Rod Paradot too, a surprising one, an acting "virgin," pulled out of a carpentry apprenticeship program and blooming under Bercot's stern tutelage into a thespian of unusual promise. Partly he was chosen because physically he could play both teenager and young adult, but that's only part of his magic.

Standing Tall/La Tête haute, 119 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes where it was the opening night film. It was highly praised by French critics upon its 13 May local theatrical release (AlloCiné press rating 3.9/21). A Cohen Media Group release in the US, Standing Tall opens Fri., Apr. 1 in NYC at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas6.

Chris Knipp
02-13-2016, 12:24 AM

(Review originally published after screening film during original release at Cinéma Étoile Saint Germain, Paris, 27 Oct. 2015.)


A trio of Paris friends and would be lovers looking scruffily gorgeous

Louis Garrel's directorial debut is a very French spin on the subset of romantic comedy known as the bromance. The story, co-scripted by Christophe Honoré, for whom Louis has been a kind of muse, starts out with a sort of Cyrano situation. Clément (French indie cinema's resident lovable sad sack Vincent Macaigne), who tends to fall for girls out of his league, has now come to adore the radiant Mona (Iranian star Goldshifteh Farahani), and so Abel (Garrel) intercedes on his behalf. But obviously Mona is irresistibly beautiful, and the tall, tousle-haired Garrel is the unmistakable leading man here, the pudgy, balding Macaigne the natural sidekick.

First off, Les deux amis/Two Friends has much pleasure to offer to the senses. Claire Mathon's cinematography was shot in luscious 35mm. color film; composing great Philippe Sarde did the score, and there is superb sound design by Jean Rabasse. There are lots of closeups of faces, in which each of the three principals is very flatteringly served. Garrel does not spare us generous helpings of his own striking mug; and Macaigne's angelic baby face and alabaster skin nicely set off Farahani's olive complexion, which in turn sets off her big, luminous eyes. Mona is feisty; Clément (as usual with Macaigne) is an innocent with heart on sleeve; and Abel is what Garrel often plays, a slightly pretentious but lighthearted bad boy,who here is seen initially running around with an underage girlfriend (Mahaut Adam) and partying with Asian hookers. He's an odd match for Clément. But this is about how hard young men work to be friends with each other.

Beyond the sensuality, there's a Gallic talkiness, with constant onscreen discussions by the trio in various combinations about friendship, love, and how they may fit into them and with each other, or not. Each is a kind of slacker. Mona's in jail (we don't know exactly for what), but let out by day to work in a Gare du Nord pastry shop. Abel pumps gas at a parking garage, though he considers himself a writer. Clément is a movie extra, with obviously time to fall for girls Abel may steal. Honoré-Garrel may not achieve a Nouvelle Vague vivacity in the action (though there's lots of Hollywood rom-com-style running around), but they keep things bubbly, even when the scenes get frantic. Mona will turn into a pumpkin if she isn't back to the prison on the right train, and her willingness to party at a disco gets in the way of that. As a lark, all three of them wind up playing part of the crowd in a film recreation of the Paris 1968 riots -- a nod to Louis' indirect link to this moment via Bertolucci's The Dreamers and, more importantly, his father Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers, which bears an anthemic relationship to this legendary time -- whereas this film shoot is just silly mayhem, though it's broken by Clément's suicide attempt.

There are other scenes in the prison; at the Gare du Nord; in a hospital; a disco; a church full of elderly worshipers; in the streets of Paris day and night -- and near the end, in a scruffy hotel. It's the Hotel des 3 Nations, 13 Rue du Château d'Eau, as we learn from Mona when she does the right thing and calls up the prison authorities to come and get her after she's gone AWOL. The friendship of Abel and Clément survives. And Louis Garrel keeps it light. Time will tell if this good-looking, lively trifle plays well Stateside.

Les deux amis/The Two Friends, 100 mins., in 35 mm. debuted at Cannes Semaine de la Critique May 2015 and opened in French theaters 23 Sept. AlloCiné press rating 3.7.

Review on Film-Forward (http://film-forward.com/foreign/french/new-directors-cannes-2015)

Chris Knipp
02-13-2016, 12:27 AM


Schoolboy politics and mad laughter

In his first feature Le Nouveau (The New Kid), rather than turning his young cast into actors (though some of them are), Rudi Rosenberg captures lightening in a bottle. He fills the screen with the "fou rire," the laughing fits when kids get the giggles and just can't stop. You can't fake that. These kids, though they may have been selected with camera and screen in mind, are still just kids. And that they still seem just kids at the film's end is Rosenberg's little triumph.

Fourteen-year-old Benoît (Réphaël Ghrenassia) arrives at a strange school when his family comes to Paris for his father's work. He's shy, and making friends doesn't come easy. Besides that, the ruling clique's default mode is exclusion of those outside the charmed circle. They use all sorts of cruel mockery and exclusion to keep Benoît from fitting in. His gangly loser uncle Greg (Max Boubil), who's living on the family couch and has a dj background, has a wonderfully dumb, inappropriate idea: give a loud dance party while the parents are away with alcohol and invite the whole class.

Only three classmates turn up, and they're the core freaks and geeks crew Benoît has connected with. They're Aglaé (Géraldine Martineau, who is an actress, and a highly accomplished one), a disabled girl; the nerdy, bespectacled, brace-wearing Constantin (Guillaume Cloud-Roussel), whose self-important obsession is the choir; the chubby, slightly weird Joshua (Joshua Raccah). They remain Benoît's bande à part against the clique around Charles (Eythan Chiche), the A-list kid who travels around protected by admirers and like-minded brats and gets elected class rep, with far more votes than the ambitious but doomed Constantin.

Actually Réphaël Ghrenassia, who plays Benoît, is a stunner and charmer, and the nerdiness and weirdness of his posse is largely put on for the movie. And that's fine. It shows how arbitrary the stratification and exclusions of school are. Early on, Benoît forms an alliance with a Swedish girl, also new, the tall, pretty Johanna (Johanna Lindstedt), whose French is patchy. This is where Benoît gets his heart broken, because Johanna's outsider intimacy quickly fades when other boys show an interest, and while French for "fond" and "like" and "love" get a bit confused for her, along with the gender of copain-copine (boyfriend-girlfriend), "just friends" is all she wants with him.

When Benoît gets admitted to a party of A-listers and Joshua's exclusion leads to several humiliating faux pas on Joshua's part, Benoît shows himself Joshua's true bro: the delicate line between gaining status and remaining faithful to one's real friends is one of many points where this little film achieves perfect pitch and delivers a positive message without being the least bit preachy or casting too many aspersions on the bad, mischievous boys who provide the core energy to any school. Likewise some really gross things get said, but without any grossierté.

The New Kid/Le Nouveau, 81 mins., debuted and upon its 23 Dec. 2015 theatrical release was quite well liked by French critics (AlloCiné press 3.8/20), with even the stern Cahiers du Cinéma (Arlel Schwwizer) calling it a "pleasant surprise" making fine use of its non-actors; thoughLes Inrocks felt it relied a little too much on clichés about adolescent behavior. This seems unfair: they're basics, not clichés. The New Kid does't plumb depths because it's concerned with those, for les ados, all-important surfaces. TRAILER. (http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19555685&cfilm=229881.html)


Chris Knipp
02-13-2016, 12:29 AM


Strings of puzzlements

The longtime French resident Georgian filmmaker Otar Iosseliani may by now, at 82, be in his own quirky way more French than the French. But the pleasant superficial gloss that implies (his new offering is full of Parisian parks and streets and cafes) can't save us from the fact that his sui generis films, which have long made him a minor festival darling, require the kind of attention only fans and ardent auteurists can provide -- those willing to spend the time it takes to make sense out of strings of conundrums. Though there are the usual occasional almost-but-not-quite Jacques Tati moments, Winter Song requires an appreciation and knowledge of Iosseliani's oeuvre and patient note-taking and second viewing to parse. Or, as mere surreal sequence of watchable but not particularly involving scenes, you can just let them flow past you and move on to something else. But the previous Iosseliani films I've seen, the 2006 Gardens in Autumn (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1851-Ny-Film-Festival-2006&p=15960#post15960) (NYFF 2006) and 2010 Chantrapas (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1776), frankly made more sense than this one, as did the documentary celebrating the director, Otar Iosseliani: The Whistling Blackbird (SFIFF 2007 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1999-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2007-%2850th-anniversary%29&p=17798#post17798)) -- though that survey (by Julie Bertucelli) made me observe that his films are the kind that are more fun to talk about than to watch.

Winter Song provides an endless chain of similar and intertwined sequences. There are the two tall, bearded men with scarves who squabble and make up. There is the young man, respectable looking but, it turns out, member of a pickpocket ring, who keeps pursuing a young women with a violin, who's not interested, until she finally is. Does everybody really live in the same old building? What is the meaning of the several scenes where homeless people are expelled from their settlements, or their live-in car towed away? What is the point of the fat potentate in uniform, or head of police, who dines, bathes in a pool, and refuses calls about the homeless expulsion?

Why does the film begin with the beheading, by guillotine, during the time of the French Revolution, of an aristocrat who refuses to take his pipe out of his mouth -- an event blandly observed by a seated group of ladies busy with their knitting? This fellow turns out to be one of the two tall bearded, who, in a late scene, sample a white wine at a cafe table, then spit it out and suddenly leave. (What does that mean?)

Well, the skull of this executed aristocrat keeps reappearing in subsequent scenes set centuries later, and someone who specializes in skulls works on it and restores the fleshy head it originally represented -- which also is the fabricated head used in the guillotining aftermath in the opening scene. Above all -- since it seems to connect so little to anything else, except that quite a few scenes end in a minor kind of violence -- what it the significance of the semi-comic (but then not so funny) and elaborate sequence early on of modern warfare, taking place amid urban rubble, where enemies take shots at each other, and then are immediately gunned down? Press notes tell us this is the Russo-Georgian war. And so, then, it has a personal significance to the director, who comes from Georgia. But does he communicate this significance to the audience? Not without study, care, knowledge of the Iosseliani oeuvre, and repeated viewings.

The film includes Rufus, Pierre Étaix, and Mathieu Amalric. but it's hard to single anybody out. That's not the point. Everyone is used as a distinctive, thematically repeated figurant or "extra," an actor/model to move about, recognized, but not further individualized.

Winter Song/Chant d’hiver, 117 mins., debuted 9 Aug. 2015 at Locarno, also showing at Warsww and Busan; French theatrical release 25 Nov. with mediocre reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.0/14). Neil Young reviewed the film at Locarno for Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/winter-song-chant-dhiver-locarno-814091).

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:03 PM

(This review was written in Paris at the time of the film's French theatrical release, 28 Oct. 2015.)


Oedipal meltdown

In Julie Delpy's new comedy, Violette (Delpy herself) is a forty-year-old workaholic with a career in the fashion industry. Bored and divorced, and at a spa with her best friend Ariane (Karin Viard) she decides to have a fling with successful, but naive provincial computer entrepreneur Jean-René (Dany Boon). It turns into a serious love affair, and can continue since Jen-René has just transferred to Paris. Only her nineteen-year-old son Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), who's just broken up with his girlfriend and takes up residence at home again, has other ideas.

I was reminded by this movie of Tanguy, a masterful, inventive, and relatively tasteful and subtle comedy about something similar, only in reverse. Tanguy is directed by the comic master Étienne Chatiliez (of Life is a Long, Quiet River), and features the legendary Alain Resnais regulars André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma as the parents of the titular Tanguy (Éric Berger). And while Lolo is ready to do anything to get rid of interference in his oedipal attachment to his mom, Tanguy's parents start carrying out a series of measures to force their nearly-thirty son, a Chinese scholar, to move out on his own.

The physical business in Tanguy includes barring the son from using their car; disturbing his sleep; and shrinking his favorite clothes. Chatiliez, helped mightily by his trio of actors, keeps the action specific, droll, and within the realm of the possible. It's also true that as the son, Berger is an interesting character. Tanguy is very smart and quite nice, but we can thoroughly appreciate how his dependence on his parents and noisy lovemaking with a series of young ladies would drive them to distraction too.

Not so with Lolo, a skinny, preening, self-satisfied young sod given to prancing around in colorful jockey shorts whom it's impossible to like for a moment. He fancies himself as a great artist, but the paintings he has done are daubs -- though he gets a gallery show. The measures he adopts to make life unbearable for Jean-René (whom he calls "JR") are such things as drugging him at a party and sprinkling itching powder all over his clothes. Later he enlists a geek pal to sabotage the most important interview of Jean-René's life, involving a major government contract; in fact the geek's trick involves shutting down a major French bank's digital system. These gestures are crude and don't even begin to be plausible.

It seems that like Maïwenn, whose Mon roi I suffered through the other day, Delpy likes messy, over-the-top scenes, and so she resorts to crudeness and slapstick. But she errs in going deep down the borderline creepy oedipal route. Had she played more lightly and subtly with Lolo's feelings of jealousy toward the rustic interloper in his and his mother's sophisticated Parisian lives, an amusing comedy might have resulted. Lolo has some good scenes, and the principals could have been fine (though I'm a bit in doubt about Lacoste, who plays it too broad and is resultingly unable to make his character even slightly sympathetic), but this is not a success -- and owes too much to some of the cruder recent Hollywood comedies.

Lolo, 99 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2015, also showing at Toronto. It opened in French theaters the day of this screening, Wed., 28 Oct. 2015. Watched at MK2 Odeon. Overall French critics were not too enthusiastic (AlloCiné press rating 3.1), international ones even less so (Metacritic rating 45%). In the US, this will be a FilmRise release. The Lincoln Center/UniFrance Rendez-Vous presentation is its U.S. Premiere. Showings:
Tuesday, March 8, 6:30pm (Q&A with Julie Delpy and composer Mathieu Lamboley)
Wednesday, March 9, 9:30pm (Introduction by Julie Delpy)

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:05 PM


Two earth forces meet in a passionate city-country lesbian love affair

Izïa Higelin is marvellous as Delphine Benchiessa, the strong, earthy, dark-skinned farm girl in Catherine Corsini's passionate celebration of lesbian love and early Seventies feminism, La belle saison (the English title, Summertime, lacks the original metaphorical resonance of a special time both in life and nature). The French critics who took issue with Corsini for not setting events in the present to show both issues, the rights of women and gay rights, at the current cutting edge, are inexplicable. This film's lifeblood and its point are that it happens at a time when women were challenged to live up to the ideals they have been championing.

This is where the vibrant, dynamic Cécile de France comes in. Delphine (Higelin) has left her parents' farm in the Limousin region where she was an integral part, prompted, we assume, by rejection by a younger lover who's decided to get married and the awkwardness of rejecting a perfect potential male partner, the patient, but eager Antoine (the excellent Kévin Azaïs of last year's terrific Les combattants (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3278&p=3298#p3298)). So she has gone off to spend time in the big city, in a tiny Parisian chambre de bonne, and encounters Carole (de France) at a university meeting of feminists and is instantly smitten by her.

This film would be memorable if only for the scene of these fired-up, beautiful, cigarette-puffing, chanting, singing feminists. Carole's wide smile is infectious, her blond hair flows in all directions, her energy is electric. In other words, she's not just a political activist, but a hot babe. Delphine well knows she loves only women. Carole's assurance and glamour dazzle Delphine, but hide her uncertainty, since Carole lives with Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour), in a physical relationship, and Manuel considers this to be a lifetime commitment.

It's a bit of a paradox the freethinking Carole has a lot to learn from the farm girl Delphine, and another paradox that despite Delphine's love for Carole, the family farm and the region's conservative values trump that, because the farm is her highest priority, so she rushes back there to take charge when her father has a stroke. What's surprising is that while Cécile de France's energy and sex appeal usually tear up the screen, Izïa Higelin's solid earthiness is stronger, and make Carole, properly, seem the weaker character.

This is where the great Noémie Lvovsky comes in, in one of this powerhouse figure of French cinema's best roles as Monique, Delphine's mother. One of the most electric scenes between women in French cinema in a good while comes when, after several months of working together with Carole, who has pitched in on the farm, Monique hears a loud fight between Delphone and Carole (who's tiring of country living) that reveals what's going on between the two women, and barges into Delphine's bedroom next morning and sees the two women with naked bodies intertwined. Lvovsky, who who's usually played urban sophisticates, melds seamlessly into the role of an old fashioned country woman whose conservative values make her see her coworker Carole suddenly as an embodiment of the Devil who has corrupted her daughter. Of course she's got it wrong.

It's both its strength and its weakness that this movie wears its heart on its sleeve. Its lovemaking is nearly as unrestrained as the younger intertwinings in Kechiche's Vied'Adèle, but there isn't the pain and intensity of hiding homosexuality that makes Annie Proulx's story and Ang Lee's movie of Brokeback Mountain such a devastating emotional experience. Still Summertime is a fraught lesbian love story with as rich a historical-political-social-economic context as has been yet brought to the screen, and when the causes of minorities are first expressed artistically, the language has to be basic. This is a beautiful and memorable film by any standard that will have specially lasting meaning for its most particular audience.

Summerttime/La Belle saison, 105 mins., debuted at Locarno 6 Aug. 2015, where the Variety Piazza Grande Award went to Catherine Corsini as director. It has shown at ten other international festivals, including Toronto. At its 19 Aug French theatrical release it was enthusiastically received (AlloCiné press rating 3.8 based on 25 reviews). Strand Releasing will bring it to US theaters at a date not yet announced. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, showing to the public on Tues., Mar. 8 at 9:15pm (Introduction by composer Gregoire Hetzel) and Sat., Mar. 12 at 4:30 p.m.

(I previously reviewed Corsni's Les ambitieux (R-V 2007 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?1963-Rendez-vous-With-French-Cinema-2007&p=16918#post16918)) and Three Worlds/Trois mondes (R-V 2013 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3443-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2013&p=29744#post29744) and saw her 2009 Partir/Leaving.)

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:12 PM


Berber deal puzzler

Nessim Amaouche's film abut an illegitimate man taken up by his Berber father for legal and cultural reasons is atmospheric and intriguing, but halting and inexplicable. It has moments, as well as good actors and good visuals, but overall it's a pretty total misfire. The hip Paris arts weekly Les Inrokuptibles commented, since the director took six years to rerelease this second feature, that Amaouche is "a director with a temperament as patient, roving and reflective as his films." Okay. But what Amaouche doesn't seem aware of is the need to engage the viewer in his patient roving reflections, which sometimes in The Apaches just don't make much sense. Guillaume Breaud, who co scripted Pascale Ferran's weird and wonderful Bird People, may have been too left-field a collaborator to be helpful. The screenplay leaps and skips among moods, time periods, and genres without logic or much sense of pacing.

Opening sequences, with a voice over (by actor-director Serge Bozon) that returns at the end. suggests a gangster-clan story, explaining how a democratically structured Algerian Berber community structure like a loose corporation enables remote Kabyle (north Algerian Berber) villages to invest in cafes and bars in Paris, then illegally transfer the profits back to the homeland, sometimes by a family head with money wrapped in a fake damaged leg.

But then things slow down and become semi surreal as we focus partly on a thirty-something loner named Samir (played unappealingly by writer-director Amaouche), who's needed by his long-absent father (Djemel Barek) to close a deal selling his cafe in the (Algerian-intensive) Barbès quarter of Paris. Berber clan rules require co owners, who're all related, to meet to approve this deal and the sale price. And for it to be legal, the head of each family branch must be accompanied at the meeting by his eldest son. Samir is the cafe owner's eldest son. He's approached about this by a lawyer called Jean (André Dusollier), a longtime friend-fixer-collaborator (somewhat the dicey kind of role Dusollier played also in Nicolas Pariser's The Great Game/Le grand jeu, but with a gemütlich side, since Berber family members call Jean tonton, "unky."

Meanwhile Samir begins reminiscing about his childhood, spurred by the recent death of his French mother, Jeanne (Laetitia Casta), with whom he grew up. Scenes of young Samir unreel as if in real time; with young Samir played by a child actor who doesn't in the least resemble the adult Amaouche. Later, grownup Samir begins dating a woman played also by Laetitia Casta, which is weird too, and also confusing.

Blurbs about the film hint that Jean has some kind of occult, illegal role in the life of Samir's father, but maybe details lie on the cutting room floor. In the event. the reluctant, asocial Samir attends the meeting on the cafe sale as he's been asked to do, and the sale goes through without a hitch. This is a sequence of plodding documentary realism; so is the sequence when Samir, who's refused to accept a financial share or even go to the celebratory dinner, goes up a back stair to kiss the aged family matriarch (Fadhma N'Soumer). A final fast-forward scene shows Samir has had a kid by the woman played by the actress who played his mother, and finally learned to smile.

There are scenes at a bath house, at the races, and at a boxing gym, and even a diegetic use of Umm Kalsoum's song "Al-Atlal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzsM0sjkOsE)," beloved of North Africans, as well as many details about Samir's Berber relatives of various generations, of whom we see old family photos. There are many signs that this film was painstakingly and carefully put together with an effort to represent its Kabyle characters authentically. Nonetheless all the fine effort has resulted in a film that winds up feeling incoherent and lifeless. Amaouche might have started off better by casting somebody other than himself in the lead.

The Apaches/Des Apaches, 97 mins., debuted 2 July 2015 at La Rochelle. French theatrical relaese 22 July 2015 (AlloCiné press rating 3.2/14 only fair, but high ratings from prestigious journals). It was screened for this review as part of the 2016 Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema where the public screenings are Fri., Mar. 4 at 4 p.m. and Sun., Mar. 13 at 1:30.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:16 PM

(Review originally published 26 October 2015 after screening the film in Paris.)


Rewarding terribleness

Maïwenn Le Besco, actress and now director, is remembered for helming the 2011 Polisse, about the Paris Juvenile Protection Squad, a film well publicized in France; it was strikingly advertised on Paris' beautiful Colonnes Morris at the time with images of children's faces superimposed on adult bodies (see my review (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1936)). It garnered some good reviews despite some overacting by improvising non-actors. Maïwenn clearly likes unending successions of in-your-face scenes. Mon roi ("My King") is almost nothing but explosive, pointless sequences full of overacting, this time by professional actors, mainly Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot, and the latter, who also directed the Cannes gala opening night movie Standing Tall, got the Cannes Best Actress prize this year for her work with Cassel, which consists of nothing but exaggerated, turned-on-for-the-scene emotions: laughter, tears, screaming. It's an example of how juries (and people) can confuse effusions of fake emotion with fine acting. (This mistake was offset fortunately by the much-deserved Best Actor prize to Vincent Lindon for his heartfelt, lived-in performance in Brizé's La loi du marché.)

Mon roi is about a couple, Tony (Bercot), who's supposed to be a French trial lawyer (though one can't imagine this ditsy, hysterical female she's playing in such a profession) and Giorgio (Cassel), who's supposed to be a rich successful chef and restaurant entrepreneur, though again, professional context is quite missing. The only time we see him using a kitchen is to have sex with Tony, noisily banging around pots and pans. And his success turns out to be hollow when we find out he is an alcoholic and drug addict with big debts. The hysterical rolls in the hay did not reveal such practical details to Tony.

This film, a long recollection of a bad relationship framed by Tony's recuperation from a bad skiing accident, is based on the unhealthy notion that sexy guys are assholes, or, conversely, that only assholes are sexy. Nice guys just aren't, according to such thinking. True, Vincent Cassel, with his smooth, muscular body topped by a gnarly demonic face, oozes dangerous, narcissistic male sexuality, and he knows how to play an asshole. After their first sex she suggests he may be one, and he boldly replies that he's not, because he's the king of assholes. In his Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/17/mon-roi-review-vincent-cassel-maiwenn) Cannes review Peter Bradshaw, who gave this a devastating one out of five stars, called Mon roi "an unendurable confection of complacent and self-admiring nonsense: shallow, narcissistic, histrionic and fake". His review convincingly backs up these claims. I couldn't put it any better. The words apply both to Vincent Cassel's character and the film as a whole.

There is nothing wrong with a protagonist who's an asshole. It's a perfectly good idea. The trouble is that indeed, as Bradshaw implies, Giorgio's continual misbehavior is presented as if it is cool, or something you just need to put up with if you want to enjoy the excitement of being involved with a really sexy guy. Giorgio never gets his comeuppance. When he and Tony get divorced it's a lark; they immediately have hot sex. Having a kid seems like a game for him, and, cooperatively, for her. It's borderline disgusting how marriage, child rearing and other such important activities are all treated as as larks, or opportunities for thespian grandstanding.

I don't share Bradshaw's (and others') opinion that Louis Garrel, who plays Tony's brother, is an "egregious smoulderer" (whatever that may mean), but I'd agree that it's not reassuring to realize he's the most sensible, normal character in this movie. It is also true that even Tony's odd place of recovery from the ski accident, an apparent spa for sporty, goodloooking young people with broken legs, provides the same kind of explosive, fake entourage sequences that are featured in all the flashbacks, where we see Giorgio's pals chuckle and cheer as he does stupid, annoying, narcissistic things. And so really does Tony -- cheer him on and do such things herself. They are two of a kind, so it makes sense that it takes her forever to get over him. But we're done with him after the first fifteen minutes. And alas we have seen such outpourings of mucous and tears and straining of the vocal cords celebrated as a fine performance before. The partial success of this bad movie is a cautionary tale. Avoid.

My King/Mon roi, 127 mins., debuted at Cannes in competition, and Emmanuelle Bercot won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performance. The film was released in France 21 Oct. 2015, receiving a mediocre critical rating (AlloCiné press 3.2). The UniFrance/FSLC Rendez-Vous with French Cinema showing it the film's US premiere, showing Wed. Mar. 9 at 6:30 p.m. (Q&A with Maïwenn and Louis Garrel) and Thurs. Mar. 10 at 9:45 p.m. (Introduction by Maïwenn).

US theatrical release 12 Aug. 2016 Lincoln Plaza Cinemas NYC, 29 Aug. Laemmle Royal, Los Angeles.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:17 PM


Complicated caper

Pretty-boy actor Niels Schneider, used as decoration in Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats and as a spoiled aristocrat in Gemma Bovary, has his curly mop combed straight back and acquires a slightly seedy look for his troubled, introspective role in Arthur Harari's debu feature about a young man with a dark scheme. His character, Pier Ullmann, is from a family of diamond cutters in Antwerp. But his father was cast from grace and misused by the family. Estranged from his father, PIer has been engaged in devious business. When his father dies, he goes back to his uncles and cousins in the business in Antwerp with revenge in mind. He's taken on by his uncle Gabi (August Diehl) as a mere hired man to do some office remodeling. Though he arrives as a black sheep, Pier becomes more and more indispensable, which suits him fine -- but the new possibilities his acceptance bring complicate his revenge plans. He is becoming more and more a cherished member of the family he wants to hate. This is a thriller with lots of surprises, and a depth of character development one doesn't expect in the genre. And Harari's well-written film likewise provides a rich local texture that's perfectly integral to the plot, delving into the current status of the diamond market, even into the history of Antwerp, the Belgian port city whose role in that business has long been central. If some developments are a little implausible, we're happy to accept them for the cunning twists they make possible in the final reels.

As Pier, Schneider convincingly portrays a young man both able and troubled, motivated by the conflicting aims of revenge and proving himself. He undergoes a transformation -- or is it nature coming out? -- when he gains the confidence of the Ulmanns' chief diamond cutter, Rick de Vries (Jos Verbist). Pier must deal not only with Gabi, who reveals an unexpected vulnerability, but the company's stern head, Joseph (German actor and director Hans-Peter Cloos), and his cousin Louisa (Raphaële Godin), a kick-boxing doctoral candidate in chemistry, who becomes dangerously fascinating to him.

Gabi and Joseph have conflicting notions of how the business should be conceived and conducted. Should diamonds be considered unique, magnificent works of art, or something to be mass produced for a wide global market? As the Ulmanns' small, distinguished firm risks falling behind, Gabi considers linking up with an Indian mass producer of the Jain faith, Vijay Sha Gopal (Vijay Sha Gopal). In the background lurk Pier's dubious allies Raschid (the late Hafed Benotman) and Kevin (Guillaume Verdier), waiting at the end of the phone line in France to be called into a Rififi-like operation that's expected to be a slightly larger variation on capers we've seen the trio pull off early in the action. But as Pier settles into his role with the family in Antwerp, things keep changing in this very ingenious and nicely constructed film.

Niels Schneider is from Paris, but spent 17 years in Montreal, where he was eventually taken up by Xavier Dolan. Coming back to Paris five years ago, things heated up for him as an actor, and he has had a lot of roles in theater (Romeo, opposite Ana Girardot), TV and film. This is a good one. It looks like there may be much to come showing he's not just a pretty face. He has six films pending, including this one.

Dark Inclusion/Diamont Noir, 115 mins., has not yet been released in France. IMDb lists its French theatrical release as 13 Apr. 2016, but AlloCiné says the date is 8 June. Screened as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York. Its presentation as part of the FSLC-UniFrance series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is its U.S. Premiere, showing to the public Thurs. Mar. 10 at 1:30 p.m. and Sat. Mar. 12 at 9:15 p.m.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:27 PM


A Lebanese girl experiencing a little of everything in Paris

Lina Karam (Manal Issa) is an eighteen-year-old Lebanese girl who has come to Paris from Beirut on a student visa and her uncle and aunt, with whom she installs herself, enroll her at the university. The only trouble is that her uncle wants to rape her. And this is where the beautiful, spirited, and fearless Lina sets out on her own, persuading a classmate to take her in, getting odd jobs, switching from economics to art, being involved with three different guys. The Lebanese-born director Danielle Arbid says this isn't an autobiographical film, but it's set in the early Nineties, when she was in her twenties, and everything seemed possible. In this fourth feature, she delivers a shopping list of experiences: struggle with bureaucracy that wants to expel her; struggle with her own family; politics (fascists, racists, and would-be revolutionaries play roles); dancing, music, sex. It's a breathtaking compendium, and might have left a stronger impression if Labid had pared down a bit. But she and her charming, pretty star make it work, even if it's just a little bit of everything ending, a little lamely, in a renewed residency permit.

It is impossible not to be charmed by, and involved with, Lina's little adventures, some of which have the highly cinematic "naturalism" of early Nouvelle Vague films. One is horrified by the predatory uncle in the Paris suburbs, and astonished at the quarreling family when she's back home. One worries when she's charmed by the rich bearded seducer Jean-Marc (Paul Hamy); and one is charmed too by the unambitious young waiter-musician-traveler Julien (Damien Chapelle, of whom we should see more). One wonders if Raphaël (professional teenager Vincent Lacoste) is grownup enough for her; but then he introduces her to leftist activism, and he's such a funny guy. One watches through her eyes the show-off-y Sorbonne lecturers, including art survey prof Madame Gagnebin (Dominique Blanc), who turns out to be a lifesaver when LIna's legal status gets iffy. The action is absorbing and delightful, and Labid is really good at bar-disco scenes and alternative rock (via Julien, who takes Lina to a Black Francis concert, shown in very rough, obviously preexisting footage).

All this is just great, and Manal Issa's buoyancy and authenticity and luminous Lebanese beauty never fail us; the family scenes in Lebanese Arabic are, needless to say, utterly authentic and something not seen often in French films, where we get lots of Algerian or Moroccan dialect but not other forms of the language.

It's rather nice to have a French film about immigration (because this is essentially that) where the immigrant isn't a hard case and the presentation isn't earnest and downbeat. But after a while, one realizes that this story has no teeth in it. Lina's teflon coating and good luck mean her mishaps lack emotional punch. As Gérard Nectoux wrote in Cahiers du Cinéma, this film is "as inoffensive as a bouquet of flowers." Despite its rich surface and knowing detail, that, and the excess and repetitiveness of incidents, keep this charming effort from being surprising or memorable.

Parisienne/Peur de rien ("Fear of Noting," a good description of Lina's personality), 12o mins., debuted at Toronto Oct. 2015, showing also at Dubai and Gothenberg. It opened theatrically 10 Feb. 2016 in France, to an excellent critical reception, with an AlloCiné press rating of 3.7 averaged from 23 reviews. It was screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York City Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, shown to the public Thurs., Mar. 10, 4:00 p.m. and Sat., Mar. 12, 1:30 p.m. (both followed by a Q&A with Danielle Arbid).
FRENCH TRAILER (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GgrXKgHEmo&ebc=ANyPxKoinKdf5qs0Svbn4RY771qgdGzWanDTHfV-_jm2ycWkCiC4m8X39_bdEykzCOX1br2uRl0ddIYnBmoPSpg0NT ifrbCNFw)

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:30 PM


Dense, humane, portrait of Moroccan prostitutes banned at home

This film about a group of prostitutes in Marrakech and their driver-protector Said (Abdellah Didane) may not provide strikingly new information about the life, but, apart from being controversial (it's banned in Morocco), it represents a tour-de-force of fiction-documentary storytelling and an act of humanity and sympathy. It may make you think of the more visually striking anamorphic lens iPhone6 movie Tangerine, but in cast and mise-en-scène the latter is far less complex and ambitious. Highlights of Much Loved are a profitable night-and-day party-and-sex scene with rich Saudis in their rented villa; time spent in a nightclub with older French guys; the arrival of a plump, pregnant, destitute girl from the sticks called Hilma (Sara Elhamdi Elalaoui), whom the more experienced women adopt and rename "Ahlam"; one woman's gradual rejection by her impoverished mother; another's longed-for first lesbian experience; a tran "sister" friend; and a riotous holiday trip of the four women with Said, in a fancy uniform, driving a rented limo, to a posh hotel in Agadir. There are inevitable run-ins with the police, and a cop who takes advantage of his power to demand sex. And the aging Frenchman (Carlo Brandt, who resembles Jean Reno), a married man who claims to be in love with the lead whore, Noha (Loubna Abidar), but is just a drag. There is a younger man who is crazy about one of the other "girls" and waits around for her for hours. One common thread: the way, in a harsh world of demanding or cruel johns, the women create their own solidarity and warmth among themselves.

In the car on the way to the Saudis' villa the women talk in gross language about money and little dicks, which some prefer: they do less damage to the equipment. The "games" the Saudis play together with the "girls" are humiliating, but they lionize the beauty and freedom of the Moroccan women, while the "girls" praise the Saudis for their beautiful money. Sokaïna (Halima Karaouane) thinks she's found a sweet deal when she pairs off with Ahmed (Lebanese-born California actor Danny Boushebel) who acts romantic but can't get it up. Later when she discovers he jacks off to gay porn the reason for his non-performance is revealed and in a rage he beats her up. It's at hospital emergency that the girls first meet and subsequently rescue and adopt Hilma/Ahlam. Hilma, whose country style makes her a friendly source of humor, turns out to be a prostitute too. Her manner's rock-bottom basic. She approaches three men standing on the street and says, "Which of you wants to fuck me?" She gets a farmer who does her in his truck and pays only 100 dirhans ($10), so she demands more and he gives her 10 kilos of produce.

Much Loved doesn't tell a story. It references a whole bunch of stories. As the admiring French critics note, it gives us both documentary realism and romance, harshness and pain but also warmth and humor. Its most notable quality is its sheer density. You begin watching expecting something distasteful, and part of it is. But then you are drawn in, and it becomes fascinating. Thanks to the handheld digital camera, you forget, for stretches anyway, that you're watching a movie and you're just there. The saddest scenes are the visits of queen bee Noha dressed in chaste hijab to a poor part of Marrakech to see her younger sister and little boy and mother, trying to maintain connection with family and finding the connection isn't there. Word is out on the street, via le téléphone arabe, about who and what Noha is, and her mother tells her not to come around any more. At the other extreme are the times of hilarity and togetherness. In between are the transactions with men, some pleasant, some not. Ayouch's main actresses, recruited from non-professionals, are both beautiful and real.

This is the 46-year-old Parisian-born, Casablanca-resident Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch's seventh film. Three have been Moroccan submissions to the Oscars, but he seems little known in this country. The humanity and warm rhythms recall Hector Babenco's picture of street kids, Pixote, and Ayouch made a film about a gang of boys himself, the 2000 Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets, and one would like to see that. But I'm guessing Much Loved may be the filmmaker's most mature, technically assured, and bravest work yet.

Much Loved, 105 mins., debuted in Directors Fortnight at Cannes 2015 with four award nominations; shown at nine other festivals including Toronto and London. Released in France 16 Sept. 2015 it received acclaim from critics (AlloCiné press rating 4.1 averaged from 25 reviews). Many note the film's sympathetic understanding and lack of immorality or prurience. Banned in Morocco and described by the government as "a grave insult to moral values." Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, shown to the public Thurs. Mar. 10 at 7 p.m. and Fri. Mar. 11 at 4 p.m.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:33 PM


A disappearing corpse and a prim wife getting sexier

In the Larrieu brothers' 21 Nights with Pattie, we enter summer around a beautiful villa in the filmmakers' warm native Hautes-Pyrénées region of southwestern France where the owner, a lady named Isabelle, nicknamed Zaza, has just died. Her estranged daughter Catherine (Isabelle Carré) has come for the funeral. She runs into Pattie (Kain Viard), who used to clean house, and is regaled with non-stop tales of sexual encounters couched in a four-letter dirty-talk style out of Henry Miller's Sexus-Nexus-Plexus trilogy in French translation. By film's end the talk has had its liberating influence, and the prim Catherine, who's married to Sergi Lopez and has two young daughters, will have begun to talk sexy too, and celebrate her husband's penis in this sunny but oddball celebration of life, which the French critics loved. The public didn't, and neither did I. I never really felt any emotional connection with the action or the talk. But I understood what the brothers were getting at, something like what C.L. Barber talks about in his book, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: a general coming-together of spirits and body, humans and nature.

Along the way, a mysterious former lover of Zaza's called Jean (the ubiquitous André Dusollier, a favorite of the late Alain Resnais and in three Rendez-Vous films this year) arrives just when Zaza's body has disappeared, with suspicions by the police (happily, untrue) of necrophilia or necrophagia involved. Catherine begins to suspect that Jean is the writer J. M. G. Le Clézio, and might be her father. But Zaza slept around as much as Pattie, and there are other suspects.

Other men flirt with Catherine, a police captain (Laurent Poitrenaux), a bestial man of vibrant energy (ubiquitous Leos Carax muse Denis Lavant), and Zaza's half-clad, half-Moroccan young son Kamil (Jules Ritmanic) who lives in the woods in a trailer in the summer. Themes of poetry, love, sex, and dance are interwoven with a mood of summer festivity, death, and hints of a ghost story.

The Larrieu brothers are noted for their uniquely personal comedies. At least this one has a good cast, sun-kissed locations, and beautiful cinematography. But that doesn't make it relatable as a movie unless you're a confirmed Larrieu brothers fan. Too much is going on, and yet in the end not very much, and it doesn't come together enough. I didn't really like the Larrieus' 2013 Love Is a Perfect Crime (R-V 2014 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3681-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2014&p=31805#post31805)), the only other of their films I've seen, either, but in retrospect its greater saturation in crime genre atmosphere made it marginally more appetizing to me. In his Variety review Guy Lodge sums up, "Beginning as a rural whodunnit, with Isabelle Carre’s exasperated outsider seeking the stolen corpse of her estranged mother, before loosely spiraling into a far stranger fusion of erotic awakening and ghost story, this mirthfully performed original could prove one of the Larrieus’ livelier international players." We shall see.

21 Nights with Pattie/21 nuits avec Pattie, 115 mins., debuted 28 Aug. 2015 at Angoulême, with three other festivals including London and Rotterdam. At 25 Nov. 2015 French theatrical release, the AlloCiné press rating was 4.2, but the viewers rating is only 2.9. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center (in collaboration with UniFrance), shown to the public Fri. Mar. 11 at 1:30 p.m. and Sat. Mar. 12 at 6:45.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2016, 10:38 PM

(This review was originally published after seeing the film in London at the LFF 18 October 2015.)


A difficult blend still shows Audiard's mastery

In Dheepan Audiard seeks to do something new -- focus on a major social problem -- but does it in much his usual way -- by a fusion of genres. He takes the plight of refugees of war, Tamil people fleeing Sri Lanka in a fake family unit of convenience (unrelated man, woman, and 9-year-old girl) escaping via traffickers to France, where they're put in the care of the social welfare system. Then, he plunks them down in a seedy Paris cité in the extra-peripheral banlieue. The man, the titular Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan), a former Tamil Tiger squadron leader, is made the new caretaker ("guardien"). The threatening presence of warring young drug dealers allows the filmmaker to consequently blend in elements of a gangster action movie. Insofar as the mix works, it's through our visceral identification with our exotic three lead characters and the phantasmagorical shocks and transformations they must naturally go through as they make the slow, painful adjustment to exile and a new life. The story doesn't completely work. But it's buttressed by Audiard's mature assurance and formidable cinematic invention and by very authentic actors. And it certainly escapes the clichés of more conventional French émigré movies like Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's recent Samba (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3127&view=previous). Dheepan won the top prize Palme d'Or at Cannes this year.

The actor Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who is more a writer, actually was a Tamil Tiger child soldier and political activist who fled to France with a fake passport and worked at many menial jobs; he says the role of Dheepan is 50% autobiographical. Kalieaswari Srinivasan, who plays Yalini, Dheepan's "wife," is a theater actress.

Besides the fusion of genres there is the fusion of the fake relationships into real ones as Dheepan, Yalini and their "daughter" Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) become an emotionally-bonded unit. This begins when the adults take Illayaal to school and she begs them not to leave her: she thinks she is being abandoned again; she has no family. Living in close proximity at the cité, Dheepan and Yalini slowly begin to have real conversations and then later to feel some physical attraction to each other. Vinasithamby is a beautiful girl who is the story's first ray of hope. Immediately placed in an assimilation class like the one depicted in Julie Bertucelli's 2013 French documentary The School of Babel (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2643&view=next), she quickly begins learning French and can help the struggling Dheepan. He doesn't understand much of the instructions on his guardien duties (which he however soon performs more than well), or the talk of local cronies, or the key explanation of a young drug dealer operative who is part of a cadre of outsiders hired by the drug overlords expressly because they are indifferent to local loyalties, interests, and lives. Much of the middle of the film is focused on these half-understood French conversations, with the "family's" Tamil talk in the background in their little home unit as they fight and reconcile. Audard is skillful in communicating with sound, image, and editing the start-stop mixture of shock, dislocation, and adjustment the three refugees are experiencing.

Yalini, sullen and diissatisfied because she wants to join relatives in England, is the last to acquire any French. She is sent to work, against her will at first, caring in an apartment in the building (for a to her astronomical €500 per month) for a certain Monsieur Habib (Faouzi Bensaïdi) a listless, almost catatonic man. This job acquires linchpin significance in the developing drug lord tale when Habib's son Brahim arrives, fresh from jail, wearing an ankle monitor. Brahim is played by the charismatic (but not very Arab-looking) Belgian actor Vincent Rottiers, who likes Yalini's cooking and seems drawn to her.

When war breaks out between the local young drug gangsters and the outsider ones, things become almost as violent as the world the trio have left behind. But not quite. And anyway, there is nowhere to go. Ironic though it may be, this is where their hope lies. Here Dheepan plays a brave pivotal role that seems somewhat farfetched; and there is a finale that some may find too optimistic. But then such was the hopeful finale of Audiard's The Beat My Heart Skipped/De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, his brilliant "remake" (as he called it, more a transformation) of James Toback's bleaker debut feature Fingers. One might also note that the director's earlier Read My Lips/Sur mes lèvres (starring Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel) was a foreshadowing of what he does here, because it's a bold fusion of two elements not unlike Dheepan's -- a romance with a handicapped person and a crime story.

Where I liked most in Dheepan apart from Audard's way with his Tamil actors is the manner in which he conveys a sense of dislocation through surreal transitions and slo-mo. I'm still debating the possibility that his screenwriting collaborations with Tonino Benaquista (on Read My Lips and The Beat might have been more successful than the subsequent more recent ones with Thomas Bidegain. But then, with Bidegain he did A Prophet, arguably his masterpiece (so far). But Audiard is just not fully in his element here. Cannes was partly rewarding past accomplishments and present good intentions.

Dheepan, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or. Over 15 other international festivals, including London, where it was screened for this review. Not the NYFF. French release 26 Aug. 2015, to good, but not rave, reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.6). Bought for US release by IFC, it will be a Sundance Selects release. UK theatrical realese 15 Apr. 2016; US release also in Apr.

The Closing Night film of the FSLC/UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, it will be shown Sunday, March 13, 6:00pm and 8:30pm.

Chris Knipp
02-23-2016, 06:02 AM

RENDEZ-VOUS 2016 roundup (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8dwsBmpa30)

Favorites going across categories are Fatima, Summertime, Standing Tall and Much Loved. There were relationship films, which I'd rank in this order: Summertime, Two Friends, Parisienne, and My King. There was representation of Arabs in various roles, in stories, as directors, they could be found everywhere. A number of the films concerned immigrants: Fatima, Dheepan, Parisienne -- but maybe a better category is outsiders. This would include Summertime, about gay people in love; Standing Tall, about a violent, disturbed boy who is rejected by the system; Much Loved, about prostitutes in Morocco; A Decent Man, whose alcoholic, rage-a-holic young man is most of all just at the low end of the system; and of course the immigrant films already mentioned; and even the charming The New Kid is about an outsider, a student rejected because he's from out of town.

And Pier (Niels Schneider), in Dark Inclusion, the black seep of a rich diamond producer family, is also an outsider, or believes himself to be one. So is the illegitimate son of the unsuccessful The Apaches, very much an outsider who won't accept being accepted by his father's Berber clan. Were there any insiders in this film series?

There were also thrillers. Pariser's The Great Game was a political thriller. Disorder is an elegant mystery thriller. A Decent Man is a film that ends in a violent act. Dark Inclusion is a crime-robbery thriller. They're notable for how different each one is.

It wasn't all successes. I didn't find Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's Three Sisters Chekhov adaptation, with its gratuitous sexy teaser opening, much of a success. Didn't she just turn it over to a cast from the Comédie Française? Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche's Story of Judas seemed quite pointless, Julie Delpy's crude comedy Lola deeply annoying. Maïwen's Mon Roi is also a pain in the neck, however good the acting may be, it's a bore to spend time with these people. 21 Nights with Pattie seems like self-indulgence -- though not of a commercial, Hollywood kind, certainly.

But thanks to the Rendez-Vous (and the New York Film Festival, and a little side viewing on my own) I arrived at 2016 César time perfectly prepared. If official public acclaim means anything, the 2016 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema was one of the best in years, because it included so many award-winning or nominated films at the Césars that came just after the New York press screenings ended: Fatima was chosen as Best Film; and Dheepan, Mon Roi and Standing Tall were among the eight nominated. Other titles were in the New York Film Festival, and I'd reviewed them, as well as Dheepan (seen in the LFF) and Mustang (released in the US). Of the Best Actress César nominees, only one, the winner, Catherine Frot (for Marguerite, coming the US theaters), was not in the Rendez-Vous this year. We saw Loubna Abidar as the lead prostitute in the rich, immersive Much Loved , the crazy-emotional Emmanuelle Bercot (Best Actress at Cannes) in Mon Roi, the ebullient Cécile de France in Summertime, Deneuve as the judge in Standing Tall, Huppert in Valley of Love, and the excellent newcomer Soria Zeroual in Fatima.

Three of both the five Best Actor and five Best Actress nominees were in the Rendez-Vous, including Best Actor winner Benoît Magimel for Standing Tall. Both Meilleurs Espoirs (Most Promising), male and female, were from Rendez-Vous films. Rod Paradot's touching acceptance speech (for his role as the delinquent boy trying to get better in Standing Tall was by all odds the emotional highlight of the Césars cérémonie. Another nominee was Finnegan Oldfield, the lead actor in Bang Gang.

We tend to think of the French as cool and blasé. Rod Paradot's flustered, impassioned speech (http://www.lesinrocks.com/inrocks.tv/cesar-2016-le-discours-bouleversant-de-rod-paradot-qui-remercie-sa-famille-et-sa-cpe/) was a reminder of how disarmingly emotional and authentic they can be. And this is what the Rendez-Vous was this year: a lot of emotion, sometimes unrestrained, sometimes all the stronger for being held back.