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Thread: Rendez-vous With French Cinema 2007

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    Rendez-vous With French Cinema 2007

    THE RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA AT LINCOLN CENTER 2007


    BRUNO DUMONT'S FLANDERS

    PRESS SCREENING SCHEDULE.The public screenings of the the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Unifrance
    series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema will run from February 28-March 11, 2007. The schedule of the press screenings I will be covering is as follows and the reviews will be in this order:

    Thursday, February 8,10:00 a.m.
    Don't Worry, I'm Fine / Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas, Philippe Lioret, 2006; 86m

    Friday, February 9, 10:00 a.m.
    Inside Paris / Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré, 2006; 93m
    12:00 Noon
    The Valet / La Doublure, Francis Veber, 2006; 85m

    Wednesday, February 14, 10:00 a.m.
    La Vie en Rose / La Môme, Olivier Dahan, 2007; 140m
    1:00 p.m.
    Murderers / Meutrières, Patrick Grandperret, 2006; 101m

    Thursday, February 15, 10:00 a.m.
    Blame it on Fidel / La faute à Fidel, Julie Gavras, 2006; 99m
    12:00 Noon
    Flanders / Flandres, Bruno Dumont, 2006; 91m
    2:00 p.m.
    Ambitious / Les ambitieux, Catherine Corsini, 2006; 90m

    Friday, February 16, 10:00 a.m.
    I Do! / Prete-moi ta main, Eric Lartigau, 2006; 90m
    12:00 Noon
    The Page Turner / La tourneuse de pages, Denis Dercourt, 2006; 85m
    2:00 p.m.
    The Singer / Quand j'etais chanteur, Xavier Giannoli, 2006; 112m

    Monday, February 19, 10:00 a.m.
    Tell No One / Ne le dis à personne, Guillaume Canet, 2006; 126m
    12:30 p.m.
    The Untouchable / L'Intouchable, Benoît Jacquot, 2006; 82m

    Tuesday, February 20, 10:00 a.m.
    One to Another / Chacun sa nuit, Pascal Arnold & Jean-Marc Barr, 2006; 95m
    12:00 Noon
    Countdown / Il sera une fois, Sandrine Veysset, 2007; 78m and Humbert Balsan: Rebel Producer / Humbert Balsan, producteur rebelle, Anne Andreu, 2006; 57m

    Wednesday, February 21, 10:00 a.m.
    The Man of My Life / L'Homme de sa vie, Zabou Breitman, 2006; 114m
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 03:53 PM.

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    Philippe Lioret: Don't Worry, I'm Fine (2006)

    PHILIPPE LIORET: DON'T WORRY, I'M FINE/JE VAIS BIEN, NE T'EN FAIS PAS



    Fine low-keyed family mystery from Philippe Lioret

    When nineteen-year-old Lili Tellier (the sweet, pretty Mélanie Laurent) returns to her parents’ cookie-cutter suburban house after a summer studying in Barcelona she’s told that after a fight with their father Paul (Kad Merad) over his messy room her fraternal twin Loïc has run off without explanation. We don’t know much about Loïc other than that he is a talented musician-songwriter and a rock climber who abhors his dad’s drab conformist commuter-train life. Waiting in vain for a call back on her cell phone, Lili is so deeply troubled by the news of Loïc's disappearance that she eats nothing for the next eight or nine days. She collapses and is taken to a psychiatric hospital where she’s put to bed and she and her parents are told she can’t see anyone till she eats. This she refuses to do and her condition steadily worsens.

    Protesting this regime, Lili’s father forces the doctor to let her see a letter that has come from Loïc. She gets better and is released and letters keep coming. They show Loïc is drifting from town to town, surviving on odd jobs and playing his guitar for money. Lili stays out of school and becomes a supermarket checkout person like fellow university student Léa (the radiant Aïssa Maïga of Bamako) who became a good pal in Barcelona, and socializes with her and Léa's meteorologist boyfriend Thomas (Julien Boisselier), who helped try to "spring" Lili during her psychiatric confinement. Loïc's letters are a mixed blessing. They give her a thread of hope but leave her in much doubt. Lili can't move forward with her life until she has learned more about Loïc and actually seen him. Is he homeless and desperate or just finding himself? Is there some deeper cause for his absence than a fight over a messy room – as one would think – and as the psychiatrist said there must have been a deeper cause for Lili’s depression than her brother’s disappearance?

    Melanie Laurent has to be the film’s center and its mirror. She must achieve balance, suffering and fading yet still somehow appearing to remain alive also to a future as yet undetermined. Isabelle Renauld as Isabelle, Lili’s mother, is harried yet always appealing. Paul (Kad Merad) is perhaps the most important character, a drab office worker, a shut-down dad, repressing his anger and self-pity, seemingly without emotion, but capable of more than it seemed. As Lili grows closer to the sensitive and pained looking Thomas, she learns that he and she grew up nearby and have similar backgrounds. The exotic and lovely Léa goes to Mozambique. Lili decides to move out of the house and Paul has new plans for himself and his wife.

    Don’t Worry holds surprises in store for us. You might call it a mystery of family life. The film’s delicate accomplishment is in the way it reveals a secret world hidden in the heart of the commonplace, love behind indifference, a lust for adventure behind timidity. Things are not as they seem. Like a book Thomas presents to Lili, the story ends in a way that is partly sad and partly not.

    To some extent the film stands or falls on its surprises because they are the necessary stepping-stones out of the drabness. The suburban setting is also central – identical houses that kill the soul highlight emotional ties that alone make life bearable. Lioret works in wide screen, with a bright, conventional palette. The depression happens in the light of day, where it’s most hopeless and inescapable. There is nothing chic or showy about this film; it avoids either the glamour of elegance or the glamour of destitution and places its events right at our doorsteps. We may feel a little manipulated in the withholding of key information till the end, but this is how we're drawn into the characters' claustrophobic world. The acting is fine and the changes are subtly modulated, and Don't Worry succeeds in making us both feel and think.

    __________

    Don’t Worry, I’m Fine/Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas will be shown to the public on March 8, 9, and 11, 2007 in NYC as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Unifrance series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. It began its French theatrical release September 6, 2006 and has no US distributor. It has received César nominations for Best Director, Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Kad Merad), Best Adaptation, and Most Promising Actress (Meilleur jeune espoir feminine, Melanie Laurent).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-05-2016 at 02:01 AM.

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    Christophe Honoré: Inside Paris/Dans Paris

    Wrote this review last fall after seeing Honoré's new film in Paris itself. Here again is my original review, followed by some new comments:

    CHRISTOPHE HONORÉ: INSIDE PARIS/DANS PARIS (2006)



    A manic-depressive dive back into the New Wave

    After the turn-off of his previous Ma Mère and the gloomy intensity of previous films, Christophe Honoré has produced a fourth feature that's economical and entertaining, a remarkable balance of moods that (as before) studies parental and sibling relationships, this time with elegant dialogue and amusing contrasts of scenes and characters and an evocation of the French New Wave that gives two of France's best and hottest young male film actors a chance for virtuoso performances.

    Dark and light come in the form of the two brothers these actors play. One, Paul (Romain Duris), has broken up with his girlfriend (Joana Preiss) and, depressed after a series of disastrous scenes which we observe early on in back-and-forth jump-cut sequences that are intentionally confused in chronology, goes back to live with his caring father.

    Though Paul's younger brother Jonathan (Louis Garrel), who's never left the paternal nest, tells us speaking into the camera in an early shot (which establishes the light and detached side of the film), that he's the narrator but only a lesser character in the story, he emerges also as an essential foil to Paul because of his success with the ladies and his larky attitude. He's as frolicsome as his brother is worrisomely dark-spirited and hopeless.

    When not reading La Repubblica and watching Italian TV, Papà Mirko (Guy Marchand) does domestic things like make chicken soup and drag home a big Christmas tree he decorates alone.

    Jonathan makes it with three girls in one day while trying to lure Paul shopping for presents at Monoprix. Dad summons his estranged wife and the boy's mother (Marie-France Pisier, of Jacques Rivette's 1974 Céline and Julie Go Boating, which this film evokes) to cheer up Paul too. And she succeeds: Paul's depression isn't seen one-dimensionally. Dad is amusingly cuddly, while Garrel's high spirits constantly contrast with Duris' glumness and relative inertia. But that inertia also has its sudden interruptions: he goes out early in the morning and jumps into the Seine, then returns wet and surprised at what he's done -- and at still being alive. Jonathan/Garrel is also clearly the Jean-Pierre Léaud of our days, and a bedroom shot links him with Godard's Belmondo. (Garrel is well-suited as a reborn Sixties icon after starring in his father Philippe's great 2005 evocation of '68, Regular Lovers as well as the earlier Bertolucci '68 piece The Dreamers, and his looks match the dash of Belmondo with the polish of Léaud. Duris has already shown his mercurial potential in a string of romantic comedies and his starring role in Jacques Audiard's dark, brilliant 2005 crime/art film, The Beat My Heart Skipped.

    There's a lot of formally written and frenetically spoken French dialogue; Garrel is a master of the pout, snicker, and slurred one-liner; Duris emerges as the actor with more depth, while Garrel shows a new light, comedic side we haven't seen much of before. Marchand is appealing, and the movie has energy. Les Inrockuptibles, the influential and hip French review, calls this "The best French film of the year." Dans Paris is an actors', writer's, editor's tour de force that creates its own unique tragi-comic mood.

    Paris, All Saints Day, 2006.

    _______________________

    To be shown March. 1 and 3, 2007 in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance, at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York City. US distributor: IFC First Take Films.

    _______________________
    COMMENTS ON SECOND VIEWING.

    It was interesting to see this again in New York right after Philippe Lioret's Don't Worry, I'm Fine/Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas, which also deals with depression. Honoré's approach is a great deal more playful but perhaps more accurate in seeing this emotional state as variable and placing it within a richer family context. This is not to say Lioret's approach is invalid, but Honoré's seems more nuanced and certainly more cinematic. Paul has moments of absolute hilarity with his mother during her visit. He jumps in the Seine at 4 a.m., but then finds his way back and, terrified, pulls Jonathan to himself as he soaks in a tub of hot water. Quite unexpectly, over the telephone, inn sweet, hoarse voices, he and Anna sing an acapella duet Honoré composed for them. It's another moment that's playful, light and touching, evocative of the New Wave, and an acknowledgment that periods of sorrow can nonetheless contain moments of beauty and hope. My review overlooked Loup (Lou Rambert Preiss), Paul and Anna's young teenage son, who is mentioned and briefly seen in a car with the pair early on--the song ends with Paul's "Say hello to Loup." Honoré also later touchingly inserts into a scene between the two brothers a bit from his own children's book about a wolf and a rabbit that are friends.)

    All this which might sound like mere whimsy works exceptionally well because of the film's ease with its own casual playfulness -- and because the actors work so well together. As has been noted by many, Duris and Garrel are enlivened for us by being cast against type: Duris has often been an intense or manic character; here he's dull and sad. Garrel was the suicidal (and monogamous) poet in his father's Regular Lovers/Les amants réguliers (and similar in Bertolucci's The Dreamers); here he's a lighthearted wastrel, seducer, and clown. Both are doing some of their best work yet here.

    Another thing that stood out this time was the assurance of the opening and closing credits with their thin moving streams of type above and below a long shot of the road beside the Seine with the cars speeding toward us at night with headlights blaring--emphasizing the city, suggesting the Christmas lights in the street we also see, and capturing the dynamism of Jonathan's runs through the street to his trysts. A light improvised jazz solo piano score serves to underline and provide a delicate obligato to some of the scenes, lightening ones that would otherwise be heavy.

    Guy Marchand exudes tons of paternal warmth, pulls Jonathan out of bed and makes him drink coffee in the second scene. This comes after Jonathan's first address to the audience on the balcony, a sequence which is outside the narrative and comments upon it -- and is incidentally another lighthearted distancing device that yet careates an effect of intimacy--this time with the audience. And later Mirko does everything he can to make Paul come and eat something. This is depression seen more informally as congenital. Mirko will have nothing of doctors and pills: the family is the healing unit. We learn of an earlier sister who committed suicide in her teens, and speaking to Jonathan's girlfriend Alice (Alice Butaud) Paul describes depression as something we're given a certain supply of at birth, like the color of our eyes. All this may be poetic and unscientific, but it is cinematic as hell, and it leaves a stronger, warmer impression than Lioret's ultimately rather naive and not entirely authentic treatment. In retrospect Lioret's story contains elements that are shoved upon us too quickly and too unconvincingly to be either real or memorable. Inside Paris does not attempt epic profundity. In his admiring Variety review Jay Weissberg says "'Inside Paris' is that rarity, a genuinely honest, unpretentious and delightful, small film, alternately sober and effervescent, steering clear of either heavy-going philosophizing or dreaded whimsy."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 11:53 AM.

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    Francis Veber: The Valet/La doublure (2006)

    FRANCIS VEBER: THE VALET/LA DOUBLURE (2006)



    Routine French farce

    This film, entitled “La Doublure” or “the stand-in” in French but retitled The Valet in English, was produced by old line French studio Gaumont. Veber is the mainstay of conventional French screen comedy. He wrote the Cage aux Folles screenplays and directed The Dinner Game/Le Dîner de cons and The Closet/Le placard (the latter starring Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu) and lot of others. The only trouble is, Veber has done so many of these things now their action is routine-ized. You can see the jokes coming well ahead, especially the visual ones. And some of the jokes are so clunky. A doctor who has to be treated by his patients—come on! Is that really funny enough to carry on to scene after scene?

    This time Veber’s every-guy character François Pignon (here Gad Elmaleh) gets pulled into a scheme by megabucks CEO Levasseur (Auteuil) to extricate himself from charges that he’s been cheating on his wife Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) with his mistress of two years, "top-model" Elena (Alice Taglioni), which obviously he indeed has. A paparazzo has snapped Levasseur in a compromising scene squabbling with the beauty, but Pignon was walking by and his face is also in the background of the tabloid picture. If Levasseur can make it look like Pignon is the boyfriend (don’t look into that too closely) he’s in the clear.

    Pignon has just been shot down after proposing to his childhood sweetheart Emilie (Virginie Ledoyen). His roommate and fellow parking valet (voiturier) at a posh restaurant, Richard (Dany Boon), has just moved out. His girlfriend is 32,000+ Euros in debt at the bookstore she’s recently opened. Levasseur talks Elena into moving in with Pignon and pretending to be his girlfriend for the paparazzi to get himself off the hook. Pignon is asking only the 32,000+ Euroes as payment, but Elena has been promised a whopping 20 million Euro guarantee that when this is over, Levasseur will eventually marry her. If Christine were to divorce Levasseur she could take 60% of his company’s stock with her. He doesn’t really want that. His trouble is he doesn’t really want to give up Elena either. He wants his dough, he wants his company, he wants his wife, and he wants his mistress. He's a pretty greedy guy. A snag is Christine has detectives carefully sussing all this out. He hasn't really fooled anybody, except a few paparazzi, who could care less.

    Veber uses glitz to liven things up and moderates that diet with niceness. As in Hollywood, moral virtue wins out against the ravages of raw capitalism and somewhat against everyday experience. Of course bad guys do get caught, but not as easily as this. The fancy cars the valets get to drive dazzle us just as does the top-model’s beauty (and a Chanel-Lagerfeld runway show happens with the elegantly cadaverous Lagerfeld himself on hand). Kirsten Scott Thomas adds impeccable class to her minor role as the wronged but unflappable wife.

    If these were all poor people none of this would happen. This is a case of Money Makes Funny.

    The joke-message is money doesn’t really matter (I guess). Elena would rather ditch Levasseur than get his 20-million-Euro bribe. She actually likes Pignon – he’s a decent fellow and he’s got those big bright eyes — and she gradually builds up his ego while getting a lesson in decency from him, in case she needs one. (One would think she would, but that isn’t gone into.) Pignon’s girlfriend Emilie relents and accepts his hand and in this process Elena becomes a sort of fashion star fairy godmother.

    Veber doesn’t engineer a splashy finale. Things end not with a bang but a whimper — Pignon telling Levasseur off and leaving him on a lonely road in his car.

    Richard Berry as Maître Foix, Levasseur's lawyer who arranges all the "stand-in" business, gives one of the film's juiciest performances, with all-black outfits and tight close-ups to highlight his efficient, plummily amoral manner. It’s a nice moment when he asks Levasseur “May I speak to you as a friend?” and Levasseur quickly replies, “No.”

    Auteuil, with his polished lack of affect, is perfect for his role.

    This isn’t as ingenious as The Closet or The Dinner Game (and other earlier Veber comedies) and maybe that’s why we can see the wheels turning so clearly. It’s entertaining but lacks wit. There is a great French tradition here but it lies in shreds and tatters. The timing is good (if obvious) and the acting is polished and, where it has room to be, appealing. But this is like doing a crossword puzzle. When it’s over, you’re done with it forever.

    To be shown as the closing night film March. 11, 2007 in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series sponsored by the Film Society of Lioncoln Center and Unifrance, at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York City. US distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 12:11 PM.

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    Olivier Dahan: La Vie en Rose/La Mome (2007)

    OLIVIER DAHAN: LA VIE EN ROSE/LA MOME (2007)



    Rich and moving biopic undercut by the editing style of a music video


    Despite an editing style that makes a hash of conventional chronology, 40-year-old Dahan's biopic of Edith Piaf is a film that astonishes. Beautiful cinematography and rich (though uneven) mise-en-scene contribute, with a solid supporting cast including Sophie Testud (as Piaf sidekick Momone), Pascal Greggory (as faithful manager Louis Barrier), Emmanuelle Seignier (as Titine, the prostitute who became her surrogate mother), and Gérard Depardieu (as Louis Leplée, the man who first recognized the magnitude of her talent) — and crowned with a spectacular lead performance by Marion Costillard that's at once go-for-broke and precisely accurate down to the fingernails.

    La Môme Piaf, the kid sparrow, born Édith Gassion and so re-named by Louis Leplée, emerges as in intense, suffering, passionate spirit, a believer in love and Saint Theresa (restorer of her eyesight) who exemplifies the image of the doomed artist. Things are turbulent from the start and never stop being that way. As we see the young Piaf, she's abandoned by her street-singer mother, raised in a brothel, almost goes blind, is ripped from her surrogate mother to tour in a circus with her father and begins to sing when accompanying him as a street-performing contortionist. The crowd wants her to do something, so she sings the Marseillaise in a simple ringing voice and a star is born. But she's not out of the gutter till fashionable cabaret owner Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) takes her off the street and onto his stage to be discovered in turn by a composer and a radio impresario, and by then she's already a heavy drinker. Drugs and tragedy accompany the growing fame in this whirlwind tale that runs in circles.

    As the film shifts back and forth vertiginously between Piaf's last days (at only 47!) one sustained story is her love affair with French boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (a handsome and appealing Jean-Pierre Martins) that begins when both are in New York. This tender and sweet interlude in the maelstrom ends tragically when Cerdan dies in a plane crash heading back to New York see her. Piaf acts out her grief spectacularly before a full audience of friends, hangers-on, attendants, and handlers. Unlike the realistic sets of the early life, the New York ones are symbolic and stagy.

    We see a jumble of happy moments and sad, triumphs and disgrace. Some things are omitted — Piaf's actions during the Occupation; details of her marriages, including one late in life to a very young singer of Greek heritage. After the plane crash took away her married boxing champion lover — the love of her life, she said — it's suggested she was never far from a needle, but we're missing specifics of her drug addiction and its effects on her health. Apart Cerdan, there aren't many details of her loves and marriages. We flash-forward to one of many onstage collapses and a period of convalescence when the singer looks more like an old woman than a 40-year-old and moves like a stuffed mummy. That last triumphant performance at Paris' grand music hall the Olympia — one of her stamping grounds in her days of fame — is canceled even by her, but then when a composer plays a new song for her, "Je ne regrette rien," she says it's her, she must rise to sing it and she's inspired to go ahead with the Olympia concert and the song that becomes her anthem.

    Dahan has said he doesn't hold to the idea that misery is a necessary ingredient of art, yet his version of the Piaf story is never far from that commonplace romantic association. Cotillard brings her powerfully to life, but one wishes she had some more everyday moments — a quiet coffee and a cigarette; a dinner without being drunk.

    Even though there are place names and dates flashed on screen to help us wade through the meandering chronology, the film gives no very clear sense of the shape of the life. How much did her existence change when she became an icon? Was there any sustained period when she was famous, healthy, and happy all at the same time? Did she really have affairs with Aznavour, Montand, Marlene, et al., as rumors say?

    "The narrative had to be impressionist, not linear," Dahan has commented. Certainly this isn't studied, analytical film-making but, as Dahan's remarks suggests, the wildly impressionistic kind. Dahan's last film was the nightmarish Crimson Rivers II; his background is adventurous but not altogether distinguished. He's done music videos, which may help explain the editing style. That editing is such a whirlwind on her deathbed we go back to her childhood and moments of adult triumph with some remarkably cunning elisions between — that when the final Olympia performance of "Je ne regrette rien" comes, we're wrung out. It is in the closing sequence leading up to this finale where the delirious editing style finally begins to make good sense, but such warped chronology doesn't sustain well over two hours and twenty minutes, and one wishes it had been used more sparingly early in the film so it would be more climactic at the end.

    La Vie en Rose/La Mome may leave one with lots of questions and a few doubts, but its emotional power is supported by good sound and image. Even in its cardboard New York sequences, the film is glowing and beautiful to look at. The singing is a seamless amalgam of enhanced Piaf recordings and the spot-on work of voice imitator Jil Aigrot, with exceptionally convincing lip-synchs done by the tireless and really remarkable Marion Cotillard. Whatever you may conclude about this overwhelming, chaotic film — it really doesn't want to give you time to think — you're going to grant that Cotillard delivers one of the most remarkable star performances ever in a singer-biopic. "This is a Kid who will make you blubber," wrote French critic Patrick Fabre after La Mome's Valentine's Day opening in Paris, "like you've never blubbered at the movies before" Studio magazine, No. 32.. It's true: this one will make you weep.

    Shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York opening night Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 8 p.m. Opened in Paris February 14, 2007. It's been treated not just as a film but a "film-évenement" there, a "film-event." US distributor Picturehouse.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2007 at 11:57 PM.

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    Patrick Grandperret: Murderers (2006)

    PATRICK GRANDPERRET: MURDERERS/MEURTRIÈRES (2006)



    A shapeless film about aimlessness

    Murderers/Meurtrières tells us what it’s about, and then opens with its two middle-class young women (who turn into drifters and commit murder) smeared all over with blood, wandering to a roadhouse where a woman who thinks they’re injured helps them clean up. The rest of the film is a long flashback showing events leading up to this moment. So we know they’ve killed and it’s only a question of who and how and where and why. The last one is the tough one. Who -- who they are, that is -- isn’t easy to answer either, because it isn’t well answered by the film. One girl, Nina (Hande Kodja) has seen her father suddenly drop dead. She is unhappy, and goes off with a woman who sets her up with friends who own a hotel. She is there for a while and then becomes despondent and is taken to a psych ward. There she runs into Lizzy (Céline Salette), who’s there because of suicide attempts.

    Obviously both girls are unstable, perhaps Lizzy, who has temper tantrums, more than Nina, who suffers more from a lack of affect. But everybody else in the ward is far more peculiar (almost to the point of caricature), and Nina and Lizzy are naturally thrown together and then escape together as soon as night falls. For an unclear period of time they then go wandering back to boyfriends or would-be boyfriends, or places they’ve been recently, and then to new places. Their movements become increasingly aimless as they run out of money, food, sleep, and prospects, and they begin getting picked up by men on the road.

    The film itself seems to suffer from a lack of affect and from a lack of ability to make its two twenty-something girls specific or real. They are quite ordinary nice looking young women and perhaps that’s the point and then it would be chilling to think they could end up this way. But the trouble is this is fiction and ordinariness isn’t interesting unless it is looked at in a special way. Insofar as they are real the two girls – the two actresses – seem quite ordinary and certainly presentable; this is why young men have been hitting on them and male drivers are eager to pick them up. They are like bait, and when the men begin to fall into the trap and behave badly, the girls arm themselves, and someone is bound to get caught and punished. The motives of the men may differ. Lizzy's’s former boyfriend is a young Arab worker named Malik (Shafik Ahmad); he repeatedly tries to get her to go back to the hospital. One young man in a marina even invites them on board his boat, which is a rather unusual one, and tells them all about it. Is he up for a hot threesome, or just being friendly? Who knows?

    Murderers suggests a blander and, frankly, emptier, version of Patty Jenkins’ disturbing film Monster, the dramatization of the life of Aileen Wuornos, the highway prostitute turned serial killer, which got Charlize Theron so much recognition for her performance four years ago. Grandperret’s film too follows up on a real-life event which had been worked up as a film idea by the late Maurice Pialat, who died in 2003 and with whom Grandperret worked as an assistant director. The producer is Pialat’s widow.

    The French reviews of this drifter story were favorable, especially about the two young actresses. Kodja and Salette indeed are fluid and spontaneious in their roles. But the material is very slight and the filmmakers would have to somehow present it with greater clarity, force, or style to make it truly memorable. In particular one notes how aimlessly and vaguely the two girls’ background stories are sketched in. Unlike a good genre crime story that might present even the most confused ramblings deftly and interestingly, Murderers seems uncertain of where it is going from first to last. Even the ending goes nowhere. It seems likely that the Pialat who made such searching or fresh films as Loulou, À nos amours, Police, Sous le soleil de Satan, and Van Gogh would have produced something more interesting with this material.

    Shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York Friday March 9 and at the IFC Center Saturday March 10, 2007. Shown in Un Certain Regard series at Cannes, 2006. Opened in Paris June 28, 2006. No US distributor
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2007 at 11:59 PM.

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    Julie Gavras: Blame It on Fidel (2006)

    JULIE GAVRAS: BLAME IT ON FIDEL/LA FAUTE À FIDEL




    Family story shows that young kids do think

    "In any given festival," A.O. Scott of the NYTimes writes today from Berlin, “there is usually at least one movie that chronicles a time of political trauma from the point of view of a child." He goes on to say that at the Berlinale he’s just seen one set in 1970 by Brazilian Cao Hamburger that "fits the bill nicely. In addition to politics and soccer, it has gentle sentiment, the stirrings of youthful sexuality and a grouchy, warmhearted old man."

    Blame It on Fidel (based on an Italian novel, Tutta colpa di Fidel, by Domitilla Calamai) is also about 1970-71 and deals with political events from a child's viewpoint, but the rest of its ingredients are different. The emphasis is far more on the child's intellectual development than on "political trauma." Gavras' film revolves around nine-year-old Anna (Nina Kervel) and her well-off bourgeois family living in France. Her father Fernando de la Mesa (Stefano Accorsi) is Spanish (from a rich Catholic royalist family, she learns later), and Fernando and wife Marie (Julie Depardieu), opposed to Franco, who Fernando's uncle is fighting in Spain, get excited about Allende’s victory in Chile and woman’s right to choose and things like that and decide to change their way of living. They leave their big house and move to a small apartment so Fernando can go to Chile and then "think." Marie keeps on doing articles for Marie-Claire to provide funds, but starts a documentary study on women and childbirth. Anna has to give up her nanny and she and her little brother François (Benjamin Feuillet) are minded by political refugees, first one from Greece, then one from Vietnam. At the insistence of Fernando, who's become liaison in France for Chilean activists, Anna is taken out of Divinity class at her private Catholic school.

    Though there are lots of meetings in the little apartment now, the violent upheavals in society, even in Chile, only touch the family from afar, but what’s fun and fresh about this appealing early-stages coming-of-age comedy is that Anna engages tooth and nail with the ideas her parents are indirectly imposing on her -- the importance of group action; the injustice of a market economy, etc. She thoroughly enjoyed the perks and rituals of a comfortable bourgeois life and Divinity was one of her best subjects. She thought her conservative grandparents (her mother’s parents, heirs to a Bordeaux vineyard) had their own worthwhile ways of doing good. (And they did, but they didn't disturb the existing social order as Fernando's Chilean activist friends want to do.) At first, amusingly, the feisty, impulsive little François is better at adjusting to the changes, to sleeping in the same bedroom and eating exotic food prepared by their new nannies. In the end though, Anna has come to terms with the principle of change, and it’s she who insists on being transferred to a secular school that's multicultural and free-wheeling, and she’s happily joining in the play there at recess time as the film ends.

    Former documentary filmmaker Gavras probably inherited her political awareness through her father, the Costa-Gavras of Z and State of Siege, but she's expressed a woman's point of view toward politics by choosing a subject that deals with their effect on a family. The film is bright and entertaining and has some good laughs. But it deserves extra credit for having a good head on its shoulders at all times. Rather than showing political events from a child's passive point of view, Blame It on Fidel deals with how children may be victimized by the ideas of their parents, even when those ideas are well-meaning and progressive. The film comes up with the startling revelation that a nine-year-old can seriously engage with issues like abortion and capitalism vs. communism.

    To be shown in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 7 and 10, March 4 and 6 at the IFO Center. Gaumont, opened in Paris November 29, 2006. No US distributor.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 11:50 AM.

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    Bruno Dumont: Flanders/Flandres (2006)

    (From my original review.)

    BRUNO DUMONT: FLANDERS/FLANDRES (2006)



    The war abroad and the war at home

    In a way, Bruno Dumont's Flandres is no more realistic than Cuarón's Children of Men. It doesn't exactly seek to depict real people or a real war. Dumont's people are laconic, but the powerful filmmaking tells a clear and moving story. Using sinple, economical means and focusing on a few individuals, presenting scenes that follow a logical, universal progression, Flandres is able to tell a profound story about war's ravages at home and on the front. Dumont's storytelling is simple and sure. So is the cinematography of Yves Cape and the editing of Guy Lacorne. And so is the acting, especially of Samuel Boidin as Démester and of Adélaïde Leroux as his girlfriend Barbe -- but also of Henri Cretel as Démester's friend Blondel, and of Jean-Marie Bruveart (Briche), David Poulain (Leclercq), Patirce Venant (Mordac), David Legay ( (Lieutenant) and Inge Decaesteker (France).

    The film focuses on a young farmer and his girlfriend. He and some other locals are going off to war. Last sex, last drinks with friends, last campfire gatherings, last work in the field with a tractor.

    Then, the departure: roll call, near a truck, a few people waving goodbye. Next Démester is in the desert. In an attempt to take a building (a scene we know well through documentary news footage from Iraq) one of their officers is blown up. A helicopter takes away the body. They enter the building and kill a couple of youthful partisans -- fighters, clearly, but also mere pitiful boys.

    Each of the scenes is iconic and vivid. This is low-budget war, but it feels real enough. How big is the budget of a few men fighting out in the bush? There are tanks and explosions aplenty. Most of all there is sweat and dust and blood. Two other things happen. The squad captures a woman fighter, and some of the men rape her. Later, on a hillside, they trap a farmer on a donkey loaded with firewood, and they shoot him. They are subsequently captured by members of the enemy (who are North African--but their dialogue isn't translated; and they could be Iraqis) who know what they have done, and they are severely punished.

    Meanwhile André's (Démester's) girlfriend Barbe at home grows more and more unstable and after a violent psychotic break, she is hospitalized, but later released.

    André escapes with his friend Blondel, but when Blondel's shot, he runs off to save himself.

    Dumont uses the inarticulate country talk of the people to underline the universality of the events. How did Blondel die, his girlfriend wants to know later? "Balle dans la tête," Démester says; a bullet in the head. That's all he wants to say, and all we need to know. Démester is a brute, in a way. But he's also got a sweet smile. He's childlike. He is the child sent off to kill that all war builds upon.

    Next we see Démester back home. The final sequences convey how damaged he and his girlfriend and his friend's girlfriend are now. André suffers from survivor guilt. Their state is pitiful, but the last shot is positive. André is lying on the dirt with Barbe and telling her over and over "Je t'aime...je t'aime." I love you.

    This is classic Dumont style, if on a bolder and grander scale than before. His people are none the less noble, pathetic, and human for being reduced to simplicity, even crudity. Dumont has told a story as energetic and forward-driven as the Dardennes brothers' L'Enfant, but more universal, and even more concise (91 rather than 100 minutes). As in Dumont's L'Humanité and La Vie de Jésus, there's a grandeur that emerges from the stripped-down, minimal scenes and people. Everything works. It's surprising that Variety's usually canny reviewer made it sound dull and off-putting. There is still resistence to Dumont's style.

    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center showings March 4 and 5; IFC Center, March 3 and 6. Opened in Paris August 31, 2006. Was awarded the Grand Prize at Cannes. Now has a US distributor: International Film Circuit.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 11:56 AM.

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    Catherine Corsini: Ambitious/Les ambitieux (2006)

    CATHERINE CORSINI: AMBITIOUS/LES AMBITIEUX (2006)



    Bedroom literary politics

    Ambitious/Les ambitieux is a romantic comedy with a Parisian literary twist. Young author Julien (Eric Caravaca) gets an interview with Judith (Karin Viard), a woman editor described as “scary.” She goes to bed with him because he’s her type, though she hasn’t even read the autobiographical novel he wants to get published. Having gained admittance to her fancy apartment, Julien goes through a box she’d left in his car. It contains records showing that Judith’s father was a Sixties radical who was killed in a guerrilla movement in Latin America. This seems to be the exciting material he needs to write a more saleable book. The film is full of clever double-crosses but ends with a somewhat soppy reunion. It’s entertaining and watchable. Viard has the requisite edge; Caravaca, the right mixture of shy charm and hidden drive.

    This reminded me of Emmanuel Bourdieu’s Les amitiés maléfiques from last year, which also dealt with jealousy, ambition, and authorship, from a more academic angle, but was more sophisticated and complex. This one is polished but superficial. It moves with a brisk pace and has vivid characters, but it sticks to an easy story-line that leaves no deep impression. And though it gets its laughs, it does so at the cost of never going more than skin deep. As a French online review commented, one wishes Catherine Corsini herself might have been more "ambitious." The images were too dark, but this may have been in part due simply to the fact that we were shown a DVD.

    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema showing at Lincoln Center March 3, 4, and 6, and at the IFC Center March 5. Opened in Paris January 24, 2007. No US distributor.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 11:47 AM.

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    Denis Dercourt: The Page Turner/La tourneuse de pages (2006)

    DENIS DERCOURT: THE PAGE TURNER/LA TOURNEUSE DE PAGES (2006)



    Music and murderous tension

    Director Desnis Dercourt is also an accomplished classical musician. His previous film with a musical background, the 2002 My Children Are Different/Mes enfants ne sont pas comme les autres, was the austere study of a parent who was brutally demanding of his musical children to the point of revolt. Clearly Dercourt is interested in how musicians may suffer – the demanding hours of practice, the merciless competition, the terrifying concert night with its inevitable accompaniment of 'le trac' (stagefright) – and how the musician's suffering may engender suffering in others. In The Page Turner/La tourneuse de pages there's someone whose whole life has seemed ruined by musical frustration, and there's also someone with a horrible case of 'le trac.' Dercourt successfully combines the tension of vicariously experienced performance anxiety with the suspense of awaiting an act of revenge to be unleashed. In this film, all is bright and clear on the surface, but a mere walk down a corridor to an indoor pool can be heavy with foreboding.

    This is a somber and elegant film less rich in detail than My Children Are Different but more intensely focused. While My Children was a coming-of-age story with a dark look into familial musical ambitions and their toll on children, this is a flat-out psychological revenge thriller, but completely set in a musical world. In The Page Turner Mélanie, a butcher's young daughter who has serious musical ambitions, fails an audition because of the behavior of one of the judges, an egocentric pianist, Ariane (Catherine Frot), and from then on gives up the piano forever. Years later Mélanie (Déborah François, of the Dardennes' L'Enfant) temporarily clerks for a wealthy lawyer, Monsieur Fouchecourt (Pascal Greggory), and also volunteers to care for his son Tristan (Antoine Martynchiow) during her vacation. Reporting to the château where Fouchecourt lives, she finds that her boss's wife is none other than Ariane. She immediately sets out to make the unsuspecting Ariane dependent on her – easy, since Ariane has recently been seriously shaken due to a serious car accident and needs all the extra support she can get. Before you can say "cadenza," Mélanie has become indispensable as Ariane's page turner for important concerts. Mélanie also wins Tristan's affection and becomes important to Ariane in more subtle ways. The only person she doesn't seduce is the cool, aloof Fouchecourt. Eventually in the isolation of the château almost all the attention is on Adriane and Mélanie, but there are a few other small but important details. A cellist gets flirty with Mélanie and she punishes him severely. Tristan likes to practice holding his breath under water and when Mélanie challenges him in that and urges him to play a Bach piece faster than is good for his hands – all these things take on an ominous feel. We know there is going to be a breaking point when Mélanie will bring down Ariane's world, but we don't know how or where the destruction's coming: Dercourt is continually bringing the tension to a tighter pitch by keeping us guessing.

    Frot gives a fascinating performance and François too is effectively used, so still and tightly wound she seems able to inspire confidence or destroy it with a blink of her pretty eye. The action is less violent but the spirit of Chabrol hovers over this piece, which uses sweeping music and women fainting as in a Forties melodrama – and most successfully so. Frot, who has played ditsy women very successfully before, is beautiful and imposing here. A weakness of the film is that her character, while obviously distant and egocentric in some ways – with her son, for instance – is a little too sympathetic for us to welcome her victimization. But the pleasure of Dercourt is in the discomfort he so elegantly arouses.

    This is the cool side of the French personality. Dercourt's people seem curiously wooden most of the time – like Daniel Auteuil's violin-maker character in Un coeur en hiver, they seem to live in a continual winter of the spirit – but within the world of austere elegance and musical dedication that he creates, somehow that woodenness becomes believable and even moving.

    The Page Turner has received one musical and two acting César nominations: Jérôme Lemonnier for the composition, Catherine Frot for best actress, and Déborah Francois for most promising actress of 2006. Dercourt works in an area that he's intimately familiar with and knows how to create a mood. He also likes to use musically gifted youngsters in his films and Antoine Martynchiow, who plays Tristan, is one of those. Pascal Greggory plays Frot's husband with appropriately unctuous elegance. He's exactly the man she deserves.

    Presented in the Un Certain Regard series at Cannes, opened August 9, 2006 in Paris. US distributor: Tartan Films. To be shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 2 and 4, and March 3 at the IFC Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 12:03 PM.

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    Xavier Giannoli: The Singer/Quant j'étais chanteur (2006)

    XAVIER GIANNOLI: THE SINGER/QUAND J'ÉTAIS CHANTEUR (2006)



    A song and dance number to remember

    The French press has been understandably ecstatic about this film. It brings together one of the most distinguished and prolific actors in French cinema with one of its most luminous and vibrant young female talents. But this isn’t just a film about stars and authentic-feeling chemistry. It’s a film about character and situation. First and foremost it’s a film about dance halls and the singers who work in them. Gérard Depardieu is the aging, almost over-the-hill Alain Moreau –"Alain Moreau et son Orchestre." Cécile de France is Marion, a fragile young woman, tough and beautiful on the outside but inside rather shattered, in a new place, Clermont Ferrand, in a new job, selling real estate, with her young son she doesn’t get to spend much time with.

    Marion meets Alain when her new boss, Bruno (Matthieu Amalric) takes her to a dance hall where the singer is performing. Used to women who swoon over him, Alain comes on strong to Marion – but with an edge of reserve and timidity – and she resists, but spends a night with him. Then she resists again, and he pursues. Hunting for a house with her as his agent, Alain continues to see Marion and to woo her. She continues to resist – and to be charmed, to laugh with him, to find in him something she’s never seen in a man before. She’s outwardly brilliant and hard, but she has horrible phone conversations with her ex and bad encounters with her little boy and alone in her hotel room she dissolves into tears. He’s out of style and overweight, with his little Seventies pocketbook and his leather jacket and his dyed hair with highlights; and she calls him names like “Ladies Man” and “Mr. Corny Loser.” But beyond that he’s a life force and for now at least he’s filling a large space in Marion’s world. She goes away for a while, he loses his voice for a while, their house-hunting stops and starts, Bruno makes passes at Marion, but she and Alain still continue to connect on some special emotional level, and when they part, after a stadium concert he walks out on, they’re both been changed by their time together and are ready, in their different ways, in their different places, for new beginnings.

    The film's most prominent element is character. It lets us get the feel of what it's like to be in Alain's and Marion's skin. But an equally important element is ambiance, the music and the place, which go together: Giannoli’s warm acceptance of the provincial world of Clermont Ferrand is in harmony with the seriousness with which Alain and the film itself take the sometimes corny, sometimes subtly poetic chansons that it’s Alain’s life’s work to deliver, and, the hardest thing of all, to make people dance. The Singer keeps coming back to Alain’s world, his faithful wife-manager Michèle (Christine Citti), to his struggle to survive and maintain his dignity, his respect for the songs. When he sings a love song it has to be real; he has to mean it; he must sing it for himself. If you open yourself to the film’s bittersweet mood and it works for you, you will also open yourself to the songs and welcome them into your heart.

    The Singer is a film that breathes. Its beauty is that it has no easy tragedies or easy resolutions; that things are almost as uncertain between Alain and Marion at the end as they were that first night when she sat in front of him blonde and bright, like a diamond in a red dress. Giannoli is a young director who works with independence and drive. His Les corps impatients was a distinctive and risk-taking film but this one is a leap forward beyond passion and conviction to larger conception, deeper commitment and broader communication. This time Giannoli has done something that can reach a lot of people. Depardieu does his own singing, and his performance as Alain Moreau is one of the best things he’s done in a long time – at least over a decade – and a great thing it is. This was a magnificent opportunity for Cécile de France and she’s met it with her best and richest performance to date. It’s a tribute to both actors' work in The Singer that you find it hard to separate either of them from their characters. The film ends with a song, "Quand j’étais chanteur," "When I Was a Singer" (the title of the film in French). "Je m’éclatais comme une bête," it goes, "quand j’étais chanteur," I had a hell of a good time when I was a singer. The Singer is one of those films that isn't putting on a show for you: it's inviting you to come in and hang around a while, join in the dance. It moves you with performances that are authentic and direct, "as simple," as one French critic put it, "as a song."

    The Singer/Quand j’étais chanteur was shown at Cannes (nominated for the Golden Palm) and opened in Paris September 13, 2006. Seven César nominations. It will be shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 1 and 3 and the IFC Center March 2, 2007. No US distributor.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-08-2007 at 05:19 PM.

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    Eric Lartigau: I Do/Prête-moi ta main

    ERIC LARGIGAU: I DO/PRÊTE-MOI TA MAIN (2006)



    "Forty-Year-Old Virgin" meets "Pretty Woman"

    . . . That's the pitch. . . and as stated it might have various good possiblities for a comedy. But the actual premise is considerably harder to swallow: I never saw why he had to do all this.

    This comes with no festival laurels, only some good box office in France, thanks to heavy promotion, and some very average reviews there. That premise (from which we are not allowed a moment's respite) is as follows:

    "Life is good for Luis (Alain Chabat). He's happily single, enjoys his job and is loved, cherished and pampered by his mother and five sisters. But one day, they decide it's time for him to marry. Luis hurriedly hatches a plan…He will find the perfect woman who will charm them. . .and disappear on the day of the wedding. After that nobody will dare mention the word marriage to him again" (-- from the press kit).

    The trouble with this comedy is that everything about it seems staged, beginning with the busy, heavy-handedly "comic" opening scenes of Luis's family (which includes some male members omitted from the description above) and its elaborate dining room meetings and heavy bourgeois trappings. There never was a family like this outside of a French comedy – outside of this French comedy. The rapid-fire introduction of family members – a shot for each with less than a sound bite – is typical of one of the film's main methods: it constantly throws excessive amounts of unnecessary information at you in the hopes of keeping your attention and preventing you from thinking how utterly shallow all this contrivance is. Of course in comedy the jokes must keep on coming, but information is not jokes. Luis is well off from a fancy job and has a really nice apartment of his own. Why should he feel so pressured to marry? Well, okay, this is a classic situation in traditional culture; but the film has given Luis and his family a social status that is totally non-traditional, so such pressures would easily be avaoided.

    Luis is a perfume designer, richly rewarded for his efforts when they pay off, and this introduces another elaborate set of contrived scenes and characters.

    Enter Charlotte Gainsbourg, and with her some fresh energy and a ray of hope. She is the sister (whom strangely Luis did not previously know) of Luis' best friend, and after exhaustive interviews of unsuccessful candidates for the fake bride, she's left.

    Gainsbourg is a trouper, and a veteran of French film comedy. Those by her husband Yvan Atal were, however, much more nuanced and interesting than this elaborate piece of fluff. And Gainsbourg's gamine look is beginning to show some signs of wear (too much dieting, too many cigarettes?). She still has the charm, but maybe she might try taking it into more serious, less frenetic roles. This film forces her to indulge in some tasteless lines and tacky moments, like the notorious "caca" aside and the S&M scene.

    After the wedding, which is lame, and no doubt borrowed from other film weddings rather than any known reality, Luis's mother collapses and is taken to the hospital – another of many fake gestures to liven things up.

    And guess what happens? Oh, you'll never. Gaionsbourg and Chabat actually fall for each other. Wow. And then things get cute, and it's all over.

    What a lot of work all this was to put together, and what a bore it is to watch! There are a great many better French comedies out there. Even among the formulaic ones we currently have The Valet/La doublure (Francis Veber), which is far more economical and amusing. Among the more interesting ones is the currently playing in New York Avenue Montaigne/Fauteuils d'orchestre, which was at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center last year and belatedly got picked up. Or there is Mensonges et trahisons et plus si affinités-- by Laurent Tirard (who worked on this, but only as a member of a committee of overstimulated idea men) which has the likes of Clovis Cornillac to liven it up.

    Another related comedy: Etienne Chatiliez's Tanguy, about a man-child who won't leave home. His hanging on with his wealthy parents is closer to contemporary European urban bourgois realities than Luis and his bossy extended family. Tanguy doesn't have to get married (though he does); he just has to move out of the house. The whole process is played for laughs, but it begins with a real situation. This doesn't.

    Big mistake.

    Opened in Paris November 1, 2006. Three Cesar nominations. Shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 9 and 11 and at the IFC Center March 10, 2007. No US distributor.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 12:01 PM.

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    Guillaume Canet: Tell No One/Ne le dis à personne

    GUILLAUME CANET: TELL NO ONE/NE LE DIS À PERSONNE (2006)



    Sparkling thriller with storytelling problems

    Lucky it’s not appropriate for a review to reveal the ending, because summarizing this one would be an unusually tricky business. Maybe it might help to read the Harlan Coben bestseller Canet and Philippe Lefebve adapted for this film, and if so, good luck. Or you can enjoy the excellent cast (some of whom are up for Césars this year) and consider the plot mere baroque ornamentation, like The Big Sleep’s. Francois Cluzet’s understated performance in the lead, which another actor might have spoiled with tears and shouts, is a pleasure to watch. He’s a classic everyman and easy to identify with. André Dussollier and Francois Berléand have good roles against type and Nathalie Baye and Jean Rochefort and Kristen Scott-Thomas are further examples that the director is well-connected in the French acting world. Canet himself is only 34 but has played many roles and is a bit of a heartthrob in France. Just for fun, he plays the most disgusting character in this story, which has violence and chases and surprises to beat the band. Do the French do it better? Sometimes. Corben says he’s very pleased with this. It does show they can outdo us at our own game and make it look fresh. But there’s that little problem of the plot….it’s ridiculously complicated with or without subtitles.

    Alex Beck (Cluzet) is a pediatrician. On the eighth anniversary of the grim murder of his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze), for whom his childhood love still burns undiminished, he gets a couple of e-mails showing her apparently alive and signed by her, “Tell no one.” Then evidence on two bodies dug up in the park reopen his wife’s murder case and make him a suspect. That’s hard to figure, since he was hit on the head when she died and was in a coma for days. His wife’s best friend Hèlene is a wealthy gay woman photographer (Scott-Thomas) who lives with Alex’s little sister Anne, a champion rider (Marina Hands), and Hèlene’s paying a famous attorney, Elisabeth Feldman (Nathalie Baye), to handle Alex’s case. It’s when she tips him off that he’s about to be arrested that Alex jumps out a hospital window and sets the cops on a breathless, well-filmed chase that includes running across the Périférique (Paris beltway). A soulful hoodie type named Bruno (Gilles Lelouche) who owed Alex one for saving his hemophiliac kid provides payback by hiding the doctor. Meanwhile there are some nasties going to work on Alex’s friends and a lengthy confession is partially captured by a wired Alex when a sympathetic inspector Eric Levkowitch (François Berléand) backs him up. Imvolvement of the lawyer, conflicting cops, and multiple subplots spice up the soup.

    As a filmer of action, Canet shows in this second feature that he’s highly skilled, and this is also a touching love story; he’s got a lot going on. A bit more slicing and dicing of the screenplay would have given us a movie we could understand as well as enjoy watching. Interesting that not only has Canet worked many of his favorite actors into the cast, he’s woven his own background into the story, since when young he, like some of the main characters, lived outside Paris and had a promising equestrian career.

    An excellent example of a film that has some serious flaws but is still fun to watch and dazzles in many particulars, Ne le dis à personne is up for nine Césars, putting it at the top of the French awards race along with Pascale Ferran's Lady Chatterley and Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory/Indigènes. It opened in Paris November 1, 2006. To be shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 2, 3 and 4, and March 11, 2007 at the IFC Center. No US distributor.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2008 at 11:41 AM.

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    Benoît Jacquot: The Untouchable/L’Intouchable (2006)

    BENOÎT JACQUOT: THE UNTOUCHABLE/L'INTOUCHABLE (2006)



    Muse madness

    It's beginning to look as if Benoît Jacquot's fascination with the sloe-eyed young Isild Le Besco is leading him astray. À tout de suite, his last film, like this one featuring her as the main character, started up promisingly as a criminal love story but then wandered off into an aimless travelogue. Here he depicts his muse taking a quick trip to India to find her long-lost, never-met dad. But this time the film starts off without much of a pulse, and then wanders of. . .into an aimless travelogue. Maybe it's time to go out and look for a more solid scenario, instead of finding excuses to show off Isild's nice breasts and bum. The former are featured in the first half, when the character Le Besco plays, a mediocre film actress, is being shot having simulated sex. The latter comes in for loving examination when, while in India in search of her father, she lies down for a naked massage and gets oiled up. Whatever "untouchable" means, it doesn't refer to the camera's relationship to Isild Le Besco's body. The breasts and the bum are very nice indeed. But their inclusion in this film is blatantly gratuitous. In between the body shots, there are some nice ones of Isild's striking but not always very expressive face. It's often inexpressive here because she isn't allowed to react much, except when she's (over-) playing Saint Joan and in a scene when she meets a French nun (Caroline Champetier, also the cinematographer) whose gay brother has come to India to visit her.

    But that excitement comes later. First, Jeanne (Le Besco) has a birthday, and after she blows out the candles on her cake she's washing the dishes when her mother (Bérangère Bonvoisin) tells her that her father was a man she met traveling in India and that he was an untouchable. Hearing this, she gives up being rehearsed in Brecht's Saint Joan of the Stockyards by her lover (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing). She needs money for her trip so she goes to her agent (Manuel Munz) and accepts a film role she had previously rejected (the sex scene) to get an advance. Shooting the scene is like a "calvary" for her, or at least that is the director's intention. It might be one for the viewer as well, were it not for the breasts, and it's hard to distinguish a suffering actress from a bad actress. If she's an actress at all, couldn't she pretend to be feeling pleasure? But instead in a sense she remains "untouchable." If this is self-conscious and awkward film-making, so is the fact that a sage elder untouchable (Yaseen Khan) just happens to be sitting next to Jeanne on her flight to India. He explains that some untouchables are very rich. He is mysteriously spirited away during the flight, which is left unexplained. When Jeanne gets to Benares, she finds the family of her father, evidently one of the rich ones, with astonishing speed. A young family member named Mani (Parikshit Luthra) approaches her while she's watching corpses being ritually cremated by the Ganges and though she says she doesn't want to, he arranges for her to come to the family seat where relatives are soon to assemble for a daughter's wedding. Her father, Anpar (Rakesh Sharma), turns out not to have come. She goes to the town where he teaches school and watches him in the classroom, but, giving "untouchable" a third meaning, she follows him later but then turns away, and flies back to Paris where her theater director lover, who picks her up, is pledged not to ask her any questions about what has happened. While À tout de suite was shot in DV black and white, this film was shot in 16 mm. Jacquot manages to avoid conventional prettiness in the Indian sequences, but it is hard not to see some of them as repetitive and ill-lit. Longeurs outweigh moments of perception in this self-indulgent, lazy film.

    Deborah Young's review of The Untouchable in Variety describes it as "A strong candidate for empty French art film of the year." It indeed seems astonishingly slight coming from the maker of Seventh Heaven, The School of Flesh, and Sade. This is at least Jacquot's fourth film in which Le Besco figures, each with increasing importance, but diminishing effect. She is beginning to seem like a damaging obsession for the director as well as a proto-Adjani. Happily it seems Jacquot's next project, Le beau monde, features Fanny Ardent and Isabelle Huppert.

    Opened in Paris Decenber 6, 2006. To be shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 8 and 10, at the IFC Center March 7, 2007. US distributor Strand Releasing.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 12:08 PM.

  15. #15
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    Pascal Arnold, Jean-Marc Barr: One to Another/Chacun sa nuit (2006)

    PASCAL ARNOLD, JEAN-MARC BARR: ONE TO ANOTHER/CHACUN SA NUIT (2006)



    Beautiful demons of youth bedevil filmmaker team

    We’ve all heard of a ménage à trois. Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr's film One to Another/Chacun sa nuit presents a ménage à cinq, an ultra-photogenic one with four boys to one girl, all tanned, pretty, and hot to trot and in the summer in a beautiful southern part of France. At the center of the five is the insecure but magnetic lead singer of the clan’s boy band, Pierre (Arthur Dupont). He's the bisexual brother of Lucie (Lizzie Brocheré), with whom he has a relationship just short of out-and-out incest. Nicolas (Guillaume Baché) is also bisexual, so he and Pierre have sex on the sly. Sébastien (Pierre Perrier), the prettiest boy of all, is Lucie's ostensible boyfriend, but she's had sex with the other two. Baptiste (Nicolas Nollet) is boy number four. It's not so good for the story but fine for the vicarious titillation value of the film that the clothes come off right away and there are many bed and swim scenes; and while there isn't much overt sex, there is much casual nude lolling around together among the nearly inseparable five. Pierre also has sex for pay with gay men and orgies with a local politico, and we get glimpses of that, too.

    In a story based on a real event in provincial France, this inseparable group of young beauties is shattered when Pierre is found dead, riddled with blows. The cops draw a blank and Lucie initiates her own investigation aided by the other boys. When the solution comes, the crime remains incomprehensible, even though who committed it had become predictable.

    Pierre has an intensity you notice, and he sings. Lizzie Brocheré emotes, Guillaume Baché has a way of holding back that’s arresting; but despite the film’s obsessive concentration on these young people, they seem chosen not for their acting skill but because they’re generically perfect looking, with the result that it takes much of the film to gather even a vague sense of what distinguishes one boy from the others.

    People are understandably enamored of One to Another/Chacun sa nuit for its lovely sensuality. From that point of view, it’s a pleasure to look at. But the crime story and the beefcake are at odds with each other, the pretentious philosophizing of the young people is a poor substitute for acting, and the too-randomly intercut flashbacks after the death to flesh out the superficial portraits weaken the momentum of the hunt. According the Le Monde’s reviewer Jacques Mandelbaum, One to Anther “rises to the challenge of achieving a strong confrontation between the filmmakers’ hedonistic philosophy and a barbarous act that resists it.” Is it our Puritanical Anglo-Saxon culture? Somehow this seems unconvincing. But the images are beautiful. Jean-Marc Barr’s second film was called Too Much Flesh. Hmmm……

    Opened in Paris September 20, 2006. To be shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center March 7 and 10, and at the IFC Center March 8, 2007. US distributor Netflix/Strand Releasing. Should do well in the DVD sales and rental market.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2007 at 12:10 PM.

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