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Thread: Rendez-vous With French Cinema 2008

  1. #1
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    Rendez-vous With French Cinema 2008

    The press screening schedule was sent out today, January 5, 2008, "Super Tuesday." I'll be attending these and reviewing the films.


    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2008
    Press Screening Schedule

    "Please join us for an advance press screening at The Walter Reade Theater, 165 W 65th St. close to Amsterdam Avenue, take the escalator, elevator or stairs to the upper level. "

    MONDAY, FEB. 11
    10 a.m. - 11:43 a.m.:
    Roman de gare
    Claude Lelouch, France, 2007; 103m
    12 noon - 1:35 p.m.:
    Love Songs / Les chansons d'amour
    Christophe Honor', France, 2007; 95m

    TUESDAY, FEB. 12
    10 a.m. - 12:24 p.m.:
    Heartbeat Detector / La Question Humaine
    Nicolas Klotz, France, 2007; 144m

    10 a.m. - 11:43 a.m.:
    Trivial / La Disparue de Deauville
    Sophie Marceau, France, 2007; 103m
    12 noon - 1:36 p.m.:
    The Grocer's Son / Le fils de l'epicier
    Eric Guirado, France, 2007; 96m

    THURS, FEB. 14
    10 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.:
    A Secret / Un secret
    Claude Miller, France, 2007; 105m

    FRIDAY, FEB. 15
    10 a.m. - 11:40 a.m.:
    Shall We Kiss? / Un baiser s'il vous plait
    Emmanuel Mouret, France, 2007; 100m
    12 noon - 11:44 a.m.:
    The Feelings Factory / La fabrique des sentiments
    Jean-Marc Moutout, France, 2008; 104m
    2:30 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.:
    All is Forgiven / Tout est pardonne'
    Mia Hansen-Love, France, 2007; 105m

    TUESDAY, FEB. 19
    10 a.m. - 11:40 a.m.:
    Let;s Dance! / Faut que ca danse!
    Noemie Lvovsky, France, 2007; 100m
    11:45 a.m. - 1:19 p.m.:
    Those Who Remain / Ceux qui restent
    Anne Le Ny, France, 2007; 94m

    10 a.m. - 12:10 p.m.:
    Cedric Klapisch, France, 2008; 130m


    10 a.m. - 11:37 a.m.:
    Ain't Scared / Regarde-moi
    Audrey Estrougo, France, 2007; 97m

    FRIDAY, FEB. 22
    10 a.m. - 11:18 a.m.:
    Fear(s) of the Dark / Peur(s) du noir
    Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti & Richard
    McGuire, France, 2008; 78m
    11:45 a.m. - 1:10 p.m.:
    Her Name is Sabine / Elle s'appelle Sabine
    Sandrine Bonnaire, France, 2007; 85mead.php?s=&threadid=2211

    Cecile de France
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2014 at 02:04 AM.

  2. #2
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    Claude Lelouch: Roman de Gare (2007)



    Hat trick

    This movie is almost a conceptual piece, yet it's compulsively entertaining, suspenseful, and tightly wound. Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant) is a famous crime writer who has a funny way of finding material for her novels. Actually her secretary, Pierre Laclos (Dominique Pinon) is her ghost writer. But she doesn't tell anybody that. We see a French TV show featuring writers with new books and learn Judith has a new one. Is she guilty of a crime? We also see her being questioned at the Paris police headquarters about her possible connection to a pedophile serial killer who lures his victims by doing magic tricks. Then we watch a little man speeding out into the country, and doing magic tricks. At a rest stop, a young woman named Huguette (Audrey Dana) has a roaring fight with her fiancee and he drives off, in her car, and leaves her to spend the night, watched by the little man. She was on the way with Paul (Cyrille Eldin), a doctor, her fiance, to meet her parents at their primitive farm.

    Louis, (Pinon) does a card trick, and gives Huguette a ride. Is he a killer? It turns out Huguette has a connection with Judith Ralitzer, of sorts. She's a hairdresser, and did her hair. Well, her nails anyway. And then Louis says he's Judith's ghost writer. And he's collecting ideas for her next novel. Huguette, the fiancee dumped by her man all night at a rest stop, is a good premise for one, he thinks. He agrees to a great favor: he will go to Huguette's family's farm with her and pretend to be the finance. She has a beautiful teenage daughter. . .

    What's real, and what's made up? The fun of it is that the movie surprises us with false trails at every twist and turn. But it reveals its secrets at the end, more or less.

    What makes it all more interesting is that Lelouch is a confirmed improviser in his filmmaking, and the meandering path of the movie, dominated by this ghost writer (or is he a serial killer?) who's making up a story for a famous crime novelist is a kind of metaphor for Lelouche's own method of creation. But what keeps this from being gimmicky, or uninvolving, or fluffy, as some of Lelouch's other films, especially the recent ones, have seemed, is that the story is told with some of the same vividness that made Moll's With a Friend Like Harry compelling and creepy.

    Pinon is a very busy and successful film actor in France, but not well known to Americans, though he's in The Return of Martin Guerre and the Jeunet/Caro film, Delicatessen. He has enormous flexibility; he's half cute and appealing and half creepy. He carries the film. But Audrey Dana is also important, and has a similar flexibility. She seems a neurotic rageaholic, but she can be warm and beautiful at the drop of a hat. But as Lelouch knew it would be, the film is anchored by Fanny Ardant. The famous actress doubling as a famous writer, living in her glamorous (though dubious) world is central to the rich effect of Roman de Gare (the name means cheap crime romance, the kind of pulp fiction you used to buy in train stations). And the story is by Lelouch, but he passed it off as being by somebody else, till the movie got to Cannes last year. Then he let the secret out.

    The sound track features the songs of Gilbert Becaud.

    Roman de Gare/AKA/Crossed Tracks is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, Feb. 29-March 9, 2008. It's the opening night film.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2014 at 01:26 AM.

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    Christophe Honoré: Love Songs (2007)



    Sing away your sorrows

    Forget Jacques Demy if you can—though one of Love Songs’ cast members is Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of the Catherine Deneuve of Demy’s classic Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Honoré’s Inside Paris/Dans Paris had one song written by Alex Beaupain, a duet between Romain Duris and Joana Preiss, sung over the phone, Duris’ delivery full of reedy sweetness. This time the director has fulfilled a long-cherished ambition and made a full-fledged contemporary musical. It's set in the relatively gritty Bastille section of Paris, and it's about a ménage à trois involving two girls and a boy: Ismael (Louis Garrel), Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), and Alice (Clotilde Hesme, Garrel's girlfriend in his father's Regular Lovers), whose life together leads to sorrow, separation, and resolution. Beaupain and Honoré have collaborated for the film on 14 songs. Les chansons d'amour is also the director's third collaboration with Louis Garrel, though he didn't plan it that way originally and Garrel had to convince him he could do a singing role. He could, and he is charming, as is pretty much everyone in this film. Love Songs definitely adds to the sense that Christophe Honoré is becoming one of the most promising of the younger French directors.

    This quick follow-up to Dans Paris, which like it, but musically, portrays love problems, family loyalties, and depression with an intermittently light New Wave-ish touch, is divided into three sections: Departure, Absence, and Return. Julie seems to accept Alice in their bed to please Ismael, but she wants him to herself and regrets his refusal to have a child. Perhaps she’s imploding, because she drops dead in front of a boite, like River Phoenix in front of the Viper Club, but of natural causes.

    Alice considers it only right to move out; she can't take the place of two women, and her bisexuality no longer protects her from the full onslaught of Ismael's (and Garrel's) impetuous charms. Ismael, whom Julie’s family adored, moves quickly, if shakily, forward, but Julie’s stagnant older sister Jeanne (Mastroiaani), who suffers from survivor guilt, keeps turning up (a little tiresomely) at the trio’s apartment. Alice had recently connected with another guy, a Breton musician named Gwendal (Yannick Renier, brother of Jérémie). She doesn't seem to need Gwendal any more either, but Gwendal’s gay lycée-student brother Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet of André Téchiné’s Strayed) conceives a passion for Ismael and begins stalking him. When Erwann keeps turning up, Alice, who works at the same office as Ismael, thinks this is an indirect effort on Gwendal’s part to get back together. Ismael realizes what Erwann’s up to, though, and at first laughs it off and tells him to get lost.

    But Ismael’s lost himself—he’s half-Jewish and seems to represent the wandering, rootless type; we never see his family or hear of his origin in any detail—and though he may have the gift of good cheer, he doesn’t know where he’s going, even sexually. As the film ends, he’s actually settling into what's become both a romantic and a sexual affair with the determined Erwann (one of those young gay boys who knows exactly who he is and what he wants) and begs him, "Love me less, but longer" ("Aime moi moins fort, mais aime moi longtemps"--a line people remember). In the film's final shot the two young men are seen from a distance kissing on a balcony. Honoré's collaboration on the screenplay with queer auteur Gael Morel may explain this highly gay-friendly resolution, which will no doubt startle, if not offend, some members of the original Demy generation. But a ménage à trois without by or gay elements doesn't make much sense—not in this century, which Honoré, whatever his virtues and faults, firmly inhabits, even as he increasingly asserts his connectedness to French cinematic traditions.

    American viewers aren't as likely to appreciate the many rhymes between French film families and traditions appreciatively noted by Jean-Baptiste Morain in Les Inrockuptibles last June when this film debuted in Paris. What they may grasp and enjoy is the buoyancy and speed of Honoré’s fimmaking, which makes a virtue of low-budget necessity. Harder to tune in to at times is the director’s cheerful way with sadness and depression, to be found here as it was in Dans Paris. Some of the songs may feel like wallowing in sorrow, but they’re better seen as singing the way out of it. Honoré lets the song come to you straight, without video-ready production numbers or irony, and the actors all do their own natural singing, only occasionally with a little trouble in the lip-synching of their pre-recorded voices.

    Honoré hasn't yet done very well stateside; despite its neo-New Wave beauties, Inside Paris got only a so-so reception with US critics. Maybe the music will make Love Songs more accessible to Americans— it should. The romance between Garrel and Leprince-Ringuet should go down well with gay viewers; anyone open minded can respond to the warm depiction of a first love (Erwann's), and their kissing-in-bed song is already enshrined on YouTube with 40,000 hits.* Google "youtube" + "J'ai cru entendre."

    Love Songs/Chansons d'amour is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series 2008 at Lincoln Center. US distributor IFC Films.

    *That one was removed; but new ones keep popping up, and get 80,000 hits.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-01-2018 at 01:56 PM.

  4. #4
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    Nicolas Klotz: Heartbeat Detector (2007)



    Sins of the fathers, sins of the sons

    In this complicated philosophical thriller and meditation on modern varieties of evil, Simon Kessler (Matthieu Amalric), who narrates (echoing the source book by Francois Emmanuel), is a corporate psychologist working in the "human resources" department of the French branch of SC Farb, a German petrochemical company. A high-ranking official, Karl Rose (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), assigns Kessler the delicate task of investigating the mental state of company CEO Matthias Just (Michael Lonsdale). Kessler meets Just on the pretense of working up a plan for employee musical groups; years ago Just himself was part of a string quartet made up of staff members. (At 77 Lonsdale is still impressive, immense; to see him and the brilliant Amalric, 43, play off one another is worth the price of admission.)

    Just appears to be coming apart, yet he seems tired rather than crazy, and there is nothing specific. But what Kessler discovers, in Just, in the company, in the past of some of the employees, and in himself, leads him to come apart himself.

    This is a cold, dark-suited world inhabited by expressionless but dangerous men and women who smile, but bite back. The cinematography is of a chilly beauty. Music is a powerful thematic element. Schubert is associated with Matthias Just. American-educated French musician Syd Matters composed for the film. To unwind, Kessler and colleagues go to raves and, dance wildly to techno, and come unglued. The strobe lights' flashing seems a metaphor for the dirty secrets peeking out of hiding. Music torments Monsieur Just. He has never recovered from the death of a child and he comes unglued listening to an old tape of the company quartet playing Schubert's Death and the Maiden when Kessler visits his house. The calm of classical music seems false. Some of its master composers come from the land of the Nazis.

    Despite the cute English title, in French this film is called La question humaine, The Human Question. Klotz, whose partner Elizabeth Persival collaborated on the adaptation, is working in the same mode as Claire Denis in The Intruder/L'Intrus and Arnaud de Pallieres in Adieu, films that focus up close on highly culpable individuals but consider vast social issues and historical wrongs which they explore in challengingly fractured ways but in a language that is visually and aurally rich. Denis' "hero" was associated with various illegalities, including illegal organ sales. Adieu considers questionable business practices and the repression of immigrants. Heartbeat Detector gestures meaningfully toward apparently French executives' relationship with the Shoah.

    A little over halfway through the film Just delivers his bombshell to Kessler. First he points out that he knows Karl Rose (not his real name; it was Kraus) is having him investigated. He points out that in the recent company overhaul that eliminated over half the employees, Kessler played a big role in deciding who was to be axed. Then he explains Rose/Kraus's actual origins.

    Letters and papers begin to be passed back and forth. Some of them are in the hands of Just, recuperating from a dubious "suicide" attempt. There is a close examination of a series of German wartime "shipments" whose passengers never survived, and in which one character's father was closely involved. The euphemisms of Nazi extermination where people are "pieces" or "units" seem not so far from the language of corporate "restructuring." Has the mentality of the Third Reich reformatted itself in western European industrial society? As Kessler comes apart, he loses his protective jargon. His "investigation" which Just called "une machination" (a plot) organized by Karl Rose, has turned into a probing of the human condition and the tentacles of the twenty-first century have been traced back into the middle of the twentieth.

    At its best Heartbeat Detector/La question humaine, which is a little long, is as challenging and haunting as L'Intrus and Adieu and even more powerful and contemporary. At certain moments it seems to be lecturing us, but it also finds time to be fractured and funny.

    Part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, February 29-March 9, 2008. Distributed in the US by New Yorker Films.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2010 at 02:35 AM.

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    Much ado about Deauville

    This complicated frou-frou from the popular French actress Sophie Marceau is her second directorial effort. It tanked last summer with French critics as did her first of a few years ago, the not very memorably titled Parlez-moi d'amour. What's wrong this time? To begin with, this is a mystery thriller, and except for a few masters like Clouzot and Chabrol, the French aren't generally very good at those. Actor Guillaume Canet's 2006 Tell No One/Ne le dis a personne is a much better one than this. It is more exciting and involving, and though it also is a bit too complicated, it winds things up tightly and clearly at the end, which this does not. (Tell No One nonetheless went quickly to DVD in the US; its bevy of well known French screen actors held no Stateside power to enchant.)

    La Disparue de Deauville weighs itself down right away with a whole panoply of overly familiar ingredients: a disfigured body whose identification is therefore questionable; a manipulative mom in a wheelchair with a weak son; a depressed police detective willing to break laws to solve his case; a deluxe hotel full of secrets whose manager (Robert Hossein) has disappeared; a seaside location; a fancy car abandoned on a cliff.

    On top of that, there's Victoria Benutti, a beautiful actress long dead whose image--now it seems her phantom--haunts the living. Marceau, who plays this ghostly diva herself (channeling Isabelle Adjani with the help of raincoat, black wig, and scarf ), presents too much about this vaguely defined character, too soon--a whole "secret" suite in the hotel, in fact, papered with thousands of euros worth of stills and fake Sixties fanzines about Benutti. Panning around a room full of stills isn't a very good way to start a thriller. It isn't a good way to develop character either. Even before this Victoria or her clone appears directly Jacques, the distrubed detective (Christophe Lambert, in very, very rumpled mode). She comes to him in his car and orders him to drive across the bridge from Le Havre to Deauville and find room 401 in the Hotel Riviera.

    And then Jacques gets suspicious and starts breaking rules and stealing keys, trashing hospital medicine cabinets and swiping computers, and he puts the pressure on the disabled mom (Marie-Christine Barraut). There is even a chase, when Jacques has gone out of control in a tiny borrowed car and his police department cohort Pierre (Simon Abkarian) and his chubby girl partner chase him going the wrong way on the auto-route. The trouble with this effort to generate excitement is that we don't care much where Jacques is going. Too bad; it's a pretty good chase. An appealing ally for Jacques in his investigations is the manager's weak son, Camille (Nicolas Briançon).

    The French title means "The Missing [female] Person of Deauville." Did I mention that the English title is Trivial?
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2010 at 02:38 AM.

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    Eric Guirado: The Grocer's Son (2007)



    Traveling grocery sales bring a family back together

    Eric Guirado has made documentaries about the French countryside and specifically traveling tradesmen in central and southern France. Directly from that background comes this touching little fiction feature about a family that has a grocery business with a van that travels into the hills and provides daily necessities to aging country people. One of the sons, Francois (Stephan Gillian Tillie of Just a Question of Love) is a hairdresser in town. The other, Antoine (Nicolas Cazale of Le Clan), left home years ago to live in Paris, but he returns to help out when his father (Daniel Duval) is downed by a heart attack. He stays with his mom (Jeanne Goupil). And very importantly, he brings with him a lively young woman, Claire (Clotilde Hesme, of Regular Lovers). They aren't really involved, but he is bailing her out. She is penniless, the refugee of an early failed marriage. He borrows money from his mom to make this trip, bail Claire out of her debts, and give her a peaceful place to finish her "bac" and apply to college in Spain. His own life in Paris has never jelled. He can't seem to hold a job for three months running.

    Antoine pretends that he and Claire are married. And Francois, who lives elsewhere but comes by for meals, is pretending all is fine with his wife, who has left him some time ago. This isn't a family that communicates well, and Antoine left them because things weren't right; but neither was his own behavior as a youth--as we find out from Lucienne (Liliane Riviere), a feisty old lady on the van's grocery route who does not remember him with favor. Antoine also becomes more involved with Old Man Clement (Paul Clauchet), whose hen's eggs are practically all he has to offer any more. Guirado is remarkably skillful at making the constant trips in the grocery van different and reflective of changes in Antoine. Grounded in documentary technique, the film has a wealth of specific detail and never seems forced. And on top of that those in the main roles are actors with presence, anchored in center stage by the hunky, soulful Cazale and the vibrant, very French Clotilde Hesme. There is star quality here yet Cazale, Tillie, and Duval, though you might not have known to pick them from a crowd, look very much like blood relations. That's good casting.

    This is a very slight story, with some elements of too-sweet resolution, and it hardly seems likely to have much of a future as a US release. What makes it work are two things: the wealth of authentic country people who make up the secondary characters, the "customers" Antoine takes groceries to; and the fact that there are emotions here, that you care about Antoine and Francois and their dangling lives, the disgruntlement of their dad, Antoine's discovered affection for Claire, and his gradual acceptance, for the lack of anything better but because he has a basically good heart, of the idea that he might find a life in the rural world he fled from.

    The Grocer's Son/Le fils de l'épicier is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, February 29-March 9, 2008. No US distributor at that time. Later released in the US theatrically June 6, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2010 at 02:48 AM.

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    Claude Miller: A Secret (2007)



    Memories of the French Jewish experience

    This film about a Jewish family that hides some of its most devastating personal Holocaust losses after the end of the Occupation has relative mainstream appeal. As I've noted earlier, Variety predicted "good, but unexciting" prospects for a US release. While the film did relatively well in France considering the high US market share these days, that means it ranked 20th for box office there.* In fact so far there's still no US distributor.

    A Secret/Un Secret tells the story of a boy named Francois (Valentin Vigourt at 7, Quentin Dubois at 14, Matthieu Amalric as a grown man in the 1980's--who now is a therapist who treats shy, withdrawn boys like himself when young). Growing up in the Fifties, Francois has a mother, Tania Grimbert (Cecile de France) who's beautiful and athletic and a great diver, while he's studious and frail and afraid of the water and of strangers. As a seven-year-old Francois is comforted and (literally) massaged and given vitamin shots by Louise (Julie Depardieu), an old friend of the family. Francois is the despair of his father, Maxime Grimbert (Patrick Bruel), who wants him to do gymnastics and be athletic.

    Francois, like many kids, has an imaginary playmate and in this case this phantom companion is a kind of superior doppelganger, a brother who is good at sports, lively, cheerful, outgoing: everything he doesn't seem to be.

    In the framing present-time sequences, in black and white, where Francois is Amalric, he meets with Louise and gets a series of revelations about hidden secrets which in part at least he has perhaps by now long suspected. Events a decade before his birth are unveiled, beginning in the early Thirties and leading up to and beyond the War. Amalric's voiceover narrates introductions to these sequences. He learns that his father Maxime had another wife, Hannah (Ludivine Sagnier), a wan and ultimately gloomy individual (she is always seen without makeup, in an unflattering hairdo, smoking) who yet has a robust baby boy, Simon (Orlando Nicoletti). And Simon is the sprightly little gymnast Maxime wanted.

    The body of the film is what happens when the War comes and France comes under Nazi occupation. A Secret isn't an extremely complicated story but it is a paradoxical one, with parallels and contrasts that may strain credulity. No doubt its central points are eternally valid: the perversions and horrors of the Holocaust, the need of Jews present in Europe at that time to forget in order to move on. The movie is composed of short scenes that block in personalities, situations, and events schematically. It's particularly heavy-handed in lining up Tania to be Maxime's future mate after Hannah is gone by having him ogling her constantly at all times, when she is married to Robert (Robert Plagnol), who is conveniently taken to Breslau as a soldier early in the war: Maxime is ogling no one but Tania even all during his own wedding. Is this necessary? Hardly, but it does set things up clearly in visual terms, through telegraphic closeups and editing.

    All this schematic stuff undoubtedly works well with viewers on a conventional level, and the production values are good, the scenes richly worked out. It's fun to watch the Fifties bathing scene, which introduces the young Francois as a fish out of mainstream water. Cecile de France is lovely to look at; I'm sorry I said she looked "stolid" and "overly athletic": she's just grand. And no doubt Maxime's constant cruising of Tania is indeed meant to be one of the things that undermines the wilted Hannah's morale. It's not certain that Tania is ideally cast. Tania/Cecile is meant to be a "liver" and a winner, as Hannah is not. But all this is telegraphed so blatantly--as is the contrast between Francois and Simon. Could it not have been made a little more subtle?

    Nothing can change the power of the devastating moment when Tania and Simon's doom is sealed. It's horrible, it's manipulative (because necessary to the story but not sufficiently motivated), but it's nonetheless memorable. And everything that follows has an emotionality and warmth that the preceding two thirds of the film lacked. The grown up Francois gets a call and rushes him to his aged father, Maxme, who's sitting desolate on a Paris bench after he's let his dog run free on a walk and it's led to the animal's death. Maxime, Francois narrates in voice-over, has recovered from the loss of Simon and Hannah, but he is left inconsolable by the death of his dog. This is how his survivor guilt reemerges. No wonder Francois later has the inspiration of investigating his past and writing about it while visiting a pet cemetary, with his sister, at the aristocratic country house where his father and Tania and Louise were given refuge during the war.

    Note: the film is based on a novel** by Philippe Grimbert. Some of the French reviews note the difficulty of embodying this powerful work in a film. The reviews are solidly favorable, if few are ecstatic. Once again Miller has done something that's worth watching, but not extraordinary. It's a strong cast, if you accept the workmanlike Gruel in his pivotal role.
    **Available in English. An American edition appeared this month (Feb. 2008). A
    Guardian article gives more details of Grimbert's story and the novel. An important event in his life and the novel is omitted from the film.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2010 at 02:51 AM.

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    Emmanuel Mouret: Shall We Kiss? (2007)



    Woody meets Eric--and they make beautiful (light) music together

    We deserve to know more about Emmanuel Mouret, whose films Variety critic Derek Elley has with good reason called a combination of Woody Allen and Eric Rohmer. Like Woody, Mouret not only writes and directs but is his own delicately droll romantic comedy lead--who combines suggestions of Mr. Allen with M. Jean-Pierre L�aud and Mr. Peter Sellers. How come this is his sixth film and Americans haven't seen any of them? Perhaps because Mouret is a modest filmmaker, who works his way up gradually, adding a few more minutes each time: from 50, he went up to 76, then 85, and this time he's been bold enough to go to 100 minutes. This time, besides himself, following his well-received 2006 Change of Address/Changement d'adresse, which was part of the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, he's engaged Julie Gayet, Vieginie Ledoyen, and Stefano Accorsi as co-stars.

    Shall We Kiss/Un baiser s'il vous plait is an ingeniously (almost too ingeniously) constructed story-within-a-story. The beauty of it is that the frame-tale is so well-written and acted that we care about visiting textile designer Emilie (Julie Gayet) and Gabriel (Michael Cohen), who gives her a ride on a visit to Nantes, parlays that into a dinner date, then asks her for a goodnight kiss--though the body of the film is the story Emilie tells Gabriel to explain why she thinks even that one kiss would be a dangerous thing. Emilie and Gabriel are a sexy couple, and the suspension of that kiss really keeps viewers holding their breath even as they enjoy the surprises and machinations that now unfold. Mouret's humane and entertaining film is full of a sense of how delicate romantic feelings are and how seamlessly in a courtship the clumsy and the comic and the beautiful can blend into one another. Perhaps best of all, the writer-director envisions a contemporary world in which such a thing as courtship, with its presumption of mutual respect and good manners among all concerned, can still exist.

    Emilie's narrative brings in lab researcher Judith (Ledoyen), best friend of math teacher Nicolas (Mouret), who explains to her in one of their weekly tete-a-tetes that he's become so starved for "closeness" (complicité) that to be in the mood to initiate a new relationship he needs a little physical affection--and a kiss--to open him up. He's tried prostitutes, but like the young hustler protagonist of Téchiné's movie, they "don't kiss"--so that essential "complicité" is lacking. Shyly he asks Judith to help out. Their first attempts at intimacy are ludicrously tentative--with very French discussion back and forth about what to do next before each move forward. They wind up having sex, and though Judith lives with pharmacist Claudio (Accorsi) and (because the renewal of "closeness" apparently "worked") Nicolas soon meets and starts cohabiting with Caline ("Cuddles," Frederique Bel), the two "best friends" eventually have to admit that they can't forget the electricity of their physical encounter. Judith has to grant she isn't so crazy about Claudio any more, and Nicolas hasn't really fallen for Caline and is just hoping he might, later.

    Mouret's art is in the way he plays with the old idea of people who have trouble recognizing their own feelings, and the cliché, existing only to be smashed, that best friends can't become lovers. Eventually the inevitable must be recognized. It isn't hard for Nicolas to sit down at a bar and tell Caline he's found someone else he cares about more, and she takes it with aplomb. But Emilie cares too much about Claudio to dump him, and she knows he has never looked at anyone else and has fragile ferlings. An elaborate ruse is devised based on Claudio's passion for Schubert, and enlisting help from the cooperative Caline.

    All this reminds Gabriel of something that happened to him....which is where the storytelling becomes rather intricate.

    The ending is ingenious, but the fun is getting there, and the way Mouret's straightforward direction, simple camerawork, and above all his witty, well-paced dialogue keep the audience consistently engaged and delighted. The music always keeps it light--and smart, with Tchaikovsky ballet music leading off many of the early scenes, and Schubert chamber and solo piano music warmly fleshing out the emotional tone as the romance becomes more intense and more complicated. If you can watch this without having fun maybe you just don't like romantic comedy--at least not the French kind.

    Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, February 29-March 9, 2008; this opened in France December 12, 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2019 at 12:44 PM.

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    Jean-Marc Moutout: The Feelings Factory (2008)



    Seven minutes, a cocktail, and many dizzy spells lead to the perfect mate

    Publicity for Jean-Marc Moutout's new film , The Feelings Factory/La fabrique des sentiments (Paris-released Feb 5, 2008), is misleading in making it look like a story about speed dating: "seven women, seven men, seven minutes and a cocktail." There are two speed dating sequences, sparklingly staged and photographed. And a picture built around this curiously mechanical modern way of finding a mate might have been a good idea--but what Moutout's doing is not that simple by a long sight. Focused on a main character who's a successful 36-year-old professional woman in Paris without a man in her life, The Feelings Factory does its best to be complex and contemporary about the issues faced by such a person, and in various scenes taken separately certainly succeeds at that. But as a whole the film winds up being scattered and unconvincing. Moutout ought to relax and focus a bit more, give more consideration to narrative structure and character and let the social anatomizing take second place, and he could make a more involving, coherent film.

    Eloise (Elsa Zylberstein, of the excellent La petite Jerusalem, and quite believable here) is a member of a posh Paris firm specialized in residential law who (we're to believe) is so accomplished at her job the senior partner proposes to have her take his place upon his imminent retirement. That would be a challenge in itself--one that might make marriage look like a difficult proposition, despite the ticking biological clock. Eloise doesn't seem nervous about this new prospect. In fact she immediately proposes to her family to take on the expenses of maintaining her aging grandma at home, based on the expected new income.

    The speed dating, on the other hand, shows a certain desperation on her part--even though she pretends it's just an efficient "businesslike" method; it also simply signals on her part a lack of time to deal with a personal life. It's being videoed for TV (Eloise declines to be the focus) and is presented as something bright and glossily cinematic as a TV show. Besides the non-entities, there's a man who does nothing but complain about his inadequacy and the ridiculousness of this way of finding a mate. He's Andre (Jacques Bonnaffe). Since Bonaffe is a busy and well-known actor with second billing here (American viewers may remember him from Lemming), we have to be suspicious, and the whole movie is built on the trite gambit that the least likely participant turns out to be the keeper. Conversely the "perfect" fellow, Jean-Luc (Bruno Putzulu), himself a presentable-looking and successful lawyer who turns out to be attentive and good in bed, is, of course, a fake who lies and cheats. Luckily Eloise finds out--coincidentally, while at the hospital, where she spots him with another woman who's obviously central to his life.

    The hospital visits are due to a whole other issue: on top of missing her periods and having unwonted lactation, she is having dizzy spells. It is this health problem that looms over most of the action. It's a while before Eloise gets a diagnosis and a while longer before there is treatment. Meanwhile as Jean-Luc is turning out wrong and the huge promotion is offered and caring for grandma is considered, Andre keeps popping up unexpectedly.

    It's pretty obvious that Bonaffe is meant to be the voice of humanity, the one "real" person among the "eligible" men Eloise encounters in her plastic yuppie world. The writing makes him alternately neurotic as hell and deeply philosophical. Is his view of life negative or merely realistic? The actor is well cast for this. He's a bit like Jean-Pierre Bacri, but not quite as edgy and smart: a man who can be a complete nerd or just a pain in the butt one minute, and a laugh a minute the next. When Bonaffe's character Andre gets into Eloise's big apartment, though, he typically ruins everything, and his dating history (the dialogue at this point curiously seems to be a continuation of the speed dating session) makes him sound extremely unpromising. The better to make her lifelong soulmate, apparently.

    A final coda leaps forward several years to find Eloise married with a
    couple of adorable kids. How she got there, and in fact what happened
    to her partnership in the law firm, are matters the film leaves blank.
    And what the final scene is about escapes me.

    The film received moderate reviews in Paris. Others besides myself felt the sociology and the health problem detracted from the focus of the film and made it unwieldy.

    Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, Feb. 29-March 9, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2014 at 02:02 AM.

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    Mia Hansen-Love: All Is Forgiven (2007)


    Marie-Christine Friedrich and Victoire Rousseau in Tout est pardonné

    Scenes from a failed marriage, failed life

    This pan-European first feature focuses on people rather than dramatic events and concerns a Frenchman, Victor (Paul Blain), married to an Austrian woman, Annette (Christine Friedrich). When we meet Victor and Annette they're living in Austria in close proximity to her large family, and they have a six-year-old daughter, Pamala (Victoire Rousseau). Take one look at Victor and the face says, lazy, hedonistic, dissolute, frustrated, angry--with a smiling, people-pleasing exterior. This is some great casting. Friedrich, on the other hand, simply seems one of those healthy, slightly stolid Nordic moms. Victor is a failed writer. His drug addiction is going to lead to heartbreak, and worse. Half the time she speaks to him in German and he answers in French. They aren't on quite the same wave length.

    The couple moves to Paris, where Victor is no happier or more productive. Whatever Annette is doing, he's spending his days dabbling at writing and hanging out and his nights out getting high without Annette's knowing his whereabouts. His moods are not good and he's verbally and physically abusive. Eventually Annette wises up, gets angry herself, and goes off to Vienna for the holidays with Pamala. Victor seizes this opportunity to get further involved with his user girlfriend, Gisele (Olivia Ross), who teaches him to shoot up. Before long in this linear, but choppy narrative she's dead of an overdose. After a while he has a mental and physical breakdown (the time sequence always a bit vague) and winds up in a sanatorium.

    An inter-title announces an interval of eleven years. Annette and Pamala are living in Paris again and part of a comfortable bourgeois French family; that is, the new husband is French. Victor is around somewhere too, rehabilitated, looking healthy enough, a bit better dressed, and working at some sort of job as a reader for a publishing house. Pamala of course is now a grownup girl (and played by Constance Rousseau, Victoire's older sister), and she wants to meet her father again after all these years. At first this goes well, with sincere feelings on both sides, and an exchange of letters that are read to us while Pamala is away on summer holiday. For Victor the meeting is hugely important but also a terrible reminder of all he might have done and might have been. It awakens bad memories, and the ultimate outcome is tragic.

    The co-authors Hansen-Løve and Clementine Schaeffer skip narrative connective tissue in telling their tale, nor do they necessarily include all the key moments to dramatize. Exactly how Victor gets into the sanatorium isn't dramatized, for instance, nor when he and Annette get divorced, and so on. There is a certain casual elegance in this, a simplicity, a naturalness with setting, a focus on conversation, but at times the progression is simply unclear. There is no effort made whatever to make Annette or Victor look any older in their scenes set over a decade later. Rousseau as the adult Pamala is not impressive. She seems just a conventional bourgeois girl reciting her lines. Annette's new French husband is a good posh bohemian Parisian. Annette has a comfortable job cataloging things at the Musee d'Orsay. All this is casually sketched in.

    All is Forgiven is a stylishly minimal production with a spare, striking use of Scottish folk tunes and hand-held camera work. The acting by Blain and Friedrich is convincing. This first film is a sincere and creditable effort that promises quality work to come, but it does not overwhelm.

    Tout est pardoné, 105 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2007 as part of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Director's Fortnight). Opening theatrically in France in September, it got very good reviews (Allociné press rating 3.9, with raves from Cahiers du Cinéma, Le Monde and Les Inrockuptibles). Screened for this review at the semi-rep MK2 Hautefeuille in Paris, October 2007. The series also included Avant que j'oublie and Caramel as well as Control, Chop Shop, and Araki's Smiley Face.]

    Presented as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9, 2008.

    Originally posted in Paris October 23, 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2014 at 01:22 AM.

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    Anne Le Ny: Those Who Remain (2007)



    Brief encounter

    Chraccter actress Anne Le Ny makes a creditable debut with this story about a man and a woman who connect in a hospital where their significant others are cancer patients and they are daily visitors. As Bertrand and Lorraine, the excellent Vincent Lindon and Emmannuelle Devos are together again as they were two years ago in Emmanuel Carrère's La moustache. To Le Ny's credit she dares not to show any patients or doctors, tears, flashbacks, or scenes of working life, though she does fall into a couple of cliches otherwise.

    The first meeting is obvious enough. Bertrand, a German teacher whose afternoons are free for these visits, encounters a flustered Lorraine on her first time at the hospital dropping a file of papers and unable to find the ward where her boyfriend's bed is. Far from the attentive mate with the tireless bedside manner, she's not sure she's ever going to be able to cope if she winds up with a boyfriend who has permanent damage from colon cancer. Bertrand is so wise, patient, and long-suffering it comes to bug her. But that comes later.

    At first, they simply meet again and have coffee at the cafeteria. They also get to know the ladies at the newsstand/gift shop where Bertrand regularly gets a certain magazine for his wife. She's been in and out of hospitals for five years with breast cancer. He lives with teenage stepdaughter Valentine (Yeelem Jappain), who detests him and continually makes excuses not to come see her mom.

    We know less about Lorraine except that she's a graphic designer who's scatterbrained and wholly unready for the role of Mother Teresa. And she has an automobile, and since Bertrand has a long bus and train ride to get home, she gives him a lift back to Paris in her car. And that, of course, becomes the routine.

    The day comes when Bertrand and Lorraine do more than keep each other company; when they begin to go to the hospital to see each other. And that becomes complicated. Bertrand has a longtime commitment to his wife. Lorraine's relationship is newer, and she balks at her new role in it. But that may not show who most needs the other, Bertrand or Lorraine.

    Le Ny herself plays Nathalie, Bertrand's over-helpful sister, who comes with husband Jean-Paul (Grégoire Oestermann) and baby boy to stay over for a bit with Bertrand and Valentine. This interlude helps keep the Bertrand-Lorraine coupling from being too fast, too romantic, or too intense. It always remains an uncertain thing, a stop-gap perhaps, a comfort in time of need. They meet in a state of limbo. Their relationship is predicated on that state.

    One wouldn't expect a story like this to be fun and it certainly isn't. Unfortunately, though it does present an interesting dilemma and sensibly avoids any easy or sentimental solutions, I'm not wholly convinced it goes deep enough to justify ninety minutes of our time. Lindon and Devos are two of the best actors in current French films; they do not disappoint-- and deserve respect for taking on a hard subject. But their talents might have been better used if the script had given them more interesting dialogue and more emotional range. Devos only gets to be eager, confused, and superficial, and Lindon spends all his time in a deep funk. This is an actor who is capable of a great deal more than glum determination. Understandable, no doubt, that his character should primarily exhibit that manner, that he should be shut down; but the writing doesn't allow either character to develop much, even when the inevitable happens and the statuses of their hospitalized significant others finally change in ways that force their hand with each other. The principal irony is that Bertrand and Lorraine obviously like each other a lot, enough so their feelings for each other peep out despite the heavy fog of duty, grief, and annoyance they live in every day--and so, dismal as their daily returns to the hopsital are, or were, something in each of them resists the development that will lead away from the hospital--recovery, or death--or toward a more positive existence. Limbo can be curiously addictive.

    Le Ny wisely avoids any trite resolution; but that leaves things rather flat. When something is rounded off--stepdaughter Valentine's hostilities--it's done in a way that's a bit too sweet and articulate for a sixteen-year-old--particularly this one. And the stopover for the carnival and the cotton candy is too cute and American rom-com for a piece that strives for grit as this does, and has no beauty in its extremely utilitarian locations otherwise, even in the evening arrivals in Paris.

    Those Who Remain/Ceux qui restent, 93 mins., was shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9, 2008. It opened in Paris August 29, 2007, receiving excellent reviews (Allociné press rating 4.1).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2014 at 01:35 AM.

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    Noémie Lvovsky: Let's Dance! (2007)



    Growing old without noticing

    Lvovsky's a triple threat. She writes, she acts, and this is her fifth feature directorial effort. Much of her work has been with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who directed her in her film Actresses, which was part of the 2007 New York Film Festival. This new movie is built around the charming, shambling 76-year-old Jean-Pierre Marielle, who was seen in Les ames grises (in the 2006 Rendez-Vous), The Da Vinci Code; and he is involved in four 2008 films. Salomon Bellinsky (Marielle) is a French Jew who laid low in a cellar, rumor has it, during the war; his family was wiped out; he prefers not to discuss the Shoah or what he was up to at the time himself. He has a long-estranged wife, Geneviève (Bulle Ogier), a sweet little lady who's losing her marbles and is cared for devotedly by a certain M. Mootoosamy (Bakary Sangaré). Is the latter supposed to be Indian? He appears to be a Hindu and the film opens, a bit strangely, with him and Geneviève at a religious festival in India.

    Bruni-Tedeschi has to be on hand, of course, and she is Sarah, Salomon's rather distracted daugter, who narrates, and who has a nice calm orderly man in her life called Francois (Arié Elmaleh), who does things with mice and is good at fixing things.

    What about the title? How does that fit in? Well, Salomon goes to a dance class for older folks, and loves to watch Fred Astaire movies at home on DVD. He's a liver; he wants to enjoy whatever amount of life he has left (but he reminds his family how long the Old Testament prophets lived and won't rule out surviving at least another fourty years). Salomon is a sprightly old guy, and he runs an ad to find a girlfriend. After a number of failures, he lands Violette (Sabine Azéma: La Buche, Coeurs, etc., etc., rather in Annie Hall mode here), and they have good times. Maybe "Let's Danse" also means "let's survive" or "let's move on." Sarah has always been told she can't get pregnant, and she does, and has her baby, on screen--comedy heaven, of a sort, since comedy is about bringing people together, and this brings the family to her hospital room, thoguh she's had the baby in odd circumstances, at a psychiatric clinic, watched over by a shrink, and a nurse who runs off for hot water and clean towels because that's what they do in the movies. Survival is tougher for Geneviève, though she's blithely unaware of it. She's given away her money and even her furniture, and when she and M. Mootoosamy go to Zurich to check on a bank safe deposit box, the stack of cash they retrieve from it comes to grief. Salomon likes to gamble away his disposable income though, and one day without in the least wanting to, winds up with a large sum, which he forces on M. Mootoosamy--so Geneviève never winds up on the street, nor does the good Mootoosamy.

    Any specific resemblances between all this and everyday life is absolutely coincidental and surely minimal. It's just a warm, humane diversion about Jewishness, old age, having fun, and learning to live. One can watch it for Jean-Pierre Marielle; but Ogier, Bruni Tedeschi, and Azéma have their fans too.

    Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, February 29-March 9, 2008, Let's Danse!/Faut que ça danse ! opened November 14, 2007 in Paris, receiving generally favorable reviews (Allociné presds rating 3.8).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-14-2020 at 01:52 PM.

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    Cedric Klapisch: Paris (2008)



    Round and round we go

    Auberge Espagnole director Cedric Klapisch has made another lively ronde of people's stories centered on the French capital and Africans who want to migrate there. Featuring Klapisch regular Romain Duris and a brace of other popular French film actors, including Juliette Binoche, François Cluzet, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, Karin Viard, lovely almost-newcomer Mélanie Laurent, Zinedine Soualem and others, Paris will show at the Lincoln Center French series ten days after its opening, today (February 20, 2008) in the city of the title.

    If this movie is "about" anything, it's about loving life, appreciating what you've got. If you're just wandering the streets of Paris with nothing to do, Pierre (Duris) thinks, you're pretty darn lucky. Pierre, a dancer, should know. Life tastes pretty sweet to him because he's on his way to a heart transplant and his chances of surviving beyond his mid-thirties where he is now are iffy. His sister Élise (Juliette Binoche), a single mom and social worker, brings her little kids to stay with Pierre, who spends a lot of time looking out his window. Across the way he sees Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent), who soon starts an affair with Rémy (Joffrey Platel), but is also being wooed by a Sorbonne prof and longtime bachelor Roland Verneuil (Fabrice Lucchini), whose brother Philippe (François Cluzet) supervises big new construction projects on the outskirts of the city, is comfortable with his life, happily married, and soon to become a father. Roland is a historian and his subject is Paris. He consents to a do a TV series "popularizing" all that but he loses heart, and his little affair with Laetitia fizzles, and he goes to see a shrink (Maurice Bénichou). Élise shops in a market where she meets Jean (Albert Dupontel)--and there lies another tale: his ex-wife Caroline (Julie Ferrier) still works side-by-side with him, but is now involved with Franky (Gilles Lellouche). And there's more. . . probably a good deal too much more. It's true that playfully investigating a variety of characters, lives, and social situations has always been Klapisch's forte and his passion. But perhaps with Paris his resources and his enthusiasm were too great. There's a bakery where the proprietress (Karin Viard) hires a "Moroccan" girl, Khadija (Sabrina Ouazani, another lovely not-so-newcomer). At one point when we're in an ordinary restaurant with a bunch of people, including Jean, Caroline, and Franky, I started to wonder: what the heck are we doing here? How am I supposed to care about all these different people at once?

    It's the filmmaker's way to work with vignettes, the contemporary filmmaker most especially. The trick is making them count, and integrating them together into a successful film. Perhaps because of the presence of Binoche, I began to think of Kieslowski's masterful Red, which is about connections, and chance, and has a haunting immediacy and poignancy Klapisch may be striving for here. Klapisch is a gifted filmmaker and an understandably popular one. He knows how to make us care about people (most of the time anyway); he's great with actors; his camera is fluid; he can make things move. He knows the magic of editing, locations, coincidences. The balance between the wishful enthusiasm of Romain Duris' character and the wit and self-aware foolishness of Fabrice Lucchini makes a lovely contrast that seems at the heart of the film. It was Lucchini in another film 24 years ago who repeatedly declared that Paris is "the center of the world." That may be true. But Klapisch's Paris doesn't quite have a center. His film has too many people who carry too close to equal weight. They force their identity and their situations on us so rapidly it's as if they were holding up a sign. This is the pitfall of the "choral" film: of achieving a brief illusion of complexity at the risk of lacking depth.

    Happily, it all ends with a taxi ride, with the driver cursing the day's demonstrations, which are going to tie up many sections of town. Somehow, he and his rider, Pierre, are going to get to their destination anyway. And if this isn't a masterpiece, Klapisch and his top flight crew and terrific actors still arrive at their goal of delivering much to ponder and enjoy.

    The Africans? They don't make it.

    Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9, 2008. Opening in Paris Feb. 28, 2008, it received average reviews (Allociné press rating 3.0).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-14-2015 at 11:14 PM.

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    Audrey Estrougo: Ain't Scared (2007)



    Dangers of the "Cité" for a girl in a vivid but diffuse first feature

    Like Mathieu Kassovitz's 1995 La haine and Abdel Kechiche's multiple-César-winning 2003/5 L'Esquive, this is a fiction feature about young inhabitants of the troubled Paris peripheral urban ghettos known as "la Cité" or "la Banlieue." Director Estrougo, for whom this is a first fiction feature, moved from the Marais quarter of Paris to the Banlieu at thirteen when her mother remarried and lived there for four years, and declares she has been digesting the experience ever since (she's only 23 or 24). Less interesting or appealing in plot or character terms than those earlier films, Ain't Scared/Regarde moi is arguably more sensitive as a "choral" or "ethnographic" portrait of the multi-ethnic, multi-racial adolescent boys and girls of the milieu, and particularly for its focus on the difficulties of being female in this urban-suburban jungle. The film deals with the two sexes schematically by being divided into two halves, both traversing approximately the same twenty-four-hour period; but while desultory and superficial at first, it acheives some depth at the end by zeroing in on two of the young women.

    In the first half the males dominate. Yannick (Paco Boublard) is a jumpy, people-pleasing white boy involved in petty crime and on a mission to win back his black girlfriend, the beautiful Melissa (Djena Tsimba). He's pals with the athletic black guy Jo (Terry Nimajimbe), who's got a golden ticket out of the ghetto: he's been tapped by London's Arsenal football team. Yannik pals around with Jo's younger brother, Khalidou ((Jimmy Woha Woha), who's Jo's responsiblity, there being no parents in evidence. Except for Jo, it's a given that most of the boys are stuck, but their constant concerns are impressing each other, working their little deals, and above all losing their virginity (the word "virgin" is a as bad a put-down as "fag"). Seduction was as central in L'Esquive as violence was in La haine. Here again it has somewhat the upper hand. In fact the movie begins with Mouss (Oumar Diaw), who's black, practicing in the mirror the rap he'll use to score with Daphne (Salome Stevenin), who's white. The girls are hard to get because they're afraid; there's not much of a comfort zone for anybody in this world. Paradoxically, perhaps, or simply because this is essentially a girl's story, the most violence we see is girls-on-girls.

    The first half identifies the main girls in this loosely defined group, but the focus is always on the boy's concerns: getting a girl, gaining recognition among the guys. Though there's plenty of reference to race, the races intermingle freely. In fact every couple is mixed-race, and there's one Asian who seems completely at home with the rest of the boys.

    Then, without anything particular happening, the focus shifts to the girls. In one scene they gather together to shout their hatreds and beefs at the camera: it's almost like a musical. The image of these girls shifts to black and white for a minute, as if to signal the starkness of the issues. It is a given that a girl who uses makeup or jeans is taken for a prostitute. All must protect themselves by downplaying their femininity, and sweat pants and "baskets" (running shoes) are their uniform.

    Finally the focus is on just two girls, Julie (Emilie De Preissac), a white girl with an alcoholic father who's involved with Jo, though for most of the film she seems to be avoiding him; and the black Fatimata (Eye Haidara), whose still-traditional African mother can't possibly understand the grief she comes to when she goes out wearing a blonde wig. There are only the two parents visible. Fatimata's mom only smacks her. and Julie's dad is forever comatose in front of the telly. When she's been battered, she can only snuggle up to his inert body. It's the saddest and most moving image of the film. Both of these girls come in for beatings by other girls, Julie's the more severe (and so is her reaction). It's not always clear what'd going on. Americans may be lucky to have subtitles. Some avowedly "middle-class" French viewers of Ain't Scared have complained that the fast talk and Banlieue slang are so hard to follow they too need subtitles.

    In an interview Estrougo says she initially chose the would-be cast members who had the most interesting personal stories, without screen tests. No doubt about the fluidity and conviction of the action and the authenticity of the settings. The scenes flow with so much good humor and speed, especially among the boys, that at times Ain't Scared, despite its ostensibly tough subject matter, can be a joy to watch. It has its occasional longeurs, but it doesn't harangue you like La haine. If you pay attention, there's also a lot of information here. Mulitple viewings might be necessary to grasp everything; unfortunately there aren't the usual dramatic "hooks" or catharsis that motivate repeats, and the appearance of superficiality (though a valid representation of how adolescents communicate) can be off-putting too.

    This film lacks the shock value of La haine or the charm of L'Escquive and it has not and will not do anywhere near as well as they (it gained some recognition, but not a lot of praise from French critics). The final resolution, though efficient, is a little bit feeble. Maybe Estrougo will do something that concentrates message and effect better next time; she does know her chosen milieu, and works brilliantly with non-actors.

    Opened September 26, 2007 in Paris. Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2010 at 01:44 AM.

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    Blutch, Marie Caillou, et al.: Fear(s) of the Dark (2008)


    Dark animation omnibus

    Here is the producer Prima Linea Productions' summary of the film Fear(s) of the Dark/Peur(s) du noir (2007) which combines the work of eight artists:

    Spiders' legs brushing against naked skin...
    Unexplainable noises heard at night in a dark bedroom...
    A big empty house where you feel a presence...
    A hypodermic needle getting closer and closer...
    A dead thing trapped in a bottle of formaldehyde...
    A huge growling dog, baring its teeth and staring...
    So many scary moments we have experienced at some point in our lives – like the craftsmen of this journey straight to the land of fear.
    Six of the worlds hottest graphic artists and cartoonists have breathed life into their nightmares, bleeding away colour only to retain the starkness of light and the pitch black of shadows.
    Their intertwined stories make up an unprecedented epic where phobias, disgust and nightmares come to life and reveal Fear at its most naked and intense...

    The artists are Blutch, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Jerry Kramski, Lorenzo Mattoti, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, and Romain Slocombe. They are designers who have done logos, product designs, and other things besides animation. Some of the black and white drawings are gorgeous, rich, subtle, pleasing to the eye--even distractingly so. Where the images are most beautiful, the animation is most lacking.

    The best story is one by Charles Burns of a nerdy boy who loves insects and grows up isolated and timid as a college student. Like the sucker Koistinen in Aki Kaurismaki's 2006 film Lights in the Dusk, he is then seduced by a woman who only wants to entrap and use him, only this one is far more sinister and is perhaps the descendant of a praying mantis-like bug the man lost under his bed long years ago (he still sleeps in the same bed). Combining elements of Poe and Kafka, this story, which sensibly combines story elements that don't quite fit, is genuinely creepy. The drawing is fluent but utilitarian.

    Caillou's story is set in Japan and concerns that standard image of Japanese helplessness and provocation to perverts, a uniformed schoolgirl. There is also a sinister doctor with a big hypodermic and the ghost of a samurai and a creature with several layers of eyes. The trouble is tha this story frequently interrupts itself and never finishes.

    In between these are two other stories, because it is the team's aim to make their omnibus into some kind of seamless whole. First there is the animations of Blutch of the eighteenth-century man with a team of snarling dogs who attack a helpless boy. Then there is the screen of geometric games by Pierre di Sciullo, entertaining us with imagery that ranges from Saul Bass to the Russian Avant Garde, while an ironic, nagging woman (well voiced by Nicole Garcia, who has made a career of this kind of character) lists things she's "afraid of" or doesn't want to become.

    Otherwise, I was not very taken by the stories and at times could barely follow them. The device of intermixing two of the animations/short films with the five others is a laudable effort to achieve unity and flow, but it only makes a confusing collection more so.

    The language is French, though the team is multinational, including American and Italian. The film was shown at Sundance as part of a horror series. The images have a pencil look, achieved however with the latest technologies. For connoisseurs of black and white drawing in film, this is worth a look for the different styles. But as a cutting edge horror or scare movie or an accomplished series of animations, this collection seems very overhyped.

    The film, shown at Sundance in January 2008 and at international festivals, debuted in Paris theaters February 18, 2008, and is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2014 at 01:29 AM.

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