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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2009

  1. #16
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    André téchiné: The girl on the train (2009)



    Stabbings, lies, and a bar mitzvah

    This Teéchiné "issue" film is based on an actual news story of a young woman who pretended to have suffered an anti-Semitic attack on an RER (Reseau Express Regional) train that connects Paris with the surrounding regions. The story was originally adapted for the theater by Jean-Marie Besset and watching Besset's play gave Téchiné the idea for this quickly-shot film.

    There's much to like, not least of which is a cast that includes Francophone megastars Michel Blanc and (Téchiné regular) Catherine Deneuve (as old friends) and lively young actors Nicolas Duvauchelle (of Les corps impatients) and Emilie Dequenne (star of the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta). This director is always good at juggling social levels and relationships (see Les Voleurs). But the subject matter seems forced and not super-relevant, a problem also of The Witnesses, but this time the issues arise in a way that makes them seem much less urgent than the AIDS crisis. Why does Jeanne (Dequenne) make up this story? What are its ramifications for actual Jews victimized by anti-Semites--and for the level of anti-Semitism in Europe and the world today? To what extent are individuals more victimized than ever by media invasions of privacy? These aren't questions that get sufficiently explored, either on a personal or a collective level. As a result viewers will experience a complicated set of characters they care about only intermittently, and a central event whose motivation is too vague to make it emotionally involving.

    Jeanne lives with her mother Louise (Deneuve) in a house with a garden in the suburbs of Paris very near the RER line. They get along really well. Louise earns a living minding children. Jeanne is looking for work, but not very energetically. Louise reads a web notice one day that gives her the fantasy that she can get Jeanne a job working for a famous lawyer, Samuel Bleinstein (Blanc), because she knew him well when they were very young. Jeanne gets an interview. It's not very promising. But she and Louise are going to get plenty of quality time with Bleinstein after Jeanne's lie comes out.

    Before that, an online meeting: Jeanne connects in a chat-room with Frank (Duvachelle), a tattooed martial arts champion whose background may be dodgier than she realizes, but who is clearly more motivated than her because of his credible pro-sport ambitions. Jeanne and Frank have a roller-blade date and hit it off pretty fast. Before long Jeanne's not only sleeping over with Frank but sharing the responsibility of minding a mysterious electronics warehouse whose owner is away. It turns out the warehouse holds something other than electronics, and Frank's uncooperativeness with some gangster types causes him to wind up in the hospital with a potentially fatal stab wound. Frank, who has already been troubled by Jeanne's habit of lying, decides his involvement with her isn't good for either of them. It's in the wake of Frank's rejection that Jeanne cuts herself and paints on swastikas with a felt pen, then goes to the police with an invented story of being assaulted on the RER by racist anti-Semites.

    Somewhat to Jeanne's shock, her story arouses an immediate and rapidly metastasizing media frenzy. She is soon forced to admit her lie. This gets her in trouble with the law. This in turn leads Louise to call on her old friend Samuel, whom she's newly aware of from finding the job at his office on the Internet. We get scenes of Samuel's extended family, a Jewish family, whose members are debating over the coming bar mitzvah of young Nathan. (The young actor has a strong presence; I can't find his name in the casting list. But his father Alex is played by Mathieu Demy and his mother Judith by the vivid Ronit Elkabetz.)

    La fille du RER (film's French title) is meant to creep up on you. Perhaps to avoid being stamped "thriller" or "crime story," but also to show how violence can pop up unexpectedly in what seem everyday lives, it meanders for an hour before Frank's stabbing. Throughout, the film explores semi-chance interconnections of different people with complex family ties--and some, like Frank, who're estranged from any family--in a world where violence can strike all of a sudden, and is so ever-present it becomes a tool to be used by a young woman to get attention. In her search for identity--missing perhaps due to the absence of her father and the lack of any commitment to work--Jeanne seeks an artificial identity in pretending to be Jewish and a victim of violence. As Stephen Holden notes in his NYTimes Rendez-Vous roundup, "Mr. Téchiné shows his special empathy for the ways youthful impatience can trigger impulsively self-destructive behavior." For young Nathan, identity is being presented on a silver platter in the traditional coming-of-age ritual of a bar mitzvah.

    Julien Hirsch is responsible for the film's bright, beautiful look. Costume designer Radija Zeggai gets the credit one assumes, for Deneuve's wonderfully frumpy-chic outfits.

    The film is scheduled for French release March 18, 2009. Its showing in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center is its world premiere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-05-2021 at 07:46 PM.

  2. #17
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    Daniele thompson: Change of plans (2009)


    The door code has changed; the premise has not

    It's a well-worked comcept, that of a gathering of old friends that turns sour. This time it's complicated enough, with four couples, all more or less in crisis. They're all forty-something "bobos," well heeled bohemians. It's not a "Dinner Game" (Diner de Cons) a la Francis Veber, because everybody is partly deceiving and partly a dupe. Danielle Thompson's skill at this kind of complicated festive gathering from hell, with personal baggage unpacked, was evident in her first film, La Buche. Her mobile camera entertainingly explores a series of warm portraits. Or at least it did in La Buche, and did also more simply in her last film, Avenue Montagne. This time the interactions are a bit too complicated to follow, let alone care about. Thompson and her usual co-writer, her son Christopher (who as usual is also in the cast) must perforce spend a lot of their time on basic exposition of simply who everybody is and what their relationships are.

    The dinner takes place at the giant flat of cutthrouat divorce lawyer ML (Karin Viard) and her unemployed spouse Piotr (Dany Boon). Guests include oncologist Alain (Patrick Bruel), his gynecologist wife Melanie (Marina Hinds), successful attorney Lucas (Christopher Thompson) and his pretty wife Sarah (Emmanuelle Seigner). There's an actor who works in TV commercials named Erwann (Patrick Chesnais) with a much younger lover Juliette (Marina Hands), who's ML's sister.

    When they get to talking they reveal both their discontent with their current official partners and their rampant infidelities. While we're still chewing on all the exposition and chatter, the film jumps ahead a yea to show how couples have rearranged themselves, with flashbacks to the painful dinner and the unfolding of some tragic events that it may be hard to care about.

    It's all very glossy and actors like Hinds and Seignier add warmth (and Chenais his customary dryness), but it's also pretty hard to care about the intricate but generally superficial proceedings. The bouillabaisse has too many ingredients this time.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-25-2014 at 10:46 PM.

  3. #18
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    Pierre schoeller: Versailles (2008)



    A view of homelessness between realism and fable

    Versailles, which contains remarkable performances by the late Guillaume Depardieu, dead last year at only 37, and a seven-year-old boy named Max Baissette de Malglaive, is about homeless people, but it's also about identity and freedom, regeneration and loss. Recovering from a life of homelessness or from drug addiction, the film says, takes about six or seven years. And a life without borders or plans has its attraction and its myths. Schoeller's screenplay and direction make realism an adventure, delving into harsh truths without resorting to miserabilism or sociology. In the flickering light of a bonfire in the woods, its characters sometimes seem to have returned to a primordial age or moved forward to the future nether-world of Haneke's Time of the Wolf. The resolutions may seem too facile, but intense, authentic performances and handsome cinematography make this somewhat thin tale redeem itself over time. It's sui generis style may eventually earn it a following. Depardieu and de Malglaive almost deserve comparison with Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola of De Sica's Bicycle Thief. Like Staiola, young de Malglaive seems well on is way to a film career, with a couple more film roles already under his belt. Depardieu has an edge and an innate marginality himself, an emotional transparency, that combine to give his Damien memorable authenticity and life.

    We seem to be plunged into lurid sociology in the murky grimness of the opening sequence, where Nina (Judith Chemla) struggles from day to day living on the streets of Paris with her child, Enzo (de Malglaive). One evening she is forcibly rescued by social services that take her and the boy to a shelter at Versailles, of all places, near the palace of Louis XIV, the "Sun King." Instead of making it back to Paris the next day she wanders into a wood and they encounter Damien (Depardieu), living in a rough "hut" (cabane) he may have thrown together himself. He's ravaged looking, but lean, young, strong, and resourceful. He seems to always have cigarettes, and mostly food of some kind, and a wood fire to stay warm and cook by. Damien has little use for either Enzo or Nina, but he lets them stay a few nights, and one evening after Enzo's asleep, he and Nina find each other. Then she disappears leaving a note, and Damien's stuck with Enzo.

    This gesture may seem a tragedy and a crime, but may also be Nina's only hope. She knows Damien can be trusted. She locates earth-mother-ish Mme Herchel (Brigitte Sy), the woman from her first night in Versailles, who had promised her work. This gesture may seem a tragedy and a crime, but may also be Nina's only hope. She knows Damien can be trusted. She locates earth-mother-ish Mme Herchel (Brigitte Sy), the woman from her first night in Versailles, who had promised her work. Enzo is dirty and tired and frequently hungry, but he knows no other life. He gloms onto Damien, and Damien feeds, bathes, and protects him. There's a little group of squatters who've staked out territory in the wood, and their bonds are strong, as we see when one of them dies.

    Nina learns to care for old people under the protection of Mme Hershel. When she's made some progress she goes back to the wood. The hut is gone, burned down, not a trace left. Nina is devastated and seems to fall back into homelessness, there and then.

    When winter comes full on, Damien turns up at the house of his hostile father, Jean-Jacques (Patrick Deschamps), who now has a young wife, Nadine (Aure Atika). Damien's been given some money and offers it to pay for lodging, but there's no trust because he has been a drug addict. The argument ends anyway when Enzo waltzes right past them toward the house. Nadine takes to him. Damien gets a job in construction. Enzo adjusts poorly to bourgeois life and begs to go back to the hut, but Damien tells him that's over.

    The film is most obvious but still authentically French in its constant assertion of the "republic's" overstructured system of loyalties and duties which provides extensively for the misbegotten by US standards, but still is letting more and more people slip under its protective radar. Damien reluctantly follows Jean-Jacques' suggestion and acknowledges Enzo as his son so the boy will have legal status and can go to school. But once this "rebirth" is celebrated, Damien's commitment to work and stability seems to vanish.

    A brief epilogue shows Enzo seven years later, acclimated and schooled and living with Jean-Jacques and Nadine, but still remote and struggling when his mother turns up.

    This is the directorial debut of Pierre Schoeller, a screenwriter for fifteen years. The film, which debuted in the "Un Certain Regard" series at Cannes, opened in Paris August 19 to generally good but not great reviews. It has a kind of poignancy given French cinema's loss of the talented, doomed Guillaume Depardieu, and it's hard to watch him struggling to breathe in an outdoor winter sequence knowing that he died of pneumonia two months after the film's release. With this role (as well as Rivette's Duchess of Langeais and Verheyde's Stella, just to name recent appearances), it's clear that with Guillaume's passing we lost greatness. Versailles was shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, in March 2009, as was Verheyde's Stella.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-05-2021 at 07:43 PM.

  4. #19
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    Jealous obsession in a beautiful, ice-cold landscape

    Though well received in Venice and praised upon its theatrical release in Paris, this was the FSLC 2009 Rendez-Vous series' "most problematic movie," according to the NYTimes' Stephen Holden. He describes it as "a a portrait of female jealousy run amok in which Dominique Blanc plays a toxic control freak with Bette Davis eyes." May we guess why Holden calls this "problematic"? Surely just because this transcendently self-absorbed character strains the patience to the breaking point well before the film's 97 minutes are up.

    It's a film that's gorgeous to look at, and a star turn Dominique Blanc might have found impossible to pass up. The 52-year-old Blanc's a veteran who's appeared in some films seen in America: Chereau's Queen Margot and Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train and Lucas Belvaux's trilogy. She plays Leo DiCaprio's Rimbaud's mother in Total Eclipse. Her appearance in a Bernard/Trividic film realizes their long-time wish and hers too. Whether this was the ideal occasion is another question.

    Anne-Marie, Blanc's 47-year-old character, divorced after an 18-year marriage, tells her pleasant and presentable younger black boyfriend Alex (Cyril Guei) that she wants to be independent. She values her freedom now, she says. No more marriage-like arrangements for her. She wants him to know that, not get any ideas about their moving in together. But the minute Alex gets involved with another woman and reveals he plans to move in with her, Marie-Louise goes into a tail-spin. She immediately interrogates him about the other lady. He protects her, not revealing anything at first. He and Anne-Marie still meet, though less often. He finally lets out that the new girlfriend is a teacher at the Faculty of History who did a doctoral thesis on the Chaldeans. And then he admits that she lives on a certain chic Paris street. What upsets Anne-Marie the most is that Alex's new girlfriend isn't a "girl" at all, but the same age as herself. This makes her think Alex's attraction to her was sort of generic. It wasn't just her. He just has a thing for older women.

    With these bits of information Anne-Marie does Internet searches and begins calling phone numbers. She leaves obscene phone messages. But she remains only a virtual stalker, because she never really lands her prey for sure.

    Anne-Marie is shown as a social worker, though rather sketchily. She has a woman confidante, and stages a reunion with an older man, Lars (Peter Bonke), who's a former lover. She takes refuge in him and seeks his help in further researching her stalking project, and then after making a wish for her rival to die realizes how selfish she's been when she finds out Lars is seriously ill and she ought to have been praying for his health instead.

    Anne-Marie lives in one of the sleek but rather soulless "Nouvelles Villes" Paris suburbs depicted in several of Eric Rohmer's films, and we constantly see her training back and forth from there to the center and rambling through a glitzy mall, or hanging out in glassed-in office spaces or shadowy modernistic bars. (Only once we see an open square of the housing area that shows their bright cheery side, which we see in Rohmer's films such as Full Moon in Paris and Boyfriends and Girlfriends). The surroundings are cold but beautiful as photographed in rich dark shots inspired in part by Michaal Mann, according to the directors--perhaps they're thinking of Mann's Collateral's lush digital images of L.A. But when they went on to say at the IFC Center Q&A that the vision of urban emptiness was already set up by Antonioni, the leap from the great Italian to the Hollywood neo-noir guy seemed a bit facile. I wondered whether films like Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels might have been a visual influence. Or even the Assayas of demonlover. But the Bernard/Trividic insistence that dark urban landscapes must be exclusively cold and alienating seems narrow and doctrinaire, and their restricting Anne-Marie exclusively to such landscapes seems forced.

    The portly, bald Bernard and Trividic, who in person are hard to tell apart, insisted that Anne-Marie isn't ever "crazy" in the film. And indeed Blanc's measured performance can be taken as bearing this out. However, her state seems more notional than real, perhaps ultimately incomprehensible. The way she repeatedly sees her own image appear in mirrors and in passing trains, smashes her "Cyberbox" home surveillance device with a hammer, and eventually does herself serious harm, all seem excellent evidence of derangement. There is a symbolic use of fluids--rain, tears, whiskey, wine--though that seems tacked on. The trouble ultimately is that in their adaptation of Annie Emaux's novel L'Occupation the directors have greatly expanded the alienating external surroundings while allowing the interior of their main character--as well as her motivations--largely to go missing. One of the directors focuses on screenplay, the other on the visuals and tech aspects, they said. Maybe they ought to get together more. The beauty of the images indicates that their films may yet be worth watching; that the directors have a strong sense of style.

    L'Autre opened February 4, 2009 in France to some excellent reviews. It had been nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, where Blanc received the Volpi Best Actress award. Shown in March 2009 as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-20-2009 at 01:38 AM.

  5. #20
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    The French film website ALLOCINE' summarizes film reviews like Metacritic or Rottentomatoes. Below are the French critical rankings of the Rendez-Vous 2009 films as based on their Allocine totals:

    35 SHOTS OF RUM (CLAIRE DENIS 2008) 59
    GIRL ON THE TRAIN, THE (ANDRE TECHINE 2009) [March 18 release] 52

    Not yet ranked:
    VILLA AMALIA (BENOIT JACQUOT 2009) April 8 release


    [The three top ranked films of March 2009]
    MILK 93


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2009 at 12:56 PM.

  6. #21
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    (I'm including this, shown at BAMcinematek as a kind of sequel to their "Garrel Generation" series, because it's a new and choice French film introduced in Paris at the "rentree" September 17th last year. It's not part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2009 series at Lincoln Center but it might otherwise have been.)

    Classy Paris lycee as royal court; teenage love as tragic drama

    For a TV film, Christophe Honore's La Belle personne is elegant and allusive. It's a rethinking of Madame de Lafayette's' 17th-century classic La Princesse de Cleves for Paris lycee classroom and courtyard--which may make you think of the way de Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons was adapted to an American high school in Roger Kumble's 1999 Cruel Intentions. Honore makes use of the fact that the good looks of youth confer a kind of nobility, high school cliques resemble court life, and teenage machinations aren't far from royal plots. The "beautiful person" (a phrase from the book) is any youth from a good family in a fashionable school. The director features Louis Garrel, himself clearly a "beautiful person," for a fourth time. The way he slips in appearances by Clotilde Hesme and Chiara Mastroianni and a tragic main role for Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, all from the director's musical film Love Songs, with one song included, makes you feel like the director is playing off his own company of players. As the self-centered seducer Nemours, Garrel, himself part of a French cinematic dynasty (his father and grandfather are both film icons), gets movie royalty for his love interest. Lea Seydoux, who plays the central female, lycee newcomer Junie, is a direct descendant of scions of the two great houses of French cinema, Gaumont and Pathe. Garrel is dreamier than Truffaut's alter ego Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud). More than ever he seems Honore's muse, his classic young Parisian boulevardier, flaneur, seducer. It's s all beginning to seem at bit inbred (but what genes!). On top of that former Cahiers du Cinema writer Honore, not surprisingly, as before, slips in illusions to the Nouvelle Vague, especially Godard.

    If this sounds interesting, even classic, but emotionally a bit uninvolving, that's pretty much true. There's some titillation (but not much sex), long kisses, and a chance to look up close at beautiful boy and girl faces. For complication, as before with Honore, a gay affair is woven in as if it were the most natural thing in the world (though this time there is also a great effort to hide it). But while the director's Dans Paris lurched back and forth between hilarity (embodied in Louis Garrel) and deep melancholy (hovering over Romain Duris) and in Love Songs a sudden death clouded everyone else's life, this time the teenage passions, ostensibly mortal, feel more superficial, and Nemours, who is involved with a woman teacher and a girl student at the film's start, barely shows a flicker of concern about his multiple affairs and broken hearts apart from the worry that they might get too messy. So the film may be a pleasure to look at; it may even provide the vicarious pleasure of imagining life at a snooty Paris high school; but the sweetness and sublime gloom of Love Songs and Dans Paris are now more fleeting and peripheral, replaced by machinations it's somewhat difficult to keep track of.

    When Junie arrives at mid-term, her life disrupted due to the death of her mother, all eyes turn toward her sultry pout. One boy snaps photos of her. Nemours, not so much older than his charges, ostensibly teaches them Italian--not very seriously, it seems. This school lacks the ghetto intensity shown in Cantet's The Class or the elite-school rigor of Verheyde's Stella. Nemours purveys Italian by setting up a field trip to Italy (which falls through), having pop song lyrics read and translated, and allowing a student to play a record of Callas singing Lucia, causing him and Junie to fall for each other when Junie weeps and rushes out, leaving behind her photo-portrait for Nemours to grab and stash away.

    Then comes the misplaced love-note, which gets very complicated, and leads to a revelation at a Metro stop about boys loving boys. Otto feels betrayed, though on the basis of another boy's mistaken observation. Why does Junie give him a children's book called Otto? Why does he wear a big sheepskin coat all the time, while the other kids wear lighter, hipper outfits, and Nemours' ensembles are like Hedi Slimane, only better? There are bits of guys playing basketball, scenes in a local cafe with a tough, motherly patronne; and the flashbacks have an appealingly blurry Nouvelle Vague look. We are talking style over substance here, but not exclusively. As in Dangerous Liaisons, those who suffer elegantly stil suffer. And Honore's relatively weak grasp on what happens in the classroom can't detract from his ability to convey with some vitality the snippy-chic atmosphere in the hallways, and the quick devastation of a teen romance gone wrong (the original Princesse de Cleves, by the way, was fifteen).

    Thanks to Alex Beaupain's songs and a well-structured sequence of scenes built around them, Honore's Love Songs captured a bittersweet melancholy that perfectly fit the gray winter season in the Bastille quarter of Paris where it was set. This time the director has created a different atmosphere, lighter and noisier--but emotionally less engaging. But he has by no means lost touch with his Parisian milieu or his cast of attractive people. This is still a film that will be worth seeing again. Some of it flits by too fast to take in the first time.

    The Princesse goes into a convent and dies at a young age. June instead withdraws from the lycee and goes on a long trip to a warm place. Otto has a more dramatic and sudden end than M. de Cleves, his counterpart in the novel. Working on the adaptation with Gilles Taurand (who wrote Techine's excellent Strayed), Honore has shown a light touch and is working in a consistent vein that is ever more Parisian and urbane, ever more "Dans Paris."

    Except for "Comme la pluie" sung by Otto (Leprince-Riinguet), this film has no songs by Honore's Love Songs collaborator, Alex Beaupain. Instead it is peppered with musical numbers and the songs of Nick Drake. Not part of the Rendez-Vous, though it might have been, La Belle personne opened theatrically at BAMcinematek March 6 as kind of followup of a 2007 series there called "Generation Garrel," which provided a sneak preview of Dans Paris. La Belle personne has been bought for US distribution by IFC Films. It played in the London and San Sebastian film festivals.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-23-2009 at 12:31 PM.

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