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Thread: SFFS French Cinema Now Seeries, Oct 8-Nov 3, 2010

  1. #1
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    SFFS French Cinema Now Seeries, Oct 28-Nov 3, 2010

    The San Francisco Film Society French Cinema Now series
    Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2010

    Index to links to my reviews:

    Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami 2010)
    Copacabana (Marc Fitoussi 2009)
    Princess of Montpensier, The (Bertrand Tavernier 2010)
    Rapt (Lucas Belvaux 2009)
    Real Life, A (Sarah Leonor 2009)
    Two in the Wave (Emmanuel Laurent 2009)

    General Forum notification and discussion thread for this series here.

    Following is the schedule (with festival blurbs) of the SFFS French film series, which shows at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinemas in San Francisco at the times given below. I've already reviewed three of these films (see links) and plan to be reviewing some others, including Copocabana, A Real Life, and The Princess of Monpensier.

    Marc Fitoussi (France 2010)
    Thursday, October 28, 6:45 pm & Friday, October 29, 9:30 pm
    -- New Filmleaf review.
    Isabelle Huppert reaffirms her status as one of cinema’s most indispensable actresses. She plays the flighty, strong-willed Elizabeth (“Babou” to her friends), who lives with her more conservative daughter Esmeralda in the north of France. When the latter announces that Elizabeth is not invited to her upcoming wedding, mom decamps for the coast of Belgium in order to prove to her child that she can live a “normal” life. There, her gregarious but no-nonsense nature brings her in contact with friendly locals, a homeless couple traveling rough and an increasingly jealous cadre of coworkers. Marc Fitoussi’s charming script refuses to point fingers, presenting mother and daughter as the flawed people they both are. Adding additional cinephiliac frisson to the scenario is the fact that Lolita Chammah, who plays Esmeralda, is Huppert’s real-life child. Written by Marc Fitoussi. Photographed by Hélène Louvart. With Isabelle Huppert, Aure Atika, Lolita Chammah, Jurgen Delnaet, Chantal Banlier (107 min, Kinology).

    Lucas Belvaux (France 2009)Thursday, October 28, 9:30 pm & Monday, November 1, 9:15 pm -- seen and reviewed.
    With his newest work, director Lucas Belvaux continues his interest in using the thriller genre to explore issues of class and society. Based on the real-life 1978 kidnapping of wealthy playboy Edouard-Jean Empain, Rapt stars Yvan Attal as Stanislas Graff, a wildly successful but self-centered and arrogant CEO abducted by a brutal group who want €50 million for his return. As investigators move in on the case and uncover Graff’s various debts and affairs, his family and business partners become increasingly embarrassed and upset. So much so, in fact, that they decide they’d rather not pay the ransom, a decision which takes the film into highly original and divergent territory. Attal is mesmerizing, taking his character through wrenching emotional and physical shifts, supported by stellar work from Anne Consigny and Claire Denis regular Alex Descas. Thought-provoking on many different levels, Rapt offers genre entertainment with brains and style. Written by Lucas Belvaux. Photographed by Pierre Milon. With Yvan Attal, Anne Consigny, André Marcon, Françoise Fabian (125 min, Films Distribution).

    Éléonore Faucher (Gamines, France 2009)
    Saturday, October 30, 3:45 pm & Sunday, October 31, 6:45 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Based on Sylvie Testud’s autobiographical novel, this elegiac film tells the story of three sisters and their overwhelming longing for their absent father. Growing up in 1970s Lyon with their Italian mother, the siblings overhear discussions about and find pictures of this mysterious parent, but are kept away from him. Rumors of inappropriate behavior and excessive drinking dog his reputation, but the Mercier girls—especially pale, freckled middle-child Sibylle, who is constantly referred to as her dad’s spitting image—still obsess and muse about his interests and appearance. Telescoping the action between two pivotal time periods—a summer in early adolescence and 30 years later when the girls are young adults (with Testud playing her alter ego Sibylle)—writer/director Éléonore Faucher (Sequins, SFIFF 2005) depicts a warm yet unsentimental portrait of a closely knit clan who nevertheless remain mysterious to each other and sometimes to themselves. Written by Éléonore Faucher. Photographed by Pierre Cottereau. With Amira Casar, Sylvie Testud, Jean-Pierre Martins, Marc Barbé, Lubna Azabal (107 min, TF1 International).

    Alain Cavalier (France 2009)
    Friday, October 29, 5:00 pm & Saturday, October 30, 1:45 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Alain Cavalier’s moving, intimate film is resolutely small-scale, recorded by the director himself using a small digital camera. With a diarist’s sensibility, he revisits the components, both ecstatic and painful, of his first marriage, a relationship abruptly ended by his wife’s fatal car accident in 1972. Finding her resemblance in a Manet painting or brought to reminisce by a ruffled duvet, a heart-shaped rock or a particular journal entry, the filmmaker delineates their life together, touchingly parsing his deep love for his troubled wife. In addition to his very personal and idiosyncratic dive into the past—making “a whole film on a person vanished,” as he puts it—Cavalier explores his present-day circumstances and its limitations brought on by age and illness, including gout and an escalator accident. Steering clearly away from pity or hagiography toward its subjects, Irène is a sublime thought piece on memory and marriage. Photographed by Alain Cavalier (85 min, Pyramide International).

    Love Like Poison
    Katell Quillévéré (Un poison violent, France 2010)
    Friday, October 29, 7:00 pm & Sunday, October 31, 9:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    A young girl’s confirmation provides the staging ground for issues of faith and sexuality in Katell Quillévéré’s assured debut feature. Young Anna lives in the Breton countryside with her devout mother and three grandparents, one of whom is bedridden. These adults, along with her nonreligious father and the parish priest, offer new and often-conflicting world views and words of advice to the confused teenager. Her burgeoning relationship with a neighborhood boy unveils additional unexplored territory. Compactly and fluidly shifting between these various characters as Anna pinballs uneasily among them, the film demonstrates the challenges of life at all ages, particularly heightened in adolescence. Augmented by a haunting score and lush outdoor locations, Love Like Poison attains a rapturous tone that makes it one of the more remarkable coming-of-age tales of recent years. Great performances abound, including newcomer Clara Augarde as Anna and esteemed comic actor Michel Galabru as her earthy grandfather. Written by Mariette Désert, Katell Quillévéré. Photographed by Tom Harari. With Clara Augarde, Lio, Michel Galabru, Stefano Cassetti, Thierry Neuvic (92 min, Films Distribution).

    The Princess of Menpensier
    Bertrand Tavernier (La Princesse de Montpensier, France 2010)
    Saturday, October 30, 6:30 pm & Sunday, October 31, 3:45 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Celebrated filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier’s latest is a sweeping drama of love and conflict set in the 16th century during France’s Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants. In a calculated strategic move by her father, Marie de Mézières, who has sworn young love to the dashing duc de Guise, is given in marriage to the prince of Montpensier, who rides off into battle soon after the wedding. The duc d’Anjou, heir to the throne, and the comte de Chabannes, a Prostestant deserter who is left to tutor Marie while her husband is away, are also drawn into the orbit of Marie’s magnetic beauty and intelligence, complicating both her and their own struggles with wealth, duty, stature and power. With realistically bloody battle scenes, a handsome cast of experienced pros and newcomers and a keen understanding of the intermingling of personal and political, Tavernier’s take on the costume romance feels at once true to its time and bracingly original. Written by Jean Cosmos, François-Olivier Rousseau, Bertrand Tavernier. Photographed by Bruno de Keyzer. With Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Gaspard Ulliel (139 min, IFC Films).

    A Real Life
    Sarah Leonor (Au voleur, France 2009)]
    Saturday, October 30, 9:30 pm & Tuesday, November 2, 6:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    In this assured and visually compelling film, Guillaume Depardieu (in one of his final film roles) brings all of his scruffy charm to the character of Bruno, a small-time criminal living among a group of motley thieves. He encounters Isabelle (Florence Loiret-Caille), a German teacher, just after she’s been hit by a car. They meet again and become lovers. As the cops close in on Bruno, the couple takes to the woods and the film shifts from small-town portrait to romantic-pastoral idyll. It’s a tricky gambit, but writer/director Sarah Leonor pulls it off with aplomb. The first section uses very little music or extraneous details, paring Bruno’s and Isabelle’s lives to their essentials. The latter half is lighter and funnier with strange songs and beautiful countryside forming the backdrop to their languorous days. The puzzle of which environment is better—more "real"—is one of the tantalizing questions posed by this assured and visually compelling work. Written by Sarah Leonor, Emmanuelle Jacob. Photographed by Laurent Desmet. With Guillaume Depardieu, Florence Loiret-Caille (96 min, EastWest Film Distribution).

    Two in the Wave
    Emmanuel Laurent (Deux de la vague, France 2009)
    Sunday, October 31, 1:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema
    -- seen and reviewed.
    In 1959, Cannes screens The 400 Blows; in 1960, Breathless is released. The French New Wave is born and cinema is forever changed. With witty narration and in-depth knowledge of its subject, this informative and entertaining documentary covers the early careers of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, their close friendship borne out of their mutual love of film and their relationship’s eventual sundering. Film critic and former Cahiers du Cinema editor Antoine de Baecque’s script covers the filmmakers’ different biographical backgrounds; comradeship over mutual appreciation of particular directors; early short films; and subsequent peaks and valleys in their careers. Those who are familiar with the lives and work of the directors will appreciate the access to rare photos, magazines, interviews and film excerpts while those new to the story will appreciate the informative presentation. Actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, who worked frequently with both directors, also looms large in the tale, serving as the beloved child of two warring, impassioned parents. Written by Antoine de Baecque. Photographed by Etienne de Grammont, Nicholas de Pencier. With Isild Le Besco (93 min, Kino Lorber).

    Hidden Diary
    Julie Lopes-Curval (Mères et filles, France 2009)
    Monday, November 1, 6:30 pm & Tuesday, November 2, 9:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Past secrets irrevocably impact present relationships in Julie Lopes-Curval’s moving and graceful drama. Audrey (Marina Hands) returns to France to visit her aging parents at a critical juncture in her life. Her fraught relationship with her mother (Catherine Deneuve at her chilly best) leads Audrey to move into the abandoned house of her grandfather. There, she discovers a book of recipes and journal entries written by her grandmother, notes that reflect the circumscribed life of a married woman in a small town during the 1950s. As Audrey delves deeper, she comes to a greater understanding of her grandmother’s predicament, her mother’s anger and feelings of betrayal and her own life choices. With terrific performances and a keen eye for visual detail, including flashbacks based on Audrey’s reading of the diary, the film gradually, and with increasing emotional resonance, uncovers the layers of its three complex and conflicted female protagonists. Written by Julie Lopes-Curval, Sophie Hiet. Photographed by Philippe Guilbert. With Catherine Deneuve, Marina Hands, Marie-Josée Croze, Michel Duchaussoy (105 min, BAC Films).

    Certified Copy
    Abbas Kiarostami [Closing Night]
    Wednesday, November 3, 7:00 & 9:15 pm
    -- seen and reviewed.
    Playing with representations of authenticity and facsimile, master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami creates this gorgeous puzzle about a man and a woman’s travels through Tuscany. He is a British writer named James Miller, in Italy to promote his new book, and she has appointed herself as his tour guide. Miller’s essay—and this film—proposes that a copy has an inherent value that is separate from the original work. The two characters discuss this thesis along with related matters concerning art, nature and marriage, with issues of communication and language differences occupying the background. Kiarostami even playfully mimics himself during the couple’s long journey, using the windshield’s reflections of sun-burnished Tuscan buildings to refract the pair’s conversation. As the unnamed woman, Juliette Binoche’s wonderfully humane approach complements the film’s more formal pursuits and deservedly garnered the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her efforts. In English, French and Italian with English subtitles. Written by Abbas Kiarostami. Photographed by Luca Bigazzi. With Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière (106 min, IFC Films).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 03:55 PM.

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    Marc Fitoussi: COPACABANA (2010)


    Lolita Charmah and Isabelle Huppert in Copacabana

    Downmarket Huppert

    Fitoussi's second feature Copacabana sets its tone in the opening credits when a Brazilian song plays while the camera pans over a succession of ugly city house facades. It's Tourcoing, a town in northern France. This is where Elizabeth, AKA Babou (Isabelle Huppert) has wound up in her aimless life as a single mom who refuses to grow up. The music is her dream, while the facades are her reality. Her more serious daughter Esméralda (Huppert's real-life fille, Lolita Chammah) is finishing school and about to marry. Esmé is more than eager to settle down and escape Babou's self-indulgent wanderings from country to country. In opening scenes Babou misses a job interview, wears tastelessly youthful clothes and makeup, hangs out with a male her age whose love she rebuffs. Her near-caricature behavior at first makes you think, wow! because Huppert, the glamorous star, is so unlike her usual screen persona. But the film has little momentum at this point. Finally the action gets a push when she finds out Esmé does not want her at the wedding. Stung, and becoming a little more like a real person, Babou sets out to prove her reliability by taking a job selling beach-front apartment time-shares in Ostend, Belgium, and adventures follow. Most of the action from then on is set in Ostend.

    Huppert is always interesting to watch, but her mere presence is really far stronger than this lightweight, initially sluggish little film, which winds up being a not-very-convincing feel-good comedy. Babou's flouting of society's stern rules, dramatically set off by the grim winter scenes of the gray and soulless Belgian resort and the harsh rules for entry-level time-share salespeople, eventually leads, after a brief period of outdoing her competition, to yet another failure. But her careless risk-taking after that is rewarded with surprising financial success, accompanied by acceptance, if wistful and temporary, by her daughter. Babou gets to attend Esmé's wedding after all -- and show off at it. What is Fitoussi trying to sell us? That there's still a warm place in French hearts for the "baba-cool," the aging hippie type? If so he might have delivered this message through more believable events.

    Due to the generally strong acting various characters come to life, but still the thin action barely does. Partly this comes from the fact that Babou, whose point of view is central, takes nothing seriously. Huppert's usual elegant, ice-queen mode has been dropped. Babou isn't elegant. Her clothes are barely acceptable, her hair's a mess, and she's too busy scrambling to cover her mistakes to be haughty. The indifference remains. Success or failure, she keeps her wacky attitude and focus on the next fun time. But if she doesn't care, why should we?

    Babou models a degree of cheek that might serve her well had she the ability to stick to any project. When she's set to the job of luring tourists to the time-shares office, she runs circles around her fiercest rival and unwilling roommate Irene (Chantal Banlier), a dumpy and mean-spirited lady with a solid background in real estate but no clue about soliciting on the street. Babou brings in lots of potential clients and wins the confidence of her cutthroat superior Lydie (Aure Atika of The Beat My Heart Skipped) and is promoted to regular salesperson at a much higher salary.

    Babou's happy to have sex with a dock worker, Bart (Jurgen Delnae), whom she meets in a restaurant. But she's blatant about only wanting sex, and when he gets romantic she rebuffs that. Her indifference to his warmth as a person and her declaration that she is going to save for a move to Rio make him summarily dump her. Meanwhile she's letting a couple of young penniless drifters she finds on the beach sleep in one of the empty time-shares. When she guilelessly admits this while sharing one of their joints with Lydie, her upward march in holiday real estate is over.

    The trouble is in the writing, not the acting, though Chammah hardly seems up to her mom's standard. The dry depiction of Babou's iffy Ostend career provides amusement, but there is no urgency about any of it. The ostensible central theme of reversed parent-child roles can't develop very well with Esmé and Babou most of the time located in different countries. And Fitoussi is fond of too-easy resolutions. Esmé comes to visit but is repelled when Babou has the two drifters join them at a fancy restaurant and fawns on them. Babou resolves this by making a quick trip to Tourcoing and immediately reconciling Esmé and her fiance after they've had a spat.

    Copacabana deserves some credit for its knowing treatment of the borderline between blue collar and white. It shows different work situations and social levels non-judgmentally, and minor characters are believable and economically delineated. But wit and a sense of urgency are lacking.

    Huppert's stubborn, steely, wrong-headed women are rarely appealing and never warm. But they inspire awe because of the elegance and panache she brings to them. Yes, she is French cinematic royalty. She has done sublime work for the likes of Tavernier, Chabrol, Haneke, Chéreau, Assayas, and Jacquot. But there are also examples to show she cannot save a bad movie -- or turn around a less-than-satisfying one like Claire Denis' recent White Material.

    Such is the case with Copacabana, which is a new wrinkle but a gambit that doesn't quite pay off. The film's focus on marginality is timely, were there only a more realistic sense of the dangers of economic disaster, as in Xabia Molia's recent debut, 8 Times Up/Huit fois debout. But dare one say it? An actress who's warmer and less brittle might have given this role the three-dimensionality and humanity it needed.

    Copacabana debuted at Cannes in May and opened theatrically in France July 7, 2010, receiving generally very enthusiastic reviews but with some strong dissenters. My sympathies are with the dissenters. Seen and reviewed as part of the French Cinema Now series of the San Francisco Film Society in Oct. 2010, where it was the Opening Night film, Oct. 28.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 03:58 PM.

  3. #3
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    Sarah Leonor: A REAL LIFE (2009)



    Shifty eyes, smooth performance

    Sarah Leonor's first feature A Real Life (its French title is Au voleur, "Thief!") has an agreeably peculiar first half that centers upon a run down complex of workshops, garages, and housing where three generations of thieves are to be found. Senior is Manu (iconic gay filmmaker Jacques Nolot), just out after a sentence for bank robbery. Junior is Ali (rapper Rabah Naït Oufella of The Class), an Arab youth who handles a soccer ball smoothly and moves stolen goods. In the middle, shambling around on screen most of the time is the tall, skinny Bruno (Guillaume Depardieu), with his expressive eyes and bum leg, nicking a wrist watch off a woman knocked down by a car, and later stealing another car. The woman, a part-time German teacher, Isabelle (a relaxed Florence Loiret-Caille), views him as her savior, since he was the first over her semi-conscious body, and she is looking for him and drawn to him.

    They become lovers. When the cops come looking for Bruno because of the stolen car Isabelle tips him off and flees with him, and the second half of the film is their flight, a Badlands, Bonnie and Clyde love-on-the-run tale French style, which, unfortunately, means a limited and tame version of what has so much energy and excitement in the Penn and Malick versions. Some French critics have felt this risky change of mode works; others, that the film has admirable ambition it doesn't quite live up to. It hardly matters because Guillaume Depardieu is increasingly fascinating in the last films of his tragically short career. Awarded the César for Most Promising Actor at 25 in 1996, he was dead at 37 in 2008, and this was his penultimate screen appearance. Stella and Versailles (the latter gaining him a Best Actor César nomination) were other notable late efforts.

    Depardieu led a life that brought him close to the scruffy, doomed figures of his final roles. He was overshadowed by his famous father but Gérard often brought him on set when he was very young and gave him small roles. So much for the acting silver spoon: he was imprisoned in his teens for heroin trafficking. But he still had his first great role at 20 opposite his father in Alain Corneau's All the Mornings of the World, the costume biopic of a great 17th-century French composer. In 1995, at 24, he suffered a serious knee injury in a motorcycle accident and contracted an infection in the hospital that led to the amputation of his leg eight years later and his death of pneumonia 13 years later. Guillaume established a foundation to battle hospital-acquired illnesses. His ravaged face is also youthful. His manner is both haunted and playful. Guillaume Depardieu is arresting as Bruno, furtive and alive. The camera loves his face, though not for the usual reasons.

    In Sylvie Verheyde's excellent 2008 Stella, the portrait of a working class restaurant girl who goes to a prestigious Paris school, Guillaume, a denizen of the bar Stella's parents run, is a mentor for her. It's a small but key role in which he's convincing and appealing. He fits equally well into the role of a homeless man in Versailles who's saddled with a harried young woman's small child. The actor is also remembered for Pierre Salvadori's 1995 black comedy Les apprentis, Leos Carax's 1999 Pola X, in which he stars; and, of course, the Balzac adaptation, The Duchess of Langeais. Rivette's 2007 film was much admired by art house filmgoers in the US. Guillaume is cast in it as the would-be lover, Armand de Montriveau, a role he plays with a kind of stiffness that fits the slow, ceremonial pace of the film. His Montriveau is full of noble hopelessness. But he seems more at home as a fugitive or lost soul.

    Sarah Leonor's debut is promising for the way it breathes, and for its unexpected rhythms, its use of actors' bodies and faces. Depardieu's shambling walk defines him as a defiant misfit. It is a pleasure to watch Jacque Nolot's sensual and elegant handling of a cigarette (you get to see him constantly doing it in his semi-autobiographical 2007 Avant que j'oublie). When Nolot smokes, it's an ironic microcosm of French culture, smooth, rueful, knowing. Watch Depardieu's eyes as he stands beside a bourgeois BMW owner in an elevator and very delicately steals his car keys. Or Rabah Oufella's sullen stare as he waits in the police station for his comrades to spill the beans. "Assured debut" is a festival blurb cliché, but moments like this justify it for Au voleur.

    Sarah Leonor was formerly known as Sarah Petit, the credit name for her short films. A Real Life/Au voleur opened theatrically in France September 7, 2009 to limited but favorable reviews. It has been shown at many festivals internationally. Seen and reviewed as part of the French Cinema Now series of the San Francisco Film Society, showing Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, 2010.

    Guillaume Depardieu, Florence Loiret-Caille
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-07-2015 at 12:14 PM.

  4. #4
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    Lucas Belvaux: RAPT (2009)


    Yvan Attal (left) in Rapt

    The prison of release, the illusion of trust, ironies within ironies

    The Belgian-born Lucas Belvaux, who began his career by running away to Paris and becoming an actor, has over 46 TV and film acting credits and is in the cast most recently of Robert Guérdiguian's Army of Crime. As a director he's best known for his "Trilogy," three films with interlocking stories and characters, each filmed in a different genre. Cavale/On the Run is a policier, or thriller; Un couple épatant/A Terrific Couple is a comedy; Après la vie/After Life is a melodrama. For this now-famous project Belvaux won the Prix Louis-Delluc in 2003.

    Rapt is a thriller, and an elegant-looking and beautifully made one that is both breathtaking and thought-provoking. It stars a riveting Yvan Attal, a hot actor this year who also stars in another high-energy 2010 French film, Cédric Kahn's amour fou tale, Regrets. Through the course of Rapt one is drawn into a closer and closer identification with Attal's character and his complex, disturbing, very modern fate.

    The English word rapt of the title, used for this French-language film, carries with it a hint of shock. It's meant in its basic sense of transported, carried away. It sounds like "raped." It's more arresting and harsh than the French word for kidnapping, enlevé. The subject is just that, the kidnapping of a rich and powerful corporate head so high up he deals directly with officials of the French government on a day-to-day basis. At first the movie promises to be a conventional thriller: rich guy held for ransom, bargaining, tension, threats -- and the diminutive, swarthy Attal doesn't seem totally convincing as Stanislas Graff, a mover and shaker of the French establishment. What's he running around about? The rapid sequence of opening scenes also fails to define fully who exactly Graff is, whether government or business. His being constantly called "Président" throughout may confuse us as American viewers. But it doesn't hurt the film too much for his identity to be somewhat generic.

    This is because once Graff is captured things become much more convincing, and after (spoiler!) he's released, things become interesting and surprising. Rapt is another stunning example, like Guillaume Canet's 2006 star-studded version of the Harlen Coben novel Tell No One, that the French now can do American thrillers better than Hollywood, giving a spin to them that's both classic and fresh. Belvaux's ingenious film succeeds very economically -- without wasted expense on explosions or special effects -- both as an intense nail biter and a tale that reaches for the philosophical and heroic. The kidnapping of Stnaslas Graff is seen as a primal trauma that irrevocably alters his life, his family, his company, perhaps his culture. Nothing can be done to right the changes this act has wrought, and nothing can ever be the same in Graff's world again.

    He's someone very high up, someone very powerful, and someone those closest to him hardly know. Graff's chauffeur-driven car is stopped, he's carried off, and very rapidly hidden away, terrified, humiliated, hurt, and mutilated. A finger is sent off to prove the kidnappers really have him. The confinement goes through stages. At first he's continually masked and not allowed to look in the face of the (also masked) guardians, and he must hover in a tiny tent inside what may be some vast abandoned prison complex. Later he's moved elsewhere, fed properly, talked to pleasantly, allowed to move around in a cell, and his chief kidnapper, still masked, lets him look. Meanwhile frantic activity goes on in Paris. The ransom demanded is 50 million euros. His family can't access his money. His company agrees to advance a sum, no more then 20 million. Later it goes higher.

    The police enter the picture massively, but against the wishes of the company and Graff's attorney, an elegant black man, Maître Walser (Alex Descas of 35 Shots of Rum, also in The Limits of Control). The rest is a story of warring forces and shifting loyalties, with female family members (Anne Consigny, Françoise Fabian, Sarah Messens as loyal mother and reproachful wife and daughter) tested by revelations of Graff's secret life, his gambling debuts at poker and the casino, his mistresses and posh glass hideaway above Paris. All this is in the magazines and tabloids. It's even suggested by people in the company and the police that Graff could have contrived the kidnapping to settle his debts. His influence at the company is seriously dented, and during the two months of his confinement, the interim CEO gains power. When it's all over, Graff has only his red setter to love him and to love. And yet there is a rebirth. But it may be illusory.

    The accomplishment of Rapt is to carry its story beyond the conventional climax into a kind of heroic struggle for identity and power, a drama of the essential loneliness of man and the dominance of image in the modern world. Some of the speeches in the last segment might come from a contemporary version of Corneille or Racine. Attal is remarkable, suffering, Christlike in confinement, also resembling the death mask of Marcel Proust; then reborn, fiery, but surrounded by confining police protectors and intimate betrayers of trust so his freedom seems anything but that and the real brutality may be in release, the real prisons wealth, power, and fame. But it's not that simple: Rapt isn't preachy or tendentious; it supplies you with a damn good time but leaves you pondering. It may be a better film than it seems, or even than its makers realized. In his famous "Trilogy" Belvaux played with genres. Here he uses a single genre to transcend genre. Like Cantet's Tell No One, this plays very well as a mainstream film, but is much more.

    (Based on the personal story of the 1978 kidnapping of the Belgian industrialist Baron Édouard-Jean Empain, whose testimony on TV struck Belvaux and inspired the film. A searing performance by Attal, who incidentally lost 20 kilos in two months for the role, taking him down to 106 pounds, what he weighted when he was 14. A strong cast, tight editing, striking camerawork by regular Belvaux cinematographer Pierre Milon, and an atmospheric score by pianist Riccardo Del Fra all add up to a highly polished package .)

    Rapt was released in Paris November 18, 2009 to very good reviews. No US release planned but Smuggler Films will do a Stateside remake. Shown in several US festivals including Seattle (May 2010) and the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center (March 2010). Now showing in the French Cinema Now series of the San Francisco Film Society, Thursday, October 28, 9:30 pm and Monday, November 1, 9:15 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema. This review appeared in slightly different form at the time of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-27-2012 at 12:58 AM.

  5. #5
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    Emmanuel Laurent: TWO IN THE WAVE (2009)



    When they were young and cinema was reborn

    Two in the Wave/Deux de la vague is a gossipy French documentary about Jean Luc Godard and Françcois Truffaut with lots of period footage, "making of" clips and interviews especially. The Wave of course is La Nouvelle Vague, the movie revolution of the Fifties and Sixties those two directors are famously associated with, when a group of smart, inventive young film nuts rejected the boring French "cinéma de qualité" of safe, high-minded, literary period films made by established filmmakers working in a conventional style with famous actors. Not a profound analysis of the movement or its varied contributors, this is more a quick overview of the New Wave's early days with a focus on the style and contributions of those two key figures and the rise and fall of their friendship. It declined after the upheavals of 1968 and ended sharply in 1973 when Godard dismissed Truffaut after a visit to the set of Day for Night as too unpolitical (and at the same time too right wing) and Truffaut wrote Godard a letter calling him a "sh-t director."

    The title's a bit of a misnomer, though. "Three in the Wave" would have been as good, since toward the end of the 90-minute film Jean-Pierre Léaud, Truffaut's alter ego as "Antoine Doinel" from his seminal 400 Blows on, becomes an almost equally important, if continually mysterious, figure. The documentary, seemingly out of material about Truffaut (dead since 1984) and Godard (whose films are little noticed since the Sixties -- despite his having one in the current Cannes Festival) shifts to Léaud and describes how his work for both directors kept him from losing himself too much in "Antoine Doinel." De Gaulle Culture Minister André Malraux also is featured -- both as a godfather -- he gave his blessing to The 400 Blows' winning Truffaut the 1959 Best Director Award* at Cannes, the New Wave's seminal moment, its first big success, and thus "representing France"-- and as a repressive force, when he tried to oust the French Cinématèque director Henri Langlois.

    The film chronicles how filmmakers, actors, and students demonstrated to save Langlois' position in February 1968, anticipating the revolutionary moment of Paris 1968 by three months. This action is a focus of Bertolucci's beautiful, if "clichéd and maladroit," 2003 evocation The Dreamers.

    A number of clips of Truffaut and Léaud show their close relationship, and there are more shots of Léaud at various stages of life than of any other person. The film ends with his screen test at 14, an image ab ovo, as it were, symbolizing the movement's eternal youth, as do a number of bright new-looking clips of Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. Nothing earthshaking here, no new discoveries, but a good introduction, the sort of thing a teacher could use in a film survey to introduce the class to French mid-century cinema. Particularly relevant to such an audience would be the way this film outlines the New Wave/Cahiers du Cinéma crowd's debt to older directors like Nicolas Ray, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock (whom Truffaut did a book of interviews on), Fritz Lang (interviewed by Godard here), and so on. But deep research and searching analysis of stylistic and intellectual differences that may have existed from the start are lacking in this film.

    A lot of shots of old magazines go into Two in the Wave -- so many that to justify their presence the actress Isild Le Besco is shown leafing through the archival copies. But her voice is used only once for narration; her presence comes to seem so odd and unnecessary you wonder if she's just somebody's girlfriend. There is also footage of Cannes 1959, when Les quatre cents coups put Truffaut and his teenage star Léaud in the spotlight. Godard's first film, Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960), was also a sensation and there is footage of Paris moveigoers delivering a range of quick opinions outside the theater when the film was first shown. A restored print of Breathless is to begin a commercial release in New York (May 28, 2010) for its 50th anniversary. After 400 Blows and Breathless several of the directors' films bombed; the ascendancy of the La Nouvelle Vague seemed brief; it went on, of course.

    There are lots of quick clips of films by both directors to review their careers during the New Wave's heyday -- too many and too quick to make real sense of. For a while bits of interviews make this seem like a debate between Truffaut and Godard, but it comes to seem that Godard is going to get the last word. Except that the older Godard is little covered; and, as mentioned, it's really the young Jean-Pierre Léaud who gets to speak in the very last frames.

    On Allociné Antoine de Baecque is listed as co-director of this film. De Baecque is the biographer of Truffaut and Godard, the author of many books on cinema, who wrote and narrated most of the film.** Considering the knowledgeable source, one would have expected this film to be more thought-provoking.

    Released May 19, 2010 at Film Forum in New York; not yet released in France. The cleaned up Breathless also debuts here. NY Times film critic A.O. Scott has written a piece called "A Fresh Look Back at Right Now" (May 21, 3010) about the continuing relevance of Godard's first feature right up to Tarantino and beyond. Too bad this film doesn't go further in that sort of direction.

    Included in the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series, Sunday, October 31, 1:30 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema, San Francisco.

    *Notes on a talk by De Baecque by a contributor to Nouvelle Vague Cinematheque: "Nouvelle Vague: 50 Years On Conference. Part 3: 'The Politics of the New Wave.'"
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-31-2010 at 01:13 PM.

  6. #6
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Bertrand Tavernier: THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (2010)


    Melanie Thierry and Gaspard Ulliel in The Princess of Montpensier

    Love and war in 16th-century France

    A lot is going on, foreground and background, in this fluid, grand, and rich French historical film that shows the eclectic, not always on point Tavernier at very near his best. The time is 1562, in the middle of the 35-year period at the end of the sixteenth century when France was torn by war between Protestants and Catholics. The milieu is the nobility. The motive force of the drama is a marriage deal, which at the time and at this level, was also a kind of political treaty. The Marquis de Mezières (Philippe Magnan) arranges with the Duc de Montpensier (Michel Vuillermoz) to marry his beautiful daughter Marie (Mélanie Thierry) to Montpensier's son, the well-behaved Philippe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), who can be counted on to comply. The complication: Marie has long been in love with her dashing cousin the Duc de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel).

    Casting is good to great here. Thierry, known from French TV, is voluptuous and sweet. Leprince-Ringuet has the politesse along with the sense of physical meekness that goes with his position as one overshadowed by a rakish lover. Ulliel, now more and more a star, has a chance to blend his new macho maturity (and recent experience in costume film) with a certain arrogance, though he lacks the subtlety he displayed in his earliest films. Marie makes no objection to her father's plan. Philippe and Marie are married, and both families supervise as the marriage is consummated. But Philippe is soon off to war -- without even having gotten to know his wife -- and the care of Marie falls to her noble tutor, the Count of Chabannes (Lambert Wilson, at the top of his game and currently in Xavier Beauvois' outstanding Of Gods and Men), who falls for her too. Chabannes can play this pedagogical role because he has become infuriated by the religions wars and thrown down his sword, thus making himself into a kind of outsider. The film opens with a battle scene and ambush that might be a little too conventional were not their purpose of showing Chabannes' disguist at blood-letting. He provides a detached viewpoint with which the modern audience may identify. Older but still handsome, and a man whose culture it will serve her to absorb, Chabannes does not fail to appeal to Marie, though he must restrain himself whenever he's with her. As for her, she till desires the Duc de Guise.

    It's worth mentioning that this is all from an important contemporary long story or nouvelle, sometimes called the first novel, by Madame de Lafayette; and that in keeping with the period, Marie's dilemma is resolved in ways that conform not with modern post-romantic sensibilities but with the ruthless manners, mores, and rules of the time. Though the dialogue is not deliberately archaic, Tavernier and his co-adapters Jean Cosmo and François-Olivier Rousseau make no effort to bend the tale into commentary on current events but keep its intractable strangeness and compelling intensity.

    Marie has another admirer, the Duc d’Anjou (Raphael Personnaz), the king's brother and destined to become king himself (Henri III). Personnaz and Wilson emerge as the most interesting actors, and characters, in the film. During a truce, Anjou officiates in Paris at a duel between Philippe and the Duc de Guise. There's a lavish Moorish-themed ball at which further intrigue develops.

    Mélanie Thierry's television background testifies to her beauty and basic acting chops, but she lacks the solid film experience necessary to give subtlety to her role. She is one reason that the film falls short of greatness. But it deserves high marks anyway. Philippe Sarde’s music and Bruno de Keyzer’s Cinemascope camerawork are impeccable and contribute to the film's constant momentum and grand scope. To be sure, The Princess of Montpensier lacks the ravishing bloodiness of Patrice Chéreau's visually splendid, operatic Queen Margot, which takes place during the same violent period but ten years later. Tavernier's film is in a gentler key. Montpensier's best moments are not on the battlefield or the boudoir but in the courtyard or the drawing room, when the Duc d'Anjou's sparkling wit or the Count of Chabannes' suave self-discipline are on display. Its essential beauty and historical truthfulness lie in the way it balances the scenes of battle and court with intimate moments, always making clear that those to the manner born are never lonely and rarely alone -- just as, in the chess games of love and war, their personal wishes are never allowed to triumph over the duties of class. Love is not separate from war but a form of war in itself, and in this chess game there are many players and mate threatens every move.

    La princesse de Montpensier/The Princess of Montpensier debuted in competition at Cannes last summer and has since been shown at several film festivals, including Munich, Chicago, and the present one, the San Francisco Film Society's New French Cinema series in October 2010. It opens in French theaters November 3, 2010. Distribution rights for the United States were bought in Cannes by IFC Films, who will release it on April 1, 2011.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-27-2012 at 12:56 AM.

  7. #7
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Abbas Kiarostami: CERTIFIED COPY (2010)


    Juliette Binoche and William Shimell in Certified Copy

    A copy certified by whom?

    Certified Copy is the well-known Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's first film shot outside Iran. "The cleverest thing about" it, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote last summer, "is that it's a 'certified copy' of a European art film." I'm not so sure that's clever, or if so that cleverness is such an important value, but it's that - an imitation of a European art film -- with a vengeance. It is shot not just in Italy but in the part of Italy art film fans like best, Tuscany, and with a beautiful and famous French actress, Juliette Binoche. And it had its debut at the chief showcase of European cinema, the Festival de Cannes, May 2010. Certified Copy, which itself may be real or a sham, approaches its material coolly. With hints of romance and suggestions of Brief Encounter and Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, it’s ultimately not a romance so much as a puzzle, warmer and more intimate than Resnais’s 1960 Last Year at Marienbad but not as beautiful and enigmatic.

    A man and a woman meet. The lady, it turns out later, runs a discreet antique shop, but one populated by copies of authentic sculptures. The man, we learn right away, is an English writer visiting to promote a book whose thesis is that a good reproduction, a "certified copy," of an art work is as valid and can give as much pleasure as the real painting, sculpture, or print. The film shows him giving a talk and book signing, which the lady (and her rather witty young son) attend, but the film doesn't go into details about this theory of the high value of copies, which seems unlikely to hold up to scrutiny (or get published, unless it were one of Alain de Botton's flights of whimsy). This gentleman, who plays at being her husband or might actually be her husband playing at playing at it, is played by William Shimell, an opera singer in real life, though not a famous one, and thus perhaps only an ersatz actor. Perhaps he was chosen because he would not be quite convincing. Or perhaps he was chosen unwisely, simply because he has a distinguished looking face.

    Biniche, known only as "she," attends the reading and book signing by James Miller (Shimell), and then gets him to sign some copies and takes him on a car ride. This ride may allude consciously to Kiarostami's Cannes Golden Palm winner (1997) A Taste of Cherry or his later Ten (2002), or just illustrate his fondness for staging scenes in cars. (He has said that he and his wife have enjoyed picking people up in their car, like a taxi, in Teheran, and insisted that a car interior is as valid a place to shoot as a room.) Miller and "she" elect to play at husband and wife and then gradually begin acting like a real couple, believing their make-believe. One then begins to wonder if this is one of those films where a real couple pretends not to know each other in order to add spice to their relationship, as in Pinter's The Lover.

    The format, anyway, follows a walk-and-talk romance such as Linklater's talking real-time romances set in Europe, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The latter begins the same way, with an English-speaking author presenting his new book to a European audience and met by a very interested French woman who arranges to spend some private time with him before he must fly home. Shimell and Binoche haven't the chemistry of Hawke and Delpy, nor the fresh youthful interest that the couple had in the original Before Sunrise, or the history that first film provided to the acting couple's return performance in Before Sunset. All that warmth is lacking in Shimell and Bnoche. But neither are they meree elegant mannequins like Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, and Sacha Pitoëff in Marienbad. This isn't merely an intellectual (and aesthetic) exercise, though its issues never quite seem to matter either, nor does its inexplicable bickering have hints of passion and menace as they would, say, in dialogue written by Harold Pinter. Perhaps -- and this has been suggested -- Kiarostami means this as an indictment of the traditional European art film, rather than a homage to it. But if that is true, then in being led along for an hour and a half, are we not being condescended to?

    The game really gets going when "she" and Miller go to a cafe where the proprietor, a middle-aged lady, speaking to "her" in Italian while Miller is in the street taking a call, assumes they are married. "She" (Binoche) takes this idea up with enthusiasm when Miller returns to the cafe. He follows somewhat unwillingly. Their pretense of being married increasingly hinges on bickering. The more they bicker, the more they seem married, and tired of each other.

    The film toys elegantly with the audience, presenting a couple who may or may not be a couple, and interweaving its general themes of the genuine and the sham. It is a glossy, pleasantly rambling intellectual exercise, a cosy Marienbad shot in a nice car and an espresso shop (and the street and a restaurant), maintaining its puzzlement to the end and putting Binoche through her paces. Alternately stiff and awkward and relaxed and natural in French, Italian, and English, she goes through her thespian paces so well she received the Best Actress Prize at Cannes for her efforts. The weakness of the performance is that Shimell's isn't as good (everyone needs good backup) and the skill of it suggests all too obviously the thing film actors must so often do: plunging into a scene they don't really understand and making it look convincing. Is this a performance, or a long audition? Does this prove Kiarostami's ability to make a European art film, or his inability or unwillingness to produce an authentic, emotionally committed one?

    The film offers hints of (somebody's) quarrelsome marriage along with the weariness of a long afternoon, but doesn't otherwise develop emotional depth. What it does do is make you pay close attention to the dialogue, to offer fodder for the post-viewing debate. Is this as Hoberman says, a "certified copy" of a European art film? Then it is presumably certified by the Cannes jury? What is Kiarostami saying about copies, though? Or about the originals, for that matter? This is interesting, and may provide fodder for re-watching. After all, Last Year at Marienbad was pretty annoying too -- and endlessly discussed. Perhaps this will be too. But remember: this isn't an original; it's a copy -- even if certified (by somebody).

    I reviewed Certified Copy/Copie conforme earlier as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center (this is a new comment). As mentioned, the film premiered at Cannes. It opened the next day, May 19, 2010, in Paris, and two days later in Italy. It opens theatrically in the US in March 2011. It is the closing night film for the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series, shown 7 pm and 9:15 pm at the Landmark Embarcadero Cinema on Nov 3, 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-02-2010 at 06:48 PM.


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