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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center 2011

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    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center 2011




    Rendez-Vous with French
    Cinema 2011


    To provide feedback to reviews and get day-to-day updates on screenings go to the Rendez-Vous Forums thread HERE.


    Links to the reviews:

    Big Picture, The (Eric Lartigau 2010)
    Deep in the Woods (Benoît Jacquot 2010)
    Free Hands (Brigitte Sy 2010)
    From one Film to Another (Claude Lelouch 2010)
    Hands Up (Romain Goupil 2010)
    Happy Few (Anthony Cordier 2010)
    Leïla/Toi, moi et les autres (Audrey Estrougo 2011)
    Living by Love Alone (Isabelle Czjaka 2010)
    Long Falling, The (Martin Provost 2010)
    Love Crime (Alain Corneau 2010)
    Love Like Poison, A (Katell Quillévéré 2010)
    Mozart's Sister (René Féret 2010)
    Potiche (François Ozon 2010)
    Princess of Monpensier, The (Bertraind Tavernier 2010)
    Queen of Hearts, The (Valérie Donzelli 2010)
    Service Entrance (Philippe Le Guay 2010)
    Sleeping Beauty, The (Catherine Breillat 2010)
    Think Global, Act Rural (Coline Serreau 2010)
    Top Floor, Left Wing (Angelo Cianci 2010)
    What Love May Bring (Claude Lelouch 2010)


    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011 at Lincoln Center: Press screening schedule
    (WRT=Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, IFC=IFC Center, Sixth Ave. @ 3rd St.)

    Monday, February 14th
    9:00am - POTICHE, 103m - WRT
    11:00am - THE QUEEN OF HEARTS (LA REINE DES POMMES), 84m - WRT

    Tuesday, February 15th
    9:00am - THE BIG PICTURE (L'HOMME QUI VOULAIT VIVRE SA VIE), 115m - IFC
    11:10am - DEEP IN THE WOODS (AU FOND DES BOIS), 102m - IFC

    Wednesday, February 16th
    9:00am - MOZART'S SISTER (NANNERL, LA SOEUR DE MOZART), 120m - IFC
    11:15am - SLEEPING BEAUTY (LA BELLE ENDORMIE), 82m - IFC

    Thursday, February 17th
    10:00am - THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER), 139m - IFC

    Friday, February 18th
    9:00am- THINK GLOBAL, ACT RURAL (SOLUTIONS LOCALES POUR UN DESORDRE GLOBAL) , 113m - WRT
    11:15am - THE LONG FALLING (OÙ VA LA NUIT), 105m - WRT

    Monday, February 21st
    9:00am - FROM ONE FILM TO ANOTHER (D'UN FILM Á L'AUTRE), 104m - WRT
    11:00am - WHAT LOVE MAY BRING (CES AMOURS-LÁ), 120m - WRT

    Tuesday, February 22nd
    9:00am - FREE HANDS (LES MAINS LIBRES), 100m - WRT
    11:00am - HAPPY FEW, 103m - WRT

    Wednesday, February 23rd
    9:00am - TOP FLOOR, LEFT WING (DERNIER ÉTAGE, GAUCHE, GAUCHE), 110m - WRT
    11:10am- SERVICE ENTRANCE (LES FEMMES DU SIXIÈME ÉTAGE), 104m - WRT

    Thursday, February 24th
    9:00am - HANDS UP (LES MAINS EN L'AIR), 90m - WRT
    10:45am - LOVE LIKE POISON (UN POISON VIOLENT), 92m - WRT

    Friday, February 25th

    9:00am - LOVE CRIME (CRIME D'AMOUR), 106m - WRT
    11:00am - LEILA (TOI, MOI, LES AUTRES), 90m - WRT

    Friday, March 4th

    10am - LIVING ON LOVE ALONE (D'AMOUR ET D'EAU FRAÎCHE), 90m - WRT
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:05 PM.

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    François Ozon: Potiche (2010)

    François Ozon: Potiche (2010)


    JUDITH GODRÈCHE, CATHERINE DENEUVE, AND KARIN VIAN IN POTICHE

    Trophy wife strikes back

    Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu together again and both in good form: that's enough to sell this crowd-pleasing candy-colored comedy from a boulevard-theater source directed by François Ozon, who here returns to more mainstream fare (not unrelated to his 2002 8 Women) after some artier, more serious, movies. This won't grab audiences the way Swimming Pool and Under the Sand did, but it goes down easy. It's an enjoyable double-take just to watch the two-pack-a-day glamor-puss Deneuve in the opening scene jogging through the woods in a pink sweat suit. Later she does a slow dance with Depardieu at a louche club called Ba-Da-Boum, and at the end, she sings.

    Ozon works from a play by Pierre Barilletand Jean-Pierre Grédy to film this Seventies-era story about a "trophy wife" (potiche) used to jogging and writing little nature poems who takes over management of the family umbrella factory when her mean husband antagonizes all the workers during a strike and needs to take a break. Nothing profound here, but the director has pumped up the play effectively by making lesser characters stronger, adding on a longer ending, and giving an old romance some more serious overtones. Since that romance involves the two characters played by the aforementioned Deneuve and Depardieu the casting also ups the ante for a global market.

    Suzanne (Deneuve) is sweet and beautiful, but her husband Robert Pujol (Fabrice Lucchini, less witty and nastier than usual), who runs the company she inherited and has a 45% ownership of it, gives her nothing but rudeness in return, and cheats on her with his secretary, Nadège (Karin Viard). He's as much a tyrant at home as he is at the factory. They have a grown daughter and a son. Farrah-Fawcett-haired Joëlle (Judith Godrèche), who has a long-distance boyfriend, emerges as the right-winger. Laurent (Jérémie Renier), obviously but undeclaredly gay, is more of a leftie, but not an activist. Renier is a little old for his role, but he wears his god-awful tight outfits and understatedly fey mannerisms like the pro he is. Godrèche is appealing as the exploited secretary who finds her feminist side in the anti-Pujol new regime of Suzanne.

    The plot, which a reviewer called "feminism lite," milks a time when communists got 20% of the French vote (Depardieu's character Maurice Bagin is the provincial town's red mayor), factory workers were striking right and left and women's lib was in full swing. But there's a retro element: Suzanne reminisces about how her father could run the factory for forty years without a strike, and her main liberation is to reveal she was pretty promiscuous back in her Fifties youth, so Laurent isn't really Pujol's kid, and when he switches from his girlfriend to a boyfriend (Ozon's unemphatic twist), the boyfriend may be his half-brother.

    This somehow hasn't the edge of Chabrol's 2007 A Girl Cut in Two, a story about sexual machinations among provincial bigwigs, but the 1977 setting allows for various charms. Without overemphasizing bell bottoms and big hair, Ozon has fun with very nice period style opening credits and outfits and colors and hairstyles that keep shifting throughout.

    Depardieu has done the weary pro before of late, most memorably in Xavier Giannol's The Singer, but his presence here makes the film about worker as well as female empowerment (there's not much of a look at the actual factory workers), and because he and Suzanne has a brief romantic fling, when she calls him in to help placate the workers, it reawakens a sense of romantic wistfulness Ozon turns up without overplaying it too much. Altogether the director's new take on the play apparently adds depth and removes cheap shots, though Lucchini's character remains a stick figure, if a pungent one. Anybody who has reveled in Lucchini's virtuoso hyper-articulateness will find him underused as this tinpot misogynist, as he was in the mediocre US-released comedy The Girl from Monaco. He did get good casting as the lawyer sibling in 2010 in Arnaud Paumelle's interesting unwanted immigrant story, Les invités de mon père, which has not gotten a Stateside viewing.

    In the original pley, Pujol comes back revived from a vacation, takes over the factory as before, and that's that. The trajectory of boulevard theater is to titillate its bourgeois Parisian audiences by exploring all possible transgressions, "social, familial, emotional, political" (Ozon's own words), then take things back to pretty much where they started. Ozon's tweaking of the play alters that, folding its conservatism into a creamy soufflé with more feminism added. After all Ségolène Royal did give Sarkozy a run for his money in the French elections. Here, Susanne has a grand run as a warmer, more indulgent manager of the umbrella factory, with Laurent running the design branch (and doing Kandinsky brollies). In a more contemporary note, Joëlle is proposing layoffs and outsourcing, prompted by her neoliberal boyfriend.

    Ozon's expanded Potiche has a new last act in which Joëlle sides with daddy in a vote so he gets back control fo the factory, but Suzanne, after an unsatisfying return stint as trophy wife, decides to enter politics and becomes an MP -- who will be working with old flame Babin (Depardieu). But everyone loves her not for feminist reason so much as out of nostalgia for the paternalistic, peaceful reign of her father as factory owner. It's really hard to figure out the politics here, because this is such a blend. Ozon not only lacks Chabrol's edge but also his clarity. He was probably attracted to this play not for its politics so much as for something campy about it. But all the actors handle their roles with great professionalism, and Depardieu and, most of all, Deneuve, who dominates here, with a distinction that makes something otherwise slight become memorable.

    Potiche debuted at Venice and showed at Toronto, fall 2010, and in other festivals. It was seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater of Lincoln Center, IFC Center and BAMcinématek. It will be the opening night film. The series is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance. Distributed by Music Box in the US it opens theatrically March 18, 2011. It was released in France December 10, 2010 and was widely seen and very well reviewed (Allociné rating 3.9 based on 25 critics).

    It was also well received by US critics, but not the best reviewed French film of the year (Metacritic 68) - which might be The Princess of Montpensier (Metacritic 78). Still, though this is anecdotal, Potiche seems as if it may be the 2011 French film release most fondly remembered by the US audience.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:10 AM.

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    Valérie Donzelli: The Queen of Hearts (2009)

    Valérie Donzelli: The Queen of Hearts (2009)


    LUCIA SANCHEZ AND VALÉRIE DONZELLI IN QUEEN OF HEARTS

    All men are the same

    The Queen of Hearts (La reine des paumes) is a kooky little movie whose voiceovers, neat scene progressions, low budget production and witty, conceptual depiction of relationships ties it in very firmly with the (old) French New Wave. Its style (and it is very stylized) seems in many ways an amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer, except that it's all from a woman's point of view; but there are touches of Agnès Varda too. The writer-director is a woman, Valérie Donzelli, who also plays the protagonist, and her three would-be lovers are all played by the same person, the amusing, tongue-in-cheek Jérémie Elkaïm, who, we learn, in real life is Valérie's ex, and also collaborated on the writing. This is the first feature to be directed by Donzelli, an actress in TV and films since 2000 with many credits with directors of note, including Anne Fontaine. Good job here by Elkaïm, who has fun playing divers Wrong Guys. The film is shot in cold-looking, grayish DV in a square format that harmonizes with the retro-style way scenes are framed.

    Adèle's fiancé Matthieu (also Elkaïm) has abandoned her, she is devastated, and she takes refuge with her rather strange cousin Rachel (Béatrice De Staël). Rachel, perpetually in dark glasses and plagued by an inexplicable ailment in one eye, counsels getting out of town, but, barring that, going to bed with other men as soon as possible. Along come Pierre, Jacques and Paul. Pierre is a university student who takes care of Adèle while Rachel dumps her, heavily sedated, on a park bench while she goes to work. They meet periodically and Adèle recognizes that Pierre is really nice, but thinks he's too young for her. Jacques is the husband when Adèle gets a baby-sitting job once she has pulled herself together a bit. Paul is just a guy on the street who locks eyes with Adèle on a stairway: they fall for each other. With Jacques, there is a huge mutual sexual attraction. They do it in the car when he's driven her home. After meeting Paul, Adèle has to buy a cell phone so they can exchange "textos." He wants her to do kinky stuff.

    She does, and when that leads her to stage an event involving Jacques, Pierre, and Paul, and Rachel turns up unexpectedly too, things get pretty complicated.

    The absurdist element of casting the same guy in all three roles is also a feminist one. Or is it a put-down of women too for not distinguishing one man from another? Or are Elkaïm and Donzelli trading off jaundiced views of the opposite sex in their collaborative writing? In any case, there is no self pity or psychobabble in this very French view of romance and sex, which indeed mocks the female protagonist, somewhat autobiographically, by her own admission, for branding herself as a hopeless loser and wallowing in a sense of love-sick abandonment; and also mocks young men as much for focusing on sex as for, at the other extreme, being too willing to be the respectful friend, when coming on strong might be just the ticket.

    Donzelli's taste for meetings in Parisian parks (and later in a New York one) is one of many links with the tastes and tropes of the Nouvelle Vague. A wispy song by the protagonist to express her love-longing much recalls the style of Christophe Honoré, another New Wave acolyte, in his Love Songs.

    The Queen of Hearts is notable for its precision, its daring eccentricity, and its comic edge. Donzelli never drifts into the realm of conventional French romantic comedy. Rooted in the Sixties French cinema tradition though it is, this film is bold and free in contemporary film terms. The result is nonetheless perhaps a bit superficial, jokey, slapdash, and the tiny subplot with Rachel and a damaged eye is icky and sketchy. But the sensibility is droll and the scenes are witty. It's hard to say what Donzelli might do next as a director. This may have burned bridges, eliminated some possibilities. The next one may go somewhere else. We'll have to see.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance, March 3-13, 2011. Released in France February 24, 2010.

    Le reine des paumes was released in France February 24, 2011 and has a 3.5 Allociné rating, with the higher marks from my usual exemplars of hipness, Cahiers and Les Inrocks. It showed in festivals at Locarno, Buenos Aires and Mill Valley, among others. Now that I have just (January 19, 2011) seen Donzelli's Declaration of War/Le Guerre est declarée, which transforms her real life love for Elkaïm and their successful real life battle to save their son from brain cancer into a deeply involving, touching, and surprisingly light work of art, I'm impressed with this very busy actress, writer, cinematographer, and director's multiple talents. Truffaut, Godard, Varda and Rohmer have a very 21st century avatar.

    CK website.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-20-2012 at 02:45 AM.

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    Eric Lartigau: The Big Picture (2010)

    Eric Lartigau: The Big Picture (2010)


    ROMAIN DURIS AND NIELS ARESTRUP IN THE BIG PICTURE

    Identity problems

    Another slick French adaptation of a successful American thriller novel, The Big Picture invites comparison with Guillaume Canet's Tell No One. But it can't hold up in such company, even with Romain Duris, Marina Foïs (the director's wife), Catherine Deneuve (who adds glitter to any movie lineup), and Niels Arestrup (a marvellous actor) in the cast. There's a great deal of Duris, who comes to see miscast, and not enough of his costars. Summaries of Douglas Kennedy's book make it sound ridiculously far-fetched, but readers say it's an amazing page-turner. But whether the material was good or not, the francophone copy is a washout. There are moments at the end of this movie when it begins to feel like a wild, picaresque adventure, and that could have been fun. But most of the way it's just botched Patriaia Highsmith. And remarkably slow-moving for a film with so much thriller material in it.

    A guy kills another guy, partly by accident, and then assumes his identity. Sounds like Tom Ripley. But if he is a Ripley clone, he's more like the insecure Matt Damon version than the deliciously evil and more truly Highsmithian John Malkovitch one. Paul Exben (Duris) is a terribly successful Paris lawyer, with a very posh suburban house, a wife and two sweet little kids, and a partnership with Catherine Deneuve, who's dying of a disease she refuses to be treated for -- which will get her out of this movie quickly. Viewers of The Big Picture should be so lucky.

    The thing is, poor privileged Paul is miserable. So's his wife Sarah (Marina Foïs). She's a frustrated writer, ready to give up trying, and disgusted with Paul because of his low self-image. He's a frustrated photographer. Though the movie wastes a lot of time (which Highsmith would have spent on crimes and excitement) just showing us that Paul's fed up with his life, it's still not altogether clear why such a lucky guy has to hate his whole world and himself so much. His rage does begin to make sense, though, when he discovers that Sarah is having an affair with his friend Greg (Eric Ruf), who, ironically, is a failed photographer. But at least Greg, a trust fund boy, tries to get photography jobs. For Paul photography is just a dream he gave up to become a successful lawyer. He has the fanciest digital photo setup possible but isn't doing anything much with it.

    After Paul has a tussle with Greg and accidentally kills him, the Tom Ripley part begins. Paul changes identities with Greg and dumps his body off a boat. Then with his new ID papers he goes off to Croatia, with just a beat-up Nikon and a Leica, and returns to film photography. He just happens to run into the drunken Bartholomé (Arestrup), who just happens to be a magazine editor, and sees and admires Paul's prints. His new editor Ivana (an appealing Branka Katic) also becomes his lover. So all of a sudden Paul's getting featured in a big way in the local press, and a Dubrovnik gallery gives him a big show (actually the work of Magnum photographer Antoine d'Agata.), and the show is going to London, and -- whoa! Wait a minute! All this happens too fast. I didn't believe a minute of it, and neither does Bartholomé -- who at least sees through "Greg's" disguise. Fame obviously won't sit easily with anonymity, and before the wine stains are dry from the gallery opening "Greg" is on the run again. But by then I'm not interested any more, and neither were the writers, apparently. The film soon ends, after a hasty adventure at sea that leaves all the strings dangling. But don't expect a sequel.

    Romain Duris may be a big star now in France, but this casting reveals his limitations. His reedy physicality is striking as always, but he still looks like a skinny adolescent, if one with smoker's worry lines. He is usually best in comic action films with a hint of romance, like the recent Heartbreaker. He can project tremendous manic energy and neurotic frustration, which the brilliant Jacques Audiard capitalized on in The Beat My Heart Skipped, Duris' finest serious role to date. He's often fun to watch, but it's a little bit difficult to believe him as a successful lawyer let alone as a deeply frustrated one with great hidden creative skills waiting to be released in a state of desperation and adversity.

    So casting was a problem. But before that come the even more essential elements of writing and direction. Eric Lartigau seems like a merely fair-to-middling director whose projects have been well-promoted audience pleasers. His previous film was a high-concept comedy, I Do, about a commitment-averse bachelor. Again he got a big French box office draw to star, Charlotte Gainsbourg. You remember the picture because she was in it.

    Lartigau and his collaborators on the screenplay Stéphane Cabel and Laurent de Bartillat cannot possibly have done a good job with the book adaptation. The pacing is bad and the ending is a complete ripoff. There is a moment of pleasure and relief, after a heck of a lot of pointless shots of Duris driving an old Mercedes, when Paul, now Greg, finally gets to Croatia and Niels Arestrup appears, smoking, drinking, and chuckling. But the pleasure is short-lived because Arestrup is wasted.

    The French title suggests an odd conception behind this story. L'Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life. Well, yes, in a sense Paul Exben partly does want to live his life. But which life, and whose? "Exben" soon becomes his ex-name. Highsmith's Ripley books are so wonderful because she never forgets her hero is a villain. He's not just finding himself. The glib pseudo-profundity of The Big Picture's narrative is unconvincing, and its increasingly implausible chain of events fails to sustain our excitement.

    The Big Picture/L'Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie debuted at Toronto in September 2010 and opened in Paris November 3. Seen and reviewed as a selection of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance and shown at the Walter Reade Theater, The IFC Center, and BAMcinḿatek.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:12 AM.

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    Katell Quillévéré: Love Like Poison (2010)

    Katell Quillévéré: Love Like Poison (2010)


    CLARA AUGARDE AND YOUEN LEBOULANGER-GOURVIL IN LOVE LIKE POISON

    A muted Breton coming of age

    In her first feature Katell Quillévéré focuses on a voluptuous red-headed fourteen-year-old girl on summer vacation in Brittany who has to deal with familiar issues of that age. A grandfather dies, a boy makes mild sexual overtures, her estranged parents fight and when she comes home, she finds her father no longer living there. Her mother has trouble coping and appeals to an attractive young Italian-born priest. She is supposed to be preparing for her confirmation in the Church, but doesn't know if Catholicism is her thing.

    Love Like Poison (Un poison violent) seems to bear an over-dramatic label. Except for some moments on nudity and a mild seduction scene between the young boy and girl, the film takes few risks and could have been made decades earlier. Its meandering scene structure will raise the blood pressure of few and there are no strong climactic moments. Its strength is perhaps also there: that stylistic neutrality and unobtrusive storytelling allow for a naturalistic effect enhanced by a sense of place. Its underlying conflicts may be best understood by French Catholics with a provincial background who would best sympathize with what Anna is going through as summer progresses and her confirmation date approaches.

    As Anna, the girl, Clara Augarde is also natural, beautiful without seeming like an actress. The men are manly, the priest, Père François (Stefano Cassetti) visibly athletic and the father (Thierry Neubru) solid and macho. Eighty-something comic Michel Galabru is philosophical and a little raunchy, a real lover of life as the granddad. Most interesting perhaps is Lio as Anna's devout and troubled mother. The actress internalizes her character's conflicts with subtlety.

    The boy Anna keeps seeing, Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil), is cute and willing. There is nothing extraordinary about him either in the acting or looks departments. Because Anna shows off her well-developed breasts (to us, to her mother and to Pierre) and Pierre is a little smaller and a tad less mature, as is often the way with boys, than she is, the youngsters' potential sexual exploration almost seems like cradle robbing on Anna's part and otherwise inappropriate. But nothing beyond kissing and cuddling seems to happen. If this "love" is "a violent poison," that is in the eyes of the Church, whose views Anna is moving away from.

    Love Like Poison is a creditable effort for a first film, and its writing was so much admired that it won the Jean Vigo Award, but it has little to recommend it to the non-French audience. Quilleveré might have focused more on action than on characters. Each scene and person seems designed to illustrated one of the themes of morality, religion, sexuality, coming of age, approaching death -- many of which are focused in a biblical passage read by the bishop (Philippe Duclos) at the confirmation scene in a striking large modern cathedral. (That and a sequence of Anna back in the dorm and bathroom of her boarding school are the most memorably authentic scenes.) But there is not enough urgency in the action or subtlety in the directing to make these issues matter or provide a sense that they are an organic part of cohesive events. Quilleveré is tossing around issues. She has a sense of place that is strong enough to make it seem real, but it doesn't matter enough. A stronger screenplay would have touched on all these issues but brought one of them, presumably sexuality or religion, into the foreground to blast everything else away as issues in a young person's life do.

    Location cinematography by Tom Harari is smooth and handsome but , like everything else, unexceptional, and somewhat generic and out of time. One couldn't help recalling the early Cateherine Breillat and think that more has been done with this kind of material decades ago. Quilleveré needs to dare a little more and care a little more. That said, this does provide a look into the world of provincial France that reminds us we don't see enough in a French cinema that focuses so exclusively on what an Eric Rohmer character once called "the center of the world" -- Paris. I found the use of English language folk songs throughout clichéd and obtrusive.

    Love Like Poison opened August 4, 2010 in France to decent, kindly reviews. It was seen and reviewed as part of the 2011 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance. The series runs from March 3-13, 2011 in New York with showings at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, the IFC Center in the West Village, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-15-2011 at 10:55 PM.

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    Bertrand Tavernier: The Princess of Montpensier (2010)

    Bertrand Tavernier: The Princess of Montpensier (2010)


    Lambert Wilson and Melanie Thierry 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 opened 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 It was screened as part of the March 3-13, 2011 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, the IFC Center in the West Villlage, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.

    This review was published earlier in connection with the SFFS New French Cinema series in October 2010.

    This film got a high rating with American critics (Metacritic 78) but its French reception was less enthusiastic (Alloociné 3.4/25 reviews) -- more sophisticated publications such as Cahiers du Cinéma or Les Inrockuptibles or Libération were at best lukewarm, sometimes devastating.

    In retrospect this film looks less wonderful than it seemed at first viewing. Mélanie Thierry, as many noted, is a weak point. So is Leprince-Ringuet: it's hard to tell whether it's his character or the actor who lacks confidence here. It seems an actor can be too tentative at portraying tentativeness. The best actor is Lambert Wilson, but he makes one realize that the casting and the acting are uneven, and Gaspard Ulliel's bad-boy stance is beginning to look like a cliché; one misses the delicacy of his early roles, before he started swashbuckling in period costume and gangster films and pouting in Chanel ads.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-20-2012 at 02:24 AM.

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    René Féret: More at IMDbPro » Mozart's Sister (2010)

    René Féret: Mozart's Sister (2010)


    MARIE FÉRET AND CLOVIS FOUIN AT VERSAILLES IN MOZART'S SISTER

    Second fiddle to a genius brother

    Nannerl was the nickname of Maria Anna Mozart, the sister of Wolfgang, four and a half years older than her extraordinary sibling. This film about her teenage years begins in 1763 during a whirlwind three-year family musical tour of Europe, and then follows Nannerl (Marie Féret) as her life, in the film's fanciful embroidery, expands to include the French court, an independent life in Paris, a romance with the Dauphin, and then disappointment and a return to her severe father, who always puts her little brother first and won't let her play the violin -- not an instrument for girls -- or compose music -- harmony and counterpoint are mysteries too deep for a woman. Yes, this story has a feminist message, but the disappointments of its protagonist's life are too specific to seem to be simply scoring points.

    Nannerl, la Soeur de Mozart begins in the thick of things, in a carriage, with what looks like a tough but intimate and exciting life. The father, Leopold (Marc Barbé), is stern taskmaster, but the mother, Anna Maria (Delphine Chuillot) is young and spirited, and little Wolfgang (David Moreau) is a beautiful and mischievous child.

    This is a loving family. They live for music, traveling from country to country to play for royalty -- who, however, sometimes fail to remunerate them, while competition forces Leopold to lie about his children's age and take other desperate measures like having Wolfgang play blindfold and write an opera at 12. Nannerl had been the first prodigy of the family but is overshadowed now, more and more an accessory to little Wolgang, who plays violin, showing off his own compositions, with Nannerl on clavichord.

    Leopold is harsh by day but a lover with his wife by night (and they all sleep in the same bedroom, so when Nannerl asks her mom how babies are made, she says, "You must be joking"). Nannerl and Wolfgang tussle and play but also make music together almost non-stop. In one scene they sing together in nightshirts and then, without dressing, rush to the nearest keyboard and beat out the composition they have just made up together. It's not clear Nannerl is a Salieri, doomed to be inferior to her brother; she almost never gets a chance to show what she might have done alone. They have one genius among the, that's for sure. But that's not so good for a sibling.

    In this slow, beautiful, sad film we watch the young Mozart's older sister during a brief period when remarkable opportunities offered themselves to her and then were snatched away. She finds a royal friend, and then almost a royal lover. She tries to live independently in Paris giving music lessons and studying composition. But then when her warmest human contacts are cut off from her, she gives up and returns to her parents and devotes the rest of her life to furthering Wolfgang's career and fame, under Leopold's thumb again.

    The heart of the film is what happens as a result of the cracked axle of a carriage. The family must take refuge at an abbey where it turns out the King of France has farmed out several of his daughters. One of them, Louise de France (Lisa Féret) instantly takes Nannerl as a friend. This abandoned princess is in love with a music teacher at court. She sends Nannerl to deliver a message to him at the court of Louis XV and thus, disguised as a man she meets the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin), who is entranced by her voice and her violin playing. He learns she's a woman, and a romance begins (all this the filmmaker's invention). Marie Féret's scenes with her younger sister Lisa and with Clovis Fouin are arresting and memorable beyond anything else.

    The Dauphin urges Nannerl to write music for him, which she does, and he commissions a chamber orchestra to play one of her compositions with her, still disguised as a man, playing lead violin. Fené uses these invented episodes to dramatize Nannerl's lost opportunities with an admirable originality and vividness. The transformation of the independent and preternaturally mature Anne de France into a submissive nun is a shocker; so is the shy, sweet Dauphin's gradual descent into the family's perversity. History may have been twisted here, but the period itself doesn't feel violated, rather, brought to life by the odd angle of approach.

    Despite a modest budget this is a handsome and authentic-looking film, thanks to the cinematography of Benjamin Echazarreta, efforts by designers of decor (Veronica Fruhbrodt, helped by permission to shoot at Versailles) and costumes (Dominique Louis. Marie-Jeanne Serero created faux-Nannerl compositions.

    Nannerl, la Soeur de Mozart (the original title) opened in France June 9, 2010 to quite good reviews (Allociné 3.4 based on 15 reviews), but there were no raves. One critic noted a "distanced, minimalist" approach to the personalities and period and found the film was not outstanding, but had good moments. Alain Riou of Le Nouvel Observateur wrote, "Playing the true auteur, Féret tailors events to his own story, and his own troubled childhood. The film is choppy and biased but intelligent, and contains a real poetry."

    Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance March 3-13, 2011. The film received a limited US release August 19, 2011 to what Metacritic (rating 71) calls "generally favorable reviews." WSJ's Joe Morgenstern summed things up thus: "A work of fiction, Mr. Féret's film is ardent in its inventions, modest in scale, playful in its speculations about Nannerl's influence on her brother's music, and graced by the filmmaker's daughter, Marie Féret, in the title role."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-20-2012 at 01:46 AM.

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    Carla Besnainou and Kerian Mayan in “The Sleeping Beauty


    Girl to. . .girl, in 100 years

    Breillat's recent films have taken a delightful new turn to the fanciful and the historical, with more eye candy but no loss of her sexy approach to feminism. The Last Mistress brought to delicious erotic life a transitional novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly that hovers on the verge between 18th-century libertinism and intense romanticism -- and gave Asia Argento one of her best roles. Breillat's version of Bluebeard had a typically feminist bias, but added psychological depth to the Perrault version of the traditional French fairy tale of a serial wife-killer husband and a series of arresting, dreamlike scenes.

    That dreaminess may have been what led Breillat to Sleeping Beauty. But Breillat's Sleeping Beauty, actually a blend of Charles Perreult's "Sleeping Beauty" with Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen," lacks the clarity and effectiveness of her Bluebeard and just doesn't quite hang together. Once the heroine falls into her 100-year sleep and begins to dream, the story meanders and there was some visible dozing in the audience which I was at pains not to join.

    As the story here goes, an old witch (Rosine Favey) puts a curse on a girl at her birth, dooming her to an early death. Three Fairies (Dounia Sichov, Leslie Lipkins and Camille Chalons) who have been bathing (two of them nude) in a rock pool step in to modify this curse. One of them promieses that instead of actually dying, when her hand is pierced by a thorn as a pouty girl of six (Carla Besnaïnou) she will fall asleep for 100 years. When she wakes up, she will be 16 (Julia Artamonov), since "growing up isn't any fun anyway," and during the long sleep, since that would be boring, another fairy guarantees that she will dream.

    Her dreams take her to a series of strange locations, the first of which brings her in touch with Peter (Kerian Mayan), a reedy, gypsyish boy who leaves her behind her, too bad for her because she sees him as a kind of Prince Charming. Unfortunately, Peter is lured away by the Snow Queen (Romane Portail). Anastasia sets off to find the boy she considers part brother, part lover. Later she winds up at a train station where a stuffy dwarf says strangers aren't welcome and she should try to be noticed. Further along in the "Snow Queen" episode Anastasia rides across a snowy waste land on a deer -- a breathtaking couple of shots. When she wakes up, she finds Peter's great grandson, Johan (David Chausse) is waiting for her, though being a lycée student he finds her a bit strange and also has other friends and girlfriends.

    All this meanders too much to be compelling or even coherent, and while Besnaïnou is appealing and Artamonov is handsome, Mayan and Chausse, pretty boy and man though they may be, don't come through very convincingly as characters. These may be the rifs of an auteur, but they remain riffs, with the underlying theme not quite emerging.

    Evidently made for TV in France and not theatrically released there, the film has been shown well at festivals -- Vencice, Toronto (premiere), London, Vancouver, Montreal and Rotterdam. It was seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, March 3-13, 2011, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance and screened at the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinematek in Brooklyn. Limited US theatrical release July 2011. (Metacritic 69, better received than the December release Australian film Sleeping Beauty, a cold, pretentious, meant-to-be stylish contemporary study of a middle-class prostitute by first-timer and novelist Julia Leigh, endorsed by Jane Campion and starring Emily Browning, Metacritic 57. Note: Emily Browning, a pre-Raphaelite beauty, does look great naked.)

    CK website.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:13 PM.

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    Claude Lelouch: From One Film to Another (2011)

    Claude Lelouch: From One Film to Another (2011)



    Fast forward through fifty years of fimmaking

    From One Film to Another takes a risk: it begins with the most exciting footage it has to offer. This is a brief but hair-raising sequence that will thrill any guy or gal who'se ever wanted to get into a fast car and roar through Paris breaking every possible traffic law. It's called "C'était un rendez-vous" and it lasts nine minutes, and Lelouche did the whole thing himself, with a camera strapped onto what sounds like a high-strung Italian sports car, and he did it at six a.m. one morning in 1976. (Tech note: the car was a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL, with added reving and gear change sounds of Lelouch's own Ferrari 275 GTB.) This is one of the best and most authentic vehicular action sequences ever shot. And it was all done without any special effects or tricks of editing whatsoever: one continuous shot that for nine minutes makes you wish you had a lot more horse power in your a car and a lot less good sense in your head. But what the heck: he does it for us. (You can watch the film on YouTube.) This, Lelouche says, is how he has approached filmmaking all his life, always taking risks, following his dream, ready to fail, running a few red lights, breaking a few traffic laws, getting points against him and losing his license once in a while, but when he won, winning big. It might also be that as the title suggests, Lelouch is precipitous in his headlong rush from one film to another, the kind of director whose favorite film is always the one he is about to make.

    Claude Lelouch's self-made documentary of his life's work as a director may seem an act of self-promotion. It highlights his charm, energy and commitment, and proudly (and affectionately) shows off the array of actors he has featured and in some cases made into stars. Unflattering personal confessions are nowhere in evidence. There is one notable exception, though: Lelouch is ruthlessly honest in confessing his many artistic and commercial failusre right from the start of his career as a filmmaker. Nor is it certain From One Film to Another (D'un film à l'autre) will win many new converts to his work. Mainly just a rapid run-through of all his filmography with clips from them and clips from "making of's," with no new footage but enhanced by the director's precipitous voice-over, this isn't on a par with the meditative, enchanting and rich cinematic autobiography that is Varda's Beaches of Agnès of 2008.

    Lelouch has made charming and visually lush (if borderline kitsch) films like his recent Roman de Gare or his most famous, career-making A Man and a Woman. He has made grand ones like Les Miserables (a success in the States). How many are simply inexplicable I must leave to those more familiar with his work to say, but I've seen a few. The director tends to use one tête-à-tête to exemplify a film which suggests a penchant for theatrical monologues in which one actor stares dumbfounded while he or she is lectured by the other.

    Lelouch got into Russia in the Fifties and shot with a hidden camera. The result got him to be a military filmmaker in the war. He learned through the non-actors he had to use for his less than admirable efforts the considerable value of a professional cast. His first efforts as a civilian weren't very successful. He had to make the contemporary equivalent of music videos to survive from time to time. Then he made A Man and a Woman, with Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Tritignant and the music of Francis Lai, and he was made. He won an Oscar, and to his credit, he said then that he would not use this huge American success to make Hollywood films but would always continue to make "films d'auteur." A conventional translation for that phrase today is "arthouse films."

    So in that sense, Lelouch considers himself an "auteur." But he is, to put it mildly, not the darling of critics. He is not edgy. It's not easy to define a style for him.

    What impresses are several qualities shown in the "making of" sequences, acknowledged by some of the actors he worked with. He had an infectious energy, a love of filmmaking, a willingness to work 18 hours a day. He did his own camerawork. He defines Kalatzov's 1957 The Cranes Are Flying, particularly a dolly shot where a cameraman spins down a spiral staircase following an actor, as giving birth to his desire to make movies together with his sense that the star of every movie is the camera. He takes input from everybody, is known as an actors director, and thinks when there are experienced specialists on the set, it would be idiotic not to take advice from them.

    These are all sterling qualities. Why then have I not liked more of Claude Lelouch's movies? Well, you can't have anything. But maybe I simply need to see more of them, to be sure. But there are 51. It's a daunting task, given that what I have seen by him has not profoundly impressed me. But seeing some of the actors Lelouch has director does whet the appetite of any cinematic francophile. A Wikipedia article suggests he has ceased to interest the French audience and may have been replaced in their affections by Cédric Klapisch.

    D'un film à l'autre will open in Paris April 13, 2011. This date marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Films 13, Lelouch's company. It was seen and reviewed as part of the March 3-13, 2011 New York series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance and shown at the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.

    Film trailer.

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    Martin Provost: The Long Falling (2011)

    Martin Provost: The Long Falling (2011)


    YOLANDE MOREAU AND PIERRE MOURE IN THE LONG FALLING

    Desperate housewife

    Eric Lartigau's The Big Picture flashily but unconvincingly adapts Douglas Kennedy's bestseller -- a dubious imitation of a Patricia Highsmith Tom Ripey novel. Martin Provost, on the other hand, has produced a French adaptation of an English-language thriller that seems like a story Patricia Highsmith might really like. The doomed murderess tries to escape detection but cannot succeed. Martin Provost again uses Yolande Moreau, the superb French character actress who starred in his much celebrated Séraphine (three Césars, one for Best Film), this time in a very different story, but again a slow burner of a movie that builds from a dull monotony into a frenzy of nerves involving more and more people.

    The result is quite a good film. Provost and his screenplay co-writer Marc Abdelnour give he story a precipitous noirish excitement that is the more surprising for involving a matronly, abstracted-looking woman. Cinematography by Clair Denis regular Agnès Godard provides subtly handsome images. This understated crime film and character study has a lot going for it. The original novel is by Irishman Keith Ridgway, his first. The French title is Où va la nuit? (Where Does the Night Go?) The setting has been transferred from Ireland to France, with the later scenes in Brussels.

    The film begins with a man (Eric Godin) running over a young woman with his car on a rural road. He admits to the homicide and gets six months in jail. His wife, Rose Mayer (Yolande Moreau), a plump, taciturn woman, maintains the small farm. When he comes back, he commences to get drunk and beat her on a regular basis. One night she goes out to where the girl was run over and runs over her husband. She washes the car and tries to cover her tracks. She seems not to be a suspect but goes to Brussels to stay with her gay son Thomas (Pierre Moure). He welcomes her initially, but it is obvious that there is no real place for her there. She meets a friend of Thomas' who is a journalist (Laurent Capelluto), and eventually, Thomas' lover Vincent (Valentijn Dhaenens). The detective shows up and tells Rose that not by his choice but due to police policy, the car is being tested. It is a warning. He also talks to Thomas' journalist friend, who in turn eventually confronts Rose, hoping for a revelation that will be a story for him and also may help her receive more humane treatment by authorities. In the course of things more details of the family's dysfunction emerge.

    But Rose, already de trop in her son's world and now afraid, begins disappearing. She flees a night club when she spots the detective. She leaves her son's place and stays elsewhere, winding up at a room in a house run by a nice lady (Edith Scob) who has been abandoned by her husband and who bonds with her. Rose and her son have a warm, if a little awkward, connection, but when she tells him what she has done his reaction is a disturbed, confused mixture of anger and guilt. The sensitivity Provost showed toward mental derangement in Séraphine eventually serves him again here.

    The film's erratic sequence once she goes to Brussels reflects Rose Mayer's confusion and panic, but the film's poise is shown in the way at the same time things are kept quite clear for the audience. Moreau's recessive, understated performance gives her character a sense of mystery and complexity, but also that Highsmithian sense of a criminal trapped in his crime. Finally what began as a minimalist, almost Beckettian drama of family desperation and provincial ennui ends as an offbeat police thriller with Thelma and Louise overtones. Editing by Ludo Troch works well in conveying the increasingly claustrophobic world of Madame Mayer. Martin Provost has again shown himself to be a filmmaker of quality and Yolande Moreau remains an actor at the top of her game.

    The Long Falline/Où va la nuit opens in France May 4, 2011. It was seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance and screened during the series (which runs from March 3 to 13, 2011) at the Walter Reade Theater uptown, IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.

    The French critics admired the continuing collaboration of Provost and Moreau, but were less enthusiastic than for Séraphine. There was an Allociné rating of 3.2 based on 19 reviews, some critics finding the secondary characters underdeveloped and the main character dealt with in too detached a manner. Peter Debruge of Variety felt the author's film adaptation lacked the momentum of his book. So I am somewhat in a minority here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:15 PM.

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    Coline Serreau: Think Global, Act Rural (2010)

    Coline Serreau: Think Global, Act Rural (2010)

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    The trouble with dirt

    Think Global, Act Rural (original title: Solutions Locales pour un Desordre Global, "Local Solutions for a Global Disorder") is a French documentary about organic farming. It provides descriptions, warnings, and solutions - though how they can be applied on a large scale is not broached. The main speakers are scientists, activists, philosophers, and farmers. There are about a dozen of them who are identified in detail on the film's website. The most memorable images are of the many little bugs that invisibly activate healthy soil, and repeated demonstrations of how the look of plowed, chemically devastated soil differs in appearance and consistency from the looser, pliable "couscous" that is healthy arable ground.
    The destruction of natural agriculture is a product of modern war. World War I was the beginning of the eradication of the peasant farmer. World Wars I and II led directly to the creation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to recycle and continue marketing the materials developed by war industries, such as mustard gas. Essentially war on humans was converted to war on the environment. To sell these products farmers had to be convinced that what they always knew was wrong; that soil cannot enrich itself from natural means and seeds cannot germinate without artificial help.

    Agriculture originally existed for subsistence. When it moved into mass production for urban populations who can't produce their own food, it converted to a factory model.

    Now, a private farm goes out of existence in Europe every two minutes; hundreds of thousands of suicides have occurred in India due to the effects of the "Green Revolution." The "Green Revolution" comes later in the story, of course, but is the one big thing new students of this subject need to learn about. The "Green Revolution," which got a Nobel Peace Prize, is a neoliberal scheme that globalized the methods and products of agribusiness and caused and is causing worldwide destruction of the agricultural environment and the independent farmer's livelihood. It meant a massive industrialization of agriculture, involving the replacement of a multitude of indigenous crops with a few high-yielding varieties that require expensive investments of chemicals, fertilizers and machinery.

    Literally the most down-to-earth experts in the film are Lydia and Claude Bourguignon. Lydia is a doctor in food engineering and Claude is an agronomist and doctor in microbiology. They left the French National Food Engineering Institute (INRA) because they disagreed with its thinking and they started their own lab for soil microbiology. Claude explains that deep ploughing and chemical fertilization together ruin the soil. Agribusiness methods are self-perpetuating. It ruins the soil and provides plants and conditions that are not self-sustaining, and then its products must be used, which in turn perpetuate the undermining of agriculture.

    There have been other, American, documentaries that have described the role of corporations in this process. Bourguignon mentions that attempts were made to develop square eggs and square tomatoes, and we know that Monsanto has developed seeds and pesticides that depend on each other. When the "Green Revolution" took over poor countries, farmers were destroyed economically, sold their farms to pay their debts for buying fertilizers and non-self-sustaining agribusiness seeds, and are reduced to sharecropping on their own former property.

    The last part of the film shows in rough outline how healthy organic farming is carried out. Examples of a Russian farmer and farming in India and Brazil are given. Think Global, Act Rural is a talky, no-nonsense documentary without a narrator or a grand message or fancy diagrams. It is just a few people talking and images of farming and soil. It has hardly any music. Some of the editing is jumpy. The version I saw was without titles or end credits. It is a piece of advocacy that presents essentially one point of view. No spokesmen for agribusiness or "Green Revolution" are heard from. Programmatic solutions aren't gone into: how do these local solutions become global? How can small farmers get started again? How do we feed growing urban populations with the methods of rural India? Nonetheless this is a good film with important new things to teach us. I didn't know agribusiness grew out of war industry, or that ploughing destroyed farmland; or that crops can grow beautifully on top of soil-enriching plants, and thus weeds can't choke them when that's done; and that planting works best near trees; and farms need cows on hand to grow plants with the fertilizer they provide.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, a series presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center from March 3-13, 2011 at three locations, the Walter Reade Theater at Broadway and 65th Street, the IFC Center at Sixth Avenue and West 3rd Street, and BAMcinétek in Brooklyn.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:19 PM.

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    Claude Lelouch: What Love May Bring (2010)

    Claude Lelouch: What Love May Bring (2010)



    Over the top

    What Love May Bring/Ces amours-là is described in UniFrance's" Rendez-Vous with French Cinema" blurb as "an inimitable romantic epic" in which "a woman reflects on her turbulent youth and all the men she has ever loved in her life," a film "which Lelouch calls 'a remake of my 41 films,' spanning decades in the life of a cinema usherette." And it has "cameos from Belmondo et al." Definitely et al. And al. and al. and al. Though it's a fiction, it tends to blend in the mind into Lelouch's recent self-documentary (also a UniFrance, FSLC "Rendez-Vous" selection). That "et al." also means a run-through at the end of shots of the faces of some of the dozens of movie stars who have appeared in Lelouch's films -- a self-indulgence that made more sense in the documentary than in this fiction feature. But Lelouch is a character here too, played by a young man who looks a lot like him, and it's finally hard to separate the plot from the filmography, the reminiscences from the fiction.

    Well, Ces amours-là (I like the French title better, though I can't translate it) is a fantasmagoric, preposterously complicated saga about generations and France in World War II and filmmaking, and love, and Americans and Germans, and practically everything else Claude Lelouch could think of. This is an awesome mash-up, whose use of music and image is a continual pleasure. But the trouble is that the material reads very much like Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds -- and the comparison is not good for Lelouch. His version lacks the excruciatingly suspenseful scenes, the absurd humor, the gruesomeness, and the dramatic finale; and not only that: when you compare the two films Tarantino's has the better production values and the more striking scenes. Not for lack of trying on the French director's part. Lelouch gives us a land-rush in the American West, World War II combat sequences, explosions in a cinema, and lots of period scenes staged in Paris, as well as a love affair with a Nazi officer, scenes at the Blue Angel, the legendary nightclub he happened to have managed, and sequences of Jews being sent off in freight cars. But it's all standard issue, the quality of the production evidently suffering from budgetary cuts and shooting of a lot of the material in Romania's MediaPro Studios. Moreover, the Jewish deportation sequences are in very dubious taste. Like Benigni's overrated Life Is Beautiful, they turn the Holocaust into material for a musical. A scene in a freight car actually shows an actress rehearsing Cocteau's La voix humaine (and she has a telephone), and is applauded by the smiling deportees, who are on their way to a concentration camp.

    The camps are otherwise represented by a character who survives by playing Rachmaninoff for the Nazi supervisors. The strains of Rachmaninoff are heard on and off for some time as a link with other scenes from a couple of other story lines, and all we see is the guy playing the piano, in a prison cap. A final concentration camp scene has a man singing a Charles Trenet song, in premature celebration of liberation, which gets him shot, but not before his smiling fellow prisoners applaud him. Of course you can't take What Love May Bring seriously, and maybe you're not supposed to. But somehow you have to take the Holocaust seriously. Camping up World War II is a tricky business, which Tarantino can handle (though not in the opinion of everyone), but Lelouch cannot. When he does it here, it's just jarring, incomprehensible, and bad taste.

    LIke the heroine of Basterds, Ilva (Audrey Dana of Welcome), the bed-hopping narrator, works in a movie theater. And it gets partially blown up, with a mystery surrounding this event. It's hard to keep track of Ilva's "loves," except for one case where they're color-coded. One storyline has Jim Singer, "the richest man in the world," a young white American working as a war journalist, dropped into France along with Bob Kane, a black prizefighter, who's become a Paratrooper and who saves the rich boy's life. Bob Kane is played by Jacky Ido, who was in Inglourious Basterds. Jim Singer is played by the charismatic Gilles Lemaire, who was in Lelouch's much more successful and much simpler 2007 Roman de Gare. Another lapse of taste has Jim and Bob having sex in bed with Ilva, and a silly business about her choosing between them for a husband. They're inseparable -- Bob and Jim, Jules et Jim, get it?

    Jim and Bob are appealing enough, but many of the actors are mediocre, or wasted. Dana may be a current pet of Lelouch, but she lacks the gloss needed for a protagonist with many lovers. As Ilva's first and last love, singer Raphaël is sexy but Laurent Couson, as Simon, the pianist/lawyer, is not memorable. French reviewers were pained by Liane Foly as a Piaf knockoff. Even the excellent Dominique Pichon, memorable in Roman de Gare, isn't, here. The value of working Anouk Aimée and other Lelouch idols into the stew is obscure. If only Lelouch could forget his obsessions, give them a rest, and make a simple little film again.

    There are plenty of enjoyable little moments, but they are wasted. There's some nice linking of scenes and interweaving of stories with linking music that could be models of how to make a film, if they were only part of a manageable scenario. You can have a good time watching this movie but only up to a point.

    Ces amours-là opened in Paris September 10 and did not receive good reviews, particularly not from the more prestigious venues such as Figaroscope, Le Monde, L'Express, Le Nouvel Observateur; Cahiers du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles did not cover it. Allociné 2/9 based on 18 reviews.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema presented March 3-14, 2011 by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:20 PM.

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    Brigitte Sy: Free Hands (2010)

    Brigitte Sy: Free Hands (2010)


    CARLO BRANDT AND RONIT ELKABETZ IN FREE HANDS

    Falling for the wrong guy

    When Barbara Vidal (Ronit Elkabetz, Israeli star of Late Wedding and The Band's Visit), who's experienced at such work, makes a film in a prison outside Paris, she falls in love with one of her inmate actors, Michel (Carlo Brandt), and he with her. Furtive kisses, a little hand-holding, and a smoke together are all they get. Passionate letters are exchanged, à la Eldridge Cleaver and Beverly Axelrod. Michel is finishing eleven years for robbery and may get out soon, though he doesn't know exactly when.

    "A true story" covers a multitude of sins. Here, in this belated debut feature (she is 55) by the mother of Louis Garrel, the problem is flatness. This film plods. It doesn't help that scenes outside the prison are void of content. They show Barbara with ever-smiling best friend Rita (Noémie Lvovsky), exchanging telegraphic comments on the love affair, or with the sound off.

    Barbara interviews the participating inmates, then makes up a script using their words. The result is a series of brief monologues. Nothing much new seems to be added, paralleling the effect of this film itself, which is a film about a film in which reality and illusion are indistinguishable -- but equally uninteresting. The film rushes seem disappointing to the inmates. The warden (Alain Ollivier) is favorable to the project but thinks the film would have been more fun for the prisoners if the filmmaker had thought up an original story for them to act out. It might have been more fun for us too. The scenes are repetitive. All that stands out is the urgency of Michel's love for Barbara, nurtured in the hothouse atmosphere of prison.

    Elkabetz and Brandt are intense presences separately, but despite the long stares and snatched kisses show little chemistry together. The prison too is lifeless, too clean and orderly to seem real till finally there's a single shot of the yard, recalling the place where some of the key moments of Jacques Audiard's much more powerful prison movie A Prophet take place. Unlike Audiard's film, with its complex, pulsating milieu, this one makes no attempt to depict life behind bars -- or, for that matter, life outside.

    In one conversation Michel tells Barbara criminals often spend whole years in dive bars waiting for something to happen, decades waiting for the one big "job" to come along. Another time he describes bank robberies. All this seems academic. Sy labors under the handicap of a story that must tell rather than show.

    What we learn about Barbara as time goes on is that she has an ex-husband, a young child, and a druggie former boyfriend who comes around to pester her. The way she looks at the latter suggests her penchant for the wrong sort of man is still strong -- as if we didn't see that already from her fascination with the thuggish Michel. She also is HIV positive and takes multiple medications, a fact hinted to us and revealed by her to Michel late in the game.

    Eventually Barbara introduces into her screenplay a conversation between Michel and a woman surrogate, Chloë (Camille Figuereo), a trainee, that gives away the romance. This alerts the warden that something improper may be going on.

    Finally, complication, a pause, a staged ritual, and a follow-up. Barbara does something illegal for Michel concerning money, he gets rearrested, and she is briefly incarcerated as an accomplice. (One wonders if she got her medications, but that detail is ignored.) She 's quickly cleared of criminal intent and released on condition that she not see, call, or write him for a year. When that time is up they marry in the prison, a ceremony that is shown. To show passage of time, Michel has grown a beard. A final title shows the honeymoon did not last long.

    There's a brief reference to Sy's longtime companion and mentor, the cult filmmaker Philippe Garrel: one inmate reassures another that his films aren't difficult, just "slow." It would have been interesting if Philippe Garrel had made this film. He would not have been as literal. His minimalism and stylistic originality might have made something arresting and poetic out of this material. One thinks also, of course, of Genet, another master of mood. Though there's nothing gay, the focus on passion and incarceration reminds one of Genet's jail poetry. Carlo Brandt looks so much like Genet Sy must have thought of the connection too. Genet's ability to paint a personality in a few bold strokes would have come in handy here. In contrast, the World War II bomb squad makeup of the inmate group -- black, Arab, white, Asian -- is hackneyed and uninformative in its facile but superficial delineation of character.

    Sy not only has made films for years inside prisons, but is HIV-positive, and this story is said to be altogether autobiographical. Her closeness to the material, however, may have been more a liability than an asset. It did not keep this debut from being a disappointment.

    There is a good audience for this kind of severe, earnest film in France and when Les mains libres (100 min., in French) opened in Paris June 16, 2010 it was widely and often favorably reviewed, though some writers, like the reviewer for Les Inrockuptibles, saw the same problem I did: too little distance between artist and subject. Seen and reviewed this time as part of the March 3-14, 2011 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the Water Reade Theater, the IFC Center and BAMcinématek.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-23-2011 at 08:56 PM.

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    Anthony Cordier: Happy Few (2010)

    Anthony Cordier: Happy Few (2020)


    MARINA FOÏS AND NICOLAS DUVAUCHELLE IN HAPPY FEW

    Four way spouse-swopping

    Two Parisian couples agree to swap partners in Cordier’s sophomore effort, which continues the theme of the complications of partner-sharing that he gave a class twist to in his youth-oriented debut Cold Showers/Douches froides (2005). Again there is a certain lack of depth in the lead characters, and this time the film is marred by a somewhat aimless trajectory and multiple finale. But Happy Few has the attraction of a well known and experienced cast including Marina Foïs, Roschdy Zem, Nicolas Duvauchelle, and Élodie Bouchez. The focus on adult couples rather than adolescents will make the film appeal to more mature audiences. There is a titillation value too, since there are sensual moments as well as graphically sexual ones. But Happy Few isn't really meant to be primarily sexy or witty. Strange and elementary as the question may be, Cordier actually is interested in whether wife- and husband-swapping can work. Of course it doesn't, not for long, even here.

    Here's what seems to happen. Rachel (Foïs) meets Vincent (Duvauchelle) at her jewelry-making studio when he comes to check on a web design. They're attracted to each other, and she invites him to bring his wife Teri (Bouchez) to have dinner and meet her husband Franck (Zem), an acupressure and Feng Shui guru who writes large paperback guidebooks to Asian arts. Teri does interpreting, or aims to, and speaks English and in her younger days she made it to the Olympics gymnastics competition. That's the last we get of their identities and occupations. The couples have kids and play squash and table tennis. At the get-acquainted dinner, Franck begins to finger Teri's vertebrae, and before long they kiss. The others look on without disapproval. Before long the swap has been made. As time goes on, the two couples establish a routine of frequently having sex with each others' spouses. Meanwhile they still manage to maintain their previous lives, households, and responsibilities. It's fun for a while, until Rachel starts setting limits and then eventually calls a halt to the whole experiment.

    Actually there is a deception involved, because it turns out one side of the swap was happening before they all four got together, and so we, the viewers, have been deceived too. This hardly constitutes an exciting development. If anything it simply deflates the already limp balloon.

    In fact Cold Showers had more going for it plot-wise. Cordier's first film focused on a working-class youth and judo star who becomes involved in a three-way with his girlfriend and a competitor who comes from privilege. We are drawn into the protagonist's struggle with identity, class, and values and the film gains a conventional but effective structure from focusing on high school finals and a big match in which the two boys are involved.

    Happy Few is, as they say, a process rather than an event. Once Franck and Teri are a sexual, romantic couple and Vincent and Rachel are another such pairing, things get confused, because the new relationships cut into the old ones, which they are not about to give up. At one absurd moment, they are all sending cell phone photos of the sky to their new lovers, forgetting that will annoy their spouses. And when Rachel comes home and finds Franck and Teri asleep, nude, in each other's arms, she's not pleased. They also have to try to hide their misbehavior from their preteen kids. As with Cold Showers, there is bold nudity of both sexes, though the bodies are less newly minted this time. It all comes to seem rather pointless and silly, and in need of some old-fashioned secrecy and deception to add spice -- as well as more passion, more style, and more panache.

    As Vincent, Duvauchelle is the only lover who seems genuinely interested -- in his new, older woman Rachel (Foïs). It never seems clear what Bouchez sees in Zem or vice versa: Feng Shui? The sad fact is that since there's little to do but look at bodies after a while, Duvauchelle and Foïs are good to look at but (partly the dp's fault) Zem is too ugly and Bouchez too scrawny to be easy on the eyes. Then the relationship between Vincent and Rachel is spoiled for us when Vincent starts pointlessly smacking Rachel around and banging her hard. When Rachel asks Franck to hit her while they're having sex we don't know if we should laugh or cringe. Either way, the lack of depth in the character development here -- a process dropped in favor of nude romps -- is stunning.

    The ending is clumsy enough. Rachel calls a halt, and they all seem to agree the swapping can't continue. Yet they also seem (in some of the pointless voice-overs) to think they can't live without each other as a foursome. What finally happens remains vague. The writing of Cordier and his co-author Julie Peyr seems poorly thought out at times. It might have been better if the audience was let in on the deception from the start and was able to see the deceivers' scheme slowly go awry. There were some doubts about Cordier after his first film particularly as to the writing, which Happy Few doesn't altogether put to rest.

    Happy Few (the original title of the French language film), poster subtitle "Aimez qui vous voulez," "Love whomever you like," opened in Paris September 15, 2010 and got good reviews in some sophisticated places -- Le Monde, Libération, Les Inrockuptibles. But Cahieers du Cinéma and Télérama were disappointed as I was. Seen and reviewed as part of the March 3-14, 2011 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema presented by Unifrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at three venues, the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.

    Happy Few has been retitled Four Lovers for the English-speaking audience and will be released in the US March 30, 2012.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 01:25 PM.

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    Angelo Cianci: Top Floor, Left Wing (2010)

    Angelo Cianci: Top Floor, Left Wing (2010)


    MOHAMMED FELLAG, HIPPOLYTE GIRARDOT AND AYMAN SAÏD IN TOP FLOOR, LEFT WING

    Comedy, suspense, and social satire in the Banlieue

    Top Floor, Left Wing writer-director Angelo Cianci's entertaining and politically alert first feature is a ghetto comedy with a new approach to the peripheral Parisian banlieue world and its manifold social problems. The banlieue has provided fodder for a range of French dramas like Mathieu Kassovitz's 1995 La haine, Kechicne's celebrated debut Games of Love and Chance (2003), or Audrey Estrougo's less known Ain't Scared (2007). And it's been milked successfully for action films like Ma 6-T va crack-er (Jean-François Richet, 1996), Pierre Morel's Banlieue 13 (2004), or the more mainstream From Paris with Love (2009, Morel again), the latter two, and others, featuring the French-spawned school of building-jumping acrobatics called parkour.

    Top Floor, Left Wing's young protagonist is the feisty, foul-mouthed French-Algerian 20-something Akli AKA Salem (Aymen Saïd) who shares a shabby high-rise apartment with his out-of-work father Mohand (Mohammed Fellag), might have made good use of parkour's gravity-defying skills. But he's more earthbound when François, Hippolyte Girardot's sardonic bailiff (or huissier de justice) invades the building threatening eviction. Akli's terror -- if the authorities inspect the flat they could find the five kilos of cocaine he's holding for a dealer pal -- turns to rage and he takes François prisoner to demand justice for his family and, eventually, the whole building.

    The practical problem is precisely that the front door is blocked by cops when the crisis Akli starts is under way, and the cocaine is there, and the flat windows are too high up for an escape -- if you aren't a parkour specialist, that is. So while controversy and excitement rage outside, Mahoud, François and Akli, stuck in close quarters day and night and another day, get to know each other as they never would otherwise, and that includes father and son. Cianci's screenplay generates considerable excitement while spinning out socio-political satire as it skillfully describes the machinations of a local mayor, police chief, "white" and Arab hostage negotiators, François's estranged wife, and the media -- which to Akli's great annoyance doesn't even mention him, but describes his father as guilty of "barbaric" crimes back in the "bled," Algeria.

    The suspense keeps ramping up, but it never gets in the way of the comedy as Akli's over-the-top obscenities, the passive-aggressive interactions among the three men, and events outside unfold. Akli arranges with his drug-dealer friend to extricate both the cocaine and him, and the Berger language they speak on their cell phones baffles the cops. François starts out a prisoner and finishes as an ally. Finally, the whole building and the one adjoining it in the complex joins in a tenants' revolt, pitching cheap furniture and malfunctioning appliances out of the windows as Akli/Salem composes rap lyrics celebrating his father, whom he'd thought a spineless victim of the colonials, as a hero back home after a secret is unearthed by the bailiff.

    The cops are trigger-happy and the media and a police boss both delight in suggesting Akli is a "terrorist" (the buzz-word of the moment). The young man, his father, and the justice bureaucrat they loathed all turn out to have similar gripes against the French system -- as does the whole neighborhood. The Film ends with things up in the air, and sound over the closing credits is, of course, a French rap song.

    The mixture of comedy, social commentary, and nail-biting action with a loaded gun and nervous snipers outside may be too complicated a mix to appeal to everybody, but Top Floor, Left Wing is an original, cleverly written, and very well acted film whose content will make it worth talking about. Girardot (Kings and Queen, Lady Chatterley, A Christmas Tale) and Fellag (The Barons) are pros who give subtle, realistic performances, but it's the younger actor, Aymen Saïdi, who give the picture its in-your-face vibrancy and life. The cinematography by Séraphine's Laurent Brunet and intricate set design by Christina Schaffer add to the quality.

    Dernier étage gauche gauche opened in Paris November 17, 2010 to mixed reviews, which ranged from calling it a gem to damning it as well-intentioned but unfunny. Seen and reviewed as part of the March 3-14, 2011 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at three locations, the Walter Reade Theater uptown, IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinétek in Brooklyn.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-24-2011 at 07:04 AM.

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