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

  1. #16
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    Philippe Le Guay: Service Entrance (2011)

    Philippe Le Guay: Service Entrance (2011)


    KIBERLAIN, LUCCHINI AND FLEUROT IN SERVICE ENTRANCE

    Downstairs upstairs, 1962

    Les Femmes du 6e étage (The Women on the Sixth Floor, AKA "Service Entrance") is a smooth and entertaining French bourgeois social comedy about a well-off financier's early 1960's awakening to working class earthiness. Fabrice Lucchini is, as always, impeccable as the financier. There is an endearing cast of women to play the Spanish maids Jean-Louis Joubert (Lucchini) befriends in his old grande-bourgeoise apartment building, and Sandrine Kiberlain is selfless and perfect as Suzanne, Jean-Louis' stiff provincial French wife. Unfortunately Philippe Le Guay and his co-author Jérôme Tonnerre don't entirely know what to do with this fine material and what this all adds up to finally is at once clichéd and inconclusive. Pleasure is to be had along the way, though.

    Jean-Louis and his wife -- two teen sons being most of the time in boarding school -- live in a big flat that's been in the family for three generations, as has his investment firm. Lucchini is a milder version of very much the same kind of chauvinistic taskmaster he plays in the recent Potiche, another period film comedy but one with more political bite (also included in this film series). Petty differences lead the family's live-in French maid Germaine (Michele Gleizer) to quit abruptly after twenty-five years of service. Jean-Louis and Suzanne learn Breton maids are no longer on offer. The new work force is Spanish. The attractive one they hire, Maria (Natalia Verbeke) is not only perfect; she introduces Jean-Louis to a bevy of other Spanish maids who live in tiny upstairs chambres de bonne on the titular sixth floor.

    The central misunderstanding, once Jean-Louis becomes so enamored of the earthy warmth of this subculture, is that Suzanne thinks her husband is making love to one of the Parisian society ladies she thinks outmatch her (Audrey Fleurot) while he's actually sampling paella with Maria, Concepción, Carmen, Dolores, Teresa and Pilar at a flat outside the apartment building he's rented for one of the women because her husband was beating her. This contretemps torpedoes the marriage.

    The sixth floor has no hot water at all and no running water in the little rooms, not even a functioning toilet. Nonetheless when Jean-Louis and Suzanne break up he goes to live in a vacant maid's room and is happy for the first time since childhood to have a room of his own.

    The film pokes fun at the upper bourgeois lifestyle. It does not make light as it might of the rather stereotypical way in which Jean-Louis buys into earthy poor people, specifically Spanish ones. Sixth Floor is charming and easy on the eyes. It would be more effective if it was harsher with Jean-Louis' infatuation and if it gave Lucchini more of a chance to indulge his celebrated outrageousness and verbal brilliance. His role as Jean-Louis is as much too soft as his turn as Robert Pujol in Potiche is too harsh for his edgy, hysterical articulateness. His best recent film role remains that of the fancy lawyer son in last year's Les invités de mon père (Arnaud Paumelle ), and though some may like this quintessentially French actor as Beaumarchais or in Molière, he may really be best in contemporary comedies and his early appearances in the films of Éric Rohmer. One can pretty much tell how good a French film is by how well it uses Fabrice Lucchini. But Lucchini would not be as good as he is if he could not perform superbly in this role. His delicate awakening is charming to watch in this film.

    As a nod to political awareness, one of the maids, Carmen (Lola Duenas), is a chain-smoking communist. While the others plan on saving money and moving back to Spain, Carmen vows never to do that till Franco's fascist regime ends, which of course means she has a considerable wait ahead of her.

    Les Femmes du 6e étage opened in Paris February 16 2011 to generally favorable reviews (Allociné 3/4/23): it is hard to find fault with this deft and entertaining romantic comedy with social, class overtones. It never errs, except fort its avoidance of rude awakenings and its irrelevant feel-good coda. 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 at three locations, the Walter Reade Theater, IFC Center, and BAMcinétek.

    Released as The Women on the Sixth Floor October 7, 2011 in the US. Metacritic rating an unimpressive 52. Some American reviewers chose to be cruel. The NY Times' Manohla Dargis: "Lighter than a meringue and as insubstantial, the French boulevard comedy The Women on the 6th Floor was designed for the gentle laughter it easily earns." Ty Burr of the Boston Globe: "a bourgeois wet dream made to soothe the souls and stir the loins of powerful men in midlife crisis." But this, like Potiche, was enjoyed by the US art house audience.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-20-2012 at 01:57 AM.

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    Romain Goupil: Hands Up (2010)

    Romain Goupil: Hands Up (2010)


    LINDA DOUDAEVA,LOUNA KLANIT, JULES RITMANIC IN HANDS UP

    Children without papers

    Hands Up (Les Mains en l'air) is a little film with a big heart and some wonderful scenes of children. The subject: a Croatian girl in a Paris middle school. Members of her family are legal residents of France; she is not and neither is her mother (Malika Doudaeva). The film is about how a French family and her schoolmates protect her from police arrest and how she gains legal status. Along the way Valeria Bruni Tedeschi smokes too many cigarettes, a ring tone is found that only children hear, and kids hiding in a cellar of their own school building adopt the seven babies of a female rat. This is a film about the burning issue of the "sans papiers" but it avoids earnestness by being lively, lighthearted and cute. The kids' interactions have a rare naturalness. Voiceovers by two people sixty years later set it all in perspective: they are the Croatian girl, Milana (Linda Doudaeva) and Blaise (Jules Ritmanic), the boy who is in love with her and still, as an old man, thinks of her every day. Legalization of Milana's status ended the young romance when she was sent to Lille to be with her uncle. He never saw her again. She was disappointed by the outcome too. She had been much happier away from her somewhat violent family. A triumph for social justice was a defeat for young love.

    Entertaining and playful though it is, this is clearly a committed, left-leaning film firmly supporting amnesty for the undocumented. The mature Milana many years later underlines the filmmaker's contempt for M. Sarkozy by saying she "can't remember" who was President of France at that time. It is a fact that President Sarkozy's strict immigration policy has set an annual deportation quota of 25,000 persons and sometimes targets children registered in public schools, as is happening in the film.

    In the story, one family protects Milana but it's her little school "gang" that hides her and gains national prominence by doing so. Blaise and his younger sister Alice (Louna Klanit) are the children of Cendrine (Bruni Tedeschi) and Luc (director Goupil). When one of the kids' pals in their building, Youssef (Dramane Sarambounou), and his whole family are deported and the mother in a family they know commits suicide and the police are clearly arresting kids, teachers and parents discuss what to do. It's Centrine who decides to take Milana into her family to hide her. Luc thinks this misguided and wants instead to go directly to a city official he knows and use "pistons," connections, to further Milana's case, an idea Cendrine strongly opposes.

    Like Laurent Cantet in his (2008) Cannes Golden Palm winner The Class, Goupil uses improvisations to get natural sequences with the children. An early scene of them exchanging secret messages in math class shows their extraordinary complicity. Things jump forward when, with Milana as a de facto sister, Cendrine takes the kids for summer vacation. First off she has a loud confrontation with her brother Rodolphe (Hippolyte Girardot). He's to the right of Luc, and mocks her as an irresponsible dreamy pinko. Bruni Tedsechi has typically an abstracted, tired, but determined quality that fits this film's adult take on the issues. The romance between Blaise and Milana moves quietly forward in this vacation passage. Cendrine gets Milana a pretty blue bathing suit, but she won't go swimming with the others. She is embarrassed and hides because she is so happy. Blaise carves "M B" in a heart on a tree. Milana is pretty as a nineteenth-century portrait. Puff-haired Blaise is feisty and poetic, with a Roman profile. It's only innocent puppy love, but they do make a pretty couple. Mostly it's the kids' group dynamic that matters, though.

    Nationality or race mean nothing to the children, who later decide to hide in the cave where before they manufactured pirated DVDs (a slightly far-fetched project for 10-year-olds?). Prevented from coming along, their friend Ali (Louka Masset) serves as outside informant, using number code. Cell phones are out because cops can track them.

    The four-day disappearance of the band of brothers and sisters, which ends when Ali is followed by police to the kid's lair, devastates Cendrine and Luc, is all over the national news, and inspires copy-cat disappearances elsewhere in France. The whole business is never sentimentalized or turned into melodrama. The truant kids simply have a great time. The movie gives us media, school, police, the whole outer context, but it's the focus on candles, raindrops, flipflops, and games that anchor it in an engaging and palpable reality and make it a surprising success and convey a pro-immigrant message without didacticism. The HD cinematography by Irina Lubtchansky is good at keeping the kids sharp and intimate; she uses a rougher digital look for the moment when the children are brought out of their hiding place and on instinct rather than out of necessity do so "hands up."

    Goupil is most known for his 1982 reminiscence of 1968, the rueful 1982 Camera d'Or winner To Die at 30. He has since made a series of less known, always political, films. Les Mains en l'air had a special screening at Cannes and was released June 9, 2010 in Paris theaters, receiving generally favorable reviews. However, some critics felt that issues are seen too much through the reassuring filter of bourgeois political correctness and too little through the raw experience of French illegals. Others pointed out that though Goupil avoids stridency he does not sufficiently invite thought. But the film is worth watching just for the children.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at three NYC venues, the Walter Reade Theater uptown, IFC Cener downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, from March 3 to 13, 2011.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-24-2011 at 09:47 PM.

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    Benoît Jacquot: Deep in the Woods (2010)

    Benoît Jacquot: Deep in the Woods (2010)



    Titillating surfaces in a 19th-century tale of sex subjugation

    He's uneven, but successful in landing cool actresses to work with, in keeping with his persistent fascination with the evanescence and power of sexuality. These include Anna Karina, Isabelle Huppert (several times), Dominique Sanda, Virginie Ledoyen, Isabelle Adjani, even Catherine Deneuve. Benoît Jacquot has worked with the savage-looking Isild LeBesco in Sade, Adolphe, À tout de suite and L'Intouchable. Now he has her back again for the semi-factual 19th-century story of a filthy, feral vagrant with inexplicable powers of magic, telekinesis and hypnosis who abducts the daughter of a village doctor to be his trance-like sex slave as he wanders around a rugged segment of the southern French countryside babbling in a patois of French combined with Provençal, Spanish and Italian.

    One of Jacquot's films, The School of Flesh, was in competition at Cannes. If this intermittently compelling study of a sexual liaison between a rich sybarite (Isabelle Huppert) and a bisexual barman (Vincent Martinez) is the height of his achievement, that gives you an idea of his limitations. His other outings with LeBesco have been only so-so, despite their titillation factor. There is plenty of that again here, with LeBesco doing her standard wild and weird act with shivering body, crazed eyes, and the trademark pouty lips, along with the well-deployed breasts, tiny waist (good combination in tight-bodiced period costume), high forehead and striking nose.

    Joséphine (LeBesco) comes under the spell of the ratty young Timothée (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart of the offbeat Argentinian teen film Glue), who pretends to be deaf and dumb to get a free meal from the good doctor Hugues (Bernard Rouquette), Joséphine's dad, and then puts her under some kind of spell. Later after the wanderings and a fight with roadside robbers that leaves Timothée with an infected hand, Joséphine goes to an apothecary, which leads to her and the boy's being hauled off by the police.

    The film is long on scenes of attractive costumed or nude "savagery." Timothée seems to need to put Joséphine under a spell to have sex with her, but then after a while she even gets on top. When the two are rounded up and interrogated after he's had his beard trimmed and his hand amputated, Jacquot is wishy-washy about where things stand. Did the wild guy use "magnetism," i.e., hypnosis, or really put her under a spell? Did he force her to endure repeated rapes, or was she complicit all along in the S&M liaison? No answers are forthcoming, and confusions multiply since there are various diversionary scenes (including a spliced-in trip to a blacksmith who may be his family) that do not build toward a consistent narrative.

    Joséphine is clearly a weird one from the beginning: but can LeBesco ever play any other kind of role? It doesn't seem so. Her shtick is beginning to become over-familiar. Maybe Joséphine and Timothée are two of a kind. But what is he, actually? And what is she? Nothing is worked out. The scenes are vivid and well-photographed and lighted. Timothée's stagy bad teeth and dirty nails would require hypnosis for a girl to overlook, as are his greasy ragged clothes; but his skin and eyes shine forth with an intensity that seems indeed hypnotic, not to mention kind of cute. Pérez Biscayart is as arresting and bizarre as LeBesco and undeniably talented, though at times his face, often shot in extreme closeup, begins to seem too juvenile for a young woman. In the end the whole undeniably beautiful and arrestingly staged costume extravaganza begins to feel familiar (L'Enfant sauvage meets Criminal Lovers), and nothing more than a tony French period framework upon which to hang some wild outdoor sex scenes. Jacquot's screenplay with his co-writer Julien Boivent sets up the machinery of a period drama but it introduces an investigative finale that goes nowhere and serves only to flatten the mystery that came before. Au Fond des bois is less of a washout, to be sure, than Jacquot's two preceding films, L'Intouchable and Villa Amalia, but it feels vacant at its core.

    The film debuted at Toronto and opened in Paris theaters October 13, 2010 to rather enthusiastic reviews, with some strong dissents. Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in NYC, a series from March 3 to 13, 2011 presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

    Film trailer.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 12:35 PM.

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    Alain Corneau: Love Crime (2010)

    Alain Corneau: Love Crime (2010)


    LUDIVINE SAGNIER IN LOVE CRIME

    Deadly perfection

    Alain Corneau's last film is what French critics described as "an old style film noir" with "clockwork precision," whose chilling inevitability hides several aspects that are wholly new. The problem Corneau set himself was in his own words "After you have committed the perfect crime, of which you will definitely be suspected, how can you prove you are innocent by making yourself look guilty?" And he set up this crime by creating its motivations -- jealousy, humiliation, anger -- in the setting of an elegant, high-level corporate world of the chillingly modern part of Paris called La Défence, and making his main protagonists, killer and victim, top women executives.

    Meet Christine (the beautiful and terrifying Kristin Scott Thomas), and Isabelle (the splendid, complex Ludivine Sagnier). In the opening scene, they are together at Christine's impressive house, getting to know each other better -- though on another level neither is a person anyone can get to know. The film is all about the relationship between these two women. Christine is the head of the American company's Paris branch; Isabelle is an immensely talented and smart junior executive there, brilliant and obsessively precise (qualities that will serve a darker purpose later). The relationship is both intimate and distant. The living room, like everything in the film, is cold and gray, but elegant. Isabelle admires a scarf Christine is wearing, and Christine gives it to her. It becomes a link between the two women that nearly chokes the recipient, and then becomes a kind of voodoo object, the linchpin of Isabelle's manipulation of the police.

    Christine sends Isabelle to Cairo for an important meeting about a deal Isabelle has done all the planning for. And she sends along her boyfriend, Philippe (Patrick Mille), also a corporate executive as if to give him to her. They remain an extra day and become lovers. But Christine doesn't give anything. She threatens Philippe with a financial scandal and makes him stay away from Isabelle, and she takes all the credit for Isabelle's triumph in Cairo.

    The first half of the film is absorbed with Isabelle's and Christine's chilly intimacy and the growing destabilization of Isabelle, a gifted but basically insecure and lonely person. Isabelle has a sister (Marie Guillard), who has a little girl and a husband and a little house and an ordinary, happy life. Isabelle can never live in such a world. She is destined to commit her crime, and get away with it. And that will be the partly quite predictable but in small ways surprising trajectory of the second half of the film.

    Some of the scenes are in English and involve American executives of the company: they lend a faintly satirical and comic note to the film. Natalie Carter's dialogue, written with Corneau, develops personalities; his is the steel-trap precision structure of the piece. Corneau at one point wanted to make the film in black and white. Yves Angelo's cinematography is muted enough to almost seem that way, but is set off by a few explanatory sequences (showing how Isabelle set up her crime) in actual black and white. Corneau also was going to omit music entirely. Instead he has used delicate improvisation on the Japanese koto, sounds that might seem relaxing and meditative but here are a delicate signal of mounting alarm. Later Pharaoh Sanders' magnificent saxophone enters. This is based on a 1980's recording Sanders made using koto and sax, called "Kazuko."

    Restraint, elegance, perfection, and a kind of chilling predictability dominate Love Crime. This is its virtue and its great weakness, which makes it leave some viewers quite cold. Watch it, however, for the mutually destructive relationship between Christine and Isabelle and for the quintessentially icy depiction of the corporate world, both of which are exceptional and unique. Scott Thomas and Sagnier have never been better. Corneau has gone out with a flourish. Crime d'amour has a deadly perfection. Certain subtleties of expression of the two women; views out office windows; wine glasses extended but not clinked; a killer embracing her victim in a long death grip: these are moments that stay with you. Pharaoh Sanders' music is as elegant and memorable as the Modern Jazz Quartet's for No Sun in Venice.

    Crime d'amour opened in Paris August 18, 2010, only twelve days before Alain Corneau's death. The critical reception was almost as chilly as the film. French critics were not excited (Allociné 2.9 based on 19 reviews); more than one felt the second half was much too long and one described the film as "stretched out" and "stripped of soul, passion, and flesh." The film is in two halves. The second ought to be exciting but it is more than anything simply methodical. Isabelle gets her perfect crime, with some jail time followed by release and return to take Christine's place in the firm, to, in effect, become her. Le Monde's Thomas Sotinel expressed the viewer's potential problem. To paraphrase, he said that the lead-up to the crime provides all the sensations and motivations we could dream of. We know why it will be committed and who will commit it. But once the victim has been dispatched, we have to put up with a long dénouement that explains a host of details we no longer find quite relevant. Nevertheless, this is a master working at very nearly top form. There is of course one person at the firm, Isabelle's faithful associate Daniel (Guillaume Marquet) who knows all, so that like Alain Delon in René Clément's classic Purple Noon, Isabellle's perfect crime may not be so perfect at the end.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, a series from March 3-13 in New York presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

    Love Crime/Crime d'amour was released in the US September 2, 2011 to moderately favorable reviews (Metacritic 63).

    CK website.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-20-2012 at 12:32 AM.

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    Audrey Estrougo: Leïla (2011)

    Audrey Estrougo: Leïla (2011)


    BENJAMIN SIKSOU IN LEÏLA

    Cluttered French ghetto musical

    Audrey Estrougo's Toi, moi et les autres ("You, Me and the Others") is a cheerful but fundamentally uninvolving French ghetto musical with a sort-of "Westside Story" theme but recyclings of preexisting pop songs, that, despite a sexy cast (Leïla Bekhti, Benjamin Siksou, Cécile Cassel), is dead in the water. A meandering and uninvolving plotline desperately grabs at significance with a dig at Sarkozy's anti-immigrant policies. The wealthy young slacker Gab (Siksou) from the good part of town, engaged to be married in two weeks, and the French-Algerian girl Leïla (Bakhti) with lawyer ambitions who lives in the multicultural African and North African Goutte d'Or quarter of Paris make a cute odd couple, but they never get the songs or the feelings or the tragic conflicts that would make this worthy of mention in the same breath with the classic Laurentis-Bernstein musical. Still this movie has charm and good will (and adorable leads) and its recycled hits still have a lilt at times. Retitled Leïla, it was a selection at Rome and some lesser-known festivals.

    Estrougo, whose 2007 I Ain't Scared/Regarde moi (Rendez-Vous 2008) was a much more realistic film about the Paris Banlieue, deserves credit for doing a French musical that doesn't copy Demy. But what can't be forgiven is the clutter and the inability to engage any solid emotions. Every time anybody goes into the street in Leïla's 'hood, it's jammed with brightly colored dancers doing hip-hop numbers. When Gab takes Leïla to his family's huge flat, the arrondissement is totally empty. We get the idea. It's Leïla's idea too: the upscale world has no life in it. But Christophe Honoré's (much better) Love Songs shows that white Parisians can sing about their love lives too, and when Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier and Clotilde Hesme traipsed around the damp streets of the Bastille, you really felt you were in Paris and not on a tacky movie set. Estrougo could not focus on the posher world of Honoré's better Love Songs, but she could have benefited from observing that movie's light minimal touch. The songs in Honoré's film, by the gifted Alex Beaupain, were completely unexpected, but expressed each time an essential emotion of one of the characters and set a consistent style and mood. Estrougo's musical numbers here, like the dancing, are more forced and heavy-handed.

    Strictly from TV sit-com are Gab's severe fiancee, his overwrought mom, and his police commissioner dad. And strictly from late-night screenwriter's desperation is the whole distracting plotline of the kid brother whose black girlfriend gets arrested with her mother for lack of papers -- and the last-minute effort to get dad to save the girl -- and, when that fails, the still-more-desperate effort to derail the deportation plane back to Africa. Actual footage of demos in the cause of the undocumented add commitment to the film, but what has that got do with the romance of a boy from the XVIe and a girl from the Goutte d'Or? Estrougo can't resolve her romance, so she drops it for a social issue. She should have picked one or the other.

    The romance has its moments, though, and an outrageous attempt at Bollywood deserves credit for audacity. If the movie had slipped completely into camp it might be worth watching. As it is, it may provide some fun for musical comedy fans. As Jacques Mandelbaum of Le Monde wrote, "one would have really liked to have loved" this film. But Estrougo was in over her head here.

    Toi, moi et les autres AKA Leïla opened in Paris February 23, 2011 to very poor reviews. A recurrent judgment was "terribly naive" and "heavy-handed." Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center from March 3-13 at three locations in New York, the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-19-2012 at 11:28 PM.

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    Isabelle Czajka: Living for Love Alone (2010)

    Isabelle Czajka: Living for Love Alone (2010)


    PIO MARMAÏ AND ANAÏS DEMOUSTIER IN LIVING BY LOVE ALONE

    In flight from the French job market

    The French title of Living for Love Alone, Isabelle Czajka's second feature, which she wrote and directed, is D'amour et d'eau fraîche, Of Love and Fresh Water. It comes from a saying, On ne peut pas vivre d’amour et d’eau fraîche, meaning You can't live off love and water alone; you've got to work. Czajka's protagonists are out to disprove that notion. As spirited and independent as its good-looking leads, her film is a decisive slice of the life of Julie Bataille (Anaïs Demoustier), a pretty and resilient 23-year-old, and the man she runs off with. After coming to Paris from the country, Julie rejects a couple of demeaning jobs -- clerk at a photo service and girl Friday at a publicity company -- and winds up sleeping with a tattooed 41-year-old from a dance bar and a kind-hearted but flabby door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. They give her some money to keep her going as she chucks her jobs, but she finds a real kindred spirit (or is he a role model?) in Ben (Pio Marmaï), the "actor" who tested her sales skills during her job interview at the encyclopedia business. They hit it off right away, during their "test," when they laugh and joke together. After Julie's de facto trick-turning with older men, Ben isn't just a more appropriate mate: he's an object of beauty. It turns out he was only pretending to be an actor. More truly he's a small-time, off-and-on gangster, and Julie follows him to Spain for a "vacation" that's actually one of his little coups, a "job" for some "pals" that involves switching cars a couple of times and picking up 3,000 euros for what's in the trunk of the last one.

    What happens isn't so important. Living is imbued with the spirit of a young twenty-something, whose experiences are mostly throwaway steppingstones on the way to something that matters. Czajka's accomplishment is to tell her story with a kind of Nouvelle Vague lightness (people and scenes are borderline satirical and mocking) while keeping the action contemporary. Some French viewers, while finding Marmaï and Demoustier the "sexy revelations of the year," thought Czajka's action "sometimes too timid." Maybe they wanted something like Benoît Jacquot's À toute de suite, whose young woman (Isild LeBesco) joins an equally wet-behind-the-ears Arab-French bank robber on the run. But forget the fake excitement of À toute de suite, which eventually founders in detail. D'Amour et d'eau fraîche's more desultory line is more fraught with reality and danger. The pistol Julie finds in the Spanish house and learns from Ben how to shoot is more dangerous because we don't know, nor does she, what he or she will do with it.

    At the same time Julie's life is mundane, almost pathetic. She can't afford a room with a shower. When she visits her family her mother is clueless, and her older brother is nasty when he learns she's been fired from the publicity firm job, which he helped her get. At the publicity firm she is treated vilely, and those two older men are nothing much. This is not the world of improvisational glamor and panache humorously and tragically enacted in Godard's iconic Breathless. Ben may end in a western-style shootout like Belmondo, but his future is really just one big question mark. The point is that Julie sees what's going on -- she's a respectable middle class girl with her University diploma ("Bac + 5") who can't get a decent job -- and thumbs her nose at this fact. Her decision to go on Ben's trip to Spain isn't so decisive; she has many misgivings. "I've got to go back and get a good job," she keeps saying.

    But the film -- the director's second starring Demoustier -- which seems on a downbeat realistic trajectory, runs off the rails once Ben appears. "To make a lot of money you don't have to work," Ben says. "To make a little money, you have to work hard." In today's brutal job market, that is basically true, or very nearly. One may however still wonder why Czajka jumps from her rather subtle and telling little scenes of contemporary work, with their realism tinged with satire, into the conventionally anti-bourgeois romantic alternative of flight with an outlaw, which if not iconic as Godard, is still a fantasy. You could say in criticism as does the reviewer of Le Monde, that "Isabelle Czajka plays the social analysis card without quite being convincing. . .the director seems more concerned with entertaining than with sharply delineating the social system." Precisely: but this film is not a treatise so much as a series of slices of life which, if they teach, also delight.

    Follow-through on the sociological commentary hardly matters, because the casual, offhand quality of Czajka's scenes is winning, and because Anaïs Demoustier, who also played the lead in Czajka's first film, is a star in the making. Demoustier is a delicate flower that turns out to be indestructible. She and Pio Marmaï, as her casual, affectionate, potentially lethal beau, have a chemistry that again, makes what happens a little beside the point. They're probably going nowhere, but love is in the air. And the water is fresh. Czajka steers a moderate course between the pure style of Godard and the intense commentary of the Dardennes. True, her work is not profound, and the outlaw, genre phase of the film is less effective than the Parisian phase of working and sleeping around. But the whole is cinematic, helped by her own long experience as a camera person.

    D'amour et d'eau fraîche opened in Paris August 18, 2011, to mixed reviews (Allociné rating 3.2 based on 16 reviews). Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center March 3-13, 2011 at three venues, uptown at the Walter Reade Theater, downtown at the IFC Center, and in Brooklyn at BAMcinématek. Also shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival April 23, 2011.

    CK website.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-05-2014 at 11:09 PM.

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