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Thread: PARIS MOVIE REPORT (May 2011)

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    PARIS MOVIE REPORT (May 2011)

    Paris, May 11, 2011 . I'm experiencing Cannes vicariously being in Paris as it goes on. Some Cannes films may come here while I'm still in town, and meanwhile it is in all the papers and magazines. Lynne Ramsey's new film We Need to Talk About Kevin, years after her successes at the festival with Ratcatcher and Morvern Caller, has drawn attention and was one of the first films shown. Young talent Ezra Miller (afterschool, City Island ) as John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton's homocidal son sounds interesting, at least Mike d'Angelo of Onion AV Club makes the film sound worth taking a look at if only for its phantasmagoric, shocking openng sequence. The Paris morning giveaway paper Metro Paris featured Ezra on the day of the film's showing at Cannes.

    ..................

    Midnight in Paris, by Woody Allen, opened the festival out of competition and simultaneously opened in Paris theaters, and has been very well received in France, where they never stop loving Woody. Mike d'Angelo's big excitement so far has been over Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo's Miss Bala, which he feels makes him a world-class director, after significant steps forward from the promising Drama/Mex (which I reported on in the LFF) and the exciting I'm Gopnna Explode (which I reviewed in the 2008 NYFF). He thinks this one is spectacular and is sure to get US distribution. I will give short reviews of films seen in Paris cinemas as I see them or as the fine weather, good food, and flaneur life allow. It looks like I will not see 17 films in Paris as I reported in April 2010. Thumbnail reviews follow:



    ESSENTIAL KILLLING (Jerzy Skolimowski 2010) A change from the mysterous Pole's most recent film, his 2008 Four Nights with Anna (NYFF 2008) with its very claustrophobic setting, this vehicle for a very committed Vincent Gallo creates its claustrophobia extermally. The protagonist is a member of the Taliban escaped from a Guantanamo gulag shipped to eastern Euopre. The van he's in crashes and he's the only one who gets away. It continues in that vein, Gallo never speakng a word, but the action so visceral you don't look away even when, as most reviewers plausibly insist, the escapee's continuing escapes become almost too magical, even giving his incredible determination to survive, on insects or breast milk if necessary. At Guantanamo the protagonist seems not to speak because of temorary deafness from an explosion; later he had no one to taok to. Because there is virtually no talking and much dogged repetitive action, the film becomes like a meditation. With his "hawklike face," as one English writer calls it, Gallo plays a strangely compelling mime. Some of his character's escapes seem far-fetched, but perhaps Skolimowski doesn't mean any of this to be taken literally. It's a parable of man's struggle to survive. The politics and even the contrasting locations -- hot Afghan desert actually shot in Israel contrasting with Slavic snows -- are just the outward trappings of an inward struggle punctuated by muted, faded glimpses of mosques and imams giving Islamic extremist blessings. Emmanuelle Seigner has a minor role, also mute.



    TOMBOY (Céline Sciamma 2011) Sciamma's 2007 debut Water Lilies/Naissance de pieuvres ) was a sensitive study of issues of competition and sexuality faced by adolescent girls; it may look even stronger in contrast with the more ambitious but less suble similar film She Monkeys (Lisa Aschan 2011), from Sweden, a prizewinner at this year's Tribeca. TOMBOY focuses on a younger girl, Laure (Zoé Héran), who wants to be a boy. When her family is in a new place she tells the kids her name is Mikaël and she fashions a penis of modeling clay to make a bikini bathing suit realisticly male. She loves rough play and is good at games. She gets on fine with her kindly dad and pregnant mom and very feminine younger sister Jeanne (a charming, hilarious Malonn Lévana) but she is cruising for trouble with her pretense, especially when Lisa (Jeanne Disson) befriends her and thinks she's a potential beau. Sciamma excels at filming the neighborhood kids at play and the interchanges with Jeanne; the parents are poorly developed. It's all in the casting: Zoé Héran is wonderful in the lead role. You have only to look at her: she's a girl, but she could be a boy, and you love her even as you are troubled with her gender issues. Despite weaknesses, this is a brilliant movie that, like its predecessor, is deceptively low-keyed but actually bold, perceptive, and original.


    (Who's prettier?)

    LA BALLADE DE L'IMPOSSIBLE (NORWEGIAN WOOD), 2010. Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran's Japanese language film, from a novel by Haruki Morikami, is long, swoony, sad, beautiful, and occasionally highly erotic tale of desperate young love. On hearing the song "Norwegian Wood," Watanabe, played in the film by pouty heatthrob Kenichi Matsuyama, begins to remember a time in his life when he was not yet twenty, beginning with the worldwide student unrest of 1968. Young Watanabe sleepwalks through the demos because his friend Kizuki has killed himself and he's falling hopelessly for Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), Kizuki's girlfriend. Naoko is poison, and crazy, but that develops later, only when Watanabe has relieved her of her virginity on her 20th birthday. Eventually Wataname connects with a more cheerful young woman, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara). Everything is slowly, delicatedly staged in Ballade and that deflowering and all the kisses are amazingly real and memorable and sexy. But the adolescent misguidedness, however stoical and heroic, is also overblown and annoying: you want to shake Watanabe and tell him to drop this nutty girl and get with Midori. Anh Hung Tran's staging of the story is so Japanese you also wonder if a Japanese person might find it self-consciously overdone and off-key. But there are moments, thanks to very focused, delicate acting by Matsuyama, Kikuchi, and Miuhara, who are all three touching and pretty to look at. Some jumpy narrative links seem okay because it's so mesmerizing and slow you need a jolt.




    DETECTIVE DEE (Tsui Hark 2010) The English title is Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame Hark has done some snappy Hong Kong crime movies, but here he movess into the territory of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and other such wonders of costume and CGI, to film an old folkloric tale. The originality of this work, which eventualy collapses under the weight of its epic scenes and incredible visual effects, likes in its focus on an exiled detective who winds up solving a series of mysterious and spectacular internal combustion deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu, the first and only female ruler in Chinese history. I was longing for a gritty modern crime movie. Devotees of this genre will doubtless admire the giant statue of the Buddha towering over the imperial palace and eventually crumling toward it, not to mention the sight of various dignitaries bursting into flame and slowly imploding or exploding. Tony Leong Ka Fai is the detective. Detective Dee : Le mystère de la flamme fantôme (2010) Showing at Gaumont and UGC theaters in France.



    VOIR LA MER (Patrice Leconte 2011). Leconte is admired in the US for The Man on the Train and Intimate Strangers; others may remember The Widow of Saint Pierre and Ridicule. All creditable effots, if somewhat lacking a distinctive style. This is a below-par effort about a menage-a-trois that develops when two good looking 20-something brothers head out to see their mother in the country with a pretty girl in tow. "Mer" (sea) sounds the same as "mère" or mother, and the girl wants to see the sea, while the two brothers want to see their mom. She's never been to the water. Even road movies need a plot. This hasn't got one, just a pretty girl and a couple of hunky guys who agree to share her. What was Leconte thinking? The two guys are Nicolas (Nicolas Giraud) and lément Sibony (Clément Sibony), and the pretty girl, ironically named Prudence, is played by Pauline Lefèvre.



    UNE FOLLE ENVIE (Bernard Jeanjean 2011). The title means "A Mad Urge.l" Clovis Cornillac is thinned down but lacks his former spark as Yann and Olivia Bonamy is fresh-faced and charming but no comic wonder in this fairly routine romantic comedy about a couple who are dying to have a baby but can't quite seem to manage. If this comes to America, skip it and rent the also somewhat routine but far more interesting and richly reimagined Potiche, which has a lot more going for it as a French comedy. Cornillac is very talented. He deserves better than this dorky would-be father role. The script tries hard (but not hard enough maybe) to provide laughs as the couple attempts tantric love positions and resorting to various supersitions and an insemination program for non-starter parents, but it just jerks its couple around. They have no chance to emerge as people.





    LA CONQUÊTE (Xavier Durringer 2011)

    Variety's Boyd von Hoelj wrote:" French politics in general and the ascent to power of current President Nicolas Sarkozy in particular are presented as a tragicomic circus act in "The Conquest." Pic takes genre helmer Xavier Durringer ("Chok-Dee") back to his theater roots, with most of the narrative mayhem and laughs coming from pic's sharp dialogue and strong work by seasoned thesps, who just manage to avoid caricature. A straightforwardly dramatic counterpoint that explores Sarkozy's marital woes is almost lost in the political melee. Cannes preem date coincides with its local release; beyond Western Europe, this will be more of a curiosity item." Von Hoelj righty points out that this can't be spoken of in the same breath with The Deal, The Queen, or Il Divo. Perhaps thie fits into the "any publicity is good publicity" idea, since, as von Hoelj also remarks, Sarkozy's revelation of Carla Bruni's pregnancy was geared to conicide with this film's Cannes sidebar opening. It's interesting that such a film would be made during the time in office of its main subject, whose career before he became president is explored. There's also a cast that includes some taste character actors: Denis Podalydes, Hippolyte Girardot, Samuel Labarthe, and others. I admit its appeal Stateside may be limited but I feel this film is better than von Hoelj makes it sound, so I wrote a full review of it that you'll find here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:04 PM.

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    PREVIEW: Next week two important films open in Paris, both from Cannes: Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE and the Dardennes' THE KID ON THE BIKE (Le gamin au vélo). The lighted-up 'colonnes Meurisse' feature THE KID ON THE BIKE and a bus stop publicizes TREE OF LIFE.

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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:09 PM.

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    Terrence Malick: The Tree of Life (2011)


    BRAD PITT, LARAMIE EPPLER IN THE TREE OF LIFE

    An extraordinary "Space Odyssey" of family dysfunction

    The way Terrence Mallick’s ambitious, long-planned, long-awaited The Tree of Life sweeps from cosmography to tough father-son relations, it seems like the 2001: A Space Odyssey of family dysfunction. This is what, for me, lingers in the mind. True, the gorgeous images of space, waterfalls, volcanoes, even a prehistoric animal, set up a vast perspective for the film. They link a universe exploding into being with a woman’s pregnant belly, and the sweeping classical music sets the mood for serious speculation about man’s being in the world. This is framed by the epigraph from the Book of Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?”

    The Tree of Life is impressive, but hard to put together, hard to get your head around (though perhaps less so for dyed-in-the-wool Malick-o-philes). All that cosmography and all the whispered speculation flows, more or less, into the bulk of the film, which consists of flashbacks to an initially idyllic-seeming 1950 Texas heartland suburbia where a family lives. There is much material for reflection here and Malik exegetes will doubtless spend volumes speculating about or explaining how it all fits together. Three sons are born into purity and innocence. Somewhat schematically, they, or the oldest, Jack, who gets most of the attention, loses that innocence. The sequences skip around, focusing on the death of one son at the age of 19. Sean Penn, as an architect prowling beautiful, icy skyscrapers, is Jack much later remembering the past and longing to return to find that lost brother; their mother (Jessica Chastain) wanted to die and join him as soon as he died. In the many flashback scenes that make up the bulk of (the human, non-cosmological, part of) the film, the boys never quite reach puberty, and it is a perpetual summer. The long passage in which they face emotionally confusing treatment by their stern, yet affectionate father, played by a flat-faced, Midwestern Brad Pitt (who lacks the boys’ southern accent) is the painful emotional heart of this epic, unmoored film.

    There are many episodes, but there is no discernible plotline. Rather the scenes may be meant to represent milestones in the developing dysfunction, or moral issues. The father torments the boys with restrictions and chews them out, but also frequently hugs and kisses them and at one point says they are all he has, that otherwise his life has been a waste. This despite the fact that in the latter sequence of the son’s death he seems to occupy a grander house, and he is obviously envious, angry, ambitious, judgmental and covetous towards others. The boys at times seem to confuse their father with God. Whispered questions about who and why addressed to the air or the cosmos may refer to O'Brien (Pitt) or Jehovah. This father also plays Bach on the organ like an angel, but says he has wasted the chance of becoming a great musician. He’s a complex and enigmatic, but on the surface curiously uninteresting individual (partly the fault of Pitt). In her review from Cannes, I now find that Manohla Dargis of the NY Times also refers to Kubrick's 2001, noting that both films refer to concepts of God, though God is everywhere in Tree and has been replaced by science in A Space Odyssey. She was impressed by the blunt way Malick approaches epistemological questions in his new movie (without the mediation of a strong narrative element), but concludes in favor of the "beautiful if hermetic vision" and the "ambition" but not the "philosophy." Not so clear what that philosophy is or what Dargis thinks it is, but the mystery is an attraction even if it's partly also a flaw. The beauty of the film is the way it's more the embodiment of a spiritual quest than a story. And yet it depicts the emotion of family conflict with as much painful intensity as you'll ever find on screen.

    Justin Chang in Variety (also from Cannes) provides much more information in an almost wildly enthusiastic review. Writing in the trade journal of the industry he perforce points out both the divided camps among the Cannes public and the fact that Tree may have limited commercial potential. "Pure-grade art cinema destined primarily for the delectation of Malick partisans and adventurous arthouse-goers," he concludes, but he adds that "with its cast names and see-it-to-believe-it stature, this inescapably divisive picture could captivate the zeitgeist for a spell."

    Mike d'Angelo of Onion AV Club (and this is what I like about d'Angelo's Cannes bulletins) chronicles his experience of watching Tree. It's not unusual for d'Angelo to get his hopes high only to have them dashed. He thought at first it was something that would reshape our sense of cinema, a Birth of a Nation or Citizen Kane or (here it is again) 2001: A Space Odyssey. But then he was disappointed that the grand conception was lost and wound up thinking once the cosmic speculations, soaring music, and Koyaanisqatsi-on-steroids (with tableaux by Jerry Uelsmann) images were done it settled down into "a solid but largely unexceptional memoir not unlike, say, This Boy’s Life."I think his explanation of why this happened makes sense: "Maybe that first hour raised my expectations so high that no second hour-plus could possibly fulfill them, but my gut feeling is that Malick got distracted from his overall conception by a desire to revisit specific incidents from his childhood, by the need to depict his father rather than simply a father." It turns out Tree was shot in or represents Malick's hometown of Waco, Texas. D'Angelo may have contemplated an A+, but wound up giving Tree a B, commenting it might go up to a B+ in another viewing. It's pretty obvious to me that for all its oddities and faults, Tree of Life is an A+, even if it's far from being a 2001.

    The film is wonderful, and like all Malick’s work, extraordinary. It is also maddening and unsatisfying, and for some, doubtless, may be laughable work, and above all seems to me more like an art piece, the kind of film footage you see in a museum installation, rather than in a movie theater.

    Seen in Paris, direct from Cannes, May 17, 2011, the day of the film's theatrical release.

    On Sunday, May 22, 2011, Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:11 PM.

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    [Coming: a report on Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere]


    Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes: THE KID WITH THE BIKE (2011)



    EGON DE MATEO AND THOMAS DORET IN THE KID WITH THE BIKE

    An 11-year-old on the edge

    In The Kid with a Bike/Le gamin au vélo the Dardenne brothers are on strong familiar ground depicting a troubled boy struggling to get attention from his derelict, immature dad and tempted to a life of crime by an older boy who exploits him. The actor who plays the boy is a newcomer, 13, Thomas Doret, and he's excellent, if quite uncharming and uncute. Cécile de France adds her usual perky good looks and soul. Dardennes regular Jérémie Renier (who debuted in their first important film, the 1996 La Promesse) plays the absent dad. It's all fine, and as serious and solid and morally intense as all the Dardennes' films are. But it adds nothing much new except the focus on a small, feisty, fiendishly determined boy. Rosetta (1999) has the same kind of determined quest, with an even more obsessive thrust. The Son (2001) has a more emotionally intense picture of forgiveness, also a theme here. It might be fair to say this is "better" than the Dardennes' 2008 Lorna's Silence, which wemt into new territory with illegal immigrants, some think resulting in the brothers' "weakest" film. On the other hand though it's in competition there, probably the Dardennes won't win a third Cannes Golden Palm with this fine but famiiar effort.

    What's so great with the Dardennes is the irresistible force of the chase, the hunt, or whatever is going on in the somewhat dogged narrative at hand, and a use of actors and non-actors so seamless that one never has a chance to stop and think "this is a movie." This time the pursuit is the search for his dad of 11-year-old young Cyrille (Doret), who's without his bike at first, because his father has sold it and run away. Cyrille himself runs everywhere at top speed, dashing out of a home for boys (the film's precipitous opening scene) and out of the clutches of nearly all adults who cross his path, forcing his way into the flat his dad formerly occupied, finally learning the name of the restaurant where he's now a cook and going there. Somehow, just by latching onto her when he's on the run, he gets semi-adopted by Samantha (Cécile de France), who's a hairdresser. A movie blurb says she's an "unqualified childcare provider," presumably because she's young and single. But she's quite affectionate and also tries to discipline the boy -- and also forces his dad to tell Cyrille in person and not just through her that he won't deal with him any more, not even see him once a month. Samantha agrees to watch over Cyrille on weekends. She's not unqualifed at all, but a saintly woman with tough love. Cyrille, however, is more of a handful than she realized.

    She helps the boy confront his dad. This truth -- that this isn't a relationship that can be renewed -- makes Cyrille throw a temper tantrum in Samantha's car when it's over. But he remains mostly angry, not sad, and he's going to need to find an outlet for this anger.

    With a bike again, Cyrille often has to fight to grab it back from bad Cité boys who ride away on it (he lacks a chain and lock), and after one such fight he impresses some boys so much they shake his hands with the one word salute, "Respect!" and nickname him "Pitbull." One of them, the older, gangsterish Wes (Egon Di Mateo), makes friends with the boy, inviting him to his flat and room and letting him play a video game and giving him a Fanta. Wes' niceness has a selfish motive. He trains the angry, preternaturaly violent Cyrille to carry out an assault and robbery. This leads to sad results. The issue is whether Cyrille can be saved from drifting into full-on, active bad-boy mode. We don't know how it's going to go, but the film ends on a note of hope.

    I learn from Peter Debruge of Variety that De France is originally Belgian, like the Dardennes, and so is reverting to her original accent in this film, set in the brothers' usual Belgian town of Seraing. As both De Bruge and Mike D'Angelo of Onion AV Club say, De France blends in selflessly with the non-actors or newcomers in the film. She has'nt anything significant to do -- except co-star in a Dardennes movie (which, come to think of it, is pretty significant). It will be very surprising and disappointing if we don't see more of Thomas Doret. His intensity is riveting, and he and Cécile, with the help of the Dardennes and Alain Marcoen's (for these filmmakers) smoother-than-usual camerawork, never let us look away or remember this is anything but real life.

    (I was right that the Dardennes wouldn't get a third Palme d'Or. But Cannes still understandably loves them, and they co-won the second highest Cannes award, the Grand Prix, sharing it with Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:12 PM.

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    Monte Hellman: ROAD TO NOWHERE (2010)



    A femme fatale; a scandal within a scandal; a movie about movies

    The IMDB thumbnail bio puts it this way: "Cult director Monte Hellman has made a handful of offbeat, inventive and intriguing low-budget independent features throughout the years. His movies are distinguished by slow pacing, vague, but compelling plots, and often obsessive characters." Hellman has made only six movies in a fifty-year career. His last feature seems to have been Iguana in 1988, when he was in his fifties. The one I shall never forget it his slow off the main highway American epic of the road from 1971, Two Lane Balcktop, which starred James Taylor and Warren Oates. For me nothing has so skillfully transformed American restlessness and rootlessness into celluloid myth.

    Now Hellman is 78, and Paris is showing his new film, which debuted at Venice last September and people have said compares favorably with his best work. It's a David Lynch-style oddball study that confuses real people in a crime story with their doubles in a crew making a movie about the event. Everything is a little garish and out of kilter, with many homages, some overtly in the form of clips, to great European -- and Hollywood -- cinema; indeed to cinema itself. It is impossible not to be reminded of Lynch's recent masterpiece Inland Empire. However Hellman doesn't veer into surreal dreamworlds but stays obsessively focused on the slow process of shooting the film. Road to Nowhere goes on for more than two hours. It's minute and plodding, but also compelling and suspenseful. One can imagine it broken up into a serial in 15- or 20-minute segments.

    The film opens by announcing it's directed by "Mitchell Haven." This isn't a pseudonym for Hellman but the director in the story (Tygh Runyan), which concerns the disappearance/murder involving a wealthy couple and the spiriting away of a large amount of money following the crash into a lake of a small plane. The main role of the femme fatale, who in real life is still missing, is played by Shannyn Sossamon. Her character, whom Haven wants both to possess and to immortalize the minute he meets her, is a hauntingly beautiful unknown who insists she is no actress, whose performances during the shoot nonetheless seem so convincing people begin to suspect she is the real missing woman hiding in plain sight. Mitchell Haven falls hopelessly in love with her. Every night they lie together and watch old classic films. Most suspicious of what's going on here is a firebrand insurance investigator (Waylon Payne) hired because he is one who has explored the real events very thoroughly, though he has not actually seen the femme fatale. He is the most suspicious that non-actress star is the original of her character and that everybody's being duped.

    Ultimately this is, of course, a movie about movies, and their power to enchant and usurp reality. It's also about how love can delude us into ignoring what's in plain sight. The insurance investigator's angry suspicions grow more and more intense, leading him to violent action when he repeatedly finds the young director unable to look beyond his passion for his star. At that point reality and illusion collapse into each other in sudden action, and Hellman's predominantly slow, contemplative action is punctuated several times by shocks.

    My feelings about Road to Nowhere are mixed. It is a decidedly original, personal piece of work and the self-referential theme is appealing. The digital images are hushed and often beautiful, but also sometimes look like crudely played back rushes, and the scenes too sometimes seem to be read-throughs, even amateurish. The screenplay is by Steven Gaydos, a longtime collaborator, is dense and interesting. But the whole thing seems a little too self-conscious and contrived, better perhaps in the conception than in the execution. Multiple viewings might be necessary to appreciate the subtleties and come to a better understanding of the pace. French reviews recorded on Allociné with a rating of 3.1 (good average) indicate some admiration but many reservations. One review (Chronic'art) calls the film "more intriguing than emotionally involving." Another calls it "flat." Still another implies it's second-rate David Lynch. Indeed the Lynch magic isn't there, but that may be the wrong thing to look for. Whatever that is, I did't find. Yet I felt in the presence of something original, definitely the work of a director who's gone his own way since before the counter culture briefly made him utterly in tune with the zeitgeist with Two Lane Black Top.

    Seen in Paris at a small cinema, Le Nouveau Latina 20, rue du Temple, 75004 Paris on May 18, 2011. It opens in NYC June 10 and LA June 17, 2011.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:14 PM.

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    Excellent thread and excellent reviews Chris. Your writing is always illuminating. You're seeing all the great films I'd want to see! Malick, Dardennes, Hellman, etc.
    The photos are particularly nice additions to the reviews.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Thank you. You are kind. It is my pleasure. Yes, this has been a treat. There is always good stuff in Paris (September might be the best time for non-Cannes French releases). The Cannes arrivals are something I wasn't even sure would happen. My personal photos are fun for me and are a new thing because I never had a digital camera before. Now I finally have one.

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    Hey guys,
    Paying much attention to French cinema lately but mostly to older films. I am working on submissions for a book/database titled World Film Directory: France coming out on Intellect Press in 2012. I will provide links to the database. No need to purchase the book to read them, apparently. I have already written: La roue, La Maternelle, and Brigitte et Brigitte. Next assignment: a personal favorite, Last Year at Marienbad.

    The last contemporary French film I watched was Queen to Play with the excellent and beautiful- in-an-odd-way Sandrine Bonnaire. Seen it?

    Best Monte Hellman film, hands down: Cockfighter (1974), one of those forgotten gems...

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    I'm not familiar with all Monte Hellman's films and don't think I have seen Cockfighter. Two Lane Blacktop made a big impression on me, though. Ironically the one new French film you have seen is the one that got away from me. It was showing at Cinema Village or Quad Cinema in NYC before I left for Paris and I was all set to go see it, and then found it had left the day before. Good luck with your writing. Marienbad is certainly a good topic for writing about, and one that made a big impression on everybody at the time it first appeared. I saw it in New York too. At a Cinema 16 presentation I believe.

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    I've never had a digital camera either. Snap away! Your eye is FINE
    I'll keep using 35mm film until they stop making it.

    Oscar, that's just awesome. Never stop!
    Peter Greenaway gave high praise to Marienbad, and Resnais in general, if that matters.
    Huge influence on him.
    I will buy that gorgeous Criterion version sometime. (White box)
    French cinema is a universe unto itself, with many Masterpieces and skilled directors.
    I'm blown away that Godard is a facebook friend. (I was friend #1268!)
    His profile is very very cool.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    I love 35 mm. film cameras and have great ones; that's one reason why it too me so long to go digital. But the option of putting my shots on the Web right way is a huge advantage for stuff like showing you Paris movie posters.

    My next post could go in the Cannes thread, but since I just saw it in Paris, I'lll put it here.

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    Xavier Durringer: LA CONQUÊTE (2011)

    La prise du pouvoir par Nicolas Sarkozy (apologies to Rossellini)

    Variety's Boyd von Hoelj wrote that Xavier Durringer’s La Conquête/The Conquest, which debuted at Cannes out of competition and came to Paris cinemas a few days later, presents "French politics in general and the ascent to power of current President Nicolas Sarkozy in particular” as “a tragicomic circus act,” with the director returning to his theatrical roots by presenting a drama reliant on "sharp dialogue" and good performances by a "seasoned" cast who "just avoid caricature."

    This seems to me somewhat an exaggeration, as regards the tone of the film. Maybe it’s true as Von Hoelj asserts that this film can't be spoken of in the same breath with The Deal, The Queen, or Il Divo. It hasn’t that kind of sweep or style. But La Conquête is a handsomely mounted production and the action holds your attention. You might do better to think of Aaron Sorkin’s TV series "The West Wing." The dialogue (like Sorkin's) is fast and sharp indeed, and there are some funny and many -- for a French audience -- chuckle-inducing moments, but this is quite straightforward political drama based pretty closely on fact. It is not comprehensive but it blends the personal and the political all the way through. Metaphorically French politics may emerge as a “circus act,” but caricature is really at a very safe remove. The result may not play terribly well in the States, simply because the intricacies of French party politics are too unfamiliar, but the story of an underdog with immigrant roots running for office in an “anything is possible” vision of the future campaign and winning over aristocratic and snobbish competition strikes cords of sympathy for an American viewer. Sarkozy’s appeal to the right and to anti-immigrant factions are downplayed.

    What’s initially fascinating about La Conquête is that it’s a depiction of the rise to power of a French president made and presented on the screen while that president is still in office. It’s hard to imagine a similar film being made about Obama by Hollywood right now while he's in his first term and shown in movie theaters. The key factors are Sarkozy’s underdog status and the marital struggle that wore him down and endangered his political chances. It’s clear in this film that such luminaries as then president Jacques Chirac (played by the high-and-mighty Bernard Le Coq, whom Americans may remember from various films, including those of Chabrol) and Dominique de Villepin (whom athletic, silver-maned Samuel Labarthe makes regal and gleefully competitive) show unmasked contempt for Sarkozy and continually dismiss him as not real competition, yet Sarkozy of course feels he has the presidency in his blood and is determined to get it.

    Sarkozy is a little guy and seems humble and a bit awkward around the aristocrats. This isn’t a negative picture but it’s far from hagiography. Perhaps the film fits into the "any publicity is good publicity" idea, since, as von Hoelj also remarks, Sarkozy's father’s revelation of Carla Bruni's pregnancy was geared to coinicide with this film's Cannes sidebar opening. The fine cast includes some splendid character actors: Denis Podalydes, Hippolyte Girardot, Samuel Labarthe, and others. Podalydes is excellent and looks quite Sarky-esque.

    To go back to Von Hoelj, he claims that “a straightforwardly dramatic counterpoint that explores Sarkozy's marital woes is almost lost in the political melee.” That was not my impression. It’s quie clear that Sarkozy’s “marital woes” threaten his push to become president. A close advisor tells him that he must either get his wife back or marry someone else before he enters the presidential palace. The failure of the marriage as the career triumphs is the emotional heart of a film that otherwise is rather cold and tacktical. Sarkozy wants to share his victory but Cécilia Sarkozy (Florence Pernel), who agrees to appear with him for elections, turns away coldly, and it is lonely at the top. He has met Carla Bruni, but she is not yet part of his life. Von Hoelj estimates that “beyond Western Europe, this will be more of a curiosity item." That’s a shame if true, because this is one of the best and most realistic movies about jockeying for political ascendency that I’ve seen. It certainly feels important and bold seen in its French context, in a varied Paris audience that watched with evident pleasure. Maybe the French just know how to laugh at their leaders better than Americans do – even though those leaders are largely a grand and elegant bunch who move in regal surroundings.

    La Conquête was released in France May 18, 2011, and shown at Cannes out of competition that day. A critic for Les Inrockuptibles wrote, "Not a great film, but it fulfuls its unstated promise: to provide a credible portrait of our President."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:16 PM.

  13. #13
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    May 21, 2011. Cannes ends tomorrow.

    The weather is so beautiful in Paris this weekend it's positively evil to stay inside watching movies or on a computer, but I'll probably catch up on a Diego Lerman's THE INVISIBLE EYE, this evening, and promise that very soon, maybe tomorrow, I will finally get around to seeing Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (which somewhat to my surprise after Mike D'Angelo's comments has a Metacritic 83, indicating major Stateside approval since its US debut yesterday). THE INVISIBLE EYE is set in Buenos Aires in 1982, so it enters somewhat into Pablo Larrain's territory of Latin American dictoator-world, but for Argentina rather than Chile. La mirada invisible was adapted from Martin Kohan’s novel Ciencias morales (“Moral Sciences”).I thought this was in the SFIFF, but it wasn't. Maybe Oscar mentioned it, because it was at the Miami festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-21-2011 at 09:37 AM.

  14. #14
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    Do check out Cockfighter, guys, if you can.

    Watched the doc My Perestroika last night. The reviews are great (Metacritic 93).

    I took the excerpt from my festival report for Film International where I mention Lerman's film and added a couple of sentences. Here it is:

    Kudos to the Global Film Initiative for selecting Federico Veiroj’s miniature for stateside distribution in 2011.

    The Global Film Initiative is also distributing Diego Lerman's The Invisible Eye, a film of wider appeal than A Useful Life. Lerman's two previous features, Suddenly and Meanwhile, were low-budget, contemporary slice-of-life narratives with an improvisational feel. The Invisible Life is a completely different kind of movie. Lerman, who belongs to the large group of talented, young directors who emerged around the turn of the century, has now positioned himself at the commercial mainstream of the national cinema of Argentina. It is a political, period film with outstanding production values and a predictable if thoroughly engrossing and engaging plot. The Invisible Life concerns the relationship between a young, sexually repressed teacher (Julieta Zylberberg) and the despotic principal of an elite, private high school that serves as a microcosm of Argentinian society during the dark years of military dictatorship. The directors of the "new Argentine Cinema" typically prefer to approach the past from a more distant and oblique perspective. Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman would be a good example. Lerman’s film is a bit too reminiscent of The Official Story, the powerful Argentinian film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1985, and many films from all over the world set in totalitarian educational institutions. The Invisible Eye is a good film that would satisfy a wide audience but it is old-fashioned. It was Zylberberg's magnificent performance that kept my interest consistently. I hope we get to see more of her work in the future.

  15. #15
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    Oscar, I knew you had something to say about INVISIBLE EYE, but it's not accessible here, that link to the other website no longer works, so thank you for quoting yourself. I was not able to see it today after all, but still hope to while in Paris, though you don't make it sound as good as I'd hoped, except for the performance. What about the comparison to Pablo Laraíin; is there any? I guess I'll find that out for myself. I saw My Perestroika got good reviews. I missed it in NYC recently. Not there now. That's good about "Federico Veiroj’s miniature."

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