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Thread: Paris movie report (oct. 2011)

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    Paris movie report (october 2011)

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:20 PM.

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    EZRA MILLER AND TILDA SWINTON IN WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

    Hideous child

    Alas, they never do talk about Kevin. Not much. And they don't act in time, if there was something they could do. Mom (Tilda Swinton) knows from early on that he's a bad seed, but, between moments of anger and outrage, seems dominated by either blind affection or a misguided conviction, possibly born of liberal guilt, that all sociopathic teenagers need is love. As for dad Franklin (John C. Reilly, a bit too bland and good-natured as in Polanski's upcoming Carnage), he just thinks it's a stage the boy's going through. So Kevin, on the cusp of his sixteenth birthday, commits an atrocity at home and another at his high school. This is a rigorous film, evoking a sense of determined evil so strong it's almost palpable. Believability is another matter. The weaknesses may derive from the source novel, which appears to lack the accurate information about such kids and such acts provided in Gus Van Sant's Elephant, and instead delivers a boy so evil and weird from birth that the film becomes arthouse titillation, a high-toned horror movie, unlike talented newcomer Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, also a kind of posh horror movie but one containing much social and psychological evidence, something replaced with surrealism here. We Need to Talk About Kevin is loaded with shocks and buildups to them, one every ten minutes or so. It's rather a surprise coming from the Scottish auteur Lynne Ramsey, whose first two features, Ratcatcher and Morvern Caller, are marked by local color and a restrained, delicate eye. This film, her first film of any kind in nine years and her first away from native soil, is set in a somewhat generalized, abstract America. It also seems loaded with a misplaced ambition those somehow more personal but less striking earlier films lacked.

    Not that Kevin isn't powerful, well acted by Swinton and strangely beautiful, its editing (by Herzog vet Joe Bini) particularly in the first half an intentionally disquieting mashup of chronology, its camerawork (by Seamus McGarvey) striking, and its young actors also chillingly effective -- Kevin as a tot, Rocky Duer; as a 6- to 8-year-old, Jasper Newell; as a malignant teen, Ezra Miller. The baby is colicky from birth. As a toddler, he refuses to speak at all, then utters nothing but denials or taunts and can't seem to be toilet-trained, till mom loses her temper and uses brute force, causing damage to the boy and getting results at last as a result. As a teen, Kevin becomes adept with successively more sophisticated and powerful bow and arrow sets his dad gives him, the most professional set for Christmas. The little sister, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) -- oddly, Eva has dared to produce another child -- gets a hamster as her Yuletide gift. The cute little rodent quickly winds up in the garbage disposal. Can an you guess who put it there? The film alternatively chronicles Eva's struggle to cope after her son's unspeakable acts (never actually shown) and her own pariah status that results, on the one hand, and, on the other, goes back to a past instances of his shocking behavior like stepping stones leading up to the unseen climax. With an unnerving irony, at every stage Kevin has a beautiful face, illustrating a subconscious sense we may have that ugliness can lie behind beautiful facades. When Kevin morphs into Ezra Miller that beauty becomes knowing and nasty. Though Miller's performance is well meant and shows true commitment, it seems a bit overdone because the character is so extreme. He is a bold defiant Hannival Lector of teen monsters, nothing like the mild, socially uneasy boys in Eleophant.

    Leslie Felperin of Variety states something that is logical even if it is not true: that the film has a "core conundrum: Is Kevin just a bad seed, or did Eva's strained, unhappy first attempt at parenting turn him into a monster?" Obviously there is non-communication between Eva (Swinton) and Franklin. But they are not fully drawn. Aart from a couple of blowups on the wall and their moving away from NYC to a huge McMansion in the suburbs, there is little to show that Franklin is a successful photographer. As for Eva's being a renowned publisher turned writer famous for her travel books, when a poster about one of them appears it seems like a strange and unexpected joke. A chance remark about wishing she were in France shows she's openly not an enthsiastic mother, but we don't get to see her working at anything else. And as Felperin notes, the film is very "dialogue-light." And evidently Ramsey has, as he says, excised reams of explanatory matter from the novel by Lionel Shriver. This may be like a dream of the book, rather than an adaptation of it. Eva's strained attempt at parenting is boldly but schematically sketched in, and the relative outlook of the two parents, given the lack of dialogue, remains vague. What is fully developed is a sense that this child was malignant from day one. So where is the conundrum? It gets a bit lost. And that undercuts the complexity of what is meant to be a very disturbing film.

    Kudos to Ramsey for making a stylish, chilling movie. But it seems to dwindle in comparison to Van Sant's Elephant, which, being loosely but sensitively based on a study of the Colombine massacre, delivers a rich sense of the actual atrocity and a convincing set of psychological details about the two disturbed boys.

    At the end of Kevin, Eva asks her son, in prison, just one question: Tell me why you did it. And he answers, "I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure." That's all we get. And it's not enough.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin was presented in competition at Cannes in May 2011. Screened for this review at MK2 Hautfeuille, Paris, October 17, 2011. UK release was October 21. It will go into US theatrical release December 9 (limited) and January 27, 2012.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:21 PM.

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    NANNI MORETTI: HABEMUS PAPAM (2011)


    MICHEL PICCOLI IN HABEMUS PAPAM

    Lord, I am not worthy

    Mike D'Angelo's Cannes AV Club report (as often happens) got it right: Nanni Moretti's new Habemus Papam is "slight but amusing, and often oddly touching." There is charm and something thought-provoking about this film, but those expecting some strong anti-papal satire will be disappointed. The title is what they declare at the Vatican (Latin for "We have a Pope") when a new Supreme Pontiff has been elected by the College of Cardinals. And the slim tale, in full Vatican dress, concerns a new His Holiness (Michel Piccoli) who feels too unworthy and can't go out to the balcony and face the faithful. Moretti himself plays a psychiatrist called in to figure out what's going on, who, when the electee escapes and wanders around Rome, becomes an activities leader for the cardinals focused on a volleyball tournament. As anybody will tell you, not just Mike, it's Piccoli who makes this "oddly touching," and even more. Piccoli is an immense yet modest presence, sad, timid, sweet, and wishing he'd become an actor. About that, he need not worry. Piccoli again proves that he's one of the great ones.

    The spectacle of the men in red lined up and voting is impressive indeed, sequestered in a convincing mock-up of the Sistine Chapel at CineCittà, but it's hardly what you'd call exciting. The title means "We Have a Pope," or as D'Angelo more colloquially translates it, "We got us a pope." They don't have one at first. There are a series of votes, with the traditional puffs of black smoke sent up to tell spectators outside they have not succeeded, till finally votes (thought this isn't explained) are switched to a neutral candidate from competing favorites and Cardinal Melville (Piccoli) wins and shyly smiles in acceptance, or just unwillingness to protest. When he refuses to publicly announce his own election, however, the Vatican cannot report it to the press, or anyone. They put a fat Swiss guard in the pope's rooms with instructions to walk back and forth and cast a shadow on the curtains now and then so people think the new pope is there. And that's when shrink Moretti and later Margherita Buy are called in to talk to the reluctant cardinal.

    It's true I suppose as D'Angelo says that at first it seems Moretti "will be the Geoffrey Rush to Piccoli’s Colin Firth," but both the charm and the weakness of the film is that nothing is going to happen. When the female shrink comes in (Buy) and the cardinal loosens up a bit and admits he always wanted to be an actor, this is when things begin to click. The film becomes a kind of loosely-slung parable about responsibility and facades and role-playing. There's much ado from Vatincan front men (particularly one energetically played by Jerzy Stuhr), who keep the balls in the air, when really nothing is happening.

    In the end Moretti's improvisational screenplay doesn't do what it could either with the drama of the narrative or the implications of the situation. Given the total control in the Vatican, it's implausible that the cardinal could be moved out to see the female shrink (comically cast as Moretti's character's ex-wife), and more implausible still that he could wind up wandering around and enter a theater with a troupe of actors rehearsing Chekhov's The Seagull, which he just happens to know by heart. Perhaps Moretti should have left this kind of thing to Rivette.

    The sets and f/x and costumes work well to make the predeedings seem actually to be transpiring at the Vatican. The casting is fine. But you watch this because it's a great role for Piccoli, not for many other reasons. This is just a narrow conceit, floated out and allowed mostly to drift.

    Habemus Papam was released in Italy in April, shown at Cannes in May, and subsequently at a number of international festivals. It opened in France September 7 and opens in the UK December 2, 2011. Screened for this review at MK2 Hautefeuille, Paris, on October 18, 2011.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:23 PM.

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    MAÏWENN IN POLISSE

    MAÏWENN: POLISSE (2011)

    Child abuse, Paris north

    A northern Paris police "child protection" squad is the subject Polisse (a French child’s intuitive spelling of “Police”), a naturalistic, improvisational third film from the actress-director Maïwenn. This Jury Prize winner at Cannes may to some extent -- but not entirely -- make up in its realism and varied content what it lacks in organization. The topics/incidents range broadly, from physical and sexual abuse in families to the plight of homeless African immigrants to a schoolteacher’s pedophilia to a police sting in a mall that leads to a gunshot wound. Certainly some of the material brought up is shocking in nature, and this may explain some of the local interest. But child sexual abuse has been more searchingly and thoroughly dealt with in other films, such as the Canadian The Boys of St. VIncent. The emphasis is not so much on the kids as on the interactions among and psychological impact upon the police staff members, who all too frequently give in to freakouts at home and on the job. This Canal+ production has some of the marks of made-for-TV material, despite its good reception at Cannes and apparently decent box office in French theaters. The film, thought it amply shows its actor/director's ability to draw lively performances from her cast, tries to do too much and thereby lacks depth in exploring any particular characters or incidents. Maïwenn maintains a gritty intensity throughout, but when it was over I felt like someone at a smorgasbord who’d sampled too many mouthfuls of a lot of different spicy dishes.

    The cast includes Karin Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maïwenn, Karole Rocher, Emmanuelle Bercot, Frederic Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jeremie Elkhaim, Ricardo Scamarcio, Sandrine Kiberlain. Joeystarr, an Afro-look rapper with his own real life history of run-ins with the law, dominates as Fred, a macho unit member whose own relations with his own small daughter seem overly erotic and who is given to violent outbursts against suspected offenders. Maïwenn herself plays the relatively uninteresting role of a photographer newly assigned to do a series on the program who soon becomes romantically involved with Fred. As Matthieu, the interesting but here underused actor Nicolas Duvauchelle plays a member of the squad who becomes overly attracted to his married police partner Chrys (Karole Rocher) and is wounded in the hastily presented mall sting sequence, allowing for a hospital scene.

    In all the detail of constant randomly-arranged incidents the director, who co-scripted with cast member Emannuelle Bercot, seems forced to pump up some action to greater extremes to have a few highlights. Reviewing at Cannes, Boyd van Hoeij of Variety felt the film despite its faults “has enough highlights to arrest savvy arthouse patrons worldwide," but I was left disappointed by the lack of depth and focus. Von Hoelj himself notes that the point of view of the child victims is rarely explored here, and most of the action takes place on police department premises. This focus on adults goes against the misleading local publicity for the film, which at least appears to center on the children. The colorful Paris posters and Colonne Morris publicity for Polisse (see above) are almost in their way more exotic and intriguing than the film itself, which wastes a lot of realistic acting on badly organized and in some cases hasty assemblages of scenes.

    Maïwenn's full name is Maïwenn Le Besco. She is the sister of Isild Le Besco. At 16 she had a child by Luc Besson.

    Polisse opened in Paris October 19, 2011.



    PARIS STREET POSTER FOR POLISSE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:25 PM.

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    JULIE DELPY: LE SKYLAB (2011)



    Eating and talking in Brittany, summer 1979

    Along with the shapeless child protection police film Polisse, current Paris cinematic offerings include the previously released Le Skylab, Julie Delpy’s third directorial outing and a nostalgic wallow in French family life in the late Seventies. The action revolves around a big gathering of multiple cousins at an unpretentious summer house in St. Malo, in Brittany, nominally on the eve of the projected 1979 Skylab crash. The local occasion is the birthday of grandma Amandine (Bernadette Lafont). By the convention of a perfunctory framing device all this is the recollection of Amandine’s granddaughter Albertine, who in the present day is played briefly by Karin Viard, and back then as a ten-year-old is played by Lou Alvarez, one of several child actors who add charm to the busy proceedings. Delpy wrote, directed, and stars. Though the tone of the film is uneven, the characters, especially the younger ones, are not uninteresting.

    The main action opens with the drive from Paris with Albertine’s leftist, fuzzy-headed dad Jean (Eric Elmosnino) at the wheel, accompanied by his wife and Albertine’s mom Anna (Delpy) and Anna’s mother, Lucienne (Emmanuelle Riva).

    Once they arrive, to be greeted by Jean’s five siblings and their families plus an older uncle called Hubert (Albert Delpy), just following who they are all may be a bit difficult. There is no central event. Everybody sits at the traditional big table out on the lawn eating. A big hunk of meat is barbecued. It rains off and on and they all rush indoors, then set up outside again. There is a trip to the beach, and there is a lot of talk and some arguing about politics and other topics. The older ladies reminisce about WWII and Vietnam. Only Albertine worries about whether the Skylab space station’s impending crash will endanger them all: this is really just a dating device.

    Hollywood Reporter describes Albertine as " a very Woody Allen type of jeune fille— a death-obsessed, lovelorn, bespectacled bookworm. " While the kids play outdoor games, no handheld devices in sight, adults' action consists largely of conversation, and planting the leftist dad allows for the drama of conflict with more right wing siblings. As Hollywood Reporter notes, the liveliest of these is "volatile ex-soldier Uncle Roger (Denis Ménochet)." But this is where the uneven tone is most felt. The review contines, "While Inglourious Basterds scenestealer Ménochet's bullish intensity initially brings welcome tonal changes in what's otherwise often a warmly fluffy affair, his character's belligerence, tormented anguish and drink-fueled behavior end up coming across like a heavy-handed attempt to amp up elements of third-act drama." There is not the sense that Del[py, who does so well in inventing characters and bringing the summer outing to live with her excellent cast, has the conceptual or technical skill, as yet anyway, to construct a meaningful drama.

    This is a nostalgia piece in which Delpy fondly remembers her childhood and has fun, with help from the art department, with the unflattering and now silly-looking styles of the period. The screenplay is intentionally a meandering one, meant to evoke the amiable disorganization of large family gatherings. Everyone seems to be having fun, characters and actors both. However, the almost total lack of urgency about the action will make this a movie that will appeal some but bore others. The acting is the greatest point of appeal. Valerie Bernneton and Noemie Lvovsky are particularly likeable as Jean’s sisters; Leo-Michel Freundlich shows great promise as Albertine’s flirtatious young cousin, and Emmanuelle Rive imbues her small part with great style and flavor.

    It seems nice that after directing a somewhat arch English-language film set in France for her debut and then trying a costume piece with limited success, Delpy as deceded to work in the milieu she came from with a lot of French actors playing roles putatively related to her own family experience. But whether English-speaking viewers will want to read a lot of subtitles with so little payoff in emotional or physical action seems uncertain. Le Skylab opened in France 5 October 2011; it premiered at the San Sebastian festival in Spain September 19. Screened for this review at UGC Danon, Paris.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:26 PM.

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    New us releases today

    MARGIN CALL and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE both opened in limited release in the US today. You'll find my review of them both on Filmleaf, the first in this year's New Directors/New Films series, the second in the recent NYFF coverage. Both are recommended.

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    BERTRAND BONELLO: L'APOLLONIDE: SOUVENIRS DE LA MAISON CLOSE (2011)



    The Belle Époque's languid wild side

    Apollonide (in Cannes competition in 201; House of Tolerance its English title), with an interesting cast that includes three other directors, and enriched by deeply colored, painterly images, is set in the perfumed prison of a posh French brothel in 1899, "the dawn of the twentieth century," as a title calls it. The clients are elegant, the premises are spacious, the girls are lovely, but some of the proceedings are ugly, syphilis kills, and rents and taxes are going up: this particular sex worker world is coming to an end. Bonello suffuses his atmospheric film with lush ambivalence, blending attraction and repulsion. The result that emerges is a rather peculiar mix of romantic, decadent, semi-surreal miserabilism. Apart from an outing in the country, all is indoors, dark, and floating in champagne and opium. Bonello creates a very rich mix and his film is a delight to the eyes, but there's more than a little that is creepy here.

    Clearly this is a dangerous job. One girl, Madeleine (Alice Barnole) lets a regular client (Laurent Lacotte) tie her up and slashes her mouth, leaving hideous scars that make her look like The Joker. The other girls call her "The Woman Who Laughs," after the Victor Hugo novel The Man Who Laughs. She is kept on, and some clients like being with and talking to her, like one played by director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men). Though one young newcomer with voluptuous breasts, Pauline (Iliana Zabeth), an educated teenager who announces her arrival with a letter of introduction, somehow escapes, this in general is a gilded prison, a Hotel California. And the girls are indentured: they must pay the former hooker madam Marie-France (the always relaxed, appealing director Noémie Lvovsky) for all their fine clothes, and even the very wealthy regular client of Julie (Jasmine Trinca), director Jacques Nolot (utterly in his element in these louche surroundings) will not help out.

    Apart from its beauty, and a cast that includes Hafsia Herzi (whose notable debut was in Aabdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain) , Celine Sallette, Jasmine Trinca, Adele Haenel, Alice Barnole, Iliana Zabeth, Noemie Lvovsky, Xavier Beauvois, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (star of Mia Hansen-Løve's The Father of My Children, Jacques Nolot, and Laurent Lacotte, this is one of the most detailed and specific depictions of a brothel on film. It does not spare us on the negative aspects. Besides the disfigured Madeleine, one woman dies covered with syphilitic lesions; another, clearly a burnout after 12 years in service, takes constant refuge in opium and moves around listlessly like a semi-zombie.

    Bonello doesn't have a strong dramatic plot, and the resulting general lack of drive of his atmospheric film, its emphasis on the prostitutes' passivity and frequent downtime, leads inevitably to longeurs. His subject is the brothel itself, seen vaguely from the point of view of its impressario, Marie-France, who moves about brandishing a cigarette holder, pouring champagne into tall glasses, and flashing her languid smile. There is an undercurrent of her attempts to save the house from rising costs that are going to bring it down. Perhaps out of a lurid fascination that the whole film reveals (despite its unsexiness), he lingers much too much on the strangely defaced Madeleine, whose red-scarred grin never seems quite real. There's something queasy, not quite right. This is also an overbearingly sad film, that lacks the balance of any jokey, joyful moments, which one would expect from a dozen mostly young women. Though half the dozen girls gain identities, none is seen in much depth, and it all goes on too long; 20-30 minutes might have been cut. But this is still worth seeing to luxuriate in the beautiful colors, the atmosphere, and the Belle Époque nudes. Admirable cinematography by Josée Deshaies and lavish costume design by Anais Romand; and the women are of course often unclothed. This is a film that stays in the visual memory. Perhaps only that.

    Apollonide: Souvenires de la maison close/House of Tolerance debuted at Cannes in May 2011 and opened in Paris September 21, 2011 to favorable though mixed reviews. A UK release January 27, 2012 is anticipated.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:27 PM.

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    I'm curious about the new Andre Techine film, Impardonnables. Have you seen it? It opened in France about two months ago.

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    It is showing in Paris, but not in my area. I'll keep it in mind. No US release?

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    BRUNO DUMONT: HORS SATAN (2011)


    ALEXANDRA LEMATRE AND DAVID DEWAELE IN OUTSIDE SATAN


    Poverty poetry

    Hors Satan (Outside Satan) is vintage Bruno Dumont, elemental, brutal, poetic, nearly dialogue-free. Its main character (played by David Dewaele, also seen in Hadewijch) known only as "le Gars," "the Guy," is one of Dumont's odd rural types, small and lean, with a faroff look, his face pinched and shopworn. But also many other things. The film is all about faces. Almost all the action takes place outside, and the rough, unspectacular rolling landscape -- the other ever-present main character -- provides beautiful colors and lights that, shining on the face of "le gars," make it at times seem transcendent and beautiful. He is, after all, "outside Satan," beyond good and evil, because he can both murder and cure, crush and bring back from the dead, and humbly, unspectacularly, mysteriously, is ready to disappear, like Caine in Kung Fu, wandering the earth.

    In a sense Hors Satan isn't "about" its action or its characters at all. It's pure cinema, creating a world out of nothing, like Lisandro Alonso in Los Muertos, with a Carl Dreyer-esque breath of transcendence such as Carlos Reygadas introduces into the Mexican Menninites in Silent Light. But of course there is not the suspenseful narrative of Los Muertos or the rich social world of Silent Light. This could only be Dumont, and those who like his work will love it and those who dislike it will hate it. This is abstract art, ugly-beautiful, and it will hypnotize you if you don't ask it too many rational questions; if you want something linear, progressive, and parsable, you'll squirm in your seat. If you let it flow over you, it sings in that strange way Dumont's best films do. With reserve but some fairness, Variety's critic Rob Nelson, calls the film "Maddening, pretentious, hypnotic and transcendent in roughly equal measure." More of a non-responder is the reviewer for Hollywood Reporter, whose critique is summed up thus: "Inarticulate characters, long blank stares, forced camera angles and allegorical nonsense make up this pretentious study in quasi-religious ennui." But then, one man's ennui is another man's trancelike state. The inarticulate characters evoke great silent film. The long blank stares allow the camera to explore the complexity of the faces. The "focrced camera angles" balance intimacy with detachment. The pretentious study allows simplicity to become reverberant richness.

    Le Gars is a loner with a rifle who poaches and builds fires. He's joined by the sad, punkish girl known only as "Elle," "She" (Alexandra Lematre), who forms a bond with him, brings him food, prays with him, and makes a kind of platonic love by simply resting her head briefly on his shoulder, a curiously touching and meaningful gesture in this minimal and heightened world. Le Gars has powers that include immunity from detection when he commits acts that in ordinary terms are criminal. He kills Elle's abusive father, and a young man who has bothered her. What he does with an earthy female backpacker (Aurore Broutin) is harder to interpret. He brings Elle back to life. And then, like Caine, he hoists a makeshift sack on his back and wanders off.

    But somehow that's not what Hors Satan is about at all. To begin with, these acts, these deaths, are understated, and seem like only poaching or taking potshots or carrying a heavy burden across a field. What happens on the screen is more about the sound of the wind; the rain; brush fire across the horizon recalling a photo by Bernard Faucon (but without the ragged boys); rich, beautiful grasses, dunes, and marshes; and the narrow river. (This is the Côte d'Opale region of France bordering on Belgium.) The wide aspect ratio contributes to this sense of a living, ever-present landscape that envelops the characters. This is why the camera often drops back to a long shot, a device Dumont has used often, in his war picture -- Flandres, for instance. Dumont works with poverty: poverty of landscape, of personality, of speech and emotion. This goes back to L'humanité (1999), with its rape, murder, police investigation, and unsolved mysteries. I remember walking out of the theater debating the film with a stranger, and that's what you could do with Hors Satan. That's what Dumont wants you to do, I suspect. If his films were more linear and coherent, if they didn't have elements that shock and confuse, they wouldn't awaken those raw feelings in viewers and start them thinking and arguing.

    Meanwhile, thanks to smooth, textbook editing by Dumont and Basile Belkhiri, with blackouts separating main sequences; fine work by cinematographer Yves Cape; and sound design by Emmanuel Croset so precise even the footsteps on grass have a distinctive echo, Hors Satan looks and sounds perhaps better than any previous Bruno Dumont film, achieving beauties and religious overtones without the overt references resorted to in Hadewijch.

    Hors Satan debuted at Cannes and has been in other international festivals. It opened in Paris October 19, 2011, to excellent reviews. Cahier du Cinéma's critic thought it "perhaps.... in the simplicity of the fable and the impressive economy of the mise en scène, his most direct and most beautiful film."

    Screened for this review October 25, 2011 at MK2 Danton cinema in Paris, where the respectful and substantial matinee audience suggested increasing acceptance of Dumont by the French filmgoing public. Outside Satan opened in NYC 18 Jan. 2013 to generally favorable reviews (Metacritic: 63).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:28 PM.

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    NADINE LABAKI: WHERE DO WE GO NOW??


    VILLAGE LADIES EXAMINE RUSSIAN VISITORS IN WHERE DO WE GO NOW?

    Ladies take over

    Hallaa lawein / Et maintenant, on va où?, or Where Do We Go Now? in English, is Lebanese director Labaki's more ambitious but less successful second film. While in her somewhat desheveled but appealing debut Caramel she stuck to the telenovella charms of people circulating around a Beirut hairdressing establishment, she now uses an Italian neorealist style with dashes of musical comedy to address a vaguely Lysistrata-like fable about her war-torn country's Muslim-Christian conflicts. Too many characters, a patchy script with undeveloped elements, and very uneven tone mar this sincerre and tumultuously colorful effort. The main topic: the Christian and Muslim women of a remote village (they can barely get TV reception) band together after the accidental killing of a teenage boy using any possibe means to stop their religously divided menfolk from taking up arms again. Trouble: the funny and the tragic don't mesh very well. Result: one may watch the spectacle sometimes puzzled, sometimes amused, but not moved or quite convinced. However this film, introduced in the Cannes Festival's Un Certain Regard category, offers enough drama and lively visuals to entertain Anglo as well as French audiences.

    Labaki seems engaged with a series of set pieces that don't fit together very well and sometimes are oddly conceived from the start. The opening, a hillside parade of black-cressed Muslim and Christian women who dance their way across the landsape, declares that the preceedings are not meant to be realistic. Then a busy scene introuding the town's generally comical or boorish men sets another tone, perhaps drawn from Egyptian movies. Later, a traveling group of far from classical female Russian dancers comes to town, stuck when their bus breaks down. For a while they seem like they might be the film's motor or subject, but they just sort of blend in, underused. Later still comes the boy's death while on a trip with a friend. His corplse falls into his grieving mother's arms. After much weeping and wailing, the women band together to hide the arms, weave hashinsh into a bake-off of local delicacies, and try various other ruses to keep the men from killing each other again. The cemetary is already full of mostly good-looking young males sacrificed to the country's endless sectarianism. This final sequence is the occasion for several big set pieces, but when the ladies, who've deliberately reversed Muslim and Christian insignias, the Muslims donning crosses and the Christians headscarves, stop in the cemetary with the boy's corpse and say, Where Do We Go Now?, it makes for a somewhat baffling, abrupt finale. There's a lot of vivid local color here, but when one thinks of something like Villeneuve's Incendies this just seems a travesty on Lebanon's tragic history offering no solution to its deep problems. On the other hand, the sincerity and ambition of the effort deserve credit, and the film is full of women's empowerment symbolism that will appeal to female audiences of various cultures.

    Et maintenant on va ou? Opened Sepotember 14, 2011 and was showing a month later at a dozen Paris cinemas and was watched for this review on October 26, 2011 at MK2 Hautefeuille. According to Allociné it received good if limited reviews (3.7 from 19 critics), but CahierS du Cinéma said the film's only merit was replying frankly to its title's question, "Right into a wall." Les Inrockuptibles kindly said it was "a feel-good movie in the best and least cynical sense of the term."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:28 PM.

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    PIERRE SCHÖLLER: THE MINISTER (2011)


    MICHEL BLANC, OLIVIER GOURMET IN POSTER FOR L'EXERCISE DE L'ÉTÂT

    The loneliness of the long distance transport minister

    With L'Exercice de l'Étât/The Minister, Pierre Schöller (of the very different Versailles) does an intense film about the pressures of being a French government minister in the film starring the Dardennes' regular Olivier Gourmet and produced by the Dardennes, costarring Michel Blanc, Zabou Breitman, and Laurent Stocker. This looks at the social issues from the top where the previous film looked at them from the bottom. The film takes Bertrand Saint-Jean (Gourmet) through the ringer of several kinds of shocking accidents and pressures from every direction as he strives as a new Transport Minister to maintain his idealism. This is a wonderfully intense film, which may evoke for the French things like the recent Sarkozy story "The Conquest" or for Americans The West Wing, but it takes several odd turns. Its failure to lead to a satisfying payoff is no doubt quite intenntional.

    Variety's French film specialist Peter Dubruge thinks "Subtitles alone won't be enough to translate The Minister for export," and indeed like The Conquest its top-levil politics are particularly Gallic. Though it's true that the French audience will read more allusions to their own specific politics here, political junkies of any nationalities will feel the juice. Moreover Michel Blanc is impeccable as ever and Goumet shines as much in a white collar role as he does for morally challenged working class men for the Dardennes. Gourmet is excellent here, conveying a sense of both power and vulnerability.

    Bertrand wakes from a Helmut Newton dream of a naked girl climbing into the mouth of a live crocodile -- a not-so-subtle metaphor for his own state, and gets a call summoning him to a gruesome bus accident out in the country in which parents and children have died en masse. When he gets there, though, he's in constant touch with Gilles (Blanc), his assistant, and Pauline (Breitman), his PR person is on hand: what counts are the sound bites, more than the sympathy. Bertrand knows that and must live with it, but he doesn't exactly like it.

    Bertrand is from nowhere. Most the pols are ancestral, as it were (like Gilles), and what the PM in particular wants from Bertrand is to carry out a process Bertrand himself opposes on deep principle, privatization of the railway system. It's a bit unilkely in France with its strong surviving social network, but this recurrent push to privatize stands for the compromises Bertrand must battle 24/7.

    The film is best at showing Bertrand's personal struggle, but weak at working out a real drama of warring personalities and exciting developments in the manner of The West Wing's creator, Aaron Sorkin, or some of the British dramas of political conflict (Stephen Frears, Peter Morgan, et al.). We get the point that Bertrand sees his wife only for a caress or a quick roll in the hay and has no real company but the overly correct Gilles and the inarticulate unemployed person who's hired, with dubious practical judgment but perhaps a good eye for publicity, to be Bertrand's driver. A non-actor, Sylvain Deblé, was cast for the driver role and he adds an authentic flavor.

    The Minister is full of passion for its subject even if it can't make fully satisfying drama out of it. The emphasis is not on machinations or heroics but the sheer struggle of maintaining one's dignity and one's functionality under incredible pressures. Amid all the talky sequences, there are several very striking set pieces that leave you with strong visual memories. A second accident sequence is well filmed, again emphasizing the protagonist's near-total isolation; but it seems located as a bit of a faux-climax. Julien Hirsch's photography is intense, if relying a bit much on closeups. Schöller's self-composed abstract concrete music backgrounds, sparsely used, add an original kind of harsh alienation effect.

    The film debuted in the Un Certain Regard series at Cannes and won the Fipresci Prize there. It opened in Paris theaters October 26, 2011. When screened for this review during a matinee the UGC Danton at St. Germain all seats were filled. With a somewhat small critical aggregation (17 reviews) the result on Allociné was universal acclaim (4.2, pretty much spanning the range of media audiences).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:29 PM.

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    VINCENT PARANAUD, MARIANE SATRAPI: CHICKEN WITH PLUMS (2011)


    GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI AND MATTHIEU AMALRIC IN CHICKEN WITH PLUMS


    Sweet nostalgic gloom

    Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, whose animated film of the autobiographical graphic novel about a girl growing up in a leftist family in Iran was such a success, are back now with a different treatment. This time another graphic novel, Poulet aux prunes/Chicken with Plums, has been storyboarded and turned into a film with live people. The stellar cast includes Matthieu Amalric and Maria de Madeiros in lead roles, with Edouard Baer, Isabella Rossellini, Chiara Mastroianni and others as backup, including the popular Djamel Debbouze in a couple of colorful turns. Beautiful Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani plays the almost wordless part of the lost one true love of the fine violinist Nasser Ali (Matthieu), the protagonist of this film set in a nostalgic 20's-50's Iran with dialogue entirely in French. The Paranoud-Satrapi team has scored again: this is a perfect little tale whose narrative dreamily slips back and forth between past and present, narrated by the Angel of Death (Baer) after This is a cheerful, pretty tale of utter disappointment and suicide. Well, that's how it seems. The versatile Amalric looks soulfully sad throughout as he goes through his disappointments and moments of hope. Don't think the tale is meant to be taken quite seriously. It's more than anything a wistful playing about with romantic dreams.

    The story begins with the ultimate cause of Nasser Ali's death wish. His long suffering wife Faranguisse (de Medeiros), who has loved him from chlidhood but whom he has never loved, becomes fed up with his indifferance as a father to their two small children and smashes his violin. He goes looking for a replacement with unsuccessful results, then settles on suicide as the best solution, though various methods, playfully visualized, all seem unsuitable. Running into a sad but lovely older woman who claims not to recoognize him (Golshifteh Farahani) is what brings on the big depression. He takes to his bed and memories sweep over him. Flashbacks show how in his younger days he was told by his violin master that his playing had great technique but no soul. Then he falls in love with a clock seller's daughter (Farahani, young and charming) -- and she with him. But her father refuses to allow the marriage. This makes Nasser Ali so sad, his playing becomes soulful, is certified by his music guru, and he travels the world giving concerts.

    The nostalgic picture of the western-leaning middle class of Fifties Teheran was lovingly recreated in idealized form at Berlin's Babelsberg studios. No realistic Savak prisons or other recollections of the earlier autobiographical tale: the pain is all self-inflicted and dreamy. Some details, such as a flashforward to son Cyrus' comical future life in America (with a daughter so fat she doesnn't know she's pregnant), seem choppy, a quality that follows from the blending together into a 93-minute continuous film of a lot of separately constructed graphic novel episodes. This was true of Persepolis too, but the autographical narratige held them together a bit better. This film totally lacks the punch and intellectual bite of the earlier one.

    Nonetheless fans of Franco-Iranian nostalgia and droopy romanticism will adore this classic narrative. Others may find the crepuscular world merely dreary and uninvolving. As a Guardian writer suggested, the "chicken with plums" may "prove too honeyed for some." But no one can deny the craft here, which includes the color, lighting, editing, and Satrapi's direction of her pro cast, not to overlook Enna Balland as young daughter Lili and MAtthis Bour as the uncooperative tyke Cyus, who wants to become a pastry-maker.

    The film debuted at Venice and continued at Toronto, Zuich, Hamburg, Sao Paolo, Pusan and Tokyo. It was released in Paris cinemas October 26, 2011. Good reviews (3.5 out of 19 sampled), but some critics felt (as I frankly do) that the sadness comes too easy and with too little pain here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:30 PM.

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    PHILIPPE GARREL: UN ETE BRULANT (2011)


    MONICA BELLUCCI AND LOUIS GARREL IN UN ETE BRULANT

    Fuzzy Roman moodiness

    The presence of many Garrel themes and gestures make this film of interest to devotees of the French auteur. His heyday was in the Sixties and Seventies, but he made a memorable and atmosphereic film with his son Louis in the three-hour black-and-white 2005 Regular Lovers. That made Louis emblematic of 1968, a role designated to him first by Bernardo Bertolucci in his 2003 The Dreamers. After the favorable reception of that flm, the senior Garrel used his son once more as a suicidal poetic type in the attratively photographed but unmemorable black and white film The Frontier of Dawn (2008). This new digital color film is a meandering, badly motivated and clumsily photographed effort. The director is clearly just treading water. A shame for both father and son (and granddad Maurice, who was briefly in Regular Lovers, and has a scene here again). Céline Sallette, who was in the 2005 film, is appealing again here as Élisabeth, the girfriend of best friend Paul, played by TV actor Jérôme Robart. Again the striking-looking Louis, often used by Christophe Honoré, arguably with more success, is cast by his father as a suicidal artistic type, this time a painter.

    But the big question is, what are all these French men doing around Monica Bellucci in Rome? And what is Bellucci, who appears overweight and sullen, doing in this picture? If her name was meant to add cachet, the idea backfired.

    Other reviewers have pointed out that although the film begins with the car-accident suicide of Frederic (Louis Garrel) -- or was it only an attempted suicide?, there is nothing besides his mopiness and weepiness with his Italian wife (yes, they are supposed to be married, and he's supposed to be a painter, and the paintings are bad enough that the actor might have painted them himlself) to explain why he would want to kill himself. Just general Weltschmerz, perhaps? or a growing awareness that he's not a good painter and his wife isn't faithful? She has a new Regular Lover of her own, someone picked up on the set of the two apparently mediocre films we see little moments of. Cinecittà is used as the set.

    There are pointless and inexplicable comings and goings, and there is a scare when
    Élisabeth and Angèle (Bellucci) become hysterical over an unexpected rodent. All these things doubtless have a significance for Garrel, and would be understood by adepts of his work. As a film they are inexplicable and uninvolving and add nothing appreciable to what can be found in Garrel senior's other films.

    The tech elements are sloppy. The occasional piano music is too loud and drowns out the dialogue at one point. There are moments when half the screen is out of focus and sometimes the color is hideous. There are a few, but too few, moments of visual beauty, when the people and the locations look great. Sometimes Garrel seems to be transparently feeding off his previous successes, with imperfect success. There is even a dance sequence exactly like the long poetic one in Regular Lovers -- same grouping, movements, gestures. Only then it worked and here it doesn't.

    Un été brûlant/A Burning Summer debuted September 2, 2011 at the Venice festival, and opened in Paris September 28 to fair reviews (Allociné 3.2 from 16 press reviews), with the hip Inrockupibles and Cahiers du Cinéma rating highest. The Inrockuptibles' claim that Bellucci is "very moving" and there is "a refined use of color" suggests that critic was on another planet.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:31 PM.

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    This begins a run at the excellent San Francisco Film Society Cinema July 20, 2012.

    A Burning Hot Summer/Un été brulant: SFFS page.

    he stormy relationship between a painter and an Italian film actress is seen through the eyes of another young couple in Philippe Garrel’s latest exploration of twisted emotional ties. An aspiring actor and self-professed revolutionary, Paul is working as an extra when he falls in love with another bit player in the film, the emotionally fragile Elisabeth. Around the same time, Paul meets the painter Frédéric (Louis Garrel) through a mutual friend, and Frédéric soon invites Paul and Elisabeth to Rome to stay with him and his Italian wife Angèle (Monica Bellucci). In the heat of a Roman summer, Paul and Elisabeth face the delicate start to their new love while Frédéric and Angèle’s begins to implode. Shooting in full color after several productions in black and white, Garrel allows the actors to give full range to the troubled passions that rule and rile their characters. The film was reportedly inspired both by the death of a friend of Garrel’s and by Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt. Written by Philippe Garrel, Marc Cholodenko, Caroline Deruas-Garrel, Photographed by Willy Kurant. Music by John Cale. With Louis Garrel, Monica Bellucci, Jèrôme Robart, Cèline Sallette. In French with subtitles. 95 mins. Distributed by IFC Films.--SFFS blurb.
    Even though I didn't feel this film was a success, nor did my friend whom I saw it with, I would never deny the infinite coolness of both Garrels, père & fils.

    SF Film Society Cinema 1746 Post Street (Webster/Buchanan). San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2015 at 04:31 PM.

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