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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center 2013

  1. #16
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    Jacques Doillon: YOU, ME, AND US (20120

    JACQUES DOILLON: YOU, ME AND US (2012)


    MALIK ZIDI, LOU DOILLON, AND SAMUEL BENCHETRIT IN YOU, ME AND US

    Him and him and her and the kid

    Given that prolific filmmakers and former documentarian Jacques Doillon's best loved films going back to the Seventies, including Touched in the Head, The Hussy, Ponette, The Year 01, The Little Gangsterl, Un sac de billes, and Raja, all involve children, it's not surprising that a sprightly eight-year-old girl steals the show in You, Me and Us, whose French title is more of a hint of the sujbect mtter: Un enfant de toi "A Child by You." Were it not for little Olga Milshtein as a girl named Lina, You, Me and Us would be hard going. Well, actually it's hard going anyway, chiefly because the whole story becomes crystal clear in the first ten minutes. This happened with Doillon's more richly cast previous film, also a ronde, Three-Way Wedding/Marriage à trois which sported the presence of such thespians as Pascal Greggory, Julie Depardieu, Louis Garrel, and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing of Mia Hansen-Løve superb Father of My Children. Marriage à trois, though it too was tedious and self-indulgent, was at least sprightlier, more varied, more bouyantly theeatrical -- and 43 minutes shorter. This new one is too minimal. The writing isn't good enough to surmount the self-imposed limitations. And there's nothing minimal about the length, except the editing.

    In You, Me, etc. an artistic type, Louis (Samuel Benshetrit) has recently been involved with a former student (Marilyne Fontaine), but we don't see much of her. Instead we spend out assigned nearly two and a half hours of encounters between Aya (Lou Doillon) and her two men, the present one, Victor (Malik Zidi), a dentist with a "belle bagnolle," a flashy car (a white Mercedes roadster) and her former husband and father of the child, Louis (Samuel Benshirit). Often all three are together,with Lina often hovering behind a door eavesdropping, but ready to leap into bed before she's caught

    No sex, though, just lots of talking about relationships. Maybe that's why the Hollywood Repoarter critic, Jordan Mintzter, reviewing the film at its Rome debut, compareed You, Me and Us not very flatteringly with Éric Rohmer: Set in "semi-chic apartments and empty streets" in Tours, he explains, it consists of "a series of lengthy and theatrical tête-à-tête’s where the heavily written dialogues clearly take precedence over drama. It’s like an Eric Rohmer movie sans humor or structural inventiveness." Mintzer concludes that, as is true, we don't care much about the outcome. With Rohmer we always do, even when it's obvious. Usually in Rohmer someone, a young man or young woman, is faced with a series of choices for a mate, is drawn to the wrong ones, but comes right in the end. We don't observe anything like that happening here, because Louis and Victor seem equally wishy-washy, and Ala takes the whole 143 minutes deciding which of them she's going to go with, and whether her idea of having another child with Victor is something she wants or she should just go back to Louis as (spoiler alert!) she appears to be planning to do in those first ten minutes. She wavors back and forth so many times, I wasn't convinced by the end, on a wintry beach, that she had really made up her mind. I'd prefer to watch a short with just Lina, who is a fascinating and very French combination: she is at once preternaturally sophisticated and very much a child. To apply a simple adjective like "cute" to Lina would be a travesty.

    As Victor, Malik Ziki, an actor who's usually intense, gives his ambiguous role as Ala's new partner some solidity, till the "lengthy and theatrical" (they certainly are that, from the first) dialogues begin to make whatever personality Victor has turn to jelly. I'm not usually troubled by the actors' physicality, but Lou Doillon has that fashion model boniness (like her more famous and more charismatic half-sister Charlotte Gainsbourg) but also hash buck teeth and big nose that make her seem more a fashion reject. Paired with Samuel Benshetrit, skinny and a bit wispy himself, they are a pretty unappealing couple. I was hoping Victor would shack up with Louis's current gf Marilyne Fontaine, and we could just forget about Lina's two skinny parents. No such luck.

    The lack of Rohmeresque "structureal inventiveness" Mintzer refers to means that really nothing happens. Like a lot of talky plays there is jut a succession of scenes in slightly different venues. With tighter writing and actors with more intense presence and wit, the successive "reunions" of Ala and Louis at cafes, in hotel rooms, and so on could be suspenseful and sexy. They aren't. If everybody wasn't so damned post-modernly post-morality blah about what they want and what the other person deserves., there would be excitement and, probably, farce. Everybody does lie, it seems, including Lina, who's setting up a mock wedding of a couple of her schoolmates using a diamond ring nicked from her mother's drawer. The little bit of humor involved in this long, clever, but repetitious and ultimately numbing ronde comes from the way Lina pretends not to know what's going on, when like any properly Shakespearean child, she of course definitely does.

    Un enfant de toi , 143 mins., (Three-Way Wedding was long enough at 100), opened in France after that Rome debut on Novemer 24, 2012, and reviews were not particularly good, Allociné press rating 2.9 from 19 reviews and an even worse public rating of a measly 1.8. Reviews acknowledged that this is a good-looking film. We note, without being too excited, that Benshirit is a "celebrity hipster" (director of Sundance prize winner I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster and actual ex-b.f. of Doillon fille)" (Minster again). I like Le Parisian: "Two hours and sixteen minutes of dithering drowned in palaver (...) are not a good moment in cinema." No, they're not. We don't seem to find Doillon at a "bon moment" right now, however the Cahiers people ma differ.

    Screened for this review as part of the joint Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (which runs in 2013 Feb. 28-March 10).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2014 at 07:22 PM.

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    Shalimar Preuss: MY BLUE-EYED GIRL (2012)

    SHALIMAR PREUSS: MY BLUE-EYED GIRL (2012)


    LOU AZIOSMANOFF IN MY BLUE-EYED GIRL

    French seaside, family summer, a girl's secret

    My online encyclopedia tells me Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a commune in the Charente-Maritime department in southwestern France, one of the 10 communes located on the Île de Ré. That's the setting of Shalimar Preuss's lazy family summer film, which strives for documentary naturalism but is weakly structured. Various members of several interrelated families are gathered here at a comfortably big summer house near the sea. Maybe because it's an island or because this is a movie, we feel as if we're visiting an earlier, simpler time. Not much of compuers or electronics here. Big excitement comes from sailing lessons and the shock is some of the girls discovering the 17-year-old Maude (Lou Aziosmanoff), the "pretty" or "good" girl or kid of the title Ma belle gosse, is secretly corresponding with an inmate in the nearby prison, who has told her he is 35, and whom she's enamored of and has a photo of. Her little half-brother Vadim is the only one who knows, but several sisters or half-sisters or cousins come upon the bundle of letters by accident.

    This incident, which in any case never leads to anything exciting, is buried in all the sequences of aimless summer fiddling around, checker games, meals, ice cream, playing in the garden, examinations of marine life, treks through mud, and so forth, which are certainly all authentic-feeling with their desultory action, intergenerational conflicts, and seamless editing of not very significant moments into an all-too-realistic whole. But all this leads to no emergence of a narrative structure. The film achieves less than it might have because of a lack of effective editing. Another way of putting it is that this is a documentary of French traditional family life at a peaceful summer resort, but that the material gathered lacked focus, cohesion, or interest and so the story of the girls's secret prison inmate pen pal is added, but it's not enough. For scenes with so little happening, images need to be a lot more beautiful than this to justify our looking at them at such length. Ambient sound is recorded with only existing light in the shooting (so you can't follow the checker game).

    Characters are not well-differentiated, least of all the mother. Some of the kids are very cute. This is a film of atmosphere, waiting for something to happen. Contrast: Celina Murga: A Week Alone (2007), FCS 2007, a brilliant and powerful South American study of children left alone in the summer at a posh gated community and getting gradually into trouble.

    My Blue-Eyed Girl/Ma belle gosse, 80 mins.,debuted at Rotterdam. French release date: 26 November 2012, according to IMDb. No reviews listed on Allociné. VOD release. Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Feb. 28-Mar. 10. This seemingly negligible film is getting three public screenings, Mon. Mar. 4, 10:20pm – IFC; Tues. Mar. 5, 4pm – WRT; Sun. Mar. 10, 4:40pm - WRT for its "North American Premiere."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2014 at 07:19 PM.

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    Catherine Corsini: THREE WORLDS (2012)

    CATHERINE CORSINI: THREE WORLDS (2012)


    CLOTILDE HESME AND RAPHAËL PERSONNAZ IN THREE WORLDS

    Guild ridden

    Previous films by Catherine Corsini that we've gotten a chance to see in New York are Les ambitieux, "The Ambitious Ones," like the new one in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center but in 2007 -- I called a "a smooth French literary bedroom comedy" -- and the (in the US) generally released 2009 Leaving/Partir, best reviwed of these three in France, in which Kristin Scott Thomas plays a woman who throws her life away for a man she falls in love with. In Three Worlds, Corsni raises the ante, working successfully in the thriller mode, and what's nice in a Rendez-Vous season that has had little to say about crime or morality, she delivers a full-on crisis of guilt: a man on the verge of achieving all good fortune flees from an accident in which someone is seriously injured and becomes trapped in this fatally wrong decision. This is a film that also paints in issues of class and privilege with a broad brush. Its momentum is lively.

    The man is Al (Raphaël Personnaz), whose mother was a maid cleaning up the vast garage and car dealership where he is just about to assume the reins. In ten days he's marrying the boss's daughter. He has worked his way up and become a hotshot car salesman. He and two much lower ranking employees, longtime friends, have been drinking, the accident happens, he gets out, but then jumps back in, terrified, and drives off, egged on by his comrades, one of whom, Franck (Reda Kateb of Audiard's A Prophet) in days to come proves forward and mocking.

    The film features Arta Dobroshi of the Dardennes' Lorna's Silence, who gives an intense performance as the injured man's Moldavian wife Vera.

    We immediately see that a woman, Juliette (Clotilde Hesme of Rugular Lovers, NYFF 2005 and Love Songs, R-V 2007), has witnessed the accident from her window. She is a pregnant medical student and her professor boyfriend is there, but sees nothing. She is responsible for calling the emergency services and eventually meets both Vera and Al. The "three worlds" are those of Al's working class origins (he's a star car salesman now general manager), the bourgeois milieu to which Julieette belongs, and the threatened, shaky world of illegal immigrants.

    Al becomes ridden with guilt, and also uncomfortable with the dubious practices of his new father-in-law Testaud (Jean-Pierre Malo), under all this pressure, no longer excited about marrying Testaud's daughter, Marie (Adèle Haenel of Water Lilies, not given much to do here). Everything becomes very frantic, and while this isn't as tightly put together as Leaving/Partir, the chiseled Personnaz, a very busy actor these days, conveys through a kinetic and sexy performance the sense of a man whose world is coming apart, and this is the important place where the film excels. The screenplay by Corsini and Benoît Griffin may tie too many knots and contain implausible moments, but despite its conventionality it wisely leaves things blank at the end and makes of Al a complex protagonist. Clotilde Hesme provides good balance, bringing both restraint and complexity to this, for her, more conventional and mainstream role. And despite so-so reviews, here is an example of how the French can make a classy mainstream thriller, and a moral thriller with echoes of Dirty, Pretty Things to boot, and a variation on the Hitchcockisn theme of the innocent man who's found guilty. Al isn't an innocent man, but he has been up till his terrible mistake, and the film makes him sympathetic almost to a fault. For a minute I thought even the victim's wife was going to come on to him.

    Trois mondes , 101 mins., debuted at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard series, and opened in Paris December 5, 2012, with decent French reviews (Allociné press rating 3.2 based on 19 reviews). French critics admired the momentum and social complexity and the skill with actors, but pointed out that the film made its points too schematically. A Film Movement release. Screened for this review as part of the joint Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, showing Mar 5, 6, and 7, 2013 at two NYC locations. This is the New York premiere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2018 at 10:08 PM.

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    Héléna Klotz: THE ATOMIC AGE (2012)

    HÉLÉNA KLOTZ: THE ATOMIC AGE (2012)


    DOMINIK WOJCIK AND ELIOTT PAQUET IN THE ATOMIC AGE

    Young poetry of night

    It sounds extravagant, but French critic Romain Blondeau of Les Inrockuptibles was right when he wrote that Héléléna Klotz's The Atomic Age/L'Âge atomique "is a first feature that's fragile, very beautiful, senual, engaging and devilishily romantic." "Fragile," because it's a film about youth, and on the surface there's not much to it. Well, there may not seem to be much to Patrice Chéreau's L'Homme Blessé either, but that doesn't keep it from being a definitive statement about doomed gay youth in the provinces. The Atomic Age is slight; it's only 68 minutes long, and it details nothing more than two young men's failed night out in Paris. But in the way it looks and unfolds there's a fluidity, an art, and an assurance that explain how it can be beautiful, sensual, engaging, and devilishly romantic, because with a fine and dramatic eye it captures the spirit of pretentious (or simply self-consciously hip) young men (they only think they're doomed, we suspect) dying of longing, and on the periphery of things both geographically and metaphorically. Maybe they're not quite ready for the passion of their lives. Or maybe it's just not coming along this evening. But in a way they are willing as only very young men are to go for broke, bet everything on a dance, an intense stare or a glass of beer.

    The Atomic Age is not without significant incident -- every little moment is significant --but primarily it's a visual poem. Taking full advantage of its nighttime setting, it's shot in images rich in velvety blacks and it ends with a dawn that arrives with a mysterious sparkle. Don't be deceived by the ephemeral material: there's magic and mastery here in every shot.

    But it also feels quite real, fluid, and natural. At first the two young men, Victor (Eliott Paquet) and Rainer (Dominik Wojcik), are riding the train from far out in the banlieux to Paris, going "en boîte," clubbing. Where they wind up seems familiar to them, and Rainer, a poète maudit of Central European origin who sleeps badly, is lonely, and puts himself to sleep reading and memorizing poetry, and it later seems, may actually lives in Paris. They drink on the train, a gulped mix of this and that designed to blast their brains. At the club, mobbed with a weekend crowd, they dance, and they talk.

    Héléna Klotz's amazes by making the movie cliche of this disco-like place with its loud music and lurid lights not only beautiful but someting we take for granted as simply the water Victor and Rainer swim in. A handsome, long-haired and forward young gay man (Luc Chastel) dances closer and closer to Rainer, and for a long time he does not push him away. Victor tries to find a girl who's interested in him and repeatedly fails. After a particularly humiliating rejection, when the girl unexpectedly slaps him and hurls a nasty epithet at him, he climbs up on the roof and weeps. Rainer follows him there. Lighting may not be unselfconscious as we notice from the golden tints on the roof, but it is beautiful throughout, in the train in the club, on the roof, in every shot. When they leave the club they engage in verbal sparring with a handful of more priviledged young men, whom Victor has mocked as badly dressed. All of the guys, but especially Victor, who we now suddenly notice is shorter than the others, are wiling to push their provocations to and beyond normal limites. Yet seems for a moment -- Klots is excellent at capturing the thin edge between provocation and approach -- like the hostility could turn to friendship and the city slickers with the Audi and the boys from the sticks might join forces for the rest of the night.

    But then epithets turn to fisticuffs, and Victor and Rainer wind up in a train station, where a pretty girl sits next to Victor, puling off her false eyelashes and starting a conversation. Her name is Rose. She gets up to leave and wants him to follow. But the deparessed Rainer will not hear of it when Vicktor offers him the keys to his place. He won't be abandoned -- but by now if not all evening both boys feel abandoned and disillusioned, left with only each other. And so Victor actually chooses to stay with Rainer and let the pretty young girl (she may be too young) go off by herself. The geography becomes confusing after this. Victor is leading Rainer through the woods, apparently a back way to his house, and when they finally lie down they declare their love to each other, combining French teenage bromance with a hint of River and Keanu in My Own Private Idaho. Now, Victor says when two days go by and he doesn't see Rainer, he misses him. As dawn begins to come, the camera draws back, and we see the two boys walking Indian file in a field of brambles, their white shoes twinkling hauntingly in the crepuscular light. And there you have it. That's all there is, but it feels like quite a lot, because this adventure is so vividly and beautifully imagined.

    Hélena Klotz, who did a 55-min. TV film version of this material titled Val d'Or in 2011 and has worked as a casting director, is the daughter of Nicolas Klotz of La Fémis, the French national film school. Klotz père is known for Heartbeat Detector/La question humaine (R-V 2008), a moody, resonant study of lingering traces of Nazism in France with with Matthieu Amalric and Michael Londdale. He also made last year's not-so-successful evocation of youthful revolutionaries, Low Life (R-V 2012), which seemed a failed attempt to do what Philippe Garrel nails in Regular Lovers. Anyway, the family has a new winner with The Atomic Age and we look forward to what Héléna Klotz may do next.

    Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series Rendez-Vous with French Ciname (Feb. 28-March 10, 2013), L'Age atomique won the 2012 Jean Vigo prize and is a TLA Releasing film. It was released in France November 38, 2012 to favorable reviews (Allociné press rating 3.4 from 14 reviews), particularly from the usual hipster suspects like Les Inrocks, Cahiers, Le Nouvel Observateur.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2015 at 11:50 PM.

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    Patrice Leconte: THE SUICIDE SHOP (2012)

    PATRICE LECONTE: THE SUICIDE SHOP (2012)



    Forget your troubles and get a suicide kit

    This is an unusual charmer that won't work for everyone, especially not in the non-French world: an animated musical about suicide. Elaborate and clever subtitles do a wonderful job but wordplay and meaning tend tolost something when song lyrics are converted into another language. It's also in 3D, though as mostly happens, the necessity of this is obscure. What delights are the elaborate backgrounds, particularly the shop itself, with its endless arrays of poisons, ropes to hang yourself of every possible material, organic or hi-tech, the weaponry including knives -- and one for seppuku, "Hari-kiri in slang," as we're helpfully told by the pointedly named pater familias, the mustachioed Michima (Bernard Alane). His wife's got a cute name too, Lucrèce (Isabelle Spade). What happens is that a new child is born into the family and this little boy is incurably happy. His irrepressible smiles, so inappropriate in dealing with the depressed and suicidal, are destined to change his family's world forever. The amazing Kacey Mottel Klein shines, as usual as the voice of Alan, the little boy who can't wipe the smile off his face. It's as if Charlie Brown were born into the Addams family. The story is set at an indeterminate time in a generic big city (it looks more like New York than Paris). The shop is licensed, but clients are warned to off themselves out of sight: public suicides, attempted or successful, are subject to a fine. If they're successful, family members are liable. The Suicide Shop has excellent momentum. It's a ridiculously cheerful twittering machine that never stops.

    Patrice Leconte is a French director whose films have frequently been well received abroad. These include Monsieur Hire, The Hairdresser's Husband, The Girl on the Bridge ,The Widow of Saint-PIerre, and The Man on the Train. This is indeed a change of pace, and it works. The trick of it is its buoyancy. Even though the family maintain a dour facade in dealing with their clientele and are shocked and annoyed at Alan's irrepressible joie-de-vivre, they go about their work with enthusiasm, and the film is never a downer. Based on the novel by Jean Teulé and with the voices of Bernard Alane, Isabelle Space, Klein, Isabelle Giami, and Laurent Gendron.

    The Suicide Shop/Le magazin des suicides, 105 mins., was screened as part of the joint Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Feb. 28-Mar. 10, 2013), which constituted the film's New York premiere. The French release was September 26, 2012 (1h 25min), when the film was received with mild enthusiasm. The Allociné press rating was 3.1, based on 23 reviews. Some critics weren't sold and thought this is only faux Gothic (we might say ersatz Edward Gorey), and this is maybe partly true: Leconte et al. have not quite got to the source of tongue-in-cheek melancholia. If the theme appeals it's very watchable, though.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2014 at 08:22 PM.

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    Gilles Legrand: YOU WILL BE MY SON (2011)

    GILLES LEGRAND: YOU WILL BE MY SON (2011)


    NIELS ARESTRUP AND LORÀNT DEUTSCH IN YOU WILL BE MY SON

    Predictable outcomes

    Gilles Legrand constructs a family tragedy in the world of top-grade French winemaking in You Will Be My Son, the study of an aging father who doesn't love his son or trust him to take over the business, particularly not the "aesthetic" part, the shaping of superb vintages. Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) is the egocentric father who loves his two-thousant-euro shoes more than his energetic and hard-working but somewhat wimpy son. When his general manager François Amelot (Patrick Chenais) is clearly dying of pancreatic cancer, Paul invites his son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) to come over from California, where he's been working for Francis Copola's expensive vanity wine project, and woos him to take on his father's key role, bypassing his own son, who has worked at the winery all his life. Everything is neatly laid out here, and none of it works, because it's all too obvious. This movie will do if you want to pass 102 minutes listening to French and looking at a luxurious winery and a fancy hotel in Paris in nice weather, but the predictability is absolutely stultifying. Everything here is strictly by the numbers.

    Niels Arestrup is a fine actor, noted for his depictions of complicated mentors in Audiard's Beat My Heart Skipped and A Prophet (both of which got him Césars) -- very different and distinctive roles. It's funny how generic he somehow seems here. Good as he is, Arestrup can't salvage a conventional, unimaginative film, and he's given lines that say, in every scene, I don't like my son, I belittle my son, I discount my son. There is not an ounce of complexity. As the two alternative sons, Deutsch and Bridet are remarkably similar looking: Bridet is just a tad sexier and has better hair, with more of a swirl to it. Women are stereotyped. François' wife Madelaine (Valérie Mairesse) is a nag, one of the many urging us not to like Paul, as if we needed prompting. Martin's wife Alice (Anne Marivin) makes it even easier: she can't stand Paul even before Paul begins maneuvering to displace her husband with Philippe. Every scene tells us to hate this son-of-a-bitch. There is something ill-judged in the way the film through Paul turns good living into crassness, access to the best wines into conspicuous consumption and self-indulgence, and has Martin's nerves and anger as he's humiliated and pushed away lead him to develop an alcohol problem (all this is worthy of Dickens at his most unsubtle) -- hardly advantageous ways of making us value the world of wine where France has always been supreme.

    The movie sells glossiness and exclusivity, the best wines, the best winemaking and bottling devices, the best shoes, the best hotel rooms -- the best son, even if it has to be somebody else's!! -- and yet it also cheapens all these good things of life because it presents them as just that, nothing but things. As in so many wine movies, it all goes wrong. Wine is as hard to make a movie about as art, or music.

    And so well before the moment comes we've long been poised for the other shoe to drop -- for Paul to get his comeuppance for being such a bastard of a dad and cheapening an ancestral wine business by reducing it to just a way to play out his mean selfishness. The festival blurb speaks of a "titanic" performance by Arestrup, but alas it is not. We may hope for other great performances from Arestrup, but this one is just what the simplistic screenplay calls for. He needs a part of more complexity to show what he can really do. Arestrup shows plenty of flash, but Chenais has more gravitas, and is more memorable for just one moment of true rage. Gilles Legrand, who has worked in TV and has not made a significant feature film, is many miles away from Jacques Audiard. This shiny bright movie with its surging music is readymade American art house kitsch boilerplate for seniors, but the lines are a little to clearly drawn even for them. However there is already talk of a US remake with a California setting, which is not far-fetched.

    You Will Be My Son/Tu seras mon fils was released in France August 24, 2011 to so-so reviews (Allociné press rating 2.8 based on 17 critics, but the online audience vote was enthusiastic, 3.9, showing that this plays well with the general audience. In the US, this is a Cohen Media Group release. Screened for this review as part of the 2013 edition of the annual Uifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Feb. 28-Mar. 10, 2013). North American premiere.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2014 at 08:25 PM.

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    Guillaume Nicloux: THE NUN (2013)

    GUILLAUME NICLOUX: THE NUN (2013)


    PAULINE ÉTIENNE, LEFT, AND ISABELLE HUPPERT, CENTER, IN THE NUN

    Still not a sister

    The Nun is an attention-getting but ultimately disappointing adaptation of Denis Diderot's once highly controversial eighteenth-century novel. Diderot was attacking corruption in the Church, but the director, Guillaume Nicloux, whose decades of workmanlike films haven't gained him auteur status, decided that "personal freedom" should be his handle on the material. The resulting beautiful-to-look-at and well staged but conventional movie plods. Worse, its grip on tone falters constantly. It begins promisingly as a coming of age revelation full of anguish, showing its young protagonist Suzanne's confinement in a nunnery against her will. At a dramatic high point that at the same time feels somehow blank and empty because of a lack of psychological penetration, Susanne surprises even herself by refusing to take the vows right during the ceremony. There's more beauty in the wonderful costumes, the conventional but dramatic symmetrical framing of the images, and the ecclesiastical sound effects, than there is conviction, but the story is still ripe with possibility. Things go downhill however as we are forced to slog through a long period of physical and psychological torture after Suzanne is told she's illegitimate and is sent back to the nunnery, the nice but dishonest head nun dies, and a totally sadistic one focuses on destroying her. Finally when she's rescued from this horror there's a second complete tonal shift to squirmy comedy when Suzanne, who now has an outside advocate, is transferred to another nunnery whose mother superior (Isabelle Huppert) is a rampant lesbian absurdly eager to bed her. A somewhat ambiguous happy ending is tacked on. Boyd von Hoeij of Variety, reviewing The Nun at its Berlin debut, quipped that if it wer not for the "luminous" face of the Belgian actress Pauline Etienne in the starring role, the whole film would be "a snoozefest of epic proportions." And maybe it is anyway. Bon Hoeij also pointed out that there is a "perfectly fine" adaptation of the Diderot novel by Jacques Rivette from 1966 starring Anna Karina, though the real problem is Nicloux's inability to imbue his film with tension, drive, and momentum. Forget this distractingly pretty but vapid effort and watch instead Cristian Mungiu's related but far more intense and real contemporary story, Beyond the Hills (NYFF 2012)

    Jordan Mintzer's Hollywood Reporter review noted The Nun has nothing "inspiring or truly groundbreaking" but is "a well-hendled package" in which "strong performances" are "abetted" by "superb technical contributions," especially the visual work of Bruno Dumont's frequent dp Yves Cape. Well, there is another recommendation: instead of this series of empty pageants watch Bruno Dumont's remarkably inward-looking study of religious obsession (turning to political extremism), Hadewijch (NYFF 2009).

    The Nun/La religieuse, 114 mins., was screened for this review March 1, 2013 at IFC Center as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, a series put on (in its 18th year, this year Feb. 28-Mar. 10, 2013) by Unifrance and the Film Soceity of Lincoln Center. The film opens in Paris March 20, 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-04-2014 at 07:13 PM.

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