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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center 2014

  1. #16
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    MOOD INDIGO (Michel Gondry 2013)

    MICHEL GONDRY: MOOD INDIGO/L’ÉCUME DES JOURS (2013)


    ROMAIN DURIS, AUDREY TAUTOU, AND OMAR SY IN MOOD INDIGO

    Overproduced surrealism

    Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou, who were a cute screen couple as far back as 2002's L'Auberge Espagnole, are back again in this very oddball romance born out of marriage-made-in-heaven of novelist Boris Vian and filmmaker Michel Gondry. If you like stories in overproduced sub-Jeunet mode where every scene is replete with Rube Goldberg surrealist gadgetry, this is your movie. Otherwise, you are likely to get turned off during the first overwrought ten minutes, before the opening titles even have rolled. If surreal sequences of rows of moving typewriters and a piano that makes cocktails based on what tune's played on it float your boat, you'll find Gondry (technically anyway) in top form here, and since Vian is a writer much loved in France, this remarkable realization of his vision is particularly welcome with his local fans. Gondry's staging is rich and accomplished. It's just that it tends to overwhelm the narrative content in scene after scene.

    Duris is a rich bachelor named Colin served by the big, beefy, toothy Intouchables costar Omar Sy, his accountant, major domo, and, by the way, his (at first) verbally over-polite manservant. Inspired by his best friend Chick's new American girlfriend, Colin finds Chloé (Tautou) and woos her. They marry. She becomes ill, and Colin, at first rich, goes broke because of the need to provide Chloë with an endless supply of flowers to keep her alive. I'm guessing that the novel may make a bit more use of best-friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) than the film manages to.

    Mood Indego/L'Écume des jours, 95 mins, opened in France 24 April 2013. It was nominated for three 2014 Césars -- Étienne Charry (Best Original Music), Florence Fontaine (Best Costume) and Stéphane Rozenbaum (Best Production Design). The French critical reception was mediocre: Allociné press rating: 3.0. Given Gondry's remarkable performance here and the love of Boris Vian, there were and will be admirers. But Le Monde's critic Thomas Sotinel spoke for many when he wrote, "The film exhausts all its energy in constructing a world that doesn't leave much room for its inhabitants." Or, as Variety's Boyd von Hoeij puts it, "the film frequently privileges art direction over emotion." Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (FSLC-Unifrance), 2014. Showings in the series:
    Sunday, March 9, 7:00pm - WRT; Monday, March 10, 8:00pm – IFC; Monday, March 10, 9:30pm - BAM
    In Person: Michel Gondry.

    This film opens 18 July 2014 in New York at Landmark Sunshine, and in Los Angeles.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:07 PM.

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    LOVE BATTLES (Jacques Doillon 2013)

    JACQUES DOILLON: LOVE BATTLES/MES SÉANCES DE LUTTE (2013)


    SARA FORESTIER, JAMES THIERRÉE IN LOVE BATTLES

    Love smacks

    On the one hand Jacque Doillon's latest is a remarkable tour de force, in physical terms. On the other hand it's barely more than teasing arthouse porn, a crude series of bump and grind sessions ending in sex as a couple decides they like S&M, or beating up on each other as a prelude to sex, anyway. This is basically a two-hander about a man and woman who can't decide if they want to fight or fuck. "She," a young country woman (Sara Forestier of The Names of Love) has lost her dad. "He" (James Thierrée, Chaplin grandson and circus acrobat) is temporary caretaker of a comfy nearby house. The pair have strong chemistry, having known each other since way back but never previously gotten it on. They do a lot of talking before the boffing starts. Then when it does, it varies only in location from scene to scene. It's outdoors and indoors, on the floor, on the kitchen table, on the stairway, in a mud puddle, and so on.

    Personally, I prefer Jane Austen. If this is the modern age's version of the war between the sexes, I'll go back to Mansfield Park --or, for something French, Choderlos de Laclos. "He" and "She" are exploring sexual roles and emotional conflict in relation to eroticism, presumably. But it all seems halfway between utterly childish and utterly dysfunctional. At best, this pair needs couples therapy -- fast, before things turn outright abusive and dangerous. Unless, that is, this is just a game that goes no deeper and lasts no longer than the work of a filmmaker so glib his last movie came out just two months before this one.

    Still, technically, the physical scenes are a bit unusual and seem even a bit risky (more than risqué), since it looks like the specific moves are not carefully planned and they might have hurt each other. Evidently the two performers are thoughtfully selected not just for looks but for both willingness and ability to carry out the fight-fuck transitions. Judging by her boarding a Metro train totally nude in Names of Love and other roles, such as her amour fou turn in Suzanne, Sara Forestier is a risk-taking, blithely over-the-top actress. She can hold one's attention, whatever she's doing. She is also small and light. Thiérrée, being a performance artist and acrobat as well and big and strong, is putatively capable of handling Forestier without hurting her -- though at one point late in the game he bangs her head against the wall three times. They look like they're doing damage to each other, but probably it was fairly safe. But this indeed reduces drama to performance art.

    In between "She" has conversations with her sister (Louise Szpindel) at her late father's house and with a friend (Mahault Mollaret) on Skype and in person, but this dialogue is minimal and negligible, except perhaps for her helpfully telling her friend that she's madly in love with "Him" and wants nothing any more but to have sex with him. We might not have guessed. We might have thought she was prepping for kung fu class.

    Love Battles/Mes séances de lutte, 99 mins., debuted at Berlin. Upon its 6 November 2013 French release it received generally favorable reviews (Doillon has a following in France) and the Allociné press rating was 3.5. Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center 6-16 March 2014 series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Showings in this series:
    Sunday, March 9, 7:30pm – BAM; Monday, March 10, 6:30pm – WRT; Tuesday, March 11, 8:00pm - IFC
    In Person: Jacques Doillon
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:08 PM.

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    LES APACHES (Thierry de Peretti 2013)

    THIERRY DE PERETTI: LES APACHES (2013)



    Class distinctions, raging hormones, bad decisions

    The title suggests hoodlums or gypsies. Thierry de Peretti examines a local Corsican fait divers in a style that's part neorealism, part noir thriller, and all class inequality, adolescent hormones, and stupid violence. Aziz (Aziz El Hadachi) is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks of Porto-Vecchio, on the south end of the island. One night after an evening drinking and dancing in a disco Aziz takes several buddies and a girl to invade the unoccupied vacation home and pool where his father does maintenance. They swim, drink liquor, and make a mess. One, the chubby Jo (Joseph-Marie Ebrard) gets sick and throws up on the furniture. They also steal a handful of things, including a hi-fi that the Madame later says "wasn't new." The one valuable item is an antique rifle with engraved handle.

    The owners of the house turn up pretty soon. When they find the damage the don't call the cops but refer to local gang boss Bati (Michel Ferracci), who traces the break-in back to Aziz and his father. Peretti is knowledgeable, astute, and subtle in his seemingly desultory examination of what the boys do, which leads up to senseless violence. Peter Debruge, chief international film critic of Variety, is not far off the mark when he writes "If Larry Clark went to the French island of Corsica and made a film, it might look an awful lot like 'Les Apaches.'” Very true. The boys are always taking their shirts off, particularly the more chiseled ones. Two of the slimmer ones are sharp dressers, one has a girlfriend who works in a hotel but is more ambitious than her boyfriend, who doesn't want her to go to Juan les Pins for a seasonal job. She says she'll get back to him when he develops some ambition, and his reply is "I'd rather be dead."

    Aziz confesses to the other (minor) thefts and returns the items. François-Jo (François-Joseph Cullioli) trns out to be more interested in selling the valuable rifle as a springboard to a better life than loyalty to Aziz. What follows is a series of fumbles, and closeups of the individuals involved leading to a senseless murder.

    The trouble the boys cause is minor. They return what they stole. The owners aren't much concerned. It's what the boys do to deal with the trouble that makes things much, much worse. De Peretti wisely doesn't resolve anything, which contributes to the sense of neutrality and realism. He studiously works his documentary vein -- until the end when rather than pumping up the Larry Clark sensualism, he slips into early Coen brothers territory, only to slip away again, with a final ironic tableau underlining just how close to invisible the French-Moroccan boys are to the wealthy vacation population. The irony is tinged with sadness and wisdom.

    The young actors, all newcomers, are fully committed, able, and well cast. This is too modest and unwilling to resolve anything to be either a great film or a commercial one but it works its little vein of detached realism well enough to leave a haunting memory or two amid scenes that may seem too familiar. An outstanding sequence comes late when three boys are driving down a country road in a truck. Background sound is ominous and the camera, instead of coming closer, draws away, conveying a sense of events unfolding outside control or good sense.

    Les Apaches, 82mins., opened at Cannes in Directors' Fortnight, May 2013, and was released theatrically in France 14 Aug. with moderately good reviews (Allociné press rating: 3.4) and it was still playing occasionally at MK2 Beaubourg in Paris in October. This is De Peretti's second feature. Screened for this review as part of the Univrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema for 2014 (6-16 March). Public showtimes:
    Monday, March 10, 12:00pm – EBM; Tuesday, March 11, 6:30pm – WRT; Wednesday, March 12, 7:00pm - IFC
    In Person: Thierry de Peretti
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:02 PM.

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    EASTERN BOYS (Robin Campillo 2013)

    ROBIN CAMPILLO: EASTERN BOYS (2013)


    KIRIL EMELYANOV AND OLIVIER RABOURDIN IN EASTERN BOYS

    Man and boy

    When a gay man takes a very young lover there may inevitably come the point when he becomes a father figure, boyfriend morphing into adopted son. This is heightened in Robin Camillo's excellent French film Eastern Boys because the boy, at first just sex-for-hire found in Paris' Gare du Nord, is a penniless orphan and refugee from Ukraine via Chechnya. And that's further complicated -- and this is what takes Campillo's film out of the confines of a gay niche -- when the boy is controlled by a kind of junior Eastern Mafia boss, getting out of whose clutches is no easy task, and leads the film into thriller territory.

    Eastern Boys may be a little bit, even half an hour, too long at two hours and eight minutes. But to compensate it develops each of its independent four chapters in rich, leisurely detail. There are at least three sustained sequences that are very well done. Campillo is known for working with Laurent Cantet, who's no stranger to sex-for-hire themes, but his blend of love story and crime story slips into the realm of Jacques Audiard. The film's early scenes make clear what the Gare du Nord is like, its intermingling of hustlers of various kinds and travelers, by showing it often from above. Amid the patterns of figures in the milling crowd there are about a dozen youths (the "Eastern Boys") with their slightly bigger, slightly more muscular boss, actually known as "Boss" (the dynamic and scary Daniil Vorobyov). Among them wanders a sad-faced, well-dressed Frenchman, Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin of Of Gods and Men). The figures speed up and leave the station when groups of cops appear. Eventually the boy Daniel is interested in, who says his name is Marek (the dreamy, faun-like Kirill Emelyanov), dives under a stairway where he and Daniel, speaking English, arrange a meeting for sex the next evening. Foolishly, Daniel gives Marek his address.

    The first and most flashy set piece and the second chapter (of four) is the home invasion that results. Boss and many of his young gang arrive (including later on Marek) with a large van and, while partying and dancing -- especially Boss, who flirts and shows off his muscles - they strip Daniel's cool modern Montreuil highrise apartment of many of its valuables, TV, stereo, computer, paintings, modern chandelier. This spectacular sequence, handsomely filmed by dp Jeanne Lapoirie, shows off the complex dynamics of the Slavic youth gang and its victim's ambivalence. He is aghast but also turned on, and while he momentarily objects (which Boss won't tolerate) he also drinks and for a while dances with the revelers, who use the pretense of a party with loud music to cover their thefts.

    Daniel's passivity is softened by his comfortable circumstances. It's not specified what he does but when he dresses and goes off in a suit the next morning leaving his stripped-down flat for the maid to clean up, we assume it's to a very well-paying job. And so he can replace things. Maybe it was time for a do-over. Surprisingly, not long later Marek comes back to the door, all by himself this time, ready to perform sex for the amount originally agreed upon, and surprisingly also, Daniel agrees.

    This begins another sequence (and chapter) in which the relationship between Daniel and Marek, who reveals his real name is Rouslan, begins developing. Marek-Rouslan calls and arranges to come back again, and his visits become regular, several times a week. Here by taking his time Campillo is able to show the subtle shift from pure sex to reciprocation and some affection, with the boy just receiving at first, then being stimulated (the scenes are graphic, but not too). Marek is cold and passive, but he starts to care a bit. This leads to a deal, and purchases, and suspicion from Boss, who won't tolerate any one of his boy gang having too much independence. They have passports, but Boss keeps them in a "safe" (a locker) in a remote hotel called Halt where the boys all live together as arranged by Social Services but not fully registered with the hotel management represented by an officious and energetic young black woman (Edéa Darcque).

    As the relationship between Daniel and Rouslan grows, good use is made of Rouslan's halting, but still eloquent French (in which he now becomes pretty fluent), where simple, repetitive phrases ("You do not trust me. You do not believe me. You do not care about my father's death," etc.) takes on occasionally (in scenes in a supermarket and back in the flat) an almost poetic quality that recalls the Japanese lover in Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour. (Marguerite Duras was an expert on very young lovers too.) Rouslan, like Emmanuelle Riva's character, has a traumatic war in his past that his lover doesn't understand. This is dramatized in a 14 juillet sequence when Rouslan is terrorized by distant fireworks.

    All this leads to the last chapter, entitled "Dungeons and Dragons," which introduces the thriller element, as Daniel seeks to save Rouslan from the prison he's in and become truly his protector. Here Campillo shows he can stage not just group set pieces, and one-on-one relationship stuff, but also ensemble action. The accomplishment of the film is that each of these different chapters comes as a natural transition even though it's unexpected.

    Eastern Boys, 128 mins., debuted at Venice in the Orizzonti section, where it won the jury prize. It is scheduled for French theatrical release 9 April 2014 (well received: AlloCiné press rating 3.8). It was screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center's 2014 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (6-16 March). for public showings March 11 and 12, 2014. Later scheduled for theatrical release 27 February 2015. Armond White reviewed it for Out: "the sex scenes of the year—offering several shades of empathy."

    This review was also published on Cinescene.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2015 at 11:38 PM.

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    TONNERRE (Guillaume Brac 2013)

    GUILLAUME BRAC: TONNERRE (2013)


    SOLÈNE RIGOT AND VINCENT MACAIGNE IN TONNERRE

    Romantic loser

    French cinema-of-the-thirty-something "it" boy Vincent Macaigne agains shows his emotional versatility and conviction in embodying an amiable loser in Guillaume Brac's feature film debut Tonnerre. Brac and Macaigne teamed up for the medium-length film World Without Women previously. The film is named for the small Burgundian town Brac knows well from visiting his grandparents there. The cinematography has an attractive grey sparkle from the snow-coverdd locales of the wintter 2012-2013 shoot in Burgundy and the Morvan. Macaigne has four feature credits for 2013, and three of them (the other two are Age of Panic/La bataille de Solférino and 2 Augumns, 3 Winters) are included in New York's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2014 edition. Though lightweight and somewhat tonally uneven, Tonnerre does have some surprises.

    Maxime (Macaigne) is a fairly well-known rocker who goes back to live with his father Claude in the titular village. Has he done this because he loves the peace and quiet and finds it more conducive than Paris to composing songs -- which he prefers to do solo, adding instruments and musicians later? Or was it more because his success and ambition have both begun to fade? Anyway a local journalist, Mélodie (Solène Rigot), evidently an admirer, comes to interview him and after meeting a couple of times Mélodie and Maxime embark on a romantic affair. But very soon, on the pretext of a short trip, Mélodie disappears without explanation. Maxime becomes frantic, then despairing, then desperate. A very nasty unsigned text message comes to Maxime calling him a "pedophile." An old friend has lent him a pistol. . . Maxime tracks Mélodie to her ex-boyfriend Ivan (Jonas Bloquet), whom we've already glimpsed, a tall, trim, handsome, blue-eyed, blond soccer player, who, incidentally, is Mélodie's age. Maxime is a scruffy-haired, balding schlub a decade or so older. Tough competition? Is this to be the revenge of the schlubs? Or an acting out of thirty-something angst?

    In the event, Maxime's obsession leads to a scene in a parking garage that's straight out of a crime thriller. A strange idyl is interrupted by an invasion of cops. The resolution seems hurried and a bit fantastic. It's also unclear, both where things are going to go at the film's end and what was actually going on in Mélodie's mind, or what her relationship with Ivan was, exactly. That's too many fudges. There is a sort of subplot of Claude, who had a "story" with a much younger woman decades before. Does going after younger women run in the male line? But is the age difference really so significant in Maxime's case -- or is the problem all due to Mélodie?

    Brac deserves credit for risking the genre twists, despite the tonal unevenness that causes. It may all which work better in the magical wintry locales. But plot and characters are underwritten. Hence it's hard to feel very involved. Maxime's musical identity isn't convincing, and it's hard to see why either Ivan or Maxime would go ape over Mélodie. Some use of local non-actors works and some doesn't. One winemaker's bizarrely inappropriate lewdness combines whimsy with bad taste. Nonetheless Brac shows some indie promise here, after all. His eccentricity seems unlikely to play well for an international audience yet: maybe next time.

    Tonnerre , 102 mins., debuted at Locarno and showed at other festivals. It was released theatrically in France 29 January 2014 and received generally favorable reviews (Allociné press rating: 3.6). Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (6-16 March 2014). Public screenings in the series:
    Wednesday, March 12, 4:00pm – WRT; Thursday, March 13, 7:00pm – IFC; Friday, March 14, 6:30pm - WRT
    In Person: Guillaume Brac
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:09 PM.

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    HIS WIFE (Michel Spinosa 2014)

    MICHEL SPINOSA: HIS WIFE/SON ÉPOUSE (2014)


    YVAN ATTAL AND JANAGI IN HIS WIFE

    Doomed marriages in France and India

    In Michel Spinosa's fragmentarily-told, fractured, as well as preposterous and contrived new film (cowriten with Agnès de Sacy) a veterinarian called Joseph De Rosa (Yvan Attal) wants to marry Catherine (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Attal's wife in real life) and have a child. But she has doubts. She reveals why by taking him to a recovery meeting where she shares that she used to be a heroin addict and is now addicted to a prescription opiate substitute, Subutex. She has taken the dose down very low, but can't give it up. A lot of other things happen, but most of them are recounted to us after she has died in India.

    It turns out that Catherine seems to have drowned. She has also left Joseph to go to India on her own, and has been out of touch for some time. It is therefore surprising that someone calls Joseph in France, from a cell phone on the beach, at the very moment when Catherine's body is being retrieved from the water.

    Joseph makes the journey to India and meets with people who knew Catherine, who was teaching in a Christian school at the time of her death. Before long Joseph is embroiled with the French-speaking Gracie (Janagi), a young Tamil coworker of Catherine's who went berserk right after her marriage, which presumably took place some time after Catherine's death. (As I said, the storytelling is fragmented and fractured.) We also get occasional flashbacks to Catherine when she was still in France. These reveal that she and Joseph did get married, despite her doubts, and she did have a child, but the circumstances were not only tragic, but alienated her from Joseph.

    From Wikipedia, you will learn that "Tamil women in India are said to experience possession by pey spirits." That is what we're told has happened to Gracie, and the "pey" that has invaded her is none other than the tormented spirit of the deceased Catherine. Her death was not by drowning, either. There is much running back and forth by Joseph with two Tamil men called Anthony (Mahesh) and Thomas (Laguparan), who look rather alike. One of them (Anthony) is Gracie's husband, the other her brother. There is much translating back and forth between French, Tamil, and English. Gracie is taken for a while to a very primitive kind of mental hospital, where in lieu of heavy duty tranquilizers, the inmates are apparently held in chains out on the front lawn.

    Joseph sets out to help Gracie, and he apparently succeeds, though whether he is any better off afterward is uncertain. Nor can we claim to have been enlightened. As the disturbed young woman, Janagi certainly gives her all, though the effect is simply of noise and violence. Attal and Gainsbourg seem stressed out. The other Indian participants do their best. Are the filmmakers trying to draw a parallel between drug addiction and possession by an alien spirit? In the end, revelations suggest what troubles Gracie is not demonic possession but old-fashioned guilt for a careless act that had tragic consequences. His Wife is a grandiose mélange, full of exotic images, haunting sounds, overwrought acting, and confusing chronology. It is meant to be profound, but it is not very coherent. Its characters and incidents are sketched in with a very broad brush, and noise and color (though many of the images also are excessively dark) being used as a substitute for clarity and meaning.

    When this film debuted at the Berlinale's Market section Jordan Mintzer of Hollywood Reporter commented that its plot line sounded like "the premise for the most pretentious art film ever made, or perhaps a straight-to-video horror flick," but turned out to be "something palpably better." Perhaps not so much better, though as Mintzer says, the performances are "robust." And as he also says, the natural light cinematography by Rakesh Haridas is "superb," but that is not all of the time because it is too often very murky and makes one miss the days of black and white when there was attention to lighting for every shot.

    His Wife/Son épouse, 108 mins., is scheduled for 12 March 2014 release in France. It shows in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series in New york Friday, March 7, 10:15pm – IFC; Wednesday, March 12, 1:00pm – EBM; 6:30pm – WRT, and this is, naturally, the film's North American premiere. It was screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:45 PM.

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    A CASTLE IN ITALY (Valteria Bruni Tedeschi 2013)

    VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI: A CASTLE IN ITALY (2013)


    LOUIS GARREL AND VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI IN A CASTLE IN ITALY

    The tumultuous frivolity of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

    The titular castle in Italy, an interrupted auction of a Bruegel, an in vitro fertilization, a breakup, a reunion, much drama, much improvisation combine to make this a very scattershot effort by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi - but arguably something a bit more involving than its predecessor, Actresses (NYFF 2007), which also featured her then main squeeze, Louis Garrel, playing an actor, this time called Nathan. The material is again frankly drawn from Bruni Tedeschi's own background as a member of a wealthy Italian Jewish industrial family (here called Rossi Levi), whose properties may have become too expensive to maintain and whose lives have become too complicated. This is serious stuff, but VBT's effort to toss it off in a manner that is both operatic and frivolous -- to make us weep for her and laugh with her both -- leads to freequent tonal slips and longeurs that can make the 104 minutes seem at times interminable and incomprehensible. There are many -- too many -- grand scenes; and there is an interesting cast. I called Actresses at the same time both heavy handed and vague." This film is both heavy handed and frivolous. It does, however, have a certain drive and coherence this time, as the French critics have noted.

    The protagonist's mother, played again as in Actresses by Valeria's actual mother, Marisa Bruni Tedeschi, tells Louise (VBT), an actress who's given up acting as her on-off boyfriend Nathan (Garrel) wants to, "you weren't Anna Magnani, but you had something." Well, if only she were Anna Magnani, maybe this film would have something, but she's not and it hasn't. She's a spoiled unattached lady from a place of privilege; there is no place for a grand passion in her life, except her single woman's midlife crisis: the desire to have a child before it's too late. When Nathan comes upon Louise, it seems they met as fellow actors some years earlier and he now conceives an instant mad desire to be her boyfriend. She isn't at first very interested; but then she is, if he can give her a child. Only he doesn't want a child. It's the clash of the narcissistic with the self-centered.

    The castle in Italy costs ten thousand euros a month to maintain, and the family hasn't got that kind of ready cash. But when they meet with the lawyer (Philippe Pescayre) to discuss solutions, no one can be practical, except the somewhat arbitrary mother. Louise's saternine, slightly sadistic brother Ludovico (a scarily intense Filippo Timi, Mussolini in Marco Bellocchio's 2009 Vincere), who's dying of AIDS, insists the castle represents the memory of their late father, and cannot be touched. (The film is dedicated to Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's brother, Virginio, who died of AIDS at 47.) Also good as a bibulous, whiny family hanger-on called Serge is the great actor-director Xavier Beauvois. And we even get a distinguished glimpse of Omar Sharif as himself at the interrupted Bruegel the Younger auction, which Louise, in a typical VBT grandstanding move, stops just after a top bid has been accepted.

    A lot of the material here has class -- a lovely French a cappella choir singing in a monastery alcove at the outset, for intance; interiors and views of the lawn of the castle -- but it feels thrown together, screaming too much for our attention. I must side with Mike D'Angelo in his AV Club report, who saw this film when it was the sole female-directed Competition entry at Cannes and concluded that though VBT's family has influence, her sister Carla Bruni being Sarkozy's wife, for instance, "apparently some people genuinely enjoy her shrill, self-absorbed, vacuous meditations on the difficulties faced by a middle-aged actress." But include us out. Yes, the rich have problems too. But it takes a greater director than this to make us care. I do not dislike Louis Garrel as D'Angelo does -- quite the contrary -- but he does indeed seem "callow" here, and describing this film as Assayas' Summer Hours "stripped of beauty, tenderness, grace, intelligence, and coherence" cruel thought it may sound, is not far off the mark.

    Un chateau en Italie, 104 mins., debuted at Cannes. Opened in French cinemas 30 October 2013 to a mix of reviews, some quite good (Allociné press rating: 3.3). Screened for this review as part of the French Cinema Now series of the San Francisco Film Society, Nov. 2013. Also included here as part of the Unifrance--Film Society of Lincoln Center 6-16 March 2014 series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Marisa Borini is nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2014 César Awards.
    Monday, March 10, 6:00pm – IFC; Thursday, March 13, 9:00pm – WRT; Sunday, March 16, 6:30pm - WRT
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:47 PM.

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    UNDER THE RAINBOW (Agnès Jaoui 2013)

    AGNÈS JAOUI: UNDER THE RAINBOW/AU BOUT DU CONTE (2013)


    ARTHUR DUPONT, AGATHE BONITZER IN UNDER THE RAINBOW

    It all ends happily

    Typically, Agnès Jaoi and her spouse, costar and collaborator Jean-Pierre Bacri have a lot of things going on, and in this genial comedy, every subplot leads to a resolution. Perhaps there is just not enough real trouble, or enough real laughter or comic edge this time, but it's still all executed with the touch of a pro and a knack for spinning out interwoven plot lines that play upon a theme.

    Fairy tales, magic, dreams, fortune telling, religion and all sorts of belief and superstition are that theme. (So, as an accompaniment, is music. ) Laura (Agathe Bonitzer), a naive and hopeful young woman of 24 who believes in great loves, signs, and destiny, finds a prince charming whose appearance fulfills a recent dream she's had when Sandro (Arthur Dupont), a soulful and handsome young pianist and composer, meets her at a party. Thinking maybe there can be more than one prince charming, Laura abandons Sandro for a sophisticated and older music critic, Maxime (Benjamin Biolay), who seems to be wise and have predictive powers. But Maxime turns out to be a rotter and a two-timer, and, after some rough patches, Laura goes back happily to Sandro. Sandro finds success as a composer, ironically provided by the rotter, Maxime. Maxime arranges for Sandro's composition to be performed by a famous musician, Horvitz. This requires Sandro's best friend Julien (Clément Roussier) to yield the violin part to Horvitz. But -- another dilemma resolved --Julien understands and forgives Sandro. Later Sandro and his estranged father Pierre (Jean-Pierre Bacri ) are united and hug. The prince charming's grumpy dad thus gets over his grumpiness and, along with the hug, give his late father's legacy to his hitherto long neglected son.

    One thing that has blocked Pierre is that, though he denies it, he is disturbed by a prediction that the date of his death is known and is coming up shortly. He's reminded of this by the appearance of a fortune teller, Madam Irma, who gave him the day he would die many years ago, and then turns up again at his father's burial. The day comes and goes and nothing happens, after which Pierre mellows.

    There are more good tidings. An estranged husband and wife decide to get back together. Nina (Serena Legeais) the young daughter of Marianne (Agnès Jaoui), Laura's aunt, whose concern over her parents' estrangement has taken a disturbing turn toward religion and who wants to have her first communion, abandons this obsession and is immediately happier. (The idea that joining the church is a source of bother best avoided won't appeal to the religious.) Pierre gives driving lessons to Marianne, who drove years ago but is now terrified of having an accident. But when a crisis comes she drives around in the city at night and so clearly has overcome her fear. Finally, a school play peopled by adorable kids, including little boy and girl lovers, which is directed by Marianne, is staged adorably, with the grumpy, once child-loathing Pierre willingly attending.

    There are lots of chuckles here, and the thematic rhythms are fascinating not to mention ingenious, but there are not as many ironies or as good laughs as in Jaoui's best comedies, such as the recent The Taste of Others and Look at Me. The images are handsome, the editing is superb, and one knows one's in good hands from the opening credits. But though Bacri still plays ill humor with a dry relish that's satisfying, haven't he and Jaoui gone a little soft here, with consequent lack of focus and real satisfaction?

    Under the Rainbow/Au bout du conte, 112 mins., debuted 14 February 2013 in Lyon, and opened in all of France 6 March. Allociné: 3.5. Les Inrockuptibles called this "a choral film of impeccable rhythm." Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (6-16 March 2014). Showings in the series are:
    Tuesday, March 11, 10:15pm – IFC; Wednesday, March 12, 9:00pm – WRT; Friday, March 14, 3:45pm - FSLC
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 02:33 PM.

  9. #24
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    TOP TOP (Serge Bozon 2013)

    SERGE BOZON: TIP TOP (2013)

    Reprinted from Paris Movie Report 2013


    SANDRINE KIMBERLAIN, FRANÇOIS DAMIENS, ISABELLE HUPPERT IN TIP TOP

    Bozon is back, with a police procedural -- sort of

    With Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain, François Damiens, Karole Rocher, and some other known French actors, notably Samy Naceri, fully committed to the project, Serge Ozon, more often an actor himself than a director, abandons the quirky charm he achieved with his last (musical, historical) feature, the 2007 La France (SFIFF 2008), with its WWI setting and unique song interruptions, and turns in Tip Top to an absurdist Pirandellian contemporary crime investigation with a look at the war between the sexes and S&M and Arab-French issues. The result is "an utterly brazen mix of screwball comedy, film noir and sharp social commentary" that "hits its own strange bullseye more often than not," Scott Foundas wrote in Variety . Again Bozon is clearly bent firmly on going his own way. But when the bullseye is strange, one may not always be so sure if he's hit it. Indeed Steven Dalton of Hollywood Reporter used the same target metaphor but reached the opposite conclusion, calling Tip Top "an overwrought experiment in cerebral slapstick that misses more targets than it hits." There were walkouts at the limited Paris screening I attended, and viewer acceptance elsewhere seems highly unlikely. One reason for this is lack of surface appeal. This is a hasty-looking, no-nonsense production lacking any effort at interesting settings or locations and presented in Bozon's sister's Céline (no doubt intentionally, but off-puttingly) ugly, washed-out-looking blueish digital images. It's the opposite of eye candy, and in exchange it lacks the elegant minimalism of, say, some of Godard's early films. And this extends to staging. When people fight, it barely looks real. When there's a big fracas in a bar, nothing gets broken. Mise-en-scene-wise, it's minimal verging on amateurish.

    But let us proceed. In a scenario by partner Axelle Ropert and Odile Barski whose basic plot is drawn from a pulp novel by the British writer Bill James, Esther Lafarge (Hupert) is paired with Sally Marinelli (Kiberlain) to investigate the murder of Algerian police informant Farid Benamar in Villeneuve, a suburb of Lille with a big Algerian population, Benamar's corpse found in a park called Plage du Lac. Esther, whose violinist husband (Samy Naceri) shows up for a conjugal visit after Esther has spent ten days on the job, is into sexual encounters that are mostly boxing matches that draw blood, while Sally is a voyeur who uses her adjoining hotel room to watch a man across the way in his underwear. Esther's catching drops of blood on her tongue from a bleeding wound ever after her husband's bloody visit is a bit of madcap humor that seemed distinctly repulsive. But this comes later.

    Sally and Esther are Internal Affairs detectives (Sally recently demoted for ethics issues) called in from outside, because Benamar was a former cop and cop-operative. The local police therefore don't like or trust them, and put Mendes (Francois Damiens) on their tail, Mendes having been Benamar's local police contact, a kind of friend. It's all very vague -- too vague -- but there's something fishy about Rachida Belkacem (Saida Bekkouche), a local Algerian community leader Benamar may have been himself tailing for Mendes. Scenes begin to multiply that involve Algerians. Notably, the police chief is watching nighttime TV footage of recent rioting-insurrection in Algiers -- real footage that, by the way, is much handsomer and more striking than Bozon's sister's lackluster images. Meanwhile there are scenes with Rachida Belkacem, and Sally starts dating Mendez's latest informant (Aymen Saidi).

    François Damiens as Mendez is the one we see the most of, partly because he is bigger and taller than anybody else, particularly the tiny Huppert and Kimberlain, but also because he is the only actor who projects any real warmth and appeal. Huppert's usual deadpan dryness may work for the farce, but that never catches fire. Along the way, there is a police suicide and a murder, and Rachida tries to pin Banamar's death on a local drug boss, involving more of the Algerian community.

    Damiens' Mendez is making an effort to understand Arabs, or anyway Algerians. He keeps reading a book called Are We Serious In Our Practice of Islam? and at every opportunity -- with Arab children as well as adults -- tries out his horribly mangled version of Arabic, including the traditional foreigners' howler of confusing "heart" (qalb) with "dog" (kalb). Bozon may be tackling a serious subject, but he prefers to present the East-West poitical-social-religious tragedy of dire misunderstanding as farce.

    This may work for you, although for me the spare, ugly production, together with the failure to endow the police investigation with any real energy or significance, made it hard to care about the possible bite to the malentendus or jokes. In fairness one may say Bozon has some damn good ideas here, but falls short in the execution. This is one of those movies that may be pleasurable to write about, but less so to watch. This was not true with La France, which might leave one perplexed and bemused, but offered a rich texture all through that's lacking here. Dalton's assertion that Bozon's casting all this serious stuff as farce is "bizarrely counterintuitive" is perfectly sensible. There is a lot of stuff here that just doesn't fit together, and doesn't work. It's a case of sticking stubbornly to ideas that just don't play. One can partly say that of La France, but that's an artifact whose craft one could -- to some extent, anyway -- savor. Less so here.

    Tip Top debuted at Cannes 2013 during Directors' Fortnight, and opened theatrically in France 11 Sept. According to Allociné it's gotten a fair press rating (3.1) but the public isn't buying (1.2). Screened for this review at MK2 Hautefeuille 19 Oct. 2013. Also included in the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2014 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. NYC theatrical release beginning 12 December 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:48 PM.

  10. #25
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    THE FRENCH MINISTER (Bertrand Tavernier 2013)

    BERTRAND TAVERNIER: THE FRENCH MINISTER/QUAY D'ORSAY (2013)


    THIERRY LHERMITTE AND RAPHAËL PERSONAZ IN THE FRENCH MINISTER

    Tavernier does a slightly oddball political comedy, in which Thierry Lhermite shines

    Bertraind Tavernier's The French Minister/Quay d'Orsay is his first foray into political comedy, and also a peculiar combination of factual account and surreal reinvention. Tavernier is working with Antonin Baudry and his collaborator Christophe Blain from the popular graphic novels they devised to describe Baudry's life as a speechwriter for Dominique de Villepin between 2002 and 2004, when the latter was French Minister of Foreign Affairs. We enter the mad, gilded precincts of the Quay d'Orsay, the executive offices of the French government, and see things very much as they were in those years. At the same time nothing is as it was.

    These were the post-9/11 Bush Afghan and Iraq war years, for instance, but 9/11, Bush, Afghanistan, and Iraq are never specifically mentioned (though we once hear Bush in the distance giving a speech). Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thiery Lhermitte) is the Villepin figure: and Lhermitte hilariously dominates the film as Villepin dominated Baudry's life at that time. Baudry's character is called Arthur Vlaminck, and he's ably played by Raphaël Personnaz, who was cast as heir to the throne the Duc d'Anjou in Tavernier's last film, The Princess of Montpensier . Arthur lives with Marina (Anaïs Demoustier), a schoolteacher concerned to save African immigrants. But though she's serious, she and her boyfriend have many a laugh with friends at the expense of his bosses.

    This is unike Xavier Durringer's overly literal but informative 2011 account of Nicolas Sarkozy's rise to the presidency The Conquest, or, at another extreme, Pierre Schoeller's much more boldly conceived and emotionally complex L'Exercise de Etât/The Minister (also 2011), an intense study of the ordeal of a new French transportation minister who's not from the political establishment, told intimately from his point of view.

    Unlike these, The French Minister is revealing and accurate in its own funny and inventive ways. Above all it hammers home the fate of the speech writer for a preening politico: his boss will throw back draft after draft, saying it's all wrong and mouthing a wealth of metaphors and platitudes (in the movie, largely drawn from Heraclitus) to explain, very often misleadingly, what the writing should express. In fact Taillard doesn't really seem to read anything, though he loves to go through books and documents with yellow Stabilo highlight pens, and makes a verb of it, "Stabiloizing." He calls Arthur "camarade" ("pal") from the start, and addresses his assembled staff as "les gars" ("guys"). All theater: these soft terms are a smiling mask for cutthroat competition and ruthless pecking order.

    Locations (as in the other films mentioned) evoke the grandeur of the Quay d'Orsay. This time there are surreal thunderclaps whenever Taillard slams a door, and papers and ashtrays risk flying into the air when the energetic minister enters a room. Desktop computers are antique in appearance. Taillard doesn't know how to scroll up or down on a screen. All must be submitted to him on paper, whose sheets have a way of getting lost or stolen. At the ministry offices, use of the Internet is strictly forbidden. The minister jogs, and his aides jog with him, but Arthur sits at his desk with a cigarette always in his mouth.

    In a terrific cast, it's impossible to overestimate how brilliant and funny Thierry Lhermitte is as Taillard, how elegant, confident, fluent, energetic, athletic, distinguished-looking -- and utterly absurd and over-the-top he is. He is pure tongue-in-cheek energy; Le Monde called Lhermitte's incarnation of the graphic novel Villepin "a caricature of a caricature." As his "language" man, Personnaz grounds things. Establishment, elegant, and good-looking in his own way, Arthur is an enthusiastic newbie, who has to learn to say no to his irrepressible boss. He will be befriended and advised by some, but quickly betrayed by sexy female advisor Valérie Dumontheil (Julie Gayet), who tells Vlaminck his first speech is "perfect," and then trashes it at a conference with Taillard and the whole staff. The massive Bruno Raffaelli is important as Cayet, another top advisor, who is more of an equal to Taillard, as is the semi-comic Guillaume Van Effentem (Thierry Frémont), who quaffs from a hip flask and sings a risqué song when he and the writer first meet.

    The other central figure, the minister's righthand man who does the real work of deciding priorities and resolving crises, is chief of staff Claude Maupas, suave, distinguished, white-haired, soft of voice and soothing of manner, with the hint of an angry tiger behind the façade. Maupas is played by Niels Arestrup, and it's a performance like none other from this great actor, whose best roles have usually been all tiger up front.

    Because the trajectory takes the French politicians to the US where the minister gives a speech to the UN Security Council that was Baudry's greatest challenge and triumph, we may think of Armando Iannucci's 2009 In the Loop, the English political comedy focused on the same time and events, which also crosses the Atlantic. In the Loop is more darkly witty than Tavernier's film, as Aaron Sorkin's writing for the TV series The West Wing is more specific and serious. But The French Minister is thought-provoking in its own special way. One won't forget Lhermitte or the busy insanity of this Quay d'Orsay. And the film is far from one-note, so Lhermitte can modulate smoothly into a convincingly serious diplomat, as he does when in the film's quiet, surprisingly impressive finale, he delivers the address Arthur has struggled so hard with his colleagues, under such adverse conditions, to produce: a blend of Heraclitus, cliché, and eloquent French patriotism, delivered at the UN, to prolonged applause. (Closing credit outtakes show how much fun the cast had making this film: Tavernier runs a happy ship.)

    The French Minister/Quay d'Orsay, 113 mins., was shown at Toronto. It received good if not great reviews upon its 6 Nov. 2013 French theatrical release (Allociné press rating 3.4). Julie Gayet has a Best Supporting Actress César nomination. In this US this will be a Sundance Selects release. Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series (6-16 March 2014) Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, where it will show as the closing film:
    Sunday, March 16, 3:40pm, 9:00pm - WRT
    In Person: Bertrand Tavernier
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-01-2015 at 02:28 PM.

  11. #26
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