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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2016

  1. #16
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    THE APACHES/DES APACHES (Nessim Amaouche 2015)

    NESSIM AMAOUCHE: THE APACHES//DES APACHES (2015)


    LAETITIA CASTA AND NESSIM AMAOUCHE IN THE APACHES

    Berber deal puzzler

    Nessim Amaouche's film abut an illegitimate man taken up by his Berber father for legal and cultural reasons is atmospheric and intriguing, but halting and inexplicable. It has moments, as well as good actors and good visuals, but overall it's a pretty total misfire. The hip Paris arts weekly Les Inrokuptibles commented, since the director took six years to rerelease this second feature, that Amaouche is "a director with a temperament as patient, roving and reflective as his films." Okay. But what Amaouche doesn't seem aware of is the need to engage the viewer in his patient roving reflections, which sometimes in The Apaches just don't make much sense. Guillaume Breaud, who co scripted Pascale Ferran's weird and wonderful Bird People, may have been too left-field a collaborator to be helpful. The screenplay leaps and skips among moods, time periods, and genres without logic or much sense of pacing.

    Opening sequences, with a voice over (by actor-director Serge Bozon) that returns at the end. suggests a gangster-clan story, explaining how a democratically structured Algerian Berber community structure like a loose corporation enables remote Kabyle (north Algerian Berber) villages to invest in cafes and bars in Paris, then illegally transfer the profits back to the homeland, sometimes by a family head with money wrapped in a fake damaged leg.

    But then things slow down and become semi surreal as we focus partly on a thirty-something loner named Samir (played unappealingly by writer-director Amaouche), who's needed by his long-absent father (Djemel Barek) to close a deal selling his cafe in the (Algerian-intensive) Barbès quarter of Paris. Berber clan rules require co owners, who're all related, to meet to approve this deal and the sale price. And for it to be legal, the head of each family branch must be accompanied at the meeting by his eldest son. Samir is the cafe owner's eldest son. He's approached about this by a lawyer called Jean (André Dusollier), a longtime friend-fixer-collaborator (somewhat the dicey kind of role Dusollier played also in Nicolas Pariser's The Great Game/Le grand jeu, but with a gemütlich side, since Berber family members call Jean tonton, "unky."

    Meanwhile Samir begins reminiscing about his childhood, spurred by the recent death of his French mother, Jeanne (Laetitia Casta), with whom he grew up. Scenes of young Samir unreel as if in real time; with young Samir played by a child actor who doesn't in the least resemble the adult Amaouche. Later, grownup Samir begins dating a woman played also by Laetitia Casta, which is weird too, and also confusing.

    Blurbs about the film hint that Jean has some kind of occult, illegal role in the life of Samir's father, but maybe details lie on the cutting room floor. In the event. the reluctant, asocial Samir attends the meeting on the cafe sale as he's been asked to do, and the sale goes through without a hitch. This is a sequence of plodding documentary realism; so is the sequence when Samir, who's refused to accept a financial share or even go to the celebratory dinner, goes up a back stair to kiss the aged family matriarch (Fadhma N'Soumer). A final fast-forward scene shows Samir has had a kid by the woman played by the actress who played his mother, and finally learned to smile.

    There are scenes at a bath house, at the races, and at a boxing gym, and even a diegetic use of Umm Kalsoum's song "Al-Atlal," beloved of North Africans, as well as many details about Samir's Berber relatives of various generations, of whom we see old family photos. There are many signs that this film was painstakingly and carefully put together with an effort to represent its Kabyle characters authentically. Nonetheless all the fine effort has resulted in a film that winds up feeling incoherent and lifeless. Amaouche might have started off better by casting somebody other than himself in the lead.

    The Apaches/Des Apaches, 97 mins., debuted 2 July 2015 at La Rochelle. French theatrical relaese 22 July 2015 (AlloCiné press rating 3.2/14 only fair, but high ratings from prestigious journals). It was screened for this review as part of the 2016 Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema where the public screenings are Fri., Mar. 4 at 4 p.m. and Sun., Mar. 13 at 1:30.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-04-2016 at 10:36 AM.

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    My king/mon roi (maïwen 2015)

    MAÏWEN: MY KING/MON ROI (2015)

    (Review originally published 26 October 2015 after screening the film in Paris.)



    EMMANUELLE BERCOT AND VINCENT CASSEL IN MY KING

    Rewarding terribleness

    Maïwenn Le Besco, actress and now director, is remembered for helming the 2011 Polisse, about the Paris Juvenile Protection Squad, a film well publicized in France; it was strikingly advertised on Paris' beautiful Colonnes Morris at the time with images of children's faces superimposed on adult bodies (see my review). It garnered some good reviews despite some overacting by improvising non-actors. Maïwenn clearly likes unending successions of in-your-face scenes. Mon roi ("My King") is almost nothing but explosive, pointless sequences full of overacting, this time by professional actors, mainly Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot, and the latter, who also directed the Cannes gala opening night movie Standing Tall, got the Cannes Best Actress prize this year for her work with Cassel, which consists of nothing but exaggerated, turned-on-for-the-scene emotions: laughter, tears, screaming. It's an example of how juries (and people) can confuse effusions of fake emotion with fine acting. (This mistake was offset fortunately by the much-deserved Best Actor prize to Vincent Lindon for his heartfelt, lived-in performance in Brizé's La loi du marché.)

    Mon roi is about a couple, Tony (Bercot), who's supposed to be a French trial lawyer (though one can't imagine this ditsy, hysterical female she's playing in such a profession) and Giorgio (Cassel), who's supposed to be a rich successful chef and restaurant entrepreneur, though again, professional context is quite missing. The only time we see him using a kitchen is to have sex with Tony, noisily banging around pots and pans. And his success turns out to be hollow when we find out he is an alcoholic and drug addict with big debts. The hysterical rolls in the hay did not reveal such practical details to Tony.

    This film, a long recollection of a bad relationship framed by Tony's recuperation from a bad skiing accident, is based on the unhealthy notion that sexy guys are assholes, or, conversely, that only assholes are sexy. Nice guys just aren't, according to such thinking. True, Vincent Cassel, with his smooth, muscular body topped by a gnarly demonic face, oozes dangerous, narcissistic male sexuality, and he knows how to play an asshole. After their first sex she suggests he may be one, and he boldly replies that he's not, because he's the king of assholes. In his Guardian Cannes review Peter Bradshaw, who gave this a devastating one out of five stars, called Mon roi "an unendurable confection of complacent and self-admiring nonsense: shallow, narcissistic, histrionic and fake". His review convincingly backs up these claims. I couldn't put it any better. The words apply both to Vincent Cassel's character and the film as a whole.

    There is nothing wrong with a protagonist who's an asshole. It's a perfectly good idea. The trouble is that indeed, as Bradshaw implies, Giorgio's continual misbehavior is presented as if it is cool, or something you just need to put up with if you want to enjoy the excitement of being involved with a really sexy guy. Giorgio never gets his comeuppance. When he and Tony get divorced it's a lark; they immediately have hot sex. Having a kid seems like a game for him, and, cooperatively, for her. It's borderline disgusting how marriage, child rearing and other such important activities are all treated as as larks, or opportunities for thespian grandstanding.

    I don't share Bradshaw's (and others') opinion that Louis Garrel, who plays Tony's brother, is an "egregious smoulderer" (whatever that may mean), but I'd agree that it's not reassuring to realize he's the most sensible, normal character in this movie. It is also true that even Tony's odd place of recovery from the ski accident, an apparent spa for sporty, goodloooking young people with broken legs, provides the same kind of explosive, fake entourage sequences that are featured in all the flashbacks, where we see Giorgio's pals chuckle and cheer as he does stupid, annoying, narcissistic things. And so really does Tony -- cheer him on and do such things herself. They are two of a kind, so it makes sense that it takes her forever to get over him. But we're done with him after the first fifteen minutes. And alas we have seen such outpourings of mucous and tears and straining of the vocal cords celebrated as a fine performance before. The partial success of this bad movie is a cautionary tale. Avoid.

    My King/Mon roi, 127 mins., debuted at Cannes in competition, and Emmanuelle Bercot won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performance. The film was released in France 21 Oct. 2015, receiving a mediocre critical rating (AlloCiné press 3.2). The UniFrance/FSLC Rendez-Vous with French Cinema showing it the film's US premiere, showing Wed. Mar. 9 at 6:30 p.m. (Q&A with Maïwenn and Louis Garrel) and Thurs. Mar. 10 at 9:45 p.m. (Introduction by Maïwenn).

    US theatrical release 12 Aug. 2016 Lincoln Plaza Cinemas NYC, 29 Aug. Laemmle Royal, Los Angeles.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-28-2016 at 01:04 PM.

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    DARK INCLUSION/DIAMONT NOIR (Arthur Harari 2016)

    ARTHUR HARARI: DARK INCLUSION/DIAMONT NOIR (2016)


    NIELS SCHNEIDER IN DARK INCLUSION

    Complicated caper

    Pretty-boy actor Niels Schneider, used as decoration in Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats and as a spoiled aristocrat in Gemma Bovary, has his curly mop combed straight back and acquires a slightly seedy look for his troubled, introspective role in Arthur Harari's debu feature about a young man with a dark scheme. His character, Pier Ullmann, is from a family of diamond cutters in Antwerp. But his father was cast from grace and misused by the family. Estranged from his father, PIer has been engaged in devious business. When his father dies, he goes back to his uncles and cousins in the business in Antwerp with revenge in mind. He's taken on by his uncle Gabi (August Diehl) as a mere hired man to do some office remodeling. Though he arrives as a black sheep, Pier becomes more and more indispensable, which suits him fine -- but the new possibilities his acceptance bring complicate his revenge plans. He is becoming more and more a cherished member of the family he wants to hate. This is a thriller with lots of surprises, and a depth of character development one doesn't expect in the genre. And Harari's well-written film likewise provides a rich local texture that's perfectly integral to the plot, delving into the current status of the diamond market, even into the history of Antwerp, the Belgian port city whose role in that business has long been central. If some developments are a little implausible, we're happy to accept them for the cunning twists they make possible in the final reels.

    As Pier, Schneider convincingly portrays a young man both able and troubled, motivated by the conflicting aims of revenge and proving himself. He undergoes a transformation -- or is it nature coming out? -- when he gains the confidence of the Ulmanns' chief diamond cutter, Rick de Vries (Jos Verbist). Pier must deal not only with Gabi, who reveals an unexpected vulnerability, but the company's stern head, Joseph (German actor and director Hans-Peter Cloos), and his cousin Louisa (Raphaële Godin), a kick-boxing doctoral candidate in chemistry, who becomes dangerously fascinating to him.

    Gabi and Joseph have conflicting notions of how the business should be conceived and conducted. Should diamonds be considered unique, magnificent works of art, or something to be mass produced for a wide global market? As the Ulmanns' small, distinguished firm risks falling behind, Gabi considers linking up with an Indian mass producer of the Jain faith, Vijay Sha Gopal (Vijay Sha Gopal). In the background lurk Pier's dubious allies Raschid (the late Hafed Benotman) and Kevin (Guillaume Verdier), waiting at the end of the phone line in France to be called into a Rififi-like operation that's expected to be a slightly larger variation on capers we've seen the trio pull off early in the action. But as Pier settles into his role with the family in Antwerp, things keep changing in this very ingenious and nicely constructed film.

    Niels Schneider is from Paris, but spent 17 years in Montreal, where he was eventually taken up by Xavier Dolan. Coming back to Paris five years ago, things heated up for him as an actor, and he has had a lot of roles in theater (Romeo, opposite Ana Girardot), TV and film. This is a good one. It looks like there may be much to come showing he's not just a pretty face. He has six films pending, including this one.

    Dark Inclusion/Diamont Noir, 115 mins., has not yet been released in France. IMDb lists its French theatrical release as 13 Apr. 2016, but AlloCiné says the date is 8 June. Screened as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York. Its presentation as part of the FSLC-UniFrance series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is its U.S. Premiere, showing to the public Thurs. Mar. 10 at 1:30 p.m. and Sat. Mar. 12 at 9:15 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-19-2017 at 01:11 AM.

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    PARISIENNE/PEUR DE RIEN (Danielle Arbid 2015)

    DANIELLE ARBID: PARISIENNE/PEUR DE RIEN (2015)


    MANAL ISSA AND DAMIEN CHAPELLE IN PARISIENNE

    A Lebanese girl experiencing a little of everything in Paris

    Lina Karam (Manal Issa) is an eighteen-year-old Lebanese girl who has come to Paris from Beirut on a student visa and her uncle and aunt, with whom she installs herself, enroll her at the university. The only trouble is that her uncle wants to rape her. And this is where the beautiful, spirited, and fearless Lina sets out on her own, persuading a classmate to take her in, getting odd jobs, switching from economics to art, being involved with three different guys. The Lebanese-born director Danielle Arbid says this isn't an autobiographical film, but it's set in the early Nineties, when she was in her twenties, and everything seemed possible. In this fourth feature, she delivers a shopping list of experiences: struggle with bureaucracy that wants to expel her; struggle with her own family; politics (fascists, racists, and would-be revolutionaries play roles); dancing, music, sex. It's a breathtaking compendium, and might have left a stronger impression if Labid had pared down a bit. But she and her charming, pretty star make it work, even if it's just a little bit of everything ending, a little lamely, in a renewed residency permit.

    It is impossible not to be charmed by, and involved with, Lina's little adventures, some of which have the highly cinematic "naturalism" of early Nouvelle Vague films. One is horrified by the predatory uncle in the Paris suburbs, and astonished at the quarreling family when she's back home. One worries when she's charmed by the rich bearded seducer Jean-Marc (Paul Hamy); and one is charmed too by the unambitious young waiter-musician-traveler Julien (Damien Chapelle, of whom we should see more). One wonders if Raphaël (professional teenager Vincent Lacoste) is grownup enough for her; but then he introduces her to leftist activism, and he's such a funny guy. One watches through her eyes the show-off-y Sorbonne lecturers, including art survey prof Madame Gagnebin (Dominique Blanc), who turns out to be a lifesaver when LIna's legal status gets iffy. The action is absorbing and delightful, and Labid is really good at bar-disco scenes and alternative rock (via Julien, who takes Lina to a Black Francis concert, shown in very rough, obviously preexisting footage).

    All this is just great, and Manal Issa's buoyancy and authenticity and luminous Lebanese beauty never fail us; the family scenes in Lebanese Arabic are, needless to say, utterly authentic and something not seen often in French films, where we get lots of Algerian or Moroccan dialect but not other forms of the language.

    It's rather nice to have a French film about immigration (because this is essentially that) where the immigrant isn't a hard case and the presentation isn't earnest and downbeat. But after a while, one realizes that this story has no teeth in it. Lina's teflon coating and good luck mean her mishaps lack emotional punch. As Gérard Nectoux wrote in Cahiers du Cinéma, this film is "as inoffensive as a bouquet of flowers." Despite its rich surface and knowing detail, that, and the excess and repetitiveness of incidents, keep this charming effort from being surprising or memorable.

    Parisienne/Peur de rien ("Fear of Noting," a good description of Lina's personality), 12o mins., debuted at Toronto Oct. 2015, showing also at Dubai and Gothenberg. It opened theatrically 10 Feb. 2016 in France, to an excellent critical reception, with an AlloCiné press rating of 3.7 averaged from 23 reviews. It was screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York City Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, shown to the public Thurs., Mar. 10, 4:00 p.m. and Sat., Mar. 12, 1:30 p.m. (both followed by a Q&A with Danielle Arbid).
    FRENCH TRAILER
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-26-2016 at 06:03 AM.

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    MUCH LOVED (Nabil Ayouch 2015)

    NABIL AYOUCH: MUCH LOVED (2015)


    ASMAA LAZRAK, SARA ELHAMDI ELALAOUI, HALIMA KARAOUANE, LOUBNA ABIDIR

    Dense, humane, portrait of Moroccan prostitutes banned at home


    This film about a group of prostitutes in Marrakech and their driver-protector Said (Abdellah Didane) may not provide strikingly new information about the life, but, apart from being controversial (it's banned in Morocco), it represents a tour-de-force of fiction-documentary storytelling and an act of humanity and sympathy. It may make you think of the more visually striking anamorphic lens iPhone6 movie Tangerine, but in cast and mise-en-scène the latter is far less complex and ambitious. Highlights of Much Loved are a profitable night-and-day party-and-sex scene with rich Saudis in their rented villa; time spent in a nightclub with older French guys; the arrival of a plump, pregnant, destitute girl from the sticks called Hilma (Sara Elhamdi Elalaoui), whom the more experienced women adopt and rename "Ahlam"; one woman's gradual rejection by her impoverished mother; another's longed-for first lesbian experience; a tran "sister" friend; and a riotous holiday trip of the four women with Said, in a fancy uniform, driving a rented limo, to a posh hotel in Agadir. There are inevitable run-ins with the police, and a cop who takes advantage of his power to demand sex. And the aging Frenchman (Carlo Brandt, who resembles Jean Reno), a married man who claims to be in love with the lead whore, Noha (Loubna Abidar), but is just a drag. There is a younger man who is crazy about one of the other "girls" and waits around for her for hours. One common thread: the way, in a harsh world of demanding or cruel johns, the women create their own solidarity and warmth among themselves.

    In the car on the way to the Saudis' villa the women talk in gross language about money and little dicks, which some prefer: they do less damage to the equipment. The "games" the Saudis play together with the "girls" are humiliating, but they lionize the beauty and freedom of the Moroccan women, while the "girls" praise the Saudis for their beautiful money. Sokaïna (Halima Karaouane) thinks she's found a sweet deal when she pairs off with Ahmed (Lebanese-born California actor Danny Boushebel) who acts romantic but can't get it up. Later when she discovers he jacks off to gay porn the reason for his non-performance is revealed and in a rage he beats her up. It's at hospital emergency that the girls first meet and subsequently rescue and adopt Hilma/Ahlam. Hilma, whose country style makes her a friendly source of humor, turns out to be a prostitute too. Her manner's rock-bottom basic. She approaches three men standing on the street and says, "Which of you wants to fuck me?" She gets a farmer who does her in his truck and pays only 100 dirhans ($10), so she demands more and he gives her 10 kilos of produce.

    Much Loved doesn't tell a story. It references a whole bunch of stories. As the admiring French critics note, it gives us both documentary realism and romance, harshness and pain but also warmth and humor. Its most notable quality is its sheer density. You begin watching expecting something distasteful, and part of it is. But then you are drawn in, and it becomes fascinating. Thanks to the handheld digital camera, you forget, for stretches anyway, that you're watching a movie and you're just there. The saddest scenes are the visits of queen bee Noha dressed in chaste hijab to a poor part of Marrakech to see her younger sister and little boy and mother, trying to maintain connection with family and finding the connection isn't there. Word is out on the street, via le téléphone arabe, about who and what Noha is, and her mother tells her not to come around any more. At the other extreme are the times of hilarity and togetherness. In between are the transactions with men, some pleasant, some not. Ayouch's main actresses, recruited from non-professionals, are both beautiful and real.

    This is the 46-year-old Parisian-born, Casablanca-resident Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch's seventh film. Three have been Moroccan submissions to the Oscars, but he seems little known in this country. The humanity and warm rhythms recall Hector Babenco's picture of street kids, Pixote, and Ayouch made a film about a gang of boys himself, the 2000 Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets, and one would like to see that. But I'm guessing Much Loved may be the filmmaker's most mature, technically assured, and bravest work yet.

    Much Loved, 105 mins., debuted in Directors Fortnight at Cannes 2015 with four award nominations; shown at nine other festivals including Toronto and London. Released in France 16 Sept. 2015 it received acclaim from critics (AlloCiné press rating 4.1 averaged from 25 reviews). Many note the film's sympathetic understanding and lack of immorality or prurience. Banned in Morocco and described by the government as "a grave insult to moral values." Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, shown to the public Thurs. Mar. 10 at 7 p.m. and Fri. Mar. 11 at 4 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-26-2016 at 09:43 PM.

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    21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE (Jean-Marie, Arnaud Larrieu 2015)

    JEAN-MARIE, ARNAUD LARRIEU: 21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE/21 NUITS AVEC PATTIE (2015)


    ISABELLE CARRÉ AND ANDRÉ DUSOLLIER IN 21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE

    A disappearing corpse and a prim wife getting sexier

    In the Larrieu brothers' 21 Nights with Pattie, we enter summer around a beautiful villa in the filmmakers' warm native Hautes-Pyrénées region of southwestern France where the owner, a lady named Isabelle, nicknamed Zaza, has just died. Her estranged daughter Catherine (Isabelle Carré) has come for the funeral. She runs into Pattie (Kain Viard), who used to clean house, and is regaled with non-stop tales of sexual encounters couched in a four-letter dirty-talk style out of Henry Miller's Sexus-Nexus-Plexus trilogy in French translation. By film's end the talk has had its liberating influence, and the prim Catherine, who's married to Sergi Lopez and has two young daughters, will have begun to talk sexy too, and celebrate her husband's penis in this sunny but oddball celebration of life, which the French critics loved. The public didn't, and neither did I. I never really felt any emotional connection with the action or the talk. But I understood what the brothers were getting at, something like what C.L. Barber talks about in his book, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: a general coming-together of spirits and body, humans and nature.

    Along the way, a mysterious former lover of Zaza's called Jean (the ubiquitous André Dusollier, a favorite of the late Alain Resnais and in three Rendez-Vous films this year) arrives just when Zaza's body has disappeared, with suspicions by the police (happily, untrue) of necrophilia or necrophagia involved. Catherine begins to suspect that Jean is the writer J. M. G. Le Clézio, and might be her father. But Zaza slept around as much as Pattie, and there are other suspects.

    Other men flirt with Catherine, a police captain (Laurent Poitrenaux), a bestial man of vibrant energy (ubiquitous Leos Carax muse Denis Lavant), and Zaza's half-clad, half-Moroccan young son Kamil (Jules Ritmanic) who lives in the woods in a trailer in the summer. Themes of poetry, love, sex, and dance are interwoven with a mood of summer festivity, death, and hints of a ghost story.

    The Larrieu brothers are noted for their uniquely personal comedies. At least this one has a good cast, sun-kissed locations, and beautiful cinematography. But that doesn't make it relatable as a movie unless you're a confirmed Larrieu brothers fan. Too much is going on, and yet in the end not very much, and it doesn't come together enough. I didn't really like the Larrieus' 2013 Love Is a Perfect Crime (R-V 2014), the only other of their films I've seen, either, but in retrospect its greater saturation in crime genre atmosphere made it marginally more appetizing to me. In his Variety review Guy Lodge sums up, "Beginning as a rural whodunnit, with Isabelle Carre’s exasperated outsider seeking the stolen corpse of her estranged mother, before loosely spiraling into a far stranger fusion of erotic awakening and ghost story, this mirthfully performed original could prove one of the Larrieus’ livelier international players." We shall see.

    21 Nights with Pattie/21 nuits avec Pattie, 115 mins., debuted 28 Aug. 2015 at Angoulême, with three other festivals including London and Rotterdam. At 25 Nov. 2015 French theatrical release, the AlloCiné press rating was 4.2, but the viewers rating is only 2.9. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center (in collaboration with UniFrance), shown to the public Fri. Mar. 11 at 1:30 p.m. and Sat. Mar. 12 at 6:45.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-26-2016 at 09:52 PM.

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    DHEEPAN (Jacques Audiard 2015)

    JACQUES AUDIARD: DHEEPAN (2015)

    (This review was originally published after seeing the film in London at the LFF 18 October 2015.)


    CLAUDINE VINASITHAMBY AND JESUTHASAN ANTHONYTHASAN IN DHEEPAN

    A difficult blend still shows Audiard's mastery

    In Dheepan Audiard seeks to do something new -- focus on a major social problem -- but does it in much his usual way -- by a fusion of genres. He takes the plight of refugees of war, Tamil people fleeing Sri Lanka in a fake family unit of convenience (unrelated man, woman, and 9-year-old girl) escaping via traffickers to France, where they're put in the care of the social welfare system. Then, he plunks them down in a seedy Paris cité in the extra-peripheral banlieue. The man, the titular Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan), a former Tamil Tiger squadron leader, is made the new caretaker ("guardien"). The threatening presence of warring young drug dealers allows the filmmaker to consequently blend in elements of a gangster action movie. Insofar as the mix works, it's through our visceral identification with our exotic three lead characters and the phantasmagorical shocks and transformations they must naturally go through as they make the slow, painful adjustment to exile and a new life. The story doesn't completely work. But it's buttressed by Audiard's mature assurance and formidable cinematic invention and by very authentic actors. And it certainly escapes the clichés of more conventional French émigré movies like Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's recent Samba. Dheepan won the top prize Palme d'Or at Cannes this year.

    The actor Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who is more a writer, actually was a Tamil Tiger child soldier and political activist who fled to France with a fake passport and worked at many menial jobs; he says the role of Dheepan is 50% autobiographical. Kalieaswari Srinivasan, who plays Yalini, Dheepan's "wife," is a theater actress.

    Besides the fusion of genres there is the fusion of the fake relationships into real ones as Dheepan, Yalini and their "daughter" Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) become an emotionally-bonded unit. This begins when the adults take Illayaal to school and she begs them not to leave her: she thinks she is being abandoned again; she has no family. Living in close proximity at the cité, Dheepan and Yalini slowly begin to have real conversations and then later to feel some physical attraction to each other. Vinasithamby is a beautiful girl who is the story's first ray of hope. Immediately placed in an assimilation class like the one depicted in Julie Bertucelli's 2013 French documentary The School of Babel, she quickly begins learning French and can help the struggling Dheepan. He doesn't understand much of the instructions on his guardien duties (which he however soon performs more than well), or the talk of local cronies, or the key explanation of a young drug dealer operative who is part of a cadre of outsiders hired by the drug overlords expressly because they are indifferent to local loyalties, interests, and lives. Much of the middle of the film is focused on these half-understood French conversations, with the "family's" Tamil talk in the background in their little home unit as they fight and reconcile. Audard is skillful in communicating with sound, image, and editing the start-stop mixture of shock, dislocation, and adjustment the three refugees are experiencing.

    Yalini, sullen and diissatisfied because she wants to join relatives in England, is the last to acquire any French. She is sent to work, against her will at first, caring in an apartment in the building (for a to her astronomical €500 per month) for a certain Monsieur Habib (Faouzi Bensaïdi) a listless, almost catatonic man. This job acquires linchpin significance in the developing drug lord tale when Habib's son Brahim arrives, fresh from jail, wearing an ankle monitor. Brahim is played by the charismatic (but not very Arab-looking) Belgian actor Vincent Rottiers, who likes Yalini's cooking and seems drawn to her.

    When war breaks out between the local young drug gangsters and the outsider ones, things become almost as violent as the world the trio have left behind. But not quite. And anyway, there is nowhere to go. Ironic though it may be, this is where their hope lies. Here Dheepan plays a brave pivotal role that seems somewhat farfetched; and there is a finale that some may find too optimistic. But then such was the hopeful finale of Audiard's The Beat My Heart Skipped/De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, his brilliant "remake" (as he called it, more a transformation) of James Toback's bleaker debut feature Fingers. One might also note that the director's earlier Read My Lips/Sur mes lèvres (starring Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel) was a foreshadowing of what he does here, because it's a bold fusion of two elements not unlike Dheepan's -- a romance with a handicapped person and a crime story.

    Where I liked most in Dheepan apart from Audard's way with his Tamil actors is the manner in which he conveys a sense of dislocation through surreal transitions and slo-mo. I'm still debating the possibility that his screenwriting collaborations with Tonino Benaquista (on Read My Lips and The Beat might have been more successful than the subsequent more recent ones with Thomas Bidegain. But then, with Bidegain he did A Prophet, arguably his masterpiece (so far). But Audiard is just not fully in his element here. Cannes was partly rewarding past accomplishments and present good intentions.

    Dheepan, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or. Over 15 other international festivals, including London, where it was screened for this review. Not the NYFF. French release 26 Aug. 2015, to good, but not rave, reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.6). Bought for US release by IFC, it will be a Sundance Selects release. UK theatrical realese 15 Apr. 2016; US release also in Apr.

    The Closing Night film of the FSLC/UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, it will be shown Sunday, March 13, 6:00pm and 8:30pm.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2016 at 08:15 AM.

  8. #23
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    RENDEZ-VOUS 2016 roundup

    Favorites going across categories are Fatima, Summertime, Standing Tall and Much Loved. There were relationship films, which I'd rank in this order: Summertime, Two Friends, Parisienne, and My King. There was representation of Arabs in various roles, in stories, as directors, they could be found everywhere. A number of the films concerned immigrants: Fatima, Dheepan, Parisienne -- but maybe a better category is outsiders. This would include Summertime, about gay people in love; Standing Tall, about a violent, disturbed boy who is rejected by the system; Much Loved, about prostitutes in Morocco; A Decent Man, whose alcoholic, rage-a-holic young man is most of all just at the low end of the system; and of course the immigrant films already mentioned; and even the charming The New Kid is about an outsider, a student rejected because he's from out of town.

    And Pier (Niels Schneider), in Dark Inclusion, the black seep of a rich diamond producer family, is also an outsider, or believes himself to be one. So is the illegitimate son of the unsuccessful The Apaches, very much an outsider who won't accept being accepted by his father's Berber clan. Were there any insiders in this film series?

    There were also thrillers. Pariser's The Great Game was a political thriller. Disorder is an elegant mystery thriller. A Decent Man is a film that ends in a violent act. Dark Inclusion is a crime-robbery thriller. They're notable for how different each one is.

    It wasn't all successes. I didn't find Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's Three Sisters Chekhov adaptation, with its gratuitous sexy teaser opening, much of a success. Didn't she just turn it over to a cast from the Comédie Française? Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche's Story of Judas seemed quite pointless, Julie Delpy's crude comedy Lola deeply annoying. Maïwen's Mon Roi is also a pain in the neck, however good the acting may be, it's a bore to spend time with these people. 21 Nights with Pattie seems like self-indulgence -- though not of a commercial, Hollywood kind, certainly.

    But thanks to the Rendez-Vous (and the New York Film Festival, and a little side viewing on my own) I arrived at 2016 César time perfectly prepared. If official public acclaim means anything, the 2016 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema was one of the best in years, because it included so many award-winning or nominated films at the Césars that came just after the New York press screenings ended: Fatima was chosen as Best Film; and Dheepan, Mon Roi and Standing Tall were among the eight nominated. Other titles were in the New York Film Festival, and I'd reviewed them, as well as Dheepan (seen in the LFF) and Mustang (released in the US). Of the Best Actress César nominees, only one, the winner, Catherine Frot (for Marguerite, coming the US theaters), was not in the Rendez-Vous this year. We saw Loubna Abidar as the lead prostitute in the rich, immersive Much Loved , the crazy-emotional Emmanuelle Bercot (Best Actress at Cannes) in Mon Roi, the ebullient Cécile de France in Summertime, Deneuve as the judge in Standing Tall, Huppert in Valley of Love, and the excellent newcomer Soria Zeroual in Fatima.

    Three of both the five Best Actor and five Best Actress nominees were in the Rendez-Vous, including Best Actor winner Benoît Magimel for Standing Tall. Both Meilleurs Espoirs (Most Promising), male and female, were from Rendez-Vous films. Rod Paradot's touching acceptance speech (for his role as the delinquent boy trying to get better in Standing Tall was by all odds the emotional highlight of the Césars cérémonie. Another nominee was Finnegan Oldfield, the lead actor in Bang Gang.

    We tend to think of the French as cool and blasé. Rod Paradot's flustered, impassioned speech was a reminder of how disarmingly emotional and authentic they can be. And this is what the Rendez-Vous was this year: a lot of emotion, sometimes unrestrained, sometimes all the stronger for being held back.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-03-2016 at 09:37 PM.

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