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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2018

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    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2018

    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2018 (New York, Mar. 8-18, 2018

    Co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance


    12 Days/ 12 jours (Raymond Depardon 2017)
    Ava (Léa Mysius 2017)
    Barbara (Mathieu Amalric 2017) OPENING NIGHT FILM
    Before Summer Ends//Avant la fin de l'été (Maryam Goormaghtigh 2017)
    C’est la vie!/Le sense de la fête (Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano 2017)
    Comfort and Consolation in France/Pour le réconfort (Vincent Macaigne 2017)
    Custody//Jusqu'à la garde (Xavier Legrand 2017)
    Endangered Species/Espèces menacées (Gilles Bourdos 2017)
    The Guardians/Les Gardiennes (Xavier Beauvois 2017)
    Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc/Jeannette, l'enfance de Jeanne d'Arc (Bruno Dumont 2017)
    July Tales/Contes de juillet (Guillaume Brac 2017)
    Just to Be Sure/Ôtez-moi d'un doute (Carine Tardieu 2017)
    The Lion Sleeps Tonight/ Le lion est mort ce soir (Nobuhiro Suwa 2017)
    A Memoir of War/La douleur (Emmanuel Finkiel 2017)
    Montparnasse Bienvenüe/Jeune femme (Léonor Serraille 2017)
    Number One (Tonie Marshall 2017)
    Orchestra Class/La Mélodie (Rachid Hami 2017)
    A Paris Education/Mes provinciales (Jean-Paul Civeyrac 2018)
    Petit Paysan (Hubert Charuel 2017)
    See You Up There/Au revoir la-haut (Albert Dupontel 2017)
    The Sower/Le semeur (Marine Francen 2017)
    Tomorrow and Thereafter/Demain et tous les autres jours (Noémie Lvovsky 2017)
    Waiting for the Barbarians/ En attendant les barbares (Eugène Green 2017)
    The Workshop (Laurent Cantet 2017)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2018 at 09:01 PM.

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    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2018
    Blurbs and schedules

    In my fall Paris report I already briefly noted Barbara, Number One, See You Up There, Montparnasse Bienvenue, C'Est la Vie! and Comfort and Consolation in France. I recently watched Cantet's The Workshop/L'Atelier twice and am preparing a review; it comes out here 23 Mar. For all the films I've added a few other details, at least the French release dates and AlloCiné French press ratings for each film, highlighting in red the 11 out of 20 with the warmest home reception of a 3.5 or above. That's not to imply the others are no interest by any means but is worth being aware of.

    Below are the FSLC's descriptions and the schedules of screenings. Reviews will appear below.

    Jeanne Balibar, Mathieu Amalric in Barbara

    Barbara - Filmleaff coverage
    Mathieu Amalric 2017 France 98 minutes
    Opening Night · U.S. Premiere ·
    Introductions by Mathieu Amalric and Jeanne Balibar
    A chameleon-like Jeanne Balibar stars in this tantalizing, meta-cinematic tribute to Barbara—a legendary chanteuse and enduring icon of French culture—from actor-director Mathieu Amalric. France 6 Sept. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 4.1).
    Showtimes March 8 6:30 PM 9:00 PM

    12 Days/12 jours
    Raymond Depardon 2017 France 87 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere · Q&A with Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret
    Continuing a 30-year collaboration with sound recordist and producer Claudine Nougaret, renowned photographer and documentarian Raymond Depardon has made a startling, face-to-face look at mental illness and the French legal system. France 29 Nov. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 4.2).
    Showtimes March 15 6:30 PM


    Léa Mysius 2017 France 105 minutes
    N.Y. Premiere

    The breathtakingly bold debut feature from Léa Mysius—about a 13-year-old girl taking in as much of life as she can before she goes blind—is a coming-of-age tale unlike any other. France 21 Jun. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.5).
    Showtimes March 11 8:30 PM
    March 16 9:15 PM

    Before Summer Ends

    Before Summer Ends/Avant la fin de l'été
    Maryam Goormaghtigh 2017 France/Switzerland 80 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere
    Three thirty-something Iranian friends embark on a late summer road trip through the sunny South before one of them heads back to Iran in this endearingly wry and perceptive travelogue about what it means to be an outsider in a foreign country. 12 Jul. 2017 France (AlloCiné press rating 3.5).
    Showtimes March 17 1:00 PM

    C’est la vie!/Le sens de la fête - Filmleaf coverage
    Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano 2017 France/Canada/Belgium 117 minutes

    U.S. Premiere
    The behind-the-scenes planning of an elaborate wedding makes for a deliciously deadpan comic soufflé from the directors of the smash hit The Intouchables. 4 Oct. 2017 France (AlloCiné press rating 3.7).
    Showtimes March 10 9:30 PM
    March 18 7:45 PM

    Comfort and Consolation in France/Pour le réconfort - Filmleaf coverage
    Vincent Macaigne 2017 France 91 minutes

    North American Premiere · Q&A with Vincent Macaigne on March 14
    One of France’s most distinctive rising talents, Vincent Macaigne directs this daringly iconoclastic chamber drama about the clash between France’s haves and have-nots. France 25 Oct. 2017 (AlloCine press rating 3.2).
    Showtimes March 14 8:45 PM
    March 18 1:00 PM


    Custody/Jusqu'à la garde
    Xavier Legrand 2017 France 93 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere · Q&A with Xavier Legrand
    Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, this riveting domestic drama is a harrowing study of a family coming undone in the midst of a bitter custody battle. France 7 Feb. 2018 (AlloCiné press rating 4.2).
    Showtimes March 11 3:00 PM

    Endangered Species

    Endangered Species/Espèces menacées
    Gilles Bourdos 2017 France/Belgium 105 minutes

    U.S. Premiere · Q&A with Gilles Bourdos and writer Richard Bausch on March 11
    Drawing from Richard Bausch’s short stories, Renoir director Gilles Bourdos delivers an explosive emotional epic about the tangled relationships among parents, children, husbands, wives, and lovers. France 27 Sept. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.2).
    Showtimes March 11 5:30 PM
    March 15 1:30 PM

    The Guardians/Les gardiennes
    Xavier Beauvois 2017 Switzerland/France 138 minutes

    U.S. Premiere · Q&A with Xavier Beauvois
    A resilient young woman weathers the turbulence of World War I in the quietly affecting new film from Of Gods and Men director Xavier Beauvois. France 6 Dec. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.4).
    Showtimes March 16 6:00 PM


    Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc/Jeannette, l'enfance de Jeanne d'Arc
    Bruno Dumont 2017 France 105 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere · Q&A with Bruno Dumont on March 9
    The ever-unpredictable Bruno Dumont (Slack Bay) takes another thrilling hairpin turn with this audacious heavy metal musical about the spiritual awakening of a young Joan of Arc. France 6 Sept. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.2).
    Showtimes March 9 6:30 PM
    March 13 4:15 PM

    July Tales/Contes de juillet

    July Tales/Contes de juillet - Prochainement (1h 10min)
    Guillaume Brac 2017 France 68 minutes

    North American Premiere
    Two languorous summer days, two tales of romantic misunderstanding: this deceptively breezy diptych channels the spirit of Rohmer as it explores the thorny relationships between men and women. Not yet released in France.
    Showtimes March 9 2:15 PM
    March 12 9:30 PM

    Cécile de France, Francois Damiens, Just to Be Sure

    Just to Be Sure/Ôtez-moi d'un doute
    Carine Tardieu 2017 France/Belgium 100 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere
    Life gets complicated for a middle-aged man when he discovers his father is not his father—and his girlfriend may be his half-sister—in this witty, winning seriocomic charmer. France 3 Sept. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.4).
    Showtimes March 18 3:00 PM

    The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Le lion est mort ce soir

    The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Le lion est mort ce soir
    Nobuhiro Suwa 2017 France/Japan 103 minutes

    North American Premiere
    Living legend Jean-Pierre Léaud stars in this self-reflexive ghost story—a playful consideration of cinema, mortality, and the actor’s own status as an emblem of film history. France 3 Jan. 2018 (AlloCiné press rating 3.4).
    Showtimes March 9 4:00 PM
    March 15 9:15 PM

    Benoit Magimel in A Memoir of War/]La douleur

    A Memoir of War/La douleur
    Emmanuel Finkiel 2017 France 127 minutes

    North American Premiere · Q&A with Emmanuel Finkiel on March 17
    Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical memoir—a heartrending reflection on wartime grief—receives a haunting and hypnotic adaptation starring a profoundly moving Mélanie Thierry. France: 24 Jan. 2018 (2h 06min) (AlloCiné press rating 4.0).
    Thursday, March 15, 3:45pm Saturday, March 17, 3:00pm (Q&A with Emmanuel Finkiel)
    Showtimes March 15 3:45 PM
    March 17 3:00 PM

    Montparnasse Bienvenüe/Jeune Femme - Filmleaf coverage
    Léonor Serraille 2017 France 97 minutes

    New York Premiere · Q&A with Léonor Serraille & Julie Roué on March 9
    A newly single young woman attempts to restart her life in this refreshingly complex portrait of an all-too-human heroine veering between instability and strength. Winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes for best first film. France 1 Nov. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9).
    ShowtimesMarch 9 9:30 PM
    March 12 1:15 PM

    Emmanuelle Devos in Numéro une

    Number One/Numéri une - Filmleaf coverage
    Tonie Marshall 2017 France 110 minutes

    U.S. Premiere · Q&A with Tonie Marshal on March 10
    Emmanuelle Devos stars as an ambitious businesswoman navigating a sexist corporate minefield as she attempts to crash the boardroom boys’ club in this timely feminist drama from Tonie Marshall (Venus Beauty Institute). France 11 Oct. 2017 (AlloCine press rating 3.3).
    Showtimes March 10 6:30 PM
    March 17 9:15 PM

    Orchestra Class/La Mélodie
    Rachid Hami 2017 France 102 minutes

    U.S. Premiere · Q&A with Rachid Hami
    A violinist is tested when he signs on to teach music to a class of middle-school students on the multicultural outskirts of Paris in this refreshingly naturalistic ode to the transformative power of music. France 8 Nov. 2017 (AlloCine press rating 2.9).
    Showtimes March 14 6:00 PM

    A Paris Education/Mes provinciales

    A Paris Education/Mes provinciales
    Jean-Paul Civeyrac 2018 France 137 minutes

    North American Premiere · Q&A with Jean-Paul Civeyrac on March 17
    A movie-mad jeune homme discovers the pleasures and perils of the bohemian life when he moves to Paris in this bittersweet ode to cinema and the heady days of youth. French theatrical release: 18 Apr. 2018. (Hence, no press rating.)
    Showtimes March 12 3:30 PM
    March 17 6:00 PM

    Petit Paysan

    Petit Paysan
    Hubert Charuel 2017 France 90 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere
    A farmer’s desperate attempts to save his cows from a deadly epidemic yields a surprisingly tense thriller rooted in everyday life. France 30 Aug. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 4.1).
    Showtimes March 11 1:00 PM
    March 14 4:00 PM

    See You Up There/Au revoir là-haut - Filmleaf coverage
    Albert Dupontel 2017 France/Canada 117 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere
    This spectacularly surreal comic caper—in which an ex–World War I soldier and artist embark on an audacious get-rich-quick scheme—is a whimsical wild ride through Jazz Age Paris. France 25 Oct. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9).
    Showtimes March 13 8:45 PM
    March 18 5:15 PM

    The Sower/Le semeur
    Marine Francen 2017 France/Belgium 98 minutes

    U.S. Premiere · Q&A with Marine Francen on March 10
    Writ in bucolic, golden-hued images that recall the paintings of Jean-François Millet, this quietly provocative, Napoleonic-era fable imagines a community of women into whose midst wanders a lone male. 15 Nov. 2017 (AlloCiné 3.1).
    Showtimes March 10 3:30 PM
    March 13 2:00 PM

    Tomorrow and Thereafter/Demain et tous les autres jours

    Tomorrow and Thereafter/Demain et tous les autres jours
    Noémie Lvovsky 2017 France 91 minutes

    U.S. Premiere
    As her mother steadily loses her grip on reality, a young girl escapes into a fantasy world of her own in this alternately enchanting and cathartic family portrait from acclaimed actress-director Noémie Lvovsky. France 27 Sept. 2017 (AlloCiné press raging 3.3).
    Showtimes March 10 1:00 PM
    March 16 2:00 PM

    Waiting for the Barbarians/En attendant les barbares
    Eugène Green 2017 France 76 minutes

    North American Premiere · Q&A with Eugène Green on March 13
    Six strangers confront their uniquely 21st century anxieties with the help of a sorcerer in this playful performance art consciousness-bender-cum-ghost story about the search for meaning in the age of social media. (Apparently no France, but Spanish, release; no AlloCiné listing.) The one available review in Cineuropa is unpomising.
    Showtimes March 13 6:30 PM
    March 16 4:00 PM

    Mathieu Lucci, Marina Fois in The Workship/L'Atelier

    The Workshop/L'Atelier
    Laurent Cantet 2017 France 113 minutes

    N.Y. Premiere · Q&A with Laurent Cantet on March 12
    Director of the 2008The Class/Entre les murs (Palme d'Or at Cannes its year) Laurent Cantet returns with a tense, provocative exploration of contemporary French society as seen through the eyes of the next generation, again focused on a classroom situation, this time in summer, outdoors, a writing workshop where multicultural youths seek to compose a thriller set in their hometown, the port La Ciotat, under a successful Parisian crime novel writer played by Mariina Foïs. Scenario by Cantet reuniting after a break with his regular collaborator Robin Campillo, who also edited. Not at Cannes in Competition, but nominated for the Un Certain Regard award. France : 11 Oct. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9.)US theatrical release begins 23 Mar. 2018.
    Showtimes March 12 6:30 PM
    March 14 1:30 PM

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-14-2018 at 03:23 AM.

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    JULY TALES/CONTES DE JUILLET (Guillaume Brac 2017)



    Brac's summer tales evoke, but contrast with, Éric Rohmer

    Brac's 2013 Tonnerre was shown in the 2014 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema and we reviewed it then.

    The word "conte" and a summer setting for two short films with young people flirting with each other sounds like Eric Rohmer, but in Guillaume Brac's more contemporary "tales" set in the suburbs of Paris there is a lot less civility and restraint and the disappointments are brutal and quick. In the first, "L'Amie de dimanche" ("The Sunday Friend"), two young women coworkers,Lucie (Lucie Grunstein) and Milena (Milena Csergo) go on a park outing to the greater Paris amusement center at Cergy-Pontoise.

    After a bathe and a picnic lunch, they are approached by a young male park worker called Jean (Jean Joudé) whose design is clearly not to help but to connect. This deeply disappoints Lucie, the one he doesn't focus on, and that she is described as always pouty and unhappy sounds like Rohmer. True to Rohmer plot patterns, when the shy Lucie goes off by herself, she does quite well, actually better than her friend.

    Lucie meets a young man practicing fencing, Théo (Théo Chedeville), who develops an interest in her and a connection, through giving her an impromptu fencing lesson. They plan on a date. Meanwhile the other couple discover they went to the same schools, only then Jean was a fat boy ("like all teens," he says) and now he's dark, well-built and robust. When they return to a park base his involvement with Milena causes his girlfriend, Kenza (Kenza Lagnaoui), who is at the park working too, to break up with him, and they come to blows. Things between Jean and Milena end messily.

    The second "conte" is called "Hanne et la fête nationale" ("Hanne and the National Holiday"). The national holiday is France's, July 14th. Hanne, a Norwegian university student who has been studying in Paris, has encounters with three boys on this day, which ends with tragic news of the terrorist attack in Nice. When Hanne wakes up in her dorm room, an Italian student, Andrea (Andrea Romano) is lying beside her touching her and apparently beginning to masturbate - a situation one can't imagine happening in Rohmer. All day Hanne fends off Andrea, who claims to be in love with her. She meets a more polite but pushy French boy out on the street, Roman (Roman Jean-Elie), who invites her to a holiday party with friends that evening in a flat he says has a view of the Eiffel Tower.

    Hanne resists Roman but is on the verge of accepting when Andrea appears and punches Roman in the nose - another very un-Rohmer event. He bleeds profusely, or thinks he does, and after a visit from a campus fireman called Sipan (Sipan Mouradian), Roman departs, expecting Hanne to come to his party. But she stays with Salomé (Salomé Diénis Meulien), a student of quantum physics, Andrea, and Sipan, who's invited to stay. This little multinational gathering at the Ciné Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement of Paris goes well till, during an interpretive dancing performance by Sipan accompanied on the guitar by Andrea, Salomé goes off in a huff after Hanne, now drunk, seems to make a play for Sipan, whom Salomé had her eye on. Left alone, and beginning to see a lost opportunity in her rejections of Andrea, Hanne hears the news from Nice and gets ready to fly home to Norway.

    Have times changed for the worse since Rohmer, or is Brac's film style just rougher than his? Nonetheless Brac's two tales are well constructed, even if they come off a little more like student short films than the work of a finished auteur, though for the younger generation of French cinephiles, as indicated by a well-informed piece about these Tales on the film website Citizen Poupe that I've drawn on for information in this review, do consider him to be one.

    Joseph Owen wrote a short English language review of this film at Locarno, August 2017, in The Upcoming , but it seems to have been little commented on.

    July Tales/Contes de juillet, 68 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug 2017. It was screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (UniFrance/FSLC), New York, March 2018. French theatrical release coming "prochainement," according to AlloCiné. If the Tales do come out in French cinemas, we will see how the Parisian critics receive them.
    Showtimes March 9 2:15 PM
    March 12 9:30 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2018 at 10:39 AM.

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    A meditative, playful vehicle for Jean-Pierre Léaud and a group of children

    A vehicle for Jean-Pierre Léaud, about the making of a film, or two films within the film. The star must leave the shoot when it is delayed and seeks to visit an early greatest love, and is visited by her ghost, or imagines he is talking to her. At an old building where he goes to find her, he is found by a group of children who are making a film of their own. They run around, and when they enter an old room they have found as a set, they are startled to find "Jean" (Léaud). They are frightened at first, but then Jean enters into a friendly and lighthearted relationship with them, and participates in their film, which turns into a rough, simply conceived French vesion of "Ghostbusters." Then he returns to the film he is acting in, where he has a very brief scene in which he dies.

    In the course of this, Jean confronts his past a bit, and has some conversations with Julie (Pauline Étienne), his girlfriend who died young.

    The scenario seems confused on this point, because first Jean seems not to know that Julie is dead, and died very young, then knows that it may have been suicide, and that it was by a lake he take the children to. There is a lion, and several renditions by Léaud of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The reference is to death, and he repeatedly says that age 70 to 80 is a key time because it is the period when one faces death. He repeatedly tells his director of the film he is to be in that he cannot play his own death.

    Perhaps one cannot play one's own death, but one can play a man dying. And these disclaimers are partly humorous reference to Léaud's recent performance of a nearly two-hour-long on-screen death scene as the star of Albert Serra's critically celebrated film, The Death of Louis XIV . Anther humorous thing is the children have not heard of him, though he is a kind of ultimate icon of French Cinema, and when they ask him if he really is an actor, he says he didn't make many films, but they were nice ones. He has 96 credits. That's not "not many" films.

    This is a workshopped film, involving the children. The children interact and play, and pretend to be making a film, and this film captures them on the run, and is an edited version of their many interactions. There are charming moments with the children; also a brief focus on a subplot of one of them, a redheaded boy called Jules (an excellent Jules Langlade), who is struggling a bit with his mother over her new boyfriend, who can't replace his father who died in a car crash when he was seven. But all this, despite its occasional charm, only dilutes the story of Jean confronting death and the spectre of his lost love.

    There are also some good moments with Léaud, when he springs to life. He seems to be often dormant - this is why he was perfect to play the semi-moribund Louis XIV, but when he is on, he is really on.

    However, this film sags and sways and repeats itself. It's a mixture of retro French style and hagiography. One is expected to find it interesting just because it has Léaud in it, more or less playing himself. As an object there is a certain fascination in him. He has lived so much of his life on screen. He is still sprightly but also bloated and not very healthy appearance; his unusual hair, still flowing, straight and luxuriant, only partly gray, around the aging face, a young-old man of 72, who for those who remember has the young Antoine Doinel somewhere inside.

    Thi Lion Sleeps Tonight/Le lion est mort ce soir, 104 mins., debuted at
    Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival; also Busan and Taipei. It opened Jan. 2018 in France and Japan. Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, New York, March 2018.
    Showtimes March 9 4:00 PM
    March 15 9:15 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2018 at 06:19 AM.

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    Bruno Dumont does Péguy's Joan as a rock musical

    Peter Debruge reviewed Dumont's new film, which is religious and musical, at Cannes for Variety. He said it's a "a bizarre treatment of Joan of Arc's early years" that "flies in the face" of conventions, both musical and religious. It's "a blasphemous assault on French history, religion, and the musical genre." Well, it's an oddball and stunningly original movie, like everything Dumont has done since his debut feature The Life of Jesus in 1997, and each time, as Dennis Lim said at Lincoln Center before the US premiere of this one, "redefining the language of cinema." But in its own slightly bizarre way, this is no different from the musical Les Miserables - only with electric modernistic heavy metal sound, headbanger head-swirling, and amateur acrobatics.

    According to Dumont, Jeannette, which uses only local, non-professional actors from his region of origin in northeastern France, is a word-for-word performance of the first of a three-part drama (or mystery, or poem) by Charles Péguy, the first version of which is dated 1897, called The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc. See
    French Wikipedia.) Staged in the pretty semi-coastal area where Dumont also filmed his recent Slack Bay and his previous comical L'l Quinquin, it has two Joans, pre-teen (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) and teen (Jeanne Voisin). The actors' singing is recorded live, a capella, as in the movie "Les Miz." The nun who appears to the young Joan is doubled, because Dumont found twins for the part, and could not leave one out. Serendipity plays a part in his work.

    Dumont's ability to use naive, untrained actors to capture a feeling of authenticity and raw energy, as well as religious purity, has been seen before, notably inn his 2009 Hadewijch about a girl who enters a convent, and before that his first two films, L"humanité and The Life of Jesus. Something similar happens earlier in the cinematic tradition with Rossellini's Flowers of Saint Francis and Pasolini's Gospel According to Matthew. They didn't think of adding music, and could not have used a local rapper with frenetic hand and body movements to play Joan's uncle.

    The Childhood of Joan of Arc/Jeannette, L'enfance de Jeanne d'Arc,105 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2017, showing at a dozen other international fests, including Transylvania, Moscow, Karlovy and Jerusalem, as well as Vienna, Portland and SxSW. It opened on FRench TV. AlloCiné gave it a mediocre 3.2 press rating but the perpetually hard to please Cahiers du Cinéma loved it and the hip Les Inrockuptibles was favorable. Screened for this review as part of the NY Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, March 2018. Dumont, appearing with an excellent translator for the Q&A and speaking in mellifluous French, was almost more entertaining than his film. He explained his attitude toward religion and his working method with an engaging and personal kind of clarity that reinforced the admiration I've felt for this amazing artist from the very beginning.

    Dumont (left) with interpreter at Q&A after screening [CK photo]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-11-2020 at 11:53 PM.

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    Noémie Lvovsky's intimate and knowing portrait of the love between a young daughter and her mad mother

    This new film by the cinematic powerhouse Noémie Lvovsky (who acts, writes, and directs) is a poetic reflection of her own past as the loving and loved child of a mother whose touch on reality was never strong and growing weaker. The film was threatened with cancellation when more than half done after the young star Lucie Rodriguez, who plays Mathilde the daughter to Lvovsky's mother, had to permanently withdraw due to foot surgery. The film was saved by cutting out a hunk of the scenario and injecting an adult Mathilde. Anaïs Demoustier, a young actress with an impressive CV (Bird People, for one) took on this role - and bears a remarkable resemblance to Rodriguez.

    One French critic (Nicolas Marcadé, Les Fiches du Cinéma) says Lvovsky curbs here her usual wildness as a writer. Perhaps. Nonetheless, the film's eccentricities create a distance that make it unrelatable at first. Mathilde is first seen in a meeting between her teacher and her mother, who spends the entire time wondering how to say most elegantly in French, "I didn't know what this meeting was for." As she leaves she turns badk and tells the teacher, "I'm not a good mother." The teacher answers, "I'm sure you are doing the best you can." Yes but that's not very good, as we now learn. Next Mathilde's mother doesn't come home till very late and when she does, arrives disheveled in a wedding dress and veil she has bought at a department store. Her husband (Mathieu Amalric, excellent) has moved out some time ago.

    This is no ordinary depression. Mathilde's mom lives in another world, one we never enter, and she often literally wanders off. Mathilde has to fix her own meals. She takes refuge not in school, which she doesn't like, and where the other kids make fun of her, but in her own fantasies. When her mother gives her a small pet owl, the bird - as well-realized a character as the film has - the owl, for Mathilde, develops a full-throated human male voice (Micha Lescot) and talks to her; his advice at some points turns out to be crucial. Mathilde, who is dressed in beautiful brightly colored elegant French children's clothing, is moved to steal the school's instructional skeleton and bury it in a park, with all due ceremony.

    All this seemed a skittish and frivolous approach to madness. But by the end of the film, one realizes that Lvovsky knows whereof she speaks and one has got a keen sense of the helpless feeling the child of a mad but much loved and cherished parent is like. And the mother played by Lvovsky with a mix of warmth and distance becomes a very real presence.

    The turning point for me comes when Mathilde, in a fury of rage and frustration at her mother's failure to come home for the Christmas dinner she has tried and failed to prepare, sets fire to the living room curtains. Only the owl's frantic instructions save the flat. It's a remarkably achieved sequence, and finally it all begins to seem serious and real.

    Things get so bad, Mathilde's father comes to the flat to help move her mother to a sanatorium in his modest car as is her mother's wish. Tellingly, she informs him she has seen this coming at least as far back as before Mathilde, who is nine, was born. This sequence is a kind and tender one.

    There are no histrionics in this film, and there is no sentimentality. This admirable restraint makes up for passages, like the owl-to-daughter dialogue, that fail to convince.

    Demoustier's young adult Mathilde visits her mother at the asylum and their sympathetic dance in the rain is a metaphor for their enduring communication and love. Lvovsky has said in an interview in Libération athat her late mother's memory is so alive she could "still draw the shape of her fingernails." "She was a poetic personality, very intelligent, like an ascetic, incapable of having a social life. She made me tink of Marguerite Duras."

    Tomorrow and Thereafter/Demain et tous les autres jours, mins., debuted as the opening night film at the Locarno Festival, Aug. 2017. It opened in French cinemas 27 Sept. 2017 to only fair reviews (AlloCiné 3.2), but critics nonetheless said kind things. Screened for this review as part of the New York UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2018.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2018 at 08:04 PM.

  7. #7
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    THE SOWER/LE SEMEUR (Marine Francen 2017)



    Women without men

    The film, which debuted at San Sebastian last September, was favorably reviewed there in Hollywood Reporter by Neil Young, who found "seeds of plentiful promise" in it for both its debutantes, lead actress Pauline Burlet and director Marine Francen. This is an historical drama, focused on a young woman of marriageable age in a small town in the Alps in 1851, when that town is cruelly robbed of all its men following the repression of an uprising that leads to the town being cut off. The women make the unusual pledge that if any man arrives, he will become a "semeur," a sower of seed, for all of them so they may bear children. This story, based on a sketchy but poetically worded text found by the filmmaker (who had to invent the characters except one woman), seems implausible, almost like science fiction. But what Francen does with it is impressive, with images out ofJean-François Millet, as the women are beautifully seen hand-harvesting grain, and situations out of D.H. Lawrence, with the emphasis on passionate feelings and simple, intense sexuality and love. The images are simple - there isn't great variety - but they are beautiful, to fit with the simplicity and purity of the needs and feelings expressed.

    This is an economical production. The most challenging scene to shoot comes at the outset when Francen shows us soldiers of Napoléon III rounding up the men of this village and leading them away. For most of the film they don't know if the men are alive or dead or if any of them will ever come back. Focus is on the hand harvesting of the grain, and discussions between the women, with a few emerging. Foremost is Violette (Pauline Burlet). It is she whose text the movie is based on. All the activities are "among women." They can bare their legs if they want: there are no men to find it indecent. In this atmosphere of boldness the idea of using any man who comes along to get them pregnant, so the village won't die out.

    According to Neil Young, the source is a 38-page volume called L'homme semence ("The Seed Man") published in 2006, written in 1919 by Violette Ailhaud when she was in her eighties, left to her female relatives to be in their hands in 1952, a century after the events she recounts. As Francen has said, the mid-nineteenth century and towns decimated by the forces of the emperor aren't a time and a place about which much is known.

    The Sower has a quality of the simple and elemental found in French films like Frédéric Fonteyne's Gilles Wife, in which I, and Roger Ebert (who wrote a lovely review of it) discovered the face of Emmanuelle Devos (and it was an autumn in Paris when the young Clovis Cornillac, who played Gilles, shone). The elements here are classic and the feel is intense and physical without being realistic. The mountainous region of The Cévennes acquires a glowing luminosity in the cinematography of Alain Duplantier.

    After the women, or some of them - but it must get around - make their, at first rather jocular, pact, a man does appear, who says his name is Jean and that he is a blacksmith (Alban Lenoir). He is bearded, robust, and thirty-nine. One woman says she'd hoped for someone younger. But they acknowledge that he is a good-looking man. Circumstances lead him to be most connected with Violette. He has a place to himself. They make it clear how welcome he is, but not their plan. Violette brings him food, they form a connection, and they make love, and fall in love. It becomes clear that he has turned up because he is wandering and is in hiding from something. Thus his status is uncertain. But he stays.

    The issue becomes the clash between Jean's "function" for the village women, and the strong love that has developed between him and Violette. There must be much sacrifice on all sides. Violette is also the only woman - now the only person - in the village who can read and write. She becomes a teacher for the children but more importantly she and Jean, who also is literate (is he really a blacksmith?) and they bond and make love over reading poetry of Victor Hugo in bed. This is one of the movie's most original touches.

    The movie shines, literally, with its many scenes of sunshiny work in the hay, which may be sweaty and grueling but seem mainly idyllic, and really more cheerful and light and unsentimental than Jean-François Millet's iconic images. Some may think of The Beguiled and Black Narcissus; for me D.H. Lawrence was the best association, and the film's best feature its quiet lyricism. The thought of science fiction brings up a certain implausibility, a lack of relatableness that is The Sower's weakest point. But that there is style and remarkable boldness and accomplishment here is absolutely certain.

    The Sower/Le semeur, 100 mins., debuted at San Sebastián, winning the valuable New Directors Prize there, and opened in Paris 17 Nov. 2017 when it received lukewarm reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.1), but Les Inrockuptibles' Serge Kaganski admired its lack of the heaviness usual with costume dramas and thought it "a first film of a proud and stubborn originality."

    Francen with programmer Dennis Lim and interpreter
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2018 at 12:27 PM.

  8. #8
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    PETIT PAYSAN (Hubert Charuel 2017)



    The dilemma of a small dairy farmer in a cruel world

    The film, originally given the unappetizing English title Bloody Milk, is about a young French small dairy farmer. Pierre Chavanges (Swann Arlaud, whose sensitive, anxious face the camera loves) is bachelor in his mid-thirties who has taken over the farm from his aging (but still ever-present) parents. Little ready to consider the romantic interests of Angélique (the arresting India Hair), the local lady baker pushed upon him by his mother, he lives and breathes the herd 24/7. Pierre treats his cows like persons, and calls them all by their names. In the surreal opening scene we see him literally waking up with the house full of cows. It's just a dream, but shows this filmmaker has a subtle flair. The sequence is the better for being understated. It introduces a movie of quiet power and conviction.

    Pierre discovers to his horror that his herd is becoming infected with a dangerous disease - "the Belgian disease," hemorrhagic fever, which is spreading locally, and tries to hide it, because if he let it be known, the health department would order the destruction of the entire herd and he would be ruined. His sister Pascale (Sara Giraudeau) is a veterinarian, which could be an additional danger, or a source of support. She is initially reassuring. But then, if she finds out his suspicion was correct, he's in trouble. He's not ultimately helped by a Belgian farmer with a YouTube channel, who's lost his

    Petit Paysan was reviewed at Cannes for Variety by Pamela Pianezza. She notes that the tension "mounts during the first two-thirds of the movie," but is hard to sustain thereafter. He kills and buries the first two infected cows. As Pianezza notes the first cow "execution" is "shot like a murder scene," and at this point the film has the air of a thriller; this is "one of the film's strongest moments."

    Charuel has some trouble sustaining the suspense toward the end of the film, in Pianezza's view, but she still feels the script (co-written with Le Pepe of Love at First Fight/Les combattants, "keeps its promises, portraying a desperate dairy farmer who, while not as complex or explosive as the one Mattias Schoenaerts embodied in Bullhead, remains a compelling and rarely seen character in French cinema." The son of dairly farmers who might have taken over their farm as Pierre does but chose to attend La Fémis instead, Charuel knows whereof he speaks and this film is a labor of love. He draws extensively on his own rural French upbringing for the film, and in fact shot it on his parent's land. This aspect brings to mind Francis Lee's excellent recent film God's Own Country, shot in his native Yorkshire near where he still lives. I loved this film, even if it may seem to fizzle out a bit toward the end.

    The title, Petit paysan ("Small Peasant [farmer]") points to the fact that Pierre is part of a dying breed, a small farmer struggling to survive in a world where agribusinesses have taken over. If there is an air of desperation about Pierre's plight and the situation he is in is horrible, it's just a ramping up of the situation many family farmers face.

    Petit Paysan, also known as Bloody Milk 90 mins., debuted in Cannes Critics Week May 2017; also in a half dozen other international festivals, opened in French cinemas 30 Aug. 2017, and was then widely reviewed, with an AlloCiné press rating of 4.1. Screened for this review as part of the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2018.
    Showtimes March 11 1:00 PM
    March 14 4:00 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-11-2018 at 08:33 PM.

  9. #9
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    CUSTODY/JUSQU'À LA GARDE (Xavier Legrand 2017)



    Male violence in families, a feature based on research

    Well received at Cannes, Xavier Legrand's Custody/Jusqu'à la garde plunges the audience into an almost unbearable family situation of a bad dad and doesn't let go. It was reviewed by A.A. Dowd of AVClub and Boyd van Hoeij of Hollywood Reporter. Dowd says, "Custody doesn’t do much more than plunge the audience into this hellish situation, but it shrewdly understands the bad dad’s pathetic pathology, and the film may resonate for anyone who’s grown up under the unhealthy supervision of a mean bastard. Take that as a sobering recommendation."

    This is the actor Xavier Legrand's first feature as a director, which grew out of the plan for a series of shorts, specifically from one, 2013 short, Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), a 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Live Action Short, in which a mother flees a violent husband with her two children.

    The film begins with what we would call a custody hearing, here the Juge d'Instruction meets with the mother (Léa Drucker) and father (Denis Ménochet) - both of wom ere in the short in similar roles - of Julien (Thomas Gioria), with their lawyers (female) to decide whether the father, Antoine Besson, is to share custody of Julien. There is an older sister, Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux), but custody isn't an issue with her. A statement from Julien is read stating that he hates and fears his father and does not want to have any contact with him. The lawyer for Antoine is more forceful and articulate than Miriam's, the mothers, and though statements suggest Antoine is highly suspect, the other side lacks concrete evidence of his violent and threatening behavior. He has given up his job and moved to be near the children and his wife, which suggests he values them. Of course, in the event, it is only proof of an unhealthy obsession that makes him increasingly dangerous.

    This is the key scene, because it shows a faulty system. The judge decides Antoine can share custody. This proves horrible for the boy and ultimately dangerous for him and his mother. His sister is in process of getting pregnant at 18 and going off to form her own family with a young man. Why did the judge not see this was a dangerous man? Because the hearing was too short, and she did not receive enough information.

    The well-staged, horrific scenes of Antoine's hostile, menacing, invasive behavior are interrupted by a big party for Josephine's birthday, a sequence of almost violent and exaggerated merry-making that shows the first-time director's over-enthusiasm. In the smaller family scenes in cars and apartments he is impeccable, and shows the benefits of three years of careful research into the behavior of violent spouses. AS the chief victim at the center of this situation forced into a state of hypervigilance, Thomas Gloria is disturbingly convincing. At the Q&A after the film was shown at Lincoln Center, Legrand pointed out that every day and a half a woman dies at the hands of a violent man in France. It is his concern over this tragic situation and a broken system rather than personal trauma that led to his making this singularly unpleasant but unforgettable and significant film.

    Custody/Jusq'à la garde, mins, debuted at Venice Sept. 2017, showing next at Toronto and 20 other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2018. Released theatrically in France 7 Feb. 2018, it received rave reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.2). Metacritic rating 82%. It will be released by Kino Lorber in the US.

    Xavier Legrand (l.) at Q&A after screening
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2018 at 12:10 PM.

  10. #10
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    Portrait of a scatterbrained survivor loose in Paris

    My fall 2017 Paris Movie Journal entry on this film was as follows: La Fémis graduate Leonor Serraille's debut feature, made with a largely female crew, stars Laetitia Dosch of Justine Triet's 2012 The Battle of Solferino as an aimless young woman trying to get by in the Parisian neighborhood of the English title. The film, which is mainly a tour de force for its lead, who indulges every crazy whim yet implausibly juggles work in a cosmetics store and as an au pair and romances a handsome overqualified black security guard named Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2017 and won the Caméra d'Or prize. "It feels a bit like Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, minus the laugh-out-loud one-liners," wrote Peter Debruge in Variety. It's a feather in everybody's cap, if not a picture of impressive womanhood."

    On a second viewing at the 2018 New York Rendez-Vous with French cinema I could appreciate the accomplishment of Jeune Femme, writing, acting, and editing, while confirming the reasons why it left me largely indifferent. The lead actress Laetitia Dosch is up to the demands of every hysterical or deceitful moment of her character, and the movie flows from one borderline implausible situation to another. It's quite implausible for them all to happen together, to the same person, in a short period of time, between Paula's dramatic breakup with her boyfriend and their reunion after he decides he wants her back. But the editing makes the action hold your attention and flow from one scene to another.

    In Laetitia Dosch's virtuoso performance Paula is a ditsy mess, a chameleonic survivor who gets away with murder because she is young, though not as young as you may think, 31, or so (she lies about that, of course). It's hard to feel any empathy for this confused but durable character who quickly creates a emptiness around her wherever she goes, leaving secondary characters no time to take clear form.

    The social background of bourgeois Paris is only vaguely sketched in, subordinated like everything else to the character Dosch plays with élan. When a group of women get hold of a camera, why is his the kind of young woman they want to portray? She's not a model of anything but energetic confusion. When she interviews for the part-time job selling women's undies in a mall - where she meets the econ graduate working as a guard, Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) - she says she's "obsessive" about detail, and she tells her boyfriend Joachim Deloche (Grégoire Monsaingeon) she loves this job and doesn't want to leave it. But she also wants to go to university and study literature, though Joachim points out she's never finished a book. The other job storyline is playful, appealing, but implausible. A well-off woman lets her take charge of her little girl with no references. The spoiled little girl is inexplicably won over by her and doesn't want her let go despite her many mistakes. The cat - must every disheveled city wanderer have one in tow? - is a thread that only reminds us that this small feline is as rounded as any other character.

    Another implausible but momentarily entertaining riff is the temporary friendship with Yuki (Léonie Simaga), the dark-skinned, attractive lesbian who mistakes Paula on the Métro for an old school friend and takes up with her because Paula plays along. Yet another is the sudden on-off relationship with her long estranged mother.

    All these subplots hold the attention for a while, but they fail to add up to a distinctive mood. With so little actual character development, this movie's short run-time feels long. Did it really deserve to win the Caméra d'Or at Cannes? Probably not. One can't damn a first film this accomplished or a performance this attention-getting, but critically, Léonor Serraille got really lucky.

    Montparnasse Bienvenue/Jeune Femme, 97 mins., Cannes Un Certain Regard May 2017 winning the Caméra d'Or prize; at least 22 other international festival showings. Release in France 1 Nov. 2017. AlloCiné press rating 3.9; Metacritic rating 80%. Watched originally at UGC Odéon on opening day 1 Nov. Re-watched at the 2018 Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater 12 Mar. 2018.

    March 9 9:30 PM
    March 12 1:15 PM

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-23-2021 at 08:58 PM.

  11. #11
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    Absorbing, touching portrait of a young man from the provinces in Paris film school

    A Paris Education/Mes provinciales, if not for everyone, is a cinephile's and a French film fan's delight. As others have said, it's worthy of the tradition of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore and Philippe Garrel’s Regular Lovers - or some of Garrel's earlier films. Its politics among rival arts students strongly reminded me of Emmanuel Bourdieu's Poison Friends/Les amitiés maléfiques (NYFF 2006), particularly for parallels between two seductive, dominant, dangerous, and doomed central characters. The style and the themes here are so classic Civeyrac takes pains in a very early scene to refer to the candidate, Emmanuel Macron, to show this is happening right now.

    In A Paris Education/Mes provinciales Étienne (Adrianic Manet), is a long-haired, movie-mad young man of limited means but unlimited enthusiasm (though not without a healthy dose of self-doubt) who comes to the capital from the provinces, specifically working-class Lyon, to live the student life, French style, in film school. The film itself has an evocative "French movie" style, in widescreen black and white, scored with a lot of Bach like a film of the Nouvelle Vague.

    More than about love affairs or fledgling filmmakers, this is about that most French of activities, smoking and arguing. Ideas fly, and you actually pay attention to them. They are not mere decor to flesh out relationships and love affairs, but the cinematic equivalent of an intellectual bildungsroman. The French title itself, Provinciales, while alluding to the fact that Étienne and his closest friends are all from provincial French cities, Lyon, Rheims, etc., is an allusion to a book by Pascal that Étienne, who majored in Philosophy back home and studied the Pensées, has not read, and now wants to.

    Adrianic Manet is larger and blowsier than your usual young French star, big, long-legged, high-mounted, a bit like the young Depardieu, with a soft face that the camera loves enough to survive many tight closeups. He and his hometown girlfriend Lucie (Diane Rouxel) have been a couple for six years, a long, long time, and they pledge eternal loyalty - until absence makes the heart wander, especially in Étienne's case. He is a bit of a cocksman, with young ladies in and out of his room in the group flat faster than we can count. Notable early on is Valentina (Jenna Thiam), who is soon moving to Berlin, and is very vivacious and attractive - and interested.

    But at this point Étienne is trying to be faithful to Lucie, and he and Valentina part without a connection. The most important is Annabelle (Sophie Verbeeck), stronger minded and more moral than Étienne or his friends, a social activist who questions whether making films is enough of a contribution to the world. Eventually Annabelle becomes more fascinating to Étienne than any of the other young women. But that relationship will go astray like the others, only more painfully and memorably. The woman he will wind up with as a couple will come from left field, not a fellow student, someone he barely knew at first from a job.

    The young man who impresses and bothers the other film students is the super-confident Mathias (Corentin Fila, who had a central role in Téchiné's Being 17, and an original, unexpected choice for this role). He is very similar to Poison Friends' Thibault Vinçon (André Morney). Matias is a young man who seems brilliant and to whom both Étienne and his gay fellow film student pal Jean-Noël (Gonzague Van Bervesseles) are strongly drawn, and whom all admire or detest, but whose spirit and energy and compelling snap judgments wind up being more destructive than helpful. Like Thibault Vinçon, Mathias is mysterious, and somehow illusory. Étienne worships the elusive Mathias and considers him a key friend, even though he often disappears inexplicably, and his comments cause Étienne to destroy his first short film, begun in Lyon, more than a year's work.

    Jean-Noël is the opposite of Mathias, mild-mannered, supportive of all his classmates' filmmaking, and a willing collaborator who's a little in love with Étienne, and doubtless with the sexy, vivacious Mathias as well. Étienne will lose Jean-Noël as a friend because he thoughtlessly treats him as a shadow helper rather than a partner in his work. He suffers major losses just when he is beginning his second short film, showing filmmaking is a collaborative effort but also one that suffers many vicissitudes.

    The "faults" of this delightful and moving film are two. How can we keep track of all these young people, all these debates, all these changes of fortune? In being realistically comprehensive, Civeyrac loses artistic unity and clear focus. Second, the related flaw: his film is too long. One could end it any moment in the last twenty minutes. But it's to its credit that these moments all have enough meaning and weight to end with them.

    A Paris Education was reviewed at its Berlin debut in Hollywood Reporter by Jordan Mintzer. He says this doesn't avoid being more realistic, not the "whiny French film" one of the film students calls for, but it's no less compelling for that, and in it Civeyrac definitely finds his "voice" - at 53, after eight features - making this time "a sincere and very specific kind of coming-of-age tale that’s anchored in the performances of a committed young cast, many of them relatively unknown."

    It is hard for me to place A Paris Education in Civeyrac's oeuvre, after having seen and reviewed only two of the previous eight. The first was Through the Forest,, his sixth, from 2005, seen in my first New York Film Festival that year, a short, glamorous, dream-like fable that I found felt "tantalizing and incomplete." The second was My Friend Victoria (R-V 2015), an engaging and glossy, sophisticated but more mainstream family study based on a Doris Lessing story.

    One is left by Mintzer's review with the question: can a filmmaker be "finding himself" with feature film number nine? But if he is in that process at 53, and still teaching as he was in 2006 at the national film school La Fémis, that makes his involvement in these young men struggling with the beauties and challenges of cinema all the more moving and germane.

    A Paris Education/Mes provinciales, 137 mins., debuted Jan. 2018 in the Panorama section of the Berlinale It opens in French cinemas 18 Apr. 2018. Screened for this review as part of the March 8-18 2018 edition of the joint UniFrance, Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

    March 12 3:30 PM
    March 17 6:00 PM
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-07-2018 at 01:44 PM.

  12. #12
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    The heart is warmed by kids learning violin

    French movies aren't by any means always original or challenging. Here is one that fits in a familiar mode but just does the same thing over again - in French. It's a low-keyed, enjoyable little story we have heard in other forms before.

    Popular French comic Kad Merad, of Danny Boon's super-successful 2008 movie comedy Welcome to the Sticks/Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, takes on a more serious role here. He is Simon Daoud, a violinist hired to teach a special class in a Paris ghetto middle school to learn the violin well enough to play Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" at a public concert later in the year. They go from awful to implausibly good. We are touched. It's conventional but it works.

    Boyd van Hoeij of Hollywood Reporter sums up the result in his review written at Venice: "A sullen French-Algerian violinist tries to tame a rowdy Parisian class of immigrant and second-generation immigrant kids so he can teach them how to play the fiddle in La Melodie. For those who have seen Sergio Machado’s 2015 title The Violin Teacher, shot in the shantytowns of São Paulo, or, before that, Wes Craven’s East Harlem-set Music of the Heart with Meryl Streep, this will be an all-too-familiar tale — except that it’s now in French. Indeed, for much of the film’s running time, actor-turned-director Rachid Hami doesn’t seem interested in reinventing the wheel of the inspiring-music-teacher genre, which makes this unfussily assembled feature the cinematic equivalent of a pretty comfortable but also rather everyday sweater."

    There you have it. This is a movie genre, the heartwarming tale of ghetto kids tamed by classical music. It is surprising how glum comic Kad Merad is here, but he has a silence and a stillness and a propriety and reserve that are dramatically effective and all very French. Merad has an amazing presence. It's natural and innate, as is the equally strong presence of the kids, black, Arab, and white, whom Hami, a ghetto kid himself discovered for Kechiche's 2003Games of Love and Chance/L'Esquive, said he found "on the streets." There is a scene in a restaurant when one skinny black kid riffs and disses and the others answer back that is priceless: these kids play off each other naturally and fast.

    The movie has a central player Arnold (Alfred Renely), who cheats and fights to get into the violin class: it is his dream, and he is gifted and has a passion. His friend (sometimes) Samir (Zakaria-Tayeb Lazab) enters the story when his father (the grizzled Slimane Dazi of Audiard's A Prophet) pulls him out, and M. Daud visits his family and talks him out of that. His playing for them as a sample of violin music of a passage from Bach's suites for unaccompanied violin that is one of the most powerful moments in all of western classical music is powerful persuasion. Here as elsewhere this movie makes good use of closeups of tearful faces.

    Orchestra Class/Le mélodie, 102 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2017; showed at a handful of other international festivals. Opened in French cinemas 8 Nov. 2017, also in Germany, Colombia and Mexico. Mediocre-to-poor French reviews, AlloCine 2.9. Screened for this review as part of the New York Unifrance-FSLC Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, 14 Mar. 2018.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2018 at 06:35 AM.

  13. #13
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    Relationships, good and bad

    It may seem callous to find fun in a series of personal disasters, but it may be the only way to survive a movie like Gilles Bourdos' Endangered Species/Espèces menacés.

    The director of the arthouse bonbon Renoir tries something more ambitious in this, one where he seems to have been injected with a dose of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. This omnibus mashup of three Richard Bausch short stories doesn't have that movie's emotional resonance and depth of characterization, or for that matter its narrative complexity. But it's a rip-snorting, wild collection of somewhat intertwining storylines that keeps you watching, jaw dropped.

    We begin with a wedding night that goes memorably wrong. The young husband Tomas (Vincent Rottiers), who turns out to be a tree-trimmer, is covered with tattoos that make him look like a gangster. His behavior is strangely menacing and unfriendly. The bride Josephine (Alice Isaaz) is troubled. But she will turn out to be trapped in a hopeless addiction to a violent, abusive relationship. Rottiers is masterful at depicting a kind of madness that is more threatening because of his cleancut, mild appearance. Mélanie's parents will clash over this, and her father will pursue justice in his own way that takes us into thriller-horror territory.

    We also have: a mad woman, perhaps driven bonkers by her husband's disloyalty whose tall, virginal, Ph.D student son who juggles may be a bit mad too. There is Mélanie (Alice de Lencquesaing), a 23-year-old woman who enrages her father Vincent (Eric Elmosnino) with her telephone announcement that she's marrying Yann Peterson (Carlo Brandt), a professor, a man of 63, 18 years older than him, by whom she is pregnant. Josephine, the menaced young bride, turns out to be Vincent's new neighbor, and the virginal young Ph.D. student turns out to be Yann Peterson's advisee. Et voilà! It all makes sense, doesn't it?

    Hollywood Reporter's Boyd van Hoeij, writing from the film's debut at Venice, describes the film's storyline, structure, and strong and weak points in more detail.

    This is a film of virtuoso skill, both in the editing - we can follow all the plotlines clearly - and in the acting. It may arguably turn reality TV plotlines into arias, as Magnolia certainly does. But it reads as a trick. Its showing off amuses rather than moves. It's a game well played. No more. But that's plenty on some days.

    Endangered Species/Espèces menacés, 115 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2017; also shown at Helsinki and Taipei festivals, and opened in France 27 Sept. with mixed reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.2).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2018 at 06:48 PM.

  14. #14
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    A MEMOIR OF WAR/LA DOULEUR (Emmanuel Finkiel 2017)



    Reliving Marguerite Duras' unbearable wait

    "A Memoir of War" is a pretty limp version of the title of Marguerite Duras' typically obsessive, poetic memoir of the trauma of her Resistance husband's arrest during the last years of the War. The real title, an unforgettable one, is La douleur - Pain - and it rings out like a muffled scream. Emmanuel Finkiel has made an elegant, simple, yet stylized film version, presumably to introduce a younger generation to the book, and perhaps the writer. Duras' name is on many films for the writing, most famously Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour, which is a more important film and a better expression of the author's unique style.

    There are moments when the haunting, repetitive style comes out in the new movie. There are also times when Marguerite (Mélanie Thierry) reappears twice in the same room, and the camera shifts to the second figure of her - perhaps a visual objective correlative for the repeated refrains.

    Finkiel's film is simple, elegant, yet harrowing through its sheer length (127 minutes). It is also shot in extreme closeups, leading Cahiers du Cinéma's reviewer to claim - not without reason - that its model is the Hungarian Auschwitz monodrama, Son of Saul, or that the viewer makes a fuzzy re-edit of the two films into each other as she watches, a cannibalizing formalism turning Robert Antelme (Duras' Resistance husband taken away by the Nazis) into the hero of Son of Saul and nullifying both films. This conceit from Stéphane Delorme, Cahiers'critic, points to something we need to recognize. Finkiel's La douleur is a popularization, but also a formally very stylized one. One is never unaware of its visual gestures, its consistent look.

    This is an emotionally complex as well as exhausting story but also a simple one, with only three characters: Marguerite; Pierre Rabier (Benoît Magimel), the collaborator obsessed with her; and Dionys Mascolo (Benjamin Biolay), her husband's best friend. The two men are torments and foils for Marguerite. The whole process of obsessively pursuing news of her missing husband is saved from pure insanity by Marguerite's playing off the two men. Rabier is richly embodied by Benoît Magimel, who has grown blowsy and overweight, his face sensuous and dull, a façade we can't see past, and this is perfect because he is not quite real. This, as Delorme understood, is like Son of Saul a monodrama, and much of the action is going on purely in Marguerite's, the writer Duras', head, and, of course, the film is dominated by her, Thierry's voiceover.

    Thierry, at least for me, is the real surprise. Though it was far from her first appearance - she was in a number of TV films - she first drew attention as the titular Princess of Montpensier, well-served by the venerable and reliable Bertrand Tavernier, but a pretty young thing in a somewhat superficial movie (though it got her the "Meilleur espoir féminin" César), who began as an early school dropout to be in ads and do modeling. Who would expect her to be as weathered and war-weary, at only 37? It must be credited to dedication, and smoking a lot of cigarettes, as everybody does to excess in this film, even for French people. Joking aside, the bloom of girlish prettiness is off Thierry now, and she's ripe for serious roles from now on.

    This adaptation of Duras' autobiographical novel is made more specific here, naming actual names not mentioned by Duras. Here are the details. It's June 1944, and France is still under the German occupation. The writer and communist Robert Antelme, a major figure of the Resistance, is arrested and deported. His young wife Marguerite Duras, writer and resistant, is torn by the anguish of not having news of him and her secret affair with her comrade Dionys. She meets a French agent working at the Gestapo, Pierre Rabier, and, ready to do anything to find her husband, puts himself to the test of an ambiguous relationship with this troubled man, only to be able to help him. The end of the war and the return of the camps announce to Marguerite Duras the beginning of an unbearable wait, a slow and silent agony in the midst of the chaos of the Liberation of Paris. And the happy ending is perhaps not so happy, or a real ending.

    You can play this over and over and over in your mind, to understand it. You can read the book, preferably in French, and you can rewatch this film, which deserves our respect and is, properly, respectful toward its autobiographical novel source while judiciously avoiding hagiography. Highly recommended.

    The spare, angst-ridden score, evoking musique concrète, is by Nicolas Becker. The cinematographer is Alexis Kavyrchine.

    See Guy Lodge's more detailed review for Variety.

    A Memoir of War/La douleur, 127 mins., debuted at Angoulême Aug. 2017; three other listed festivals. Theatrically released in France 24 Jan. 2018 to raves from critics (AlloCiné press rating 4.0). Screened for this review at the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2018 at 09:05 PM.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    12 DAYS/12 JOURS (Raymond Depardon 2017)


    Law and mental illness in France examined at a key choke point

    By French law, anyone admitted into the hospital without their consent must be seen by a judge within 12 days. That judge must decide whether these psychiatric hospital patients can be allowed back into society. As Richard Brody of The New Yorker puts it, Depardon "sees the hearing room as a distorting mirror for civic life at large." The patients mostly request to be released, and it is not granted. Some of the patient-victims seem simply to have fallen through the cracks, and on the face of it to be no more crazy than many who live free. And this is troubling if not enraging. An important subject, but the film is repetitious and limited, and the famous documentarian Depardon might have found a more revealing, more complete, approach. This is what one sometimes feels with the exhaustive, exhausting, and ultimately hypnotic American documentaries of Frederick Wiseman. He tortures us with a selfless thoroughness that is in fact stylized limitation.

    12 Days/12 jours, 82 min., debuted at Cannes May 2017; ten other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the Mar. 2018 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York. The film has a continuing run at Anthology Film Archives.

    Raymond Depardon after screening
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2018 at 12:05 PM.

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