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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2020

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    THE TRUTH/LA VÉRITE (Hirokazu Koreeda 2019)

    HIROKAZU KOREEDA: THE TRUTH/LA VÉRITÉ (2019)

    Opening Night Film


    CATHERINE DENEUVE IN LA VÉRITÉ

    Koreeda jumps boundaries smoothly enough, carrying French divas

    Koreeda's first film outside Japan, in French, focuses on Catherine Deneuve as Fabienne (which incidentally is Deneuve's middle name), a French screen icon who has just published her memoirs, ironically called The Truth since they seem to contain very little truth. Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche, low keyed here but obviously a diva herself) differs with how her mother relates her life there.The men currently in her life also have issues with her. Disagreements come to a head at Fabienne's secluded house where Lumir comes with her TV actor husband (Ethan Hawke) and their young daughter. Hawke plays one of his amiable loser roles, the more thankless because his character doesn't understand French, which is what is mostly being spoken. The issues on the table could interfere with an upcoming project where Fabienne is already not comfortable about appearing with a young diva (Manon Clavel). Is Fabienne imperious, bitchy and jealous? Yes. Was this whole ting tailored as a vehicle for Deneuve? Bien sûr.

    There is general agreement that though this isn't a great film, Koreeda has jumped East-West boundaries smoothly enough. Jessica Kiang wrote for The Playlist that the director avoids the "potential for melodrama" and despite the "misleadingly grandiose title" the film sagely eschews the "grand, tormented revelation" in favor of "an accretion of little moments" that are "often very funny but also sometimes "a little sad," remaining well "embedded" in the lives of the film's "sharply drawn, idiosyncratic" personalities. That is true, but while Koreeda juggles all his subplots smoothly, this film feels ultimately rather inconsequential. A "grand, tormented revelation" might have been welcome. Yes, there are numerous amusing moments and some putatively sad ones. But this is a far cry from Koreeda gems like Maboroshi, After Life, Nobody Knows, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son, and the 2018 Cannes Palme d'or-winner Shoplifters.

    This isn't, as some say, one of Deneuve's best roles, because it's not embedded in an interesting enough plot. Libération, which wasn't impressed, calls this movie a "a kind of sitcom deluxe." It is a chance to watch a lot of Deneuve in a freer-than-usual self-satirizing mode. The scenes (and discussion) of the film-within-film, a sci-fi time-travel item where Deneuve's character's mother(Manon Claver) becomes younger than her daughter by living in space, seem too complicated, though obviously were deemed necessary to show Fabienne is still working, or trying to work, but finding doing so complicated for multiple reasons.

    The Truth, La vérité, 106 mins., debuted at Venice Aug. 2019 with a dozen international festival appearances following. At its French theatrical release Dec. 25, the AlloCiné press rating was a respectable 3.7 (74%), while the Metascore showing anglophone reactions is 71%. IFC releases the film in the US Mar. 20, 2020. Promotions are on view at IFC Center, NYC.

    Thursday, March 5, 6:30pm (Was to have been introduced by Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke)
    Thursday, March 5, 9:15pm
    (Binoche unlikely to be present due to Coronavirus travel concerns.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2020 at 10:21 AM.

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    PAPICHA (Mounia Meddour 2019)

    MOUNIA MEDDOUR: PAPICHA (2019)


    SHRINE BOUTELLA, AMIRA HILDA DOUAOUDA, LYNA KHOUDRI IN PAPICHA

    An artistic young woman's risky revolt against Islamic fanaticism in 1990'S Algeria

    Filmmaker Mounia Meddour's spirited, explosive, poetic first feature focuses on Algeria in the 1990's, known as the "Black Decade." This is a time when a civil war was going on and the spirit of Islamic fundamentalism was exerting a repressive influence on young women, and everyone else. There were random bombings and shootings and Taliban-like warning issued all the time. Papicha is an Algerian word that refers to a funny, attractive, liberated young woman. At the center of the film are four or five of these, all great friends, at the university, pretty, vibrant women who smoke, dress informally, go swimming in the sea, and generally have a wild time. They are being watched all the time by the self-appointed police of fundamentalist Muslim correctness. Several young men are attracted to the women, but within the social context this attraction is almost doomed to come to grief. There is also an attempted rape and an unwanted pregnancy.

    The protagonist, Nedjma (Lyna Khudri) is bound from the start, however, to exert her independence and express her talent as a designer of creative, individualistic dress designs. A series of violent attacks by the Islamic fanatics, particularly a gang of menacing women in black, including the murder of a close friend called Linda (Meriem Medjkrane), terrorizes the "papicha" gang. But that only strengthens Nedjima in her resolve to stage a provocative fashion show or défilé in the dining hall of the university on a Friday (a day when it's forbidden for women to congregate). Notices have been telling women they must wear the haik or traditional all-over body cover cloth (something like the Egyptian miyayya). This gives Nedjima the inspiration of making her défilé be a a series of radical secular variations of the haik, designs revealing flesh but with a hood that the models throw back.

    The scenes throughout this lively and very feminine film are so explosive and energetic they somehow overwhelmed my sense of a narrative; I felt exhausted at the end, and unfulfilled, though the dreamy, high-speed action among the young women in the first third and the propulsive, giddy way it's followed by the camera, remained a pleasant memory.

    Opinions are that adventurous camerawork, part expressionism, part poetic swoon, and vibrant mostly female leads (who seem 200% committed to their roles) help compensate for a script that runs into trouble in the third act when, after the last most violent climax, the filmmaker doesn't seem to know where to end and there are a series of anticlimaxes.

    The way the young women (and the young men who're interested in them) slide back and forth from French to Algerian Arabic is very expressive of their slippery, changing identities. The fundamentalists object vocally, among other things, to their speaking French, the "foreign," "European," colonial language. But for the women French may express culture, fashion, freedom, class, not to mention an escape from repressive interpretations of Islam. But they must use Arabic for daily contact with tradesmen and to talk about the most intimate things. To see French so long after the Algerian revolution of the Sixties still so important for some is enlightening.

    Director Mounia Meddour's mother is Russian and she was born in Moscow. Her father was Algerian director Azzedine Meddour, who died in 2000. Meddour received her audiovidual and cinematic training in France, preparing at the CEFPF (European Training Center for Film Production). She began with documentaries and shorts, then moved on to fiction.

    Papicha, 108 mins., in French and Arabic, debuted at Cannes May 2019 in the Un Certain Regard section, and it has had seven other international festival appearances. The French theatrical release was on Oct. 9, 2019, with a moderately favorable response (AlloCiné press 3.7 of 74%) and winning two Césars, for production design and Most Promising Female Newcomer (Meilleur Espoir Féminin) to lead actress Lyna Khudri. Papicha will be a Distrib release in the US.

    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema
    Friday, March 6, 1:45pm
    Thursday, March 12, 6:15pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2020 at 04:43 PM.

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    ALICE AND THE MAYOR/ALICE ET LE MAIRE ( Nicolas Pariser 2019)

    NICOLAS PARISER: ALICE AND THE MAYOR/ALICE ET LE MAIRE (2019)


    FABRICE LUCCHINI AND ANAÏS DEMOUSIER IN ALICE ET LE MAIRE


    Do ideas and politics mix?

    In a filmed interview prepared for the Rendez-Vous audience (because of restricted travel due to the coronavirus), director/writer Nicolas Pariser explained that he had two film ideas, one about a politician whose career has run dry, another about an intellectual young woman. He thought neither of them had enough weight in itself, so he decided to combine them into one film. So we got Alice and the Mayor. Then, it was important to get Fabrice Lucchini and Anaïs Demoustier, since the two actors were essential to his conception of the characters. Luckily, he got them. If he hadn't, he said, he might have tried to hire Isabelle Huppert as the mayor and Vincent Lacoste as the young intellectual.

    In the film as it was made, the mayor of Lyon, Paul Théraneau (Fabrice Lucchini), has spent thirty years in politics but for some time has felt uninspired. Somehow, we don't know how, he finds a brilliant young woman philosopher (actually a lit. doctorate but somehow teaching philosophy at Oxford now), Alice (Anaïs Demoustier), and persuades her to come back to her native Lyon to serve as his advisor.

    Anne's presence does stir things up. Pariser gives us a scene or two of the full-dress mayoralty in function, with Théraneau looking very bored. She starts giving him notes, the first of one is "More modesty." She becomes his confidante. Demoustier is great in this role, because she seems unflappable, calm yet fresh-faced, chutzbah plus cool. (Freckles add a lot.) Only when things get very complicated does Alice finally break down, and in time, this odd position has so much grown on her that when it's about to disappear, she's sad.

    This is an ideal vehicle for Lucchini, who always nudges the war of the sexes but whose great gift is for making ideas come alive - whether they are his or those of the French classics; or simply at highly articulate speech. In fact his beginning was as an actor for Eric Rohmer, and another point in the interview was that Pariser is a great fan of Rohmer, so he too is an inspiration, and having a Rohmer actor appeals to him. This also seems an improvement over Pariser's The Great Game (reviewed in R-V 2016), his debut, a political thriller that ran out of thrill two thirds of the way through. A different trajectory applies here because the mayor gets very jazzed up and develops great plans to become head of the socialist party, but when that falls through, he deflates again, no longer devoid of ideas but devoid of ambition, ready to become a professor, perhaps. In fact, there is no hint of anything sexual between Alice and the mayor: she has an old (boy)friend who comes and goes and dates a new one, a book publisher she admires when she learns of his focus on artisanal printing and well-made books, one small step away from a corporatized world.

    In his interview Pariser also said that he had to enliven the action (which still is very talky, especially by American standards): he could not shoot people sitting around at desks. In this film aides and a chief of staff, dynamic and authoritative woman of color called Isabelle (Léonie Simaga), are constantly calling on Alice and moving her to a new location to see the mayor. In this, Pariser said, he was inspired by Aaron Sorkin's "West Wing" (whose dynamic walk-and-talk sequences in the White House are justly famous).

    At some point there's a discussion of whether politicians have ideas. It's said that they only care about power, and don't have time for abstract thought.

    Somehow this is at least a mite better than Pariser's 2015 debut Le grand jeu (confirmed by AlloCiné 3.8 vs. 3.7, for various reasons. First, it frankly declares itself to be about ideas, which Pariser obviously is. Second, its central setup is engaging and simple and keeps a clear focus. Third, he actors. Actually, the relationship between the over-sixty man and the attractive thirtyish woman is resonant in itself, but is managed with good taste. The mayor's behavior is impeccable. They never even touch, until there's a friendly face-kiss only at the end, when they meet again some time later. This may be a heavy dose of French talkiness, but Rohmer and Sorkin might not have disapproved. Lyon is a pretty impressive city, by the way.

    Alice and the Mayor, Alice et le maire, 103 mins, debuted at Cannes May 2019 in Directors' Fortnight, and opened in French theaters in Oct., with an AlloCiné press rating of 3.8 (76%). Anaïs Demoustier won the Best Actress award for her performance at the 2020 Césars. She had won the 2011 Meilleure Espoir Féminin (Most Promising Newcomer) for [I]D'amour et d'eau fraîche/Living for Love Alone[/I] (R-V 2011).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-26-2020 at 12:55 PM.

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    THE BEST YEARS OF A LIFE/LES /l (claude lelouch 2019)

    CLAUDE LELOUCH: THE BEST YEARS OF A LIFE/LES PLUS BELLES ANNÉES D'UNE VIE (2019)


    JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT, ANOUK AIMÉE IN LES PLUS BELLES ANNÉES D'UNE VIE


    Long-delayed sequel

    Way back in 1966, 54 years ago, Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman projected the simple formula that title signals into one of the biggest French hits in America and worldwide and at home (Cannes Palme d'Or, multiple Césars). It was easy, almost more like a music video, and Lelouch had started off working on short films made for TV. And with that datada-dada-dada-datada-dada earwig theme by Francis Lai. The actors were class all the way, the glamorous Anouk Aimée and the brilliant Jean-Louis Trintignant. They're all three in their eighties now. Lelouch is the youngster, at 82; Trintignant is 89 and Aimée, though you can hardly believe it (she's still beautiful) is 87. So prepare for the sequel.

    The new plot line is realistic in its starting point, putting Trintignant in a home with dementia unable to remember his successes as a racing car driver, his Man and a Woman gig. Anne (Aimée) has long retired from producing films and runs a fabric shop in Normandy. It's Jean-Louis's son (Antoine Sire) who stirs the sleepy pot by bringing Anne to the home to visit Jean-Louis, to jog his father's dim memory to recall that long-ago, joyous affair. Jean-Louis, as is Trintignant usually in films, is feisty and difficult. But both are teasing and playful.

    I found myself wondering at the long first dialogue between them, out on the lawn where the aging Jean-Louis likes to sit alone by himself and recite poetry and muse on his memories - memories particularly of that time when he lived Anne. How did they remember this long exchange, which hardly makes any sense at times, since it keeps going back to zero when Jean-Louis forgets what's just been said. The script seeks to be a brooding, haunting, inspiring review of memories of a life. Or it's simply a review of Lelouch's greatest hit. The title points to a prosier and more plodding style than the original. And the images are less lustrous than its are, as flashback clips make only too clear.

    For a while, there's a hint of Beckett, with a romantic gloss. Or Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad: Didn't I know you once? Why do you look familiar? You remind me of someone I once loved. And Anne makes it so much better because - and this too is romantic - she doesn't just doggedly insist she's the woman he once knew, but is cagey, instead. Gradually Jean-Louis starts to catch on and remember better, dreams of driving and eventually goes on drives with Anne, who likes this so much she keeps coming back for repeat visits. Jean-Louis starts functioning so well that the attractive woman director of the home, who says he's her pet ("though I should not say such things") begins to think maybe he is playing with his dementia, pretending it's worse than it is.

    And so on. I found this fun, teasing and touching, and it is filled out by details about the grown-up daughter of Anne (Souad Amidou), a vet specialized in horses (cue pretty equine shots), and her and Jean-Louis' son's cute kids. And there are the flashbacks using clips from A Man and a Woman. But then you realize the material is thin, and Lelouch is doing things to fill it out, such as running his famous 1976 single take short film, C'Était un rendez-vous, of his high speed early morning race across Paris, which he spreads out by slicing it up between other shots, pretending that it was an exploit of Jean-Louis'. But this is cheating, and doesn't even work very well - though still, the sequences of the Anne/Jean-Louis present day drives somehow have a bit of the old magic, or at least a feel of being real, and taking us away from the monotony of the home and the flashback clips.

    I admit it: I enjoyed a lot of this film, because of the layered effect, and Trintignant and Aimée. And in the clips, you remember that Aimée was astonishingly beautiful back then, and that helps explain her enduring beauty today, and that the hair that was so great, is still pretty great, and dyed to look the same color. "Why are you prettier than I am?" asks old Jean-Louis. And Anne answers, "Because I use more makeup."

    This sequel that has been called "treacly," saccharine," and "corny," (was the original any different?) still has one thing going for it, the class of its two stars. We can be glad they're still around. But let's face it, the juice has gone out not just of the love story but of Lelouch's skill as a filmmaker, which never was quite of the first rank. Lelouch, obviously, and maybe we should be glad, because it's already been done, hasn't the guts to do a searing examination of love among the elderly as Michael Haneke did in his difficult but superb film starring Trintignant, Amour (NYFF 2012). That was about faithfulness to the end; this is about something less related to the long haul, remembering a romance, or trying to. But memory is an issue we all face as we age, a complicated one this film does something with. So cut it a little slack. And enjoy Trintignant's feisty edge, his razor grin, and Aimée's big eyes and swept back hair.

    The Best Years of a Life/Les plus belles année d'une vie, 90 mins., debuted in Competition in May 2019 at Cannes; four other festivals, but it didn't make any big ones.. Its May French theatrical release was a moderate success (AlloCiné Spectators score 3.6, Critics 3.4 (68%)).

    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema:
    Saturday, March 7, 3:45pm (Q&A was originally planned with Claude Lelouch and Valérie Perrin but did not take place)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-08-2020 at 09:21 AM.

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    SPELLBOUND/LES ENVOÛTÉS (Pascal Bonitzer 2019)

    PASCAL BONITZER: SPELLBOUND/LES ENVÔUTÉS (2019)


    SARA GIRAUDEAU, NICOLAS DUVAUCHELLE IN LES ENVOûTÉS

    Mixing sex and ghosts

    In this film very freely adapted (with a tricky timeline) from Henry James's short story "The Way It Came" (which he retitled "The Friends of the Friends") Coline (Sara Giraudeau), a freelance writer for a women's magazine, is sent on the "story of the month" to the depths of the Pyrenees to interview Simon (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a gruff, solitary artist who may have seen his mother's ghost appear to him at the moment of her death. Coline is especially curious since her beautiful neighbor Azar (Anabel Lopez) has claimed to have seen her father's ghost at his passing. In the event, Simon tries to seduce Coline during the course of the evening, which she resists; but she falls for him anyway.

    Bonitzer wrote many scripts for other notable directors and has by now directed many films. But of Right Here, Right Now (R-V 2017) I wrote, "there lingers a certain suspicion that this famous screenwriter (who's worked most for Téchiné and Rivette, but many others including Raoul Ruiz, Chantal Akerman and Barbet Schroeder) isn't quite as good a director as he is a writer: another person at the helm of this film might have provided it with more warmth and umph."

    Nicolas Devauchelle however is a sexy French actor who has an outsider quality about him enhanced by a lot of prominent tattoos and a strong presence. He has gotten to act for some of the best, Téchiné, Resnais, particularly Claire Denis: he has a hot segment in Denis' recent Let the Sunshine In. His debut was in Beau Travail. He has had a great twenty-year career, and he's still only 39. As the remote, but sure-footed Simon, he does not disappoint.

    Nor does Sara Giraudeau, till the scenario leads her astray. Sara, who is 34, daughter of an actress and writer mother and (deceased) movie director father, has a decade of film roles behind her. She isn't pretty in the face, but resembles a Modigliani nude, with a thin but perfectly shapely body, which we get to see: her friend Azar, at some point, does a small painting of her unclothed, and she's seen in bed with Simon. Coline is marginal but somehow touch, as a freelance writer on a failing magazine must be. Why does she come apart? Too many inexplicable spirit phenomena, perhaps?

    Les Envoûtés combines elements of the supernatural with those of romantic thriller (a French critic, Emilie Leoni, poetically calls it a "mélo aux frontières du fantastique".) Jean Serroy of Le Dauphine Libéré, also cited by AlloCiné, wrote, "If there is a spell, it's an amorous and not supernatural one, and therefore rather banal and boring; but Sara Biraudeau and Nicolas Devauchelle are an enchanting couple - why not love them?" But there is never any clear logic in the behavior of either person, though ultimately it is the initially more "normal" Colline who goes most off the rails.

    Initially this film has an appealing free-flowing quality, but later scenes are so off the wall it becomes frustratingly unrelatable. This film has more than its share of the inexplicable and seemed to me unduly complicated. I gave up caring. As Coline's best friend, Sylvain (Nicolas Maury of "Call My Agent") helps with warmth and humanity otherwise lacking.

    Spellbound/Les envoûtés, 101 mins., was released Dec. 11, 2019 in France. Its AlloCiné press rating was a poor 3.0 (60%).

    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema:
    Sunday, March 8, 4:00pm (Q&A originally planned with Pascal Bonitzer; a filmed one was substituted that did not satisfy.)
    Friday, March 13, 9:15pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2020 at 11:00 AM.

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