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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2020

  1. #16
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    JOAN OF ARC/JEANNE (Bruno Dumont 2019)

    BRUNO DUMONT: JOAN OF ARC/JEANNE (2019)


    LISE LEPLAT PRUDHOMME IN JEANNE

    Numbing history

    I have followed Bruno Dumont faithfully for many years, even when he's made dramatic shifts of direction with his comic "Quinquin" series and the grotesque "Slack Bay" film, and even the nutty rock-rap fantasy (staged on the sand dunes along a northern sea) about the young Joan of Arc. But with his full-on sequel to that oddball riff on the sainted Joan's early years, Jeannette, entitled Jeanne, he has run off the rails too far and I cannot follow. (Both this and the previous film are inspired by plays by Charles Péguy.)

    This would be a funny film if it weren't so boring. Mind you, I am full of admiration for the young actress Lise Leplat Prodhomme, who plays the peasant girl inspired by holy voices to lead French armies for King Charles successfully against his rivals and the English, but who, after her victorious operations faltered, was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. Leplat Prodhomme has presence, and speaks always with plenty of conviction. Her passionate commitment to her role is unquestionable, her confidence, her simple, inner faith. When the camera looks her in the eye, she stares right back. It's as intense a gaze as you'll ever see in a film. She could become an actress, with such presence. The trouble is that, especially in the taxing opening sequences, she sometimes seems to be mechanically reciting her lines, looking into space. Nonetheless at the end she seems to embody the role.

    But there's a worse problem. The fifteenth-century Jeanne d'Arc was young. But records tell us she was nineteen. Lise is only ten years old now. She's not only too young, but looks too small to lead an army.

    More than half this over-long film is devoted to the trial of Joan of Arc, and it's a disaster. As Nick James points out in his BFI review this trial was one of the most fascinating court cases in history: it absorbed "Villon, Voltaire, Southey, Schiller, Coleridge, Thérèse of Lisieux, Mark Twain, Shaw, Brecht (three times), Anouilh and many others." It's been the subject of film classics by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson, Victor Flemiing (with Ingrid Bergman), Otto Preminger (Jean Seberg's shaky start), as well as Rossellini, Paul Verhoeven, Jacques Rivette, Luc Besson and many others. Bruno Dumont has reduced it to a lengthy and tedious procedural, explaining all the little details, minus any drama other than Joan's stubborn and monotonous determination not to reveal what her voices have told her.

    The actors are often buffoonish, but without being funny as in a "Monty Python" episode, which the action here otherwise often resembles. Instead of laughing we pinch ourselves to stay awake and ask how much longer this self-conscious silliness is going to go on. The answer is way, way too long.

    Dumont persists in using pairs of odd looking, mismatched men with speech defects. Dolled up in flowing outfits from Central Costumes Rental, in velvet robes and dangling gold medals and cozy cloth caps, a duo of these overdressed, slightly off-key non-actors enthusiastically mumble or jaw their complicated lines listing all the celebrity clerics arriving for the trial. One is tall, and his whole face jiggles when he talks. His interlocutor is short and goofy. This is a bad beginning for the trial sequence that should be so momentous.

    As the trial begins, Prodhomme's childlike conviction impresses. But as the proceedings unfold seemingly in real time, they become tedious.

    The production, despite crystal-clear cinematography by David Chambille, doesn't compensate for these failings. Shooting the early scenes in the dunes again, where Dumont filmed a lot of his 2016 TV miniseries "Li'l Quinquin" and his four features since then, becomes absurd when Jeanne and various men must stumble through the sand in full armor. The prison Jeanne is held in is a World War II seaside bunker, providing a crude contrast to the grand setting of the trial, which is filmed in Amiens Cathedral in lieu of Rouen, where it actually took place.

    The cathedral setting looks beautiful. But it rings false for anyone paying attention, because Amiens is full of glorious gilded baroque decor dating from at least two hundred years later than 1431, the year of the trial. We could overlook such incongruities if this were an interesting script and these were convincing actors, but such is not the case.

    The interruption of lip-synched musical numbers composed by the French Seventies rocker Christophe, once famous for his melodic high-pitched ballads, does nothing but slow down the torpid action and render it more absurd.

    This whole experience reminded me of my childhood, when my family lived in Williamsburg, Virginia and we attended the historical pageant put on there, with local participants, depicting the history of the early colonies, when Williamsburg was the capital. It was called "The Common Glory," and it went on interminably, with all those amateur actors dutifully reciting their lines.

    Jeanne, 137 mins., debuted May 2019 at Cannes in Un Certain Regard, and it was included in at least seven other festivals. The French theatrical release was 11 Sept. 2019. The Paris critics liked it (AlloCiné press rating 3.9 or 78%) - but the AlloCiné spectators poll is 2.2 or 44%, showing a thoroughly unhappy French public. Included in the March 2020 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York (co-sponsored by UniFrance and Film at Lincoln Center), for which it was meant to be reviewed for Filmleaf. But the series was cancelled midway due to the coronavirus pandemic, and this was one of the seven films I had yet to see when that happened. It is now being released in digital and on-demand, currently offered by Film at Lincoln Center (sponsors of the Rendez-Vous) on Festival Scope, whereby it was screened for this review. The Anglophone critics have disliked it even more than the AlloCiné spectators: the Metascore is 23%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2020 at 09:24 AM.

  2. #17
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    ISADORA'S CHILIDREN/LES ENFANTS D'ISADORA (Damien Manivel 2019)

    DAMIEN MANIVEL: ISADORA'S CHILDREN/LES ENFANTS D'ISADORA (2019)


    AGATHE BONITZER IN LES ENFANTS D'ISADORA

    The preparation and witnessing of a dance fraught with tragic emotion

    The modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), though her performance life was brief, was an immense cultural figure in France and America and beyond in the early twentieth century. In 1913 she lost her two young children, Deirdre Beatrice, seven, and Patrick Augustus, three, in a tragic accident when they were with their nanny and a runaway car submerged in the Seine and they drowned. Isadora was devastated, and for a time could barely move. After several weeks in Corfu with here two siblings and in Viareggio with the equally immense and controversial Eleanora Duse, Isadora's artistic response (but not till eight years later, in 1921) was to create "Mother," a dance expressing her feelings about the loss of her children. She composed the dance in Russia, where she had gone to live after the Revolution, to the music of Scriabin's Etude Op.2 No. 1 (played here by jérome Petit). Isadora's Children/Les enfants d'Isadora recreates the staging of this dance at the present time, over a hundred years later, from multiple viewpoints.

    This film's segmented action focuses on four women, a fledgling choreographer (Agathe Bonitzer) who learns of the dance from Duncan's memoir and searches it out in Laban's dance notation (seeing that in a film is a first in my experience); an Italian dance teacher and choreographer (Marika Rizzi)), who works together with a young student with Down's Syndrome, (Manon Carpentie); and a venerable member of the audience (seventy-one-year-old dancer and choreographer Elsa Wolliaston), herself a parent who has lost a child, but also a great figure of contemporary dance now long in retirement, who sees the dance performed and takes it home with her, deeply moved, to perform a few of its eloquent gestures in her room.

    The first part focuses on Bonitzer, an alabaster redhead with prominent nose, always alone (though there is another body in her bed at night), assiduously studying the Laban notation, practicing the dance through October and November in an immaculate dance studio, first with only street sounds, then to Scriabin's solo piano. She makes notes. "Bercer une dernière fois" (cradle one last time), and in the dance, she is cradling empty space. The mood is contemplative and peaceful. Children playing and a parent with a child are glimpsed.

    The dance is to be performed, a program shown us tells, at the Carré Magique in the town of Lannion, in Brittany, Wednesday, November 28, 2018. The next thirty minutes, though, consist of Rizzi teaching Manon, in the practice part of the hall. We learn that Rizzi herself has a son and daughter, both away in high school and beyond in other countries, and she misses them. The lessons seem elementary, and we get only that Manon says she is more relaxed in front of an audience, and Rizzi gets frustrated and lectures her that she must go slower and identify much more intensely with the feeling of the dance. "Cradle one last time." Manon listens to the Scriabin with headphones traveling home on a train.

    This is rather a disappointment after the contemplative intro from Bonitzer, which leads us to expect something more exciting, surely, than these sketchy instructions, this sensitive but limited student. But Rizzi is a patient teacher, and Manivel is a patient observer. This only works if we slow. Way. Down. The best moment shows Manon performing alone, and we can absorb the Scriabin and its sublime melancholy - Chopin meets Rachmaninoff.

    Then the performance, which we don't see: instead we look at faces in the audience - a good passage, again teaching us calm and contemplation. The last face is that of the only black lady we see, Elsa Wolliaston, with tears running down her cheeks. When it is over she leaves, walking with a cane, sometimes with considerable difficulty. Here is another dancer, then, like the late Merce Cunningham, doomed to end life hobbling. The last eighteen minutes are devoted to Elsa, Jamaican-American dancer, actor, and cultural figure, resident in France, and influential, from 1969, a figure in African dance developed in Europe in the Seventies. These minutes are drenched in pathos, and they are slow.

    Some of the French critics were themselves quite moved by the film. But Arthur Champilou of aVoir-aLire.com believed its blurring of the line between documentary and fiction doesn't work, because "the line between the two is too thin this time" and "the spectator does not know with which eye to look at it." Moreover, he argues, the director "doesn't manage to develop a real plot around his subject," and does not "deal with issues other than those specific to the artist in the middle of his work." "Les Enfants d'Isadora is an unclassifiable film... in the wrong sense of the word." Mathis Badin in Cahiers du Cinéma, as quoted on AlloCiné, simply says that "A certain explanatory heaviness - at times carried to the limits of tautology - dissipates the strangeness that has been the charm of the filmmaker's previous work."

    In extenuation one may mention that Damien Manivel is himself a dancer. He was overwhelmed by the dance, its dramatic origins, and the living response to it, and could not be bothered to make a conventional film, either documentary or fictional. Jean-Christophe Ferrari may best describe what Manivel is doing, in ideal terms, when he says his aim is to make us feel "how a body, little by little, allows itself to be affected by the story it is charged with telling."

    Manivel simultaneously touches on dance, through this one dance, from multiple angles - learning, mastery, performance, witness, and memory - and many viewers (and reviewers) have noticed how the film dwells on little disparate details, and is composed of them.

    A minor, but still worthy, addition to the cinematic literature of dance, and modern dance in particular. But Isadora's Children will be simply much to slow for many viewers.

    Isadora's Children/Les enfants d'Isadora, 84 mins., debuted at Locarno in Aug. 2019, where director Damien Manivel won the best directdor award, and showed in five other festivals. The French theatrical release Nov. 20, 2019, with an AlloCiné press rating of 3.6 (72%). It was also included in the March 2020 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York (co-sponsored by UniFrance and Film at Lincoln Center), for which it was meant to be reviewed for Filmleaf. But the series was cancelled before it was over due to the coronavirus pandemic, and this was one of the seven films I had yet to see when that happened. It is now being released in digital and on-demand through its distributor Shellac, currently offered by Film at Lincoln Center on Festival Scope, whereby it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-15-2020 at 10:19 AM.

  3. #18
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    THE SPECIALS/HORS NORMES (Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano 2019)

    OLIVIER NAKACHE, ÉRIC TOLEDANO: THE SPECIALS/HORS NORMES (2019)


    VINCENT CASSEL AND REDA KABTEB IN HORS NORMES

    114m
    French with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    This heartfelt comic drama from the directing duo behind The Intouchables (Rendez-Vous 2012) targets structural neglect in the French medical system. Bruno (Vincent Cassel) runs a shelter for autistic young people turned away by hospitals, while his friend Malik (Reda Kateb) mentors underprivileged youths seeking employment. Both men, based on real-life people, are constantly frustrated by the lack of consistent funding and institutional support—which eventually leads them to confront the government head-on. With help from a spirited ensemble, The Specials—the 2019 Cannes Film Festival’s closing night selection—crackles with fiery commitment as Bruno and Malik advocate for those living on the margins.
    French release 23 Oct., AlloCiné press raging 3.9 (78%)
    Saturday, March 14, 4:00pm
    Sunday, March 15, 8:45pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2020 at 09:44 AM.

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    SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE/DEUX MOI (Cédric Klapisch 2029)

    CÉDRIC KLAPISCH: SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE/DEUX MOI (2019)


    ANA GIRARDOT IN DEUX MOI

    Depression meets rom-com in Klapisch's Paris-set new film

    This film begins with a device that's at once neat and self-defeating: it continually oscillates between two lonely young people in Paris, a guy and a girl, with alienating jobs and resulting psychological issues who live next door and whose lives are in all ways parallel and depicted that way, but who don't come together or even notice each other till near the end. One can play with the parallelisms cinematically with shifts and cross-cutting, but where are you going to find depth working this timeline? The bulk of the film might almost be better as an abstract, wordless study, fifteen or twenty good minutes long. But we're dragged along for 110. This is one of Klapisch's least appealing movies. But given his innate curiosity and warmth, it has moments.

    As Nicolas Schaller writes in Le Nouvel Observateur this is a director always chasing the zeitgeist who's made his "most lackluster" film in search of its anomie. Klapisch (Schaller goes on) has always oscillated between "truths and clichés," "poetic apercus and ad slogans," the "profoundly ordinary and the no-big-deal." But luckily, he adds, "there are the actors." They are known and they are attractive. But by definition things drag on for ages before they "come together." We are miles away from the ebullience of L'Auberge espagnole and Russian Dolls.

    Klapisch has recently directed a couple of episodes of the popular Netflix series "Call My Agent" ("Dix pour cent") and he's recruited a couple of alumni for key roles, new French movie it boy François Civil as the depressed and insomniac warehouse worker Rémy Pelletier, and Camille Cotin (Andréa Martel in the show) as the shrink whom the similarly sad and listless young woman cancer researcher, Mélanie Brunet (Ana Girardot), is sent to by her doctor to consult. Rémy (an initially odd-seeming role for the usually affable and energetic Civil), who has a panic attack on the Métro and collapses after an unsuccessful rock climbing practice session, is sent to a shrink too, a chilly one who meets patients in what looks like a dirty hallway. He's played by the triumphantly glum François Berléand. Camille Cottin's office is decorative and cozy, with a Freud-style couch, no less. The contrast is playful given the other parallelisms and the shrink sessions provide background on the separated pair's lives and personalities, his survival guilt, her pain and the early departure of her father.

    Anyway, Mélanie and Rémy are being emotionally prepared, perhaps cleansed, for their getting together, which the modern generation's dependence on electronic interfaces like Facebook and Tinder do nothing to advance. This point, and the clichés about the impersonal nature of city life, show Klapisch being a bore. As the anonymous Variety critic writes, this director's "notions of technology dependency and urban malaise aren’t new or insightful anymore."

    Klapisch isn't wrong in suggesting that the nearby Middle Eastern market where both shop, with its tightly packed offerings and playfully combative but efficient Arab family team, could be a learning place and neighborhood contact point. The two live in a low-rent district near the Gare du Nord, and this provides chilly urban landscapes that provide welcome respite from conventional images of the City of Light.

    It's made clear that both characters have warmth to give. Mélanie cuddles with her girlfriends who introduce her to social media hookup possibilities. Rémy gets only incomprehension from his family in the French alps, but he's adorable playing with a cuddly white kitten foisted on him by a neighbor. Little by little there are hints. He smells her cigarette smoke, then hears her singing along with a song in the tub. And then when their shrinks have shaped them up, in the last ten minutes: Kompa class. Et voilà! Meet cute. FIN.

    Someone, Somewhere/Deux moi ("Two Me's), 110 mins., debuted Aug. 2019, Angoulême. It opened in multiple countries Sept. 2019-Mar. 2020. French release 11 Sept. , AlloCiné press rating 3.7 (74%). A Distrib Films release. The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center was ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic before I could see it, but it is now available as pay-for-view via Meetropolitan Virtual Theaters (Apr. 27, 2020).

    Scheduled Rendez-Vous showings were:
    Monday, March 9, 9:00pm (originally to include a Q&A with Cédric Klapisch)
    Saturday, March 14, 6:30pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-28-2020 at 12:27 PM.

  5. #20
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    SPREAD YOUR WINGS/DONNE MOI DES AILES (Nicolas Vanier 2019)

    NICOLAS VANIER: SPREAD YOUR WINGS/DONNE MOI DES AILES (2019)


    LOUIS VAZQUEZ IN DONNE MOI DES AILES

    113m
    English, French, and Norwegian with English subtitles
    U.S. Premiere
    Sulky teenager Thomas (Louis Vazquez) dreads spending summer with his father (Jean-Paul Rouve), an environmentalist in a rural, wifi-less hamlet. Much to his surprise, he grows attached to his father’s new project: an ambitious plan to train a flock of endangered geese to follow a new migratory path, avoidant of pollution and human-made threats. The duo embarks on a journey to the Arctic circle with an ultralight glider, which they’ll fly to guide the geese along their new route. Writer-director Nicolas Vanier (Loup) channels his passion for nature into this tale of our civic responsibility to protect it, a freewheeling adventure of both suspense and enlightening civic action.
    French release 9 Oct., AlloCiné press rating 3.3 ((66%).
    Sunday, March 15, 1:30pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2020 at 09:58 AM.

  6. #21
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    SOUTH TERMINAL/TERMINAL SUD (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche 2019)

    RABAH AMEUR-ZAÏMECHE: SOUTH TERMINAL/TERMINAL SUD (2019)


    RAMZY BEDIA IN TERMINAL SUD

    96m
    The haunting, experiential latest from Rabah Ameur Zaïmeche (Story of Judas, Rendez-Vous 2016) centers on a doctor (Ramzy Bedia) in nineties Algeria, which is rapidly becoming a war zone. He spends his days tending to the wounded and comforting the suffering, yet maintains a stoic neutrality toward the ambiguous conflict, resolving that his job is simply to help those in pain. But once he starts receiving death threats and horrors begin to encroach on his own life, his moral position is shaken. As each day’s work wears on the doctor, the inhumanity of the violence turns his life into a purgatory, pushing him to question whether or not more drastic action might be called for.
    French release 20 Nov., AlloCiné press 3.4 (68%).
    Wednesday, March 11, 4:00pm
    Sunday, March 15, 4:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2020 at 10:03 AM.

  7. #22
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    HAPPY BIRTHDAY/FÊTE DE FAMILLE (Cédric Kahn 2019)

    CÉDRIC KAHN: HAPPY BIRTHDAY/FÊTE DE FAMILLE (2019)


    CATHERINE DENEUVE IN FÊTE DE FAMILLE

    101m
    French with English subtitles
    New York Premiere
    Both buoyant and bittersweet, this perceptive ensemble piece directed by Cédric Kahn (whose Wild Life played in Rendez-Vous 2015) and headlined by Catherine Deneuve tests the ties that bind a family. Deneuve is matriarch Andréa, whose family comes together to celebrate her 70th birthday. Everything seems to be in order with her strait-laced son (Kahn) and his family, as well as with her more free-spirited son (Non-Fiction’s Vincent Macaigne), who plans to document the gathering on video. But when her mentally unstable daughter Claire (Emmanuelle Bercot, Cannes Best Actress winner for My King) reappears after three years, old resentments surface, not least from the teenager (Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Luàna Bajrami) Claire abandoned. Kahn coaxes mood swings of warmth and vitriol from his cast in a film that takes place over the course of one hectic day.
    French release 4 Sept., Allociné presds rating 3.3 (66%).
    Thursday, March 12, 9:15pm
    Sunday, March 15, 6:15pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2020 at 10:12 AM.

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