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Thread: 3 NEW FRENCH FILMS FROM KINO MARQUEE now on virtual cinema

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    Jul 2002
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    3 NEW FRENCH FILMS FROM KINO MARQUEE now on virtual cinema



    The online release of Kino Marquee is presenting three recent French films, a mix of comedy and otherworldly magic, chosen by the Alliance Française of New York. They play to internet browsers who may choose two virtual cinemas: New York's Symphony Space now; ando starting August 21, in Los Angeles' Laemmle Virtual Cinema. Special price: $8 per film.

    The three films are The Bare Necessity/Perdrix, a witty rom-com set in the Vosges region and the feature directorial debut of Erwan Le Duc; Burning Ghost/Vif-argent by Stéphane Batut , a poetic Paris-set meditation on the afterlife featuring a tall, hunky young dead man who is having trouble passing over; and Wonders in the Suburbs/Merveilles à Montfermeil/, the sophomore directorial effort of actress Jeanne Balibar, a philosophical farce that features Emmanuel Béart, Ramzy Bedia, Mathieu Amalric, Florence Loiret Caille, Balibar herself, and many others.

    Following are my reviews. The one of Burning Ghost was published earlier as part of the never-finished 2020 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. The others are new reviews.



    Opposites attract, as always

    The Bare Necessity is translator's word-play: it must refer to the revolutionary nudists who populate the background of this sublimely bizarre rom-com, the inventive feature film debut of French director-writer Erwan Le Duc. The star is the admired actor, Swann Arlaud, a slim, ageless man with a fine mane of now graying hair and a sensitive, endlessly expressive face. He won a César for Best Supporting Actor in Ozon's extraordinary film about pedophile priests, By the Grace of God (2018), and was moving as the star of the story of a struggling small dairy farmer driven to deception, Petit Paysan (2017).

    This, by contrast, is a fun movie, one whose eccentricities would wear you out if they weren't so endearing in this initially triple-sec comedy, which sweetens toward the end. Swann Arlaud plays Captain of the gendarmerie Pierre Perdrix. The name means "partridge," and it's appropriate. He's sedate and well-behaved and unadventurous. This 37-year-old bachelor's law enforcement work and life in a provincial backwater town is safe and routine. It takes Juliette Webb (Maud Wyler), a wild young woman who comes into his police station after her car has been stolen by the local nudist gang, to push Perdrix out of his rut and into amour. The film modifies its dry sense of humor and reticence about romance to transform, finally, into a love story. Pierre must learn to see the value of breaking out of his safe cocoon and Juliette must grasp the limitations of her ideal of the emancipated woman.

    The film is great at people, including the staff of the little rural police station. (It all happens in the French region of Vosges, though this will mean little to American viewers. It's summertime: the film's lovely warm photography is something we can all appreciate.) The cops are a quiet, friendly crew. You wonder why there should be so many of them. But these radical nudists are really on the rampage. They hide away in the Arcadian preserve of the Vosges forest but frequently leave it to do what they call "culling" - rushing upon some innocent clothes-wearer and stealing his pants, or really any other possession, hence Juliette's car, which she'd left open by the road while taking a break. They want to stir things up this way to convert everyone to nudism, and advocate renouncing the superfluous to achieve a more perfect world in which all will be in touch with their "sensitivity."

    Juliette has legally severed ties with her family, and set out on her own, effectively homeless now. She has lost not only her clothes but her lifetime collection of daily diaries, except the latest one, which she carries on her. She appears that evening at Captain Perdrix's house, her independence dented by loss of her car, but not her aggressiveness. This ménage has been compared by French critics to Wes Anderson's Tenenbaums. Besides Pierre, there is his mother Thérèse (the great Fanny Ardant), host of a radio show called "courrier du cœur", his brother Julien (Nicolas Maury, the hilarious gay agent in Netflix's "Call My Agent"), a biologist and geodrilologist (specializing in earthworms), and his niece Marion (Patience Munchenbach), Julien's daughter, who is twelve. The father died accidentally more than 20 years ago, but his memory is still vivid and maintained by Thérèse.

    From the first moments at the gendarmerie, it's clear Juliette is outrageously wild, impulsive, and independent - exactly what's needed to rock Pierre's world. He will soon grow enamored of her, and his job will be to convince her he's not just a stick-in-the-mud, a "partridge," and worth rescuing from his life of safe inertia. Eventually he goes the extra mile, and then some, and does convince her. Soon he is dancing at a disco, declaiming poems by Novalis in translation, and building huts à la Robinson Crusoe (his favorite book as a youth). Juliette and Pierre set off in search of her stolen car, each according to their own methods, while a historical re-enactment of local battles of the Second World War takes place in the area. A mere war doesn't distract them from their growing interest in each other.

    Mom Thérèse's radio show "courrier du cœur," whose postic musings about romantic love are a celebration of her long-dead husband (every moment of Fanny Ardant a gem) is broadcast from the family garage - a location well exploited for comic effect. The film is full of delicate humor and the occasional pratfall. It follows the classic mold of romantic comedy, but does so with original plot elements and a willingness to take up existential questions. Finding love isn't just romantic: it's a choice to embrace life. As the laughter subsides and the excitement grows, it's fun to observe the film, as Sandra Onana's Libération review puts it, overcome "its own reticence, or let's say modesty, towards the sentimental." It helps that there's some great, ardent string music, whose lusty surges are reminiscent of the Brahms Sextet in Louis Malle's The Lovers (1958).

    From a review in the hip Paris media journal Les Inrockuptibles it emerges that Erwan Le Duc, who turned up as a debut feature filmmaker in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes this year, was already known as a sports correspondent for Le Monde with recent articles including "PSG [Paris Saint-Germain]: Dreaming less to earn more..." and "Rugby: Stuart Lancaster is back in the light and the shade." Turns out, though, Erwan had been making twenty- to thirty-minute shorts for a while. Commissaire Perdrix turned up in one of them as far back as 2011. His move from sports and shorts and into feature films is decidedly a success.

    The Bare Necessity/Perdrix , 99 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors' Fortnight May 2019 and opened in France Aug. 14 (AlloCiné press rating 3.8/5). To be shown on Kino Virtual Theater in LA's Laemmle Virtual Cinema.



    Turned on, between worlds

    A dead young man moves through casting director Stéphane Batut's quietly haunting second feature. His name is Juste. The actor, Timothée Robert, is a funny kind of dead man - a tall, strapping guy, with a face like a choir boy and close-cropped hair. He can help others to "pass over," but can't himself. In the anti-chamber he can't tell a story about himself, which is one of the keys. Years later, here he is again, wandering Paris, living in a wild squat. By chance he runs into a redhead, Agathe (Judith Chemla), who thinks she recognizes him. He follows her around, and they have a night of lovemaking.

    She did know him, years before. She's older, he's not.

    All the film hovers between life and death, but toward the end. Juste has become invisible to everybody, even Agathe, though he cah blow and move her hair, and caress her. She is, or was, his first and only love, and he is reluctant to leave her, and she likewise, it turns out. Juste comes into contact with other spirits floating in and out of the corporeal. He can help them pass over. One man jumps into a cab and urges him to do so, just to get away from where they are. One remembers Juste's innocent face, sad but eager, sometimes seen in almost extreme closeups; he also gets some full frontal nudes. And when he has to run out, once, he throws on a woman's blouse that's too small for him. Does it give him corporeality? Much of the time of the film he wears a flimsy sparkly black jacket somebody calls "kitsch." Is it what give him the quality of the title, vif-argent (quicksilver)? Or does that just refer to the between-worlds uncertainty of Juste's existence?

    Surging music accompanies a memorable scene on a bridge rimmed with lines of blue light.

    All this is delicate and beautiful, but I have no idea what it means, and I'm not sure it makes logical sense. Cahier du Cinéma's critic wrote, "If this effort has charm, it is however harmed by the limitations of writing that's confused and rough." But it has its own kind or romantic mood and its lead actor's sweet, confident presence.

    Speaking of strange apparitions, due to coronavirus restrictions on French travel, Stéphane Batut is the only director of the 2020 Rendez-Vous film so far to appear for a Q&A after a screening, only briefly, but corporeal, a long-faced, cherubic man with soft brown eyes and a beard. It was hard coming, he said, because he was in China (China!), and he had to get here by boat (by boat?). Why did nobody ask about this? But the Lincoln Center person spirited him away, it was time for the next movie, about unruly schoolchildren in the Saint-Denis part of Paris.

    Burning Ghost/Vif-argent, 103 mins., debuted in the ACID program at Cannes devoted to promoting independent films. It won the prestigious Jean Vigo award and was nominated for the Prix Louis Delluc. Timothee Robert, who has an arresting presence, was nominated for the Lumiere Award for Most Promising Actor (Meilleure révélation masculine). French theatrical release was Aug. 28, 2019, and the AlloCine press rating was 3.5 (70%) based on 21 reviews. This review was based on a screening as part of coverage of the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Mar. 10, 2020. Now part of "Burning Bright," an online curation by the Alliance Francaise of New York, c/o L.A. Laemmle Theater from Aug. 21, 2010.



    Crazy doesn't mean funny

    Merveilles à Montfermeil, the sophomore directorial effort of longtime actress Jeanne Balibar, is a messy, unfunny comic ensemble piece about far-fetched utopia where a happy and sane society is being sought while two central characters, Joëlle (Balibar) and Kamel (Ramzy Bedia) are a divorcing couple constantly bickering. Maybe the humor is meant to be hilariously dry and offbeat like that of Erwan Le Duc's new film The Bare Necesssity. But, despite several well-known actors, including Balibar herself, things start badly, and don't get much better.

    Joëlle and Kamel are both part of the municipal team of the new Mayor of Montfermeil, Emmanuelle Joly (Emmanuel Béart), but they are in the process of divorce. The film starts out - the bad beginning - with a scene in which Joëlle and Kamel and miscellaneous others (hee hee) lined up in front of a divorce judge, behind a pile of dossiers (ha ha) discussing technicalities. (Balibar doesn't seem to have realized it would be better to begin with an intimate scene before moving to collective ones.)

    The whole municipal team is working on the implementation of a new and peculiar policy based around forming a "Montfermeil Intensive School of Languages." I didn't quite see the humor of this idea. The program seems to have nothing to do with languages, and famous actor Matthieu Amalric shouting out the name to everyone and throwing up his arms isn't funny: it's just embarrassing, as is a lot of this effort; and I'm not alone in saying so; numerous French critics do too. The AlloCiné press rating, based on 21 reviews in major print publications, is 2.3 out of 5 (that's 46%). Thee were critics who like it though, calling it "sympathique" or "joliment absurde" or the like. It got top rating from the hard-to-please (or predict) Cahiers du Cinéma as well.

    Efforts at humor verge on the desperate. People go around dressed alternately in kilts, then Bermuda shorts, then kimonos. No reason, just to be "zany." Two men are prowling the markets giving sexual advice to people. Hilarious! A fat lady goes around dressed as a Mexican wrestler. These gestures fizzle and so does the chaos - an element that, in film comedy, requires a lot of discipline to pull off successfully. There seems to be a constant succession of unrelated scenes. Some are violent, some scary. The lady mayor goes nuts, then is hospitalized. So what?

    Comedies are supposed to end with general happiness, right? So the climactic moment is a "Fête de la Brioche," a holiday dedicated to the pastry bun. Everybody dances and makes merry. She lost me at the piles of dossiers. Reports are Mlle Balibar raged against Emanuel Macron, thinking him not sufficiently "upset' by Les Misérales, the recent film about political corruption in which she plays a police officer. Why should he have? It's not a very goiod film. It seems Mlle B. hasn't much of a sense of humor.

    This incoherent and disastrous effort should never have seen the light. Easily must have been the worst French film of the year.

    To see instead, with Jeanne Balibar, but not in charge: Va Savoir (2001) and The Duchess of Langeais (2007), both Jacques Rivette, no less; Pedro Costa's beautiful 2009 Ne Change Rien; a dreamy portrait of a famous singer, also with Mathieu Amalric, Barbara.

    Wonders in the Suburbs/Merveilles à Montfermeil, 109 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug. 2019; also Bordeaux. The US internet debut is Aug. 19, 2020. Screened for this review a part of the Kino Marqueee ofering, "Burning Bright," with three new French films, including Erwan Le Duc,The Bare Necessity/Perdrix and Stéphane Batut, Burning Ghost/Vif-argent.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-21-2020 at 11:26 PM.


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