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Thread: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2021

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    LITTLE GIRL/PETITE FILLE (Sébastien Lifshitz 2021)

    SÉBASTIEN LIFSHITZ: LITTLE GIRL/PETITE FILLE (2021)


    Petite fille/Little Girl

    A trans child and her parents battle her school

    A transgender reviewer at Edinburgh was shocked and offended. She railed at cis gender people for monopolizing coverage of trans subjects and even trans organizations. See "Little Girl: this film should not have been made" in Loud and Clear. Other, evidently Cis gender, reviewers seem to approach the film in hushed tones of respect and admiration, considering this too important a subject to get much into the film as film.

    This issue is valid for minorities: they want to take charge of their own stories and they deserve to do so. Lifshitz, who isn't all that mainstream, after all, has swung back and forth between documentary and fiction films and frequently dealt with frank sexuality and with gay and trans themes before, may have earned the right to make a movie like Little Girl. For me, what's interesting about this film is that it hovers between the two genres so seamlessly, perhaps troublingly.

    Lifcshitz's film flows back and forth between eight-year-old Sasha, born a boy but wanting to be a girl since age three, and his supportive mother so intimately, seamlessly, and artistically, that I thought this was a fiction movie - until I realized it could not be like Céline Sciamma's Tomboy, a real movie about a ten-year-old girl who wants to be a boy with a young actor who takes on the role.

    I don't know exactly what's going on in documentaries where people go through their real life agonies for the camera. How much are events altered by that camera's presence? While Lifshitz's presence is seamless, he was not able to gain access to the whole situation, as a good documentarian usually needs to do, because nothing was filmed at Sasha's school.

    Sébastien Lifshitz is a director who has moved back and forth between feature and documentary for twenty years, often focusing on gay themes, and though I've seen few of them, and their degree of success may be uneven, they seem interesting enough that he deserves some recognition. He seems to have constantly made the switch back and forth between documentary and fiction, wavering also between provocation and seriousness. His films clearly are often frank with sexual themes, sometimes gay, sometimes trans, sometimes swinging-both-ways. Is this somehow a particularly French directorial path?

    His first was the 47-minute 1998 Open Bodies/Les corps ouverts, which focuses on an Arab-descent youth and his cinematic and sexual adventures. It was a good start, since it won the Kodak short film prize at Cannes and then the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo. Come Undone/Presque rien (2000), which I found in video stores and watched, is a feature about a teen gay summer love affair with hot young actors Jérémie Elkaïm and Stéphane Rideau. In 2001 Lifshitz made his first documentary, The Crossing/La traversée, following Stéphane Bouquet, his close friend and frequent collaborator, as he seeks out the identity of his missing American soldier father.

    In Wild Side (2004), Lifshitz made a feature about a trans woman living as a prostitute who returns to be with her ailing mother in the provinces. Les Invisibles (2012) is a documentary about older French LGBT people and how they came out when it was hard to do so. I]Bambi[/I] (2013) is a doc about a trans woman who had a prominent career in Paris in the fifties and sixties as a dancer and show girl. Les Vies de Thérèse (2016) is a doc in which a well known French militant gay rights and women's rights activist Thérèse Clerc, facing the end of her life, looks back on it. Adolescentes is Lifshitz's 2019 documentary following two girls in a small town through high school and stunning public events in France; it was recently awarded the Grand Prix at Brussels and got six noms and two wins at the Césars.

    It is interesting what Lifshitz has been doing these two decades. I would like to see more of these films, particularly Adolescentes. Judgments about Little Girl might be more informed if one knew the whole œuvre. All I can say is that this one is seamless documentary filmmaking, without being a great documentary. And it's about a timely subject, which the subjects themselves would like to take charge of. But if that trans reviewer were in charge, no film would have been made at all. Her rage for control may be excessive.

    Little Girl/Petite fille, 90 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2020, playing at nine other festivals including Poland's Doc's Against Gravity, Vladivostok, Chicago, Bordeaux, Ghent and Seville. Screened for this review as part of the all-virtual Lincoln Center 2021 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, where it was the Opening Night Film Mar. 4, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2021 at 06:22 PM.

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    MY DONKEY, MY LOVER, AND I ( Caroline Vignal 2020)

    CAROLINE VIGNAL: MY DONKEY, MY LOVER, AND I/ANTOINETTE DANS LES CÉVENNES (2020)


    Antoinette dans les Cévennes

    Holiday frolic with Laure Calamy

    Also known in English as My Donkey, My Lover & I, this movie stars Laure Calamy, the charming actress who plays Noëmie, the girlfriend of Mathias Barneville in the Netflix series "Call My Agent" ("Dix pour cent"). This role is designed for her, as the impulsive, irresistibly emotional schoolteacher Antoinette, who follows her married lover Vladimir, father of one of her fifth grade students, when he has to delay their summertime tryst for a week to go on a trek with his wife and daughter and a donkey through one of the most scenic parts of France. Based on Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson. Things get hilairously complicated when Antoinette actually catches up with Vladimir and co. As the film explains, Stevenson's trip also was inspired by love of a married woman, whom he later married - for life.

    Laure Calamy, not surprising if you know her from "Call My Agent," is a continual delight here as Antoinette. So are the scenes with her donkey, Patrick, who seems so sentient and human that he only walks along smoothly when Antoinette talks to him and recounts her past love affairs to him. This is just one of Vignal's successful tricks.

    AlloCiné press rating: 4.0.

    "This delightful, melancholy comedy provides the excellent Laure Calamy with one of the best roles of her career and is one of French cinemas' best surprises of La Rentrée [the back-to-school fall season]." - Olivier De Bruyn, Marianne. La rentrée is particularly special for the French, and when many of their best new films are introduced in cinemas. Antoinette dans les Cévennes is a good film for this moment in the year because it's a funny and sensual evocation of vacation time. Warning, though: this trip doesn't go anywhere!

    Antoinette dans les Cévennes, 97 mins., debuted Paris (Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Français) Jan. 2020, also Haugesund, Norway; Angoulême, and Brussels; French theatrical release Sept. 16, 2020; UK internet, Mar. 2021. Screened for this review as part of the virtual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Lincoln Center, UniFrance), Mar. 5, 2012.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2021 at 01:46 PM.

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    RED SOIL/ROUGE (Farid Bentoumi 2020)

    FARID BENTOUMI: RED SOIL/ROUGE (2020)


    ZITA HANROT, SAMI BOUAJILA IN ROUGE

    Conflicting loyalties to environment vs. employment divide father and daughter

    In this film about conflicts between duty and family, a young woman trained as an occupational nurse, on probation after a death when she's on duty in the ER, gets hired through her father at the small town chemical plant where he's a foreman. Discovering many discrepancies in the health records and suspicious information about the handling of toxic waste, she attempts to blow the whistle in collaboration with a woman journalist. Billed as "un eco thriller à la Erin Brockovich" in France. Sami Bouajila plays the father, Céline Salete the reporter. Zita Hanrot, Meilleur Espoir Féminin for Bentoumi's first film, the comedy Good Luck, Algeria, plays the daughter who becomes an activist and whistleblower, and the great Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet is wasted as the factory overlord, Perez.

    The director, Farid Bentoumi, has mostly been an actor in TV series before, except for the debut comedy, which also starred fellow French-Algerian Sami Bouajila. This film deals with important issues and conflicts, but it doesn't quite achieve the originality and depth of great French labor issue pictures like Laurent Cantet's Human Resources and Time Out. Here the plot resembles that of Human Resources in depicting how a company divides two generations with different loyalties. The action doesn't really grow tense until the last twenty-five minutes, and then the screenplay ties things up a little too patly.

    Red Soil/Rouge, 86 mins., was a selecton of the pandemic-cancelled 2020 Cannes, and played at Bienne (Switzerland), then was one of six films presented in selection as "Cannes 2020" at Deauville. It also showed at various French fests, including the Festival du film franco arabe at Noisy-le-Sec, and at Busan. It was officially released in French cinemas Nov. 25, 2020 but AlloCiné lists no mainstream press reviews, hence no AlloCinee press rating. Some Télérama "micro-critiques" suggest reactions were mixed, with approval of the movie's passion and direction deemed "promising" but reservations about its didacticism and a plot whose outline feels "déjà vu."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2021 at 07:09 PM.

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    FAITHFUL/DE NOS FRÈRES BLESSÉS (Hélier Cisterne 2020)

    HÉLIER CISTERNE: FAITHFUL/DE NOS FRÈRES BLESSÉS (2020)


    VINCENT LACOSTE (CENER) IN FAITHFUL

    The true story of a young Frenchman executed in the war for Algerian independence

    In the retitled Faithful (De nos frères blessés, "Of Our Wounded Brothers"), Fernand Iveton (Vincent Lacoste) is a French citizen born in Algeria, then a French colony, who joins the war for independence with Arab and French comrades. He is caught planting an unexploded bomb in his workplace (he is a machinist) in Algiers and eventually is tried and executed for this action by guillotine, a procedure that is shown in some detail . This touching and in some ways beautiful story happens to focus on a place and time covered by one of the best films ever made, Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers. Why bother? Director Héllier Cisterne can't match the unforgettable tumultuousness and precision of Pontecorvo's film.

    One question is the casting. Neither Vincent Lacoste as the young Fernand nor Vicky Krieps as his wife Hélène (Vicky Kreps), a veteran of Polish oppression, makes a strong impression. When at one point Hélène refers to Fernand's "slightly goofy smile" ("ton sourire un peu débile") it reminds us that Lacoste began as a comic actor playing a gauche, pimply teenager in his debut film The French Kissers/Les beaux gosses, who fit the role well. In the twelve years that followed he has become a well known, admired, and very prolific actor with 35 credits. Lately he has taken the place of Louis Garrel as Christophe Honoré's muse, and was acknowledged to be a great success in Honoré's semi-autobiographical and pretty serious Sorry Angel/Plaire, aimer et courir vite. This remains his most complex and successful role so far and shows he can do serious work in the right kind of context. But he still seems a bit goofy, with a toothbrush mustache here, despite the solemnity of the sad events depicted, and the character of Fernand is far from fully developed.

    Screenplay and direction don't collaborate here with Lacoste to deliver a clear and memorable piece of work. Fernand Iveton's story shows only indirectly the brutality of French colonial repression in Algeria. The police tortured pirsoners, but the film doesn't show the torture, only bruises. Fernand's comrades plot other actions, but we don't see them. Fernand and his French "brothers" are the champions of Algeria and the Arabs, but the film waits 30 minutes before introducing a scene that has Arabs as the main movers in it.

    The screenplay stutters and is confusing. It begins with Fernand on a brief trip to Paris for medical tests, where he falls in love with the self-assured Hélène, who has escaped from Iron Curtain Poland, and they fall in love with each other's dedication to principles. Hélène, later sometimes to her regret, agrees to go back to live in Algiers with Fernand, bringing her teenage son Jean-Claude (Jules Langlade, who hasn't much to do). The story, unwisely, is depicted in the screenplay with flashbacks in between excerpts from Fernand's trial, which drags out a procedure that notably was, in teal life, very rushed. Along the way the complexities of Fernand's commitment and Hélène's regrets tend to get lost. Meanwhile as the personal story fails to emerge with sufficient passion and complexity, one feels the detail of Pontecorvo's film, the intensity and complexity of the Algerian war for independence, slipping by somewhere, not quite perceived.

    Faithful/De nos frères blessés ("Of Our Wounded Brethren,") 96 mins., according to IMDb has one festival debut only at the Festival International du Film de Saint-Jean-de-Luz, and opened in French cinemas Feb. 24, 2021. Screened at home online for this review as part of the all-virtual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Mar. 6, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2021 at 10:54 AM.

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    GAGARIN/GAGARINE (Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh 2020)

    FANNY LIATARD, JÉREMY TROUILH: GAGARIN/GAGARINE (2020)


    ALSENI BATHILY IN GAGARINE

    Takes the ordinary and turns it into wonders

    Thanks in part to cinematographer Victor Seguin, Gagarin is a film that astonishes, and it starts with a commonplace of contemporary French movies: the big, doomed ghetto "cité" of the banlieue. Here, thanks to the focus on the big soulful black adolescent called Yuri (Alseni Bathely, for the cosmonaut, Gagarin, for whom the building complex is also named), the focus changes. Instead of being about hoodlums and gang wars, this is about the cité itself, and the varied community it contains. Eventually we enter into the imagination of Yuri, who has dreamed of being a cosmonaut, and for a while, the whole movie takes flight into a sad but glorious fantasy.

    Directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Troulh are weaving wonders in a very cinematic way here. At first, as we meet some of the personalities connected with Yuri, he tries to use his precocious engineering skills to improve the wiring and lighting and bring the building complex up to code so there is no excuse to demolish it. But while the public spaces pass inspection, the flats don't, and eventually everyone is evacuated, except Yuri. Gone is Houssam (Jamil McCraven), once Yuri's constant sidekick. His mother has withdrawn her promise to take him in with her new man and younger child. Diana (Lyna Khoudri), who communicates with Yuri in a secret universal language (Morse), also remains for a while and a romance blooms.

    Yuri's secret habitation lodged in the building is like a space ship. The filmmakers go to town creating a dreamy world of improvised technology, including fantastic electrical gadgets and a greenhouse growing vegetables. But everyone is gone now. Diana's Roma community's local squat is destroyed and she must go off with them. Even the rough, not so tough drug dealer Dali (Finnegan Oldfield) runs off after getting beaten by thugs. The pungent cameo of iconic French star Denis Lavant (who deals in wiring and spare parts) is a fading memory.

    This is about Yuri, but always also about Gagarin, the building. Hence the demolition is an event former inhabitants gather to witness. Only Diana knows Yuri is still there and must be saved.

    As the Variety review points out, this movie was woven out of a real event, the August 2019 demolition of the huge Cité Gagarine, a 370-apartment housing project in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris that interestingly was built in 1961-63 by the Communist French section of the Workers International. As he wrote, this is a "wondrous" debut feature the physical reality of whose setting gives it such a "crackle of authenticity" that its "starry-eyed metaphysics" seem "uncannily plausible" as well. Jonathan Romney's Screen Daily review predicts this movie's "conviction and chutzpah, plus often dazzling execution, will chime with younger adult audiences." This is a touching, beautiful, and thoroughly original film about community, ingenuity, and dreams. The red brick Cité Gagarine is gone, but the film's quietly vibrant young star Alseni Bathely will doubtless live on to grace many more features.

    Gagarine/Gagarin, 95 mins., was a Cannes Marché selection Jun. 2020. Its many other international festival appearances included Berlin, Zurich, Hamburg, Moscow, Cologne, Bordeaux, Athens and Busan. Now a Cohen Media release. Screened for this review as part of the all virtual New York-based Rende-Vous with French Cinema Mar.6, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2021 at 02:24 AM.

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