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Thread: SFFS French Cinema Now Series November 7–10, 2013

  1. #1
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    SFFS French Cinema Now Series November 7–10, 2013

    The San Francisco Film Society French Cinema Now series
    Nov. 7–10, 2013

    General Forum FCN 2013 thread
    [French Cinema Now 2012 thread]

    Links to the reviews.
    2 Autumns, 3 Winters (Sébastien Betbeder 2013)
    Bastards (Claire Denis 2013)--NYFF 2013
    A Castle in Italy (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi 2013)
    The House of Radio (Nicolas Philibert 2013)
    Michael Kohlhaas (Arnaud des Pallières 2013
    Miss and the Doctors (Axelle Ropert 2013)
    Rendezvous in Kiruna (Anna Novion 2013)
    Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie 2013)-NYFF 2013
    Suzanne (Katell Quilévéré 2013)
    Vic+Flo Saw a Bear (Denis Côté 2013) [not reviewed]

    "This year’s cinema à la Française traverses the globe, from the wilds of Lapland and rural Quebec to a stately family mansion in Italy. Returning French Cinema Now filmmakers including Axelle Ropert and Alain Guiraudie join SF International Film Festival brethren Nicolas Philibert and Sébastien Betbeder for a stellar line-up of the best in current Francophone films." -- SFFS press release.

    Following is the schedule of the SFFS French film series, which shows at Landmark's Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore (Sacramento/Clay) in San Francisco at the times given below. These are the SFFS's blurbs for the films. I have already reviewed STRANGER BY THE LAKE and BASTARDS as part of this year's NYFF. Of the rest I will be reviewing all but VIC+FLO SAW A BEAR.

    2 Autumns, 3 Winters
    Sébastien Betbeder (2 automnes 3 hivers, France 2013)

    Sébastien Betbeder, whose debut Nights with Theodore was the winner of the FIPRESCI prize at this spring’s SFIFF, returns with this offbeat story of thirty-somethings navigating whatever crisis comes between quarter- and mid-life. Arman and Benjamin are friends from art school. Arman first meets Amélie when he bumps into her, literally, while jogging. His casual attempts to meet her again fail until one night when dramatic circumstances reunite them, intertwining the lives of all three. Playfully told, despite the serious nature of some of its events, 2 Autumns, 3 Winters applies indie charm to the vagaries of life.
    November 7, 7:00 pm

    A Castle in Italy
    Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Un château en Italie, France 2013)

    In her third film, director, actress and cowriter Valeria Bruni Tedeschi continues to mine her own experience to portray the lives and crises of the bourgeoisie. Here she plays Louise, an actress tiring of her profession and longing for motherhood. When she runs into younger actor Nathan (VBT’s former real-life beau Louis Garrel) on a film set, he pursues her relentlessly, but he’s not particularly interested in fathering a child. As she has done in her prior work, Bruni Tedeschi presents the problems of the rich and famous without apology but with refreshing nuance and humor, and surrounds herself with a formidable cast.
    November 7, 9:15 pm and November 9, 2:30 pm

    Rendezvous in Kiruna
    Anna Novion (Rendez vous à Kiruna, France 2012)

    Ernest is working on a major architectural project at his firm when he receives an unwanted call from Sweden. His biological son whom he has never met has died in a boating accident and, with the mother away, Ernest must come to Lapland and identify the body. Although he protests that he has no emotional connection to the dead youth, he ends up on a long drive north during which he picks up Magnus, a young Swedish man on his way to visit his grandfather. Director Anna Novion’s interest in Bergman and her own Swedish heritage add a quiet flair to this story of unavoidable emotional ties.
    November 8, 7:00 pm and November 10, 3:30 pm

    Michael Kohlhaas
    Arnaud des Pallières (France/Germany 2013)

    Arnaud des Pallières’ austere and visually splendid medieval-era drama tells the story of Michael Kohlhaas (Mads Mikkelsen), a horse trader who is one day forced by a ruthless Baron to give over two of his prize steeds. When the nobleman’s subsequent mistreatment of the horses is revealed, Kohlhaas demands justice. But when a nobility-favoring court rules against him, and the Baron and his henchmen commit other hideous acts, Kohlhaas turns to the sword and crossbow for his revenge. Though the themes and moral conflicts will be familiar to Game of Thrones fans, the remarkable style recalls Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac.
    November 8, 9:30 pm

    Miss and the Doctors
    Axelle Ropert (Tirez la langue, mademoiselle, France 2013)

    With the same playful humanism she exhibited in The Wolberg Family (FCN 2009; R-V 2010), Axelle Ropert’s latest film details the romantic and professional travails of sibling bachelor doctors Boris (Cédric Kahn) and Dimitri (Laurent Stocker). Attending to a precocious diabetic girl, Boris finds himself interested in her mother, a bartender named Judith (Louise Bourgoin). When Dimitri expresses similar feelings—“I hope there’s a second Judith,” he tells Boris—this offbeat love triangle is set in motion. With serious issues of the heart and the human body at stake, Miss and the Doctors manages to remain wonderfully lighthearted and buoyant.
    November 9, 4:45 pm

    Katell Quillévéré (France 2013)

    Told in elliptical fragments that span 25 years, Katell Quillévéré’s follow-up to her debut Love Like Poison (FCN 2011) is the story of a woman and the effects of her irrepressible passions on those around her. We first meet Suzanne as a girl, living with her sister and widowed truck-driver father, but quickly move to the girls’ teenage years and the news that Suzanne is pregnant and will keep the baby—just the first bombshell that this mercurial woman will drop on her family. The dramatic twists and turns of their lives are presented in non-judgmental fashion and elevated by sharp performances from the film’s leads.
    November 9, 7:00 pm

    Stranger by the Lake
    Alain Guiraudie (L’inconnu du lac, France 2013)

    Alain Guiraudie’s analysis of gay male desire is set entirely in the environs of a cruising spot on the shore of a picturesque French lake, where men prowl the nearby woods for hook-ups. On the first day, Franck spots a devilishly handsome man named Michel but keeps missing his chance. Later, he sees the dreamboat do something terrible, but instead of running away Franck throws himself into Michel’s arms. Guiraudie tackles weighty subject matter—the intermingling of danger and desire, physical versus intellectual engagement, and the nature of intimacy—with a playful sensibility and striking visual style. Note: This is a sexually explicit film.
    November 9, 9:30 pm

    House of Radio
    Nicolas Philibert (La maison de la radio, France/Japan 2013)

    Master documentarian Nicolas Philibert’s latest takes a delightful and surprisingly humorous look at public radio, French style. Inside an unusual round building in Paris is Radio France, comprised of several premiere stations. Luckily for us, these bustling offices are full of great characters both known (Umberto Eco in for an on-air interview) and unknown (a news manager who gleefully sorts through grisly news briefs, the director of a radio drama, a telephone operator who screens for a call-in show). Mixed in with the quiz shows, live musical performances and sports reporting, they form the fabric of a beautifully observed and pleasurable view of a public institution and beloved medium.
    November 10, 1:15 pm

    Vic+Flo Saw a Bear
    Denis Côté (Vic+Flo ont vu un ours, Canada 2013)

    At 61 and newly released from jail, Victoria (Pierrette Robitaille) is trying to start over. Laying low at the home of her paralyzed uncle Émile, she’s visited by her former cellmate and younger lover Florence (Romane Bohringer), who wants to move in. With their days bordering on the mundane—driving around the isolated countryside in a golf cart or splashing about in a wading pool—Flo becomes frustrated at their hemmed-in existence and their bucolic life together is threatened. Upending viewer expectations with surprising tonal shifts, director Denis Côté (Curling) memorably reinvents the romantic drama genre.
    November 10, 6:00 pm

    Claire Denis (Les Salauds, France 2013)

    Claire Denis’ troubled and troubling new film, highlighted by Agnès Godard’s masterful cinematography and Stuart Staples’ (of Tindersticks) evocative score, begins with rain and death and rarely lets up from there. For reasons at first mysterious, a sea captain named Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) arrives in Paris and rents an empty apartment. Living directly downstairs are business tycoon Edouard Laporte (Denis regular Michel Subor) and his mistress Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), whose lives will intersect with Marco’s in dark and devastating ways. Denis’ latest is an angry and upsetting film, detailing a world where money and the power it wields can have poisonous and far-reaching effects.
    November 10, 8:30 pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-03-2014 at 12:08 AM.

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    2 AUTUNS, 3 WINTERS (Sébastien Betbader 2013)


    Bastien Bouillon and Vincent Macaigne in 2 Autumns, 3 Winters

    A 30-something coming-of-age-er with easy post-modern touches

    Sébastien Betbeder shows with this second film that he's capable of mainstream, appealing stuff -- with an indie touch. His (TV film) debut Nights with Theodore (which won the SFIFF FIPRESCI Prize) was a romance that was strange bordering on creepy, but this time he gives us appealing white middle class French everyman-ish types from an arts background who settle down with girlfriends in their early thirties. The one-year-plus period contains the shift from early midlife confusion to finding a comfortable groove. The only thing that's eccentric is the excessive use of voiceover by the main characters, who also, so often that it becomes the film's ruling schtick, address the camera in solo reminiscences or turn to the audience and address us in the middle of a scene. Yes, it's too cute, but this movie is cute, and sweet.

    The main character is Arman (Vincent Macaigne, featured in the heralded new French young people's film The Battle of Solférino (which I tried hard to see in Paris but repeatedly missed). He is balding, long-haired, lightly bearded, with soulful puppy-dog eyes and a pretty face. Now 33, an amiable loser, Arman went to art school in Bordeaux and now lives in Paris, but won't tell us what he does for a living, doubtless because he knows he's not getting anywhere. Jogging in the local park, part of his attempt at a new start, he literally runs into his future life partner, Amélie (Maud Wyler). This meet-cute is so awkward and shy nothing yet comes of it. Arman keeps jogging every morning hoping in vain to meet Amélie again. Finally he runs into her at night when she's being mugged. He tries to intercede and gets stabbed. He's in the hospital for a while. She stays around.

    This overlaps with a worse medical emergency that occurs to Arman's art school colleague and best mate Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon), who has a stroke: a skateboard boy calls 911. Benjamin is in the hospital longer than Arman, but recovers well and quickly. His novice speech therapist Katia (Audrey Bastien) becomes his girlfriend. Arman, Amélie, Benjamin, and Katia start double-dating, and go on a (for them) significant trip the Switzerland where Karia is from. They take a long hike up into the mountains.

    All this is told with extensive to-the-camera narration by all four parties and divided into dozens of little chapters. Benjamin tells us what it feels like to lie under a bush face down unable to move and wait wondering if a skateboarder will have the sense to call for help. Amélie tells us what it was like to discover she's pregnant after crying midway during the challenging Swiss mountain hike and what she does about it, which almost ends her relationship with Arman when he belatedly finds out.

    There is nothing very unusual in all this, except for the dual hospital trips, especially the stroke, but it's all delivered and filmed with a good deal of charm. Benjamin is an easygoing, reliably cheerful sort. It's he who smooths things over when Amélie has her crying jag in the mountains. Arman is more tentative and self-doubting, but together the two guys somehow balance each other out. Betbeder's simple, relaxed writing has an appealing way of presenting these 30-something issues so they're neither too heavy nor too flip.

    Betbeder blends grainy 16mm and HD cinematography (by Sylvain Verdet) and lots of music by the French singer and songwriter Bertrand Betsch to the stylish mix that, in truth, seems more style than deep substance, but always pleases, its post-modern self-reflectiveness adding a touch of constant hipness without ever being hard to take. Arman and Benjamin, by the way, love Judd Apatow and find his Funny People "génial" (brilliant).

    2 autonnes 3 hivers (the original title), 91 mins., debuted at Cannes in the ACID (Association du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion) series, has been in several festivals including Hamburg and London. It opens theatrically in Paris 25 Dec. 2013 and I predict it will be a hit. What's not to like? Screened for this review as part of the French Cinema Now series of the SF Film Society, Nov. 7-10, 2013; presented Nov. 7 at 7 pm, with Betbeder featured for opening night of the series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-26-2017 at 05:24 AM.

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    A CASTLE IN ITALY (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi 2013)


    Louis Garrel and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in A Castle in Italy

    The tumultuous frivolity of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

    The titular castle in Italy, an interrupted auction of a Bruegel, an in vitro fertilization, a breakup, a reunion, much drama, much improvisation combine to make this a very scattershot effort by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi - but arguably something a bit more involving than its predecessor, Actresses (NYFF 2007), which also featured her then main squeeze, Louis Garrel, playing an actor, this time called Nathan. The material is again frankly drawn from Bruni Tedeschi's own background as a member of a wealthy Italian Jewish industrial family (here called Rossi Levi), whose properties may have become too expensive to maintain and whose lives have become too complicated. This is serious stuff, but VBT's effort to toss it off in a manner that is both operatic and frivolous -- to make us weep for her and laugh with her both -- leads to freequent tonal slips and longeurs that can make the 104 minutes seem at times interminable and incomprehensible. There are many -- too many -- grand scenes; and there is an interesting cast. I called Actresses at the same time both heavy handed and vague." This film is both heavy handed and frivolous. It does, however, have a certain drive and coherence this time, as the French critics have noted.

    The protagonist's mother, played again as in Actresses by Valeria's actual mother, Marisa Bruni Tedeschi, tells Louise (VBT), an actress whose given up acting as her on-off boyfriend Nathan (Garrel) wants to, "you weren't Anna Magnani, but you had something." Well, if only she were Anna Magnani, maybe this film would have something, but she's not and it hasn't. She's a spoiled unattached lady from a place of privilege; there is no place for a grand passion in her life, except her single woman's midlife crisis: the desire to have a child before it's too late. When Nathan comes upon Louise, it seems they met as fellow actors some years earlier and he now conceives an instant made desire to be her boyfriend. She isn't at first very interested; but then she is, if he can give her a child. Only he doesn't want a child. It's the clash of the narcissistic with the self-centered.

    The castle in Italy costs ten thousand euros a month to maintain, and the family hasn't got that kind of ready cash. But when they meet with the lawyer (Philippe Pescayre) to discuss solutions, no one can be practical, except the somewhat arbitrary mother. Louise's saternine, slightly sadistic brother Ludovico (a scarily intense Filippo Timi, Mussolini in Marco Bellocchio's 2009 Vincere), who's dying of AIDS, insists the castle represents the memory of their late father, and cannot be touched. (The film is dedicated to Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's brother, Virginio, who died of AIDS at 47.) Also good as a bibulous, whiny family hanger-on called Serge is the great actor-director Xavier Beauvois. And we even get a distinguished glimpse of Omar Sharif as himself at the interrupted Bruegel the Younger auction, which Louise, in a typical VBT grandstanding move, stops just after a top bid has been accepted.

    A lot of the material here has class -- a lovely French a cappella choir singing in a monastery alcove at the outset, for intance; interiors and views of the lawn of the castle -- but it feels thrown together, screaming too much for our attention. I must side with Mike D'Angelo in his AV Club report, who saw this film when it was the sole female-directed Competition entry at Cannes and concluded that though VBT's family has influence, her sister Carla Bruni being Sarkozy's wife, for instance, "apparently some people genuinely enjoy her shrill, self-absorbed, vacuous meditations on the difficulties faced by a middle-aged actress." But include us out. Yes, the rich have problems too. But it takes a greater director than this to make us care. I do not dislike Louis Garrel as D'Angelo does -- quite the contrary -- but he does indeed seem "callow" here, and describing this film as Assayas' Summer Hours "stripped of beauty, tenderness, grace, intelligence, and coherence" cruel thought it may sound, is not far off the mark.

    Un chateau en Italie, 104 mins., debuted at Cannes. Opened in French cinemas 30 October 2013 to a mix of reviews, some quite good (Allociné press rating: 3.3). Screened for this review as part of the French Cinema Now series of the San Francisco Film Society, Nov. 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 04:53 PM.

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    RENDEZVOUS IN KIRUNA (Anna Novion 2012)


    Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Anastasions Soulis in Rendezvous in Kiruna

    A long journey northward into new emotional territory

    Jean-Pierre Darroussin is one of French cinema's iconic soulful grumpy guys. Le Monde's review of this film calls him "a faux grinch." He's also a mainstay of Robert Guédiguian's rich and prolific filmography. Darroussin is the protagonist here, and a perfect one. Super-successful workaholic architect Ernest Toussant, he doesn't want to go to Lapland, of all places, to identify a biological son he has never met who has died in a boating accident. He's busy: the film shows a whole huge roomful of people he directs in his architecture business and he has some big projects afoot, including a competition he's eager to win. Nonetheless he heads off, with no explanation to his staff or his girlfriend Victoire (Judith Henry). On a ferry heading north he runs into a young man, a Swede named Magnus (Anastasios Soulis), conveniently a French speaker from two now abandoned years studying archaeology in Lille, presently on his way to visit his grandfather. He's obviously a temporary stand-in for the lost son Ernest never knew, but in this bittersweet, understated film such things are never pushed. It later emerges that he left behind his first love in France.

    They ride together in Ernest's posh BMW, then are separated, then by chance reunited, upon which the plot adds a touch of danger because Magnus has tangled with a biker, and attacked his Harley in revenge, and Ernest has inadvertently knocked the bikes of this man and his buddy over. Now coincidentally the Swedish man who was the dead youth's de facto foster father is a police inspector who starts hunting for Ernest, knowing who he is, intending to arrest him for a hit-and-run. An emotional highlight is Magnus' visit to his grandfather in Kiruna, accompanied by Ernest. Darroussin is great here, showing infinite sympathy while listening to Swedish he doesn't understand a word of. The grandfather tells Magnus not to stay with him this summer because he is too depressed by the death of his wife. A very Nordic moment.

    Somehow this action is both sparse and over-complicated, the plotting on the far-fetched side as well. The director, who has a Swedish mother and a French father, seems to favor films where Europeans take long journeys into the Nordic lands. Some of this one seems to play with symbols more than "realities." But things pick up considerably in the last half hour, when Ernest identifies Antoine, his handsome, drowned, unseen son and also meets up with Stig (Claes Ljungmark), the retired police inspector who protected the dead son and his mother long ago. Ernest, a successful man, a cold man, is now comforted by visiting the sadness of his past action. For him clearly regret is better than emptiness. Saying goodbye to Magnus once again Ernest heads down the road in his BMW back to his architectural projects and Victoire, whom he's kept calling throughout this trip, without much of a sense of closeness. With her too this visit to his son's corpse leads to a raprochement. Perhaps for Novion this story symbolizes a heritage never fully embraced, approachable only by en effort. Jean-Pierre Darroussin conveys the requisite tender melancholy of the story nicely. This is a road movie in which one has plenty of time to think and feel.

    Written by Olivier Massart and Anna Novion, with cinematography by Pierre Novion.

    Rendez-vous à Kiruna, 97 min., with dialogue in French, Swedish, and English, debuted at Cairo in Nov. 2012 and opened in cinemas in France 30 Jan. 2013 to decent reviews (Allociné press rating: 3.1.) Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Nov. 2013 French Cinema Now series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 04:41 PM.

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    THE HOUSE OF RADIO (Nicolas Philibert 2013)


    Classical music guy who says he's happy with the clutter in The House of Radio

    Brilliance, with a thing or two lacking

    Nicolas Philibert is a great documentary filmmaker. But he may never find another subject so ideally suited to his meticulous observational skills and so easily able to melt his slight chilliness (a failing perhaps much incident to the art: the great Frederick Wiseman has it too) as the first-graders at the little one-room mountain school he filmed for a year for the heartbreaking and profound documentary masterpiece, To Be and to Have (Être et avoir ). A chill sets in again in Philibert's next project, Nénette, which studies, with a mixture of sympathy and irony, a 40-year-old orangutan who's been on view in a Paris zoo for most of her life. With The House of Radio, a different problem arises. "La Maison de la Radio" refers to the big circular building in the 16th arrondissement in Paris that houses Radio France, the state broadcasting company, which has seven networks and many more stations.The great institution, the teeming hive, that is French public radio is an almost impossibly complex subject that lent itself to a brilliant orchestral blend of image and sound, and Philibert gives us a truly virtuoso performance of filming and editing that only he could do. But something is missing. Philibert flits from person to person, department to department. The result is great as rhythmic, abstract cinema. But this is an institution. Its expert staff deserve more in-depth examination. And its issues and conflicts needed dissection. But Philibert doesn't go that deep.

    The House of Radio, which begins with the big round shiny building and employes briskly coming in to work, shows us a great institution, and it's a joyous celebration of French intelligence and high standards. We see editors and section chiefs performing subtle editing feats and teaching new recruits the tricks of presenting a news flash that's smart and tight. And there's music, and teeming rounds of morning news, and all kinds of stuff, which Philibert transforms for us by showing us images behind what for listeners has never been visual before. But Cahiers du Cinéma's Ariel Schweitzer pointed out in his review of this film that certain departments of French radio, notably France Inter and RFI, have recently undergone profound crises; yet Philibert says nothing of that.

    After a while we begin to see that Philibert is manipulating images and sound largely for their own sake. His House of Radio (Schweitzer again) "is terribly lacking in dialectic, tension, or real involvement." Ultimately this film is (says Pascal Mérigea in Le Nouvel Observateur) "stylish, accomplished and astute, and also slightly lazy." We wind up feeling that (as Pascal Mérigea writes in La Croix ) this film, which excites, impresses and delights us at first, doesn't teach us anything, and doesn't surprise us either. There's also no sense of how this beehive of activity on Paris' Avenue President Kennedy engages with the public; it seems to perform only for itself.

    Philibert is no ordinary filmmaker, and The House of Radio, elaborately edited, without commentary, is an elegant, superbly composed sort of twittering machine of a film about sound waves that are delivered to a nation and the great team of pros who produce them. But it seems in the end that a much more ordinary kind of documentary -- one where people got to talk about their jobs and their lives, history was presented, and the public got heard from -- would actually have satisfied us more. This documentary is a brilliant achievement that is also a massive disappointment. French public radio turns out to have been the wrong subject for Philibert. It is just too complex and multi-layered a subject to produce the kind of rich emotional message Phlibert's careful filming of the school kids, or even his patient observation of the orangutan, was able to yield.

    La maison de la radio, 99 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2013, opened in French cinemas 3 Apr., where it did well critically (Allociné press rating 3.6) despite the negative notices I quote. It opened in NYC 4 Sept. (see Manohla Dargis' NY Times review from that time). Not so well received here: Metacritic raging 56. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's series, French Cinema Now, Nov. 2013, presented Nov. 7-10 at Landmark's Clay Theater. It was to have been included in Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in NYC in Feb. but was cancelled.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 04:45 PM.

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    MICHAEL KOHLHAAS (Arnaud des Pallières 2013)



    Revolt in the forest

    This is above all a hell of a good story and a true one, written up by Heinrich von Kleist in the 19th century (here transferred from a German to French setting). The film of it by the remarkable director of the 2004 Adieu, Arnaud des Pallières, concerns a 16th- century horse trader (played by the also remarkable Mads Mikkelsen) who is forced by a unmannerly and brutal young Baron (Swann Arlaud), to yield up two fine horses as assurance when passing a border on his way to the horse market -- a practice that turns out no longer to be legal. When Kohlhaas comes to have the horses back he finds they have been badly mistreated, and his groom César (David Bennent), whom he left to care for the horses, has been set on by vicious dogs, he is outraged. He engages a lawyer (Jacques Nolot) to sue for damages in court and to have his horses returned in a healthy state. But the Baron has a friend in court and the case is rejected repeatedly. Next Kohlhaas' wife Judith (Delphine Chuillot), when about to petition Marguerite, Princess d’Angouleme (Roxane Duran), is murdered. Whereupon Kohlhaas turns rogue, shuts down his business, sells his property, and attacks with sword and crossbow with a small band of men which grows with volunteers (including Sergi Lopez with one arm and speaking Catalan) who hear of his activities. The young Baron and his companions flee and hide. Links with peasant revolts are suggested. When Kohlhaas' son and daughter (David Cross of The Reader; Mélusine Mayance of Sarah's Key), he learns his property is being held for him by his neighbor. Later a reform theologian (Denis Lavant of Holy Motors) -- who in von Kleist's original Teutonic version is Martin Luther himself -- tries to argue Kohlhaas into dropping his campaign of personal justice.

    The story and the film seethe with anger at injustice but Kohlhaas has become an outlaw, arguably fighting wrong with wrong. The violent tenor of the times is underlined by darkness, striking use of natural light, and a rich palette of natural sounds, animal cries, hoof beats, the soar of the wind, plus drums and bells. The wind may be a bit overdone at times.

    Mike D'Angelo (for AV Club, report from Cannes): "I was more impressed than most by Arnaud des Pallières’ work in the historical drama Michael Kohlhaas, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a 16th-century trader whose rigid principles lead to a guerrilla war when a Baron mistreats him and the law won’t support his case. It’s a staid, overly sedate film that every so often erupts with controlled intensity (most notably in a lengthy scene featuring the great Denis Lavant as an argumentative cleric), and one could argue that the highs wouldn’t be nearly as effective were they not offset by corresponding lows."

    Des Pallières has constructed a brooding, slow epic, which was much the style of his quite different but memorable Adieu; the slow burn intentional and not "staid, overly sedate" as D'Angelo says. Some simply don't like this director very much, it would seem and never will (note D'Angelo's being "more impressed than most"). In conventional mainstream "good film" terms as is clear from Jay Weissberg's scathing review in Variety, this one (and probably also Adieu) may seem poorly edited or too muted, restrained, tight-lipped. Others like myself find something uniquely haunting in his work. Even dissenters acknowledge the cinematography by Jeanne Lapoire sings here. All that said in the film's defense, it is a bit long, and it was also not as well reviewed by French critics as the more complex and innovative Adieu.

    Michael Kohlhaas, 122 mins., in French with brief moments of Catalan and German, debuted at Cannes in competition. It was written by Arnaud des Pallières and Christelle Berthevas with cinematography by Adrien Debackere and Jeanne Lapoirie. Music Box Films. Allociné press and public rating was a moderately favorable 3.2 (but Adieu got a 3.9). Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Nov. 2013 series, French Cinema Now, running from Nov. 7-10 at Landmarks's Clay Theater in San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2016 at 07:42 PM.

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    MISS AND THE DOCTORS (Axelle Ropert 2013)



    Brotherly love triangle

    In Miss and the Doctors the talented French writer and film critic Axelle Ropert continues the examination of tricky family relations and romantic ties she began with her 2009 Cannes Critic's Week debut The Woberg Family (R-V 2010). This time there is more focus, a distinctive urban setting, and a touch of noir. Two brothers, Boris and Dimitri Pizarnik (Cédric Kahn and Laurent Stocker), who are doctors with a joint practice, fall in love with the the same woman, a beautiful and implausibly elegant barmaid called Judith Durance (Louise Bourgoin), who's the mother of one of their patients, Alice (Paula Denis) -- a preternaturally composed and bespectacled preteen with diabetes that requires constant watching. Ninety-five percent of the action takes place in the working class, predominantly Asian 13th arrondissement of Paris, an important player here, which, especially since Judith works at night, makes for much gloriously garish and noirish color imagery by Céline Bozon, who also shot Woberg's good-looking rainy images and is the sister and cinematographer for actor-director Serge Bozon, who plays a friend of the brothers. (There is also a Paul Bozon, relation unknown, who plays a character called Rémi.) I have so far used the word "implausible" only once, but it will come up again. Much is to admire and enjoy about Ropert's work, but her writing background may lead her to invent more on the page than can make sense on the screen.

    This is in part an illustration of the small and sometimes inbred world of French film, which leads to overlapping functions. Cédric Kahn has written and directed a number of films, only acted thrice, most recently in Elie Wajeman's cool, noirish, also Jewish-focused Aliyah where he plays the reverse role, the no-good addict brother. This time he's the dominant one, overshadowing his more hesitant blond brother Dimitri who's an alcoholic. We see Dimitri share rather oddly at several AA meetings. Boris' flaw is that he's overbearing and a bit gruff, which fits with Kahn's naturally deep, rough voice.

    Besides Alice, Boris and Dimitri have other patients, of course, notably Kay (Alexandre Wu), a young epileptic who doesn't want to take his meds because they make him unable to get it up. "You don't understand, you don't have a girlfriend," the teen tells Boris. Of course Boris does, as it slowly develops, but this shows how odd and personal doctor-patient relations, not to mention doctor-patient-parent ones, tend to be in this movie. Things are dicey also with Annabelle (Camille Cayol), the brothers' medical secretary, who's in love with Boris. It doesn't seem like this double-doctor thing has a future and in fact it doesn't, and Annabelle has to be let go as a result of poor returns.

    Things go back and forth between Judith and Boris with Dimitri's alcohol issues and desire to compete for Judith in the way. And Alice's father Max (Jean-Pierre Petit ), absent in Italy for a decade, reappears in response to a random phone call from Judith. The reappearance of Max is one of several ways the conflicts and their resolution both seem increasingly implausible -- there's that word again -- toward the end. There's a cute scene between Alice and Kay, the latter now working at a slurpy shop, with another, junior medical romance now hinted at, but it seems just a contrivance. So also is the way the sibling doctors just happen by pure chance to be called in to treat a medical problem of Max's, when he's just back but hasn't yet seen Judith.

    What's noirish is Judith's barmaid lifestyle, and the slightly dicey, colorful, and largely nocturnal 13th arrondissement as seen in Céline Bozon's nice images. Another contrivance is Serge Bozon's scene as an intermediary friend (named Charles) sent back and forth one evening, Cyrano-like, between Boris and Judith to determine their feelings. Dimitri is reluctant to believe he's not in the running -- Ropert may have a bit of a thing for doomed romantic relationships. When Dimitri's hopes crumble the joint medical practice also disbands and Dimitri sets up a practice on the French Riviera; his glimpsed office seems to look right out onto a resort beach. Miss and the Doctors -- whose more sensible if hard to render French title means "Stick out your tongue, Miss" -- at this point seems to have dissolved into an American-inspired rom-com, and some of its basic pretenses have dissolved with it. But Ropert is original certainly and both her films use handsome visuals nicely to build the sense of particular location. These is a good use of actors -- even the static Bourgoin, from Anne Fontaine's mediocre Girl from Monaco becoming a striking icon of mysterious beauty. Music by Benjamin Esdraffo (of Bozon's La France) adds a verve that helps the locations come to life as part of the story. Jordan Mintzer of Hollywood Reporter, in an enthusiastic review that links this film with late Truffaut, comments that the music "reveals shades of New Wave composers Michel Legrand and Georges Delerue."

    Tirez la langue, mademoiselle, 102 mins., opened theatrically in France 4 Sept/ 2013 and was well received by local critics (Allociné press rating 3.6). Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series (shown at Landmarks's Clay Theater 7-10 Nov.).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2015 at 04:50 PM.

  8. #8
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SUZANNE ( Katell Quillévéré 2013)


    Sara Forestier and Paul Hamy in Suzanne [Films Distribution, Paris]

    Criminal lovers

    Katell Quillévéré's debut Love Like Poison (Un poison violent) (R-V 2011), a little coming of age film set in the provinces, did not really live up to its extreme title, but the director ups the ante marketly in the fast extreme story of a bad girl that is her second film, starring the frisky Saraa Forestier as the protagonist and François Damiens as her uneasy father. At Cannes when the film debuted in Critics' Week Catherine Shoard wrote in the Guardian, "The second feature from 33-year-old Katell Quillévéré [is] the sort of woozily shot, remorselessly emotional, acutely observed socio-realist soap that both confounds and confirms chick-flick prejudice." Indeed this could be seen as a crime story that due to its female point of view goes heavy on the love stuff and light on the crime stuff.

    The blurb description of the film as "told in elliptical fragments that span 25 years" is misleading. Those "fragments" are simply sketches of Suzanne and her more staid sister Maria (Adèle Haenel, who was in Céline Sciamma's Water Lilies) slipping through their early years. They quickly lead us up to the key action that takes place when they are in their twenties. Suzanne has an illegitimate child, Charlie, who becomes part of the household of the girls and their widowed dad, Nicolas Merevsky ( Damiens), while Suzanne works in the office of the trucking firm dad drives for. Suzanne then falls madly in love with a louche, lanky miscreant called Julien (strong newcomer Paul Hamy), disappears for a year, and then is sent to jail for burglary and assault as Julien's accomplice. Because Nicolas is out a lot, Charlie has been put into a foster home. At the court when Suzanne is sentenced, Nicolas is devastated, and rushes out.

    As Catherine Shoard says, Quillévéré throws so much at you in a short time your feel manipulated. But this approach does permit her to cram a heap o' livin' into only an hour and a half. All I've described above takes place just in the first 46 minutes.

    Sara Forestier is a gifted actress who's shown her ability to play a hellion before, 2010's The Names of Love being a good example. Paul Hamy has a savage look and manner that is her match and their scenes together are the most memorable in the film. In between Suzanne may just be waiting. Quillévéré used that title too soon: this is the "love like poison," a pleasing poison, evidently. Quillévéré shows here that she can make a powerful film too, though she is as overambitious this time as she was timid in the first film. Boyd van Hoeij in Variety thinks the director, her co-writer Mariette Desert and editor Thomas Marchan have trouble keeping the audience engaged or staying fully focused on the protagonist, and introduce some scenes that are incomprehensible or unnecessary. Despite the film's rush and brutal emotionalism, though, it knows how to stop and breathe too, even if sometimes it's more a gasp for breath. The sometimes documentary cinematography of Tom Harari is good at both long and very closeup shots, but is too murky at times. The acting is uniformly fine and the chemistry between Forestier and Haenel as sisters is great and between Forestier and Hamy as lovers is more than great, almost scary.

    Suzanne, 90 mins., debuted in Critics' Week at Cannes and opens theatrically in France 14 Dec. 2013. Screened for this film as part of the 7-10 Nov. San Francisco Film Society series French Cinema Now.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-16-2017 at 05:54 AM.


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