Archive for the ‘french film’ Category

The Nun (1966)

Dir: Jacques Rivette | Cast: Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Micheline Preste, Francine Berge, Francisco Rabal | France, drama 142’

As the ruthless Diana Monti in Georges Franju’s Judex (1963), Francine Bergé had attempted to abduct virginal young heroine Jacqueline Favraux (played by Édith Scob) while disguised as a nun. Three years later she now has Anna Karina in her clutches as the cruel Sister Sainte-Christine.

As it reels from one abuse scandal to another the last thing the Catholic Church needs right now is the timely revival of this reminder of the sheer relentless boredom and awfulness of convent life over two hundred years earlier, into which young women were often cast for financial rather than spiritual reasons. Especially as we now know the church was still pursuing its abuse of the vulnerable even as it waged a furious campaign to censor this film on its initial appearance back in the sixties.

A surprisingly sumptuous looking production in colour and widescreen to come from nouvelle vague veteran Jacques Rivette, based on Denis Diderot 1796 novel, the film is of course further enhanced by the haunting beauty of Karina in the title role and by the ever delightful Lilo Pulver as the sapphist Mother Superior of a rollicking and worldly convent that resembles Castle Anthrax in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. @RichardChatten

ON AMAZON

The World of Yesterday | Le Monde d’Hier (2022)

Wri/Dir: Diasteme | Lea Drucker, Denis Podalydes, Benjamin Biolay, Alban Lenoir, Thierry Godard | France, Drama 90′

Elisabeth de Raincy, the French President, has decided to withdraw from political life. Three days before the first round of the presidential election, she learns from her Secretary-General, Franck L’Herbier, that a scandal on a Russian news site will splash her designated successor and propel the right-wing candidate into the Elysée. They have three days to change the course of History.

Inspired by Stefan Zweig’s 1934 novel depicting the stability of the Austro Hungarian empire before the catastrophe of the First World War, this tense political character drama co-written by niche French director Diasteme (French Blood) is a timely reminder of how history repeats itself particularly with the French general elections coming to a head with the threat of major change.

Essentially a three hander this plush and persuasive political thriller unfolds in the elegant surround of the Elysee Palace where de Raincy – an impressive Lea Drucker – is concerned with her political past and her teenage daughter’s need for attention too as she faces difficult choices in a world that is clearly dying out. MT

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Farewell, Mr Haffmann (2021)

Dir: Fred Cavaye | Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche, Sara Giraudeau | France, Drama 115′

Daniel Auteuil is the quietly mesmerising star turn in Fred Cavaye’s sombre but satisfying occupation drama that sees a Jewish craftsman’s act of benevolence backfire with tragic consequences.

He is Monsieur Hoffmann a popular and talented jeweller with a live-in corner atelier in Montmartre when the Germans move into Paris in 1941 setting in motion a mass exodus of Jews and the rounding up of those unable to get away. Seeing a chance to escape and save his business, by transferring it to his  crippled (and it soon turns out impotent) assistant Francois Mercier (Lellouche), he sends his wife and family to the country, but is unable to get away in time and is forced back to take refuge in the basement of his former home, now occupied by Mercier and his mousy wife Blanche (a subtle Sara Giraudeau).

Based on Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s award-winning play and adapted by Cavaye and Sara Kaminsky for the screen, it’s a twisty little story that goes to unexpected places with a compelling undertow despite the rather grimy wartime settings and stultifying atmosphere. Hobbling around on his callipers and unable to impregnate his wife (Haffmann stepping in to do the honours) Mercier will also turn out to have feet of clay – and his hands are not much better either: the Nazis giving the thumbs down to his inferior design skills, forcing Mr Haffmann to burn the midnight oil from his underground ‘prison’ to provide elegant pieces to satisfy the Nazi molls and allow Mercier to keep up pretences.

Obviously it’s not going to end well given Mercier’s severely dinted ego (it’s a hapless role for Lellouche but he plods on undeterred…) and his wife’s sympathies turn to Mr Haffmann rather than her husband in a morally complex character study which hints at Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

The 400 Blows | Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959)

Dir.: Francois Truffaut; Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble, Patrick Auffay, Georges Flamant; France 1959, 100 min.

Francois Truffaut was banned from attending the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 but that didn’t prevent him from winning Best Director for Les Quatre Cents Coup, paving the way for other “Cahiers du Cinema” critics like Godard, Rivette and Chabrol to follow in his wake – et voilá La Nouvelle Vague was born.

Dedicated to the eminent French critic André Bazin, who had “adopted” Truffaut and died just before shooting began, the over-literary translation ‘Raising Hell’ would have certainly been appropriate given the startling nature of this bitter coming-of-age story fraught with poverty, institutional repression and parental neglect and centring on Jean-Pierre Léaud’s pre-teen Antoine Doinel.

Victimised at school, Antoine’s home life is no better, his mother Gilberte (Maurier) and stepfather Julien  (Rémy) neglect him emotionally in their cramped Parisian apartment where he is forced to sleep in the hallway. Escaping this nightmare environment is the only answer: Antoine will play truant at school with his friend René (Auffay), sneaking into cinemas and a fairground, and hiding in René’s flat where his parents make it nearly impossible for the two to meet. A huge, stuffed horse dominates the bedroom, a metaphor for the absurdity of their marital life.

At school Antoine is the scapegoat of an obnoxious French teacher (Decomble) who regularly picks on him. When a photo of a pin-up girl is passed round under the boys’ desks naturally Antoine is caught in the act, painting a moustache on the woman’s face. Later, Antoine paraphrases a Balzac text for an essay and is accused of plagiarism – the writer is his hero, he even has an altar with a candle for him, almost burning down his parent’s flat.

Worse is to come: Antoine gets caught out lying about his mother’s ‘death’ until both parents turn up at the school, alarmed by the boy’s behaviour. Antoine sleeps rough, steals a typewriter from his step-father’s office, and ends up behind bars with robbers and sex-workers. Later Antoine is transferred to a juvenile detention centre, where he absconds during a football match – eventually ending up on the beach  – his dream of freedom comes true.

The humour is always harsh, even Antoine’s close friendship with Rene is turbulent – but at least he has a decent home. Truffaut explores the emotional affects of Antoine’s homelife through a psychologist at the detention centre, who asks him: “how do you feel, not knowing who your biological father is”. Antoine’s answer is cutting: “I always thought my mother was not my real mother”.

Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Leaud’s collaboration on the film led to a close friendship that would continue until Truffaut’s early death. DoP Henri Decaë sums up the cultural wasteland of the 1950s with this dispiriting picture of a Paris of grey facades. Black-and-white images are for once not poetic nor illuminating, just simply bland – ugly even. There is no compromise possible: family and institutions are the enemy of liberty and creativity in Truffaut’s mind. His debut would be his masterpiece. AS

Opening at BFI Southbank, HOME Manchester, Ciné Lumière, Broadway Nottingham and selected cinemas UK-wide on 7 January 2022

 

Jules et Jim (1961) Truffaut Season at the BFI

Dir.: Francois Truffaut; Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Oscar Werner, Henri Serre, Marie Dubois, Vanna Urbino, Sabine Haudepin, Boris Bassiak; France 1961, 105 min.

Truffaut mentioned Henri-Pierre Roché’s 1953 novel ‘Jules et Jim’ first in his ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ review for Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1955 western feature The Naked Dawn. Roché (1879-1959) had been a famous Dadaist; he wrote Jules et Jim at the age of 74. Three years later, he would publish ‘Les deux Anglaises et le Continent’, and Truffaut’s screen version followed in 1971.  Both novels are highly autobiographically, featuring a passionate menage-a-trois: Jules et Jim tells the story of a strong woman loved  by two very different men, Les Deux Anglaises is about a weak man in love with two wilful women.

Covering the time between 1912 and 1935, the script adapted by Truffaut and Jean Gruault follows German writer Jules (Werner) and his French counterpart Jim (Serre), who meet in Paris. Jim is a hedonistic womaniser (very much like the novelist Roché) whereas Jules is serious, self-pitying and naive, clinging to abstracts and words rather than actions. They both fall in love with Catherine (Moreau), who is the polar opposite of Jules who she ends up marrying, against Jim’s advice.

The marriage is a disaster, but the war intervenes, the two men fighting on different sides and afraid to kill each other. After the war, Jim goes to see Jules, Catherine and their daughter Sabine (Haudepin) in a small village in southern Germany. Catherine is unhappy, and Jules asks Jim “not to see me as an obstacle” in making love to Catherine. The ménage-a trois is a happy one, but Jim can’t tear himself away from Paris and patient girl friend Gilberte (Urbino), with Catherine’s passionate jealousy ending it all. The trio meet accidentally in Paris in 1934, watching a newsreel about the Nazis burning books. Catherine’s revenge is as brutal as its imaginative and leaves Jules bereft alone in a world which he never understood.

The casting of Moreau made Jules et Jim from a “film d’auteur” into a “film de comédienne”, as Claude Mauriac put it. Arguably, the great DoP Raoul Coutard also owns more of the feature than the director. Coutard’s roving camera, old-fashioned fade-outs and languid tracking shots creates an unreal atmosphere, keeping the audience at the whim of the changing camera angles, just like Jules is permanently wrong-footed by life and his love for Catherine.

Jules et Jim was certainly the high point in Truffaut’s career. His next feature, La Peau Douce (1963/64) would be his last in black-and-white for a very long time; but the change to colour was not only an aesthetic choice. Despite the radical ending, La Peau Douce (like most features which followed) were very much a return the French cinema of quality and psychological drama Truffaut had attacked so vehemently as a critic. AS

 

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT SEASON ON BFI PLAYER & AT BFI SOUTHBANK
The BFI’s celebration of film critic-turned-director, François Truffaut takes place across the UK during January – February 2022 to include a two-month season at BFI Southbank and BFI Distribution re-releases of THE 400 BLOWS and JULES ET JIM.

LES MISTONS (THE MISCHIEF MAKERS) (1957)
A group of boys have a crush on a girl called Bernadette. As they are jealous of Gérard, her lover, they try to disrupt their relationship. When Gérard catches one of the kids spying on them, he thrashes him severely. In retaliation, the boys attempt inspiring Bernadette to doubt Gérard’s love.

SHOOT THE PIANIST (1960)
Charlie is approached by his crook brother Chico, who is chased by two gangsters. Charlie helps him to escape, but he upsets the criminals, so when his brother Fido is kidnapped, Charlie has to take an attitude with tragic consequences.

ANTOINE ET COLETTE (1962)
Now aged 17, Antoine Doinel (introduced in THE 400 BLOWS) works in a factory which makes records. At a music concert, he meets a girl his own age, Colette, and falls in love with her. Later, Antoine goes to extraordinary lengths to please his new girlfriend and her parents, but Colette still only regards him as a casual friend.

STOLEN KISSES (BAISERS VOLÉS) (1968)
It’s 1968 and the forever lustful protagonist of the Antoine Doinel series, has been discharged from military service. He stumbles into a position assisting a private eye where many misadventures, romantic and otherwise ensue.

BED AND BOARD (DOMICILE CONJUGAL) (1970)
Antoine has married his sweetheart Christine, and the couple have set up a cosy life of selling flowers and giving violin lessons while Antoine works on his long-gestating novel. As Christine is pregnant with the couple’s first child, Antoine finds himself enraptured with a young Japanese beauty.

ANNE AND MURIEL (AKA TWO ENGLISH GIRLS) (1971)
At the beginning of the 20th century, Claude Roc, a young middle-class Frenchman, befriends Anne, an Englishwoman. While spending time in England with Anne’s family, Claude falls in love with her sister Muriel, but both families lay down a year-long separation without contact before they may marry.

UNE BELLE FILLE COMME MOI (SUCH A GORGEOUS KID LIKE ME) 1972)
Stanislas Previne is a young sociologist, preparing a thesis on criminal women. He meets Camille Bliss in prison to interview her. Camille is accused of murdering her lover Arthur and her husband Clovis. She tells Stanislas about her life and her love affairs…

LOVE ON THE RUN (L’AMOUR EN FUITE) (1978)
Antoine is now thirty, working as a proofreader and getting divorced from his wife. It being the first “no-fault” divorce in France, a media circus erupts, dredging up Antoine’s past. Indecisive about his new love with a store clerk, he impulsively takes off with an old flame.

THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR (LA FEMME D’A COTE) (1981)
Two ex-lovers wind up living next door to each other with their respective spouses. Forbidden passions ensue.

FINALLY, SUNDAY! (VIVEMENT DIMANCHE!) (1983)
Based on ‘The Long Saturday Night’ by Charles Williams, the story is set over the course of a few nights in a small town in the South of France. Julien Vercel, director of an estate agency, finds himself suspected of a double murder: that of his wife, Marie-Christine, and her lover, Claude Massoulier. As circumstantial evidence is against him and a third murder is attributed to him, Vercel takes off to escape the police. His secretary, Barbara, conducts her own inquiry in a bid to find out the truth and gets herself into some worrying, unexpected situations.

Forces Occultes (1943)

Dir: Jean Mamy (as Paul Riche) | cast: Maurice Remy, Marcel Vibert, August Boverio, Gisele Parry | France, Thrille 53′

Freemasonry continues to be viewed with deep suspicion in many quarters to this day, and like the Jehovah’s Witnesses they attracted the hostility of the Nazis. Hence this diatribe against them made by a group of Vichy enthusiasts during the Occupation.

Forces Occultes is bookended by two pieces of crude symbolism that most obviously nail the film’s colours to its mast as a sock puppet on behalf of the Propaganda Abteilung which had commissioned it. The first is a childishly constructed model spider with a Masonic square and compasses on its back coming to rest on a map of France; and at the end a dastardly Jew gloating over a blazing globe of the world before the caption ‘Fin’ comes up framed within a Star of David. A map is also employed at the outset to demonstrate that only those countries that were under fascism during the thirties were free of “Jewish-Masonic influence”.

We are then introduced to Pierre Avenel, an idealistic young member of parliament seen railing against both the capitalists and communists during the early thirties (in a scene actually shot in the currently disused Chamber of Deputies at the Palais-Bourbon; the French parliament having been transferred to Vichy). He catches the eye of the Masons in parliament and requires remarkably little persuasion to join them, despite the reservations of his wife. A quarter of the film’s 53 minute running time is then given over to a detailed enactment of the ceremony which marks Avenel’s initiation (and Yes, he does wear his right trouser leg rolled up). The ceremony over, he is shown how the famous handshake works and is immediately inundated with requests for strings to be pulled on their behalf by the cartel of spivs – some of them obviously Jewish – that to his distaste he now finds himself beholden to.

The Stavisky scandal is name-checked and the ensuing anti-government riots dramatised; and we now learn that the “mediocre social climbers” Avenel is being forced to associate with are merely pawns in a much larger game that extends all the way up to George V and President Roosevelt and whose ultimate objective (announced by a very Jewish looking speaker at a lodge meeting) is war between France and Germany. The film ends in September 1939: Mission Accomplished.

With the Liberation of France the year after it’s release, many of this film’s makers had to make themselves scarce (Maurice Rémy, who played Avenel, fled to Argentina for five years); while director Paul Riche in 1949 became the only French filmmaker to be executed after the war, although for his collaborationist journalism rather than this film. Technically the film is a thoroughly professional job, with a jaunty score by Jean Martinon and photography of the calibre one would expect of Marcel Lucien, Jean Renoir’s cameraman on ‘Boudu Sauvé des Eaux’.
3 out of 5 found. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

La Grande Vadrouille (1966) Prime Video

Dir: Gerard Oury | Cast: Bourvil, Louis de Funès, Claudio Brook, Andrea Parisy | France, Adventure drama 132′

A colossal box office hit in France but largely unknown here in Britain, where it had a brief cinema release in1968 before soon fading from memory despite the presence of Terry-Thomas. Top-billing goes to Bourvil, who is appealing in the larger but less showy part than that of co-star Louis de Funès, whose mere presence is enough to get you grinning in anticipation.

Glossily shot in Eastmancolor on a variety of picturesque locations (including Paris) by the veteran cameraman Claude Renoir, the plush production and extraordinary running time of 132 minutes does get rather overwhelming when lavished upon some pretty basic slapstick; such as twice ruining SS officer Hans Meyer’s nice smart uniform by covering him in muck. Much of the film is pitched at that level, with people hiding in wardrobes and going into the wrong hotel rooms, although the sequence where Bourvil and de Funès approach an unsuspecting stranger they’ve confused with Terry-Thomas in a Turkish bath by sidling up to him and giving him the eye while wearing only towels and whistling ‘Tea for Two’ enters the realm of the authentically bizarre.

With over twenty years having passed since the Liberation, the film’s makers by now felt able to treat the Germans as figures of fun rather than enmity, and even go to the trouble to let us know that the pilot accidentally shot down by a cross-eyed gunner on their own side parachutes to safety during the tremendous climax set on the border of the Free Zone; in which all the visual treats that have come before are far surpassed by a stunning sequence depicting two bright red gliders hurtling off a sheer cliff against the backdrop of a breathtakingly beautiful mountainscape. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Le Maman et le Putain | The Mother and the Whore (1973) Cannes Classics

Dir; Jean Eustache | Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Bernadette Lefont, Francoise LeBrun | France, Drama, 215’

Three Parisians drink, smoke, copulate and talk, and talk, copulate, smoke and drink for three and a half hours. Much of the talk (in very basic language) is also about copulation, but, being an art movie from that brief, long ago idyll between the introduction of the Pill and before AIDS, no one actually seems to derive much pleasure from all this joyless rutting. For anyone whose first language is not French, keeping up with the subtitles is a daunting challenge throughout.

Jean-Pierre Léaud plays his usual self-centred, garrulous perpetual adolescent, and Bernadette Lafont disappointingly gets a fraction of the screen time of the other two corners of this particular triangle. Shot by Pierre Lhomme in what is presumably deliberately some of the ugliest black & white photography I’ve ever seen, it would be tempting to say that only in a movie could a prick like Alexandre find himself at the centre of a harem comprising two such formidable and willing females. But that, alas, is one aspect of the film that rings only too true. @RichardChatten

SCREENING IN CANNES CLASSICS | 2022

 

My French Film Festival | Online festival 2021

 

Now in its 11th year, MyFrenchFilmFestival shines a spotlight on new generation French-language filmmakers and gives audiences around the world the chance to share their love of French cinema. The 2021 Festival runs from 15 January – 15 February with screenings online and in cinemas around the world. Audiences in the UK can watch these 11 features from this year’s Festival on BFI Player on Prime Video Channels, free to subscribers:

ADOLESCENTES (Sébastien Lifshitz, 2019)
CAMILLE (Boris Lojkine, 2019)
ÉNORME (Sophie Letourneur, 2019)
FELICITÀ (Bruno Merle, 2020)
FILLES DE JOIE (Frédéric Fonteyne, Anne Paulicevich, 2020)
JOSEP (Aurel, 2020)
JUST KIDS (Christophe Blanc, 2019)
KUESSIPAN (Myriam Verreault, 2019)
LES HÉROS NE MEURENT JAMAIS (Aude Léa Rapin, 2019)
MADAME (Stéphane Riethauser, 2019)
TU MÉRITES UN AMOUR (Hafsia Herzi, 2019)

MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 15 JANUARY – 15 FEBRUARY 2021

Evolution (2015) **** MUBI

Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic | Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier France/Belgium 2015, 81 min.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s memorable debut feature Innocence dealt with a teenage girl in a boarding school. EVOLUTION centres this time on a group of boys on the crest of adolescence. Living a frigid existence by an eerie seashore with their mothers, there are no adult males to be seen. Hadzihalilovic presents a joyless antiseptic world where even the meals of strained seaweed broth appear medicinal rather than satisfying. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosses’s spare and pristine interior visuals give the impression of a wide-scale marine laboratory where a sci-fi experiment is underway and the boys are the victims.

Young Nicolas (Brebant) and his mother (Parmentier) live in this dreary community: their spartan lifestyle is marked by robotic rituals: dinner is always followed by the intake of an inky medicine, which appears to be therapeutic. Somehow Nicolas suspects that something is going on beyond the surface of enforced rigour: he follows his mother to the beach at night, where he observes her writhe in ecstacy with other women. Before he can unravel the mysterious plan, he is sent to a dilapidated early 20th century hospital where some of his friends are also patients. Weird experiments are carried out and one boy disappears completely. Nicolas is befriended by one of the nurses, Stella (Duran), who supplies him with material for his drawings. When the dreadful secret emerges, Stella tries to help Nicolas to escape.

The boys in EVOLUTION have no rights over their bodies, but what emerges is that they are the unwitting victims of some kind of freaky, gender-reversal surgery. The dreamlike atmosphere evokes a past we can not see, but the boys’ dreams  suggest they have been taken away from their real families to take part in a medical experiment destined to help mankind’s survival. But dreams and reality are indistinguishable, the underwater scenes suggest more sinister plans are underway: perhaps mankind has to become amphibious to survive. The ghastly hospitals are horror institutions located underground and under the control of the sullen – all female – doctors and nurses. Syringes and scalpels take on a sadistic undertone creating a frightening parallel with medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps.

EVOLUTION haunts and beguiles for just over an hour. Hadzihalilovic and her co-scripter Alante Kavaite (Summer of Sangaile) cleverly keep the tension taught requiring the audience to invest a great deal in the narrative before any salient clues emerge – but even then much remains unexplained and enigmatic; not that EVOLUTION wants to be understood. Part of its allure is this inaccessibility, unsettlingly evoking a world far beyond any genre, it is esoteric and anguished in its unique otherworldliness. Too many films feature repetitive images and schematic self-indulgent narratives: how refreshing to find a true original revealing a totally new world in just 81 minutes. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Le Trou (1960) **** Prime video

Dir: Jacques Becker | Michel Constantin, Jean Keraudy, Philippe Leroy, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel | French Thriller 131′

It was bold indeed of Jacques Becker to make another prison escape film so soon after Robert Bresson had created the genre’s masterpiece, Un condamné à mort s’est échappé (1956); but the gamble paid off handsomely.

Based on a book by Jose Giovanni and adapted by the writer, along with Becker and Romanian-born Jean Aurel, the plot is simple: four long-serving inmates planning an elaborate escape cautiously induct fresh blood into their scheme in the shape of a short-term detainee from another cell-block. Will he have the same commitment in his desire to escape?.

Like Robert Rossen’s Lilith (1964), La Trou seen in isolation looks more like the debut of an exciting new talent than the valediction of a veteran in his fifties about to be taken before his time. Released shortly after Becker had died of a heart attack aged just 53, when confronted with such a fresh and modern-looking piece of filmmaking one is vexed by the question of where Becker would have gone next, which we shall never know.

The film remains unusual for its lack of a music score (composer Philippe Arthuys, significantly, is actually credited at the end with ‘Illustration sonore’), and I can even forgive this film for setting a deplorable precedent by being possibly the first to have no credits at the start; they all come at the end, to the accompaniment of a simple piano arrangement of Rubinstein’s ‘Melody in F’ which may have been intended as discrete mockery on Becker’s part of the grandiose use of Mozart’s ‘Mass in C Minor’ at the conclusion of Bresson’s film. DoP Ghislain Cloquet (who was married to Becker’s script-editor daughter, Sophie) achieves tremendous rhythm with his kinetic black and white camerawork despite the claustrophobic and squalid prison confines. Jean Keraudy, a veteran of the original escape, segues smoothly into the uniformly excellent cast; while among the staff, Jean-Paul Coquelin has a beguiling air of dry good humour in his scenes as the cell block lieutenant. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

 

 

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) ****

Dir: Jack Cardiff | Wri: Ronald Duncan, Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues (Novel), Gillian Freeman| Cast: Marianne Faithfull, Alan Delon, Marius Goring, Catherine Jourdan, Jean Leduc, Jacques Marin, Andre Maranne | Drama, 91′

“Take Me to Him, My Black Pimp!”

A public safety film about the correct way to ride pillion masquerading as groovy sixties psychedelia. Based on Andre Pieyre De Mandiargues’ 1963 novel; at least the film version of Fifty Shades of Gray spared us the heroine’s inane interior monologues. The premise was simple: a married woman leaves her husband and zooms off on her motorcycle to see her lover.

It has been said that bad directors become mere photographers, and even Britain’s pre-eminent Technicolor cameraman Jack Cardiff never remotely approached, as a director, the heights he regularly achieved with his lighting. And you’d have thought he’d have have known better than all those pans and zooms (not to mention that lousy process work).

Anyone who liked the title probably wasn’t disappointed with the film; although, like Vertigo, the film that ultimately emerged was very different from that originally envisaged, because the intended female lead was rendered incapable of starring by the time the project eventually went into production. Susan Denberg, the actress originally cast (after an impressive but dubbed performance in Frankenstein Created Woman), succumbed to drug addiction. Her replacement, Marianne Faithfull, was of course chosen for her beauty as well as her celebrity rather than her ability to act (or to ride a motorbike; wearing a silly helmet that never looked as if it offered much protection), with sadly predictable results. Richard Chatten.

ON PRIME VIDEO

Wonders in the Suburbs | Merveilles a Montfermeil (2019) **

Wri/Dir: Jeanne Balibar | Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Beart, Ramzy Bedia, Bulle Ogier | Comedy | France, 109′

Seasoned actress turned Jean Balibar first satirised France in Par Example, Electre, starring and directing alongside Pierre Leon. Six years later her stylish but structureless solo attempt at anarchic comedy is far from wonderful but certainly colourful. Shot on location in the Parisian suburbs of Seine St. Denis and Montfermeil, it features over seventy locals and a star-studded cast, but sinks under the weight of conflicting ideas.

Kamel Mrabti (Bedia) and his wife Joëlle (Balibar) are a divorcing couple at the centre of the unfolding political farce. As active members of a new task force they are working to revitalise the locale with some exciting ideas, and although their marriage is over and new lovers have already entered the fray, the two must support their latest mayor Emmanuelle Joly (a fine Beart) in implementing a set of initiatives that include the new Montfermeil International School of Languages with the teaching 62 local languages; the ‘slowing of urban rhythms’; the introduction of a ‘Nap programme’; and social support for sexual satisfaction.

Marijuana is not only legalised under this new regime, it’s actually provided by the council, along with fresh vegetables. Naturally this is all very New Age and exciting. But behind the scenes chaos rules: the Mayor is losing it slowly, undermined but a more senior government official, and Kamel is suspected of being in league with Paris – the big enemy of devolution. Meanwhile, Joly’s secretary is learning Mandinka to keep up with her Malian lover, and the Army is lurking in the woods nearby, ready to strike.

DoP Andre Chemotoff’s visuals vamp up the histrionic mayhem in a production that looks slick and very professional. And although Amalric, Beart and Balibar shine in the leading roles they can’t rescue Balibar’s rather flawed script: breaking eggs on a sculpture of President Macon is, like the whole affair, not particularly original or impressive. MT

NOW ON MUBI | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019   

 

Perfumes (2019) ***

Dir: Gregory Magne | Emmanuelle Devos, Gregory Montel, Gustav Kervern, Sergi Lopez | Drama France,

We can always rely on the French to make good-looking and believable middle age love stories, grounded in reality with appealing characters, and style to boot. Their poverty stricken single dads have sex appeal, and the camera loves their selfish divas, especially when have the soigné nonchalance of Emmanuelle Devos who stars here as a once-famous ‘nose’ in the perfume industry.

She plays Anne Walberg in Gregory Magne’s second outing into light-hearted romcom territory. The story kicks off in one of those warm French Octobers where the sun adds a glow of expectancy to this roundabout autumn romance. Anne is kitted out in her chic winter coat and ready to promote the fragrances she creates. Collecting her in a black Mercedes Limo is chauffeur Guillaume Favre, a single dad down on his luck whose dark good looks inject a subtle frisson to their taxi journey.

Still waters run deep, and neither are aware just how much they are going to need each other on this earthy odyssey that goes to unexpected places. Not hot to trot, but certainly persuasive and enjoyable, Perfume’s wayward narrative has a convincing end game. It’s flirty and original just like Anne’s perfumes. MT

NOW ON CURZON WORLD | on Curzon Cinemas | Friday 21st August

Alice (2019) *** Digital release

Dir/Wri: Josephine Mackerras | Cast: Emilie Piponnier, Martin Swabey, Chloe Boreham | Drama, France 103′

Could you have sex with a man you had no feelings for, and possibly didn’t even fancy? When disaster strikes sex work is the only way forward for a respectable Parisian mother in this watchable first film from Australian writer director Josephine Mackerras.

Emilie Piponnier gives it her all as Alice the impressive woman in question, forced to the brink when her affectionate, poetry quoting husband François (Martin Swabey) suddenly disappears, taking all their money. Left with nothing but debt and her adorable toddler she has to act quickly. And learn not just to be a paid lover, but one who also calls the shots. A situation which ends up being empowering, and potentially lucrative.

All easier said than done. And Mackerras certainly has a rosy view of  prostitution. At times this veers into Celine and Julie go Boating territory but it does help that the men who enter Alice’s ‘professional’ love life are mostly easy on the eye. Some are even intelligent and attractive. So no beer-gutted, baldies to deal with – although one man breaks down in tears. But mastering the art of seduction is only half the battle for this sexually rather naive young mother. And she learns the psychological tricks of the trade from a frisky female she meets in a bar, who turns out to be Lisa (Chloe Boreham) an escort at an agency. The tricky bit comes in keeping the debtors as bay in tense scenes that will frighten the life out of anyone who has experienced the issues involved. Then Francois comes up with a sob story about how his father took him to a prostitute at the age of thirteen, begging for forgiveness, so Alice uses him as a babysitter. Then the worm turns, and Francois threatens to takes Jules away in scenes that culminate in an over-the-top happy ending.

This is a sunny insightful story that goes to fraught and unexpected places in showing how women are often tougher than they imagine, and how earning money from pleasing men can be infinitely more satisfying that not being paid to massage their egos within a dysfunctional marriage. MT

Alice will be released on selected digital platforms (Curzon Home Cinema, The BFI Player, Amazon Prime Video) from 24 July 2020. 

Au Bout des Doigts | In Her Hands (2019) *** Curzon Home Cinema

Dir: Ludovic Bernard | Cast Karidja Touré, Lambert Wilson | Kristin Scott Thomas | Jules Benchetrit | Drama French, 106 minutes
Music is the redeeming force in this Parisian prodigy drama from Luc Besson’s former assistant director Ludovic Bernard (Lucy).
Social realism clashes with the soigné world of the National Music Conservatory in an elliptical story that sees a disadvantaged young man develop his hidden talent thanks to a well-meaning protegé inspired by a tragedy of his own. Lambert Wilson is Pierre Geithner the director of the music college where Kristin Scott Thomas is draconian piano teacher, La Comtesse. Both will help Mathieu Malinski (Benchetrit) to become a concert pianist in this French riff on ‘My Fair Lady’.
As French dramas go this is solid rather than inspiring. Both Geitner and Malinski have the most scope as characters with their troubled backstories which are well-sketched out – although Benchetrit doesn’t always make the most of his complex role. The reverse is true for Scott Thomas, who tries hard to add nuance to her rather one dimensional Countess. Fortunately she has enough experience and talent to flesh out this severe woman, not so Malinski’s mother, a rather weak performance from Else Lepoivre. Karidja Toure is a breath of fresh air as Mathieu’s girlfriend Anna, a talented musician who possesses enough carefree elan to give Mathieu the confidence to believe in himself, in this casebook study of young male empowerment.
Jean Nouvel’s slick contemporary culture complex provides a slick counterpoint to the scenes in the down-at-heel banlieu where Malinski hangs out with his gang. In flashback we see him being inspired by a kindly old relative before the chic Countess swings in with her no nonsense approach, that often clashes with Malinski’s laid back style. And although she almost gives up in the end, Geitner’s continued passion for his discovery offers the most surprising reveal. MT
UK Release Date | 10th July 2020 | On Curzon Home Cinema

Summertime | La Belle Saison (2015) *** MUBI

Dir: Catherine Corsini | Cast: Cecile de France, Izia Higelin, Noemie Lvovsky, Benjamin Bellecour | 104min  | Drama | France

Catherine Corsini brings a sizzling energy to her lesbian love story set in Paris and the glorious landscapes of Le Limousin. Summertime will appeal to arthouse lovers and the LGBT crowd alike with its fresh and feisty turns from Cécile de France and Izia Higelin as unlikely bedfellows who come together during the French feminist uprisings in 1971.

Izia Higelin plays Delphine, a simple country girl arriving in Paris from her parents’ farm to seek her fortune in the capital. Feeling gauche and naive she soon gets caught up in the vortex of female political activism attracted by the strong and earthy women who appeal to her nascent lesbian leanings. Working at that well known grocery store Félix Potin, she falls in love with 35-year-old Carole (Cécile de France) who is dating the dishy writer Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour). After an awkward first act focusing on the feminist fervour of the time – which sadly feels embarrassing and rather contrived – the two begin a torrid affair that takes them back to the countryside where Delphine’s father becomes seriously ill and her mother Monique (Noemie Lvovsky) is left to run the business. They all get on like a house on fire in this sunny second act that serves as a genuinely delightful introduction to  daily life on a small working farm. Here we meet Antoine, a family friend and Delphine’s intended – according to her mother – and he immediately takes on the role of a sexual voyeur, tuning into couple’s romantic vibes, while giving Carole a wide berth. Delphine’s heart is in the ‘terroir’ but her love for Carole grows. Cécile de France gives a gutsy go at being Carole, torn between her life in Paris with Manuel and her budding feelings for Delphine.

Corsini conveys the strong physical urges of her lovers with scenes of earthy nudity and splashy sex. And although the two are a potent match, it’s clear Carole is experimenting while Delphine is  committed. Higelin brings a natural vulnerability to her part, not dissimilar from that of Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour. The younger of the two, she exudes a natural affection for Carole as well as a healthy lust, but Carole is a more complex girl whose ego demands to be worshipped.

Corsini is no stranger to big-screen lesbian love affairs, best known in this context for her 2001 Cannes competition hopeful Replay, featuring a gutsy yet tragic relationship between Emmanuelle Beart, a successful actress, and her less accomplished partner. Here the focus is more on innocence versus experience.  In a welcome twist, Delphine pursues Carole initially in a cat and mouse chase that spices up the storyline. But tradition starts to take over as the family responsibilities take over, throwing her back into Antoine’s orbit.

Although the film struggles for a feminist political agenda this often feels forced and less convincing than the scenes in the traditional farmstead. Lvovsky is a natural as Delphine’s mother whose straightforwardness and feral protection of her daughter and farm provides lush contrast to the more liberated Parisian style of Carole. Azais’ character masks an emotionally buttoned-up man, hesitant to pursue his personal agenda, a quality her shares with his object of affection Delphine.

Jeanne Lapoirie’s widescreen cinematography is resplendent but doesn’t idolise the Rubenesque voluptuousness of the naked women making love in the meadows, and Gregoire Hetzel’s occasional score adds a zeitgeisty ’70s twang to the soundtrack. MT

On MUBI THIS WEEKEND | 19 JUNE 2020

Joan of Arc | Jeanne (2019) **** Digital release

Dir: Bruno Dumont | Drama, France 137′

Bruno Dumont follows his musical biopic on the childhood of France’s martyred heroine, Jeannette, with this chronological drama exploring the final years of the Maid of Orléans (1412-31, who became a Roman Catholic saint for her part in reinstating Charles VII to the throne contested by England during the Hundred Years War.

Basing his narrative on the writings of Charles Péguy, his dignified and painterly portrait is suffused with an air of fantasy and opens in 1429 with the same actor Lise Leplat Prudhomme – who was ten at the time – in the title role of Joan. In Jeannette (2017) she was about eight but now now she is has developed into a confident, aspirational teenager with that same air of vulnerability and spiritual purity, not unlike that of Jesus. And Prudhomme is extraordinarily  convincing in the role, exuding a rare maturity. Dumont is clearly both in awe and in love with Joan and determined to clear her name and debunk the myths that led to her burning at the stake as a heretic. The story may be medieval but it still resonates today.

The wildness and clarity of light recalls that of Dumont’s Hors Satan (2012) which was also filmed in the dunes around Pas de Calais near where Joan underwent her trial for heresy. The internal scene takes place in the staggeringly majestic Amiens Cathedral. Dumont eschews the fussiness often connected with historical drama, instead opting for this fresh Neo-realistic approach that allows the focus to rest on the starkly sober message and dialogues between Prudhomme and the cast of non-pros made up of local academics and historians. MT

JOAN OF ARC on digital platforms from 19th June | CANNES 2019 | UN CERTAIN REGARD – SPECIAL MENTION

 

 

On a Magical Night, Room 212 (2019) ** Curzon World

Dir Christophe Honoré  | France, Drama 93′

What happens when a marriage goes plutonic? Christophe Honoré covers familiar ground in this Parisian drama that turns an old chestnut into a half-baked potboiler despite its arthouse pretensions and an award-winning turn from his regular muse Chiara Mastroianni as the leading star.

She is self-possessed and feisty as Maria married to Richard (her one-time partner Benjamin Biolay). Their relationship is as stale as an old baguette and nothing can warm things up between the sheets on frigid nights in their apartment in Montparnasse. Refreshingly, it is Maria who has strayed from the marital bed rather than Richard. And not just once: Maria has played the field with half a dozen handsome young studs during the course of her 25 year relationship with uber faithful Richard. After he discovers incriminating texts on her ‘phone, they have a low-key bust up that sees him crying into his cups, while she moves into the hotel opposite (hence the titular Room 212) to text pouty paramours who are then paraded before our eyes in an upbeat playful way as Maria revisits the past in this rather twee chamber piece.

On a Magical Night is Honoré’s follow-up to his sombre Sorry Angel, a gay melodrama that screened at Cannes 2018 in the competition section. Although Magical Night attempts to explore the theme of marital stagnation it doesn’t do so in a meaningful or entertaining way, actually looking more like a cheeky drama from the late 1970s. Mastroianni tries to liven things up but Briolay is rather tepid as her husband – this no melodrama – he simply mopes about tearfully as she secretly watches him from the 2 star hotel opposite.

Vincent Lacoste plays a younger puppyish version of Briolay, and his piano teacher ex, Irene, is Camille Cottin, who also breaks into charmless impromptu song. Decent at first this soon becomes tedious, leaving us checking our watches after an hour of frivolous nonsense, Mastroianni parading in various states of undress and in different positions as she attempts to straddle Lacoste in faux love-making. An interesting idea, but forgettably frothy in execution. MT

CURZON WORLD | CANNES UN CERTAIN REGARD WINNER – BEST ACTRESS

 

 

Revenge (2018) **** Blu-ray release

Wri/Dir: Coralie Fargeat | France, Thriller 106′

Dirty weekends don’t come any dirtier than the one in this ferocious indie revenge thriller that has ravishing locations, a twisty storyline, and a female lead who is not just a pretty face.

Revenge is the impressive debut from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat. This is a movie that will resonate with women everywhere with its feminist humour, from the dreaded chipped nail polish to the unwelcome male attention, especially the unwanted male attention. Bathed in garish technicolor and pulsed forward by a pounding electronic soundscape, Revenge snakes its way through the Moroccan desert where its heroine, the cheeky bummed hottie Jen, fetches up with her smugly married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens) for a sexy sun-drenched ménage à deux. But this French woman (Mathilde Lutz) is not just gorgeous, she is also extremely cute. And although she can play the seductive siren at will, she can also be as tough as old boots. And when two of Richard’s friends suddenly appear on the scene, their company is distinctly ‘de trop’.

Revenge is a playful film that teeters on the brink of fantasy: combining surreal Grande Guignol with down to earth horror in a gore fest so stylishly achieved it actually becomes vital to the plot line in the incendiary finale laced with spurts of subversive humour, along the lines of I Spit on Your Grave. Jen is seen rocking raunchy tops and a seductive smile that makes up for her monosyllabic part, she is just there to perform on the shag carpet which is perfect for soaking up the bloodshed that will follow.

Meanwhile the misogynist love rat Richard makes disingenuous phone calls to his wife back in France, discussing the canapés for a forthcoming event, and pretending he’s there just to enjoy some downtime with pals Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), who are later seen leering at Jen through the enormous windows of the glamorous modern villa.

Fargeat makes brilliant use of the local flora and fauna echoing the over the top, tongue in cheek decadence of it all: insects crawl over a rotten apple core, as Dimitri urinates over a scorpion emerging from the sands. But it all turns nasty when Stan takes a shine to Jen and ignores her clear rejection of him. Just because Jen presents herself as a purring sex kitten it doesn’t follow that these men can stroke her at their own volition. What comes next will set this cat amongst the pigeons in a prolonged showcase showdown that sweats out between the foursome in the dazzling desert heat. A woman behind the camera allows a licence for extremes, and Fargeat pushes her story to the limits in a thriller with appeal for every sexual persuasion. And the moral of the tale: if you have a secret lover, keep them strictly to yourself. MT

LIMITED ADDITION BLU-RAY FROM 11 MAY 2020

https://youtu.be/YTJrztVvmx0

A Paris Education | Mes Provinciales (2018) **** DVD

Dir.: Jean-Paul Civeyrac; Cast: Andranic Manet, Diane Rouxel, Jenna Thiam, Gonzague van Bervesseles, Corentin Fila, Valentine Catzeflis, Sophie Verbeck, Christine Brucher, Gregori Manoukov; France 2018, 137 min.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s passionate cocktail of Sex, cinema and politics is a seductive distillation of what it means to be French. Based on the novel Lettres Provinciales by Blaise Pascal, it follows the adventures of Etienne who arrived from Lyons to study filmmaking in Paris, Saint-Denis, leaving his family and friend Lucie (Rouxel) behind. Shot in ravishing black-and-white by Pierre-Hubert Martin, A Paris Education feels very much like La Maman et la Putain by Eustache, transported into contemporary times.

Etienne (Manet) is a shy, immature young man – and extremely naïve – he’s looking for a mother/father figure. Shacking up with a new flat mate Valentina (Thiam), he soon falls under the spell of the enigmatic Mathias (Fila), a fellow student and troubled provocateur who would rather criticise than actually put himself out there and make a film. Then there is Jean-Noel (Bervesseles), who is just the opposite: caring and balanced – Etienne’s two new friends could not be more different. Yet he seems to be more passionate about Mathias than anybody else – even though he hardly knows him. Meanwhile Valentina moves to Berlin and is replaced by fierce eco-warrior Annabelle (Verbeck). Etienne tries to get close to this vulnerable woman but she falls for Mathias, until his violent outbursts jeopardise their love, Mathias turning his aggression on himself; Etienne has lost both his friends – and he is literally picked up by Barbara (Catzeflis), who was only briefly introduced to him by Annabelle in the flat.

Etienne appears vulnerable but he is primarily a non-committal, both in love and work. He sails through the film like a ship without a flag: his only constant concern is to make films, people come second in every way – with the exception of Mathias. Even his relationship with his parents (Brucher/Manoukov) is far from straightforward. When they visit him in Paris he seems embarrassed and aloof. The endless discussions with his friends and co-students seem to be a way to avoid growing up, and also full-time work. In a sad epilogue, we see him gradually withdraw from Barbara: how can he commit when he only loves himself.

Music plays a central part in this affecting drama; editor Louise Narboni has worked in opera, and Bach and Mahler dominate (particularly his 5th symphony that scored Death in Venice), and underline how marginalised Etienne has become since leaving provincial life made him a big fish in small bowl.  In Paris his lack of real identity and commitment turn him into Musil’s titular hero in A Man without Attributes. A Paris Education is a tour-de-force of art and psychology, and for once, the running time of over two hours is appropriate. AS

NOW ON DVD FROM 11 MAY 2020  

Deux Fois (1969) *** Centre Pompidou Streaming

Dir: Jackie Raynal | Doc, France 64’

A member of the Zanzibar group, formed in 1968 around Sylvina Boissonas, Olivier Mosset, Philippe Garrel, and Serge Bard, Jackie Raynal (1940-) made her first film Deux Fois Twice during a nine-day trip to Barcelona in 1968. Having worked with Éric Rohmer and Jean-Daniel Pollet), this sophomore experimental documentary expresses an inescapable disenchantment in the aftermath to the cataclysmic events of May 68.

The film would go on to garner the Grand Prize of the Young Cinema Festival of Hyères (that focused on independent cinema founded in 1965), Twice was shot in a few days in velvetyblack and white by DoP Andre Weinfeld.  Sylvina Boissonnas financed the project, along with many of the the Zanzibar group’s activities.

In Deux Fois actressJackie Raynal takes on her new role as filmmaker to produce a “film almanac”, or a “notebook of wanted or organized haikus”, in the words of the historian of experimental cinema Dominique Noguez.

Essentially its lack of dialogue speaks volumes, although Raynal narrates the first sequence, focusing our gaze on the atmosphere and intensity of the protagonists’ feelings conveyed by body language. “Spectators are offered a series of actions reduced to their registration in the space of the shot and the duration of the projection, a set of time blocks, juxtaposed in a deceptive simplicity”.

Film critic Louis Skorecki called it “one of the strongest and most enigmatic films” ever made. It is while trying to interpret this enigma that we can also find, in the film, “a feminist manifesto and the unfinished diary of a love story”, to use Jackie Raynal’s words.

 

https://youtu.be/yxid5anKOOg

Woman in Chains (1968) | Classic Clouzot on Mubi

French director Henri-Georges Clouzot (1907-1977) is best remembered for his dark thrillers and some of the greatest films of the 1950s.  The Wages of Fear won him the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Berlinale Golden Bear in 1953, and rounded off the hat trick with a BAFTA two years later.

Even Alfred Hitchcock docked his hat to his French contemporary whose documentary Mystere de Picasso records the legendary artist painting various canvasses for the camera, allowing us to understand his creative purpose at work.  Le Corbeau is now available to watch at home, together with Elizabeth Wiener’s distinctive performance in Woman in Chains  (aka La Prisonniere, Clouzot’s last film and his only one in colour). Quai des Orfevres, completes the trio, of stylish films from the French Master of Suspense now emerging from the shadows to watch online at MUBI. With striking visuals and an unforgettably tense style, Clouzot’s films make classic noir viewing.

Le Corbeau (1942)

A stylish masterpiece of French cinema, Le Corbeau is a dark and subversive study of human nature starring Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc. In a nod to the Vichy regime of the era (not to mention Nazism), a wave of hysteria sweeps the small provincial town of St. Robin when a series of poison-pen letters signed ‘Le Corbeau’ (The Raven) begin to appear, denouncing several prominent members of society. The slow trickle of unsettling letters soon becomes a flood, and no one is safe from their mysterious accusations. Upon its release in 1943, Le Corbeau was condemned by the political left and right and the church, and Clouzot was banned from filmmaking for two years.

Woman in Chains (1968)

Josée (Elizabeth Wiener) is the wife of an artist whose work is exhibited in Stan Hassler’s modern art gallery. Stan (Laurent Terzieff), impotent and depraved, satisfies himself by photographing women in humiliating poses. Josée is fascinated by the man and soon falls completely in love with him.

Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

A marriage that has fallen on hard times is further tested by the couple’s implication in a murder. Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is a music hall chanteuse married to her pianist husband Maurice (Bernard Blier). Keen to get ahead, Jenny leaps at the chance when an ageing wealthy businessman (Charles Dullin) offers her the chance of some gigs. However, when she agrees to a meeting at his home and he is found dead later in the evening – Maurice’s untamed jealousy is in the frame. A Maigret-esque detective, Antoine, played by Louis Jouvet, leaves no stone unturned in his exceedingly private investigations of the down-at-heel showbiz couple’s sad, tempestuous life.

Henri-Georges Clouzot Focus now on MUBI.com

 

 

 

 

Who You Think I Am (2019) Curzon

Dir: Safy Nebbou Writer: Safy Nebbou, Julie Peyr | Cast: Juliette Binoche, François Civil, Nicole Garcia, Marie-Ange Casta, Guillaume Gouix, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin, Charles Berling, Claude Perron | French, 101′

A little bit late to the party comes another film about female sexuality after fifty. Bright Days Ahead started the trend, and then Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche did a great job with Let the Sun Shine In (2017). Now Binoche lends her talents as a similar woman in Who You Think I Am, a much darker and more introspective look at the loss of sexual power and identity that can afflict the female of the species, often affecting her wellbeing and confidence.

As Byron once wrote: “Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence”. And this is very much the case for Claire (Binoche) not satisfied with just being a mother or a literature professor in Paris, she also misses being desired, touched and lusted after. Abandoned by her husband, and keen to understand why her younger lover has also left, she idly delves into Facebook for a solution. A fat chance there, you may be thinking. But soon she’s inventing a fake profile and befriending her Alex, 29, masquerading as 24-year-old Clara, and Alex predictably takes the bait. Conversations with her shrink intensify and the two women become enthralled in the story that Claire is creating, Nicole Garcia is masterful as D Boormans finding it hard to remain a professional on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, as their flirty chat intensifies on social media and phone calls, Alex is soon in thrall to the woman of his dreams, Claire in disquise. But when she does the maths, reality bites. Lacking the confidence to meet Alex in person, she has nevertheless grown accustomed to his online attention, feeding her feelings of lust and longing, day by day. An experienced woman of the world, she knows just how to keep him onboard online. But not for ever, as Alex is gagging to meet her. And her elusiveness is driving him mad, and making him keener. But she deludes Alex, she is also deludes herself and this feeling sends her spiralling back into desperation. If only she looked young again, she could be having real sex with this guy, but isn’t that thought process also self-defeating. If she was confident, maybe he wouldn’t mind her ageing body, as he already loved her mind. And his feelings were real.

Based on the eponymous novel by Camille Laurens, Safy Nebbou convincingly probes Claire’s drift into virtual reality exploring it from different perspectives and exploring her psyche. There are so many angles here to contemplate, and Nebbou does a great job of understanding the female point of view. And as 89 year old Bernie Ecclestone announces the arrival of his latest kid, the subject of sexuality once again rears its ugly head in the gender politics debate. Juliette Binoche delivers an incredible portrait of a woman struggling to cope with the wounds inflicted by loneliness and growing older, from a female perspective. MT

ON CURZON HOME  CINEMA

 

 

Lullaby (Chanson Douce) ****

Lucie Borleteau; Cast: Karin Viard, Leïla Bekhti, Antoine Reinartz, Assya Da Silva, Rehad Mehal; France 2019, 120 min.

Lucie Borleteau follows her accomplished 2014 drama Fidelio:Alice’s Odyssey with another journey into troubled waters, this time adapting Leïla Slimani’s Goncourt winning novel Chanson Douce in an arthouse style nanny thriller.

Borleteau sets herself a tall order. Chanson Douce was one of the best novels of the last decade – but her film certainly passes muster, staying faithful to the page and keeping the keys ideas intact. Slimani uses Brecht’s trick of revealing the story’s tragic outcome in a few lines at the beginning of her novel allowing us to reflect on the detail leading up to tragic ending. Borleteau opts for a more conventional linear structure but there no is chance of this having a happy ending as doubt soon begins to cloud over the upbeat sunny beginning.

In Paris lawyer Myriam (Bekhti) and her husband Paul are delighted when they find the perfect nanny for their two kids. Much older Louise (Viard) has an old-fashioned, subservient attitude to her employers. She is more than happy to play the role of cleaner and cook, as well as taking care of the children: five-year old Mila (Da Silva) and toddler Adam. But it never dawns on Myriam and Paul why Louise is so dedicated, working all hours so the couple can re-kindle their social and even sex life – even taking the kids out in the evenings. The reason for the inter-dependency is perfectly clear as far as Louise is concerned: she is a lonely widow living in social housing, and has a troubled history of drug abuse. She sees this as a job for life. But things start to fall apart after a holiday on Formentera, where Paul and Myriam are forced to look after their kids on the beach because Louise is unable to swim. Back in Paris, Paul and Myriam get a letter from the authorities about the nanny’s delayed tax payments, and it soon becomes clear that Louise’s life fell apart after the death of her husband. Paul then returns home one day to find his daughter covered in make-up and threatens to dismiss the nanny, who is also wearing face paint

The resonance with previous nanny-themed psychodramas such as The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Saawan Kumar’s Khal-Naaikaa are clear. A woman invests emotionally in a family, hoping to reap the rewards of becoming part of the fold. And Louise cannot imagine a life without them – at least not without the children. There is something deeply strange about her behaviour (and there are some awkward scenes here). Her borderline personality disorder sees her stepping into Myriam’s life and even her bed at one point. Suddenly her life becomes unconscionable without Mila and Adam.

DoP Alexis Kavyrchine’s muted images are suggestive of the psychological meltdown that slowly unfolds, night merging into day. Karin Viard’s Louise is convincing as the quirky but homely nanny, her casting was Slimani’s idea. Lullaby is a nightmarish journey through a labyrinth of emotions – weird and worrying and without an Ariadne thread. AS
NOW ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE 

 

Amanda (2019)

Dir: Mikhael Hers | Vincent Lacoste, Isaure Multrier, Stacy Martin, Ophelia Korb and Greta Scacchi | French, Drama |107′

French filmmaker Mikhael Hers has found a delightfully lowkey way of depicting tragedy – both personal and collective – in a fresh and surprisingly upbeat drama that won the top prize at Tokyo Film Festival this year. The key here is the naturalistic approach and convincing performances. With a lightness of touch and avoiding sentimentality or melodrama at all costs, Hers and his co-writer Maud Ameline capture the way kids often cope with loss or change better than adults. Skilfully keeping the disaster firmly in the background, they focus on a human story that renews our jaded faith in family relationships.

Vincent Lacoste is one of the reasons Amanda is so enjoyable. He plays a sympathetic and flexible support to his sister Sabine who is struggling to bring up her little daughter Amanda. They all share a bijou apartment in one of those leafy Parisian central squares, David making a living looking after the other apartments in the block and working as a local part-time gardener. Lena (Stacey Martin) soon becomes a neighbour and a light-hearted romance is kindled. When Sabine is caught up in the tragedy, David decides to take full responsibility for little Amanda (an impressive Isaure Multrier). And when Lena moves back to Bordeaux, David realises he misses the female element in his life. A lovely Feelgood film.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO. 

Anna Karina (1940-2019) Obituary

Danish born actor Anna Karina (Hanne Karin Bayer), face of the Nouvelle Vague, has died in Paris. Her eventful life reads like a film script: She was seventeen, when she came arrived in Paris to find herself living on the streets and speaking very little French. She became a supermodel a few years later helped, among others, by Coco Chanel, who invented her screen name. Karina’s face was plastered on advertising boards on both sides of the Champs Elysee. She met Jean-Luc Godard when he was casting for his first film in 1960, A bout de Souffle. He offered her a small part, but Karina rejected it, because of the nudity involved. Godard accused her of double standards, claiming she was naked in a Palmolive advert. Karina called him naïve: she actually wore a Bikini hidden by the bubbles for the shoot. But the following year they were married.

Karina went on to star in seven of his films, the first was Le Petit Soldat that same year. She won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961 for Une Femme est une Femme. While marriage to Godard was stormy to say the least – he neglected her emotionally – “he was the sort of man who would go for a packet of cigarettes and return three weeks later” – their artistic relationship blossomed with a string of New Wave hits: Vivre sa Vie (1962); Bande a Part (1964); Pierrot Le Fou (1965); Alphaville (1965) and Made in USA (1966). When Godard cast her in his episode ‘Anticipation’ for The Oldest Profession (1966), they were already divorced and not on speaking terms. But Karina stayed loyal to Godard and a few years ago at the BFI she talked about him in glowing terms.

Karina would go on working for other directors from the Nouvelle Vague: Jacques Rivette (La Religeuse, Haut, Bas, Fragile) and also starring in Lucino Visconti’s L’Etranger, 1967, George Cukor’s Justine, Tony Richardson’s Nabokov adaption Laughter in the Dark (1969); and Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette (1967).  She also directed Vivre Ensemble (1973) and Victoria (2008).

Anna Karina will especially be remembered for the dance number in Bande a Part, her heart- breaking Nana in Vivre sa Vie, when Godard made her ugly on purpose by cutting off her long hair. And as Natascha von Braun in Alphaville, a woman desperate to reconnect with her feelings.

The French Minister of Culture Franck Riester said today: “French Film has become an orphan” with Karina’s death – but we have all been orphaned worldwide. AS

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) *****

Dir.: Jacques Demy; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Ellen Farmer, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Mireille Perrey; France/West Germany 1964, 91 min.

Jacques Demy (1931-1990) was a unique and multi-talented filmmaker who rose to fame in the wake of the New Wave. The Umbrellas was the second of a trilogy, bookended by Lola (1961) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). American style musicals are dominated by song and dance numbers, whereas in The Umbrellas is entirely sung. Demy wanted to create a European counterpart to the American tradition: The film is much closer in style to opera than musical.

It all focuses on Sixteen-year old Genevieve Emery (Deneuve) who is madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo). Her mother (Vernon) is not keen on the marriage, she is holding out for a more substantial match for her daughter. Guy is not really poor, he still lives with his godmother Elise (Perrey), who spends most of her time in bed, being looked after by Madeleine (Farner). But Madame Emery has another reason to wish for a financially more rewarding partnership for her daughter: her umbrella shop is on the verge of bankruptcy. Enter Roland (Michel), a diamond dealer, who falls for Genevieve.

When Guy gets drafted into the army, with the possibility of seeing action in the Algeria War, the lovers consummate their relationship. Madame Emery’s best laid plans seem to come to nothing when her daughter gets pregnant. But Roland (who was part of Lola, and quotes from it), forgives all and suggests they bring up the child together. But the marriage ceremony is anything but joyful, and the little epilogue is even grimmer: Guy has married Madeleine after the death of Elise, and has bought a petrol station with the money he inherited from her. On a cold winter evening Genevieve stops at the petrol station and asks Guy if he wants to speak to his daughter, who is in the car. Guy is not keen at all, looking forward to meeting his wife and little son.

Comparing The Umbrellas with Godard’s Un Homme et une Femme (1961), it turns out that Demy is very much more a realist than the self-proclaimed revolutionary Godard. Whist Anna Karina (in bohemian Paris) just wants to marry Jean-Paul Belmondo to have a baby – even if the baby’s father might be Jean-Claude Brialy, Genevieve and her mother (in provincial Cherbourg) see the child as a fly in the works. Instead of a fairy tale ending, where the pigherd marries the beautiful princess and they live happily ever after, Demy offers an exchange relationship: Genevieve’s young beauty is traded for Roland’s wealth. The ending is more bitter than sweet.

Michel Legrand’s score and Jean Rabier’s colourful images have made The Umbrellas into an emotionally resonant classic. Shot on Eastmancolour, notorious for fading, Demy’s widow Agnes Varda created a restored copy in 1992. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 DECEMBER 2019 at BFI SOUTHBANK and NATIONWIDE as part of the BFI MUSICALS! THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream | Ne Croyez surtout pas que je hurle (2019) ***

Dir.: Frank Beauvais; Documentary, France 2019, 75 min.

Frank Beauvais’ debut documentary is nearly impossible to categorise: best described as an Avantgarde diary chronicling the filmmaker’s seven-year exile from Paris and his life in a village in Alsace: which is set entirely against snippets from hundreds of films, particularly B-movies and horror pics. Admittedly I could only identify Carpenter’s Christine and Von Stenberg’s American Tragedy. They sometimes illustrate Beauvais’ melancholy comments, or elaborate on them. A little like reading Houellebecq, and watching self help movies. But Just don’t Think is very much an acquired taste: you’ll either love it or hate the pretentiousness of it all.

Beauvais also has credits in the music industry and now works as a festival organiser. He moved from Paris to the village in Alsace to be near to his mother. It also provided a new beginning after a failed love affair. Admittedly, he doesn’t much care for his new neighbours: he accuses them of being reactionary and self-righteous. This criticism applies very much to his father, who he hasn’t really seen since his teenage years and who he ends up looking after when he falls ill. The evenings see them sitting together in stressful silence, so Frank shows him Gremillion’s The Sky is Yours, with Charles Vanel, a paternal figure his father admired. Unfortunately, Beauvais senior has a seizure and dies in front of his very eyes.

Apart from this traumatic event, nothing much happens: Frank watches about five films a day, and feels sorry for himself. He spends the summer of 2016 in Paris and decides to move back there in the October. It the meantime he has filled his place with books and vinyl and has to offload it all. A work trip to visit two directors in  Porto proves a downer: .He had chosen the waltz from Deer Hunters for the project and learns on the same night about Michael Cimino’s death. Soon Abbas Kiarostami dies, increasing the anxiety attacks of the filmmaker. The 2015 terrorist attacks only make him angry: “The media exploits them with the opportunism of grave diggers”. Beauvais admits, that he is using “films as bandages”, and his mind set is reflected by readings of Aragon. But when ever it comes to people he was close to, Frank distances himself. A young boy, with whom he had a relationship at the beginning of his Paris exile, collects the cat they cared for, and Beauvais only comment is that the last hug they share confirms their split was the right decision. As for the cat, he has forgotten her after a week.

Beauvais shares a lot with JL Godard: aloofness and certain editorial preferences, which remind of the master’s Historie(s) du Cinema. Like Godard, Beauvais has got lost in the movies, and even in Paris he might not manage to get out of it and find himself. He is the prisoner of his obsession, and prefers watching to personal engagement. His austerity manifests himself in the countless images of bloody horror images, which he views with frightening detachment. But there is much to be admired in this tour-de force, particularly the encyclopaedic collection of cinematographic images corresponding to his emotional turmoil. AS

SCREENING DURING IDFA 2019

I Lost My Body (2019) ****

Dir: Jeremy Clapin. France, Animation 81′

Jeremy’s Clapin’s debut is a touching and lyrical love letter to loss that delicately captures the human condition.

Almost the best thing about I Lost My Body is the way its remains ambiguous – like life itself. Bringing to mind My Life As a Courgettehopes and aspirations are cleverly woven into a storyline that explores a young man’s unexpected yet triumphant voyage of self discovery.

Jeremy Clapin’s film does require a leap of faith: it all starts with a severed hand (rendered in 2D and 3D) driven desperately to find its body in a peripatetic journey through present day Paris. Meanwhile, the hand’s owner experiences his own trials and tribulations leading up to moment the two are parted. I Lost My Body will appeal to adults and children alike – and whether or not animation is your bag, it certainly captured the imagination of audiences and juries on this year’s international festival circuit.

In a childlike but never childish way, Clapin and his co-writer Guillaume Laurant, whose script is based on the Amelie BAFTA winner’s book Happy Hand, picture the world from an inquisitive kid’s perspective, full of wonderment, birds and insects; but also one that acknowledges consumer bleats familiar in to adults: the pizza guy who arrives late, that intercom buzzer that never opens the door the first time. Crucially, I Lost My Body is also a meditative and often surreal experience.

A creative boy called Naoufel (Alfonso Arfi) grows up with his talented parents, who soon recede into the background leaving him directionless and reliant on a badass acquaintance called Raouf. Naoufel’s only possession is a prized tape-machine full of recordings – and his parent’s voices. Growing up (voiced by Hakim Fares) Naoufel relinquishes his dream to become an astronaut, settling for an earthbound existence delivering pizzas. He meets the woman of his dreams while chatting to uer through her dodgy apartment intercom; he then follows Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois) to her uncle Gigi’s joinery workshop where he is offered bed and board as an apprentice, and has a transformative accident.

Clapin brings his narrative strands together with dextrous imagery; grains of sand slip between fingers as the world revolves in time and space nurturing Naoufel’s astronaut pretensions. We are gradually captivated by Naoufel’s own romantic imagination and his desire to do his best for Gigi, and capture Gabrielle’s heart. But his flatmate Raouf also has designs on his fledgling paramour. And although Naoufel eventually loses a part of himself, he never loses his faith or courage in following his dream. Accompanied by atmospheric sound design and beautifully rendered animations, this mournful riff on life, love and self-determination is a deeply affecting experience. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 22 NOVEMBER 2019 | Cannes Critics’ Week Grand Prize 2019 

 

 

 

La Belle Epoque (2019) ****

Dir.: Nicolas Bedos; Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, Doria Tillier, Fanny Ardant, Pierre Arditi; France 2019, 115 min.

Nicolas Bedos has set his stall out writing light-hearted and clever dramas. He follows his popular debut Mr. & Mrs. Adelman with this well-crafted and rather old-fashioned screwball comedy that sees a disgruntled 60-something man revisit his past to discover why he fell in love with his wife in the first place.

Parisians Victor (Auteuil) and Marianne (Ardant) have been married for forty years. But their marriage has hit the skids due to Victor’s disillusionment with life after losing his job as a newspaper cartoonist. Psychologist Marianne has also lost her mojo. She treats her patients like objects on a conveyer belt, and only looks forward to riding in her self-driving Tesla car. Their two sons are very much in step with their millennial generation. But even they are shocked when Marianne tells them that she has a new lover (who predictably is only interested in a place live). Victor gets the bums rush.

As this point Bedos adopts a similar premise to Herzog in his Family Romance, LLC. Victor calls on family friend Antoine (Canet), who runs a stage company organising time travel for a range of wealthy clients. You can explore the era of Marie Antoinette or even reinvent yourself as Hitler. So Victor opts to be beamed back to the Lyon of 1974, when he first fell for his wife, played by young Margot (Tillier), who is also in an on-off relationship with the unfaithful Antoine. While ‘directing’ behind the scenes, Antoine is well aware that Victor is falling for his own lover. The script dictates they go to bed on day four, but Antoine makes sure this date is never reached.

Always inventive, DoP Nicolas Bedos creates delightful scenes in front and behind the camera, very much in the style of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The prompting alone is hair-raising, and Antoine gets into such a bad mood that he immediately replaces actors who fall foul of his directions. And since it is France, the actors performing the orgy scene, are only too happy to do some unpaid overtime. It is a chaos of situations and emotions, and although Bedos brings nothing new to the party Belle Epoche is a lively and enjoyable comedy. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 22 NOVEMBER 2019

    

Non-Fiction | Doubles Vies (2018) ***

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Norah Hamzawi, Christa Theret, Pascal Gregory, France 2018, 107 min.

One of France’s most inventive and diverse directors returns to the theme of alienation  with a classically styled drama set in contemporary Paris. Non-Fiction analyses the detached charm of the intellectual bourgeoisie, seem through the lives of two middle-age couples who are losing their place in the sun thanks to the digital age. Knowledge and experience is replaced more and more by market strategies; and personal relationships turn out to be as fraught as the digitalisation of culture.

Alain (Canet), editor-in-chief of a successful publishing house is meeting one of his writers, Leonard (Macaigne) over a rejection lunch. Alain will not be publishing his new book. The reasons are purely commercial, but the situation is made more difficult by their family friendship. In the end, Alain has to spell it out, and Leonard, looking very much like his younger, unkempt student self, in contrast to the well-groomed Alain, takes it badly. At home he complains to his over-worked wife Valerie (Hamzawi), PA to a leading politician engaged in an election battle. When the couples meet later on, nothing is said about the rejection, instead everyone is ganging up against against Valerie – who is in fact the only likeable protagonist – for her engagement in politics. They all believe in the future of e-books and the power of algorithms. But their world will soon crumble: Alain is summoned to Marc-Antoine (Gregory) the owner of the publishing company, who nonchalantly admits to selling up, putting Alain out of a job. Alain’s young lover and colleague, the even more ambitious Laure (Theret) is leaving him to take up a post in London. Luckily Alain is unaware that his wife Selena (Binoche), a TV actress, has long been involved with Leonard – who has a penchant for writing for including his private life in his book – and not always well-disguised, at that.

On the surface, this is a verbal war, rich in dialogue where Adorno and Lampedusa are quoted, but beneath the intellectual surface lies growing insecurity. Alain over-estimates his power, he is totally unaware that he is a play-ball of forces he cannot control. Selena, trying to put some gloss on her mediocre career, will soon live under the threat of Leonard’s next book, whilst Leonard himself is still playing around like a teenager, not wanting to adjust to reality – even though he confesses his affair eventually, he really does not deserve his faithful but self-focused wife. 

Non-Fiction can sometimes feel overly verbose, Assayas keeps up our interest by involving the audience in his protagonists’ subterfuge. Apart from Valerie, everybody is an out and out opportunist, trying to hide behind ideas which have completely lost their meaning for them: they have become slaves of ratings and sales figures. The only humour is self-inflicted and involuntarily. The betrayals are in the end self-betrayals, but these people are too far gone to distinguish between feelings and façade: they only believe in perception. The polished aesthetics are workmanlike with a grainy indie feel that seems to suit this bookish study of greed and lust. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

Wasp Network (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Olivier Assayas | France, Thriller

Olivier Assayas always surprises us in style, theme and genre. This Cuban-set thriller has the same energetic ambition as his other Caribbean set outing Carlos the Jackal (2010) but from then on Wasp Network buzzes in another direction altogether.

A professional pilot René González says goodbye to his wife and child as he jets off in a yellow biplane. We later discovered he has defected to the US fleeing the communist regime’s lack of opportunity and grinding poverty to live in a modern Art Deco apartments in Miami and hopes his family will join him in due course.

Not without a fight. This politically aware film sheds light on the exiles who targeted communist Cuba in the 1990s. These men are in actual fact funded spies engaged in infiltrating US-based groups opposed to Fidel Castro and sending their intelligence back home.

Adolescentes | Adolescence (2019)

Dir.: Sebastien Lifshitz; Documentary; France 2019, 135 min.

Five years in the making Sebastien Lifshitz’ longterm observation of two unrelated teenagers from the small town of Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze) is an illuminating study of human development, and through their personal stories, a snapshot of life in France between 2013 and 2018.

Emma and Anaïs come from very different backgrounds: middle-class Emma lives with working parents who are always stressed-out by the demands of their jobs, particularly her mother who hothouses her at school, pushing for top marks in a conflict that runs through the whole film. Plump Anaïs has an obese mother who tries, unsuccessfully, to make her daughter diet. With two younger siblings to look after Anaïs rarely sees her father due to his shift work. Schoolwork dominates their lives: Both teens spend most of their time worrying about exam results. The French education system has many cut-off points, like the old 11plus in the UK, forcing the kids to pass endless tests to qualify for the next stage. Emma has her eye on being in dance or theatre; Anaïs hopes to become a Kindergarten teacher.

In the summer holidays, Emma is packed off to her family’s holiday home to skate-board and enjoy the time off. But for Anaïs there is no time for play – domestic work taking the place of her studies – she has to help her mother whose health gradually deteriorates due to cancer. In January 2015, France is rocked by the killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists. Anaïs reacts in a mature way to the killings, defending ordinary Muslims, and citing the Muslim supermarket clerk who saved Jews by hiding them from the Islamist attackers. She is adamant that organised religion is to be blamed for many wars.

Meanwhile, both teenagers do well at school, passing their exams. Although she was worried about failing, Anaïs gets better marks than Emma. Both chose vocational careers, and Anaïs is interested in teaching infants, there is a warning not to get too close to the kids. She will later change course and chose geriatric care: ”having grown up a lot”. Affairs of the heart are similarly traumatic for both girls with both suffering in their first attempts at dating.

The Balaclan concert massacre in November 2015  brings shock waves through their school life once again. Emma is slacking a bit– and her mother is not pleased – Anaïs’ grandmother dies, and she is caught in the crossfire with her brother Tiimeo. Meanwhile Emma and her mother continue their slanging matches, although her acting is going well. She gravitates towards becoming a Director of Photography, or film director – driving her to despair. The reaction to Macron’s election victory in 2017 is very different in both households: Emma’s father talks about Mitterand’s victory in 1981, and the great political involvement of his generation;  Emma is less enthusiastic “As long as it is not Le Pen, it’s OK”. But there is despair in Anaïs’ household: father and daughter slumping onto the sofa claiming “It’s all for the Rich”.

With the final examinations round the corner, Anaïs mother makes a last attempt to prevent her daughter from leaving – but in vain. The results again show Anaïs getting better results than Emma, finishing with Merit. Emma only has one offer – from a university in Paris – to study film, her mother showing her disappointment in the strongest possible way. The girls meet up for a goodbye chat near the lake. Both complaining that the “Fourteen-year-olds of today seem to have slept with half the South/West coast”. They both even contemplate moving back to Brive to bring up their kids.

This personal history lesson is luminously photographed by Antoine Parouty and Paul Guilhaume, with director Lifshitz always looking over the shoulder of the main protagonists, picking up every detail and nuance in a naturalistic tour de force. Despite its lengthy running time of over nearly three hours, Adolescence is an engrossing and valuable endeavour, documenting adolescence from a female perspective, informing and entertaining in equal parts. AS

GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE AUGUST 2019     

 

 

 

One Deadly Summer – l’Eté meurtrier (1983)**** Blu-ray release

Dir: Jean Becker | Wri Sébastien Japrisot | Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Alain Souchon, Suzanne Flon, Jenny Clève, Michel Galabru, François Cluzet, Edith Scob | France 133’

Isabelle Adjani plays a sensual pert-bottomed coquette in Jean Becker’s flirty revenge thriller based on Sébastien Japrisot’s script from his novel of the same name. In true petulant form, Adjani originally rejected the part but after reconsidering she came back to play Elle, kicking Becker’s second choice Valerie Kaprisky into the long grass.

It doesn’t take much to get French men going, so when Elle prances into a small French village in the Vaucluse the locals are predictably hot to trot. But the tone soon shifts when it turns out the lusty long-legged temptress is more interested in getting her own back rather than conquering hearts in this increasingly unsettling and complex drama.

The action unfurls through the eyes of the various characters as elements of trickery, lies and exploitation all come into play in this vivid yet surprisingly subtle film “du look”. Japrisot’s bold characterisations reveal multi-layered personalities in a sinuously gripping storyline where nothing is black and white amusingly played by a cast led by the seductive Adjani in luminous form. MT

CultFilms presents One Deadly Summer on dual format Blu-ray and DVD 29 July

https://youtu.be/IOd_NBTqjnA

Varda by Agnès (2019) ****

Dir: Agnes Varda |Writers: Agnes Varda, Didiet Rouget | Doc France

Agnès Varda’s final film plays out as a masterclass, the maverick 90-year old filmmaker talking us through her life and legacy, in no particular order, giving fresh insight into her the methods behind her genius as the pioneer of the French New Wave movement, in a meaty two hour documentary. Composed of reels of archive footage, clips from her films and newly shot material – we also get to meet the star of her Venice awarded Vagabond, Sandrine Bonnaire, the two sit in a field sheltered by plastic umbrellas, a sign of her determination to take the rough with the smooth. You could call it providence.

Born in Brussels as ‘Arlette’ Varda in 1928, she would go on to make 55 films in her fruitful career. Sitting comfortably in a classic director’s chair on a stage before her audience, Varda comes across as modest and approachable and despite her ardent feminism and trenchant intellect, amiable and quietly self-assured. Her canvas was always the familiar or domestic, filming subjects she knew about or felt deserving of attention. On her documentary style she muses: “The idea was to film people, whether they realised it or not, Nothing is trite if you film people with empathy and love”.

There are plenty of quintessentially Varda moments in this final adieu. At one point she is seen sitting on a beach surrounded by cardboard seagulls: “we love to talk to birds, but of course they don’t understand”. And her fear of playing to an empty cinema, or not engaging with the audience have enforced her belief that cinema is very much a two-way process. And Varda By Agnès is a film that is both introspective and expansively outward-looking at the same time. And with her previous outing Faces, Places having had an Oscar nomination last year Varda is pretty guaranteed to reach wider audiences beyond Europe.

Varda started life as a photographer and her pictures are testament to her frank and witty approach to life. The film takes us through the last century and into the present day starting with The Gleaners and I that showcases the freedom of digital. Her personal life is very much integrated into her work as an artist and there is much candid and unsentimental mention both vocal and visual of her partner Jacques Demy, making it all the more appealing particularly during his failing health.

Music features heavily in all her films: “Early on, I realised that contemporary composers were my allies.” And Varda certainly made plenty of allies in her work in the cinema and outside it. Her career as a visual artist has given rise to impressive installations and performance art, most noticeably in Faces Places –  and she often turned up to events dressed as a potato – her voluptuously rotund figure ideally suited for the long-running joke.

It seems both apposite and poignant that this informative career retrospective should be her last hurrah. Perfectly timed and with a sense of completion and hope Varda By Agnès is a memorable auto-biopic from the grand dame of cinema herself. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 19 JULY 2019

https://youtu.be/IcpnEMCx-7g

 

Romance (1999) | Blu-ray release | Bfi player

4767 copy Dir.: Catherine Breillat | Cast: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Francois Berleand, Rocco Siffredi | France 1999, 84/99 min.

Catherine Breillat, novelist and filmmaker, has been a victim of censorship (and misinterpretation) from the beginning of her career as a cinematographer: her debut film Une Vraie Jeune Fille (1975), based on her own novel Le “Sopirail” was banned after its premiere until 1999. Influenced very much by George Bataille (whose 1928 novel “Histoire de l’oeil” was wrongly indicted for pornography), Breillat, too, had to fight off the same accusations.

Her heroines do not fit into the mainstream categories of either victim or aggressor: they like their sex in whatever form, but at the same time they want to determine their lives; fighting their male partners successfully for domination in their relationships. And they are no goody-two-shoes: Barbara in Sale Comme Un Ange (1991), is married to the young detective Didier Theron, and willingly seduced by his much older superior George Deblache, who might be a drunkard, but satisfies her carnal needs much better than her bland husband. Deblache gets Theron killed on a job, and slaps Barbara at the end of the film: he is only now aware of her manipulating, whilst she smiles like the cat that got the cream.

Marie (Ducey) in ROMANCE (1999) chooses a not so different way to punish her narcissistic boyfriend Paul (Stevenin) for his refusal to sleep with her, simply because he wants to control her. First Marie, a primary teacher, has a casual affair with Paolo (Siffredi, a well known porn star), then she plays S&S games with her headmaster Robert (Berleand). Somehow, she gets Paul to sleep with her after all, and the resulting pregnancy makes him even more removed from her, neglecting her in favour of friends and relatives. But he ends up paying the price: after the birth of Paul junior, only one male with this name ends up being part of Marie’s life.

Breillat’s films show an understanding of women’s sex life from their own perspective – just the opposite of the male view that is usually trotted out. Whilst male sexual transgressions (in films and books) are usually tolerated, Breillat’s female counterparts are censured, her films condemned as pornographic. Like Simon de Beauvoir and Bataille; Breillat in her novels and films, often adds an essayistic character, strong symbolism and abstract images, best described by Linda Williams as “elitist, avant-garde, intellectual and philosophical pornography of imagination, [as opposed] to the mundane, crass materialism of a dominant mass culture”. Whilst one can describe male sexuality (including nearly all phantasies) as strictly one to one, meaning that there is no ambivalence left, actions and desire are one, female sexuality thrives on ambiguity and imagination. Whilst sex from a male perspective (and its mostly male descriptions in all forms) is treated as an object. For Breillat and her heroines, sex is the subject of their emancipation. There is no pleasure in Breillat’s sexual images, the best example being Marie’s encounter with a man on the staircase. The man offers her money for performing cunnilingus on her, but she does not take the money. Instead she turns over, having rough sex doggy-style. The scene ends highly ambiguously: Marie cries, but when the man calls her names, she retaliates: “I am not ashamed”. Further more, the whole scene begins as voice-over, Marie informing us that this particularly way of being taken, is her phantasy. In blurring the boarder between phantasy and reality, Breillat leaves the audience to judge what they have seen, and how to categorise it. This is just the opposite of conventional pornography, where a mostly male audience is never left in any doubt what is going on, taking their pleasure from the submission of the female.

In A Ma Soeuri! (2001) Breillat went a step further, trying to redefine rape: Anais (12) and Elena (15) are sisters; the latter attractive and sexual active, the former overweight and insecure. On a parking lot, an attacker kills Elena and her mother, afterwards raping Anais. When questioned by the police, the young girl stoical denies having being raped, in her experience, she has at long last caught up with the experience of her sister: for the first time in their rivalry she has come out on top. Breillat’s interpretation gives room for misunderstanding, as does the use of un-simulated sex in her films – but she is a major figure of modernist filmmaking; her films are dominated by reflectiveness and a desire to reinvent class consciousness; not via an out-dated model but by describing women as a class via their experience of sex: Breillat is an innovative heir to the ideas of de Beauvoir’s “Le Deuxieme Sexe”. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS and BFI Player 

 

Vagabond (1985) Bfi Player

Dir Agnès Varda | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau | 106′ | France | Drama

Venice Goldenn Lion winner Vagabond is haunting story about loss, loneliness and defiance expressed through its remarkable central character played by one of French cinema’s most intriguing talents, Sandrine Bonnaire, who had made her first appearance in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours. Here she gives a captivating performance as the freewheeling rebel Mona who spends her days wondering aimlessly through the South of France, her death in the opening scenes of this melancholy human story allowing Varda to explore and us to reflect on society’s preconceptions about women and the disenchfranchised. Despite its 1980s setting, Vagabond feels every as relevant in today’s shifting sociopolitical climate. A simple narrative but one with everlasting appeal and universal resonance.

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Le Daim (Deerskin) 2019

Dir: Quentin Dupieux | Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adêle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Commé | Comedy Drama, France 77′

The apparel doth oft proclaim the man, says Polonius and the apparel in Quentin Dupieux’s new film Deerskin doth certainly proclaim Jean Dujardin’s Georges pretty oft.  We first meet Georges in that typical midnight-of-the-soul location: a motorway service station. He is feeling a sudden contempt for his corduroy jacket, trying to stuff it down the toilet. Apparently in the immediate aftermath of a marital breakdown, Georges splurges a huge sum on a second hand 100% deerskin jacket with tassels. Not since Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread has a man been so taken with a sartorial item. Georges’ new jacket is tight for him and weird, and yet he’s so excited about being the height of what he calls “killer style”.

Holing up in a remote mountain hotel, Georges starts to film his jacket with a camcorder (thrown in as part of the jacket deal) and hold conversations with the garment with Dujardin doing both voices. On one level, Georges seems like a pitiable middle-aged man in the midst of a crisis: his bank account is frozen; his wife tells him he no longer exists and he even resorts to eating out of a bin. And yet Georges is armoured by his own delusions which quickly turn psychotic. Befriending a local bartender Denise (the ubiquitous Adêle Haenel), he convinces her he is making a film, which gels with her own ambition to be an editor. But the filmmaking pose is only a way toward securing his more ambitious goal – a dream he vocally shares with his jacket – of eliminating all other jackets; and therefore all other jacket wearers.

It is testament to Dupieux’s skill and the utter commitment of his two leads that Georges madness somehow feels grounded in an ordinary world. And yet it’s a world of ordinary madness. There are no police around and no consequences to the violence, even though Georges doesn’t seem to be hiding the bodies. In fact, he’s filming the killings and Denise is onboard, enthused enough by the footage to start financing the movie herself. Albeit occasionally dense – he doesn’t seem to understand computers – Georges has a fiendish talent for improvisation and the same could be said of the film. Its twists and turns, its toying with expectation, keep the shuttlecock of lunacy airborne long enough for Georges to get himself kitted out with more deerskin products and the movie to turn in some hilarious moments of violence.

Although more recently seen as a straight dramatic actor Haenel has proven comedy chops and she makes Denise both a credible foil and accomplice to Georges. But the power of the movie comes with Dujardin’s performance, which is detailed and astute, comic and unnerving. Dujardin shows Georges to be a vain preening man – he asks women in a bar if they were talking about his jacket – who demands attention and insecurely needs to be the boss. It’s like he’s playing American Psycho via David Brent.

The film is a portrait of toxic masculinity weirdly stripped of its most common denominator: misogyny. Georges doesn’t care for anyone except himself and his jacket. Deerskin is a reductio ad absurdum of male obsession and vanity and it is all done in “Killer Style”.  John Bleasdale

NOW IN CINEMAS | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

Les Miserables (2019) Cannes Film Festival 2019 ***

Dir: Ladj Ly | Drama France 102′

Not to be confused with Victor Hugo’s 1862, Les Miserables is in a way a 21st update of the milieu where the French classic took place. With echoes of TV’s Law & Order Ly channels the anger and malaise of modern city life into his contemporary story, that kicks hard against the system.

Opening with documentary footage showcasing the national unity leading up to France’s 2018 World Cup victory, to the headline “There are no bad plants or bad men; there are only bad cultivators,” is an apposite one that could apply to dogs and children as well.

This good cop, bad cop urban thriller follows a day in the life of officer Stéphane (played by Damien Bonnard), who’s recently fetched up the backwater of Montfermeil from the almost genteel by comparison town of Cherbourg. Ly – who directed and co-wrote the debut feature from his own short film – grew up in this badass council estate and we soon find out that the cops are as venal as many of the locals they victimise. This soon emerges when Stephane is tasked with shadowing two Anti-Crime Squad officers, Chris (played by the distinctly unappealing (co-writer) Manenti, a really nasty piece of work, and his black sidekick Gwada (Djebril Zonga) who, interestingly, also abuses his power, and almost manages to corrupt Stephane’s straightforwardness and strong sense of public duty. The trio roam around the neighbourhood where drug dealers are free to peddle their wares and kids run wild. Meanwhile the local Muslims try to go about their business, and a petty criminal called Issa, who has stolen a baby lion from the circus, nearly loses his eye when Gwada fires a flash-ball gun further adding to mayhem. Clearly Ly is playing things up for dramatic effect but it also transpires that this community has more or less been abandoned by the authorities for so long that it has developed its own dog eat dog existence. And this sad fact is portrayed with a great deal of humour and humanity by Ly and his co-writers Alex Manenti and .Giordano Gederlini.

Julien Poupard’s camera captures the area warts and all with his brilliant images, often from the officers’ moving car and this is amplified by drone footage, adding considerably to the gritty allure of this everyday story of life in a place where little has seemingly changed in nearly 200 years. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 14-25 May 2019

Memoir of War (2018) ****

Dir: Emmanuel Finkiel | Cast: Melanie Thierry, Benoit Magimel, Benjamin Biolay | France, 127′

Memoir of War (La Douleur) was France’s entry to the Oscars this year. It didn’t win but is eminently worth watching for Melanie Thierry’s hypnotic performance as Marguerite Duras in an elegant adaptation of the writer’s semi-autobiographical novel “The War: A Memoir”, set in Paris during German occupation.

Emmanuel Finkiel (Voyages) takes a conventional approach to this stunningly filmed cool classic that dramatises the writer’s life in Paris under German occupation in the final years of the war. After her husband Robert Anselme, a major figure in the Resistance, is arrested and deported, she is forced to live by her wits in order to get him back. And this involves a cat and mouse game with a French Nazi agent collaborator called Rabier (a stout Benoit Magimel with a dark wig).

Duras, who wrote the Oscar-nominated script for Alain Resnais’ drama Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), was an intellectual of the highest order, and this is reflected in Thierry’s contemplative, nuanced gaze, as she chain-smokes her way through one of the best performances of the Oscar nominations. Finkiel completely eschews melodrama in taking us into Duras’ intimate thoughts and recollections, often blurring the focus to suggest enigmatic events, and using her own stream of consciousness to drive the narrative forward as she struggles to survive the intrigue going on around her. Tortured by self-doubt and anxiety, she yearns for Robert but emerges obdurate and determined to find him.

Meanwhile, Robert (Emmanuel Bourdieu) barely makes an appearance despite the anguish surrounding him. The first hour deals with Duras’ efforts to keep Rabier onside, although clearly finding him rather repellent in many ways — and she may even be wasting her time. He is rather taken with her bluestocking beauty and literary credentials, and two enjoy a series of clandestine tête à têtes in discreet venues. But Finkiel’s film flows impressively as the focus shifts away from the couple and increasingly on to Duras’ fraught and internalised musings about Robert, as she gets closer to his colleague Dionys (Biolay).

The final denouement is as unexpected and it is slightly unsatisfactory. Robert is liberated and brought back to Paris by the skilful negotiations of Francois Mitterand and the film is suddenly brought to a conclusion that some may find brusque given the slow-burning nature of the early scenes. That said, Thierry is mesmerising to watch in a graceful tour de force of controlled anguish. This is Finkiel’s second feature with Thierry, and he clearly knows how to make the most of her. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | 15 May 2019

 

Cannes Classics 2019

The 25 years of La Cité de la peur, a Midnight Screening of The Shining presented by Alfonso Cuarón, the 50 years of the mythical Easy Rider in the company of Peter Fonda, Luis Buñuel in the spotlight with three films, the attendance of Lina Wertmüller, the Grand Prix of 1951 Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan, a final salute to Milos Forman, the first Japanese animated film in color, the World Cinema Project and the Film Foundation of Martin Scorsese, documentaries about cinema and History, masterpieces known and rare films in restored version from countries rarely honored, this is the new edition of Cannes Classics—the first section dedicated to heritage cinema ever created in a major festival.  

 The majority of the films will be screened at Buñuel Theater, Salle du 60e or at the Cinéma de la Plage, all presented by major players in the film heritage: directors, artists or restoration managers.

The 50 years of the mythical Easy Rider

Presented half a century ago on the Croisette, in Competition at the Festival de Cannes, the film won the Prize for a first work. Co-writer, co-producer and lead actor, Peter Fonda will be in Cannes at the invitation of the Festival to celebrate this anniversary.
Easy Rider (1969, 1h35, USA) by Dennis Hopper

Restored in 4K by Sony Pictures Entertainment in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna. Restored from the 35mm Original Picture Negative and 35mm Black and White Separation Masters. 4K scanning and digital image restoration by Immagine Ritrovata. Audio restoration from the 35mm Original 3-track Magnetic Master by Chace Audio and Deluxe Audio. Color grading, picture conform, additional image restoration and DCP by Roundabout Entertainment. Colorist: Sheri Eisenberg. Restoration supervised by Grover Crisp.

Midnight Screening of The Shining 

The ultimate horror film for an event screening presented by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón.
The Shining by Stanley Kubrick (1980, 2h26, UK / USA)

A Presentation of Warner Bros. The 4K remastering was done using a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. The mastering was done at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, and the color grading was done by Janet Wilson, with supervision from Stanley Kubrick’s former personal assistant Leon Vitali.

The 50 years ofLa Cité de la peur

The cult comedy of comic group Les Nuls will be screened at Cannes Classics au Cinéma de la Plage upon the occasion of the 4K restoration of the film for its 25th anniversary with Alain Chabat, Chantal Lauby and Dominique Farrugia in attendance.
La Cité de la peur, une comédie familiale (1994, 1h39, France) by Alain Berbérian

Presented by Studiocanal. A restoration by Studiocanal and TF1 Studio . 4K scanning 16bits from the original negative 35mm on Lasergraphics director. The pre-calibration was done in a projection room equipped by a 4k projector 4k Christie Laser by Pascal Bousquet and additional work of filtering, dusting was done to compensate the imperfection due to the age of the film. Optical illusion composited on DI on Flame to remain close to the quality of the original negative. Calibration validated by Laurent Dailland, director of photography. Original digital sound was used without modification. Work of remastering done by VDM Laboratory.

Luis Buñuel in the spotlight with three films

Three films by Mexican director and screenwriter, with Spanish origin, will be shown this year.
Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) (1950, 1h20, Mexico) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by the World Cinema Project. Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project at L’Immagine Ritrovata in collaboration with Fundación Televisa, Cineteca Nacional Mexico, and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funding provided by The Material World Foundation.

Nazarín (1958, 1h34, Mexico) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by Cineteca Nacional Mexico. 3K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image negative (preserved by Televisa) and prints positive materials from Cineteca Nacional. Restoration made and financed by Cineteca Nacional Mexico. Mastered in 2K for Digital Projection.

L’Âge d’or (The Golden Age) (1930, 1h, France) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by La Cinemathèque française. A 4K restoration of The Golden Age was done by la Cinemathèque française and le Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Experimental cinema’s department, at Hiventy Laboratory for the image and at L.E. Diapason’s studio for the sound, using the original nitrate negative, original sound and safety elements.

Tribute to Lina Wertmüller

The first woman director ever nominated as a director at the Academy Awards in 1977 for Pasqualino Settebellezze, Lina Wertmüller will introduce the film with lead actor Giancarlo Giannini in attendance.
Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties) (1975, 1h56, Italy) by Lina Wertmüller

Presented by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale. Restored by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale with the support of Genoma Films and Deisa Ebano from the original 35mm picture and optical soundtrack negative made available by RTI S.p.A. Digital scanning and restoration work carried out by Cinema Communications in Rome.

The 1951 “Palme d’or”

The Palme d’or was created in 1955 but the Grand Prix awarded to Miracle in Milan by Vittorio De Sica was the equivalent.
Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan) (1951, 1h40, Italy) by Vittorio De Sica

Presented by Cineteca di Bologna. Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Compass Film, in collaboration with Mediaset, Infinity TV, Artur Cohn, Films sans frontières and Variety Communications at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. 4K Scan and Digital Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative and a vintage dupe positive. Colour grading supervised by DoP Luca Bigazzi.

Milos Forman

A devotee of the Festival de Cannes, a former President of the Jury, a director with several lives, Milos Forman passed away one year ago. The restoration of his second film and a documentary will give us the opportunity to pay our tribute and remember him.
Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a Blonde) (1965, 1h21, Czech Republic) by Milos Forman

A presentation of the Národní filmový archiv, Prague. 4K digital restoration based on the original camera done by the Universal Production Partners and Soundsquare in Prague, 2019. The donors of this project were Mrs. Milada Kučerová and Mr. Eduard Kučera. Restored in partnership with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Czech Film Fund. French distribution: Carlotta Films.

Forman vs. Forman (Czech Republic / France, 1h17) by Helena Trestikova and Jakub Hejna

Presented by  Negativ Film Productions, Alegria Productions, Czech Television, ARTE. A powerful documentary that recounts with emotion the career of director Milos Forman, from the Czech New Wave to Hollywood. Oscars, politics and political upheavals for a life in the service of cinema.

All the restored films of Cannes Classics 2019

Toniby Jean Renoir (1934, 1h22, France)

Presented by Gaumont. First digital restoration in 4K presented by Gaumont with the support of the CNC. Restoration done by L’image retrouvée in Bologna and Paris.

Le Ciel est à vous (1943, 1h45, France) by Jean Grémillon

Presented by TF1 Studio. Restaured version in 4K using two intermediate and a duplicate done by TF1 studio, with the support of the CNC and Coin de Mire cinéma. Digital and photochimical work done by L21 laboratory.

Moulin Rouge (1952, 1h59, UK) by John Huston 

Presented and restored by The Film Foundation in collaboration with Park Circus, Romulus Films and MGM with additional funding provided by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique partnership between the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM), and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW).   Restored from the 35mm Original Nitrate 3-Strip Technicolor Negative. 4K scanning, color grading, digital image restoration and film recording by Cineric, Inc., New York. Colorist: Daniel DeVincent. Audio restoration by Chace Audio. Restoration Consultant: Grover Crisp.

Kanal (They Loved Life) (1957, 1h34, Poland) by Andrzej Wajda

Presented by Malavida, in association with Kdr. Scanned, calibrated and restored in 4K under the artistic supervision of Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Wójcik, second DOP, and regular collaborator of Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds) and one of the greatest Polish DOP. Technical supervision: Waldermar Makula. 4k Scan from the original negative, image and sound. Producted by Studio Filmowe Kadr with the participation of  Filmoteka Narodowa. French distribution: Malavida. International Sales: Studio Filmowe Kadr.

Hu shi ri ji (Diary of a Nurse) (1957, 1h37, China) by Tao Jin

Presented by IQIYI et New Ipicture Media co., ltd (NIPM). 4K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm print positive materials mastered in 2K. Restoration financed by IQIYI & NIPM, and made by L’Immagine Ritrovata (Italy) and Laser Digital Film SRL (Italy).

Hakujaden (The White Snake Enchantress) (1958, 1h18, Japan) by Taiji Yabushita

Presented by  Toei Animation Company, ltd., Toei company, ltd. et and National Archive of Japan. The project celebrates the 100th year anniversary for the birth of Japan animation and 60th anniversary for the original theatrical release in 1958.
4K scan and restoration from the original negative, 35mm print, tape materials, and animation cels by Toei lab tech co., ltd. et Toei digital center are carried out. The restored data is stored in 2K.

125 Rue Montmartre (1959, 1h25, France) by Gilles Grangier

Presented by Pathé. 4K Scan and 2k restoration, using the original safety negative (negative image, intermediate and negative optique sound) Work done by Eclair laboratory for the image and L.E Diapason (Léon Rousseau) for the sound part. Restored with the support of the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC).

A tanú (The Witness) (1969, 1h52, Hongrie) by Péter Bacsó

The original uncensored  version presented by the Hungarian National Film Fund – Film Archive. The film was restored in 4K using the original camera negative and outtakes, the only existing uncensored positive print and the original magnetic sound. The restoration was carried out at the Hungarian Filmlab. The digital colour grading was supervised by Tamás Andor (HSC, Hungarian Society of Cinematographers).

Tetri karavani (The White Caravan) (1964, 1h37, Georgia) by Eldar Shengelaia and Tamaz Meliava

Presented by Georgian National Film Center. 4K Scan from 35mm, digital restoration (color, grading, stabilization). Restoration financed by the Georgian National Film Center, the restoration made by National Archives of Georgia.

Director Eldar Shengelaia in attendance.

Plogoff, des pierres contre des fusilsby Nicole Le Garrec (1980, 1h48, France)

Presented by Ciaofilm. Restored in 2k from the original negative 16mm image. Sound restoration from the 16mm magnetic. Work done by Hiventy laboratory  under the supervision of Ciaofilm and Pascale Le Garrec, with the help of the CNC, Région Bretagne and the Cinemathèque de Bretagne. Distributed by Next Film Distribution.

Director Nicole Le Garrec in attendance.

Caméra d’Afrique  (20 Years of African Cinema) by Férid Boughedir (1983, 1h38, Tunisia / France)

Presented by the CNC. Restoration: Laboratory of the CNC. 2K scan from the original 16mm image negative. Sound restoration : Hiventy. This movie fits into the restoration scheme initiated by L’Institut français and the CNC, supervised by the commitee for the African cinematographic heritage. Right-holders: Marsa film. French Distribution: Les Films du Losange.

Director Férid Boughedir in attendance. 

Dao ma zei (The Horse Thief ) (1986, 1h28, China) by Tian Zhuangzhuang and Peicheng Pan

Presented by Xi’An Film Studio. 4K Scan and 4K 48 fps digital restoration from the 35mm original camera negative. Restoration financed and made by China Film Archive.

Director Tian Zhuangzhuang  and Cinematographer Hou Yong in attendance. 

The Doors (1991, 2h20, USA) by Oliver Stone

Presented by Studiocanal, in partnership with Paramount, Lionsgate and Imagine Ritrovatta. Restored in 4k, initiated and supervised by Oliver Stone from the original negative, scanned in 4k 16 bits on ARRISCAN at Fotokem US. Restoration managed by Imagine Ritrovatta in Italy. Calibrated work supervised by Oliver Stone. Immersive soundtrack thanks to the Atmos mix created by Formosa Group, Hollywood, under the supervision of Dolby and original mixers of the film Wylie Stateman and Lon Bender. The movie can be seen in 7.1 and 5.1. Remastered 4K now available in 4K Cinema, UHD Dolby Vision and Atmos.

Documentaries

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (USA, 1h34) by Midge Costin

Presented by Dogwoof and Cinetic Media.

The biggest directors and artists make us immerse in the history and impact of sound in cinema: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbra Streisand, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Patty Jenkins, Robert Redford, Ryan Coogler, David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Walter Murch. A rich, fascinating and essential documentary.

Les Silences de Johnny (55mn, France) by Pierre-William Glenn

Presented by les films du Phœnix  in coproduction with Ciné+.

A personal and moving portrait of actor Johnny Hallyday by great cinematographer, director and friend of Johnny’s Pierre-William Glenn.

La Passione di Anna Magnani(1h, Italy / France) by Enrico Cerasuolo

Presented by les Films du Poisson and Zenit Arti Audiovisive.

The destiny of legendary actress Anna Magnani through archive footage, often unpublished. To dive into the history of Italian cinema.

Cinecittà – I mestieri del cinema Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy, 55mn) by Mario Sesti

Presented by Erma Pictures in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce.

A presentation of Erma Pictures in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce.

The last interview of the Master Bertolucci who recalls his work with precision, delicacy and philosophy. A movie lesson.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 15-25 May 2019

 

Mr Topaze (1961) **** BFI Flipside

Dir: Peter Sellers | Wri: Pierre Rouve | Cast: Herbert Lom, Billie Whitelaw, Leo McKern, Peter Sellars, John Le Mesurier, John Neville, Joan Sims | Michael Gough | Comedy Drama | 97′

Peter Seller’s debut as a director is a rather lyrical bittersweet 1960s version of a Marcel Pagnol play adapted for the screen by Pierre Rouve with wit and insight. Playing the lead with a drôle debonair melancholy, Sellers is a well-meaning provincial teacher desperate to do the right thing and marry his love Ernestine (a foxy Whitelaw). He prides himself on his integrity but puts his foot down at giving higher marks to the grandson of a wealthy baroness (Martita Hunt). He is fired (by Leo McKern) as a result, and then led astray by Herbert Lom’s snide and corrupt government official, Castel Benac, who with his mistress and actress Suzy (Nadia Gray cutting a dash in a series of soigné rigouts) intend to set up a dodgy financial business using Topaze  (“He’s an idiot I like him”) as the malleable managing director. The moral of the tale is that money is power. And Topaze eventually discovers this.

At the time Sellers was going through a divorce and relied on the film to keep him said. But despite his time of trauma, the film’s success lies in its happy ending that confirms what many have discovered. It’s not the money that makes you happy but the freedom it offers: So when Topaze is asked “Has money bought you happiness? he answers “I’m  buying it now!”.

First entitled I Like Money (a song by Herbert Kretzmer gracefully performed by Nadia Gray swathed in furs) the film was chosen by the British public in an online vote in 2016 to be digitised by the BFI National Archive. It certainly proves its crowd-pleasing qualities with some enjoyable performances from Gray, McKern and Le Mesurier, although Sellars sadly reigns himself back too much leaving Lom to shine as the comedy standout. MT

DUAL FORMAT EDITION (BLURAY/DVD) ON 15 APRIL 2019 

Mélo (1986) *** Bluray release

Dir: Alain Resnais; Cast: Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussollier, Fanny Ardant; France 1986, 112 min.

Mélo, based on the play by French author Henri Bernstein (1876-1953), has already been filmed three times, before Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, mon Amour), adapted it for the screen in a theatrical version, which proved again that the director prefers style over contents.

This doomed love story sees married couple Romaine (Azéma) and Pierre (Arditi) live in the Parisian suburb of Mont Rogue, where they invite Marcel (Dussollier), Pierre’s friend from the conservatoire, for supper. Since their youth, the men’s careers have taken very different directions: Pierre is a member of a not all to prestigious orchestra, while Marcel is a violinist of some renown. But when it comes to their love life, roles are reversed: Pierre is happy with Romaine, but Marcel doesn’t really trust women with his heart, making happiness impossible. The kittenish Romaine, much more mature than her husband, in spite of him treating her like a child, falls for Marcel, and after a musical beginning in his posh Parisian flat, they begin a torrid affair. The naïve Pierre closes his eyes to everything, and even after Marcel returns from a tour, he still overlooks his wife’s absences. It is unclear whether Romaine tries to poison her husband, but cousin Christiane (Ardant) appears on the scene, and the desperate Romaine commits suicide. An epilogue desperately tries to make Marcel admit the truth.

Renais is known for his stagey approach and love of theatrical formats. Before every new scene, there is a curtain opening, and no fourth wall: Resnais reminds us that he is directing a play: the film outings by German director Paul Czinner (Germany 1932, UK 1937), seemed dated at release, but fifty years later, the conflicts are even more arcane. But Resnais’s aesthetic rigour, and Charles Van Damme’s static, long shots echo Last Year in Marienbad  and Manoel de Oliveira’s films, keep the audience interest until the final denouement. Azéma (who would marry Resnais twelve years later), is the centre of attention, her confusion makes her much more sympathetic than Arditi and Dussollier, who both are somehow wooden and one-dimensional. Ardant brings in some rigour, certainly a woman who knows what she wants. Mélo is very much a melodrama from a bygone era. AS

ON BLURAY FROM 8 APRIL 2019 COURTESY OF FETCH.FM

 

 

Sauvage (2018) ***

Dir.: Camille Vidal-Naquet; Cast: Felix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Marie Seux, Philippe Ohrel; France 2018, 99 min.

Felix Maritaud blazes through this stunning sortie into the life of young rent boys in Strasbourg, focusing on their aimless, dangerous and lonely lives. The harsh psychological realism is complimented by explicit sexual encounters, which often border on the abusive.

He plays Leo a rent boy in his early twenty who lives purely for the moment, using drugs, clients, petty crime and lots of day-dreaming to get through each day. That changes when he meets Ahd (Reinard), a fellow male prostitute and falls in love with him. Leo is not worried that Ahd is actually looking for a ‘sugar-daddy’ long term, and asks Leo to do the same: “That’s the best that can happen to us”. But Leo is stubborn, chasing Ahd down and endangering his relationship with an older man. After being sexually assaulted by two others who cheat him out of his money to boot, Ahd does Leo a last favour, beating up one of them and stealing his money, which he shares with Leo. But all the stress has taken its toll on Leo’s health, and a female physician (Seux), one of the few women in the feature, consoles him with maternal affection. This scene stands out in contrast to the film’s opener, when Leo is examined by a ‘doctor’, who turns out to be a client working for the IRS, who enjoys the role play. After Ahd has left for Benidorm with his lover, Leo finally follows his advice- after a particularly brutal (off-screen) encounter with a client known for his sadistic tendencies. His middle-class ‘protector’ Claude (Ohrel) wants to take him to Montreal for a new start in life – but does Leo really wants to be saved?

Leo shows all the symptoms of emotional regression due to neglect: he is a doleful child looking for love in all the wrong places, because society has marginalised him. Sauvage is not just about sex: it also shows the tenderness in a gay relationship, particularly when Leo goes with a man old enough to be his father: Leo cuddles him, both men getting more out of the encounter than penetration alone would have provided. But Leo is already a very fragmented character: he spends hours alone in the woods near the male gang’s pick-up place, and then over-compensates with hectic behaviour at parties and in dance clubs. His day dreams of emotional security are shattered in reality – and he has himself to blame. Solitude is his way back into childhood, while his waking hours are a nightmare of humiliation and deception. Leo doesn’t know how to connect these two selves, and the lack of concurrent identity makes him alien to himself.

SAUVAGE is an impressive first feature for writer and director Camille Vidal-Naquet. DoP Jacques Girault contrasts Leo’s dual existence with nightmarish images of the time spent with his clients, the aimless wandering in the streets, and the haven of tranquillity in the sunny woods. Vidal-Naquet is always non-judgemental, avoiding sentimentality at all costs. The result is a rather melancholic walk on the wild side. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 MARCH 2019 NATIONWIDE

Les Quatres Soeurs | The Four Sisters (2018) *****

Dir.: Claude Lanzmann; Documentary with Ruth Elias, Ada Lichtman, Paula Biren, Hanna Marton; France 2018, 273 min.

Just seven months before his death in July 2018, Claude Lanzmann’s last “satellite” feature Shoah was shown on French TV. Even though the four interviewed Holocaust survivors are not genetic siblings, they share the real burden of survival (each the last of their families), yet their stories are very different. In reality their stories of survival are stranger than fiction. Two of them, Paula Biren and Hanna Marton, are still suffering from survivor’s guilt, because, however unwillingly, they were the one who escaped the Nazi extermination machine.

THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH (Le serment d’Hippocrate)

Ruth Elias (1922-2008) sings Czechoslovakian songs from her childhood, accompanying herself on the accordion. These tunes helped her and her fellow sufferers to survive in Auschwitz. Now at home in Israel, her upbeat optimism somehow jars with her macabre story as she cuddles a German Shepherd, the archetypal emblem of Nazi Germany. When the Germans occupied her native city of Moravska Ostrava (Czechoslovakia) in 1939, the family lost not only their – non-kosher – sausage factory, but had to go into hiding with false papers. In April 1942 the rest of the family was deported to Auschwitz, whilst Ruth married her boyfriend and stayed behind in hiding. In Auschwitz, the genders were separated, but Ruth’s mother did not want to leave her husband, and was shot dead in front of him. Ruth’ sister Edith was also killed. And Ruth too was caught eventually, and via Terezin reached Auschwitz, where she found out she was pregnant. She miraculously survived the selection process, other inmates hiding her from Mengele. When he found out, he was furious, especially as Ruth’s friend Berta, also near term, also got away. But Mengele was vengeful: after the birth of her baby-girl, he had Ruth’ breasts bound, so that she could not suckle her offspring. Mengele wanted to find out how long a baby could survive without being fed. After nine days, an imprisoned Jewish doctor, Maza Steinberg, told Ruth that she had sworn the Hippocratic oath to save human lives – and since the baby was dying, it was her duty to save Ruth. She got hold of some morphine, and Ruth injected her baby with a lethal dose. The next day Mengele appeared and was somehow disappointed: “You are really lucky, I had planned to deport you and the child with the next transport”. Via Hamburg and Ravensbruck, she ended up back in the CSSR, totally broken, even after ‘liberation’ She was put into a sanatorium, where she finally found the will to go on living. Later in Israel, she met Dr. Steinberg with her two sons, the women stayed in contact for the rest of their lives.

THE MERRY FLEE (LA PUE JOYEUSE)

Born in Galicia, Ada Lichtman then moved with her family to a village near Krakow. When the Germans invaded in 1939, they gathered the Jewish men, and shot all 134 in a nearby wood. Polish people made life hell for Ida and the other survivors, they looted their flats while the Germans looked on . Ida was captured and housed in an aerodrome where hunger and disease whittled down their numbers. Her fiancée had been shot along with the other weaker Jews, who were hit over the head with rocks. Deported to Sobibor, she soon met Gustav Franz Wagner, SS Oberscharfuhrer. Discovering Ada was a kindergarten teacher’, he said “Then you might be able to keep house for me”. The SS in Sobibor thought it amusing to christian one of the houses “The Merry Flee”, making it sound like an operetta title. In reality the whole camp was filthy. The SS enjoyed stripping all the newly-arrived prisoners, and made the oldest men dance with the youngest girls. Later, when they were drunk (ie. often), they raped the women. Ada never wanted to believe that Sobibor was a death camp but she survived, along with her husband. The Nazis made Ada mend the murdered children’s dolls so they could give them to their own kids to play with. When a convoy with Dutch prisoners arrived, they had to fill out postcards, telling their relatives that everything was fine. They would be gassed, before their postcards arrived home. Wagner, who was called ‘Wolf’, relished performing the executions. After the successful uprising in October 1943, the prisoners scattered around the area. But Sobibor was never re-opened.

BALUTY

This is the titular name for the Lodz Ghetto, where Paula Biren would end up as a member of the Jewish Police. She was seventeen when the Germans invaded, and had helped to dig ditches to stop German tanks. Paula listened to Hitler’s radio reports so she was aware of what would happen to the Jews After the invasion, Polish people would beat up Jews. In October 1939 the Germans started to build the Jewish Ghetto, in the poorest quarter of the city. 200 000 Jews would end up there overseen by Germans and the (Jewish) Judenrat, led by Mordechai Rumkowski, who turned the ghetto into a slave labour camp on behalf of the Germans: 45 000 Jews died of starvation and disease. He and his closest colleges were all deported to Auschwitz. After they lost their flat, Paula’s family moved into the ghetto, it “felt like going to prison”. The Judenrat had once been a Jewish welfare organisation, but now it was a parody of the Jewish state. In 1942 the first transports went to the death camps in Auschwitz and Chelmno. Paula and her family started a vegetable garden, and hopes were high. But she was soon commandeered to join the Jewish Police, initially working in the office, but later on her night patrols. Beggars and ‘loiterers’ were given a warning, and they would be deported to the death camps. Paula managed to hide but her family was deported to Auschwitz and killed. When the ghetto was finally liquidated in August  1944, Rumkowski made a list of people who would go to a special camp.  Nobody believed him any more. “I was finally put on a train to Terezin, which was not a death camp – if I’d stayed put, I would have been killed like my family”. After liberation, the Polish people in Lodz told her to leave –pogroms started up again. Living in the USA, Paula refuses to answer Lanzmann when he asks if she thought Rumkowski was guilty. “I leave this to others”.

NOAH’S ARK (L’ARCHE DE NOE)

Paula Morton had just has lost her husband, also a survivor of Hungarian death camps, when Lanzmann interviewed her in her home in Tel-Aviv. She grew up in Cluj ( also know as Klausenburg) a Romanian/Hungarian city of over 15000 Jews lived. Hungary had send 60 000 Jews to the front in WWII, to fight alongside Germans and Italians in Russia. The Jews had no rifles or other weapons, they were used as slave labour. Only 5000 survived; Paula’s brother was one of the victims. Until 1944 Jews were left alone, then the deportations started. Paula is rather scathing about her fellow Jews: “I kew if Hungarian Jews are asked to come at 12.00 for their execution, they would all appear on time”. Paula and her husband, a lawyer, had been in the Zionist Youth organisation in Hungary, and later got to know Zionist leaders like Dr. Fischer, Dr. Kastner and Hillel Danzig. These three had ties to the SS, and particularly to Eichmann. They agreed that 1684 Jews would be exchanged for huge sums of money (the SS always put the price up, and even when the Jews arrived in Switzerland, huge sums changed hands.). An estimated 500000 RM was being shelled out by the Zionist organisation. Paula and her husband were deported to the Kistarcsa transit camp near Budapest. Between the 10th and 30th June 1944 all Jews from the camp were deported to Auschwitz, just the 1684, mostly Zionist and/or wealthy remained. The group was supposed to travel to Auspitz (!), but the Hungarian authorities wanted them to go to Auschwitz. Kastner intervened along Eichmann, and the transport left Hungary. But before the convoy reached the Swiss border, two families had to leave, and because they were not Hungarian, they were deported to a death camp. Paula is obviously guilty about her survival, but she claims to Lanzmann that her husband was a fatalist and felt no guilt at all. She told him, “it was beyond a personal choice. What people forget is that the Nazi terror produced the situation. They alone decided in the end, who lived and who died. Some will say, if you can save one thousand and let 10 000 die, do it. Others will say, all should die”. Dr. Kastner was later killed in 1957 Israel after being found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis. A later court cleared him posthumously.AS

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Grâce à Dieu (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Silver Bear Grand Jury prize

Dir/Wri: Francois Ozon | Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Aurelie Petit, Amelie Daure, Bernard Verley | Drama, France 137′

François Ozon is known for his satirical wit and his relaxed views on sexuality. His Grand Jury Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God takes on the theme of abuse in the Catholic church and its affects on three men. But no matter how hard-hitting their experiences may be there is always a flinty glint of Ozon’s brand of dry humour peeping though to light the dark clouds of its heroes’ despair.

Grâce à Dieu is based on the real case of Father Bernard Preynat who in 2016 was charged with sexually assaulting around 70 boys in Lyon, François Ozon portrays the victims as mature men but reveals the lifelong wounds they have sustained. At the same time, the film criticises the church’s silence on paedophilia and asks about its complicity. As of January 2019, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is standing trial for ‘non-denunciation of sexual aggression’.

Ozon casts three actors at the top of their game to play the trio: Melvil Poupaud is Alexandre a wealthy Lyonnais banker who has found success with his wife Marie (Petit) and five kids. He appears to be the one least damaged by the Preyan but when it emerges the priest is still working with kids, Alexandre decides to risk jeopardising his own settled existence and blow the whistle. His parents never gave credence to his feeling back in the day, and are still making light of them, but he goes ahead with a difficult confession to the Catholic authorities. It then turns out that happily married François is the next victim, and Dénis Menochet is less cautious about his confessions, bringing his explosive emotional potential to the part. Perhaps the worst affected is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) who claims his whole life has been traumatised by what happened, making it difficult for him to deal parent’s divorce and destroying his ability to connect emotionally with women, and this is played out in some incendiary scenes with his partner (Daure). Gradually others join the cause and we learn how each is struggling with their private demons while creating the self-help organisation ‘La Parole Libérée’ (The Liberated Word) is just the first step.

Some of the confessions are explicit and we’re never quite sure how far Ozon tipping the balance between salaciousness and pure honesty. This is also noticeable with reference to Lyon’s gourmet traditions and fine wine and there are frequent allusions to food which is considered as important as upsetting matter in hand when the men meet up, often leading to amusing non-sequiturs: (“anymore quiche anyone”?).

The magnificent Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière dominates the impressive opening scene as the Cardinal Barbarin hoists a golden cross over the city, almost as a blessing for what is to come in this meaty, affecting and enjoyable saga that richly chronicles a true story whose implications and repercussions are still unfolding in the present. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | COMPETITION.

 

 

 

Farewell to the Night (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir: André Techiné | Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein, Oulaya Amamra, Stephane Bak, Kamel Labroudi, Mohamed Djouhri, Amer Alwan, Jacques Nolot | Drama, French 91’ 

Catherine Deneuve always gives star quality to her films but she feels rather miscast here as a horse trainer and almond farmer who finds out her grandson has been radicalised. 

Farewell to the Night is rather a bland film that makes nothing of the incendiary dramatic potential of the jihadist plot line. Instead it plays down the affaire to focus on the beauty of the story’s rural surroundings in Techiné’s French Pyrénees birthplace where the almond blossoms are in full flower and a magical solar eclipse takes place in the opening scene. All this contrasts with the outrage of the homegrown jihadist movement and its protagonists Alex (Mottet Klein) and his childhood sweetheart Lila (Oulaya Amamra) who are also discovering first love. Clearly this is a film for all the family, and Techiné directs with a paternalistic eye. 

Alex’s radicalisation has already taken place when the film begins, so we feel little engagement with his character and the reasons for his becoming a jihadi, and this could have enriched the storyline, particularly if young people are the film’s intended audience. It’s worth noting that Both Alex and Lila have dysfunctional backgrounds. His mother died in an accident and he blames his father, who has moved to Guadaloupe with his new family. The trauma has affected his schooling in Toulouse but he comes across as a cocky and committed young man with a clear determination to make a future with Lila, and has converted to Islam to please her. Deneuve plays Muriel with a haughty stiffness and lack of conviction. She runs the farm and equestrian school with her North African business partner Youssef (Mohamed Djouhri), but feels more at ease in the company of a young Syrian ex-fighter (Kamel Labroudi as Fouad) who comes looking for work and, despite his criminal background, actually turns up trumps. Techiné and Lea Mysius co-script this father facile affair that once again highlights the director’s keenness for stories about French-Arab culture. And he adopts a non-judgemental and rather procedural approach to Alex and Lila’s plan to join forces with ISIS recruiter Bilal (Stephane Bak), to raise finance for their jihadist cause. This involves raising a substantial amount of cash for weapons and equipment, and Alex steals part of the money from Muriel. He claims that this is kosher as she is technically an infidel. But their plan will go awry in the rather tame finale. 

There’s a clunkiness to the film’s flow particularly noticeable in the lunch scene which abruptly cuts into a clandestine jihad meeting, where Alex sports white robes and takes orders from an Islamic preacher (Amer Alwan, who collaborated with Techine on the storyline), while Lila dons a hijab for the first time. Techine softens her character by giving her a job as a gentle carer in a nursing home – one of the most caring you’ll probably ever have occasion to meet. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | SPECIAL GALA 2019

Systeme K (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir/Wri/DoP: Renaud Barret | Doc | French, 94 min

The ‘Satan of Light’ is up to his tricks in the dusty streets of Kinshasa. Kids run away at the sight of horned head and ghastly grimace. 

Award-winning documentarian Renaud Barret (Victoire Terminus) records his encounters with Kinshasa’s street artists who entertain, shock and delight passers by with their quirky brand of street art using anything they can lay their hands on. This quirky and compelling film explores the very nature of creativity and ponders: Where does art begin? And where does it end?”

Known as Freddy, Béni, Kongo Astronaute, Strombo, Majesktik, Kokoko! and Geraldine among others, these people are creating sculptures, paintings, performances and installations in public spaces. Their work is not dissimilar to that found in the Tate or Saatchi galleries of London or MOMA, New York. They have yet to capture the attention of the international art world, but its only a matter of time. Their resourcefulness and passion to create is staggering to behold and reflects an extraordinary will to survive and a restless exuberance that is visually arresting and commendable, one of them explains: “living in Kinshasa is a performance in itself”

Materials include disused bullet cases, plastic waste, electronic scrap, smoke, monkey skulls, wax, blood, machetes and even their own bodies. This is not art for art’s sake but ground-breaking, urgent and politically satirical. Their themes are relevant, important and contemporary: exploitation, the privatisation of water, personal and national trauma and also, as a constant, the fascinating history of the Congo. 

Mastering his hand-held camera to brilliant effect in a stylish tour de force Barret shows us Kinshasa, a poverty-stricken metropolis where art is an unaffordable luxury and the location of a passionate and vibrant subculture claiming the city as its stage.

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

Who you think I Am (2019) **** Berlinale Special

Dir: Safy Nebbou Writer: Safy Nebbou, Julie Peyr | Cast: Juliette Binoche, François Civil, Nicole Garcia, Marie-Ange Casta, Guillaume Gouix, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin, Charles Berling, Claude Perron | French, 101′

A little bit late to the party comes another film about female sexuality post forty. Bright Days Ahead started the trend. And Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche did a great job with Let the Sun Shine In (2017),. Now Binoche lends her talents as a similar woman in Who You Think I Am, a much darker and more introspective look at the loss of sexual power and identity in late middle age. And about the aching void this leaves in a woman’s life affecting her wellbeing and confidence.

As Bryon once wrote: “Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence”. Not satisfied with being a mother or a literature professor in Paris, 50- year old Claire (Binoche) misses being desired, touched and lusted after. Abandoned by her husband, and keen to understand why her younger lover has also left, she idly delves into Facebook for a solution. And soon she’s inventing a fake profile and befriending his assistant Alex, 29, masquerading as 24-year-old Clara, and Alex takes the bait. Conversations with her shrink intense (Garcia is masterful as Dr Boormans) and the two women become enthralled in the story that Claire is creating, Boormans finding it hard to remain professional.

As their flirty chat intensifies on social media and phone calls, Alex is soon in thrall to the woman of his dreams. Claire does the maths and reality bites. Lacking the confidence to meet Alex in person, she has meanwhile grown accustomed to his online attention, feeding her feelings of lust and longing. And she knows how to keep him onboard. But not for ever. As she deludes Alex, she is also deludes herself and this feeling sends her spiralling back into desperation. If she looked young again, she could be having real sex with this guy. But if she was confident, maybe he wouldn’t mind her ageing body, as he already loved her mind. And his feelings were real.

Based on the eponymous novel by Camille Laurens, Safy Nebbou convincingly probes Claire’s drift into virtual reality exploring it from different perspectives. Juliette Binoche delivers an incredible portrait of a woman struggling to cope with the wounds inflicted by loneliness and growing older. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

An Impossible Love (2018) ****

Dir.: Catherine Corsini; Cast: Virginie Efira, Niels Schneider, Jehnny Beth, Estelle Lescure; Belgium/France 2018, 135 min.

Best known for her Lesbian drama La Belle Saison director/writer Catherine Corsini’s screen adaptation of Christine Angot’s novel plays out like an historical thesis on feminism. Starting in the late 1950s in the small French town of Chateauroux, Corsini tells the story of a brief but passionate love affair that turns into a long-term war between Rachel and Niels. Their daughter Chantal will suffer tragically from her father’s contempt for her mother.

When Rachel (Efira), a clerk, meets the upper-middle class Niels (Schneider) they are attracted to each other. But it soon becomes clear he’s just interested in sex, while Rachel is an incurable romantic and falls for the “man of the world”. Niels leaves her, making it clear he’s not interested in marriage. But when Rachel gives birth to a daughter, Chantal (who is played by four actors during the film), Niels refuses paternity, so Rachel has to settle for “father unknown”, which hurts her much more than being left behind with Chantal. The two adults barely talk, but Niels tells Rachel en-passant, that he has married a wealthy German woman “who will look after him”. By the time Chantal (Lescure) reaches adolescence, the picture has changed with alarming consequences for all concerned.

An Impossible Love is sometimes heartbreaking. Rachel has such low self-esteem from the beginning, she does not ask anything for herself: she does not expect Niels to ever recognise her as an equal. But she hopes that her daughter will have a better life, if she can persuade Niels to give her his name. She is well aware how disturbed Chantal is after her frequent visits to her father a teenager, but she is adamant not to rock the boat.  

DoP Jeanne Lapoirie, who worked with Corsini on La Belle Saison, has gracefully recreated the atmosphere of the 1950s and early 1960s, when women were (the supposed) passive victims of men. The images show Rachel seemingly living in a “pink world with fluffy clouds”, in which she surrenders he whole identity to Niels. The latter is cold and manipulative, always yearning for his ‘freedom’, committed only to his own progress. If one compares Rachel with the adult Chantal, one sees the difference. Progress, so Corsini, has been made, but at what cost:  since Chantal had to carry the burden of her mother’s lack of self-esteem. Even though sometimes over-didactic, Corsini achieves her goal of showing the long, ongoing struggle for emancipation.  AS 

NOW SHOWING at http://Curzoncinemas.com and selected arthouse venues | Previewed at BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://youtu.be/B-2QL8tjP2I

   

Beautiful Boy (2018) ****

Dir: Felix van Groeningen | Drama | 110’ | US 2018

Based on a best-selling memoir by journalist David Sheff, BEAUTIFUL BOY explores a teenage boy’s descent into crystal meth addiction. It’s a film that pulls no punches, but which avoids excessively wallowing in the physical misery of drug use. Instead, the focus is on the wider circumstances of the boy’s addiction and, specifically, the impact that it has on his father. It’s a personal, refreshing approach which makes the boy’s decline all the more moving.

An intelligent teenager with a bright future, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) is nevertheless anxious and alienated, and he starts using drugs to help him fill the void that he feels inside. Sensing a problem, his father (Steve Carell, playing David Sheff) checks Nic into a rehab facility, but the success of the treatment is short lived – ‘relapse is part of recovery’, we’re repeatedly told, and Nic’s sense of emptiness makes him a repeat user. His choice of drug doesn’t help – as an expert explains to David, the recovery rate for crystal meth addicts, as a percentage, is in the single figures.

Playing Nic, Chalamet brings a sympathetic charm to a role which borders a little on cliché – that of the tortured, gifted artist-turned-junky – but the film belongs to Steve Carrell, who excels as the caring father who feels increasingly helpless in the face of his son’s steady decline. Following his turn as a grieving father in Richard Linklater’s recent masterpiece Last Flag Flying, Carrell seems to be moving away from the comedic roles which made his name and carving out a specific dramatic niche all for himself.

Given that it’s the relationship between father and son, rather than son and drugs, that forms the core of Beautiful Boy, the film’s scope widens out, becoming a study of family dynamicsand the way that David’s preoccupation with Nic consumes him, dominating his life and impacting his relationship with his younger children (Nic’s step-siblings): scenes such as the one showing a distracted David failing to watch his younger son swimming reach beyond the drug-addition narrative. But as David struggles with his guilt and his inability to pull Nic from the gutter, the major question that arises is: can you ever really help other people, or can they only help themselves?

Quiet and understated, the film deserves praise for its non-sensationalist approach. Though at times he brings in a touch too much sentiment (including the use of the John Lennonsong which gives the film its title), director Felix Van Groeningen handles the non-linear, elliptical narrative with a commanding efficiency. If the film’s factual closing titles make its ultimate message all too clear, one can’t help but feel it’s an effective film which serves as a pertinent reminder of the devasting and wide-reaching effects of drug use – not only on the users themselves, but also on those who love them. ALEX BARRETT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

La Villa (2017) | The House by the Sea

Dir: Robert Guediguian | Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean Pierre Darroussin, Anais Demoustier Robinson Stevenin, Yann Tregouet | Drama | France | 107′

Robert Guediguian offers a paean to Provence in the 1970s when three siblings: famous actress Angèle (Ascaride), Armand (Meylan) and Joseph (Daroussin) all hark back to a jeunesse dorée at their father’s seaside villa, he has since suffered a debilitating stroke.

Armand is possibly the most stable of the trio. He has been running the local restaurant for the past two decades. Joseph pines for the good old days of the PCF, which makes him morose and depressed. The film plays out very much in line with a Checkov play where the past must be resolved before life can go on. Joseph too must face the music; his dance with a much younger fiancée Bérangère (Demoustier) must come to an end. Angèle is still mourning the drowning of her only child, and has fallen for a younger fisherman Benjamin (Stevenin), a fan of her stage appearances since he was a teenager. Neighbour Yvan is the only one in a ‘good place’ emotionally – the young doctor is in town to visit his elderly parents. Late catalysts to the party are Yvan’s parents and the appearance of three child refugees.

Director and co-writer Guediguian marks his 19th collaboration with his wife Ariane Ascaride, staying on familiar ground: he gently sketches out the older characters’ longing for the past, and the contemporary fast lane that young ones like Bérangère and Yvan cling to: for them decisions about the future are easy because they have one. Benjamin is somewhere in the middle – he is a romantic dreamer, who yearns for a life shaped on the past. Property speculators circle the coast line like vultures, Joseph cannot even put his memoirs in order. The three siblings are keen to keep the place and the restaurant open, they have to admit that nearly all their old neighbours has cashed in on the property boom. The refugee children at least provide Angèle with a sort of closure.

The ensemble acting is reliable, and DoP Pierre Milon (The Class) is kept busy, panning and tracking the hilly countryside, nature being the only stable element among the coming and going of humans who, with few exceptions, don’t appreciate the beauty of the stunning landscape. AS

Robert Guédiguian was born in Marseille. Many of his early films, including À la via, à la mort (95) and La Ville est tranquille(00), screened in the Director’s Spotlight programme at the 2002 Festival, and he returned to TIFF with his subsequent features Mon père est ingénieur (04), Le Voyage en Arménie(06), and Neiges du Kilimandjaro (11). Other credits include Le promeneur du champ de Mars (05), L’armée du crime (09), and Une histoire de fou (15). La Villa (17) is his latest film. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 11 January | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 première.

Eduoard et Caroline | UK Premiere | Bluray release

EdwardandCaroline_BR_3DDir.: Jacques Becker; Cast: Daniel Gelin, Anne Vernon, Elina Labourdette, Jacques Francois, Jean Galland, William Tubbs; France 1951, 85 min.

Director/co-writer Jacques Becker was very much one of the ‘fathers’ of the French Nouvelle Vague, even though he only directed thirteen films, before dying in 1960 aged 53. Chamber piece EDOUARD ET CAROLINE is a variation on his earlier feature Antoine et Antoinette (1947), though much more daring concerning the sex life of the titular couple, and very critical of high society.

The pianist Edouard Mortier (Gelin) is married to Caroline (Vernon); they live in a small Paris attic flat. Edouard’s family background is modest, whilst Caroline’s uncle and cousin, Claude (Galland) and Alain Beauchamp (Francois) are part of the gilded bourgeiosie, living a life of Reilly. Cousin Claude still lusts after Caroline, trying to break up her marriage, while looking down on the gifted, but impoverished artist Edouard, trying to better his lot, and asking him to play for a selected audience of influential citizens in his huge house. Getting their glad-rags on for the evening, Edouard and Caroline argue about her dress, and come to blows, Caroline is adamant about wanting a divorce. Cousin Claude tries his best to exploit the situation, chasing Caroline around her flat. Edouard is forced to get drunk before he can summon to courage to play, and society  Florence (Labourdette) falls for him. But it is her husband Spencer (Tubbs), a rather blunt American businessman, who actually sees potential behind the nonsense being played out in before his eyes, and he offers the young pianist the chance to play in front of a great audience. The action takes place in the confines of the couple’s apartment and the Beauchamps’ opulent villa, bookended by two identical exterior shots through the window of the cramped flat, signalling a blissful solution.

Becker was obviously influenced by Hollywood screwball comedies, even though his rather daring detailing of the sexual relationship would have never passed an American censor of the era. Everybody wants to have sex, preferably outside marriage – apart from Claude, who is so stultefyingly boring he believes in his own superiority is good enough to carry him through life.

EDOUARD ET CAROLINE satirises the French Upper Classes for their vulgarity and small talk: while their impeccable etiquette belies a lack of real manners. But Becker’s misogyny is everywhere: Tubbs tells Edouard that he is fully away that Florence if unfaithful, he too has a lover, a seamstress. “She works all day, so, she does not cuckold me. But rich women, they have too much time, so I am the cuckold”. Compare this to François Truffaut’s Antoine et Colette a decade later and it’s clear that Becker was by no means alone in his sexist views.

DoP Robert Lefebvre (Porte de Lilas) uses clever lighting techniques in the rather crampted settings and illuminate the characters’ faces to great effect. Although lighter in tone than Godard, he was clearly influenced here for Le Mepris: the camera tracks the couple’s every movement in both films, the flat becoming a war zone in a gender battle. AS.

Available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray/EST  

 

3 Films in praise of Julien Duvivier

Julien Duvivier (1896-1967) was a prominent French film director largely active between 1930-1960 and best known for his early silent films and thrillers such as Pépé Le MokoLa Bandera, Life dances on, and Marianne de ma Jeunesse. He began life as an actor but after a disaster on stage, he moved on to write and direct, later relating the incident in his 1939 film La fin du Jour, with Michel Simon playing his character.

After working for Andre Antoine at Gaumont, Duvivier directed his first film in 1919. His early work was often religious in nature: La Tragédie de Lourdes, and La Vie Miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin which explored the Carmelite saint Thérèse de Liseux. Gaining experience with seminal French directors Marcel l’Herbier and Louis Feuillade, his first successful drama David Golder (1931) was a rags to riches story of an ambitious Polish Jew who falls foul of his wife. In 1934 Duvivier began a collaboration with Jean Gabin that would see them working together in The Imposter (1944), Pépé Le Moko, and La Belle Equipe (They Were Five). Like his countryman Jacques Tourneur, Duvivier moved to Hollywood and enjoyed the experience working with Charles Boyer, Edward G Robinson, Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. But like Tourneur he eventually went back to France where he often cast Fernandel, Alain Delon, George Sanders and Michel Simon in his dramas.

Revered by legends such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Duvivier is still one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and possibly the most neglected, due to the uneven yet thematically varied nature of his work. Critic Michael Atkinson sees the poetic realist pioneer as “a victim of auteurism, ignored for generations by critics who saw…his output as the work of an able journeyman without signature or invention,” Duvivier, Atkinson argues compellingly, “rarely let a dull or unevocative shot pass through his camera,” and his films “fairly leap and swoon with visual cogency, surprising compositional drama, and a quintessentially French embrace of narrative life, equal parts funeral and fete.” Despite all this, his best films are stellar and treasured by cinefiles all over the world. He died in a car crash in 1967.

Julien Duvivier taps into post-war France’s paranoia in PANIQUE (1944), a long unavailable thriller, adapted from a Georges Simenon novel. Proud, eccentric and anti-social, Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon) has always kept to himself. But after the body of a woman turns up in the Paris suburb where he lives, he feels drawn to a pretty young newcomer to town (Viviane Romance), discovers his neighbours are only too ready to be suspicious of him, and is framed for the murder. Duvivier’s first outing after his return to France from Hollywood, sees the acclaimed poetic realist applying his consummate craft to darker, moodier ends. Led by two deeply nuanced performances, the tensely noirish Panique exposes the dangers of the knives-out mob mentality, delivering a pointed allegory of the behaviour of Duvivier’s countrymen during the war.

ON BLURAY AT AMAZON

But Julien Duvivier’s 1956 thriller DEADLIER THAN THE MALE  (Voici les temps des Assassins) somehow manages to outdo them all when it comes to violent women in film Noir: Catherine (Delorme) is the daughter of the drug depending Gabrielle (Bogaert), and tries to escape from the milieu by marrying the restaurant owner Andre Chatelin (Gabin), who has divorced her mother. Telling him that Gabrielle is dead, the scheming Catherine succeeds in marrying the much older man, who soon learns that his wife is lying about her mother. He more or less imprisons her with her mother Antoinette (Bert), also a restaurant owner, who kills her chicken with a whip – which she also uses on Catherine. The frightened woman asks Andre’s friend, the student Gerard (Blain), to kill her husband, but when he refuses, she kills him. Her end – by the fangs of a particular vicious animal – is particularly gruesome. Again, the images of Armand Thirad are undeserving of this blatant ideology.

ON BLURAY AT AMAZON 

The notorious Pépé LE MOKO (Jean Gabin, in a truly iconic performance) plunges into the gangster underworld as a wanted man: women long for him, rivals hope to destroy him, and the law is breathing down his neck at every turn. On the lam in the labyrinthine Casbah of Algiers, Pépé is safe from the clutches of the police–until a Parisian playgirl compels him to risk his life and leave its confines once and for all. One of the most influential films of the 20th century and a landmark of French poetic realism, Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le moko is presented here in its full-length version. AVAILABLE FROM CRITERION COLLECTION | Amazon Prime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orphée (1949)*****

Dir: Jean Cocteau | Drama | France | Jean Marais, Maria Casarès, François Périer, Marie Déa | 95′

Jean Cocteau’s modern version of the Orpheus myth still retains its poetic magnetism and astonishing freshness despite a primitive post-war budget that features Cocteau’s delicately drawn astrally inspired opening credits. But this adds to the film’s allure just as it did four years earlier with La Belle et La Bête, also made on a shoestring budget.

There is a dreamlike logic to Cocteau’s narrative that combines with Nicolas Hayer’s inventive camera angles and Jean d’Eaubonne’s set design to give the film a fantasy feel where Orphée (Jean Marais) is transformed into a Left Bank singer obsessed with an enigmatic raven-haired demon princess (Maria Casarès) who captures his imagination inspiring him to follow her into the underworld.

Cocteau brings his talents as a novelist, playwright and artist together to impress his longtime mentor Diaghilev in a gleaming mythological drama whose contemporary resonance is clearly felt throughout the sumptuous production featuring a glittering cast of French talent and his own partner Marais. Particularly enjoyable is the scene where we take a backseat in a chauffeur-driven a Rolls Royce Fantom Cloud for a mystery journey through the French countryside

Orpheus and Eurydice (Déa) are lovers. We first meet the tousle-haired Orphée in the opening scene at the ‘Café des Poétes’ where the postwar Left Bank credentials are effortlessly established with writers and creative types shooting the breeze over Gauloises and Pastis. Death soon arrives in the shape of the Princess (Casarès) making her presence known gracefully in her black Rolls-Royce. Over the car’s radio the BBC’s coded instructions to the Resistance ring out. Meanwhile in Hell lurks the shadow of the German Gestapo. In Cocteau’s version of the story Orpheus and Eurydice are saved by Death’s self-sacrifice along with her soigné assistant Heurtebise.

Orphée has a mildly melodramatic tone, a lightness of touch and an appealing wit that complement the gorgeousness of its mise en scène making Cocteau of most admired and revered filmmakers of his own generation and the New Wave. So much so that Truffaut produced his  sixth and final film, Le Testament d’Orphée, which reunited most of the cast of Orphée and is dedicated to the Nouvelle Vague.

“Quite apart from its symbolism Orphée is tells a mystical adventure, sustaining a balance between the real and the magical and maintaining its hypnotic rhythm beyond the first scene in the poets’ café, at the end of which Orpheus goes off with the Princess in her car, and slowly building up a poetic and beguiling atmosphere – creating a fascinating dramatic arc as the mirror opens, the Princess appearing and disappearing again in the streets of Paris while Orpheus desperately pursues her, the motor cyclists shoot past along the dusty road, as the radio echoes its impenetrable messages in the car. The original tagline called it  – “The immortal thriller”.  

Cocteau replaces the arbitrary force which death represents in Greek mythology by human figures with human desires and feelings.  The Princess loves Orpheus: Heurtebise loves Eurydice: both sacrifice their love, knowing it cannot successfully be pursued. Poets have always been obsessed with death: here, death also falls in love with poets. The symbols, the mysteries and the powers of death must by their vibrant nature be “living”. The princess is a tragic creation despite her haunting beauty and Gothic allure. Auric’s recurring flute score is eerily evocative along with the striking drum rhythms of the Bacchantes, making this fantasy drama both ravishingly elegant and chilling’.

The magic of cinema is sensationally realised in Jean Cocteau’s darkly enigmatic Orphée, one of the great masterpieces of the French avant-garde. Newly restored by SNC (Groupe M6), Orphée returns to the big screen on 19 October 2018, released by the BFI in selected cinemas UK-wide and screening at BFI Southbank from 22 October as part of The Deep Focus season on the French Fantastique. 

Simultaneous bluray and iTunes release on 21 January 2019 

 

Berlinale 2019 – First competition films announced

Opening this year with Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers, the 69th Berlinale Film Festival (7-17 February) has announced the first competition films which include the latest from regulars François Ozon, Denis Côté and Fatih Akin.

Serbian director Angela Schanelec will present her latest film I Was at Home, but, and Emin Alper will be there with A Tale of Three Sisters, a follow up to his dazzling drama Beyond the Hill

Also competing is The Ground Beneath my Feet from Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer.

In the Berlinale Special Gala Section there is Gully Boy from Zoya Aktar (India), Heinrich Breloer’s drama Brecht which stars Trina Dyrholm and Tom Schilling and Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the Watergate scandal

COMPETITION 

Der Boden unter den Füßen (The Ground Beneath My Feet) Austria/World Premiere

by Marie Kreutzer (The Fatherless, We Used to be Cool)

with Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hörbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Axel Sichrovsky, Dominic Marcus Singer, Meo Wulf

Der Goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove) Germany/France/World Premiere

by Fatih Akin (Head On, In the Fade)

with Jonas Dassler, Margarethe Tiesel, Hark Bohm

Grâce à dieu (By the Grace of God) France/International Premiere

by François Ozon (8 Women, In the House)

with Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Éric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Bernard Verley, Martine Erhel, Josiane Balasko, Hélène Vincent, François Chattot, Frédéric Pierrot

Ich war zuhause, aber (I Was at Home, but) Germany / Serbia/World Premiere

by Angela Schanelec (The Dreamed Path, Marseille)

with Maren Eggert, Franz Rogowski, Lilith Stangenberg, Jakob Lassalle, Clara Möller

Kız Kardeşler (A Tale of Three Sisters) Turkey / Ger/ Neth/ Greece/World Premiere

by Emin Alper (Beyond the Hill, Frenzy)

with Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Açikgöz, Müfit Kayacan, Kubilay Tunçe

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) Canada/World Premiere

by Denis Côté (A Skin So Soft, Bestiaire)

with Robert Naylor, Josée Deschênes, Jean-Michel Anctil, Larissa Corriveau, Rémi Goulet, Diane Lavallée, Hubert Proulx, Rachel Graton, Normand Carrière, Jocelyne Zucco

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast 

Gully Boy /India/ World Premiere

by Zoya Akhtar (You Won’t Get This Life Again, Lust Stories)

with Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, Vijay Verma 

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Brecht /Germany / Austria/World Premiere

by Heinrich Breloer (The Manns – Novel of a Century, Buddenbrooks – The Decline of a Family)

with Burghart Klaußner, Tom Schilling, Adele Neuhauser, Trine Dyrholm, Mala Emde, Franz Hartwig, Friederike Becht, Ernst Stötzner, Lou Strenger

Watergate – Documentary/USA/Euro Premiere

by Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight, Inside Job)

with Douglas Hodge, Jill Wine-Banks, Dan Rather, Lesley Stahl, Richard Ben-Veniste

MORE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN THE COMING WEEKS

Promise at Dawn (2017) *** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Eric Barbier; Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Pierre Niney, Pavel Puchalski, Nino Schiffman, Catherine McCormack, Jean-Pierre Daroussin; France/Belgium 2017, 131 min.

Eric Barbier’s screen adaptation of PROMISE AT DAWN has been embellished to a length that does no favours to the original story or the audience, for that matter. Charlotte Gainsbourg comes to the rescue as the enterprising actress turned hotelier in a tour de force of Jewish motherhood.  

Romain Gary penned the wildly romantic novel in 1960 based on his mother’s life of self-sacrifice raising him in Vilnius (then part of Russia) in the early years of the 20th century. During the course of the film, Gary is variously played by Pavel Puchalski (as a child), Nemo Schiffman (as a teenager) and finally Pierre Niney, as a young man.

We first meet Roman Kacew during one of his mother’s many crisis. Nina is an actress turned struggling dressmaker who turns to her actor friend Alex Gubernatis for support, despite his alcoholism. Posing as Parisian couturiers, the two boost their potential amongst High Society Vilnius and business blossoms overnight, leaving Nina to spend more time with her son. The boy shows a talent for drawing, but Nina wants him to be rich and famous. The wayward young Roman (Niney) soon falls in love with Valentine but her brothers beat him up and call him a “dirty Yid”,  causing Nina’s to business falter, and she succumbs to diabetes. By now it’s 1934 and the family moves to Nice for the climate, taking  over the running of a hotel. But Roman’s eye for the girls soon sees him back in Paris, where Law studies are hampered by his Jewish credentials and philandering ways. Finally he joins the French Air Force, becoming a victim of Anti-Semitism and the only one of 300 cadets not promoted to officer status. Needless to say, Nina battles on undeterred, ever hopeful of making a success of her son in the diplomatic service.

Bookended by scenes featuring Gary’s first wife, the English author Leslie Blanch (McCormack), Barbier’s version loves grand sequences, and Glynn Speeckaert’s aerial battle scenes are particularly impressive. Gainsbourg plays Niney off the screen: his Roman is the weakest of the three characterisations. Promise at Dawn, is certainly high octane in stark contrast with Jules Dassin’s more thoughtfully moving 1970 version of the original.  MT

THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 |

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Workshop (2017) ****

Dir: Laurent Cantet | Writer: Robin Campillo | France | Cast: Marina Fois, Matthieu Lucci | 114min | Drama

Laurent Cantet follows his middle-aged rumination Return to Ithaca (2014) with an equally unsettling but darker teenage drama that takes place in a multi-cultural summer school in Provence. Youth is a subject he’s covered before in his Palme d’Or winner The Class (2008) but here the region’s working class past come back to haunt the instability of the present providing an intoxicating mix of emotions in a tense, intelligent and socially relevant drama.

The film follows Antoine who is taking part in summer school in rather downtrodden town of La Ciotat, where he hopes to write a crime thriller novel with the help of a well-known author Olivia Dejazet (Marina Fois).  Joined by seven other local teenagers from the town which has seen better days as a centre for shipbuilding – today the docks just service luxury yachts.

Whilst most of the students are critical of Dejazet’s Parisian “snootiness”, they still co-operate  – apart from Antoine (Lucci). He is provocative to both teacher and co-students, shocking them with a piece of gruesome writing, describing a mass-killer, and told in the first person singular. Downtime is spend hanging around the area, in one instance with an unlicensed firearm.  Antoine has already been playing the popular video game “The Witch3: Wild Hunt”,  where he choses the role of a Viking killer-for hire. Malik (Rammach), a young Muslim woman, is Antoine’s fiercest critic, as he continues to undermine the project, upsetting everyone with his unruly attitude. Dejazet feels hopeless – not used to open racism and Antoine’s perverse love of violence – then she tries to help him. But her efforts end in a traumatic encounter, and Antoine gives himself away: he describes the main motive of the Bataclan perpetrators as boredom, a very astute projection, considering his activities with other far-right friends.

Antoine might not have the intellectual prowess of Drieu La Rochelle, the nihilist hero of Louis Malle’ s Le Feu Follet, but there are certain parallels: both men prefer male company, the home-erotic undertones are very clear. Like many fascists, they are obsessed with death and suicide (La Rochelle killed himself in 1945 after being a collaborator), and their relationship with women tends to be antagonistic: their masculine pride does not allow them to come emotionally close to women. Antoine is a gun for hire, his phantasies of obliteration are as much directed at himself as others.

Regular collaborate Robin Campillo, who also worked on Entre les Murs with Cantet, constructs an ambivalent relationship between Dejazet and Antoine: both are aware of their social differences, but in spite this they are somehow attracted to one another. Their relationship develops into a separate story, whilst the other six students try to write their own crime novel. DoP Pierre Milon uses impressive panoramic shots, showing the empty docks, then returning to the intimate scenes of collaborate writing, without breaking the fluent movement. Cantet’s direction is  sensitive, he never denounces Antoine, seeing him as a victim of change: once he would have found a spiritual home with the dock workers, but now he is alienated and bitter. L’Atelier is a story of disenfranchisement, and storytelling – with the author as teacher, but one who’s not always in control.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018

 

 

French Film Festival UK (2018)

A nationwide festival of recent and classic French film that takes place from 7 November until mid December 2018.

From cult classics such as Alain Delon starrer The Unvanquished (1964), to Jean Luc Godard’s Cannes awarded Image Book (2018) there are 50 films to choose from at various venues all over the UK from London to Edinburgh and Belfast to the provincial cities of Bristol and Dundee.

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL UK 7 NOVEMBER UNTIL 16 DECEMBER 2018

The Devil’s Hand (1943) La Main du Diable | Halloween Classic

Dir: Maurice Tourneur | Writer: Jean-Paul Le Chanois | Cast: Pierre Frenay, Josseline Gaël | Fantasy Horror | France 78′

Jean Cocteau was not the only French director making wartime fantasy films on a limited budget. Jacques Tourneur’s father Maurice (Ship of Lost Men) directs this tightly effective Faustian horror fantasy laced with political undercurrents. Made during the time of the Vichy government, when France was still under German occupation, the film was a subtle attempt to finger those Frenchmen who sold their souls to the Nazis in return for favours, although the narrative is based on Gérard de Nerval’s short story written in 1832.

In a remote mountain hostellerie on the Franco-Italian border, a harried stranger (Pierre Frenay) blows in from the rainy night. All dressed in black, he is the Parisian artist Roland Brissot. He carries a small package and a hunted look. As the evening takes a sinister turn, enhanced by a power cut, the packed dining room is plunged into semi-darkness, and the one-handed painter tells a macabre tragedy. The previous year he had bought a supernatural talisman for the princely sum of a penny. The man who sold it to him was the owner of the famous Melisse restaurant (Noël Roquevert). And the mysterious object looked like a human hand. Overnight he developed extraordinary artistic skill and became a success, both romantically (he marries the demanding beauty Josseline Gaël), and professionally – under the pseudonym of “Maximus Léo,” But there’s a price to pay, not least, because the object comes with a sinister stalker in the shape of a bowler-hatted midget (the devil, played by Pierre Palau with a blood-curdling laugh). And that’s not the end of it all.

Elegantly crafted by Armand Thirard (Les Diaboliques) in alluring black and white, La Main du Diable is endowed with the signature Tourneur shadow play, and this is particularly haunting during the final puppet scene. Andrej Andrejew’s distinctive innovative set design gives the drama a lyrical beauty that sweeps it into the realms of fantasy, despite its realistic setting. Pierre Dumas’ evocative soundtrack drives the intrigue forward as Pierre Frenay plays the classic Tourneur hero, a desperate man struggling against the tide and brought down by his emotional frailty and desire. MT

ON RELEASE AT THE BFI | 3 NOVEMBER 2018

 

Le Cahier Noir | The Black Book of Father Dinis (2018) *** San Sebastian 2018

Dir: Valeria Sarmiento | Chile | Drama | 113′

Valeria Sarmiento follows her Locarno curio La Telenovela Errante (2017) with a classically-styled lavishly-mounted 18th century drama that follows the petripatetic exploits of an (unknowingly) aristocratic Italian nursemaid Laura (Lou de Laâge) after her employer dies in mysterious circumstances leaving her in sole charge of an infant son Sebastian.

Based on a literary work by Chilean novelist Camile Castelo Branco, and adapted for the screen by Carlos Saboga, this sedate and ambitious affair establishes an air of intrigue and uncertainty with an sinister orchestral score as Laura is hotly pursued by the saturnine  Marquis Lusault (Niels Schneider), who quickly ravages her before rakishly marrying someone of better birth – or so it initially appears – until Laura’s real heritage is revealed by  Stanislas Merhar’s priest with an ill-fitting wig. The drama then takes off across Europe visiting a series of sumptuously decorated stately palaces with little to distinguish whether they’re in France, Italy and England. No expense is spared in the costume department although everyone shares the same sepia-tinted lipstick (including the men).

Gracefully performed by its accomplished ensemble cast, The Black Book is an elegantly rendered potboiler that pays homage to Sarmiento’s late husband Raúl Ruiz, sharing the same sombre pacing as his masterpiece Mysteries of Lisbon (2010) while also referencing Sarmiento’s 2012 Lines of Wellington (prepared by Ruiz) although not its breadth of subject matter. A solid and engaging drama. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 21 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

Olivier Assayas | Early Films | On Bluray

DISORDER (DÉSORDRE) (1986) ***

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Wadeck Stanczak, Ann-Gisel Glass, Lucas Belvaux, Remy Martin, Corinne Dada, Etienne Dacla, Etienne Daho, Philippe Demarle, Juliette Maihe, Simon de Bosse; France 1986, 88 min.

After editing Cahiers du Cinema and writing scripts, among them two for Andre Techiné, Assayas’ debut feature is a playground for lost souls in limbo. Three members of a band, Yvan (Stanczak), Anne (Glass) and Henri (Belvaux, a future director himself) rob a music shop but Yvan loses his nerve and kills the owner. The tone is chaotic and it’s clear that the trio will never be the same again, haunted by their own neurosis, self-doubt and self-obsession. There all react in different ways: Anne is traumatised by the murder; Ivan and Henry go on as if nothing has happened. But Anne soon distances herself from the other two, appalled by their blatant denial. Henri and Yvan get on with the daily running their band. Drummer Xavier (Martin) loses his girl friend band member Gabirel (de Bosse), whilst Ivan falls in love with Cora (Dacla), the manager’s girl friend. Henri is finally overcome by the darkness that has literally defeated him, leaving the rest behind with their doubts, affairs and long phone calls.

What starts as a Bonnie & Clyde drama soon morphs into a classic riff on the soul-searching that would continue to appear in his work: instead of the police (who never appear) we get the inner selves of the protagonists, desperately clinging on to the idyllic days they have left behind in the music shop. Shot in London, Paris and New York, by Assayas’ regular Denis Lenoir (Winter’s Child, Demonlover), whose images are the reflections of the tormented trio, everything rushing by frenetically. Perhaps most memorable are the long sessions in the phone box. Disorder is a modern Dostoyevsky.

WINTER’S CHILD (L’ENFANT DE L’HIVER) (1989) ****

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Michel Feller, Clothilde de Bayser, Marie Matheron, Jean-Philippe Escoffey, Anouk Grinberg, Gerard Blain; France 1989, 85 min.

Winter’s Child, the director’s second feature, is a logical follow-up to Disorder. Set in a familiar milieu (the theatre), Assayas once again visits spiritual and emotional stagnation . Stephane (Feller) and Natalie (Matheron) are running out of steam as a couple. Casting around for away to revitalise their relationship they make the mistake of having a child – and this actually makes things worse. Stéhane leaves Natalie during the pregnancy and has a short affair with Sabine (de Bayser), a young set designer. Sabine likes Stéphane, but has just left a passionate relationship with actor Bruno (Escoffey). Sabine shuttles between her two lovers until Bruno rejects her once again, even asking her to leave the theatre so they can be rid of one another, once and for all. This endless chopping and changing goes on until Sabine threatens then with a gun one New Year’s Eve.

Assayas shows how adults are so often prone to emotional immaturity where affairs of the heart are concerned: narcissism predominates, a lack of commitment parades as spontaneity. Natalie’s motherhood at least allows her to progress to adulthood. These characters are brutal and self-pitying at the same time, changing their outlook on life and relationships change as often as their underwear. Winter’s Child would have benefited from the title of the Fassbinder’s first feature: Love is Colder than Death. Assayas certainly makes great progress in the three years between Disorder and Winter’s Child, the latter being an analytical portrait of self-centred emotions, mistaken for love in this brilliant La Ronde of self-deceit. AS

ON BLURAY FROM 8 OCTOBER COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS 

    

l’Année dernière a Marienbad (1961) Bluray DVD and digital download

Dir.: Alain Resnais; Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoeff; France/Italy 1961, 94 min

Alain Resnais co-founded the Nouveau Roman movement in the early 1950s going on to win the Palme d’Or with this stylishly somnambulist drama scripted by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

In a splendid Bohemian villa, gorgeously attired guests are enjoying an  languorous cocktail party. A young woman (Delphine Seyrig) is approached by a man (Albertazzi), who wants to elope with her. Apparently they met at the same place the previous year, had an affair, and she let him to believe they would run away together. But this woman is already spoken for by another lover (Pitoeff) who tries to intervene, without success.

The setting is luxurious, treasures and works of art dominating every shot, but the sinister organ music by Francis Seyrig references the doom that lies ahead. Our elegant couple sashay around languidly as if intoxicated by the allure of their sublimely dreamlike surroundings, the enigma of their relationship echoing all around as they ignore the world outside. This soigné world of treasures and culture would soon go up in flames, like the victims of the holocaust.

Resnais filmed at Schleissheim and Nymphenburg castles, built by Ludwig II the King of Bavaria not far from the former Concentration Camp Dachau. The actor Françoise Spira (who would commit suicide at the age of 36), used her 8mm camera to capture “the shooting of Last Year in Marienbad“. Among the material (lost for many decades), where shots of the actors and crew visiting the remains of the concentration camp. Whilst Spira did not shoot inside the camp, her images show the complete indolence of the German population living nearby, who were completely unfazed by the mass murder happening in their midst. When the 8 mm material was re-discovered, German director Volker Schloendorff (who had been a mere second-assistant director during the shooting of Last Year), re-edited the material and added a commentary. The historic implications are clear. Resnais and DoP Sacha Vierny tried to re-create the shots of their famous documentary Nuit et Brouillard. And whilst Resnais’ contemporary comment (“Could I direct this feature whilst the Algerian War was going on?”) reflects his way of of thinking, the highly-stylised pre-WWII atmosphere in Europe not only dominates throughout the drama but reflects on Resnais’ own role as a pure connoisseur of culture when he arrived in Paris in 1940. He was a by-stander during the German occupation, until visits to Austria and Germany “left me no chance, and it became clear why the faces of the French police during the deportations where eradicated  in films and photos”.

Far from being an artificial work of art for the sake of it, Last Year is very much in line with Resnais’ output of the time, set between Hiroshima mon Amour (1959) and La Guerre est Finie (1966). WWII and The Spanish Civil War are shown from a personal angle, and Last Year is really a study of denial and ignorance, which would lead to the outbreak of both the conflicts. The gorgeous aesthetic – however hypnotising –  it is a metaphor for the apathy of a world which is about to be obliterated. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Extras

New: ‘RESNAIS and ROBBE-GRILLET – The wanderers of imagination’

Interview with Film Historian Ginette Vincendeau

2 short films by Alain Resnais: ‘THE STYRENE’S SONG’ and ‘ALL THE MEMORY OF THE WORLD’

‘In the Labyrinth of Marienbad’

Restored Trailer

BD only: Documentary on Alain Robbe-Grillet

ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL FROM 17 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

Faces, Places (2017) ***

IMG_3618Dir: Agnes Varda, JR | Doc | French/Belgian | 91min

The diminutive Agnès Varda comes across as a warm social animal at the ripe age of 89.  Collaborating for the first time ever with another photographer, the Ali G lookalike and French creative force JR – possibly for his able assistance and van driving skills – the pair embark on a tour of France, not just to take pretty pictures, but as a tribute to the people they meet along the way. Travelling south from the Northern mining towns to the Midi and Savoie, their aim is to record the memory of ordinary citizens by pasting their oversized photographs for posterity, on old houses and monuments.

JR’s van is painted to look like an enormous camera, and contains a photo-booth that churns out the large photographic prints. It’s a clever idea and one that generates enormous pleasure all round. By the end of their journey, Varda will even have her toes and eyes emblazed on road tanks waggons, to carry her adventure forward. Through this interchange of photographs and conversations with locals, they visit the small towns of Bonnieux, Pirou, St Aubin and Sainte Marguerite where in conversation with farmers, postmen, waitresses and dockworkers Varda builds a special portrait of contemporary France that’s also frank and sometimes even controversial along the lines of: ‘why don’t more women drive heavy goods vehicles’, or, ‘should a goat always keep its horns?’.

Varda still has a keen eye, even though she now suffers macular degeneration and has to undergo painful regular hospital injections. Claiming that ‘chance’ has always been her best assistant she clearly has a positive view of life and reminisces over her industry friends: there is Henri Cartier Bresson and his wife Marine Franke, whose graves we visit, and Guy Bourdin whose photo ends up on a beach monument. And despite happy memories of her friendship with Jean Luc Godard, when turning up at his house for an invitation to tea, the veteran director churlishly fails to appear. MT

NATIONWIDE FROM 21 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) **** Bluray release

Dir.: Jean Renoir; Cast: Rene Lefevre, Florelle, Jules Berry, Nadia Sibirskaia; France 1936, 80 min.

Jean Renoir’s The Crime of Monsieur Lange is often seen as a political film, supporting the Front Populaire  – Renoir working with the Left Bank agit-prop theatre Premiere Groupe Octobre, but it goes much further: criticising misogyny and the unjust laws regarding abortion. One of his most successful dramas it is humane and entertaining, scripted by Jacques Prevert (Les enfants du Paradise), the film was also notable for its innovative techniques in depth of field photography.

Amadée Lange (Lefèvre) is a day-dreamer, unlike his scheming boss Paul Batala (Berry) who runs a publishing house exploiting its women workers. Strangely, or not so, Lange’s Western comic-strip hero Arizona Jim is the total opposite of his creator: always trying to defend the poor against the rich. Batala even uses Lange’s stories to prop up the small ads. But when the womanising Batala starts to run up debts with his creditors, he asks Estelle (Sibirskaia) to sleep with one of them to keep him at bay. All in vain: Batala has to make a run for it, escaping on a train, which later crashes. He goes into hiding disguised in the clergyman robes of one of his fellow travellers. Meanwhile Lange and his lover Valentine (Florelle, star of Moulin Rogue) witness a reversal of fortune: Arizona Jim and his creator have become a success, and all the employees of the company share the profits. But, alas Batala soon re-appears, wanting to re-instate himself.

The Crime is told in flashback: Lange and Florelle are on the run at the Belgian boarder when she asks the “court” in a local relais to decide if her lover was really guilty when he shot the returning Batala in the courtyard where the action unfolds. This roving scene is a masterpiece shot by DoP Jean Bachelet in the style of the handheld cameras that would follow in the future “eyeing the life layered all around it with persuasive urban density”. 

The drama also showcases Renoir’s controlled spontaneity, a breezing sublimity where a character can jump suddenly into the frame, thus changing the narrative. Berry makes for a terrific pantomime villain, showing real flashes of evil. Florelle lures the hesitant Lefevre with her in a superb turn. Even though La Regle du Jeu and La vie est à nous, were much more admired, Le Crime is the most spirited of the trio. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

   

 

C’est La Vie! ***

Dir: Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache | Cast: Jean-Pierre Bakri, Suzanne Clement, Gilles Lellouche | Comedy | France | 90′

Following their international success with Untouchable, Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache are back again – this time with a comedy that fizzes with feelgood fun largely due to lead Jean Pierre Bacri and his signature brand of deadpan no-nonsense insouciance. He plays wedding planner Max whose days are dedicated to making any wedding a big success – even when mayhem is threatening to take over behind the scenes. Meanwhile he’s juggling an unhappy wife and a demanding girlfriend (Suzanne Clément).

Joining him in this well-structured occasionally funny affair are Gilles Lellouche, Benjamin Lavernhe and Jean-Paul Rouve. Hélène Vincent makes the most of her cameo role as the mother of the groom. The story follows Max and his employees as they organise a sumptuous wedding in a magnificent 17th century château. Side-shows in the form of short sketches add interest to the central narrative which focuses on the lavish wedding preparations for Pierre (Lavernhe) and Héléna (Judith Chemla). Predictably, despite Max’s efforts to keep everything under control proceedings never go exactly to plan – to his chagrin.

Impeccable pacing aside, this is a mixed bag comedy-wise: some scenes are more amusing than others and there are some awkward moments. Gilles Lellouche makes a great success of his diva-like wedding singer as does Benjamin Lavernhe as the exacting groom. Less convincing is Rouve’s wedding photographer or Kevin Azais’ waiter with a sideline in off-duty policing. Bacri holds it all together with his superb delivery and timing as he tries to control his bolshy assistant Adèle (Eye Haidara). But the funniest scene is saved for the end as the party really kicks off when the groom’s efforts to surprise his new wife backfire – with hilarious results. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

The Guardians (2017) ****

Dir.: Xavier Beauvois |  Cast: Nathalie Baye, Iris Bry, Laura Smet, Cyril Descours, Gilbert Bonneau, Olivier Rabourdin, Nicolas Girand, Mathilde Viseux; France 2017 | 134′

Xavier Beauvois imagines the heroic sacrifices made by the women left at home during the Great War (1914-18) and shows shows that he has come a long way since his kitchen-sink debut feature Nord (1991). Based on the 1924 novel by Gouncourt winning author Ernest Perochon, and stunningly shot by Caroline Champetier, THE GUARDIANS is a celebration of female emancipation, played by a brilliant ensemble cast led by Nathalie Baye as a compelling matriarch.

Widow Hortense (Baye) is left in charge of the Paridier farm after her sons Constant (Girond) and Georges (Descours) are sent to the Front; they are soon joined by her daughter Solange’s (Smet) husband Clovis (Rabourdin). Helped by her father Henri (Bonneau), Hortense not only manages the farm-hands, but works the land herself in a bid to ensure that their livelihood continues while the men make occasional visits from the Front. In spite of her best efforts, she has to hire a newcomer, the orphan Francine (the outstanding debutant Bry) who is not only a good worker, but initiates the acquisition of a tractor and a harvesting machine. When Georges comes back from the front for a week, he falls in love with Francine to the chagrin of local girl Marguerite (Viseux) who was favoured by Hortense to marry her son.

Without making an idyll of nature, Champetier frames every shot with great care making fabulous use of the transcendent light, so that the soft hues of the terroir form a glowing backdrop to the toiling humans  The predominantly female workers are gracefully framed as they toil away in the fields and even though their work is gruelling, there is always a certain rhythmic elegance at play. This is a complete contrast to Riefenstahl’s Olympia films where female athletes were shown in short, hectic clips, focusing on an immediate target, like robots robbed of their human qualities. Beauvois lets the camera linger, allowing the scenes to play out naturally. Admittedly, there is some self-indulgence, which manifests itself in the running time, but like Thomas Hardy, some novels need to be transferred to the big screen in their full length – and this is one. Lusciously photographed, but poignant in its dramatic conflicts, THE GUARDIANS is almost a masterpiece. AS

Now SCREENING nationwide in arthouse cinemas courtesy of Curzon

Agnès Varda – Gleaning Truths | 3 – 5 August 2018

GLEANING TRUTHS: AGNÈS VARDA is a UK wide touring programme from Friday 3 August in Curzon Soho. Comprising eight films and spanning six decades, the season celebrates Agnès Varda’s work in the build-up to the release of Oscar nominated Faces Places on the 21 September. The tour follows on from the extensive BFI Southbank season in June and takes the work of this pioneering filmmaker to audiences across the UK. 

The touring programme is launching on Thursday 2nd August with a 35mm screening of Cléo from 5 to 7pm at the Curzon Soho, plus panel discussion on Film, Fashion, and the Female Gaze. The panel will be hosted by The Bechdel Test Fest, an on-going celebration of films that pass the Bechdel Test.

La Pointe Courte 

France 1955. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Noiret, Silvia Monfort. 80min. Digital. EST. PG 

Agnès Varda’s first feature, a precursor to the French New Wave, signals her future stylistic and thematic interests. Set in a working-class fishing village, the story moves between the daily struggles of the villagers and a young married couple from the city contemplating their failing marriage. With stunning cinematography, this striking debut demonstrates Varda’s exquisite sensibility as a photographer. 

Cléo from 5 to 7 Cléo de 5 à 7

France-Italy 1962. Dir Agnès Varda. With Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray. 90min. Digital. EST. PG
In pop singer Cléo, Varda created an iconic female protagonist. Wandering the streets of Paris, Cléo goes on a journey of self-discovery as she awaits the results of an important medical test. Moving and lyrical, Cléo from 5 to 7 is Varda’s breakthrough feature and a French New Wave classic, best enjoyed on the big screen.

Le Bonheur 

France 1964. Dir Agnès Varda. With Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer. 80min. Digital. EST. 15 Thérèse and François lead a seemingly pleasant married life, until he begins an affair with another woman, supposedly to enhance their mutual enjoyment. In her first colour feature, Varda becomes not only an observer of human behaviour and a commentator on the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but also a painter, utilising her palette on screen to enhance the story to great effect.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t 

France-Venzuela-Belgium 1977. Dir Agnès Varda. With Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Robert Dadiès. 120min. Digital. EST. 12A
Set against the backdrop of the women’s liberation movement, the film charts the friendship between two women over the course of 15 years. Suzanne and Pauline lead very different lives, but what unifies them is their commitment to women’s rights. A deeply personal film for Varda, it combines elements of a musical (with lyrics written by the director herself) with Varda’s usual blend of fiction and documentary.

Vagabond 

France 1985. Dir Agnès Varda. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau. 106min. Digital. EST. 15. A Curzon Artificial Eye release
A powerful and heartbreaking account of a defiant and free-spirited woman. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Vagabond is a cinematic landmark that introduced one of the most intriguing, complex and uncompromising female protagonists in modern cinema. Sandrine Bonnaire, who debuted in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours, gives a remarkable performance as the independent and rebellious Mona, who drifts through the South of France. The first scene shows Mona’s death, and so Agnès Varda tells her story through Mona’s interactions with the cross-section of French society she met in the last few weeks of her life. These encounters reveal people’s preconceptions around women’s place in society, personal freedoms within social structures, and the value of work – issues that still resonate more than 30 years after the film’s release.

Jacquot de Nantes 

France 1991. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier. 120min. Digital. EST. PG 

This is Varda’s first film celebrating her late husband, French filmmaker Jacques Demy. With her signature style of mixing fiction with documentary, Varda beautifully reconstructs Demy’s adolescence and his love of theatre and cinema, using his memoirs as reference. Initiated during Demy’s last year of life and released after his death, Jacquot de Nantes is a touching portrait of a talented filmmaker-in-the-making. 

The Gleaners & I 

France 2000. Dir Agnès Varda. 82min. Digital. EST. U
Armed with a digital camera, Varda travels through the French countryside and Parisian streets to celebrate those who find use in discarded objects. Throughout, she finds affinity as a gleaner of images, emotions and stories, and expands a poetic exploration of gleaning into an innovative self-portrait. This seminal work, referred to by Varda as a ‘wandering- road ocumentary,’ explores her creative process and approach to making film and art.

The Beaches of Agnès 

France 2008. Dir Agnès Varda. 110min. Digital. EST. 18
A cinematic memoir of Varda’s personal and artistic life, told by the director herself on the eve of her 80th birthday. In a witty and original way, Varda weaves archive footage, reconstructions and film excerpts with present-day scenes to chart her life, including childhood, the French New Wave period, and her marriage to Jacques Demy. Inventive, emotional and reflective, this autobiographical essay celebrates Varda’s artistic creativity and curiosity about life.

SCREENING AT CURZON LONDON 3-5 AUGUST 2018 LONDON

The Apparition (2018) ***

Dir.: Xavier Giannoli; Cast: Vincent Lindon, Galatea Bellugi, Patrick d’Assumcao, Anatole Taubman; France 2018, 144 min.

In his follow-up to Marguerite, Xavier Giannoli again bites off rather more than he can chew: The Apparition is a mixture of Dan Brown and the eternal question of God’s existence, played out against a backdrop of European cities and war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Pretentiously divided into chapters, it stars Vincent Lindon as traumatised war reporter Jacques who develops hearing difficulties and loses his best friend, a photographer, during an assignment somewhere in the Middle East.

On his return to Paris, Jacques is asked to investigate an apparition in the Carbarat region of France where 18-year old Anna (Bellugi) claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. The sighting has given rise to a cult and Jacques decides to form a committee to question Anna, who has lived most of her life in foster families. Father Borrodine (d’ Assumacao) seems to profit most from the cult, which is commercially exploited by Anton (Taubman), a Christian version of an advertising guru. 

Suddenly the narrative changes course radically, Jacques morphing into a sleuth to find out more about Anna’s past and unearthing a murder and letters to her from a refugee camp in Africa. The icon discovered by his dead friend makes a reappearance. Although the mystery surrounding the apparition seems to have been cleared up, Anna is nevertheless in danger, having discovered too much. Sadly, the audience is still in the dark with too many questions unanswered, and even the overgenerous running time does not allow for the plot-lines to gel.

DoP Eric Gautier’s widescreen shots would do any travel advert proud, but like the script, everything feels rather formulaic. Arvi Part (one of four composers) gives this hybrid travelogue just the right blend of quasi-religious background music for the decent but sprawling religious crime drama. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 3 AUGUST 2018

In Harmony | En Equilibre **** (2016)

Dir: Denis Dercourt | Cast: Cecile de France, Albert Dupontel | France | Drama | 82’

Two magnetic performances (not to mention a great supporting act from stallion Othello) make this elegantly crafted uplifting drama really watchable. Based on the true story of paralympian Bernard Sachsé, a stunt horse trainer who suffers life-changing injuries, it stars Albert Dupontel) as Marc, paralysed from the waist down after an accident on a film set. It turns out that his insurance loss adjuster Florence (Cecile de France) has a sideline as a former professional pianist playing just the kind of tunes that the good-looking rider enjoys as the two gradually fall in love while fighting over the claim resolution.

Set in the glorious countryside of Brittany in springtime, this cleverly written and well-paced story shows how two people can come together through their artistic appreciation of one another. Florence is attracted by Marc’s courage and self-belief in pursuing his dreams, and also his appreciation of the skills that she herself has neglected in order to pursue a safer, more traditional life as a working mother. But it’s not all straightforward, and seasoned director Denis Dercourt adds a twist to his tale that creates a soupçon of dramatic tension as the film trots satisfyingly towards its final denouement. An inspiratonal, feelgood film with some moving moments. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM ICARUS FILMS 

 

La Belle et la Bete (1946) Bluray and Prime Video


Dir, Writer: Jean Cocteau | Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Marcel André | 96min | Fantasy Drama | French with English subtitles

LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE is one of the most amazing fantasy films ever made, drawing you into its Gothic spell and enchanting beauty.

Jean Cocteau was a visionary intellectual and one of the creative geniuses of the 20th century.  A poet, writer, painter and filmmaker, the dreamlike nature of his work is perhaps best showcased on the silver screen.  Given the climate of austerity, shortages and widespread power-cuts when the film was being shot during the end of the Second World War, it seems even extraordinary – and nothing less than a work of art.  And although some of its effects may appear unremarkable to contemporary audiences, its mesmerising style and ambience was unlike any other film that had gone before.

belle_et_la_bete_001 copy
Based on a fairytale by Madame Leprince de Beaumont, there is something delightfully innocent yet sophisticated about this fable with its dark Freudian implications. Light of touch and ethereal in atmosphere – evoked by Henri Alekan’s sensual cinematography (assisted by Rene Clement) – there is nevertheless a sinister undertone to proceedings enhanced by Georges Auric’s haunting music, placed in a Gothic setting in the French countryside where La Belle lives with her family not far from the bewitched chateau of La Bête, inspired by Gustave Doré.  In LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, Cocteau (who was 60 at the time) asks us to suspend our disbelief as adults and return to childhood with all its magic and mystery.

La Belle’s father is a refined merchant who has fallen on difficult times. Lamenting their reduced circumstances, La Belle’s two nasty sisters Felicié and Adélaide (played with coquettish petulance by Mila Parély and Nane Germo) and sneering brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair) constantly diminish her. Suitor Avelante (Jean Marais) who also plays La Bete, prancing around in his regal splendour in one scene, before descending into brutish behaviour in the next – fangs bared and eyes glistening: very much the epitome of the modern alpha male. His make-up alone is a masterpiece. The costumes were designed by Lanvin and Pierre Cardin.

There’s an experimental feel to the film with its trance-like episodes as La Belle glides through the corridors of La Bête’s bewitched Château, with its draperies wafting eerily and mysterious statues coming to life in the glint of lighted candelabras and goblets of wine:  There are even ‘electric’ gates and an enchanted white horse: Le Magnifique, whose rider’s wish is its command. This is the stuff of dreams; there a magic mirrors, and gauntlets that transport the wearer from one place to another. La Bête is a sad figure, almost like that of Count Dracula; forced to live a life without love entombed in a nocturnal doom, and forced to beg each night at seven for La Belle’s hand in marriage.  The answer will surprise you. Avant-garde fantasy coalesces with the peerless disciplines of traditional methods and drama, even teaching the American cinema of the day some tricks that it never thought possible. MT

LA BELLE ET LA BETE IS ON BLURAY and PRIME VIDEO

 

 

Locarno 71 | Film Festival Preview

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian has unveiled his final line-up with an exciting eclectic selection of titles spanning mainstream and arthouse fare due to run at the picturesque Lake Maggiore setting from the 1st until 11th August 2018.

Piazza Grande will screen celebrated Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag alongside Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmanactor, David Fincher’s Se7en and Blaze the latest film from actor turned auteur Ethan Hawke who is also to be honoured with an Excellence Award at this year’s jamboree.

There are two documentary premieres of note, screening out of competition, the first, Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) explores the work of Bulgarian artist Christo whose Mastaba is currently gracing The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, the second is Etre et Avoir director Nicolas Philibert’s De Chaque Instant that looks at the life of nurses as they prepare for a lifetime of service. 

Amongst the feature debuts to world premiere is Aneesh Chaganty’s  Searching, and an animated film Ruben Grant – Collector from Slovenian artist, filmmaker and Berlinale winner Milorad Krstic, 

Hardly catching his breath since his last film Hong Sangsoo joins the International Competition line-up with Gangyun Hotel (Hotel By The River), Abbas Fahdel’s latest Yara, Radu Muntean’s follow up to One Floor Below – Alice T, Dominga Sotomayor’s Tarde Para Morir Joven, Sibel, from Turkish director duo Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and Britain’s Richard Billingham with his debut Ray And Liz.

Playing in the Filmmakers of the Present strand there is Siyabonga from South African directorJoshua Magor, a poetic feature showcasing the lavish landscapes of a nation riddled with poverty and crime.

This year’s Honorary Leopard is to go to Bruno Dumont who will present the world premiere of his mini-series Coincoin Et Les Z’inhumains screened on the Piazza after the award ceremony.

Retrospectives are always something to look forward to and Locarno 71 dedicates its classic spot to screwball comedy director Leo McCarey, with Carey Grant starrer The Awful Truth (1937) headlining the selection.

The Piazza Grande provides the biggest outdoor screening area in Europe and will be the setting for Vianney Lebasque’s festival opener Les Beaux Esprits and closing film I Feel Good from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerverne. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Tribute to Claude Lanzmann (1925-2018)

Claude Lanzmann, who was born in Paris in 1925, died today in the city of his birth, aged 92. He will always be remembered for the ground-breaking undertaking of Shoah, which took twelve years (1974-1985) to finish; the reconstruction of the genocide, lasting 560 minutes, a unique, monumental achievement.

Born as the grandson of Russian Jews who fled the pogroms, his upbringing was marred by the unhappy marriage of his parents: when Claude was nine, his mother Paulette left the family, which, ironically, came as a relief to her son: “I feared the marriage of my parents would end in suicide, or even murder”. His father, politically aware, taught his children survival techniques, which came in handy during the Nazi occupation of France. In 1943 Claude was sent to boarding school in Clermont-Ferrand, where he joined the Jeunesses Communistes and the resistance. In his autobiography Le Lievre de Patagonie (2009), he is quiet critical about himself, not having stood up enough for persecuted fellow students.

After the war he went to Tubingen in Germany where he met Nazi officers for the first time at the estate of the Von Neurath family, where he discovered a mini-concentration camp on the grounds. He went afterwards to teach in Berlin at the newly founded Free University. Lanzmann was unhappy about the lame De-Nazification process and he asked for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Reflexions sur la Question Juive to be read by his students. This led to him joining Sartre and De Beauvoir at the Paris offices of Les Temps Modernes later – whose editor he was since 2016. Between 1952 and 1957 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir “I am the only man with whom Simone lived a quasi-marital existence.”  Claude’s younger sister Evelyne, an actress, had a passionate relationship with Sartre, Lanzmann and de Beauvoir trying to keep matters secret. But after Evelyne’s suicide at the age of forty in 1967, the papers were full of accusations of Lanzmann, “having pimped out his sister to Sartre”. Whilst this might be a little harsh, the fact remains that Sartre was 22 years older than Evelyne, who took being left by him very hard – no wonder after the trauma of her childhood. In 1952 Lanzmann went for the first time to Israel, where he would start his career as a filmmaker in 1973 with Pourquoi Israel? Whilst taking a progressive stand on the Algerian question, signing the Manifesto of the 121 to end the war, Lanzmann always legitimised Israel’s right to keep the occupied territories. His documentary Tshal (1994) is full of praise for the Israeli Defence Forces, even though he admitted that the Palestinians should have their own country – later.

But the Holocaust dominated his output: of his nine features, five dealt with the subject: most interesting Sobibor October 1943, 4 pm, about the successful uprising in the death camp of the title. Then there is A Visitor from the Living (1999), in which Lanzmann interviews the Swiss Red Cross attache Maurice Rossell, who, after visiting the death camp of Theresienstadt late in the war, wrote a favourable report, praising the Nazis for their ‘generosity’. Lanzmann’s last feature, Four Sisters, dealing again with Holocaust survivors, was premiered the day before his death. He was adamant, that Shoah was not a documentary: “The word makes me want to take a pistol and shoot”.AS

 

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

King of Hearts (1966) ***

 Dir.: Philippe de Broca; Cast: Alan Bates, Genevieve Bujold, Pierre Brasseur, Micheline Presle, Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi; France/Italy 1966, 102′

Director Philippe de Broca (1933-2004) was assistant director to Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, before setting out to direct thirty features; which, like King of Hearts were mainly light-hearted entertainment, but this is notable for its legendary English star Alan Bates. The director’s most popular outing, The Man from Rio (1964), was a sparkling adventure escapade starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Set in the French town of Marville in the last days of WWI, Scottish Private Plumpick (Bates) is sent by by his buffoonish commander Colonel MacBiberbrook (Celi) to defuse a bomb in the city, evacuated by the Germans who have intercepted Plumpick’s carrier pigeons, and are waiting for him in the deserted town. Running for his life, Plumpick takes refuge in the local asylum, where the patients greet him with adoration after learning, from the Germans soldiers, that he was the King of Hearts. Soon the patients from the asylum change into fancy dress, imitating the French court and a real brothel. The courtiers, among them General Geranium (Brasseur) and The Duke De Trefle (Brialy), want to crown Plumpick in the derelict church. But he falls for the virgin whore Coquelicot (Bujold), having been introduced to her by Madame Eva (Presle). After defusing the bomb, Plumpick watches the patients celebrate his great ‘firework’. But the explosion brings the two fighting armies back, and the patients run back to the asylum, where they are joined by Plumpick, who, having survived the.

With bears, lions and cycling monkeys running wild in the town after being liberated from their cages by the patients, this is a riotous romp, even though it was a disaster at the box office in France. It also bombed in the USA, but during the Vietnam war it went down a storm on the campuses. It now feels dated but the great ensemble acting and the production values are first class. DoP Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudel) and composer George Delerue (The Last Metro, Day for Night) also go to make this anarchic cult classic solid entertainment. AS

KING OF HEARTS in cinemas NATIONWIDE (UK & Ireland) on 8 June 2018

l’Amant Double (2017) ***

Dir: François Ozon | Cast: Jeremie Renier, Marine Vacth | Drama | France | 104min

François Ozon is back with a meandering 90s-style erotic thriller that starts as an upbeat, intriguing psychodrama hinting at hidden depths, but then loses its sting in the final stages. Poking fun at its female-centric themes, the film opens with an eye-watering gynaecological close-up – if only the script was as tight as its heroine’s tooshie.

The female anatomy belongs to pouting pixie-like minx Chloe (Marine Vacth) who is bored in her new job at a trashy art museum. Just as well, because her love life is complex and full of energetic sexual encounters that kick off when she falls for her dishy psychoanalyst Paul (Jeremie Renier). But when they move in together Chloe is alarmed to discover Paul is not who he seems. Firking around in his things she finds his passport with a different name and realises her lover has an analyst twin brother, which at first he denies. Pretending to need therapy, she tracks down the identical sibling (Renier flips deftly between the two), and soon they too are having rampant sex.

Ozon’s twin theme recalls the obsessive psycho thrillers of Brian De Palma and Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers and even The Brood, where emotional confusion casts doubt on the central character’s state of mind. This is Marine Vacth’s second collaboration with Ozon since she sprung to fame in his 2013 drama Young and Beautiful, and here she plays a similar type who is slightly disdainful and dissatisfied with her life. Despite Paul’s amorous and easy-going nature, Chloe is curiously drawn to the more difficult character of his brother – Jeremie Renier excels in both roles. Ozon, as playful as ever, then resorts to his box of kinky tricks as Chloe turns dominatrix, in a twist obviously worked into the narrative to delight French audiences – who love this kind of thing. From then on L’AMANT DOUBLE broadens into an exploration of Chloe’s gynaecological and psychosexual issues, scuppering the suspense and  the impact of the ultimate reveal.

Thank God for Jacqueline Bissett whose vignette spices up the dragged out denouement, and Myriam Boyer who brings some light relief as the nosy neighbour with a penchant for cats. If only Ozon would return to his more satisfying early thrillers, such as Under the Sand (2000)Swimming Pool (2003) or the serious dramas such as Frantz (2016).

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JUNE 2018

 

Ismael’s Ghosts (2017) **

Dir: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric | Hippolyte Girardot, Alba Rohrwacher | Drama | 110min | France

Cannes 70th Anniversary got off to a wildly pretentious start with Arnaud Desplechin’s sprawling fantasy melodrama made watchable by sparkling performances from two of France’s leading female stars: Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The histrionic storyline follows Matthieu Amalric, in his usual tortured turn as a neurotic chain-smoking writer whose wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) was declared missing 20 years previously. Emotionally unstable, he falls for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s charming and calming single astrophysicist, whose cross to bear is raising her disabled brother – who never actually appears.

Into this budding romantic mêlée plops the delicately distraite adventurist Carlotta who has been wandering the globe, much to the chagrin of her dying father and her husband.  She now turns up out of the blue to reclaim her husband and have his baby. Is she a ghost or a real person, do we really care? She puts a spanner in the works for all concerned – and only to illuminate Ismael’s ambivalence about what he really wants from a partner, and out of life in general. At this point Desplechin’s adds a exotic twist to proceedings involving Louis Garrel, who plays a diplomat hired by the French government, to a mythical North African country with his new bride, a playful Alba Rohwacher. And this is where the film loses its way (and our interest) as it slips backwards and forwards, careening between sparks of quirky humour, wild reverie and erotic moments where Cotillard reveals all but, judiciously, Gainsbourg remains gracefully un-décolletée – and strangely more interesting and appealing – as Ismael’s true love).

Funny how Déplechin’s female characters are eminently more interesting but only ever exist to serve his one-dimentional men. That said, there is much to admire in this hotchpotch: a sweepingly romantic score that punctuates the occasional moments of intrigue, Irina Lubtchansky’s intricate camerawork that conveys claustrophobia in tight corridors, and soaring delirium in widescreen shots; but nothing ultimately hangs together. ISMAEL’S GHOSTS is best remembered as a vehicle for Garrel, Gainsbourg, and Cotillard, and some flashes of momentary brilliance in a rather disturbed nightmare . MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JUNE 2018

Jeune Femme (2017)

Dir.: Leonor Serraille; Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Gregoire Monsaingeon, Soleymane Seye Ndiaye, Natalie Richard, Erka Sainte, Lila-Rose Gilberti; France 2017, 97 min.

La Femis graduate Leonor Serraille, won the Camera d’ Or at Cannes 2017, is a for this wild debut: its main protagonist Julia  – an excellent Laetitia Dosch – is nothing like the fragile, delicate damsel in distress of countless French features, but a steamroller of a personality: ready to bury anything in her way – including herself.  

Serraille introduces her heroine head on, literally: splitting her forehead, ramming it against the door of her ex-lover Joachim Deloche (Monsaigeon), a photographer, who had made a career modelling her, but has now discarded the young woman on their return to Paris. After a decade in Mexico, Julia has returned to France broke, homeless and looking after Joachim’s cat, a fluffy Persian. She is picked up and rescued, by mistake, by a young woman who believes she is a former school friend, who had heterochromic eyes, just like Julia, whose irises are green and hazel. 

After Julia’s rescuer discovers her mistake, she and the cat are homeless again Thus begins an emotional rollercoaster ride, in which Julia has to adapt like a chameleon to ever changing situations. Her mother (Richard), blames her: “you are just like your father, you leave me alone”. Finding a place to sleep on the sofa of an elderly man, is no solution either; after being told, that he does not like to sleep alone, Julia tells him “to buy himself a teddy bear” and moves out. Answering an ad, Julia then gets a job as a baby sitter, and is allowed to sleep in the maid’s chamber in the attic. This is eventful film full of gleeful energy but Seraille avoids romanticising the predicaments Julia finds herself in. The gender relations are always at the centre, ranging from rough sexual harassment to absurdity (Ousmane falling asleep whilst Julia is undressing him). Serraille, who was pregnant during shooting, never idealises her main protagonist: Julia is not a victim, but her stubborn fight for absolute autonomy results in her having sometimes a part in her own downfall. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 MAY 2018

Cannes Classics 2018

 

This year’s Cannes Classic sidebar has one or two priceless gems glittering in its antique crown. Apart from well-known legends: Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Wilder’s Apartment, Varda’s One Sings, The Other Doesn’t and Bondarchuks’ War and Peace, there are some worthwhile lesser known features not be missed.

To start with, there is Henry Decoin’s Beating Heart from 1940, a fitting tribute to leading star Danielle Darrieux, who died last year aged 100. The couple were married while filming this screwball comedy, which was remade in Hollywood in 1946. Darrieux plays Arlette, a young girl running away from a reform school, only to join a school for pick-pockets, run by a Fagin-like character. He instructs her to steal an ambassador’s watch, but Arlette falls in love with him. Like in most of Decoin’s well-structured films, the tempo plays a big role. Decoin was often overlooked as a director, largely because of his rather uneven output, but his post-war noir masterpieces like La Chatte (1958) are really stunning. 

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, but his one and only excursion into mainstream, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is full of anarchic fun. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will, and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors: they treat her sadistically, tenderly, or as an object for plain lesbian lust – but Suzanne stays pure. This anti-clerical romp was very popular at the box office, and served as a liberating force for Karina who finally got a divorce from JL Godard after having acted in their final collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year.

Hyenas (1992), directed by Senegalese filmmaker Djibri Diop Mambety (1945-1998), is a re-telling of the Durrenmatt play ‘Der Besuch der alten Dame’ (Visit of an old Lady). Set in an impoverished African village, the old lady in question is very rich – but she has not forgotten how her lover (now the Mayor) had treated her when she was pregnant with his child. She asks the townsfolk a simple question: do they want to participate in her wealth and punish the guilty man, or would they prefer clean hands and poverty. Colourful and very passionate, this adaption of a Swiss play works very well in its African setting.

Diamonds of the Night. Adapted from a short story by Arnošt Lustig, Diamonds in the Night follows two boys (Ladislav Jánsky and Antonín Kumbera) on the run through the forest after escaping a train taking between concentration camps. Showing in the Cannes Classics sidebar, it tributes the Czech New Wave director Jan Nemec whose concept of “pure film”, urged audiences to relate their own experience to the ephemeral fractured narrative he masterfully puts together in this cinematic wartime escape drama..

Youssef Chahine (1926-2008), Egypt’s most famous director, was very critical of radical elements of the Muslim faith. Destiny (1997)  is set in the 12th century in the Spanish province of Andalusia, then ruled by Muslims. The Caliph appoints the liberal philosopher Averros as a high court judge. But his wise and humane judgement become the butt of criticism by a group of radical Muslims, who want to banish the Caliph, using Averros as a means to and end. After a long inner struggle, the Caliph sends the philosopher into exile, but the radicals lose out: Averros’ rule of law has gained popularity all over the province. Chahine, as always, directs with great sensibility, and a brilliant use of colour. 

Finally, there is La Hora de los Hornos (The hour of the Furnace) from Fernando Solanas, a documentary which could only be shown in his homeland of Argentina in 1973, five years after its premiere in 1968. Exploring a central theme of worldwide insurrection, from student unrest in the USA to Czech resistance against the Soviet invasion, Solanas paints a picture of an utopian liberation. Even Argentina, which never really had the slightest hope of a proper democracy – never mind a revolution – is shown as ripe for revolution on behalf of the working masses. Running for over four hours, La Hora is a document of hope, well-structured, passionate and idealistic – but unfortunately overtaken by a grim reality. Still, it is a worthwhile, monumental effort.  AS

THE FULL CLASSICS LINE-UP                 

Beating Heart (Battement de cœur) by Henri Decoin (1939, 1h37, France)
2K Restoration presented by Gaumont in association with the CNC. Image works carried out by Eclair, sound restored by L.E. Diapason in partnership with Eclair.

Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves  by Vittorio De Sica (1948, 1h29, Italy)
Presented by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, Stefano Libassi’s Compass Film and Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Stefano Libassi’s Compass Film, in collaboration with Arthur Cohn, Euro Immobilfin and Artédis, and with the support of Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. Restoration carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory.

Enamorada by Emilio Fernández (1946, 1h39, Mexico)
Presented by The Film Foundation. Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with Fundacion Televisa AC and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funded by the Material World Charitable Foundation. The film will be introduced by Martin Scorsese.

Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story / Voyage à Tokyo) by Yasujiro Ozu (1953, 2h15, Japan)
Presented by Shochiku. Digital restoration by Shochiku Co., Ltd., in cooperation with The Japan Foundation. For the 4K restoration, the duplicated 35mm negative was provided by Shochiku, managed by Shochiku MediaWorX Inc. and conducted by IMAGICA Corp. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films.

Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock (1958, 2h08, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus. 4K digital restoration from the VistaVision negative done by Universal Studios. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

The Apartment by Billy Wilder (1960, 2h05, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus with the co-operation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative. Digital restoration completed by Cineteca di Bologna, Colour Grading by Sheri Eissenburg at Roundabout in Los Angeles. Supervised on behalf of Park Circus by Grover Crisp.

Démanty noci (Diamonds of the Night) by Jan Němec (1964, 1h08, Czech Republic)
Presented by the National Film Archive, Prague. The restoration was done by the Universal Production Partners studio in Prague, under the supervision of the National Film Archive, Prague.

Voyna i mir. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky (War and Peace. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky) 

by Sergey Bondarchuk (1965, 2h27, Russia)
Presented by Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Digital frame-by-frame restoration of image and sound from 2K scan. Producer of the restoration: Karen Shakhnazarov.

La Religieuse (The Nun)

by Jacques Rivette (1965, 2h15, France)
Presented by Studiocanal. 4K restoration from the original camera negative. Sound restauration from the sound negative (only matching element). Works carried out by L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory under the supervision of Studiocanal and Ms. Véronique Manniez-Rivette with the help of the CNC, the Cinémathèque française and the Fonds culturel franco-américain.

Četri balti krekli (Four White Shirts) 

by Rolands Kalnins (1967, 1h20, Latvia)
Presented by National Film Centre of Latvia. 4K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image internegative and print positive materials mastered in 2K. Restoration financed by the National Film Centre of Latvia, the restoration made by Locomotive Productions (Latvia). Director Rolands Kalnins in attendance.

La Hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces) 

by Fernando Solanas (1968, 1h25, Argentina)
Presented by CINAIN – Cinemateca y Archivo de la Imagen Nacional. 4K Restoration from the original negatives, thanks to Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA), in Buenos Aires. With the supervision of director Fernando “Pino” Solanas. French Distribution: Blaq Out. Fernando Solanas in attendance.

Specialists / Gli specialisti)

by Sergio Corbucci (1969, 1h45, France, Italy, Germany)
Presented by TF1 Studio. Full version previously unseen restored in 4K from the original Technicolor-Techniscope image negative and French and Italian magnetic tapes by TF1 Studio. Digital work carried out by L’Image Retrouvée laboratory, Paris / Bologne. French theater distribution: Carlotta Films. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

João a faca e o rio (João and the Knife)

by George Sluizer (1971, 1h30, the Netherlands)
Presented by EYE Filmmuseum, Stoneraft Film in association with Haghefilm Digital. A full 4K restoration of the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative shot by Jan de Bont. By bypassing the originally required analogue blow up to Cinemascope, this digital restoration presents a direct-from-negative colour richness and image sharpness never seen before.

Blow for Blow

by Marin Karmitz (1972, 1h30, France)
Presented by MK2. Restoration carried out by Eclair from the original negative in 2K with the help of the CNC and supervised by director Marin Karmitz. The film will be re-released in French movie theaters on May 16th, 2018. Marin Karmitz in attendance.

L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings the Other Doesn’t)

by Agnès Varda (1977, 2h, France)
Presented by Ciné Tamaris.
The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with Agnès Varda in attendance.
2k digital restoration from the original negative and restoration, color grading under the supervision of Agnès Varda and Charlie Van Damme. With the support of the CNC, of the fondation Raja, Danièle Marcovici  & IM production Isabel Marant, with the support of Women in Motion / KERING. International Sales MK2 films. Distribution in theaters: Ciné Tamaris (the film will be released in France on July, 4th, 2018).

Grease

by Randal Kleiser (1978, 1h50, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus and Paramount Pictures. 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with John Travolta in attendance.

Fad,jal

by Safi Faye (1979, 1h52, Senegal, France)
Presented by the CNC and Safi Faye. Digital restoration carried out from the 2K scan of the 16mm negatives. Restoration made by the CNC laboratory. Safi Faye in attendance.

Five and the Skin (Cinq et la peau)

by Pierre Rissient (1981, 1h35, France, Philippines)
Presented by TF1 Studio. 4K restoration from the original camera negative and the French magnetic tape by TF1 Studio with the support of the CNC and the collaboration of director Pierre Rissient. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films. Pierre Rissient in attendance.

A Ilha dos Amores (The Island of Love)

by Paulo Rocha (1982, 2h49, Portugal, Japan)
Presented by Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema. 4K wet gate scan of two 35mm image and sound interpositives struck in a Japanese film lab in 1996. Digital grading was made by La Cinemaquina (Lisbon, Portugal) using a 35mm distribution print from 1982 as a reference. Digital restoration of the image was made by IrmaLucia Efeitos Especiais (Lisbon, Portugal).

Out of Rosenheim (Bagdad Café)

by Percy Adlon (1987, 1h44, Germany)
Presented by Studiocanal. 4k Scan and restoration. Work led by Alpha Omega Digital in Munich and carried out under the continuous supervision of director Percy Adlon. Original negative, kept in Los Angeles in excellent condition, processed in Munich for scanning and image by image restoration. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with Percy Adlon in attendance.

Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue)

by Luc Besson (1988, 2h18, France, United States of America, Italy)
Presented by Gaumont. A 2K restauration. Image work carried out by Eclair, sound restored by L.E Diapason in partnership with Eclair. A screening organized to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the screening of the film opening the Festival de Cannes in 1988. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

Driving Miss Daisy

by Bruce Beresford (1989, 1h40, United States of America)
Presented by Pathé. 4K restoration made from 35mm original image and sound negatives. Restoration carried out by Pathé L’image Retrouvée laboratory (Paris/Bologne) with the collaboration of director Bruce Beresford.

Cyrano de Bergerac

by Jean-Paul Rappeneau (1990, 2h15, France)
Presented by Lagardère Studios Distribution. Scan from the original negative and 4K restoration carried out by L’Image Retrouvée for Lagardère Studios Distribution with the support of the CNC, the Cinémathèque française, the Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain, Arte France–Unité Cinéma, Pathé et Mr. Francis Kurkdjian. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films (in progress). Jean-Paul Rappeneau in attendance.

Hyenas

by Djibril Diop Mambety (1992, 1h50, Senegal, France, Switzerland)
Lamb

by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1963, 18 min, Senegal) Presented by La Cinémathèque de l’Institut français, Orange and PSV Films. Digital restoration made from 2K scan of the 35mm negatives. Restoration carried out by Eclair.

El Massir (Destiny) 

by Youssef Chahine (1997, 2h15, Egypt, France)
A preview of the full retrospective which will take place at the Cinémathèque française in October 2018, the film will be presented by Orange Studio and MISR International films with the support of the CNC, fostered by the Cinémathèque française. 4K restauration at Éclair Ymagis laboratory by Orange Studio, MISR International Films and the Cinémathèque française with the support of the CNC. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 71st EDITION | 8 -19 MAY 2018

Cannes Film Festival 2018 | On the Croisette – off the cuff update

Festival bigwig Thierry Frémaux warned us to expect shocks and surprises from this year’s festival line-up, distilled down from over 1900 features to an intriguing list of 18 – and there will be a few more additions before May 8th. The main question is “where are the stars?” or better still “Where is Isabelle Huppert” doyenne of the Croisette – up to now. The answer seems to be that they are on the jury – presided by Cate Blanchett, who is joined by Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, Robert Guédiguian, Ava Duvernay, Khadja Nin, Chang Chen and Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Last year’s 70th Anniversary bumper issue seems to have swept in a more eclectic and sleek selection of features in the competition line-up vying for the coveted Palme D’Or. There are new films from veterans Jean-Luc Godard (The Image Book), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), and some very long films – 9 exceed two hours. Three female filmmakers make the main competition in the shape of Caramel director Nadine Labaki with Capernaum, Alice Rohrwacher with Lazzaro Felice and Eve Husson presenting Girls of the Sun. Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy rose to indie fame at Cannes Un Certain Regard 2008 with his touching title Tulpan, and he is back now in the main competition line-up with a hot contender in the shape of AYKA or My Little One. 

Scanning through the selection for British fare – the Ron Howard “directed” (Thierry’s words not mine) Solo, A Star Wars Story stars Thandie Newton, Paul Bethany and Emilia Clarke but no sign of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo. And although Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is there and is a hot contender for this year’s Palme, the much-awaited Jacques Audiard latest The Sisters Brothers, and Joanna Hogg’s hopeful The Souvenir Parts I and II are nowhere to be seen- but Lars von Trier is still very much ‘de trop’ on the Riviera, or so it would seem. Thierry is still thinking about this one. And on reflection he has now added The House That Jack Built – out of competition.

Apart from Godard, there are two other French titles: Stéphane Brizé will present At War, and Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel – in competition, and these features will open shortly afterwards in the local cinemas – to keep the Cannois happy. The Un Certain Regard sidebar has 6 feature debuts in a line-up of 15. And the special screening section offers Wang Bing’s Dead Souls with its 8 hour running time  allowing for a quick petit-dej on the Croisette before the following days’ viewing starts!

It Follows director David Robert Mitchell will be in Cannes with his eagerly anticipated follow-up Under the Silver Lake. And Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke  brings another Palme d’Or hopeful in the shape of Ash is Purest White, starring his wife and long-term collaborator Tao Zhao.  First time director A B Shawky presents the only debut feature in the competition strand Yomeddine – a leper road movie from Egypt – and it’s a comedy!. Iranians Jafar Panahi (Three Faces) and Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows) also make the list – with Farhadi’s film starring Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem and opening the festival this year.

So out with the old guard – Naomi Kawase included – and in with the new – is Thierry’s message this year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. And stay tuned for more additions and coverage from the sidebars Un Certain Regard, ACID, Semaine de la Critique and Directors’ Fornight. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8 -22 MAY 2018

COMPETITION LINE-Up

EVERY BODY KNOWS – Asghar Farhadi

AT WAR - Stéphane Brizé 

DOGMAN – Matteo Garrone

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE – Jean-Luc Godard

NETEMO SAMETEMO (ASAKO I & II) (ASAKO I & II) – Ryusuke Hamaguchi

SORRY ANGEL – Christophe Honore

GIRLS OF THE SUN – Eva Husson

ASH IS PUREST WHITE – Zia Zhangke

SHOPLIFTERS – Kor-eda Hirokazu

CAPERNAUM – Nadine Labaki

BUH-NING (BURNING) – Lee Chang-Dong

BLACKKKLANSMAN – Spike Lee

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – David Robert Mitchell

THREE FACES – Jafar Panahi

ZIMNA WOJNA/Cold War – Pawel Pawlikowski

LAZZARO FELICE – Alice Rohrwacher

LETO – Kirill Serebrennikov

YOMEDDINE – A B Shawky

KNIFE + HEART – Yann Gonzalez

AYKA –  Sergey Dvortsevoy, director of Tulpan, winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard in 2008.

These two films by Yann Gonzalez and Sergey Dvortsevoy are both directors’ second feature. It will be their first time in Competition.

AHLAT AGACI (THE WILD PEAR TREE) – Nuri Bilge Ceylan, winner of the Palme d’or 2014 for Winter Sleep.

The Competition 2018 will be composed of 21 films.

SHADOW – Zhang Yimou (out of competition)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT – Lars von Trier (out of competition)

_______________________________________________

 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-20 MAY 2018

 

 

Let the Sun Shine In | Un Beau Soleil Intérieur ***** (2017)

Writer|Dir: Claire Denis, Christine Angot | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu, Valéria Bruni Tedeschi | 94min | Comedy drama

Claire Denis opened Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2017 with her terrific comedy debut Un Beau Soleil Intérieur starring Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu and Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi as Parisians keen to find love the second, third (or possibly even) twentieth time around. Previously known as Des Lunettes Noires, a more edgy and intriguing title that conveys the romantic pleasures of the time discretely known as ‘un certain age’, this drôle and triumphantly upbeat satire will make you chuckle knowingly, rather than laugh out loud.

Binoche plays Isabelle, a recently divorced mother in her early fifties keen to rediscover the buzz of sex and lasting love again and all the other things that make ‘la vie du couple’ worth living, after the pressures of raising a family or struggling to build a life. Surrounded by a series of smucks – to put it politely – she feels that romance is already a thing of the past. Isabelle is ‘special’ in that mercurial way that becomes amusingly familiar as Denis’ insightfully intelligent narrative unfolds. She has reached a time when wisdom and experience enriches everyday life, but when it comes to love we are still often teenagers. She welcomes the familiar routines of daily life, but so do the men she encounters, particularly one pompous banker (Xavier Beauvois) who is the ultimate control freak and is useless in bed, but she falls in love all the same, due to her newfound ability to tolerate the even the worst of what’s left men-wise. After the banker is clearly unable to leave his wife, Isabelle then moves on to Sylvain (Paul Blain), a louche and seedily sensual man she meets in a bar where they dance to they strains of “At Last’  – and of course you know it wont’t be. Then there is alcoholic actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who satisfies her sexually but is too fond of himself to really fall for her. Isabelle is looking for chemistry but also someone from her ‘milieu’, but at this stage in the game, most  available men are single for a reason: they are either geeks or deeply unattractive, but totally unaware of it. And ex husband François (Laurent Grevill) still serves as a ‘friend with benefits’, occasionally popping back on the scene, although her daughter is only glimpsed briefly.

Apart from the acutely observed witty script, the emotional nuances of Binoche’s performances are what makes this so enjoyable. UN BEAU SOLEIL never takes itself too seriously, and is a complete departure from her dramas such as Beau Travail and White Material, and is probably most like her 2002 outing Friday Night. And the final scene where she visits Gerard Depardieu’s psychic is such a perceptive interplay between clever dialogue and intuitive performances it’s a joy to behold. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF CURZON | 14 APRIL 2018

 

 

 

Custody (2017) ****

Dir|Writer: Xavier Legrand | Denis Menochet, Lea Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveu | 93’

A broken marriage leads to a bitter custody battle in this intense family drama than won the coveted Best Director award at Venice for Xavier Legrand.

There have been some superb movies made about custody battles. This riveting drama from French actor-director Xavier Legrand is certainly among the best, braced by the filmmaker’s unerring authority and sense of what to do next, scene after scene, as the family at its centre splinters into chaos.

As Custody opens, Miriam and Antoine Besson have just divorced. Their young son, Julien, sits in family court reading out a letter denouncing his father. His sister, Josephine, having recently reached the age of majority, is not part of the dispute. Antoine is described as a violent monster, yet in court appears to be a model of calm reserve. Despite Miriam’s appeals for sole custody — also Julien’s preference — the judge gives the parents shared custody. And Antoine is not a two-dimensional beast. He tries to re-establish a relationship with a son who feels paralyzed by the competing emotional demands of his father and his mother, who will stop at nothing to remove both Julien and herself from her ex-husband’s life.

Custody is harrowing and complex, a domestic nightmare that unfolds to reveal an inventory of abuses both overt and subtle. Denis Ménochet and Léa Drucker are finely attuned to these demands as Antoine and Miriam, while Thomas Gioria inhabits the haunted Julien with heartwrenching naturalism. Legrand dissects the Bessons’ family dynamic coolly, with impressive restraint and intuition, yet still evokes profound sympathy for his protagonists. The result is mesmerizing.

Xavier Legrand is a French actor, writer, and director who received his training at the National Conservatory of Paris. His short film Just Before Losing Everything (13) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Custody (17) is his debut feature film.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 APRIL 2018

 

120 BPM (2017) ***

Dir: Robin Campillo Writer: Robin Campillo | Cast: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Yves Heck, Coralie Russier | 135min | Drama | French

Robin Campillo’s follow up to Eastern Boys is a cinéma vérité style drama that reflects  his own years as an AIDS activist during Mitterand’s 1990s government. It makes a brave and honest attempt to communicate the frustration felt by many sufferers of the disease through an organisation that calls itself Act Up.

120 BEATS feels quite conventional in style, and clearly Campillo feels so strongly about the film’s themes that he has decided not to be too ambitious artistically – the result is rather bland and overlong at 142 minutes, but certainly valuable as a lasting testament to the era, and a fight that continues. Most impressive are the naturalistic performances, particularly from Hanaele as the strong-minded Sophie, and the evocative score with tunes from Bronski Beat.

The film opens with during a rowdy meeting of Act Up in a brightly lit venue where clicking of fingers replaces clapping as a signal of approval. The group’s members, not all sufferes, are encouraged to be vocal and expressive. There follows a raucous demonstration in the offices of a drug company refusing to release its test results. There are romantic interludes with rather overplayed graphic sex that takes place between the feisty young Chilean French Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who has fully blown Aids,  as he falls for HIV-negative Nathan (Arnaud Valois). Their relationship is only really examined in the light of Sean’s illness and none of characters is fleshed out enough for us to engage with their plight, which is a shame.

Artistically there are one or two inventive flourishes such as when the sparkles from the disco lights are transformed into the virus, but it’s clear that Campillo does not want to cloud his central message with aesthetic mastery. Also, the aggressive energy generated by some of the more unappealing characters make it difficult for us to feel for them in their plight, despite Campillo’s witty script. Beats per Minutes has garnered much critical acclaim for its important subject matter, but a worthy theme alone does not make film brilliant and this is a decent but unremarkable third feature from Campillo. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 6 APRIL THROUGH CURZON | PREVIEWING AT BFI FLARE

I Got Life | Aurore (2017)

Dir.: Blandine Lenoir; Cast: Agnes Jaoui, Sarah Suco, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Pascale Arbillot, Thibault Montalembert; France 2017, 89 min.

French cinema continues to cock a snoot at the popular myth that cinematic love affairs end in middle age with this typical Gallic story centred around 50 year old Aurore, whose daughters leave the nest, only to return, and whose best friend is a raving feminist. Aurore’s answer to all this is to go for broke and re-connect with the love of her life, after her husband leaves her in the lurch. I GOT LIFE  is a deft mixture of comedy, farce and feminism. The characters are stronger than the uneven plot, with an episodical structure not helping this rather lightweight affair, despite some great comedy turns. Agnes Jaoui is particularly good as the menopausal mid-lifer whose attempts at getting back on the career ladder have been scuppered by her husband clearing off – and taking with him her unpaid job as his administrator. A job in a bar turns out to be a disaster: the owner insisting on calling her Samantha, “because it’s more sexy”. A string of disasters happen, one after the other. First of all her oldest daughter Marina (Suco) tells her that she is pregnant (“you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did” Aurore mumbles – making herself about as popular as Marina’s expanding girth). Then her youngest daughter Lucie (Roy-Lecollinet) decides to decamp to Barcelona with her boyfriend, abandoning her studies. And being with best girlfriend Mano (Arbillot) is not always fun either: Aurore has has agreed to help Mano sell flats by pretending to be an interested client in a bid to attract some real applicants. But when events spiral out of control Aurore settles for the charms of her first love Totuche (Montalembert), her first love,  who turns up like a bad penny – as Marina’s gynaecologist doctor. And although Totuche is reluctant to play romantic ball second time around, it all pans out well in this watchable romcom, photographed by Robert Guediguian regular Pierre Milon (The House by the Sea). Sadly, the jokes are very much hit and miss. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 23 MARCH 2018

Plot 35 | Carre 35 (2017) ****

Dir.: Eric Caravaca; Documentary with Angela Caravaca, Gilberto Caravaca | France 2017, 65′.

This small gem of a documentary proves the point that a huge impact can be made without the need for a multi-million budgets or indulgent running times: Actor Eric Caravaca, who is better known for his performance in the recent Lover For a Day), uncovers a tragic family secret which sees him diligently tracing the short life story of his sister Christine, who had been mysteriously written out of the family history since childhood.

Christine was born in 1960, the first child of Angela and Gilberto Caravaca, who had emigrated from Spain to Morocco, where they would marry in Casablanca. The 8mm wedding footage shows them happy with no inkling of the tragedy to come. When asking his parents about his sister’s life span and illness, which led to her premature death, Eric gets contradictory answers: his mother claims that Christine lived to be three years, a healthy child who then died of ”Blue Baby” Syndrome. Father Gilberto (who dies during filming) states that Christine died aged four, after potentially suffering from Down’s Syndrome. with neither his wife nor himself present. All photographs and home movies of Christine have been destroyed by mother Angela who candidly opines: “What should I do, cry over it?”.

Eric’s investigation eventually leads him to ‘Plot 35’, in a cemetery in Casablanca. But when he gets there, Plot 35 no longer exists, he does however find Christine’s grave, minus a photo, which has been removed. His research further reveals that both his parents were right: Christine died age three with relatives in Casablanca, and she was suffering from a congenital illness. But the mystery then deepens: why is the grave so well tended when the family no longer lives in Casablanca? Eric soon finds the answer, bringing his search to a satisfactory end. This narrative of denial and neglect is so sad and moving because it reflects on Eric’s parents desperate desire not not to be marginalised in their new home of Morocco. During their peripatetic life in France, after moving back from Morocco, Angela would even changed her name again twice, keen to bury the past and her own trauma for good. A child with special needs was simply too much to cope with – therefore Christina was placed with relatives, far away from their new start in life.

The director uses shocking footage from the French Repression during the Moroccan War of Independence to put his family’s story into perspective. But most traumatising of all are excerpts from Nazi Euthanasia propaganda films. Plot 35 cannot be praised enough: this is a labour of love, of “un-forgetting” the past, and it deserves an audience. AS

NOW SHOWING AT THE ICA LONDON  | 12 MARCH 2018

My Golden Days | Trois Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse *** (2015)

Dir.: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Mathieu Almaric, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Quentin Dolmaire, Pierre Andrau | France 2015 | 123’| Drama

Arnaud Desplechin is certainly one of the most maddening European directors: His idiosyncratic style, extreme detachment and hyper-ambivalent narratives always miss perfection by a small fracture – but it is a decisive one. And that is probably why this has simmered on the back burner for three years before its current release. Desplechin never seems to mature: his newest film MY GOLDEN DAYS, a sort of prequel to Ma Vie Sexuelle (1996), is once more an example of unfulfilled promise.

In chapters and an epilogue, we learn everything about Paul (Quentin Dolmaire): his unstable mother, who committed suicide when he was eleven, his father, who never got over the tragedy, young Paul’s adventure in the USSR, when he helped a Jew to emigrate, donating his passport. Set in Roubaix, were the director grew up, the main chapter is about the relationship between the teenager Paul (Almaric) and Esther (Roy-Lecollinet in a stunning debut). Paul falls in love with Esther, who has many suitors, but is still very insecure. Paul fights off rivals like Kovalki (Andrau), but when he goes to Paris to study, Esther, becoming more and more fragile without Paul, goes to bed with Kovalki – not so much for passion, but reassurance. In the epilogue, Paul accuses Kovalki of being traitorous, never seeing the point that he left Esther alone. Paul too is unfaithful (seven lovers), but this hardly counts – Desplechin’s misogyny is unruffled after all these years.

Mathieu Almaric is again Paul Dedalus, but Emannuelle Devos’ part of Esther is taken up by the young Lou Roy-Lecollinet. It says much for the film, the director and the male star that Roy-Lecollinet, born in the year Ma Vie Sexuelle was made, comes over hardly any more immature than Almaric, who is thirty years her senior. Whilst Almaric should get all the praise, Desplechin falls into the same trap once again: his witty and perfect dialogues only carry the film so far and the make-believe, that the protagonists resemble human beings, wears thin after an hour.

The leads display fantastic insights into each other lives, but their letters are incredible immature context wise – written by the urbane 54 year old director, and not starry-eyed lovers from the provinces. Further more, Desplechin mentions topics like the cold war, anthropology and the problems of the developing world with encyclopedic knowledge, displaying a wisdom which has no place in the world of his teenage lovers. As in most of Desplechin’s films, the characters are treated like rats in a laboratory, the all-knowing voice-over representing the director’s point of view.

It is sad that these great actors and the wonderful images of Irina Lubtchansky are in the hands of a man who believes in his own perfection, but lacks basic empathy with anyone else: Arnaud Desplachin’s aesthetic brilliance will never be enough, his near-autistic inter-activity with real humanity stands between him and real greatness. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 16 MARCH 2018

Four films by Sasha Guitry (1936-38)

The New Testament  (Indiscretion) | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Belly Daussmond, Gerald Christian Zacher; France 1936, 96 min.

Let’s Go Down the Champs Elysées /Remontons Les Champs Elysées | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Robert Pizani, Jean Perier; France 1938, 100 min.

My Father Was Right/Mon Père Avait Raison  | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Gaston Dubosc, Paul Bernard, ; France 1936, 81 min.

Let’s Make a Dream/Faisons un Rève | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry Jacqueline Delubac, Raimu, France 1936, 96 min.

French director/writer Sacha Guitry (1885-1957) was prolific: he wrote 124 plays, directed 36 films, published over 900 strongly opinionated columns, and was also active as a painter and sculptor. Born in St. Petersburg to French parents, his mother soon left Sacha’s womanising father Lucien, after he more or less kidnapped young Sacha (who birth name Alexandre Georges Pierre) to take him on a tour of Imperial Russia.

 

As a result, Sacha developed a strong father obsession, even going as far as to marry Charlotte Lyses, one of his father’s many mistresses. He was married five times, his wives after Lyses were invariably decades younger. An outspoken misogynist, he once stated: “We cannot count on women to love their children”. During the German occupation of France, he lived a lavish lifestyle, very much in contrast with the rest of the French population. He also director De Jean D’Arc A Philippe Petain in 1943, trying to justify Marshall Petain, who led the Vichy government allied to Germany. After the liberation, he was jailed for collaboration, but later released without trial, his reputation was tarnished for good, but he blamed the media for his downfall.

The themes that repeatedly occur in his work are those of death and ageing. He was obsessed with hedonistic pursuits and his films were invariably centred on unfaithful love affairs amongst the rich and landed gentry. The women tended to come of worst in the scheme of things. In Lets Make a Dream, Guitry explores the Anna Karennina syndrome in a ‘grass is always greener’ affair with an unsuspecting female conquest. As The Lover/Seducer, delivering his lines like “bullets” – he goes off the idea of The Wife after he successfully luring her away,(Jaqueline Delubac, his wife from 1935-39 is the star of four films in this collection) and the couple fall asleep without making love. Next morning, The Husband (Raimu) turns up, but not to challenge him to a duel, as The Lover had feared, but to confess his own waywardness. The Lover then goes off the idea of marriage to The Wife.

The New Testament/La Noveau Testament (1936) is rather a stiff affair that struggles to escape the stagey feel of its original stage format. Thematically typical of these four features,  it stars Guitry as Doctor Marcellin a sanctimonious character whose is eventually foisted by his own petard over a Will and a complex love triangle involving his wife Lucie (Betty Daussmond) who is  having an affair with the son of the Doctor’s former lover. In the same vain is My Father is Right: Guitry is Charles Bellanger, a man who passes his mistrust of women onto his son Maurice (Bernard) and it comes back to bite him, after his wife Germaine (Daussmond) returns after 20 years. Let’s Go Down the Champs Elysees is actually Guitry’s history lesson and tribute fable to the famous Boulevard from 1617 onwards. Sadly it lacks the wit of Story of a Cheat with the narrative rigour of Pearls of the Crown, but provides some entertainment. There is a great double role for Guitry as the schoolmaster, lecturing his Secondory School class and as Louis XV, who is very much afraid of dying. Finally, Robert Pizani excels in the roles of the composers Richard Wagner and Jaques Offenbach. Of all features, Lets Go Down the Champs Elysees is by far the most filmic, which is hardly surprising, since Guitry was foremost a playwright and theatre director.

Outside France, Guitry’s work has not always travelled well. That said, his plays are still popular throughout France and regularly find a stage airing. AS

SACHA GUITRY COLLECTION | ARROW DUAL FORMAT

The Prayer * * * (2018) | Berlinale 2018


Dir: Cedric Kahn | Fanny Burdino | Cast: Anthony Bajon, Damien Chapelle, Alex Brendemuhl, Hanna Schygulla | Drama | France | 107′

Best known for his 2004 drama Red Lights, based on Georges Simenon’s novel, French filmmaker Cédric Kahn returns to Berlin with this traditional but drifting coming of age love story that explores the road to salvation for a teenage boy who joins a Christian retreat after becoming lost in a world of drugs and drinking.

Newcomer Anthony Bajon leads an impressive cast that includes Damien Chapelle and Hannah Schygulla’s mother superior, and while he makes a great screen debut expressing the confusion and anguish of puberty, the real star of the film is Bruno Dumont’s regular DoP Yves Cape whose widescreen images evoke the fresh verdance and soul-regenerating benefits of the Auvergne in springtime. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | SILVER BEAR Best Actor | Anthony Bajon

Eva (2018) * * * | Berlinale 2018


Dir: Benoit Jacquot | Gilles Taurand | James Hadley Chase | Cast Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Julia Roy | Drama | France | 100

Benoit Jacquot (‘A Single Girl’) and Isabelle Huppert (‘Elle’) are together in this enjoyable but unconvincing adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s sixties bestseller Eva.

Annecy is the snow-capped setting for this often unsettling menage a trois that would have us believe that a good-looking young gigolo (Gaspard Ulliel) leaves his luscious blond babe (Julia Roy) and falls in thrall to an ageing geisha girl (Isabelle Huppert) whose stick is ‘treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen.

But what starts an alluring affair rapidly loses its way. That said It’s typically French, flirty and fun. Jacquot and scripter Gilles Taurand’s version opens as wannabe something Bertrand (Ulliel), is tending to the needs of a dying writer – whether as carer or call boy is never made clear here. As the old man chokes, Bertrand makes off with his manuscript of a play entitled Passwords, hoping to make it to the bright lights which he does with his wealthy girlfriend in tow. But the second play poses a problem and his producer (Richard Berry) is becoming impatient.

Despite its light-hearted overtones there’s a menacing Hitchockian undertow that keeps the noirish tension tight and ticking over as the action unfurls with its rather unsavoury characters that definitely have a retro twang of the Sixties. Isabelle Huppert does her stuff with perky aplomb but we never really buy into the dicy dynamic between her and Ulliel which eventually leads to his undoing. quickly becomes an obsession that will ruin his life in a drama, that while entertaining to a certain extent is ultimately rather empty.

BERLINALE 15-25 February 2018 | COMPETITION

Inferno (2009) | Mubi

In 1964, Henri Georges Clouzot, the acclaimed director of thriller masterpieces Les Diaboliques and Wages of Fear, began work on his most ambitious film yet. Richard Chatten looks back at his unfinished work INFERNO (L’ENFER) and the documentary that emerged 45 years later.

Dir: Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea | Cast: Romy Schneider, Serge Reggiani, Costa Gavras | 96′ | DOC

Like many other fields of human endeavour, the intricacies of the filmmaking process are often seen at their clearest when things go wrong, as has already been revealed in the fascinating documentaries, The Epic That Never Was (1965), about Josef Von Sternberg’s 1937 attempt to film I Claudius, and Lost in La Mancha (2002) about Terry Gilliam’s abortive The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2000.

Another such blighted project was Henri-Georges Clouzot’s L’Enfer (literally Hell), on which the plug was pulled in 1964, leaving behind 185 cans of film (about 13 hours) around which 45 years later Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea assembled this remarkable documentary.

Known to have been a drama about an insanely jealous husband featuring Romy Schneider and shot in both black & white and colour (as indeed had Clouzot’s classic documentary Le Mystère Picasso in 1956), that was about all that was known about the film until Claude Chabrol filmed Clouzot’s original script in 1994, which revealed a plot about the proprietor of a lakeside hotel (played in Chabrol’s version by François Cluzet) who becomes unhinged through jealousy in a fashion similar to Bunuel’s El (1953) and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Clouzot (1907-1977) had been a gifted director with a mean streak a mile wide (frequently evident in his films) whose earlier and later years had been plagued by health problems (mental as well as physical). His most recent film, La Vérité (1960) with Brigitte Bardot had a been a critical and commercial hit and Columbia wrote Clouzot a blank cheque for this next projected film with Romy Schneider anticipating that Clouzot would enjoy equivalent success with Miss Schneider as he had had with Bardot. Unfortunately, while La Vérité had had the firm hand of producer Raoul Lévy on the tiller, Clouzot took the responsibility upon himself of producing L’Enfer and ran wild with both time and money, shooting hours and hours of bizarre ‘psychological’ colour tests while driving his cast and crew mad on location in Auvergne until after just 10 days in July 1964 his star Serge Reggiani walked out after being forced repeatedly to run behind a camera car along the side of a lake. Clouzot shortly afterwards  suffered a heart attack that provided the pretext to pull the plug on a production that had run hopelessly out of control.

The existing footage in Dayglo colours that he left behind  – much of it Miss Schneider, including her water-skiing in blue lipstick – is absolutely eye-popping (plenty of it not surprisingly has become popular on YouTube), but suggests he was more interested in them than in delivering a coherent narrative, portions of which also exist in black & white. Clouzot’s sole subsequent completed feature, La Prisonnière (1968) was a sadomasochistic drama also in pop-art colours (also known as Woman in Chains) that suggests how L’Enfer might have turned out had it been completed, and is ironically largely forgotten today.

Regrets that it may have been an unrealised masterpiece clouded the judgement of critics when they reviewed Chabrol’s version of 1994, and Chabrol ruefully observed that plenty of films have been unfavourably compared to earlier versions that had been made, but this must have been the first to be unfavourably compared to an earlier version that was never made! The two films would make a good two-disc box set, since the documentary makes much more sense if one has the grasp of the plot afforded by Chabrol’s version (which unfolds in straight linear sequence, whereas Clouzot’s film was going to be told in flashback); and watching Chabrol’s film the scene of Cluzet running alongside the lake now carries considerable additional dramatic impact as one experiences the thrill of recognition of finally seeing in its intended context what we saw poor Reggiani forced to do again and again thirty years earlier. @Richard Chatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY | MUBI

 

The Mystery of Picasso (1956) | Bluray release

Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot | DoP: Claude Renoir | With Pablo Picasso | French | Doc | 78”

The only mystery about Picasso to many people is his legendary popularity given his well-documented abuse of his lovers which today would, no doubt, give reason for public outcry along the lines of the #metoo campaign: “Women are machines for suffering” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943, and this statement is certainly borne out in his often tortured and butchered depictions of the female subjects which was clearly echoed in real life. Picasso was a serial adulterer who drew strength and artistic inspiration from his lovers, two of whom killed themselves, and one died of natural causes only four years into their relationship.

But his skill as an artist and painter is undisputed and masterfully captured here in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 film showing Picasso in the act of creating works for the camera. Many of these paintings were subsequently destroyed and may only still exist on film. Clouzot was not the first to depict Picasso’s process of creation, that honour fell to Belgian director Paul Haesaerts in his BAFTA-winning A Visit to Picasso (1949) that featured the Malaga-born painter sketching out images on glass plates from the viewpoint of the camera.

Picasso was a master of simplicity. With a handful of black marks he could suggest a form that would be gradually fleshed out to a full scale sketch, collage or oil painting. Here, Claude Renoir’s camera captures each artwork’s creation as it comes into being, utilising a series of transparent canvases, until the final reel when the film switches to a CinemaScope ratio and burst into colour. The film went on to win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes 1956. Truly magnifique! MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 22 JANUARY 2018 together with A VISIT TO PICASSO and Man Ray’s ‘home movie’ LA GAROUPE (1937). 

 

 

Lover for a Day (2017) ***

Dir: Philippe Garrel | Cast: Eric Caravaca, Esther Garrel | 77min | Drama | French

Philippe Garrel is back With another family affair that brings to a close his trilogy that started with Jealousy. This grainy black and white Parisian story is as sweet and light as a mini croissant and just as innocuous, showing slim insight into the mind of a woman despite a collaboration of four writers, including the veteran Garrel himself. If you enjoy his work it’s watchable enough, but rather too slight and generic to have general appeal. Daughter Jeanne (his own daughter Esther) finds herself at home again with Papa (Caravaca), as her first love affair ends abruptly. But family life is interupted by her father’s young lover Ariane (Chevillotte) who is a philandering part-time porn model. The intimate domestic trio discuss love, fidelity and friendship but not to any degree of satisfaction or insight, and Arianne frequently becomes jealous when father and daughter spend the evening together. There is a candid intimacy to the dialogue but it all feels rather trite. Esther is a natural, as is Caravaca, but Chevillotte’s Arianne struggles to feel authentic and her story is largely hollow and implausible. Even with a running time of 77 minutes LOVER fails to be involving often feeling like an amateur college piece; well-crafted but rather will of the wisp. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSES COURTESY OF MUBI | 19 JANUARY 2018

Jean-Pierre Melville | Collection | bluray release

Unknown-2Bluray releases to celebrate the artistically ambitious cinema of independent filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) in his centenary year.

France in the 1940s and 50s is seen as a broken nation, where male solidarity – be it in the gangster milieu or the bourgeois living rooms – relegated women as second class citizens– or even worse, as cold blooded killers. But the defeat in the WWII to the Germans on the battlefield, was nothing compared with the moral degradation as the result of the collaboration between the huge majority of French citizens with the Nazis, until their liberation by allied troops in 1944. Much admired by Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino as well as the directors of the French New Wave, it’s chief protagonist Melville was so revered he had a part in Godard’s seminal Breathless (1960).

Unknown-1Melville’s feature-length debut LE SILENCE DE LA MER (1949), is a drama about the Nazi Occupation which was made cheaply and clandestinely, and none the worse for it. Melville’s collaboration with Jean Cocteau on an adaption of the latter’s novel LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (1950) is a claustrophobic, psychologically astute drama about a sister and brother retreating into an isolated world of erotically charged game-playing. Despite disagreements with the author, it remains one of the finest of all Cocteau adaptations, its keenest admirers having included François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. Though the noir-tinged melodrama WHEN YOU READ THIS LETTER (1953) is perhaps Melville’s least typical film, there’s still much to enjoy both in its depiction of a faintly Americanised Nice underworld and in its psychological ambiguities.

MV5BMTQxNTUxNzM5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMwMDkwMzE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1956) was Melville’s first script as director and offers a light-hearted portrayal of an ageing criminal whose passion for gambling and women jeopardises his plans to rob a casino. Beautifully shot by Henri Decaë, the film is a love letter to Paris and an affectionate nod to Hollywood heist movies like The Asphalt Jungle. Melville’s homage to America TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN (1959), sees two journalists (one played by the director himself) investigating the disappearance of a French diplomat in New York.  Another German Occupation outing, Léon Morin, Priest (1961) is a study of deception in which an attractive priest crosses the boundaries of his calling in  trying to convert a female member of his congregation. A complex film of ambiguities and ironies, it boasts superb lead performances from Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva.

doulos_le_bfi-00m-pmtOne of Melville’s great thrillers, LE DOULOS (1962), is a dazzlingly intricate tale of deadly suspicion and betrayal starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani. Establishing an atmosphere of unease, distrust and deception with a beautifully staged opening scene, Melville combines ingenious plot twists with a near-mythic evocation of underworld customs and fashions, and also shows what happens to treacherous women. The gangster Silien (Belmondo), best friend of Maurice (Reggiani) is suspected, to have sold his friend out to the police. But the true culprit is Maurice new girlfriend Therese (Hennesy). And she suffers heavily (and graphically) for it: Silien first beats her up to get the address of a new burglary, than he kills her brutally, making it look like an accident. Later, Melville shows how brave and honorable Silien and Maurice are dying for each other – Nicolas Hayer’s cold, grainy images very adapt to this this drama of male solidarity to the death.

UnknownMelville is probably best known for his artistic crime movies which he made in the latter part of his career, and these feature in Part Two of including LE SAMOURAï (1967), LE CERCLE ROUGE (1970), LE DEUXIEME FLIC (1972) THE ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969) and L’AINE DES FERCHAUX. Melville made meticulously stylised films with an abiding interest in loyalty and betrayal, courage and camaraderie, honour and dignity: themes found not only in his tense explorations of underworld ethics, but in his lesser-known earlier studies of troubled, even perverse relationships.

JEAN PIERRE MELVILLE’S bluray releases are available on Amazon | 4 December 2017

Jacques Rivette – Master of Games | bluray releases

Andre Simonoveisz looks back at the life and work of New Wave director JACQUES RIVETTE (1928-2016).

Jacques Rivette was born in Rouen, where he shot his first short film Aux Quatre Coins in 1948, inspired by the work of Jean Cocteau. The following year he moved to Paris, submitting his film to the prestigious IDHEC Film School where he was rejected. Undeterred, he took courses at the Sorbonne and soon became an habitué at the Cinemathèque Française, run at the time by Henri Langlois. Meeting up with the other members of what would become the “Band of Five” – all film critics at “Cahiers du Cinéma”, who would later form the Nouvelle Vague movement as directors: Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol.

Rivette was the political exception with his left-wing leanings, the rest, particularly Godard, were very much to the right. Nevertheless, Rivette was the leading theoretician of the group and when he took over the editorship of Cahiers from Rohmer in 1963, he opened up the magazine to luminaries outside the film word, namely Roland Barthes and Pierre Boulez.

In 1950 Rivette directed his second short film Le Quadrille, produced by Godard who also played the lead. Four years later, Rivette and Truffaut began a series of interviews with film directors they admired, among them Hitchcock, Hawks, Fritz Lang and Orson Welles. In 1952 Rivette filmed his third short Le Divertissement, followed by Le Coup du Berger (1956), scripted by Chabrol. With borrowed money and short film reel ends, Rivette begun to shoot his first feature film Paris Nous Appartient in 1958. Running out of money, the film was only finished and premiered in December 1961, long after Godard and Chabrol had started the movement with their first films.

Paris Nous Appartient has all the hallmarks of the later Rivette films:  mysteries, theatre productions (in this case Shakespeare’s Pericles) and old houses. But Rivette’s films are not simply mysteries, but studies of the phenomenon of mysteries. In this way, Rivette produced narratives about narratives; about the process and working of fiction itself. All this relates to Rivette’s closeness to anothor movement of the time, the “Noveau Roman” along with Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras. It took him until 1966 to make his next film, Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Diderot, which starred Anna Karina. The government tried to ban the film but it eventually became Rivette’s only hit at the box office. But Rivette was deeply rustrated with the conventional way he worked, particularly his script writing, which bored him.

imageWith Amour Fou (1968) he started to improvise whilst shooting, culminating in his most important work, Out 1 : Noli me tangere, (left) an experimental film which runs for nearly 13 hours and was shown in Le Havre in 1971 as a “work in progress”. Since then it has been rarely shown, until the recent DVD/Blu-ray release by Arrow Films and Video. The audience of Out 1 were reluctant to let go of the film, and like many serials, they wanted the film to continue indefinitely. Emotionally, they had bought into the story and identified with its characters. This interesting development implies that the real community of Out 1 is the community of the film itself, not only formulated by the cast and crew, but also by the viewers: who (unwittingly) were witnessing a process of strong identification, built up over the 13 hour viewing. Out 1 was the first film the audience “wanted to live in”: it appeared that he actors had forgotten that they were acting and Rivette realised crucially that  “men want to solve a conflict by denial, women through dialogue”.

Women, particularly, dominate nearly all Rivette’s films. Regular collaborator Bulle Ogier once said about Rivette’s work: “The actor works out her role according to the scheme: an exercise in improvisation to the edge of despair. It’s then up to Rivette to put the jigsaw together in the montage”. And Juliet Berto, also a regular of Rivette’s films, concludes: “Rivette’s main directing work was done at home during the editing stage: that’s where he organises the disorderly action of the puppets”.

Céline et Julie vont en Bâteau (1974) is perhaps the ultimate Rivette film. To start with, the title could mean in translation ‘Celine and Julie are taken for a ride’ or ‘Celine and Julie are falling into fiction’. The leading duo, who could be lovers, sisters or simply friends, enjoy a life of games, storytelling and magic tricks. One day, Celine (Dominique Labourier) tells Julie (Juliet Berto) about the house of the Levinson family (which she dreamed about), where the two young women become maids, to save the life of Madlyn (the daughter of widower Olivier) from the murderous intents of Camille, his sister in-law, and Sophie, both of whom want to marry Olivier. But Olivier can’t marry as long as Madlyn is alive so the women want to kill the child. The Levinson house is like most of Rivette’s houses: large, rambling and mysterious. Analytically speaking, the house is the geographical centre of the psyche, the spatial organisation of our first remembered world; and first and foremost shelter; a place of security and a more complex version of the maternal womb, were we can dream in peace. These are common factors of Rivette ‘houses’, and in all cases the protagonists are women, whilst the house belongs, or is at least inhabited by a man. Life the city of Paris, the bourgeois houses become the ‘theatres’ for Rivette’s mobile performances. In La Bande des Quatre (1988), four young actresses from the Paris banlieu try to solve the mystery of a house’s owner.

Wining the Grand Prix in Cannes in 1991 with La Belle Noiseuse was certainly a high point for Rivette, together with his two films about Jeane d’Arc. The first was Jeanne la Pucelle, which starred Sandrine Bonnaire as a very earthy version of the saint. With the second (also starring Bonnaire, Secret Defense(1998), Rivette came full circle with his love for Hitchcock as a critic. It is a loose rebuilding of the Electra myth; and, like Hitchock in Vertigo, Rivette reinforces in this his most important neo-noir film, the theme of the double through the use of a shadow: When Ludivine (Laure Marsac) enters the office of Walser (the man who murdered her father), harsh light casts a full shadow of Ludivine’s body on the wall between her and Walser (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), as a violent reminder of her murdered sister.

Games are the main standard bearers for for Rivette’s narratives: from the Coup du Berger onwards, ‘play’ and ‘games’ are, among other things, the vehicle for this tension in his narratives; for a desire for structure; a sense and context and a contradictory imposition that remains open to experiment, chance and unpredictability.

These magical games, indulged by the double protagonists of Celine et Julie, or in Noroît (1976) or Duelle (1976), are a sign of refusing maturity. The inability to grow up and to stay in a world of magic and mystery; but also a trap in which the child-goddess can only repeat the same confrontation with herself/other, or face mutual destruction. Which brings us to the conclusion of Rivette’s oeuvre: His films are created in the spirit of a kindergarten group performing an end-of-year show for the grown-ups, but also the other way round.

Rejecting the ‘auteur’ theory and calling it a myth, Jacques Rivette fell neither into the trap of self-centred Jean-Luc Godard, who needs to keep re-inventing himself; nor did he succumb, like Truffaut and Chabrol, to the banalities of commercial cinema. Ultimately he was the playful grown-up child of his own films; always conscious that “when curiosity disappears, there is nothing left but to lie down and wait for our last breath”. AS

THE JACQUES RIVETTE COLLECTION IS NOW OUT ON DVD BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO | CELINE ET JULIE IS ALSO CELEBRATING A BLURAY RELEASE ON 20 NOVEMBER 2017  COURTESY OF BFI FILMS

Fahrenheit 451 (1966) | Bluray release

Dir: Francois Truffaut |Cast: Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring | Sci-fi Drama | 112′

One of the many pleasures of Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has become the power of the bibliophile. When the fireman of the future turn their flame-throwers on a pile of 1950/60’s paperbacks (it’s now over fifty years since Truffaut chose them for the film) their book covers appear achingly nostalgic, to older cineastes. Many of these retro Penguins and Pelicans still turn up in charity shops and though it hasn’t come to pass that our government will destroy them, maybe, just maybe, instead of becoming ash, they remain unsold and unread?

It’s fascinating to watch Fahrenheit 451 in our social-media age when more time is spent reading words on screens rather than on paper. Technology has ‘burnt’ into our reading behaviour making a ban on books almost unnecessary. We’ve ‘freely’ chosen, assisted by advertising, to absorb information on computers, TV and film over experiencing knowledge gleaned from the inner life of books of fiction or philosophy.

Fahrenheit-451-poster-1Fahrenheit 451 depicts large television screens (a prophetic novelty in 1966 that we can now easily purchase) that in Truffaut’s ‘future’ are removed of word content in the form of credits or announcements. Our miniaturised phone screens, tablets and laptops, so commonplace in 2017, are never seen. Nor is any character depicted taking a selfie. The film’s routine narcissism consists of people without mobile devices, travelling on trains and hugging or touching their clothed selves, in a sad auto-erotic manner, indicating that clinging to a vestige of self-love is a last resort in a society where no one looks happy, and therefore is disinclined to reflect this on film.

Truffaut has claimed that Fahrenheit 451 is not science fiction. This is true in the sense that the technological menace of the book’s mechanical hound, and the horribly graphic manner in which would-be suicides are vacuumed of any depression, is absent. But Ray Bradbury, allowing for his technological terrors, was more of a poetic fantasist than a genre SF writer. Truffaut attempted to convey threats to intimacy (Fahrenheit 451 is more to do with repression and denial of human closeness). And Bradbury, also mindful of loss, is as differently soulful about that as Truffaut.

Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) discovers that after reading his first book, Dickens’s David Copperfield, he is re-born (“Chapter one. I am born. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anybody else these pages must show.”) His wife Linda (Julie Christie) discovers his crime and betrays Montag by informing the captain of the Fire Service (Cyril Cusack). Once they discover Montag’s secret hoard of books, Montag kills the captain, burns his room and escapes to the country to join the book people, who have each chosen a book to preserve for future generations. In Montag’s case it’s Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The formerly placid and neutral Montag is to be transformed by symbolic tales depicting morbid states of catalepsy, hallucination and terror.

On my 4th viewing of Fahrenheit 451 I was much more aware of the film’s lightly humorous tone, making for a telling picture of social conformity: particularly this absurd exchange between Montag and the captain.

The Captain: By the way, what does Montag do on his day off duty?
Guy Montag: Not much, sir, just mow the lawn.
The Captain: And what if the law forbids it?
Guy Montag: Just watch it grow, sir.

Or the lovely in-joke announcement, by one of the book people, who’s preserving his text, in his memory, in order to survive its physical destruction.

Book Person: And I’m The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

Whether by accident or design, the film’s book titles take on their own filmic pattern of meaning. I’m sure film students have written essays and published theses, on the trajectory of key books in Truffaut’s film, relating to the moral awakening of Montag. The first book that we see burning is Don Quixote (A story of a man pursuing illusions) then The Moon and Sixpence (A story of a man renouncing the conventions of society to become an artist) and David Copperfield (A story of a man who wants to determine his own fate.) All can be viewed as stages in Montag’s development from destroyer to creator, fireman made lover slowly seduced by his books.

The obedient state servant rejects a “zombie” (Montag’s word) society. Fireman burns books. Fireman reads and comes to revere books. Fireman becomes his freely chosen book. “Kerosene is a perfume” says Montag, explaining his book burning work, to Clarisse (Julie Christie doubling up as wife alter-ego and book person). Interestingly Truffaut’s film has no equivalent line of dialogue to suggest that the smell of a book’s pages become Montag’s preferred love perfume.

If there are flaws in Fahrenheit 451 they centre round some occasionally stilted dialogue. (Though this can be viewed as the natural result of a highly controlled zombiefied society plus Truffaut’s lack of English over co-writing the screenplay). And when the book people begin to appear near the end and start to introduce themselves – for example (“I am Pride and Prejudice Book I and I am Pride and Prejudice book 2” ) you immediately think what a great idea but not quite worked out properly. Then a miracle occurred. During the shooting of the film, it went and snowed. As the snow falls people walk back and forth, reciting chapters to themselves, and we experience eloquent screen poetry – greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann’s touching music.

Fahrenheit 451 was deeply unappreciated by audiences and critics in 1966. Today its menacing charm both excites and disturbs. This is a world as lyrical as Truffaut’s earlier films: though now beguiling us with a melancholic dystopia: our desperate attempts to recover a sense of self – even if fulfilment of feeling is most tenderly realised in love’s surrender to the printed word. Alan Price © 2017

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY

Manina | The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter (

5CD9953B-8566-4559-9D8C-298A8F9EFB32Dir.: Willy Rozier; Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Jen-Francois Calve, Howard Vernon; France 1952, 76 min.

Also known in the UK/US under the title The Girl in the Bikini, this was 17y-ear old Brigitte Bardot’s second feature. The same year, after turning 18, she married the director Roger Vadim, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Director and writer Rozier had a long, but not very distinguished career, directing 38 features between 1938 and 1976, of which 56 Rue de Pigalle is the best known. Manina is, apart from Bardot’s striking screen personality, quiet ordinary for its time. Mature student Gerard (Calve) listens to a lecture about a hidden treasure off the coast near Ajaccio: gold coins, worth a fortune, are hidden in amphorae, after the ship carrying them way back in Phoenician times, sank. Gerard remembers diving near the rocky island of Levezzi five years ago with friends, and finding such a amphora. Not liking his law studies very much, he decides to become rich, borrowing money from friends to finance his expedition. In Tangiers, he makes the acquaintance of the smuggler Eric (Vernon), whose boat they will use to recover the gold coins. After a tediously long evening in the cabaret and a subsequent brawl, the two set out with Eric’s men to Levezzi. When they meet Manina, Eric remembers her from his last visit, but is stunned, that she has turned into a luminous beauty. Manina also sings (Bardot would record over 80 songs in her career), is very agile on the high and dangerous rocks, from which she jumps like a fish into the sea. She certainly has all the mysterious qualities of a mermaid, and Gerard falls in love with her. Eric too makes an attempt to kiss her, but is rewarded with a hefty slap. Finally, Gerard finds the amphorae with the coins, but Eric has his own agenda.

It is impossible not to be fascinated by Bardot, the moment the ingénue appears on the screen, one forgets the tedious plot, she is simply stunning, fully dressed or in a bikini. She seems not to act, but fro locks around the mountains, as if she had always lived there. It is in her nature, to be what she role demands. As one can see in films, where the director took her serious, and not used her as sex-object, like Godard or Clouzot, she could easily carry the film – but even at the beginning of her career, Bardot had all the talent to act out all nuances of her screen personalities. Whilst mostly careering around in full speed in Manina, Bardot, literally, hits the right notes with her sad songs, and her devastation, when Gerard nearly dies. She simply was a natural actress – the rest is male projection and publicity. AS

MANINA IS NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA CINEMA | AMAZON.CO.UK

56, rue Pigalle (1949) | Bluray release

Dir.: Willy Rozier; Cast: Jacques Dumesnil, Marie Dea, Aime Clariond, Rene Blancard; France 1949, 88′.

Willy Rozier (1901 – 1983) was know for his exotic taste, and 56 Rue de Pigalle does not disappoint: a brazen mixture of film noir and melodrama, the plot swerves wildly between the two genres, the protagonists having to change track often.

Nautical engineer Jean Vigneron (Dumesnil) is also a fanatic water sportsman, competing in races with his yacht. Whilst having a collision with another boat, captained by Ines de Montalban (Dea), he falls in love with the married woman. Jean tries to meet her at social occasions, and makes friends with her husband Ricardo de Montalban (Clariond), who is much older than his wife. Ricardo declares his everlasting friendship with Jean in a nightclub, not knowing that Jean is lusting after his wife.

After the yachtsman finally seduces Ines, Jean’s butler Lucien Bonnet (Blanchard) blackmails him with letters from his mistress. Jean is willing to pay, and puts his yacht on the market. Ricardo, always the gentleman, but not very intuitive, lends Jean 1.1. Million Franc, but after Jean pays off Bonnet, the rogue turns round and murders his partner in crime, pocketing the money. Obviously, Jean is a suspect, and since he does not divulge Madame de Montalban’s involvement, he has to stand trial. By now, Ricardo has finally learned the truth (he wanted to shoot Ines during a hunt, but was disturbed), and hopes that Jean is found guilty and beheaded. But Ines finds the copies of the incriminating letters in his jacket, and Jean is quitted. But Ricardo swears revenge, and the lovers have to flee to a French colony in Africa, where they await Ricardo’s arrival, fearful of his revenge.

Shot in atmospheric black and white by renowned veteran Fred Langenfeld (Topaze, Le Coeur sur le main), the narrative is full of twists, but these swings and roundabouts are often too clumsy. Rozier did not only introduce Brigitte Bardot in Manina (1952) to a wider audience, but did the same for the beautiful Françoise Arnoul in L’Epave (1949), which was distributed in Britain as Sin and Desire. Finally, after the release of 56 Rue Pigalle in France, the critic François Chalais was very harsh on the film, and Rozier challenged him to a duel. They fought with swords, and Rozier got satisfaction, when he cut Chalais. An epitaph, somehow in line with the wild story of the feature. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY FROM 13 NOVEMBER 2017 COURTESY OF EUREKA | AMAZON

Le Samourai (1967) | Pingyao Film Festival – Year Zero | Jean-Pierre Melville Retrospective

Dir.: Jean-Pierre Melville; Cast: Alain Delon, Francois Perrier, Natalie Delon, Cathy Rosier; France/Italy 1967, 101’.

Le Samourai is a crime thriller all about loneliness. Dialogue is minimal, and even Francois de Robaix’s melancholic score is seldom used. Cinematographer Henri Decae – who had helped Truffaut (Les Quatre Cents Coups) and Chabrol (Les Cousins) on their way – photographs Alain Delon’s hapless contract killer Jeff Costello in his little claustrophobic flat, and he is only free  in his criminal underground where he is chased by the cops through the Paris metro.

When Costello assassinates a night-club owner, he makes a fatal mistake in not also killing the only witness who clearly saw him: La pianiste (Cathy Rosier). This ‘error’ will be his Achilles heel. Costello then sets up a game of chess, in which he is sure to lose, in spite of his brilliant moves. Le commisaire (Perrier) knows Costello’s guilt, but cannot break his well-constructed alibi: Janet Legrange (N. Delon), an upper class call girl is in love with Costello, but he is too sad to feel anything. She lies to the police, in spite rough-handling. The hunt in the metro is the centre peace of Le Samurai: Costello’s footwork and his knowledge of the smallest details, outwits the technology and manpower of the police. The endgame – in the nightclub of the original kill – is a cat and mouse game, which Costello has set up to save the innocent.

Based on the un-credited novel by Joan McLeod and co-written by Melville, Costello’s only friend is a canary, like his master in a cage. His counterpart, Le commisaire, is only marginally more full of joy de vivre: he has spent too many hours behind his desk, sending his men off on goose chases like a load of toys soldiers. He is a saner version of Ahab, but instead of madness there is too much resignation to make him a proper bloodhound. His bluster is a front, he looks forward to retirement, as much as Jeff looks forward to death. Janet is not much better off: she wants Costello for herself, but even sharing him doesn’t bring her happiness. Rosier’s pianist is a walking enigma: she is perhaps engaged in the sordid killing of her boss, tries to stay neutral, but her big eyes only reflect the hurt and self-hurt, she also sees in Costello. A rather gloomy Paris of the sixties is the proper background to this noirish tale, where all is lost before it begins, and all participants are like caged animals prowling around to end it.

Melville would never again reach this silent intensity: Le Samourai could be subtitled La course du Lievre a Travers les Champs, a late Rene Clement feature, dealing with the same morbidity and forlorn self-loathing.

SCREENING AS PART OF A JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE RETROSPECTIVE | PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL | GROUND ZERO 28 OCTOBER – 4 NOVEMBER 2017

Le Plaisir (1952) | Dual format release Bluray/DVD

Dir: Max Ophuls | France | 97′ | Drama |

Three of French writer Guy de Maupassant’s short stories are sumptuously brought to life by German director Max Ophuls in this arthouse treasure LE PLAISIR. With elegantly polished, often tongue in cheek, performances from Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux and Simone Simon and glowing black and white camerawork, Ophuls delicately conjures up the 18th world of the author’s Normandy settings and lush summer landscapes in this cleverly plotted, gorgeously rendered, light-hearted costume drama. Le Masque: a masked dandy hides a secret in this evergreen fable of desire and lost youth; La Maison Tellier: a lively tale about a well-respected brother madam who takes her girls on an outing to her brother’s village to attend the first communion of her niece and attracts additional business; Le Modèle: A painter chases his muse until she catches him in this amusing parable that shows how the path to love never runs smoothly. MT

OUT ON 23 OCTOBER COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY | £24.99 | arrowvideo@fetch.fm

The Graduation | Le Concours (2016)

Dir.: Claire Simon | Documentary | France 2016, 115′

The leading film school in the birthplace of the Seventh Art has always come under immense scrutiny: this has not changed since the prestigious IDHEC (Institute des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques), whose famous students include Alain Resnais, Louis Malle and Theo Angelopoulos, was re-constituted and renamed La Femis (Fondation Européenne Pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son) around 1987. Today’s younger generation of filmmakers, who finished the four year course in the old Pathé studios in Montmartre are numerous: François Ozon, Claire Denis, Arnaud Desplechin, Céline Sciamma, Sophie Filliers and Rebecca Zlotowski are just a few of the La Femis’ successes.

The institution is unique in the sense that there are no lecturers: all courses are taught by active members of the film industry. And the over-subscribed entrance examinations (500 applicants competed for just six places of the directing classes), which are the subject of this documentary, are also conducted by these same professionals. Director/DoP Claire Simon (Gare du Nord) has taken time off her teaching duties at La Femis, to chronicle the hazardous process. The contest (the English title Graduation is misleading) starts with part one, when the hopeful students from virtually all walks of life, no qualifications are needed; start with a three hour written test. The panel of professionals fight hard, everyone has favourites, and often, the grades for an applicant (1-20) differ enormously, sometimes into double figures. Simon brings a touch of humour to the proceedings, showing two examiners talking about the wishful outcome of the tests which aim to be politically correct: eight women, seven men, one Asian, one black, one from North Africa and two from a modest background should be included in the selection. And they should come from all over France, not just  Paris.

Stage two of the examination process consists of interviews and practical tests. Screen-writing candidates are given one sentence from which they have to develop a narrative. Afterwards they have to ‘defend’ their script in front of a panel of two. Future directors are given a script, a crew and a studio, and have to justify their work to a panel. At last, the lucky survivors are grilled by a ‘jury’ of six, for the final cut. The main issue arising from the selection process is always the same: how do you select talent?. Because opinions differ so much, discussions are often irrational. After the interview of a particular director’s course applicant, some members of the panel – among them the directors Laetitia Masson (A Vendre) and Olivier Du Castel (Theo & Hugo) – criticised the young male candidate for being uncommunicative and “weird”. Others defended him arguing that Dreyer and Cronenberg must have been certainly weird at the age of eighteen. It should be also mentioned that La Femis does not only run courses for the original filmmaking subjects like directing, set design etc,, but also for Continuity, Distribution and Cinema management.

LE CONCOURS is a fascinating portrait of judging the creative process: the arguments may not always be rational, but the result of the selection process justifies the often chaotic and contradictive proceedings. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

My Journey Through French Cinema (2016)

Dir: Bertrand Tavernier | Doc | With Thierry Frémaux | France | 193′

Bertrand Tavernier’s love affair with film started with tragedy: as a child of the Liberation, in Lyon 1944, he was also a war child malnourished despite his middle class background. Tuberculosis was diagnosed and he was sent to convalesce in a St Gervais sanatorium where Sunday was dedicated to film. Thus began a life-long passion for film that permeates every frame of his three hour love letter to French cinema which every cineaste will devour with relish on the big screen, and rush to buy the bluray.

Tavernier, who also narrates in a chatty style, offers his unobtrusive but illuminating insights, adding value to the documentary, and is very much a part of the film history that unfolds, mostly from the 1930s,40s and 50s. Tavernier has made some memorable films and acted in others during his glittering career that began as an assistant to Jean-Pierre Melville and an press agent on Jean-Luc Godard; he also got to know many of the legends such as Jean Gabin, Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Becker and Claude Chabrol, to name but a few. Chocful of anecdotes and observations, this is an ntertaining flip through original footage and archive interviews, enlivened by film clips and posters.

At the same time, Tavernier offers up a critical masterclass in acting and directing as he dissects individual films – and even scenes – giving his two pennyworth on those who he felt deserved better, such as Marcel Carne, of qualifying the technical decisions that Jean Renoir’s made in La Chienne (1931), for example, but also pointing out how Renoir’s charm and desire to be liked could led him to embroider the facts, with the best possible intentions. The only minor criticism is the failure to identify each interviewee, so concentration is vital in order to keep up to speed with Tavernier’s narration.

French historian Thierry Fremaux has contributed by providing ideas for the many clips, so the three hour running time whisks by engagingly. Tavernier also hints at a sequel.  MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

 

Back to Burgundy | Ce Qui Nous Lie (2016)

Dir: Cedric Klapisch | Cast: Pio Marmai, Ana Girardot, Francois Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot, Maria Valverde, Jean-Marie Winling | 113′ | France | Drama

Cedric Klapisch (Paris) offers a fresh and funky wine-themed family drama along similar lines to the more sedate Bordeaux-set You Will Be My Son (Gilles Legrand) and the Beaujolais-soaked Saint Amour with Gerard Depardieu.

This time we are in Burgundy in a domaine inherited by three siblings in the shape of Jean (Pio Marmai); Juliette (Ana Girardot) and Jeremie (Francois Civil) whose father (Eric Caravaca – seen in flashback) is on his way out. Once again inheritance, family and business are the main concerns in this light-hearted film which offers insight into the workings of the wine trade in the glorious French countryside and a cameo role for Klapisch in the final scenes.

Jean has recently returned from Australia where he runs a winery with his Spanish wife Alicia (Maria Valverde) and the film is narrated and viewed from his perspective. Up to now Juliette has been running the estate with her younger brother Jeremie and the experienced manager and winemaker Marcel (Jean-Marc Roulot. Juliette has a rather underwritten role beyond her wine-making side, but Jeremy has married into one of Burgundy’s most prominent wine families headed by his overbearing father-in-law Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) who like Niels Arestrup’s patriarch in You Will be My Son, doesn’t think his son-in-law is really up to the job – and he’s not far wrong. Jean, the more confident and charismatic of the sons – has his own business worries back home and a roving eye into the bargain for one Lina (Karidja Toure/Girlhood), that seems to suggest all is not well with his marriage. Jeremie ‘s issues lie more with his in-laws and wife (Yamee Couture), and he also feels resentful that Jean had been out of touch since their mother died five years earlier.

With its lively soundtrack, fabulous scenery and convincing plotlines Klapisch serves up a really well made and reliable premier cru Classé here. And despite the trio’s trials and tribulations,  the tone is always upbeat rather than maudlin. The narrative goes slightly off piste when it floats into the stormy waters of Jean’s relationship with Alicia, who turns up unexpectedly in the saggy third act. That said, Marmai really gives the drama its heart and soul, grabbing the glory in nearly every scene. The other two are more subtle, with Girardot’s Juliette struggling to convince her co-workers, and Civil’s Jeremie coming over as a little bit of a wuss. BACK TO BURGUNDY is an enjoyable and well-crafted film with its stunning scenery and vivacious score by Loik Dury and Christophe Minck giving a feeling of light-headed  joie de vivre. MT

OUT ON 1 SEPTEMBER AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

Return to Ithaca (2014)

Dir.: Laurent Cantet | Cast: Nestor Jiminez, Isabel Santos, Jorge Perugorria | France 2014, 95′ | Spanish with subtitles

As if we didn’t need a negative view of old age in our youth-centric society, Laurent Cantet’s contemplative character piece offers another one. RETURN TO ITHACA is a bittersweet good-bye to the ideas of youth; a meditation on approaching old age embued by feelings of utter despair all seen through the intimate revelations of a group of long-standing friends. Set in a roof-garden in Cuba one balmy summer night, the camera tries to offer emotional distance from the maudlin musings of its protagonists, with a script as stringent as it is depressing. Odysseus could have hardly felt more negative than Amadeo. Cantet (The Class) one again evokes a masterful merger of the personal and the political.

Amadeo (Jiminez), a writer, returns to Cuba after 16 years exile in Spain. Four of his best friends give him a welcome-back on the roof tops overlooking Havanna. But soon Amadeo outlives his welcome: his friends blame him indirectly for their life at home. Rafa, a painter, who can’t paint any more, is particularly angry. Tania (Santos), an ophthalmologist now living in Miami, can’t live on her earnings and needs the support of her children. And Eddy (Perugorria) is a minor functionary of the ruling party, an opportunist, who might be convicted soon for fraud; though he has supported his friends with money and jobs. Another friend has lost his job as an engineer, and works for the black market. Not that Amadeo had a great time in Spain in his first years – but for his friends he has lived in paradise. Soon the mood softens, and their common political past is discussed. All of them were idealistic followers of the Castro regime, but one by one they lost their enthusiasm, and opposed their masters – apart from Eddy, who lived the good life as a party member, whilst supporting his friends in the “inner opposition” materially.

This reflective arthouse piece will naturally have more appeal to the older generations than their younger counterparts. The Cuban adults here are the parents of children who have either left the country, or are planning to get out; the two generations have nothing in common: the parents, who have seen the pre-communist Cuba, exploited by the USA, hanker after their lost ideals; whilst the kids just want out. They all have a common resentment against the regime, not understanding why Amadeo wants to return. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 25 AUGUST 2017 | REVIEW FROM VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2014

 

9 Doigts | 9 Fingers (2017) | Locarno International Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: F J Ossang | France/Port | Drama | 99′

Cult French auteur F J Ossang has made a handful of features: L’affaire des Divisions Morituri (1985); Doctor Chance (Locarno/1998; Dharma Guns (2010) and casts a niche selection of French stars for his latest Locarno Golden Leopard hopeful, a Noirish mystery drama with Paul Hamy, Damien Bonnard, Gaspard Ulliel and Pascal Greggory.

9 FINGERS is very much an exercise in style over substance; and if you like Ossang’s style then you will enjoy this enigmatic affair that could easily serve as a metaphor for the crisis-ridden state of the world. Shot in black and white with occasional sorties into the Academy ratio, accentuating the clandestine rather claustrophobic nature of the loose plotline, it follows a character named Magliore (Hamy) who, in the opening scenes, inherits a fortune from a dying man. Kidnapped by a gang after his loot, he then becomes their willing accomplice as they flee an unknown enemy across land and sea aboard a large steamer, beset by a mystery fever which could be typhoid. Utterly pretentious and arcane, this is nonetheless a sumptuously photographed wartime pastiche that feels hollow and bewildering despite the best efforts of its talented cast to breathe life into an episodic, threadbare narrative. Sadly, most of the audience walked out before the end credits rolled. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Madame Hyde (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Serge Bozon | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, José Garcia, Romain Duris | France | Drama | 95′

Isabelle Huppert joins Serge Bozon for their second quirky arthouse collaboration in this French female take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In a gesture to French literature, the film is set in Lyon’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud’ Secondary School where Huppert plays Marie Géguil an unpopular physics teacher unable to inspire or control her rowdy bunch of mixed race pupils.

Serge Bozon has his admirers but his films are an acquired taste outside France and MADAME HYDE is no exception. It shares the same offbeat brand of humour as TIP TOP (2013) which won a special mention at Cannes that year. He also works as a writer and had a small part in Mathieu’s Amalric’s stylish thriller The Blue Room. MADAME HYDE works on two levels: as a surreal fantasy thriller, and an inspirational drama about encouraging kids to rise above their difficulties and find their vocational “beacon” in life, as Huppert Géquil does here. As such this is a worthwhile but often awkward piece of filmmaking that eventually makes it through largely due to Huppert’s game portrayal as the soon to be transformed Mrs Hyde (Géquil/Jekyll) and Romain Duris’ tourette-like comedy turn as the Head Master. There is also support from Jose Garcia as Madame’s rather dense but endearing ‘house husband’ and Malik, a tricky pupil.

And while Madame G starts off as a cowed and fearful figure she herself eventually finds her own mojo’when she becomes a ‘flaming beacon’ after lightening strikes her portacabin laboratory and transforms her into a conduit for change, for everyone concerned. She develops the power of electrical ignition simply through her touch, as the charge sparks visibly through her veins. Although these powers are not all good: the next door neighbours pair of alsatians sadly perish as does a disruptive truant. But for the most part this eerie change of life is for the better – and is not due to the menopause, as her obsequious husband suggests.

Apart from this rather sensational visual trick, Madame’s confidence soars enabling her to engage with her pupils in a special project of building a Faraday cage. She also bonds with a difficult disable pupil Malik (Adda Senani) helping him to develop his interest in physics.

On paper Madame Hyde has some really inventive and worthwhile ideas but the actual film never flows smoothly and there are too many longueurs where the action feel laboured and awkward although Huppert is particularly convincing in her role. Malik also creates an authentic portrait of a young guy struggling to find his feet in life, in more ways than one. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

 

Jacques Tourneur: Fantasy filmmaker | Locarno Film Festival 2017

IMG_3877LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL is celebrating its 70th Anniversary with a feline, canine and fantasy theme leading up to the the real mystery – who will win the coveted GOLDEN LEOPARD? There’s a surreal feel to this special edition with Isabelle Huppert struck by lightening in MADAME HYDE, a man who turns into a dog in Vanessa Paradis’ latest film CHIEN and of course the fabulous JACQUES TOURNEUR retrospective with a chance to see CAT PEOPLE (1942); THE LEOPARD MAN and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) in the Grand Piazza which seats 8,000 cinema-goers – Europe’s largest screening venue.

974750While Jacques Tourneur clearly had a feel for the surreal and a penchant for the macabre, he was not very fond of his four French features, shot between 1931 and 1934: “All those films are mixed up with each other in my mind. They resemble each other so much! It was always the same formula: musical, happy, young.”  This is certainly true for Tout Ça Ne Vaut pas l’Amour; Pour Être Aimé and Toto but Les Filles de la Concierge (1934) is a brilliant character milieu study of a concierge. Madame Leclercq is the titular heroine who wants the best for her three daughters, whatever the circumstances. She even ‘rents’ one, Ginettte, to a wealthy suitor, but the ‘happy end’ justifies her method. Les Filles must have had some impact on Tourneur because, thirty years later, he expressed the desire to remake the film: “One could make a marvellous film out of it. People don’t make enough films about concierges, they’re an amazing group.” Indeed, where would be without Carlton, Your Doorman, the legendary concierge in TV hit Rhoda?.

IMG_3929In 1934 Jacques Tourneur returned to Hollywood to work as a Second Unit director at MGM, where he also directed twenty short films. The most interesting of the shorts are Romance of Radium (1937), where the director takes us on a forty-year journey through the discovery process of what would become nuclear power, in just ten minutes! Part historical drama, impersonal chronicle and staged ‘docu-drama’, Romance is very dense; the treatment of the source as something “outside” of our world – it is clearly an early version of Experiment Perilous. What do You Think (1937) is a haunted house mystery, with the plot, structured like a Chinese mystery box, stretching out into the past, and the studios of Hollywood. It is certainly as obsessive as many of Tourneur’s features.

THEY ALL COME OUT (1939), Tourneur’s first feature in Hollywood, was first planned as a two-reel segment for a “Crime does not Pay” series of short films. It follows rather conventional lines (Bank heist and prison rehab), and, is visually satisfying, thanks to a very mobile camera, but its structure suffers from the late embellishment of the narrative.

Tourneur’s next projects for MGM were two Nick Carter features, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939) and PHANTOM RIDERS (1940). As Chris Fujiwara (who will present the retro) puts it: “Master Detective” is quicker and more immediately striking, but Phantom Riders has more in common visually with Tourneur’s later films. If MASTER DETECTIVE looks back to Tourneur’s past with its skilful interweaving of documentary and fiction, PHANTOM RIDERS anticipates the future with its sustaining of mood through rich décor and careful lighting; its low-budget exoticism; and its hint of thwarted sexuality”. But Tourneur really hated DOCTORS DON’T TELL (1941): “I detest this film, it is my worst”. All one can add, is that Doctors is really the most ‘un-Tourneresque’ feature of his career: it is bad, even for a routine film, its banality stupefying.

film-poster-for-i-walked-005So after dabbling in the art of filmmaking in the 1930s, Jacques Tourneur’s most important features were to follow during the 1940s. In 1942, Val Lewton, who worked with Tourneur on the Second Unit for A Tale of Two Cities (1935), joined RKO as the new head for B-Horror films. His first project was CAT PEOPLE (1942) directed by Tourneur; the duo would go on to create I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE LEOPARD MAN in 1943 for RKO, before the studio made them go their separate ways with Tourneur commenting: “We were making so much money together that the studio said, we’ll make twice as much money, if we separate them”.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) went into production just two months after CAT PEOPLE, before the surprisingly successful release of Tourneur’s first RKO feature. Trying to decribe Zombie is not an easy task because Tourneur blurred the border between reality and phantasy in his narrative. Betsy Connell (France968402s Dee), a Canadian nurse, takes care of Jessica (Christine Gordon) on the West Indian island of St. Sebastian. Jessica is married to the sugar planter Paul Holland (Tom Conway). She falls in love with Paul’s half-brother Wesley (James Ellison). After a scene with her husband, she falls into a trauma, and after several attempts of ‘curing’ her, Mrs. Rand (Edith Barnett), Paul and Wesley’s mother confesses that she has cast a voodoo spell on Jessica for bringing the family into disrepute. Wesley finally kills Jessica, to set her free. Tourneur preferred Zombie to Cat People, and often cited it as his favourite film. Zombie is Tourneur’s purest film when it comes to cinematic poetry, combining sounds and images into a “power of suggestion”, enhanced by the film’s narrative, which is full of enigma and contradiction, eluding any attempt to interpret it in a linear way. Zombie “is a sustained exercise in uncompromising ambiguity. Perfecting the formula that Lewton and Tourneur had developed in Cat People, the film carries its predecessor’s elliptical, oblique narrative procedures to astonishing extremes. The dialogue is almost nothing but a commentary on past events, obsessively revisiting itself, finally giving up the struggle and surrendering to a mute acceptance of the inexplicable. We watch the slow, atmospheric, lovingly detailed scenes with delight and fascination, realising at the end, that we have seen nothing but the traces of a conflict decided in advance.” (Chris Fujiwara).

974754THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) is seen, perhaps wrongly, as the weakest of the Lewton/Tourneur collaborations. Based on the novel by Cornel Woolrich (Rear Window), The Leopard Man is set in the nightclub milieu of New Mexico, where club owner Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning) finds a leopard for his girl friend Kiki (Jean Brooks) to perform on the stage of his club. Kiki’s jealous competitor, Clo-clo (Margo), sets the leopard free and becomes one of his – presumed – three victims. Nevertheless, O’Keefe and Kiki suspect, that the leopard is only used by the real murderer to cover his tracks. The title is misleading, The Leopard Man is not about a man who becomes a leopard, but a man who just pretends to be one. Furthermore, the narrative reveals that the three murders are not committed by one person – against the un-written law of the genre. And on top of it all, the killer’s identity is revealed at the very beginning. But in spite of this, The Leopard Man appears to be ahead of its time: the stalking of women and their violent death is not only associated with Hitchcock and his epigone Brian de Palma, but also with the Italian cult directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And to go a step further, “it also anticipates Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, in making the sight of a victim’s fear the factor that fascinates the killer and compels him to kill”. Tourneur “attributed the commercial success of his films with Lewton to war psychosis. In war time people want to be frightened.” Leopard Man has the clearest connection to war of the trio, Edmund Bansak comments that “the film is a courageous essay in the random nature of death. War time audience may not have liked The Leopard Man’s downbeat message – that the young and innocent also die, but it was an important one for them to grasp”. Fujiwara calls The Leopard Man ”a pivotal work in the careers of both Tourneur and Lewton. Pushing to extremes the experiment with narrative ambiguity undertaken in Cat People and Zombie, this radical unusual film has its own precise, inexhaustible poetry.”

974742FROM OUT OF THE PAST (1947) reunites Tourneur with producer Warren Duff, (Experiment Perilous) and DoP Nicholas Musuraka (Cat People). Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, Tourneur claimed, “that he participated very closely in the writing of the script. I made big changes, with the agreement of the
writer, of course”. The complex and elliptic narrative is centred around Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who runs a gas station in a small town in California. In flashbacks we learn that Jeff was a New York based detective, who was asked by the professional gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his mistress Kathie (Jane Greer), who had embezzled a huge sum from him. Bailey finds Kathie in Mexico, and falls in love with her. The couple hides, but Bailey’s partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) finds the couple, but is shot by Kathie, who disappears afterwards. Bailey, now owner of the gas station, is visited by a member of Sterling’s gang: Sterling has a new job for him, retrieving incriminating taxation forms from his accountant in San Francisco. Kathie is living again with Sterling, and Bailey finds soon out that he is used as the sacrificial lamb. After the murder of the accountant, Kathie shoots Sterling and escapes with Bailey – not knowing that he has phoned the police to tell them their escape route. Of the major features of Noir visual style, as identified by J.A. Place and L.S. Peterson in “Some Visual motifs of Film Noir”, Out of the Past exhibits several: low-key lighting; compositions that alternate light and dark areas; the use of objects as framing devices within the frame. All these elements are however, consistent features of Tourneur’s work outside the Noir genre. They are present to some degrees in Tourneur’s shorts and in all ten American features that Tourneur directed before Out of the Past, including the Technicolor Western Canyon Passage. Fujiwara talks about “the endlessly renewable source of cinematic fascination of Out of the Past”, even though Tourneur himself only belatedly – after the release of the film in France, when he had returned in the late 1960s to his country of birth – acknowledged it as one of his major works, calling it “along with I walked with A Zombie and Night of the Demon, his poetic manifesto.”

974669BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) was – regarding the topic – a one-off in Tourneur’s work, since the film is set mainly in contemporary post-war Berlin, the divided capital of Germany. Shooting in post-war Germany was like an adventure, the footage had to be sent back to Hollywood for processing. Billy Wilder had to wait for Berlin Express to finish, before starting shooting A Foreign Affair, because film equipment was a scarce commodity. The plot is, as often with Tourneur, secondary: Dr. Heinrich Bernhardt (Paul Lucas) a famous resistance fighter, is travelling from Paris to Frankfurt under an alias. During the journey, an agent, posing as Bernhardt, is killed by an explosion. In Frankfurt, Bernhardt is kidnapped by members of a Neo-Nazi movement. Four members on the train, each representing the four powers who rule Berlin, try to locate Bernhardt, after his secretary Lucienne Mirbeau (Merle Oberon) explains the situation to them. But, as it turns out the Frenchman Perrot is actually Holtzman, the leader of the Nazi underground. He is killed after another unsuccessful attempt on Bernhardt’s life. Lucien Ballard, the DoP was married to Merle Oberon, but his stylish photography does not favour his wife more than the Hollywood star. Berlin Express is actually three films in one: the first is a melodrama, where the Nazis try to kill Bernhardt. The second part is a documentary on Germany’s destruction. The third part is a typical Tourneur study of doubt, terror and impossibility.

IMG_3929Since displacement is a central part of all Tourneur films, post-war Germany was an ideal setting. Michael Henry comments that Berlin Express “was a characteristic Tourneurian work, distilling the feeling of insecurity in which his creatures find themselves plunged as soon as they have been uprooted, placed out of their element, literally side-tracked”. But in spite of the political undertone and the ideological certainty of the protagonists, Tourneur finds ambivalence. This points towards his two 1950s films, Appointment in Honduras and The Fearmakers, both have ideological topics, but are treated with the same ambiguity and doubt as all of Tourneur’s work.

Way-of-a-GauchoProducer/writer Philip Dunne was assigned to write the script and produce WAY OF A GAUCHO for 20th Century Fox, so that the company could recoup some of the money the Peron government had frozen in Argentina. In March 1951 Dunne informed Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck that the proposed director, Henry King would not be available, due to his wife’s illness. Dunne goes on: “The man I want to suggest for director is Jacques Tourneur. I am absolutely delighted with the job he is doing with Anne of the Indies. In my opinion, he is a much better director than many who have made big reputations for themselves and draw down huge salaries. He is quick, sure and economical and he is getting flawless performances from his cast.”

Zanuck agreed, and in May 1951 Tourneur arrived in Argentina. Dunne reported a month later to Zanuck: “that the Argentine government’s interest tends to become a little overwhelming. They want to have a hand in every phase of our production. Government officials were very insistent on having big stars in the picture. No reasonable government would behave in this way, but we must remember that we are dealing with incredibly stupid, provincial people”. Whilst Tourneur and Dunne were touring the country for locations, they where invariably followed by spies. Shooting under these circumstances proved difficult. There are rumours that Tourneur drank too much, but in the absence of testimony from Dunne or Tourneur, this cannot be proven. But what is true, is that Dunne and Zanuck did not employ Tourneur to add some scenes to make the central character, Martin Penalosa, more heroic. The film is set at the end of 19th century in Argentina, where Martin Penalosa is jailed for killing a man in a duel. Instead of prison he chooses the army, but does not like the harsh treatment at the hands of Major Salinas (Richard Boone). He saves Teresa Chavez (Gene Tierney), a noblewoman, from the Indians. Martin again disappears under pressure from Salinas, and leads a band of gauchos in resistance against Salinas soldiers. Martin and Teresa fall in love, and the former gives himself up to Salinas, for the sake of his wife and unborn child. It’s easy to see why this straightforward Hollywood adventure would not play to Tourneur’s strength. There is no ambivalence, white is white, and black is black. WAY OF A GAUCHO is beautifully shot, if nothing else. But it marked the decline of Tourneur in Hollywood and he would never been employed by Fox again.

UnknownTHE FEARMAKERS (1958) is perhaps Tourneur’s last respectable feature before his final decline. Darwin Taylor’s novel The Fearmakers was published in 1945. Allen Eaton (Dana Andrews) returns from a Chinese POW camp after the Korean War. Eaton returns to his Washington PT office to learn that his partner Clark Baker has died under mysterious circumstances, after having sold the business to Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran). Meeting with his friend Senator Walder (Roy Gordon), Eaton is informed, that McGinnis is a suspected foreign agent (meaning he is a Communist). Eaton decides to get a job with McGinnis, and soon finds out he has forged some poll numbers for lobbyist Fred Fletcher. Eaton gains access to the poll material, and with the help of McGinnis’ secretary Lorraine (Marile Earle), proves McGinnis’ guilt. But McGinnid, with the help of his associates, attempts to kidnap and kill Eaton and Lorraine, who overpowers them and despatch McGinnis to the police. Whilst Tourneur thought, “that the film was a failure”, he certainly brings out the contradictions in the plot, featuring a McCarthy-esque Senate Committee for the defence of democracy. Eaton is a typical Tourneur hero, his vulnerability recalls the main protagonists in Nightfall and Easy Living. His recurrent headaches are the psychosomatic manifestations of his doubts. There are moments when we wonder if Eaton is fantasising part of the action. When McGinnis calls him a “brainwashed psycho”, we are again reminded of the thin ice Eaton is walking on, but the film never really challenges his worldview. Eaton is like all true Tourneur heroes – unable to leave reality, which follows him into his dreams: When the camera pans from a window across a dark room and hovers over Eaton’s bed, lit dimly with mottled shadows, we see his anguish in his haunted features. Tourneur suffused his characters with his own anxieties. AS

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-10 AUGUST ’17

Jacques Tourneur Retrospective | Locarno Film Festival 2017

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL honours the legendary French director JACQUES TOURNEUR (1904-1977) in celebration of its 70th Anniversary this year, taking place in the town’s splendid GranRex Cinema.

Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) is best known today for a handful of films, all shot between 1942 and 1948: CAT PEOPLE; I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, THE LEOPARD MAN; OUT OF THE PAST and BERLIN EXPRESS. Tourneur was comfortable working in various genres, from Western to Fantasy-horror, and his feature film oeuvre of thirty-three titles (and notable TV work, including a famous Twilight episode) – are all included in this astonishing retrospective. Martin Scorsese is a champion of his much neglected and lesser know features.

At the time of his birth in Paris 1904, Jacques Tourneur’s father – and soon to be filmmaker Maurice (1876-1961) – was working as an artist in a studio near the Luxemburg Gardens. It was a place of horror for the four-year-old Jacques whose early memories include searching desperately for his Christmas presents in “a very long corridor, completely black, and I could make out in the distance, the white spots, that were my presents. I walked forward all alone, torn between the desire for the toys and a fear that almost made me faint, especially as the toys in their packages started to take on a phantom-like appearance”. When Jacques was naughty his unaffectionate parents would put him in a cupboard where the family’s maid was ordered to shake a bowler hat with the words: “It’s the Thunderman!. Jacques later claimed: “this is the source for my obsession to suddenly introduce inexplicable things into s shot, like the hand on the banisters in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, which disappears in the reverse shot”.

Jacques went to the Lycées Montaigne and Lakanal in Paris, before joining his father in New York in 1914. His father still continued to make life difficult for him: “I was the only child to wear suspenders. So the other children spent their time pulling on my suspenders very hard, in order to let them snap into my back. I didn’t dare wear them any more, and walked around holding up my trousers. I think, that was what led me to put in my films comic touches in a dramatic moment, to better highlight the dramatic side: the magician disguised as a clown in NIGHT OF THE DEMON. It’s fascinating to mix fear and the ridiculous, as in the death of the clown in BERLIN EXPRESS”.

Whilst in High School, Jacques started to work as an extra in films and in 1924 joined his  father on Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925) and as a script clerk on Tahiti (1925). Jacques was twenty-one when Maurice returned to Europe after the disaster of The Mysterious Island (1929). The farewell was, not surprisingly, frosty: “ He gave me a hundred Dollar bill, saying: “Now get by’”. Jacques worked as a stock player, but his career went into the doldrums. After being arrested for drunkenness (heralding his lifelong struggle with alcoholism), Jacques re-joined his father in Berlin, where in 1929 Maurice was directing Marlene Dietrich in Grischa the Cook. It was in the German capital that Jacques met his wife Marguerite Christiane Virideau; the couple stayed together until Jacques’ death in 1977. Between 1930 and 1934 Jacques was editor and assistant director for all his father’s films, it what was mostly a difficult relationship. And whilst Maurice was working on his second French film as director, he turned to Jacques, and the ensemble cast including Charles Vanel with the words: “I saw the cut of my current film, and it’s the first time a film of mine has been well-edited”. AS

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Lift to The Scaffold (1959) l’Ascenseur a l’Echafaud | Jeanne Moreau Tribute

Dir.: Louis Malle | Writers: Louis Malle/Roger Nimier | Novel: Noel Calef | Score: Miles Davis | DoP: Henri Decae | Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Lino Ventura, Georges Poujourly, Yori Bertin | France, 92 min     Drama

Unlike the rest of the Nouvelle Vague directors, Louis Malle was a seasoned documentarian (The Silent World), before he made his first feature Lift to the Scaffold based on a book he just happened to pick up in a station in Paris. In the same way, the film’s narrative relies very much on chance.

Lift_to_the_Scaffold_(1958)_pic_3

The historical connections are pivotal: In 1957 the French Indochina war had ended three years previously, and the Algerian War of Independence was entering its third year. There was, as usual, a great amount of money to be made from wars, and arms-dealing was a major factor in the French economy. Both the perpetrator Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet/Plein Soleil) and his victim and boss Simon Carala knew each other from their time in the army. Both men have a shady past and an unscrupulous present. Meanwhile Carala runs an outfit that is not altogether straightforward, underlined in a conversation between the men before tragedy strikes.

But the is Jeanne Moreau’s film.  As Florence Carala, and Tavernier’s mistress she really believes in the passion behind the crime passionelle, whispering into her lover’s ear: “We will be free, it has to be” before Julien enters the company premises, giving himself a perfect alibi, before committing his crime. Passing it all off as a suicide, Tavernier forgets a vital element. He goes back into the building but is caught in the lift on his way down.

Lift_to_the_Scaffold_1 copy

Florence spends the whole night wandering through the streets of Paris, intoxicated by despair before her arrest as a prostitute; a second, much younger couple enters the scene: Veronique (Bertin) works in flower shop, and her immature boyfriend Louis (Poujourly) who epitomises the Nouvelle Vague antihero: young, feckless, aimlessly sliding into criminality with his poor choices. While Tavernier is stuck in the lift, he steals his car and sets out with Veronique to a motel in nearby Normandy, where they meet a middle-aged German couple.

After a champagne-fuelled evening, Louis shoots the husband dead, stealing his Mercedes to return to Paris where the two “commit” suicide with sleeping pills. But the romantic gesture leads only to a few hours sleep before Florence turns up, having tracked them down in an attempt to clear Tavernier’s name.

Henry Decae’s grainy black and white photography is understated and hauntingly impressionistic evoking the forthcoming doom.

Merc

When Florence drifts aimlessly through the Paris night, he puts the camera into a pram and follows her from the ground upwards. His ‘Paris’ must have been the Godard’s inspiration for Alphaville. Tavernier’s ‘prison’ in the lift is rendered with shades of Bresson. And in the way Decae pictures the stylish cars he makes it obvious why they are the phallic extensions for men: cleaning capsules of desire, ready to transport away from reality. Miles Davis music score is the most resonant part of this melancholic film – it underscores the loneliness of the two women, and the macho materialism of the males. And to top it all, there is Lino Ventura’s detective, calculating, heartless – an extreme misogynist, who loves trapping people, using modern technology with sadistic glee.

What sets out as a love story with a murder, ends in a bloodbath and a trible murder, shattering illusions, and leaving us with regret. The portrait of a lonely place, where immature men hold sway, and women follow simperingly in their wake, with no place to go in this cruel and hapless Brave, New World.

NOW ON BFIPLAYER

 

 

Scribe (2016)

Dir: Thomas Kruithof | Cast: Francois Cluzet, Denis Podalydes, Simon Abkarian, Alba Rohrwacher | Writers: Thomas Kruithof, Yann Gozlan | Thriller | 95min | French

You can’t help admiring Thomas Kruithof’s feature debut. It’s a rather stolid but quality conspiracy thriller starring Francois Cluzet (Intouchables) as a number-crunching former alcoholic who is forced into the shadowy underworld of political phone-tapping, desperate for work after his marriage breaks down. Kruithof is clearly nostalgia for the classic style of Sydney Pollack’s films of the 1970s. SCRIBE also has echoes of The Accountant.

Although thematically rather slim, this slick and stylish affair is watchable largely due to Cluzet’s quiet charisma and a reliably subtle turn from Alba Ruhrwacher who plays Sara, a vulnerable woman also struggling with post-addition. The two become romantically involved while Cluzet descends into a world of intrigue at the hands of his dodgy boss Clement (Podalydes), a man of mysterious motives who clearly has him by the short and curlies in this criminally charged environment.

Written by Kruithof and Yann Gozlan – who also collaborated on another enjoyable retro piece A Perfect Man – this is a noirish thriller that keeps its smouldering cards close to its chest while delivering intermittant bursts of tension, although the narrative is driven forward by unsettling atmosphere rather than plot twists. Stark Gordon Willis-style photography and Gregoire Auger’s terrifically suspensful score sizzles along in the background while Duval goes through his bewildering job often overhearing things he shouldn’t be privy to, such as details of a murder and suggestions of Middle Eastern political undercurrents. Clement’s purported sidekick (Simon Abkarian) drags him into the murky waters of a criminal twilight but Duval keeps on going despite warning signs that he should quit before the going gets dangerous. And eventually it does. SCRIBE is a sure-footed but safe debut. MT

SCRIBE is in cinemas and on demand from 21st July 2017

 

 

 

The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) | Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Marcel Ophuls | 265min | Doc | French |

The Nazi occupation of France went on for nearly five years and Marcel Ophuls’ seminal documentary brings the era to life in an absorbing and contemplative afternoon’s viewing (265min). Well-paced, lavish and convincing, THE SORROW AND THE PITY is set in Clermont-Ferrand, 20 miles from Vichy, and unfolds through a series of newly-shot interviews, original footage and political propaganda material to provide a historical testament to the suffering of a nation under the Nazi cosh, under the leadership of Marshal Pétain.

Ophuls sets the tone with a note of menace as France falls victim to the German overlords. Maurice Chevalier’s mellow music add a poignancy to the images of Hitler swanning round the streets of a Paris back-footed by the invasion of its enemy and often betrayed by its own bourgeoisie, desperate to save their own skins. Stories of collaboration sit alongside those of un-patriotic cowardliness and cold-blooded deceit that will be justified and dusted under the carpet decades later. Bizarre recollections sit alongside banal ones: an upmarket gentleman recalls the excellent hunting season of 1942, whilst a shopkeeper called Klein took out announcement in the small ads to assert his non-Jewishness.

Originally made for television, the film was banned by the French authorities for obvious reasons that will rapidly become clear: This complex and nuanced tribute rather blows the myth of Vichy’s proud Patriotism out of the water with the middle classes denouncing their working class countryman. The film also showcases the heroes of the Resistance offering vivid snapshots of their personal stories: high-school students who naively and courageously gave their lives and the legendary Maquis represented by stocky French gang leader Gaspar still embittered by his memories of the era. Then there are the ordinary French citizens just making the best of a bad situation in recollections that will remain seared to the collective memory. MT

ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM 26 JUNE COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY | ARROWVIDEO@FETCH.FM

From the Land of the Moon | Mal de Pierres (2016)

Director: Nicole Garcia   Writers: Nicole Garcia, Jacques Fieschi, based on a novel by Milena Agus

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemuhl, Brigitte Rouan, Victoire Du Bois, Aloise Sauvage, Daniel Para, Jihwan Kim, Victor Quilichini

Marion Cotillard is back with another intense character study that haunts this otrtured love story. In actor turned filmmaker Nicole Garcia’s eighth film FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON  she plays Gabrielle a woman from a bourgeois background who is desperate to find fulfilment in romantic love. Based on a best seller by Italian writer Milena Agus, the story opens in 1950s France where Gabrielle is driving her family to distraction with her violent and quixotic temperament. Fortunately beauty and money are on her side in an era where arranged marriages were still commonplace, so her mother organises a match with a penniless but decent Spanish builder, Jose (Alex Brendemuhl from Wakolda), who knuckles down to taking Gabrielle respectably off their hands and making an honest Catholic woman of her. From the outset, Gabrielle makes it clear that she will not be having sex with Jose and he takes this calmly knowing full well that his bedroom skills could potentially change her mind on the subject.

And Jose’s straightforward, kind and stable nature soon calms Gabrielle’s flighty temperament and emerges as one of the more  sympathetic characters in the film and a counterpoint to Gabrielle’s selfish and wayward character. Garcia and Jacques Fieschi’s script also emphasises Gabrielle’s desperate need of sexual fulfilment as we seen her standing in the cool river on a hot day trying to achieve the same sexual relief as men did during the war with the use of bromide. Obviously this is a sotry that will draw comparisons with Madame Bovary, although Gabrielle is not constrained by her social, moral or religious scruples and her husband is kind and supportive. After a miscarriage, Jose sends her off to an expensive Swiss clinic for treatment and once again her febrile sexual imagination gets the better of her. Here she meet Louis Garrel as the dashing lieutenant Andre Sauvage and is immediately smitten, especially as his keyboard skills playing Tchaikovsky are to become a leitmotif for the piece in the whimsical closing scenes.

Cotillard’s is the driving force behind this visually ravishing drama. She illuminates every scene with her serene beauty and elegance instilling calm and grace despite her brooding unhappiness which morphs into euphoria when she meets Sauvage. As  Gabrielle, she struggles to find contentment upsetting everyone else into the bargain with her toxic personality and meanness. This is a fabulously crafted classic drama that is both absorbing and intensely enjoyable. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 JUNE 2017

Diabolique (1955) | Criterion Special Edition Bluray

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot | Cast: Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Véra Clouzot | Thriller | French | 117min

35_BD_3D_stickerHitchcock considered Henri-Georges Clouzot his arch enemy in the world of suspense, and Psycho was deliberately made to outdo this gripping thriller about two women love rivals who conspire to murder a sadistic headmaster, played smoulderingly by Paul Meurisse. Simone Signoret is the harder-edged of the two as a a calculating bleached blond in chilling contrast to Véra Clouzot’s rather twee and simpering brunette. Charles Vanel plays the Devil’s advocate as a Boris Johnson’s stye detective, who is clearly not as dumb as he looks. DIABOLIQUE is as demonic as the name suggests and its dazzling finale promises a devlish twist – although the lesbian relationship that exists in the novel is sadly edited out. Well it was 1955. MT

OUT ON BLURAY SPECIAL EDITION COURTESY OF CRITERION COLLECTION UK | 5 JUNE 2017

My Life as a Courgette (2016) | Ma Vie de Courgette

Dir.: Claude Barras | Animation | Switzerland/France | 66 min.

Claude Barras’ stop-motion animation is a tender tale probing life’s saddest moment: not a kid’s film but one that resonates with the kid inside us – Heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time. Celine Scammia (Water Lilies, Girlhood) an expert on juvenile psyches, has cleverly scripted Gilles Paris’ autobiography novel Ma Vie de Courgette, amd although the film is not as dark as the book, Barras’ characters have to deal with considerable trauma, making it only suitable for the over-tens.

The story of nine-year old orphan Courgette (his real name is Icare, i.e. Icarus) is completely different from comparable fare, like Mathilda or Annie. Courgette himself has killed his alcoholic mother accidentally; he keeps one of her empty beer cans as the only memento of her life. A friendly policeman Raymond takes him to an orphanage where he meets look-alikes, who share his displacement: the faces of all the children seem to be made out of plasticine, they have a big mop of coloured hair – in Courgette’s case blue, huge hands, and golf-ball sized eyes, with the iris looking as if it was stuck on. These eyes really are mirrors of their souls, pictures of their state of mind. And despite the slender running time is slender, David Toutevoix’ delicately rendered images convey the passing years as the orphans develop seamlessly from children to gawky pre-teens. Initially the colours are muted, particularly in Courgette’s flat, where he hides in the attic to avoid his dipsy mother. But as life improves the lighten and colours become more vibrant.

When Courgette enters the orphanage he is immediately accosted by the loutish leader of the pack, Simon, who calls him ‘potatoes’; whilst the dinosaur-obsessed Ahmed becomes more of a soul mate. Alice, always shy, hides behind her hair, which she parts like two curtains over her face, when embarrassed. But Courgette falls for Camille. When Raymond re-appears, he takes the two children to his flat cacti-ridden flat. But then Camille’s money-grabbing aunt takes over: she feels nothing for her niece but wants to collect the grant for raising her. But Camille and Courgette find a way of being together.

Courgette is a sensitive study in grief, but also an authentic portrait of children growing up, coming to terms with their sadness and becoming sociable beings who have learned to look out for each other, like Simon who encourages Courgette and Camille to live with Raymond, even though they are sad to leave him behind. Barras and Sciammia create a wonderful cosmos of healing: symbolised by the children using a weatherboard for their moods: ‘Cloudy’ turning more often to ‘sunny’ than not. AS

OUT ON RELEASE FROM 4 JUNE 2017

Spotlight on a Murderer (1961) | Mubi

Dir: Georges Franju | French | Mystery | 92min

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER takes place in one of those quaint, quintessential French chateaux that you may have visited with its medieval interiors and evocative turrets and tapestries hanging on the stone walls. Gaumont too is a classic studio one of the oldest in the world. The star of Georges Franju’s Gothic murder mystery is also a veteran: Jean-Louis Trintignant, who has just appeared in Michael Haneke’s latest film Happy End, at the age of 89. He plays Jean-Marie whose elderly relative Count Hervé de Kerloquen (Pierre Brasseur) has completely disappeared leaving Jean-Marie and his family members responsible for its upkeep while waiting five years until they can become benefactors of the estate. Along with his girlfriend, Micheline (Dany Saval), they conconct a plan to open the place to visitors while uncovering his whereabouts and discovering the truth.

This atmospheric thriller is scripted by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac whose books were also adapted for Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Les Diaboliques. Franju keeps the tension taut with fine performances from the ensemble in a rare and intriguing mystery thriller that keeps you guessing right until the very end. MT

On MUBI and ON BLURAY DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY

Cannes Film Festival Awards 2017

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: THE SQUARE (Ruben Östlund) – main pic

70th Anniversary Award: Nicole Kidman

Grand Prix: BPM  (Robin Campillo)

Director: Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED

Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Actress: Diane Kruger, IN THE FADE

Jury Prize: LOVELESS (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Screenplay — THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou) and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Lynne Ramsay)

SIDEBARS

Camera d’Or: JEUNE FEMME Montparnasse-Bienvenüe) (Léonor Serraille)

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: FACES, PLACES (Visages Villages) (Agnès Varda, JR)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: RADIANCE Naomi Kawase)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: A MAN OF INTEGRITY/ Mohammad Rasoulof

Best Director: Taylor Sheridan, WIND RIVER

Jury Prize: Michel Franco, APRIL’S DAUGHTER

Best Performance: Jasmine Trinca, FORTUNATA

Award for Poetry of Cinema: Mathieu Amalric, BARBARA

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | QUINZAINE

Art Cinema Award: THE RIDER  (Chloe Zhao)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize — TIE: LOVER FOR A DAY Philippe Garrel) and LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Claire Denis)

Europa Cinemas Label: A CIAMBRA Jonas Carpignano)

CRITICS’ WEEK | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Grand Prize: MAKALA Emmanuel Gras)

Visionary Prize: GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAINS (Fellipe Barbosa)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: AVA  (Léa Mysius)

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | AWARD WINNERS | LIST BY VARIETY

Djam (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Tony Gatlif | Drama | French |

Tony Gatlif makes films about gypsy cultures from India to the near East and DJAM is his latest, although not his best, it offers something slightly off the beaten track: a female-centric road movie where his feisty belly-dancing heroine embarks on an adventure from Lesbos, to Greece and Turkey. There’s never a dull moment in this exotic musical odyssey that captures the contempo socio-economic zeitgeist of the near Middle East (immigration, female liberation etc) and celebrates rebetiko, an ancient blend of Greek and Turkish tradional folkmusic.

After leaving her uncle (Simon Albekian)  on the quayside Djam (Patakia) uses her cheeky charm to blaise a trail through a variety of hurdles she meets along the way, the first is securing a passport for a naive girl called Avril (Maryan Canon) who has been robbed. From then on the two become travelling companions.

Vibrant and lushly atmospheric this verite-style drama is carried along by Daphné Patakia’s earthy exhuberant chutzpah in the title role (for which she wears no undies), although her minxy coquettishness may be irritating for some, others may find the film a breath of fresh air, with its melodramatic and musical interludes.

Cannes this year has been remarkable for a blatant over-sharing of female issues: from Francois Ozon’s opening shot of a close quarter vaginal examination; to endless open discussions about menstruation; Diane Kruger examining her menstrual blood and here – Patakia’s Djam forcing her friend to shave off her pubic hair on the open road. None of this has particularly enriched the stories concerned, begging the question – what happened to feminine mystique?

Gatlif’s narrative plays as fast as loose as Djam and her copine as they sing and dance around like a couple of lascivious troubadours, seemingly high on their own brand of goofy naughtiness. Although Gatlif seems to be making it all up as he goes along, this is a fresh and impressively-crafted snapshot. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017

Alive in France (2017) | Directors’ Fortnight 2017

Dir: ABEL FERRARA | 2017 || DOCUMENTARY | Cast: Joe Delia, Paul Hipp, Cristina Chiriac

Abel Ferrara headlines a film retrospective and a series of concerts in France dedicated to songs and music from his films. Preparations with his family and friends will form the material of this self portrait, showing another side of the director of legendary films BAD LIEUTENANT, THE KING OF NEW YORK and THE ADDICTION. Ferrara is joined on stage by past collaborators, including composer Joe Delia, actor-singer Paul Hipp and his wife actress Cristina Chiriac for concerts at the Metronum in Toulouse and the Salo Club in Paris in October 2016.

 

Redoutable (2017)

Dir: Michel Hazanavicious | Cast: Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Berenice Bejo, Micha Lescot, Gregory Gadebois, Felix Kysel | French | Biopic Drama

Agnes Varda showed us the borish side of Jean-Luc Godard in her Cannes film Visages, Villages and in REDOUTABLE, his Palme d’Or 2017 hopeful, Michel Hazanavicius shed light on the narcissistic introvert he eventually became in the late 60s, away from the bright lights and adoration of the French film industry that made him a legend.

Played here with sardonic insouciance by a balding Louis Garrel, this is an enjoyable biopic that sees Godard withdraw from society to experiment with radical filmmaking and political activism. Refusing to except that his big time was over – he is seen reliquishing control of Wind from the East, a notion that might prove controversial to some viewers. Also he has started to resent his wife Anne Wiazemsky (played by Stacy Martin) on whose memoirs the film is based, she is spending less time with him and away on location – but the pair still generate a pleasurable chemistry. And although his career and marriage are clearly unravelling, Anne still seems an important part of his life.

Naturally the film was going to be a pastiche – this was Godard’s raison d’etre and fittingly Hazanavicious makes extensive use of Godard’s visual and stylistic gimmicks and the famous intertitles in his film’s primary-coloured 60s aesthetic. The famous dark glasses are there, even if he continually breaks them. Godard himself is naturally not keen on REDOUTABLE which makes him out to be a ‘has been’ when clearly he feels he is still a happening director, capturing his audience’s imagination to this day.

There’s plenty of action and debate in REDOUTABLE but strangely played down are the riots of 1968 which affected that year’s Cannes film festival, and seem to be particularly relevant at this time. An interesting watch for his fanbase and the arthouse crowd , but not possibly one for mainstream audiences. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 MAY 2018

 

 

 

Frantz (2016)

Director: François Ozon

Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Buelow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lenquesaing

Drama | France | 112min

With the theme of guilt firmly at the forefront, François Ozon takes his inspiration from Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Broken Lullaby,’ in his first black and white film – a gloriously imagined postwar drama that flips fluidly from French to German.

The First World War changed everything – not only from a political point of view but also from a societal one. European countries were left reeling from the devastation but Ozon focuses here on the bitterness and remorse ordinary people felt at losing their dear ones to the war effort and the enemy, both from the German and French perspective.

After a lightweight dramady The New Girlfriend, Ozon is back on form with this lusciously filmed magnificently mounted masterpiece that takes place in the immediate aftermath to the Great War in a small village in rural Saxony (with echoes of Haneke’s The White Ribbon) and slowly builds to a powerful bodyblow in its emotive final scenes set in Paris and provincial France before returned to Germany. Basing his premise on a series of blatant lies, albeit white ones, the inventive French filmmaker tells a story of guilt and loss – where a young man (Pierre Niney plays Adrien) is driven to protect an old couple (the Hoffmeisters) and their daughter-in-law Anna (Paula Beer), in order to assuage his own actions in the trenches of Verdun, where Anna lost her lover in the slaughter that wiped out thousands and divided Europe in a way that many of our own relatives can still remember (beware Brexit!).

Paula Beer radiates a tragic sadness here as the complex heroine who gradually falls for Pierre Ninney’s fragile yet hopelessly handsome French soldier who manages to conceal his secret for most of the film, spinning her tortuously into a spiral of mixed emotions ranging from longing to anger, hatred and gradually, love and acceptance.

Ozon’s cinematographer Pascal Marti crafts velvety images 35mm in black-and-white. His regular composer Philippe Rombi crafts a atmospheric soundtrack of orchestral splendour that seems to continually presage doom in judiciously chosen moments, and there is an enchanting scene in Adrien’s family chateau where an impromptu piano and violin recital takes place between Anna, Adrien and Fanny (du Lenquesaing). Ozon’s theme of art as a potential healer and inspirer once again appears with Manet’s painting Le Suicide representing a potent motif. This is an accomplished and immersive period drama that will resonate with arthouse audiences and is certainly Ozon’s most mature and accomplished film so far. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 12 MAY 2017 at selected arthouse cinemas including CURZON | BEST EMERGING ACTOR SOPHIE BEER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

Cézanne et Moi (2016)

Dir/Writer: Danièle Thompson | Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Deborah Francois, Sabinz Azema | Drama

Emile Zola might have written some desolate novels but his private life appears to be rather pleasant according to CÉZANNE AND I exploring the close friendship between two of France’s most famous 19th century cultural geniuses: the titular novelist and the impressionist painter Cézanne. Unlike Gilles Bourdos’ tepid Rénoir (2012), there is plenty of drama here, as befits the subject-matter.

Writer and director Danièle Thompson’s painterly period piece imagines the two enjoying a beautiful bromance that lasted from childhood until their deaths, although it wasn’t without its tiffs and rivalries as the strong creative personalities often clashed giving rise to some moments of drama and even tears, and the racy often lyrical dialogue doesn’t hold back in expressing the deep intimacy of their conversations about the pleasure and pain of creativity (“do you still get a hard on from your writing?” asks Cézanne of his mate).

Starring Guillaume Gallienne (Yves Saint Laurent) as Cézanne and Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) as Zola this is a spirited and enjoyable – if occasionally soapy – affair with its sumptuous settings making great use of the gloriously lush and sun-drenched scenery of Provence and elegant boulevards of Paris and the Louvre, where the Salon de Réfusés episode descends into a brawl .

Eric Neveux’s intrusive score primps up moments of sauciness by a lakeside as Cézanne executes his’ plein air’ canvasses, and Jean-Marie Dreujou cleverly evokes some of the artist’s outdoor compositions with limpid camerawork and a fabulous choice of settings. While the painter comes across as the more louche of the pair, with his wealthy background and family funding; Zola is a more sober character and Canet plays him as a rather buttoned up and inaccessible, growing up a penniless orphan until he joins the successful bourgeoisie, as captured in the final scenes. The narrative unfolds from 1888, when Cézanne accuses Zola of writing a novel whose central character – a striving but unsuccessul painter – feels too near the bone for his liking. But Zola assures him that the novel in question ‘L’Oeuvre’ is not about his close friend. Most of the scenes  involves tête à tête set-toos between the pair highlighting their creative differences and expressing their feelings about sex and women. According to Thompson, they both fell in love with the same person, Alexandrine (Alice Pol), who would eventually become Zola’s wife. While Cézanne is restlessly married to his muse Hortense (Deborah François) there appear to be issues with his sexual performance, and she complains that “I fuck her too quickly and paint her too slowly.” The two debate Zola’s theatrical naturalist style that today feels stuffy and dated as opposed to Cézanne’s impressionism which proved the more universally evocative form of expression due to its avant-garde appeal that gave birth to modernism. Zola resents Cézanne’s monthly income that allows him freedom to explore, while the writer is hampered by his lack of funds. Meanwhile, Cezanne calls him a “a violeur et un voyeur”, somehow implying that his ideas were not original.

Artistic context of the era is further provided in the shape of fellow impressionists Edouard Manet (Nicolas Gob), Auguste Renoir (Alexandre Kouchner) and Camille Pissaro (Romain Cottard). This is a watchable and vivacious drama that paints an absorbing picture of two driven men but despite Thompson’s learned research CÉZANNE AND I  comes across as a lightweight drama rather than a resonant biopic of the creative duo. MT

Cézanne et Moi will be released on Friday 14th April at Ciné Lumière, find out more here: http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/cine-lumiere/whats-on/new-releases/cezanne-et-moi/

 

Jacques Becker (1906-1960) Retrospective

Jacques Becker, who was born and died in Paris (1906-1960), only made thirteen feature films in a relatively short period of time, between 1942 and 1960. His legacy was small but perfectly-formed and rich in important titles such as Casque d’Or (Golden Helmet, 1952), Touchez pas au grisbi (Hands Off the Loot, 1954) and Le Trou (The Hole, 1960) more than enough to earn Becker consideration as one of the essential names of French cinema, who work was often classified as ‘transcendent realism’.

Becker eventually became a Communist, although he never made social cinema in the strict sense of the word, training in the cinema of the Popular Front and worked as an assistant to Jean Renoir.

becker copy

His influences came both from the work of the author of La grande illusion (Grand Illusion, 1937), one of the eight films by Renoir on which Becker worked as an assistant, and from the classic North American movies made prior to World War II.He was a huge fan of King Vidor and Howard Hawks, for example. Hisstyle stemmed from a sort of classicism, soon moving into modernity, refining itself at neck-breaking speed during the Occupation and post-war period.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of the influential Cahiers du cinéma critics always defended him as being one of the few directors saved from the generalised attack on French post-war cinema: for Truffaut, Godard and company, enemies of academicism, Becker was always on a par with his mentor Renoir, with Jean Cocteau, Jean-Pierre Melville, Max Ophüls, Robert Bresson and Jacques Tati.

A lover of detail and meticulous both when recreating periods in the studio or shooting outdoors, stylist of the mise-en-scène and creator of unrepeatable atmospheres such as the romantic and violent Casque d’Or (Golden Helmet), Becker practiced impressionism and realism equally, paying as much attention to the historical periods of his tales as he did to the psychology of his characters. The “Cahiers du cinéma” critics saw in him the modernity that they themselves would put into practice on moving into production as part of the Nouvelle vague.

LE COMMISSAIRE EST BON ENFANT, LE GENDARME EST SANS PITIÉ / PITILESS GENDARME | JACQUES BECKER, PIERRE PRÉVERT (FRANCE) 1935

The police superintendent may be good-natured but he has got a lot on his plate with all the witnesses that come to make a statement before him. They are all crazier than the others and although the superintendent is not too bad at keeping his self-control, he might well go nuts after all with this bunch of lunatics.

La Vie copy

LA VIE EST À NOUS

JACQUES BECKER, JEAN RENOIR, JACQUES B. BRUNIUS, HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, ANDRÉ ZWOBADA, JEAN-PAUL LE CHANOIS (FRANCE) 1936

The film, shot at the initiative of the French Communist Party, mixes documentary with fiction. A Board of Directors is preparing a mass layoff; in a factory, a strike prevents the dismissal of the older workers; some peasants prevent the auction of the possessions of a poor farmer with the help of political activists; a young man out of work who cannot even eat receives the help of a group of communist young men.

DERNIER ATOUT

JACQUES BECKER (FRANCE) 1942
A man is murdered in an imaginary South American city. Two young detectives, Clarence and Montes, on a level pegging in their wrangle to see which of them will graduate as best student from police academy, are given the job of investigating the case. The deadlock will be broken once and for all.

GOUPI MAINS ROUGES / IT HAPPENED AT THE INN (1943)

In a small French village a woman is killed and her money stolen. Several members of her family, the Goupis, are suspected. In addition, the family is looking for the gold of its older member, who is about to die.

Paris Frills copy

FALBALAS / PARIS FRILLS | Jacques Becker France 1945

Micheline arrives in Paris to prepare her marriage to Daniel Rousseau. There she falls in love with her fiancé’s best friend, dress designer Philippe Clarence, an impenitent ladies’ man who seduces and then leaves her, although he later finds out that he is deeply in love with her. (Available on Studiocanal later in 2017).

Antoine et Antoinette copyANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE / ANTOINE AND ANTOINETTE (1946)

Antoine, who works in a printing house, and Antoinette, an employee at Prisunic, buy a winning lottery ticket. When they lose said ticket, their dreams seem to fade away.

Rendezvous in July copy

RENDEZ-VOUS DE JUILLET / RENDEZVOUS IN JULY (1949)

Lucien is a young Parisian boy who dreams of becoming an explorer, but his parents expect him to lead a conventional life. After an argument with his father, Lucien leaves home with his friends; aspiring actors and jazz lovers, writers and film directors. Together they will hatch a plan to break free.

Edouart et Caroline copyÉDOUARD ET CAROLINE / EDWARD AND CAROLINE

Jacques Becker (France) 1950

Edouard is a poor pianist married to Caroline, a beautiful girl from a middle-class family who don’t approve of their marriage. Caroline’s uncle invites the couple to a party at which Edouard is to play the piano… a situation that will have them arguing before they know it.

CASQUE D’ OR | JACQUES BECKER (FRANCE) 1952

The members of Leca’s gang go to an open-air dance hall with their ladies. One of them, Marie (Signoret) meets Manda, a carpenter and friend of one of the members of the gang, with whom she falls in love. Her man Roland is jealous and Leca has also set his eyes on her.

Ali Baba copyALI BABA ET LES 40 VOLEURS / ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES | Jacques Becker (France) 1953

Ali Baba, one of Cassim’s servants, is sent to buy a slave for his master. On the way back he falls in love with Morgiane, the slave. The caravan is attacked and this allows him to discover the cave of the forty thieves and the secret word to enter it.

rue de l'Estrapade copy

RUE DE L’ESTRAPADE | Jacques (FRANCE) 1953

Although Françoise and Henri have a happy marriage, he is caught having an affair by one of his wife’s friends. Furious that he cheated on her, Françoise moves into the Rue de l’Estrapade, a district of bohemian artists. There she succumbs to the charms of Robert, a young and down-at-the-heel existentialist musician strapped for cash.

 

Touchez pas au Grisbi copyTOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBi  | Jacques Becker (France/Italy) 1954

Max, an ageing gangster, has come up with a master plan for a heist involving 50 million francs. His ex-girlfriend, who left him for Angelo, the head honcho of a rival gang, schemes to get her hands on the details of the plan and swipe the 50 million haul for herself. But Max is so discreet and impassive that it is impossible to get the information the easy way, so they decide to kidnap his sidekick and demand a ransom.

the Adventure of Arsene Lupin copy

LES AVENTURES D’ARSÈNE LUPIN / THE ADVENTURES OF ARSÈNE LUPIN Jacques Becker (France/Italy)1956

Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief, steals two masterpieces by Leonardo and Botticelli from the home of the President of the Council. Some time later, he tricks several jewelers to come to his house and then steals their gems. His next victims are a Maharajah and Kaiser William II.

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LES AMANTS DE MONTPARNASSE / MODIGLIANI OF MONTPARNASSE | Jacques Becker (France/Italy) 1958
The film portrays the last years in the life of painter Amedeo Modigliani, his artistic peak, but marked also by alcohol and his love for Jeanne Hébuterne.

Le Trou copy

LE TROU | Jacques Becker (1960)

In prison, four inmates serving life sentences run into unknown territory when they involve a new prisoner in their elaborate escape plan plan. Becker collaborated with real life La Sante prisoners to add authenticity to his last film and died several weeks after completing the romantic drama.

JACQUES BECKER | BFI player  | STUDIOCANAL Blu-ray release. 

Irreplaceable (2016)

Dir: Thomas Lilti | Writers: Thomas Lilti, Baya Kasmi | Cast: François Cluzet, Marianne Denicourt, Isabelle Sadoyan, Felix Moati, Christophe Odent, Patrick Descamps, Guy Faucher, Margaux Fabre | Drama | France | 91min

Doctor turned screenwriter Thomas Lilti has finally found his groove with a couple of well-made and watchable medical dramas using classic French stars. Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor was the first, with Reda Kateb as a hospital clinician working in Paris. The latest, IRREPLACEABLE, is set in the farmlands of Ile de France where Intouchables star François Cluzet is a doctor diagnosed with a life-changing condition that forces him to recruit a colleague in his small country practice.

Jean-Pierre Werner (Cluzet) is rather a tetchy single father in his fifties who prides himself in his personal approach to his patients, spending his days on home visits in the rural community, often beyond the call of duty. But when he is told to cut down on his workload due to a tumour, he grudgingly interviews Dr Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denincourt/Hippocrates) who has come late to the professional, in her  forties, but has loads of experience as a nurse in casualty. After giving her rather a hard time, the two start work together, Nathalie feeling her way forward cautiously with a caseload of tricky patients and a crusty colleague into the bargain.

Lilti cleverly brings reality to the film – not just in his medical knowledge – but in his maturity of experience in dealing with patients and the profession as a whole. And this makes such a difference to a film which could so easily have been just another implausible medical procedural. Combining quality acting talent with a pithy script, he brings integrity to the film, making it enjoyable but also entirely natural. Theres’s a feisty tension between Werner and Delezia that brings a welcome relief to the more serious medical narrative dealing with real issues facing the profession in France.

This is a restrained and nuanced character drama which makes great used of its lovely rural setting in the Val-d’Oise and the towns of Omerville and Magny as Lilti creates tension and cleverly balances the three narrative strands: the relationship between the two doctors; Werner’s uncertain medical future and the social politics of the patients themselves, and their life and death issues. Thomas Lilti is certainly a talent worth looking out for where quality French drama in concerned. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 13 JANUARY 2017 | A special preview with Q&A ON 10 JANUARY TICKETS HERE 

 

 

 

 

 

Reset (2015)

DIR: Thierry Demaiziere, Alban Teurlai | Doc | France | 107min

Despite a nondescript and bland title – RESET turns out to be a fascinating documentary about the oldest national ballet company the the world: the Paris Opera Ballet. Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai explore a new chapter for this prestigious organisation with the visionary appointment of dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied – best known for his work on the Black Swan – and his marriage to Nathalie Portman.

This is a more fluid and unstructured affair in comparison with Frederick Wiseman’s impressive film La Danse which captured the austere and highly traditional set-up before Millepied took over. If anything, RESET has the same charismatic gusto of Nick Read’s highly enjoyable Bolshoi Babylon (2015) that captured the zeitgeist of recent upheavals at Moscow’s famous ballet company. There is a great deal of talky behind the scenes politics which may not appeal so much to general non-French speaking audiences but devotees will lap this up and find Millepied’s unorthodox approach and political machinations enthralling. Alban Teurlai’s expert camerawork conveys the ethereal bliss of the mise-en-scènes and dancing routines and those bored with the politics will soon be entranced when things lighten up after the initial preamble where the likeable maverick Millepied gets his knees firmly under the table blowing the cobwebs away in the darkest corners of this maze-like institution, with the help of his stressed-out assistant Virginia.

The film divides its study into brisk chapters but could have made more of the corps de ballet’s more of Millepied’s electrifying affect on the individual performer with his Millepied’s charisma shining as an an exciting beacon of hope and innovation for the Paris Ballet’s future. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 26 DECEMBER 2016

Le Fils de Joseph (2016) | The Son of Joseph

Director: Eugene Green

Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Fabrizio Rongione, Victor Ezenfils 

Eugene Green, the American born director continues to explore themes of creativity, family connection and the nature of fatherhood in his latest drama, his most delightful and effective since the Portuguese Nun.

Vincent (newcomer Victor Ezenfils) lives with his loving mother Marie (Natcha Regnier) in Paris, but still feels troubled and let down. Determined to find his father, he sets in a voyage of discovery that the director tackles through a series of five parables relating to the Holy Family entitled: The Sacrifice of Abraham; The Golden Calf;  The Sacrifice of Isaac; The Carpenter and The Flight into Egypt.

Made on a low budget, yet none the worse for it, this satirical drama follows Green’s usual mannered style: the characters talk in perfect diction directly to the camera as if reciting their lines from a book, often moving slowly away from the camera. Cinematographer Raphael O’Byrne’s uses a static arthouse two-shot technique but also captures the beauty of the Parisian skylines and the lush landscapes of the Normandy countryside.

Vincent finally manages to track down his father through a change meeting at a party. Oscar Pormenor (a snarling Mathieu Amalric) is a successful publisher with a wife, three kids and a mistress who also runs his affairs in a small hotel in Paris. Oscar is odious and arrogant; entirely uninterested in his family who he regards with disdain. Copying the front door key to his father’s office, Vincent manages to eavesdrop on Oscar and decides very quickly that this is a man he has no wish to be his father, or any other relation. While hiding under his couch, while Oscar is in flagrante with his secretary, Vincent also discovers that he has an uncle Joseph, and contrives a meeting with him in a nearby bar, where they chat and get on admirably.

Vincent’s hatred of his father grows so vehement that one day he decides to attack him in his office and handcuff him to his chair in exactly the same position as that of his print of Caravaggio’s painting ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’, which hangs in his bedroom in the flat. Running away, before revealing his identity to Oscar.

Vincent and Joseph (La Sapienza star Fabrizio Rongione), become close as they visit museums and parks in the vicinity. In the Louvre, Vincent admires Philippe de Champaigne’s The Dead Christ and Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour, and the title of the film becomes clear when Vincent happens to mention that Joseph was not Jesus’ real father but became his father by looking after him.

When Vincent asks Joseph for dinner, the biblical link falls into place in a light-hearted way, without becoming too serious or religious. The humour lies in this constant juxtaposition of the religious and secular elements, always feeling fresh and light-hearted and thoroughly amusing.

The final act takes the trio to Normandy where they visit Joseph’s family home where Oscar is unexpectedly hosting a reception and calls the police when he suspects gatecrashers upstairs in the property.  Religious associations aside, the ensuing beach caper involves the police and a donkey and will go down well with arthouse and mainstream audiences alike with its infectious feelgood appeal. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 DECEMBER 2016 at PICTUREHOUSES AND CINE LUMIERE 

 

After Love | l’Economie du Couple (2016)

Dir: Joachim Lafosse

Cast: Berenice Bejo, Cedric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Jade Soentjens, Margaux Soentjens

100min | Belgium | Drama

Berenice Bejo stars in another tale of marital discord this time partnering with Cedric Kahn in Joachim Lafosse’s slick but uneven exploration of emotional unravelling.

In The Past (2014), she played the sequestered wife of an Iranian business man, while Childhood of a Leader (2016) saw her trapped in the home of Liam Cunningham’s fascist politician. Belgian auteur Lafosse is himself no stranger to the theme of claustrophobia which engulfs the characters in Private Property (2006), Private Lessons (2008) and Our Children (2012).

As the camera follows the couple through their elegant one floor living quarters AFTER LOVE touches on a few raw nerves but mostly highlights the sheer desperation of wanting to move on from a situation that has run its term. Only the very wealthy can just ‘up sticks and run’, and Lafosse and his co-writers home in on this stifling aftermath when the ties that bind uncomfortably start to strangle the past and, crucially, suffocate the future, as one party refuses to let go.

The set-up is all too familiar: Marie (Bejo) is happily living in the flat with her twin girls (Jade and Margaux Soentjens), but wants rid of their father, Boris (Kahn), who is firmly staying put until he gets his share of the equity for a sale that simply isn’t happening. An architect and designer, he’s added value to the place. And now he is unemployed. Frustration, humiliation and barely concealing anger follows in spades as he becomes the elephant in the room in several scenes, particularly during a dinner party.

The relationship breakdown has also broken Marie and Boris, whose characters are slowly imploding with the sheer stress of it all. And this is not helped by Marie’s mother (Martha Keller) who contributes to her psychological pain, that tracks back to the past in uncomfortable ways. Most effective in its early scenes, AFTER LOVE shows how the flat becomes a toxic prison in a storyline riddled with slow-burning tension, that gradually dissipates in the final scenes that resorts to legalese.  A must see if you’ve experienced marital breakdown. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 28 OCTOBER 2016 | CANNES REVIEW

 

Day for Night (1972-3) | La Nuit Americaine

Dir.: Francois Truffaut; Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, Jean-Pierre Aumont) Alexandra Stewart, Jean-Pierre Laud, Francois Truffaut, Natalie Baye; France 1972/3, 116 min.

With DAY FOR NIGHT, his fourteenth feature film, Truffaut wanted to make a break from his earlier work: “I am a French filmmaker, and I have to make another thirty films”. Unfortunately, he would only direct another eight, due to his untimely death at the age of fifty-two in 1984.

DAY FOR NIGHT refers to a technical term in film making, where night scenes are shot at daytime, with dark lenses creating the illusion of darkness. The director Ferrand (played by Truffaut), shoots the film within a film in Nice. There (fictional) shoot proves to be problematic: the director clashes with the producer, the star Alphonse (Léaud) falls in love with the fragile leading lady Julie Baker (Bisset), who calls her husband/analyst to sort things out. Another leading man called Alexandre, (Aumont) dies. Fiction and reality continuously overlap: Harassed by Alphonse, Julie exclaims: “I want to live alone”, only to find the same sentence written by the director in her script for next day’s shooting. Wearing a hearing aid in reference to Luis Buñuel, Ferrand/Truffaut shows himself above crew and cast: he tries to be disinterested, being only in love with cinema itself, and wanting to be loved back by the audience as the only reward. DAY FOR NIGHT is a love letter to filmmaking, traditional and uncontroversial.

The film was used by Jean-Luc Godard and Truffaut to bring their personal relationship to a bitter end: Truffaut even calling his ex-collaborator a “shit”. After all, they had directed Une Histoire D’Eau (1958) together, and Truffaut gave Godard the script to direct “A Bout de Souffle”. Godard started the argument, calling Truffaut a liar, since Ferrand/Truffaut in DAY FOR NIGHT rises above all emotional complications. The real Truffaut liked to sleep with his leading ladies – in common with Godard. As usual, financing was an issue: but this was more about where the two directors were standing in filmmaking terms: Truffaut was going backwards, making exactly the same movies “of qualities and psychology” which he had panned as a film critic; whilst Godard was well on his way to ‘re-inventing’ cinema. When Ferrand/Truffaut comments after the death of Alexandre in DAY FOR NIGHT: “With him we lose a whole epoch of filmmaking. From now on, the studios will be dying, films will only be shot on the streets, without proper scripts”, he echoes Melville’s critic of Godard, whom he once defended against the older filmmaker. In an interview with Suzanne Schiffman, Truffaut’s collaborator for decades, she told me, that “if Truffaut would have lived, he would have only shot in studios, the only place he felt secure”. Interviewed by the German Film journalist Michel Ladiges in February 1974, Ladiges asks Truffaut about his relationship with Truffaut. There seem to be not so much hard feeling, just puzzlement: “I don’t know [about the directions taken by the directors of the Nouvelle Vague], but with Godard, you have to be very careful. He has finished a certain period in his work. Today, he is very much in favour of video, because he believes, this is the future of filmmaking. But he can change his opinion any time, and will return to filmmaking. One can be never sure with him”.

Which proved to be true: Godard would return to directing films in 1975 with Numéro Deux – but comparing this radical portrait of a family with Truffaut’s L’Histoire d’Adèle H., shot in the same year, one has the answer for the spat: it was not so much about jealousy and money, but a parting of the ways: Godard created his own universe, whilst Truffaut, a true romantic at heart, went on trying to please a mass audience. AS

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF CRITERION UK COLLECTION ON 24 OCTOBER 2016

Au nom de ma fille (2016)

Dir: Vincent Garenq | Script: Julien Rappeneau | Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Sebastian Koch, Marie-Jose Croze, Emma Besson, Fred Personne | Drama | French German | 87min

Vincent Garenq’s suberb French legal procedural drama follows a father’s lengthy fight for justice grappling with international border complexities and the breakdown of his marriage.

Ably scripted by Julien Repeneau, it stars a dynamite Daniel Auteuil as a loving family man and tender husband whose wife falls for the doctor in charge of their recuperation from a road accident while they are living in Morocco. Relocating the family swiftly back to France, he tries to save his marriage but clearly his wife is smitten by Sebastian Koch’s suave German doctor Dieter Krombach, and she leaves to live in Germany, where Kalinka’s suspicious death occurs 8 years later during a holiday there.

Based on the true Kalinka Bamberski case, Au nom de ma fille spans Andre Bamberksi’s 30-year court battle to convict Dr Krombach of her murder and provides us with a stunning array of European of locations from seaside Archachon in South West France to Munich in Bavaria. Vincent Garenq masterfully manages the various timeframes in an intelligent narrative that takes into consideration the audience’s interest in knowing when and where the crucial events occur, as a peripatetic story unfolds from 1974 until 2011. The hard-hitting film takes on noirish proportions as it seamlessly transits from family drama to legal procedural and through to a sinister crime thriller, Garenq’ straddling tonal changes with the dexterity of a high-wire trapeze artist. Meanwhile Auteil is absolutely first class as Bamberski, nipping at Krombach’s tail with the perseverance and doggedness of a terrier, never giving in ’til his bitter struggle is through.The story alone makes for a gripping thriller and thanks to tight scripting the hatred between Andre and Krombach feels hard-edged and plausible. Naturally Auteuil has to age considerably but this all looks totally natural and even the cars are authentic, the Peugeots here are the very same models I travelled through France in during the 70s.

Auteuil and Koch bring a touch of sophisticated allure to the proceedings and this is carried through in soigné interiors and Nicolas Errèra’s sexy score. Auteuil’s sensitivity captures moments of tearful emotion and boiling anger and we feel his pain and desperation in the pivotal plotlines of a fast-paced narrative that weighs heavily on his fight for justice. Koch is also impressive as a man whose subtle charisma slowly turns malign. Solid entertainment. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE AT THE CINE LUMIERE

 

Valley of Love (2016) |

Dir.: Guillaume Nicloux

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu

France/Belgium 2015, 91 min.

Several decades after after appearing together in Maurice Pialat’s Loulou, Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu are reunited in Guilluame Nicloux’s VALLEY OF LOVE, where they play a long divorced middle-aged couple, trying to come to terms with the death of their adult son Michael, who committed suicide.

Whilst Huppert and Depardieu have gone from strength to strength in their careers, not only in France, the director has struggled since his debut with Les Enfants Volant in 1991. Guillaume Nicloux’s twelve feature films – among them a remake of Rivette’s La Religieuse, also starring Isabelle Huppert – vary in style and content, but always seem to fall short; never fulfilling the director’s great potential. With VALLEY OF LOVE Nicloux has finally realised his ambitions as scriptwriter and director: a contemporary parable of spirituality, very much in the way of Robert Bresson.

A long tracking shot of Isabelle (Huppert) opens the films, the camera follows her patiently through a resort in the Eastern Californian desert. Later she meets Gerard (Depardieu), who turns out to be her long divorced ex-husband. Both are uneasy, after all, they have come here for a ‘meeting’ with their son Michael, who committed suicide a few months previously, but who has written letters to both his parents agreeing to meet them – albeit briefly – in one of seven spots in Death Valley, as described in the letters. The two have not been very attentive parents: sending him to boarding school at a very young age, and after his 18th birthday have lost contact more or less altogether – Isabelle even missing his funeral. Michael was gay, and his mother is more concerned whether he had Aids, than the reason for his suicide.

Wiry, passive-aggressive Isabelle is seemingly the total opposite of her saggy-bodied ex-spouse, who is fond of banal small-talk and avoidance. But somehow, they not only end up in bed together, but find a common language, their old emotional bonds surfacing – even though they have nothing in common anymore. But they visit the Death Valley rendezvous, as instructed, Gerard suffering particularly in the overbearing heat. They mourn their own lives more than the loss of their son: new partners and children have obviously not satisfied them any more than their own relationship: Isabelle is separating from her husband, and Gerard is distraught about his fragmented life, having been diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. He wants to see a consultant for a second opinion, leaving a day earlier than asked for by Michael – something Isabelle fights vigorously. There is a spooky nighttime scene on the tennis court, when Gerard is visited by a ghost – David Lynch would have been proud of it. But the way Nicloux introduces some spiritual healing for this dreadfully ordinary and self-obsessed couple, is truly amazing.

DoP Christophe Offenstein creates serene widescreen images, dwarfing the main protagonists in the desert and towering mountains. Charles Ives’ mournful, a-tonal music underlining the couple’s struggle to come to terms with their own lives as well as the loss of their son. Huppert and Depardieu are always caustic to the point: she answers his statement “I got fat” with a dismissive “Whatever makes you happy”. The ethereal paradise they can’t grasp at first, finally allows them a view beyond the boxed-in existence they call reality and Nicloux ends with a glimmer of hope – like with Bresson, you don’t have to be exceptional to be chosen. AS.

 

Gang Bang (A Modern Love Story) 2016

Director: Eva Husson

Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Marylin Lima, Daisy Broom, Fred Houtier, Lorenzo Lefebvre;

France 2015, 98 min.

When Larry Clark exploded onto the film scene in 1995 with Kids, the schlock-value barometer seemed to go into the stratosphere. Further outings allowed Clark to gain cult-status – but first time writer-director Eva Husson’s equally provocative Bang Gang is just pure soft porn, lacking any narrative and providing a bland amateur version of Clark’s film, which was after all an exercise in socio-political reflections.

Set in trendy Biarritz, George (Lima) is the blond bombshell of her class while her best friend Laetitia (Broom) is rather shy. When George conquers Alex (Oldfield), who lives alone in a big house, his mother being in Morocco, all seems to go to plan. But Laetitia, for once, gains the upper hand leaving George fuming. Alex’s creepy friend Nikita (Hotier), helps to come up with the not very original idea of group sex and George has ample time to sleep with every adoring male. But she still has time to fall in love with Gabriel (Lefebvre), a composer of some sort. Soon the party dwellers are infected with syphilis, parental control takes over, Alex goes to live with his mother, but George and Gabriel elope to Paris, where we can see them frolic naked in the kitchen.

This is a pure excuse for a film. It is not so much the voyeuristic nudity which makes Bang Gang so unbearable, but the absence of any narrative or plot. Shot like a commercial by DoP Matthias Troelstrup, the images overwhelmingly depict (half) naked teenagers snorting, smoking and copulating. Even the good old-fashioned slow motion is back with the protagonists roller skating or driving their Vespas  through the gorgeous landscape – only to be disturbed by an annoying voiceover, explaining the obvious. Bang Gang is a wasteful exercise in banal superficiality. AS

OUT ON 17 JUNE 2016

 

The Measure of a Man (Le Loi du Marche) |

Writer|Director: Stephane Brizé

Cast: Vincent Lindon

93mins  | Drama  | France

Le Loi de Marche is a trenchant slice of social realism. It comes from Stephane Brizé, and is France’s equivalent of the Dardennes brother’s The Unknown Girl  that polarised critics in this year’s festival, and a rather better British equivalent of this year’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake. Although not well-known outside France, Vincent Lindon has over 67 films under his belt and once dated Caroline de Monaco. He gets down and dirty here with that well-known elephant in the room: unemployment after 50.

In a sustained and sombre character piece, Lindon carries the film as Thierry Tagourdeau, a man in his early fifites struggling to make ends meet with his wife and disabled son, after being controversially sacked from a blue-collar job. Cleary there are legal ramifications here but Thierry sensibly has decided not to pursue an emotionally draining legal fight for compenation – and we can all feel his pain and empathise from the get go. Being unemployed as a student is one thing, but when there is a mortgage to pay and a social lifestyle to maintain, it is probably the most demoralising aspect of getting older. An emotionally charged opening scene is cleverly-balanced with rather a ridiculous one where Thierry and his wife are learning to dance. Whether this was supposed to leaven proceedings is unclear, but it has an almost derisory quality to it. Laudably, Thierry he knuckles down to his job search, including an embarassing ‘skype’ interview, every nerve and sinew is focused on self-improvement and self-justification – whilst a growing sense of dread and anger quietly takes hold.

Those who can’t appreciate Thierry’s predicament should count themselves lucky. Suffice to say Lindon gives the role his best shot; aided and abetted by his supportive wife as they trying to sell a second rate mobile home and deal with their son’s education issues. In one particular scene, where Thierry is undergoing a character assassination by fellow job-seekers during a presentation skills session, Lindon’s expression gradually wilts from calm acceptance of criticism to a sort of vacant hopelessness: so subtle is this facial transformation that it’s almost imperceptible: but nevertheless it’s one of the joys of this otherwise quite dour social drama. When Thierry does find work in supermarket security, a further twist presents him with a moral dilemma that finally breaks the camel’s back. As his perseverance finally lets him down, Thierry makes a hot-tempered decision that may have a negative impact on his family. Brize leaves us with the question: is it right to do something we are morally apposed to, for the sake of our family’s welfare?

This is perhaps not the stuff for a cheery night out, but as social realism goes, it’s well-crafted and bang on the button performance-wise with Lyndon giving it all he’s got in a role that feels real. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 JUNE 2016 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL Winner Best Actor 2015

La Quinzaine des Realisateurs| Directors’ Fortnight 2016 | Latest World Premieres

DivinesThe Directors’ Fortnight is a Cannes side-bar with a focus on auteur driven drama and documentary features that runs in parallel to the Cannes Film Festival. It was started in 1969 by the French Directors Guild after the events of May 1968 resulted in cancellation of the Cannes festival as an act of solidarity with striking workers.

logo_quinzaine_int_whiteThe Directors’ Fortnight showcases a programme of shorts and feature films and documentaries worldwide.

Divines (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere

Uda Benyamina comes to Cannes with her debut feature, a drama exploring themes of power and success through the story of a young girl who sets off on a religious pilgrimage but meets love along the way.

Dog Eat Dog (2016) | Crime Drama | US | 

Carved from a lifetime of experiences that runs the gamut from incarceration to liberation, Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog  is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by American crime writer Edward Bunker (Runaway Train) who also started a criminal career before making it big in the movies. This Ohio set action drama stars Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook as recidivists who need to hit one more jackpot before they retire.


Fais de beaux reves (c) Simone Martinetto 3Fai Bei Sogni | Sweet Dreams (2016) | Drama | France | Italy |World Premiere

Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Valerio Mastandrea star in Marco Bellocchio’s latest drama  based on Massimo Gramellini’s 2012 Best Seller exploring a man’s emotional insecurity brought on by his mother’s early death. With award-winning cinematographer Daniele Cipri on board this promises to be a visual treat.

L’Economie du Couple (2016) | Drama | France Belgium | World Premiere

Joachim Lafosse (Our Children) returns to Cannes with this Brussels-set contempo drama that stars Berenice Bejo and Cedric Kahn as a separating couple with kids, forced to cohabit their beloved marital home due to financial difficulties.

Fiore (2016) | Flower | Drama | Italy | World Premiere

Daphne is in a juvenile detention centre, serving time for robbery, when she falls for another inmate Josh. Their love feeds on exchanged glances and snatched conversations in Claudio Giovannesi’s drama about forbidden love and a strength of feeling that threatens to violate the law.

SEQ 21, J4, Cours de natation Samir et Agathe

SEQ 21, J4, Cours de natation Samir et Agathe

The Aquatic Effect | L’Effet Aquatique (2016) | Drama | France | Iceland | World Premiere

The final feature of France Icelandic writer and documentarian Solveig Anspach (who sadly died of cancer in 2015). No stranger to Cannes, her film Stormy Weather was screened in the Un Certain Regard section in 2003, and she won the Piazza Grande Award at Locarno for Back Soon in 2008. The Aquatic Effect is a drama that has Samir Guesmi and Florence Loiret Caille.

La_Pazza_Gioia_04_(c)PAOLO CIRIELLILa Pazza Gioa | Like Crazy (2016) | Comedy | France | Italy| World Premiere 

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi joins Paolo Virzi for their second collaboration, a comedy, in which she plays mental patient who strikes up a friendship with a woman from a completely different background (Michaela Ramazzotti) while being treated in a Tuscan mental home during the Summer holidays (right).

Les Vies de Thérèse | Documentary | France | World Premiere 

Filmed here at her own request by director Sebastian Lifschitz, are the final days in the life of militant feministe, actress and lesbian Therese Clerc, who died in February 2016. She also took part in his 2012 documentary Les Invisibles, which explored the lives and difficulties of older lesbians and gays in French society.

Ma Vie de Courgette | My Life as a Courgette  (2016) | Animation | World Premiere 

Based on Gilles Paris’ book on the same name, this gorgeously animated family drama is scripted by Girlhood director Celine Sciamma and set in the French Alps.

MeanDreams_TheKissMean Dreams (2016) | Thriller | Canada | World Premiere

Canadian filmmaker Nathan Morlando (Gangster) makes his Cannes debut with a thriller set in Northern Ontario and starring Sophie Nelisse and Josh Wiggins.

Mercenaire photo 3Mercenaire (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere 

In his coming of age directorial debut, Sacha Wolff stars alongside newcomer Toki Pilioko, when they take off to play rugby in a big city on the other side of the World, and discover that manhood comes without compromises.

image1Neruda (2016) | Biopic Drama | Arg, Chile, Spain | World Premiere

Gael Garcia Bernal and Alfredo Castro again join forces with Pablo Larrain and his scripter Guillermo Calderon (No) in a biopic that explores the Nobel-prize winning poet’s time as a political fugitive in Chile during the 1940s.

Poesia_Sin_Fin_1_©Pascale Montandon_JodorowskPoesia sin Fin | Endless Poetry (2016) | Fantasy Drama | Chile | World Premiere

Chilean Maverick Alejandro Jodowovsky is back in Cannes with another fabulous family affair. Endless Poetry stars his sons Brontis and Adan and is filmed by multi-award winning DoP Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love).

Raman_Raghav_1Raman Raghav (2015) | Thriller | India | World Premiere

Vicky Kaushal was the star turn of last year’s Un Certain Regard romantic drama Massan. He returns to Cannes in Anurag Kashyap’s thriller that follows the exploits of the notorious 1960s Bombay serial killer Raman Raghav, played by Bollywood star Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui also starred in Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) an epic drama charting the deadly inter-generational blood feuds that once took place in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

Risk_Film Still Julian Assange_Courtesy of Praxis FilmsRisk (2016) | Documentary | Germany | US 

Writer, director and activist Julian Assange has certainly captured the imagination of journalists and filmmakers with his political antics; Alex Gibney –We Steal Secrets – being one of them. Here he forms the subject of American filmmaker Laura Poitras’ latest documentary Risk that takes place in Britain (left).

DSC_7087

Tour de France (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere

An unlikely friendship develops between an ageing art lover Serge (Gérard Depardieu) and young rapper Far’Hook, when they are forced together on a coastal journey from Northern France to Marseilles on the trail of 18th Century maritime painter Joseph Vernet, in this usual comedy drama from French director Rachid Djaidani.

Two Lovers and a Bear (2016) | Drama | Canada | World Premiere 

Kim Nguyen’s romantic drama has Dane DeHaan (Life) and Tatiana Maslany as lovers who form a spiritual bond in the remote town of Nunavut, in the Canadian North Pole (below left).

TLB_Still_17_credit_photo_max_filmsWolf and  Sheep (2016) | Drama | Denmark | World Premiere

With a cast of newcomers, Shahbanoo Sadat tells a tale about a mountain farming community in northern Cashmire and their belief in a legendary wolf with the soul of a woman.

LA QUINZAINE | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | TAKES PLACE DURING THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12 – 22 MAY 2016 

 

Evolution (2015)

Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier

France/Belgium/Spain 2015, 81 min.

It is nearly eleven years since Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s memorable debut feature Innocence, which dealt with a teenage girl in a boarding school. EVOLUTION centres this time on a group of boys on the crest of adolescence. Living a frigid existence with their insipid-looking mothers by an eerie seashore, there are no adult males to be seen. Hadzihalilovic presents a joyless antiseptic world where even the meals of strained seaweed broth appear medicinal rather than satisfying. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosses’s spare and pristine interior visuals give the impression of a wide-scale marine laboratory where a sci-fi experiment is underway and the boys are the victims.

Young Nicolas (Brebant) and his mother (Parmentier) live in a dreary community: their spartan lifestyle is marked by robotic rituals: dinner is always followed by the intake of an inky medicine, which appears to be therapeutic. Somehow Nicolas suspects that something is going on beyond the surface of enforced rigour: he follows his mother to the beach at night, where he observes her writhe in ecstacy with other women. Before he can unravel the mysterious plan, he is sent to a dilapidated early 20th century hospital, where some of his friends are also patients. Weird experiments are carried out and one boy disappears completely. Nicolas is befriended by one of the nurses, Stella (Duran), who supplies him with material for his drawings. When the dreadful secret emerges, Stella tries to help Nicolas to escape.

The boys in EVOLUTION have no rights over their bodies, but what emerges is that they are the unwitting victims of some kind of freaky, gender-reversal surgery. The dreamlike atmosphere evokes a past we can not see, but the boys’ dreams  suggest that they have been taken away from their real families to take part in a medical experiment destined to help mankind’s survival. But dreams and reality are indistinguishable: the underwater scenes suggest that more sinister plans are underway: perhaps mankind has to become amphibious to survive. The ghastly hospitals are horror institutions located underground and under the control of the sullen – all female – doctors and nurses. Syringes and scalpels take on a sadistic undertone creating a frightening parallel with medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps.

EVOLUTION haunts and beguiles for just over an hour. Hadzihalilovic and her co-scripter Alante Kavaite (Summer of Sangaile) cleverly keep the tension taught requiring the audience to invest a great deal in the narrative before any salient clues emerge – but even then much remains unexplained and enigmatic; not that EVOLUTION wants to be understood. Part of its allure is this inaccessibility, unsettlingly evoking a world far apart from any genre, it is esoteric and anguished in its unique otherworldliness. Too many films feature repetitive images and schematic self-indulgent narratives: how refreshing to find an true original which opens a totally new world in just 81 minutes.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | EVOLUTION | 

Talking about EVOLUTION with Lucile Hadzihalilovic

French filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalilovic, won the Jury Prize for Best Cinematography at San Sebastian and Stockholm last year 2015 for her marine-based fantasy Horror outing EVOLUTION. Here she talks to Matthew Turner about how teenage appendicitis sparked the original idea for the feature.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic (LH): Well, at the very beginning it was just the boy and his mother and the hospital and this idea that the mother was taking her son, who is beginning to grow up, to kind of get another child. But I think when I think back to where it comes from, I think it’s a very autobiographical film. It really came from my own childhood, I would say, my fears, my expectations and especially, when I was ten or eleven, there was a moment – so I was going to become a teenager and I had appendicitis, so I had to go to the hospital. And it was just a normal experience, like many other children have. But it’s so strange this thing, that you are in this hospital with adults who are touching and opening your body and cutting something out of it and this strange pain in the belly etc. And at the same time, this idea that I was going to have my period very soon and become a teenager, so I think these were different elements that where linked at that time. So I think it’s based on that time and then my life and this fears about metamorphosis, about pregnancy. So this is where the idea comes from.

MJT: In the hospital waiting room, there wasn’t a big aquarium with lots of starfish in it?

LH: Maybe! Maybe there was and I didn’t remember at the time, but I remember through the film. But it’s funny, because the ocean came afterwards – at the beginning it was just the hospital and I thought, okay, it’s in the city. But suddenly I realised that it should be on the seaside. And of course the ocean brings the perfect setting for the story. And then it also gives room to explore deeper feelings, maybe more primitive feelings and of course linked to the mother, to the womb, so they are a kind of lost paradise but at the same time it’s an amazing place but it’s also kind of scary and really mysterious. And the mysterious aspect of it was really very much what I was looking for, for the film. It’s like a subject by itself, in a way, the mystery of the world and all the changing.

MJT: Where were the locations for the film?

LH: We shot the film in the Canary Islands, in one of the Canary Islands, which is called Lanzarote. And when I wrote the script I didn’t know these places, but one of the producers knew them and he thought that it would be a very good place to shoot the film, for budgetary reasons, but also for artistic reasons. And he was totally right because the great thing in this island is this volcanic seaside, very black and very dramatic and at the same time there is the strength of the sea with the wind and the waves. And this village, which is both familiar and a bit strange. I was looking for this ambiguity, this ambivalence and for me it was very important that the place was very attractive but at the same time gives a kind of anxiety, this feeling of isolation – I think it’s very much about also being isolate, about being separated from the world and still kind of being in the realms of motherhood. So i felt that really, in this landscape. we had really very little to do to have this feeling of being in another reality, very close to ours.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_boyMJT: How do you see the film’s relationship to your previous film, Innocence?

LH: I know that it really looks like there are many, many similarities, to the point where people ask me if it’s like a diptych. I really didn’t think about it like that, because it wasn’t like, ‘I’ve done the girls, now I’m going to do the boys’. It wasn’t like that. It was more again, the very beginning of this script was even before Innocence and it was, as I said, a more intimate story with the boy and his mother. And I thought that it was more interesting with a boy, more striking, more nightmarish, more abnormal. And I also felt that I could portray myself as a boy rather than as a girl, in this situation. If it had been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been the same, but as a child, I thought it worked. So it didn’t come from this idea of a group of boys, it was more like Nicolas and his mother and the boy’s fear, and then I developed the idea of this whole community around them and maybe it has been influenced by Innocence, even if I really tried to go somewhere else with more narrative and this one is more of a genre film. So I tried to do something else, but I really see the similarities and also this microcosm, which is both kind of paradise and prison. And also the weird biology elements. Of course, in Evolution, it’s dark, it’s much darker than Innocence, but there’s also a kind of moment of feeling of liberation and joy, like at the end with the nurse under the water that maybe is a bit similar to that moment with the fountain at the end of Innocence, and then also this water element. And again, it’s a coming of age story. That one is more like a disturbed one, but it was not really on purpose, it just came by itself.

MJT: I certainly think Innocence prepares you for EVOLUTION, in a way. So if you’ve seen Innocence, you’re already prepared for the rhythms and moods of EVOLUTION. So you haven’t considered a trilogy then?

LH: But what could it be now, if it’s a trilogy? I guess that with children, what is interesting for me with children is that I can create kind of a new, different universe, because they are still open, quite new in the world, so they don’t know very much, so they make their own links and they are kind of creative, So I guess what would interest me in other films would be maybe to work on some kind of madness that permits also to create a world by itself. I mean to mix dreams and reality. It’s a kind of artificial narration, I guess, to have a character that guide you to this kind of thing. So with children it’s easy for me to do it. Maybe someone else has to deal with madness or so, I don’t know. So in that way, there could be the third chapter.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_sea copyMJT: How much research did you do into the mating rituals of starfish?

LH: In fact, we did a lot. I know we don’t see much in the film, really, but with my co-writer, at some point we really developed much more of the script about this universe, who exactly these women are and what their relationship is with the starfish. And we imagined things like the starfish, at the very beginning because it’s a very familiar motif, like these images of children playing with starfish gives the impression of happiness. Then if you really look at the starfish it’s such a strange animal and very far away from the kind of being we are and it has a lot of interesting characteristics that we had a whole back story for, where they could resist radioactivity, they can regenerate themselves, and also it’s a very, very primitive animal that has been on the Earth since…for a very long time – I don’t remember exactly how long. So yeah, we did a lot of research and it was also very exciting to see how they reproduce and what about the larvae and many of these marine creatures are very fascinating because they are so kind of alien. So this is the kind of research we did to feed ourselves, to feed our imaginations, rather than really being very scientific about it. And then I had to cut a lot of things in the script for budget reasons, so many details disappeared. And a few of those things were about the starfish.

MJT: What kind of things did you have to cut out? Was there anything in particular that you were sorry to see go?

LH: At the end, maybe it’s because I really don’t want to be sorry about what I cut, because it’s how it was, but there is a whole other layer in the film that was including other people, other sets, other scenes, more special effects, also, but it was not like one scene which was too expensive, no, it was really a kind of other narrative layer – probably this layer would have brought more explanation, somehow, not really explanation in the way that – it’s not who are the people that are doing these things, it’s more like there are more links, who these women are. But maybe it’s also an element that we have developed through the years because it has been very difficult to finance the film, so many times we had some reaction from people saying, ‘Oh, we don’t understand, why this, why that?’ So at some point the producer wanted me to make it more explicit, etc. So we developed it a little bit more, but also we thought it was a very dangerous path to go down, because it could have just killed the film to explain it all, because at the end it’s so not logical, it’s more like a dream, like a nightmare, it’s more like elements from the unconscious rather than a sci-fi, very logical explanation, and so it was very difficult to do that. But nevertheless, we had many elements and one at the end we had to cut again because it was too expensive. Probably it was all these additional elements that were easier to cut, because then the heart of the project was not really in these things. So it went back more to something more like a nightmare, like a dream, more oneric, rather than a moral, sci-fi thing. So there was just a little hint of it.

MJT: How important is the colour scheme to the film, the use of colours? Are they symbolic in some way?

LH: No, it was more like feelings. For instance, I very much wanted the film to be very colourful, even if we had just black and white landscape outside of the water and not so much colour in the clothes etc. So I felt the sea should be very colourful because when you see these creatures on the water or in the weeds, they have a lot of colours, very strong colours sometimes, and this is what is so exciting about shooting under the water. So I knew that I could have some colours and some kind of exuberant moment in the film. And then there is this colour of the green of the sea, and then that. should help us in the hospital to get the sea back, in a way. So we had these green walls that bring the feeling of the sea from the colour. And then there was of course the red starfish, and red is always a dramatic colour and a very strong one, especially if you don’t have so many other colours, so we had the green and the red of the starfish and then we needed to continue this red a bit, and so we had this red bathing suit on the child and yeah, it’s a way to underline or to dramatise a few moments but it’s not like a symbol.

MJT: Were there any particular visual influences on the film, in terms of maybe other films, or paintings or anything like that?

LH. Yes. I think probably the main influences visually were more like from paintings, from the surrealism, like Chirico (an Italian painter from the ’20s and ’30s), for this village where the presence of the architecture is very strong, very dramatic, this idea of a sunny place with long, enigmatic shadows or things like that. So Chirico and also painters like Max Ernst, Tanguy or even Dali, because they have painted the seaside a lot as a very alien place, but also very organic and I was really trying to be as organic as possible in this film. So yes, I had these kind of visual references. As for films, I didn’t have many references, consciously, I mean – there was one – Who Can Kill A Child? Again, not for the story but for the mood, like this white village, with empty streets and only children, so it was a bit strange. That was maybe the main conscious influence of a film that I had. And then I think there is another one that was very, very different visually, but it was more about the mood, it was Eraserhead. For instance, I always felt that we really shouldn’t have a creature, but a puppet that looked like a baby. It’s really far from being as great as the one in Eraserhead, but this was the reference, not to have the same thing, but to have a very physical presence that looked real.

MJT: What was the most difficult thing to get right?

LH: Well, it was difficult to structure the story, because I really began with feelings, situations, emotions, visuals, sounds and elements, so at some point we really had to make a story out it, to have these images that happen, so there was a difficulty there and I was very lucky to be able to work with Alante Kavaite, my co-writer – she helped me a lot, in structuring all this material. But probably the main problem was the one I was telling you about, when people were saying, ‘We don’t understand this film, what kind of film is it, is it a genre film, is it something else?’ So we really tried to make them understand. For instance, the ending was also – not for me, because for me it was really like what it is in the film, always – we should arrive at a particular place, but it’s not back to reality or it’s not a happy ending. It’s, okay, he has escaped from the island, but maybe now it’s another cycle. But it was difficult because people thought they wanted a kind of explanation or a definitive ending, ‘So, is it that or is it that? Was it true or was it not true? Where are the facts?’ So it was difficult to deal with these things without destroying the film. So the difficulty was really to try in the script to make people understand what the film was about and give a feel for the nature of the film without giving too much explanation. Like, okay, it’s metaphorical but we can’t really explain it or show you what the metaphor is about. It’s not like someone’s dream and suddenly it’s a boy who is in hospital and he’s dreaming of this island, no. But at one point we were kind of being pushed to do things like that, to be more explicit, so that balance was difficult to achieve.

MJT: Do you have a particular favourite scene or moment in the film?

LH: I guess because it was a shot that I was not there for when it was done – it’s probably the underwater shots made by the diver who was like a second unit. So we said we would like these kinds of things with weeds and so on, but I’m not a diver and neither was the DP, so at some point we had to let him do it by himself and.he came back with these amazing images and this was like, ‘Oh, wow’. They were a great surprise and I was so happy about that – I thought it would really bring a lot to the film and it was really exactly what I was looking for. So yes, it’s the underwater scenes that you see right at the beginning.

MJT: The casting is interesting because you have a couple of well-known actors…

LH: In fact, Julie-Marie Parmentier is well known, because she has done many films now, and Roxane Duran is more at the beginning of her career, but she made The White Ribbon with Michael Haneke. I thought of Julie-Marie straught away, because I think she’s really special – I think she is a very good actress and she has different qualities – she can be very attractive, but also kind of ugly, also mysterious and I think you feel like she has a real inner life. I knew that she could be kind of scary, but in a very minimalistic way and I also think that she’s very charismatic and she doesn’t need to have to read dialogue to create something. And it’s a bit the same with Roxane, the great thing with her is that she’s really sweet and she brings a very kind of human element into this atmosphere that works very well. Before meeting her I had thought that the nurse should have been scarier, in a way but when I met her I thought that it was really interesting to have someone so sweet, even if she’s doing sometimes scary things. And she’s a bit like a child, she has something that’s still very child-like, and I was really happy with them. And I also wanted to have this mood, because it’s not about performance, it’s more about the mood they give and they fit very well to this landscape.

MJT: And was it difficult to find Max Brebant?

LH: It was not really easy, of course because there is this aspect of swimming, that was one thing. And then the story might have been difficult for some parents, rather than for the children. What was very good with Max is that, in fact, he was thirteen years old when we did the film, so I think he had this sometimes more mature expression, but also his very tiny body, so he’s kind of fragile. And I really liked him very much,I found him very charismatic and very sweet, in a way, with his big face and small body – he had a fragility and a sweetness that was very interesting. Before shooting I thought that I was going to maybe try to make him express more fear, but it was really difficult and we had so little time to shoot, so we couldn’t spend a lot of time on each scene, so I decided to play it more like a blank expression, as if he was sleeping with his eyes open or something and that, and I think it works at the end because he’s very charismatic, for me, at least. So we found him quite late in the process of casting but we couldn’t begin the casting too soon, because they change quickly at that age, so we just tried to find them six or seven months before shooting.

MJT: What’s your next project?

LH: My next project, I’m a bit scared now of not choosing the right one, or choosing the one that would be too difficult and would take me too many years to find the financing, so I don’t want to talk about it, really, because I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m working on different things.

EVOLUTION IS ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2016

Marguerite (2015) | Competition | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Xavier Giannoli

Cast: Catherine Frot, Andre Marcon, Denis Mpunga

France, Czech Republic, Belgium 2015, 127 min.

Xavier Giannoli’s  portrait of the Roaring Twenties in Paris is neither a satire nor a celebration of the artistic life of the era; best described as a study of lonliness and self-delusion – even Catherine Frot’s stirring performance as the eponymous chanteuse cannot save this ill-advised and overlong drama from descending into tedium.

Frot, who has seen much better days in films like La Tourneuse de Pages, has to sing her heart out to keep the film alive. Her character is obviously a terrible singer, paying her way on the concert platform with her own enormous wealth. Her unsupportive husband George (Marcon) usually arrives too late at her concerts – his sports car always ‘giving up the ghost’ at the same spot – a running gag used too often. But then, repetition is the main curse of MARGUERITE: her black valet Madelbos (Mpunga) tries again and again to con her audience and journalists with bribes to attend these embarrassing soirees, the singer flirts with younger men, and the flower arrangements to mark the ‘greatness’ of her performances grow to monstrous proportions. Instead of emotion, we get pantomime; instead of characters we have caricatures and, worst of all, every move is telegraphed.

The opulent production design makes one one wonder how costs could have been spent more wisely and the dreadfully contrived ending sends everyone rushing home before the final credits have rolled – just to escape this unspeakably noisy, over-bearing and unimaginative caricature of a film where the only laughs are involuntary, directed at the majority of unfortunate collaborators. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 September 2015

 

The Beat that My Heart Skipped | Blu-ray release

Director: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Romain Duris, Aure Atika, Emmanuelle Devos, Niels Arestrup | 108min |French

In THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED Jacques Audiard ((Rust and Bone) turns the story of James Toback’s 1978 Fingers into a profound and gritty study of alienation and redemption experienced by Tom (Romain Duris) a petty Parisian crook who is caught up in a web of dodgy property deals, inherited from his father (a masterful Niels Arestrup). Essentially a decent bloke, Tom is desperate to get on the straight and narrow so he can focus on his real dream; that of becoming a concert pianist. Romain Duris is superbly watchable here as Tom, balancing the two sides of his life with tangible nervousness in a drama as taut as the strings of his treasured piano. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 14 March 2016 COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICAL EYE

 

The Last Diamond (2014) | Le Dernier Diamant

Writer & Director: Eric Barbier

Cast: Yvan Attal, Berenice Bejo

108min. Drama. France l Luxembourg

Place Vendôme (1998) was the last memorable Antwerp-set diamond-themed heist thriller – it starred Catherine Deneuve as the wife of a wealthy dealer, played by Jean Pierre Bacri. Eric Barbier updates the genre with this slick and shiny vehicle starring Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as another glamorous business woman; in control of the world’s most famous diamond.

THE LAST DIAMOND (Le Dernier Diamant), has been hiding its light from UK audiences since its release last year and is now making a sparkling appearance courtesy of Frank Mannion’s distribution company Swipe Films. Yvan Attal (The Serpent) and Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), make for a pleasing pairing in the classically crafted crime caper which provides solid entertainment right up to its final dénouement and is best described as a Gallic Thomas Crown Affair.

While on parole from prison, suave professional safecracker, Simon (Attal) gets dragged into a spot of extracurricular crime with his sidekick Albert (Jean-Francois Stevenin). His goal is the theft of the famous Florentine diamond – purported to be worth €40 million (the real gem disappeared during the Second World War) – he uses his sophisticated charms gain the trust of the wealthy young heiress Julia (Bejo), who has put the diamond up for auction, following  the mysterious death of her mother.

Barbier’s first two acts revolve around well-laid preparations for the heist, as the lead couple’s on screen chemistry builds to a sizzling climax, convincingly creating a subtley nuanced romantic sideshow to the crime caper, as Julia falls for Simon’s cunning dexterity in finding his way first into her boudoir and then into her heart. Meanwhile, the robbery takes place just as Julia is discovering Simon’s duplicity while the plotline twists into unexpected territory providing some tense final scenes. There’s nothing particularly new or daring about THE LAST DIAMOND: what ultimately carries it all along is the piquant romance between Julia and Simon, who, against his better judgement, steadily finds himself involved in a love affair he didn’t quite bargain for. Attal is spectacular as the sociopathic swindler, blending boyish vulnerability with bouts of brutal violence, his cigarette ‘schtick’ adding a certain loucheness to his urbane swagger – Attal is somewhat maligned as an actor despite his excellent chops; (as seen in Leaving, Rapt and Regrets and The Serpent)  and he carries the film here providing sterling entertainment but never over-playing his touch, even when things go awry. Off-screen he’s also captured the heart of Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Cinematographer Denis Rouden’s classy visuals take us on a joyride through the Benelux countries with a sophisticated spin round Antwerp’s upmarket diamond district, thrumming to Renaud Barbier’s upbeat original score. This is a punchy thriller with plenty of heart and soul despite the glib twinkle in its eye. MT

OUT ON RELEASE at SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 29 January 2016.

Bande À Part |Band of Outsiders | (1964) | BFI Retrospective

12240225_908703779237060_6748623231105315283_o copyCast: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Louisa Colpeyn | 95 min | Drama |  France

BANDE À PART, shot in 25 days and based on the pulp novel “Fool’s Gold” by Dolores Hitchins, was project that Godard embarked on to support his marriage with Anna Karina. The pair hadn’t worked together since Vivre sa vie. Godard called his production company “Anouchka”, his pet name for Karina, and he gave the character she played Odile, after his late mother.

At an English language school in Paris, two petty swindlers, Franz (Frey) and Arthur (Brasseur) fall in love with Odile (Karina). Arthur lives with the enigmatic Madame Victoria (Colpeyn) in the suburbs, where a mostly absent Mr. Stolz has a huge amount of cash hidden in his cupboard. Franz and Arthur want nothing more than to bed with Odile – apart from stealing the money. Their clumsy plan backfires, they kill Madame Victoria, and while Franz and Odile escape to South America to start a new life, Arthur and his uncle kill each other in Madame Victoria’s garden before the money, now hidden in a dog’s kennel, is stolen by surprise.

Godard had run out of producers and had asked Columbia, Paramount and UA to give him 100.000 $ to make a picture. All questioned the high figure Godard was asking for and when he explained that this was for the whole production, only Columbia agreed to take him up on the project. Godard gave them a choice of three topics: the first about a woman leftie, the second about a writer and the final topic about the Hitchins crime novel: they obviously picked the latter. With such a small budget,, the studio did not even bother about a script.

The director’s poetic voice-over re-tells the story from the emotional point of view of the three main protagonists, in a narrative full of quotations, references and in-jokes. But instead of being all-knowing, the voice-over soon loses the plot – the characters are coming into their own. It gives the impression that Godard was filming in perpetual motion. Everything and everybody moves in silence: in a scene at the ‘Café Madison’, there is no sound for a minute, followed by the now famous dance scene of the trio, a polonaise copied by many, amongst them Hal Hartley and Quentin Tarantino. The film is symbolised by the three of them racing through the Louvre. The images are rush by: money, pistols, death, Odile’s stockings as masks, Shakespeare and always the leafless trees, set against a dark November sky. Raoul Coutard’s images literally shot on the run, like he had done during the Indochina war.

Again, Godard was in opposition to everything – even though the film turned out to be very much a neo-classical in style: “This movie was made as a reaction against anything that wasn’t done. It was almost pathological and systematic. A wide-angle lens is not normally used for close-ups? Then let’s use it. A handheld camera isn’t normally used for tracking shots? Then let’s try it. It went along with my desire to show that nothing was off limits.” For once, film and reality coincided: during the shooting, Karina and Godard got back together again, moving into a new apartment in the Latin Quarter, Karina admitting “It’s true: the film saved my life. I had no more desire to live. I was doing very, very badly. This film saved my life”.

Watching Bande À Part the for the first time in 1965, as first year students – we all admired the sequences when the actors read colportage stories from newspapers – we thought that it was vey cool. According to Raoul Coutard “there was no real script. Jean-Luc would show up with whatever he had written for the day. We’ve end up filming that. If he hadn’t written anything, we would not have filmed anything.” The newspaper stories, as it turned out, were just paddings, when the master had not written enough…. AS

SCREENING DURING THE GODARD SEASON AT THE BFI FROM JANUARY – MARCH 2016

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Blu-ray | DVD release

UnknownDir: Alain Resnais

Cast: Emmanuele Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud, Bernhard Fresson

France/Japan 1959, 90 min.

HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR is widely considered the first ‘true’ film of the French Nouvelle Vague, Yet Alain Resnais’ romantic drama is in many ways very different from Godard’s Au Bout de Souffle (1960) – Resnais’ debut is much closer to Andre Bazin’s description of an ‘impure film’, compared with those of his collaborator’s of the movement: Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer or Truffaut.

For a start Resnais’ approach was more radical, and he moved much further away from the classical film structure than the other directors in French New Wave movement. According to his script collaborator Marguerite Duras :“he asked me to write literature, forget the camera. His idea was to film my script like a composer treating a piece of writing – like Debussy did with Materlincks ‘Pelleas et Melisande’ ”.

The only requirement from the Japanese co-producers was that one episode of the film be set in Japan and the other in France. Françoise Sagan was approached to write the script but she showed no interest. Duras and Resnais agreed that no contemporary film about Japan could be made without mentioning Hiroshima. Since the Japanese film “The Children of Hiroshima” had said everything what was to be said about the horror of the first nuclear bomb, Duras tried a very a different approach: Her script was more or less a permanent dialogue, or better, two monologues, which only rarely become a true dialogue.

A French actress (Riva) and a Japanese architect (Okada) meet in Hiroshima and spend a night together in her hotel room. They make love and he tries to keep in vain her for a few days longer in the city, but they are both married and their relationship has no future. During the night, she remembers her first love: a German soldier (Fresson), whom she loved in her hometown of Nevers, and who was shot on the day of the city’s liberation. As a punishment, her hair was cut by enraged citizens and her parents (Dasas/Barbaud) hid her in the cellar. Basically, their meeting in Hiroshima is a discourse about time and forgetting: She has forgotten Nevers, as she will Hiroshima and this love of her: “Je t’oublierai, je t’oublie deja! (I will forget you, I’ve already forgotten you”) she tells her lover.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour is not a film about a war, or about love. It is a film about the actor’s two lovers: both of the relationships are defeated (in different ways) by war. War only intervenes in short scenes, but it dominates the life of the actress; it has formed her, like her two lovers. The most important aspect of the film, is not its moving images but the photographed emotions. This way, the scenes in Nevers are not ordinary flash-backs, but moments of a memory which is short: as shown in the parallel montage of the hands of the German soldier: first when they are in bed, than after he has been shot. But immediately we flash back to the hotel room in Hiroshima. Sometimes to the two levels meet: after the camera travels through the streets of Hiroshima, we are suddenly confronted with a street sign in Nevers. This is not about the two cities, but the actor’s struggle to remember and forget. Resnais’ next two films Last Year in Marienbad and Muriel, Hiroshima is a thesis on time and forgetting, exploring the function of memory very much like Marcel Proust did with In Search of Lost Time.

Riva and Okada are impressive, their understated ‘non-acting’ perfectly cohesive with the “gliding” black and white images of Saché Vierny and Michio Takahashi; and Georges Delerue’s mourning score: whilst other directors of the Nouvelle Vague wanted to liberate film from theatre and literature, Resnais wanted to create film as a medium that encompassed other art forms. AS

WINNER OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ PRIZE CANNES 1959 | RELEASED ON BLU-RAY FOR THE FIRST TIME ON JANUARY 18TH, 2016

[youtube id=”3ZwrCOXLrIA” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Blu-ray tech specs: Cert: / Total Running Time: 90 mins approx / Black and white / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1:37:1 / Feature Audio: 2.0 Mono DTS HD Mater Audio / HD Standard 1080p / Region B / French language / RRP: £

Addicted to Sheep (2015) | DVD release

Writer|Director: Megali Pettier

With the Hutchinson Family

90min  UK  Documentary

It takes a French woman to capture the quintessential Englishness of country life in a Pennines farming community. And she does so with a feeling for the ‘terroir’ that could certainly make sheep-rearing catch on, especially if you’re not afraid of hard work and yearn for a simple family life in the big outdoors, caring for animals and relish locally grown produce. Tennant farming couple Tom and Kay have found their idyll in the glorious open spaces of the Cumbria and Yorkshire, where they lease a farm, in true English feudal style, from Lord Barnard.

Documentarian Magali Pettier grew up on a farm in Brittany and is now based in the North East England, where she has made ADDICTED TO SHEEP, her debut feature. Collaborating with the Hutchinson family and their three young children, she chronicles both the pleasures and the pitfalls of rearing special breed sheep.

Although Pettier injects charm and gentle humour into her story, this is no cuddly picture of furry lambs but a visceral and at times harrowing look at our atavistic relationship with animals that is deeply rooted in the English rural tradition: you may need a dictionary to understand the arcane language of sheep farming. Pettier’s framing and creative camerawork adds visual poetry to this down to earth portrait of the harsh and gruelling realities of living on a farm. Tom and Kay face the same struggles as any couple: paying the bills, raising their kids and planning for retirement while running a precarious ‘cottage’ industry with the aim of making an annual profit out of their livestock, whose ‘sole aim is to die’. But their existence has its compensations: a ready supply of nutritious food, fresh air and the joys of nature in comfortable farm amidst some really magnificent countryside.

Capturing the daily grind from snowy winter scenes through to late summer on the farm, Pettier cuts between shots of Tom Hutchinson pulling a bloodied and stillborn lamb from its mother to idyllic panoramas of wildflower meadows, where his tiny daughter paints the landscape and dreams of becoming an artist. In a school full of local kiddies, the talk is focused on the future where all the children want to work in the farming industry when they grow up.

Pettier does not attempt to be philosophical – this arthouse gem connects in a simple yet effective way to the global narrative of survival for small communities all over the World, showcased in similar British documentaries Village at the End of the World (2012) and The Moo Man (2012). ADDICTED TO SHEEP raises the crucial and timeless issue of the food we eat being connected with farmers who really care about their livestock and produce rather than large corporations who rob them of their profit margins and ultimately threaten our health, wellbeing and the future of British farming. MT

NOW ON DVD | ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 28 AUGUST 2015

 

LE MÉPRIS (1963) | blu-ray release

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Georgia Moll, Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard;

France/Italy 1963, 103 min.

For JL Godard LE MÉPRIS was just ”a film without mystery, an Aristotelian film, freed from appearances [it] proves in 149 shots, that in the cinema, just as in real life, there is nothing secret…there is nothing to do but live – and film”. His producers, among them Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine, must have been quiet shocked by the austere outcome; they insisted on an additional scene, showing the physical beauty of its star, Brigitte Bardot, only to be outmanoeuvred by the director.

Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel “Il Disprezzo’ (The Ghost at Noon), this film about filmmaking starts with the basics: a dolly on rails follows Georgia Moll’s Francesca Vanini who walks towards the camera, whilst the opening credits are not only shown, but also read out loud. A Bazin quote reminds us, that “film substitutes a world that conforms our desires”. “The follow-up scene of Bardot’s Camille, laying naked on her stomach, and her husband Paul (Piccoli), was supposed to entice a mass audience and was shot after the film was finished. But Godard simply subverted the call for any form of eroticism, letting Camille ask Paul which parts of her anatomy he loves the most – the obvious answer is everything – whilst she lies unmoved and statuesque during the long enumeration. Strangely, these are the only happy moments Camille and Paul will have during the whole film. When Paul, a scriptwriter, later meets the American producer Prokosh (Palance) in Rome’s Cinecitta, Camille feels that her husband is pimping her out to the arrogant, misogynist and dictatorial producer who exclaims: “I like Gods, I know exactly how they feel”. In addition, he is treating his well-educated assistant and translator Francesca Vanini (Moll) like a slave girl.

Whilst sitting in a preview theatre with Fritz Lang – as himself, the director of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, the film being produced, Paul and Camille witness a terrible strop by Prokosh, who, unhappy about the rushes shot by Lang, kicks the film rolls around the room and then has Vanini bent over, to write a check for Paul on her back changing the script into a more populist version. Shouting “When the Nazis heard the word culture, they drew a revolver; I am only writing a check”, Prokosh gives Paul the check: the 10 000 Dollar are supposed to pay the mortgage for Camille’s and Paul’s flat in Rome. When Paul accepts the check, however reluctant, he loses his wife.

In a breath-taking 34 minute sequence in the couple’s flat, Godard follows the unravelling of their relationship with tracking shots which show the growing distance between the couple. These finally unravels in one frame in two different rooms, divided by a wall. Camille is slapped by Paul, she slaps back, he retreats, but it is too late: Camille shouts angrily: “When you were writing crime novels, we were broke, but that was fine with me”.

The flat, which was to cement their relationship, has become the albatross killing their love. Paul still believes he can save his marriage and seems to have learned nothing: when the film crew moves on to Capri, Paul again leaves Camille, against her will, alone with Prokosh, who obviously fancies her. This time Camille retaliates: she kisses the producer in full sight of Paul. Then she packs her bags to leave for Rome, whilst Paul terminates his contract with Prokosh. To humiliate Paul even further, Camille lets Prokosh, whom she despises, drive her to Rome. Their journey ends in a fatal crash, which is not shown, Godard making fun of mainstream movies, just showing the dead bodies in grotesque positions, with the last words of Camille’s good-bye letter to Paul superimposed: “Take Care. Adieu. Camille”.

LE MÉPRIS ends with serene filmmaking in Capri, where Godard acts as Lang’s assistant in shooting the scene when Odysseus returns to Ithaca. As Godard pointed out “the film is shot entirely in real locations, both exteriors and interiors, honest and authentic”. One of them is the gorgeous villa of the Italian author Curzio Malaparte on Capri, designed by Alberto Libera, it sits like a space ship in the sun.In the panorama shots, the film crew with their equipment look like aliens at work.  Movie posters of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life among others, decorate Paul and Camille’s flat; but the main honour goes to Roberto Rossellini: Apart from the poster of his 1961 film Vanina Vanini (sic!), the group visits a cinema to hear a performance of a singer. We notice that Paul and Camille are sitting on the edge of their respective aisles, and after they all leave the cinema, we see Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia advertised in big letters on the cinema front.

Raoul Coutard’s scope camera produces three different sets of colours: in the opening sequence of the couple in bed, soft, warm colours dominate. Then everything changes to cold, icy mages. Lang’s film takes, which he shoots as an actor, are dominated by classic colours, appropriate to the content of the film. Godard employed no less than five future directors for the project: Suzanne Schiffman (Script Supervisor), Charles L. Bitsch (Assistant director), Bertrand Tavernier (Publicity), Luc Moulett, whose book on Fritz Lang Camille reads in the bath and Jacques Rozier, who shot a documentary about the making of LE MÉPRIS.

But there is also a very personal moment in Godard’s LE MÉPRIS: Camille buys herself a black wig making her look just like Anna Karina (Godard’s first choice to play Camille) two years later as Natacha von Braun in the car with Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution at the end of Alphaville: only then it was the begin of a love story, this is the end. George Delerue’s mourning main tune, which accompanies not only this scene, is the haunting voice in this story of money versus art, which ends in the loss of love. The film is proof that even though Godard frequently ended in a cul-de-sac whilst he re-invented film, he is still one of the most important directors of the second half of the 20th century. AS

SCREENING ON LONG RELEASE AT BFI | JEAN LUC GODARD RETROSPECTIVE 2016 JANUARY – MARCH

Jean Luc Godard Season | BFi January – March 2016

A major season dedicated to one of the godfather’s of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, is coming up at the BFI from January – March 2016. The season will feature over 100 examples of his vast and varied output, including feature films, short films, self-portraits, experimental TV productions and a number of rarities.

So expect an extended run of LE MÉPRIS from 1 January – introduced by his former wife Anna Karina on 16th January. She will also be there to chat to audiences about her role in VIVRE SA VIE (1962) and BANDE À PART (1964), both on extended run at the Southbank main screen.

LE MÉPRIS | Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Georgia Moll, Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard | France/Italy 1963, 103 min.

image002 copyFor JL Godard LE MÉPRIS was just ”a film without mystery, an Aristotelian film, freed from appearances [it] proves, in 149 shots, that in the cinema, just as in real life, there is nothing secret…there is nothing to do but live – and film”. His producers, among them Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine, must have been quiet shocked by the austere outcome, they insisted on an additional scene, showing the physical beauty of its star, Brigitte Bardot, only to be outmanoeuvred by the director.

Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel “Il Disprezzo’ (The Ghost at Noon), this film about filmmaking starts with the basics: a dolly on rails follows Georgia Moll’s Francesca Vanini who walks towards the camera, whilst the opening credits are not only shown, but also read out loud. A Bazin quote reminds us, that “film substitutes a world that conforms our desires”. “The follow-up scene of Bardot’s Camille, laying naked on her belly, and her husband Paul (Piccoli), was supposed to entice a mass audience and was shot after the film was finished. But Godard simply subverted the call for any form of eroticism, letting Camille ask Paul which parts of her anatomy he loves the most – the obvious answer is everything – whilst she lies unmoved and statuesque during the long enumeration. Strangely, these are the only happy moments Camille and Paul will have during the whole film. When Paul, a scriptwriter, later meets the American producer Prokosh (Palance) in Rome’s Cinecitta, Camille feels that her husband is pimping her out to the arrogant, misogynist and dictatorial producer who exclaims: “I like Gods, I know exactly how they feel”. In addition, he is treating his well-educated assistant and translator Francesca Vanini (Moll) like a slave girl.

Mepris-Le-bfi-00m-f1yWhilst sitting in a preview theatre with Fritz Lang – as himself, the director of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, the film being produced, Paul and Camille witness a terrible strop by Prokosh, who, unhappy about the rushes shot by Lang, kicks the film rolls around the room and then has Vanini bent over, to write a check for Paul on her back changing the script into a more populist version. Shouting “When the Nazis heard the word culture, they drew a revolver; I am only writing a check”, Prokosh gives Paul the check: the 10 000 Dollar are supposed to pay the mortgage for Camille’s and Paul’s flat in Rome. When Paul accepts the check, however reluctant, he looses his wife.

In a breath-taking 34 minute sequence in the couple’s flat, Godard follows the unravelling of their relationship with tracking shots which show the growing distance between the couple. These finally unravels in one frame in two different rooms, divided by a wall. Camille is slapped by Paul, she slaps back, he retreats, but it is too late: Camille shouts angrily: “When you were writing crime novels, we were broke, but that was fine with me”.

The flat, which was to cement their relationship, has become the albatross killing their love. Paul still believes he can save his marriage and seems to have learned nothing: when the film crew moves on to Capri, Paul again leaves Camille, against her will, alone with Prokosh, who obviously fancies her. This time Camille retaliates: she kisses the producer in full sight of Paul. Then she packs her bags to leave for Rome, whilst Paul terminates his contract with Prokosh. To humiliate Paul even further, Camille lets Prokosh, whom she despises, drive her to Rome. Their journey ends in a fatal crash, which is not shown, Godard making fun of mainstream movies, just showing the dead bodies in grotesque positions, with the last words of Camille’s good-bye letter to Paul superimposed: “Take Care. Adieu. Camille”.

LE MÉPRIS ends with serene filmmaking in Capri, where Godard acts as Lang’s assistant in shooting the scene when Odysseus returns to Ithaca. As Godard pointed out “the film is shot entirely in real locations, both exteriors and interiors, honest and authentic”. One of them is the gorgeous villa of the Italian author Curzio Malaparte on Capri, designed by Alberto Libera: it lays like a space ship in the sun, in the panorama shots, the film crew with their equipment look like aliens at work. Movie posters of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life among others, decorate Paul and Camille’s flat; but the main honour goes to Roberto Rossellini: Apart from the poster of his 1961 film Vanina Vanini (sic!), the group visits a cinema to hear a performance of a singer. We notice that Paul and Camille are sitting on the edge of their respective aisles, and after they all leave the cinema, we see Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia advertised in big letters on the cinema front.

Mepris-Le-webOfficialStill.jpg_rgbRaoul Coutard’s scope camera produces three different sets of colours: in the opening sequence of the couple in bed, soft, warm colours dominate. Then everything changes to cold, icy mages. Lang’s film takes, which he shoots as an actor, are dominated by classic colours, appropriate to the content of the film. Godard employed no less than five future directors for the project: Suzanne Schiffman (Script Supervisor), Charles L. Bitsch (Assistant director), Bertrand Tavernier (Publicity), Luc Moulett, whose book on Fritz Lang Camille reads in the bath and Jacques Rozier, who shot a documentary about the making of LE MÉPRIS.

But there is also a very personal moment in Godard’s LE MÉPRIS: Camille buys herself a black wig making her look just like Anna Karina (Godard’s first choice to play Camille) two years later as Natacha von Braun in the car with Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution at the end of Alphaville: only then it was the begin of a love story, this is the end. George Delerue’s mourning main tune, which accompanies not only this scene, is the haunting voice in this story of money versus art, which ends in the loss of love.
Le Mepris is prove, that Jean-Luc Godard, even though he ended sometimes in a cul-de-sac whilst re-inventing the cinema, is still the most important director of the second half of the 20th century. AS

BANDE À PART Cast: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Louisa Colpeyn | 95 min | Drama | France

Bande_a_Part_bfi-00m-d5zBANDE À PART, shot in 25 days and based on the pulp novel “Fool’s Gold” by Dolores Hitchins, was project that Godard embarked on to support his marriage with Anna Karina. The pair hadn’t worked together since Vivre sa vie. Godard called his production company “Anouchka”, his pet name for Karina, and he gave the character she played Odile, after his late mother.

At an English language school in Paris, two petty swindlers, Franz (Frey) and Arthur (Brasseur) fall in love with Odile (Karina). Arthur lives with the enigmatic Madame Victoria (Colpeyn) in the suburbs, where a mostly absent Mr. Stolz has a huge amount of cash hidden in his cupboard. Franz and Arthur want nothing more than to bed with Odile – apart from stealing the money. Their clumsy plan backfires, they kill Madame Victoria, and while Franz and Odile escape to South America to start a new life, Arthur and his uncle kill each other in Madame Victoria’s garden before the money, now hidden in a dog’s kennel, is stolen by surprise.

Godard had run out of producers and had asked Columbia, Paramount and UA to give him 100.000 $ to make a picture. All questioned the high figure Godard was asking for and when he explained that this was for the whole production, only Columbia agreed to take him up on the project. Godard gave them a choice of three topics: the first about a woman leftie, the second about a writer and the final topic about the Hitchins crime novel: they obviously picked the latter. With such a small budget,, the studio did not even bother about a script.

The director’s poetic voice-over re-tells the story from the emotional point of view of the three main protagonists, in a narrative full of quotations, references and in-jokes. But instead of being all-knowing, the voice-over soon loses the plot – the characters are coming into their own. It gives the impression that Godard was filming in perpetual motion. Everything and everybody moves in silence: in a scene at the ‘Café Madison’, there is no sound for a minute, followed by the now famous dance scene of the trio, a polonaise copied by many, amongst them Hal Hartley and Quentin Tarantino. The film is symbolised by the three of them racing through the Louvre. The images are rush by: money, pistols, death, Odile’s stockings as masks, Shakespeare and always the leafless trees, set against a dark November sky. Raoul Coutard’s images literally shot on the run, like he had done during the Indochina war.

CHARLOTTE_ET_VýýRONIQUE_OU_TOUS_LES_GARýýONS_S'APPELLENT_PATRICK_bfi-00m-f6hAgain, Godard was in opposition to everything – even though the film turned out to be very much a neo-classical in style: “This movie was made as a reaction against anything that wasn’t done. It was almost pathological and systematic. A wide-angle lens is not normally used for close-ups? Then let’s use it. A handheld camera isn’t normally used for tracking shots? Then let’s try it. It went along with my desire to show that nothing was off limits.” For once, film and reality coincided: during the shooting, Karina and Godard got back together again, moving into a new apartment in the Latin Quarter, Karina admitting “It’s true: the film saved my life. I had no more desire to live. I was doing very, very badly. This film saved my life”.

Watching Bande À Part the for the first time in 1965, as first year students – we all admired the sequences when the actors read colportage stories from newspapers – we thought that it was vey cool. According to Raoul Coutard “there was no real script. Jean-Luc would show up with whatever he had written for the day. We’ve end up filming that. If he hadn’t written anything, we would not have filmed anything.” The newspaper stories, as it turned out, were just paddings, when the master had not written enough…. AS

VIVRE SA VIE | Cast: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, Andre S. Labarthe, Brice Parain; France 1962, 85 min. *****

Vivre_sa_Vie_bfi-00o-114VIVRE SA VIE marked a decisive step in the development of film aesthetics – born out of the emotional turmoil between Jean Luc Godard and the leading star, Anna Karina, whose marriage had been very much on the rocks when the cameras started to roll in February 1962 in Paris.

Karina was ten years younger than Godard. She had met the actor Jacques Perrin whilst filming Le Soleil dans l’Oeil on Corsica in September 1961, while celebrating her 21st birthday. During the shooting, Karina decided to leave her husband for Perrin: “I admire Jean-Luc very much. But he’s of another generation. Whereas Jacques is my double”.

On the night of November 21st, Godard destroyed all their belongings in the flat they shared and walked out. Karina, who reportedly had taken barbiturates, was taken to hospital. Godard and Perrin met for a duel with dice, then settled for poker, but when journalists crowded their table, nothing was decided. Whilst the papers reported over the Christmas period that Karina would marry Perrin, Godard and Karina had reconciled by January 1962 and Godard announced he would direct her in Vivre Sa Vie – without a fee – as they were living together.

Godard was a great admirer of Berthold Brecht (Cahiers had run a special edition dedicated to him), and Vivre Sa Vie was to be a tableau of 13 chapters, with the master of ceremony introducing every one. Godard, obviously having Brecht’s ‘Three Penny Opera’ in mind” wanted “to shoot only on location, but without making a film of reportage”. But the director abandoned not only the master of ceremony idea (replaced by inserts about the chapter contents), but also changed the ending: instead of a sardonic ending – Nana becoming a rich luxury prostitute -, she is killed at the end of chapter 12, now the last one. Needless to say, that Karina was furious and the shoot was stopped for a few days.

Alphaville_bfi-00m-culNana (easily deciphered as an anagram of Anna) leaves her husband Paul (Labarthe) and child with the words: “I want to die”. She has dreamt for a long time of becoming a film star, and tells everyone that she has acted in a film with Eddie Constantine. (Karina, Godard and Constantine acted un-credited in Varda’s Cleo). She shouts at Paul: “If we get back together, I will betray you again.” Nana, who works in a record shop, is always broke, she can’t pay her rent and is humiliated by the concierge and her assistant. She slips into prostitution, first as an amateur, then, after meeting the pimp Raoul (Rebbot), as a professional. Her lonely and dreary existence is heart-breaking; waiting in street for a customer in Port Mailliot she is standing under the company sign: Hans-Lucas (Jean-Luc in translation). After meeting a young artist, she falls in love and wants to start a new life, but she is literally sold by Raoul to another pimp in a street.

Raoul Coutard’s triste black and white images achieve, in long takes, what Godard had in mind: “I was thinking – like a painter in a way, confronting my characters head-on – as in the paintings of Matisse or Braque”. Godard seems to circle his environment, like a researcher, but he always returns to Karina: from the back, the front, the side and even in parts. She is his universe, but he can’t decipher her. Still, striving to understand her seems to make him happy. In an experiment in language, Nana is trying to intonate a sentence in different ways; Godard shows, that there is no absolute truth in our words, and he always returns to her vulnerable face with the Louise Brooks haircut.

VIVRE SA VIE won the Special Jury Price and the Critic’s Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1962. AS 

SCREENING DURING THE GODARD SEASON AT THE BFI FROM JANUARY – MARCH 2016

Love (2015) l Cannes Midnight special 2015 | Blu-ray release

thumb-7.phpDir.: Gaspar Noé

Cast: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Vincent Maraval

France/Belgium 2015, 134 min.

Eagerly awaited by his fans, the latest film from Argentinian-born director Gaspar Noé, enfant-terrible of the French film industry, was supposed to be his most daring, but the rumours of pornography are false, and the near total absence of violence – coupled with his usual aesthetically brilliance – make LOVE his most mature film. It may lose him some of his hard core base, but the lack of the kind of shock tactics used in Seul Contre Tous and Irreversible, will gain him new admirers, simply for his panache and technical audacity.

Shot in 3D Scope, LOVE is a melancholy love story where the anti-hero Murphy (Glusman) mourns the loss of his former girl-friend Electra (Muyock) on New Year’s morning in the Parisian flat of Omi (Kristin), with whom he has a two year old son Gaspar (sic).  His regret is heightened by the fact that the three adults once had a sexually charged ménage-à-trois. Murphy’s Law motto, super-imposed in big letters on the screen “If anything can go wrong, it will”, becomes only too true.

As always, Noé avoids a linear narrative and we learn about Murphy’s relationship with Electra, more or less in reverse order. When they meet, he studies film, she painting. Both are very naïve, and we never see them actually working on their respective craft. Instead, they have sex, clinging together for dear life. The sex lasts for about half the film. In the intermissions, they try to figure out how not to lose each other, but Murphy betrays Electra with the seventeen-year old Omi after the couple had invited her to spice up their sex life with a threesome. When Murphy visits Omi on a weekend when Electra is away, their lovemaking is interrupted when a condom breaks, and in a cut later we learn that Omi is pregnant, something Murphy is not very happy about. Murphy is very possessive of Electra, hitting her former lover, a gallery owner, over the head with a bottle of cognac. At the police station he meets friendly cop (Vincent Maraval), who tries to pacify him. They meet in a kinky sex-club, were Murphy again flips when Electra wants to sleep with another man, whilst he has at least two casual flings with women – all are Electra look-a-likes. A sad voice-mail from Electra’s mother lets Murphy fear that she has committed suicide. Interestingly, he pulls away from sex with a tranny in a scene that could have been truly groundbreaking but is the only sex interlude that is cut abruptly short, with Murphy bailing out; unable to carry things through.

Aesthetically LOVE is a tour-de-force, making up for a rather limp but honest storyline: most young people are having relationships because of the sexual element – they not so concerned with philosophy or exchanging stories of the past as these are very limited experiences for them. Murphy and Electra also use drugs making their behaviour more irresponsible. Their long rant in a taxi is memorable, although rather trite, the actors are well suited to anything that places them in extra-ordinary situations. But again, this is realism. In many French films even teenagers quote Verlaine and Genet fluently, exactly in the manner written by the 30+ scriptwriters.

In Murphy’s room posters of Salo, Birth of a Nation and Taxi Driver give away Noe’s idols and he really has a go at Electra for not having seen Kubrick’s 2001. But Noé this time refrains from using space-travel metaphysics or vagina cam-shots (apart from one brief shot of a penis from the POV of the cervix. Instead we get a penis ejaculating in 3D at the audience. DOP Benoit Debie has choreographed the ménage-à-trois between the trio like a Busby Berkeley ballet: shot from the ceiling in elegant ellipses. This scene alone is worth watching all 134 minutes, and is proof that LOVE is art and not pornography. We get a feast of conflicting and constrasting lighting, bodies shot not as objects but as passionate explorers. In some way, LOVE is autobiographical: Noé’s way of apologising to some of his ex-girlfriends and is perhaps also an apology for the violence which sometimes marred his former films. This is his bid to make a film where sex and love come together, both actually and narratively-speaking. It’s a success. AS

NOW ON DVD |blu-ray FROM 11 JANUARY

Ice and the Sky (2015)

Writer|Director: Luc Jacquet

89min | Eco-documentary | France

A great companion film to Jeff Orlowski’s CHASING ICE (2012)

Global warming:myth or reality? Whatever your viewpoint, you cannot failed to be moved and stupified by the startling revelations of Claude Lorius, the Jacques Cousteau of climate change, who is the eco-warrior of this documentary, brought to us by March of the Penguins director Luc  Jacquet. Penguins feature briefly here but only in archive footage as Claude Lorius, now in his 80s, embarks on his lifelong mission to analyse and document the link between climate change and greehouse gases.

First travelling to the Antarctic in 1953, he has spent the past half century drilling into the ice to research his findings in order to prove slowly, surely, but beyond doubt, the subtle changes that are so critical to the future of our Planet.

Jacquet’s documentary flies in the face of climate change deniers and yet there’s nothing inflammatory or vehement about his claims or the calm method with which he presents them. The tone is sombre, rational yet quietly affecting. Enduring extremes of hardship and deprivation with his colleagues –  he jokes how they ‘banned’ bads moods – and footage sees them entertaining each other during the long periods closeted in their communal heated room, salivating over descriptions of haute cuisine from the Michelin Restaurant Guide 1952 and even using “ancient ice” in a whisky toast later leading to the discovery that trapped air in the ice crucially reveals its gas content.

What emerges from his findings is based on the realisation that the ratio of “light” hydrogen atoms to “heavy” in each snowflake is closely linked to the ambient temperature of the day of the snowfall – hence the dawn of the isotopic thermometer. Through his meticulous and painstaking discoveries, Loriet builds a body of evidence that’s overwhelming in its plausibility. And Loriet seems to genuinely revel in his work, embracing the challenges and enjoying the friendships forged during his lengthy trips to the Polar regions which take his away from his wife and children for a total of 10 years.

Stephane Martin’s sparkling images makes this a feast for the eyes, but it’s not just another pretty eco-documentary: Jacquet collates his film in a powerfully cogent way that knocks the cosy smugness of denial imdustry into a cocked hat, challenges us in its final moments with an uncomfortable wake-up call: “Now that you know, what are you going to do?” ICE AND THE SKY is potent and unsettling. MT

ICE AND THE SKY IS OUT ON 5 DECEMBER 2015

Eden (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Mia Hansen-Løve; Cast: Felix de Givry, Arsinee Khanjian, Greta Gerwig; France 2014, 131 min.

At only 33 years old, Mia Hansen-Løve has already directed four features, a considerable achievement for a woman director in France. EDEN shares with her last two outings, a central character who does not know when to give up. In Father of my Children (2009), the producer Gregoire Canvel (based on the real life figure of the independent producer Humbert Balsan) can’t stop producing, even though his debts are astronomical – desperate, he commits suicide in the streets of Paris. Camille, the heroine in Goodbye first Love (2011) can’t get over her first love, and spends years in the doldrums, before accepting the loss. Both films could do with some shorter running time, but they are aesthetically so mature, whilst genre- wise so different, that one has to marvels at this filmmaker’s skill.

EDEN, true to its name, is set in the world of French Garage music, chronicling the years from the late eighties to the present. Its anti-hero, the DJ Paul (de Givry), inhales mountains of coke and goes through many broken relationships whilst living in the “fast lane”: a superficial and consumerist existence. Having given up his literature studies, his debts accumulate and his mother (Khanjian) has to continually bail him out. His girlfriends usually don’t stay around long; empathy is not his strength. On his travels to New York, he meets up with Julia (Gerwig), who had left him in Paris. Having been dumped again, he rekindles the relationship, even though Julia has two little girls. When Paul’s best friend, the cartoonist Cyril, commits suicide, throwing himself under a metro train, Paul, now in his mid thirties, says goodbye to his former life style, and returns to his first love, literature. When a young woman on his course, asks him about his past, he lets on about his involvement in Garage music – to his utter astonishment, she has never heard of this music genre…..

Paul, like many men in his circle, is semi-autistic. Narcissistic, egocentric and spoilt by his mother, he accumulates debts from a coke habit that ruins his bank balance and his health. Self-pity is just another character trait he wears on his sleeve. His love for Julia only functions in retrospective yearning. When he meets her again, she has to abort their child, because Paul is totally broke.  Hansen-Løve’s style is remarkable: even those who know next to nothing about this particular music scene in France will find this edifying and informative, not only from a musical angle, but also from the  atmosphere engendered, and the admirable characterisations. Hansen-Løve astonishes with her maturity and sheer brilliance, worthy of any veteran., Her talent and spontaneity oozes out of every frame. The ensemble acting is brilliant, the camera catches every moment in time, working in elliptic movements, showing the musicians in intimate close-ups and illuminating the Paris skyline in glorious panoramic shots, that never degenerate into picture-postcard blandness. A spellbinding tour-de-force of music and emotion. AS

NOW ON DVD RELEASE from 14 December 2015

Un Homme Idéal | A Perfect Man (2015)

Director: Yann Gozlan

Cast: Pierre Niney, Ana Girardot, André Marcon, Valéria Cavalli, Marc Barbé

104min | French | Thriller

with the feel of Hitchcock and Chabrol (remember that scene in Le Boucher when blood drips through the celling?). Yann Goslan’s terrically tense thriller is a delicious treat sumptuously set in the summer heat of a villa in Var. It stars Pierre Niney as a struggling writer, driven to extremes by his desire to produce a decent novel., or at least any novel at all.

Mathieu Vasseur (Niney) first manuscript, The Man From Behind, has been rejected by publishers. Working parttime as a cleaner in the local College near his Parisian bedsit, Vasseur stumbles into a lecture being given by a young woman, Alice (Ana Girardot), on the topic of scent and memory. When he’s hired to clear out the home of a dead man who has no living relatives, Vasseur finds a leather bound tome recounting the man’s experiences in the Algerian war. Vasseur has the brainwave to pass this off as his own work, and before he can say Highsmith, he’s written his perfect ‘debut’ novel.  Soon he’s mixing in the same circles as Alice and when the pair become engaged, they head off to her parent’s gorgeous Villa near Dijon, armed with an advance to work on his second novel.

But Vasseur is somewhat of a slacker And his publisher is breathing down his neck for a few sentences. Meanwhile a friend of the original author also gets in touch and not just for a chat over a cafe creme – he also means business and tries to blackmail Vasseur.  then One of Alice’s exes, Stanislas (Thibault Vincon), arrives at the villa and senses the  the edgy tension in Vasseur.

Niney is perfect as the highly-strung, feline Vasseur, in this follow-up to his role as Yves Saint Laurent. With his sensitive masculinity he makes Vasseur a compelling character both sensual and vulnerable and his chemistry with Ana Girardot is perfectly believable. Vasseur’s nerves of steel make him similar to the famed Mr. Ripley character of Patricia Highsmith, novel.  Gozlan’s crafts a portrait of an intellectual con man who allows his desperation for success to go against his better judgement. Sadly the background of the Algerian war is hardly mentioned and could have provided a rich counterpoint to the narrative that descends into blackmail and eventually murder and a really tragic denouement.

Still, the absolutely brilliant noirish score by Cyrille Aufort (A Royal Affair) and Antoine Roch’s gorgeous cinematography make this a gripping and watchable thriller  for a Saturday night at the movies – or any other night of this week for that matter. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 NOVEMBER 2015 COURTESY OF STUDIO CANAL

 

21 Nights With Pattie (2015) | LFF 2015

Director: Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu

Cast: Isabelle Carre, Andre Dussollier, Denis Lavant, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Monnier, Karin Viard

110min  Fantasy Drama   France

21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE is an intriguing title for a film that blends black comedy with fantasy and magic realism. Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s provocatively entitled Vingt et Une Nuits Avec Pattie certainly rolls off the tongue better in French, but this is a tricky tale to digest in any language, and after two longs hours and a final act that lets it all hang out, you may well come away wishing the brothers had left it at that: a boozy French drama with a touch of ‘Midsomer Murders’ and a dash of discretion.

Plunging into the bosky hillsides of Languedoc Rousillion, Caroline (Isabelle Carré) arrives at her mother’s bohemian retreat on a blazing hot August day. The two were not close in real life and her mother is now lying ‘in wake’ in the cool stone cottage, and Caroline must arrange her funeral. Despite this morbid event, the tone is light-hearted; almost jubilant and even more so when she meets Pattie (Karin Viard) the caretaker and best described as ‘une femme mûre’, who regales her with explicit tales of her recent sexual conquests with various local lads. Later on the corpse of her mother disappears, leading to a police investigation that drifts into a Savannah-style ghost story and an erotic awakening for the bewildered Parisienne.

Gastronomy is a rich theme that weaves through this distinctly Gallic tale. When Pattie is not getting down and dirty with the likely lads – including Denis Lavant as a lecherous Denis Lavant –  she’s cooking up a delicious rustic supper of cassoulet or venison stew washed down with plenty of Corbières al fresco with the locals, dissolving into nights of dancing in the nearby village. A jazzy soundtrack adds to the initial allure of this party-like piece but the arrival of another outside takes the story into more enigmatic territory when André Dussollier turns up as Mamma’s ex lover and, putatively, a famous writer. And while Caroline skypes her husband Manuel (Sergi Lopez) who is keeping the home fires burning back in Paris, the main vibe here is the female chemistry between Pattie and Caroline, her Parisian protegée for the summer, while she is being groomed for some sexual scenarios by various males (including Pattie’s 18-year-old son Kamil – Jules Ritmanic) in the sylvan seclusion of this picturesque corner of France.

Isabelle Carré is delightful to watch as the prim and proper Parisienne who gradually warms to her raunchy surroundings, despite concerns for her mother’s disappearance and pre-morbid state of mind. It emerges that her mother was somewhat of a foxy femme fatale known as “Zaza” locally, and this adds intrigue to her already conflicted mourning process. And the Police investigation takes on an almost folkloric feel as the local gendarme suspects a necrophage at work.

In these sun-soaked surroundings, Caroline is slowly emboldened and yet addled by wine as nothing seems to matter anymore least of all her mother’s funeral, which gently slips to the back burner of this Midsummer Night’s Dream ,where she imagines herself in the sensual arms of all and sundry. And this is one clever feature of the Larrieu’s script; lulling us into one storyline, before revealing the significance of another, whether wittingly or not. 21 NIGHTS is about Caroline’s spiritual development as a woman rather than conflict resolution between mother and daughter. A shame therefore that it gradually sinks into an unnecessarily explicit dénouement when the story runs out of control. Despite their delicious entrée, the Larrieus may hopefully discover that less is always more, even in France, you should never over-egg the omelette. MT

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

Zarafa (2014)

Directors: Remi Besançon, Jean-Christophe Lie

Script: Remi Besancon, Alexander Abela

Cast: Max Renaudin, Simon Abkarian, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Vernon Dobtcheff, Roger Dumas, Ronit Elkabetz, Deborah Francois, Thierry Fremont

Fr/Bel | 73mins | 2012 Animation

A finely wrought French animation based on the extraordinary true story of a Giraffe gifted to French royalty… although a certain dramatic licence has been taken with the ‘how it all went down’.

Told as a story within a story by grandfather sitting under the baobab tree relating it to his grandchildren, animation is absolutely the best way to put this wonderful yarn across; combining as it does the fantastical with comedy and the much darker human history of slave trade. Lawrence of Arabia meets Jules Verne meets Free Willy. Indeed, some of the more far-fetched elements of the story are infact true, as can be read in the interview with Remi. Besançon was originally sold the idea for Zarafa by his co-writer Abela, although, it being animation, it was another four years in the making once they found the finance. Indeed, Remi went off and made another live action film in the middle, while they waited for all the compositing to be completed.

Working on three levels, it’s a very well constructed and considered storyline that keeps the audience both rapt and entertained throughout its shrewd running time of 74 minutes. There’s an attention to detail and a gentle tempo, which enfolds the younger audience easily, rather in the fashion of the animations it was inspired by, coming out of that peerless Japanese powerhouse, Studio Ghibli, although it doesn’t quite hit the same level of accomplishment as the Spirited Away’s or the Princess Mononoke’s… but then, what does.

Zarafa tells the story of Maki, a young, orphaned Sudanese boy destined to be sold through the slave trade, who manages to escape his shackles. Whilst making his bid for freedom, Maki becomes the unlikely friend of a small herd of giraffe, also being hunted by Hassan, Prince of the Desert, a man intent on ensnaring a young giraffe to take to the Pasha. So the life of Maki and the young eponymous ‘Zarafa’ become irrevocably intertwined, as Maki endeavours to protect his charge and fulfil the promise he made to Zarafa’s mother.

Zarafa is really well-crafted, carefully thought-out and intelligent piece that has already demonstrated ardent support through festivals worldwide; speaking the universal language of animation and combining the exotic with just the right mix of tragedy, comedy, loopiness and larger-than-life characters to make it a winner. Tellingly, it also has enough to it that even the adults dragged along as unwilling chaperones might just find themselves enjoying it too. I predict huge DVD sales.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 OCTOBER 2015

 

P’tit Quinquin (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernhard Provost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Penvion, Lisa Hartmann, Cindy Lonquet;

200min  France 2014  Comedy Drama

Having left his sensationalist and violently misogynist early period (Humanite/Twenty-nine Palms) behind, Bruno Dumont, former lecturer of Greek and German philosophy, has set most of his work in the region near Calais, where he was born. Seen as the heir to Bresson, his topics always are discourses about death and the same can be said about P’tit Quinquin.

Apart from the format (a four part TV series, which can be watched as well in its totality) what is most surprising, is Dumont’s use of humour, however dark it sometimes becomes. Set in rural Picardy at his birthplace of Bailleul, P’tit Quinquin is seen through the eyes of the title hero, played with great vigour and enjoyment by Alane Delhage, a non-professional actor like the rest of the cast. The young adolescent is nearly always accompanied by his girlfriend Eve (Caron), the two playing a loving couple like the leads in a school play. On the opposite side is the other “pair”, Commandant Van der Weyden (Provost), a detective with a manic tic, and his side-kick, Lt. Carpentier (Jore), the former send to the small town and its surrounding villages to clear a murder. Unfortunately for hopeless policemen, the longer they stay, the more murders happen, until Van der Weyden has to confess that they are confronted by an evil serial killer.

The first victim, a Mme. Lebleu, whose corpse, cut into small parts, is found in the belly of a cow. Since cows are not carnivores, Carpentier deducts rightly, that the animal is suffering from mad cow disease. Soon the detectives discover that the dead woman had a lover, a certain M. Bhiri, whose is missing, and found murdered soon after. The main suspect, M. Lebleu, shares the same fate as his unfaithful wife, and Van der Weyden begins to see an apocalyptic picture developing. The next victim (this time a suicide) is a young Arab student, who fancies Eve’s older sister Aurelia (Hartmann), a local celebrity who aims to sing on TV. But the young man is driven to despair, when Aurelia’s friend Jennifer calls him “a monkey, who should go back to Africa”. Aurelia, covering up for her girl friend, is the next victim of the killer, and eaten by pigs. When the policemen find out that Quinquin’s father has kept it secret that the first murder victim was his brother’s wife, he becomes the prime suspect, before another unfaithful wife, Mme. Campin (Longuet) is found murdered at the beach…..

Dumont uncovers a society, where life is full of contradictions. Beneath seemingly benign normality – nothing is as it seems to be: the priest laughs during a funeral, the local band makes a mockery of Bastille Day, Carpentier is more interested in stunt driving with his police car than in solving the case, whilst his boss nearly falls of a horse and rambles on about the similarities of women, horses and paintings by Rubens. And meanwhile Quinquin throws firecrackers where ever he finds a target.

Needless to say, Dumont was not aiming for a “who-done-it”, but a tableau of human frailty. Guillaume Deffontaines, who photographed Dumont’s last film Camille Claudel 1915, uses widescreen successfully to integrate the landscape with the actors, achieving a pastoral idyll, betrayed by the viciousness and heartlessness of the protagonists. The first sequel is titled “La bête humaine”, easily the description of what is to follow. AS

| THE FOUR PARTS RUN AS A ENTIRE SCREENING OF 3. AS A TV MINI SERIES | NOW ON DVD

Colt 45 (2013) | DVD release

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Cast: Ymanol Perset, Salem Kali, Gerard Lanvin, Joey Starr Alice Taglioni

85min  Crime Drama | France Belgium

This stylishly competent Parisian crime drama is Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz’ follow up to his rather more distinguished Cannes 2014 outing Alleluia. Set under the same grey skies as its edgier predecessor, COLT 45 is chockfull of impressive set-pieces and slick shootouts but Gaspar Noe collaborator, Benôit Debie’s suberb cinematography proves rather too glamorous for Fathi Beddiar’s throwaway script and plotlines. Decent performances from its solid French cast ensure that COLT 45 slips down easily though, if you’re looking for an uncomplicated late-night watch.

A romantic undercurrent is provided by Alice Taglioni (Paris, Manhattan) and Imanol Perset (Cub) as two detectives who fall for each other when the reserved but decent junior cop is fingered for a high level shooting operation that sends him into a stratosphere that will ultimately make a man of him. Training by night with crime master Gérard Lanvin (Chavet) and rapper Joey Starr (Milo) he keeps his day job in the police armoury division, but the going gets tough at night when the rollcall of robberies and deaths among his colleagues starts to take its toll on the young sharpshooter. Du Welz struts his stuff with impressive allure but this Gallic gunslinger is not amongst his most outstanding. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD from 11 November 2015

Eyes Without A Face (1960) | Les Yeux sans Visage | Mubi

220px-Eyeswithoutaface_posterDir: Georges Franju  Wri: Jean Redon (novel) | Cast: Edith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Alexandre Rignault | 90min | France  | Horror thriller

In 1960, George Franju’s Eyes Without a Face was in a pretty bad shape. It was ludicrously re-titled The Horror Chamber of Dr Faustas, suffered a crass censor cut and was badly dubbed into American English. For a film that deals with a surgeon’s attempts to transplant a new face onto his disfigured daughter, the film’s mutilations appeared ironic, way back then. Thankfully in the 1970’s the film was re-evaluated and restored intact.

Eyes Without a Face is roughly contemporary with Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Powell’s Peeping Tom (1959). All three films have huge images of anxious eyes and nervous looking faces. Such depiction of threatened and threatening visages pushed the mid-20th century horror film into a dark psychological realm still felt today.

Only on a surface level is Franju’s feature a horror film. Our mad scientist (a surgeon, Dr.Genessier, played by Pierre Brasseur) is killing young women for his facial surgery experiments. This is executed out of ambition, guilt and love for his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) injured in a road accident caused by her father’s erratic driving. Christiane wears a mask that radiates a Jean Cocteau-like expression. The surgeon is assisted by his female secretary Louise (Alida Valli) who faintly echoes Baron Frankenstein’s assistant Igor. Whilst Dr. Brasseur’s theory of a transformative surgery (delivered to an audience of rich, enthusiastic elderly women) reminds you of those Boris Karloff, as crazy scientist, moments when a ‘great’ vision for mankind is triumphantly announced.

Yet of all horror films, it cannot be reduced to its generic elements. For it is not quite a horror film, not quite a fantasy, not quite a fairy tale, not quite a crime movie, not quite science fiction, nor a parable or a feminist fiction. Franju’s sure and sensitive direction makes it walk its own unique road conveying an atmosphere of mystery and ambiguity. Its very French and very existential creepiness contains ideas of identity, responsibility, notions of what attract and repels the self, and the terrible loneliness of being a non-person without a human face (literally and spiritually) in the world.

Perhaps the film’s most chilling scene is not quite a documentary moment. A series of still photographs with a detached voice over, record the failure of an operation on Christiane. The implanted face in the superimposed photographs is shown to be gradually cracking and breaking up to reveal signs of the shattered mess underneath. It makes you think of tyrannical control, tampering with nature and the horrible work of the Nazi doctors. Yet, let’s not forget further Gallic frissons. A brilliant, nervy barrel-organ score from Maurice Jarre, Eugen Schufftan’s ominous photography, the haunting performances of the leads, the film’s audacious use of dogs and birds, and Franju’s assured filmmaking (few directors can make a car-ride scene feel so frightening).

The BFI Blu-Ray edition (containing extra shorts and a documentary) is the best print I’ve ever seen of a masterwork that’s both acutely painful yet tenderly poetic. Alan Price

NOW ON MUBI

Ixcanul Volcano (2015)| Alfred Bauer Prize Winner Berlin | LFF 2015

Director/Writer: Jayro Bustamante
Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, María Telon, Manuel Antun, Justo Lorenzo

Guatemala/France Drama 91min

Writer-director Jayro Bustamante makes an assured feature debut with IXCANUL VOLCANO, a film as disciplined as it is downbeat in its study of the working routines and local superstitions that make up life at a coffee plantation below a dormant volcano in the midwestern highlands of Guatemala. The film world-premieres in-competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival this week, and is not unlike another South American predecessor, THE MILK OF SORROW, which may provide two good omens: that film’s director, Peruvian Claudia Llosa, is on this year’s jury, while the film itself won the top prize upon bowing here in 2009.

17-year-old María (María Mercedes Coroy) is to be married off to Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), the farm’s significantly older, city-dwelling foreman. Ignacio arrives with a smile that disarms any would-be suspicions on the part of María’s family – all of whom are unilingual, Kaqchikel-speaking indigenous Mayans, whose general lack of education leaves them open to misinformation and exploitation: though not especially zealous in his abuse of power, Ignacio nevertheless demonstrates hesitance in allowing María’s family to speak for themselves when communicating on their behalf to Spanish-speaking authorities – firstly to a health inspector and secondly, much later, to the police.

María and her parents, Juana (María Telón) and Manuel (Manuel Antún), are without electricity and running water, while a snake infestation is a permanent source of danger to the cattle they keep. By way of a central narrative tension, the film comes into its own when María is – inconveniently for her, though a little too conveniently for the purposes of plot – impregnated by local lad Pepe (Marvin Coroy), who is much closer to her own age. Dependent upon spiritual healing rather than actual medicine, an abortion is out of the question, and the film begins to unravel as tensions build around María’s fate.

Bustamante’s film is a largely straightforward affair that benefits from more suggestive currents. Opening with a scene in which María and her mother feed rum to their pigs in order to enable mating, they soon after kill one of the animals to eat. Priming the drink-fuelled sex by which María herself is later impregnated, the pig’s fortune doesn’t bode well for our protagonist (who, alluringly played by non-professional Mercedes Coroy, is on the more sensibly talky and less irritating side of ambiguous arthouse heroine).

Not least among IXCANUL VOLCANO’s symbolic threads is the volcano itself, whose peak is never shown and whose ashen slopes are caught only fleetingly in the background of Luis Armando Arteagas’ deep-focus cinematography – which is rich in jungle greens and earthen hues. Suggesting a kind of latent pit of doom that threatens, like an unwanted baby, to come forth at any moment, the volcano smoulders and grumbles from deep within – as if asking for an outlet by which to air its stress, which the filmmakers fittingly never allow. MICHAEL PATTISON

SILVER BEAR AWARD AT BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 | NOW SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015 

Sicario (2015) | Cannes Film Festival 2015

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro

If it’s a pounding nihilistic macho thriller you’re looking for, Denis does the job here with this Michael Mann style Mexican-themed drug-busting ‘actioner’. Once again the Americans are down on the Mexicans, this time due to their high-level drugs operation which is feeding a ready market from wealthy US buyers on American soil.

Josh Brolin is well-cast as a swaggeringly confident US official Matt Graver, who will lead a raid against a Mexican cartel safe house on the Arizona border near to Phoenix. With him is with his catatonic side-kick Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who is still getting over the trauma of his wife’s brutal murder. Emily Blunt is the token female FBI Agent called in to add ‘intelligence’ to the operation. As Kate Macy, she appears to be highly skilled and professionally sure of herself but is soon cut down to size by Mr Graver’s snide banter that diminishes her sangfroid early on in THE proceedings during the raid which leads to an horrific discovery: Kate soon realises that she is involved in something way beyond her capabilities.

Blacked-out SUVs feature heavily in continuous convey scenes, as does a thundering doom-laden soundtrack from Johann Johannsson that adds menace to Villeneuve’s superb action sequences. Taylor Sheridan’s script performs well, delivering a straightforward Hollywood-style genre piece to add to the growing collection. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 OCTOBER 2015

Timbuktu (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Abderrahmane Sissako

Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed, Mehdi Ag Mohamed

France/Mauritania 2014, 97 min.

Abderrahme Sissako (Bamako) has created a film that appears to be a contradiction in terms: Timbuktu’s harsh political storyline unfolds in images of poetic realism.

Set in Mali in 2012, under the control of fundamentalist jihadists, this is the tale of the destruction of a family. Kidane (Ahmed) lives peacefully with his wife Satima (Kiki), his daughter Toya (L.W. Mohamed) and his young shepherd Issan (M.A. Mohamed) in the dunes near Timbuktu, where jihadists terrorise the population: Music, dancing and even football are forbidden – some youngsters get around the latter decree by playing with an imagined ball. The local Imam is able to throws the armed jihadists out of the Moschee, but apart from this he too is powerless. One day, a fisherman kills one of Kidane’s prized cattle called ‘GPS’, as it accidentally wanders into fishing nets during grazing. Kidane is so upset at this trivial slaughter that he threatens him with a gun, which goes off accidentally, killing the fisherman. The family demand retribution, and the ‘fundamental jihadists whose medieval garb and laws belie their obsession with mobile phones, video cameras and expensive cars, are only too happy to apply the maximal penalty against Kidane. After all, they have just punished a woman to eighty lashes because she was listening to music in a room with a male singer.

TIMBUKTU‘s dreamy images are in stark contrast to the inhuman terror of the jihadist regime they portray: nature seems to be unaffected by the harsh cruelty of men. Humans and animals alike flee from the hunters, who use their cars to capture their prey. The jihadists, like their German fascist predecessors in Europe in the 40s, love to document their crimes: instead of the pen, they use their video cameras for this endeavour, which they see as heroism. Their misogyny is boundless, but Sissako shows that it is just the other side of their repressed lust, which manifests themselves in condoning ‘ancient customs’, where the rape of a virgin is considered a legitimate marriage. Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki and Layla Walet Mohamed give subtle performances of great intensity, but the images of the shimmering, glittering landscape are most impressive: Sissako’s message is clear: nature’s beauty will always survive human cruelty. AS

TIMBUKTU IS NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | DVD release

Cruel (2015) | Cambridge Film Festival | 3 – 13 September 2015

Dir.: Eric Cherrière

Cast: Jean-Jacques Lelté, Magalie Moreau, Maurice Poli, Yves Alfonso, Olivia Kerverdo, Hans Meyer

France 2014, 108 min.

Do we really need another horror film about serial killing?: Too many sensational, violent and simply mediocre efforts have been flashed across the screen. But crime novelist Eric Cherrière’s debut CRUEL is different: not only has his film none of the attributes listed above, he has singlehandedly created a psychological portrait of a psychotic killer, which does not only throw light on the mental illness, but does this by allowing the audience to imagine, in images and words, how the process of killing can become a banal and rather ordinary activity for the murderer.

In Toulouse, Pierre Tardieu, is a casual worker of about forty. In the opening scenes he kidnaps the estate agent Sylvie Destruelle (Kerverdo), and incarcerates her in the cellar where his grandfather, ironically, used to hide Jews from the Gestapo. Pierre’s conversation with his victim is ordinary, he is not excited at all, in fact, his behaviour seems totally relaxed. He is detached (one of the symptoms of this form of schizophrenia), even when murdering his victim, commenting on his act of violence as if he were describing a banal household task. It becomes immediately clear that this is not Pierre’s first murder. Pierre roams like a lone wolf, experiencing life through a glass bubble: he is inside, looking out. Everything seems to dwarf him: the airplanes in the aircraft hangar which he has to clean, the huge conveyor belts in the quarry, where he is a nigh watchman. Pierre is absolutely rootless, the only emotional relationship he has is with father Gabriel (Poli), who is suffering from Alzheimers and cannot speak. Pierre, in a role-reversal, reads him ‘Treasure Island’ as a bedtime story.

After his random murders have reached double figures – Pierre has his own set of rules to ensure his killings stay undetected – he suddenly explodes with real rage, not only killing the intended victim, a groom, but all the members of the stag party. He later rationalises this as “giving the dumb police a helping hand” by leaving behind the cut up ID cards of all his victims. But the real reason for the slaughter is that Pierre “wants to amount to something”. He started the killing spree out of an inner emptiness. His main fixation is a last summer holiday with his parents in a Spanish village, where he dreamt of becoming a hero where he grew up  and “marry Mama, to become a father too”. Soon afterwards his mother was killed in a car accident. Since then Pierre keeps a diary in old-fashioned notebooks which he buys at “the librarian” (Meyer), an old friend of his father’s. Pierre’s life has been split into two: the real self (the child) looks for redemption in the world of childhood, the ‘false’ self (the murderous killer) compensates with violence against strangers (“never kill a person you know” is one of his rules) for his empty, emotionally undeveloped life as an adult. It is via the ”librarian” who introduces Pierre shortly before his death to Laure (Moreau) now a woman. Pierre remembers listening to her playing the piano when she was a child. In a final twist, Laure’s fiancée was Pierre’s first victim, chosen, like the other ones at random. Laure suggests a holiday in Spain, along the lines of the one he is fixated on with his parents. He takes with him one of the last notebooks with devastating results.

Jean-Hughes Lelté is utterly convincing and mesmerising as the killer, and the way he stumbles through an adult world, he can not grasp, is frightening. We see this reduced world through his eyes, and everyone apart from his father, are merely cyphers. Even though Pierre has a first sexual relationship with Laure, his childhood Ego is still the much stronger pull. Doomed, he lives out his phantasies to the end. Stunning camerawork and set pieces are provided by Mathias Touzeris and Olivier Cussac’s original score cleverly evokes the romantic lure of the past and the menace of the present.

Cruel is a stunning portrait of mental illness, dramatised as in a fictional way, but very close to reality. AS

SCREENING DURING THE CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL 3 -13 SEPTEMBER 2015

La Peau Douce | Soft Skin (1964) | Blu-ray release

Dir: Francois Truffaut | Cast: Jean Desailly, Françoise Dorléac, Nelly Benedetti, Daniel Ceccaldi, Laurence Badie, Philippe Dumat | France,  Drama  123′

Truffaut’s La Peau Douce is known, in translation, as Soft Skin, as it best conveys the film’s vulnerability of character and minimal eroticism. It’s a superb, understated study of adultery that descends into a crime passionel.

Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is a middle-aged writer and publisher well-known for his TV appearances discussing the work of Balzac. On a flight to Lisbon he’s attracted to Nicole (Françoise Dorléac) a beautiful young air hostess. They meet later, at their hotel, and embark on an affair. His wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) suspects her husband has a lover. Pierre denies the fact and leaves Franca and his young daughter, for Nicole. A divorce looks likely but…

Marital infidelity is so hackneyed a subject that even in 1963 it appeared unlikely to surprise audiences. The film did badly at the box office; even Truffaut was disappointed with the final result. Maybe because he was preoccupied with seeking funding for his Fahrenheit 451 project and interviewing Hitchcock, for what was to become a seminal book for our understanding of the art and craft of film direction: Indeed the shadow of Hitchcock is present throughout a feature full of subtle psychological details: shoes placed outside hotel rooms as a clue to finding the person you desire; or apprehension at the petrol station where Lachenay thinks Nicole has deserted him. Truffaut learnt so well from ‘The Master.’

Soft Skin’s characters are not in the least bit conventionally romantic. Pierre is weak-willed, indecisive and clumsy – arranging meetings with Nicole. She is seriously attached to him but her ‘love’ for Pierre results in her suffering humiliation and neglect because of their clandestine arrangements. The long middle sequence, set in Rheims, where Pierre gives a talk to accompany an Yves Allegret documentary on André Gide, has him desperately trying to ignore and hide from the presence of Nicole – she cant even get to buy a ticket to Pierre’s lecture less his relationship be discovered and reputation damaged. When the infidelity is revealed, Truffaut’s script devotes more screen time to the wife and the strong effect the  infidelity has on her. Franca turns out to be the most determined and confident player in the drama: much more certain of her needs than the constantly interrupted lovers.

Casting is crucial to making an intense adultery movie work. The performances of Jean Desaily, Françoise Dorléac, (the late actress was the sister of Catherine Deneuve) and Nelly Benedetti are absolutely faultless. B& W Photography is by the great Raoul Coutard. Georges Delerue supplies a beautiful film score, sparingly used and well-timed. And one of the numerous, if incidental, pleasures of Truffaut’s brilliant direction is the knowledge that in order to cut down on costs, he shot a lot of the film in his own spacious Parisian apartment. Soft Skin has been underrated and unjustly neglected. But now it’s available on Artificial Eye Blu-Ray to re-evaluate or discover for the first time. Alan Price

BFI Blu-ray release on 6 June 2022

Gemma Bovery (2014)

Director/Writer: Anne Fontaine  Writer: Pascale Bonitzer

Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Kacey Mottet Klein, Niels Schneider, Isabelle Candelier, Mel Raido, Pip Torens, Elsa Zylberstein

Romantic comedy drama

If Posy Simmonds’ chick-lit and the saccharine charms of Gemma Arterton appeal to you then Anne Fontaine’s re-working of the classic Flaubert novel is for you. If not, stay well away from this trivial pick n mix of Chocolat and In the House, drenched in a helping of A Year in Provence…and a dash of Mother’s Milk.

Dumbly scripted by award-winning Pascale Bonitzer to echo Simmonds’ satirical paperback, this Normandy-set romantic romp will have Flaubert spinning in his grave with anger and dismay. A trashy English cast and half decent French one is lead by a charmingly sympa Fabrice Lucchini as, Martin Joubert, a publisher who has retired to the idyllic spot of Auberville-la-Manuel to run the local bakery with his sparky wife (Isabelle Candelier) and teenage son (Kacey Mottet Klein). Taking his romantic disillusionment out on kneading the daily bread, he has comes to terms with the banality of his life in this quiet country backwater when the arrival of English neighbours, a voluptuous young Gemma Bovery (Arterton) and her broke and raddled ‘hubby’ Charles move in next door, sets his feathers all a flutter with a sexual frisson tempered by the fear (or is it hope) that this perky young bride will end up with the same fate as her literary namesake from Flaubert’s 1850s novel.

Best known for Coco Before Chanel, Anne Fontaine opts for a jaunty and salacious tone that will most likely appeal to Daily Mail readers rather than Simmonds’ Guardian following, ramping up the sensational aspects of her Bovery story rather than the insightful realism of the French original, resulting in a schematic tale than feels rather dated with its 80s sensibilities riven with unlikely pairings and  glaring plotholes (to discuss them would reveal too much). Let’s just flag up one for your consideration: Why would nubile and artistic Gemma end up with a divorced, insolvent loser like Charlie (Jason Flemyng) living in a damp and dreary country cottage in the 21st century? Clearly Fontaine wanted to make a commercial film that would appeal to UK|US audiences rather than French ones, and Bonitzer’s script is suitably tuned towards those audiences with its mentions of yoga, Notting Hill, rag-rolling and gluten-free bread).

In the same style as Ozon’s In the House, the story unfurls via Martin’s first person narration – he is the only interesting character – but the piece rapidly falls into what Flaubert calls ‘the pettiness and predictability of daily life” due to a trite and unlikeable set of provincial characters in a village that anyone would be desperate to get back to Paris to avoid. Luchini’s expression throughout is one of baffled wonderment and disbelief: that he can be the only decent actor in the film and that he is witnessing the destruction of his beloved literary work. Despite his better judgement, he falls under Gemma’s spell seduced by her sluttish vapidness and entranced by her louche disregard for decency as she falls for the local lord of the manor, a tousled hair youngster Visconte de Bressigny (a really well-cast Niels Schneider) and so begins her descent down the path of her literary counterpart. On the way we have to contend with the evil smugness of local arrivistes Wizzy and Rankin (ghastly Zylberstein and Torens), her ex, demon-lover Patrick (a second rate Mel Raido) and a strange cameo from Edith Scoob as the redoubtable Madame de Bressigny. All the while, we are treated to glimpses of Arterton in her undies (Myla or Agent Provocateur?), boogying down to her rag-rolling, and sensuously pouting over the freshly baked brioches which will finally lead to her downfall in the unlikely and far-fetched denouement. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 21 AAUGUST 2015

 

 

 

 

68th Locarno Film Festival | Preview 2015

Bruno Chatrian unveils his eclectic mix of films for the 68th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 5 until 15 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Hong Sang-soo, Andrzej Zulawski and Chantal Akerman (left) will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

COMPETITION

dejanlost and beautifulFourteen world premieres compete for the Golden Leopard including Korean comedy delights from Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then and mavericks in the shape of Andrzej Zulawski who this year brings Cosmos. Pietro Marcello’s docu-drama Bella e Perduta (above right) will compete with Athena Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier and Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman’s hotly awaited doc Not a Home Movie (above topis sure to delight both the press and the public. Two Sundance 2015 outings will screen in competiton: Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, exploring the journey of an American stand-up comedian and James White, a coruscating family drama from Josh Mond. Sophomores in the section include Pascale Breton with her appropriately titled Suite Amoricaine and Georgian auteur Bakur Bakuradze’s Brother Dejan (above left). Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s latest film is a thriller, Schneider vs Bax. that focuses on a hit man whose mission is to kill a reclusive author (below left).

Schneder vs Bax

To open the festival in the open-air Piazza Grande, Jonathan Demme is back with Ricki and the Flash. Scripted by Diabolo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, it explores the efforts of an ageing rock star to get back to her roots.jack copy

Locarno is known for its European flavour such as Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison starring Cécile De France, Lionel Baier’s LGBT title La Vanité (nominated for the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes) and Austrian auteur Elisabeth Scharang’s Jack (right) which tackles the thorny topic of recidivism through the story of a brutal murderer. Philippe Le Guay’s comedy Floride stars Sandrine Kiberlain and Jean Rochefort and German director Lars Kraume’s The State vs Fritz Bauer explores the story of a prosecutor in the Auschwitz trials. From further afield comes Anurang Kashyap’s Bollywood gangster drama Bombay Velvet, Barbet Schroeder’s historical drama Amnesia and Brazilian director Sergio Machado’s Heliopolis. 

IMG_1536The CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE selection includes a fascinating array of indie newcomers with first or second films that focus on the filmmakers of the future: In Tagalog; Dead Slow Ahead (right) is cinematographer Mauro Herce’s debut (right). French helmer. Vincent Macaigne’s debut drama is Dom Juan. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister) stars in Keeper by Guillaume Senez. Melville Poupard, Andre Desoullier and Clemence Poesy star in Le Grand Jeu, a debut for Nicolas Pariser and The Waiting Room from Serbian Bosnian director, Igor Drljaca, and starring Canadian actor Christopher Jacot (Hellraiser), and those that have seen the enchanting Elena by Petra Costa will be excited to see her next experimental docu-drama Olmo & the Seagull.

call me copySEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Ground we copy

This strand screens perhaps the most auteurish films of the festival with a distinctive style and look. Two new Polish films stand out, My Name is Marianna (right) from Karolina Bielawska and Brothers from Wojciech Staron (below right).Christopher Pryor’s black and white New Zealand doc The Ground We Won (above) and Aya Domenig’s The Day the Sun Fell from the Sky (left).

brothers copy

The Jury Selection offers a chance to see their favourite titles including Guy Maddin’s stylish drama, The Forbidden Room, Joanna Hogg’s superb study of a family holiday seen through the eyes of a single, middle-aged woman: Unrelated; and Denis Klebeev’s Strange Particles. The competition jury comprises U.S. photographer-director Jerry Schatzberg; German actor Udo Kier; Israeli director Nadav Lapid; and South Korean actress Moon so-Ri.

Te Premeto Anarquia

Locarno also screens a retrospective of Sam Peckinpah including his standout Western PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID. Marco Bellocchio will receive a Pardo d’Onore and show his 1965 classic I PUGNI IN TASCA along with Michael Cimino whose all time seventies favourite THE DEER HUNTER stars Robert De Niro. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5 -15 AUGUST 2015

 

 

 

Les Combattants (2015) Love at First Fight | DVD release

Dir.: Thomas Cailley

Cast: Adele Haenel, Kevin Azais, Antoine Laurent, Brigitte Rouan

Drama France 2014, 98 min.

Two outsiders, Madeleine (Haenel) and Arnaud (Azais) meet o the beach of a sleepy town in the region Alps/Maritime. This sounds as good as any romantic cliché, but their meeting is anything but sexy, because they are facing each other in a judo fight.

First time writer/director Thomas Cailley’s LES COMBATTANTS is the very opposite of a glossy French teenage romance. To start with Arnaud bites Madeleine after he is in danger of losing the fight, witnessed by his brother Manu (Laurent) and his mates. Whilst Madeleine does not tell anyone about his outburst, she will remind Arnaud more than often of his cowardice. The young man has just lost his father and is supposed to join his brother in running a carpentry business. In this capacity he soon meets Madeleine again, when he starts to erect a wooden beach house near the swimming pool on her parent’s property. Needless to say, his carpentry expertise is as bad as his judo skills and his half completed construction is soon blown apart by a storm; to the chagrin of his brother. But Arnaud and Madeleine have found common ground: they both want to get out of the boring middle-class environment they inhabit. Madeleine, who has just left university without completing the course, believes strongly that apocalypse is soon to happen. She prepares for the end-of-time scenario by toughening herself up with constant exercises and a disgusting diet, with includes eating a whole fish, whizzed up in the mixer. When she decides to join the marines for a preparatory army course, Arnaud follows her, abandoning his brother and mother Helene (Rouan). But the debacle doesn’t end successfully in this love story which ends up being a fight for survival.

Adele Haenel (Water Lilies/Suzanne) carries LES COMBATTANTS with a lively and intense performance. Her Madeleine still longs to be a tomboy, long into her adolescence. She is unaware that this image is just her way in pretending to be tough, as not to be found out how vulnerable and insecure she really is. Whilst she knows exactly what she does not want in life (middle-class security), she has no idea what she wants instead, and her experience shows, that she is far too independent for such a hierarchical life style. Arnaud on the other hand, behaves like every average man with the first woman he shows an interest in: he follows her obediently like a puppy. But is fascinating, how Cailley brings their combined weaknesses and strengths together in a rather dramatic finale. Shot in lively colours from innovative perspectives, by the director’s brother David, Les Combattants is as original as it is moving, never succumbing to any preconceived ideas, thus emulating the couple’s unruly and idiosyncratic behaviour within a narrative that develops just at the right tempo allowing us enough time to get to know this offbeat  couple. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH ARTIFICIAL EYE | CURZON

Cemetery Without Crosses | Una corde…un Colt (1969) | Blu-ray | DVD release

image009 copyDirector: Robert Hossein   Writer: Dario Argento

Cast: Michele Mercier, Robert Hossein, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand,

90min   Spaghetti Western  France

Robert Hossein directs this Spaghetti Western with a French twist and also stars as a friend who reluctantly comes to rescue and avenge a woman whose husband has been lynched by a rival gang. Well-crafted, sparingly scripted and infused with soulful Latin romance, the film conjures up the harsh and macho world of 19th century America where men were monosyllabic and women alluring. Sergio Leone’s memory comes flooding back through Andre Hossein’s evocative instrumental score and Scott Walker’s rousing rendering of the title track. Guy Villette’s sound design makes good use of howling ambient winds and creaking boards.

Maria (Michele Mercier) and her husband have made enemies and none more bitter than the Rogers family. But after his death a resonant and palpable chemistry ignites between her and Manuel and this, together with Henri Persin’s impressive range of set pieces that create a remarkable sense of place, is largely the reason for the film’s sixties success and enduring watchability.

Although Dario Argento is credited with writing the script, his input was more down to dialogue with Claude Desailly and Hossein making the major contribution. Performances are authentic and convincing from the largely French cast. Manuel and Maria work particularly well together, both giving subtle yet compelling turns as they gradually fall in love. CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES is a classic Western of the finest order. MT

OUT ON DVD and BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO on JULY 20, 2015

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La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Director: Marco Ferreri

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi

130min   Comedy Drama   French

One of the legendary European dramas of the era and the highest grossing, La Grande Bouffe redolent of seventies France with its mock ‘Louis Quinze’ interiors, florid cinematography and original score by Philippe Sarde (The Tenant).  Mocking, cynical and drole in tone, it pokes fun at inappropriate sex, bestiality, marital strife, body functions and the more grotesque elements of everyday life, which are treated with a general nonchalance all round. Uniting the era’s famous acting talents: Michel Piccoli, Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi give rather restrained performances as a group of friends (magistrate, chef, tv producer and pilot) who attempt to escape their woes by eating themselves to death in a French Maison Particulière with a trio of kindly callgirls, while salacious silent movies form background texture to their gargantuan feasts.

As the Cannes festival opener of 1973, the film was naturally going to divide critics, some who regarded it as a worthy enditement of mass consumerism and over-indulgence of the French and Italian middle-classeses (for whom it was quite normal to have a mistress); others as an amusing curio focussing on debauchery of one kind or another. Nevertheless, it went on to win the FIPRESCI prize that year.

There are shades of Walerian Borowczyk and Bunüel in the final scenes where Tognazzi gets a handjob while gorging on a vast pâté gâteau before dying of a heart-attack. The others meet their fate in equally distateful circumstances which somehow feel more tragically pathetic rather than offensive fifty years later; although at the time they must have felt shocking. The tragedy is to be found in the self-hatred and worthlessness of these men, rather than in their excess and depravity. These are people who have lost their zest for life due to stultifying self-satisfaction.

According to sources, the film was originally shown unlicensed at the Curzon Mayfair London causing an outcry from infamous campaigner Mary Whitehouse on the grounds of indecency in a public place. This only added grist to the censor’s mill, who went on to rule that films with “artistic merit”  would be exempt from prosecution. Seemingly taking a cue from this experience, Ferreri went on to make Tales of Ordinary Madness, another drama focusing on excess and sexual depravity starring an equally impressive cast of Ben Gazzara and Ornella Muti. It won the FIPRESCI prize at San Sebastian 1981.

A 2K REMASTERING IS ON RELEASE FROM 3 JULY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

 

Hippocrates (2014)

Director: Thomas Lilti

Cast: Vincent Lacoste, Jacques Gamblin, Reda Kateb, Marianne Denicourt

102min  Drama   French with subtitles

Reda Kateb (Abdel) and Vincent Lacoste (Benjamin) are the stars of this docudrama that follows the early internship of two young doctors in a large Paris teaching hospital. The warts and all portrait evokes the grisly dark humour that doctors often resort to (together with alcohol and cigarettes) to lighten their gruelling daily grind in a career which, as portrayed here, is very much a vocation and a labour of love. Hippocrates was the ancient Greek physician who gave his name to the code of conduct by which doctors live their professional lives and this sophomore feature from writer-director (and Doctor) Thomas Lilti.

At first Benjamin imagines this as a glamorous profession but as the days go by, in his six month stint in a department run by his father Prof Barois (Jacques Gamblin), the vulnerability and humanity of the patients (all played very movingly by an superb support cast) gradually persuades him otherwise.

Scenes of rowdy camaraderie with his colleagues in the common room punctuate more poignant moments of where we see patients suffering extreme pain and anguish and we soon discovery that the medics cover each other’s backs much in the same way as the Policemen portrayed in Precinct Seven Five. More sadly, older patients are not given the same chances as the younger ones and often patient care is managed according to the availability of beds and equipment, rather than the clinical requirements of the sick.

That said, Abdel (Kateb) goes out on a limb for the patients in his care offering them personal succour. A highly experienced immigrant doctor from Algeria, he is unable to be promoted due his lack of papers. Fully aware of this callous system, he tries to do his best for the patients, often going into ethical conflict with his superiors, and in particular, Dr Denormandy (Marianne Denicourt), the registrar of the department.

That public health provision is under-funded and over-burdened is nothing new and director Thomas Lilti, brings his experience at the coalface to bear in this gripping and affecting tale which explores how medics are worn out and demoralised leading to a volatile standoffs between staff and management. And HIPPOCRATES shows how the French medics are more vocal than their more tolerant UK counterparts. The situation goes from bad to worse in the final scenes where Benjamin and Abdel find themselves faced with a life-changing decision.

Reflected in a steely visuals of Nicolas Gaurin (Bright Days Ahead) HIPPOCRATES is hard-edged, its caustic humour authentically evoking real life. Kateb is dynamite is a likeable and sympathetic doctor who wears his smirking contempt for his seniors as a badge of honour on his white coat, show that when it comes to care-giving our immigrant workers often embody a sense of commitment and compassion that is sometime lacking elsewhere. Their much needed skill and approach is often  hampered by their status, whereas Lacoste is sulky and clearly out of his depth, lacking the life experience and common sense to compliment his medical training. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 26 JUNE 2015

A New Girlfriend (2014) | Une Nouvelle Amie

Wri/Dir: Francois Ozon | Cast: Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Bosco,

Mystery crime writer Ruth Rendell has provided filmmakers with some plucky plot-linesl over the years: Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie starred Isabelle Huppert and La Demoiselle D’Honneur had Aurore Clément who also stars in Ozon’s 2014 adaptation of a Rendell short story, cheekily exploring the nature of desire.

There are shades of Almódovar too in this subversive domestic melodrama that takes place somewhere in suburbia in contemporary France. Ozon’s recent films have all dabbled in the sexual dynamics of their seemingly sorted protagonists. And he’s well known for his tongue in cheek approach to the narrative. The upshot is that sexuality can be a distinctly moveable feast that often takes us by surprise, with feelings of desire or even repulsion emerging, sometimes inconveniently and when we least expect it, and between the most unlikely suspects. In the House upturned smug coupledom with some surprising revelations and A New Girlfriend develops this further in a story that sees sudden tragedy rocking the status quo of an outwardly loved-up young married couple.

Wealthy and good-looking, Laura (Isild Le Besco) and David (Romain Duris in frisky form) start their new lives together in the faux splendour of a picture perfect housing estate, very similar to the one in Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. But when Laura dies leaving baby girl Lucie, her best friend Claire (Demoustier) is naturally devastated, and drawn into the circle of grief as the godmother of the little girl. Clearly David must now be Lucie’s mother as well as her father, and it seems he’s taken the female role really seriously, as the heartbroken Claire soon finds out. For her part Claire, has also taken her grief to new heights to the detriment of her marriage to Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). But when her husbands’s sexual-healing fails to work, Claire takes compassionate leave and heads chez David for tea and sympathy.

Bereavement has brought out the feminine side of David and, to Claire’s surprise, she finds him dolled up in Laura’s clothes complete with a blond wig and saucy underwear. Unfortunately, Duris is one male actor whose strong masculine looks can never make him look feminine. He certainly has the chops but his heavy jawline and thick eyebrows are more suggestive of a pantomine dame than an androgynous siren in cross-dressing. There are plenty of guys out there who look pretty in long hair and eyeliner – but Duris is not one of them. So when he turns girlie, the look is weirdly grotesque and mildly frightening, rather than sexy and seductive. Maybe that’s was Ozon’s intention. As the saying goes “there’s nowt so queer as folk”

David suddenly develops a desire to go shopping and Claire, in an act of female solidarity indulges him in a date in the local shopping centre. Gradually Claire buys into David’s sexual awakening, sympathetically aiding and abetting him with make-up suggestions and underwear advice, eventually transforming him into her new best friend “Virginie”helping herself to get over the loss of Laura.

Although Oxon is clearly pushing the boundaries on heterosexuality and role-play he doesn’t denigrate David/Virginie, and there is nothing sexually provocative about this change in circumstances. With clever casting, he could certainly have pulled off something quite sensational between David/Virginie and Claire (and it wouldn’t have just have involved an Agent Provocateur thong).

Using a clever selection of songs from the archives, Ozon indulges David/Virginie’s desires to the limit and Duris certainly gives the role depth, clearly enjoying the thrill of his female guise and all that it entails. But Claire and Virginie’s sexual chemistry fails to materialise, remaining firmly in the ‘just good friends’ camp. A reference to Gilles and David’s sexual linking also fails to ignite, but there’s enough complexity at work in the performances to keep things fun and fluffy despite some longueurs. In this inspired new twist on bereavement therapy, Duris and Demoustier keep things tender rather than soppy in their mutual grief over Laura, and a surprisingly upbeat denouement makes for an entertaining watch. MT

NOW ON BFI Player 

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Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Dir.: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Cloe Grace Moretz, Hanns Zischler;

France/Switzerland/Germany/USA/Belgium 2014, 124 min.

One often forgets that Olivier Assayas’ career as a director/writer is two-dimensional: we like to remember serious examples like Après Mai, Fin; Août Début Septembre or Les Destinées Sentimentales – but have to admit that he is also the master of “schlock” films, sensational outings like Demonlover, Irma Vep and Boarding Gate. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA falls between earnest refelctions on the topic of ageing and campy exaggeration, with a little bit of ageism thrown in.

Maria Enders (Isabelle Binoche) an actress in her forties and in the middle of an acrimonious divorce, is facing an artistic choice: to play or not to play in a London theatre production of ‘Maloja Snake’, the film version of which made her a star at the age of 18. The snag is that Maria would have to play Helena, the older woman in a lesbian relationship, opposite the youthful seductress Sigrid, Maria portrayed in the film. Her young PA Valentine (Stewart), seems to push her to accept the role, and after the playwright of the ‘Maloja Snake’ dies in his home in the Swiss Alps, just before Maria is going to accept an award for him in Zurich, Maria meets the director of the London production and agrees – with reservations – to take the part. In Zurich, she also meets an old lover/adversary, Henryk Wald (Hanns Zischler).

The main part of the film describes the rather puzzling relationship between Valentine and Maria, who move to the Swiss Alps to rehearse the play and watch “Maloja Snake”, a natural phenomena which is the spiritual source of the film/play. We are never sure of the exact nature of the relationship between these two women – is Valentine the usual ‘Girl Friday’ or is there more emotional involvement than meets the eye. Maria and Valentine then meet Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz), a young American actress, who is cast to play Sigrid; we see her in clips from a turgid ‘SF-Film’. The cast thus having gained Jo-Ann, suddenly loses Valentine, who disappears during a outing with Maria in the mountains. No explanation is given – and Maria moves to London with a new PA and starts rehearsing, whilst Jo-Ann and her lover face the attempted suicide of the latter’s artist wife.

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA seems to be two films fused together: it is dominated by the enigmatic relationship between Maria and Valentine: the bookends represent rather tepid shock values, when Maria’s past is dissected, and Jo-Ann’s appearance brings some involuntary humour into the proceedings. But there is an undercurrent in this film, which leaves a bitter aftertaste. Not enough that Maria is torturing herself with the question of playing the older woman – she joins Valentine for a totally unnecessary swim in a mountain lake where they are dressed for the freezing cold. The naked Maria and the sparsely clad Valentine are used for a physical comparison the film could have done well without.

Whilst Binoche is impeccable, Stewart and Moretz act like the fish out of water they really are here. The camerawork is often too glossy, showing postcard idylls of the mountain landscape, accompanied by pompous music. Somehow Assayas has not made up his mind if he wanted to make a serious mid-European art house movie, or a flimsy would-be Hollywood product (pandering to the American film market); the latter interpretation underscored by the fact that all the main European characters communicate in English. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 15 MAY 2015

 

Girlhood (2014)

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Karidja Toure, Asse Sylla, Cyril Mendy, Idrissa Diabate

France 2014, 113 min.

After Water Lilies and Tomboy, GIRLHOOD is Céline Sciamma’s third portrait of female adolescence. The heroine Marieme (Toure) lives on an estate in Saint-Dénis, a Parisian suburb – it being France this is not just an ‘estate’, but an HLM (Habitation è Loyer Modéré), or rent-controlled housing; but the high-rise blocks are just a dump for everyone who cannot pay the exorbitant Paris rentals. Her brother (Mendy) is a brute who pushes her around, and her mother, who works as a hotel cleaning lady, has dumped her youngest daughter on Marieme. No wonder that Marieme’s grades are not up to standard and she has to choose a vocational course – which she hates. Closed in on all sides, Marieme meets three older girls, who hang out and look rather menacing. Lady (Sylla) is the leader of the pack, Fily and Adiatou are her obedient sidekicks. The mini-gang has recently lost the forth member to motherhood, and Marieme joins, at first, rather reluctantly. But after a night in a hotel, gorging themselves on pizza and trying on all the beautiful clothes they have nicked in Paris, the quartet is reborn.

The strict hierarchy of the girls is threatened when Lady looses a fight with another girl, and Marieme takes the victor on and defeats her, cutting off her bra like a trophy. But Marieme’s life is still in limbo: her boyfriend Ismael (Diabate) wants to marry her – but early motherhood is not on Marieme’s agenda; the leader of a gang makes her sell drugs before she stops before getting caught – but any real professional outlook is dim. Sciamma leaves GIRLHOOD open-ended: Marieme wondering, like the audience, what to do with a life, which has dealt her such a hopeless starting position.

Violence dominates GIRLHOOD, mostly male-instigated, but Lady (whose real name is Sophia) and even Marieme herself, resort to it when pushed. And yes, they do enjoy it – at least a little. In the opening scene an all-female American Football match sets the tone for what is to follow: these girls and young women are no shrinking violets. Architecture too is brutalist: The high-rise blocks look like awesome spaceships, where aliens might lurk behind the often blacked-out windows. “You can kill people with housing as well as with an axe”, said the Berlin journalist Zille in the 1920s – and this was as true as it is today. The camera is vey innovative in finding new angles to follow the fast moving action, always contrasting with intimate close-ups. But most brilliant are the actors, particularly Karidja Toure, who carries the film, which sags a little bit here and there, not justifying a near two hours running time. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2015 and ON GENERAL RELEASE from 8 May 2015

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Dior and I (2014) | London Fashion Week

Director: Frédéric Tcheng | France, Biopic 99′

In early black and white news footage of Christian Dior and his creations, shown in the opening sequence of Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary the designer comes across as a timid, elegant, family-loving man who “hated noise”. But this is all we really discover about a legendary icon who founded the House of Dior in 1946, only to work there for 10 years. Tcheng then shows how the brand still lives on with its clear and powerful mission to create ultra feminine designs.

In the contemporary Paris atélier we meet Raf Simons (ex Gil Sander) the new creative director and a minimalist who started life as an industrial designer, and who is now set to take over the house, attempting to modernise the haute couture side while also staying faithful to the Christian Dior ethos. He has just 8 weeks to prepare for the premiere launch.

As Raf steps up to the grand stage, it is hoped he will embrace this feminine image with all its embellishments while taking it into the 21st century. Tcheng intercuts his documentary with frequent news footage of the Dior’s early years, showing how he created the “New Look” celebrating the end of rationing to create a full-skirted female silhouette as couture took on a more womanly and floaty profile in the post war fifties’ return to voluptuousness after the austere, masculine, structured look of the forties.

We see how Raf Simons works quickly and formally to create his vision for a new dynamic woman, producing 12 looks that are then taken up by each of the seamstresses, who each chose their favourite design and then get to work on the launch. This is a stressful, pressurised time, running to deadlines and balancing creativity with practicality: but the house has ample finances to draw on thanks to its ownership by Bernard Arnault (billionaire Chairman of LVMH).

Raf Simons feels an increasing empathy with the late designer: reading his memoirs and even visiting his childhood home for inspiration. Dior and I works best when focusing on this theme of creativity and the essence of fashion genius, giving valuable insight. Sadly this fascination fades as Tcheng draws his focus towards the hurly burly of the premiere and to pleasing Dior’s illustrious clientale and members of the Press. This is a process we’ve seems many times before in his recent Diana Vreeland and Valentino outings, and the Carine Roitfeld documentary Mademoiselle C in 2014. Although Simons appears confident and in control during the design process, he quails away from Press interviews and claims he ‘would faint’ if required to walk down the catwalk.

While starting promisingly Dior and I descends into a clichéd affair of air-kissing celebrity. Insight into the conflicts, personal dynamics and professional relationships are buried under a deluge of tears, Champagne and roses once the premiere is underway and Tcheng draws the focus away from the more engaging topic of Simons’ creative strategy and the real Mr Christian Dior, who sadly remains an enigmatic character. That said, this is an upbeat, well-paced and compelling introduction to the elegant and sophisticated House of Dior.  John Galliano is nowhere to be seen. MT

| DIOR AND I on DVD courtesy of Dogwoof Films | Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival 2014

 

 

Mouchette (1967)

Director: Robert Bresson

Cast: Nadine Nortier, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Marie Cardinal, Paul Hebert, Jean Vimenet

78min  Drama   French with subtitles

MOUCHETTE  is an intense tale of a fourteen year-old-girl living in poverty, in the French countryside. She is trapped by a dependent and uncaring family. The mother is dying. The father is an alcoholic. Mouchette’s baby brother is urgently in need of care. A local poacher almost abuses Mouchette, and the villagers criticise her innocent ‘sensuality.’ This is ‘catalogue of woes’ material. Many directors would go down an easy and obvious dramatic route, either making the teenager appear a passive victim in a clunky social critique, or else have her take melodramatic revenge on the family. Yet the searing and eloquent rigour of Robert Bresson’s direction takes neither of these options. MOUCHETTE is quite simply one of the most heart breaking films about human frailty that you will encounter. It is Bresson at the height of his creative powers and a classic of French cinema. But before the review – a plot spoiler: If you don’t want to know what it is, then avoid reading the remainder of this review.

MOUCHETTE is a tragedy that culminates in the girl’s suicide. In most commercial cinema the depiction of death can often seem ridiculously matter of fact, absurdly playful, excessively brutal or grotesquely over the top. As for suicide, well that’s an even harder act to authentically portray. Pawilikowski’s IDA (2014) has the aunt of the young Ida, kill herself by jumping out of the window of her second floor flat. The record of the Mozart symphony plays on. Life is taken from us. Or a cinematic life disappears from the screen. It was sensitively directed. We deeply cared. But there was no way anyone could have intervened to prevent it from happening.

Yet what do you make of a film where a child’s suicide is shown not just to be an inevitable release from a harsh set of circumstances, but actually strikes you with such physicality and spirituality that it becomes the most spontaneously lived out and defiant of acts?

Mouchette, carrying milk for her baby brother, approaches a hillock that runs down into a lake. She has been given a dress by an old woman. The girl wraps it, like a shroud, round her body and rolls down the grass. She stops, returns, rolls again and then once more. This time right into the water. On the soundtrack we hear brief snatches of the music of Monteverdi. The girl’s death has a ‘rightness’ about it. A response, or grace, that crushes the inhumanity she has experienced. Yet Bresson neither condemns nor condones. He depicts, with such tender neutrality, the operation of casual evil.

Beautifully photographed, incisively edited (so many shots of Mouchette angrily throwing handfuls of earth), brilliantly acted by a cast of mostly non-actors (Nadine Nortier’s ‘acting’ is amongst the greatest child performances in cinema) and guided by a purity of direction, that few filmmakers could even conceptualize. The new blu-ray edition of Mouchette is essential viewing. Alan Price.

MOUCHETTE IS SCREENING DURING THE AUTEUR FILM FESTIVAL TO CELEBRATE THE OPENING OF THE CURZON BLOOMSBURY | 1 APRIL 2015 at 13.30

King of Escape (2009) | DVD release

DIRECTOR: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascale Aubert

93min  French with subtitles   Comedy drama

Middle-aged gay tractor salesman Armand Lacourtade (Ludovic Berthillot) is a rough and ready country type who enjoys his food and a glass of red. But when he breaks up a local brawl to save sultry teenager Curly (Hafsia Herzi), he doesn’t expect her to fall in love with him. This is what happens in Alain Guiraudie comedy drama KING OF ESCAPE. A far cry from his award-winning hit Stranger By the Lake, this is rather a curio as gay-interest films go. Sharing the same laid back Provençale setting as Stranger, its upbeat summery charm contrasts with the sinister ambiance that haunted the thriller, although Armand is a similar character to the unlucky Henri (Patrick Assumcao).

Curly’s father, Daniel (Luc Palun), is one of Armand’s competitors, and there are no prizes for guessing why he is dead against his daughter’s budding romance an affable and harmless chap who has grown rather tired of the limited gay scene in their remote village, and rather fancies a cosy future with Curly. But when she falls for his easy charm, Dad turns nasty, pursuing the courting couple with a loaded gun.

The homosexuality here is a light bucolic ripple rather than a pulsating undercurrent, giving KING OF ESCAPE an almost irreverent comic tone: old men with unfeasible large members indulging in some over-the-top groaning are  amusingly and indulgently weaved into a storyline that has some mainstream appeal, although it’s still not really a family film. As in several of Guiraudie’s previous outings, these older gay men are a normal part of the human landscape evoking a refreshingly laid back vibe, despite being a gay one.

That Armand should fall for this fresh young girl seems entirely plausible given the local competition and Guiraudie makes the salient point that sexuality, and indeed love, can be a moveable feast – often catching us unawares when we least expect it. Curly and Armand make convincing lovers in scenes of unbridled sensuality similar to those in the woods in Stranger. But there’s a twist to the tale involving Curly’s father and his mates.

KING OF ESCAPE is a simple story but an enjoyable one – Guiraudie drawing us slowly but surely into his world of southern camerarderie. His characterisation is inventive yet convincing and totally lacking in cliché in a setting that feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. Herzi is the main attraction and Berhillot’s relaxed style and economy of movement echo those of Henri in Stranger.

Sex scenes — mostly al fresco— are staged with humour and realism and the unlikely romance feels convincing in the heat of the Toulouse Summer. Well-formed characters bolster the comic background; from Francois Clavier’s serious gendarme who pops up when least expected, to Armand’s boss, played by Pascal Aubert. As a feisty old git, Jean Toscan provides a hilarious denouement. MT

RELEASE ON DVD FROM 23 MARCH 2015 COURTESY OF PECCADILLO PICTURES

Life of Riley (2014) Aimer, Boire et Chanter

LIFE OF RILEY | AIMER, BOIRE ET CHANTER | ALAIN RESNAIS | 2014 |

Cast: Sabine Azéma, Hippolyte Giradot, Caroline Sihol, Michel Vuillermoz, Sandrine Kiberlain, André Dussollier

108min |  Comedy |  French

For his 50th film, which also turned out to be his swan song, French Wave maverick and King of the fractured narrative, Alain Resnais offers up another Alan Ayckbourn adaptation with this reasonably straightforward, stylised comedy LIFE OF RILEY.

Some will find this utterly charming and idiosyncratic, others an irritating and rather twee affair with its garish theatrical sets and cutesy cardboard cut-out collages introducing the locales intercut with occasional glimpses of leafy countryside in the Yorkshire Dales. Starring the habitual Resnais collaborators: wife, Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Hyppolyte Girardot and Sandrine Kiberlain, it’s just the sort of thing that French audiences of a certain age will lap up but it does beg the question: ‘do we really need another stage adaptation (his third) of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET?’

You know the story by now: George Riley, close friend of middle-aged, middle-class couple, Colin and Kathryn, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Or is he? What follows is a lively farce with highly mannered performances all round from a French cast at the height of their game playing English characters with a script translated from English into French and then conveyed (presumably by Americans) into English subtitles. All somewhat of a feat and one that required three script-writers to perfect with some degree of aplomb – somehow it works. It will certainly appeal to diehard devotees of the iconic French filmmaker whose endeavours started over 50 years ago with the sublime HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) and end here with an Englishman’s work. A shame, then, that his sign-off film could not have been something as completely wonderful and unique as LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD but then, at 91, achieving anything is wonderful. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH MARCH 2015

Wooden Crosses (1932) Les Croix de Bois | Dual format DVD/Blu

Director/Writer: Raymond Bernard   Roland Dorgelès

Cinematography: Jules Kruger and René Ribault

Cast: Pierre Blanchar, Charles Vanel, Antonin Artaud, Paul Azaïs, René Bergeron, Raymond Cordy

One of the greatest wartime films LES CROIX DE BOIS is a work of staunch realism filmed in sombre black and white and re-launched to commemorate the onset of the Great War in 1914. Released in 1932, it provided a stark contrast to other Hollywood fare that year: Tarzan, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus and I Am a Fugutive from a Chain Gang. The impression its simple message of truth and tragedy made was overwhelming. Today it remains a valuable record of heroism: thrilling, pitiful but above all, sincere.

Adapted closely from the literary work by Roland Dorgelès, (who served as a corporal in the 39th Infantry Division), even down to the dialogue passages, WOODEN CROSSES is expertly-crafted to present a searing account of one regiment’s experience of the battlefield, without the romanticism of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); Hearts of the World (1918) or A Farewell to Arms (1932) or the glory of King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925); Howard Hughes’s Hell’s Angels (1930) or Howard Hawkes’ s The Road to Glory (1933).

WOODEN CROSSES tells it like it was, without melodrama or exaggeration yet still expressing the poignancy of simple acts of martyrdom as the soldiers share cheerful bonhomie and dark humour, keeping their emotions in check with courage despite the awfulness of it all. And although the story is seen from a French perspective, the appeal is universal and evergreen. It is the true account of a soldier who is, in essence, Everyman. Set in 1915, in Northern France, the film depicts the dark months of the 39th Battalion that ended in tragedy for all concerned. A call to arms that started with the hope of success and triumph, ends in a row of wooden crosses. Pierre Blanchar plays law student, Gilbert Demachy, who signs up to join the war effort along with other ordinary men: bakers; farmers and manual workers. After a gruelling series of events depicting courage and loyalty in the face of endless defeat, Gilbert Demachy ends his life alone in the mud of the battlefield, as the parade of surviving soldiers marches on, each carrying a wooden cross. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT DVD AND BLU/RAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES FROM 30 MARCH 2015

 

 

Dairy of a Chambermaid (2015) | Berlinale 2015 | Competition

Director: Benoît Jacquot

Cast: Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lyndon, Clothilde Mollet, Hervé Pierre

Drama. France

Léa Seydoux is well-cast in accomplished French director Benoit Jacquot’s bucolic bonkbuster that follows the ups and downs of a sullenly confident country chambermaid, Celestine, after Octave Mirabeau’s 1900 novel. The work has been adapted various times but this one adopts a light-hearted approach despite its foreboding musical score with melodramatic undertones.

Told as a fractured narrative, we first meet the recalcitrant Céléstine as her long-suffering agency is attempting to re-deploy her to the provinces. Despite her lowly origins, Céléstine feels she’s destined for better things although her haughty resentment hides a sad and unsuccessful past. So despite her love of sophisticating, she reluctantly takes up the housekeeping role in the delightful country villa of Madame Lanlaire (Clothilde Mollet), a frustrated wealthy middle-aged woman, and her portly husband (Herve Pierre). As soon as she arrives, Céléstine realises that with a little guile and coquettishness she can wrap Monsieur around her little finger but there is also the mysterious figure of Vincent Lyndon’s hostile and saturnine handyman (Joseph) to deal with. He is, it transpires, a political activist and raging anti-semite and this sketchy backstory is presumably why the title is in competition at Berlinale 2015.  However, the political angle is unexplored and largely unconvincing – making it feel tacked on to lend gravity and serious intent to this otherwise rather vapid affair.

Clearly, Céléstine  has her work cut out with Madame Lanlaire and her rather chequered employement history – we are shown in flashback that she was dismissed from her previous post simply for witnessing the presence of an ivory dildo in her employer’s trunk – means that she cannot really afford to be choosy and must knuckle under her Madame’s draconian cosh. Chambermaids of the era were regularly sexually put upon by the males of the household but they also had the considerable advantage of using their feminine charms to hold these often sexually unsatisfied males to ransom, with a little savoir faire.

Jacquot’s is well known on the French arthouse circuit with FAREWELL MY QUEEN and VILLA AMALIA and his most recent drama, TROIS COEURS, was well-received at Venice 2014. DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID will go down very well with French audiences who will love its cheeky ‘follies bergères’ naughtiness. There are scenes of a sexual nature but it’s all very bawdy and superficial with little dramatic tension even from Vincent Lyndon’s political undercurrent of subversiveness.  We do not remotely care for any of these people or feel moved by their plights. Even the young consumptive gentleman Céléstine is sent to care for (in another flashback) fails to evokes any sadness or even pity. There is nothing of  the Thérèse Raquin or Madame Bovary to our central character and in no way is she a heroine. We are not even persuaded by the unconvincing ‘romance’ that suddenly crops up in the final stages of the film between Céléstine  and Joseph although both actors perform well. Ultimately DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is as frothy as a lace petticoat – giving a certain texture but no weight in the competiton line-up. Perfectly respectable though for a Saturday night out.MT

BERLINALE RUNS FROM 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015. FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE under BERLINALE 2015

Violette (2013)

Dir.: Martin Provost; Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel | France 2013, 139 min  Drama

After his sparkling bio-pic of the French painter Seraphine Louis (2008), Provost successfully tackles another woman artist whose humble background helped and hindered her literary career in different ways: Violette Leduc (1907-72) was a protégé of Simone de Beauvoir, who valued her writing paid her for many years a generous allowance (pretending it came from the publisher Gallimard), Evenutally years later, in 1964, Leduc made the breakthrough with  her passionate and painfully honest memoir  ‘La Batarde”.

Violette unglamorously, but brilliantly played by Emmanuelle Devos, is the illegitimate daughter of a kitchen maid. At the beginning of the film she is living with the homosexual writer Maurice Sachs in Nazi-occupied France. After marrying her as a ‘cover, he mistreated her but encouraged her to write), in Nazi occupied France. She survives by trading luxury food items successfully on the black market, a ‘profession’ she continues after the end of the war in Paris. After reading a book by Simone de Beauvoir (a strong portrait by Sandrine Kiberlain ),  she visits the writer and develops an unrequited crush on her.

De Beauvoir channels her emotional feelings into serious writing but encourages Leduc whose first book “L’ Asphixie” is published by Gallimard, through de Beauvoir’s literary contact. The lack of success of her next books, coupled with de Beauvoir’s stardom, drives Leduc into a deep depression, but the restrained and outwardly frosty de Beauvoir, supports her and even  pays for her stay in a sanatorium, where Leduc is – against De Beauvoir’s will –  treated with electro shocks.

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Leduc whose writing was at least as revolutionary as de Beauvoir’s (she was the first to describe lesbian sex), suffered most of her life from lack of self-esteem, she felt unloved by her mother (Catherine Hiegel). Sets and lightning reflect Leduc’s self-image: before moving to Faucon, she lives mostly in squalor, the colours are washed out, grey is dominant. Paris is anything but the city of light for Leduc, she sees Paris more like tunnels, in which she gets lost. Her temper tantrums seem to reverberate from the shoddy walls of her rooms, she dresses with little elegance believing in her own modest background (only making an effort when meeting De Beauvoir). Leduc is always shown as coarse and unattractive  – the total opposite of her status as a literary icon and taboo-breaker who is regarded now by some as on par with De Beauvoir.

NOW ON MUBI | DVD

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)

Dir.: Louis Malle

Cast: Gaspar Manesse, Raphael Fetjo, Francine Racette

France 1987, 104 min.

When Louis Malle returned from the USA to France in 1986, he was ready to start work on a project close to his heart since with he had become a filmmaker. AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS is a very autobiographical film, based on Malles’ experience in a Catholic boarding school in January 1944 when three Jewish boys, hiding with the consent of the padres, were denounced by a disgruntled kitchen help and sent to a concentration camp together with one of the teachers, Father Jean. None of them survived.

Malle had already tackled France under German occupation in 1974 with LACOMBE LUCIEN. But the role of French collaborators in the Holocaust, particularly the French police, is still a contentious issue today. When President Hollande recently commemorated the Round-Up of foreign Jews at the “Velodrome d’Hiver” in July 1942 and their subsequent deportation to the concentration camps, he mentioned –quiet accurately – that this was done by French men alone. The political storm was enormous – French history is full of praise for the Resistance, but the reality was that 99% of France collaborated with the Germans – closing their eyes to what was going on. Malle, very aware of the national repression of this period was adamant in an interview: “We all knew. And people who pretend that they didn’t know are just – well, we knew. I was not even twelve, and I knew. I remember my parents talking about it, how horrible it was.”

Similar to his narrative in LACOMBE LUCIEN, the traitor is a young boy with a grudge; somebody without a formed identity who could have equally ended up in the resistance but for circumstances and choice: Joseph is jealous of the privileged boys in the convent trying to be their friend and ally and helping them with their little black market deals. But when the teachers find out about their activities, Joseph, whose limp already makes him an outsider, receive the worse punishment: he is dismissed and informs the Gestapo.

Malle confessed that he only invented the character of Joseph. During his research for the project, he found out that such a person  had actually existed at the time of the arrests. However, he may not have been the culprit as some say the denunciation came from neighbours and others that an ex-student who had joined the resistance confessed to the crime under torture. There were contradictions and discrepancies, but Malle stuck with the Joseph figure who seemed to ring true. At the end of film, we hear Malle’s voice, declaring “that this was the key memory of my life, I thought about this every day since then, I will never forget it.”

Set during a grim January in 1944, this exceptionally moving yet unsentimental personal masterpiece garnered much critical acclaim including The Golden Lion at Venice 1987, a BAFTA and several Césars. AS

ON RELEASE AT THE BFI FROM 30 JANUARY 2015 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, IFI DUBLIN AND SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

La Maison de la Radio (2013)

Dir.: Nicolas Philibert; Documentary; France 2013, 103 min.

LA MAISON DE LA RADIO is a large, circular building in Paris’ 16th district, overlooking the Seine and housing seven state radio networks, among them the popular “France Info” and “France Inter”. Their budget is close to half a billion GBP a year, and during the early part of 2011, director Nicolas Philibert has filmed between the hectic and sometimes funny activities in this landmark building designed by the architect Henry Bernard.

This ‘fly on the wall’ documentary takes in twenty four hours in the life of ‘Radio France’ and we get to meet the producers, presenters, journalists and guests. But firstly we get a lightening course in news reading: this is one of the most difficult aspects of broadcasting and a task never given to beginners; only hardened professionals have the skills to engage the attention of the viewing public: lose them for a minute, and you’ve lost them for the duration. Moving on to the newsroom, we discover them desperately trying to find a “funny closer” for said news: a Justin Bieber story is mentioned. Interviews with politicians such as Martin Aubrey and Francois Fillon are mentioned. The recent Tsunami is also still very much in the news and we get to watch the painstaking recoding of a radio play, with all the ramifications of finding the right background noises like “walking on gravel”. The producer is strict: “We take this step by step, like with children”.

Philibert’s entertaining documentary leaves the building to cover sporting events like football and the Tour de France. The newsroom delivers some macabre humour: there is a forth body found in Deule, which the editors seems to strangely find hilarious. The importance of potatoes is mentioned at length: “Potatoes have saved far more lives than penicillin”. One sound engineer even went so far as to make a programme about the growing of what the French call “the apple of the earth”. In an interview with a lonely woman, we discover that there are two ways of talking to yourself: in anger or confession. The writer Umberto Eco talks about subjectivity in writing, explaining that even if he were to write about someone killing his grandmother – which he is not planning – the writing would have autobiographical features. He then claims to be a sort of “Madame Bovary” although this is never fully explained. Interviews with revolutionaries in Tunis are followed by the shipping news. And finally we witness a sound engineer re-creating the anarchic sound machines of his childhood.

Philibert creates immediacy, the audience shares the intimacy of the creative work. Katell Dijan’s camera is our curious eye, capturing the highs and lows of a day at the radio station. Perhaps the most important ingredient here is the underlying humour making LA MAISON DE LA RADIO a vivid and humanistic experience. AS

NICOLAS PHILIBERT’S DOCUMENTARY IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 23 JANUARY 2015 AND WILL HAVE A HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE ON THE 23 March 2015

 

Cult classic | DVD | Blu | Box Sets for the holidays 2014

Q: What do David Lean, Claude Lanzmann, Kurosawa, Spike Lee, and Katharine Hepburn all have in common?
A: They all come in box sets and any one of them could make the perfect Christmas presents for film lovers…just click through and buy. But if you’re just looking for a small stocking filler, the following may appeal to any film buff.

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French cinema always springs to mind when people talk about ‘arthouse’ film and one timeless French classic is Maurice Pialat’s A NOS AMOURS. (1983) Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, it explores the life of a sexually precocious young woman contrasting sensual escapades with those of her violent experiences at home. If you fancy something meatier, Raymond Bernard’s screen version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel LES MISERABLES is a slightly substantial drama (on Blu-ray/DVD) for those long afternoons by the fire. Both are available from Masters of Cinema.

Stanley Kubrick is sure to be a big hit with any film aficionado. Those who’ve recently seen the new print of Sci-Fi classic 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY would be pleased to add imagesFEAR AND DESIRE (1953) to their collection of classic titles. Perfect to celebrate the Centenary of the Great War – this low-budget indie film takes a raw and occasionally surreal glimpse at War from the perspective of those fighting and dying. It also explores the psychological impact it has of four soldiers. Makes a superb companion piece to FULL METAL JACKET.

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Staying with the Wartime theme, Claude Lanzmann spent twelve years spanning the globe for surviving camp inmates, SS commandants, and eyewitnesses of the “Final Solution”. Without dramatic re-enactment or archival footage – but with extraordinary testimonies – the filmmaker’s landmark documentary about the Holocaust, SHOAH, renders the step-by-step machinery of extermination, and through haunted landscapes and human voices, makes the past come brilliantly alive.

Alongside the four films he made through 2013 on the subject, SHOAH is out in January. So why not start with a sparkling blu-ray Lanzmann taster: LAST OF THE UNJUST – before the series launches in January 2015.  All the EUREKA films have fabulous SPECIAL FEATURES such as booklets and interviews with key talent, making them really worth their weight in gold.

On a lighter note – and simply called ‘Spike Lee’ this set contains nine of Spike Lee’s best, that’s 2,000 minutes of film for £25.00, Mo’ Better Blues, Crooklyn, Inside Man, Clockers, School Daze, She Hate Me, Do The Right Thing, Get On The Bus and Jungle Fever . That’s Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Mekhi Phifer, Jodie Foster, Alfre Woodard and John Turturro, Harvey Keitel, Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra et al, either in store at HMV or online at Amazon.

Cary Grant Boxset

For lovers of mellow Hollywood classics, the ‘Cary Grant Box Set’, at £49.00 the most expensive of a selection of Cary Grant Box Sets, but this one contains 21 (count ‘em) films, whereas many of the others only three or four… Blonde Venus, Bringing Up Baby, Charade, Father Goose, The Grass Is Greener, Gunga Din, The Toast Of New York, I’m No Angel, Indiscreet, The Last Outpost, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, Mr Lucky, None But That Lonely Heart, My Favourite Wife, Once Upon A Honeymoon, In Name Only, Operation Petticoat, She Done Him Wrong, Suspicion, Sylvia Scarlett and That Touch Of Mink. That’s a whole lot of suave for one lucky girl. Amazon.co.uk

Staying with Hollywood greats: ‘Screen Icons, Katharine Hepburn’ offers you six top films for a paltry £15.00. Rooster Cogburn, State Of The Union, Bringing Up Baby, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Holiday and Suddenly Last Summer. Teaming her up with Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Sidney Poitier and John Wayne. I’m not sure your screen is wide enough. The films form part of a major retrospective that runs from 1 February 2015 at the BFI, London.

Moving to Japan: Three box sets to mull over for the Kurosawa aficionado:- The ‘Kurosawa Classic Collection’ at £39,99, released by the BFI was always going to feel less of an immediate bargain, but no less of a genuine treat for any true cineaste; Ikiru (1952); I Live in Fear (1949); Red Beard (1965); The Lower Depths (1957); Dodes Ka-den (1970). A couple of previously impossible to obtain here, in Red Beard and Dodes Ka-den.

At £35.79, ‘Akira Kurosawa- The Samurai Collection’ has Seven Samurai, Throne Of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro. Nothing amiss there then.

Finally, for £37.00, there’s ‘Early Kurosawa’, Sanshuro Sugata (1943), Sanshuro Sugata No 2 (1945), The Most Beautiful (1944), The Men Who Tread On The Tigers Tail (1952), No Regrets For Our Youth (1946) and One Wonderful Sunday (1947). His early work, before he hit his métier then, but if they do like Kurosawa, they won’t have seen these and will also appreciate the fledgling canon.

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Over at ARROW FILMS there is a re-mastered British eighties classic WITHNAIL AND I: out on DVD/Blu-ray along with a fabulous collection of NORDIC NOIR boxsets to while away long Winter evening. From Eureka: WAKE IN FRIGHT, Ted Kotcheff’s Australian outback drama starring Donald Pleasance. Both is edgy cult classics that will delight any film lover worth his salt and bring some welcome heat into the cold nights.   

Now also digitally remastered, ‘The David Lean Centenary Collection’ of 10 films for £20.00, either at HMV or online at Amazon, is some sort of bargain of the season. Lean is of course best known for Dr Zhivago, Bridge On The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia, but this Centenary Collection boasts some of his perhaps lesser-known works, but no less fabulous for it: The Sound Barrier, Hobson’s Choice, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Madeleine, The Passionate Friends, This Happy Breed and In Which We Serve. Those are some stonking films for the price of one arthouse DVD at a boutique stall.

David Lean

Stocking fillers all. That’s not to say there aren’t a basket load of other choices, from Ealings finest to Mizoguchi, Ozu to Bogarde, Judy Garland to Tarantino… if not your stockings, then fill yer boots at Amazon.co.uk and BFI, online stores.

Boy Meets Girl (1984) | The Leos Carax Collection | DVD/BLU

Director: Leox Carax

Cast: Denis Lavant, Mireille Perrier, Christian Cloarec

100mins  Fantasy drama   French with subtitles

Maverick French auteur Leos Carax tells an autobiographical story of doomed love in Paris for this stylish black and white debut. Set in 1984, it has the look and feel of the fifties and early sixties. A mood piece, slight in narrative and dialogue but rich in atmosphere and visually stunning, Boy Meets Girl is an exploration of his central characters’ dysfunctional insecurities that emerge in the fumblings of first love and the first flourishes of characteristic Carax eccentricity.

Denis Lavant stars as Alex, an insecure 24-year-old who has just split up with girlfriend Florence (Anna Baldaccini) who immediately falls for Thomas (Christian Cloarec). Distraught and frustrated by the break-up, film student Alex sets off to roam the nocturnal streets of Paris, stealing some records which he leaves at Florence’s door with a love letter.  The action is scored by musical interludes of piano and jazz music and, at one point, an unknown couple talking about their preferred styles of love-making. Eventually Alex finds his way into a strangely sedate soirée, welcomed by a middle-aged woman who becomes his hostess.  There he meets and falls in love with a mysterious but alluring actress Mireille (Mireille Perrier) who is aloof and self-absorbed. Boy Meets Girl has a weirdly detached and unique ambiance marking out Carax’s distinct talent to amuse. MT

OUT ON DVD/Blu COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE. The box includes HOLY MOTORS and THE NIGHT IS YOUNG

EXTRAS: INTRO BY DENIS LAVANT/ON SET IN THE KITCHEN

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Interview with Robin Campillo | Director – Eastern Boys (2013)

image002EASTERN BOYS come from all over Eastern Europe to Paris where they hang around the Gare du Nord. Some are as old as 25 but others could still be in their late teens. They might be prostitutes but there’s way of knowing. Fifty-something Daniel Muller (Olivier Rabourdin/Of Gods And Men) meets one of them, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) who agrees to visit him the next day. But when the doorbell rings, Daniel is unaware that his life is going to change forever.

Meredith Taylor chatted to writer/director, Robin Campillo, about his latest film which won the ORIZZONTI Prize at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2013. He is a known for THE CLASS (2008), TIME OUT (2001) and THE RETURNED (2004).

MJT: Eastern Boys is a gay love story wrapped up in a migration thriller – where did the idea come from?

RP: The love story comes from a friend of a friend of about 55 who decided to adopt his former boyfriend of 35 or so who came from Poland. And I thought, how can I direct a film where the meaning of love changes?. And that was the challenge; to create the mutation that started with a sort of prostitution, then became more tender and gradually developed into a father and son relationship. And the other thing was that I wanted to create a character who was like ‘Boss’ (Daniil Vorobyov) who was at the same time frightening, enchanting and mesmerising. I love the idea of being afraid of someone but also by being attracted by them. And most of the time I think people are afraid of migration (and immigrants) and I find that exciting too, so I wanted to create a paradoxical situation here.

MJT: Now, in the film the younger man (Marek) attracts the older man (Daniel) by his charismatic gaze – did you intend him to be sexually submissive?

RP: I’m not sure whether Marek was a real prostitute but he uses sex to escape from his life and get what he wants – he wants to be desired by someone, and to re-gain his power (as ‘Boss’ the gang-leader, controls his life in Paris). He has empathy with Daniel and they get on but I don’t know what is going on between them actually. Daniel thinks he’s having a tender affair with Marek but all the time money is involved and he tends to forget that.

MJT: But Marek has sexual control over Daniel when they first meet at the Gare du Nord and that control continues…

RP: Well he’s trying to exert some power over his life and that’s the only way he knows how…maybe he has been taught by Boss how to behave in this situation so that he can get what he wants from Daniel…he (Marek) thinks he has the control because of the sexual power he has over Daniel but once they start their relationship, I think Daniel has the power…

MJT: Yes, and especially at the end…but we won’t reveal what happens there. What was the idea to set part of the film in your own apartment?

RP: It’s a thing about invasion (laughing) sometimes invasion can be positive..being invaded created a lot of things in the world so I like the feeling of being invaded by my own characters in my own film and my own space –  it all felt very weird and very exciting..

MJT: Did that continual spontaneity with the actors lead you to have to keep changing the script and re-writing during filming?

RP: Yes – before we started the shoot I didn’t realise that some of the Russian actors couldn’t speak English so, nine months before the shoot, I asked them to come to the apartment with Olivier Rabourdin and we did improvisations of a lot of the scenes and the party and they collaborated with me. Afterwards I went home and I re-wrote a lot of it..I used to think that directing a film meant being in control of it but I let go of this control and it became very exciting…I abandoned myself during the shooting and I wanted the others to do my film and it was a great idea.

MJT: Did you like that feeling of letting go?

RP: Yes, so much..I was mesmerised by the fact that they could take over the film. Of course, there was some germs (seeds) in my script to begin with but the collaboration then became so much more exciting – we had two cameras during the shooting and played with creating a different atmosphere with each and I found that very inspiring because it’s not like you have a programme when you wake up in the morning. You need to stay flexible and be surprised by what happens. I now have a lot of distance from my film and I love my film because it doesn’t belong to me and I that’s what I mean by being invaded by other people..foreigners… and yet to learn a lot myself.

MJT: Well film is really teamwork and certainly so in this case.

RP: Yes you’re right…and I’ve worked a lot with Laurent Cantet on this idea

MJT: Tell us about that.

RP: Well I’ve known Laurent for about 30 years or so and we are very close and good friends. When we did THE CLASS we were using three cameras and didn’t have a fixed project it mind. So we decided to look to the actors and let them create the characters. It was amazing to create that atmosphere where everyone is a little bit free. And I know now that whatever the story, we need to keep that feeling. It took me time to realise this but it always depends on good casting, so I always use good actors – the actors and the locations are the most important things in the film…for me.

MJT: Marek is amazing – he’s got a particular sense of vulnerability and he’s instinctive – where did you find him?

RP: It took me nine months..I searched all over the internet for my actors and watched them in many Russian films, not very good films I must say, and when you see bad films, and this is important, that’s when you can see who good the actors are…someone tried to tell me in France “you took these guys off the street” so I told him “please…he’s an actor, he’s been acting for years”. And Marek comes from a family of actors; he’s been acting since he was five. And you don’t even see the techniques with him because he’s so good. Between takes, he’s fiddling with his ‘phone but when you say ‘action’ he immediately starts to act. During the film I only told him three things and he’s so quick to learn and he understood everything. I’ve never met an actor like this – you just have to tell him a few things when you want to make some adjustments and he’s knows the character completely – he’s an amazing actor and, as you say he’s instinctive – he never asks you any questions – he just plays the part as you want it or completely differently – if you want that too..

MJT: Olivier’s also well-cast as Daniel. He’s vulnerable but also looks very worn down by life.

RP: Yes that’s right. That’s why I chose him because actors wear their lives on their face – and it’s very important to spend time to find the right casting – you can feel their life from their face without asking them. You don’t have to hear about their sad story with their last relationship. When you chose an actor, you chose a history on his face. That’s what cinema’s about. You don’t have to push things – things exist before you come along, you just have to find them. He has his own story and it’s rich for this character, he has this way of looking..

MJT: He has a world-weariness about him..

RP: Exactly – that’s the word “world-weariness”. You have a lot of expressions for everything…English is great for that!

MJT: Tell us about the look of the film. In the beginning it’s so disorientating…

RP: Yes the world ‘disorientation’ is for me a very important one. I like the idea that I lose myself: the spectator in the middle of nowhere with no compass! Debating what’s happening in this film. I want it to be (a) chaos! Very much like in THE CLASS – then after a moment you realise that there are characters and a relationship between them. You are the spectator and you are creating your own story, and you get lost occasionally and you have to focus a lot to see the fiction appear.

MJT: When you wrote VERS LE SUD (a drama about female sex tourism, starring Charlotte Rampling and directed by Laurent Cantet) it was about older women going with young boys, here you have an older man with a young boy. This oedipal/dominant relationship seems to fascinate you?

LC: Yes – it’s very strange because, I didn’t think a lot about it at the time but I must have a thing about it. I think what we call prostitution, or sex with money, is an important way of talking about domination and especially occidental domination in the world today. It’s a way of thinking about social differences but also about ‘desire’. I think prostitution will become much bigger because of the internet and because of people getting older…and wanting ‘desire’ in their lives. 

MJT: Do you mean older people still wanting to find chemistry ?

RP: Yes chemistry…people want to live more and have more experiences and I think it’s going to be huge. And I don’t mean that’s good or bad…I’m not judging..

MJT: No, you’re just making an observation about what’s actually happening.

RP: What we loved in VERS LE SUD was there were two kinds of minorities – women can be a kind of minority: they can be dominated a lot. So if women were dominated in their own lives they were going there (the Dominican Republic) to gain a little bit of power and desire. These films are about two types of people who were being dominated and now dominate a little bit. We found that fascinating.

MJT: So what’s next?

RP: This time I’m going to make another fantasy film (LES REVENANTS/The Returned was his first) with much more money! (laughing)

ME: So financing is not going to be a problem..

RP: I don’t know – we’ll see – but I want to make a film about women – because this one had a lot of men…

ME: And who would be your fantasy actress?

RP: Well I love Catherine Deneuve – but it’s a fantasy…(laughing)

ME: Well I hope your fantasy comes true. Thanks very much Robin Campillo.

RP: Thank you!

EASTERN BOYS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5TH DECEMBER 2014

Les Miserables (1934) | Blu-ray DVD release

A mammoth undertaking that puts the latest version to shame is Raymond Bernard’s 1932 adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel LES MISERABLES which followed rapidly in the wake of his epic First World War drama LES CROIS DE BOIS (WOODEN CROSSES (1932). With a screen time running to nearly five hours, Bernard’s epic version reflects the original source matter in all its breadth and glory: this is not a film for the faint-hearted but well worth it when time and leisure permits.

There is much to admire about Bernard’s version which followed the style of the historical spectacle; skilfully blending his dramatic narrative with ambitious set design by Lucien Carré and Jean Perrier, cinematography by Jules Kruger and a cast of over fifty characters. Told against the background of 19th France, it traces two decades in the lives of Jean Valjean, the central character, played by the superb Harry Bauer (who sadly was to die in the Second World War) as he attempts to evade the clutches of the unscrupulous Inspecteur Javert (Charles Vanel – The Wages of Fear). Told in three parts: ‘Tempest in a Skull’, ‘The Thenardiers’ and ‘Freedom, Dear Freedom’ , it was filmed in and around Antibes and Nice on the Côte d’Azur.

SPECIAL FEATURES including:

• New presentation of the film in its complete length from the new Pathé 4K digital restoration
• 40-PAGE BOOKLET with new and vintage writing, rare archival material, and more!
• A host of additional extras to be announced

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AVAILABLE FROM 8 DECEMBER 2014 Amazon (Blu-ray) http://amzn.to/1BD7oS1    Amazon (DVD) http://amzn.to/1pKUxGC

School of Babel (2014)

SCHOOL OF BABEL (LA COUR DE BABEL)

Dir.: Julie Bertucelli; Documentary; France 2014, 89 min.

Julie Bertucelli (SINCE OTTO LEFT) has filmed students at the special reception class of “La Grange aux Belles” Secondary School in Paris’ 10eme arrondissement for one year. All of the eleven to fifteen year olds have one common denominator: they come from four continents and have to learn French, before they are transferred into the normal school system.

Taught by Brigitte Cervoni (her last class, before she will exchange the care for 24 students to oversee 300 teachers in the Ministry of Education), the students bring not only the fears and traumas acquired in their homelands with them, they are isolated in France, because they speak French poorly. On top of it, adolescence is never easy, particularly when some of the students have to be the interpreters for their parents. Considering all this, clashes with teachers are relatively rare, most of the students see France as a stepping stone to a prosperous life – they try, with exceptions, much harder than English children in Secondary Schools, who on the whole, rely very much on their parents bailing them out with private tutors.

Rama, who comes from Senegal, is one of the exceptions. The young girl is lazy and unmotivated, even though she was beaten by male family members at home. Her older cousin, who is looking after her in Paris, tells her in front of Cervoni, that she will be send back home, if she is not more compliant. But at the end of the school year, Rama blames racism (unjustly) for her poor results.

Religion and fear of the future plays a major part in the life of the students. They discuss their upbringing under different religions; one girl grew up in a home split between a Muslim father and a Christian mother. A young Serbian boy had to flee with his family, because Neo-Nazis persecuted them in his homeland. Overall, they question the usefulness of religion, even quoting the troubles in Ireland, where one of the boys suffered.

The class competed in a school film festival, and won second price at the Festival in Chartres. The unbridled joy showed is proof, what this medium can do for students having to express themselves in their second language. The last day at school is very emotionally charged, many of the students will move on into Secondary schools, others will remain. But together with their equally teary teacher, they can celebrate a first, giant step into integration. SCHOOL OF BABEL is informative and very moving, a testament to creative schooling.

On general release from 5 December 2014

Mea Culpa (2014)

Dir.: Fred Cavayé

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Gilles Lellouche, Nadine Labaki, Max Baissette de Malglaive

France 2014, 90 min. Thriller

MEA CULPA runs on similar lines to his 2008 outing Anything for Her: Cavayé integrates the family of the main protagonist into the narrative, only this time the best buddy and his daughter are also part of the plot. These involvements are the saving grace of a film that relies heavily on action sequences, which often stretch reality far beyond breaking point.

We start on the beach, where the two cops Simon (Lindon) and Franck (Lellouche) are having a family holiday with Simon’s wife Alice (Labaki), their son Theo (de Malglaive) and Franck’s daughter, whose mother died at birth. The idyll is quickly shattered, when Simon, under the influence, crashes into a car, killing a family, including a child. He is dismissed from the police, sent to prison and after his release unable to care for his family. Fast forward six years: Simon is working as a security guard, neglecting his son, guilt ridden and full of self pity. Then Theo witnesses a game-changing event involving the Mafia which eventually leads to a grand finale on a the TGV, where not only the rather faceless gangsters are finished off for good, but we learn a secret that changes everything we have witnessed so far…

Set in Toulon, Cavayé endearingly evokes the closeness of the two families: the shattered existence of all protagonists after the car crash is painful to watch. When Simon re-establishes himself, we rout for him not only because he is the good guy, but we want him to succeed and overcome his trauma. Tension is ramped up in many chase scenes involving Theo which are shot in dimly-lit buildings and narrow streets, making for a very claustrophobic setting. Lindon, as usual, dominates the proceedings, whilst Lellouche is somehow relegated to second best. Labaki’s Alice is fragile but stands up to her husband, and de Malglaive’s Theo is perhaps a little too cute and precocious.

MEA CULPA has just enough emotional depth to qualify as a thriller, overall the sum is more than its, very well-executed, genre parts.

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 5TH DECEMBER 2014

 

Competition | Win a copy of Boris Vian’s book L’ECUME DES JOURS (Mood Indigo)

L_ECUME_DES_JOURS_18 copyMichel Gondry’s poetic and surrealist French drama MOOD INDIGO is based on BORIS VIAN’s fantastical novel L’ECUME DES JOURS (Froth on a Daydream). The story has captured the imagination of various feature filmmakers since the book was written in 1947 and has also been made into an opera by the Russian composer Edison Denisov.  It tells how Colin, a romantically idealistic young man, falls in love and marries Chloe, a beautiful Parisian girl. Romantic love turns to tragedy when Chloe develops a weird and inexplicable illness, turning their lives upside down.

The exciting news is that we have three copies of the book to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, please answer the following question:

Q. Boris Vian was a famous French writer, poet and translator but he was also influential in which field of music during his lifetime?

a. Opera

b. Jazz

c. Orchestral

Please send your answer to filmuforia@gmail.com by the competition deadline: Midday on 5 DECEMBER 2014.

French Film Festival UK | 7 November – 4 December | 2014

Aimed at bringing new French films to the provinces, there is also a strong London presence to this popular festival, celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year. From the latest features to iconic cult classics, the 2014 edition offers with a strong slate of dramas starring a variety of well-known French talent: Emmanuelle Devos, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Amalric and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, to name but a few. This year the focus is on the work of the late Alan Resnais, with his debut HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) to his swan song: AIMER, BOIRE, CHANTER (2014).

LifeLIFE OF RILEY | AIMER, BOIRE, CHANTER | ALAIN RESNAIS | 2014 | ***

For his 50th film, which also turned out to be his swan song, Alain Resnais adapts the work of Alan Ayckbourn in this stagey farce with garish theatrical sets and occasional glimpses of the leafy countryside of the Yorkshire Dales. Starring his wife Sabine Azema, Sandrine Kiberlain (Bird) Andre Dussollier and Hyppolyte Girardot, it’s just the sort of thing that older French audiences lap up but do we really need another stage adaptation (his third) of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET?. This turns out to have additional flourishes with drawings by French artist Blutch and puppetry to boot! You know the story here – middle-aged, middle-class couples whose close friend is diagnosed with cancer. Or is he? Mannered performances all round may appeal to his diehard devotees.

BLUE_ROOM_KissForestTHE BLUE ROOM | (LA CHAMBRE BLUE | MATHIEU AMALRIC | 2014 | ***

Mathieu Almalric bases his directorial debut, in which he also stars, on a 1964 crime thriller from Belgian detective Simenon. Lushly erotic and superbly shot on the Academy format (square) by the capable Christophe Beaucarne, it will please the art house circuit with its subtle performances and fractured narrative style. After making love to his mistress Esther (a sinuous Stephanie Cleau) in the eponymous blue room, tractor magnate Julien goes home to his lovely wife and daughter. The story jumps forward to show him being cross-examined by a local magistrate (a masterful Laurent Poitrenaux) as it transpires that his affair with Esther is not as simple and compartmentalised as he thought. As the story goes back and forward further clues gradually emerge, fleshing out the storyline but leaving the details as shady as Esther’s own background. The Blue Room is a workable and stylised piece of cinema that offers good entertainment, but many critics questioned why it was considered for Un Certain Regard this year at Cannes.

diplomatie-andre-dussollier-niels-arestrup copyDIPLOMATIE | VOLKER SCHLöNDORFF | 2014 | **** | Best adapted Screenplay CÉSAR 2015

Based on a play by Cyril Gely, Niels Arestrup brings his sinister talents to this slick WWII drama when he plays General Dietrich von Choltitz, a German assigned by Hitler to carry out the destruction of Paris in 1944. Fortunately he underestimates the negotiation tactics of Andre Dussollier’s Swedish consul, Raoul Nordin, and it soon emerges that both men have personal rather than moral issues at stake. Thrillingly tense and skilfully-crafted, the narrative is teased out slowly as the city’s cultural heritage hangs on a thread at the mercy of two men’s powers of persuasion. A brilliantly acted and tightly-scripted wartime treat.

adieuGOODBYE TO LANGUAGE, | ADIEU AU LANGUAGE | JEAN-LUC GODARD | 2014 | *** FRENCH_RIVIERA_01 copy

FRENCH RIVIERA, | l’HOMME QUE L’ON AIMER TROP | 2014 |**

ARIANE’S THREAD | AU FIL D’ARIANNE | ROBERT GUEDIGUIAN | 2012 | **

Robert Guédiguian takes a light-hearted break from his usual leftist political fare with  slice of magical realism set in his beloved Marseiiles and starring his regular collaborators Ariane Ascaride (in the lead) and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. Very much along the lines of GLORIA (2013) it focuses on a middle-aged woman who is suddenly all alone for the first time in her life on her birthday. Marseilles is very much a character here, and athough there are plenty of darker undercurrents to this sunny sejourn as Ariane’s attempts to have fun are thwarted by a series of set-backs, like a glass of Pastis on a hot day, it goes down smoothly enough but, at times, has you wondering whether you’re really seeing straight.

GARD DU NORD | CLAIRE SIMON | 2013 | ***

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FOR THE FULL PROGRAMME FOLLOW THE LINK

 

 

 

 

La Sapienza (2014) | Seville Film Festival

DIR/WRITER; Eugene Green

Cast: Fabrizio Rongione, Christelle Prot Landman, Ludovico Succio, Arianna Nastro

107min  Drama Italy/France

Eugene Green’s Portuguese Nun was a work of subtle and enigmatic beauty. La Sapienza (a Univeristy in Rome and ‘wisdom’ in Italian) has the same rather cool detached allure in which the actors recite their lines clearly and often looking straight into the camera, in well-composed frames. It centres on a disillusioned middle-aged couple who have reached the companion stage after a difficult marriage where they have lost a handicapped child. Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione) and Alienor (Christelle Prot Landman) arrive in Stresa, Lake Maggiore, on the first leg of a trip that intends to re-ignite their relationship and allow Alexandre to complete his architectural research on the work of his hero, the Baroque master, Francesco Borromini. They come across a brother and sister who are students; the young man Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) is studying architecture, his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) becomes bed-ridden with unexplained dizziness. Alienor suggests that her husband continues his research trip down to Rome with Goffredo’s able assistance, while she remains with the poorly young girl to chat in French and help with her recovery.

In this intellectual, dialogue-driven drama there is little natural small talk: each conversation is direct and frank, aiming to offer some kind of didactic enlightenment or edifying debate on the subject-matter discussed: architecture, the theatre, love, philosophy allude to the title of Wisdom. Through these crisp and pared-down exchanges, Green fleshes out his characters’ thoughts and feelings. The men embark on an richly textured architectural diatribe covering the finer points of Barroque architecture while the women discuss more emotional and psychological issues including the nature of how the past, present and supernatural co-exist in perpetuity. Gradually though, the mens’ conversations appear more cultivated and heavyweight while the womens’ are made to feel more trivial and ephemeral. That said, this is an ambitious and richly textured film not least for its spectacular landscapes and majestic views of Borromini’s Baroque architecture in various locations around Italy. Occasional flashes of humour help to lighten the load of the intense didacticism, enriched by the elegant visuals of Raphael O’Byrne. MT.

Seville European Film Festival runs from 7-17 November 2014

Playtime (1967) Netflix

Dir.: Jacques Tati; Cast: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, John Abbey; France 1967, 124 min.

When PLAYTIME was originally released in France it took a massive hit at the box office: Jacques Tati, had shot the film in 70mm and insisted, rather dogmatically, that it should only be shown in this format which many most cinemas couldn’t screen it. But watching it nearly sixty years later, you soon realise why it was such a big flop, regardless of the format.

Tati admitted he was disgruntled ‘his’ rather dorkish character, the  Monsieur Hulot, who goes for a job interview in a modern high rise office block, gets lost, misses his appointment, and finally leaves the building through the wrong exit ending up in a trade fair featuring the latest gadgets. There he meets an American tourist (Dennek) visiting Paris with her group. She takes a liking for Hulot, but he manages to lose her in the crowd. Then, after bumping into a fellow soldier from WII, Hulot finally meets the young American again at a nightclub opening, where everything that could go wrong, does so. That said, a great time is had by all, and as a bonus, he meets the man who was supposed to interview him for the job that morning.

Hulot is his usual timid self, overcoming obstacles by chance rather than intent. One of the running gags involves a series of lookalike Hulots – actors smoking pipes and wearing hats – who are often mistaken for the man himself. The standout is a German salesman who starts off being polite and understanding, but soon looses his temper – and customers. In the nightclub sequence, there are some amusing scenes where the air conditioning gets out of control and part of the ceiling collapses, but the supposed anarchy comes across as rather muted and contrived.

Dennek feels anything but young, recalling the sort of teachers we had a crush on at school. The jokes about English infiltrating daily life are too obvious to be really stinging. And although the scenes in the nightclub are supposed to be mildly sexually-charged, all the characters come across as asexual, the women playing second fiddle to the men. Playtime seems tethered to the past: Hulot keeps meeting WWII soldiers everywhere – and considering how easily the Germans moved in and occupied France (supported by the huge majority of the French), this reflects the uncritical ideology of a feature which seems to be blithely rooted in some mythical past without any contradictions regarding race, class or gender.

1967 was a great year for the innovative French directors: Bresson (Mouchette), Robbe-Grillet (Trans-Europa Express), Demy (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort), Bunuel (Belle de Jour) to mention a few, and overshadowing everybody, JL Godard, with La Chinoise, Weekend and his very contemporary Paris version of 2 ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais d’Elle.

Playtime has its place as a charming document of film history, and fans will enjoy the nostalgic trip down memory lane, but it overstays its welcome at over two hours. . AS

NOW ON NETFLIX

Grand Central (2013) | DVD release

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski        Writers: Gaelle Mace, Rebecca Zlotowski

Cast: Tahir Rahim, Lea Seydoux, Denis Menochet, Olivia Gourmet, Johan Libereau

94min  Romantic drama   French with English subtitles

Grand Central’s nuclear decontamination unit provides the sinister backdrop to this tense drama of friendship, love and divided loyalties from French director Rebecca Zlotowski.

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Gary (Tahir Rahim) and Tcherno (Johan Libereau) are two young men who become friends as they travel to find work at the plant, set in the heart of verdant countryside. Accidents here are an everyday occurence rather than a risk factor but they are desperate for the chance to be earning some money. The mood is hopeful and upbeat at dinner on their first night, meeting colleagues Toni (Denis Menochet) and his fiancée Karole (Lea Seydoux) who unexpectedly kisses Gary in an effort to convey the feeling of radiation sickness.

But it doesn’t end with a kiss. Gary and Karole are a natural fit exuding a convincing onscreen chemistry as they drift into al fresco lovemaking sparked by their instant attraction and although Gary’s allegiances are initially to Toni (who has helped him out with a loan) he gradually falls for Karole’s magnetism and seductive powers.

Zlotowski handles the story well with her collaborator Gaelle Mace, cleverly weaving the narrative between the illicit love affair in the lush, bucolic surroundings and the unsettling conditions inside the stark nuclear unit and there is a judicious use of a throbbing, futuristic score to ramp up the tension.

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But after an incident at the plant the tone grows darker as the naively romantic Gary falls deeper into a web of fear and deceit caught between his feelings for Karole, his friendship with Toni and the pressure of working in the radioactive conditions at the plant. But nature takes its course.

Despite their skilful performances, the character arcs of Karole and Gary are never really given a chance to fully develop although their love scenes are believable and heartfelt. That said,  Zlotowski’s elegantly composed  widescreen visuals and skill at authentic modern storytelling certainly make this an absorbing drama not to be missed. MT

GRAND CENTRAL IS NOW ON DVD

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Camille Claudel, 1915 (2013) | Mubi

Dir/Wri: Bruno Dumont | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent, Robert Leroy, Emmanuel Kauffman, Marion Keller | France Drama 97mins

An austere and pared down portrait, though nonetheless beautiful for its ascetic treatment, of a woman artist who is denied her creativity due to confinement in a mental institution by her family in 1915. She would remain there for the rest of her life (29 years).

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This was Bruno Dumont’s first outing with an international star and Juliette Binoche dominates the screen with the mesmerising power of a real artist portraying another one.  Commanding our attention with her myriad facial expressions that range from abject misery to joy and – even disdain, she has a tender and taciturn relationship with the deranged inmates who are her only companions.

It’s not an angry performance but more a vulnerable one, borne out of depression and despair at being abandoned by her resentful artist lover Auguste Rodin and her brother Paul, (Jean-Luc Vincent) who is going through a  ‘religious re-birth’ inspired by Rimbaud’s poetry, and corresponds with her by letter. On hearing of his intention to visit, she is reduced to tears of joy.

Shot on the widescreen and within the confines of pale-stoned abbey near Avignon by Guillaume Deffontaines, the film is scored by a single classic Bach’s “Magnificat” that seems entirely appropriate for its Catholic moralism.  This is an intellectually challenging piece and not for the faint-hearted but for those looking for arthouse excellence Camille Claudel 1915 will not disappoint. It brings Belgian director Bruno Dumont centre stage after abstract outings with Hors Satan and Hadewijch. MT

NOW on MUBI

Bruno Dumont talks about Camille Claudel 1915 | Interviews

Camille_Claudel_-_003 copyIn his latest feature Camille Claudel 1915, French auteur Bruno Dumont has remained faithful to his somewhat sincere, morbid take on humanity. In this instance we’re delving into the life of Camille Claudel – portrayed by Juliette Binoche – in her later years, when confined to a mental institution following the nervous breakdown that came as a result of her affair with Auguste Rodin. Dumont discusses his influences, how cautious he had to be when handling such a subject matter, the prevalence of patriarchal injustice in the film, and what attracts him to creating such unforgiving, often bleak feature films.

Was the story of Camille Claudel one you knew much about prior to getting involved in this project?

It’s actually quite a well known story in France, she was a famous artist with this tragic destiny, ending up in a mental hospital. So yes, I knew about it before.

This isn’t the first film about Camille Claudel, with the 1980s take, starring Gérard Depardieu. Did you use that at all to inspire you – specifically in relation to Camille’s history with Rodin?

Yes, and because that film had been made, I didn’t need to cover that again, that aspect had been made into a film already. So I decided the next part of the story, which is far more obscure. Also, that moment in Camille’s life suits Juliette much better given her age.

Was delving in to a more obscure time in Camille’s life, allow you more artistic licence?

Yes, exactly. It’s more interesting because it’s more obscure and to study the psychiatry of an artist is very interesting to me.

With close-up shots of Juliette’s face, it reminded me of The Passion of Joan of Arc – was that an influence on this title?

Yes, and there is a relationship between the two women, because in a way they both burn. They’re both prisoners.

Another potential influence I could see is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – especially in how our protagonist seemed to think that, in her mind, she was perhaps above everybody else there, and yet was unhinged herself. 

Yeah, well the Claudel family are quite odd and very sure of their own genius. They have this superiority and are fully aware of their own genius. It makes them quite annoying, but that’s how they are. But yes, she was unhinged, it’s not a question of whether she is mad or not, it’s the length of time that she spent in there which is terrible. The problem is her brother’s influence in keeping her imprisoned. You have the scene with the doctor saying she’s much better and that she’s calmer and that she can be taken out. But the brother doesn’t. That’s the tension.

When treading on territory such as this, studying mental illness – how cautious do you have to be in order to remain sensitive to the subject matter?

I couldn’t imagine making actors play mad, so I had to be truthful by showing people who are genuinely mentally ill. So I was forced into that decision. Above all, Camille Claudel is writing about how hard it is to live with these women in her letters. So the whole mission of the film was to have this environment like that, with real patients. So I managed to find a psychiatrist who understood the therapeutic value of them being in the film, but you do need somebody to give you authorisation, so I had medical authorisation to do a casting in the hospital. Some people didn’t want to be in it, and some parents didn’t want their children to be in, so I just took people who did want to be in it.

In regards to Camille’s interaction with some of the other patients, we see quite a ruthless, callous side to her. Was it important for you to portray her flaws, to help us understand the character even more?

Yes, she was a hard, tough woman. She has this superiority about her, and she would treat everybody there like a lesser being – including her brother, who she calls ‘Little Paul’. She is pretty arrogant.

Was it ever a challenge to maintain that level of empathy, and yet show her for all of her imperfections?

I wasn’t judging her, I was taking as much as I could from the letters, which is as close as I could get to who the character was, and her relationships with other people. So I wasn’t trying to impose my own judgement on a historic character, you know, they are who they are. It’s the same for Paul, it’s easy to make him unlikeable – but I like him [laughs]. But he’s not a hero. He was a great writer, but he was also a coward. Like a lot of people. We’re all like that in some ways, and that’s the interesting part.

The film is very difficult to watch at times, and can be bleak and unforgiving. Do you get gratification from provoking such an emotional response from the viewer?

The film is difficult to watch because it’s difficult to look at mental illness. The film also takes you on a journey of love, by the end you love these women. In the end you find light. Camille is smiling by the end. In this journey, there is something that comes out that is a positive, in a way. The audience member, when they come out, can be happy, somehow. It’s a difficult journey, but can be a happy one.

This is not the first film of yours to tackle such severe themes – what attracts you to explore the darker, more dramatic side of life as a filmmaker?

In human beings there is lightness, darkness, happiness… I’m just occupied by the heavier side. You have to treat the serious side seriously, and the lighter side lightly. When you read Shakespeare, it’s not necessarily all funny, but in Shakespeare it is beautifully written, and in tragedy there is beauty. There is beauty in tragedy.

Back to Camille Claudel – how prevalent is the theme of patriarchal injustice?

Absolutely vital. It’s absolutely about that – at the beginning on the 20th century when women hadn’t been emancipated. She was ahead of her time, she was the light at the beginning of this century, but it was absolutely torturous, and she was rejected by all the people around her, even her family. It was very torturous. Especially Rodin, who abandoned her. For Rodin, she was a rival that really pissed him off, so she’s emblematic of women’s liberation. Poor Claudel is a kind of masochist, but also representative of his epoch.

At the heart of this tale, is an artist being denied her creativity. As an artist yourself, were you able to relate to the character and put yourself in her shoes, and wonder how you would react in this situation?

Yes, I was filming somebody who is forbidden life, forbidden creativity, forbidden freedom, and yes it’s touching. You touch a contemporary issue of alienation as well.

In regards to the look of the film, it’s a very beautiful aesthetic, creating a very serene atmosphere. Did you enjoying playing on the way that contradicts the inner turmoil?

It’s only through cinema that you can have, through these grimacing faces, the ability to show the beauty behind them. So the directing of the film has to be dignified, in order to show the women’s dignity as well.

In his latest feature Camille Claudel 1915, French auteur Bruno Dumont has remained faithful to his somewhat sincere, morbid take on humanity. In this instance we’re delving into the life of Camille Claudel – portrayed by Juliette Binoche – in her later years, when confined to a mental institution following the nervous breakdown that came as a result of her affair with Auguste Rodin. Dumont discusses his influences, how cautious he had to be when handling such a subject matter, the prevalence of patriarchal injustice in the film, and what attracts him to creating such unforgiving, often bleak feature films.

Was the story of Camille Claudel one you knew much about prior to getting involved in this project?

It’s actually quite a well known story in France, she was a famous artist with this tragic destiny, ending up in a mental hospital. So yes, I knew about it before.

This isn’t the first film about Camille Claudel, with the 1980s take, starring Gérard Depardieu. Did you use that at all to inspire you – specifically in relation to Camille’s history with Rodin?

Yes, and because that film had been made, I didn’t need to cover that again, that aspect had been made into a film already. So I decided the next part of the story, which is far more obscure. Also, that moment in Camille’s life suits Juliette much better given her age.

Was delving in to a more obscure time in Camille’s life, allow you more artistic licence?

Yes, exactly. It’s more interesting because it’s more obscure and to study the psychiatry of an artist is very interesting to me.

With close-up shots of Juliette’s face, it reminded me of The Passion of Joan of Arc – was that an influence on this title?

Yes, and there is a relationship between the two women, because in a way they both burn. They’re both prisoners.

Another potential influence I could see is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – especially in how our protagonist seemed to think that, in her mind, she was perhaps above everybody else there, and yet was unhinged herself. 

Yeah, well the Claudel family are quite odd and very sure of their own genius. They have this superiority and are fully aware of their own genius. It makes them quite annoying, but that’s how they are. But yes, she was unhinged, it’s not a question of whether she is mad or not, it’s the length of time that she spent in there which is terrible. The problem is her brother’s influence in keeping her imprisoned. You have the scene with the doctor saying she’s much better and that she’s calmer and that she can be taken out. But the brother doesn’t. That’s the tension.

When treading on territory such as this, studying mental illness – how cautious do you have to be in order to remain sensitive to the subject matter?

I couldn’t imagine making actors play mad, so I had to be truthful by showing people who are genuinely mentally ill. So I was forced into that decision. Above all, Camille Claudel is writing about how hard it is to live with these women in her letters. So the whole mission of the film was to have this environment like that, with real patients. So I managed to find a psychiatrist who understood the therapeutic value of them being in the film, but you do need somebody to give you authorisation, so I had medical authorisation to do a casting in the hospital. Some people didn’t want to be in it, and some parents didn’t want their children to be in, so I just took people who did want to be in it.

In regards to Camille’s interaction with some of the other patients, we see quite a ruthless, callous side to her. Was it important for you to portray her flaws, to help us understand the character even more?

Yes, she was a hard, tough woman. She has this superiority about her, and she would treat everybody there like a lesser being – including her brother, who she calls ‘Little Paul’. She is pretty arrogant.

Was it ever a challenge to maintain that level of empathy, and yet show her for all of her imperfections?

I wasn’t judging her, I was taking as much as I could from the letters, which is as close as I could get to who the character was, and her relationships with other people. So I wasn’t trying to impose my own judgement on a historic character, you know, they are who they are. It’s the same for Paul, it’s easy to make him unlikeable – but I like him [laughs]. But he’s not a hero. He was a great writer, but he was also a coward. Like a lot of people. We’re all like that in some ways, and that’s the interesting part.

The film is very difficult to watch at times, and can be bleak and unforgiving. Do you get gratification from provoking such an emotional response from the viewer?

The film is difficult to watch because it’s difficult to look at mental illness. The film also takes you on a journey of love, by the end you love these women. In the end you find light. Camille is smiling by the end. In this journey, there is something that comes out that is a positive, in a way. The audience member, when they come out, can be happy, somehow. It’s a difficult journey, but can be a happy one.

This is not the first film of yours to tackle such severe themes – what attracts you to explore the darker, more dramatic side of life as a filmmaker?

In human beings there is lightness, darkness, happiness… I’m just occupied by the heavier side. You have to treat the serious side seriously, and the lighter side lightly. When you read Shakespeare, it’s not necessarily all funny, but in Shakespeare it is beautifully written, and in tragedy there is beauty. There is beauty in tragedy.

Back to Camille Claudel – how prevalent is the theme of patriarchal injustice?

Absolutely vital. It’s absolutely about that – at the beginning on the 20th century when women hadn’t been emancipated. She was ahead of her time, she was the light at the beginning of this century, but it was absolutely torturous, and she was rejected by all the people around her, even her family. It was very torturous. Especially Rodin, who abandoned her. For Rodin, she was a rival that really pissed him off, so she’s emblematic of women’s liberation. Poor Claudel is a kind of masochist, but also representative of his epoch.

At the heart of this tale, is an artist being denied her creativity. As an artist yourself, were you able to relate to the character and put yourself in her shoes, and wonder how you would react in this situation?

Yes, I was filming somebody who is forbidden life, forbidden creativity, forbidden freedom, and yes it’s touching. You touch a contemporary issue of alienation as well.

In regards to the look of the film, it’s a very beautiful aesthetic, creating a very serene atmosphere. Did you enjoying playing on the way that contradicts the inner turmoil?

It’s only through cinema that you can have, through these grimacing faces, the ability to show the beauty behind them. So the directing of the film has to be dignified, in order to show the women’s dignity as well. STEFAN PAPE

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CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 IS NOW ON DVD- BLU RAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian film | London Film Festival 2014

At this year’s LONDON FILM FESTIVAL Alice Rohrwacher presents her Cannes-award-winning drama THE WONDERS. Sister Alba Rohrwacher, joins her as star of both THE WONDERS and HUNGRY HEARTS, that won her Best Actress at Venice Film Festival. Other Venice winners, Directors Saverio Costanzo (HUNGRY HEARTS) and Ivano De Matteo (THE DINNER) will also grace the Red Carpet for the festival.

LEOPARDI (Il Giovane Favoloso) by Mario Martone Il_giovane_favoloso_4-Elio_Germano,Michele_Riondino,Anna_Mouglalis-_Mario_Spada

Mario Martone (Amore Molesto) takes on the crippled 18th Century literarary genius, Giacome Leopardi, in this ambitious but rather worthy biopic. Sumptuously set in the verdant countryside of Tuscany and The Marche it stars Elio Germano (A Magnificent Haunting) as the lonely poet and child prodigy who struggles to break into fashionable circles despite a disciplinarian father and poor health. Leopardi did not score heavily on the romantic front, unlike Lord Byron, who, despite his club foot, enjoyed a great deal of erotic attention from the opposite sex; Ippolita di Majo’s screenplay dabbles with some of his female fantasies in the shape of a young illiterate girl who dies early on and a ravishing Florentine countess, played superbly by Anna Mouglalis who lights up this otherwise rather dry biopic with her charm and elegance. Sadly she falls for his more good-looking and glamorous friend Antonio Ranieri (Michele Rondino). The only aborted action he has between the sheets is with a Naples prostitute, but this episode ends cruelly in humiliation. As the drama progresses to Rome and Naples, it opens out visually with some magnificent landscapes of southern Italy and further opportunities to discover Leopardi’s moving poetry and learn about his ideas as a philosopher. This is an ambitious and watchable film and Elio Germano gives a strong and convincing performance as a tortured artist wracked with pain and mental anguish who was wiser of the human condition than his elders gave him credit for: “People are ridiculous only when they try or seem to be that which they are not”.

BLACK_SOULS_still_2

BLACK SOULS (Anime Nere) by Francesco Munzi

Dubbed as the new Gomorrah in some circles, Francesco Munzi’s mafia family drama purrs with tension, taking the brutal Mafioso world to the rustic villages of the Calabrian foothills at the southern tip of Italy. This is the heartland of the ‘ndrangheta, the biggest and furthest-reaching mafia group in Italy, far stronger than the Comorrah and the Sicilian mafia, but more secretive and rarely infiltrated by outsiders. It’s because the group is made up of family units that the ‘ndrangheta are so tight, but it also means that entrance to the group for descendants is tacitly obligatory. If you don’t want ‘in’, you’re asking for trouble. That’s the case with Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), a farmer whose brothers are long-standing members of the Carbone clan; he instead tends to his farmland of goats on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains. His son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), however, is eager to join a group where he’ll gain respect, and in an age where Italian youngsters are frequently downtrodden by unemployment, this is something he is eager to commit to. His uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi), a drug dealer who travels Europe, takes Leo under his wing, but after an altercation between Leo and a rival clan, events spiral to take the apparently peaceful town to gang war.

This is a slower, more composed film than Gomorrah, and doesn’t have that film’s electric socio-political edge. Instead, it works as a family drama that simmers with personal tragedy and works up to a powerful, gripping finale. Sumptuously filmed in the village of Africo, often said to be the home of the ‘ndrangheta, and with the peninsula’s craggy dialect, it convinces as a place where the state, the police, and perhaps conventional morality have trouble accessing. Among a cast of non-actors and professionals, Fumo, plucked from hundreds of local kids, is remarkable in his debut role as Leo, saying little but carrying a primordial terror with every retort at his disillusioned father. Munzi’s script, co-written with Fabrizio Ruggirello, starts the film in Amsterdam and Milan, and perhaps could have done with setting the film more tightly in the insular ‘ndrangheta communities. Here it feels like there’s no escape, where every aspect of life is dominated by the mafia. The organisation helps local politicians gain election, bars and shops have to obtain ‘protection’ by one of the clans, and respect to members is non-negotiable. But that blinkered view of the world is also this family’s downfall, as the cracks in the foundations make the whole house fall down.

merav

THE WONDERS (Le Meraviglie) by Alice Rohrwacher – GRAND PRIX, CANNES 2014

The follow up to her acclaimed debut Corpo Celeste, The Wonders, 33-year-old Alice Rohrwacher, won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Set in her native Italy, the film explores the impact of a stranger upon a dysfunctionally hermetic family living in the Umbrian countryside where they cultivate delicious wild honey from their native bees. As with Corpo Celeste, the film focuses on a young girl’s coming of age. This delicate and gently tragic coming of age tale is told with tenderness and respect to the traditions of a country where communities still live from the land, threatened by the ever-increasing presence of “Heath and Safety”. A magical narrative with some touching performances from Alba Rohrwacher and a star turn from Monica Bellucci.

Hungry_Hearts_6HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo

BEST ACTRESS AND BEST ACTOR, VENICE 2014

Severio Costanzo’s Venice ‘Best Actor and Actress” winner, Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) proved divisive amongst critics’ circles.  It’s a weird and quirky drama that’s not quite a thriller but feels it ought to be. It centres on a couple who remain cloistered in their apartment after the birth of the baby boy. Mina, who has been anorexic during the pregnancy, is also germo-phobic and does not want to leave, or take the baby outside. Well cast in the role, Rohrwacher, makes for a subtely unhinged Mina while American, Adam Driver’s, feels somewhat out of place as Jude. With the help of a social worker, he more or less kidnaps his son, who goes to live with his mother (Maxwell) in the countryside outside New York. But Mina does not give up, she tries to regain custody of her son, and after Jude hits her, she manages to regain custody. The desperate grandmother can only think of a very radical solution. Half way through the film, the fish-eye lense is introduced, turning the narrative even more into a real life horror story. Mina is a frail and emaciated creature, just skin and bones, a fanatical gleam in her eyes. Jude is geeky and ambivalent – for much of the film, he tries to mediate between Mina and reality. His mother is made of much sterner stuff, and does not fall for Mina’s passive-aggressive schemes. However harsh the denouement appears, it’s clear that somebody had to make a stand – and Jude was much too feeble to be this person. Despite a weak script with gaping potholes, the superb cast handle the action masterfully. Not a film for the faint-hearted, but a convincing story of ordinary madness

I nostri ragazzi 4 - Giovanna MezzogiornoTHE DINNER (I Nostri Ragazzi) by Ivano De Matteo,

Another Venice Film Festival Winner, THE DINNER is very much a family-focused drama. Two brothers, Massimo (Gassman), a doctor and Paolo (Cascio), a glib lawyer, meet regularly with their wives, whilst their teenage children Benedetta and Michele go to parties together. The adults actually despise each other: Massimo is self-congratulatory, looking down on his more down-to-earth brother and trying to bend the law in favour of his clients. No love is lost between the women either: Massimo’s wife Clara (Mezzogiorno), a practical hands-on woman, finds the fashion-conscious Sofia (Bobulova) rather trivial, despite her responsibility for Benedetta, whose mother died very young.

But of the blue, the parents find out that their kids have killed a homeless woman, apparently just for fun. All but Paolo, want to cover up the crime so as not to destroy their future. But when Paolo insists on handing the pair over to the police, Massimo reacts with violence. Ivano de Matteo delivers a moral, character-driven fable, with some unexpected twists. These are, by no means, the people we thought they were to begin with: Massimo starts out as the moral apostle, doing good in his profession, full of love for mankind (apart from his brother and his wife). Paolo is only interested in success, the means do not matter to him. But when it comes to the crunch, he is the only one to ask for justice – the other man wants to cover up for the children. Nowadays, over-protection of kids in the middle classes is the norm; parents buy (or cheat) to get their “mini-me’s” a good place in life (this author being no exception); trying to resolve all problems for them; making them dependent on the older generation; often forgetting to teach responsibility and self-reliance. Sure, the outcome is not often so cruel as in this fictional case, but the root of Benedetta and Michele’s coldness lies in their own upbringing. The cast is brilliant, the camera vividly tracks the protagonists in a concrete jungle, or in their work places. The adults seem always on the run; the teenagers indolent. A very gloomy but perceptive indictment on a social class who, on superficial appearances, seems to have everything.

THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014

 

FRENCH RIVIERA (L’HOMME QUE L’ON AIMAIT TROP) 2014 | BFI London Film Festival

Dir.: Andre Téchiné

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel, Judith Chemla

France 2014, 116 min.

Sometimes the subject matter defeats even the best directors: Andre Téchiné is a veteran of French cinema and his emotional dramas have almost always delivered something special. But this time milieu and protagonists have defeated him: based a real events (every director should see this as a red light), his story of love and death in seventies Cote d’Azur is tacky and superficial.

Catherine Deneuve gives a rather flat performance as Renée Le Roux, fighting a battle with a gangster, Fratoni, who wants to take control of her Casino in Nice. But when her recently divorced daughter Agnès (Haenel) appears on the scene and falls in love with her mother’s close advisor, the attorney Maurice Angelet (Canet), Le Roux quickly appoints another righthand man; whereupon Angelet turns against her, making Agnès vote against her mother in a shareholders meeting.  Shortly afterwards Agnes disappears in mysterious circumstances. What follows is a tale of double-crossing and intrigue that sees the case re-opened at Le Roux’s behest thirty years later, although without conclusion.

The emotional fallout of the rich in this luxurious environment of the Cote d’Azur is hard to stomach, as they ham their way through this character study of unspooling of trust, love and betrayal.. The general lack of subtlety makes for a claustrophobic drama resembling “Dallas” on occasion. Worst of all, Téchiné seems to have no distance from the class he is portraying – one can only imagine what Chabrol would have made of the same scenario. Despite the magnificent settings, this is a banal and trite melodrama, lacking in contrast or any interest for general audiences outside France. AS

THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014

LFF: 8.10. 18.00 NT1, 9.10. 20.45. Cine Lumiere, 11.10. 15.00 VUE5

Loin des Hommes (2014) – Venice International Film Festival

Writer/Director: David Oelhoffen

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb

110 mins, France,  Historical Drama, French with English subtitles

Albert Camus’s short story ‘The Guest” becomes a thrilling Western-orientated road movie, in which Viggo Mortensen adds French and Arabic to his screen repertoire of various European tongues.

Mortensen is Daru, a Pied-Noir schoolteacher educating village kids in French language and customs in the midst of the Algerian war high in the haute plaines of the Atlas Mountains, during the 1950s. In a desolate part of the country, on the northern fringe of the Sahara, his choice of profession is to the chagrin of people on both sides of the conflict now brewing: the French don’t see the point in educating ordinary Algerians, while the natives are irritated at the instruction in French rather than Arabic.

One evening, a French gendarme hands Daru an Algerian (Reda Kateb) accused of murder and asked to transport him to the French authorities at a village a day’s walk away. However, Daru has no wish to deliver a man to a certain death (either because of his real guilt, or the prejudices of the colonial establishment). Instead, he initially chooses to do nothing, allowing the prisoner to sneak out on his first night, only to return. Daru has no easy way out, and instead is forced to make some significant moral decisions about the welfare of his charge.

Mortensen is eminently watchable as the craggy-faced Daru (it’s a face that paints a thousand unknown memories) who develops a strange rapport with Kateb’s Mohamad that is unexpectedly warm. Crossing the barren wastelands, they find themselves fleeing Mohammad’s vengeful townsfolk and freedom fighters before rebels fighting for independence capture them. Some of the soldiers recognise Daru as their unit’s leader from the Second World War, commenting that now every Algerian in his unit is fighting for independence – and he must now pick his own side. Where once he was the teacher, now he is the prisoner. Is this what happens when, as Burke would say, good people do nothing?

A terrific scene sees Mortensen’s Daru become a hostage as the rebels take fire from a French brigade, and even though the film’s political slant might be slightly blunt, this is effectively-told filmmaking with a ravishing visual style. Camus’s story is given a new life here and Oelhoffen has provided one of the best adaptations of the author’s work. While Camus’s ‘L’Exil et le Royaume’ short story hints the outbreak of a coming divisive war in the country, Oelhoffen sets his film just as the independence conflict took hold. It provides the text with a renewed sense of moral purpose that finds parallels with the troubles rocking the north African country today. Photographed with an eye for stark and barren scenery (actually filmed in Morocco) and with another great score written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis; it looks, sounds, and thinks like an epic with big ideas. Ed Frankl.

VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 27 AUGUST UNTIL 6 SEPTEMBER 2014. FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE UNDER THE FESTIVALS BANNER.

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3 Coeurs (2014) 3 Hearts – Venice International Film Festival 2014

Director: Benoit Jacquot

Writers: Benoit Jacquot, Julien Boivent

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Benoit Peolvoorde

116min  Drama/melodrama  French with English subtitles

3 COEURS is a classic French ménage à trois where two provincial sisters fall for the same man. Chiara Mastoianni and Charlotte Gainsbourg play the sibling love rivals as Catherine Deneuve watches this classy affair unfold with a beady eye, as doyenne of the family antique business in Valence, a picturesque town in the Rhone Alps. Benoit Poelvoorde turns in another powerful performance as the object of their affections, a neurotic tax inspector from Paris with a roving eye but a heart of gold.

It all begins when Marc (Poelvoorde) misses his last train home to Paris and finds himself chatting up Sylvie (Gainsbourg) in the station bar. A chemistry develops as they walk and talk through the night and arrange to meet up in Paris. Quite convenient, as she’s living with her husband. But when she arrives in Paris the next weekend, Marc suffers a heart attack and fails to turn up to their rendezvous. Thinking he has lost interest, Sylvia goes home. Strangely, Marc returns to Valence but this time runs into Sophie (Mastroianni) who needs tax advice on the antiques business. The couple fall in love, she leaves her boyfriend and Sylvie is strangely brushed out of the whole affair. Meanwhile she has decided to follow her husband to his new job in the States.

To keep the tension mounting and the vital clues hidden from the relevant characters, Julien Boivent’s screenplay relies heavily on poetic licence – a vital ploy in melodrama: no mobile phones are used in the early stages of this story, although they are critical in the denouement, and despite the sisters’ closeness, it never dawns on Marc from the numerous family photos in Deneuve’s family mansion, or the constant skyp-ing that goes on between the girls, that they are related.

The enjoyment of 3 COEURS depends heavily on suspension of disbelief: it’s certainly a slick and watchable film with some subtle performances particularly from Charlotte Gainsbourg as the ‘dark horse’ of a sister and Mastroianni as the more straightforward one. As in Strangers on a Train, the vital clue lies in Sylvie’s cigarette lighter that Marc discovers among Sophie’s stuff and twigs that he’s operating on dangerous ground. Where the story falls down is in director Benoit Jacquot’s failure to realise that these two sisters, who clearly love each other, would not have exchanged photos of Marc and discussed the subtle nuances of the relationship before things moved on to a permanent basis between Marc and Sophie.

Deneuve is very much in support mode here; chain-smoking and eating her way through the narrative as the wealthy and wise bedrock in the girls’ lives. If you enjoy Deneuve’s traditional French fare such as A Christmas Tale and Kings and Queen then this will definitely appeal. MT

VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs from 27 August – 6 September 2014

 

LA RANÇON DE LA GLOIRE (2014) – Venice International Film Festival 2014

LA RANÇON DE LA GLOIRE

Dir.: Xavier Beauvois

Cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni, Nadine Labaki

France/Belgium/Switzerland, 114 min.

1977: Eddie, a 40 year old Belgian small-time crook, is released from prison in Vevey, Switzerland. He is going to live with his friend Osman, looking after his daughter Samira, since her mother is in hospital. Whilst Eddie gets on well with Samira, his relationship with Osman (whose life he once saved) is strained, since Eddie is still not going straight, even stealing the lights for the Christmas tree and a TV. But soon Osman has to rely on Eddie’s ‘profession’, because of a legal loophole means he has to pay over 50 000 Swiss Francs for his wife’s  operation. Eddie comes up with a master plan: Charlie Chaplin had just died, and Eddie proposes to steal his corpse and ask for a ransom from the family. Osman is so desperate, that he agrees to the mad scheme. The two commit all sorts of amusing blunders along the way but Beauvois makes sure of a happy ending.

Xavier Beauvois tells his story like a fairy-tale, with the seven year old Samira being much more of an adult than the two men. Caroline Champetier’s photography is stunning, never falling to re-create the postcard-idyll of Switzerland, but showing us the grim places as well the the contrasting beauty. Performances are very convincing but Benoit Poelvoorde leads with his suberb portrait of a likeable ex-con whose heart is in the right place but can’t help slipping back into crime. Chiara Mastroianni, is shoe-horned in as the glamorous owner of the local circus, although as a love interest for Eddy, she doesn’t quite make the grade in a rather underwritten part. Michel Legrand’s music (plus Chaplin soundtracks) often help us over the the sagging middle of the film. A colourful B-Picture for children and grown-ups alike. But Beauvois makes sure of a happy-ending for Eddie in the arms of Chiara Mastroianni AS.

VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 27 AUGUST UNTIL 6 SEPTEMBER. FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE UNDER THE FESTIVALS BANNER

 

French Film at Venice 2014

Near_Death_Experience_2This year’s Venice International Film Festival has a distinctly French flavour along with its French Jury President – the well-known composer Alexandre Desplat. Five of the competition films are from France (with one Out of Competiton) as established auteurs (Benoit Jacquot, Xavier Beauvois, Abel Ferrara, Amos Gitaï) rub shoulders with emerging talent in the shape of Alix Delaporte, David Oelhoffen), whose second outings have also been selected. Hungry_Hearts_4

The Orizzonti side-bar offers features from the latest wave of filmmakers Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine (Near Death Experience). Over the past ten years the pair have built up some interesting work and invited author Michel Houellebecq to join them this time, as well as the new film by Quentin Dupieux, Réalité, that offers something quite different from the usual French cinema landscape.

tournage "3 cœurs"

The Giornate degli Autori (Venice Days) strand will screen four world premieres: Metamorphoses by Christophe Honoré, Return to Ithaca by Laurent Cantet, Les Nuits d’été by Mario Fanfani, and The Smell of Us by Larry Clark and Céline Sciamma’s Cannes hit, Girlhood is in the running for the Lux Prize.

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The 29th International Film Critics’ Week will show Terre battue, the debut feature by Stéphane Demoustier, starring Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi while Venice Classics invites Lido spectators to rediscover three classics of French cinema: L’Amour Existe by Maurice Pialat, Mouchette by Robert Bresson, and Stolen Kisses by François Truffaut. And if you can’t get to Venice Lido this year, don’t worry: a selection of the competition films will be heading for UK cinemas during the course of this winter. MT

VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FROM 27 – 6 AUGUST 2014

 

Lucy (2014)

image003 copyWriter/Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt

89min  Fantasy Sci-Fi

One of the pivotal figures of the ‘Cinema du Look’ movement, giving his films a highly visual style, LUC BESSON is also fascinated by the human brain; so much so that he has funded research on the subject and made it the focus of his latest fantasy sci-fi LUCY.

It stars Scarlett Johansson as a woman who gains access to 100 percent of her brain’s potential (instead of the average mythical 10 percent) after being forced by to ingest a massive quantity of the naturally occurring human hormone CPH4 (produced by women during pregnancy). Don’t worry: LUCY doesn’t require any deep probing of your grey matter. Just sit back and enjoy a roller coaster ride and Johnsson’s dynamite performance as a velvet-voiced virago cutting a no-nonsense swathe through the all-male cast of baddies. As a plus point, her intellectual superiority has the vicarious effect of making women everywhere feel they too, for once, could rule the World.

Lucy’s story is quite simple: while trying to fit an early night and some studying in around her dodgy new boyfriend (a smarmy Julian Rhind-Tutt), she ends up as an unwilling drug-mule for gang-leader Jang (Choi Min-sik) when a bag of blue crystals (CPH4) is implanted in her stomach wall, after an impromptu ‘kidnap’. After a dust-up with Jang’s nasty security guards, CSI-style CGI footage kicks in to reveal the drugs entering her system, activating her brain cells to Einstein levels and beyond.

As luck would have it, Morgan Freeman happens to be lecturing over in Paris on the very subject of ‘brain access’. As visiting professor, Samuel Norman, Besson taps into his knowledge, illustrating the endless possibilities of Lucy’s enhanced human status and how ‘homo sapiens’ is linked to the Animal Kingdom – all illustrated in a glorious technicolor-style nature sequence.  Lucy’s transformation from frightened student to powerful superwoman is impressive. She painlessly removes a bullet from her shoulder while scoffing a pile of sandwiches and struts into a local hospital, demanding that the bag be removed from her body, while telephoning her mother to describe the minutiae of events and emotions leading back to her birth. The effects of the drugs are increasingly transformative as Lucy’s physical movements and facial expressions reflect her bionic physicality and intellectual superiority. This is Johansson at the top of her game developing her skills not just a human actor but as a seriously impressive being without the assistance of make-up or special effects.

Even if your lip curls at the thought of sci-fi or CGI-enhanced visuals, Besson’s LUCY is a fun-filled joy ride with some worthwhile elements although it all gets rather silly in the end. Despite becoming less emotional and more analytical after absorbing the drug, Besson avoids transforming his heroine into the distant, psychopathic alien from Under The Skin: this is an upbeat and strangely empowering piece of filmmaking; and will have particular appeal for female audiences.  Using her new-found powers, Lucy sets out to assist the police in rounding up batches of the drug, involving an enthralling car chase where she skilfully drives against oncoming traffic with a French detective Del Rio (Amr Waked) who asks her, desperately, if she normally adopts this strategy on the road : “I’ve never driven before”, is her candid response. So despite a rather over-excited denouement where Lucy’s capabilities involve time travel, as she wizzes ‘God-like’ backs through the centuries, waving the Taiwanese drug fiends away and locking them behind imaginary glass barriers. There’s an altruistic outcome for her drug-fuelled frenzy: eventually she finds a way of downloading her extensive knowledge and passing is on to future generations.  The future’s bright – the future’s LUCY. MT

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LUCY IS OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 AUGUST 2014

 

Mood Indigo (2013) Netflix

 


Director: Michel Gondry | Writers: Michel Gondry, Boris Vian | Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tatou, | 131min   French with subtitles   Romantic Drama

Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris team up again for this surreal tale of emotional love. Sex and lust are replaced by the heartfelt tenderness of romantic devotion; better summed up by the title l’Ecume des Jours (Froth on a Daydream), Boris Vian’s cult novel, on which it was based. You will either totally buy into its poetic retro charm (which does rather overstay its welcome at over two hours), or find it tedious in the extreme.

A wealthy young man, Colin, (Romain Duris) falls head over heels for the delicately coy Chloé (Audrey Tatou). But after a mysterious floral growth in her lung requires her to be perpetually surrounded by fresh flowers in order to survive, Colin’s financial means comes under severe strain. An upbeat jazzy start sees Gondry’s stylistic fantasy slowly shift in tone from fluffy romcom to shades of mournful melodrama as sullen clouds darken the lovers’ world, turning their florid love-song into a faded and poignant elegy, strangled in bindweed.

This is not the first screen adaptation of the novel, Charles Belmont made the film in 1968, featuring Vian’s wife Ursula as a nun. Go Riju also crafted a Japanese version in 2001. But Gondry’s film feels typically French with its light-hearted whimsical approach evoking the Parisian outings of the fifties and sixties. Technical effects are superbly inventive and Duris and Tatou are perfectly cast for the fun-filled slapstickery, and equally good when it all  darkens to cutesy pouting and tear-welling tristesse. You may even shed crocodile tears… MT

NOW ON NETFLIX FRANCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycling with Moliere (2013)

Director: Philippe Le Guay

Writers: Fabrice Luchini, Philippe Le Guay

Cast: Fabrice Luchini,  Lambert Wilson, Maya Sansa

104min  French with subtitles  Drama

Fabrice Luchini has come to be associated with intelligent French drama and here, in one he devised himself, he plays a well-known thespian Serge Tanneur, who has retreated to a remote manoir on the Ile de Re to recover from a nervous breakdown. Essentially a three-hander, the premise revolves round a bid by successful TV star, Gauthier Valence, to lure him back to Paris to collaborate in his sparkling new production of Molière’s classic comedy of manners: ‘Le Misantrope’.

But Tanneur has a mind of his own, despite its fragility, and an ego that’s second to none in luvviedom. And so this elegant piece goes backwards and forwards as their egos vy for attention, and they embark on a two-week series of rehearsals and play readings in the rain-swept French countryside.

Cycling with Moliere works best during these witty exchanges and literary sorties into the works of Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire as Tanneur prepares for his definitive role as the outspoken and unpopular central character, Alceste. And Life starts to mirror Art as it emerges that, in real life, their relationship very much runs along the same lines as Moliere’s two 17th century protagonists Alceste and Philinte.  When the love interest arrives in the shape of an Italian divorcee Francesca (Maya Sansa) the natural underlining comic pessimism of Moliere’s also plays out in the real life denouement. Despite some ill-judged episodes of slapstick humour and a lightweight support cast, Luchini and Wilson keep the show on the road in an entertaining drama that makes great use of its glorious island setting photographed by Jean-Claude Larrieu. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 4 JULY COURTESY OF CURZON WORLD CINEMA

 

 

 

Chinese Puzzle (Casse-Tete Chinoise) (2013)

image005Director: Cedric Klapisch

Cast: Romain Duris, Cecile de France, Audrey Tatou

117min  French with subtitles   Comedy Drama

A European version of Richard Linklater’s Midnight series, CHINESE PUZZLE  wears its heart a little more lightly on its fashionable sleeve. The third part of Cedric Klapisch’s student story that kicked off in Barcelona with Pot Luck (2002) then St Petersburg with Russian Dolls, follows our freewheeling friends to New York. Now nearly forty, Xavier (Romain Duris) is a writer; father of two and newly divorced from his English wife Wendy (Kelly O’Reilly). Living in a Chinatown bedsit, he’s sired a child for lesbian best friend Isabelle (Cecile de France) and is being hotly pursued by ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tatou). There’s never a dull moment in this feelgood frolic of mutual soul-bearing and farcical melodrama in the Big Apple. Although there are parts of this puzzle that fit a little too neatly, Romain Duris holds it all together with his genial good humour. For sheer upbeat entertainment value, this is well worth a watch. MT

NOW ON MUBI

The Past (2013) DVD

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Ali Mostaffa, Bérénice Béjo, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin

130min   Drama

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Following a separation from his French wife, Ahmad (Ali Mostaffa) returns to Paris from Tehran to finalise the divorce and uncovers secrets from the past.

The French are famous for their ménages à trois and here in Cannes, Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to A Separation (2011) is sure to go down well.  A richly-plotted, schematic affair that unravels gradually based on a complex web of relationships for a multi-cultural family living in Paris. Making a flying visit to Paris to sign papers for his divorce from Berenice Bejo’s Marie, Ahmad finds her living with a new love in the shape of Tahar Rahim as Samir. The fall-out of all this has naturally complicated the emotional lives of the three kids involved; two girls from Marie, and a son, Fouad, from Samir.

The_Past_�_Carole_Bethuel_002 copyMarie has been busy on the romantic front: Ahmad was her second husband and she is now pregnant by Samir. Tahir’s Rahim gives a cool-headed performance as a dutiful family man, dedicated to his son and still confused emotionally about the strange circumstances of his current wife’s suicide attempt, visiting her bedside regularly, where is she lies in a coma.  As the characters start to accommodate Ahmad’s arrival in the household, a new dynamic develops making the future relationships of those involved even more rocky, as the secrets of the past gradually unravel.

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Ali Mosaffa’s Ahmad appears to exert a calming and stabilising influence on the proceedings, particularly on the kids, but he also shows signs of being a control freak in this complicated interplay between a complex web of personalities which is slow-burning and measured in tone rather than melodramatic (although Béjo occasionally overplays her role).  The Past is immersive and well-acted throughout, although initial tension gradually subsides as the pace grows more ponderous, particularly towards the end.  Intimate in feel, the action plays out like a more intense version of the After Midnight trilogy, and will appeal to those who enjoy dialogue-heavy, romantic dramas. And although it doesn’t quite scale the heights of A Separation this feels a more mainstream European story than an Iranian one. MT

THE PAST IS ON DVD from 23 June 2014

 

 

Bright Days Ahead (2013) Les Beaux Jours

Director/Writer: Marion Vernoux   From a novel by Fanny Chesnel

Cast: Fanny Ardant, Patrick Chesnais, Laurent Lafitte

94min  French with subtitles  Drama

A classic ménage à trois is at the heart of this clever French drama. Director, Marion Vernoux, clearly appreciates and understands the intricacies of female sexuality and particularly those of a beautiful and intelligent woman who has been much admired and who, now in her sixties, still values her powers of attraction and is looking forward to the future. Loosely based on co-writer Fanny Chesnel’s book “Une Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Blancs” the film title has a dual meaning: as the ‘sixties plus’ retirement club in a small French seaside town and the positive outlook of their latest member Caroline (a fabulously luminescent Fanny Ardant) who has recently hung up her dentist’s drill but still has a twinkle in her eye and an upbeat frame of mind.  Her family are less confident in her social abilities, projecting onto her their own clichéd ideas of retirement as a time of dusting down the zimmer frame, knitting and looking after grand-children. But the languidly sensual Caroline is having none of it: she casts a quietly disdainly eye over her fellow retirees and patronising instructors and makes a beeline for the door. But when the dishy 30-something computer teacher Julien (Laurent Lafitte) gives her some encouragement, and not just with her keyboard skills, she decides that Les Beaux Jours is a club where she definitely wants to be a member.

The appeal of this story lies in the authenticity of the telling. Like most affairs, the success of this one is based on initial spontaneity and chemistry but this is no ‘cougar’ story: although it just so happens that there is a large age-gap between them. Caroline is not looking for a younger man, or any man, for that matter: she’s contentedly married to Philippe (an amusingly laconic Patrick Chesnais) and content to see where her feelings take her. Julien just loves women; he’s not obsessed with older women but at nearly 40 is also at a vulnerable turning-point in his life, where he’s no longer necessarily seen as marriage material but equally wants to have a relationship rather than just endless conquests. The sex they enjoy is languorously romantic, not desperate or needy. There are some amusing moments when Caroline attempts to hide the romance from members and her local friends, but when Philippe finds out he’s not devastated just resigned, disappointed and ready to discuss the future. The denouement is not earth-shattering but completely plausible, reflecting the subtle intricacies of emotion, long-term love and marriage and the realities of life . But there is also wit and warmth here and some really poignant moments that show that, in the end, no matter how experienced we think we are, love still has some surprises in store. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 JUNE 2014

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A Perfect Plan (2012)

Director: Pascal Chaumeil

Cast: Diane Kruger, Dany Boon, Alice Pol,  Robert Plagnol,

104min  French with subtitles   Romcom

Pascal Chaumeil’s follow-up to the very enjoyable Heatbreaker has Diane Kruger, wildly miscast, as a woman (Isabelle) who wants to marry her goofy long-term partner Pierre (Robert Plagnol), the only drawback being an old family curse where, for no apparent reason, all first marriages end in divorce. So we have a 21st century rom-com with a premise from the Dark Ages. Inanely, Isabelle decides to break the curse by splitting up with Pierre in order to marry the first poor sucker she sets eyes on. And it just happens to be Jean-Yves (Danny Boon) who is both irritating and unattractive, like the rest of the cast in this fatuous formulaic farce which is about as fresh and easy on the eye as a mouldy doughnut, and equally hard to digest.

For a start, Diane Kruger is simply not cut out for comedy: she has the delicate features and appeal that cries out for meaningful romantic ice-maiden and, for most of this, as Isabelle, she looks at Dany Boon as if he were something nasty on the bottom of her shoe while supposedly falling for him. Making simperingly soppy love declarations are simply beneath her, but she’s required to do so in the painful final scene. Secondly, A Perfect Plan is co-scripted by four relatively new writers who appear to have drawn a blank on humour and opted instead for a check-list of commercial plot lines and well-worn rom-com tropes; ensuring inertia for most of the overlong running time. Definitely one to avoid, like another medieval curse, the Plague. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JUNE 2014

 

 

 

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The project’s smug over-confidence is exhibited from the opening scene, in which it demands audiences accept that in modern Paris, a family of upper-middle class intellectuals still believe that a curse hangs over the females of their clan. For no established reason, it seems every first marriage is doomed to fail; a dinner party of relatives tell the story of Isabelle (Diane Kruger, struggling with ‘likable sweetness’ after a career of ‘tormented iciness’), who is so fearful of losing her true-love Pierre (Robert Plagnol) to her pre-ordained destiny, she devises an elaborate plan to sucker some poor schmuck into marrying her then annulling the nuptials immediately, to get the curse out of the way.

In entirely predictable fashion, Isabelle’s plan goes awry and she is thrown into an African adventure with nice-guy travel writer Jean-Yves (superstar Dany Boon, surely playing out the most under-developed lead of his career). She woos him just enough for her plan to play out, but then flees his company once back in France. Her sense of regret and, perhaps more importantly, his sense of betrayal is given such short shrift that”¦well, if the couple involved don’t care what they’ve been through, why should the audience?

There’s always an argument to be made that the people who enjoy these unrealistic romantic comedy concepts (While You Were Sleeping, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) aren’t looking for more grounded love stories (Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, Modern Romance, When Harry Met Sally”¦). If so, grab your choc-tops and enjoy. I’d argue that you are buying into the laziest, most contrived genre polluting both multiplexes and art-house venues at present. But to each of their own, I guess.

Cherchez la Femme at Cannes 2014

This year’s 67th Festival de Cannes features nine films directed by women but only two compete in the official competition for the coveted PALME D’OR.  Here’s the low down.

I N   C O M P E T I T I O N

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Naomi Kawase – FUTATSUME NO MADO (Still the Water)

Something of a Cannes veteran, Japanese filmmaker Kawase not only served alongside Steven Spielberg on the festival’s 2013 Jury, but back in 1997 she became the youngest winner of the festival’s Caméra d’Or award for her debut fiction film, Suzaku. More recently, The Mourning Forest picked up the festival’s Grand Prix in 2007, and Hanezu premiered in competition in 2011. Perhaps this time she’ll take the top prize. Her fiction work is typically informed by her beginnings in documentary, and Still the Water is described as being a ‘romance’. 1510643_725798274107778_400950190347352490_n

Alice Rohrwacher – LE MERAVIGLIE (The Wonders)

The follow up to her acclaimed debut Corpo celeste, The Wonders sees 33-year-old Rohrwacher return to Cannes, moving from the Directors’ Fortnight to the Official Competition. Set in her native Italy, the film explores the impact of a stranger upon a dysfunctionally hermetic family living in the Umbrian countryside. As with Corpo Celeste, the film focuses on a young girl’s coming of age. The sole Italian film in the Official Competition, The Wonders stars Monica Bellucci alongside the director’s sister, Alba Rohrwacher.

U N   C E R T A I N   R É G A R D section

Keren Yedaya – LOIN DE SON ABSENCE (That Lovely Girl)

Another director who is no stranger to the Croisette, Israeli Yedaya won the Caméra d’Or for her debut Or (My Treasure) in 2004, before returning with her sophomore effort Jaffa in 2009. The film tells the story of an incestuous relationship between a 60-year-old father and his 22-year-old daughter. Cannes director Thierry Frémaux has stated that the film will ‘spark controversy’, and it is adapted from a 2010 book by Israeli author and poet Efrat Yerushalmi (aka Shez).

Jessica Hausner – AMOUR FOU

Five years after Lourdes, Hausner’s excellently complex exploration of faith, the Austrian filmmaker’s fourth feature will premiere in Un Certain Régard. A period biopic set in early 19th Century Berlin, the film concerns the tragic relationship forged between the Romantic dramatist Heinrich von Kleist and his terminally ill lover Henriette Vogel. Hausner has spoken about the detailed research undertaken for the project, and the influence of Vermeer’s paintings upon the visual style of the film.

July Jung – DOHEE-YA (A Girl at my Door)

Also playing in Un Certain Régard is A Girl at my Door, the debut film from South Korean filmmaker July Jung. The story concerns the obsessive feelings a young girl develops for a policewoman who attempts to save her from her abusive father. Jung has previously gained acclaim on the festival circuit with her imaginatively-titled short films A Dog-Came Into My Flash (2010) and A Man Under the Influenza (2007).

Marie Amachoukeli and Claire Burger – PARTY GIRL

The opening film of Un Certain Régard, Party Girl is the debut feature of co-directors Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis. If that sounds like a lot of directors for a single film, the trio collaborated previously on the short film Forbach (2008), which they co-wrote (according to IMDb, Burger also directed, Theis also starred, and Amachoukeli also served as additional editor). The film screened at Cannes and won the Grand Prize at the International Short Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand in 2009. Party Girl centres on an aging nightclub hostess who decides to settle down, loosely based on Theis’ mother. All of the actors in the film are non-professionals.

Asia Argento – Incomprensa (Misunderstood)

Incomprensa, Argento’s third film behind the camera, is freely drawn from her own childhood experiences. The daughter of giallo director Dario Argento and his star Daria Nicolodi (who collaborated together on such classics as Suspiria), Asia has previously spoken of her formative years as being drenched in loneliness and depression, going as far as saying that she only became an actress to attract attention from her father. The film plays in Un Certain Regard, and stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as a Nicolodi-like figure.

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Pascale Ferran – Bird People

Long in the works, Pascale Ferran’s belated follow up to 2006’s Lady Chatterley plays in Un Certain Regard, after having originally been touted for screening at Cannes in 2013 (ultimately, it wasn’t finished in time). The film concerns an American engineer (played by Josh Charles) who abandons his old life in order to start afresh in Paris. Intriguingly, the film is said to also contain supernatural elements.

 

Stéphanie Valloatto – CARICATURISTES – FANTASSINS DE LA DÉMOCRATIE (Cartoonists – Foot Soldiers of Democracy)

Playing in the Special Screenings of ‘Un Certain Régard’, Stéphanie Valloatto’s debut film is a documentary portrait of twelve political cartoonists from around the world, featuring artists from France, Tunisia, Russia, America, Burkina Faso, China, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Venezuela, Israel and Palestine. Valloatto’s one prior credit as director is a 2011 episode of the television documentary series Empreintes. Meredith Taylor 

 THE 67TH CANNES FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 14 TO 25 MAY 2014

 

Before the Winter Chill (2014) Avant l’Hiver

Director: Philippe Claudel

Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Kristen Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Leila Bakri

Drama    French with subtitles

Novelist turned film-maker Philippe Claudel third feature is a gentle riff on the theme of  ‘A la Recherche de Temps Perdu’.  Intimate in feel and dialogue driven, it makes lavish use of its lush Luxembourgeois setting to tell a classic love story that interlinks the lives of three people and their close friends and family.  Naturally, being French, it’s also a ménage à trios and stars Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Auteuil plays Paul, a neurosurgeon in his sixties whose long marriage to Lucie (Scott Thomas) is happy enough but lacking in sparkle.  Gérard (Richard Berry), their oldest friend, shares a medical practice with Paul and the three are close; Lucie spending her days working in the couple’s modernist house with extensive landscaped gardens and doting on her grandchild. But all is not well in paradise and when Paul starts receiving mystery bouquets of roses, the skies start to darken.

Around the same time, a young Moroccan waitress in Paul’s local cafe, engages him in conversation, claiming to be a former patient, Lou Vallee (Leila Bakri). Gradually Paul is drawn into her story, one of sadness and emotional trauma. Falling for her sultry charms, Paul leaves the family home to ‘get some space’. He’s a decent guy and unsure of himself  in this latelife crisis. At this point Gérard moves in for the kill, revealing his feelings for Lucie in a subtle interplay of shock and bewilderment. Through Gérard, Claudel lampoons this bourgeois set-up with its unfounded dissatisfaction and ennui. This couple appears to have had an easy ride of it: Paul has reached a professional plateau and Lucie moans that her days her full of emptiness in classic bored housewife mode. And Lou is a complex character and not all she seems and as Paul’s life spins out of control, it’s not just his marriage but his professional integrity that is on the line. Lou is ravishingly attractive but does she possess the magnetism to lure Paul away from his comfortable surroundings.  Auteuil captures the naivety of a man who’s been married a long time, but is unsophisticated when it comes to the game of love and out of touch with his feelings.

What makes this story appealing is the easy and watchable way that Auteuil and Scott Thomas inhabit their well-worn roles as an ordinary (albeit affluent) couple whose bond is deeper than the first flush of sexual attraction but has reached a point of mutual understanding and acceptance. They hold the narrative firmly in their hands and the support cast spin round them like acolytes unable to compete. It may not be an extraordinary drama but what it does, it does extraordinarily well.

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ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 MAY 2014

 

 

Suzanne (2013) Now on DVD

Dir.: Katell Quilléveré;

Cast: Sarah Forestier, Adèle Haenel, François Damiens

France/Belgium 2013, 94 min  Drama

After the death of their mother, sisters Suzanne (Sarah Forestier) and Maria (Adèle Haenel) grow up with their father Nicholas, a truck driver (Francois Damiens).  Suzanne is impetuous from the beginning, living in a dream world, whilst her sister is less self-centred, helping  her sister adjust to life’s problems. At seventeen, Suzanne gets pregnant, an absent father means that Maria has to help out. But soon she is the sole provider for little Charlie, since Suzanne has fallen for Julien, who goes from robbery to drug smuggling during the course of the film. Suzanne, helping him in the first stage of his criminal career, acquires a criminal record.  But the death of her sister catapults Suzanne (finally) into adulthood, and for the first time she takes responsibility – not only for herself.

Katell Quilléveré (Love Like Poison) crams a quarter century of the life of Suzanne into just over 90 minutes of her second feature film: When we see her at first, Suzanne is playing innocently with her little sister near the grave of her mother. When we leave her with Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name, we either love or hate her – and the same goes for the film. Quillevéré does nothing to make her heroine sympathetic, on the contrary, Maria and (sometimes) her father carry the emotional load Suzanne leaves them with. But still, we fall for her all or nothing approach to life. Somebody once said, there must be more than everything to life, and this is exactly Suzanne’s motto. She lives purely for the day, emotionally driven: she is a wild child-woman. And absolutely oblivious to reality or duty, she races through life on self-centred emotional roller-coaster, often at the expense of others.

Sarah Forestier as Suzanne carries the film, which could have easily been an awkward mixture of TV drama and sentimental story-telling. But her Suzanne is real, and so are the settings: the ugly hotel rooms, the father, who is king of the road but lacks emotional understanding, and the dullness of prison life. The camera is lively, bordering on hectic, showing a realism, which sometimes reminds us of the Dardenne brothers. Nothing is artificial, we get what we see. It is Suzanne trying to transcendent an ugly life by sheer emotional force. There are obviously gaps in the narrative, but such is real life and Suzanne is such an emotional tornado, that we soon forget the missing parts. The second film is the most difficult, but Quillevéré storms, like her heroine, through all obstacles with an overpowering emotional and aesthetic force. AS

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SUZANNE IS NOW OUT ON DVD

 

 

 

 

A Brutal Game (1983) Un Jeu Brutal DVD

image005Director/Writer: Jean-Claude Brisseau

Cast: Bruno Cremer, Emmanuelle Debever, Albert Pigot, Liza Heredia

89min    Drama/thriller    France

Jean-Claude Brisseau’s brooding psychological drama works both as a Chabrol-style thriller and a strangely-sensitive coming of age drama.  Bruno Cremer plays Tessier, a mentally disturbed sadistic father who brutalises his rebellious crippled daughter, Isabelle, while moonlighting as a serial killer. Both are unsympathetic characters, but Brisseau evokes our pity for both Isabelle and Tessier, who is as much a victim as the perpetrator of his crimes, brought on through depression and dissatisfaction with his life. Emmanuelle Debever is suburb as Isabelle, a bitter and disillusioned romantic spirit. Magnificently set in the scorching heat of the Midi countryside, this disturbing character study is spiked with poetic and surreal flourishes; its sinister undercurrents heightened by Jean-Louis Valero’s atmospheric soundtrack.  MT

A BRUTAL IS NOW ON DVD FOR THE FIRST TIME COURTESY OF AXIOM FILMS

Yves Saint Laurent (2014) Netflix

Dir: Jalil Lespert | Wri: Laurence Benaiim, Jacques Fieschi, Marie-Pierre Huster, Jalil Lespert | Cast: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski, Marianne Basler | France, Biopic drama 104′

The legendary designer and couturier, Yves Saint Laurent, had two biopics dedicated to him in 2014. The first is this one from actor turned director Jalil Lespert, the second is Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent.which won the Palme Dog at Cannes for Best Doggy Death scene played by pooch Moujik.

For fifty years YSL was the creative force that shaped the International fashion scene with designs celebrating haute couture and paving the way for prêt-à-porter to gain respectability for those with more dash than cash.

Lespert takes the first (and most significant) part of YSL’s career, which deals with his rise to fame; his significant relationship with his business partner, Pierre Bergé, and his emotional decline. This biopic is meticulously-crafted in conveying the importance of style and correct dressing, epitomising French style through wearable elegance. The film features his immaculate designs and particularly his appreciation of the female body in celebrating voluptuous curves and waists (his sister and mother modelled for him in the early days) unlike Chanel whose boxy designs focused on a more gamine look, highlighted by Audrey Hepburn.

After a childhood in Algeria, then a French colony, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent moved to Paris to study fashion design. The film opens in 1953, as Christian Dior appoints him in-house designer. After a dalliance with one of the favourite in-house models (Charlotte Le Bon), he falls for Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), who is to become his business partner and the love of his life.

On Dior’s sudden death, he is drafted into the army but escapes conscription in Algeria, on emotional grounds. The House of Dior then sacks him and YSL takes them to court, and wins. Lespert’s film works best in these early years when it deals with YSL’s perfectionist nature and his appreciation of the impeccable professionalism surrounding French design standards, and the seriousness with which the French treat the industry.

Lespert is also at pains to flesh-out his struggle with homosexuality in fifties France, and illustrates how Pierre Bergé was such a vital partner, providing a business brain and an emotional anchor due to their strong chemistry; showing how this was a compatible love match not just a sexual exploit, and also how the two strayed from their relationship, eventually making it stronger.

After they form their own fashion house, YSL moves with the times developing a groundbreaking prét-a-porter collection that responded to a new generation with sportier and more sexy, shape-flattering clothes for women such as the ‘Le Smoking’, thigh boots, tight trousers and swaggeringly sophisticated trouser suits.

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Stylish to look at, the film follows the couture shows on the catwalk, charting how the collections developed creatively demonstrating the importance of business acumen in the face of growing competition from the likes of Courrèges in the late sixties. As the brand grows in profile, the couple consort with the Jet Set, moving between Paris and Marrakech where the drama loosens up as an exotic twist tracks Saint-Laurent’s louche descent into drugs and alcohol – a reaction to his stiff upbringing and Bergen’s controlling influence. This segment also deals with Yves’ friendships with Loulou de la Falaise and Nicole Dorier and also his pioneering fascination with non-white models and ethnic designs, and this is accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack of hits from the era.  The narrative then wanders into more predictable ’sex, drugs and rock-roll’ territory rather than exploring Saint Laurent’s more personal love life.

Guillaume Gallienne is spectacular as Pierre Bergé, evoking not only his acute business and PR skill and in-depth understanding of Saint-Laurent, but also his aching desire to be seen as more than just a business man; and this shows through in Marrakech when his stiff style is at odds with the other relaxed creatives hanging out there.  Pierre Niney physically inhabits the role of Yves-Saint-Laurent. Not only does he look like the designer but he also embodies his volatility to perfection: his acute shyness in myriad expressions of painful anguish, mercurial anger and also his dignified restraint.

The film ends abruptly but perhaps at best the possible juncture for Saint Laurent as the later years of his life were less ground-breaking than his rise to fame. On reflection, a more in-depth examination of the earlier years would have made more fascinating viewing from a fashion point of view, with less of the repetitive drug-fuelled years which reveal nothing out of the ordinary, but create dramatic heft. Lespert’s film is at its best when charting the fashion scene of the fifties and early sixties and his family influences. Watching Pierre Niney, though, you cannot help but feel you’re in the presence of the great designer himself. MT

YVES SAINT LAURENT IS ON DVD and NETFLIX

 

MyFrenchFilmFestival online January 17 – February 17

So how about a film festival you can watch from home?  Entirely online and perfect for those sofa suppers with your loved-one or just the dog, MyFrenchFilmFestivalonline is the antidote to going out in this bleak and blustery winter weather.

Now in its fourth year, MyFrenchFilmFestivalonline will runs from January 17 until February 17 this year. For a whole month, cinema lovers all over the world over will be able to access the festival  on 20 partner platforms, including iTunes in 80 countries.- Shortlisted films will be screened in more than 1,000 venues around the world.  Films will be available for free on MyFrenchFilmFestival.com and on partner platforms in Latin America, China, Poland, Russia and Turkey.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (restored version) will be available for free viewing on January 17, the first day of the festival.

The full feature programme #MYFFF – here’s a flavour of what’s on offer:

IN A RUSH, by Louis Do de Lencquesaing

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AUGUSTINE, by Alice Winocou

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MADDENED BY HIS ABSENCE, by Sandrine Bonnaire

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THE VIRGINS, THE COPTS AND ME, by Namir Abdel Messeeh

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THE DAY OF THE CROWS,  by Jean-Christophe Dessaint

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WELCOME TO ARGENTINA,  by Edouard Deluc

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PAULINE DETECTIVE, by Marc Fitoussi

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MyFrenchFilmFestival.com will be available on 20 partner platforms including iTunes in 80 countries. MT

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)

Dir: Jacques Demy, Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castalnuevo, Roland Cassard, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel

France 1964, 89 min. Drama   French with English subtitles  SPARKLING NEW REMASTERING

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LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG, a musical which won the Palme D’Or’ in Cannes 1964, is the middle part of a loosely connected fantasy trilogy by Jacques Demy (1931-1990); bookended by Lola (1961) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). The latter two starred the young Catherine Deneuve, who Demy made into a star. LES PARAPLUIES is set in Nantes, Demy’s hometown. It relies very much on architecture and interiors, Demy even had part of the town repainted, so it would fit in with his colour scheme. The narrative is simple: The young Genevieve Emery (Deneuve) is madly in love with Guy (Nino Castalnuevo), an auto mechanic. Her mother (Anne Vernon) is vey much against this match, since she has long ‘decided’ that her daughter should marry the well off jeweller Roland Cassard (Marc Michel). Fate takes a hand when Guy is called up to serve in the Algerian war. Just before he leaves, the couple consummate their relationship, pledging eternal love. But the one night stand is enough to make Genevieve pregnant, and her mother successfully intercepts and destroys all letters Guy sends from the front. In the end, Madame Emery gets her way: Genevieve, pregnant, gets married to Monsieur Cassard. And when she meets Guy by chance three years later, there is only embarrassed silence.

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LES PARAPLUIES was seen as the French answer to ‘Mary Poppins’ – obviously we get a love instead of a kiddies classic . But the aesthetics are similar: a sort of pre-pop escapism, with a colour scheme to match. Everything is over the top, the singing and design scream loudly of a world widely removed from any reality. Together with Legrand’s magical music score Demy delivers the viewer into a fairy-land – but no happy Hollywood ending. Bittersweet and with radical changing emotions, PARAPLUIES is a very French escapade.

Jacques Demy was a contemporary of all the Nouvelle Vague crew, and he started his career at about the same time. But unlike them, he did not wanted to break with tradition, his films are in the tradition of the pre-war films of Prevert, Max Ophuls and Renoir. Demy wanted to relieve the viewer of the pressure of reality, not confront them with it like Jean-Luc Godard. Most of his films are set in Nantes, he relies heavily on this background. But it is anything but realistic, Demy re-creates a contained fantasy world. Playful and always relying very much on the central performances as in PARAPLUIES, he created an alternative universe, in which reality goes under in waves of colour, music and melodramatic emotion. AS

LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG CELEBRATES 50 YEARS WITH A BLU-RAY RELEASE COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL OUT ON 10 FEBRUARY 2014

Leon (1994) 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray Steelbook

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Jean Reno, Nathalie Portman, Gary Oldman

111/113min  Crime Thriller  English

leoLeon is Luc Besson’s controversial and unforgettable story of an unlikely friendship within the brutal world of New York. Starring tough guy Jean Reno as a deadly assassin who gives refuge to a little girl whose dysfunctional family has been slaughtered by the Police; it launched the career of Natalie Portman. She is remarkable as the savvy Mathilda in contrast to Reno’s  silent but deadly assassin and Gary Oldman psychotic, drug-dealing policeman. Garnering critical acclaim for its ground-breakingly stylised depiction of violence, it pathed the way for the 90s hitmen movies of Tarantino, Michael Mann et al.

 

A one-disc Blu-ray featuring both the Director’s and Theatrical cut. Extras include:

Interviews with Jean Reno and Eric Serra

OUT ON FEBRUARY 3RD 2014 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Loco London Comedy Film Festival 23-26 January 2014

The LOCO London Comedy Film Festival returns this January for the third year with its biggest ever line-up over a long weekend (23 – 26 January) at venues across the capital (BFI Southbank, Hackney Picturehouse, Ritzy Picturehouse, Greenwich Picturehouse, Institut Français, the Lexi Cinema and more), in an attempt to inject humour in London in the most miserable week of the year.

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Jamie Adams’ independent British comedy Benny & Jolene headlines the festivities on 24 January, BFI Southbank. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Jamie Adams, producer Jon Rennie and lead actress, Charlotte Ritchie. Venice breakout hit and the second film of the night is Lukas Moodyson’s We Are The Best, sees three Swedish teenagers form a punk band.

LOCO proves that sometimes language is no barrier to laughter as in Les Coquillettes (23 January), that contrasts three friends’ accounts of their romantic adventures at the Locarno Film Festival, with flashbacks to what actually happens when Sophie pursues her film star crush. Writer/director/star Sophie Letourneur, who is being hailed as the French Lena Dunham for her funny, refreshingly frank comedy, will make her first appearance in the UK at the festival. Another UK premiere is Matterhorn (26 January), which won the Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Audience Award and Best Film at the Moscow Film Festival, a deliciously deadpan Dutch tragi-comedy that follows two men and a dream to climb the Matterhorn.

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SATIRE

This year LOCO will be celebrating satirical comedy, with Satire Day, a full day of discussions, screenings and live performances (Saturday 25 January, BFI Southbank) and a 50th Anniversary screening of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (25 January, BFI Southbank) with special guests including Kubrick’s friend and producer Jan Harlan. Other satirical screenings include: Trafic (26 January, Institut Français), the classic 1971 Jacques Tati French-Italian comedy; Doomsdays (23 January, BFI Southbank), a Kickstarter-funded pre-apocalyptical comedy that has been described as “Michael Haneke meets Wes Anderson”; Life of Brian (23 January, The Lexi Cinema); and The Infidel introduced by its writer, David Baddiel (26 January, Hackney Picturehouse).

LOCO RUNS FROM 23-26 JANUARY 2014

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