Posts Tagged ‘French Arthouse’

A Christmas Tale (2008) Un Conte De Noel ***

Director: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Catherine Denueve, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Melvil Poupard, Chiara Mastroianni Cert | 150 mins

Don’t’ expect cosy carols round the tree and a starry-eyed Christmas get-together. But if you’re up for a warts-an-all story of family dysfunction then this one’s for you. Catherine Deneuve is the cool matriarch Junon, inviting the family back for the holidays. But it’s not because she wants them all home. The reason is far more sinister and more selfish.

Smoking her way elegantly through this lengthy family saga Deneuve is a perfect picture of emotional detachment – and possibly the key to why her children are all so screwed up. The fun and games lie in guessing who is the most devoted of her breed, and she plays them all off against each other in ways that will be painfully obvious. Family members gradually bring their lives, loves and secrets to the party in rain-soaked Roubaix. Eldest son Henri (Matthiew Almaric) is a bankrupt alcoholic who has fallen out with his playwrite sister, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), a depressive with a troubled son and an unreliable husband. Their younger brother Ivan and his seductive wife Sylvie (Chiara Mastroianni) have two challenging boys but seems content until we discover her crush on cousin Simon who secretly lusts after her too and is wasting his life as a painter.

Quite a normal family get together then. Jean-Paul Roussillon is the wise old pater familias Abel, who dotes on them all and offers plenty of advice, lashings of red wine and the odd ‘coup de champagne’ in this well-observed and enjoyable drama that possibly echoes most people’s family Christmas at the end of the day. MT

NOW 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. 

Robert Siodmak | Master of Shadows | Blu-ray release

Dresden 1918, Robert Siodmak left his upper-middle class, orthodox Jewish home in this epicentre of European modern art, to join a theatre touring company. He was 18, and this was the first of many radical changes that would see him becoming a pioneer of film noir, and directing 56 feature films fraught with (anti)heroes who are morose, malevolent, violent and generally downbeat (spoilers).

Robert Siodmak began his film career in 1925, translating inter-titles. Later he learnt the editing business with Harry Piel. In 1927/28 he worked under Kurt (Curtis) Bernhardt (Das letzte Fort) and Alfred Lind. But MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG (1929/30) (left) would transform his professional life forever. Together with Edgar G. Ulmer, he would direct a semi-documentary, social realist portrait that pictured ordinary Berliners, far away from the expensive “Illusionsfilme” (escapist films) of the UFA. The idea was the brainchild of Robert’s younger brother Curt (born in Kracow), who would become a screen-writer and director of Horror/SF films, and follow his brother and Ulmer to Hollywood – along with the rest of the team: Billy Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan, Fred Zinnemann and Rochus Gliese (later art director for Murnau’s Sunrise). Robert Siodmak, Ulmer and Giese would also be part of the “Remigrants”, film makers, who would return to Germany after 1945.

People_on_Sunday_2 copyMENSCHEN AM SONNTAG was filmed on a succession of Sundays in 1929. Subtitled “a film without actors” – which is misleading, since the actors – non-professionals – co-wrote and co-produced the film, had already returned to their day jobs when the film was premiered in 1930. The five main protagonists spend a weekend near a lake in a Berlin suburb: Wolfgang (a wine seller) and Christl (a mannequin) meet for the first time at the Bahnhof Zoo by accident on Saturday morning, Christl had been stood up. On the same evening, Erwin (a taxi driver) and his girl friend Annie have a violent quarrel, tearing up each other’s photos. As a result, Erwin and his friend Wolfgang travel with Christl on the following Sunday to the Nicolas Lake. And here on the ‘beach’ Wolfgang meets Brigitte (a vinyl record sales assistant), the four spend the day together; intercut with images of the forlorn “stay-at-home” Annie. The final scene returns the quartet to the heart of the metropolis: four million waiting for another Sunday. MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG is a chronicle; a document shot against the narrative UFA style of the day. There is no story, just interaction. Even in the complex narratives of his films Noir, Siodmak would always be the bystander, the person who observes much more than directs.

Inquest_2 copyINQUEST (VORUNTERSUCHUNG), Robert Siodmak’s third feature film as a director, produced in 1931, is his first ‘Kriminalfilm” (thriller). The student Fritz Bernt (Gustaf Fröhlich), has a three year-long affair with the prostitute Erna – he also receives money from her. After falling in love with his friend Walter’s sister, Fritz wants to leave Erna. Out of cowardice, he sends Walter to her flat to break the news. But Walter sleeps with Erna’s flatmate and goes for a drink afterwards. When Erna’s body is found the next morning, Fritz is the main suspect. In charge of the inquest is Dr. Bienert (Albert Bassermann), who happens to be Walter’s father. The denouement is a surprise. In many ways, INQUEST is a “Strassenfilm”, Kracauer’s definition of films where the middle-class protagonist is in love with a sexy prostitute, but goes home to roost, marrying a bourgeois girl of his own class. Some of the main scenes of the film are shot in the staircase of the house where Erna lives, the shadowy lighting clearly foreshadowing Siodmak’s Noir period. Sexuality is the enemy of bourgeois society here, and Bassermann’s Dr. Bienert is a blustering patriarch, who would sacrifice anyone to save his son.

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THE BURNING SECRET (BRENNENDES GEHEIMNIS) is based on a novel by Stefan Zweig. Shot in 1932, it was to be Siodmak’s last German film for 23 years. In a Swiss Sanatorium, the twelve-year old Edgar (H.J. Schaufuss) is bored, and pleased to befriend Baron Von Haller (Willi Forst), a racing driver. But he does not know that Von Haller is using him to get close to his mother (Hilde Wagner). Soon Edgar gets suspicious, the two adults always want to be alone. He surprises them in flagrante and runs home to his father, although he does not give his secret away. When his mother arrives, he looks at her knowingly, but stays ‘mum’. Siodmak has sharpened the edges of this coming-of-age story, the novel concentrating more on romantic and psychological aspects. There is real violence between Edgar and Von Haller, and the lovemaking of the adulterous couple, which Edgar interrupts, is more vicious than affectionate. When the film was premiered in March 1933, Siodmak was already living in Paris, and Goebbels denounced the film as un-German, not surprisingly, since both the author of the novel and the director of the film were Jews living abroad in exile.

Hatred_1 copyWhen Siodmak shot MOLLENARD (1937) in France, it would be the penultimate of his French-set features. (In 1938, he would finish “Ultimatum” for the fatally ill Robert Wiene; and in the same year he is credited with “artistic supervision” for Vendetta, directed by Georges Kelber). MOLLENARD (HATRED) is the nearest to a film Noir so far: it is a fight to the death between Captain Mollenard (Harry Baur) and his wife Mathide (Gabrielle Dorziat). Captain Mollenard is a gun runner in Shanghai, he is shown as a hero, a good friend to his crew. When he returns to Dunkirk and his wife and two children, illness renders him powerless to his vitriolic wife, who tries to turn the children against him. Mollenard attempts to use his strength to re-conquer his wife, but fails, unlike during his days in Shanghai. The son takes the side of his mother, the daughter tries to drown herself, but Mollenard saves her. In the end, his crew carries the dying man out of the house, he would end his life where he was most happy – at sea. MOLLENARD is a contrast between utopia and dystopia for the main protagonist: the sea, where he is free (to commit crimes), and the bourgeois home, where he is a prisoner of conventions. He is unable to survive in this which cold, emotionless prison. MOLLENARD is seen as his greatest film in France, a dramatic version of Noir.

Snares copyPIÈGES (1939) was Siodmak’s last French film before emigrating to the USA – and his greatest box-office success of this period. Whilst most of Siodmak’s French films featured fellow emigrés in front and behind the camera, PIÈGES only has the co-author, Ernst Neubach, as a fellow emigré– the DOP, Ted Pahle, was American, and the star, Maurice Chevalier, already an legend was very much a Frenchman: Siodmak had established himself. (A fact, which would count for nothing at the start of his US career.)  PIÈGES is the story of a serial killer who murders eleven women in the music-hall world of Paris. The police, whose main suspect is the night-club-owner and womaniser Fleury (Chevalier), chooses Arienne (the debutant Marie Dea), to lure the murderer into the open. But Arienne falls in love with Fleury’s associate Brémontière, only to find out that he is the murderer. In the end the gutsy Arienne (Dea is a subtle antithesis to the French heroines of this period) has to risk her lift to save her husband Fleury’s. There are more than a few clues to the later “Phantom Lady” in PIÈGES.  Eric von Stroheim is brilliant as a mad fashion czar who has lost his fortune and adoring women.

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SON OF DRACULA (1943) was already Robert Siodmak’s seventh film in Hollywood, his first for Universal. Scripted by his brother Curt, SON OF DRACULA was a great risk for Robert, it was his first outing in the classical Horror genre, not to mention the great ‘Dracula tradition’ started by Ted Browning in 1931. The film is set in the bayous of Louisianna, where Katherine Caldwell has inherited the plantation “Dark Oaks” from her father, who died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. She gives a party, and entertains Count Alucard (Lon Chaney jr.) an acquaintance  from her travels in central Europe. She discards her fiancée Frank and marries Alucard. Frank shoots the count, but the bullet passes through him, killing Katherine. In prison, Katherine visits him as a bat, turning into her human form (a first in film history), and asking Frank to kill Alucard, so they can live together forever as vampires. Frank grants her wish, but also burns her in her coffin. SON OF DRACULA is pure gothic horror, but suffered from Lon Chaney jr. being miscast in a role created by Bela Lugosi as his Alter Ego. Strongest are the scenes in the bayous, where the evil still lurks after the death of Katherine and Alucard: everything seems toxic, the spell of the vampire lives on.

Cobra_Woman_1.jpg_rgb copyCOBRA WOMAN (1943) was Robert Siodmak’s first film in colour, shot in widescreen Technicolor. Its star, Maria Montez, an aristocrat from the Dominican Republic, whose real name was Maria Africa Garcia Vidal de Santo Silas, would later gain cult status after her early death at the age of 39 from a heart attack in her bathtub in Paris. Maria plays Tollea, who is whisked away just before her wedding to Ramu, to her birth island where her evil twin sister Naja (also played by Montez) holds sway. Ramu and his helper Kado follow her, but Tollea has decided to sacrifice her love for Ramu to become the new ruler of the island, so as to prevent an eruption of the volcano provoked by Naja’s sins. COBRA WOMAN is pure camp, Siodmak said “it was nonsense, but fun”.

Phantom_Lady_1 copyIn 1943 Siodmak was on a roll: he would make four film that year, and PHANTOM LADY (1943) was also the most important of his American period to date: the first of a quartet, which would form with The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross, the classic Noir films of their creator.

PHANTOM LADY is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich (William Irish), a prolific writer, whose novels and short stories were the basis for twenty films Noir of the classic period. They also provided the basis for Nouvelle Vague fare. Pivotal in Woolrich’s novels is the race against time. Scott Henderson, an engineer, is accused of murdering his wife. He proclaims his innocence, but is sentenced to death. His secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines) is convinced he is not a murderer, and together with inspector Burges, she sets out to find the real culprit. Henderson’s alibi is a woman with a flamboyant hat, he meets in a bar, and spends the evening with, while  his wife was murdered – but they promised not to reveal their identities. The mystery woman  is illusive and when Carol tries to unravel her identity, the barman, who to denies having seen her at all, is run over by a car shortly after interviewed by Richman. Another witness, a drummer (Elisha Cook. Jr.), is also murdered, before Richman corners Franchot Tone, an artist, and Richman’s best friend as the murderer: he had an affair with Richman’s wife. German expressionism and Siodmak’s customary near documentary style dominate: New York is a bed of intrigue, where shadows lurk and footsteps signal danger. The majority of scenes could be watched without dialogue, particularly Cook’s drummer solo, which fits in well with the impressionist décor. With PHANTOM LADY, Robert Siodmak had found his (sub)genre.

Christmas_Holiday_10CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), based on a novel by Somerset Maugham, has a most misleading title and is perhaps Siodmak’s most exotic film Noir. Lt. Mason, on Christmas leave, is delayed in New Orleans, where he meets the singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durham) who tells him her real name is Abigail Manette, and that her husband Robert (Gene Kelly) is in jail for murdering his bookie. In a long flashback, we see Robert’s mother trying to cover up her son’s crime. After Jackie leaves Mason, she is confronted in a roadhouse by Robert who has escaped from jail. Before he can shoot her, a policeman’s bullet kills him. Like “Phantom Lady”, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is photographed again by Woody Bredell, New Orleans is a tropical, outlandish setting and the film has much more the feel of a French film-noir than an American. Siodmak uses Wagner’s “Liebestod” to frame the love story of the doomed couple.

THE SUSPECT (1944) is one of Siodmak’s less convincing Noirs. Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton), a sedentary middle-aged man, is driven out by his heartless wife Cora, and falls in love with the much younger Mary (Ella Raines). Philip becomes a different person, and thrives with his new love. But Cora finds out about the couple and threatens Philip with disclosure, which would have ruined him professionally. He kills first Cora, then his neighbour Gilbert Simmons, who blackmails him. Inspector Huxley has no proof against him, and Philip could start a new life with his young wife in Canada, but he decides to stay and give himself up, just as Huxley had predicted. Shot entirely in a studio, THE SUSPECT lacks suspense, and is only remarkable for Laughton’s brilliant performance.

The_Strange_Affair_of_Uncle_Harry_3 copyTHE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945) features a semi-incestuous relationship between brother and sister: John “Harry” Quincy (George Sanders) lives a quiet life in New Hampshire with his sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester. When he meets the fashion designer Deborah Brown (Ella Raines), he falls in love with her. Lettie is jeaulous, and feigns a heart attack. Harry wants to murder her, but Hester drinks the poison intended for Lettie, who is convicted for Hester’s murder, but does not give away the real culprit, since she knows that her death will prevent Harry from marrying Deborah. To mollify The “MPAA code agency”, Siodmak found a new ending: Harry wakes up at, having only dreamt the events; producer Joan Harrison resigned from the project in protest. Lettie is a psychopath in the vein of the murderer in Phantom Lady and Olivia de Havilland’s murderous twin in The Dark Mirror. But there is more ambiguity to the narrative than is obvious at first sight: there is a vey clear resemblance between Lettie and Deborah – they might have been exchangeable for Harry. THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY is one of the darkest Noirs, because all is played out on the background of a very respectable family, in small town America.

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THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) is Siodmak’s most famous Noir, a classic because of its old-dark-house setting and the woman-in-peril theme. In a small town in New England, handicapped women are being murdered. Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is watching a silent movie in town, where a lame woman is strangled. Helen then hurries home, to look after the family matriarch Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), who is bedridden. Since Helen is mute, she is in mortal danger: the killer lives in the house. When Helen finds the body of Blanche, who was engaged to Albert Warren (George Brent), after having left his half-brother Steve, Helen suspects Stephen and locks him in the cellar; then she tries to phone Dr. Parry, but she cannot communicate. Too late she finds out that Albert is the killer, who chases her up the spiral staircase, but his mother gets up and shoots him, causing Helen, who lost her voice after witnessing the traumatic death of her parents, to cry out loud. Very little of the background to the narrative has been mentioned: the theme being eugenics, a concept the late President Theodore Roosevelt was very keen on. Albert Warren has taken this concept a step further; he kills “weak and imperfect” humans because he believes his father would be proud of him. Like T. Roosevelt, Albert’s father was a big-game hunter. In his mother’s bedroom is a poster with a Teddy Roosevelt lookalike and the initials “TR” above an elephant’s tusk. Considering the Nazi Euthanasia programmes, this aspect of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has often been neglected by critics.

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THE DARK MIRROR (1946) reflects Hollywood’s interest in Freud. Two identical sisters, Terry and Ruth Collins, both played by Olivia de Havilland, are suspected of murder, when one of the women’s suitors is found dead. Inspector Stevenson is fascinated by the two woman, but would not have solved the crime without the help of Dr. Elliot, a psychoanalyst. He finds out that whilst Ruth is a very adjusted and loving person, Terry is just her opposite: a ruthless psychopath, who fabricates clues, to make Ruth look like the murderess, whilst at the same time is planning to kill her sister, before Dr. Elliot is able to expose her. Siodmak deals with the “Doppelgänger” theme, which was explored as early as in the silent film era of expressionism, by using Freudian theory to explain the perversity of the “evil” sister: rejection, confusion and lastly alienation let her spin out of control, allowing only “herself” to survive. Unlike in The Spiral Staircase, the interior is totally unthreatening, which makes Terry’s murderous lust even more terrifying.

TIme_Out_of_Mind_2 copyTIME OUT OF MIND (1946/7) is more melodrama than Noir. Chris Fortune (Robert Hutton), the son of a heartless and ambitious shipping tycoon, falls in love with the servant girl Kate (Phyllis Calvert). But in 19th century New England, this was not the social norm. Kate encourages Chris to marry a lady of his class, who turns out to be a beast and drives Chris more into alcohol dependency. Chris fancies himself as a composer, but only Kate believes in his talent. The Noir aspect is the family constellation: Chris is obviously weak, and his overbearing father (Leo G. Carroll) rules over his life. More to the point, Chris’s sister Rissa (Ella Raines) seemingly protects her younger brother, but is in reality totally obsessed by him. She represents the semi-incestuous theme running, not only through Siodmak’s, noir films.

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CRISS CROSS (1949) is perhaps Siodmak’s most personal Noir. Reworking elements of The Killers – and casting Burt Lancaster again in the role of the obsessed lover -, CRISS CROSS is the story of an “amour fou”, its emotional intensity on par with Tourneur’s classic Out of the Past. Steve Thompson (Lancaster) is still in love with his ex wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who now lives with the gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). But when the two of them meet in a bar, the whole things starts up again. Dundee surprises them, Thompson comes up with an excuse: he needs Dundee’s help for an armed car robbery. But Dundee is suspicious: he and his gang kill Thompson’s partner and wound him after the robbery. When Anna goes missing with the money, Dundee suspects the couple have double-crossed him. Dundee has Thompson abducted, but Thompson bribes his captors and finds Anna. She is terrified by the thought that Dundee will find them and wants to abandon the wounded Steve, but Dundee arrives and shoots them both, before running towards the police. The final scene, when Anna’s and Steve’s bodies fall literally into each other, bullets flying as the police siren’s grow louder, is the apotheosis of everything that’s gone on since the scene in the bar. From then on, in true Noir fashion, all is told in flashbacks and voice-over narration. Anna is the quintessential Noir heroine, telling Steve: “All those things which have happened we’ll forget it. You see, I make you forget it. After it’s done, after it’s all over and we are safe, it will be just you and me. The way it should’ve been all along from the start”. CRISS CROSS is my personal favourite: dark, expressionistic, melancholic and wonderfully doomed.

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THE GREAT SINNER (1948/9) is an awkward mixture of high literature and low-brow melodrama. Based partly on Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Gambler” and some autobiographical details of this author, Siodmak struggles to bring this expensive “A-picture” to life. The stars Gregory Peck (Fedya) and Ava Gardener (Pauline Ostrovsky) – in the first of three collaborations – do their best, but Christopher Isherwood’s script is a hotchpotch of the sensational and sentimental, tragic events unfold fast and furiously, logic and characterisation falling by the wayside. Told in a long flash-back, Pauline receives a manuscript from the dying writer Fedya, in which he tells the story of their first meeting in 1860 in Wiesbaden. Then, Fedya met Pauline on a train journey from Paris to Moscow, but follows her to the casino in Wiesbaden, to study the effects of gambling on the whole Ostrovsky clan. When Pitard, a gambler and friend of Pauline, steals Fedya’s money, the latter tries to save Pitard from his fate, and gives him the money so he can leave the city. But Pitard loses in the casino and shoots himself. Strangely enough, Fedya, who has fallen in love with Pauline, also becomes addicted to gambling – but telling himself, that he wants to win the money, so that Pauline’s father can pay back his debts to the casino owner Armand, and thus free Pauline from the engagement to the ruthless tycoon. But after some early success, Fedya looses heavily, tries to in vain to pawn a religious medal, which belongs to Pauline; finally, he wants to commit suicide, before he looses consciousness. Recovered, he finishes his novel and Pauline forgives him. In spite of a strong supporting cast including Ethel Barrymore, Melvin Douglas, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Huston, THE GREAT SINNER flopped at the box-office, having cost 20 m Dollar in today’s money, it lost 8 m Dollar. Siodmak, according to Gregory Peck, did not enjoy the responsibility of the big budget production, “he looked like a nervous wreck”.

The_File_on_Thelma_2 copyWith THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949) Siodmak returned to the safe ground of Noir films. Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck) is unhappily married to Tony Laredo (Richard Rober), but is attracted to his animalistic sex-appeal. When she discusses burglaries at her wealthy aunt’s house, where she also lives, with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Correy), the two fall in love. When the aunt is killed, and a necklace stolen, Thelma is the main suspect, because Tony has been away to Chicago. Thelma is put on trial, and Cleve pays her lawyer and plans the trial strategy with him, even though he has learned about Thelma’s past, and is convinced that she is the murderer. The aunt’s butler has seen a stranger at the crime scene, but did not recognise him. Thelma, who knows that the person is Cleve, does not give his name away. She is aquitted and wants to leave town with Tony, when Cleve confronts them. Tony beats Cleve up and the couple flee, but Thelma causes an accident on purpose, in which both are killed – but not before she has confessed to the murder. In spite of this, Cleve’s career and marriage is ruined. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON is a neat reversal on Double Indemnity, which also starred Stanwyck as the Queen of all femme fatales. But here, Thelma and Cleve really love each other, and Thelma pays for her crime with her life, and Cleve will be ostracised by society for a long time. Whilst Wilder’s couple was evil from the beginning, Siodmak gives his lovers a much more human touch. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON was Robert Siodmak’s last American Film Noir. He would later direct two more films, which are in certain ways close to the subgenre; but he would never again achieve the greatness of his American Film Noir cycle, even his directing output would run to another 18 films.

The_Crimson_Pirate_3In the THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1951/2) Siodmak was reunited with Burt Lancaster, who also produced the film. Set in the late 18th century in the Caribbean, Captain Vallo (Lancaster), is a pirate, who tries to make money from selling weapons to the rebels on the island of Cobra, lead by El Libre (Frederick Leicester). On the island, Vallo falls in love with El Libre’s daughter Conseuela (Eva Bartok). Later he has to rescue her father, and support the revolution – even against the wishes of his fellow pirates, who do not see the reason for such a good deed – since it is totally unprofitable! In a stormy finale with tanks, TNT, machine guns and an outstanding colourful airship, our hero, now in drag, wins the revolution and Consulea’s heart. What is most surprising is the humour and lightheartedness of the production. Everything is told tongue-in-cheek, the action scenes are overwhelming and Lancaster (the ex-circus acrobat) dominates the film with his stunts. It seems hardly credible Robert Siodmak, creator of gloom and doom, dark shadows and even darker hearts, would be responsible for such an uplifting and hilarious spectacle, 15 years before Louis Malle’s equally enchanting “Viva Maria!”. Ken Adam, the future “Bond” production designer, earned one of his first credits for this film.

It will never be absolutely clear why Robert Siodmak decided to leave Hollywood after he finished THE CRIMSON PIRATE, to work again in Germany (with a one-film stop in France, so as to repeat his journey of the thirties backwards). In the USA, he was offered a lucrative six-film deal and had shown with his last film, that he could now also handle big productions successfully. There are rumours of pending HUAC hearings, because of his friendship with Charles Spencer Chaplin, but Siodmak himself never mentioned these as a reason for the return to his homeland. Rather like Fritz Lang and Edgar Ulmer, it can only be assumed that “Heimweh” was the reason for Siodmak’s return. True, he lived in Ascona, Switzerland, but he worked nearly exclusively in Germany. What he, and other “Remigrants” did not reckon with, was the political and cultural climate in the Federal Republic of Germany. When these directors had left Germany, the Nazis had just started the transformation of the country. But in the early fifties, the democracy of the country was not chosen, but forced on the population by the Allies. Old Nazis were still in many powerful positions, and the majority of the population still grieved, full of self-pity, about their defeat. The Third Reich, and particularly the Holocaust, were more or less Taboo, both in daily life and in all cultural referenced. The film industry also suffered from the lack of a new beginning; even Veit Harlan, director of Jud Süss, was allowed to restart his career. It is no co-incidence that neither Lang or Ulmer produced anything notable after their return.

The_Devil_Strikes_at_Night_4 copyThe same can be said for Robert Siodmak, with one exception: THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (NACHTS WENN DER TEUFEL KAM), which he directed in 1957 was, deservedly, nominated for the “Oscar” as “Best foreign film”. Set during WWII in Hamburg, the film tells the story of the serial killer Bruno Lüdke (Mario Adorf). When caught by inspector Kersten (Claus Holm), the latter’s superior, the Gestapo Officer Rossdorf (Hannes Messmer) points out that another man had already been ‘convicted’: Willi Keun (Wolfgang Peters), a small-time party member, had “been shot whilst escaping” – without informing the population about the murders, since just a monstrous criminal did not fit in with ruling ideology of the Aryan supremacy. Both, police man and Gestapo officer, now have the difficult task to start to convince the authorities that a German serial killer was on the loose for over a decade. Both will be sent to the Eastern front, to cover up the case. The film is based on real events, Bruno Lüdke (1908-1944) was mentally retarded, but may have confessed to more murders than he actually committed – to clear up unsolved murder cases. Siodmak re-creates the atmosphere of his best Noir films: the city is darkened, the image dissolves from an omniscient perspective to a particular one – particularly in the scene where Lüdke is caught in the headlights of a car. Fear and excitement permeate like a black stain throughout. Kesten’s obsession with the case create a fragmented world, where the images seem to splinter. Chaos rules, and nobody seems to be safe: the hunt for Lüdke, which frames the film, is shown like a haunting parable on the destructive nature of the 3rd Reich. Unfortunately, Siodmak fell short of this standard in the other 12 films directed in West Germany between 1955 and 1969.

The_Rough_and_the_Smooth_1In 1959 Siodmak worked in the Elstree-Borehamwood studios, to direct THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, based on the novel by Robin Maugham. Robert Cecil Romer, 2nd Viscount Maugham, nephew of Somerset Maugham, was the enfant terrible of his family. Socialist and self-confessed homosexual, he was a very underrated novelist: The Servant, filmed in 1963 by Joseph Loosey, with Dirk Bogarde in the title role, is one of the classics of British post-WWII cinema. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH shows similarities: Mike Thompson (Tony Britton), an archeologist, is engaged to Margaret (Natasha Parry), the daughter of his boss, who finances his work. Mike feels trapped in a loveless relationship, and falls for Ila Hansen (Nadja Tiller), a young and attractive woman. But she has a secret: not only is she in cahoots with the tough gangster Reg Barker (William Bendix), but there is a third man in her life, who has a hold over her. After Barker commits suicide, driven by Hansen’s demands, the latter tries also to blackmail Mike and Margaret. The ending is quiet original. There are very dark undertones, particularly for the late 50s, when Ila comments: “I don’t cry much, I have been hurt a lot”. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH is a subversive film considering the context of its period. The camera pans over stultified Britain of the last 50s, where there seems to be no middle-ground between boring respectability and outright perversion. When the two worlds collide, the conflict is fought on both sides with grim, violent determination. With THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, Siodmak, would, for the last time, come close to his American Noir films, for which he was called “Prince of the Shadows”: referring not only to the quality of the images, but also to a society, where, to quote Brecht, “we are only aware of the ones in the light, the ones in the shadows, we don’t see”. Robert Siodmak made sure that the ones in the shadows played the major roles in his Films Noir career. Andre Simonoviescz ©

MASTER OF SHADOWS | A RETROSPECTIVE OF ROBERT SIODMAK

Masters of Cinema home video release of CRISS CROSS; Robert Siodmak’s influential film noir masterpiece; to be released on 22 June 2020.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Henri-Georges Cluzot | Mubi

LA PRISONNIЀRE (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.

LE CORBEAU (1942)

A veritable masterpiece of French cinema, LE CORBEAU is a dark and subversive study of human nature starring Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc. 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 sinister 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.

QUAI DES ORFEVRES (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.

MUBI | 14 April 2020 |  BLURAY, DVD AND DIGITAL | STUDIOCANAL

Orlando (1992) **** re-release

Orlando - Tilda SwintonDirector/Writer: Sally Potter | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Bill Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, Toby Jones, Simon Russell Beale | 94min   Fantasy Drama  UK

Sally Potter’s inventive, vibrant and visually sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel is the ideal vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s versatility as the metrosexual maverick poet and nobleman Orlando, who is commanded by Elizabeth I to stay eternally young. If you could only have one auteu film in your timecapsule or desert island retreat, make it this one.

The story is endlessly fascinating and enduring, engaging modern audiences with its androgynous allure and sexual enigma. The characters are exotic and compelling. The costumes and set pieces are magnificent.  In short it is a love-letter to England’s rich language and literature. MT

NOW ON RERELEASE at THE BFI WITH AN INTRO BY POTTER AND SWINTON ON 8 MARCH 2020 and BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

    

UK French Film Festival (2019)

The French Film Festival UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema, embracing French and Francophone cinema in all its diversity, featuring a bumper programme bursting with variety and vitality. The 27th edition runs from 1 November to 15 December 2019, showing over 50 films in 35 towns and cities across the UK. 

Nana | Nana (N/C 12A+)

Dir Jean Renoir | Scr Pierre Lestringuez | based on the Emile Zola novel | Music Baudime Jam | 1926 | France | 170 mins |

This special screening of Jean Renoir’s full-length silent film includes two magnificent set pieces – a horse race and an open-air ball – accompanied live by Prima Vista Quintet 

A Paris Education | Mes Provinciales (N/C 15+)

Dir Jean-Paul Civeyrac | 2018 | France | 136 mins |

Pure love of cinema inhabits every frame of Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s sensitive and sophisticated portrait of Etienne, a provincial boy who moves to Paris to attend film school. 

By the Grace of God | Grâce à Dieu (15)

Dir François Ozon | 2019 | 137 mins |

When Alexandre learns that the priest who assaulted him decades earlier at a scouts’ camp still works with young people, he tells his family what happened and seeks out other victims so that the Church will take action.

Happy Birthday | Fête de Famille (N/C 15+)

Dir Cédric Kahn | 2019 | France | 101 mins |

Family relations unravel to wonderfully excruciating comic and dramatic effect in this all-star ensemble piece from versatile French writer-director and here, co-star, Cédric Kahn. 

Oh les filles ! | Haut les filles (N/C 12A+)

Dir François Armanet | 2019 | France | 79 mins |

Telling the untold story of French female rock stars from sixties pop to today’s gender-indifferent anthems.

The Salamander | La Salamandre (N/C 18+)

Dir Alain Tanner | 1971 | Switzerland, France | 123 mins |

Two self-proclaimed writers attempt to retell how a young woman shot her uncle. 

Yves St Laurent: The Last Collections (N/C 15+)

Dir Olivier Meyrou | 2007 (release: 2018) | France | 73 mins |

Olivier Meyrou’s controversial yet exquisitely drawn portrait of France’s last great fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, has finally seen the light of day.

For full listings: https://www.regentstreetcinema.com/

 

 

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

 

Celebration (2019) MUBI

Dir: Olivier Meyrou | Doc, France

Olivier Meyrou’s long-shelved biopic on Yves Saint Laurent‘s final collection (aka Yves Saint Laurent: the last collections) has come to light again after screening at Berlinale 2007. The reason for its disappearance from the circuit was due to the legendary couturier’s partner and former lover Pierre Bergé, who ordered the film to be taken out of circulation after its world premiere. His subsequent death has now freed up the rights.

Don’t expect a glamorous film full of stars, celebrities and glossy locations. Meyrou takes a serious, anti-glamour approach showing just how serious the French are about the business of haute couture in a film that showcases ‘the devil in the detail’ and the often gruelling, hand-sewn meticulousness of it all. Meyrou also reveals tensions in the distance in the relationship between Yves Saint Laurent and Bergé who are seen from a warts and all perspective.

Seven years before the tall, rangy designer’s death, he cuts a dedicated but troubled  figure in his elegant tailoring and soigné accoutrements. Looking frail and wan, he gives tentative answers during a press interview where he tries to be positive about the future, while appearing decidedly diffident: “I’m the last couture house with a living couturier.” The others in the triumvirate: Balenciaga and Chanel have long lost their eminences grises.

YSL was founded in 1961 by Saint Laurent and Bergé, and later purchased by Gucci in 1999. The films opens in the former offices in rue Georges V where two women employees are effervescing about the past. This film is very much about the “backroom boys”- the people who made it all happen: the seamstresses, designers and assistants and the members of the press so vital in disseminating news during the final collections – renowned fashion journalist Suzy Menkes (now editor of Vogue International) is seen eagerly greeting Pierre Bergé, pen and paper at hand. The models too played a vital part – and each one is remembered for the outfit she wore, and for the particular strengths she bought to the catwalk. A case in point is the elegant model Katoucha Niane whose appearance is a poignant reminder of her accidental death in the Seine in 2008.

As the title suggests Meyrou’s documentary revolves around the preparations for what would turn out to be his final solo collection. He appears taciturn and introspective, the gurning movements of his jaw bear witness to the punctiliousness with which he treats his craft. And although Yves says very little, Bergé makes up for it with imperious obnoxiousness. At one point snatching a tribute from his partner after the show: “Probably, I have a part of that”.  As we all know from extensive film cannon on the designer: Bergé was the brains behind the business while Saint Laurent the heart, soul and talent. His obsession and eagle eye for getting it all absolutely right was well known and respected by all those who worked with him. Yet Bergé seems to has the upper hand and treats him with a boorishness bordering on contempt: “”Don’t lean over like a doddering old man!” he says to his partner at one point.

In immaculate monochrome Meyrou captures and contemplates the fraught energy of these behind the scenes encounters: the twittering tête à têtes of the seamstresses, the endless deliberations between Saint Laurent and his acolytes, and those responsible for the ‘tapie rouge’ and catwalk protocol.

Colour finally splashes into the film heralding the triumphant catwalk defilés: a spectacular tribute to French culture. Celebration quietly captures the era in a film that is memorable for its cool approach that feels impressionistic rather than hyped and over-talky. But those with a keen appreciation of the subject matter will find it thoroughly enjoyable and applaud Meyrou’s restrained approach. MT

NOW ON MUBI

 

Le Sang d’un Poète | Le Testament d’Orphee – re-mastered on Bluray

Jean Cocteau – poet, playwright, novelist, designer, visual artist and one of the avant-garde movement’s most inventive and influential filmmakers was born in 1889, and grew up in Paris, immersed in the theatre and art world. He published his first volume of poems at just 15 and began mixing in bohemian circles becoming known as the Frivolous Prince.

He associated with Marcel Proust, Maurice Barres, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. At a time when society condemned it, he was openly homosexual and homoerotic undertones, imagery and symbolism pervade all aspects of his writings, art and films. Despite financial constraints he continued to work even through the war years when he was forced to ad-lib often making do with bric-a-brak and bed sheets as part of the scenery in Le Belle et la Bête (1946). It still looked ravishing.

Made thirty years apart, these two recent 4k restorations effectively frame his filmic career and are both considered masterpieces of the avant-garde movement. 

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE – is an exploration of the tortuous relationship between the artist and his creations. LE SANG D’UN POÊTE, seeks to explore the feelings within a poet’s heart and soul, beginning in an artist’s studio where an unfinished statue comes to life. The lips of its androgynous face move, pressing a kiss to the artist’s hand. At the statues demand, he plunges it into a mirror.

LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE brings full circle the journey made in 1932, the first part of the ‘Orphic’ trilogy LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (1960)

This last film is a truly abstract piece of work. Portraying an 18th century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom, it is another finely crafted, surreal and magical piece set in a mysterious, post-apocalyptic desert where Cocteau meets a series of enigmatic characters, joining them to muse about about the nature of art. Often gently poignant and whimsical in tone, this ethereal drama resonates with his Spanish roots – he settled in Andalucia for a while, in common with Picasso. Cocteau assembles an eclectic cast that includes vignettes with  Pablo Picasso himself, Jean Marais, Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Roger Vadim and Yul Brenner in a piece that veers between gentle irony and low-key pessimism. Cocteau admirers will probably find it very moving.

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE (The Blood of a Poet) and LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (The Testament of Orpheus) will be released on ON BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD – 5TH AUGUST 2019

Pre-order now: http://po.st/TestamentOrphee; http://po.st/SangPoete.

https://youtu.be/qW84uNnNv0Y

Women Filmmakers (1911-1940)

More women worked in film during the early years of the 20th century than at any time since. In the silent era, these women made films for a female audience. And although the focus was traditional: love, marriage and family, the narratives were playfully critical of these themes in a clever and humorous way, pushing the boundaries aesthetically and offering amusement at a time when society was much more restrictive for women than it is nowadays.

Filmmakers such as Lois Weber, Marie-Louise Iribe, Alice Guy Blaché, Germain Dulac, Dorothy Davenport, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Dorothy Arzner, Mary Helen Bute and Mabel Normand were working together with female screenwriters and producers for the female-dominated audience of the time. For some reason these innovative, pioneering talents have been relegated to the back burner or written out of cinematic history all together, and that is why people talk of their rarity value.  

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) started her career as a secretary at Gaumont, Paris and would go on to be its only female film director there between 1896 and 1906, making her debut with the first ever feature with a narrative: LA FÉE AUX CHOUX (The Cabbage Fairy). Alice became the production head for Gaumont France and although her directing credits were never really established in France alone they numbered over 500, and  specialised in working with children. Marrying her English Gaumont colleague Herbert Blaché in 1907, the couple soon moved to the United States where they set up the trading arm of Gaumont. In New Jersey Alice set up her own studio, Solax Films, in 1910. For three years, it produced 95 very successful short films, before switching to medium length productions: she directed twenty-two between 1915 and 1920. Two years later, after the collapse of Solax she went back to France where she novelised film scripts, eventually returning to the US to spend her final years with her daughter Simone in New Jersey, not far from the former Solax studio.

FALLING LEAVES (1912) was a melodrama starring a child actor Magda Foy in the role Little Trixie (Magda Foy) whose sister Winifred (Marian Swayne), is dying from TB. The family doctor announces gravely to Winifred’s mother “your daughter will die when the last leaves fall”. Little Trixie not only stitches some leaves to the tree branches, but also gets help in form Dr. Headley (Mace Greenleaf), who has developed a cure that saves Winifred and needless to say, opens the way for a romantic happy-end. That same year Alice filmed THE GIRL IN THE ARMCHAIR (1912) that sees Blanche Cornwall playing heiress Peggy Wilson who becomes the romantic interest and intended wife of her guardian’s son Frank Watson (Mace Greenleaf). But Frank is more interested in gambling, and comes a cropper after he losing USD 500 at Poker, a sizeable amount in those days. The film delivers a happy-ending and a clever scene where Frank sees the cards moving around him in a circle, during a nightmare. THE OCEAN WAIF (1916) is an intricate riff of the ‘damsel in distress’ theme. Doris Kenyon plays Millie the waif in question, discovered on a beach by her brutal stepfather Hy. After regular beatings she runs away and hides in a supposedly abandoned villa, which is then let the writer Ronald Roberts (Carlyle Blackwell) as the location for his ‘haunted house’ novel. Mistaking her for the much talked off local “ghost” he falls in love, leaving his fiancée who is immediately picked up by a rich count. Unaware of this development, Millie returns home to her step father, who tries to rape her. Another villager comes to the rescue and all’s well that ends well. The film proves that although women where directing, the narratives still saw men very much in control.

Lois Weber (1879-1939) started life as a Street Evangelist but was cast, ironically, by Alice Guy in HYPOCRATES (1908), her first film. Weber’s own prodigious career as a director kicked off with A HEROINE (1911) and continued with 27 movies between 1914 and 1927. After founding her own production company in 1917, she joined Universal Film Manufacturing (the forerunner of Universal) a decade later, but never made the transition into sound, directing just one talkie, WHITE HEAT, in 1934. Weber died lonely and destitute at the age of only sixty, being wrongly remembered as a “star maker”. Film historians have not been kind to her, seeing her diminishing output as the result of her divorce from her husband (and co-producer) Phillips Smalley who never directed or produced a film after they divorced – very much in contrast to Weber.

SUSPENSE (1913) highlighted her invention of the triple screen that added an ingenious twist to the story of a race to the rescue – once again of a ‘damsel in distress’. It sees a city-worker husband (Val Paul) desperate to reach his wife (Weber) threatened by a tramp (Sam Kaufman) trying to break into their house in a remote location. The husband jumps into an idling car (filling the middle part of the screen) and races towards his wife and tramp (who occupy the edges). The police are in hot pursuit while the tramp skulks into the bedroom before being over-powered by the arriving posse. THE BLOT (1921) is a full length feature (91′) and a true auteur’s effort: Weber directed, co-wrote and co-produced this strangely modern tale of poverty in academia that contrasts with the rise of a ‘nouveau riche’ of all kinds. Lecturer Theodore Griggs (Philip Hubbard) and his family are living hand-to-mouth: when he invites the Reverend for tea, his wife (Margaret McWade) frets about the housekeeping budget. Griggs is then belittled by a trio of students whose fathers’ income and political connections will guarantee them top marks. One of them, Phil West (Louis Calhorn), is secretly in love with Griggs’ daughter Amelia (Claire Windsor), the Reverend also fancies his chances with her. Luckily for all concerned, it all works out in the end with one of the inter-titles reading: “men are only boys grown up tall”. 

Mabel Normand (1892-1930) had a short but eventful life: both behind and in front of the camera. A pioneer of silent movies, she appeared in several hundred short films and directed ten between 1910 and 1927. Credited with saving Charlie Chaplin’s career she also developed Chaplin’s ‘tramp’ screen personality. Her accidental involvement in the murder of William Desmond Taylor and the shooting of Courtland S. Dines marred her career, as well as her association with ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, whose life was fraught with scandal. Suffering from TB she died at the tender age of only 37. MABEL’S BLUNDER (1914) is a witty comedy of errors and cross-dressing where Mabel (Normand) unhappily finds herself involved with the father of her husband to be. Things get worse when her fiancé’s sister (Nelson) also enters the fray. Mabel dresses up in male drag and teaches both men a lesson. The film went on to be recognised over 100 years winning the National Film Preservation award in 2009.

GERMAINE DU LAC grew up in Paris where she enjoyed an artistic education that led to journalism on her marriage to Marie-Louis Albert-Dulac. One of the leading radical feminists of her day, she became editor of La Française, the organ of the French suffragette movement, also serving as its theatre and cinema critic. In 1915 she teamed up with her husband to direct inventive often experimental shorts produced by their company Delia Film. During the 1920s she emerged a leader figure in the impressionist film movement with titles such as Coquille and the Clergyman. During the Second World War she used her diplomatic skills on behalf of the Cinemateque Francaise to secure the return of valuable films seized by the Nazis. Her ambition was to make ‘pure cinema’ untrammelled by influences from other art forms. She also pioneered French cinema clubs throughout France before the advent of talkies saw her turning her talents towards newsreel production at Pathé and Gaumont.

LA CIGARETTE  (1919) an exquisite but badly damaged restoration of this 51 minute playfully plotted love story sees a flirtatious young wife (Andrée Brabant/Denise) frolicking around Paris while her ageing Eygptologist husband (Gabriel Signoret) frets that she no longer loves him. Despondent, he puts a poisoned cigarette into his box, in the hope that chance will decide his fate, and adding a soupçon of suspense to the delightful post-war snapshot. LA SOURIANTE MADAME BEUDET (1923) Madame Beudet is distinctly more miserable about the state of her marriage than Andrée Brabant’s Denise in this ironically titled silent chamber piece. So much so that she decides to do away with her gurning idiot of a husband (Alexandre Arqullière) who paws her incessantly as she quails away in disgust.  The tone is morose, and Germaine Dermoz makes a cast iron case for women married to men they simply can’t stand the sight of, but are trapped with for reasons beyond their control.

MARIE-LOUISE IRIBE Parisian actress and filmmaker, Marie Louise Iribe (1894-1934) had a short but dazzling career and is best known for her 1928 debut Hara-Kiri (co-directed with Henri Debain). Her follow-up Le Roi de Aulnes (1931) is based on a poem by Goethe. This enchanting filigree fairy tale has the same magical touch and look as Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête which followed 15 years later and during wartime. The simple but moving storyline sees a man riding through hill and dale to carry his injured son home. As he slips in an out of consciousness the boy imagines death as a mythical king surrounded by wood nymphs. Emile Pierre delicately overlays the forest journey with ethereal images of the king in iridescent armour, transformed from a humble toad realised by DoP Emilie Pierre’s ethereal double exposures. Max D’Ollone’s atmospheric score brings the magic to life.

Film and theatre actress, director and founded of the acting school VGIK, Olga Preobrazhenskaya (1881-1971) studied at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1905, making her debut as a filmmaker in 1916 with a silent black and white drama Miss Peasant (Baryshnya-krestyanka) scripted by Alexander Pushkin. Her themes are the lofty historical ones of Empire and Soviet Russia seen through the experience of ordinary people. Preobrazhenskaya also had a penchant for folklore and her love of the countryside is clearly conveyed in The Peasant women of Ryazan (1927/aka Baby ryazanskie) a jubilant Soviet ethnographical silent film set in pre-war 1914 and is probably the most far-reaching of the BFI collection with its themes of war, revolution and collectivisation. It compares and contrasts the fates of two siblings before and after the First World War: Ivan and his sister Vassilia come from a wealthy farming family. Ivan marries a less fortunate Anna, Vassilia rejects tradition with her lover Niccolai. This powerful drama is richly bucolic, stylistically elegant and thematically controversial making use of Soviet Montage editing techniques to drive the action forward.

BFI has restored ome unseen films from nine influential women directors have been transferred to Blu-ray restoring their valuable contribution to the narrative of film history. 4-disc Blu-ray set released 24 June 2019 | The set includes three short documentaries, exclusive scores on selected films and a 44-page booklet.

Amin (2018) ***

Dir: Philippe Faucon | France | Drama | 97’

Without resorting to outrage or dour social realism to convey his indignation, respected filmmaker Philippe Faucon draws on his lifetime experiences in Africa for this visually limpid ans gently humanist story of a Senegalese immigrant grafting to provide for his family back home, where the sun shines all year but life is as tough. The difference is that in France he can earn much more money, despite the increasing problems of unemployment, but his marriage starts to suffer.

AMIN is a watchable if rather predictable drama that joins other similar eye-opening interracial romances such as Laurent Cantet’s Vers Le Sud and Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love in illustrating the plight of those with restrained financial or emotional circumstances and how this weakens their moral resolve and as they reach out to those who share their emotional pain from the other of the social or geographical divide.

Amin does his best to succeed with dignity and respect for his fellows in the noisy hostel they share on the outskirts of the big city. He is a proud and decent father of three but is growing increasingly distant from his wife who pressures him to bring the family to France. Faucon spends over half of the film slowly building a poignant picture of emotional and social strife for immigrant newcomers to France. Almost all of them have been short-changed by the system despite working hard to build up the country. Amin soon meets Emanuelle Devos’ single mother while working with some other builders to renovate her house. She has fallen out with her husband and has a little girl to support (Fantine Harduin from last year’s Happy End). The denouement is fairly formulaic but AMIN is a beautifully crafted drama that captures the zeitgeist in a charming and human way.

NOW ON GENERAL 21 JUNE 2019 | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT  CANNES 2018

 

 

La Ronde (1950) **** Blu-ray release

 

Dir: Max Ophüls | Arthur Schnitzler | Cast: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darieux, Fernand Gravey | France, Drama 93′

Max Ophüls (1902-1957) creates a delightful avant-garde merry-go-round full of subtle sexual vignettes based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play from 1920. Using the same technique and narrative structure as he would in Lola Montez (1955), this delicately dreamlike pot pourri of romantic rendezvous takes place in Vienna in the last decade of the 19th century and is set to a melodious score by Oscar Strauss.

Led on by the Master of Ceremonies (Anton Walbrook), talking directly into the camera, he changes the proceedings symbolically, altering the outcome of the encounters – not unlike the ringmaster of the circus in Lola Montez.

Leocadie (Signoret) and the soldier Franz (Reggiani) enjoy a romantic interlude under a bridge. This sets off a carousel of rather casual affairs in which the lovers treat the person they come across like a runner in a relay race. First of all, Simone Simon (Marie) is seduced by her employer (Daniel Gelin), and so the affairs continue, until the Count (Philipe) closes the circle, falling for Marie.

There are echoes of von Sternbergs’s romantic comedies, particularly Shanghai Gesture, that played out like a roulette wheel. Both directors make use of irony and wit, as well as well as farcical moments. The female characters are often victims of male society, they are courtesans or bourgeois women who have failed to fit in with the hypocritical standards of their class. The male characters strut around like peacocks in their dandy-like attire, and soldiers in highly decorative uniforms. Songs and music are key elements in the work of both directors, driving the narrative forward, as here with Strauss, the “Waltz King”.

The highly fluid camerawork of Christian Matras (Lola Montez, Grand Illusion) is crucial in maintaining the flirty lightness of touch in compositions which roll along in an elliptical scroll, the camera reflecting the changing thoughts of the characters.

La Ronde is a nostalgic look back to a world which had been destroyed by the social changes of the First World War. Ophüls’ films yearn to re-create this lost world of gentility, reflecting moral codes and social mores that no longer apply. AS

NOW ON BLURAY from 27 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

 

Night of the Generals (1967) ****

Dir.: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Peter O’Toole, Oma Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Philip Noiret, Charles Gray, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer; France/UK 1967, 148 Min.

Based on the novel by popular West German author Hans Hellmuth Kirst and adapted by resistance authors Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s penultimate feature is a monumental historical portrait of WWII and the aftermath, stretching from 1942 to the mid 1950s. Litvak poured his own experiences into the action thriller, having left the Soviet Union for Berlin in the 1920s, before escaping from the Nazis via France to Hollywood in the following decade.

Paris under German occupation in 1942: A sex-worker is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness tells German MP Major Grau (Sharif) that he has seen a man wearing the uniform of a German General leaving the house of the crime. Grau is keen to know the alibis of three suspects: General Tanz (O’Toole), a vicious SS commander, General Kahlenberg (Pleasance), who will be one of the supporters of the 20th July 1944 plot against Hitler, and the careerist Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who hedges his bets when it comes to resisting Hitler. Whilst his investigation in Paris is unsuccessful, Grau meets all suspects in Warsaw, finally being able to interview them. Tanz is destroying parts of Warsaw single-handed with his tanks, but the other two are not too keen to help Grau. The action returns to Paris in July 1944, just before the plot. Grau works with the French inspector Morand (Noiret), who is also a member of the resistance. He warns Grau to be aware of Tanz, but Grau corners the SS General, who shoots him in cold blood on the 20th of July, claiming that Grau is one of the conspirators.

More than a decade later, Morand visits Germany to take up the case. Tanz has just been released from prison for war crimes. Meanwhile the other two generals are making a good living as civilians, particularly Von Seydltz-Gabler, who is writing his memoirs. But his daughter Ulrike (Pettet) and her husband, ex-corporal Hartmann (Courtnenay) (who started their affair in Paris when Hartmann was an adjutant of Tanz) are the key witnesses for Morand.

Litvak (1902-1974), worked in Soviet cinema before becoming assistant to GW Pabst for Freudlose Gasse (1925) in Berlin. He directed popular features such as Dolly Macht Karriere (1930) for the Ufa, and fled the III. Reich to direct his first French feature Maylering, before settling in Hollywood where he shot, among others, All this And Heaven Too and Snake Pit (1948), a feature about outdated psychiatric methods. In 1949 he returned to France, where he directed Aimez-vous Brahms, based on Françoise Sagan’s novel.

The Night of the Generals is innovatively photographed by Henri Decaë, midwife to the French Nouvelle Vague with features like Les Cousins (Chabrol), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Malle), Bob Le Flambeur (Melville) and Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut). The film is carried by Peter O’Toole’s manic psychopath Tanz, who is in love with violence and “entartete Kunst”; nearly fainting in Paris in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, whilst visiting an exhibition of paintings destined to be shipped to Germany for leading Nazis. O’Toole portrays Tanz as a member of the master race and is only able to express himself through violence, torn apart by the fascination of murder and suicide. AS

Eureka Entertainment to release THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, a suspenseful WWII thriller starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and a star-studded cast, presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray in the UK, taken from a stunning 4K restoration, as part of the Eureka Classics range from 13 May 2019, featuring a Limited Edition Collector’s booklet [2000 copies ONLY].

https://youtu.be/7uZsJHFmNlk

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

 

 

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

NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA CINEMA 

Amazon (Blu-ray) https://amzn.to/2BIK7bi (DVD) https://amzn.to/2Pa3IET

Zavvi (Blu-ray) http://po.st/Oq6u9H (DVD) http://po.st/0vLvRP

 

Delphine et Carole (2019) Mubi

Dir.: Callisto McNulty; Documentary with Delphine Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos; France 2019, 70 min.

Director/co-writer Callisto McNulty throws new light on the remarkable career of French actress Delphine Seyrig (1932-1990), who together with filmmaker Carole Roussopoulos (1945-2009) was one of the most noteworthy feminists in France from the late Sixties onwards. With Iona Wieder they founded the video collective Les Insoumuses (neologism, in translation Disobedient Muses) in 1975.

Seyrig’s directional debut was Ines (1974), a short documentary calling for the release of Ines Romeu, a Brazilian activist, who was incarcerated in the infamous “House of Death” of the Military Junta. she survived after years of torture and rape. And went on to meet Seyrig in the mid 1970s, when they bought one of the first Sony Portapak video cameras in France – the first was purchased by Jean-Luc Godard.

The duo staged and filmed a protest at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, pointing to the repressed fate of the even more unknown soldier’s wife and celebrating her with a massive arrangement of flowers. Seyrig also signed the ‘343 Manifesto’, admitting to have had an abortion, which was illegal until 1975 in France. Her apartment was the setting for a short film about the technique of abortion. But her first film project with Roussopoulos was Maso et Miso go Boating (1975), an ironic innuendo for Rivette’s Celine et Julie go Boating, in which different generations of women talk about their sex lives.

One woman in her sixties actually accused the younger generation of being lazy: “When it was over, I jumped up and down, I never needed an abortion”. Seyrig was also a member of the MLF (Movement de Liberation de Femmes).  

There are some illuminating TV clips from the mid-Seventies with the then Minister for Women, Françoise Giraud, former editor of Vogue and later co-founder of L’Express. Giraud supports a male journalist who states, “misogynists make the best lovers.” Later, Giraud sent a delegation to the filmmakers, urging them not to use her comments in the documentary. “Sois Belle et tais toi” (Be Pretty and shut up, 1981) followed, the two interviewing famous actresses like Jane Fonda who had been victims of “the male gaze”. Fonda reports“I did not recognise myself after my first make-up session in Hollywood – I was one from a long production line. They even asked me to have my jaw broken, so that I would have hollow cheeks. Oh yes, and a nose job too, because ‘my nose was too long, to be taken seriously in a tragedy”.

Maria Schneider makes reference to the friendships between male directors and actors on the set; whilst women often had nobody to engage with. Francois Truffaut confesses that “women end up scaring men”. There is also an amusing clip with a well-known chef seen declaring that there are no woman chefs or food critics, because women “are unsuitable” for these professions. In a short video, Seyrig and Roussopoulos filmed the protestations of sex workers who had to hide in a church to avoid being imprisoned by the police. The filmmakers were also part of the many groups who filmed the famous LIP strike, where women openly challenged the male Union for the first time.

In 1976 the two filmmakers produced “Scum’, the radical manifesto of early feminist Valerie Solanas from 1967. But the greatest achievement of Wieder, Seyrig and Roussopoulos was the foundation of The Centre Audiovsiuel de Simone de Beauvoir in 1982, an institution which has grown since to be one of the leading centres of Feminism worldwide.

Clips from many of Seyrig’s most famous features enliven this informative film that celebrates the founders of French Feminism. An excerpt from Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is particularly relevant AS

NOW ON MUBI

       

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 

Mektoub my Love: Canto Uno (2017) ***

Dir; Abdellatif Kechiche (France, Italy, 180’, o.v. French s/t English/Italian) starring Shaïn Boumedine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi

Scripted by regular collaborator Ghalya Lacroix, Abdellatif Kecihiche’s follow-up to Blue is the Warmest Colour is a big-screen version of François Begaudeau’s novel. It doesn’t warrant its three hour running time, and few filmmakers would have got away with such a sparse narrative: but somehow Kechiche succeeds, always re-inventing the plot, keeping the audience on board with hypnotic images – helped by the moody mellow camerawork of DoP Marco Graziaplena.

Kechiche returns to  Sête, where he filmed The Secret of the Grain, for this sensuous celebration of sex and food. Amin (Boumedine), a young scriptwriter from Paris, arrives in the Languedoc fishing town to join his large family who run a restaurant. He visits his friend Ophélie (Bau), whose husband is serving the French navy which does not prevent her from indulging in a passionate affair with Toni (Kechiouche), one of Amin’s family. Amin himself is very reserved, preferring the company of girls like Charlotte (Charchard), who are committed to a relationship. Amine’s mother, played by the director’s sister, always reminds him to go out to the beach. Amin follows her advice, falls in love with Jasmine (Luttiau), but is too shy to make headways, whilst Toni takes what he gets – which is lot, to the chagrin of Ophélie. Whilst his friends – Tony again in the forefront – are celebrating lust and alcohol in a nightclub, Amin photographs the birth of two lambs.

The critics at Venice have all remarked how Kechiche (again) sees women from a man’s perspective, which is fine; but they forget that in many scenes women prefer their own gender when dancing and flirting, and are geting on perfectly well without men. Mektoub, meaning destiny – or thereabouts, is certainly not on the same level as Blue, but it celebrates youth, summer, food and sex; and has in Amin, a very convincing counterpart to Toni’s always-ready stud. Mektoub is like a self-indulgent extended holiday: it could be edited down to a long luxurious weekend break, without losing out on the positive benefits. A perfect Valentine film – or maybe not. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS from 16 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

   

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.

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 

 

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 |

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

School’s Out | l’Heure de la Sortie (2018) **** LFF 2018

 

 

Dir.: Sebastian Marnier; Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Emmanuelle Bercot, Luana Bajrami, Victor Bonnel; France 2018, 103 min.

Sebastian Marnier follows his debut Irreproachable with an impressive adaption of Christophe Dufosse’s novel of the same name. Set in a posh secondary school, it has very much in common with John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, filmed twice as Village of the Dammed in 1960 and 1996.

Supply teacher Pierre Hoffman (Lafitte) is called to St. Joseph’s College, after his predecessor, Capadis, jumped out of the window during a lesson. Hoffman is soon confronted by a group of six very gifted students who have formed a secret society led by Apoline (Bajrami) and Dimitri (Bonnel). This lot don’t seem concerned about what happened to Capadis; they regularly meet in a disused quarry. to perform daring acts and beat each other up – they seem to be immune to pain. Apoline accuses Hoffman, who is gay, of fancying Dmitri. But this is really to get rid of Hoffman on the grounds of his collection of video tapes recording the group’s activities. One of Hoffman’s fellow teachers, a music instructor and choir mistress called Catherine (Bercot), seems to be the only teacher that understands the group. It emerges that her family were killed in a car accident, while she was driving. Dimitri and his group invade Hoffman’s privacy in revenge for him snooping on them. After the finals, the six hijack a bus in a bid to crash it into the quarry. Hoffman escapes by the skin of his teeth, but the stunning finale gives answers to the many questions which have piled up.

Shot by DoP Romain Carcanada, the visuals have a glacial quality, as if everything was set in a frozen climate, despite the stifling summer heat. But this seems to mimic the icy coolness of the group of six. Hoffman is shown as a tortured soul, detached and lacking in any real identity. Bajrami and Bonnel lead with a maturity well beyond their age in this tense and gripping thriller. AS

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 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 

    

The Nun (1966/67) ****

Dir: Jacques Rivette | Cast: Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Francisco Rabal, Micheline Presle | Drama | France | 140′

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, and his one and only excursion into mainstream fare, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is also full of anarchic fun and was almost banned due to its salaciousness, but went on to be nominated for the Palme D’Or in the year of its making. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors who respectively 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 giving her the emotional impetus to finally divorce JL Godard after having completed their last collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year. AS

IN ARTHOUSE VENUES NATIONWIDE FROM 27 JULY 2018 with a HOME ENT release planned for September 2018 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

Reinventing Marvin (2017) ***

Dir.: Anne Fontaine; Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Jules Porier, Gregory Gadebois, Catherine Mouchet, Charles Berling, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Isabelle Huppert; France 2017, 115 min.

Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) is one of the most diverse French directors, and Reinventing Marvin is again a step into new territory – this time an LGTB theme carried by a brilliant cast. Sometimes uneven, over-didactic and certainly too long, Reinventing Marvin is still a film to remember.

Fontaine switches for most of the narrative continuously between the youth of hero Marvin Bijou (Marvin Jewel in English) in a village in Northern France, and the more adult young man who makes a career on the Parisian stage having changed his name to Martin Clement. Young Marvin (Porier) has the most miserable of childhoods: his parents are at best neglectful, and at worse abusive: father Dany (Gadebois) calls him a faggot blaming the mother (Salée) for the boy’s effeminate behaviour. And his is older brother, an out-and out homophobic, is most aggressive towards Marvin. At school Marvin is mercilessly bullied and sexually abused. Coming to his aid is the principal, Madeleine Clement (Mouchet), who helps him discover his acting talents. After drama school the older Marvin (Oldfield) goes to Paris where, after his coming out, he meets theatre director Abel (Macaigne), who becomes sort of a surrogate father for him. Soon Marvin adds a sugar daddy to his collection of father-substitutes – the wealthy Roland (Berling) who introduces him to Isabelle Huppert, who partners him on stage, performing his play based on the rants of his real father, who provides for an eye-opening encounter in the denouement.

Based (but not credited) on the autobiography En finir avec Eddy Belleguele by the writer Edouard Louis, who also changed his name after an oppressive childhood, Reinventing Marvin is a rich tapestry of passion and fraught emotions. Avoiding melodrama, Fontaine steers her project with the right detachment, but falls into the trap of repeating and sermonising. DoP Yves Angelo uses a richly-hued palette for the countryside but his Paris images are foremost a melancholy brown. Both Porier and Oldfield are brilliant and Gadebois shines in all his scenes, showing just enough vulnerability behind his bully-mask. Somehow the introduction of Huppert rings slightly false – just one fairy tale too much. Even still, Reinventing Marvin is a heartfelt and convincing life story of change and rehabilitation. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 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

   

 

The Summer House (2018) Les Estivants | *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. France/Italy. 2018. 127mins |

Actor-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s reworks familiar territory in her latest comedy drama where she plays a vulnerable woman obsessed with a feckless younger man. This time she adds farce to the histrionics sending herself up as the delightfully dizzy delusional central character. You have to admire her cheekiness in this well-observed but flimsy piece of fun.

At the beginning Anna (Tedeschi) is tottering over a Parisian bridge with her sulky lover Luca (Riccardo Scamarcio), on the way to a cafe. Joining them is a serious be-suited man and a divorce proceedings  immediately spring to mind: they are actually attending a film financing meeting where filmmaker Anna freely admits to rehashing her plot when questioned by the team. Considering arch re-hasher Frederick Wiseman is on the panel this comes as a feminist jibe and we actually warm to her, and if you’re a fan of her formula (A Castle in Italy etc) then The Summer House is for you.

The Summer House has the advantage of some seriously sumptuous settings: this time we visit the Cote d’Azur and a gorgeous belle époque Villa surrounded by lavender-scented gardens where her real mother Marisa Borini (resembling her other daughter Carla Bruni) plays her onscreen ma, and the daughter she adopted with Louis Garrel, Oumy Bruni Garrel, is Anna’s daughter – exuding all the saucy sense of entitlement you would expect. Co-scripted by Tedeschi, Agnès de Sacy and Noémie Lvovsky, this upstairs/downstairs affair features the problems of the staff along with those of the guests – although the characterisations are shallow and rather trite – and often descends into implausible farce failing dismally as an attempt to engage us in an exploration of the human condition in all its splendour and desperation.

Bruni Tedeschi’s younger partner Luca does not join them, after hinting at a new romance, so the start of the holiday is blighted by emotional telephone outbursts and the usual melodramatic meltdowns. Anna’s alcoholic sister Elena (Valeria Golino) tries her best in an awful role where she whines and whimpers between drunken episodes as the wife of the villa’s much owner, ageing businessman Jean (Pierre Arditi). Meanwhile, Lvovsky also stars as Anna’s divorced writing partner Nathalie who appears to be recovering from some failed romance in a role that never materialises into anything meaningful.

Ever brimming with hope that her romance with Luca can be reanimated, there is much humour to be had in the way Anna swings from kittenish charisma to snarling witchery, her frustration seething under a well-disguised gamine fluffiness. Tedeschi’s attempt to introduce a sexual molestation strand to the narrative falls on deaf ears – whether this is another jibe on the #metoo theme is left to our individual interpretation. Gorgeous to look at, if mostly exasperating, The Summer House is more of the same fresh air from a familiar face. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

 

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

 

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

Filmworker (2017)

Dir: Tony Zierra | With Leon Vitali, Ryan O’Neal, Danny Lloyd, Matthew Modine, Stellan Skarsgard, Pernilla August | Doc | US  | 94′

Director Tony Zierra (My Big Break) shows how easy it was for one actor to become obsessed by the legend that was Stanley Kubrick, becoming his right-hand collaborator and dedicating his life to Kubrick’s films, and even now, 18 years after the director’s death, working to transfers the master’s oeuvre onto 4K material.

In 1975, actor Leon Vitali (287), a young man with a great future ahead of him on both screen and stage – he had offers from the National Theatre – landed one of the main parts as Lord Bullingdon in Stanley Kubrick’s epic Barry Lyndon. Vitali admired Kubrick so much that he soon abandoned his acting career to learn about filmmaking, finally talking Kubrick into getting him a job on The Shining (1980). And Vitali was so quick to earn Kubrick’s trust that he was tasked with casting the child parts for the Cult horror feature, discovering little Danny Lloyd. For Full Metal Jacket (1987), Vitali’s main contribution was enabling the actors to live up to the harsh and exacting demands of the director. Whilst returning to his acting career in Kubrick’s final feature Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Vitali also helped with various technical tasks. 

Well that’s the nuts and bolts of this well-made and engaging documentary, enriched by archive footage and photographs including informative talking heads who enlighten further on one of the World’s most outstanding 20th century filmmaker. Kubrick was a perfectionist and control freak, and working with him often meant putting in 16 hours a day; Vitali became  the trusted adjutant and their two often working round the clock often even worked around the clock. Kubrick’s three children, who are interviewed, make it quite clear that they came second in the pecking order for Dad’s attention. Other interviewees, like Ryan O’Neal and Matthew Modine, talk about Vitali’s obsessive relationship with Kubrick, who was often bad-tempered when Vitali did not follow his orders. And clearly this obsessive relationship has taken its toll on Vitali, physically as well as psychologically. He looks much older than his actual age, haggard, and still driven by fulfilling the tasks he sets himself as Kubrick’s personal assistant for life.

Filmworker is a haunting portrait of a man who has submerged his own identity to serve another in a near religious case of submission. But when it comes to posterity, he couldn’t have chosen a more rigorous genius to learn from. AS

OUT ON RELEASE FROM 18 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

 

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

 

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

A Woman’s Life | Une Vie (2017)

Dir: Stephane Brize | Drama | France | 114min

Hot on the heals of his 21st century social drama, The Measure of a Man, that won the Cannes Best Actor Award in 2015, the adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s first novel, is a painterly domestic tragedy set in 18th century Normandy that tackles similar social issues occuring 300 hundred years beforehand.

Intimate in scale (shot on Academy Ratio) and delicately appealing, A WOMAN’S LIFE follows Chemla’s bon chic bon genre heroine Jeanne from her teenage years until her mid forties, echoing the the kind of tortured tragedy familiar in all Maupassant’s work – in some ways he’s the French equivalent of Thomas Hardy in that his stories are firmly rooted in the landscape with a palpable feel for Gallic traditions. We first meet the heroine Jeanne (Judith Chemla) planting lettuces in the pottager of the Chateau she shares with her Baron father (Jean Pierre Darroussin) and Baroness mother (Yolande Moreau).

Brizé’s choice of the Academy ratio – used in silent film – embodies the closeted almost claustrophobic nature of Jeanne’s domestic environment full of love and laughter until she is introduced to her future husband, a flawed and improvished nobleman, Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arland). Her life will never be the same again.

Working with his regular writer Florence Vignon, Brizé condenses the novel into an engrossing drama (just short of two hours) that quails away from the habitual mannered approach of classic period dramas to create a naturalistic and impressionist portrait that retains considerable dramatic heft, thanks to Anne Klotz’ suberb editing, while also being sensitive and delicately rendered in Antoine Heberle’s exquisite visuals that flip from vibrant summer days to the wretched, rain-soaked wintery ones that hint at doom and disaster from the beginning.

The film unravels in a succession of suggestive short scenes that sketch out episodes in the narrative leaving us to fill in the gaps with our own imagination and leave time for Jeanne to contemplate and process her thoughts and feelings. Married life with Julien is no bed of roses : when Jeanne finds her maid Rosalie’s bedroom empty in the night, a brief but melodramtic scene in the garden follows implying that Julien and Rosalie are up to no good. It soon emerges that Julien’s poor family traits are inbred.

True to the page, Brize reworks Maupassant’s mistrust of religion and the church in general: The consequences of Jeanne’s reliance on the family pastor (Francois-Xavier Ledoux) for moral guidance over her husband’s behaviour lead to more heartake involving her seemingly close friend and neighbour Georges de Fourville (Alain Beigel), whose wife, Gilberte (Clotilde Hesme) flirts with the cheating Julien.

The Baron, a strong but largely silent performance from Jean-Pierre Darroussin, is extremely vocal when it comes to his grandson (played by Finnegan Oldfield as a late teenager and beyond) who appears to have inherited his father’s profligacy and lack of integrity, but Jeanne turns a blind eye to these traits, investing her love in him and channeling all her hope for the future in his empty promises.

Judith Chemla (Camille Rewinds) gives a calm but resonating performance as Jeanne generating considerable empathy as she slowly absorbs years of sadness, loss and emotional turmoil to her considerable detriment as she reaches middle age. One again Stephane Brizé has made a powerful and immersive character drama, impeccably crafted and enormously moving. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 12 JANUARY 2018

 

 

Women on Top | 2017

Hollywood may still be struggling with female representation as 2018 gets underway, but Europe has seen tremendous successes in the world of indie film where talented women of all ages are winning accolades in every sphere of the film industry, bringing their unique vision and intuition to a party that has continued to rock throughout the past year. Admittedly, there have been some really fabulous female roles recently – probably more so than for male actors. But on the other side of the camera, women have also created some thumping dramas; robust documentaries and bracingly refreshing genre outings: Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising Argentinian historical fantasy ZAMA (LFF/left) and Julia Ducournau’s Belgo-French horror drama RAW (below/right) have been amongst the most outstanding features in recent memory. All these films provide great insight into the challenges women continue to face, both personally and in society as a whole, and do so without resorting to worthiness or sentimentality. So as we go forward into another year, here’s a flavour of what’s been happening in 2017.

It all started at SUNDANCE in January where documentarian Pascale Lamche’s engrossing film about Winnie Mandela, WINNIE, won Best World Doc and Maggie Betts was awarded a directing prize for her debut feature NOVITIATE, about a nun struggling to take and keep her vows in 1960s Rome. Eliza Hitman also bagged the coveted directing award for her gay-themed indie drama BEACH RATS, that looks at addiction from a young boy’s perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, BERLIN‘s Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (right) for her thoughtful and inventive exploration of adult loneliness and alienation BODY AND SOUL. Agnieska Holland won a Silver Bear for her green eco feature SPOOR, and Catalan newcomer Carla Simón went home with a prize for her feature debut SUMMER 1993 tackling the more surprising aspects of life for an orphaned child who goes to live with her cousins. CANNES 2017, the festival’s 70th celebration, also proved to be another strong year for female talent. Claire Simon’s first comedy – looking at love in later life – LET THE SUNSHINE IN was well-received and provided a playful role for Juliette Binoche, which she performed with gusto. Agnès Varda’s entertaining travel piece FACES PLACES took us all round France and finally showed Jean-Luc Godard’s true colours, winning awards at TIFF and Cannes. Newcomers were awarded in the shape of Léa Mysius whose AVA won the SACD prize for its tender exploration of oncoming blindness, and Léonor Séraille whose touching drama about the after-effects of romantic abandonment MONTPARNASSE RENDEZVOUS won the Caméra D’Or.

On the blockbuster front, it’s worth mentioning that Patty Jenkins’ critically acclaimed WONDERWOMAN has so far enjoyed an international box office of around $821.74 million, giving Gal Godot’s Amazon warrior-princess the crown as the highest-grossing superheroine origin film of all time.

The Doyenne of French contemporary cinema Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress in LOCARNO 2017 for her performance as a woman who morphs from a meek soul to a force to be reckoned with when she is struck by lightening, in Serge Bozon’s dark comedy MADAME HYDE. Huppert has been winning accolades since the 1970s but she still has to challenge Hollywood’s Ann Doran (1911-2000) on film credits (374) – but there is plenty of time!). Meanwhile, Nastassja Kinski was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honour for her extensive and eclectic contribution to World cinema (Paris,Texas, Inland Empire, Cat People and Tess to name a few).

With a Jury headed by Annette Bening, VENICE again showed women in a strong light. Away from the Hollywood-fraught main competition, this year’s Orizzonti Award was awarded to Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm. And Sara Forestier’s Venice Days winning debut M showed how a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other overcome adversity. Charlotte Rampling won the prize for Best Actress for her portrait of strength in the face of her husbands’ imprisonment in Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH. 

At last but not least, Hong Kong director Vivianne Qu (left/LFF) was awarded the Fei Mei prize at PINGYAO’s inaugural CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON film festival and the Film Festival of India’s Silver Peacock  for her delicately charming feature ANGELS WEAR WHITE that deftly raises the harrowing plight of women facing sexual abuse in the mainland. It seems that this is a hot potato the superpowers of China and US still have in common. But on a positive note, LADYBIRD Greta Gerwig’s first film as a writer and director, has been sweeping the boards critically all over the US and is the buzzworthy comedy drama of 2018 (coming in February). So that’s something else to look forward to. MT

CATE BLANCHETT WILL HEAD THE JURY AT 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 8-19 MAY 2018

 

 

 

 

Napoléon (1927)

Dir|Writer|Prod: Abel Gance | Music: Carl Davis, Carmine Coppola, Arthur Honegger | Silent | 330min

One of the highlights of silent film is the digitally restored version of Abel Gance’s cinematic triumph NAPOLÉON. This magnificent film is enhanced by Carl Davis’ rousing score and technical touches to reveal the original tinting that make it feel edgy and contemporary enough for modern audiences as it approaches it centenary.

It portrays the early life of the legendary French soldier who was go on to make his mark in world for centuries to come. In opening scenes Napoleon Bonaparte is seen playing with his school friends in the snow, already asserting his powers of leadership in an impressive performance by Vladimir Roudenko. Albert Dieudonnéthen plays the adult Napoleon as he forges ahead with a successful military campaign in Italy. Running at over 5.5 hours, this is an absorbing and thrilling experience blending melodrama with moving musical interludes and combining intimate domestic scenes with full scale widescreen historical recreations that offer insight into the French Revolution and Italian campaigns of 1796. MT

Digitally restored by Photoplay Productions and the BFI National Archive, with a newly-recorded score, composed and conducted by Carl Davis, Napoleon (1927) comes to UK cinemas, DVD/Blu-ray and BFI Player | Back this December 2017 

The Eric Rohmer Collection | Bluray release

THE GREEN RAY | Dir.: Eric Rohmer | Cast: Marie Riviere, Beatrice Romand, Carita, Lisa Heredia, Vincent Gauthier | France 1986, 98′

Eric Rohmer’s didactic approach he always brings to filmmaking is present again in LE RAYON VERT. Opening with a Rimbaud quote from ‘The Song of the highest Tower’:” Ah! Let the moment come/when hearts love at one”, he then sends his heroine Delphine (Riviere) all over France, in search of this exact rare moment. Delphine is a Parisian secretary still suffering from the break-off of her engagement two years previously. She has not come to terms with herself and is emotionally distraught. The summer holidays bring new frustrations: when weighing up the pros and cons of a sea-side holiday, she gets short shrift from an elderly neighbour who sees no need for her to travel: “We have the Seine!”. When a friend for a planned journey to Greece deserts her, she vents her anger on her family who invite her to Ireland for a camping holiday – Delphine, rather arrogantly, declines. A trip to Cherbourg with her friend Francoise (Rosette) comes to an early end, when Delphine’s passive-aggressive behaviour erupts with her insistence on long, lone walks into the woods and a dogmatic stance on vegetarianism. Naturally Francoise’s family take umbrage. Next is a mountain holiday, prematurely ended by a long crying fit. Finally, at the beach in Biarritz. Delphine overhears a conversation about a Jules Verne novel, where “a flash of green”, which one can see at a clear-skied sunset, enables a person to get close to true feelings: their own and the ones of others. Delphine sets out to find the magic ray. Delphine is a classical Rohmer heroine, on par with Louise in LES NUITS DE LA PLEINE LUNE and Felicie in CONTE D’HIVER. All three drive their partners and friends, as well as the audience, crazy. They want, what they seemingly cannot get: the perfect relationship which exists only in their heads. In spite of this, they are adored by everyone, We root for them because we understand that they are different from most of us by acquiesing too early to relationships full of compromise – just to not be alone. None of these three women are particularly outstanding in any way, but they are obsessed by the need for perfection in affairs of the heart. They are often awkward and stubborn, preferring their own company – until they find ‘the one’. And, like Louise and Felicie, Delphine would also break off any relationship, which might seem a practical compromise – only Delphine runs even before anything could happen.

0037869.JPGLE RAYON VERT, the fifth instalment of Rohmer’s Cycle of “Comedies and Proverbs”, is a long essay on the need to find oneself, before being ready for a close relationship. Delphine is an archetypical Rohmer heroine, who transcendences every-day life by a fierce dream, for reasons she might not even be conscious of. Marie Rivière is also the co-author of the film, so her Delphine is particularly believable: she is fragile and overbearingly insistent at the same time. There seems to be an invisible wall between her and the other protagonists, who appear wooden and predictable compared with her convinced take. Riviere makes us believe that if anybody can pull off a miracle, it is her.  Whatever the destination of her travels, the delicate camerawork and background landscapes seem as transient as Delphine – the mountains, are neither towering or threatening. Somehow the scenery colludes with Delphine against the adult she is fighting, both are waiting to be released by a miracle. AS

THE MARQUISE OF O… | Cast: Edith Clever, Bruno Ganz, Peter Luhr, Edda Seippel. 102′

In Rohmer’s moving adaptation of Kleist’s classic novella, set during the Napoleonic Wars, a virtuous widow finds herself mysteriously pregnant. This was Rohmer’s ironic and wittily engaging exploration of the female role in a male-dominated  society. Glowing with Almendros’ compositions, inspired by Romantic painting of the period, Rohmer even appears himself – as a soldier.

OTHER TITLES IN THE BOXSET: PAULINE; FOUR ADVENTURES OF REINETTE & MIRABELLE; FULL MOON IN PARIS; MY GIRLFRIEND’S BOYFRIEND; PERCEVAL; THE TREE, THE MAYOR & THE MEDIATHEQUE; THE AVIATOR’S WIFE; A GOOD MARRIAGE

ERIC ROHMER COLLECTION | ON RELEASE FROM 12 DECEMBER 2017 | COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY

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

 

Endangered Species |ESPÈCES MENACÉES (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

 Dir: Gilles Bourdos | France, Belgium / 105’ | cast: Alice Isaaz, Vincent Rottiers, Grégory Gadebois, Suzanne Clément

Gilles Bourdos’ interlocking trio of stories from American writer Richard Bausch is strangely unengaging despite the colourful antics of its central character Josephine, gamely played here by Alice Isaaz.

After his sumptuous but flaccid biopic drama Renoir French director Gilles Bourdos travels to the Riviera for his latest offering, the vividly shot but narratively over-ambitious and uneven Endangered (Doomed) Species where Josephine is variously beset by difficult characters in her life: a macho tree-surgeon husband; a difficult new neighbour and his pregnant daughter; her future husband and his PhD student whose mother is finally institutionalised.

The first two stories unfurl prodigiously showcasing Josephine’s fraught wedding night with tattooed groom Tomas (Vincent Rottiers from Renoir) ending in tears for the bride, not auguring well for their future and echoing the doomed relationship of her parents (Gregory Gadebois, Suzanne Clement). The second sequence features an incendiary phone call between the pregnant Melanie (Alice de Lenquesaing) and her father, Vincent (Eric Elmosnino) telling him of her putative marriage to a man (Carlo Brandt) nearly forty years her senior, while his news of divorce pales into insignificance in the process. The third and weakest story features Damien Chappelle’s Anthony (who is also a student of Melanie’s father’s baby) and his deranged mother Nicole (Brigitte Catillon).

Bourdos aims to explore the dynamics, pressures and loyalties of family and how ‘sins of the father’ infect future generations, but in doing so some of his characters are not as fully fleshed out as the others, particularly those of Melanie and her partner and Anthony and his difficult love life. The overbearing score often threatens to dominate a film gorgeously captured and vivaviously realised in its ravishing Riviera locations making this an occasionally enjoyable watch despite its drawbacks. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 August – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

Ventotene Film Festival 2017

THE VENTOTENE FILM FESTIVAL this year celebrates its 23 years anniversary bringing international film screenings, stars and filmmakers to the breathtaking Pontine island in the Tyrrhenian Sea (between Rome and Naples) where the idea of a united Europe first sprang to light with the Ventotene Manifesto.

Opening on 24 July, the 10 day programme is curated by Loredana Commonara and focuses on the spirit of a united Europe with its themes of democracy and racial integration that underpin its WIND OF EUROPE award.

This year’s award goes to actress Margherita Buy, actor/director Sergio Castellitto, and Romanian screenwriter, producer and director Cristian Mungiu, who will present their respective films ME, MYSELF AND HER; this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard nominated LUCKY, and last year’s Cannes Best Director winner GRADUATION tied with Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper.   

Other highlights of the festival include  Pedro Almodovar’s JULIETA, Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia’s SICILIAN GHOST STORY and Jasmine Trinca, who won Best Actress for her role in LUCKY will receive the Julia Major Award, which is awarded to women who stand out in art and literature. MT

VENTOTENE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JULY – 2 AUGUST 2017 

 

Provenance (2017) | East End Film Festival

Writer|Dir: Ben Hecking | Cast: Christian McKay | Sophie Vega | 93min | Drama | UK

Ben Hecking’s feature debut is not the usual second rate UK crime thriller nor is it set on another sink estate. Delightfully, it’s a compact and suggestive love story that takes place in sun-drenched Provence, where a classical pianist in his early forties has left his career and marriage to start a new life in France.

This languorously enjoyable drama keeps its cards close to its chest and is also beautiful to look at: Hecking made his name as a cinematographer winning the Michael Powell Award in 2014 (for Hide & Seek). He directs his regular collaborators McKay who plays Jon Finch (and co-directs) and Macqueen who plays the man who threatens his peaceful existence in the village where his much younger lover Sophia (Vega) has just returned after a brief time away. We’re not told where or how they met or where’s she’s been for the past five months but that’s all part of the mystery that gradually unfolds as leisurely as a torrid summer afternoon with a nasty sting served with the sundowners. MT

EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 17 JUNE | CONTINUES EVERY WEEKEND UNTIL JULY 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

Réparer les Vivants (2016) | Heal the Living

Dir: Katell Quillevéré

103min | Drama | France

Best known for her feature debut Love Like Poison, Abidjan born Katell Quillevere’s third feature is an ambitious but tonally uneven drama that brings together the lives of two French families through an extraordinary gift.

Featuring an eclectic cast from Canada, Belgium and France, and based on Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living, the narrative is told in two parts, the second half linked to a tragedy that unfolds in the first. The film opens with a thrilling Dardennesque escapade of surfing and skateboarding for a young French boy (a spirited debut for Gabin Verdet), and develops into a nerve-shredding struggle for survival after a spectacular accident  leaves him with life-limiting injuries. Without revealing the entire story suffice to say that the final segment is a sluggish study of a ciggie puffing bisexual middle-aged woman (a thoughtful Anne Duval) who suffers degenerative heart failure culminating in a plodding medical procedural.

Although the plot is an inspiring one, the characters involved are singularly less so apart from Simon, who has the winning charisma and ebullient energy to carry the first act forward giving it considerable dramatic heft and one of the best surfing scenes ever – followed by his subsequent tragic death. There is a delightful scene, told in flashback, where we see him flirting with his girlfriend Juliette who then takes the funicular to the top of the hill, and Simon follows her on his bike, appearing at the summit to give her a romantic surprise and a really passionate kiss. His parents – played by Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen – are understandably devastated by the accident but act with tremendous courage in the aftermath. After that we never see them again. Tahar Rahim plays an amiable hospital assistant who is responsible for organising the aftercare, he is also a bird fancier (or the feathered variety) who is prepared to pay over 1000 euros for a goldfinch, adding his tousled-haired charm to the otherwise bland medical staff. After the hero of the piece is killed off, the second segment feels comes as a crashing disappointment. Anne Duval fails to generate any sympathy for her character who is a one a dimensional mother who lives for her two teenage kids (Oldfield and Cholbi) and – in a bizarre twist – is  also attempting to have an affair with a concert pianist (Alice Taglioni) but is perpetually too out of breath. Apart from being less dynamic or resonant, this second part is also more pedestrian with its needlessly graphic scenes of prolonged surgery feeling a little ‘de trop’ in what is essentially a drama. If you’re squeamish or anti-smoking, it’s prabablu time to call it a day at this point . MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 APRIL | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 10 SEPTEMBER 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/

 

Holy Motors (2012) Arrow online

Director: Leos Carax | Cast: Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue | 120mins.  Drama

Leos Carax is always full of surprises and Holy Motors is no exception. Weird and beguiling, it’s another fantasy trip into the unknown from the Cinema de Look movement focusing on style over narrative with a dynamite Denis Lavant as the central character Mr Oscar.

From the opening titles this darkly comic kaleidoscope fires up our imagination – how can a respectable business man start the day in suit, tie and City mode and then morph into a series of different guises arriving home in the back of a limo .

As Mr Oscar, Denis has fun with wigs, make-up and special effects costumes that transform him into many weird guises: a street beggar, a performance artist and a graveyard ghoul, to name but a few. During this nocturnal reverie a frisky Eva Mendes is carried off on his shoulders and there’s an impromptu turn by Kylie Minogue who bursts into song on the Pont Neuf and then throws herself off the roof of a disused Parisian clothing store in an odyssey of bizarre and outlandish antics. Suspend your disbelief, sit back and just let the whole thing wash over you. MT.

ARROW ONLINE in March 2021 | CANNES PREMIERE 2012

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Jules et Jim (1962)

Dir: Francois Truffaut | Cast: Oskar Werner, Jeanne Moreau, Henri Serre | France

Of all the French Nouvelle Vague films JULES ET JIM has for me proved problematical.
I keep changing my mind on whether it fully works or not. I must have seen it three
or four times now. First time round I was completely captivated, being young and receptive to its youthful high spirits (especially in the film’s first half). It had a joy and spontaneity that accorded so well with the promise of the liberating politics happening round me (circa 1968, six years on from JULES ET JIM. Then I couldn’t recall an earlier British or American film that spoke of such personal freedom. And of course it very soon had a big influence on Arthur Penn’s 1967 Bonny and Clyde (that Truffaut himself was once considered for directing).

But on subsequent viewings, doubts about the merits of JULES ET JIM have crept in. Is it not all surface charm? A Gallic case of style over substance? The film is gorgeously photographed by Raoul Coutard. It’s a wide screen charmer filmed in glistening black and white;  Coutards’s lyrical texture of light and shade proved so powerful that he convinced me – alongside the mid-summer photography of early Ingmar Begman films –  that the best really hot summers were only attainable in monochrome. Link that up with a great joyful film score by Georges Delerue and cineastes are well on the way to being won over. But as for Truffaut’s direction, the scripting and the performances?

It’s Paris 1912. Jules (Oskar Werner) a German writer strikes up a friendship with a French writer named Jim (Henri Serre). They enjoy a semi-bohemian existence; exploring the cultural life of the city and the pursuit of women. When they both meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) an intense love triangle ensues. Both are sexually attracted to her, yet it’s the more introvert Jules that Catherine decides to marry. She’s both strong and liberated, with a restless and capricious nature. An uncontrollable force, she oscillates her affection between the two men. After the rupture of the First World War they all appear to settle down together domestically, but cannot create a workable level of friendship/relationship. Such testing of the limits of freedom has dark and tragic consequences.

Occasionally Jules manages to engage my sympathy and interest. Jim hardly ever does. And Catherine intermittently succeeds. For me Truffaut keeps too great a distance from his characters. Many admirers of this film say that an emotional detachment was necessary so as to make them also work as archetypes. Fine,but I now find it hard to warm to this perplexed and rather narcissistic trio. Only Jeanne Moreau has her moments when she reveals a troubled vulnerability behind great strengths. Too often you feel that Truffaut is content to make everyone beautiful in beautifully self-conscious shots, or exuberant and melancholic in over-striking compositions. Such an excess of surface beauty in Jules et Jim makes it appear more like a pretty commercial for the New Wave, not the crest of the wave itself. Alan Price

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE

Shoot the Pianist (1960) | Tirez sur le Pianiste | Bluray release

Unknown-2Writer|Director: François Truffaut | Story: David Goodis “Down There”

Cast: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier

92min | Drama | France

For many admirers of the French New Wave, Tirez Sur le Pianiste is a key film. Perhaps even more than Godard’s A Bout de Souffle it wilfully and playfully broke the textbook rules on filmmaking that were perceived to have become so rigid in the 1950s. Truffaut described it as an “explosion of a genre”. From a pastiche film-noir base (chiefly modelled on Fuller, Lang and Ray) Truffaut gleefully shook up and conflated the gangster film, romance, melodrama, comedy and musical into an existential mindset of delightful lightness and disconcerting darkness.

Edward Saroyan (a marvellous self-effacing performance by Charles Aznavour) is a famous classical pianist who abandons his career after his wife’s suicide. Going under the name of Charlie Kohler he’s employed playing upbeat jazz piano with a group in a dive of a bar. Charlie’s two brothers get involved with gangsters and he’s dragged into the affair. A waitress Lena (Marie Dubois) falls in love with Charlie. She does her best to help Charlie after he ‘accidentally’ kills the landlord, Plyne (Serge Davri).

Tirez sur le Pianiste is reflectively anti all the genres it parades and explodes, so as to fashion them into something less genre burdened, more anxious to be genre free. All the cinematic cards are thrown up into the air and we experience how they come down. When they hit the floor, there’s no mess but many playful indicators of a fresh order of filmmaking. Tirez sur le Pianiste remains constantly modern and exciting; continually shifting its evasive form and content. An extended flashback describes the background to Charlie’s career. Inside this part digression a sequence of shots succinctly conveys his ambivalence. Charlie arrives for an important audition with a music agent. Cut to a huge close-up of his finger about to ring the bell of his door. Cut to a woman who has just been auditioned, and looks like she’s been rejected. Charlie watches her leave. Truffaut returns to the woman (looking hurt) walking down a corridor. On the soundtrack we hear (but never see) Charlie’s piano audition. Success, failure, sexual attraction, uncertainty, diffidence, freedom of action and choices, both artistic and sexual, are suggested on and off screen. Multiple possibilities for the film’s journey are presented to the viewer, director and Charlie our conflicted and melancholic hero. Truffaut brilliantly portrays dramatic indecision whilst paradoxically opening up his free-flowing story for even further development.

Tirez sur le Pianiste never leads to a proper resolution but still makes for a deeply satisfying film. For Truffaut’s framing of shots, assisted by Raoul Coutard’s expressive monochrome photography, mean that Charlie’s loose aims and real needs are precisely handled. With the accompaniment of George Delerue’s lovely music, the vivid spontaneity of the whole cast and an exhilarating use of city and country locations, it all makes up for Truffaut re-writing our experience of cinema narratives. Still wonderfully watchable: this very personal and very alive landmark film. Alan Price

NOW OUT ON BLURAY

Phaedra(s) | The Barbican

Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski | Dramaturgy Piotr Gruszczynski

Performed by: Isabelle Huppert, Agata Buzek, Andrzej Chyra, Alex Descas, Gael Kamilindi, Norah Krief, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, Gregoire Leaute

220min | Drama | Poland | France

It seems fitting that one of Greek tragedy’s most controversial figures should be played by one of film and stage’s most enigmatic French actors, Isabelle Huppert, who makes a rare London appearance to play three roles (Aphrodite, Phaedra and Elizabeth Costello) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s radical and visionary French Polish production which bewilders and bewitches despite occasional longueurs.

His PHAEDRA(S) takes the form of three versions of the Greek myth, blending fresh material from Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad with the provocative text of Sarah Kane’s brutal ‘Phaedra’s Love’ and extracts from J M Coetzee’s novel ‘Elizabeth Costello’.

In 2010, Warlikowski cast Huppert in his version of A Streetcar Named Desire and this captured his imagination to create her three incarnations here as she morphs seamlessly from the sexually manipulative Aphrodite taking revenge on Hippolytus, then switching to Phaedra and finally to the perverse Elizabeth Costello.

Hot on the heels of her intoxicating performance in Paul Verhoeven’s outré ‘rape comedy’ ELLE, that premiered at Cannes in May, Huppert struts provocatively around the stage in a range of raunchy rigouts from Dior, Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Givenchy during an evening that perpetually teeters on the brink of elegant outrage. During the opening scenes she strips down to her blood-stained undies before girating in angst-ridden love-sickness on a bed, throwing up into a sink and fatally climaxing in the arms of her step-son Hyppolyte 1, a coltishly exotic Gaël Kamilindi who slinks in as a black dog.

In the second and most protracted segment, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name Of) plays Hippolyte as a bored and bloated playboy sulking in a sliding glass enclosure (representing his regal quarters) where he is entertained by the intoxicatingly rhythmic dance routines of Rosalba Torres Guerrero while Hitchcock’s Psycho plays in the background, in the first of the production’s three references to the film world. Jessica Lange’s lobotomy scene in Clifford’s Frances (1982) plays during the final Coetzee segment along with Pasolini’s ’60s allegory Teorema, which cleverly draws a parallel with Silvana Mangano’s chic but sexually frustrated Milanese mother. In final strand Huppert plays conference speaker Elizabeth Costello who disdains Chyra’s intellectually arrogant interviewer during a conference debate that uses Frances, German Romantic poet Höderlin who incorporated Greek tragedy into his 19th century works, and Racine’s 17th century version of Phèdre as its pivotal conversation points. Of the three parts, this is possibly the most amusing but also the most challenging.

In sharp contrast to the starkly elegant stage sets (marbled walls, chrome shower heads and contemporary low level Italian furniture) and haute couture, the cast bravely submits to the full complement of human physical and emotional degradations: crying, pleading, throwing up, bleeding and crawling on all fours with open legs.

Isabelle Huppert’s coruscating emotional intensity ranges from the sarcastically perverse Costello to the proud posturing of Aphrodite and the clipped sardonic diction and soulful sobbing of Phaedra, making us scorn and then pity her characters within minutes. Amusement jostles shock and contempt. Agata Buzet (11 Minutes) is potently feline and as Phaedra’s real daughter Strophe. And there is a dizzying dance from Guerrero. Complimented by Pawel Mykietyn’s arresting atmospheric score this is an often bewildering but ultimately rewarding production. MT

PHAEDRA(S) | BARBICAN THEATRE EC2 | TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

 

The Price of Desire (2015)

Director: Mary McGuckian

Cast: Orla Brady, Francesco Scianna, Vincent Perez, Alanis Morisette, Adrianna Randall

Drama | France | 104 min.

Writer/director Mary McGuckian (Best) has done the avant-gardist designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976), no favours as the main focus of her feature bio-pic The Price of Desire: a turgidly slow and Kitsch affair, it also manages to be a pretentious melodrama of the worst kind, colliding frontally with Gray’s cool artistic output and her self determined personal life.

Born into an aristocratic family in Enniscortly, Ireland, Eileen Gray attended the Slade School of Fine Arts, before moving to Paris and the South of France, where she spent the last 70 years of her life. Famous for her work with lacquer, which was used in Chinese and Japanese art, she also designed the Bibendum chair between 1917 and 1921.

McGuckian seems not to care much for Gray’s artistic output, but quickly dives into her relationship with the singer Marie-Louise Damia (Morisette); sex in slow motion is all we see of the couple. After meeting the Rumanian architect Jean Badovici (Scianna), Gray then begins a torrid relationship with the womaniser – again, his sexual escapades with Charlotte Perriand (Randall) are documented in great detail. Gray’s clashes with Le Corbursier (Perez) a friend of Badovici, who “defiles” Gray’s architectural masterpiece the Villa E 1027 in Cap-Martin near Monaco with his nudist murals, takes up the latter part of The Price of Desire, Perez’ Le Corbusier emerging the pantomime villain. Instead of attacking the architect for his ties with the Fascists during the German occupation, or his support for eugenics, the filmmaker again personalizes the professional conflict between Gray and Le Corbusier. A dreadful deathbed scene with Badovici could not have been worse.

The scenes shot by DoP Stefan von Bjorn in the renovated Villa E 1o27 are the highlight – at least we see, in detail, Gray’s – then revolutionary – approach, to make the border between furniture and architecture indistinct. The rest are of the images are on a par with the narrative: grandstanding, pompous and utterly unimaginative. Just the opposite of what Eileen Gray stood for. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 27 MAY 2016

 

Un Homme et Une Femme (1966) | Cannes Film Festival Classics 2016

Dir.: Claude Lelouch; Cast: Anouk Aimee, Jean-Louis Trintignant

France 1966 | 102 min | drama

Claude Lelouch (*1937) has so far 59 credits as a director. But before and after Un Homme et une Femme, his sixth film, he has never accomplished an outstanding work; even the sequel, A Man and a Woman: 20 years Later, was a disappointment.

Lelouch will be always measured against this seemingly one hit wonder – even though his oeuvre cannot be totally overlooked. All his life, he was the proxy for Hollywood films; the anti-thesis to the Nouvelle Vague and critics and filmmakers (with the exception of François Truffaut) in his own country never forgave him for this.

At a boarding school in Deauville, two parents, both widowed, meet: Anne Gauthier (Aimée), mother of seven year-old Françoise mourns the loss of her husband, a stuntman, who had a fatal accident on set. The racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc (Trintignant), whose son Antoine is abut the same age as Françoise, lost his wife when she committed suicide, after an accident at Le Mans left him in a coma. Both adults agree that their relationship is a friendship but they gradually lose their obsessions with their dead spouses, Anne after much hesitation, and, encouraged by their children find a way to reconcile their past with a future together.

Un Homme et Une Femme is that simple. Without frills and hardly any budget: after one month of pre-production; shot with only three weeks of principal photography followed by three weeks in the editing suite, Lelouch had to rely on the emotional impact of his leading couple, and, being his own DoP, his astonishing images: a mix of 8, 16 and 35 mm cameras, and an equally originally combination of black-and-white, colour and sepia-tinged colour grading. The result is a dazzling intimacy where the rowling camera translates the rollercoaster feelings of the lovers, against their will, into a spectacular obsessive romantic pictorial broadsheet. Carried by the music of Francis Lai, Un Homme et Une femme is the ultimate romantic obsession: images, like the one of the couple meeting in the station, are part of film’s potent chemistry and history.

But Lelouch’s masterpiece has still some detractors, mainly male ones, who call it – unjustly – kitsch. The lines between the genders are drawn: after a private screening for President De Gaulle and his wife Simone, she was left in tears, whilst the general wanted to know the breed of the dog on the beach. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

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

 

OUT 1: Noli me Tangere (1971) | The Jacques Rivette Collection

Dir.: Jacques Rivette

Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto, Michelle Moretti, Michael Lonsdale, Bernadette Lafont, Bulle Ogier, Francoise Fabian, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Alain Libolt

773min Drama France 1971

OUT 1: SPECTRE, France 1974, 253 min. (A shorter version of Out 1, but with scenes omitted from the long version.

Known as the ‘holy grail’ of films largely due to its unavailability to the public after a one-off showing, Jacques Rivette’s OUT 1 shot in six weeks between April and June 1970 in Paris and with a running time of 773 minutes, premiered as a-work-in-progress screening in Le Havre on 10 October the following year. It then more or less disappeared until recently. There were just a few screenings of the long version: 1974 Rivette had edited a short version of a mere four hours at film festivals in Rotterdam and Berlin, but in December 2015 a new copy was shown in the USA. And whilst the secondary literature about OUT 1 grew to an extent that it could compete with the film marathon; very few people actually have seen the epic with its themes of conspiracy, paranoia, mystery, suspicion, absurdity and changing and doubling identities.

This is cinema shot during a journey of rediscovering film as an art form of improvisation. The title is programmatic: Out (as the opposite to the popular ‘in’), One (as the first film of many), and ‘Noli me tangere’ (Don’t touch me) scribbled on one of the original film canisters. Split into eight episodes between 80 and 100 minutes, OUT 1 was supposed to be shown on TV, but ORTF decided against this and considering that Aeschylus and Balzac are the main pillars of the ‘narrative’, it might have been the right decision. Trying to write a synopsis, how ever exhaustive, does OUT 1 no justice – this is cinema one has to ‘live’ with. During the screening in Le Havre, the audience talked about the protagonists as if they were personal friends, and many in the audience felt bereft at the end of the performance, the characters had become a part of their life. OUT 1 was a metaphor for the fallout and failings of ‘May 1968′ when the movement split into competing groups. In this way, OUT1 is a critique of Rivette’s debut film PARIS NOUS APPARTIENT (1961), sharing the conspiracy theme with OUT 1.

OUT 1 was Rivette’s fourth feature and it was a break with everything he had done before. Having grown tired of writing scripts, the idea was to direct a film that evolved in a realistic way, like everyday life. Rivette commented “a week before shooting began, I was faced by the need to find some way of representing all this, and urgently – if we weren’t to waste the six weeks’ filming provided for by the budget – so we had to have a planned shooting schedule. I spent two days with Suzanne Schiffman. [co-director]. One afternoon she asked me about the characters and she filled up thirty or forty pages in a notebook. Then we looked at each other and said: what are we going to do with all this? We tried to take each character in turn, but nothing came of that, then suddenly I think it was she who had the great idea: we must draw up a bogus chronology – because after all a story does unfold in time – indicating an arbitrary number of weeks and days on the vertical lines, and the names of the characters going the other way. From that moment… it was very odd but this sort of grid influenced the film a lot. The great temptation was, not to fill in all the squares of course, [but] after that it became like a game, like a crossword. Actually it was done very quickly.”

Two theatre groups, led by Lili (Moretti) and Thomas (Lonsdale) are rehearsing different Aeschylus plays: “Seven against Thebes” and “Promotheus Bound”. Lili and Thomas had been a couple before, and their split is only the first of many. On the periphery of the theatre groups, Colin (Leaud) and Frederique (Berto) make a living as conmen, and even though the two are the main carriers of the narrative, they only meet once very briefly. Colin believes that there is a “Group of Thirteen”, men and women, who are a secret society, based on characters of three novellas by Balzac. Frederique steals letters from Etienne (Doniol-Valcroze), who is playing chess with himself, which prove that the members of “The Thirteen” are communicating.

Another main protagonist is Emilie (Ogier), who, under the name of Pauline, runs a meeting place for the group, whilst searching for her husband Igor, who has gone missing six months ago. Eric Rohmer has a great cameo as a Balzac expert, who helps with the very much needed plot exposition, since Colin receives messages with cryptic references not only to Balzac, but also Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”. After Renaud (Libolt) joins the “Seven Against Thebes” production, first as an assistant, he takes creative control from Lili, who withdraws. After Renaud steals a million Francs from a racing bet, which was supposed to fund the production of the play, he disappears, the play is cancelled, and the members of the group hunt Renaud all over Paris. Frederique finally meets the man who Honey Moon is in love with: it turns out to be Renaud. In spite of them having a sort of “ritual wedding”, Frederique suspects that Renaud is part of another secret society, even more powerful and dangerous than “The Thirteen”. She warns him, but he shoots and kills her. Meanwhile, Lucie de Graffe (Fabian), a ruthless lawyer, has joined the group around Thomas, to discuss the lack of progress of finding any real clues to the existence of “The Thirteen”. Finally, Colin looses interest in the chase, and Thomas and his group retreat to Emiie’s seaside house in Odabe. Thomas, who had summed up the situation before, telling Lili’s friend Elaine “You don’t really know why you are a one of the ‘Thirteen’ and neither do I, but we are not supposed to admit that”, has a drunken episode at the beach and is left behind, whilst the last shot is of Marie, a member of the Thebes group, still searching for Renaud, in front of a statue of a golden Athena in Paris.

Rivette was proud he only wrote the messages which propel the plot. Apart from this, the actors were asked to define their characters, making the action personal and improvised. Pierre William Glenn’s images remind us very much of early Rene Clair films: Paris as a backdrop to some magical fable. Indeed, one can say that the city is used as a big theatre set for a cinema of illusions, where the bubbles burst, only to be replaced by new half-dreams. Saying that OUT 1 is magic and poetic realism, is not enough: it seems to glide into our sub-conscious, by evoking infantile fears and desires.
In trying to explain, why the audience forges such an uncommon attachment to the film and wants it never to end, Alain Menil points out, “that just as the secret society of the ‘Thirteen’ is organised around the secret of their inactivity, just as the theatre troupes of Lili and Thomas cohere around the absence of work, of a play to perform; the community of OUT 1 is formed around something that isn’t there: the experience of the film, the film as experience, takes place somewhere between the reality of the performers interacting in a specific time and place; and the phantasies of the characters that exists in the non-place and subjective time of the spectator’s imagination”.
In other words, a game of projection and transference takes place, like a brilliant innovative session with your psychoanalyst, striding along in a Paris of enigmatic beauty. AS

OUT ON DVD AND BLU-Ray FROM 18 January 2016 COURTESY OF ARROW FILM

Special Features

· Limited Edition Blu-ray & DVD collection (3,000 copies)
· High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all films from brand new 2K restorations of the films with Out 1 supervised by cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn
· Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
· Optional newly-translated English subtitles for all films
· The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Revisited – a brand-new feature length documentary by Robert Fischer and Wilfried Reichart containing interviews with actors Bulle Ogier, Michael Lonsdale and Hermine Karagheuz, cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn, assistant director Jean-François Stévenin and producer Stéphane Tchalgadjieff, as well as rare archival interviews with actors Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Michel Delahaye, and director Jacques Rivette
· Scenes from a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers – archive interview with the director, in which he discusses Duelle (une quarantaine), Noroît (une vengeance) and Merry-Go-Round, featuring additional statements from Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz
· Brand-new interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who reported from the sets of both Duelle (une quarantaine) and Noroît (une vengeance)
· Exclusive perfect-bound book containing new writing on the films by Mary M. Wiles, Brad Stevens, Ginette Vincendeau and Nick Pinkerton

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

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

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

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

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey (2014)

Director: Lucie Borleteau

Cast: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupard, Anders Danielsen Lie

97min  Drama   France

A female engineer on a container vessel manages to have a man ‘in every port’ in this drama that navigates emotional, sexual and romantic waters on the high seas.

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey (Fidelio: L’odyssee d’Alice), is an absorbing and gripping drama that won Ariane Labed Best Actress at Locarno Film Festival 2014 for her characterful performance in the lead and at the helm of the ship. It’s also the feature debut of writer director Lucie Borleteau who manages to enfuse the masculine world of international shipping with female sensuality and a certain finesse.

There is never a dull moment on board the good ship Fidelio, once known as the Eclipse when Alice (Labed) first sailed on her, below decks. After a lusty scene on a beach with her land-based lover Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie), Alice discovers, when she re-joins the ship to replace the deceased Patrick, that her old sea-going flame Gael (Melvil Poupard) is the new Captain of her heart – literally and sexually. The two go on to enjoy a great physical and working relationship – and Labed injects her ‘all’ convincingly into both roles: personal and professionally. Meanwhile, back on shore, she re-discovers the delights of her Norwegian dalliance who admits that her long absences at sea keep the winds blowing pleasurably through their relationship sails.

Borleteau’s script – co-written with Clara Bourreau – goes full steam ahead at first and avoids over-working tedious ‘woman in a man’s world’ tropes by keeping things engaging and authentic as Alice enjoys the best of both worlds in this cut and thrust male environment of the French merchant navy; where the ship’s destination can change daily depending on commodity market movements back home. But the narrative becomes rather becalmed in the third act where Alice and Felix’s affair enters stormy seas – although this is less of a problem by this stage as the focus is on the journey ahead  and Simon Beaufils’ magnetic cinematography broadens the appeal, both on the widescreen and in intimate close-ups on board the Fidelio. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 OCTOBER IN SELECTED CINEMAS

 

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 

Letters to Max (2015)

Dir.: Eric Baudelaire | Documentary | France 2014 | 103 min.

When filmmaker Eric Baudelaire (The Ugly One), wrote to the ex-foreign minister of the Republic of Abkhazia, Maxim Gvinja, he did not expect any reply. But this documentary is not only proof that Abkhazia exists, but also offers insight into the national identity of a mini-state.

LETTERS TO MAX would have been a successful medium length film; after all, not many people in this country know much about Abkhazia. But once again, its length minimises the impact: after all, there is not that much to say and Max’s ramblings about his self-invented philosophy get more and more tedious. The haphazard structure would have equally worked much better for a much shorter film. Overall, less would have been very much more.

It emerges that Abkhazia is a country of around 240 000 inhabitants, once part of Georgia, it is situated at the eastern coast of the Black Sea. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Georgia gained independence, but some regions wanted their independence from the Georgia, among them Abkhazia. In the war of independence during 1992/3, the Republic of Abkhazia was established with the help of Russian troops. Many Georgians fled across the border.

The documentary is an essay on statehood, Eric asking in his letters “how it feels to be an Abkhazian”, whilst Max answers in sending him video material, which shows not only his country, but also Max in his different incarnations of a patriot. Since Max is very proud of being a citizen of his country – not surprisingly of an ex-minister – his images show Abkhazia in all his glory: the beautiful, wild landscape and the romantic villages are indeed a scenery to be proud of. But everywhere we find empty houses and Max talks about the exodus of the Georgians, for whom he sees no possibility of repatriation. This chapter is closed, and Max, who is open to discuss nearly everything in a self-critical way, is adamant on this point. Images from his time as foreign minister see him visiting Cuba and Venezuela, two countries who recognise the independent existence of this state, which many others see as a Russian satellite state. The overall impression is a certain gloominess; the mass exodus of Georgians can still be felt as a cloud laying heavily over the countryside. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 2 OCTOBER 2015 | BRISTOL WATERSHED 9-15 OCTOBER | ICA LONDON 2 – 8 OCTOBER 2015 

Hamlet (2015) | DVD release

Director: Margaret Williams

Cast: Maxine Peake, John Shrapnel, Barbara Marten, Gillian Bevan, Katie West, Thomas Arnold

195min   Drama   UK

Margaret Williams’s stage-to-screen film has Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything, Silk) in dynamite form in the lead of one of Shakespeare’s most tragic plays, HAMLET. She is not the first woman to play the Prince: Sarah Bernhardt and Frances de la Tour have also taken the part of Hamlet – but she is the first to be born female in the role but identifying as a boy; her blond hair cropped stylishly and wearing a marine blue sailer’s jacket, echoing Saint Exupéry’s ‘Le Petit Prince’. Filmed by Williams, who used eight different cameras in the shoot, Peake is not the only cross-gender role – Gillian Bevan is cast as Polonius and Jodie McNee plays Rosencrantz with Goth undertones.

Theatre director Sarah Frankcom chose an appropriately minimalist styling (using iconic Danish designs and tableware) for her re-telling of the Danish tragedy that was a sell-out at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre last autumn. Peake is no newcomer to Shakespeare having played Ophelia. Hamlet is one of the most difficult parts any actor can play but she pulls if off with aplomb, getting into her stride with a mixture of playful accents and a defiant swagger. By the end of the Act I she is really enjoying herself tremendously and so are we. Judiciously, she tempers fits of anger with moments of vulnerability, gentle humour and even cheekiness here and there, as she takes on the mantle of the confused and indignant son who has only just lost his father, when his mother marries again to his uncle and father’s murderer.

This Hamlet is supported by a sterling British cast: John Shrapnel, Gillian Bevan and Barbara Marten give particularly thoughtful and nuanced turns and Katie West offers up a delightful Ophelia full of charm and feminine vulnerability. The film is divided into two parts: one of 123 minutes, followed by a final one of 70 minutes. MT

The film is distributed by Picturehouse Entertainment | NOW ON DVD.

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

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

The Colour of Money | From the Gold Rush to the Credit Crunch | September 2015

Golddiggers 1933_2 copyPerfectly situated in the hub of Europe’s Financial centre, The Barbican offers a selection of films and discussions this Autumn exploring money through themes of power, wealth, poverty, corruption and consumerism.

From the silent era comes Erich von Stroheim’s potent thriller GREED, shows how the corruptive force of a sudden fortune ruins the lives of three Californians. The glitzy side of Hollywood is depicted in Mervyn LeRoy’s comedy musical GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (right) where millionaire turned composer Dick Powell uses his fortune for the good of the community. Robert Bresson won best director at Cannes 1983 for his classic l’ARGENT based on Tolstoy’s The Forged Coupon that explores the journey of 500 franc note and the devastating effect on its final recipient. In THE WHITE BALLOON (1995), Jafar Panahi’s slice of realism, written by Abbas Kiarostami examines how a child is swindled out of her birthday money and blockbuster THE WOLF OF WALL STREET charts the rise to riches and ultimate fall of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) due to a 1990s securities scam. In AMERICAN PYSCHO (2000) Christian Bale stars as another wealthy City who sociopathic personality enables him to fund a lifestyle and escape into his own American dream. These are our recommendations:

Greed_7 copyGREED | Dir: Erich von Stroheim; Cast: Gibson Gowland, Za Su Pitts, Jean Hersholt | USA 1923; 462 min. (original), 140 min. (theatrical release), 239 min. (restored version)

Roger Ebert called Greed “the ‘Venus of Milo’ of films, acclaimed as a classic, despite missing several parts deemed essential by its creator”. It is also a classic example of Hollywood butchery, in this case performed by the new partners of MGM, Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer; Thalberg turning out to be Von Stroheim’s bête noir having already fired him from Merry-Go-Round at Universal. Just twelve people saw the original version (edited from 85 hours of total footage); one of them, the director Rex Ingram, believed that Greed was the best film ever and would never be surpassed. Shot over 198 days from June to October 1923 in San Francisco, Death Valley and Placer Country, California, it took over a year to edit, and cost $ 564 654 (around $ 60 million in todays money), but only grossed $ 274827 at the box office.

Based on the novel ‘Mc Teague’ by Frank Norris, Greed centres around the relationship of John Mc Teague (Gibson) and his wife Trina (Pitts). Mc Teague is operating as a dentist without a licence, when he meets Trina, who has been the girl friend of his best friend Marcus Schouler (Hersholt). After Trina wins $5000 in the lottery just before she marries McTeague, Schouler wants her back, and denounces Mc Teague to the police, for working without a licence. Mc Teague asks Trina for $3000, to save his skin, but she refuses him, being too fond of the money – she cleans the coins until they glitter. Mc Teague murders his wife and Schouler again reports him to the police. Mc Teague flees to Death Valley from his pursuers, among them Schouler, whom he fights to the death.

Greed  caused violence to break out off screen too. The film was nearly destroyed because of its unwieldy length, making it almost impossible to edit. A fist fight broke out between Mayer and Von Stroheim, after the former provoked the director with “I suppose you consider me rabble”, to which Von Stroheim answered “Not even that”. Mayer struck him so hard, that he fell through the office door. Mayer wanted a uplifting film for the “Jazz Age’, and Greed was uncompromising realism. But the studio even changed the meaning of what was left with inter-title cards. In the MGM version, when Trina and Mc Teague went by train to the countryside, the MGM title card reads “This is the first day it hasn’t rained in weeks. I thought it would be nice to go for a walk”. In Rick Schmidlin’s reconstructed version of 1999 (based on Stroheim’s 330 page shooting script and stills) it reads: “Let’s go and sit on the sewer” – and so they sit down on the sewer.

Von Stroheim, who invented an aristocratic upbringing and a glorious army career for himself, was nevertheless a master of realism when it came to films: when Gowland and Hersholt fight in Death Valley, the temperature was over 120 degrees, and many of the cast and crew had to take sick leave, Von Stroheim coaxed the actor on “Fight, fight. Try to hate each other as you hate me”. AS

L'Argent_2 copyL’ARGENT (1983) | Dir.: Robert Bresson | Cast: Christian Patey, Caroline Lang, Sylvie Van der Elsen, Michel Briguet France/Switzerland 1983, 85 min.

To find the money to direct what turned out to be his last film L’Argent, Robert Bresson needed the intervention of the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang – just like he did with L’Argent’s predecessor Le Diable Probablement (1977). L’Argent went on to win the Director’s Prize in Cannes, sharing in with Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia.

L’Argent is Bresson’s truest ‘Dostoevskyan’ work, even though it is based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella ‘The Forged Coupon’. From the outset, money changes hands at a furious tempo: a young boy asks his father for pocket money but what he gets is not enough for him; he pawns his watch to his friend, who gives him a forged 500 Franc note. The boy, having recognised the forgery, takes the money to a photo shop, buying only a cheap frame with the note. The manager of the shop – after discovering the forged note, scolds his wife for being so naïve. But she reminds him that he took in himself two forged notes of the same denomination the week ago. The owner gives all three notes to Yvon Targe (Patey), who is the gas bill collector. Later, in a restaurant, Yvon tries to use the money but the waiter recognises the forgeries. Yvon is spared jail, but loses his job. Moneyless, he acts as get-away-driver for a friend’s robbery, but the plot fails and Yvon’s run of bad luck continues until its devastating denouement.

Apart from opening, everything is told in Bresson’s very own elliptical but terse style, making the smallest detail more important than the action. The prison is shown as a labyrinth in which Yvon is lost, particularly when sent into solitary confinement after a fight with fellow prisoners. The prison is shown in great detail in a similar vein to Un Condamne à mort s’est Echappé (1956) and becomes the material witness to Yvon’s suffering. The murder of the hotel-keepers is shown only in hindsight: a long medium shot of bloody water in a basin, followed by a close-up of Yvon emptying the till. The failed robbery is shown by the reactions of the passersb-by, who witness Yvon driving off, after shots are fired. Finally, enigma of the last shot in the restaurant, when the crowd looses interest in Yvon, as if he were simply not enough of a person, in spite of the hideous murders. In this shot, the whole universe of Bresson is captured: there seems to be no sense in human deeds, and, therefore there is no question of a why, and no guilt, but, perhaps just redemption.

DOP Pasqualino de Santis (Death in Venice) excels particularly in bringing together the close-up shots of the objects, and the long shots of Yvon as he gets increasingly lost: in the robbery, in prison, and in the cosy house of an old woman. We feel him shrinking, as he loses his identity during the film, becoming a total non-person by the end. The acting is as understated as possible, and Bresson closes his oeuvre of only thirteen films in fifty years with another discourse on spiritual and mystic values in a world, where money is everything and everywhere. AS/MT

THE COLOUR OF MONEY | BARBICAN LONDON EC2 | 10 – 20 SEPTEMBER 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

New Horizons Film Festival Wroclaw | Poland | 23 July – 3 August 2015 | WINNERS

New Horizons Festival is one of Poland’s major international film events and a place for daring, unconventional film that push cinematic boundaries with films from Europe and beyond. Taking place in Wroclaw Poland each year with a competition programme comprising auteurish World cinema, a strand for Art cinema and the latest in Polish avantgarde film and cult classics. This year a retrospective on Tadeusz Konwicki will celebrate his life of the groundbreaking director, who died last month in Warsaw, at the age of 88.

The main competition line-up comprised premieres and titles selected from previous festival:

Arabian Nights Trilogy (Cannes); Goodnight Mommy (Venice); H (various); Heaven Knows What (various); Lucifer (Tribeca); Ming of Harlem; Twenty One Storeys in the Air; Necktie Youth

Grand Prix Best Film – LUCIFER 
Special Mention – THE PROJECT OF THE CENTURY
Audience Award – GOODNIGHT MOMMY – review below

Goodnight_Mommy_3

Director: Veronika Franz/Severin Fiala Producer: Ulrich Seidl

Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

99min Austria (German with subtitles)

The Austrians are very good at taking ordinary life and turning into horror at Venice this year. In the same vein as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), Ulrich Seidl’s (Im Keller) wife and collaborator, Veronika Franz, makes her debut with a vicious and expertly-crafted arthouse piece, set in a slick modern house buried in the Austrian countryside.

In the heat of summer, nine-year-old Elias is enjoying the school hols with his twin brother Lukas. They appear normal boys: swimming, exploring the woods, and keeping giant cockroaches as pets. But in the pristine lakeside home, their TV exec mother has made some draconian changes. Recovering from facial surgery and bandaged up literally like a ‘mummy’, she has banned all friends from visiting the house while her recuperation takes place in total privacy. Nothing wrong with that, but the boys misinterpret her behaviour as a sinister sign and start to wonder whether this is really their mother. The more they question her for re-assurance, the more fractious and distant she becomes. Reacting against her instinctively, they become convinced that she is not their mother but a strange intruder, and decide to take control of the situation.

Franz and Fiala create an atmosphere of mounting suspense with clever editing, minimal dialogue and the use of innocent images that appear more sinister and unsettling when taken out of context. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography switches between lush landscapes, sterile interiors and suggestive modern art to inculcate a sense of bewilderment and unease. Susanne Wuest is perfectly cast as the icy, skeletal blond matriarch with menace and the innocent boys transformed into everyday psychopaths due to the lack of early maternal love or support, bring to mind those terrible kids from The Shining, The Innocents even Cronenburg’s The Brood. A very clever film which contrasts images of revulsion with those of serene beauty. MT

Special Tribute | TADEUSZ KONWICKI

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JAK DALEKO STAD, JAK BLISKO (HOW FAR, HOW NEAR)

Dir.: Tadeusz Konwicki | Cast: Andrzej Lapacki, Gustaw Holoubek, Maja Komorowska | Poland 1972 | 95 min.

With his films The Last Days of Summer and Jump, Konwicki tries to re-create the life of his anti-hero Andrzej (Lapacki), going forward, but mainly backwards through his life. Before the opening credits, we see a man falling, surrounded by collages, reminding us a little of Vertigo’s pre-credit artwork. Andrzej has come to rserach, whilst his best friend Maks (Holoubek) committed suicide, but soon his search spins totally out of control and Andrzej is moving into his past. He again meets his ex-wife Musia (Komorowska), and other women he slept with. Trying to warn his friend to stay away, so as not to be killed, Andrzej finally has to face his darkest secret: the murder of a man. In a similar vein to Wojciech Has’ The Hour-Glass Sanatorium (1973), time is not linear, Andrzej literally falls into different time spheres, often trying to make sense out of the situation by himself and in this way examining his motives which are not particularly altruistic.

Konwicki always stood by the autobiographical context of his novels and films: “I write books and make films about myself. In other words, I describe myself in a conditional mode, past, perfect or future tense. I create situations in which I behaved or could have behaved or wish, that I had behaved in a certain way.” (Retrospective Tadeusz Konwicki at the Wroclaw International Film Festival, July/August 2015). AS

15TH NEW HORIZONS | WROCLAW INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JULY – 3 AUGUST 2015

 

 

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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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

Le Jour Se Leve (1939) | Blu-ray Release | Bfi Matinee

LEJOURSELEVE_2D_BDDir.: Marcel Carné

Cast: Jean Gabin, Arletty, Jules Berry, Jacqueline Laurent; France 1938, 86 min.

Between 1937 and 1953 the duo of director Marcel Carné (1906-1996) and writer Jacques Prevert (1900-1977) created more or less the canon of French poetic realism, and later the French version of film noir. LE JOUR SE LÈVE (1939) is perhaps their greatest achievement, though some might prefer the opulent “Les Enfants du Paradis”. But these two artistic collaborators were not alone responsible for the success of LE JOUR SE LÈVE: The Production Designer Alexandre Trauner had already worked with Carne and Prevert on Drôle de Drame (1937) and Les Quai des Brumes (1938). He had fled anti-Semitic Hungary in 1929, and worked for fellow emigres like Wilder and Zinnemann in the USA, apart from collaborating with Orson Welles, Joseph Loosey, Luc Besson and John Huston, his greatest achievement being Jules Dassin’s “Rififi”. Curt Courant (1899-1968) was the DOP, he had shot Fritz Lang’s Die Frau im Mond (1929), and after his emigration from Nazi Germany Hitchcock’s The Man who knew too much (1934) and would end his career with Charles Spencer Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947).

LE JOUR SE LÈVE is told mainly in a flashback. At the start of the film we hear a shot, and then a well-dressed man tumbles down the stairs of a block of flats in a working class suburb of Paris. The block just exists as a corner piece, it will be soon be demolished like the rest. In one of the flats, high up, we see Francois (Gabin), who has killed Valentin (Berry), a man of the middle classes, who earns his living as a dog trainer in Vaudeville. Whilst the police surround the house, and start shooting at Francois, who is barricading himself in, two woman appear in the crowd outside the block: Clara (Arletty) comforts Francoise (Laurent), both had relationships with the men involved in the shooting. When night falls, the police decides to storm Francois’ flat in daylight, giving him a short night’s peace and time for the film to tell the story. Francois, a furnace worker, had fallen in love with the naïve Francoise, who sells flowers. Soon he finds out, that she has a relationship with Valentin. Hurt, Francois befriends Clara, Valentin’s assistant, a woman much more experienced than Francoise. But when Francoise decides to leave Valentin, Francois breaks off with Clara. When Valentin comes to his flat provoke him, Francois shoots him. In the morning, the police tries to storm Francois’ flat, they throw tear gas, but he commits suicide before they get to him.

Shot in grainy monochrome, echoing the depressive atmosphere, Gabin is already dead before night falls. The weight of the world is on his shoulders, his gaze is melancholic and forlorn, as the archetypal romantic looser. The crowd outside the flat takes his side, the police are the enemy. When they storm the place and throw teargas, the scene could have as well been shot in a WWI movie. Valentin is a glib character who uses language as a weapon. Whilst Francoise, like Francois, has grown up in an orphanage, and Clara has come up the hard way, Valentin uses his middle class power to seduce the two women. Francois on the other the hand, is too honest for his own good – he tries to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. In a way, he is even more naïve than Francoise, who finally sees through Valentin’s façade. Arletty’s Clara is world weary, distant but passionate – a future Garence from Les Enfants du Paradis. Even though the film starts in daylight, it never really gets light: an eternal fog hovers over the street, Francois’ room is more like a prison, even before he barricades himself in. Dusk and dawn melt into an uneasy night.

Well received by critics and audience in June 1939, LE JOUR SE LÈVE was first censured by the Vichy government (a naked arm of Clara under the shower was cut, and all references to the police being against the workers were removed, the names of Trauner and Courant taken out from the credits). Later the film was completely banned, called “demoralising” and responsible for France defeat against the Germans (!). In 1947, RKO bought the rights to the film, Anatole Litvak’s remake was called “The long Night”, Henry Fonda starred. The contract entitled RKO to destroy all copies of LE JOUR SE LÈVE – luckily this never happened. AS

75TH ANNIVERSARY DIGITAL RESTORATION OF THIS CULT CLASSIC IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 OCTOBER AS WELL AS BLU-RAY AND DVD ON 27 OCTOBER 2014

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Je Suis Un Soldat (2015) | Un Certain Regard | Cannes 2015

Cast: Jean-Hughes Anglade, Louise Bourgoin, Laurent Capelluto

96mins  Drama   France

French director Laurent Larivière’s feature-length debut, which has its premiere in Un Certain Regard, tells an important story about dog trafficking in Europe. In a mix of social realism and grim thriller it fails to convince, offering a bland and occasionally odd mix of characters who completely feel completely unauthentic.

Larivière casts a promising French actress, Louise Bourgoin (The Nun) in the lead, as Sandrine, who is returning to her childhood home in a drab Roubaix, near the Belgian border. Here she moves back in with her over-worked mother (Anne Benoit) sister (Nina Meurisse) and brother-in-law (Nathanael Maini), and gradually emerges that she has nowhere else to go. Dowdy and down on here luck, Sandrine goes to work with her uncle Henri, an completely unrecognisable Jean-Hugues Anglade (Queen Margot) who runs a commercial dog kennels but has no interest in the welfare of the animals , and is trafficking dogs from Eastern Europe. Sandrine shows an aptitude for business and soon becomes involving in the trading, which is lucrative. But Henri is also manipulative and turns violent when she offers presents to her family urging her to be discrete about the money for fear of exposure.

Bourgoin’s Sandrine is a colourless character with little charm or sensitivity – the only trait she displays is one of mild disdain for those around her including the accountant (Laurent Capelluto) who exposes himself (bizarrely) at her front door, in a weird rom com twist that just feels awkward . Her general attitude appears to be confident, and this fails to convey why she is appearing to accept this tragic and uncaring scenario. Her family backstory is a tepid affair of mounting tediousness, offering nothing to contrast the hard-edged life world of her Henri’s business activities. The best moments of the drama involve the cute and cuddly dogs that inhabit this harsh underworld with its cruel and uncaring handlers. Larivière’s script, co-written with François Decodts, fails to convince us that Sandrine is appalled, picturing her as slightly irritated yet accepting of the situation. Anglade, a veteran actor of some stature, is extraordinarily underwritten here, coming across as a vacant sociopath with hardly any personality or depth. A dire treatment of what could have been a really affecting and worthwhile story about this serious criminal activity. MT

I AM A SOLDIER | UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES 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

 

Cannes International Film Festival 2015 | Un Certain Regard

IMG_1269Isabella Rossellini will head the jury of UN CERTAIN RÉGARD – the Cannes sidebar that presents a selection of “original and different” visions and styles in film. This is very much an arthouse competition, introduced by Gilles Jacob in 1978. Fourteen titles have been been announced and include three debuts. Eventually 18-20 titles will take part. Last year’s winner was the Hungarian drama WHITE GOD.

AliasMaria_Jose-Luis-Rugeles

Naomi Kawase will open the section this year with her latest film AN. Two films have been selected from Romania: Radu Muntean’s ONE FLOOR BELOW (Un Etaj mai Jos), and Corneliu Porumboiu, COMOARA (The Treasure) whose POLICE, ADJECTIVE won the FIPRESCI prize and the Jury Prize in the strand at Cannes 2009.

MARYLAND-ALICE-WINOCOUROnce again French film features heavily with sophomore directors Alice Winocour casting Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger in CLOSE PROTECTION, a thriller that follows a troubled ex-soldier tasked with guarding a the wife of a wealthy Lebanese businessman – and Laurent Larivière’s debut, I AM A SOLDIER, (title image) starring Louise Bourgoin in the lead.

 

Masaan-Neeraj-Ghaywan-HDThis year’s selection is also marked by a treasure trove of Asian delights – two from India: Gurvinder Singh’s THE FOURTH DIRECTION, Neeraj Ghaywan’s MASAAN (left); two from Korea: Oh Seung-Uk’s THE SHAMELESS and Shin Suwon’s MADONNA; one from Iran: Ida Panahandeh’s NAHID and another from Japan: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s JOURNEYS TO THE SHORE, about a wife reunited with her husband who was supposedly lost in a drowning accident. From Thailand comes CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (right).

Cemetery_of_splendour_Apichtapong_Weerasethakul

RAMS, a farming tale from Iceland is Grímur Hákonarson’s new drama, and sees two brothers brought together by their animals, after 40 years of separation. Croatian director Dalibor Matanic, presents three different stories of forbidden love in THE HIGH SUN, and the Italian-American filmmaker Roberto Minervini (Stop the Pounding Heart) will be on the Croisette with THE OTHER SIDE, the only  film in competition so far to embracing documentary and fiction. Writer Director, Yared Zeleke’s debut LAMB is from Ethopia. Two hispanic hispanics films join the line-up this year: THE CHOSEN ONES by Mexican director David Pablos and ALIAS MARIA by José Luis Rugeles Gracia. And finally Brillant e Mendoza’s TAKLUB completes the selection.

Lamb_Yared-ZelekeSPECIAL SCREENING

Une histoire de fou DON’T TELL ME THE BOY WAS MAD by Robert Guédiguian

MIDNIGHT SCREENING

LOVE by Gaspar Noé

CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 13 – 24 May 2015 | SALLE DEBUSSY 

 

Argerich 2012

Director: Stephanie Argerich

Documentary with Martha Argerich, Annie Dutoit, Lyda Chen, Stephen Kovacevich

France, Switzerland 2012, 94 min. French/English/Spanish

Born in Buenos Aires in 1941, Martha Argerich is perhaps the most important pianist of the second half of the 20th century. Known as the “tigress” at the piano, she is very protective of her private sphere. Luckily, her daughter Stephanie is a filmmaker, and has filmed her mother for over two decades; the result, BLOODY DAUGHTER is not a hagiography, but an episodic portrait of a genius who also happens to be the mother of three daughters. Her oldest, the violinist Lyda Chen (whom we see rehearsing with her mother), is the daughter of the composer/conductor Robert Chen; Annie’s father is the conductor Charles Dutoit, and the London-based pianist Stephen Kovacevich is the father of Stephanie, the youngest. Kovacevich gave the film the title, calling Stephanie lovingly his ‘bloody daughter”. Later we see the two arguing over Stephen’s failure to put his name on his daughter’s birth certificate, one of several parental omissions for which many children of great artists suffer.

Martha Argerich, who gave her first public concert at age eight, moved to Europe with her family aged twelve, supported by the president of that time, Juan Peron. The great Friedrich Gulda was her main influence, but she studied also with Nikita Magaloff. Winning major competitions, among them the Chopin Prize in Warsaw, Argerich was already a star in her mid-twenties (in an era, when musicians were called ‘young’ when they were in their forties), her stage persona, a mixture of the beautiful and enigmatic, was also helpful.

We see her re-visiting the stage of her early triumph in Warsaw, when she played Chopin’s first piano concerto in 2010, merchandise with her name being sold to adoring crowds. Whilst some of the footage may be repetitive, we get a very good picture here of how Argerich prepares for her concerts, and how she deals with the aftermath of elation in strong contrast to her pre-concert nerves. Since the early 80s, the pianist is not keen on giving solo performances, because she “feels too lonely”.

Martha interweaves her well-crafted documentary with plenty of drama from her mother’s past: revealing h0w Argerich’s mother (from a family of Russian Jews) literally kidnapped Martha’s oldest daughter Lyda from an orphanage, Martha having to give up custody of the child for her for a while. In 1995, heavy-smoker Martha  underwent a life-saving cure at the John Wayne Cancer Centre – but we see her continuing the habit, in spite of having had a part of her lung removed. On the comic side, Stephanie remembers that her mother was not keen on the idea of her attending school, writing sick notes with the help of her elder sister Annie. Furthermore, Martha had absolute no idea about the grading system of school tests, congratulating her daughter on a rather bad score. The documentary ends with the four women discussing their relationships, Martha telling Stephanie that she prefers non-verbal communication with her. But the highlights of this engaging piece are still the musical performances past and present: when Argerich performs Schumann, “every emotion of his soul is in his music”, we forget all the images of BLOODY DAUGHTER showing her minor and not so minor foibles: when she touches the piano, she changes the world. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 1 MAY 2015

 

 

Cannes Film Festival| Projections for 2015 | 13 – 24 May 2015

In a months time the World’s most well-known film festival will once again be rolling out the Red Carpet and bringing you the latest in World cinema. Meredith Taylor speculates on this year’s programme hopefuls, ahead of Thierry Frémaux’s official unveiling in mid-April.

salt

Joel and Ethan Coen will Chair the Jury this year, so let’s start with American cinema. Todd Haynes’ glossy literary adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s novel Salt: CAROL (below) has been waiting in the wings since being a possible opener for last year’s VENICE Film Festival. Starring Cate Blanchett it is a glamorous choice for this year’s Palme D’Or. Terrence Malick made his entrance earlier this year at BERLIN with the divisive (amongst critics) drama Knight of Cups and it’s possible that his next film, a documentary on the creation of the Earth, VOYAGE OF TIME, will be ready to grace the Red Carpet this May. Narrated by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, this mammoth project is currently in post production. Cannes habitué Jeff Nichols also has a new film, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a father and son Sci-Fi road movie starring Adam Driver and regular collaborator, Michael Shannon, who discovers his boy has special powers. For star quality, Cannes thrives on US stars, and who better to add glitz to the Red Carpet than George Clooney. He stars in Brad Bird’s  TOMORROWLAND, a Sci-Fi adventure that also has Hugh Laurie. Gus Van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES, a story of friendship between an American and a Japanese man (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) is another possible contender. William Monahan’s lastest, a thriller entitled MOJAVE, (Mark Wahlberg and Oscar Isaac) could also bring some glamour to the Croisette. Natalie Portman’s will bring her Jerusalem set screen adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS to the Croisette. It is a drama featuring an Israeli cast including herself, as his on-screen daughter, Fania Oz.

imageMost of this year’s films will be come from Europe and Italy has some brand new offerings from their côterie of well-known directors. Nanni Moretti was last on the Croisette in 2011 with his comedy drama WE HAVE A POPE, this year he could return with another drama co-written with Francesco Piccolo, MIA MADRE, in which he also stars alongside the wonderful Margherita Buy (Il Caimano) and John Turturro. There is Matteo Garrone’s long-awaited THE TALE OF TALES, adapted from Giambattista Basile’s 17th Century work and featuring Vincent Cassel and Salma Hayek in the leads. Another literary adaptation from Italy, WONDERFUL BOCCACCIO, is a drama based on The Decameron: the tales of ten young people who escape to the hills during an outbreak of Plague in 14th century Italy. A stellar cast of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts appear in Luca Guadagnino’s latest, A BIGGER SPLASH, a thriller that unravels in Italy – when an American woman (Tilda Swinton) invites a former lover to share her villa with onscreen husband Ralph Fiennes, sparks fly, particularly as Matthias Schoenaerts is the love interest.  After Cannes success with The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino could be back with YOUTH (La Giovenezza), a drama of trans-generational friendship that takes place in the Italian Alps with a starry cast of Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. Definite Red Carpet material. And Marco Bellocchio could well be chosen for his latest historical drama L’ULTIMO VAMPIRO which stars Italian actress of the moment, Alba Rohrwacher – recently in Berlinale with Vergine Giurata.

The Scandinavians could well be on board with Joachim Trier’s first anglophone outing LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a wartime drama in which Isabelle Huppert plays a photographer. Tobias Lindholm’s follow up to the nail-bitingly  rigorous A Highjacking, is A WAR. It has Søren Malling and Pilou Asbaek as soldiers stationed in Helmand Province, with echoes of Susanne Bier’s war-themed drama Brothers. Russian maverick Aleksandr Sokurov could present LE LOUVRE SOUS L’OCCUPATION, the third part of his quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001) and filmed in the magnificent surroundings of the Parisian museum. And Greeks could bear gifts in the shape of THE LOBSTER, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dystopian love story set in the near future and forecasting a grim future for coupledom, with Léa Seydoux, and Colin Farrell. There’s also much excitement about the long-awaited follow up Portuguese director, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, with his 1001 NIGHTS, a re-working of the legendary Arabian tale; certainly destined for the auteurish “Un Certain Régard” sidebar together with Polish auteur Andrzej Zulawski’s Sintra-set COSMOS, a literary adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’ novel and starring Sabine Azéma (the former partner of Alain Resnais).

macbeth-Further afield, it’s unlikely that Taiwanese fillmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien THE ASSASSIN will be ready to grace the ‘Montée des Marches’ but from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s drama fantasy, CEMETERY OF KINGS, could well make it. Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is in post production. The Japanese director is best known for award-winners, Tokyo Sonata and The Cure. Many will remember Australian director Justin Kurzel’s incendiary thriller debut SNOWTOWN, and his recent drama THE TURNING that is now on general release. His latest outing MACBETH (right) featured strongly in the Film Market at Cannes last year, starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, so it could well enter the fray. For star quality and sheer impact MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (below) will make a blast onto the Riviera. Starring Britons Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult and the lovely Charlize Theron, the fourth in George Millar’s action thriller series could will certainly set the night on fire, in more ways than one.

 

SUNSET-SONG-premieres-images-du-nouveau-Terence-Davies-avec-Agyness-Deyn-47013From England there is Donmar Warehouse director, Michael Grandage’s GENIUS, a biopic of the book editor Max Perkins, who oversaw the works of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F Scott Fitzgerald. Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law all take part. Asif Kapadia has two films currently in production: ALI AND NINO starring Danish actress, Connie Nielsen and Mandy Patinkin, and adapted for the screen by scripter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a book by Kurban Said. But his anticipated biopic on the life of Amy Winehouse UNTITLED AMY WINEHOUSE DOCUMENTARY is sadly not quite ready for screening. Other British titles could include Ben Wheatley’s HIGH RISE, a Sci-Fi drama based on J G Ballard’s eponymous novel centred on the residents of a tower block and starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Millar and Jeremy Irons. Veteran director Terence Davies could also be back in Cannes representing Britain. In 1988, he won the FIPRESCI Prize for his autobiographical drama Distant Voices, Still Lives. His recent work SUNSET SONG, (above left) is a historical drama based on the book by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and stars Agyness Deyn (Electricity) and Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur).

 

Cannes PicAnd last but not least, the French have plenty to offer for their legendary ‘tapis rouge’. Cannes regular Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN is the story of a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who escapes to France and ends up working as a caretaker, Gaspar Noé’s first film in English, a sexual melodrama, in which he also stars, LOVE, is ready for the competition line-up. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s BELLES FAMILLES is the latest vehicle for Mathieu Amalric to showcase his talents. After his stint at directing made the Un Certain Régard strand in the shape of Blue Room, he appeared in the recent English TV serial ‘Wolf Hall’. Here he plays a man who is sucked back into his past while visiting his family in Paris. Marine Vacth (Jeune et Jolie) and veterans André Dussollier and Nicole Garcia also star. And what would Cannes be without Philippe Garrel’s usual contribution. This year it will be L’OMBRE DES FEMMES, a drama co-written with his partner, Caroline Deruas. Palme D’Or Winner 2013, Abdellatif Kechiche, latest film, LA BLESSURE, starring Gérard Depardieu, it not quite ready to be unwrapped. But the well-known star may well appear on the Croisette with THE VALLEY OF LOVE, Guillaume Nicloux’s California-set saga which also stars the luminous Cannes regular Isabelle Huppert, never one to shirk the Red Carpet. I’ll be bringing more possibilities as the filming year takes shape, so watch this space. MT.

CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE FRM 13 MAY UNTIL 25 MAY 2015

 

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

What’s Left of Us DVD | The Desert (2013)

Director: CHRISTOPH BEHL

Horror Fantasy – also know as The Desert

Cast: Victoria Almeida, Lautaro Delgado, Lucas Lagré

98min  Spanish   Horror Fantasy

In this atmospheric mood piece, filmed mostly in close-up, Axel, Jonathan and Ana are survivors of some dreadful apocalypse which has made them desperate prisoners in a stiflingly uncomfortable internal bunker. Pasty and exhausted, they wallow in a feeling of overwhelming heat. Outside, an unimaginable Hell exists, experienced only by sounds of indiscriminate buzzing, distant cries and gunfire, suggesting warfare in a continuous present. Occasionally venturing outside to forage for subsistence, inside becomes a worse Hell: Holed up at close proximity they run through a range of human emotions: loathing, love, fear and mistrust, but they are forced to tolerate one another, making impromptu ‘confessions’ into a recording machine and watching TV on a small device as they slowly lose their minds. Gradually the enemy outside becomes the enemy within. For some inexplicable reason, they have captured one of the ‘undead’, a masked, traumatised zombie-like man who stares into space and refuses to comply with their efforts to communicate. Although Behr is successful in evoking a mood of ambient claustrophobia, this well-performed three-hander outstays its welcome after the first hour of its 98 minute running time, failing to compel or engage our interest beyond the initial scenario. John Paul Sartre’s 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’ springs to mind here, particularly Sartre’s expression “Hell is other People” expressing our daily struggle of being forced to see ourselves as an object in the world of another consciousness.

Christoph Behl is a German director who learnt his trade in Buenos Aires. He won a SILVER BEAR at Berlinale in 2004 for his short PUBLIC/PRIVATE. MT

DVD & VOD from 11  May 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.

Violette-003 copy

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.

20 Hot Titles for 2015 | Indie | Arthouse film| Part 1

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP-2THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: The main reason to see this moving and ambitious biopic of our most famous living scientist Stephen Hawking, is that Eddie Redmayne’s is pure dynamite as the man himself. Combing through endless footage of the Professor Hawking’s voice recordings and photos, he literally inhabits his very being from early life at Cambridge right through to his epic achievements in the realm of Science. Co-Written by his wife, Jane Hawking. touchingly played by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman). Out on 1 January.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: If you’re ready for a grown-up thriller with a gripping storyline and fabulously crafted-performances, look no further this tightly-plotted, New York-based slow burner from J C Chandor (All Is Lost). Set in 1981, during the city’s most dangerous year for crime, if tells the story of an ambitious immigrant’s bitter fight for survival in a precarious and competitive world. Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davies) and Jessica Chastain star.  23 January 2015

Altman_1ALTMAN: There’s nothing to beat an absorbing biopic on a prolific film director, and this one eclipses them all. Ron Mann charts the story of Robert Altman’s career from his lucky first break, to his far-reaching TV work and finally his outstanding contribution to independent cinema. A pithy, poignant and highly-entertaining portrait. Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Elliott Gould and Paul Thomas Anderson reminisce to add ballast. T. B. A.

DUKE_OF_BURGUNDY_02 copy

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: Peter Strickland’s edgy and inventive seventies-themed drama tackles the delicate subject of sexual dominance and submissiveness amid butterfly buffs in a  seventies-setting deep in the Hungarian counrtyside. Sidse Babett Knudsengarnered Best Actress for her portrayal of a lesbian with performance fatigue in this unsettling but yet darkly comic treasure. 20 February 2015

whitegodWHITE GOD (Feher Isten): ‘Superiority has become the privilege of white Western civilisation and it is nearly impossible for not to take advantage of it’. With this premise Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s invigorating drama WHITE GOD scratches at the edges of horror to create a richly inventive fable where dogs take over the city of Budapest. Starting out as gentle and harmless, the narrative gradually darkens into something morbid and frightening. No shaggy dog story here but certainly one to salivate over. 27 FEBRUARY

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THE LOOK OF SILENCE: Following on the heels of his devastating documentary about man’s evil to man, Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE is in some ways even more affecting. For a start, it’s running time of under two hours makes it a more manageable to engage with. Don’t be fooled though. Oppenheimer probes the killers much more harshly this time and elicits some unsettling revelations from the perpetrators and those affected by the terrifying regime in Indonesia. T. B. A.

downloadMACBETH: Roman Polanski was the last director successfully to adapt this most dark and sinister of Shakespeare’s plays. Here, Australian director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) casts Marion Cotillard as the chilling chateleine of Cawdor Castle playing alongside Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth as the fatefully ambitious couple whose ‘follie de grandeur’ leads them depose of Scotland’s King Duncan. T.B.A

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IT FOLLOWS; David Robert Mitchell’s latest film has emerged by general consensus amongst critics to be the most heart-thumpingly horrific indie thrillers of recent years. Simple in concept, this low-fi outing is inventive in creating a fairytale atmosphere in a modern-day setting. A must-see for all audiences. 27 FEBRUARY 2015

1001 NOITES: Tabu director Miguel Gomes is back with a re-working of the fabulous legend of Scheherazade locating his film in crisis-ridden present-day Portugal. Shifting between imagination and reality, the narrative takes on familiar elements to the original but  retains the same teasing quality that Scheherazade employed on the King. T.B.A.

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PHOENIX: Christian Petzold’s heart-wrenching drama works cleverly as both a wartime love-story and an evergreen metaphor for regeneration and identity. Starring regular collaborators Ronald Zehrfeld (In Between Worlds) and Nina Hoss (Barbara) who gives the best rendition of ‘Speak Low’ known to mankind, it has also one of the most devastating climaxes of recent years. TBA

RELEASE DATES FOR ALL THESE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY.

 

 

 

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

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

 

UK Korean Film Festival 2014 | 6-21 November

A_GIRL_AT_MY_DOOR_2 copyThis year’s Korean Film Festival will focus on the work of maverick filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, who is best known for his controversial titles such as PIETA and MOEBIUS. The UK premiere of his Venice Festival hopeful ONE ON ONE will also screen during the festival. The opening night film: Yoon Jong-bin’s KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT, is a 19th century ‘Robin Hood’ style Kung-Fu thriller about a militia group of bandits – Kundo – who rise up against their unjust nobility, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Cult classics will again feature this year with a selection from the archives under the ‘K Classics’ strand such Ki-young Kim’s shocking melodrama THE HOUSEMAID (1960).

Other films worth watching are Seong-hoon Kims’ A HARD DAY starring Baek Jong-hwan, and July Jung’s A GIRL AT MY DOOR, which was nominated in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year. THE KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-15 IN LONDON AND 16-21 NATIONWIDE. Tickets and schedule available here

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Il Cinema Ritrovato – Bologna 28 June-5 July 2014

IL CINEMA RITROVATO or literally, Cinema Rediscovered, is now in it’s 28th year and, judging by the increased attendance this year, continues to grow in popularity. The Bologna festival takes place each year at the end of June for 8 days with screenings showing across four main screens in the city, all within easy walking distance, and the famous late night free open-air screenings in the Piazza Maggiore.

Ureshii goro_01Each year film scholars, academics and everyday cinemagoers descend upon medieval town in Emilia Romagna for specialised film screenings ranging this year from a William Wellman mini-retrospective, James Dean, The Golden 50’s – India’s Endangered Classics, Riccardo Freda, Werner Hochbaum, Italian episode films, Polish New Wave in cinemascope and Hitler war films to name but just a few of the strands. The regular strands that continued this year included new restorations of cinema classics, cinema from 100 years ago along with this year’s Japanese section which focused on early talkies from the Shochiku studio.

At any given time you could bump into on the streets, or at a screening, the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, Scott Foundas, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson or even US director, Alexander Payne who is back for his second successive year.

renoir_la_chienne_03Director Costa Gavras was in attendance this year. Since 2007 he has also been president of the Cinémathèque Française. He was interviewed by the festival’s creative director, Peter von Bagh, and spoke about his early life in Greece and then working as an assistant director with the likes of René Clair (TOUT L’OR DU MONDE 1961), Jacques Demy (LA BAIE DES ANGES 1963) and René Clément (LE JOUR ET L’HEURE 1963 & LES FELINS 1964) before embarking on his own first film COMPARTIMENT TUERS (1965). He also discussed the political outcry around the release of his most celebrated movie Z (1969).

There was an opportunity to see some more recent restorations that had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. These included DRAGON INN (1967). LES CROIX DE BOIS (1931), LA PAURA (1954), COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES (1968) and LA CHIENNE (1931).

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There were two real highlights from these films and the first was Renoir’s film LA CHIENNE aka THE BITCH. Michel Simon plays the hapless Maurice Legrand, unhappy in his marriage to the nagging Adele and one night meets the beautiful Lulu who has just been beaten by her pimp boyfriend, Dédé. He walks her home to take care of her. Legrand falls in love with Lulu only to be the victim of her and her boyfriend’s plot to extract as much cash as possible from him. Simon is in superb form, as is Janie Marèse as the bitch of the story, Lulu. The film was later remade in 1945 by Fritz Lang as SCARLET STREET. The print screened at the festival was restored by the Cinémathèque française.

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The other film highlight from this strand was the L’Immagine Ritrovata Bologna restoration of Raymond Bernard’s 1931 film LES CROIX DE BOIS aka WOODEN CROSSES. Bernard’s remarkable and inventive use of both handheld and tracking shots to film recreated battle sequences in the trenches and on the battlefields of World War 1 are simply astonishing. There’s one particular battle scene that takes place in a cemetery that shall stay long in the memory as an incredible achievement of choreography in cinema.

The Polish New Wave in CinemaScope strand at this year’s festival was particularly impressive, following on from last year’s Czech New Wave strand entitled L’emulsione conta: Orwo e Nová vlna (1963-1968). Delights such as THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM (1964), SAMSON (1961), THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1964), FARAON (1965) and PASSENGER (1963) were on show. It would be hard to pick a favourite from this impressive selection as seeing  and Wajda’s SAMSON turned out to be a real discovery.

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Munk died tragically in a car accident on his way home from the Auschwitz concentration camp where he had been shooting PASSENGER, so the film was left incomplete and was finished posthumously by the use of stills and narration, two years later.  Seeing it projected on the big screen was a gruelling yet rewarding experience.

One of the more interesting strands, and an ingenious programming idea, were the Italian episode films. The strand was entitled L’Italia in corto. Prima parte (1952-1968) and featured two single episodes from different compendium films made during this period. Several of these were a lot of fun and worked surprisingly well when put together as a double bill. The best two were an episode entitled Il Professore by Marco Ferreri from the 1964 film CONTROSESSO paired with Renzo e Luciana by Mario Monicelli from the 1962 film BOCCACCIO ’70. The restoration of the latter film looked beautiful with its strong rich, vibrant colours literally glowing on the screen.

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William A Wellman was being celebrated at this year’s festival whereas in previous years we have seen the likes of Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh and John Ford. I saw just three of Wellman’s films at the festival; NIGHT NURSE (1931) with a very early performance from Clark Gable as a suited and booted psycho-chauffeur, YELLOW SKY (1948) and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), a dark, disturbing western about a posse who end up lynching three innocent people. Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews starred.

BA remaining highlight of the festival, was Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film THE MAN I KILLED aka BROKEN LULLABY. Whilst the acting would never win any awards, the film itself was very affecting indeed. It tells the story of a French soldier who kills a German solider in the trenches of World War 1. After the war he becomes wracked with guilt and sets off to Germany to beg forgiveness from the dead German’s parents and fiancé. The screening I attended was packed, with people standing around the sides and seated on the floor of the cinema. When the film was over it received a very deserved rousing applause from the audience. There’s something comforting when a fairly obscure 1932 film can still cause this sort of a reaction and this is really what IL CINEMA RITROVATO is all about; re-discovering those forgotten gems of cinema. NEIL MCGLONE

 

brownlow_It_Happened_ Here_ 02Neil McGlone is agent/representative for Il Cinema Ritrovato’s creative director, Peter von Bagh and has been involved with both this festival and Midnight Sun Film Festival for the past five years.  He is also programme advisor for London’s Nordic Film Festival.  Neil recently worked as film advisor and researcher for Mark Cousins’ A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM (2013) and Peter von Bagh’s SOCIALISM (2014). He is currently in pre-production with Alexander Payne on a documentary about British film historian, Kevin Brownlow (IT HAPPENED HERE).

IL CINEMA RITROVATO

 

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

Looking for Hortense 2012 DVD/BLU

Director: Pascal Bonitzer

Writers: Pascal Bonitzer and Agnès de Sacy

Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Isabelle Carré, Marin Orcand Tourrès

100min Drama  French with subtitles

CHE0193small-e1375791190106Kristin Scott Thomas and Jean-Pierre Bacri star in this intelligent Parisian drama about a married couple who’ve lost their spark and are slowly drifting apart.

Billed as a comedy, it’s not quite up there with Bacri’s previous outings Le Gout des Autres or On Connait Le Chanson but will satisfy the arthouse crowd who enjoyed Scott Thomas’s performance in François Ozon’s recent In The House.

CHE0056small-e1375791128710Here Bacri leads as Damien, a middle-aged professor of Japanese Civilisation whose relationship with his father is also causing him grief and diminishing his masculinity as a fully-fledged adult. Having discovered to his chagrin that theatre-director Iva (Scott Thomas) is contemplating an affair with one of her young actors, his ego is boosted by the delightful Aurore (Isabelle Carré), who he meets in a nearby restaurant. The local Asian community is also drawn in with a humorous subplot that offers a contemporary nod to multiculturalism.

Jean-Pierre Bacri is as sullen-faced as usual here and the script doesn’t quite give rein to his signature deadpan humour that has made previous outings so engaging so it’s a shame Bonitzer doesn’t give more time to Kristin Scott Thomas’s sublime acting skills and the development of her romantic story. But if you’re looking for solid and sophisticated French fare, well-acted and skillfully told then Looking for Hortense will fit the bill . MT

LOOKING FOR HORTENSE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9TH AUGUST 2013 AT WATERMANS ARTS CENTRE, BRENTFORD AND OUT ON DVD ON 2ND DECEMBER 2013

 

Renoir (2013) ***

Pierre-Auguste and Jean Renoir connect through the same muse in this painterly portrait of a creative family at a pivotal point in history.

Director: Gilles Bourdos

Script: Michel Spinosa, Jerome Tonnerre Gilles Bourdos from a work by Jacques Renoir

Cast: Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Roittiers, Thomas Doret, Romaine Bohringer

111mins      Drama     French with subtitles

Imagine a warm Mistral wind wafting a fragrant cloud of lavender along a sun-drenched Provençal hillside and you have the essence of Gilles Bourdos’s latest film.  Captured through the painterly lens of Mark Lee Ping Bin, who also lensed In The Mood For Love and Norwegian Wood, this languorous drama is in no particular hurry to tell its story thanks to leisurely performances from Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret and Vincent Rottiers who shine through despite the safe script which chooses not to expose any emotional skeletons hiding in the Renoir household. Instead, the story feels its way gently through rich colours, vibrant tones and evocative turn of the century detail, sensuously capturing Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s creative life as he paints compulsively from dawn til dusk, the need flowing out of him and onto the canvas.

The light-hearted tone of Renoir is in complete contrast to that of Camille Claudel: 1915, Bruno Dumont’s tortured study of a contemporary artist, who was languishing distraught in a mental asylum nearby, unable to pursue her craft.  In contrast to Juliette Binoche’s ‘no holds barred’ emotionally raw exposé of Camille Claudel, Bourdos’s Renoir is a buttoned-up, winsome affair, which has the painter relishing his dotage in a quiet villa by the sea surrounded by beauty and kindness, cosseted from the unspeakable horrors of the Great War which was raging in the trenches of the Somme, a few hours to the North.

Crippled by painful arthritis but wistfully reflecting on widowerhood, the artist here is in the mood for love realising that his wellbeing depends on being able to paint and sketch with the inspiration of a muse. Michel Bouquet dabbles and experiments with tones, hues and textures on a palette for all to see; sketching studies in pencil before attempting his portraits and compositions.

Then into the picture drifts Andrée (Christa Théret) an unappealing coquette of dubious background, looking for a leg-up on the back of a rich man who’s looking for a leisurely  leg-over and companionship, more than real sexual passion, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe in Gilles Bourdos’s version, which fails to plummet any depths beyond those of Renoir’s solvent jar. With a pretty face and a high opinion of herself, Andrée has little respect for Renoir’s talent or indeed his status at this stage in the game. Rubbing all the female staff up the wrong way, she succeeds in snaring the vulnerable Renoir and gradually a modus vivendi develops as they settle contentedly into a gentle routine, very much due to the old man’s wisdom and understanding of the nature of women: “All my life I’ve had complication, now I simply want peace”.

But the calm is soon ruffled by the arrival of his elder son, Jean, (Vincent Rottiers) wounded and battle-scared from the front, and the household dynamic shifts once again. Vincent Rottiers plays a diffident Jean Renoir, wracked by uncertainty and his duty as a soldier. Andrée spreads her affections to accommodate this younger man, who is in someways easier prey, although it’s hard to believe that this creative father and son could be so placid and seemingly benign about sharing their joint lover.  There is a cameo from Thomas Doret, (of The Kid With A Bike fame), who plays the disgruntled, younger son (Coco) and the only one who appears to display any real emotion.

Renoir drifts along gracefully without rocking any boats. It’s an atmospheric drama, steeped in summer and seductive charm but totally lacking in any real passion despite the rich potential of its subject matter. This is an outing for those wanting the milk chocolate box version of the Renoir story rather than the juicy and salacious underbelly. MT

RENOIR IS ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 28th JUNE AT THE CURZON, BARBICAN, CINE LUMIERE, GREENWICH PICTUREHOUSE AND WATERMANS ART CENTRE CINEMA.

 

 

FASHION IN FILM FESTIVAL London 10-19 May 2013

FIFF celebrates  its fourth year with an excting array of films  from 10-19 May in four locations around London. Showcasing the common ground shared by the creative industries of fashion and film, this biennial  culture show highlights the rich and vibrant array of costumes and fashions that have graced the silver screen.  Adding  cinematic edge and visual impact and allure, fashion and costume is an invaluable element in creating the right atmosphere for the era portrayed.

2013 FOCUS; MARCEL L’HERBIER

This year the focus is on the work of one of France’s most iconic and innovative filmmakers: Marcel L’Herbier. An ‘architect’ of film, he collaborated with the likes of Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger and Lucien Lelong to bring together the various creative crafts of costume design, set design and make-up in the hope of elevating cinema to a new art form.  An avant-garde figure in the world of film during the vibrant cultural milieu of inter-war Paris, his films will be showcased in this year’s festival which paying homage to some of his classic silent films.

We particularly recommend: L’ARGENT (1928) which brings Emile Zola’s deuxieme empire novel to the screen in the era of Art Deco and has live musical accompaniment.

THE FULL PROGRAMME IS AS FOLLOWS

LONDON |
10 MAY 2013

L’Argent

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:10 May 2013 – 18:30
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
11 MAY 2013

L’Epervier

Location:Ciné Lumière
Date & Time:11 May 2013 – 14:00
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
12 MAY 2013

Le Parfum de la dame en noir

Location:Ciné Lumière
Date & Time:12 May 2013 – 14:00
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Introduced by Mireille Beaulieu
13 MAY 2013

Le Vertige

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:13 May 2013 – 18:15
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Introduced by Nick Rees-Roberts
14 MAY 2013

Your Guide to the Fashions of the Future

Location:The Horse Hospital
Date & Time:14 May 2013 – 19:00
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Hosted by Ken Hollings and Marketa Uhlirova
15 MAY 2013

Claude Autant-Lara

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:15 May 2013 – 18:10
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Claude Autant-Lara: from the Inter-war Avant-Garde to New Wave Pariah. An Illustrated lecture by Sarah Leahy
16 MAY 2013

Le Vertige

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:16 May 2013 – 20:30
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
17 MAY 2013

Looking at L’Herbier: French Modernism Between the Wars

Location:Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, LVMH Lecture Theatre.
Date & Time:17 May 2013 – 14:00 – 18:00
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Symposium organised by Caroline Evans
18 MAY 2013

L’Inhumaine

Location:Barbican
Date & Time:18 May 2013
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Introduced by Caroline Evans
19 MAY 2013

L’Argent

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:19 May 2013 – 15:50
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
FASHION IN FILM FESTIVAL IS AT THE BFI, THE HORSE HOSPITAL, THE CINE LUMIERE AND THE BARBICAN, LONON  FROM 10-19 MAY 2013

 

Les Cousins (1959) **** Out on DVD

Director: Claude Chabrol

Script: Paul Gégauff, Claude Chabrol

Cast: Jean-Claude Brialy, Gérard Blain, Juliette Mayniel, Stéphane Audran

112min     French drama with subtitles

Claude Chabrol was one of the main protagonists of the French New Wave and this was his second and claimed the Golden Bear at the Berlinale 1959.

The Cousins are chalk and cheese: Charles (Gérard Blain) embodies bourgeois values of fidelity and straightforwardness while Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) is suave, urbane and an inveterate womaniser with feet of clay. The film also marked Stéphane Audran’s stage debut and she went on to marry Chabrol five years later (after a brief marriage to Jean-Louis Trintignant) and to star in most of his films.

Chabrol passes no moral judgement on his characters allowing their subtly-nuanced performances to lead us to our own conclusions in this parable which is as entertaining as it’s delightful to look at thanks to Henri Decaë’s sublime visuals and Paul Gégauff’s stylish script which he co-wrote with Chabrol.

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LES COUSINS IS NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY AND DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA’S MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES AND FULLY RESTORED  BY GAUMONT PICTURES.

 

Le Beau Serge (1958)*** Out on DVD

Director:Claude Chabrol

Cast: Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Brialy, Bernadette Lafont.

99min    French with subtitles

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Generally considered to be one of the first films in the French New Wave movement, Le Beau Serge was Claude Chabrol’s self-financed debut and he launches himself, full throttle, into this bleak piece of social realism that focuses on the homecoming of François (Jean-Claude Brialy) who is back from a few years in Paris. Full of sophisticated confidence, he finds that his old friends aren’t necessarily as happy to see him as he would have hoped, and particularly Serge, a leather-jacketed, rebellious roué who has turned to drink and settled for a loveless marriage

France was still getting back on its feet after the War years and there was considerable poverty in provincial life.  With its nods to the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ and improvised and grainy indie feel, it’s an interesting starting point for those keen on Chabrol or Nouvelle Vague but not gripping or well made enough to warrant much excitement compared to what was to come in the Chabrol canon. Some of the editing is poor with some shaky camera-work, although the performances are surprisingly accomplished particularly for Jean-Claude Brialy and Bernadette Lafont. MT

LE BEAU SERGE IS NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY AND DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT’S THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES.

* GAUMONT RESTORATION.

* EXCERPTS AND INTERVIEWS WITH CLAUDE CHABROL.

* NEW AND IMPROVED ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

* ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER. 56 MIN DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE MAKING OF THE FILM.

 

Regrets (2009)

Director: Cedric Kahn

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Yvan Attal, Arly Jover

105min

Love is the central character of Regrets or rather the passion and lust of unrequited love: Love than has never run its course and comes back to punch you in the solar plexis just when you think you’re happy enough with the everyday fondness of long-term marriage. That sudden punchdrunk love that pops up from the past and makes you realise it never really went away.  If you’re a love addict or even a disillusioned romantic then Regrets is for you.

Mattieu is a shy architect, married and living in Paris.  When his mother dies, he goes back to his home town (Yvan Attal) and bumps into an old girlfriend, Maya (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and finds he can’t leave her alone much to the annoyance of their respective partners.  A classic French psychological drama from the masterful Cedric Kahn, which shows Attal and Bruni Tedeshi at their best in passionate performances. MT

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