Posts Tagged ‘FRENCH CINEMA’

Doberman (1997)

Dir.: Jan Kounen; Cast: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Tchéky Karyo, Dominique Bettenfeld, Romain Duris, Stephane Metzger; France 1997, 104 min.

A tour-de-force of misogyny and profanities Doberman champions its anti-intellectual stance with an unrelenting orgy of violence that would make the first time director later fare look comparatively sane and docile. After cutting his teeth with a strong cast of Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci and Romain Duris, the Dutch director would graduate to more sober features in the shape of quasi western Renegade and stylish biopic Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.

Cassel and Bellucci were already real life lovers setting the tone here as an ’80s Bonnie and Clyde duo, based on the comic strip series by Joël Houssin, who adapted the film version with the director.  It all kicks off with Yann (Cassel) still wet behind the ears at his Christening, after the CGI Dobermann had lifted his leg over a dead cameraman in the opening credits. Just in time for young Yann to end up with a .357 Magnum in his stroller.

Twenty years later he has teamed up with mute Roma beauty Nat (Bellucci) and a crew of violent misfits: narcissistic L’Abbe (Bettenfeld) enjoys his fake priest outfit, while Nat’s brother Manu (Duris) has incestuous longings for his sister. The gang specialises in bank heists, driving psychotic police inspector Christini (Karyo) mad with nightmares of revenge. After successfully managing three parallel robberies, Christini again being foiled, the inspector and his men raid the family home of Sonia (Metzger) who lives a double life of law student and trans sex worker. Threatening Sonia’s baby son, the policeman then finds the gang is celebrating with raids in an S&M techno club.

Hard core sex and strobe lights accompany an orgy of brutality in a prolonged police raid that gradually loses its sting and shock impact: the stylish, glittering surface gliding over the film’s rotten core. DoP Michel Amathien’s cross cutting with extreme wide-angle shots, split screens and frenetic editing by Benedict Brunet and Eric Carlier only makes this feel more remote, less reachable. What remains is an exercise in nihilistic violence. Symbolically, near the end, one of the gangsters uses a copy of Cahiers du cinema’ to wipe his bottom in full view of the police cars. Kounen might have aimed for something like Nikita by Luc Besson, but he ended up with a third rate self-parody. AS


Jules et Jim (1961) Truffaut Season at the BFI

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanislas Previne is a young sociologist, preparing a thesis on criminal women. He meets Camille Bliss in prison to interview her. Camille is accused of murdering her lover Arthur and her husband Clovis. She tells Stanislas about her life and her love affairs…

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

Two ex-lovers wind up living next door to each other with their respective spouses. Forbidden passions ensue.

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

Rendezvous in July (1949)

Dir/Wri: Jacques Becker | Cast: Daniel Gelin, Brigitte Auber, Nicole Courcel, Pierre Trabaud, Maurice Ronet | France, Drama 102′

One of Jacques Becker’s most financially successful films, this exhilarating slice of postwar Parisian life isn’t quite the first ‘slacker’ film (that distinction probably belongs to Val Guest’s Give Us the Moon five years earlier) – but its freewheeling portrait of the young at play around Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, aided by tremendous photography by Claude Renoir, vibrantly captures the look and feel of a Paris only recently freed from the dead weight of the Occupation and discovering jazz (and amphicars!).

Strongly anticipating later ‘youth’ subjects like Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953) and Marcel Carné’s ‘beat’ film Les Tricheurs (1958), a full ten years before the Nouvelle Vague Becker’s film also discreetly employs the whimsical archaism of irises in and out that later became one of the hallmarks of the new kids on the arrondissement during the early sixties. Among the attractive cast of newcomers, watch out for veteran Gaston Modot playing a professor. @Richard Chatten


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Jean-Pierre Léaud | Tribute | Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Jean-Pierre Léaud (*1944) is widely known as the face of the French Nouvelle Vague. During his impressive career he made seven film with François Truffaut and eight with Jean-Luc Godard. But the indie directors of the 1990s have continued to fascinate him and more recently he has appeared in Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre (2011) and Ming-liang Tsai’s Face (2009) and the upcoming comedy from Walter Veltroni C’e Tempo (2019).

Leaud’s transition from juvenile hero to mature character actor is quite amazing: his performance as the dying Louis XIV in Albert Serra’s La Morte du Louis XIV (2016) is stunning, and the antithesis to his very beginnings. Whilst avoided the glitz of international stardom, he has enchanted six centuries of European filmmaking.

After his debut as Pierrot in Georges Lampin’s King on horseback (1958), he was to meet François Truffaut: an encounter which would change both their lives. The sly rebel, as Truffaut called himself, had met the revolutionary of the frontal attack. After filming wrapped on Les Quatre cents Coups (400 Blows) in 1959, Truffaut took charge of Léaud who was fast becoming a social outcast. The young man had been expelled from school, his parental home and a foster family. And this trauma feeds into the narrative of 400 Blows, a black-and-white hymn to adolescence. Léaud’s Antoine steals and lies his way through a drama which  ends on the run-away Antoine facing the sea. It’s one of the most impressive finales in film history. The pairing of Truffaut and Léaud would manifest itself best in the Antoine Doinel trilogy – Baisers Volés (1968), Domicile Conjugal (1970) and L’Amour en fuite (1979), both men growing up together in a strange sort of way.

In 1966 Léaud would star in Godard’s Masculin, feminin: 15 Faits Précis, winning a Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlinale for his role as Paul, who is in a ménage-a-quatre with three women in a contemporary Paris. Loosely based on Maupassant’s short stories, this feature was the beginning of the break Godard would make with narrative cinema. Also called The Children of Marx and Coca Cola (an inter-title of the feature), sex and politics are at the core. Léaud is fragile, and the lighting shows him as beautiful and vulnerable as the three women, Madeleine (Chantal Goya), Catherine (Isabelle Duport) and Elisabeth (Marlene Jobert). All four main protagonists have very different plans for the future, when their agendas collide. There is immense elegance and beauty here  (DoP Willy Kurant), and Godard treats his actors (perhaps for the last time) with more care than in the verbal politics of later films. Pauline Kael called it “that rare achievement: a work of grace in a contemporary setting” and for Andrew Sarris it was “the film of the season”.

A year later Godard would cast Léaud as part of a group in La Chinoise (1967), this time surrounded by two women and two men, but with a very much harsher political focus. Based on Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed, this was Godard’s first adventure into Maoism. Léaud is Guillaume, in love with Veronique (Anne Wiazemsky), who has a much stronger personality than him, and will finally leave him. Kirilov (Lex de Bruijin), is the weakest of the trio and he will kill himself, as in the novel. Léaud’s Guillaume is in love with Veronique, but he is very much a man of clever words, but little action. Veronique on the other hand, is much braver, and decides in the end to assassinate the Russian Cultural minister on a visit to Paris. But he mixes up the numbers of his hotel room, and kills the wrong man. Wiazemsky, the grand daughter of novelist Andrew Malraux, then the Gaullist minister for Culture, fell in love with Godard, and the couple married after the shooting. As an in-joke, Godard casts Francis Jeanson in the film (Wiazemsky’s philosophy lecturer at the Paris 10 (Nanterre) University) having a debate with Veronique while on her way to assassinate the minister.

Pier Paolo Pasolino’s Porcile (1969) tells two parallel stories. The first is about a young cannibal who has killed his father. The second features Léaud as Julian Klotz, the son of German entrepreneur (Alberto Lionello), who is part of the German economic miracle after WWII. Julian’s fiancée Ida (Wiazemsky) is very much an early version of the Baader Meinhof Group, and tries in vain to agitate him. But Julian can’t stand people in general. He prefers the company of pigs, who will be his downfall. Léaud is again the angelic outsider, treating society with avoidance. He is so much more feminine than Ida, that the role reversal is quite breathtaking and Léaud carries his limited part with great sensitivity.

Truffaut’s 1973 outing La Nuit Americaine (Day for Night), is essentially about filmmaking, showing Léaud as the weak and self-obsessed actor Alphonse. During the filming of Je vous présente Pamela , a conventional weepie, he fancies leading lady Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset), who has recently had a breakdown. Out of pity she sleeps with him but Alphonse then ‘phones her analyst, Dr Nelson (David Markham), who has left his own family to live with her, and spills the beans on their fling. Léaud plays the histrionic weakling with great skill. And Truffaut, playing himself as the director, assumes the role of his protector – much as in real life. Godard, who by now had broken with his ex-friend Truffaut, called Day for Night “a big lie” – later the two founding fathers of the Nouvelle Vague fought over  Léaud who somehow survived the acrimony and went on to work with another enfant terrible, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.

I hired a Contract Killer (1990) was one of Kaurismaki’s first English language films and he made a beeline for Léaud in the lead role. The gamine actor of Day for Night had since changed dramatically. His slight, almost feminine appearance was gone, and he’d put on a substantial amount of weight – his acting too was from another dimension. He plays Henri Boulanger, an English Civil Servant, who is sacked after fifteen years of service due to privatisation. With no life outside his work, he tries – in vain – to commit suicide. Then asks a contract killer (Kenneth Colley) to step in. But Margaret (Margi Clarke) gives his life a new meaning. With time running out, Henri tries to contact the killer, to reverse the order. Léaud is totally morbid and emotionally reduced, the environment is straight out of the 1950s, the colours pale, bleached out by wear and tear. Léaud’s agile friskiness has been replaced by gentle placidness, making him look much older than forty-six. But his acting had matured too, and he slips easily into character roles nobody would have expected from him in his New Wave days. AS




Une Jeunesse Dorée (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Eva Ionesco | Drama,

Writer-director Eva Ionesco made her debut in Roman Polanski’s horrifying drama The Tenant in 1976. Since then she has made her way into directing. Her second feature is an enjoyable if hollow semi-autobiographical hark back to her disco days at one of Paris’ most legendary nightspots in the late 1970s.

The Palace nightclub was synonymous with stylish couture from Karl Lagerfeld, St Laurent and Missoni. It was also the time of Human League, Grace Jones and Brian Ferry, And this where our young impoverished heroine Rose (Galatea Bellugi) comes to dance with her artist boyfriend Michel (Lukas Ionesco). Both are looking to make their name in the world, and finance the rest of their lives. And this is where they run into decadent ‘beau-monde’ duo Lucile (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), in their fifties and eager for new experiences. Fired up by a cocktail of youth, cash and charisma, the couples feed off each other in an orgy – both literal and metaphorical – of coke and champagne-fuelled sexual encounters – decked out in the latest couture – and Isabelle Huppert is as sexy as her much younger counterpart Bellugi. After rocking the dance floor they all repair back in a Jaguar to Lucile’s soigné chateau in a the country where the young ones are eager for money and contacts, while the older pair paw them with unwanted sexual advances, to spice up their flagging libidos. 

This retro drama is very much a family affair, and it makes for an entertaining drama, if rather glib in its louche emptiness and threadbare script. Ionesco deftly captures the Seventies zeitgeist, but narrative-wise the drama plays out with no surprises. And while Huppert holds court with her sterling support, Poupard also holds sway with his graceful nonchalance, the young two providing alluring eye candy as the doomed and clingy lovers, caught between a desire to succeed and a need to be loved. 

Une Jeunesse Dorée feels slightly overlong at just under two hours, but despite the flagging plot line, expert camerawork comes courtesy of Claire Denis regular Agnès Godard, and there are cossies to die for including ubiquitous sequins and floor length furs from the designers Jurgen Doering and Marie Beltrami. The girls lie back lustfully in Agent Provocateur lingerie and Huppert even flashes her tits and utters outré lines such as: “Hubert has a very beautiful penis, and he knows how to use it”. Now that’s a showstopper, if ever there was one. MT


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia