Posts Tagged ‘French’

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

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Personal Shopper (2016) **** Bfi player

Director: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora vonWaltstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie | 101mins | Fantasy drama | France

Paris has always had a sinister side inspiring Poe’s Murders in The Rue Morgue and Balzac’s Pere Goriot, a story of social realism set near the Pierre Lachaise Cemetery: French literature is redolent with macabre stories conjured up by the dark side of the capital. So it seems somehow feels fitting that Olivier Assayas should add other chilling chapter to this spectrally charged city with his ghost-themed story PERSONAL SHOPPER.

The film is creepy, charismatic and as quirkily inventive as the director’s typical fare but his first ever ghost story. And Kristen Stewart is the star shimmering in a sombrely subtle turn that is as dark as its subject matter. She plays the unlikely named Maureen Cartwright, a 27 year old American girl who is bored with life and living out a meaningingless few months as a personal shopper to bitchy German media figure Kyra (Nora vonWaltstätten), while mourning the death of her twin brother Lewis.

Paris is the capital of the fashion world and Assayas works this elegantly into the plot as Maureen glides through a series of glitzy ateliers garnering hand-styled garments for her boss along with jewelled accoutrements from Chanel and Cartier. This is a job that fills Maureen with ennui as she considers herself worthy of better things and idly sketches the days away researching a yen for the supernatural and the psychic experiments of Victor Hugo and the avant garde Swedish artist Hilma af Klint.

On the sly, she guiltily slips into Kyra’s couturier gowns and fetishistic footwear before pleasuring herself on Kyra’s bed during her trips abroad. Kristen Stewart brings a gamine insouciant sensuality to her role that feels both menacing and intriguing in its sexual ambivalence.

Maureen is also developing her psychic skills in trying to contact her brother Lewis who died of a congenital heart condition in a dreary nearby fin de siecle mansion where they both grew up. Spending several spooky nights there a ghostly presence is felt as Maureen whispers inaudibly in scenes that are genuinely scary and entirely plausible given the undercurrent of glowering spitefulness that vibes through the increasingly dark narrative. This leads us to believe that Maureen is herself conjuring up the devil’s work. Olivier Assayas’s wickedly inventive vision is one of his most exciting this far. But there’s always 2021 to look forward to. MT

ON Bfi Player | Best Director for Olivier Assayas Cannes 2016

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

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

“Take Me to Him, My Black Pimp!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On MUBI THIS WEEKEND | 19 JUNE 2020

Who You Think I Am (2019) Curzon

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

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

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

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

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

ON CURZON HOME  CINEMA

 

 

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/

 

 

Black Orpheus (1959) ***** Locarno Black Lights 2019

48_bd_3d_stickerDir.: Marcel Camus; Cast: Bruno Melo, Marpressa Dawn, Lea Garcia, Lourdes de Oliveira, Ademar Da Silva; Brazil/France/Italy 1959, 100 min.

Screening as part of the Black Lights retrospective comes this classic arthouse drama from Marcel Camus (1912-1982). Only his second film Black Orpheus is a stunning portrait of life and carnival in the favelas, Rio’s most deprived areas. Bursting with colour, movement and emotional drama, Black Orpheus was a massive hit at Cannes where it unanimously won the Palme D’Or in 1959 and later the Oscar for best Foreign Film. While Camus was never able to equal this triumph it is still a ravishing treat.

A re-telling of the Greek myth, it follows the story of tram conductor Orfeo (played by the professional footballer Melo), a guitar-strumming neighbourhood hero who meets the shy Eurydice (Dawn) in Rio a day before the Carnival kicks off. On the same day, he gets engaged to Mira (De Oliveira), a feisty and jealous young woman. Eurydice has come from the country to visit Orfeu’s neighbour, her cousin Serafina (Garcia) (Garcia) who is being stalked by Death (Da Silva), who wants to kill her.

Orfeo and Eurydice fall for each other, spending a night of passion before the onset of the carnival festivities. Mira is furious and starts chasing after her – but so does Death, who disarms Mira. Eurydice escapes to Orfeo’s tram station where she hangs precariously from an electrical cable and is accidentally  electrocuted when her lover arrives. In the ensuing scuffle Orfeo is knocked out by Death (Ademar Da Silva) who claims the body of Eurydice. And when Orfeo comes to he heads of to the “Missing Persons’ Office”, a place which could have been dreamed up by Kafka. Then he fetches up in the symbolic underworld (complete with a frightening Cerberus), where an old woman speaks with the voice of Eurydice, begging the singer not to look at her. In vain, Orfeo goes on to the morgue, where he picks up Eurydice’s body, and carries her into the favela. But Mira is still unhinged with anger, she hurls a rock at her unfaithful lover, sending them to their fate.

After working as assistant to Jacques Becker and Luis Bunuel, Camus’ set his first film Mort en Fraude in Saigon with an anti-colonial tone. The film was banned in French Indochina – as it was then called – and Camus was accused of showing an over-romanticised view of the deprived favelas. But ORFEU NEGRO is true to magic realism, a vision: its pleasures evoked in brash and vivid colours (Eastman Colour) by DoP Jean Bourgoin (The Longest Day). In some ways, the tram scenes on the day the two lovers meet, echo those of Hitchcock’s Vertigo: a passion found and lost in another place where trams roam the hilly city. Here love blossoms against the background of a an exotic landscape, alluring, warmed by sun and framed like classical painting (Camus taught art at university before becoming a filmmaker). But equally impressive are the scenes of impending doom, shot in sharp contrast to the feverish dancing and cajoling of the carnival itself: there is certainly a madness of abandonment, but the gloom lingers on. The chase scene is riddled with “haunting imagery” that later influenced the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, with their saturated colours. There are also embryonic elements of a modern Slasher film, the masked killer stalking his victims – John Carpenter in particularly springs to mind. The ending shows an ambiguous, timeless solution: a hint of mystery built on the legend itself, played out by three children in front of the rising sun – which would rise in response to Orfeo’s beguiling music. AS

BLACK ORPHEUS | BLACK LIGHTS RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 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

 

Systeme K (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Eduoard et Caroline | UK Premiere | Bluray release

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray/EST  

 

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 

 

The Workshop (2017) ****

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018

 

 

Jacques Tourneur, the Medium (2015) ****

originalJACQUES TOURNEUR, THE MEDIUM – FILMING THE INVISIBLE (JACQUES TOURNEUR, LE MEDIUM – FILMER L’INVISBLE)

Dir.: Alain Mazars |  Documentary | France 2015, 60 min.

Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) only directed four feature films in France between 1931 and 1934, before he went with his director father Maurice, to Hollywood, where he started making short films between 1936 and 1939. What followed was an extraordinary career of classic B-pictures, fantasy dramas and  film noirs in different genres..

As the title of this well-crafted documentary hints, Jacques Tourneur specialised in filming invisible terror through his subtle scores and dramatic lighting techniques. This must have come easily to him as his parents would lock little Jacques into a cupboard whenever he was naughty, ordering the nanny to make scratching noises on the door from outside, pretending to be a child-devouring monster.

Three of Jacques Tourneur’s best known films, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man were produced in 1942/3 by Val Lewton, who would also go on to work on The Body Snatcher (1945). Cat People is a great example of a study in silent terror: the architect Kent Smith has married the Serbian graphic designer Irena (Simone Simon), who believes that she will turn into a panther when aroused. Kent encourages Irena to see Dr. Judd, a psychoanalyst who is sure he can unlock her trauma. Kent’s co-worker Alice Moore, is in love with Kent, and soon stalked by a growly big cat – which the audience never sees. But Alice finds her bathing costume torn up, and Dr. Judd discovers too late that an analyst can be utterly helpless too. The terror (as in The Leopard Man), where a leopard is the unseen hunter of men and women, is subtle and manifests itself exclusively by sound.

But Tourneur’s best known work was Out of the Past (1947), the classical ‘femme fatale’ noir in which private eye Jeff (Robert Mitchum) succumbs to the deadly charms of Kathie (Jane Greer), the girlfriend of mobster Whit (Kirk Douglas). Even though Jeff has broken with his past, living as a petrol station attendant in a small town, where he tells his new girl friend Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) about his life story of passion and betrayal – he recants as soon as he encounters Kathie again, he is drawn to this deadly female, and the ending, very much like John Dall’s Barton Tarr in Joseph. C. Lewis’ Gun Crazy, leaves him only one way out. Again, there is just enough action to drive the film forward, but the decisive moments are more or less silent: one look at Jeff’s face is enough to let us know that his amour fou is stronger than his rationale. Likewise, Kathie’s most powerful weapon to subdue Jeff is not her gun – she kills Whit in cold blood – but her soulful big eyes, which change her expression seconds after the killing into the ‘helpless beautiful girl’, who Jeff has to save, against his better judgement. All the torment of these powerful emotions can be read in the eyes and facial expressions of this self-destructing couple.

Mazars’s documentary, with insightful interviews and extensive clips from Jacques Tourneur’s films, paints a picture of a filmmaker who weaved dreams which turned into nightmares. And even at the end of his career, as his episode ‘Night Call’ (1964) for the legendary “Twilight Zone” TV Series shows, he was always ready to experiment and invent. AS

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015

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

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 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

   

 

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 

 

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

 

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

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

 

I Got Life | Aurore (2017)

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 23 MARCH 2018

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

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

 

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

 

 

Manina | The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter (

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

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

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

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

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

56, rue Pigalle (1949) | Bluray release

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will it Snow for Christmas? (1996) | BFI Bluray release

Deeply moving but never sentimental this remarkable debut from FRENCH writer/director Sandrine Veysset is testament to a mother’s unflinching love and dedication to her family of seven kids growing up on a farm the south of France.Based on a book by Antoinette de Robien (La Reine Margot) it provides an intimate portray of family life under the draconian glare of their distant father (Daniel Duval) who also has another family who live nearby. Helene Louvart’s sensitive camerawork and the use of ambient sounds rather than a musical score makes for a naturalistic feel as we join the family in their everyday country life. Heartfelt performances from the young cast support Dominique Raymond star turn as the mother. And Veysset remains detached and non-judgemental throughout, her feminine intuition guiding the narrative that shows how a mother’s love is instinctive and unselfish at all times. MT.

BFI DUAL FORMAT 4K RESTORATION IS OUT ON 20 NOVEMBER 2017

The Graduation | Le Concours (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

Back to Burgundy | Ce Qui Nous Lie (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

OUT ON 1 SEPTEMBER AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

Madame Hyde (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

 

Let the Corpses Tan | Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres |Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani | Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Marc Barbe, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Herve Sogne | Thriller | 92′ | French/Belgian

Stylishly retro in the same way as their imaginatively entitled first feature The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres), is the latest edgy thriller from Belgium auteurs Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, adapted from Jean-Pierre Bastid’s noted novel melding thriller with social and political critique. While Strange Colour was are intricately Art Nouveau, Corpses pays hommage to Sergio Leone’s florid close-up/long shot style of filmmaking.

Corpses’s storyline also brings to mind a racier, more vibrant (thanks to Manu Dacosse’s vivid visuals), frenzied version of Cul de Sac with a stash of gold and shoot-outs all thrown in. Well that’s the way it starts off, at least. In craggy Corsica a raddled writer (Bernier) is lazing away his days in secluded sun-drenched splendour with his loopy lover Luce (the superb Elina Lowensohn). But their idyll is interrupted when some vague acquaintances arrive hoping to conceal their stolen booty in this remote spot. But the local cops (Herve Sogne, Dominique Troyes) are on their tail and promptly arrive on the scene before crims Rhino (Stephane Ferrara) and his gang have a chance to smooth things over. And soon Bernier’s wife (Dorylia Calmel) and son (Bamba Forzani Ndiaye) also join the impromptu party, on spec.

And once the action starts all thoughts of Cul de Sac’s intricate psychodrama and Bastid’s social commentary are literally blown away by an all out stylistic gun battle which blazes non-stop unremittingly – or so it seems – for the rest of thriller. And whilst there’s a welcome Sergio Leone style twang to the proceedings – which whips you back to the ’60s with slices of Ennio Morricone and the popular Italian singer Nico Fidenco (Su nel cielo) thrown in, the hollowness echoes after the twanging shots die out.

LET THE CORPSES TAN is fabulous fun while it lasts but sadly fades from the memory (not the eardrums) once it’s over. That said, it’s just the thing for a sizzling summer night in Locarno – or anywhere else, for that matter!. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

Jacques Tourneur Retrospective | Locarno Film Festival 2017

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

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

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

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

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

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Scribe (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Sage Femme | The Midwife (2017)

Dir: Martin Provost | France / Belgium 2017 | French | Drama  | 117 min · Colour

Auteur Martin Provost is known for beautifully-crafted classically-styled dramas specialising in the intricate interplay between his female characters in Cesar-awarded raphine and Violette (who was a pupil of Simon de Beauvoir).

Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve are the stars of SAGE FEMME – a more personal project for Martin Provost and a tribute to the women who brought him into the world after a difficult birth. As well as referring to a midwife, a ‘sage femme’ is also taken to mean one who is well-behaved and wise: Frot’s Claire is such a woman: dedicated, kind and no-nonsense, she comes up against Catherine Deneuve’s self-centred, frivolous, bonne viveuse Béatrice who has always got her own way in life, and is also Claire’s stepmother, whose erratic nature resulted in her husband’s suicide.

This is meat and bread and familiar territory for sophisticated viewers who will savour the delicious friction between the two women that has a surprisingly favourable outcome for them both. THE MIDWIFE also ventures into the less appealing genre of social realism in too many ‘too much information’ birth scenes: Provost would have been better focusing on the fluctuating dynamic between the witty and watchable Deneuve, Frot and her love interest, Olivier Gourmet’s gourmet truck driver. Béatrice initially emerges as a wealthy benefactor who has appeared on the scene to apologise to Claire for her behaviour back in the day, but it soon comes to light that the 70-something Béatrice has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and is on her last legs. And soon she is also homeless. And guess who picks up the pieces?

There is a serious message here: that bringing the next generation into the world deserves calm, personal care rather than hightec machinery but the fun lies in the story of the older generation and here Provost successfully mines the rich dramatic treasures of this ménage à trois with perceptive characterisations complimented by Gregoire Hertzel’s breezily romantic compositions and the lush local scenery of the Il-de-France in early summer. THE MIDWIFE is less formal than his previous work but equally affecting as intelligent arthouse goes, capturing the rich and sensual pleasures of traditional France MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | IN COMPETITION (OUT OF COMPETITION

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

 

Slack Bay (2016) |Ma Loute

Director/Writer: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean Luc Vincent, Brandon Lavieville, Cyril Riguax

122min | Comedy | France

After success with P’tit Quinquin, Bruno Dumont is back with comedy of a different kind, an absurdist often grotesque turn of the 20th century melodrama which combines moments of poetic realism and is certain to divide audiences with its quirky brand of charm.

On a swampy coastal stretch of Britany a rotund police inspector (Cyril Rigaux) is investigating a spate of ‘mysterious’ disappearances possibly connected to a carnivorous local fisherman and his family of four kids, the eldest of whom is the titular Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville). The arrival of the Van Peteghem family from Tourcoing signals the start of the summer holidays as the mannered aristrocratic family gain their family seat – a strangely 1930s style cement contruction called The Tymphonium – amid cries of euphoria over every aspect of local nature and particularly the splendid views. They are soon joined by Andre’s cousin Aude (a gloriously over the top Juliette Binoche), her cross-dressing son Billie (Raph) and her cousin or possibly second cousin as they seem to be an interbred  lot – apparently quite common amongst the ‘grand old families of Northern France’ –  which would explain the weird paternity that later emerges in the final scenes.

This is a charismatic and inventive curio of a film which will either delight you with its quirky humour and performances or send you home underwhelmed. The humour is very French and the best part is undeniably Guillaume Deffontaines’ perfect lensing and the magnificent seascapes which echo and re-create the lush vibrancy of those of Manet, Monet and Cezanne. Costume-wise too this is a sumptuous affair with perfect attention to detail both in the domestic settings on the resplendent beaches making this a visual feast not to be missed. Performances too are really outstanding. Fabrice Luchini ponces about with a contorted limp; Juliette Binoche faints and swoons with delight and horror and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is simply graceful and restrained with an expression of discrete ecstacy that often dissolves in tender tears. It would be a shame to spoil the entire plot which reveals itself with delicous coyness. Suffice to say, there’s no director like Dumont for creating such a fabulous stillness and sense of place in his glowing compositions of the Brittany scenery and his deftness for combining period touches with elegant framing and a sense of magic and delicate poetry even in the more mordid aspects of this inspired comedy drama. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 JUNE 2017

 

 

Frantz (2016)

Director: François Ozon

Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Buelow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lenquesaing

Drama | France | 112min

With the theme of guilt firmly at the forefront, François Ozon takes his inspiration from Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Broken Lullaby,’ in his first black and white film – a gloriously imagined postwar drama that flips fluidly from French to German.

The First World War changed everything – not only from a political point of view but also from a societal one. European countries were left reeling from the devastation but Ozon focuses here on the bitterness and remorse ordinary people felt at losing their dear ones to the war effort and the enemy, both from the German and French perspective.

After a lightweight dramady The New Girlfriend, Ozon is back on form with this lusciously filmed magnificently mounted masterpiece that takes place in the immediate aftermath to the Great War in a small village in rural Saxony (with echoes of Haneke’s The White Ribbon) and slowly builds to a powerful bodyblow in its emotive final scenes set in Paris and provincial France before returned to Germany. Basing his premise on a series of blatant lies, albeit white ones, the inventive French filmmaker tells a story of guilt and loss – where a young man (Pierre Niney plays Adrien) is driven to protect an old couple (the Hoffmeisters) and their daughter-in-law Anna (Paula Beer), in order to assuage his own actions in the trenches of Verdun, where Anna lost her lover in the slaughter that wiped out thousands and divided Europe in a way that many of our own relatives can still remember (beware Brexit!).

Paula Beer radiates a tragic sadness here as the complex heroine who gradually falls for Pierre Ninney’s fragile yet hopelessly handsome French soldier who manages to conceal his secret for most of the film, spinning her tortuously into a spiral of mixed emotions ranging from longing to anger, hatred and gradually, love and acceptance.

Ozon’s cinematographer Pascal Marti crafts velvety images 35mm in black-and-white. His regular composer Philippe Rombi crafts a atmospheric soundtrack of orchestral splendour that seems to continually presage doom in judiciously chosen moments, and there is an enchanting scene in Adrien’s family chateau where an impromptu piano and violin recital takes place between Anna, Adrien and Fanny (du Lenquesaing). Ozon’s theme of art as a potential healer and inspirer once again appears with Manet’s painting Le Suicide representing a potent motif. This is an accomplished and immersive period drama that will resonate with arthouse audiences and is certainly Ozon’s most mature and accomplished film so far. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 12 MAY 2017 at selected arthouse cinemas including CURZON | BEST EMERGING ACTOR SOPHIE BEER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

Cézanne et Moi (2016)

Dir/Writer: Danièle Thompson | Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Deborah Francois, Sabinz Azema | Drama

Emile Zola might have written some desolate novels but his private life appears to be rather pleasant according to CÉZANNE AND I exploring the close friendship between two of France’s most famous 19th century cultural geniuses: the titular novelist and the impressionist painter Cézanne. Unlike Gilles Bourdos’ tepid Rénoir (2012), there is plenty of drama here, as befits the subject-matter.

Writer and director Danièle Thompson’s painterly period piece imagines the two enjoying a beautiful bromance that lasted from childhood until their deaths, although it wasn’t without its tiffs and rivalries as the strong creative personalities often clashed giving rise to some moments of drama and even tears, and the racy often lyrical dialogue doesn’t hold back in expressing the deep intimacy of their conversations about the pleasure and pain of creativity (“do you still get a hard on from your writing?” asks Cézanne of his mate).

Starring Guillaume Gallienne (Yves Saint Laurent) as Cézanne and Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) as Zola this is a spirited and enjoyable – if occasionally soapy – affair with its sumptuous settings making great use of the gloriously lush and sun-drenched scenery of Provence and elegant boulevards of Paris and the Louvre, where the Salon de Réfusés episode descends into a brawl .

Eric Neveux’s intrusive score primps up moments of sauciness by a lakeside as Cézanne executes his’ plein air’ canvasses, and Jean-Marie Dreujou cleverly evokes some of the artist’s outdoor compositions with limpid camerawork and a fabulous choice of settings. While the painter comes across as the more louche of the pair, with his wealthy background and family funding; Zola is a more sober character and Canet plays him as a rather buttoned up and inaccessible, growing up a penniless orphan until he joins the successful bourgeoisie, as captured in the final scenes. The narrative unfolds from 1888, when Cézanne accuses Zola of writing a novel whose central character – a striving but unsuccessul painter – feels too near the bone for his liking. But Zola assures him that the novel in question ‘L’Oeuvre’ is not about his close friend. Most of the scenes  involves tête à tête set-toos between the pair highlighting their creative differences and expressing their feelings about sex and women. According to Thompson, they both fell in love with the same person, Alexandrine (Alice Pol), who would eventually become Zola’s wife. While Cézanne is restlessly married to his muse Hortense (Deborah François) there appear to be issues with his sexual performance, and she complains that “I fuck her too quickly and paint her too slowly.” The two debate Zola’s theatrical naturalist style that today feels stuffy and dated as opposed to Cézanne’s impressionism which proved the more universally evocative form of expression due to its avant-garde appeal that gave birth to modernism. Zola resents Cézanne’s monthly income that allows him freedom to explore, while the writer is hampered by his lack of funds. Meanwhile, Cezanne calls him a “a violeur et un voyeur”, somehow implying that his ideas were not original.

Artistic context of the era is further provided in the shape of fellow impressionists Edouard Manet (Nicolas Gob), Auguste Renoir (Alexandre Kouchner) and Camille Pissaro (Romain Cottard). This is a watchable and vivacious drama that paints an absorbing picture of two driven men but despite Thompson’s learned research CÉZANNE AND I  comes across as a lightweight drama rather than a resonant biopic of the creative duo. MT

Cézanne et Moi will be released on Friday 14th April at Ciné Lumière, find out more here: http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/cine-lumiere/whats-on/new-releases/cezanne-et-moi/

 

Personal Shopper (2016) | Cannes 2016 | Best Director 2016

Director: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora vonWaltstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie

101mins | Fantasy drama | France

Paris has always had a sinister side inspiring Poe’s Murders in The Rue Morgue and Balzac’s Pere Goriot, a story of social realism set near the Pierre Lachaise Cemetery: French literature is redolent with macabre stories conjured up by the dark side of the capital. So it seems somehow feels fitting that Olivier Assayas should add other chilling chapter to this spectrally charged city with his ghost-themed story PERSONAL SHOPPER.

The film is creepy, charismatic and as quirkily inventive as Olivier Assayas who has explored differnet genres in his consummate career but never a ghost story. And Kristen Stewart its star shimmers here in a sombrely subtle turns that is as dark as its subject matter. She plays the unlikely named Maureen Cartwright, a 27 year old American girl who is bored with life and living out a meaningingless few months as a personal shopper to bitchy German media figure Kyra (Nora vonWaltstätten), while she mourns the death of her twin brother Lewis.

Paris is the capital of the fashion world and Assayas works this elegantly into the plot as Maureen glides through a series of glitzy ateliers garnering hand-styled garments for her boss and jewelled accoutrements from Chanel and Cartier. This is work that fills Maureen with ennui as she considers herself worthy of better things and idly sketches and researches her yen for the supernatural and the psychic experiments of Victor Hugo and the avant garde Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. On the sly, she guiltily slips into Kyra’s couturier gowns and fetishistic footwear before pleasuring herself on Kyra’s bed during her trips abroad. Kristen Stewart brings a gamine insouciant sensuality to her role that feels both menacing and intriguing in its sexual ambivalence.

Maureen is also developing her psychic skills in trying to contact her brother Lewis who died of a congenital heart condition in a dreary nearby fin de siecle mansion where they both grew up. Spending several spooky nights there a ghostly presence is felt as Maureen whispers inaudibly in scenes that are genuinely scary and entirely plausible given the undercurrent of glowering spitefulness that vibes through the increasingly dark narrative. This leads us to believe that Maureen is herself conjuring up the devil’s work. Olivier Assayas’s wickedly inventive vision is the most exciting thing so far at Cannes 2016. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE 17 March | CANNES FIL FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | Best Director for Olivier Assayas

Jacques Becker (1906-1960) Retrospective

Jacques Becker, who was born and died in Paris (1906-1960), only made thirteen feature films in a relatively short period of time, between 1942 and 1960. His legacy was small but perfectly-formed and rich in important titles such as Casque d’Or (Golden Helmet, 1952), Touchez pas au grisbi (Hands Off the Loot, 1954) and Le Trou (The Hole, 1960) more than enough to earn Becker consideration as one of the essential names of French cinema, who work was often classified as ‘transcendent realism’.

Becker eventually became a Communist, although he never made social cinema in the strict sense of the word, training in the cinema of the Popular Front and worked as an assistant to Jean Renoir.

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His influences came both from the work of the author of La grande illusion (Grand Illusion, 1937), one of the eight films by Renoir on which Becker worked as an assistant, and from the classic North American movies made prior to World War II.He was a huge fan of King Vidor and Howard Hawks, for example. Hisstyle stemmed from a sort of classicism, soon moving into modernity, refining itself at neck-breaking speed during the Occupation and post-war period.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of the influential Cahiers du cinéma critics always defended him as being one of the few directors saved from the generalised attack on French post-war cinema: for Truffaut, Godard and company, enemies of academicism, Becker was always on a par with his mentor Renoir, with Jean Cocteau, Jean-Pierre Melville, Max Ophüls, Robert Bresson and Jacques Tati.

A lover of detail and meticulous both when recreating periods in the studio or shooting outdoors, stylist of the mise-en-scène and creator of unrepeatable atmospheres such as the romantic and violent Casque d’Or (Golden Helmet), Becker practiced impressionism and realism equally, paying as much attention to the historical periods of his tales as he did to the psychology of his characters. The “Cahiers du cinéma” critics saw in him the modernity that they themselves would put into practice on moving into production as part of the Nouvelle vague.

LE COMMISSAIRE EST BON ENFANT, LE GENDARME EST SANS PITIÉ / PITILESS GENDARME | JACQUES BECKER, PIERRE PRÉVERT (FRANCE) 1935

The police superintendent may be good-natured but he has got a lot on his plate with all the witnesses that come to make a statement before him. They are all crazier than the others and although the superintendent is not too bad at keeping his self-control, he might well go nuts after all with this bunch of lunatics.

La Vie copy

LA VIE EST À NOUS

JACQUES BECKER, JEAN RENOIR, JACQUES B. BRUNIUS, HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, ANDRÉ ZWOBADA, JEAN-PAUL LE CHANOIS (FRANCE) 1936

The film, shot at the initiative of the French Communist Party, mixes documentary with fiction. A Board of Directors is preparing a mass layoff; in a factory, a strike prevents the dismissal of the older workers; some peasants prevent the auction of the possessions of a poor farmer with the help of political activists; a young man out of work who cannot even eat receives the help of a group of communist young men.

DERNIER ATOUT

JACQUES BECKER (FRANCE) 1942
A man is murdered in an imaginary South American city. Two young detectives, Clarence and Montes, on a level pegging in their wrangle to see which of them will graduate as best student from police academy, are given the job of investigating the case. The deadlock will be broken once and for all.

GOUPI MAINS ROUGES / IT HAPPENED AT THE INN (1943)

In a small French village a woman is killed and her money stolen. Several members of her family, the Goupis, are suspected. In addition, the family is looking for the gold of its older member, who is about to die.

Paris Frills copy

FALBALAS / PARIS FRILLS | Jacques Becker France 1945

Micheline arrives in Paris to prepare her marriage to Daniel Rousseau. There she falls in love with her fiancé’s best friend, dress designer Philippe Clarence, an impenitent ladies’ man who seduces and then leaves her, although he later finds out that he is deeply in love with her. (Available on Studiocanal later in 2017).

Antoine et Antoinette copyANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE / ANTOINE AND ANTOINETTE (1946)

Antoine, who works in a printing house, and Antoinette, an employee at Prisunic, buy a winning lottery ticket. When they lose said ticket, their dreams seem to fade away.

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RENDEZ-VOUS DE JUILLET / RENDEZVOUS IN JULY (1949)

Lucien is a young Parisian boy who dreams of becoming an explorer, but his parents expect him to lead a conventional life. After an argument with his father, Lucien leaves home with his friends; aspiring actors and jazz lovers, writers and film directors. Together they will hatch a plan to break free.

Edouart et Caroline copyÉDOUARD ET CAROLINE / EDWARD AND CAROLINE

Jacques Becker (France) 1950

Edouard is a poor pianist married to Caroline, a beautiful girl from a middle-class family who don’t approve of their marriage. Caroline’s uncle invites the couple to a party at which Edouard is to play the piano… a situation that will have them arguing before they know it.

CASQUE D’ OR | JACQUES BECKER (FRANCE) 1952

The members of Leca’s gang go to an open-air dance hall with their ladies. One of them, Marie (Signoret) meets Manda, a carpenter and friend of one of the members of the gang, with whom she falls in love. Her man Roland is jealous and Leca has also set his eyes on her.

Ali Baba copyALI BABA ET LES 40 VOLEURS / ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES | Jacques Becker (France) 1953

Ali Baba, one of Cassim’s servants, is sent to buy a slave for his master. On the way back he falls in love with Morgiane, the slave. The caravan is attacked and this allows him to discover the cave of the forty thieves and the secret word to enter it.

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RUE DE L’ESTRAPADE | Jacques (FRANCE) 1953

Although Françoise and Henri have a happy marriage, he is caught having an affair by one of his wife’s friends. Furious that he cheated on her, Françoise moves into the Rue de l’Estrapade, a district of bohemian artists. There she succumbs to the charms of Robert, a young and down-at-the-heel existentialist musician strapped for cash.

 

Touchez pas au Grisbi copyTOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBi  | Jacques Becker (France/Italy) 1954

Max, an ageing gangster, has come up with a master plan for a heist involving 50 million francs. His ex-girlfriend, who left him for Angelo, the head honcho of a rival gang, schemes to get her hands on the details of the plan and swipe the 50 million haul for herself. But Max is so discreet and impassive that it is impossible to get the information the easy way, so they decide to kidnap his sidekick and demand a ransom.

the Adventure of Arsene Lupin copy

LES AVENTURES D’ARSÈNE LUPIN / THE ADVENTURES OF ARSÈNE LUPIN Jacques Becker (France/Italy)1956

Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief, steals two masterpieces by Leonardo and Botticelli from the home of the President of the Council. Some time later, he tricks several jewelers to come to his house and then steals their gems. His next victims are a Maharajah and Kaiser William II.

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LES AMANTS DE MONTPARNASSE / MODIGLIANI OF MONTPARNASSE | Jacques Becker (France/Italy) 1958
The film portrays the last years in the life of painter Amedeo Modigliani, his artistic peak, but marked also by alcohol and his love for Jeanne Hébuterne.

Le Trou copy

LE TROU | Jacques Becker (1960)

In prison, four inmates serving life sentences run into unknown territory when they involve a new prisoner in their elaborate escape plan plan. Becker collaborated with real life La Sante prisoners to add authenticity to his last film and died several weeks after completing the romantic drama.

JACQUES BECKER | BFI player  | STUDIOCANAL Blu-ray release. 

Barrage (2017) | Berlinale Forum

Dir: Laura Schroeder | Cast: Lolita Chammah, Thémis Pauwels, Isabelle Huppert, Charles Müller, Elsa Houben, Marja-Leena Juncker, Luc Schiltz (Pol) | Luxembourg / Belgium Franc |112 min

Three women are united in Laura Schroeder’s second feature, which is very much a family affair with Isabelle Huppert and her daughter Lolita Chammah starring in their real life roles, as Elisabeth and Catherine.

Catherine returns home to Luxembourg after a decade in Switzerland during which her daughter Alba been looked after by her own mother Elisabeth. From the side of the tennis court, she watches Elisabeth coach Alba, her face clearly showing how well she remembers this mixture of stimulus and humiliation from her own childhood but Catherine needs to reassert her motherly authority and rightful place in the heirarchy – not easy when Huppert is in charge. The dynamic between the trio constantly changes with Catherine sometimes feeling like a sister to Alba but Schroeder’s skillful narrative is underpinned by some serious undertones which the three manage deftly in their subtle and entertaining performances.

The action takes place over a few days and little is known of Catherine’s past although she has clearly got some serious issues to deal with that have left her unstable and during a day in the country with Alba events come to a head explaining the film’s rather omenous title. And although Huppert is not always present her presence is strongly felt as a dominating force to be reckoned with – perfectly suiting her profile as a powerful actor in often tricky roles.

Laura Schroeder keeps emotional distance from her characters by using the Academy ratio, used after the Silent era when synchronised sound was first introduced in 1929, and this gives this potent character study rather a formal detached feel rather than an intimate ambiance. Despite this BARRAGE offers insight into women’s minds that will resonate with audiences familiar with the territory. MT

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | Forum Section

 

 

Irreplaceable (2016)

Dir: Thomas Lilti | Writers: Thomas Lilti, Baya Kasmi | Cast: François Cluzet, Marianne Denicourt, Isabelle Sadoyan, Felix Moati, Christophe Odent, Patrick Descamps, Guy Faucher, Margaux Fabre | Drama | France | 91min

Doctor turned screenwriter Thomas Lilti has finally found his groove with a couple of well-made and watchable medical dramas using classic French stars. Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor was the first, with Reda Kateb as a hospital clinician working in Paris. The latest, IRREPLACEABLE, is set in the farmlands of Ile de France where Intouchables star François Cluzet is a doctor diagnosed with a life-changing condition that forces him to recruit a colleague in his small country practice.

Jean-Pierre Werner (Cluzet) is rather a tetchy single father in his fifties who prides himself in his personal approach to his patients, spending his days on home visits in the rural community, often beyond the call of duty. But when he is told to cut down on his workload due to a tumour, he grudgingly interviews Dr Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denincourt/Hippocrates) who has come late to the professional, in her  forties, but has loads of experience as a nurse in casualty. After giving her rather a hard time, the two start work together, Nathalie feeling her way forward cautiously with a caseload of tricky patients and a crusty colleague into the bargain.

Lilti cleverly brings reality to the film – not just in his medical knowledge – but in his maturity of experience in dealing with patients and the profession as a whole. And this makes such a difference to a film which could so easily have been just another implausible medical procedural. Combining quality acting talent with a pithy script, he brings integrity to the film, making it enjoyable but also entirely natural. Theres’s a feisty tension between Werner and Delezia that brings a welcome relief to the more serious medical narrative dealing with real issues facing the profession in France.

This is a restrained and nuanced character drama which makes great used of its lovely rural setting in the Val-d’Oise and the towns of Omerville and Magny as Lilti creates tension and cleverly balances the three narrative strands: the relationship between the two doctors; Werner’s uncertain medical future and the social politics of the patients themselves, and their life and death issues. Thomas Lilti is certainly a talent worth looking out for where quality French drama in concerned. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 13 JANUARY 2017 | A special preview with Q&A ON 10 JANUARY TICKETS HERE 

 

 

 

 

 

Asterix and Obelix: Mansion of the Gods (2016)

Dir.: Louis Clichy, Alexandre Astier | Voices of Roger Carel, Laurent Lafitte, Alain Chabat

Animation 3D; based on the comic book of the same title by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo from 1971

France/Belgium 2014, 85 min.

After some sadly failed attempts at live-action, our Gallic heroes re-emerge as the original cartoon figures: this time in 3D and with lively CGI action.

Beastly Caesar plots in Rome (again) the downfall of the last village in Gaul not under his control. This time he wants to undermine the spirit of the villagers by building huge luxury mansions around their village and populating them with Romans, who soon find the villagers quaint and since everything is so much cheaper than in the capital of the empire, trade breaks down the barriers. But the development goes both ways: the villagers find the apartments appealing and only a pact between the exploited black slaves, who build the mansions, and Asterix and the druid Getafix (with the usual physical assistance of Obelix) avoid the villagers losing their independence.

MANSION OF THE GODS falls between two stools: whilst the action will keep younger audiences occupied, the rather complex plot with its very adult connotations is rather secondary to the main target audience. This is hardly unique: most modern animation classics are equally loved by adults – not only parents – and the younger audience. But in this specific case, the underlying ideologies are so complex that they might detract from the enjoyment for anyone not interested in labour laws, equality and racial harmony. The merits of CGI and 3D have ben endlessly discussed, and after watching MANSION OF THE GODS the 3D feels like a gimmick, adding nothing to the original. Certainly, CGI improves the action-orientated sequences, but it also somehow adds a soulless quality – our eyes are, after all, meant to watch analogue images, not digital ones.

That said, diehard fans of the original cartoons will no doubt lap this up, particularly those who devoured the original adventures back in the day. AS

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Measure of a Man (Le Loi du Marche) |

Writer|Director: Stephane Brizé

Cast: Vincent Lindon

93mins  | Drama  | France

Le Loi de Marche is a trenchant slice of social realism. It comes from Stephane Brizé, and is France’s equivalent of the Dardennes brother’s The Unknown Girl  that polarised critics in this year’s festival, and a rather better British equivalent of this year’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake. Although not well-known outside France, Vincent Lindon has over 67 films under his belt and once dated Caroline de Monaco. He gets down and dirty here with that well-known elephant in the room: unemployment after 50.

In a sustained and sombre character piece, Lindon carries the film as Thierry Tagourdeau, a man in his early fifites struggling to make ends meet with his wife and disabled son, after being controversially sacked from a blue-collar job. Cleary there are legal ramifications here but Thierry sensibly has decided not to pursue an emotionally draining legal fight for compenation – and we can all feel his pain and empathise from the get go. Being unemployed as a student is one thing, but when there is a mortgage to pay and a social lifestyle to maintain, it is probably the most demoralising aspect of getting older. An emotionally charged opening scene is cleverly-balanced with rather a ridiculous one where Thierry and his wife are learning to dance. Whether this was supposed to leaven proceedings is unclear, but it has an almost derisory quality to it. Laudably, Thierry he knuckles down to his job search, including an embarassing ‘skype’ interview, every nerve and sinew is focused on self-improvement and self-justification – whilst a growing sense of dread and anger quietly takes hold.

Those who can’t appreciate Thierry’s predicament should count themselves lucky. Suffice to say Lindon gives the role his best shot; aided and abetted by his supportive wife as they trying to sell a second rate mobile home and deal with their son’s education issues. In one particular scene, where Thierry is undergoing a character assassination by fellow job-seekers during a presentation skills session, Lindon’s expression gradually wilts from calm acceptance of criticism to a sort of vacant hopelessness: so subtle is this facial transformation that it’s almost imperceptible: but nevertheless it’s one of the joys of this otherwise quite dour social drama. When Thierry does find work in supermarket security, a further twist presents him with a moral dilemma that finally breaks the camel’s back. As his perseverance finally lets him down, Thierry makes a hot-tempered decision that may have a negative impact on his family. Brize leaves us with the question: is it right to do something we are morally apposed to, for the sake of our family’s welfare?

This is perhaps not the stuff for a cheery night out, but as social realism goes, it’s well-crafted and bang on the button performance-wise with Lyndon giving it all he’s got in a role that feels real. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 JUNE 2016 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL Winner Best Actor 2015

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

The Sweeney: Paris | Antigang (2015)

Dir.: Benjamin Rocher; Cast: Jean Reno, Caterina Murino, Thierry Neuvic

92 min | Action Drama | France 2015, 92 min.

Not even Jean Reno can save Antigang – a straight remake of the The Sweeney, a British film made in 2012, starring Ray Winstone – which was itself based on the popular ITV Series of the same name from 70s. Benjamin Rocher (Goal of the Dead) fails to come up with a semi-macho plot on his own so his ‘scriptwriters’ dived deep enough into the bargain basement of violent back titles to give him an excuse to show off this brainless joyride. Led by Reno as Serge Buren, this gang of Parisian cops enjoy violence at least as much as their law-breaking counterparts. Widescreen images by DoP Jean-François Hensgens are the staple feed of commercials and when you think it can’t get worse – one of Buren’s side kicks, whose partner is expecting a child, is asked what he will call the baby: “Serge, it’s a nice name for a girl too”. Yup – let’s hear it for the boys! AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Marguerite (2015) | Competition | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Xavier Giannoli

Cast: Catherine Frot, Andre Marcon, Denis Mpunga

France, Czech Republic, Belgium 2015, 127 min.

Xavier Giannoli’s  portrait of the Roaring Twenties in Paris is neither a satire nor a celebration of the artistic life of the era; best described as a study of lonliness and self-delusion – even Catherine Frot’s stirring performance as the eponymous chanteuse cannot save this ill-advised and overlong drama from descending into tedium.

Frot, who has seen much better days in films like La Tourneuse de Pages, has to sing her heart out to keep the film alive. Her character is obviously a terrible singer, paying her way on the concert platform with her own enormous wealth. Her unsupportive husband George (Marcon) usually arrives too late at her concerts – his sports car always ‘giving up the ghost’ at the same spot – a running gag used too often. But then, repetition is the main curse of MARGUERITE: her black valet Madelbos (Mpunga) tries again and again to con her audience and journalists with bribes to attend these embarrassing soirees, the singer flirts with younger men, and the flower arrangements to mark the ‘greatness’ of her performances grow to monstrous proportions. Instead of emotion, we get pantomime; instead of characters we have caricatures and, worst of all, every move is telegraphed.

The opulent production design makes one one wonder how costs could have been spent more wisely and the dreadfully contrived ending sends everyone rushing home before the final credits have rolled – just to escape this unspeakably noisy, over-bearing and unimaginative caricature of a film where the only laughs are involuntary, directed at the majority of unfortunate collaborators. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 September 2015

 

The Beat that My Heart Skipped | Blu-ray release

Director: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Romain Duris, Aure Atika, Emmanuelle Devos, Niels Arestrup | 108min |French

In THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED Jacques Audiard ((Rust and Bone) turns the story of James Toback’s 1978 Fingers into a profound and gritty study of alienation and redemption experienced by Tom (Romain Duris) a petty Parisian crook who is caught up in a web of dodgy property deals, inherited from his father (a masterful Niels Arestrup). Essentially a decent bloke, Tom is desperate to get on the straight and narrow so he can focus on his real dream; that of becoming a concert pianist. Romain Duris is superbly watchable here as Tom, balancing the two sides of his life with tangible nervousness in a drama as taut as the strings of his treasured piano. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 14 March 2016 COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICAL EYE

 

The Last Diamond (2014) | Le Dernier Diamant

Writer & Director: Eric Barbier

Cast: Yvan Attal, Berenice Bejo

108min. Drama. France l Luxembourg

Place Vendôme (1998) was the last memorable Antwerp-set diamond-themed heist thriller – it starred Catherine Deneuve as the wife of a wealthy dealer, played by Jean Pierre Bacri. Eric Barbier updates the genre with this slick and shiny vehicle starring Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as another glamorous business woman; in control of the world’s most famous diamond.

THE LAST DIAMOND (Le Dernier Diamant), has been hiding its light from UK audiences since its release last year and is now making a sparkling appearance courtesy of Frank Mannion’s distribution company Swipe Films. Yvan Attal (The Serpent) and Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), make for a pleasing pairing in the classically crafted crime caper which provides solid entertainment right up to its final dénouement and is best described as a Gallic Thomas Crown Affair.

While on parole from prison, suave professional safecracker, Simon (Attal) gets dragged into a spot of extracurricular crime with his sidekick Albert (Jean-Francois Stevenin). His goal is the theft of the famous Florentine diamond – purported to be worth €40 million (the real gem disappeared during the Second World War) – he uses his sophisticated charms gain the trust of the wealthy young heiress Julia (Bejo), who has put the diamond up for auction, following  the mysterious death of her mother.

Barbier’s first two acts revolve around well-laid preparations for the heist, as the lead couple’s on screen chemistry builds to a sizzling climax, convincingly creating a subtley nuanced romantic sideshow to the crime caper, as Julia falls for Simon’s cunning dexterity in finding his way first into her boudoir and then into her heart. Meanwhile, the robbery takes place just as Julia is discovering Simon’s duplicity while the plotline twists into unexpected territory providing some tense final scenes. There’s nothing particularly new or daring about THE LAST DIAMOND: what ultimately carries it all along is the piquant romance between Julia and Simon, who, against his better judgement, steadily finds himself involved in a love affair he didn’t quite bargain for. Attal is spectacular as the sociopathic swindler, blending boyish vulnerability with bouts of brutal violence, his cigarette ‘schtick’ adding a certain loucheness to his urbane swagger – Attal is somewhat maligned as an actor despite his excellent chops; (as seen in Leaving, Rapt and Regrets and The Serpent)  and he carries the film here providing sterling entertainment but never over-playing his touch, even when things go awry. Off-screen he’s also captured the heart of Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Cinematographer Denis Rouden’s classy visuals take us on a joyride through the Benelux countries with a sophisticated spin round Antwerp’s upmarket diamond district, thrumming to Renaud Barbier’s upbeat original score. This is a punchy thriller with plenty of heart and soul despite the glib twinkle in its eye. MT

OUT ON RELEASE at SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 29 January 2016.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Blu-ray | DVD release

UnknownDir: Alain Resnais

Cast: Emmanuele Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud, Bernhard Fresson

France/Japan 1959, 90 min.

HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR is widely considered the first ‘true’ film of the French Nouvelle Vague, Yet Alain Resnais’ romantic drama is in many ways very different from Godard’s Au Bout de Souffle (1960) – Resnais’ debut is much closer to Andre Bazin’s description of an ‘impure film’, compared with those of his collaborator’s of the movement: Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer or Truffaut.

For a start Resnais’ approach was more radical, and he moved much further away from the classical film structure than the other directors in French New Wave movement. According to his script collaborator Marguerite Duras :“he asked me to write literature, forget the camera. His idea was to film my script like a composer treating a piece of writing – like Debussy did with Materlincks ‘Pelleas et Melisande’ ”.

The only requirement from the Japanese co-producers was that one episode of the film be set in Japan and the other in France. Françoise Sagan was approached to write the script but she showed no interest. Duras and Resnais agreed that no contemporary film about Japan could be made without mentioning Hiroshima. Since the Japanese film “The Children of Hiroshima” had said everything what was to be said about the horror of the first nuclear bomb, Duras tried a very a different approach: Her script was more or less a permanent dialogue, or better, two monologues, which only rarely become a true dialogue.

A French actress (Riva) and a Japanese architect (Okada) meet in Hiroshima and spend a night together in her hotel room. They make love and he tries to keep in vain her for a few days longer in the city, but they are both married and their relationship has no future. During the night, she remembers her first love: a German soldier (Fresson), whom she loved in her hometown of Nevers, and who was shot on the day of the city’s liberation. As a punishment, her hair was cut by enraged citizens and her parents (Dasas/Barbaud) hid her in the cellar. Basically, their meeting in Hiroshima is a discourse about time and forgetting: She has forgotten Nevers, as she will Hiroshima and this love of her: “Je t’oublierai, je t’oublie deja! (I will forget you, I’ve already forgotten you”) she tells her lover.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour is not a film about a war, or about love. It is a film about the actor’s two lovers: both of the relationships are defeated (in different ways) by war. War only intervenes in short scenes, but it dominates the life of the actress; it has formed her, like her two lovers. The most important aspect of the film, is not its moving images but the photographed emotions. This way, the scenes in Nevers are not ordinary flash-backs, but moments of a memory which is short: as shown in the parallel montage of the hands of the German soldier: first when they are in bed, than after he has been shot. But immediately we flash back to the hotel room in Hiroshima. Sometimes to the two levels meet: after the camera travels through the streets of Hiroshima, we are suddenly confronted with a street sign in Nevers. This is not about the two cities, but the actor’s struggle to remember and forget. Resnais’ next two films Last Year in Marienbad and Muriel, Hiroshima is a thesis on time and forgetting, exploring the function of memory very much like Marcel Proust did with In Search of Lost Time.

Riva and Okada are impressive, their understated ‘non-acting’ perfectly cohesive with the “gliding” black and white images of Saché Vierny and Michio Takahashi; and Georges Delerue’s mourning score: whilst other directors of the Nouvelle Vague wanted to liberate film from theatre and literature, Resnais wanted to create film as a medium that encompassed other art forms. AS

WINNER OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ PRIZE CANNES 1959 | RELEASED ON BLU-RAY FOR THE FIRST TIME ON JANUARY 18TH, 2016

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Blu-ray tech specs: Cert: / Total Running Time: 90 mins approx / Black and white / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1:37:1 / Feature Audio: 2.0 Mono DTS HD Mater Audio / HD Standard 1080p / Region B / French language / RRP: £

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

LE MÉPRIS (1963) | blu-ray release

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Georgia Moll, Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard;

France/Italy 1963, 103 min.

For JL Godard LE MÉPRIS was just ”a film without mystery, an Aristotelian film, freed from appearances [it] proves in 149 shots, that in the cinema, just as in real life, there is nothing secret…there is nothing to do but live – and film”. His producers, among them Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine, must have been quiet shocked by the austere outcome; they insisted on an additional scene, showing the physical beauty of its star, Brigitte Bardot, only to be outmanoeuvred by the director.

Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel “Il Disprezzo’ (The Ghost at Noon), this film about filmmaking starts with the basics: a dolly on rails follows Georgia Moll’s Francesca Vanini who walks towards the camera, whilst the opening credits are not only shown, but also read out loud. A Bazin quote reminds us, that “film substitutes a world that conforms our desires”. “The follow-up scene of Bardot’s Camille, laying naked on her stomach, and her husband Paul (Piccoli), was supposed to entice a mass audience and was shot after the film was finished. But Godard simply subverted the call for any form of eroticism, letting Camille ask Paul which parts of her anatomy he loves the most – the obvious answer is everything – whilst she lies unmoved and statuesque during the long enumeration. Strangely, these are the only happy moments Camille and Paul will have during the whole film. When Paul, a scriptwriter, later meets the American producer Prokosh (Palance) in Rome’s Cinecitta, Camille feels that her husband is pimping her out to the arrogant, misogynist and dictatorial producer who exclaims: “I like Gods, I know exactly how they feel”. In addition, he is treating his well-educated assistant and translator Francesca Vanini (Moll) like a slave girl.

Whilst sitting in a preview theatre with Fritz Lang – as himself, the director of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, the film being produced, Paul and Camille witness a terrible strop by Prokosh, who, unhappy about the rushes shot by Lang, kicks the film rolls around the room and then has Vanini bent over, to write a check for Paul on her back changing the script into a more populist version. Shouting “When the Nazis heard the word culture, they drew a revolver; I am only writing a check”, Prokosh gives Paul the check: the 10 000 Dollar are supposed to pay the mortgage for Camille’s and Paul’s flat in Rome. When Paul accepts the check, however reluctant, he loses his wife.

In a breath-taking 34 minute sequence in the couple’s flat, Godard follows the unravelling of their relationship with tracking shots which show the growing distance between the couple. These finally unravels in one frame in two different rooms, divided by a wall. Camille is slapped by Paul, she slaps back, he retreats, but it is too late: Camille shouts angrily: “When you were writing crime novels, we were broke, but that was fine with me”.

The flat, which was to cement their relationship, has become the albatross killing their love. Paul still believes he can save his marriage and seems to have learned nothing: when the film crew moves on to Capri, Paul again leaves Camille, against her will, alone with Prokosh, who obviously fancies her. This time Camille retaliates: she kisses the producer in full sight of Paul. Then she packs her bags to leave for Rome, whilst Paul terminates his contract with Prokosh. To humiliate Paul even further, Camille lets Prokosh, whom she despises, drive her to Rome. Their journey ends in a fatal crash, which is not shown, Godard making fun of mainstream movies, just showing the dead bodies in grotesque positions, with the last words of Camille’s good-bye letter to Paul superimposed: “Take Care. Adieu. Camille”.

LE MÉPRIS ends with serene filmmaking in Capri, where Godard acts as Lang’s assistant in shooting the scene when Odysseus returns to Ithaca. As Godard pointed out “the film is shot entirely in real locations, both exteriors and interiors, honest and authentic”. One of them is the gorgeous villa of the Italian author Curzio Malaparte on Capri, designed by Alberto Libera, it sits like a space ship in the sun.In the panorama shots, the film crew with their equipment look like aliens at work.  Movie posters of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life among others, decorate Paul and Camille’s flat; but the main honour goes to Roberto Rossellini: Apart from the poster of his 1961 film Vanina Vanini (sic!), the group visits a cinema to hear a performance of a singer. We notice that Paul and Camille are sitting on the edge of their respective aisles, and after they all leave the cinema, we see Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia advertised in big letters on the cinema front.

Raoul Coutard’s scope camera produces three different sets of colours: in the opening sequence of the couple in bed, soft, warm colours dominate. Then everything changes to cold, icy mages. Lang’s film takes, which he shoots as an actor, are dominated by classic colours, appropriate to the content of the film. Godard employed no less than five future directors for the project: Suzanne Schiffman (Script Supervisor), Charles L. Bitsch (Assistant director), Bertrand Tavernier (Publicity), Luc Moulett, whose book on Fritz Lang Camille reads in the bath and Jacques Rozier, who shot a documentary about the making of LE MÉPRIS.

But there is also a very personal moment in Godard’s LE MÉPRIS: Camille buys herself a black wig making her look just like Anna Karina (Godard’s first choice to play Camille) two years later as Natacha von Braun in the car with Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution at the end of Alphaville: only then it was the begin of a love story, this is the end. George Delerue’s mourning main tune, which accompanies not only this scene, is the haunting voice in this story of money versus art, which ends in the loss of love. The film is proof that even though Godard frequently ended in a cul-de-sac whilst he re-invented film, he is still one of the most important directors of the second half of the 20th century. AS

SCREENING ON LONG RELEASE AT BFI | JEAN LUC GODARD RETROSPECTIVE 2016 JANUARY – MARCH

Jean Luc Godard Season | BFi January – March 2016

A major season dedicated to one of the godfather’s of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, is coming up at the BFI from January – March 2016. The season will feature over 100 examples of his vast and varied output, including feature films, short films, self-portraits, experimental TV productions and a number of rarities.

So expect an extended run of LE MÉPRIS from 1 January – introduced by his former wife Anna Karina on 16th January. She will also be there to chat to audiences about her role in VIVRE SA VIE (1962) and BANDE À PART (1964), both on extended run at the Southbank main screen.

LE MÉPRIS | Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Georgia Moll, Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard | France/Italy 1963, 103 min.

image002 copyFor JL Godard LE MÉPRIS was just ”a film without mystery, an Aristotelian film, freed from appearances [it] proves, in 149 shots, that in the cinema, just as in real life, there is nothing secret…there is nothing to do but live – and film”. His producers, among them Carlo Ponti and Joseph E. Levine, must have been quiet shocked by the austere outcome, they insisted on an additional scene, showing the physical beauty of its star, Brigitte Bardot, only to be outmanoeuvred by the director.

Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel “Il Disprezzo’ (The Ghost at Noon), this film about filmmaking starts with the basics: a dolly on rails follows Georgia Moll’s Francesca Vanini who walks towards the camera, whilst the opening credits are not only shown, but also read out loud. A Bazin quote reminds us, that “film substitutes a world that conforms our desires”. “The follow-up scene of Bardot’s Camille, laying naked on her belly, and her husband Paul (Piccoli), was supposed to entice a mass audience and was shot after the film was finished. But Godard simply subverted the call for any form of eroticism, letting Camille ask Paul which parts of her anatomy he loves the most – the obvious answer is everything – whilst she lies unmoved and statuesque during the long enumeration. Strangely, these are the only happy moments Camille and Paul will have during the whole film. When Paul, a scriptwriter, later meets the American producer Prokosh (Palance) in Rome’s Cinecitta, Camille feels that her husband is pimping her out to the arrogant, misogynist and dictatorial producer who exclaims: “I like Gods, I know exactly how they feel”. In addition, he is treating his well-educated assistant and translator Francesca Vanini (Moll) like a slave girl.

Mepris-Le-bfi-00m-f1yWhilst sitting in a preview theatre with Fritz Lang – as himself, the director of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, the film being produced, Paul and Camille witness a terrible strop by Prokosh, who, unhappy about the rushes shot by Lang, kicks the film rolls around the room and then has Vanini bent over, to write a check for Paul on her back changing the script into a more populist version. Shouting “When the Nazis heard the word culture, they drew a revolver; I am only writing a check”, Prokosh gives Paul the check: the 10 000 Dollar are supposed to pay the mortgage for Camille’s and Paul’s flat in Rome. When Paul accepts the check, however reluctant, he looses his wife.

In a breath-taking 34 minute sequence in the couple’s flat, Godard follows the unravelling of their relationship with tracking shots which show the growing distance between the couple. These finally unravels in one frame in two different rooms, divided by a wall. Camille is slapped by Paul, she slaps back, he retreats, but it is too late: Camille shouts angrily: “When you were writing crime novels, we were broke, but that was fine with me”.

The flat, which was to cement their relationship, has become the albatross killing their love. Paul still believes he can save his marriage and seems to have learned nothing: when the film crew moves on to Capri, Paul again leaves Camille, against her will, alone with Prokosh, who obviously fancies her. This time Camille retaliates: she kisses the producer in full sight of Paul. Then she packs her bags to leave for Rome, whilst Paul terminates his contract with Prokosh. To humiliate Paul even further, Camille lets Prokosh, whom she despises, drive her to Rome. Their journey ends in a fatal crash, which is not shown, Godard making fun of mainstream movies, just showing the dead bodies in grotesque positions, with the last words of Camille’s good-bye letter to Paul superimposed: “Take Care. Adieu. Camille”.

LE MÉPRIS ends with serene filmmaking in Capri, where Godard acts as Lang’s assistant in shooting the scene when Odysseus returns to Ithaca. As Godard pointed out “the film is shot entirely in real locations, both exteriors and interiors, honest and authentic”. One of them is the gorgeous villa of the Italian author Curzio Malaparte on Capri, designed by Alberto Libera: it lays like a space ship in the sun, in the panorama shots, the film crew with their equipment look like aliens at work. Movie posters of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life among others, decorate Paul and Camille’s flat; but the main honour goes to Roberto Rossellini: Apart from the poster of his 1961 film Vanina Vanini (sic!), the group visits a cinema to hear a performance of a singer. We notice that Paul and Camille are sitting on the edge of their respective aisles, and after they all leave the cinema, we see Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia advertised in big letters on the cinema front.

Mepris-Le-webOfficialStill.jpg_rgbRaoul Coutard’s scope camera produces three different sets of colours: in the opening sequence of the couple in bed, soft, warm colours dominate. Then everything changes to cold, icy mages. Lang’s film takes, which he shoots as an actor, are dominated by classic colours, appropriate to the content of the film. Godard employed no less than five future directors for the project: Suzanne Schiffman (Script Supervisor), Charles L. Bitsch (Assistant director), Bertrand Tavernier (Publicity), Luc Moulett, whose book on Fritz Lang Camille reads in the bath and Jacques Rozier, who shot a documentary about the making of LE MÉPRIS.

But there is also a very personal moment in Godard’s LE MÉPRIS: Camille buys herself a black wig making her look just like Anna Karina (Godard’s first choice to play Camille) two years later as Natacha von Braun in the car with Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution at the end of Alphaville: only then it was the begin of a love story, this is the end. George Delerue’s mourning main tune, which accompanies not only this scene, is the haunting voice in this story of money versus art, which ends in the loss of love.
Le Mepris is prove, that Jean-Luc Godard, even though he ended sometimes in a cul-de-sac whilst re-inventing the cinema, is still the most important director of the second half of the 20th century. AS

BANDE À PART Cast: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Louisa Colpeyn | 95 min | Drama | France

Bande_a_Part_bfi-00m-d5zBANDE À PART, shot in 25 days and based on the pulp novel “Fool’s Gold” by Dolores Hitchins, was project that Godard embarked on to support his marriage with Anna Karina. The pair hadn’t worked together since Vivre sa vie. Godard called his production company “Anouchka”, his pet name for Karina, and he gave the character she played Odile, after his late mother.

At an English language school in Paris, two petty swindlers, Franz (Frey) and Arthur (Brasseur) fall in love with Odile (Karina). Arthur lives with the enigmatic Madame Victoria (Colpeyn) in the suburbs, where a mostly absent Mr. Stolz has a huge amount of cash hidden in his cupboard. Franz and Arthur want nothing more than to bed with Odile – apart from stealing the money. Their clumsy plan backfires, they kill Madame Victoria, and while Franz and Odile escape to South America to start a new life, Arthur and his uncle kill each other in Madame Victoria’s garden before the money, now hidden in a dog’s kennel, is stolen by surprise.

Godard had run out of producers and had asked Columbia, Paramount and UA to give him 100.000 $ to make a picture. All questioned the high figure Godard was asking for and when he explained that this was for the whole production, only Columbia agreed to take him up on the project. Godard gave them a choice of three topics: the first about a woman leftie, the second about a writer and the final topic about the Hitchins crime novel: they obviously picked the latter. With such a small budget,, the studio did not even bother about a script.

The director’s poetic voice-over re-tells the story from the emotional point of view of the three main protagonists, in a narrative full of quotations, references and in-jokes. But instead of being all-knowing, the voice-over soon loses the plot – the characters are coming into their own. It gives the impression that Godard was filming in perpetual motion. Everything and everybody moves in silence: in a scene at the ‘Café Madison’, there is no sound for a minute, followed by the now famous dance scene of the trio, a polonaise copied by many, amongst them Hal Hartley and Quentin Tarantino. The film is symbolised by the three of them racing through the Louvre. The images are rush by: money, pistols, death, Odile’s stockings as masks, Shakespeare and always the leafless trees, set against a dark November sky. Raoul Coutard’s images literally shot on the run, like he had done during the Indochina war.

CHARLOTTE_ET_VýýRONIQUE_OU_TOUS_LES_GARýýONS_S'APPELLENT_PATRICK_bfi-00m-f6hAgain, Godard was in opposition to everything – even though the film turned out to be very much a neo-classical in style: “This movie was made as a reaction against anything that wasn’t done. It was almost pathological and systematic. A wide-angle lens is not normally used for close-ups? Then let’s use it. A handheld camera isn’t normally used for tracking shots? Then let’s try it. It went along with my desire to show that nothing was off limits.” For once, film and reality coincided: during the shooting, Karina and Godard got back together again, moving into a new apartment in the Latin Quarter, Karina admitting “It’s true: the film saved my life. I had no more desire to live. I was doing very, very badly. This film saved my life”.

Watching Bande À Part the for the first time in 1965, as first year students – we all admired the sequences when the actors read colportage stories from newspapers – we thought that it was vey cool. According to Raoul Coutard “there was no real script. Jean-Luc would show up with whatever he had written for the day. We’ve end up filming that. If he hadn’t written anything, we would not have filmed anything.” The newspaper stories, as it turned out, were just paddings, when the master had not written enough…. AS

VIVRE SA VIE | Cast: Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, Andre S. Labarthe, Brice Parain; France 1962, 85 min. *****

Vivre_sa_Vie_bfi-00o-114VIVRE SA VIE marked a decisive step in the development of film aesthetics – born out of the emotional turmoil between Jean Luc Godard and the leading star, Anna Karina, whose marriage had been very much on the rocks when the cameras started to roll in February 1962 in Paris.

Karina was ten years younger than Godard. She had met the actor Jacques Perrin whilst filming Le Soleil dans l’Oeil on Corsica in September 1961, while celebrating her 21st birthday. During the shooting, Karina decided to leave her husband for Perrin: “I admire Jean-Luc very much. But he’s of another generation. Whereas Jacques is my double”.

On the night of November 21st, Godard destroyed all their belongings in the flat they shared and walked out. Karina, who reportedly had taken barbiturates, was taken to hospital. Godard and Perrin met for a duel with dice, then settled for poker, but when journalists crowded their table, nothing was decided. Whilst the papers reported over the Christmas period that Karina would marry Perrin, Godard and Karina had reconciled by January 1962 and Godard announced he would direct her in Vivre Sa Vie – without a fee – as they were living together.

Godard was a great admirer of Berthold Brecht (Cahiers had run a special edition dedicated to him), and Vivre Sa Vie was to be a tableau of 13 chapters, with the master of ceremony introducing every one. Godard, obviously having Brecht’s ‘Three Penny Opera’ in mind” wanted “to shoot only on location, but without making a film of reportage”. But the director abandoned not only the master of ceremony idea (replaced by inserts about the chapter contents), but also changed the ending: instead of a sardonic ending – Nana becoming a rich luxury prostitute -, she is killed at the end of chapter 12, now the last one. Needless to say, that Karina was furious and the shoot was stopped for a few days.

Alphaville_bfi-00m-culNana (easily deciphered as an anagram of Anna) leaves her husband Paul (Labarthe) and child with the words: “I want to die”. She has dreamt for a long time of becoming a film star, and tells everyone that she has acted in a film with Eddie Constantine. (Karina, Godard and Constantine acted un-credited in Varda’s Cleo). She shouts at Paul: “If we get back together, I will betray you again.” Nana, who works in a record shop, is always broke, she can’t pay her rent and is humiliated by the concierge and her assistant. She slips into prostitution, first as an amateur, then, after meeting the pimp Raoul (Rebbot), as a professional. Her lonely and dreary existence is heart-breaking; waiting in street for a customer in Port Mailliot she is standing under the company sign: Hans-Lucas (Jean-Luc in translation). After meeting a young artist, she falls in love and wants to start a new life, but she is literally sold by Raoul to another pimp in a street.

Raoul Coutard’s triste black and white images achieve, in long takes, what Godard had in mind: “I was thinking – like a painter in a way, confronting my characters head-on – as in the paintings of Matisse or Braque”. Godard seems to circle his environment, like a researcher, but he always returns to Karina: from the back, the front, the side and even in parts. She is his universe, but he can’t decipher her. Still, striving to understand her seems to make him happy. In an experiment in language, Nana is trying to intonate a sentence in different ways; Godard shows, that there is no absolute truth in our words, and he always returns to her vulnerable face with the Louise Brooks haircut.

VIVRE SA VIE won the Special Jury Price and the Critic’s Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1962. AS 

SCREENING DURING THE GODARD SEASON AT THE BFI FROM JANUARY – MARCH 2016

Gaumont | The Birthplace of French Film | UK French Film Festival 2015

Nostalghia_Artificial_Eye_2This Autumn’s UK French Film Festival (nationwide until 13th December) brings into focus the powerhouse of French Cinema GAUMONT. Originally founded to produce articles for the photographic industry, Gaumont started making short films in 1897. As Leon Gaumont’s secretary, Alice Guy-Blache became the first female film director with her debut La Fée aux Choux in 1896, perhaps the first narrative film in the history of cinema.

Later she became the head of the Gaumont Film’s production company from 1896-1906, with the studios at La Villette in Paris 19th arondissement, at the time the largest studio in Europe. After Alice Guy-Blache went to Hollywood with her husband, Louis Feulliade became head of production at Gaumont. The company branched out to Britain, acquiring a cinema chain under the name Gaumont British, also producing early Hitchcock films, among them The Thirty Nine Steps (1935).

In 1937 film production stopped, due to Hollywood’s products swamping the French market. The production arm of the company was bought up in the same year by Havas, and renamed Société Nouvelle des Éstablissements Gaumont. Huge losses were made again between 1943 and 1947, but with the birth of Nouvelle Vague, the fortunes of the company changed again. Gaumont distributed one of the fore-runners of the Nouvelle Vague features, Robert Bresson’s Un Condamné à mort s’est echappé(1956). Later Gaumont would acquire the rights to the first two Chabrol films, Le Beau Serge (1958) and Les Cousins (1959). Rohmer (The Marquise of O), Godard’s (Histoire(s) du Cinéma) and Truffaut’s La Femme d’à Côté) were also in the Gaumont catalogue, together with Tarkovsky’s Nostalgie, Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and Fassbinder’s Querelle during its golden era

In celebration of this tribute, let’s have a look at some of Gaumont cult classic successes:

99742L’ASSASSIN HABITE AU 21  | THE MURDERER LIVES AT 21 

Dir.: Henry-George Clouzot; Cast: Pierre Fresnay, Suzy Delair; France 1942, 83 min.

Made during Gaumont’s loss-making period, this Noirish comedy thriller was a success with French audiences. Inspector Wencslas Vorobechnik (Fresnay) – Wens for short – is hunting a serial killer, Mr. Durand, who leaves a calling crad after his seemingly unconnected murders. Together with his girl friend Mila Milou (Delair), an aspiring actress, he chases the murderer down to a boarding house, were the number of suspects is large – everybody seems to have something to hide. After arresting the wrong person, Wens finally solves the case with the help of Mila.

Whilst Clouzot’s first film as a director might be classified as a text-book ‘who-done-it’ in the Agatha Christie mould, there are many typical moments of Clouzot’s misanthropic nature: whilst the hunt for the murderer is going on, the chief of police phones his assistant, and threatens him with the sack, if success is not imminent. The man’s reaction is to pick up the phone and threatens his underling with unemployment – and so on, until poor Wens, the last in the long row, gets his phone call. In another scene, Clouzot cleverly arranges the sequence involving a policeman lighting his cigarette, giving the effect of the prisoner inadvertently giving the ‘Hitler greeting’ with his arm. Clouzot’s humour is very black throughout here, showing early signs of his love for sadism.

img_3LE SILENCE DE LA MER | THE SILENCE OF THE SEA

Dir.: Jean-Pierre Melville; Cast: Howard Vernon, Nicole Stephane, Jean-Marie Robain; France 1949, 88 min.

Melville’s first film as a director, shot immediately after his release from the Resistance, is based on the novel by Jean Bruller, this being the first of three Melville films about the Resistance, followed by Leon, Morin, Prêtre and L’Armée des Ombres. LE SILENCE is a ‘chamber-piece’, set in the house which an unnamed Frenchman (Robain) and his niece (Stephane are forced to co-habit with a German officer, Von Ebbrenac (Vernon). The German officer, even though polite and obviously cultured, is cold-shouldered by the two French who treat him with an icy silence –after all, he is occupying their house as a member of the German army. The voice over cleverly echoes their feelings, known to the audience, whilst the German tries hard to break through to them with mounting pressure. LE SILENCE is a cold film, Henri Decae’s camera showing the trio like fish swimming round an aquarium: the b/w images create a claustrophobic prison for Von Ebbrenac, only duty on the Eastern Front can release him. A relentless, obsessive masterpiece.

The Big Blue picture4-hi-resLE GRAND BLEU

Dir.: Luc Besson; Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jean Marc Barr, Jean Reno; France 1988, 168 min.

Besson wanted to break free of the excessive intellectualising in French cinema. LE GRAND BLEU was his escape bid – focusing on the visual quality of cinema, it showcased the advent of his ‘Cinema du Look’ approach. It explores the rivalry that overshadows the longtime frienship of two divers. Jacques Mayol (Barr) falls in love with the insurance broker Johana (Arquette), who follows him and Enzo Maiorca (Reno) to all their competitions. Co-written by Mayol (whose real life rivalry with Maiorca was actual, even though both survived), the story is told in vibrantly romantic images, the Sea being much more attractive than the Earth. But despite its magnificent visuals, LE GRAND BLEU is still only a variation on the ’Buddy-Movie’, where men’s friendship supercedes their relationships with women; the sea representing the emotional element. Ironically the film was the favourite Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic. AS

THE UK FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL CONTINUES NATIONWIDE UNTIL 13 DECEMBER 2015

 

Un Homme Idéal | A Perfect Man (2015)

Director: Yann Gozlan

Cast: Pierre Niney, Ana Girardot, André Marcon, Valéria Cavalli, Marc Barbé

104min | French | Thriller

with the feel of Hitchcock and Chabrol (remember that scene in Le Boucher when blood drips through the celling?). Yann Goslan’s terrically tense thriller is a delicious treat sumptuously set in the summer heat of a villa in Var. It stars Pierre Niney as a struggling writer, driven to extremes by his desire to produce a decent novel., or at least any novel at all.

Mathieu Vasseur (Niney) first manuscript, The Man From Behind, has been rejected by publishers. Working parttime as a cleaner in the local College near his Parisian bedsit, Vasseur stumbles into a lecture being given by a young woman, Alice (Ana Girardot), on the topic of scent and memory. When he’s hired to clear out the home of a dead man who has no living relatives, Vasseur finds a leather bound tome recounting the man’s experiences in the Algerian war. Vasseur has the brainwave to pass this off as his own work, and before he can say Highsmith, he’s written his perfect ‘debut’ novel.  Soon he’s mixing in the same circles as Alice and when the pair become engaged, they head off to her parent’s gorgeous Villa near Dijon, armed with an advance to work on his second novel.

But Vasseur is somewhat of a slacker And his publisher is breathing down his neck for a few sentences. Meanwhile a friend of the original author also gets in touch and not just for a chat over a cafe creme – he also means business and tries to blackmail Vasseur.  then One of Alice’s exes, Stanislas (Thibault Vincon), arrives at the villa and senses the  the edgy tension in Vasseur.

Niney is perfect as the highly-strung, feline Vasseur, in this follow-up to his role as Yves Saint Laurent. With his sensitive masculinity he makes Vasseur a compelling character both sensual and vulnerable and his chemistry with Ana Girardot is perfectly believable. Vasseur’s nerves of steel make him similar to the famed Mr. Ripley character of Patricia Highsmith, novel.  Gozlan’s crafts a portrait of an intellectual con man who allows his desperation for success to go against his better judgement. Sadly the background of the Algerian war is hardly mentioned and could have provided a rich counterpoint to the narrative that descends into blackmail and eventually murder and a really tragic denouement.

Still, the absolutely brilliant noirish score by Cyrille Aufort (A Royal Affair) and Antoine Roch’s gorgeous cinematography make this a gripping and watchable thriller  for a Saturday night at the movies – or any other night of this week for that matter. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 NOVEMBER 2015 COURTESY OF STUDIO CANAL

 

Zarafa (2014)

Directors: Remi Besançon, Jean-Christophe Lie

Script: Remi Besancon, Alexander Abela

Cast: Max Renaudin, Simon Abkarian, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Vernon Dobtcheff, Roger Dumas, Ronit Elkabetz, Deborah Francois, Thierry Fremont

Fr/Bel | 73mins | 2012 Animation

A finely wrought French animation based on the extraordinary true story of a Giraffe gifted to French royalty… although a certain dramatic licence has been taken with the ‘how it all went down’.

Told as a story within a story by grandfather sitting under the baobab tree relating it to his grandchildren, animation is absolutely the best way to put this wonderful yarn across; combining as it does the fantastical with comedy and the much darker human history of slave trade. Lawrence of Arabia meets Jules Verne meets Free Willy. Indeed, some of the more far-fetched elements of the story are infact true, as can be read in the interview with Remi. Besançon was originally sold the idea for Zarafa by his co-writer Abela, although, it being animation, it was another four years in the making once they found the finance. Indeed, Remi went off and made another live action film in the middle, while they waited for all the compositing to be completed.

Working on three levels, it’s a very well constructed and considered storyline that keeps the audience both rapt and entertained throughout its shrewd running time of 74 minutes. There’s an attention to detail and a gentle tempo, which enfolds the younger audience easily, rather in the fashion of the animations it was inspired by, coming out of that peerless Japanese powerhouse, Studio Ghibli, although it doesn’t quite hit the same level of accomplishment as the Spirited Away’s or the Princess Mononoke’s… but then, what does.

Zarafa tells the story of Maki, a young, orphaned Sudanese boy destined to be sold through the slave trade, who manages to escape his shackles. Whilst making his bid for freedom, Maki becomes the unlikely friend of a small herd of giraffe, also being hunted by Hassan, Prince of the Desert, a man intent on ensnaring a young giraffe to take to the Pasha. So the life of Maki and the young eponymous ‘Zarafa’ become irrevocably intertwined, as Maki endeavours to protect his charge and fulfil the promise he made to Zarafa’s mother.

Zarafa is really well-crafted, carefully thought-out and intelligent piece that has already demonstrated ardent support through festivals worldwide; speaking the universal language of animation and combining the exotic with just the right mix of tragedy, comedy, loopiness and larger-than-life characters to make it a winner. Tellingly, it also has enough to it that even the adults dragged along as unwilling chaperones might just find themselves enjoying it too. I predict huge DVD sales.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 OCTOBER 2015

 

P’tit Quinquin (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernhard Provost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Penvion, Lisa Hartmann, Cindy Lonquet;

200min  France 2014  Comedy Drama

Having left his sensationalist and violently misogynist early period (Humanite/Twenty-nine Palms) behind, Bruno Dumont, former lecturer of Greek and German philosophy, has set most of his work in the region near Calais, where he was born. Seen as the heir to Bresson, his topics always are discourses about death and the same can be said about P’tit Quinquin.

Apart from the format (a four part TV series, which can be watched as well in its totality) what is most surprising, is Dumont’s use of humour, however dark it sometimes becomes. Set in rural Picardy at his birthplace of Bailleul, P’tit Quinquin is seen through the eyes of the title hero, played with great vigour and enjoyment by Alane Delhage, a non-professional actor like the rest of the cast. The young adolescent is nearly always accompanied by his girlfriend Eve (Caron), the two playing a loving couple like the leads in a school play. On the opposite side is the other “pair”, Commandant Van der Weyden (Provost), a detective with a manic tic, and his side-kick, Lt. Carpentier (Jore), the former send to the small town and its surrounding villages to clear a murder. Unfortunately for hopeless policemen, the longer they stay, the more murders happen, until Van der Weyden has to confess that they are confronted by an evil serial killer.

The first victim, a Mme. Lebleu, whose corpse, cut into small parts, is found in the belly of a cow. Since cows are not carnivores, Carpentier deducts rightly, that the animal is suffering from mad cow disease. Soon the detectives discover that the dead woman had a lover, a certain M. Bhiri, whose is missing, and found murdered soon after. The main suspect, M. Lebleu, shares the same fate as his unfaithful wife, and Van der Weyden begins to see an apocalyptic picture developing. The next victim (this time a suicide) is a young Arab student, who fancies Eve’s older sister Aurelia (Hartmann), a local celebrity who aims to sing on TV. But the young man is driven to despair, when Aurelia’s friend Jennifer calls him “a monkey, who should go back to Africa”. Aurelia, covering up for her girl friend, is the next victim of the killer, and eaten by pigs. When the policemen find out that Quinquin’s father has kept it secret that the first murder victim was his brother’s wife, he becomes the prime suspect, before another unfaithful wife, Mme. Campin (Longuet) is found murdered at the beach…..

Dumont uncovers a society, where life is full of contradictions. Beneath seemingly benign normality – nothing is as it seems to be: the priest laughs during a funeral, the local band makes a mockery of Bastille Day, Carpentier is more interested in stunt driving with his police car than in solving the case, whilst his boss nearly falls of a horse and rambles on about the similarities of women, horses and paintings by Rubens. And meanwhile Quinquin throws firecrackers where ever he finds a target.

Needless to say, Dumont was not aiming for a “who-done-it”, but a tableau of human frailty. Guillaume Deffontaines, who photographed Dumont’s last film Camille Claudel 1915, uses widescreen successfully to integrate the landscape with the actors, achieving a pastoral idyll, betrayed by the viciousness and heartlessness of the protagonists. The first sequel is titled “La bête humaine”, easily the description of what is to follow. AS

| THE FOUR PARTS RUN AS A ENTIRE SCREENING OF 3. AS A TV MINI SERIES | NOW ON DVD

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

 

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 

Sicario (2015) | Cannes Film Festival 2015

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro

If it’s a pounding nihilistic macho thriller you’re looking for, Denis does the job here with this Michael Mann style Mexican-themed drug-busting ‘actioner’. Once again the Americans are down on the Mexicans, this time due to their high-level drugs operation which is feeding a ready market from wealthy US buyers on American soil.

Josh Brolin is well-cast as a swaggeringly confident US official Matt Graver, who will lead a raid against a Mexican cartel safe house on the Arizona border near to Phoenix. With him is with his catatonic side-kick Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who is still getting over the trauma of his wife’s brutal murder. Emily Blunt is the token female FBI Agent called in to add ‘intelligence’ to the operation. As Kate Macy, she appears to be highly skilled and professionally sure of herself but is soon cut down to size by Mr Graver’s snide banter that diminishes her sangfroid early on in THE proceedings during the raid which leads to an horrific discovery: Kate soon realises that she is involved in something way beyond her capabilities.

Blacked-out SUVs feature heavily in continuous convey scenes, as does a thundering doom-laden soundtrack from Johann Johannsson that adds menace to Villeneuve’s superb action sequences. Taylor Sheridan’s script performs well, delivering a straightforward Hollywood-style genre piece to add to the growing collection. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 OCTOBER 2015

Cruel (2015) | Cambridge Film Festival | 3 – 13 September 2015

Dir.: Eric Cherrière

Cast: Jean-Jacques Lelté, Magalie Moreau, Maurice Poli, Yves Alfonso, Olivia Kerverdo, Hans Meyer

France 2014, 108 min.

Do we really need another horror film about serial killing?: Too many sensational, violent and simply mediocre efforts have been flashed across the screen. But crime novelist Eric Cherrière’s debut CRUEL is different: not only has his film none of the attributes listed above, he has singlehandedly created a psychological portrait of a psychotic killer, which does not only throw light on the mental illness, but does this by allowing the audience to imagine, in images and words, how the process of killing can become a banal and rather ordinary activity for the murderer.

In Toulouse, Pierre Tardieu, is a casual worker of about forty. In the opening scenes he kidnaps the estate agent Sylvie Destruelle (Kerverdo), and incarcerates her in the cellar where his grandfather, ironically, used to hide Jews from the Gestapo. Pierre’s conversation with his victim is ordinary, he is not excited at all, in fact, his behaviour seems totally relaxed. He is detached (one of the symptoms of this form of schizophrenia), even when murdering his victim, commenting on his act of violence as if he were describing a banal household task. It becomes immediately clear that this is not Pierre’s first murder. Pierre roams like a lone wolf, experiencing life through a glass bubble: he is inside, looking out. Everything seems to dwarf him: the airplanes in the aircraft hangar which he has to clean, the huge conveyor belts in the quarry, where he is a nigh watchman. Pierre is absolutely rootless, the only emotional relationship he has is with father Gabriel (Poli), who is suffering from Alzheimers and cannot speak. Pierre, in a role-reversal, reads him ‘Treasure Island’ as a bedtime story.

After his random murders have reached double figures – Pierre has his own set of rules to ensure his killings stay undetected – he suddenly explodes with real rage, not only killing the intended victim, a groom, but all the members of the stag party. He later rationalises this as “giving the dumb police a helping hand” by leaving behind the cut up ID cards of all his victims. But the real reason for the slaughter is that Pierre “wants to amount to something”. He started the killing spree out of an inner emptiness. His main fixation is a last summer holiday with his parents in a Spanish village, where he dreamt of becoming a hero where he grew up  and “marry Mama, to become a father too”. Soon afterwards his mother was killed in a car accident. Since then Pierre keeps a diary in old-fashioned notebooks which he buys at “the librarian” (Meyer), an old friend of his father’s. Pierre’s life has been split into two: the real self (the child) looks for redemption in the world of childhood, the ‘false’ self (the murderous killer) compensates with violence against strangers (“never kill a person you know” is one of his rules) for his empty, emotionally undeveloped life as an adult. It is via the ”librarian” who introduces Pierre shortly before his death to Laure (Moreau) now a woman. Pierre remembers listening to her playing the piano when she was a child. In a final twist, Laure’s fiancée was Pierre’s first victim, chosen, like the other ones at random. Laure suggests a holiday in Spain, along the lines of the one he is fixated on with his parents. He takes with him one of the last notebooks with devastating results.

Jean-Hughes Lelté is utterly convincing and mesmerising as the killer, and the way he stumbles through an adult world, he can not grasp, is frightening. We see this reduced world through his eyes, and everyone apart from his father, are merely cyphers. Even though Pierre has a first sexual relationship with Laure, his childhood Ego is still the much stronger pull. Doomed, he lives out his phantasies to the end. Stunning camerawork and set pieces are provided by Mathias Touzeris and Olivier Cussac’s original score cleverly evokes the romantic lure of the past and the menace of the present.

Cruel is a stunning portrait of mental illness, dramatised as in a fictional way, but very close to reality. AS

SCREENING DURING THE CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL 3 -13 SEPTEMBER 2015

La Peau Douce | Soft Skin (1964) | Blu-ray release

Dir: Francois Truffaut | Cast: Jean Desailly, Françoise Dorléac, Nelly Benedetti, Daniel Ceccaldi, Laurence Badie, Philippe Dumat | France,  Drama  123′

Truffaut’s La Peau Douce is known, in translation, as Soft Skin, as it best conveys the film’s vulnerability of character and minimal eroticism. It’s a superb, understated study of adultery that descends into a crime passionel.

Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is a middle-aged writer and publisher well-known for his TV appearances discussing the work of Balzac. On a flight to Lisbon he’s attracted to Nicole (Françoise Dorléac) a beautiful young air hostess. They meet later, at their hotel, and embark on an affair. His wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) suspects her husband has a lover. Pierre denies the fact and leaves Franca and his young daughter, for Nicole. A divorce looks likely but…

Marital infidelity is so hackneyed a subject that even in 1963 it appeared unlikely to surprise audiences. The film did badly at the box office; even Truffaut was disappointed with the final result. Maybe because he was preoccupied with seeking funding for his Fahrenheit 451 project and interviewing Hitchcock, for what was to become a seminal book for our understanding of the art and craft of film direction: Indeed the shadow of Hitchcock is present throughout a feature full of subtle psychological details: shoes placed outside hotel rooms as a clue to finding the person you desire; or apprehension at the petrol station where Lachenay thinks Nicole has deserted him. Truffaut learnt so well from ‘The Master.’

Soft Skin’s characters are not in the least bit conventionally romantic. Pierre is weak-willed, indecisive and clumsy – arranging meetings with Nicole. She is seriously attached to him but her ‘love’ for Pierre results in her suffering humiliation and neglect because of their clandestine arrangements. The long middle sequence, set in Rheims, where Pierre gives a talk to accompany an Yves Allegret documentary on André Gide, has him desperately trying to ignore and hide from the presence of Nicole – she cant even get to buy a ticket to Pierre’s lecture less his relationship be discovered and reputation damaged. When the infidelity is revealed, Truffaut’s script devotes more screen time to the wife and the strong effect the  infidelity has on her. Franca turns out to be the most determined and confident player in the drama: much more certain of her needs than the constantly interrupted lovers.

Casting is crucial to making an intense adultery movie work. The performances of Jean Desaily, Françoise Dorléac, (the late actress was the sister of Catherine Deneuve) and Nelly Benedetti are absolutely faultless. B& W Photography is by the great Raoul Coutard. Georges Delerue supplies a beautiful film score, sparingly used and well-timed. And one of the numerous, if incidental, pleasures of Truffaut’s brilliant direction is the knowledge that in order to cut down on costs, he shot a lot of the film in his own spacious Parisian apartment. Soft Skin has been underrated and unjustly neglected. But now it’s available on Artificial Eye Blu-Ray to re-evaluate or discover for the first time. Alan Price

BFI Blu-ray release on 6 June 2022

Gemma Bovery (2014)

Director/Writer: Anne Fontaine  Writer: Pascale Bonitzer

Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Kacey Mottet Klein, Niels Schneider, Isabelle Candelier, Mel Raido, Pip Torens, Elsa Zylberstein

Romantic comedy drama

If Posy Simmonds’ chick-lit and the saccharine charms of Gemma Arterton appeal to you then Anne Fontaine’s re-working of the classic Flaubert novel is for you. If not, stay well away from this trivial pick n mix of Chocolat and In the House, drenched in a helping of A Year in Provence…and a dash of Mother’s Milk.

Dumbly scripted by award-winning Pascale Bonitzer to echo Simmonds’ satirical paperback, this Normandy-set romantic romp will have Flaubert spinning in his grave with anger and dismay. A trashy English cast and half decent French one is lead by a charmingly sympa Fabrice Lucchini as, Martin Joubert, a publisher who has retired to the idyllic spot of Auberville-la-Manuel to run the local bakery with his sparky wife (Isabelle Candelier) and teenage son (Kacey Mottet Klein). Taking his romantic disillusionment out on kneading the daily bread, he has comes to terms with the banality of his life in this quiet country backwater when the arrival of English neighbours, a voluptuous young Gemma Bovery (Arterton) and her broke and raddled ‘hubby’ Charles move in next door, sets his feathers all a flutter with a sexual frisson tempered by the fear (or is it hope) that this perky young bride will end up with the same fate as her literary namesake from Flaubert’s 1850s novel.

Best known for Coco Before Chanel, Anne Fontaine opts for a jaunty and salacious tone that will most likely appeal to Daily Mail readers rather than Simmonds’ Guardian following, ramping up the sensational aspects of her Bovery story rather than the insightful realism of the French original, resulting in a schematic tale than feels rather dated with its 80s sensibilities riven with unlikely pairings and  glaring plotholes (to discuss them would reveal too much). Let’s just flag up one for your consideration: Why would nubile and artistic Gemma end up with a divorced, insolvent loser like Charlie (Jason Flemyng) living in a damp and dreary country cottage in the 21st century? Clearly Fontaine wanted to make a commercial film that would appeal to UK|US audiences rather than French ones, and Bonitzer’s script is suitably tuned towards those audiences with its mentions of yoga, Notting Hill, rag-rolling and gluten-free bread).

In the same style as Ozon’s In the House, the story unfurls via Martin’s first person narration – he is the only interesting character – but the piece rapidly falls into what Flaubert calls ‘the pettiness and predictability of daily life” due to a trite and unlikeable set of provincial characters in a village that anyone would be desperate to get back to Paris to avoid. Luchini’s expression throughout is one of baffled wonderment and disbelief: that he can be the only decent actor in the film and that he is witnessing the destruction of his beloved literary work. Despite his better judgement, he falls under Gemma’s spell seduced by her sluttish vapidness and entranced by her louche disregard for decency as she falls for the local lord of the manor, a tousled hair youngster Visconte de Bressigny (a really well-cast Niels Schneider) and so begins her descent down the path of her literary counterpart. On the way we have to contend with the evil smugness of local arrivistes Wizzy and Rankin (ghastly Zylberstein and Torens), her ex, demon-lover Patrick (a second rate Mel Raido) and a strange cameo from Edith Scoob as the redoubtable Madame de Bressigny. All the while, we are treated to glimpses of Arterton in her undies (Myla or Agent Provocateur?), boogying down to her rag-rolling, and sensuously pouting over the freshly baked brioches which will finally lead to her downfall in the unlikely and far-fetched denouement. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 21 AAUGUST 2015

 

 

 

 

Les Combattants (2015) Love at First Fight | DVD release

Dir.: Thomas Cailley

Cast: Adele Haenel, Kevin Azais, Antoine Laurent, Brigitte Rouan

Drama France 2014, 98 min.

Two outsiders, Madeleine (Haenel) and Arnaud (Azais) meet o the beach of a sleepy town in the region Alps/Maritime. This sounds as good as any romantic cliché, but their meeting is anything but sexy, because they are facing each other in a judo fight.

First time writer/director Thomas Cailley’s LES COMBATTANTS is the very opposite of a glossy French teenage romance. To start with Arnaud bites Madeleine after he is in danger of losing the fight, witnessed by his brother Manu (Laurent) and his mates. Whilst Madeleine does not tell anyone about his outburst, she will remind Arnaud more than often of his cowardice. The young man has just lost his father and is supposed to join his brother in running a carpentry business. In this capacity he soon meets Madeleine again, when he starts to erect a wooden beach house near the swimming pool on her parent’s property. Needless to say, his carpentry expertise is as bad as his judo skills and his half completed construction is soon blown apart by a storm; to the chagrin of his brother. But Arnaud and Madeleine have found common ground: they both want to get out of the boring middle-class environment they inhabit. Madeleine, who has just left university without completing the course, believes strongly that apocalypse is soon to happen. She prepares for the end-of-time scenario by toughening herself up with constant exercises and a disgusting diet, with includes eating a whole fish, whizzed up in the mixer. When she decides to join the marines for a preparatory army course, Arnaud follows her, abandoning his brother and mother Helene (Rouan). But the debacle doesn’t end successfully in this love story which ends up being a fight for survival.

Adele Haenel (Water Lilies/Suzanne) carries LES COMBATTANTS with a lively and intense performance. Her Madeleine still longs to be a tomboy, long into her adolescence. She is unaware that this image is just her way in pretending to be tough, as not to be found out how vulnerable and insecure she really is. Whilst she knows exactly what she does not want in life (middle-class security), she has no idea what she wants instead, and her experience shows, that she is far too independent for such a hierarchical life style. Arnaud on the other hand, behaves like every average man with the first woman he shows an interest in: he follows her obediently like a puppy. But is fascinating, how Cailley brings their combined weaknesses and strengths together in a rather dramatic finale. Shot in lively colours from innovative perspectives, by the director’s brother David, Les Combattants is as original as it is moving, never succumbing to any preconceived ideas, thus emulating the couple’s unruly and idiosyncratic behaviour within a narrative that develops just at the right tempo allowing us enough time to get to know this offbeat  couple. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH ARTIFICIAL EYE | CURZON

Cemetery Without Crosses | Una corde…un Colt (1969) | Blu-ray | DVD release

image009 copyDirector: Robert Hossein   Writer: Dario Argento

Cast: Michele Mercier, Robert Hossein, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand,

90min   Spaghetti Western  France

Robert Hossein directs this Spaghetti Western with a French twist and also stars as a friend who reluctantly comes to rescue and avenge a woman whose husband has been lynched by a rival gang. Well-crafted, sparingly scripted and infused with soulful Latin romance, the film conjures up the harsh and macho world of 19th century America where men were monosyllabic and women alluring. Sergio Leone’s memory comes flooding back through Andre Hossein’s evocative instrumental score and Scott Walker’s rousing rendering of the title track. Guy Villette’s sound design makes good use of howling ambient winds and creaking boards.

Maria (Michele Mercier) and her husband have made enemies and none more bitter than the Rogers family. But after his death a resonant and palpable chemistry ignites between her and Manuel and this, together with Henri Persin’s impressive range of set pieces that create a remarkable sense of place, is largely the reason for the film’s sixties success and enduring watchability.

Although Dario Argento is credited with writing the script, his input was more down to dialogue with Claude Desailly and Hossein making the major contribution. Performances are authentic and convincing from the largely French cast. Manuel and Maria work particularly well together, both giving subtle yet compelling turns as they gradually fall in love. CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES is a classic Western of the finest order. MT

OUT ON DVD and BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO on JULY 20, 2015

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La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Director: Marco Ferreri

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi

130min   Comedy Drama   French

One of the legendary European dramas of the era and the highest grossing, La Grande Bouffe redolent of seventies France with its mock ‘Louis Quinze’ interiors, florid cinematography and original score by Philippe Sarde (The Tenant).  Mocking, cynical and drole in tone, it pokes fun at inappropriate sex, bestiality, marital strife, body functions and the more grotesque elements of everyday life, which are treated with a general nonchalance all round. Uniting the era’s famous acting talents: Michel Piccoli, Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi give rather restrained performances as a group of friends (magistrate, chef, tv producer and pilot) who attempt to escape their woes by eating themselves to death in a French Maison Particulière with a trio of kindly callgirls, while salacious silent movies form background texture to their gargantuan feasts.

As the Cannes festival opener of 1973, the film was naturally going to divide critics, some who regarded it as a worthy enditement of mass consumerism and over-indulgence of the French and Italian middle-classeses (for whom it was quite normal to have a mistress); others as an amusing curio focussing on debauchery of one kind or another. Nevertheless, it went on to win the FIPRESCI prize that year.

There are shades of Walerian Borowczyk and Bunüel in the final scenes where Tognazzi gets a handjob while gorging on a vast pâté gâteau before dying of a heart-attack. The others meet their fate in equally distateful circumstances which somehow feel more tragically pathetic rather than offensive fifty years later; although at the time they must have felt shocking. The tragedy is to be found in the self-hatred and worthlessness of these men, rather than in their excess and depravity. These are people who have lost their zest for life due to stultifying self-satisfaction.

According to sources, the film was originally shown unlicensed at the Curzon Mayfair London causing an outcry from infamous campaigner Mary Whitehouse on the grounds of indecency in a public place. This only added grist to the censor’s mill, who went on to rule that films with “artistic merit”  would be exempt from prosecution. Seemingly taking a cue from this experience, Ferreri went on to make Tales of Ordinary Madness, another drama focusing on excess and sexual depravity starring an equally impressive cast of Ben Gazzara and Ornella Muti. It won the FIPRESCI prize at San Sebastian 1981.

A 2K REMASTERING IS ON RELEASE FROM 3 JULY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

 

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

 

King of Escape (2009) | DVD release

DIRECTOR: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascale Aubert

93min  French with subtitles   Comedy drama

Middle-aged gay tractor salesman Armand Lacourtade (Ludovic Berthillot) is a rough and ready country type who enjoys his food and a glass of red. But when he breaks up a local brawl to save sultry teenager Curly (Hafsia Herzi), he doesn’t expect her to fall in love with him. This is what happens in Alain Guiraudie comedy drama KING OF ESCAPE. A far cry from his award-winning hit Stranger By the Lake, this is rather a curio as gay-interest films go. Sharing the same laid back Provençale setting as Stranger, its upbeat summery charm contrasts with the sinister ambiance that haunted the thriller, although Armand is a similar character to the unlucky Henri (Patrick Assumcao).

Curly’s father, Daniel (Luc Palun), is one of Armand’s competitors, and there are no prizes for guessing why he is dead against his daughter’s budding romance an affable and harmless chap who has grown rather tired of the limited gay scene in their remote village, and rather fancies a cosy future with Curly. But when she falls for his easy charm, Dad turns nasty, pursuing the courting couple with a loaded gun.

The homosexuality here is a light bucolic ripple rather than a pulsating undercurrent, giving KING OF ESCAPE an almost irreverent comic tone: old men with unfeasible large members indulging in some over-the-top groaning are  amusingly and indulgently weaved into a storyline that has some mainstream appeal, although it’s still not really a family film. As in several of Guiraudie’s previous outings, these older gay men are a normal part of the human landscape evoking a refreshingly laid back vibe, despite being a gay one.

That Armand should fall for this fresh young girl seems entirely plausible given the local competition and Guiraudie makes the salient point that sexuality, and indeed love, can be a moveable feast – often catching us unawares when we least expect it. Curly and Armand make convincing lovers in scenes of unbridled sensuality similar to those in the woods in Stranger. But there’s a twist to the tale involving Curly’s father and his mates.

KING OF ESCAPE is a simple story but an enjoyable one – Guiraudie drawing us slowly but surely into his world of southern camerarderie. His characterisation is inventive yet convincing and totally lacking in cliché in a setting that feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. Herzi is the main attraction and Berhillot’s relaxed style and economy of movement echo those of Henri in Stranger.

Sex scenes — mostly al fresco— are staged with humour and realism and the unlikely romance feels convincing in the heat of the Toulouse Summer. Well-formed characters bolster the comic background; from Francois Clavier’s serious gendarme who pops up when least expected, to Armand’s boss, played by Pascal Aubert. As a feisty old git, Jean Toscan provides a hilarious denouement. MT

RELEASE ON DVD FROM 23 MARCH 2015 COURTESY OF PECCADILLO PICTURES

Life of Riley (2014) Aimer, Boire et Chanter

LIFE OF RILEY | AIMER, BOIRE ET CHANTER | ALAIN RESNAIS | 2014 |

Cast: Sabine Azéma, Hippolyte Giradot, Caroline Sihol, Michel Vuillermoz, Sandrine Kiberlain, André Dussollier

108min |  Comedy |  French

For his 50th film, which also turned out to be his swan song, French Wave maverick and King of the fractured narrative, Alain Resnais offers up another Alan Ayckbourn adaptation with this reasonably straightforward, stylised comedy LIFE OF RILEY.

Some will find this utterly charming and idiosyncratic, others an irritating and rather twee affair with its garish theatrical sets and cutesy cardboard cut-out collages introducing the locales intercut with occasional glimpses of leafy countryside in the Yorkshire Dales. Starring the habitual Resnais collaborators: wife, Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Hyppolyte Girardot and Sandrine Kiberlain, it’s just the sort of thing that French audiences of a certain age will lap up but it does beg the question: ‘do we really need another stage adaptation (his third) of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET?’

You know the story by now: George Riley, close friend of middle-aged, middle-class couple, Colin and Kathryn, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Or is he? What follows is a lively farce with highly mannered performances all round from a French cast at the height of their game playing English characters with a script translated from English into French and then conveyed (presumably by Americans) into English subtitles. All somewhat of a feat and one that required three script-writers to perfect with some degree of aplomb – somehow it works. It will certainly appeal to diehard devotees of the iconic French filmmaker whose endeavours started over 50 years ago with the sublime HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) and end here with an Englishman’s work. A shame, then, that his sign-off film could not have been something as completely wonderful and unique as LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD but then, at 91, achieving anything is wonderful. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH MARCH 2015

Wooden Crosses (1932) Les Croix de Bois | Dual format DVD/Blu

Director/Writer: Raymond Bernard   Roland Dorgelès

Cinematography: Jules Kruger and René Ribault

Cast: Pierre Blanchar, Charles Vanel, Antonin Artaud, Paul Azaïs, René Bergeron, Raymond Cordy

One of the greatest wartime films LES CROIX DE BOIS is a work of staunch realism filmed in sombre black and white and re-launched to commemorate the onset of the Great War in 1914. Released in 1932, it provided a stark contrast to other Hollywood fare that year: Tarzan, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus and I Am a Fugutive from a Chain Gang. The impression its simple message of truth and tragedy made was overwhelming. Today it remains a valuable record of heroism: thrilling, pitiful but above all, sincere.

Adapted closely from the literary work by Roland Dorgelès, (who served as a corporal in the 39th Infantry Division), even down to the dialogue passages, WOODEN CROSSES is expertly-crafted to present a searing account of one regiment’s experience of the battlefield, without the romanticism of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); Hearts of the World (1918) or A Farewell to Arms (1932) or the glory of King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925); Howard Hughes’s Hell’s Angels (1930) or Howard Hawkes’ s The Road to Glory (1933).

WOODEN CROSSES tells it like it was, without melodrama or exaggeration yet still expressing the poignancy of simple acts of martyrdom as the soldiers share cheerful bonhomie and dark humour, keeping their emotions in check with courage despite the awfulness of it all. And although the story is seen from a French perspective, the appeal is universal and evergreen. It is the true account of a soldier who is, in essence, Everyman. Set in 1915, in Northern France, the film depicts the dark months of the 39th Battalion that ended in tragedy for all concerned. A call to arms that started with the hope of success and triumph, ends in a row of wooden crosses. Pierre Blanchar plays law student, Gilbert Demachy, who signs up to join the war effort along with other ordinary men: bakers; farmers and manual workers. After a gruelling series of events depicting courage and loyalty in the face of endless defeat, Gilbert Demachy ends his life alone in the mud of the battlefield, as the parade of surviving soldiers marches on, each carrying a wooden cross. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT DVD AND BLU/RAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES FROM 30 MARCH 2015

 

 

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

The Informant – Gibraltar (2013) – DVD

image004Director: Julien LeClercq

Writer: Abdel Raouf Dafri  Novel: Marc Fievet

Cast: Tahar Rahim,  Gilles Lellouche, Riccardo Scamarcio, Raphaelle Agogue

107min   French    Thriller

Inspired by true events, Julien Leclercq’s dramatic follow-up to his intense action thriller The Assault, falls rather short of expectations kindled by its predecessor and an action-packed, smouldering first half.  An atmospheric opening sees the morning mists rising on the sunny, drug-addled Mediterranean port of Gibraltar, where a French expat is stuck between the devil (drug traffickers) and the deep blue straits (corrupt customs officials), adapted for the screen by scripter Abdel Raouf Dafri (A Prophet).

Gilles Lellouche (Point Blank) leads the action as Marc Duval, a struggling French bar-owner who lives in the Rock with his wife (Raphaelle Agogue) and child.  He strikes a deal with a local customs officer (a bearded Tahar Rahim) to prop up his ailing finances as an informant; a trade that soon escalates into a nice little earner of which his wife thoroughly disapproves. But Duval is not really up to the job of international espionage and Leclercq’s initial skill in engaging our sympathies for this ordinary guy stuck in a web of intrigue and sculduggery against his better nature, eventually wears thing, especially when he tricks an Irishman (Aidan Devine) who’s worse off than himself.  Matters deteriorate further (both cinematically and plot-wise) when Duval gets mixed up with seedy Italian crime Claudio (Riccardo Scamarcio) further risking the lives of his wife, child and promiscuous younger sister (Melanie Bernier).

Instead of keeping the suspense on tenterhooks with tightly-plotted action-driven scenes, the narrative become dialogue heavy and over-complex (tough, especially with sub-titles) and starts to lose the will to live, despite a sinister soundtrack and some convincing turns from Rahim, who remains suave and sure-footed in his role and Scamarcio, superb as the venal trafficker; but Lelouche is gauche, to put it mildly.  Thierry Puget’s bleached visuals and chiaroscuro interiors lend sophistication to the proceedings portraying Gibraltar as a sunny place for shady people. THE INFORMANT fits the bill as a respectable crime drama, but feels slightly drugged-up in the final stages. MT

THE INFORMANT IS ON DVD

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Plein Soleil (1960)

Dir: René Clément | Cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Leforêt, Erno Crisa | 118mins | France, Thriller

Writer: Patricia Highsmith

When it comes to style, no one does it better than the French and Italians. PLEIN SOLEIL, René Clément’s adaptation of ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, perfectly epitomises the laid-back sixties summer of a group of friends holidaying on the Italian riviera and slipping easily from French to Italian to English.

While retaining the sinister edginess of Highsmith’s novel, Clément floods the screen with a sunny Mediterranean vibe, skilfully directing his largely debut cast to produce a thriller embued with the insouciant glamour of the era and superbly performed by these three beautiful young French actors.

Plein 3

Alain Delon stars as a rather feline Ripley, moving sinuously across the screen-his physique honed from an early career as a paratrooper in the Marines, he’s a French version of Dirk Bogarde (or American, James Dean) both in style and background and, like Bogarde, fell into acting in the late fifties after a series of odd jobs, eventually becoming a star in Plein Soleil. Delon went on to find international success in Visconti’s ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (1960), he came to represent the ideal young male of the Nouvelle Vague: energetic, good-looking and rakish. He was perfect for the role of Ripley; a charming sociopath with murderous intent.

Marie Laforêt plays Marge Duval, in a sultry turn that exudes nonchalent sex appeal and Maurice Ronet, who had already made his name in LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD, is another genius piece of casting as her suave boyfriend Philippe Greenleaf.

The ending is a shocking departure from that of the original novel and displeased Highsmith on the grounds of its “indictment of public morality”. But although the more recent Anthony Minghella version starring Matt Damon clings more faithfully to her storyline, this by far exceeds the latter in style and execution and was to set the tone for the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut to usher in the French New Wave.  MT

ON NETFLIX AND PRIME VIDEO

 

Hors Les Murs (2012) Beyond The Walls

Director: Daniel Lambert         Writer: Daniel Lambert

Matila Malliarakis, Guillaume Gouix, David Salles, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin

98mins   French with English subtitles   Drama

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The recent batch of gay films has become more romantic and less sexually explicit in tone (Keep The Lights On, Weekend) and this fine example and directorial debut from Belgian writer, Daniel Lambert, tugs at the heartstrings like any classic love story. The thrust here is on the heady mix of power over tender vulnerability and makes appealing viewing for art house  audiences although it’s not quite mainstream fare.

Paulo (Matila Malliarakis) is living with his girlfriend Anka but their sex life has pretty much ground to a halt. When he meets Illr (Guillaume Gouix) the chemistry is palpable and he is immediately seduced by Illr’s forcefully masculine approach.  Exasperated by the lack of bedroom action, Anka throws Paulo out forcing him to move in with Illr despite a certain reluctance on Illr’s part. The two begin a convincing and passionate relationship in which Paulo very much forces the pace for commitment. As the dynamic between them reaches considerable depth and complexity the narrative develops with a well-crafted and involving plot line and authentic characterisations.

An atmospheric music selection from Canada’s Valleys band sets just the right tone for this bittersweet affair and Matthieu Poirot-Delpech’s sensual and distinctive widescreen visuals give poignancy to this indie drama marking Lambert out as a filmmaker with a promising future. MT

BEYOND THE WALLS IS ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 26TH AUGUST 2013

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 4-7th April 2013

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the annual showcase of the best in contemporary French film, takes place at Curzon Soho and Ciné Lumière from April 4-7 and promises to be an exciting long weekend of French talent.

During 4 days, Rendez-Vous is an opportunity to discover some of the best of recent French productions and to get to know the actors and directors during the Q&As following each screening.

THERESE DESQUEYROUX

In the French region of Landes, near Bordeaux, marriages are arranged to merge land parcels and unite neighboring families. Thérèse Larroque becomes Mrs. Desqueyroux (Audrey Tatou). But her avant‐garde ideas clash with local conventions and she will resort to tragically extreme measures to break out of the bourgeois lifestyle imposed on her…Claude Miller’s film was a big hit at Cannes 2012 and also stars Anais Demoustier (Elles)  and Gilles Lellouche.

Audrey Tatou (Coco Before Chanel) will be attending a Q&A at the Curzon Soho on April 5th at 6.00pm 

POPULAIRE

Set in fifties France, Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Romain Duris (Heartbreaker) star in this tale about a simple girl from Normandy who gets noticed because of her special skill….It’s a French Dr Dolittle from Director, Regis Ronsard.

Screening April 4th at 6.15 at the Curzon Soho and April 5th 8.15pm at the Cine-Lumiere with Q&A with Romain Duris, Regis Ronsard and Berenice Bejo.

 

 

CYCLING WITH MOLIERE (ALCESTE A BICYCLETTE).

Fabrice Luchini (In the House) plays a grumpy, retired actor living in the Ile de Re who’s offered the chance to return to the stage once more as Moliere’s Misantrope. Also stars Lambert Wilson.

Director, Philippe Le Guay will be in on stage to answer questions after the screening at the Cine Lumiere on April 6th 2013.

RENOIR

In 1915 Pierre Auguste Renoir is living out his twilight years in the luscious landscape of Provence when a beautiful model (Christa Theret) ignites his passions and those of his son Jean Renoir who arrives back from the First World War.

Christa Theret, Michel Bouquet and Vincent star in the Gilles Bourdas’s film which will screen at the Curzon Soho on April 6th at 6.00pm and April 7th, 6.15pm at the Cine-Lumiere.  A Q&A with the director and Christa Theret will follow.

ZARAFA

A delightful animated story for children about a 10-year-old Maki’s adventures with an orphaned giraffe from Remi Bezancon and Jean-Christophe Lie

Screening at the Curzon Soho on Sunday April 7th with Q&A with Remi Bezancon.

OUR CHILDREN (A PERDRE LA RAISON)

Joachim Lafosse’s troubling tale of a mixed race marriage between a charming French girl (Emilie Dequenne) and her Moroccan beau (Tahir Rahim) and his controlling family headed by Niels Arestrup (You Will Be My Son).

Q&A with Joachim Lafosse to follow the screening at the Curzon Soho on April 7th at 6.15 pm.

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