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Fernandel checkmates papa., 24 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although the remake of "4 Passi Fra La Nuvole" , "Sous Le Ciel De Provence" aka "Era Di Venerdì 17" will remind French users of the works by Marcel Pagnol ,which often dealt with the unmarried mother,the likes of "Angèle" ,"Fanny" or "La Fille Du Puisatier".

In "Angèle" (1934),Fernandel portrayed a half-wit who helped the unfortunate pregnant heroine.He proved himself a dramatic actor ,as gifted as he is a comedy thespian .In the 1956 effort ,he did the same for a gorgeous brunette,afraid to go back home because she knows her father won't accept what was at the time a crying shame :an illegitimate child.

Like "Honoré De Marseille" ,released the same year,it's a color movie made "under the luminous skies of Provence".Fernandel is marvelous as a chocolates salesman ;he's very moving when he blames the father for his cruelty;he was certainly in love with his protégée and however,we know that he'll come back to his home to find a rather unpleasant missus -we see her briefly in the first sequence.

Alberto Sordi appears as a coach driver whose first child is just born ;Renato Salvatori as the heroine's brother has nothing to do and essentially works as an extra ;but Tina Pica,as the old aunt,almost steals the show from the principal when she plays checkers (draughts).

Amazing grace,how sweet the sound....., 24 October 2014

....that saved a wretch like me!

Actually not really that;Antoine is a lawyer ,his wife a physician and they are not exactly the average French family. A spate of clichés,a bore to end all bores:an ambitious suspicious wife, a grumpy father -the great Jean-Luc Bideau is given lines the average viewer has heard a hundred times or more-,a brother who represents the black sheep of the family,or should I say the biblical prodigal son,a sister who needs shrinks -where would she be without them?- ,and a son who's got (very minor) problems at school to boot.

The main originality of this hackneyed subject is Antoine's return to faith (he was brought up religiously and his sister remembers how they used to pray when they were kids :"you were on the verge of tears afterward and I would take you in my arms and console you".That this man ,who has everything (his father tells him so) ,looks for the meaning of his life is quite legitimate .However ,his line of thought is not really convincing:"now I'm conscious of my weakness" he says but he did feel it since the beginning (with the exception of the first sequence): in front of his relatives ,he felt naked without his robe ,well before he was inspired .Whoever he met, he was self-conscious and embarrassed and did not know how to communicate with them.The "Sunday school" scenes remain superficial and recall those of the Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a very interesting subject,but it's only skimmed over.

Like this? Try these.....

"Europa 51",Roberto Rossellini ,1952

"Teorema",Pier Paolo Pasolini,1968.

Gary Coper (sic) wears suspenders, 23 October 2014

It's Fernandel's film ,in every sense of the word ;the director is unknown and he apparently remains at his star's beck and call.

"Honoré De Marseille" is a very uneven movie,with a desultory script .It's close to the movie made up of sketches; by and large ,it consists of five parts :

1)Ethnology in Marseille town.

An ethnologist comes to interview a Marseillais of old stock ;it was obviously inspired by Sacha Guitry 's series of historical movies such as "Si Versailles M'Etait Conté" but the writers cannot hold a candle to him .These humble cheerful Marseillais have never heard of ethnologist but they pretend they do and Honoré begins to tell the story of his dear city Two costume sequences are included :Honorius ,my Roman ancestor ,founded Massilia when he married the Ligure tribe chief's daughter ;then ,later on,in the Pompey/Ceasar rivalry days ,Honoris,another forefather,made the wrong choice,and ,besieged by Julius' armies,he invented the game of Pétanque to stave off boredom.

2) Fishing party.

Very macho lines make it the most unpleasant segment of the movie . But he who laughs last....

3)Welcome Saturnin.

Certainly the funniest part ;Saturnin is a cuckold ,but ,in spite of involuntary gaffes,he does not realize his misfortune .

4)Weary Xmas .

While Honoré ,wife and daughter are decorating the tree,up comes a wop : a friendly piece of advice will prove disastrous.

5)The beauty contest .

A greybeard covets one of the beauties,and asks Honoré to make her win the "miss ocean blue" title.

Fernandel sings three or four songs ,not among his best in his repertoire. The movie has its moments and should appeal to Fernandel's fans;the others can do without it.

Voltaire vs Toulouse town., 22 October 2014

In the TV series "La camera explore Le Temps",the Calas affair was the audience 's favorite.

A tale of intolerance and religious fanaticism,it's still (unfortunately) relevant today.

Among the great writers of the Age of Enlightenment,Voltaire was the only one who really fought for his compatriots ,when liberty,equality and fraternity were still words.

Voltaire was famous for his mordant irony ,and he was also a canny pretender:the first pictures show an almost dying aging man,who does not seem to car about what he is listening.Someone tells him about an innocent man's inhuman death :the prologue shows us the terrifying torture on the Wheel,two hours of awful suffering ,for something he had never done.

Then the movie uses flashbacks -which were rare in these historical series - sometimes these testimonies contradict each other.

Mr Calas had a B.A. in law ,but being a protestant (Calvinist) in 1963,did not allow him to become a lawyer,unless he abjured ;his elder son opted for catholicism but his brother ,once tempted ,decided he would remain a protestant.

The Young man dies ;the cause for his death remains obscure :most likely he hung himself ,but some historians disagree and claim he was murdered for his purse.

One thing for sure,the father was totally innocent:not only he had to cope with the loss of a child,but he had to face the infamy of an unfair trial and to die in a way even the worst executioners of today would not think of.

The movie is not one-sided:a catholic priest tries to defend the prisoner;but what can he do in a town (Toulouse) where hatred for the "Huguenots" knows no bounds and where the populace used them as scapegoats .The Capitoul (=mayor and also judge) is probably overtaken by events and must sentence the accused to death ,even without a decisive evidence .

Little by little,as he is told about the story ,Voltaire "awoke " from his "sleep" and he decided to react to those intolerable facts:he wrote letters,abetted by some of his compatriots who would have kept their mouth shut without his intervention.Such was the man,who restored Mr Calas' good name,had the rest of his family released ,and was ready to resume his fight with other affairs ,the Chevalier De La Barre's being the most memorable.

The movie shows us scary catholic fanatics ,often passed over in silence in history books, the White Pénitents,whose look predates that of (brr!) the Ku Klux Klan.

Not to be missed by history buffs and tolerant people .

Comment Allez-vous?, 21 October 2014

My good friend Writer's Reign, a true connoisseur of the French cinema ,wrote the first review ,and as usual,I second all that he said.It's incredible that ,in 7 years ,no French user felt like sending a comment .

Writer's insists on what I would call a "prologue" ,taking place in the subway:this incident is the straw that breaks the camel's back for the hero is already paranoiac ,depressive and terribly stressed.

For a while I feared the incident on the street with the cops could lead the movie into the clichéd post -68 cinema territory:"cops are b.......";these policemen on the street have really a hard work to do ,they get stressed too,and the fact is that Alex is really a pain in the neck that night.The suicide rate is high in French police ,certainly higher than among accountants in suits.

But fortunately ,Emmanuelle Cuau put the whole French society on trial.In her movie,her characters belong to middle class,no wealth ,but no poverty either.In the hospital ,a woman asks Béatrice if she looks haunted ,then if she is red in the face ;in her taxi ,another one begins to talk about her shrink ,which infuriates her .

It goes to show that in-communicability is in the center of the movie;wherever it takes place,be it in the precinct ,in the mental hospital or during the job interviews ,it's like talking to a brick wall,in a Kafkaesque -as Leon wrote- world.

Reductio ad absurdum:it is when he cheats (the Mickey Mouse degrees which he got on his computer) that Alex learns the rules of the game ,that he becomes part of the "normal" society.It should be pointed out that the ending remains very ambiguous :is Alex in through the out door? Very well acted by the two principals ,and the secondary characters are extremely true to life.

The farther one travels,the less one knows......, 21 October 2014

The title is no misnomer.As George sang in the track from the eponymous album,"by the Lord Sri Krishna's grace (....) my salvation from the material world" .At the time many people laughed at Harrison whom they dismissed as unhip and holier-than-thou.

Scorcese's movie is exactly what George would have wanted:a long and winding line of thought of an icon who,little by little ,ditched the material world :an adulated entertainer in the glorious years of the Beatles (to whom he contributed a good handful of classics) ,a peak of musical and spiritual inspiration with his mind-boggling " all things must pass" (which remains,along with "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" ,my favorite solo album).

In the seventies ,it seems that George was not that interested in carrying on with a career which anyway was on the wane after "material world" ,his last number one .The concert for Bangla Desh was a grand gesture (and Bob Geldof's laurels actually belonged to the ex-Beatle),but the rest of it ,the 1974 tour,the infatuation with racing cars ,the homemade productions ,the Japanese tour,even the marvelous Traveling Wilburys, were minor events .

George had warned us on the overlooked B side "the inner light" in the words he set to music on a college professor's request:"without looking out of my Windows ,I could know the ways of Heaven" .

His final years were probably the happiest of his life ,with a marvelous wife ,Olivia ,who shared his way of life ,and a son to carry on.Two hundred years after Voltaire,like Zadig,he cultivated his garden while continuing his spiritual quest.His ultimate album,"brainwashed" ,lived up to its name:although terminally ill,the musician produced a cheerful album,full of serenity .More than thirty years after the song,he had learned the "art of dying" ;"I've never seen such a confident patient " a physician said .

Like Scorcese's take on Dylan ("no way home" ) ,"living in the material world " is never off the point .Nothing sensational,nothing scandalous,but an absorbing portrayal of a man,who,after conquering the whole world,realized he could "arrive without traveling " and "see all without looking".

Face Value (2002)
Good entertaining value, 20 October 2014

It begins as a "buddies movie " but the viewer feels there's an ambiguous Relationship between the two men .One of them welcomes his pal in a luxury apartment and treats him like a king ;but his words do not ring true.

The screenplay is not that predictable and if it enters sometimes the Highsmith/"talented Mr Ripley" territory when a character takes a would be friend's name,the developments are suspenseful and the ending (one of the female characters alone justifies the very title of the thriller) The script may seem simple ,but it makes sense (no open ending ,no unanswered question) ,and considering some of today's "unexpected twists","face value" is to be recommended .

Landes (2013)
Bogged down in a resinous situation, 20 October 2014

The main asset of the movie is its location: the Landes ,in South-west France.

A Young widow (Marie Gillain) wants to carry on with her husband's work:managing a pine plantation where they extract resin;but most of all,she wants to have electricity installed in her valuable property.In this place,it seems that 1789 never happened and that time stood still:her workers,circa 1920,do not receive any salary and ,like the peasants in the middle ages,have to bring their production to their landlady.

But her progressive ideas come up against men still remembering WW1 and against her peers ,a bourgeois relative and other macho.Her foreman ,first bewildered ,is finally won over by his boss' resilience and strength of character.For her own good,the Young heiress is too ahead of her time.

The director makes the best of the beautiful landscape;he casts Miou-Miou (who proves she can age gracefully;I was not exactly his fan at the time of "going places " (Les valseuses,1975))against type,as a middle-age modest brunette,and the mischievous Tsilla -Tatie Danielle- Chelton as an old dowager,warning the ingénue about the man's man's business world.

For all that,the movie does not really grab the viewer;it's too short and marred by a derivative ending;as a social comment,it fails totally to convince;as a psychological drama,it's a routine affair.

A Breton movie, 27 September 2014

Recently restored ,the quality of the pictures is excellent for a 1934 movie. This is a simple story ,not an intellectual bore and it's accessible to anyone;in a word :popular.

A short (about 40 min) ,entirely in Breton ,with subtitles :A French who would not know the Breton language could not understand the lines,which is minor,for the strength of the pictures tell almost everything.

A famous director from the silent era,now long over,Epstein found it hard to adjust to the talkies :that's why the first sequences ,depicting life in a religious school ,are certainly the weakest.We're not told the exact reason for which the student is expelled ,but, as further acquaintance shows,this young man was born to be an outcast all of his life:disowned by his father,fired by the fishermen because his little finger is claw-like and brings bad luck.Even if they put their faith in Virgin Mary (the propitiatory procession ),they remain suspicious superstitious men.And even love is denied because he has fallen for the châtelaine who is to marry a rich count.

The love story is told in a legendary way (the ending) and the white veil on the cliff might have inspired Jean Grémillon for a "Pattes Blanches " shot.

There are few lines ;the tale is told (or should I say sung) by a Chanteur who appears on the screen and depicts the fishermen's dangerous work and the peasants'hard labor.

Most of all ,it shows Epstein's (who was born a Pole though)love for the sea by and large ,and for Brittany in particular:it began in 1928,with "Finis Terrae" ,and would continue with such works as "L'Or Des Mers" (1932,another tragic love story which looks like this one) and "La Femme Du Bout Du Monde" (1937)

Haïr A Perdre La Raison., 26 September 2014

Few artists can do what Mister Arestrup does.A character actor in the noblest sense of the word,he never gives you the impression he overplays ;yet,he can be frightening ,makes you blood run cold ,while remaining extremely restraint.In the five last years ,his two portrayals (the wine-grower in "Tu Seras Mon Fils " ,and the stepfather in "A Perdre La Raison" are among the most impressive in the contemporary French cinema.

A Young couple (she is a French Teacher,he is a Morrocan immigrant)sees their life ,slowly but inexorably ,elude them.The Young man's stepfather he calls his Godfather provides them with everything a Young couple may wish :no problem to make ends meet .But the lack of intimacy becomes hard to bear for the Young woman who would like to share a true home with her husband.But the wealthy man does not want his protégés to run away and he 's using financial blackmail as well as emotional blackmail.They are under "tutelage" :the Young man ,who seems immature sees his protector as a merciful God but his wife is not prepared to accept it.This house is not big enough for the three of us.

It's putting off the inevitable;the last scene ,showing the house of "happiness" ,filmed in fixed camera shot ,could not have been more harrowing.

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