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De rouille et d'os (2012)
Just saw this at CIFF, and thought it was fantastic.
I wasn't sure what to expect of this film, having only read the barest of blurbs before I saw it as a part of the Calgary International Film Festival. It caught my notice because it was French language, and it stars Marion Cotillard, who has become one of my favourite French actresses in the last few years. (See in her 'La Môme' as Piaf, and in 'Public Enemies' as Billie Frechette, among other films, if you are not yet acquainted with Ms. Cotillard.) This film did not disappoint. Well, maybe a tad. Everything was great except for the character of Ali. Now, I'm going to get into spoilery detail, so continue at your own risk. Aside from my criticism of Ali's character, I highly recommend going to see this film. It is fantastic.
The basic premise is that Ali (Alain) moves with his son to the south, and meets Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who has suffered a tragic accident and lost her lower legs. Stephanie's journey and the progression of her journey is incredibly compelling, and Marion Cotillard plays it subtly; her emotions are portrayed in her body movement and in her face. It's hard to explain, but she is so fully Stephanie, and I was completely entranced. But Ali I just don't know .
My problem with Ali was that he is so incredibly selfish and that there is really very little progression and growth to his character until the end. He takes his son from Belgium to the south, and essentially leaves the boy with his sister. He spends more time fighting, shagging women, and working nights than he does with his son. He forgets to pick him up from school, and cannot even really be bothered to pay attention to him.
He does only very rarely think of others, and though he is kind to Stephanie (Cotillard), he shows little kindness or sensitivity towards others, such as his son and his sister. Even with Stephanie, he is thoughtless (such as when he left her at the club and went home with another woman), and it took her own courage to tell him what the score was for him to start to realize how poorly he'd treated her. It takes his son nearly dying for Ali to wake up, and while I can understand that such an event would be the one to do it, it just seemed a bit contrived.
But still, overall it was a good film, and perhaps upon a second viewing I might be just a bit more generous with Ali as a character.
Thought provoking film
I saw this film last night as a part of the Calgary International Film Festival, a festival which has steadily grown over the past few years. It was directed and written by Michael Haneke, and starred Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil and Maurice Bénichou. Of these three actors, Juliette Binoche is likely the best known, given that she has been in a number of English language productions ("Chocolat", "The English Patient", etc.) Daniel Auteuil has been in many films, but I had only seen him in "Sade", and "The Widow of St Pierre" (both released in 2000). Maurice Bénichou is probably best known to English audiences as Dominique Bretodeau, the first man that Amelie Poulain helps in the film "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain."
The film played without any incidental music whatsoever, which was a surprising change from most films. It wasn't glaringly obvious, but after about twenty minutes, one starts to notice that the film isn't narrated by the usual musical emphases. From reading up on this film at IMDb, it sounds like this director is known for 'minimalist' films.
It started off slowly, and I even began to think that I might have made a mistake in coming to see it, as the first scenes were outside shots of a Paris-area apartment block... and then the tape would be rewound and there were voice-overs from Auteuil and Binoche discussing the oddity of having this tape delivered. They play a middle-class (though I'd be inclined to say upper middle class, at the very least) couple with one son. She works for a publisher, and he hosts a TV show (intellectual, it seemed to be mostly hosting authors and critics.) A second tape comes, and they are all wrapped in strange childlike drawings. Even their son, Pierrot, receives a strange card at school.
Eventually, the latest tape shows a driving car, street signs, and then stops outside the door of a low-rent apartment. Georges (Auteuil) determines that they made find some answers there, and he has a hunch as to whom it will be.
The film ends with nothing being solved for certain, but with many things that happened in between. Some of the scenes were quite grim, like Bénichou's suicide, and a boy beheading a rooster. I don't think that this film was meant to have closure in the typical way of films, but was rather a look at a specific chunk of time in this family's life. There is some comment upon class and race as Bénichou's character is Algerian and his family were workers on Georges' parents' farm. I know little of the history between Algeria and France, unfortunately, so the French/Algerian thing wasn't entirely obvious to me, but the class/race difference was.
This film was thought-provoking, and I am still pondering it the day after, which rarely happens with the more mainstream films that wrap things up neatly within their allotted two hours.
I especially liked Daniel Auteuil in this; his character Georges Laurent was very three dimensional, and he acted realistically, without becoming melodramatic. Especially poignant was when his son had not come home and Anne (Binoche) was falling apart - he held himself together until late in the night and he returned home. He only gave way to helpless sobs when he was alone in the kitchen.
Also, like any regular human being (and not some movie ideal), he had periods where he was unsympathetic to the viewer, for example, as he threatened the man (Bénichou) who was the orphaned son of workers at his parents' estate. Instead of asking for his assistance with figuring out why these tapes were arriving, and the drawings, he barged ahead and accused and threatened him.
Juliette Binoche, as Anne Laurent, was excellent as well, though I found her character to be slightly less important, and her manner of dress and other particulars made her fade into the background slightly as compared to Georges. However, as the movie progressed she became more and more apparent, and had more influence and notice.
I would like to see this film again, just to be able to ponder it further. I also wonder if I might notice things on the second viewing that I missed last night. I'll keep an eye out for when this film is released on DVD. In the meantime I will look covetously upon all the DVDs at Amazon with Daniel Auteuil, and wish for some extra money :)
Blinkende lygter (2000)
One of the best films I've seen
I purchased this film on DVD, with little knowledge of what it was about, because of a liking for the actors Søren Pilmark and Mads Mikkelsen. I'd seen Pilmark in "Riget" and Mikkelsen in "King Arthur", so I thought this would be worth buying.
The only complaint I have about the North American DVD version is that the subtitles are not always very good. I appreciate that the translator was likely trying to make some references so the non-Danish audience could understand it, but please do not reference Six Flags, Disneyland or "too many Canucks" when neither are mentioned. (Unfortunately I don't know enough Danish to figure out what they're really saying, but I certainly didn't hear Disneyland, Six Flags, or Canucks in that!) I found the story engaging, and not at all slow. It seemed to start off as a gangster film, and while I like some gangster films, I was glad that this one took a different twist.
I am impressed with the director/writer, and all the actors. This film was excellent, and I'd highly recommend it to all!
The Jacket (2005)
Don't believe all the bad reviews...
This movie is one of the most interesting I've seen recently. There are not many films that can keep me thinking about them this long, trying to figure out what they might mean. There are questions in my head: Did he really see the future? Were they just hallucinations? Was he somehow absorbing information about other people without knowing it?
While I ponder these things, let me take a moment on the cast. Adrien Brody was excellent as Jack, and he was totally believable. He went from Gulf War soldier to mental patient, and I hardly ever thought "This is Adrien Brody playing Jack." Rather, he *was* Jack. Keira Knightley was also excellent, and I think that this film demonstrates her acting ability, and her range. She can indeed play a character outside of Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean, or the teenage footballer in Bend It Like Beckham, etc. I could have done without Kris Kristofferson though, and I think that numerous different actors could have filled that role. I would have preferred to see someone like Peter Stormare in the role.
If you as the viewer cannot suspend disbelief, then yes, this film will seem confusing and useless to you. However, if you can sit back and let yourself consider it afresh, without letting the questions overwhelm you, then this film will be enjoyable.
Dear Frankie (2004)
Not your typical Hollywood fare...
I thought I knew what to expect with the film "Dear Frankie", starring Emily Mortimer and Gerry Butler. From the trailer and what I'd read, it seemed like a bit of a romantic film, and the sort that would have everything end "happily ever after."
I wasn't very familiar with Emily Mortimer (Lizzie), having only seen her in "Elizabeth" (and not really remembering her in it), though she's been in quite a few films. I wish I'd seen "Young Adam" before I saw this one, as both she and Jack McElhone (Frankie) were in it.
Lizzie and her family are on the run, though from what you don't learn straightaway. You do eventually find out that she's running from her husband, though the reasons aren't explained till much later in the film (and when they were, I completely understood why she'd left him!) However, because she didn't want to tell Frankie about his real dad, she makes up a story about him being a merchant seaman, and Frankie writes letters to him. They go to a postbox where she picks them up twice a month and writes back, pretending to be his dad. As Frankie is deaf and hardly speaks, this is how Lizzie gets to hear his 'voice'.
Thankfully, Frankie's disability is not played up in this film - he is deaf, and it of course affects all his interactions with others, but unlike many films, he's not saccharine- sweet, nor is he in the depths of despair. He's a normal kid with friends and school and all the other cares of a child. His friend Patrick finds out that Frankie's dad's ship is going to be in port, and he makes a bet with Patrick that his dad will come with him to watch him at the football trials. Of course, he writes about this in a letter to his dad, and Lizzie finds out. That sets off a scramble for her to figure out how to break the news to Frankie.
Luckily for Lizzie, determined to protect her son from life's misfortunes, her friend Marie has a friend (Gerard Butler) that would fit the bill as a 'dad for the day.' She meets him at a café, and arranges for him to read some of Frankie's letters, and some of hers in reply.
The scenes between the Stranger and Frankie were heartwarming, but not syrupy, which was a relief. The interaction between them was charming, as Frankie warms to his 'dad' and the Stranger becomes more attached to him.
This is a film that I would recommend to everyone. It is a quiet film, slower paced than most, but it is enjoyable, and delightful. Not your typical Hollywood fare.
High Times Potluck (2002)
Slow start, but worth the wait
I wasn't sure what to expect from this film, having received it as a gift from a friend. All I knew was that Jason Mewes and Jason Isaacs had small roles, and that Dan Lauria was in it. And, that it was about pot.
Aside from the scene with Arneau, I felt that the first half hour dragged. However, as the film went on, the characters became more engaging, and as a result, as a viewer I was more interested. I appreciated the quirks of the story, though I'm sure I didn't catch them all. I especially liked how the characters were linked - nearly everyone knows Arneau (since he's a pot dealer), the mobsters watch old movies, and the cops know the movie stars in their old age.
I'd recommend this film for anyone who wants something out of the ordinary. Hopefully this will be released outside of the USA sometime in the near future.
One of the best shorts I've seen
I didn't know what to expect as I waited for this short film to load, but I was not disappointed. What starts off as a failed novelist's life becomes an interesting and gripping story. I was sympathetic to the characters, and unlike other short films, I became interested in their lives. I was on the edge of my seat.
Gerard Butler was excellent, as was Kate Ashfield. I would highly recommend following the links and viewing this for yourself, even if you may not be a fan of the actors involved. I would hope that this film gets a release on DVD/video, so that once it disappears from the online world, it will still be available for fans to own and enjoy.
Emotional, but overdone.
I had little knowledge of Lori Jackson before I saw the film, so it was a completely new story for me. I think that Lynn Whitfield did an excellent job and was effective at portraying a full range of emotions as Jackson. You want her to succeed just because she is so determined to right wrongs and bring errors to the attention of the public.
Unfortunately, some areas seemed overdone and far too melodramatic. Like the alternate ending of the film "Passionada" (Jason Isaacs, Sofia Milos), it is this melodrama that makes the difference between a film and a TV movie of the week. More subtlety is needed for this to rise to a higher level. However, it is worth watching on TV, or renting the DVD.
Charms for the Easy Life (2002)
I've seen better.
I think the director and writer(s) meant well, but this film seems to fall a bit flat. Gena Rowlands is excellent as CK, however, Mimi Rogers is dreadfully overdone. The best performance of the production is Susan May Pratt as Margaret. Her youth and freshness shine through, and my interest in her life and ideas was caught. It seemed that she had far more spirit than her mother, and was more of a match for her grandmother. Though I have not read the book, I would like to.
If you can catch this film on cable, or rent the DVD, it is worth it. That being said, if it had been released in the theatre, it wouldn't have been worth the $12 admission.
The Absence of Emily (2003)
Better than expected
Given that the quality of most Canadian productions seems to be lower than their American counterparts, I was pleasantly surprised when I caught this short film on CBC Television.
The summary on IMDb sums up the story pretty well; all I can say is that the twist was rather unexpected, and the build-up to the end was very well done. The film won the prestigious Platinum Remi Award in the short suspense/thriller category at the 2004 Worldfest-Houston Film Festival. (Worldfest is the festival that gave Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ang Lee, John Lee Hancock, Randall Kleiser, Ridley Scott, Robert Rodriguez, Robert Townsend, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone and David Lynch their first awards.)
It is also showing at the Sacramento Film and Music festival this coming August. If you get a chance to view this, I'd highly recommend it!