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Avant l'hiver (2013)
Working and living
Altman's The Player had a similar idea: the hero receives messages from a man he believes has a grudge against him, then starts to investigate... The doctor in this film receives flowers every day, and comes to believe that they come from a woman who, he thinks, harbors some grievance. Soon he starts to slump in surgery, his supervisor orders him to take time off, and he finds he has no appetite for anything. I admired Daniel Auteuil's performance very much; he has put on some weight and his eyes have that distant look that means he can't focus on the essential things. His wife, his son and daughter-in-law have needs and he is oblivious to all of it.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives one of her finest performances; she is both suspicious that Paul is cheating and sure that he isn't (not really a paradox). Her eyes are wonderfully expressive. Leila Bekhti didn't really fit in with the story: I didn't get a feeling of menace from her. Richard Berry as the man who never tires of carrying a torch is excellent.
Violette loves Simone, who...
The beginning is great: Violette is living with Maurice Sachs in a Normandy backwater in 1942. With the war on, life is precarious for the budding writer; she is forced to go on the black market to deal in the essentials of life. Sachs obliges her to sit down and write about her childhood and youth, as a way to bring in some extra cash. Soon Sachs is off to Germany as a labourer (he hoped to ingratiate himself with the Nazis by hiding his Jewish past). Sachs dies, and Violette is off to Paris as soon as she can manage it. Soon she meets Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Genet and Jacques Guerin (who becomes her first publisher). She starts to travel, something a girl from a poor family usually doesn't get to do. Finally she becomes a member of the Gallimard stable of writers; fame and some fortune are hers at last.
Emmanuelle Devos impressed me very much with her tenacity in bad times and her masochistic devotion to Beauvoir. Sandrine Kiberlain, reed-thin and erect of bearing, looked and sounded very much like Beauvoir. Olivier Py as the sleazy Sachs stole all his scenes.
Anyone for Venice?
For forty years now, Andre Techine has made films that have delighted me (Les roseaux sauvages, Les voleurs) or annoyed me (Le lieu du crime, Rendez-vous). He seems to be on safe ground when he deals with homosexuality, the need for family ties, and beautiful surroundings (here he can film Venice in all its splendour). He flounders when dealing with straight relationships: what is going on between Dussolier and Bouquet, anyway?-- they seem to be in different films.
Carole Bouquet is so splendid to look at that I can forgive almost any deficiency in the script in order to drink in that lovely face. Adriana Asti (Gina in Before the Revolution, the film that moved me more than any other) has the best line: "You turn everybody on but nobody turns you on!" It's so true, you admit ruefully. Melanie Thierry has a small part as Dussolier's daughter and leaves a good impression.
Toutes nos envies (2011)
It's the system
Philippe Lioret has created some terrific roles for women: I will always remember what Sandrine Bonnaire did with her Brittany lighthouse keeper's wife who has a yen for a young stranger (L'Equipier), or what Melanie Laurent did with her head-strong teenage girl part (Je vais bien...). Marie Gillain makes us forget her early work as empty-headed women who easily turn to crime as she plays a crusading judge, a woman who tries to fight the predatory credit system in France. Not only are the banks against her, but the people who want easy credit and won't read the fine print on contracts are too.
The actors do fine; I'm always glad to see Vincent Lindon in any part and here he is especially good. He's a rugby coach as well as Gillain's partner in the crusade and gives a great energy to the film. I would have cut about 30 minutes out of it, however.
Au fond des bois (2010)
Like a Millet painting
It's like a Millet painting; you know, The Angelus or something, a bunch of decrepit peasants tilling the field, misery written on their faces. The French highlands provide a stunning backdrop for all this misery. The sex that takes place between the two leads shouldn't distract us from the almost medieval poverty and desperation these people experience.
Isild le Besco has now made five films with Benoit Jacquot; she's established a solid working relationship with him. I enjoyed the Sade film, and the crime story that crosses several countries (A tout de suite}. I wish they would make a more traditional story next time.
Alceste à bicyclette (2013)
I've enjoyed Philippe Le Guay's films very much, and love the way he uses Fabrice Luchini, that wonderful French everyman actor. Luchini has played classical roles before (Moliere), and here he sinks delightfully into the part of a washed-up actor who's retired to a run-down house on a damp, hard to reach island off the French coast. A big TV star (Lambert Wilson) arrives with an offer to put on a production of Le misanthrope, the juiciest starring role in French drama. How can he refuse such a part? The script allows the actors to reach into the recesses of their experience in theater, and gives us lots of lore. Luchini even quotes Louis Jouvet on speaking alexandrines: the idea that one can skip a foot in a line and get away with it, it's like ordering 1000 grams of something at the store and getting only 800--a fraud. Maya Sansa contributes a supporting role of an unhappy divorcée; I hadn't seen her before but she is impressive.
La fin du jour (1939)
A fine film, but no masterpiece
Well, it might have been one of the great French classics, to stand with Les enfants du paradis, Quai des brumes, La regle du jeu and so on. Instead we have Louis Jouvet who is really inspired as the great seducer Saint Clair; he was moving as the Baron in Les bas-fonds, and as Arletty's pimp in Hotel du nord, but here he is really vicious as a washed-up actor who doesn't get curtain calls anymore. He rereads old love letters from his flames of thirty years ago; this is an agreeable way to pass time.
Michel Simon as the understudy who can never get on stage because the star is never sick gives another fine performance. Think of a Boudu with more work ethic and a sense of humour and you've got him. The third male lead is Victor Francen, playing an actor who never realized his potential because his wife died (in a suspicious manner). He was born to play Racine and Corneille, but could not rise to any heights owing to the weight of grief. I am not convinced by anything Francen does here: there seems to be a hollow man behind the well-trimmed beard and elegant clothes. Gabrielle Dorziat is a pleasure to watch in anything (how great she was in Les parents terribles). She has a very affecting scene with Jouvet, one of her old loves.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1998)
Sheep and more sheep
I sometimes think that a film based on a Hardy novel should be shot at Stonehenge; the emotions brought out by his stories seem to be pre-Christian, the plot points seem to come from some dark corner of the human soul that Dickens and George Eliot never troubled to explore. I enjoyed this production while always remembering my dislike for Hardy's methods. Gabriel Oak is a wonderful creation and Nathaniel Parker is very effective in the part, I liked him more than Alan Bates, as good as Bates was.
Nigel Terry as Boldwood was the outstanding performance; his bull-like determination to have Bathsheba's hand, combined with his insecurities made a great impression. Jonathan Firth's part is a boy-toy basically; he doesn't have the substance to affect the viewer in any way. Paloma Baeza leaves an impression of not having thought out her character much, maybe she was a last-minute addition to the cast. She moves the story along well enough but the intellectual grasp of character is not there. It's the detail that makes the interest, the viewer keeps watching for the sheep-shearing and other aspects of rural life.
Lucrezia Borgia (1980)
Ooh, the production
I don't suppose Lucrezia Borgia will ever be one of my favourite operas, but it is beautifully sung here. The star is in splendid voice; Alfredo Kraus, who had been singing for at least a quarter century in 1980, is very eloquent and touching (I remember his fine Werther); Anne Howells and Stafford Dean do very well. There is a problem with this production, and it is that the sets and costumes are very opulent, sometimes distracting us from the drama.
The scenes unfold before our dazzled eyes; sometimes it's like looking at a Klimt painting come to life. Anne Howells is singing a trouser role, Matteo, and she wears doublets with huge puffed sleeves that make her look almost grotesque. Wasn't there any sharp eye among the costumers that would have caught this? Still this is a very entertaining night at the opera.
A Tale of Two Cities (1989)
I got through it
In my youth I set myself the task of reading Dickens. I read Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit and a few other novels with great pleasure. I decided that I could skip the ones I judged weaker, and so I never bothered with A Tale of Two Cities. On the basis of this ITV series I made the right choice. Dickens is never interesting when he deals with events taking place before he was born, and so it is here. I don't care about Dr. Manette and his daughter, Sidney Carton and his death-wish, or any of the other plot threads.
The cast is starry: John Mills, James Wilby, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Anna Massey (whom I remember from so many TV dramas) and many more capable performers, many of them French. The sets are well-designed, costumes appropriate... ho hum.