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Le bonheur de Pierre (2009)
Pierre Richard snowbound
Pierre Richard ("Distracted", "The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe", "La Chevre ") is a French comedy actor who was very successful in the 1970's and 1980's. Disregarded by most critics for being "commercial", he has been rehabilitated lately, and it is only fair. For Pierre Richard, far from being just "commercial", has managed to impose a character of his own creation, which is not so common, that of a naive daydreamer, kind-hearted but always blundering and overwhelmed by events, a man everyone identifies with but in whose place nobody would like to be in real life. Copying no one, copied by no one, Pierre Richard is an authentic comic genius, now luckily fully recognized. So when it was announced that our Gallic absent-minded one would fly to Canada, the idea sounded nothing less than attractive. But would the graft take ? Now, judging by the result I am afraid the answer is no, it has not! The pitch was promising, though: Pierre Martin, a Paris quantum physics professor, unexpectedly inherits an inn amid the snows of a small village in Quebec. Against all odds, he decides to go there and operate the establishment. What he does not know is that Michel, the mayor of Sainte-Simone-du-Nord, has an eye on the inn... Unfortunately, due to Robert Ménard's uninspired, heavy-handed direction, the lack of subtlety of Guy Bonnier's script and the way some of the actors outrageously overplay their scenes, all combines to make unfunny a comedy which could (and should) have snatched laughter. Pierre Richard is his usual moonstruck clown self, in other words he is at once spontaneous, charming and droll, but what can he do when the others lay it on thick with a trowel and keep on pulling faces? For another reason, Sylvie Testud proves unable, despite all her talent, to defend her character (Pierre's daughter) properly. Ill-defined and one- dimensional, always playing on the same note (disapproval and annoyance), the role of Catherine Martin will never be a highlight in her filmography). When all is said and done, "Le bonheur de Pierre" both fails as a comedy and as an offbeat vehicle for Pierre Richard. A missed opportunity indeed. But if you are still willing to see our Pierrot transplanted into a foreign environment, you can fall back on Nana Dzohordzhadze "A Chef in Love". It is much better.
Dans les forêts de Sibérie (2016)
Good adaptation of Tesson's book. Remarkable actor and cinematography.
In our hectic world, there are (and there always have been) human beings who feel the urge to break away from the crowd, to flee the superficiality or the tyranny of the society they live in so as to find themselves (or, in some cases, find back themselves) in the middle of unspoiled nature. A very romantic idea indeed though finding yourself in survival conditions is not easy as pie, the proof being that only the toughest (the likes of Thoreau, Jack London, Thor Heyerdahl, Jon Krakauer...) manage to make their dream of purity come true. In France one of our boldest adventurers, Sylvain Tesson, is one of those who not only heeded the call but also succeeded in living six months in Siberia, on the shore of Lake Baikal to be more accurate. Not just the guy next door, Tesson is the kind of people who have ants in the pants, always in for an extreme experience, always on his way, whether on foot, on horseback, on a bike or a motorbike, whether in Iceland, in the Himalaya, in Kazakhstan or anywhere in the world . He even loves climbing monuments or private buildings without safety gear, which is not without risks as illustrated by his ten meter fall from the château he was staying at in 2014. To get back to the point, Tesson recorded his Siberian experience in a book published in 2011, "The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Siberian Taiga".
An unexpected chain of events then started to unfold, which would eventually lead to the present film adaptation : somewhere in India (light years away from Siberia as it were!), where he found himself, Safy Nebbou, a film director living in France but born in the South of Algeria (a hot place, if there is one !) read the book, fell in love with it and decided that he WOULD transpose it to the screen, come hell or high water. And by dint of determination and obstinacy, Nebbou ended up managing to make this "insane" project come to life.
Naturally persistence is one thing but making an entertaining show of a man alone living secluded in a cabin... is another. The point was: how to avoid boredom with so little narrative challenge? Safy Nebbou thought the problem over and found a way out: the addition of a new character, whose main virtue would be allowing Teddy (Sylvain Tesson's screen substitute) not only to talk to himself but to have dialogues, not only to be self-absorbed but to develop a relationship, thus adding narrative impetus to a story working well on paper but less so on film. A choice disapproved by a couple of demanding critics but not by moviegoers who, through word of mouth, made the film a success. Even Sylvain Tesson himself thought it a right move.
That being so, "Dans les forêts de Sibérie", gives you the impression and a pleasant one at that to see two different films on the run. The first part mainly partakes of the documentary : the views of the frozen lake and of its surroundings, intensified by Gilles Porte's gorgeous cinematography, are outstanding. Also documentary-like is the way Nebbou shows us Teddy trying and managing to go through the days of his new life : how he deals with solitude, with finding food (how this man of the town learns hunting in the taiga and fishing through an opening in the ice, toileting in a sauna and going out naked in the cold (which gives rise the best scene of the movie, both comic and scary, showing a bear threaten the poor defenseless Teddy), and so on... The second part, with the introduction of Aleksei, is much less meditative and a little more action-based. It also noticeable for its psychological rightness. The friendship that develops between the two outsiders is believable and their relationships more and more moving as the story progresses. Add to that a score by Ibrahim Maalouf, interpreted by him on his inimitable trumpet, at times lyrical when the character is elated, at others beautifully melancholic, and you will have an more complete idea of the atmosphere the film is wrapped in.
On the whole, this is quite a worthwhile and, even if it does not carry you away like "Dersu Uzala" or "Into the Wild", "Dans les forêts de Sibérie" proves thought-provoking, has a real sense of nature and is boosted by the inspired performance of its main actor, Raphaël Personnaz, incredibly thoroughly in character. Recommended for all those reasons.
Jour de chômage (1998)
A hard day for a jobless young man
It is a well-known fact that meaningfulness does not necessarily require a long running time to exist in a movie. Nor does a long running time shield a movie-maker from shallowness or insignificance. The veracity of this statement is once again demonstrated by "Jour de chômage", a modest little movie in black and white, and very brief into the bargain (7 minutes), but one that definitely has something to say. Assuming that too many people think that being on the dole results from pure laziness or at least from lack of will, Sébastien Sort, the director and co-writer of "Jour de chômage", has made it his mission to break down their prejudices by putting before their eyes what an average day in the life of an unemployed worker is actually like. And, believe it or not, it is no bed of roses! For one thing, Christophe Aumont, our archetypal job seeker, cannot sleep late : at eight, he is (brutally) awakened by his alarm clock, which upsets him so much so that he has to go to sleep again in order to get over it! Only to be snapped out of sleep again by his worried Mum on the telephone. At eleven, Chistophe busies himself opening rejection letters and half an hour later he has a stressful time trying vainly to contact a potential employer. The beginning of the afternoon is even worse as he is pestered by a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses while he is expecting a potentially decisive phone call. A call that will prove fruitless naturally. At 7 p.m., he is so exhausted that he sleeps again , having nightmares about... telephones! And so on, and so on... Of course this is a comedy where overstatement is rife. Exaggeration is indeed a device effective at provoking laughter, although in the present case the laughs are rather forced. Since, exaggerated or not, the facts are there: people registered as unemployed with a job centre are anything but on vacation. If they really want to land a job, then their daily lives become synonymous with wait, stress, constraint and frustration, even more so today than in 1997 given the way the employment situation has deteriorated. A kind of message usually delivered in a serious, dramatic or accusatory tone. Not here. Humor does the job and quite as well in fact, maybe even better. At any rate, the light tone in no way prevents the point from biting home, on the contrary. Simply humor, even black, helps the medicine go down... Jean-Noël Brouté is amusing as poor Christophe, the epitome of joblessness, in this well-made short deftly mixing entertainment and food for thought. There are worse ways to spend seven minutes of your life, aren't they?
La cloche (1998)
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!
Who knows that actor Charles Berling is also a film director? Not his main activity for sure: if you indeed compare the nearly 90 films, TV movies and series episodes he acted in with his performing the task of film maker only twice, his directorial career obviously does not amount to much. Nevertheless, the two filmed objects he created at least exist: the first one, titled "La Cloche", is a short made in 1997 while the other, "Sur les traces de Gustave Eiffel", is a feature-length TV documentary shot in 2008.
"La Cloche", the first of the two movies - and the one that concerns us here is a fine comedy that would deserve to be shown much more widely. When I say fine I mean fine in the end because at first glance this project had many odds against it: it is mere farce; it lasts only seven minutes and eighteen seconds; it revolves almost exclusively around a single character (a vagrant), the other ones being barely outlined ; it illustrates hardly more than a single idea: 'hell is paved with good intentions'. But Charles Berling manages to make the most of such meager stuff, turning it into an irresistible small delight.
Greatly contributing to the pleasure is the hilarious performance of Michel Aumont, just wonderful as the vagrant. Brilliant in the field of comedy, Aumont is rather an expert at mild (if biting) irony, so it is quite surprising to see him make great gestures, holler, fume and fuss, in other words let it all go. And he does a wonderful job of it: you really get the feeling that after the director has uttered the day's final "Cut!", Michel Aumont will return to his home... under the bridges! Moreover, with his big bristly beard, he is totally unrecognizable. A real treat, believe me!
Another happy choice by Charles Berling is the skillful device consisting in having the tramp gradually fill the screen. At the beginning, a lot of people can be seen queuing outside a cinema and the vagrant is only one among those he is disturbing. In the next sequence, as he is inside the theater and given a ticket, he occupies more space in the frame and fewer moviegoers are seen, and only in the background (with the exception of the man who is charitable to him). From then on, whether in waist shot or in closeup, we will see no other character than the nuisance always intent on spoiling the other spectators' pleasure. In the last shot, the down-and-out triumphs, his crazed face almost too big for the screen and his demented words drowning out all the other sounds. This gradational invasion of a sphere of pleasure by a very unpleasant character is the great find of this modest but far from impersonal short film.
Finally, as far as the substance is concerned, you will find amiable this short fable about the negative spillovers of political correctness. Indeed, by wanting to fight against prejudices along right-thinking lines, the poor moviegoer played by Charles Berling is poorly paid. Mind you, the moral of the film is not 'Never help others' but rather 'Think twice before acting'. This is what the good-hearted spectator should have done instead of giving an unbearable slob leeway to annoy not only him but all the people present.
Bon rétablissement ! (2014)
Lanvin, a suitable case for treatment
Jean Becker's humanity is well-known now. Only those with a heart of stone or those who yield to the diktats of the Paris intelligentsia continue to bash an artist whose only crime is to believe that each man, whatever their weak point, is perfectible and that, providing they make the necessary efforts, everybody can live in harmony with others. Note that I would gladly subscribe to the detractors' point of view if his films were as sloppy or shallow as they claim but either I am blind or simple-minded but they appear to me just well-made, well-interpreted and truly moving because devoid of any mawkishness.
The "hero" of Becker's latest film is Pierre Laurent, an embittered sixty-year-old misanthrope (Gérard Lanvin, cantankerous as can be) who finds himself confined to a hospital bed following an accident. Jealous of his own privacy and a lover of silence, he has become the prisoner and for a long time - of a closed world where he is exposed to constant noise and all the gazes. He just hates the visit of his relatives, abhors the hospital staff and curses Maëva, a carefree plumpish teen who keeps invading his living space. Naturally, the confirmed humanist Jean Becker is WILL NOT leave his main character in such a sorry state. As one can expect, and to our great delight, the writer-director will have him evolve little by little, take stock of himself and open up to others, making this long hospital stay not only a harrowing experience but also and above all an initiatory journey.
The flesh of this story (entertaining even though not in the least relying on action set-pieces) is a novel by Marie-Sabine Roger, a gifted writer Becker adapts for the second time in his career (four years after the touching "La tête en friche"), in this instance in collaboration with Roger herself and the excellent Jean-Loup Dabadie ("Les choses de la vie", "Un éléphant ça trompe énormément"). And once again the magic happens, the major difference lying in the central character depicted: here, instead of an uneducated Gérard Depardieu who discovers a liking for reading we meet an unsociable Gérard Lanvin who acquires the taste of others. Lanvin (as was Depardieu in the former movie) is perfect in the role and it is mainly thanks to him that "Bon rétablissement" rolls smoothly through. Mainly, but not only since he is surrounded by a solid cast, among whom stand out Black comedian Claudia Tagbo, who gives a fine performance as the head nurse, as well as, for the first time on the big screen, Anne-Sophie Lapix, the popular TV presenter, who plays Pierre's ex-flame with charm, wit and unexpected self-confidence.
And, to give credit where credit is due, the final honors should go to Jacques Becker's son, whose movies are anything but smoke and mirrors. Filled with empathy for the human kind, they make you feel better leaving the theater than you did before getting in. This one is no exception.
Le syndrome de Cyrano (2004)
Less is more
Only two filming locations (the terrace of a cafe and a restaurant), three actors (a man and two female friends of his) and no more than seven and a half minutes running time do not amount to much. But sometimes, as Robert Browning put it, "Less is more", which is the case for "Le complexe de Cyrano", co-written, performed and directed in 2003 by Camille Saféris (better known as a TV and radio comedian). At any rate, such a minimalist apparatus is enough for an inspired artist like Saferis to supply not only laughs but also emotion and food for thought. A single theme but rich in potential forms a strong backbone for the film and as the director manages never to get lost into details or superfluous digressions the issue is dealt with to the fullest extent possible. As I put it before, the plot could not be simpler: Antoine, a man who plays confidant to the love life of Dorothée, the young woman he has loved in secret for ten years, has decided to declare his feelings tonight at the restaurant. At the terrace of a café, Antoine tells a female friend about it. The action suddenly moves to the restaurant where he and his flame dine together. In the last two minutes, we are back on the terrace where the story finds its conclusion. But, as the film unfurls, the viewer comes to realize that all this simplicity is only apparent. For instance, does the restaurant sequence really follow the opening one at the café or is it a projection of the way Antoine pictures the way things might turn out. Likewise, the "good friend figure" embodied by Geraldine ends being called into question in the final seconds, thus putting it all into perspective again. As for the theme examined, it is addressed with surprising depth taking into account what little runtime the writer-director actually has. Can friendship really exist between a man and a woman? , what does being confidant really mean for two people of the opposite sex? , to what extent and to whom can you put your intimate life on display? , is there such a thing as platonic love?... It can be said Camille Saféris pretty well exhausts all these points. Which prevents him neither from displaying a fine sense of comedy (through gags born mainly from Antoine's embarrassment and frustration as well as from Dorothée's shameless lack of modesty) nor from showing artistic qualities (the warm tones and the subtle camera moves of the restaurant sequence) or from being an excellent actor himself, showing all the nuances of his character. In this field, he is well-served by his partner, Zoé Félix, whose irresistible charms (besides her faultless beauty) lie in her tremendous ability to use obscene language.
A little gem of a movie, which speaks to everyone and will accordingly make everyone smile.
El Clan (2015)
Murders in family
The terrible case of the Puccio clan really rocked Argentina back in 1985. And quite rightly so. For, not only had three people got kidnapped, savagely tortured and brutally killed (in two cases despite the fact that the ransom had been cashed), not only had another woman been held hostage for over a month and promised to a certain death (had her abductors not been arrested in time), but the perpetrators were... the members of a family, and even more upsetting, they were the well- educated, smiling members of a happy close-knit family! How could such a thing have happened? Where is society going if even its basic unit is not to be trusted anymore? Such were the questions the Argentinians asked themselves at the time and that filmmaker Pablo Trapero has decided to raise today, thirty years after the facts, in 'El Clan'. A right choice indeed since his latest opus, which could be qualified as a "shocker with substance", has become in between the highest-grossing Argentinian movie at the domestic box-office ever, a wonderful opportunity for the author of "Carancho" and "Elefanto blanco" (never one to shy from pinpointing the black spots of his own country) to address as wide an audience as possible. To achieve this aim, Trapero has stacked all the odds in his favor. First asset, his determination to stick to the facts and never to embellish on the truth, which lends weight to his reflection. The description of the "idyllic" family life within the walls of the Puccios' house rings as true as that of the detailed preparations and the brutal carrying out of the kidnappings. Not so surprising if you take into account the following statement the director made in an interview: (I based myself on) "photographs, letters, interviews with friends of Alejandro's, or people who had visited the house and lived in the neighborhood". Which does not mean that Trapero produced a mere lazy cut and paste of reality, for the second major quality of "El Clan" lies in his being a real movie, action-packed and filled with suspense and fraught moments, one would call a genre film if it was not underpinned by political thought (an examination of the fact that dictatorships breed monsters even after they are extinct). At any rate, the movie is at least as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Last strong point, the perfect cast, led by the superlative Guillermo Francella, a high class performer who although more accustomed to comedy, is absolutely terrifying as Puccio: the coldness in his eyes is pure evil and constantly proves wrong his alleged affability. Also top notch is Peter Lanzani's performance: all good looks and natural charm outside, the young actor manages to bring to light his weakness and the moral conflict that haunts him for being unable to resist his father's influence). The only reservation this writer would express is about the soundtrack. I personally do not figure out what drove Pablo Trapero to illustrate this "Argentinian tragedy" set in the 1980's with... Anglo-American pop classics such as Creedence Cleanwater Revival's "Tombstone Shadow" (1969) and "Sunny Afternoon" (1966) by The Kinks !!! Not that I am a purist, but, in my case, this offbeat way of using source music did not work, especially in the case of the latter piece. In actual fact, hearing "Sunny Afternoon" juxtaposed on two tense sequences (played twice in full into the bargain) proved more distracting to me than atmospheric; I even surprised myself humming the tune might-heartedly, which was certainly not the director's intention! Despite what I consider a shortcoming (but I am in the minority: unlike me most reviewers praise the soundtrack), I highly recommend this globally excellent movie, where the (brilliant) form matches the (rich) matter.
Der Alte: Auf Leben und Tod (1983)
"Der Alte" is a never-ending crime series which, since its first airing on 11-4-1977, is still on TV screens today - a staggering record of duration considering the four decade time span it covers and its no fewer than... four hundred episodes! How it survived so long (and it is not the end yet!) is just mind-boggling, listless as its pace is (only second to its rival, the Derrick "saga") and formulaic as its concept is (discovery of a corpse, investigation by an all-knowing police chief inspector "assisted" by two less brilliant deputies, red herrings, final confrontation with the culprit and his/her final conviction)...! Or should I say WAS, for there has been a real change lately with more graphic violence, a less leisurely rhythm and the rejuvenation of the "kommissars". Filmed in 1982, "Auf Leben und Tod" obviously belongs to the period when chief-police inspector Köster was still active despite being beyond the normal retirement age, when an appropriate cushy rhythm helped him not to get over-tired and when the show of violence was less complacent than today. Nothing to do with Tarantino and his cronies, as you can see! About the plot, let's say Volker Vogeler's script is just passable, its main quality being that it mixes two stories. Neither of them (the murder of a man on the one hand and the kidnapping of a rich woman on the other) is really thrilling but intertwining them makes the sum a little more exciting than each of its two parts. Likewise, the direction is just middling but at least, Günter Gräwert (unlike his colleague Dietrich Haugk for instance) makes a few efforts to give this installment a minimum of life: some camera angles are more elaborate than usually is the case in the series. Plus, a couple of well-chosen and well-directed actors (Thomas Lantzmann, the star of "Qui êtes-vous Monsieur Sorge"; Lisa Kreuzer who had been the eponymous heroin of "Il faut tuer Birgitt Haas" ; and in the role of the old neighbor-gardener someone who did know the ropes of the trade, the always dependable Curt Bois, who had started his career in... 1907!). All this put together finally helps to sugar the pill, making this an acceptable entertainment. After all I said before, it will come as no surprise that I do not particularly recommend watching "Auf Leben und Tod". You can easily do without it. But if you do, there will be no harm done.
Hoppla, jetzt kommt Eddie (1958)
Caution you villains, Lemmy is back!
After failing to succeed as a singer/dancer/actor in Hollywood, Eddie Constantine (following his friend John Berry in his flight from McCarthyism) emigrated to France where he became a stunningly popular star in B-movies, famous for his naturally laid-back attitude, his winning smile, his delightful accent, his art of cracking one-liner jokes and, naturally, his immoderate taste for chicks, punches and gunshots. What made him meet with success is the character of Lemmy Caution, the FBI agent created by Peter Cheyney, a role Eddie would be indelibly associated with during his whole career. In 1965, he would even go as far as to interpret the famous agent in « Alphaville », Jean- Luc Godard's ultra intellectual dystopia. He would further embody him (sometimes shifting into a caricature of himself playing the character) in eight rather highbrow German movies and/or Tvmovies. But back in 1958, art film producers were not interested in him yet. Eddie was still the playful Lemmy of « La môme vert-de-gris » and his movies were still making money. Which induced Kurt Ulrich, a West German producer, to import both the actor and the concept. Hence this copy and paste of the French model, written specially for the actor. In this German lightweight entertainment Eddie is called... Eddie (why bother to give another name to a character looking so much like the ten- odd ones he played before). Not an FBI man this time but a merry sailor who has been assigned a delicate (if delightful) mission: taking care of four sexy girls. So much for the chicks. The punches and gunshots will be exchanged with a band of gangsters who dared kidnap one of the dolls, Juanita Perez... All that does not amount to much actually but it is directed with a certain sense of pace by Jack-of-all-trades Werner Klingler, which avoids yawns. After this film, Eddie Constantine's star began to fade. Fewer and fewer people came to see his exploits on the big screen. The poor fellow seemed bound to disappear from the screens. Not at all, actually ! For art film directors unexpectedly came to his rescue. It had suddenly become fashionable among them to like Eddie and his persona after years of Constantine-bashing. Not very logical but the main thing is that the friendly actor did find work and recognition, until old age into the bargain. Lemmy Caution aka Eddie Constantine had won his final fight!
Good script. Poor rendering
In French, this German crime series is called "Le Renard" (The Fox). This is giving too much credit to its main actor, Siegfried Lowitz, who at the age of 68 plays the role of Chief-Inspector Köster as if he had been brought out of retirement twenty years later. In this regard, the original title "Der Alte" (The Old One) is much more appropriate... But let's not put the blame only on poor Lowitz. Had he been directed by a more talented director than Dietrich Haugk, he might have been more convincing. For the one at fault is undeniably this lazy, uninspired helmer who goes through the motions of filming one dull scene after the other, getting from his actors nothing but lifeless performances. With one miraculous exception, though : Doris Schade, who manages against all odds - to convey the distress of her character. She is the only one to really escape the slump. This is not doing justice to Detlef Müller's script, which is not so bad after all. There is indeed intriguing ambiguousness about the characters (honest everyman Doblin disappearing and suddenly turning into a killer; Kundler, his employer and old friend, who might not be the citizen above suspicion he seems to be; Kippel, another of Kundler's employees, who is pivotal to the action but who is never seen). Moreover the resolution of the case is rather skillful and satisfying. Unfortunately Haugk botched the work, proving unable to give the film the fast pace and the relief it deserved. Just imagine Peter Falk in the role of Köster, a brilliant counterpart like Robert Culp, Ray Milland or Patrick McGoohan instead of Karl Heinz Vosgerau and Jack Smight, Richard Quine or Ted Post directing... This would have been a horse of another color, wouldn't it? Definitely a lost opportunity. Too bad.