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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?
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.
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.
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
A little gem of a movie, which speaks to everyone and will accordingly make everyone smile.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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" 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.
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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
Kevin Spacey is an outstanding actor. He is also an exceptionally
gifted director. As witness this biography, anything but starchy, of
singer- actor Bobby Darin. Titled 'Beyond the Sea' after one of Bobby's
hits, this work of art (the word is not too strong!) is not only
interpreted by the star of 'Usual Suspects ', it is also sung and
danced by Mr. Spacey in the style of his model and practically as well
as Bobby Darin himself, as well as co-written (in cooperation with
James Toback and Lewis Colick) and, as I put it before, directed
masterfully - by him.
This second (and unfortunately last to-date) directorial achievement (after the already amazing « Albino Alligator ») is really breathtaking. Supposing Spacey had only managed to make a good standard biopic, he would already have been entitled to respect, for few are those who are able to juggle so many talents (playing, singing, dancing, writing & directing). But "Beyond the Sea" deserves not only respect but admiration, since besides being technically flawless, it constantly surprises by its imaginative, stimulating non-linear form. Refusing to tell the story of a life from a (the birth of the character) to z (his death), Spacey, allowing himself bold temporal round trips, literally travels through it. I think for example, of the sequences where grown up Darin dialogs with a boy who is none other than the young himself. Quite an offbeat way of entering the mystery of a man (not unlike « All That Jazz », Bob Fosse's masterpiece)... Which does not prevent Spacey from articulating the story of a true artist passing through the different stages of his life (his youth, the first bouts of rheumatic fever, his rise to success after the triumph of 'Splish Splash', his rough marriage with Sandra Dee, his more or less satisfying film career and his death hastened by bad health). All in all, what actually makes the difference with a merely illustrative biopic is how the director manages to bring extra soul to a life story which, although interesting in itself, would not have sufficed to make 'Beyond the Sea' the masterpiece it is.
Making a docudrama about Marie Curie and telling the life story of the famous physicist, known for her pioneering research on radioactivity, also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, seemed a good idea a priori. Less so a posteriori, I am afraid. For, if there is no denying Marie Curie WAS ADMIRABLE, having a host of interviewees spend a substantial part of the run time telling us HOW ADMIRABLE this woman was does not make her more admirable, it just makes the film less exciting. Furthermore, too many interviews means too few fiction scenes. Worse, several of the aforementioned scenes lack depth, and accordingly emotion : more than one, for instance, show things as devoid of action and tension as Marie and Pierre riding their bikes, Marie walking, writing, thinking over. Even worse, two of these sequences (the bike one and that of the father and children mourning their wife and mother) are SHOWN TWICE! With such a frail backbone, the film struggles to exist. And if it finally manages to, it owes it to the able voice over commentary and to a good choice of archive documents. The question remains though: couldn't the seventy-nine minutes it lasts have been used more satisfyingly in privileging action over commentary, emotional moments over dull ones, something Alain Brunard's 2014 TVfilm "Marie Curie, une femme sur le front" did quite successfully. The fact remains that Marie Curie's life was so rich that the story of her life cannot but contain interesting moments. And the actress playing Marie, Elisabeth Duda, does a good job of it. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, "Dans les pas de Marie Curie" is not the definitive film about the Grande Dame of science.
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