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Un coeur en hiver (1992)
My favorite film
This is beyond doubt my favorite film. An odd choice, but it is so. I first saw it here in the USA a couple of years after it was released in France. I had no idea what it was about or what the tone of the film would be. I think I caught it on Bravo when Bravo was good and commercial free. From the start, I was hooked and have not changed my opinion since then even though I have seen the film probably about 12 times. I have seen it with others and I respect their criticisms and dislike of the film, esp of Stephane, but all the same, I still love the film. Not only is it my favorite, it is also the most influential in my life. If I made or wrote films, I would do one like this.
About the film itself, all the performances are wonderful, not only Auteuil and Beart, but also the smaller roles like Bourgine as Helene. The camera is simple, but effective in this context. And the finale is superb, a high moment in cinema history. Stephane trapped behind the painfully clean café window, each passers-by caught in the icy glass, but the camera caught on the resigned stare of Stephane until the picture freezes and fades slowly to black over the score of Ravel. Truly one of the most devastating scenes on film. Above all, glass and windows play a huge role in this film, maybe some sort of statement that Stephane leads a reflected life, sees life only through glass or in reflection, but never seems to be able to touch life itself. And all the glass is extremely clean, reflecting every little detail.
Sautet may not be one of the greatest French film makers, but late in life he produced two remarkable films: this and Nelly et M Arnaud. This one is his masterpiece.
Grande école (2004)
I am one of the people that was moved by this film. It is a great film, not perfect, but nonetheless great. This is a comment for people who have seen the film, so if you haven't and plan to, don't continue ! First, I have read all the reviews here and find many have some pretty off observations about the movie. The film plays like a theater piece because it is adapted from a play written in the early 90s. Salis, too, comments that he wanted to keep the theatrical feeling in most of the film. Thus, the movie can be very wordy at points, but the words are generally well chosen. Someone here said that all the men are uncircumcised because they are French. Well, the second male lead, Salim Kechiouche, is an Arab Muslim and he is circumcised. Also, another said that Kechiouche's character, Mecir, is obviously a practicing Muslim. Considering that he is drinking wine on his first date with Paul, it is obvious he is not a practicing Muslim. And then someone said that Paul and Agnes go to schools that are side by side. Well, in fact, Paul is attending a grande ecole quite a distance out of Paris, while Agnes is attending a school in Paris itself. That is one of the reasons given at the very start of the movie for why Paul and Agnes will not live together. OK, I am just being picky, but thought these misobservations should be cleared up. Now, for the film itself. First, the only truly big quibble I have with it is the male on male erotic scenes. The problem here is that neither Baquet or Kechiouche are gay or bisexual. Thus, they don't kiss each other very convincingly. Their erotic scenes are meant to be highly stylized, but with the tentative kissing, the scenes don't work as well as they could have. If I were Salis, I would have asked the two to rehearse kissing until they could do so with passion and tenderness. However, the affectionate scenes with the two, such as the two scenes in Mecir's car, are very sweet and touching. Overall I thought the acting was very good. Baquet and Kechiouche are esp affecting. The final scene of the two together at the Bibliotheque Nationale is esp memorable. Paul's sudden realization that Louis-Arnaut has known for a long time that Paul loves him, but instead of saying something to Paul, Louis-Arnaut only plays with his mind. Then Mecir's trying to console Paul, only to be rebuffed, which leads Mecir to utter words he probably couldn't have before, that he loved Paul. Remember in the car, Mecir refused to be called homosexual. I feel that is because in his Arab culture, it may be OK to have sex with a man, but not to be called a fag or homo. The next scene seems to bother people the most, the final confrontation of Paul and Louis-Arnaut. I liked the scene, and it fits given that both Paul and Agnes are considered lit people, that is wordy dissectors of life, something neither Louis-Arnaut nor Emeline, his girlfriend, likes. However, it is the ensuing scene between Paul and Agnes that is fundamental for clarifying the rather open ended finale. Paul tells Agnes that he slept with Louis-Arnaut. If I am not mistaken, it is a lie. But the wager Agnes proposed to Paul is that if she can sleep with Louis-Arnaut before Paul can, Paul must give up his fantasies of him and move in with her. However, if Paul can sleep with him first, she said she would leave Paul. He lies and says he did sleep with him. And it seems right that he does lie. Both Agnes and Louis-Arnaut had been manipulating him, albeit, Agnes does so openly.(Interestingly, Agnes then puts Mecir's love gift to Paul around his neck, not knowing what she is doing because Paul told her that he bought the gold chain for himself.) Thus, when he boards the train at the end, I feel he has left the school and Agnes. It is not clear that he going to Mecir, but Mecir is the only other character in the final scene and Paul, smiling broadly, is toying with Mecir's chain. I have watched the film a couple of times now and it has lingered in my mind for quite awhile. It is one of those films that, for me, seems alive, the characters exist and I care about them. Salis has said it is a film about choice whereas some here say it is truly just a gay film. To me it is both. Paul has to choose not only between men and women, between respectable conformity and self fulfillment, but also between Louis-Arnault and Mecir. He has made the wrong choice with Louis-Arnaut, but the ending allows one to hope he has his eyes open now.