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Arthur Honegger (1955)
Meet Arthur Honegger
In 1954, the filmmaker Georges Rouquier decided to dedicate a film to Arthur Honegger. The great composer, then 62 years old and already very ill, agreed to confide to the director's camera.
The result is a precious document, in which Honegger expresses himself, within the four walls of his apartment on the Boulevard de Clichy, on his life, his career, his conception of art and music, the mystery of composition, and his vision of the contemporary world.
Knowing that most of the 40 minutes of the projection consists of a monologue by Honegger, one could fear a tedious experience but, given that the composer expresses himself with clarity and vivacity, without any pedantry, boredom is not part of the story. Especially since Georges Rouquier regularly illustrates the musician's words with the help of various photographs, even excerpts from filmed reports or even a fiction film ("Un revenant", by Christian-Jaque, where Honegger makes an appearance alongside Louis Jouvet). The visit of a composer friend, Jacques Ibert, also breaks the monotony. As for the finale, an excerpt from "Jeanne au bûcher", it brings this precious document to a highly emotional close.
Georges Rouquier has made with this film a witness, fixing on film the last lights of an eclectic and passionate composer, who worked in collaboration with the greatest, Cocteau, Claudel, Giraudoux. Valéry, among others. Let him be thanked for that.
Je suis un no man's land (2010)
A real nowhere man in his nowhere land
"I am a no man's land", by Thierry Jousse, is a singular film, difficult to categorize, quite in the image of its main actor (also singer and songwriter) Philippe Katerine, who can be alternately tender and romantic or offbeat and eccentric (sometimes even a mix of the two) while remaining himself.
But, even though the scenario is partly inspired by Philippe Katerine's life, this is definitely not a biopic, at least a traditional one. In fact yes, the film does tell about Philippe, but not in a chronological, orderly or realistic way. If this is a biopic, then it is one of his unconscious, from the time he was a child to his teen age to the age of maturity, a maturity that might remain inaccessible to him due to a severe psychological block. To put it another way, I would call this weird work a "mental biopic" (somewhat in the line of "Being John Malkovich "), in which the "facts" concerning the hero are doled out in a dreamlike, disorderly, psychoanalytical manner, where the times and places keep being confused and confusing. During most of the running time indeed, Philippe is seen struggling and turning in circles in the no man's land of his psyche. The only sure thing about him is that he is a neurotic adulescent.
But don't worry too much, this is no depressing Bergman psychodrama: the overall tone is basically that of a comedy, complete with the traditional happy ending; in the last part of the film, Philippe will indeed have managed to unlock his blocks and escape from his mental prison.
Naturally, when it comes to summarizing the inner misadventures of this nowhere man, things get a bit tricky. Let me try anyway.
Following a night performance, Philippe, a singer on tour, agrees to follow to her home a female admirer. The trouble is that the creature proves a regular tigress (a variant of "Misery", only sexier and a little less violent). A sex beast, she not only wishes to make her idol her lover but also wants him the captive of her will (by way of example she has had installed a studio where Philippe can create and record - under her sole supervision !). In these circumstances, our man, of the reserved and shy kind, has no other choice but to run away. Completely lost, he wanders endlessly... in a forest and in the middle of the night! At a time, he comes across Sylvie, a charming young woman who does not seem surprised at all by the encounter. She happens to be an ornithologist on a night mission. Later, against all logic, Philippe lands in... his native house. Although surprised by his impromptu visit, his parents, whom he has been neglecting for too long, gladly take him in. After a so-so stay, Philippe decides to go away but, oddly enough, finds it impossible to leave his childhood village - whether on foot, by motorcycle or by car -, he is prevented from achieving his aim by an invisible entity. However hard he tries, it keeps bringing him back to his starting point. How he will manage to get out of that imbroglio is the question.
As can be seen, the strange film is to be read not on a realistic but on a psychoanalytical level. What appears from Philippe's fantasies is in fact nothing but the actualisation of his neurosis. Outside of the stage where he is at ease, the poor guy is timid, unable to impose himself, and, most of all, afraid of women (which is symbolized by his misadventure with the erotomaniac) - he just runs away from them. What we discover in the course of the action is that, at odds with his father, he has never dared to confront him. All this, without his necessarily being aware of it, handicaps him in his daily life.
Not a very appealing no man's land maybe but Thierry Jousse proves his ability there to give it a shape, a kind of spider's web in which the gnat-hero gets stuck. Hence a film akin to "8 1/2" or "Juliette of the Spirits" with the reservation that Jousse is not Fellini, that his direction lacks the evocative power of the maestro. Although intriguing and quirky, "I Am a No Man's Land" definitely lacks a power of fascination. The madness, the onirism, the irrationality are there, but everything remains a little too much "under control". We should be fascinated, haunted, shaken, and we tend to remain outside. Nevertheless, the film keeps being intriguing, in any case unpredictable, from the beginning to the end. Even better, the sequences where Philippe discovers who his parents really are and what love binds them indissolubly are quite touching. Jousse's look at a couple having passed their maturity is full of delicacy, a quality enhanced by the artistry of Jackie Berroyer and Aurore Clément, who give them all the depth necessary. Judith Chemla (with her wild eroticism) and Julie Depardieu (with her fresh and sparkling charm) are also very good.
To my liking, this is a semi-successful film only, mainly because its baroque universe is not baroque enough. It's up to you to decide whether you want to watch it or not, whether you like it or not.
Doc's Kingdom (1988)
My kingdom for a dock.
Lisbon, New York City. Two lonely men. One is a doctor, a disgruntled left-wing idealist who drowns his bitterness in alcohol; the other is an almost autistic young man, whose only commitment is to motorcycles and speed. One, "Doc", who lives in the docklands of Lisbon, has left his wife Rozzie after she gave birth to a child, for a life of justice in Africa. The other, Jimmy, discovers after the death of his mother (the same Rozzie), that he has a father somewhere in Portugal. So the son decides to find this father, to ask him for accounts, to settle his account perhaps. But when he meets Doc, it's not a father he faces (Doc himself doesn't think he's worthy of the name) but a human being with a troubled past, a present in which he struggles, weakened, to survive and help those who suffer (such as this former sailor who suffers from brain cancer), in two words, an imperfect but endearing being.
Nothing more. But that is enough for Robert Kramer, who shows his ability to sustain the interest of the spectator without resorting to the slightest action scene, which is not an easy task. The director even manages to be poignant during the last scenes of the father and son "reunion".
To sum it all up, let's say there are no useless effects, only the essential. And a remarkable accuracy of tone. The film is certainly not wildly cheerful, but it is never self-indulgent or overly naturalistic.
All in all, "Doc's Kingdom" turns out to be a surprisingly touching work, especially coming from Robert Kramer, who got us used to purely, quite cold political films ("Ice", "Guns", "Diesel",...). This overall good impression is reinforced by the excellent interpretation of Paul McIsaac (as Doc) and Vincent Gallo (playing Jimmy). All these reasons make "Doc's Kingdom" a (too little seen) film to discover.
L'amour à mort (1984)
For those who enjoy near-death - or even death - experience.
Not my favorite work by Resnais. What I liked the most about « L'Amour à mort » was the interpretation, especially that of Sabine Azéma, who gives herself 150% to her character, exploring all its facets, from her frenzy of panic to her final iron determination through all sorts of intermediate states. Pierre Arditi is amazing in a morbid role, in which he is not a specialist, to say the least. Fanny Ardant shows a welcome restraint in her role as a pastor while Dussollier is rather dull, in accordance actually with his character and his ready-made answers, taken from the Bible.
As for the direction, the editing and camera movements, they are, as always with Resnais, full of mastery and the whole thing is presented both in an experimental and traditional style (as of "Last Year at Marienbad" and "Melo" were juxtaposed in the same continuum). It, personally, got bothered by its experimental side, namely the musical inserts on a black background sprinkled with luminous flakes. They interrupt the thread of the narrative no less than... 52 times! With a music by Hans Werner Henze (nothing to do with "Pas sur la bouche" or "On connaît la chanson"!) which got on my nerves: for me the contemporary music score suggests too easily the psychic imbalance (which, in my opinion, should be present in the live sequences) while underlining in large strokes the "dialogue with the beyond". If one is sensitive to this score, there is no doubt that it will give an extraordinary relief to this "call from beyond"; unfortunately, it did not work for me, it only provoked irritation and constituted, by what I would qualify its pretentious abstraction, a brake to the emotion. Worse, these musical tableaux encroach greatly on the development of the story and prevent a psychological deepening, which would have contributed to a better adhesion: it would have been a good point for example to have Elizabeth's passionate love for Simon "felt" rather than given for granted. We know one thing about Simon: he is attracted to death, but what about his power of seduction over Elizabeth (and thus over the viewer)? We also know too little about his job as an archaeologist. The same goes for Elisabeth's job as a scientific researcher, we only get snippets of it. Didn't the passion about research (Simon's on the past, Élisabeth's for the future) bind the two lovers, at least partly though?
At first, I thought I would like the film without reservations, especially given the intensity of the opening: Simon's "false" death, his "resurrection", Elizabeth's distraught reaction. The rest of the film also resonated with me, when it came to the desire of the couple not to miss out on life, to live each moment of their existence to the full, to travel. But then came Simon's fascination for the "other side". A fascination I do not share at all. Those undefined creatures from that undefined « beyond » (a timeless elsewhere heavily symbolized by the river and its eddies) may attempt to attract me, like they do Simon, I won't heed their call. For what do they offer him once he has crossed the Styx? Not much in truth: nothing else but their vague company in the heart of a no man's land where after a terrible feeling of cold one feels good! A soft bliss, a stagnant beatitude, which looks very much like the paradise of religion and its eternal and unchanging happiness.
I felt like shouting "Take care of yourself, Simon, you have a young, lively, pretty companion, and you prefer joining these inconsistent specters!" "And you, Elisabeth, what madness this Paschalian bet is, to die in order to eventually join (even if there is only one chance in a million!) your missing lover. This is nothing but the delusion of a sick mind. A completely insane hope".
I finally lost interest, mainly on account of Elizabeth's behavior, presented as the height of love-passion, as the summit of mad love, therefore as subject to admiration. I am afraid I do not admire Élisabeth. I respect her, I take note of her determination but do not approve of it. As Judith says, by dying to join Simon (with an infinitesimal chance of success), Elisabeth kills future loves, future children, of potential future beautiful things. The worst thing, she is apparently unaware of, is that by killing herself, she has a 99.9% chance of also killing... the memory of Simon. In my opinion, this collateral damage is a very bad move, not to be admired.
All in all, a very well directed and superbly acted film, but whose four characters remained light years away from me. It's probably because I don't share the fascination for death of Simon, Elisabeth, Resnais or the scriptwriter Jean Gruault (who had already worked in this register with "La chambre verte" for Truffaut). Of course, if you are fond of near-death, or even death, experiences, you will react differently.
Une question d'heure (1947)
Faster, bargeman,! Faster! Faster !
A curious (and delightful) example of crossing between fiction and documentary. In "Question d'heure" we are given to see the daily life of a family of bargemen in post-war France, their way of working, their problems. Which is not uninteresting but could appear tedious without anything other than the filmed recording of reality, uneventful as it most of the time is.
To avoid the tedium of pure didacticism, Victor Vicas and his scriptwriter Noman Borisoff have had an amazing idea: to transform a mere transport of jute bags from Paris to Ghent into a thrilling race against time. Emile, the bargeman, has a deadline by which he must make his delivery. If he fails, he won't get paid a bonus and God knows he needs the money.
The navigation of his barge is fraught with incidents of all sorts: delays in loading, a breakdown, clogged locks - not to mention the recovery of a drowning man nor the brilliant final twist. Treating his subject as a thriller, Vicas gives it a hell of a pace, both in terms of filming and editing, adding precious value to what first appears to be a simple recording of reality. A humorous commentary, also unusual in this kind of film, is another source of enjoyment. All in all, "Question d'heure" is a documentary (or rather a docu-drama) unlike any other. A real gem, unfortunately forgotten.
Frère et soeur (2022)
What a letdown!
Arnaud Desplechin is a director I quite like so I went to see his last film "Brother and Sister" on trust. Of course, family tensions, the difficult relationships between its members, are not new to him: he has dealt with the theme many times, and even in a particularly masterful way in "A Christmas Tale", but who cares if a creator ploughs the same furrow, provided he does it with renewed acuity. Besides, there seemed to be a little bit of novelty, at least as concerns the cast: Melvil Poupaud (instead of the fixture Mathieu Amalric), the Iranian Golshifteh Farahan, Romanian actress Cosmina Stratani and, even more surprising, Patrick Timsit as... Jewish psychiatrist.
The film starts very well, in an impressive way, with a double accident where the parents of Louis and Alice (the brother and sister of the title) are seriously injured by a truck while trying to help a young woman in an accident. I had strong vibrations, not knowing that it was the last time that emotion would seize me during the 108 long minutes of the screening. Because after this excellent sequence, irritation and boredom set in: hysterical or whiny characters, full of themselves, wallowing in their own suffering, pompous and artificial dialogues, lack of perspective (no humor putting things into perspective), loud expressions of hatred (of the brother and sister, of the brother for his ex-best friend Borkman), tears and sorrow, nervous breakdown, misery (that of Alice's admirer who doesn't have enough to eat), hospital, final throes and death (a six year old child, a miscarriage, an accidental driver, both parents... but not before the mother is threatened with amputation). It's bad melodrama in the Bergman style when the latter complacently exposes his despair. Worse, there are some particularly unpleasant sequences (Alice insulting the African pharmacist; Louis shamelessly yelling at his teenage nephew in a bookshop). The worst of the worst is the incoherence of the scenario: Alice and Louis, after having adored each other, hate each other... without really knowing why; Louis loves his father while daddy tore him down at each birthday by emphasizing everything he had not yet accomplished; Joseph, Louis' nephew, is seeing his uncle while Alice, his mother, does not want to hear about her brother; brother and sister, after having hated each other eternally, reconcile in two swift moves and even sleep in the same bed, Louis having gotten naked in it! Alice finds herself in Benin at the end without anything hinting her (supposedly ancient) desire to be there. Everything is in keeping, at the same time completely incoherent and taking itself terribly seriously.
Of course, there are the actors, who are very good, but what characters do they have to defend, poor them?
I admit I was surprised that after having seen eight of the director's films, to feel such a sense of rejection... a first I could have done without.
What has become of you, Student Desplechin? Come on, get a grip please!
A model of gravity, tact and meaningful brevity.
Seven minutes (five if you take away the two minute credits) are enough for Karin Albou to depict the drama of a little girl whose (too!) nice daddy sexually abuses her day after day. Likewise, she does not need very much in terms of storyline to make her point - powerfully indeed: Émilie, kicked out of her class, runs to take refuge in the toilets of her elementary school. There she gets upset by two events, one apparently insignificant (a dripping faucet), the other more directly unsettling for a kid (a couple hiding in the bathroom to kiss and fondle). The faucet that drips... and she finds herself back in her bath, subjected to the sensual caresses of her father; the two lovebirds ( a male and female cleaning agents) that embrace themselves under her eyes.... and she is back in her bed, the object of hand games at first playful then explicitly sexual.
As can be seen, "Chut..." (Hush...) does not evacuate its subject. While shown in a rather allusive way, the father's gestures on his daughter are unequivocal. And raise the indignation of the spectator.
In the role of the little victim, Émilie Georges remains constantly serious. She has no dialogue and says only one word in the entire film, a "yes" to her father when he asks if she loves him. Alone with herself, she cannot speak of her secret to anyone and the silence in which Karin Albou confines her has a metaphorical aspect.
At the end, no catharsis: Émilie's father comes to pick her up at school and they leave, the little girl's hand in her father's. An image of deceptive normality for those who are not aware of the situation. That is to say everybody - except of course the viewers, who know now that this means a return to hell. A desperate feeling Karin Albou still accentuates by putting in the foreground the school fence, another symbol of Emilie's lot.
« Chut... », a model of gravity, tact and meaningful brevity.
La banque Nemo (1934)
"La Banque Nemo", is a genuine forgotten gem René Chateau gave everybody access to. Thanks for that, René !
The basis of Marguerite Viel's biting comedy is the Louis Verneuil play of the same title. Lucid, relevant, caustic, committed , brilliant (whether it concerns characters, situations, dialogues or comic devices), the play is very well transposed to the screen by Marguerite Viel, a creative filmmaker, unsurprisingly blamed by lazy minds for sticking too much to its theatrical source. The usual parrots just fail to notice all the dynamism that she has put in her film as well as her cinematic ideas (especially in the first part). Sorry, but this is not mere filmed theater! And what an actor director she proves: Victor Boucher 's performance is surprisingly modern and René Bergeron excels in the role of a grumbling mediocre bank clerk who can show, as in the last part of the story, a singular courage. With his scowling face, his endless nose and his sad mustache, he composes an anthology Larnoy. The women, on the other hand, are more subjected to the standards of the time, but both Mona Goya (very piquant) and Alice Tissot (a plain-looking pleasure-seeker) manage to amuse us.
The censors of the time (1934, the year of all dangers for democracy) did not appreciate this virulent denunciation of financial scandals, of crooked business and of its collusion with politicians (remember the amazing sequence of the cabinet meeting, not far from Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel"). Quite understandable from their point of view, wasn't all that (and isn't it still) too close to reality? I am afraid it is. At any rate, the film's "moral lesson", "When you steal a handkerchief you are sent to prison, when you steal 100 millions, the theft is legitimate" is valid at any time of history, and particularly these days; just remember the 2008 crisis, when the banks, responsible for the said crisis, were bailed out with the money of the taxpayer! Were the irresponsible speculators sent to jail? No, rather the whistleblowers!
By cutting the council of ministers sequence, the censorship commission members shattered the exploitation of the film and sent the director back to anonymity (what a feat !) but did they really clear the bad citizens targeted by "La Banque Nemo"? Of course not. You can't solve a problem by denying it.
A last remark in passing, Viel and Verneuil have the courage not to attack the Jews, as was customary at the time. Congrats to them.
"La Banque Nemo, A hithorto forgotten landmark in film history that will not remain forgotten. Justice is done.
Derniers jours à Shibati (2017)
Foray into a threatened neighborhood
Hendrick Dussollier investigates. If there's one thing he dislikes, it's the dismantling of a city's old neighborhoods and what usually goes with it, namely the eradication of a unique environment, the erasure of a whole community's history. The director does have a mind of his own : didn't "Obras", his extraordinary first film, already deal with the same subject (the destruction of an old district in Barcelona) ?
What is original (and destabilizing) in this particular documentary is that despite his benevolence, the director, who is also the camera operator, is not welcome in Shibati, a miserable inner city of the sprawling city of Chongqing. Its inhabitants only see the foreigner, in other words someone suspect, in him. Moreover, although the victims of an unequal society, they are afraid that the intruder (even more so since he films them), will spread a bad image of themselves.
Luckily (both for the director and for us spectators) three of the inhabitants refuse to abide by that unwritten law: a picturesque hairdresser, a little boy who knows the labyrinth of streets like the back of his hand, and a very original old lady who collects and exhibits discarded objects and exhibits. Thanks to these three "accomplices", Dussollier finally manages to penetrate into the threatened territory and to reveal a few of the singularities of the district. . The result is an atypical film, totally unpredictable. We may remain perplexed at times but we are interested, amused or touched throughout. Very unusual and, for this reason, a must-see.
9 jours à Raqqa (2020)
Nine days that matter.
We all know the names of dictators, invaders and other oppressors but it is much less the case - what an injustice! - for the names of the heroes and heroines who fought and are still fighting today against terrible adversity to bring about a better world. Thus, the name of Bashar El-Assad, cynical executioner of the Syrian people, immediately comes to mind, while the name of Leila Mustapha, the heroine of Xavier de Lauzanne's documentary « 9 Days in Raqqa », does not mean anything to most of us, including myself. And yet here is a most admirable person: she is not only a charming friendly young woman (aged 32 at the time of filming in late 2019) but also the deputy mayor of Raqqa, a doubly martyred city for first having been the capital of the Daech khalfat from 2014 to 2017 (with all the exactions that implies) and then savagely bombed (destroyed to 82%) by the Liberation Forces of the city. A woman, holding such important positions so early? Being single? And Kurdish? And Muslim? And not veiled? And a lover of freedom and democracy? All this in El-Assad's Syria? Incredible assuredly but true.
Such an exceptional woman (though of an astounding simplicity) well deserved an in-depth portrait. It is now done thanks to the director Xavier de Lauzanne, an excellent documentary filmmaker (remember the luminous « Little Gems ») and Marine de Tilly, a great reporter and writer, who agreed to interview Leila in front of his cameras during nine days in December 2019. The result is 90 minutes in every way exciting, which, in addition to the endearing personality of the mayor, informs us about the three years's time of the Daech dictatorship, the savage fighting of the Kurdish-American forces to dislodge them and the least known, the period 2017-2019, which documents the immeasurable task of the reconstruction, the restoration of democracy, political and cultural life, the emancipation of women. Focusing all her forces to fulfill this formidable mission, Leïla Mustapha works hard, sleeps little and is careful to protect herself (and her parents) from possible attacks (two of her collaborators were recently assassinated). All the more so since the task, immense in itself, is complicated by the withdrawal of American troops decided by Donald Trump. One can only admire the energy and the uncommon idealism of Leila who should become, in all logic after this film, a legendary figure. She who resists with a smile (and repressed fear) to forces much bigger than her. Thank you to Xavier de Lauzanne for having made us discover her, in spite of all the vicissitudes that have stood in his way. The same gratitude goes to Marine de Tilly, who knows how to put Leila in the spotlight through her questions without putting herself too much in the foreground. These 90 fascinating minutes are accompanied, which does not spoil anything, by an inspired score by Ibrahim Maalouf, at once tender, serious and melancholic. It goes straight to the heart ; maybe because, coming from Lebanon, the composer really knows about ruins.
Circle Line (2012)
Journey in the head of a troubled man
Directed by South Korean filmmaker Su-won Shin, "Circle Line" is a remarkable short film, in the sense that it manages to harmoniously mix genres as disparate as social commentary (the inhumanity of the working world), psychological study (the impact of unemployment on the psyche of an executive invested in his work) and pure fantasy (the obsessions of the hero, Sang-woo).
The starting point of "Circle Line" is the dismissal of a 40-year-old executive. Unemployed for some time, he has not dared talk about it to his wife and his teenage daughter. Like others before him, he has been playing the comedy of work, pretending to go to the office in the morning and to return late at night. The truth is that the dejected man, deprived of one of his reasons for living and humiliated by the fact that he will soon no longer be able to guarantee his family's daily comfort, spends his time in the Seoul subway, going in circles from train to train on the aptly named Circle Line.
If the film were reduced to this, it would already be interesting, but it is even more interesting when we know that Sang-woo's wife, who is nine months pregnant, is about to give birth. One more mouth to feed is a problem, not to say a torment, and, in his daze, all the husband has to say to his wife the morning she tells him her water is about to break is that the baby shouldn't be born now, that it had better wait.
From then on, Sang-woo's questless subway odyssey becomes a very destabilizing guilt trip. Not only will he not be able to ensure a good life for this baby, but he bitterly reproaches himself (without being able to do otherwise) for letting his wife down on the probable day of her delivery. Soon the irrational interferes in his perception of things: he sees pregnant women everywhere, his wife is suddenly lying on the bench face to him. He is also obsessed with his office, where during a visit to return his badge, he is greeted with indifference by his ex-colleagues. In his confusion, he soon sees himself playing rock-paper-scissors with his replacement... on the edge of a station platform, at the risk of falling on the tracks and ending up crushed. He also has problems with a young beggar girl who asks for a handout to feed her baby. Crossing paths with her several times in harrowing scenes, whether real or fantasized, he finds himself confronted with the very embodiment of the anxieties he is going through.
Rarely has the distress of a man who has suddenly lost his bearings been shown with such intensity. And also with such subtlety and such an economy of means. No shocking scenes, everything is suggested, leaving the spectator to deduce the reality of things from the clues that she sows throughout his journey to nowhere. She does not explain anything, letting the spectator deduce the reality of things, which is different from the one perceived by the main character. The fact that almost all the action takes place underground (the few escapes to the outside actually only serve to reinforce Sang-woo's trouble) really makes sense, suggesting the poor man's inward-looking attitude. Sang-woo is indeed locked in because of his sterile denial: the solution to his problems can no more come out of his head than the fetus from his wife's swollen belly).
Cold colors, In-gi Jeong, an actor perfectly expressing Sang-woo's moral and mental disorders and inspired editing plunge the viewer into a bizarre feeling, at the same time pitying and condemning the hero . This is assuredly not a feel-good movie but in a way it does give you good vibrations, not generated by the story itself naturally but by the ability of the filmmaker, a brilliant creator, to talk to us finely about serious things, from adult to adult, from accomplished artist to demanding spectator.
La pièce rapportée (2020)
Bites end laughs
A singular mix of social criticism (the ultra rich take their toll) and slapstick comedy, even "nonsense" : a 48 year old mama's boy (singer Philippe Katerine - with a toupee) falls in love with a charming subway ticket collector (just before the station's ticket office closes in favor of a magnificent automaton). The young lady is charming (of course, it's the graceful Anaïs Demoustier who lends her plasticity to Ava) but poor, a mortal sin in the eyes of the "Queen Mother" (the monstrous Josiane Balasko). However, her son's pickle is not too clever and the future Château-Têtard (that's the name of that nice family) is late in coming. The young Ava gets bored, escapes from the frozen interior of the mansion where she now lives and what was supposed to happen happens, she falls into the arms of a young bearded man, more in line with her age and her appetites. Her shrew of a mother-in-law (in open war against the one she elegantly calls "little whore") has suspicions and complications accumulate (especially following the unusual aggression of our two lovers by a wild couple of pro-Brexit Englishmen).
The laughs are uneven, there are a few dull moments and some redundancies but the whole remains entertaining while offering a criticism of the ultra-rich certainly caricatured (is not the caricature however an art in itself, eh, Honoré Daumier?) but relevant. The Château-Têtard family is rich because they were "wise enough" to sell their products "legally" and to the "right people" (the Nazis, Pinochet). A nice illustration of the saying, money has no smell).
Not the ultimate masterpiece, but Antonin Peretjatko's biting comedy is a worthwhile entertainment for those who like the genre.
Le rideau rouge (1952)
A film that successfully conveys the authors' love for theatre but fails to fascinate.
The theme of theater and life coming together is not revolutionary, nor is that of Shakespeare influencing the lives of the protagonists ("A Double Life" by Cukor, André Cayatte's "The Lovers of Verona") but it could not but appeal to such theater enthusiasts as André Barsacq (the great figure of the Théâtre de l'Atelier, successor to Charles Dullin) and his friend Jean Anouilh (the famous playwright). "Crimson Curtain", the product of their collaboration (Barsacq co-wrote and directed, Anouilh was co-writer), while being a true detective movie is above all their common declaration of love for the means of expression they have dedicated their whole life to. Unfortunately, if love for theater is conspicuous in "Crimson Curtain", their film as a whole is nothing but a mixed bag.
Among the good points is the way the two authors pass on their love to the spectators: as theirs is a crime story, they deftly make their spokespersons two police detectives who while investigating, discover the world of theater, totally unknown to them. First merely astonished, they prove more and more captivated by the play, by the story it tells, by the suspense it generates, by the actors, by the wings and its workers, and finally by Shakespeare himself. Jean Brochard and Olivier Hussenot, who embody them, while working seriously at solving a murder story, marvel like kids unwrapping their presents at Christmas.
There are also a few good sequences involving the living performance of "Macbeth", especially the scenes of the confrontation of Macbeth with the ghost of Banquo paralleling that of Ludovic, the actor who plays the role, with the lookalike of the man he and his Lady Macbeth have just murdered.
On the minus side, André Barsacq fails in conveying an important aspect of the story, the poisonous interdependence between husband, wife and lover: first because there are no expository scenes to put us in the mood before the action begins, second on account of Monelle Valentin (Anouilh's life companion)'s unprepossessing looks and bland acting, which prohibits any sensation of fascination.
On the whole, besides, the performances are uneven. Beginning with Michel Simon who has a double rôle but only... half convinces: excellent as the obnoxious actor-director of the drama company, he is less convincing as his understudy: it is not his fault, simply, his double looks too much like him even if his voice has been changed. As for Pierre Brasseur, he is curiously self-conscious, except when he plays Macbeth on the stage and becomes his impetuous self again. I'll say nothing more about Monelle Valentin, the black spot of the story. In contrast, one will take unmixed pleasure in the acting of Olivier Hussenot, as a police inspector who discovers the magic of the theater with a childish joy, of Jean Brochard, very natural as a chief inspector with popular wisdom, and of his regular opposite, Noël Roquevert as a vindictive ham.
In the end, the film can be watched without displeasure but with the feeling that Anouilh and especially Barsacq have missed the great film that "Crimson Curtain" could have been.
With a great truth, "Louloute" takes you into its universe from the first minutes of the screening. The opening is not at all obvious though : the film is supposed to be about a little girl living on a farm in Normandy in the 1980s and what do we see? Teenage boys playing soccer on a lawn and a young woman asleep in the grass. The rain starts to fall and she suddenly wakes up, gets up and runs towards a building that turns out to be a high school. Don't panic, you're in the right room!, This young woman is indeed Louloute, or rather Louise, who, two decades later has become a history-geography teacher. The young woman is not feeling too good at the moment and often arrives late, as is the case here. What is her problem? You will understand the nature of her troubles later, through sequences that are either contemporary (with Dimitri, the new English teacher, her childhood friend) or set in 1988 (on the family farm, with her parents, older brother and younger sister). Louise is in fact the victim of an unresolved childhood trauma, a trauma, which will be revealed in the last part of the film.
As I said in the beginning, the film rings true from one end to the other, whether in the scenes in the 2020 high school (the premises, the teachers' lounge, the colleagues, the vice principal giving Louise a piece of mind, the classroom, the students' conduct) or in that of the 1980s (the authentic Normandy farm setting, the behavior of the three children, the daily life of a dairy farmer, discussions about the problems of small milk producers, etc).
This fine feeling of veracity is also found in the characters, starting with Louloute, an endearing hypersensitive little girl with too much intelligence not to perceive the problems her parents go through. In the role, Alice Henri reveals herself as an exceptional actress: carrying most of the film on her shoulder is a real exploit for someone so young - which she does - with honors! All the other members of the family are as well depicted and interpreted: each character has their own personality, especially Isabelle, the loving mother who is not made for misfortune (luminous Laure Calamy) and Jean-Jacques, the father, whose worries sometimes make the caring dad somewhat aggressive (Bruno Clairefond, who seems to have raised cows all his life).
Finally, let us note that Viel, not content with excelling in sociology, psychology, and narrative art (in particular his talent for moving from one era to another), also successfully ventures down the path of the unusual and the dreamlike. Two sequences in particular stand out: the liberation of a hen in a huge intensive breeding shed and Louise's nightmare, one of the most terrifying I've seen in a long time.
Unfortunately « Louloute »'s great richness, its magnificent humanity and its consummate art of storytelling remain uncelebrated, as it was shunned at its release. It is unfair, but it happens. But it is not too late: watch it on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming, TV, whatever, but watch it. It is a little masterpiece.
A Primeira Morte de Joana (2021)
A sensitive intimate portrait.
Death of a loved one upsetting a teenager, denunciation of machismo and retarded morals in Brazil (at least by 2007, when the action takes place), slow realization of her homosexuality by Joana, the young protagonist of the story, it's a lot for one film. A question therefore arises: won't the writer-director bite off more than she can chew, as the saying goes? On the other hand, will she be able to avoid the two major pitfalls that threaten an effort of the kind, being over-demonstrative in terms of ideas or over-indulgent in terms of sex scenes, or both? Fortunately, as of the first minutes, we feel it for sure: it will be nothing of the sort.
Of course, gravity and tension reign, drama and threat loom in 'The First Death of Joana' (Cristiane Oliveira's second feature after 'Mulher do Pai' in 2016), but the author opts for a chronicle, not a tragedy. As a result, the story, told is an intimate one told day by day, is one in which darkness is aptly counterbalanced with lightness, crudeness with poetry and tenderness. And it works all the better because Oliveira has a deep sense of psychology, which helps us connect with the main character. Her fine description of Joana's personality, moods and emotional journey really make this young girl endearing. Gradually discovering Joana to be sensitive, quick-witted and combative raises our interest in her evolution from the stage of late childhood (which ends at the death of her beloved aunt) to that of nascent maturity (when she discovers her sexual orientation).
In the end, we leave the film moved and enchanted. Which means the director has made the right choices: capturing the characters in their authenticity (they all ring true, from Joana - Laeticia Kacperski - and her best friend Carolina - Isabela Bressane - to the adults, to the grandmother); placing them in a well-defined context (Rio do Sul, in the South of Brazil, its omnipresent nature, a big lake, a vast wind farm) ; advancing the story with light touches, infusing the seriousness of her subject rather than asserting it schematically, dogmatically or complacently. We feel before we understand: this is great impressionist art.
Also noteworthy is the use of the Scope format, which has often been said to be perfect for large spaces and gigantic sets but inappropriate for capturing intimacy. This film proves the contrary.: the 2.35 ratio can very well enhance the wide open spaces of... the human soul.
With this delicate film, Cristiane Oliveira falls within the category of sensitive and humanistic filmmakers and could one day join Renoir, Truffaut, Ozu, Kiarostami or Satyajit Ray in their pantheon. An artist to follow in any case.
Adieu Paris (2013)
Better than the first few minutes of runtime can make you fear.
The beginning is somewhat alarming: it looks as though we are in for just another boring sentimental movie. What a trite photonovel situation indeed: on an airplane, a thirty some German woman is traveling to Paris where she is to meet her married lover. Flying on the same plane is another traveler (a handsome man of course). The said fellow has helped the lady get out of an awkward situation at the airport just before takeoff and though their first contact has been nothing short of uneasy, you can be sure of one thing, they will meet again and eventually fall in love. Along with time we learn more about the characters, already or not yet present: Patrizia Munz is a novelist, her lover an architect, the lover's wife a dentist and her savior, Frank Bendssen, a banker about to land a big deal in France. Well, if not a photonovel, "Adieu Paris" might well be one of those too oft-seen tedious bourgeois dramas. Sigh!
Wrong impression so pleasant surprise. Martin Rathaus' screenplay gradually acquires real depth: Jean-Jacques, Patrizia's French lover, has just had a serious accident and lies in hospital between life and death. The mistress is led to meet Jean-Jacques' wife and an ambiguous relationship develops between them. From then on, the narrative takes unexpected paths, and we find ourselves light years away from the worn-out story, seen a thousand times and more, which was threatening us poor spectators.
As a matter of fact, "Adieu Paris", well acted and competently directed (by Franziska Buch, gradually asserts itself as a beautiful meditation on life and death, safe from Bergman-like hysteria but imbued with real gravity, occasionally corrected by welcome touches of lightness. One exception to this delicate balance, the main character's propensity to indulge in navel-gazing, to feel sorry for herself with exaggerated complacency. But that is only a slight defect, it does not prevent the film from being absorbing on the whole.
All in all, "Adieu Paris" is not for those who think that a movie is pure entertainment and nothing else. But it will please those who do not refrain from thinking. Life, death, how make the most of the one life we are entitled to are the real issues addressed by this German film. A little reflection from time to time can't hurt.
The Way they were
Using amateur films shot between 1920 and 1960, Jean Baronnet takes us on a fascinating journey through the depths of France, which we see evolving in black and white (and sometimes in color) - in terms of clothing, morals, entertainment, etc. Intelligently, the director chooses chronological order as the main thread, but also frequent flashbacks, which allow us to take stock of what we have just seen, avoiding that one image chases the other.
The tone adopted is rather good-natured, a little nostalgic, gently humorous. Baronnet makes only rare allusions to the tragedies that the country went through, notably the Second World War, during which the daily life of the French was disrupted. This is simply not the object of this simple chronicle of a nation's daily life We are shown people like everyone else, with few famous figures (one exception, Saint-Exupéry who gets off his plane in 1938): there are many scenes of family life, vacations, local festivals, etc. Four decades of daily life, unchanging in its rituals but always changing, unfold before our alternately amused and moved eyes.
If I had to select one sequence from this documentary, it would be the extraordinary crossing of Paris filmed in 1924 from a car: the driving license had only existed for two years and traffic lights were not yet in use. There were few cars but that did not prevent the traffic from being totally random, with everyone doing as they pleased. Poor passers-by (there were no pedestrian crossings either) having to jump between the vehicles at their own risk!
The film. A mix of interesting information, warm nostalgia and constant smiles, is to be recommended. One is not bored for a minute.
Médecin de nuit (2020)
A brilliant contemporary film noir.
"Médecin de nuit" (The Night Doctor), co-written and directed by Elie Wajeman ("Aliyah", "The Anarchists"), filmed in Paris at the turn of 2019 and 2020, checks all the boxes of the film noir genre: a city at night, individuals at the margins of society, either by choice or left behind by the system (drug addicts, thugs and other traffickers, homeless or destitute underdogs), violence erupting at regular intervals, a hero (Mickaël, the night doctor of the title) somewhat in trouble with the law struggling against forces beyond him, including a (could-be) femme fatale (Sofia, Mickaël's ambiguous mistress) and a seductive but devious villain.
Naturally, gathering all the ingredients of a recipe does not mean that the dish will be successful, one has to accommodate them the right way. Judging by the result, Elie Wajeman has proved up to the task. The cook sure did not spoil the broth!
First things first, for Wajeman, just like Richard Bohringer, "A City is Beautiful at Night", an aesthetic taste that he manages (with the competent assistance of cinematographer David Chizallet) to translate on the wide screen, the cold ugliness of the areas the doctor drives through being advantageously replaced by the warm glow of all kinds of lights, fixed or changing (red lights, neon signs, lit windows, etc.) Secondly, as a writer (Wajeman started writing the script with Agnès Feuvre but completed it alone), the director shows an aptitude (required for this kind of film) to spare his effects, to play with the unexpected, to sustain the interest until the denouement: tension, threats and twists duly pervade the plot. Moreover, by compressing the action into a period of less than 24 hours and a running time of 82 minutes, Wajeman further enhances the dramatic potential of his story, constantly varying according to the moments from anecdotal, daily or amused to dramatic, even tragic, through a whole range of intermediate tonalities For his part, he actor Vincent Macaigne is not for nothing in this success: his unfailing investment in his character added to his natural talent give a flawless consistency to the whole thing. It is impressive to see him change without apparent transition from "holy man" to "thick brute", from worn out man to consoler of those who suffer.
Last but not least, as in the best films noirs, the author is not content to illustrate the crime plot, he places it in the richer framework of psychological study, sociological observation and documentary, Thus we will witness the marital crisis that pits Mickaël and his wife Sacha against each other.
Thus we will discover what is hidden inside these impersonal buildings housing modest beings in modest districts.
Thus we will see how a night doctor works (the consultation scenes seem to come out of reality as if filmed by a hidden camera.) At the time of the final sequence, of great dramatic power, you will be completely shaken. "The Night Doctor" will not disappear instantly from your memory.
Unpretentious homage to the slapstick comedies of yore. Some good laughs.
Dating back to 1997, the short film « Rosita », is one of the first comedies made by the duo Abel and Gordon. Featuring a fortune-teller and her assistant Raoul, it was quite relevantly shot on a fun fair ground ( The Foire du Midi in Brussels).
Well, despite this authentic element, this is not really a masterpiece. The duo's major comedies are still to come. Fiona Gordon is not yet this offbeat Englishwoman, half-minger half-fairy while Dominique Abel, although already maladjusted to the world around him, does not yet exude the sympathy that will make his character so endearing in their further efforts. Thematically speaking, there is at least one interesting feature, namely the indelible bond that unites the two losers whatever happens (and God knows how much fate is against them), a constant in their works to come. The scenario here is basic (we are still far from the elaborate universes of "The Iceberg", "Rumba" or "Lost in Paris"). It barely reports the misadventures of a doomed couple, Rosita, a clumsy clairvoyant and her even clumsier assistant. By joining forces (or rather by joining weaknesses), they are sure to fail. And they do ! The pair hopelessly (and hilariously) misses all their effects and the customers flee !
That's about all there is to it but we do laugh. After all, many of the first slapstick comedies were not more complex in terms of the scenario either but still work fine today.
So do not expect more than just a good glassful of unpretentious laughter, which is actually not that bad.
Passable. Not unpleasant bot too superficial
"Visages du littoral ; la Manche " is one of that (too numerous) kind of documentaries one watches without displeasure but that hardly leaves any trace in our memories.
To make us travel along the French coasts from the Belgian border to the confines of Normandy is naturally of interest. Amazing indeed is the number of natural and architectural beauties we are invited to fly over: the Opal Coast, the Bay of the Somme, the old town of Dieppe and its castle, the Mont-Saint-Michel - and these are only a few examples. But that is precisely where the shoe pinches: we are given to see zillions of sights, each one more beautiful than the other, far too many actually for a 52-minute screening time. Moreover, they are almost exclusively shown from the sky, so with a great distance, leaving in the shade the human beings who populate these places. Well, for sure, the director « overviews » the subject in both senses of the term.
Moreover, when Gilles Kebaïli, the director, decides to bring us closer to the inhabitants, he resorts either to archival footage (we are interested in the words of the philosopher Michel Onfray or Gérard Fusberti, Jacques Prévert's friend but they are taken from previous sources). And when he does not do that, he is content to film parachute jumpers, golfers and other sportsmen: aren't there people who put their region in a better light than all these fellows, who are certainly nice but who are only entertaining themselves, which all amounts, cinematographically speaking, to padding out.
If you are well-disposed, you can still get a minimum of pleasure out of this superficial travelogue and its images, assuredly beautiful but frustratingly fugitive.
Odd one-man show, at once brilliant, poetic, hilarious and disturbing.
"Tout est normal mon coeur scintille" is a fantastic journey into the troubled mind of a man who loved his girlfriend more than anything else and who can't get over her departure. She doesn't love him anymore, why? Well it's a fact, it can't be explained. But no explanation means no solace and the poor fellow finds it hard to survive, feeling as if he were amputated of half of himself. To express this terrible disarray, Gamblin denies himself nothing: neither humor, nor absurdity, nor onirism, nor dance, nor acrobatics, nor back projections, nor song hits ("Believe In Us" by Jay Jay Johanson). The result is a very personal one-Man show that has few equivalents, if any.
Fully invested in his character, disoriented but not without self-derision, Jacques Gamblin carries the whole show on his shoulders, with the added support of two dancers, one male one female, helping to express through their movements the character's emotional lack when his words are not enough. A multi-talented artist, he gives a breathtaking performance.
His February 2013 show (given at the Théâtre du rond-Point) has fortunately been recorded by Vincent Bataillon. A good deed indeed, for now a DVD exists and the play will not only exists in the memories of those who saw it at the theatre. This skillfully made recording is a real must-see for viewers in search of authenticity and originality. If you are in this case, please don't miss it.
Monsieur le maire (1947)
An overplayed, heavy-handed comedy with a hackneyed subject, "D'r Herr Maire" would not be of any interest if it were not the first talking film in the Alsatian language. Adapted from a successful play by Gustave Stoskopf from 1898, and performed by local actors, the film really only speaks to pure Alsatians. Non-Alsatians will appreciate it even less knowing that the subtitles are very incomplete, the French version leaving half of the dialogues in the dark. The historian may eventually be interested in this cinematographic UFO: shot in 1939 by Jacques Séverac (not from Alsace at all but from Normandy and a specialist of...Morocco!), "D'r Herr Maire" shows views of an Alsatian village near Strasbourg at it was shortly before World War II. Likewise, the film documents the costumes and headdresses still worn by its inhabitants. The ethnographer will be less convinced insofar as the customs of the local people are portrayed in a very superficial and conventional way.
To be reserved for the amateurs of curiosities, the others will pass their way.
Pure Style + Joyful skepticism = The Day After
Areum has just been hired by the publisher Kim Bongwan. She replaces the boss's resigning secretary (and mistress!). This morning, well before dawn, Areum leaves the marital home to join her new office. On the way, she can't stop thinking about the woman who left. On the spot, she sets to work. At the same time, Haejoo, Kim's wife, finds a love letter that he had left lying around in one of his pockets. Exploding with rage, she goes to the office. Taking Areum for the accomplice of her unfaithful husband, she slaps her in the face...
One likes or dislikes Sang-soo Hong as one likes or dislikes Eric Rohmer. But if one is sensitive to the charm of a "conversation piece" type of cinema, one will appreciate this philosophical fable, delicately hidden under the attractive trappings of a pure marivaudage. Ironic evocation of the indecision in love, serious reflection on honesty and hypocrisy, unvarnished denunciation of male cowardice, many themes of the Korean director are gathered here. But Sang-soo Hong, closer to Marivaux than Bossuet, approaches these austere subjects with a lightness that is both caustic and good-natured. And it is well-known that smiles help moral and reflection go down. As for the direction itself, "The Day After" bears the indelible signature of its author, namely these long sequence shots where the protagonists talk and talk, laugh and laugh and drink soju by hectoliters. Such a technique gives once again Hong's favorite actors the opportunity to shine (the beautiful Kim Min-Hee and the cowardly Hae-hyo Kwon here getting the best part of the cake). However, there is no question of the Korean master resting on his laurels; on his agenda is also the exploration of new territories, such as the use of black and white as well as some interesting research on the dilation and retraction of time. "The Day After", an unprecedented example of pure style and joyful skepticism, is to be recommended ... to those who are not allergic to this kind of cinema.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
Two against the odds
A filmed biography of Stephen Hawking was inevitable. A genius of cosmology and quantum gravity, he was one of the rare scientists to have acquired great public notoriety. Knowing moreover with which valor this exceptional being, supported by his loving wife, resisted the ravages of Lou Gehrig's disease, the novelistic side was guaranteed. It resulted in James Marsh's « The Theory of Everything", not an exceedingly original work but quite a satisfying one for all that. It certainly deals only superficially with hard sciences, but could it be otherwise in a work intended for the general public? Inspired by Jane Hawking's book, the screenwriter Anthony McCracken has chosen - and rightly so - the only possible angle, that of the personal story of Stephen and Jane, closely united as they were in their struggle against an adverse fate. Thus considered, this "The Theory of Everything" proves to be as edifying as touching, thanks in particular to its two actors, Eddie Redmayne, amazing in his evocation of the physical deterioration of his character, and Felicity Jones, knowing how to ally the energy of the fighter to the expression of the unconditional love. Overall, not too much pathos, and even some humor. With such a potentially lachrymal subject, the finished product could have been worse, much worse.
Gauguin - Voyage de Tahiti (2017)
Cassell and Tahiti are ok but...
Paul Gauguin has had enough of married life, of France and of misery. In the hope of a healthier and more authentic life, the painter moves to Polynesia. An opportunity for him to develop his style and become an artist with an inimitable touch. There, he also falls in love with the beautiful Tehura. The earthly paradise seems within reach...
On the plus side, a very decent reconstruction of the period, beautiful views of Tahiti and Vincent Cassel's rough but intense interpretation. On the other hand, the watering down of the subject is pretty hard to swallow. The girls (not the girl) with whom Gauguin slept were under the minimum age allowed by the law (which is not the case of the pretty actress Tuhei Adams, eighteen at the the time of filming); as for the disease that struck the artist, it was syphilis, not diabetes. It is not by embellishing things that one captures the truth of a human being.