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L'île rouge (2023)
Interesting and respectable but not that great
Madagascar is a region hardly talked about, except in general to deplore its extreme poverty. It is , moreover, a country where - before "L'Île rouge (Red Island)" - no movie was shot for about thirty-five years, resulting in a dramatic lack of specific equipment and facilities as a result. Through filming a story set in Madagascar as its sole setting, Robin Campillo ("They Came back", "120 Beats Per Minute") actually takes the first step to making up for this double injustice; let him be congratulated for that. All the more so since at the time of its filming the COVID pandemics was at its peak. Under such conditions it is a real feat that "Red Island" not only exists but manages, against all odds, to tell its tale, at once a page of the country's history and a slice of the author's personal childhood. No small ambition assuredly. Which makes me feel a bit embarrassed, for I have to confess that I did not like the film very much, interesting and sincere as it is. Where the shoe pinches actually, at least in this writer's eyes, is that the whole thing does not entirely live up to its aspirations.
Interesting, yes, insofar as the scene (a French air base in Madagascar), the time (a couple of months between 1971 and 1972) and the situation (the tensions between the elected president Tsiranana, the French forces and the Malagasy people) have hardly ever (or even never ?) been depicted in a fiction film.
Interesting also because the narrative is, as I wrote, based on Campillo's own memories, which brings an additional flavor of authenticity to the main plot.
And sincere, for the writer-director, far from judging his characters, does justice to all of them, including the "sinful" ones, Bernard (and his infidelity) and Guedj (and his leaning on alcohol) The trouble to my mind is that, while aiming to study the dysfunction of a family falling apart, « Red Island » offers the mere sketch of a serious analysis. A pity because actually everything was in place for a quality psychological drama around the husband, Warrant Officer Robert Lopez (not evil, but rigid and authoritarian), the wife (married too young, too idle, frustrated by her restrictive role as mother and housewife), and their little boy Thomas (growing up in between). The portrait, I'm afraid, is singularly lacking in depth, and when Campillo takes stock of the decay of two other couples, it's even worse.
As a result, perhaps because it's poorly constructed, the film doesn't touch or move us as much as it could. Just compare it to "The Silent Girl", another film released shortly after, also told from a child's point of view, quite overwhelming. Unfortunately here, only a few scenes have any emotional power, the best ones featuring the little boy and his young girlfriend (child actors Charlie Vauselle and Cathy Phan are excellent, and there's a real chemistry between them). For the rest, the performers have little to defend their characters, so much so that they are only sketched out or presented too coldly or too intellectually. Worse, they are sometimes abandoned along the way, like the pieds-noirs couple, Bernard's young wife who can't adjust to life abroad - or introduced far too late, like Bernard, the soldier who falls in love with a Madagascan woman, to be grasped in all their complexity. And what about the treatment of Mingaly (despite the good choice of Malagasy Amely Rakotsarimalaka), soldier Bernard's native mistress? It sounds unbelievable but, it is a fact: she only appears in the last fifth of the story! An overly disjointed narrative, gaping holes in its development, sequences that are too long and others too short prevent anything more than episodic buy-in.
Another of the film's weaknesses is the amount of time given over to animated sequences featuring the children's favorite heroine Fantômette. It's been a recent (and disputable) fashion in French cinema to sprinkle animated sequences throughout a live-action film ("Tout le monde aime Jeanne", "Ama Gloria", etc.). In this writer's eyes, in the Fantômette sequences in "Red Island" not only have none of the magic of childhood but they're banally animated and only remotely metaphorical. Above all, they bring nothing significant to the whole, taking up instead a large amount of footage that could have been devoted to deepening the characters' psychology. The ending beats all records for "non-cinema": turning into a tract film, the final quarter of an hour or so inflicts us with no fewer than three political speeches on the run as well as a protest march with no real drama at stake, making us sink into the most crass boredom.
All in all, "Red Island" is a missed opportunity for Robin Campillo, and I regret it. The director, who has proved in the past how good he can get, had all the cards in his hand to make a major film though, with unprecedented historical, geographical, psychological and memorial dimensions. He has only succeeded in making a respectable work, unfortunately too poorly put together to be called a masterpiece.
Les Amandiers (2022)
Intense, dark and fiery
The importance of Patrice Chéreau (1944-2013) in the fields of theater, opera and even cinema is well established. An actor and director with an impressive track record, he was also, from 1982 to 1990, co-director (with Pierre Romans) of the decentralized Théâtre de Nanterre (also known as the Théâtre des Amandiers). There, he simultaneously recreated a new theater, founded a drama school and opened a restaurant. Chéreau's reputation was such that for once trendy Parisians put aside their contempt for the suburbs and literally flocked to Nanterre..
The same is true of many actors, whether well-known or apprenticed, who, irresistibly attracted by Chéreau's aura, came to Les Amandiers eager to take part in plays he staged and/or to follow his classes. Among the fledgling young talents, many were prepared to do anything to rub shoulders with the genius but only a (happy?) few were selected - through a competition. In their number were for instance Eva Ionesco, Vincent Pérez, Agnès Jaoui and - guess who? -, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, the future director of "Forever Young". For the record, you can witness the materialization of their efforts in a film Patrice Chéreau made in 1986, featuring them and a few others of his drama students, "Hôtel de France".
It was a time of artistic passion as well as of free sex and drugs, an atmosphere "Forever Young" manages to recreate with great intensity. But it was also a time for psychological abuse. Ask Agnès Jaoui what she thinks about the question and see how Valéria Bruni Tedeschi illustrates this aspect here.
Chéreau, as she depicts him (not everyone agrees with her on that point), is a tyrannical, capricious and self-imbued demiurge, who enjoys bullying his young troupe at a whim. It's all in the name of high art naturally, but does that justify the constant mistreatment of these young persons, ready to do anything to get into the master's good graces? The eternal question of the trainer regarding those he's training as soft dough kneadable at will, unheeding the fact that he is bruising - not to say traumatizing - them, perhaps for life. Louis Garrel, who has become one of the greatest contemporary actors, excels in bringing the prickly genius to life. With the closed face of one that carries around in his head a universe inaccessible to the common mortal, he sulks, screams, displays indifference, listens to the sound of his own voice, kisses, slams the door, gives absurd orders. Garrel is so convincing that he manages to scare even us spectators. Around him, a cast of brilliant young performers who give their all to their roles, just the way Chéreau's emulators did in their day. Among them, all excellent, two shine particularly : Nadia Tereszkiewicz (passionate, excessive, tortured, incandescent) and Sofiane Bennacer (somber, menacing, uncontrollable). Their fiery relationships, both poisonous are reminiscent of the dark atmosphere of "Wuthering Heights", which is no small compliment.
One thing's for sure: far from being only a challenge to the Chéreau myth of Patrice Chéreau, "Forever Young" is Valérie Bruni Tedeschi's most intense, most uncomfortable, most heartfelt and least humorous film. It won't appeal to everyone, but those who enjoy it will come away not only moved but genuinely upset.
Pessimistic but pulsating
Sidi Bouzid, 17 December 2010. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor sets himself on fire in response to the confiscation of his wares and the constant harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by a corrupt policeman, a municipal official and her aides.
Sidi Bouzid, ten years after, Ali Hamdi, a street vendor of petrol, goes through the same way of the cross. For years, the policeman on duty has been fining him for unauthorized trade, demanding bribes to make him turn a blind eye. The administration has remained deaf to his requests. In spite of everything, the young man has managed - by all the existing means - to save enough money to take care of his two sisters. But in the end, all the odds being against him, Ali, as desperate as Mohamed Bouazizi ten years before, in his turn sets himself on fire.
In between yet, dictator Ben Ali has been driven out of power by the people in demand of democracy. Judging but what happens to Ali, nothing has changed basically: the same corruption is rife, injustice reigns, the very poor remain in dire straits while a minority unabashedly reap the benefits.
Such is the terrible assessment made by writer-director Lotfy Nathan (who has - unfortunately - bee proved right by current situation in Tunisia).
As for the way he puts it on the screen, let's say it is just excellent: Nathan, who is also his own scriptwriter, tells the story to great effect, sensitivity coming in addition to brilliant technical skills. The scenes follow one another with remarkable fluidity, but also with the inexorability and implacability of tragedy. His feverish drama is constantly in tune with the rhythm of the young hero's renewed but increasingly futile efforts. Another asset is the young actor playing Ali, Adam Bessa, who brings a lot to the film, always managing to capture the character's silent determination and sullen rage: no doubt he deserves the award he won at Cannes in 2022 . The same applies to Eli Keszler, who composed the powerful, rhythmic score and to Sophie Corra and Thomas Niles, who performed the "edgy" editing, worthy of a mainstream thriller. Thanks this addition of talents, there is never a dull moment during the relatively short running time (87 minutes) of "Harka".
A pessimistic film, agreed, but dynamically directed by the excellent Lotfy Nathan, "Harka" is so powerfully compelling that its tragic finale is even more gripping.
A must-see, but not just to pass the time.
Sur l'Adamant (2023)
A barge like no other
On the Adamant
"Sur l'Adamant" is not a conventional documentary. Like his colleagues Frederick Wiseman and Raymond Depardon, director Nicolas Philibert has a quality of vision, and a modesty too, that keeps him off the beaten track.
In this case, Philibert chooses to tell us about patients being treated for mental disorders by taking the scenic route. To begin with, he spares us the cold walls of psychiatric hospitals and the speeches of therapists, not that they are uninteresting but necessarily coming from people who « know better ». On the contrary, Philibert insists on keeping to the human level, presenting us with real people, not 'patients', i.e. Beings confined to their illness. Muriel, François, Sébastien, Frédéric and the others are certainly a little strange, a little offbeat, but they are people in their own right, who can feel, think, have a sense of humour and create. Perhaps it's even this offbeat aspect that allows us to sweep our brains clean and chase away our preconceived notions of 'madness'. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the lightness and whimsy atmosphere that emanate from 'Sur l'Adamant' - despite an inevitable undercurrent of seriousness linked to the mental condition of the participants.
This magic is also due to the place where this small community of patients and therapists meet, with as little hierarchy as possible: a wooden barge, The Adamant, built specifically to house a day-care centre. On this floating hospital annex, the treatment of nervous disorders is particularly atypical in that patients and caregivers are 'co-authors' of their care. People feel encouraged there to exchange ideas, take part in physical, artistic and/or cultural activities. Some even gather to do the association's accounts.
Nicolas Philibert, who has an uncanny ability to plunge us into a vibrant community of activity ("La Ville Louvre", "Être et avoir", "La Maison de la Radio"), once again propels us into the heart of a group, which astonishes and delights us.
Without adding the slightest commentary, filming with simplicity, the documentary-maker makes us friends with people who are funny (like the inimitable Muriel Thourond), confusing, poetic, lucid (when they are under treatment) and artistic (the beautiful painting of a painter's daughter, the musician who plays the electric guitar very well, Frédéric Prieur, the writer of songs and other kinds fiction with whimsical theories but undeniable talent).
A little masterpiece of humanism, tenderness and humour, the antithesis of 'Snake Pit', 'Shock Corridor' or 'One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest', or rather their direct complement.
"L'Adamant" is waiting for you. Come and join the club.
Fais de beaux rêves (2005)
Mourning becomes Marilyne Canto
In a ruthless black and white (at times overexposed) Paris, Elise survives, devastated by the death of her partner Bertrand.
She does not cry, tears are not for her, not yet. She holds them back, speaks in a neutral tone, walks aimlessly, takes medicines to sleep.
During these dull days, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain where she lives, she meets a friend, sleeps with a man, meets her father in a square; everyone wants to help her but is powerless to do so: Elise, destroyed from within, is closed in on herself even if she talks about Bertrand's death without apparent emotion.
Will she sink into an even deeper depression? One hope remains: little Louis, her son, whom she is obliged to take care of and who sparkles with life.
Told with talent, "Fais de beaux rêves" (Sweet Dreams") is the dark chronicle of a young woman suddenly deprived of the man she loves, temporarily reduced to the state of a zombie, unconsciously concreting her psyche in order to absorb the shock of his sudden death.
The whole thing is expressed masterfully by the director-writer-actress Marilyne Canto, who manages to capture Elise's distress without falling into the trap of pathos .
To be noted in two important scenes, the excellent performance of Dinara Drukanova as the pregnant friend and Olivier Perrier as the heroine's father, who expresses to perfection his helpless desolation.
Let's add that Marilyne Canto extends the story in a further feature film ("Le Sens de l'humour"): (same situation, same character named Elise, who only wants sex from her lover (once again Antoine Chappey), affection being reserved for the deceased and her little boy (Théo, previously Louis). I personally prefer the more sober, less hysterical short film, less plagued by dull moments. But whether you like "Le Sens de l'humour" or not, you can thank Pyramide Vidéo who, in its DVD edition, has brought together these two variations on the same theme by the same writer-director-actress. Each of the two films sheds light on the other and this is very enriching.
Le Tigre et le président (2022)
A litlle-known president vs. a famous tiger.
A little-known President vs. A famous Tiger
Why on earth have we no trouble remembering historical figures when they are evil, monstrous, destructive? How come our memories refuse to erase the names of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Pinochet and the like? Why on the contrary are our minds reluctant to print those of persons who did good, who were ahead of their time, who helped humanity to progress? Shouldn't positive figures be more entitled to prominence than the sowers of hatred, death and destruction? But that's the way things are and under these conditions it is commendable that historians, writers or filmmakers (as is the case here with Jean-Marc Peyrefitte) periodically bring to light a few of these forgotten ones of history.
« The Tiger » of the title is - it goes without saying - Georges Clémenceau. Whose name is definitely not forgotten - and for good reasons. True, he was not always a good person (he could prove pushy, haughty, bossy, callous, offensive), but he was nevertheless driven by humanist, progressive ideas, at least in the first part of his career. On the other hand who on earth, apart from historians, can say anything serious about Paul Deschanel, « The President »? Worse, to the few who still recollect him, Deschanel is nothing better than that ridiculous short-lived president who, one night, affected by madness, fell from the official train. The only common image remaining of him is accordingly that of a poor wretched fellow, dressed in pajamas, wandering in the dark countryside, along the railroad tracks... Of course there is more to Deschanel than just that. Didn't he, for one thing, manage to be elected (and by an overwhelming majority) against such an illustrious figure as the « Tiger », Georges Clémenceau, the very architect of the 1918 victory? And before that, to be elected and re-elected as a deputy, as well as twice as the President of the Chamber of Deputies? Did the other deputies really deliberately chose a clown at each vote?
Certainly not. The so-said mental defective was actually an erudite man, with an unusual gift for eloquence, as well as a fine politician and strategist. And more than just that, the man professed new ideas, ahead of his time in more than one field: decentralization, agricultural unionism, workers' unionism, cooperatives, mutuality, income tax, social laws, political reforms, solidarity, women's vote. He was also against death penalty (which was only put into effect in France in 1981) - incidentally a common point with Clémenceau.
Revealing to the public the man's true colors is clearly the main objective that presided over the making of this film. Mission accomplished if only partly insofar as Peyrefitte has, in turn, simplified things. But how could it be otherwise with only two hours of projection time available? In any case, simplification is not oversimplification and Deschanel eventually comes out of it grown (and for posterity hopefully). Presented as a visionary, the President now looms large while his neurasthenia (largely mocked and amplified by his enemies) elicits compassion rather than derision. In his shoes, Jacques Gamblin, although not physically resembling his model, delivers a magnificent performance, restoring all the subtleties of the character, torn at the time of his presidency between brilliant political intelligence and unquenchable anguish. The "madness" of the character particularly suits him, giving the actor the opportunity to indulge in unexpected antics, at the same time outlandish and poetic. Opposite him, André Dussollier visibly enjoys himself capturing Clémenceau's idisosynchrasies, from his physical characteristics (massive body, drooping mustache) to his mental ones (his « old lion » incredible energy, his propensity to show his claws, his biting outbursts). The film is also worthwhile for its meticulous description of the Third Republic's rusty machinery. A rusty system operated by slackers clinging to their power An idealistic reformer like Deschanel who wanted to make things happen on his own could only crash against it and break.
As for the direction, it is rather undistinguished on the whole, but however deserves some praise: three good point make it an altogether satisfactory screening experience : a fine period reconstruction, two great actors and an imaginative illustration of Deschanel's delirium. They are enough to make "The Tiger and the President" worth seeing.
And a positive figure put in the spotlight rather than a bloodthirsty monster, it is not to be refused.
Jeux de mort (1992)
A great little film
Just like the short story offers little space to its writer, the short film grants its director little time to deal with the subject chosen. But what may first appear as a constraint also holds a great virtue: the short story's restricted number of pages as well as the short film's limited time range are the best guarantee against dilution, padding out, getting lost in digressions. Of course saying as much as possible within a tight framework is not the easiest thing in the world: to take up the challenge, special qualities are required, such as density, meaningfulness or allusiveness, to say nothing of the sine qua non condition - a sense of synthesis. The authors, whether they like it or not, have no choice but to go to the essential, to cut it through the bone. When they prove able to do so, then the initial drawback turns into a real advantage, keeping their work safe from lengthiness.
Such is the case with the film "Jeux de mort", where in the space of 9 minutes and 47 seconds, the writer-director, Pierre Alt, will in turn surprise you, thrill you and, finally, make you think. Three pleasures for the price of one, it isn't something you refuse!
The film's first quality? Undeniably, its smart construction and the elements of surprise it allows.
One example, the first two minutes : in the opening shot a female singer is seen face to a microphone. Wearing a sexy black lamé dress, her shoulders bare, and with long gloves on, she is performing a languid torch song.
She looks so much like Gloria Grahame that you keep wondering if it is not Nicholas Ray's "Woman's secret" you are watching.
After a while, the camera moves away and spans a restaurant area and its diners, all well dressed. The place is a chic nightclub, the time might be the late 1940s or the early 1950s. The tracking shot finally focuses on a couple, in the middle of an argument. Disturbing the peaceful atmosphere of the restaurant, Pierre, obviously drunk, speaking too loud, is making a distressful revelation to his elegant mistress, Maria. He lied to her, he is not rich as he claimed and now that she is pregnant, he can afford neither a luxury marriage nor a role as a father.
You ask yourself: « Could it possibly be one of Douglas Sirk's early American melodramas? »
The crisis gradually worsens: Maria, on the verge of fainting, leaves the cabaret followed by Pierre, who has become almost insane: after a ladder climb, a rooftop chase, the couple find themselves hanging desperately over a bubbling river.
An old Hitchcock, perhaps?
No, nothing to do in fact with either Ray, Sirk or Hitchcock. That's what you realize all of a sudden - and with pleased astonishment: shortly after the revelation by Pierre of his shameful conduct, the film until then in black and white (rather glossy during the cabaret sequence, superbly contrasted in the outdoor night scenes) has turned to color (trivial everyday colors, without aesthetic refinement).
Now you get the idea (or so you think): the story of Pierre and Maria is a film within a film! Set in the present, the sequence in color takes place in a cinema where the film in black and white is being shown at this very moment of the action. The "old" film was only a part of the main movie entitled "Jeux de mort (Death Games)" whereas the "real" action only starts now. What do you see now? A spectator enters late in a cinema hall, and who after having disturbed all the viewers in a row of seats, starts to keep up with « Jeux de mort ». From then on, excerpts of the film in black and white alternate with color shots of the man following the film and reacting to it. A double story, a double delight!
Indeed, the way the man reacts to the images on the screen (opening his eyes wide, sweating, speaking out loud, wriggling in his seat) make you smell a rat: something unsettling is happening in his head. Obviously, the story of an expecting woman abandoned, the false promises made to her, the threat of falling into a dizzying precipice... awaken a painful echo in him. It looks as if he too has behaved badly with a pregnant companion. Instead of being a pleasant experience, the screening turns out to be an unbearable ordeal for him so much so that he leaves the theater before the end.
Meanwhile, in "real" life, the "real" audience (you, me, the others... watching the man watching the film!) is in a much different state of mind, rejoiced, not upset: what a challenging mind game indeed to try to disentangle the threads of these three stories, embedded in each other, and to discover that behind a brilliant exercise in style, lurks even one more gift, a bit of reflection. For, in his own unassuming way, Pierre Alt does tackle important issues like the fiction-reality relationship, the fiction-lived experience interaction, the influence of a work of art on an individual.
You may think these considerations a bit high-minded but don't worry, Pierre Alt's ambition is not to give a philosophy course. You will just deduce them (or not if you don't feel like it) from his rich movie. His main objective (achieved, to be sure) is the excitement brought by a subtly written script and a well-directed movie (sleek tracking shots, fine crane movements, brilliant image and editing , elaborate period reconstitution).
This "great little" film ends as brilliantly as it began (we won't say anything about the final sequence - excellent - to avoid spoiling it). To be discovered absolutely.
Les volets verts (2022)
The last of a sacred monster
The Last of a Sacred Monster
"Les Volets verts" ("The Green Shutters") is a novel by Georges Simenon, written in 1950 while he was living in the United States. It had long been a project of Maurice Pialat, which unfortunately never came to fruition. Gérard Depardieu, who was persuaded that he was cut out for the role, was slated to be the lead. He therefore felt quite frustrated when the project finally failed. Jules Maugin, an aging, eccentric, alcoholic, hyper-sensitive and egocentric sacred monster, that was him, nobody else but him! So much so that the idea never left him. That is how in 2017, still bearing the project in mind, he wound up proposing it to producers Michèle and Laurent Pétin. Enthusiastic at the idea, they hired the talented Jean-Loup Dabadie to write the adaptation. This he did, transposing the action from the early 1950s to the 1970s, a time when larger-than-life actors still existed (Delon, Gabin, Belmondo,...), a race of which the dinosaur Depardieu is one of the last representatives, if not the last. Fate was to interfere again with the sudden death of Dabadie in 2020. Veteran director Jean Becker (88 years old at the time of filming), the hired director, was shaken but undaunted. Only modifying Dabadie's work to a small extent, adding his personal touch, he gallantly set his cameras rolling. Shooting took place, without any hitch this time, in August and September 2021. Miracle! Completion was achieved: Pialat's project, Depardieu's dream, had finally come to life.
Naturally, filmed by Becker, "The Green Shutters" does not really look like a Mautice Pialat film, it is less naturalistic, less paroxystic than it would have been. But Jean Becker has talent and sensitivity, and his version does not do injustice to Pialat. Not surprising considering that, although the whipping boy of French critics (their pet theme being that Jacques Becker is a genius and his son Jean a botcher), he has behind him an extensive body of work. Not that it revolutionizes the seventh art but not only are Becker's movies well made but they also offer a warm humanist look at those they bring to the fore (the group of friends in "The Children of the Marshland", the resistance fighters in the pits of "Strange Gardens", the illiterate odd-job man and the well-read old lady in "My Afternoons with Margueritte", to mention only a few).
As for Gérard Depardieu, a much less disputed figure, his great complicity with his director (this is their third collaboration) allows him to give full swing to his acting. Becker, well aware of Depardieu's showman's tremendous abilities, adopts the best of solutions, leaving him carte blanche. Hence an anthology Maugin. Hence also a troubling floating sensation, which soon becomes part of a somewhat weird pleasure: are we seeing Depardieu playing Maugin? Or Maugin as a definite character, existing only within the frame of the story? Or is it a case of an actor being overwhelmed by the personage he embodies? Or else of Maugin being phagocyted and then regurgitated by the ogre Depardieu? A bit of each probably. The sure thing is that we never really know where to draw the line, a fascinating experience indeed! Which makes the actor's bigger-than-life performance the major asset of this otherwise fine film. It would not be surprising if in the future, despite "The Green Shutters" not being a great public success, Maugin was one of the roles the actor will be remembered for. As a matter of fact, Depardieu has given so much of himself to his character that he is him, rather than plays him. To be sure, Gérard has every reason to identify with Jules: a hypersensitive thespian, a worn-out man once influential in the world of theater and cinema - now being more and more sidelined (a disgrace well illustrated by the scene of the commercial shooting where Maugin is forced to praise the merits of a beer, non-alcoholic into the bargain!). Excessive in everything, attitudes and feelings alike, Maugin and Depardieu both have had a hectic lifepath; both are paunchy, hard-drinking and self-destructive, but also truly great actors, if ham-fisted at times. The only real dissociation between the character and his performer is that at 74, Depardieu is still... alive
No doubt the revered actor will be spared the barbs of critics. No doubt either Becker will not. He never is no matter what he does. His direction will invariably be dubbed dull, unimaginative, slavishly illustrative or, worst of all, "academic", a term originally used to qualify works made according to the rules of the art but now used offensively by those happy few who hate it when they have nothing to explain or have nothing to rave about. I would rather use the term "classical". As far as Jean Becker's direction is concerned, it is in fact synonymous with well-made, discreet, modest, unobtrusive. Which does not mean that there is no artistry at all in his films. "The Green Shutters" in particular contains a couple of nicely crafted sequences, which definitely raise it above the average. Two of them are particularly worth mentioning. In the first one, set in the initial part of the narrative, Maugin is shown spying through the window of a shoe store; immediately after, the camera substitutes itself to him and reveals the presence on the other side of the window of Jeanne, his longtime partner and unrequited love (Fanny Ardant, radiant). The lady trying on a pair of shoes, unexpectedly starts a graceful dance movement: if you are not stubbornly hostile to the director, you will experience a magic feeling, equivalent to the character's wonderment. During this brief poetic moment, Jeanne is not Jeanne anymore but the lovely princess of a fairy tale.
Another sequence has an exhilarating virtue and could well become cult. It takes place after Maugin has had, once again, a memory lapse in the middle of a play. Unsettled as he is, he needs to reassure himself. His presence in a restaurant gives him the opportunity: grabbing the menu, he memorizes it at full speed and starts to recite to the astonished customers all the dishes offered, as if it was a text signed Rostand. An enjoyable and unexpected sequence that proves that Jean Becker is not just a plodding filmmaker.
Let's also talk about the cast carefully assembled by Jean Becker: everyone is in their place, all generations included, from the already named Fanny Ardant (with an incomparable ironic charm) to Benoît Poelvoorde (sober and all the more touching in the role of the faithful friend), to the young generation represented by Stefi Celma (sensitively portraying Maugin's young protégé) - to mention only a few.
Let's not forget either the warm-toned photography by the gifted Yves Angelo ("All the Mornings of the World", "A Heart in Winter") , the careful sets of Loïc Chavanon ("At Eternity's Gate", the film on Van Gogh), the fine score by the Belgian composer Frédéric Vercheval ("Diamant 13", "Secret Name") All in all, "The Green Shutters" is quite a beautiful film, if not very optimistic (but hasn't melancholy its own charms .). Most of the viewers (but the youngest) will follow it with interest from beginning to end.
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.