Festival du Film Francophone d’Angoulême 2017

le redoutable

With his muse: Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel) and Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin)

The Film Francophone d’Angoulême represents everything I love about French cinema.

A cinema which focuses on characters unafraid of their reactions, and endings determined by their emotional truth, rather than a neat moral tidy-up.

French cinema is considered by some to be in a ‘dip’ of mediocre thrillers and romantic comedies, but the films selected by the FFA proves the industry is still vibrantly committed to emotional frankness and a stubborn willingness to take risks.

The FFA, France’s only festival which screens films just in the French language, is one of my most anticipated and stimulating weeks of the year. It is a time to meet old friends, make new ones and immerse heart and imagination in a programme selected by a team led by Marie France-Brière and Dominique Besnehard.

Besnehard is a colourful character in the French Film industry, a once big-time talent agent and now a producer and actor, he is as committed to ensuring France’s ‘Stars’ show up (including, this year, Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve) as he is to supporting regional and Parisian filmmakers (new and established), and films from other French-speaking countries across the world. (This year the festival paid homage to the cinema of the Ivory Coast).

I wrote about the FFA last year (here). Again, for six days at the end of August, a heatwave descended on the modest-sized city of Angoulême in western France as cinema-goers and film-industry workers moved around the town, watching films and eating, drinking and talking in the small cafes and restaurants on the Plateau (Angoulême’s old town).

The FFA is as much about the people as the films. The public audience is involved, always invited to vote for films in the Competition, and everyone – the actors, attendees and public – is keen to talk about the films: why they worked, why they didn’t and how they touched them.

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Gérard Depardieu, on screem together for the 10th time

I had a particularly memorable conversation with Belgian photographer Valerie Nagant (you can read about her work here) who has published a book featuring original and provoking shots of Belgian actresses. Her work certainly got me thinking about the nature of the gaze, female and male, its similarities and differences.

Each FFA atmosphere is different.

As a non-French person, I saw 2016’s FFA as an emotional release following the terror attacks in France. This year, instead of ticking off every film in the Competition and Avant-Premiere, I chose to see films made by recommended directors, or starring actors I like because they often choose projects which explore themes that interest me.

My choices led me into a whimsical mood, and the following thoughts are partly inspired by frank discussions with Julie Nakache, an Angouleme author (dark, poetic stories with ethereal titles). Our opinions and shared interpretations of the films we saw together helped open my mind to make the following connections …

I saw Gérard Depardieu in Quand J’étais Chanteur (When I was a Singer), one of several films by Xavier Giannoli, this year’s ‘Le Focus’ category director. Depardieu plays a middle-aged singer in Clermont Ferrand who has a non-intimate but intense friendship with a local estate agent Cécile de France, an actress whose performance I loved in last year’s La Belle Saison (Summertime) and the Netflix comedy about the Paris talent agency Dix Pour Cent(Call My Agent).

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Depardieu moves in on De France’s robust elegance in Quand J’étais Chanteur

Quand J’étais Chanteur is memorable for the attraction between two people who have a quiet, respectful love for each other. De France’s robust elegance cuts like a diamond with Depardieu’s dishevelled charm, his heavy, endearing vulnerability that he brought to the short film Grenouille d’Hiver (A Frog in Winter) which I wrote about here. 

Catherine Deneuve co-starred with Depardieu in the Avant-premier of Florence Quentin’s comedy Bonne Pomme (Nobody’s Perfect), now on release in France.

Bonne Pomme is a light pie, starring the splendid Deneuve as an unpredictable hostel-owner in a small village and Depardieu who plays a mechanic who has quit his job and winds up as one of her guests. 

Another sweet attraction and friendship develops and Depardieu again pleases with his disheveled, surprised-look appeal, while Deneuve delivers her quips and ‘wink ’n cheek humour’ reminiscent of her role in Potiche. Both actors still hold the screen (co-starring for the 10th time) with a connection that bends and creaks with the pleasure of a branch belonging to an old tree.

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One of the many masks in Au Revoir Là-Haut

Masks, deception and reinvention underpinned two period dramas, both related to WW1: André Téchiné’s Nos Années Folles (Golden Years), and Albert Dupontel’s Au Revoir Là-Haut (Anglophone title tbc) which is based on Pierre Lemaitre’s novel of the same name (Goodbye Until We Meet in Heaven).

Dupontel’s adaptation is magical, focussing on the friendship between two unlikely men, Édouard and Albert, who are bound together by a senseless attack from their Lieutenant/profiteer Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte) which leaves Édouard’s face partly blown-out. The two construct a scam to counter Pradelle’s plans.

Édouard (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) wears a number of exquisitely-crafted masks to hide his maimed face and through this finds a playful release from his shame, and the horror of war. Biscayart’s performance is mesmerising: no matter how extraordinary the mask, it is always his eyes on which we want to fix – they are as big as the moon and expressive as its reflection on the ocean.

Téchiné’s Nos Années Folles explores a different kind of mask: Transvestism. The film was part of the ‘Special Screening’ section at this year’s Cannes and follows Paul (Pierre Deladonchamps), a soldier worn down by war, who meets and falls in love with the headstrong seamstress Louise (Céline Sallette).

Paul doesn’t want to return to war so Louise hides him in the basement, a dusty room behind a wardrobe. His existence there is pretty grim (Narnia it ain’t) and Louise soon hatches a plan to dress him as a woman so he can wander around outside in the sunshine incognito.

His new duo-identity is fun for a while but then he becomes emotionally unsettled – Téchiné is careful not to suggest this is solely due to cross-dressing and hints that the trauma of war also plays a significant part. A Dorian Gray-style existence, plus an understandable revulsion of domestic life, creates a beast that Louise finds difficult to handle.

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Sandrine Bonnaire enjoying simplicity in Prendre Le Large (Catch the Wind)

Two films which also chimed were Prendre Le Large (Catch the Wind) and a retrospective screening of the Tunisian film Satin Rouge. Both feature two middle-aged women who change when they explore new places and experiences.

Edith (Sandrine Bonnaire) as a French clothing-machinist who is relocated to a factory in Morocco. She’s serious, caring and experiences certain hardships as a result of being mugged, and a sacking due to a complication surrounding a dangerous sewing machine.

Bonnarie is sublime and the film exhibits a Moroccan milieu that while sometimes a little predictable, still establishes an unenviable authentic experience. Nothing great happens to Edith but this doesn’t stop her persevering. When she readjusts her expectations she finds a peace in an existence most of us would not want. For this, Prendre Le Large is indirectly an anti-materialistic film: Experience, simplicity and friendship brings happiness, not objects or status.

Satin Rouge is a simply told Tunisian film about a bereaved wife who lives for her daughter and likes to clean her house and dance in front of the mirror. Lilia (Hiam Abbas) has a big heart and a face that shows more insights than a closely drawn map. Lilia is love and she is humility and this doesn’t waver as she steps outside other people’s expectations of her and becomes a belly dancer in a local club.

Like Prendre Le Large, Satin Rouge is about breaking free through a new environment and what happens when other people see us change.

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Céline Sallette breathes in a complicated Pierre Deladonchamps in André Téchiné’s Nos Années Folles (Golden Years)

In La Redoutable Louis Garrel plays the king of nouvelle-vague Jean-Luc Godard as though its his second skin.

Directed by The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius, La Redoutable was my festival surprise. It’s a hilarious, Woody Allen-style account of Godard during his relationship and marriage with actress and muse Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), a period in which he moved from the aesthetically popular nouvelle-vague into a period of anti-bourgeois experimentalism. A shift his contemporaries and audience found difficult to understand.

Garrel and Martin are honey together, even in their disagreements, of which they are many as Godard becomes objectionable and jealous as she tries to be independent and step off the pedestal. It’s clear: when the muse grows, the pedestal becomes too small, and she falls off.  

Godard devotees will no doubt find things to gripe about, particularly as the auteur himself (who is in his late-eighties) thought it was a ridiculous idea to make the film. For some though, this comment could well increase ticket sales. I hope La Redoutable gets Anglophone distribution very soon.

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Rabbit plays his sad song in the moving short animation: Poilus

Short animation films are poems, Pilates for the imagination and this year’s selection met me on the Sunday morning with a programme about bottoms (Film de Fesses), Le Clitoris, frogs in a playboy mansion (The Garden Party), and Poilus, an animation set in the WW1 trenches.

Poilus, a 4-minute attack on the futility of combat, disturbed me.  Tormented soldiers are represented as rabbits – chilling, melodic (one rabbit-soldier plays the harmonica, which is destroyed by his Lieutenant) and preposterous: A symbol of outrageous war. The 4-minute film is a dark tug at our world in conflict.

It occurred to me at the end of the programme that the rabbit-soldier’s harmonica is his cinema, offering a brief repose from his environment.

In a way, the FFA programme was the same: the films were a pause in a perplexing, rattled world.

Escape in the dark: the best kind.  

London, September 2017

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Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful)

Jeune et Jolie

Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is fascinated by the power of her own allure 

François Ozon points the lens at bourgeois desire through the eyes of a young Parisian student and her complicated relationship with sex and prostitution.

It’s a lazy summer, and seventeen year-old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is on holiday at the ocean with her family, participating in a daily routine of siestas, meals on the terrace and the beach. Always pensive, she moves from afternoons into evenings, detached and ‘elsewhere’.

One evening, after a period of awkward flirting with a German boy, whom appears to bore her, she decides to lose her virginity. It’s an awkward, unfulfilling experience, similar to Suzanne’s (Sandrine Bonnaire) experience in Maurice Pialat’s A Nos Amours.

This scene is memorable because Ozon shows Isabelle’s emotional detachment from her sexual experience by filming her as her own voyeur. She stands on the sand a short distance away, watching herself with the German boy. Neither pleasured, not nervous, Isabel is indifferent. She’s just cooly fascinated by what she is doing.

At the end of August. Isabelle takes her indifference and fascination back to Paris and starts a secret life. She attends school in the day and works as a prostitute in the afternoons. In the evening she’s back at home doing her homework, eating dinner with her family, or going to the theatre.

A few months later, a job with a client goes wrong and throws Isabelle off her game. The police investigation and CCTV footage reveal her activities and she is forced back into a normal life which she finds difficult to manage.

Jeune & Jolie is a singular tale. Ozon is not interested in moral judgment, the ‘whys’ or the blame. Interestingly, Isabelle doesn’t spend the money she makes. She hides it in a clothes cupboard.

Is this because Isabele doesn’t need the cash, or is Ozon telling us she is a prostitute for a different reason? Like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour, Isabelle is intrigued by the power of her own allure. Her beauty (which is exceptional), her youth and how men respond to her.

Vacth’s performance is mesmerising. Her regard and expressions, and unknowable thoughts behind them, are shot as though they are private conversation with the camera.

This is a smart manipulation from Ozon. The viewer is the voyeur, privy to edited moments of Isabelle’s brave sexual education. The camera is our hole in the hotel wall. It’s a strange position but not a comfortable one, and it keeps us wondering what Ozon wants to communicate through Isabelle.

Ozon’s films are known for their light expose of bourgeois values and behaviour. Jeune & Jolie is more than an emotionally cold seventeen year-old sleeping with men for money.

Is Ozon suggesting something deeper here, that the bourgeoise prefer voyeurism to love: Of themselves, like Isabel, and others, like the viewer? Feeling safer detached in their sexuality, than the wide-open field of falling in love?

Maybe.

Director: François Ozon (2013)

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Valley of Love

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On a muse: Gerard Deaprdieu

Small bird and giant, Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu, play out divorced love as two old friends, equally strong and fragile, bound by an unusual request from their deceased son – he has written a letter asking them to meet in Death Valley where he promises to reappear at one of its seven landmarks.

Their shared guilt is heavy as desert-heat. Neither have seen their son in a long time. He was sent away to boarding school at seven, and at sixteen decided he wanted to disconnect from his parents. The letter is written just before his planned death, and both see it as his attempt to re-unite his estranged parents, even if it is based on an unlikely reappearance. ‘It may sound like a joke’ he writes, ‘but I swear it’s the truth.’ Huppert and Depardieu only agree to meet to fulfill their son’s last wish.

Huppert is a dot on the landscape, arid as the valley itself, yet charged with reflective, compressed energy. Around her, the sand is her loss, and the wide skies, her remorse.’We all miss out on something,’ she says, as they stand in the part of the valley that’s below sea level. ‘We don’t know much about our own children’.

Depardieu’s clumsy pragmatism plunges deep: ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ he says after they greet each other, before pointing out the obvious: he has grown fat.

A Bergman-esque portrayal of a divorced couple shows that time has created a formal sweetness, alongside all the old irritations. At one point Huppert accuses Depardieu of having a borderline personality, to which he snaps ‘that’s taking the cake’.

Guillaume Nicloux directs a detached atmosphere in two locations: a hotel-complex and the Death Valley landscape. The motel is a bland world of palms, pools and parking lots. Guests are always keen to start conversations and there are inevitable misunderstandings.

Death Valley is eerily still, yet majestic to the point of dwarfing Huppert and Depardieu’s rationality: like them, we believe that their son could indeed show up, even as a ghost.

Ghostliness is enhanced by the music which is reminiscent of a 70s Claude Chabrol suspense-thriller. Intermittent and stretched-out, slow sounds are long and maudlin, indicating something may (or may not) happen. Depardieu and Huppert are stuck waiting and wanting, on sands and between rocks, signifying their grief and connecting us to our very own, possibly different sadness.

Director: Guillaume Nicloux (2015)

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L’avenir (Things to Come)

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Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert)

Sadness is soothed by reason, and resurrection a full confident moon in writer/director Mia Hanson-Løve’s tale of heartbreak and loss.

Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a Parisian philosophy teacher and text-book writer who lives in a modest, book-lined flat with her husband. Nathalie’s two children are grown-up, her marriage is a friendly habit and she is responsible for her mentally fragile ‘diva’-mother who frequently calls the pompiers.

Nathalie’s life is an oscillation between satisfaction that comes with intellectual curiosity and the routine of the everyday.

One day Nathalie’s husband announces he has met someone else. She is understandably shaken, but remains in resplendant Huppert-style control. Her intellectual pragmatism responds with a ‘why can’t you keep it a secret?’ before chastising herself for believing in the longevity of love: ‘I thought you would love me forever,’ Nathalie says, almost defeated.

Nathalie’s divorce, and the death of her mother, opens doors to new freedom, including the chance to spend periods of time at a house in the mountains belonging to her radical protégé student and his friends. There, she relaxes with youth and passionate ideas, and just one responsibility: Pandora, her dead-mother’s fat cat, whom she carries on the train in a wicker  basket.

Huppert’s performance shows Nathalie as a woman who is sad, but ‘gets on with it’. It’s a practical heartbreak but no less profound. Huppert is appealingly irritable. Two moments are memorable: snapping at Pandora, and crossly stuffing an expensive bunch of flowers given to her by her ex-husband into the bin.

Yet, Nathalie can keep herself tender. She’s ready to sob, privately, and can discuss ideas and worldviews from the heart and the mind. They form Nathalie’s resurrection.

L’Avenir is a film about responses and was inspired by Hanson-Love’s own family experience. She directs without sentiment, and although disappointment and brokenness is explored through the eyes of Huppert’s fifty-something Nathalie, Hanson-Love could be talking about any age-group. This is because she directs to tell the truth, mining us for deep responses that come as naturally as from the characters she has written.

Director: Mia Hanson- Løve (2016)

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Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême 2016

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Virginie Efira in ‘Victoria’ and also co-President of the Jury

Isabelle Adjani, Sandrine Bonnaire, Romain Duris, Isabelle Huppert, Sophie Marceau, Lambert Wilson and Catherine Corsini were just some of the talent that attended the 9th Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême, France’s one festival that only screens films from French-speaking countries.

It’s the third year I attended year’s Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême. The festival was set up by Dominique Besnehard and Marie-France Brière (a documentary maker). Lesser-known in the Anglophone world, Dominique Besnehard is a much-loved character in French cinema. He is an actor (he played Suzanne’s highly-strung brother in Maurice Pialat’s A Nos Amours), a writer, a producer, casting director, and talent agent who discovered Beatrice Dalle, Cecile De France, Emmanuelle Seigner, and many others.

Dominique Besnehard

Photo-call du jury avec Gilles Jacob (right), Dominique Besnehard (centre) et Virginie Efira (left) lors du Festival du Film Francophone d’Angouleme Photo © Yohan Bonnet

In short, Dominique Besnehard is something of a god-father to the stars, and it is largely down to him so many attend the intimate festival in Angoulême, located in the Poitou-Charentes region of southwestern France. Angoulême is a small city with a population of just 43,000 and famous for its annual comic book festival.

An audience ready to respond …

This year’s Festival Film Francophone d’ Angoulême, was a programming triumph that brought tears and heated discussion at the end of a difficult summer in France. Jihadism, Online manipulation, disabilities and borders and boundaries (concerning immigration and complicated love) took the audience and the jury on a six-day epic journey.

On the streets, the temperature rarely fell below 35 degrees. People sought cool and shade in the cinemas, and it is there that they cried.

Sandrine Bonnaire

Sandrine Bonnaire Photo © Yohan Bonnet

Throughout the week, there were a number of ‘Avant Premieres’ (films soon to be released in France). L’Odyssée officially opened the festival. It’s a robust biopic about the diver and documentary maker Jacques-Yves Cousteau (played by Lambert Wilson), a man who first brought the depths and mysteries of the ocean to the people’s television screens in the 1960s.  Jerome Salle’s film was a fitting start, symbolic of the power of the festival, which dived the audience deep into its programme.

The co-president of the Jury, Belgian actress, Virginie Efira starred in Victoria, another ‘Avant Premiere’, this time about the complicated life of a single mother and lawyer. Directed by Justine Triet, who is a relatively ‘new’ filmmaker with a fresh voice and gift for comedy. It was great to see a cameo role by a friend, Vincent Dietschy.

The controlling power of the internet underpinned two films. Submitted to festival’s ‘La Compétition’ director Yan England’s Quebec film, 1:54, starring Antoine Olivier Pilon (who gave the luminous performance in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy two years ago). Pilon picked up a ‘Valois Acteur’ award at the end of the festival for his performance as Tim, the gifted student (with a strong talent for making explosives, and athletics) whose best friend is horribly bullied at school. After a certain disturbing event, Tim too is bullied via social-media and by the same perpetrator. The shakedown is tragic.

Le Ciel Attendra (an Avant Premiere) showed a different kind of internet manipulation: the tales of two middle class Parisian girls who are groomed online, initially through flattery on Facebook, by jihadists. Sandrine Bonnaire plays one of the girls’ mothers; and the film was introduced by an emotional cast and received a standing ovation. This was my favourite film largely because it resisted judgment, remaining always faithful to the point of view of the two ‘victims,’ their needs and their fears. At its heart Le Ciel Attendra is about identity, and is certainly one I will take my teenagers to when it is  released (hopefully) in the UK.

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1:54: Lou-Pascal Tremblay, director Yan England and Antoine-Olivier Pilon Photo © Yohan Bonnet

Cigarettes et Chocolat Chaud is a very different film, and touched me in the way that a piece of good social-realism should, despite being a comedy. The scenario concerns an unconventional dad (played by France’s well-known comedy-actor Gustav Kervern) who is raising his two daughters alone on very little money. The girls receive huge amounts of love, but perhaps not the best diet and have a tendency to wander off, several times finding themselves in the police station. A social worker is involved and things become more complicated when one daughter develops Tourettes syndrome. Cigarettes et Chocolat Chaud is visually hilarious without being slap-stick, and the story has enough melancholy beats to take you, occasionally, into a dark place.

Hedi (a Tunisan/Belgian/French production directed by Mohamed Ben Attia) was memorable for its treatment of need and ambition and its effect on love. Hedi (Majd Mastoura) is a young man who works as car salesman and is arranged to marry a beautiful young woman. As preparations move ahead, Hedi goes through a crisis: he hates his job, wants to become comic book artist and questions his needs.

Mastoura’s face has the beauty of a quiet, timid stream and his expressions are its gentle turns. Understandable then, that he would fall in love with the energetic, warm-hearted dancer, his personality opposite, and his wide ocean. Will Hedi have the strength to break free from his family’s expectations?

I saw two films from Catherine Corsini ‘Le Focus’ part of the festival. Corsini is a director whose films address friendship and sexuality, its power, emotional complexity and grey desires. I have written about Partir (Leaving) at 52frenchfilms, and also La Belle Saison (Summertime), her latest film, a few weeks ago. La Belle Saison screened at the festival and I decided to check out: Les Ambitieux and La Répétition (starring Emmanuel Béart) and also attended the ‘Classe de Maître’ where Corsini spoke about each of her films.

A unique festival …

Catherine Corsini personally introduced each of her films with disarming openness, inviting the audience to feel free to speak to her if they saw her in the town.

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Catherine Corsini Photo © Yohan Bonnet

Corsini’s address summed up the spirit of the festival. Discussion buzzed like flies in the heat: everyone was keen to talk about the films. Cinemas were packed, including older ladies from the town who sat alongside members of the jury and those who worked on the films, all sharing their opinions. It reminded me of the scene in Eric Rohmer’s Le Rayon Vert where Delphine overhears a group of people by the beach discussing Jules Verne’s novel of the same name.

The audience is as integral to the cinema experience in Festival Film Francophone d’Angouleme as its stars. Dominique Besnehard and Marie-France Brière have worked hard, alongside the city to achieve something that is truly special.

A festival that reflects the spirit of Angoulême and screens films that inspire our imaginations, push boundaries, challenge opinions and soothe our hearts.

For a full list of films screened in the competition and the winners, please visit http://www.filmfrancophone.fr

 

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Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table! (Me, Myself and Mum)

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As his mother and himself, Guillaume Gallienne

Guillaume Gallienne’s face is pale, soft rising dough that’s been squished with an insensitive fist, in this comic exploration of sexuality, gender and self-acceptance. Written, directed and starring Guillaume Gallienne (as himself, and also his mother) Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table! is based on his upbringing in a privileged, dysfunctional family.

Guillaume is one of three boys, but his mother sees him as the different one: she sees him as her girl. Guillaume likes literature, is useless at sport and is the kind of boy to quiver at a falling leaf. Guillaume is confused, charmingly so, and he adores his mother.

Gallienne’s comic interpretation of his mother reveals Guillaume’s disarming blindness: she is anything but lovable. Madame Gallienne is irritable, bosses the housekeeper and reads romance novels. And of course she chain smokes, flicking her opinions with cigarette ash, showing little eye contact. Gallienne keeps his mother at the end of a long lens, an aesthetic distance where she is kept in Guillaume’s mind a beautiful, unobtainable butterfly. Up close, we know the truth is an unpleasant moth.

Guillaume is a pawn moved by the force of his father (and sighing-submission of his mother) from one ‘improving’ position to another. A summer of culture in Spain, and then, to work on his ‘manhood,’ a French boarding school. Here, nighttime activities in the dormitory, and toilets, make the experience short-lived. His parents then send him away to school in England. To the British audience, there are plenty of stereotypes, but it doesn’t matter, as by now we feel connected to Guillaume’s self-deprecation. We’re content to lurch forward with him in his hilarious decathlon of failure and confused sexual experience.

Guillaume tries his best to be gay, he really does, and although this quest forms the comic thrust of Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table! the real charm rests in Gallienne’s poet’s sensibility. This is a cinematic sonnet to the love of women: their unobtainable beauty, the allure of their costume, and a distant mother. Guillaume is in awe of women, both understood and diminished by them and his performance is one sustained by tenderness and muscle.

Director: Guillaume Gallienne (2013)

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La Belle Saison (Summertime)

Love between two women is a swaying hammock in Catherine Corsini’s tale of complicated romance in the wake of 70s feminism. Carole (Cécile de France) is the sunshine with whom Delphine (Izïa Higelin, a popular singer in France) understandably falls in love when she leaves her parent’s Limousin farm to pursue a life in Paris.

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Carole (Cécile de France)

The two meet in Carole’s feminist-group street-prank: running down a boulevard and pinching men’s bottoms. Carole is feisty and charismatic, and emboldened by her new friends and experiences, Delphine makes a pass at her. The two tumble into infatuation.

When Delphines’s father becomes ill and is unable to work she returns to the farm to help her mother. It isn’t long before lovesick Carole heads south too, and moves into the farmhouse as ‘her friend.’ The two spend a lot of time naked, farming together and trying to hide their relationship from the villagers.

Although Corsini digs deep and shows how duty and desire conflict, La Belle Saison is a light breeze, resisting at all times political polemic or a social history lesson about women’s rights.

Higelin’s performance is mellow and reflective, a cool pool that contrasts with de France’s impish energy. De France is resplendent with all the beauty and spin of a catherine-wheel. She’s giddy with love and intellectual passion, given to dancing and tactlessness.

Carole and Delphine are both heroines: brave, flawed and as radiant (and brief) as Summer.

Director: Catherine Corsini (2015)

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Coco Before Chanel

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Coco Chanel (Audrey Tautou) invents with an objective eye

Coco Before Chanel is a cinematic chessboard of personal politics and black and white design.  Of wild horses, reluctant pawns and bishops who refuse to oblige. The queen is of course Audrey Tautou’s Coco; and she observes their moves.

Director Anne Fontaine’s vision of Coco’s life before her enormous success is clean-lined and striking (like a Chanel dress), yet is as familiar as a photo-album.

Evocative images flick from one to another in the scenes that show her childhood: a young Coco in the Convent school, looking at the white sheets on dormitory beds and nuns’ black habits, and Coco gazing at other children being collected for the holidays, leaving her alone.

Tautou and Fontaine establish Coco as an outsider, a stubborn pragmatist who finds it difficult to fall in love. As a young woman she worked as a singer, the kind that sits on men’s knees and drinks champagne. ‘Love is best in fairytales. There is no heart,’ Coco quips to her best friend, shortly before cutting the bodice of her dress, so she can freely move. For Coco, ‘no heart’ allows her to commit to design, releasing her clients from restrictive clothing and setting them free.

Of course, Coco does fall in love. And of course, he’s a man whom she cannot have, and so she remains his mistress. Tautou gives a performance regal and melancholy: an emotional retreat from which Coco can invent with an objective eye.

Director: Anne Fontaine (2009)

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Paris meets Japan: the Price of Liberty

Troubled love on a melancholy Seine, angst on open boulevards, and the clashing of enquiring minds in cafes: for decades French film-makers have shown us Paris through the lives of its inhabitants.

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Parisiennes is different because it shows us the capital through the eyes of a Japanese woman.

Directed by Slony Sow, Parisiennes (which won the ‘Best Foreign Film’ award at the Reno Tahoe Film Festival in the USA) follows Kyoko (Eriko Takeda), a young Japanese writer who is in Paris for just a few days. While searching for a muse to inspire the main character of a book she is writing, Kyoko encounters numerous Parisian women, including a homeless person, a stylist, a public toilet attendant and an opera singer.

Sow’s first feature film was shot after the acclaimed short Winter Frog, a simple story about a Japanese woman who helps a viticulturist (Gérard Depardieu) to mourn the death of his wife. Also starring Takeda, Winter Frog screened at 350 film festivals and won 37 awards.

In both films, there is a meeting of French and Japanese cultures: an elegiac understanding of each other, of difference and of themselves.

I met Slony and Eriko in a café Paris around the corner from the Place Vendôme in the 1st arrondissement. We spoke about the swift making of Parisiennes before the 2015 attacks, Eriko’s experience of Paris and the illusion of liberty.

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Gerard Depardieu in Winter Frog 

HVK: Why did you choose to show Paris through the eyes of a Japanese woman as the lead character, instead of a Parisian?

Slony: When Eriko first came to Paris her head was full of clichés. She thought every Parisian was like Coco Chanel. For me, the Japanese delicatesse is a good drama. The culture shock creates a good story. The Japanese are so outside the ‘accidental’ way. They are not spontaneous. In France we are very spontaneous. If you want to say something, you say it, even if it is sometimes better to keep your mouth shut. The Japanese are reserved. It is very difficult to know their thoughts.

HVK: In Parisiennes, Kyoko meets characters not normally represented in cinema. Was this a conscious decision?

Slony: I am Parisian and grew up in the western part. Throughout my life I have lived in every arrondissement. It’s my city. When Americans make movies about Paris it is always a cliché. They show it as romantic and glamorous, like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which is very much his imagination of Paris. I love that film but I couldn’t make a movie about that.

Parisiennes is about the women I know, many of whom represent my mother, my sister, my friends. All the women in Parisiennes live here.

HVK: To what extent are the women in Parisiennes ‘free’?

In Parisiennes the women are like ‘the girl next door.’ When American people think of French women they think they exist in freedom: smoking, speaking loudly, a big temper. It’s a cliché but it is a little bit true.

French society is built by men, and French women pay the price to be independent. I wanted to show this price in Parisiennes. The homeless character is living on the street because of the choices she made in the past. Choices that men, not women, are allowed to make. Certainly, French women have their independence, but it’s complicated.

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Kyoko (Eriko Takeda)

HVK: The public toilet attendant character is interesting. Most people would see her job as a kind of prison, but it is her poetic imagination that gives her freedom. We see this in her surreal re-telling of when she witnesses blood seeping out from under one of the toilet doors.

Slony: To an extent all the characters are like this. The homeless person says it was her choice to live in the street. She says it to convince herself. But it was not like that. In France we say ‘Je me suis fait une legénd’ – ‘I make a legend out of my life.’ She says she drinks so she can see the small details in life. Her poetry gives her freedom, but in reality it is not like this. It only exists in her head.

The stylist is also a fantasist. She is a dominant woman with men. All her relationships with men are so crazy. She’s a surrealist, because she doesn’t like it when the story is simple. She likes drama, plus drama.

HVK: And in contrast to all the ‘drama’ we see Kyoko. Eriko, what version of yourself did you bring to the role?

Eriko: I wanted to represent the woman I was when I arrived in Paris. I had seen so many articles and films about Paris. The reality is totally different.
I arrived in Paris 9 years ago, not speaking one word of French. I couldn’t even say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It was a total culture shock for me when I met the Parisian woman. I was sometimes frightened, sometimes emotional, sometimes surprised. Very shocked. In a good way and a bad way.

Slony: The people we know are mostly directors and actors. Most of them are crazy people. They fight and they love with big emotion.

HVK: Eriko, what is it like for you observing so much spontaneous emotion?

Eriko: In the beginning I went to many parties and I ended up staying alone until 4am at the corner of the table. I didn’t understand a thing. They talked hard with each other, fighting with each other.

I didn’t like it but I tried to like it because I had decided to live here and work as an actress. I learned that I had to explain my emotions and what I am actually feeling.

HVK: Parisiennes was shot before the 2015 Paris attacks. I imagine it would have been difficult to make now.

Slony: Yes, we shot with little time and without official authorisation. For the scene shot at the Palais Garnier (when Kyoto goes to see Madame Butterfly) we bought just one ticket. We just walked straight into the grand building. I had the camera on my shoulder, and followed Eriko.

I thought if I hid my camera, something wouldn’t work. If you’re confident, it can be easier. The security guard was very happy to let us through, and didn’t ask for a permit. We were lucky because on the same night there was some authorised filming going on at the Opera and they thought we were one of the crew. Only after ten minutes did the director approach me and figured out we didn’t have a permit. But we just carried on for another 30 minutes, and got all the shots we needed.

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HVK: Parisiennes took 2 weeks to write and 25 days to shoot on a budget of 30,000 euros. How did you manage to make it happen so quickly?

Slony: I knew that if I waited for the money to arrive from production companies, it would have taken too much time. The project would have died.

HVK: You wanted to work from the heartbeat?

I had friends who were willing to do things for free. The money came, bit by bit. I wanted and achieved a shooting experience that has elements of accidents and improvisations. Just like in life. We had to make do and adapt to the environment all the time.

HVK: Much of the cast comprise your friends, including a number of non-professional actors. How did this affect the shoot?

Slony: It wasn’t hard for me because it is an organic film. If it had been a big film, one which needed a lot of preparation, with big street installations, set locations, and with lots of takes I would have needed professional actors.

But for Parisiennes I needed real life and poetry. If my friends acted badly, it wasn’t necessarily a negative thing. This is because poetry can emerge from mistakes. If you cannot control everything you have to adapt. It is this that is exciting for me.

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Slony Sow, Eriko Takeda with Helen Van Kruyssen

If you ask a non-professional person to play like a professional you will crash against the wall. It won’t work. They have to be themselves. I asked them to follow me, and to trust me.

 

Helen Van Kruyssen, July 2016 

Winter Frog is currently being developed into a feature film and will be set in Napa Valley.

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Eperdument (Down By Love)

 

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Captivity comes in different forms … Guillaume Gallienne with Adele Exarchopoulos

Combustive desire shatters lives in writer-director Pierre Godeau’s portrait of a director who falls in love with an inmate in the women’s detention centre he manages.

If the narrative wasn’t based on real-life events it would be difficult to believe just why Jean (Guillaume Gallienne) puts his seemingly good marriage and job on the line for Anna (Adele Exarchopoulos), who is over half his age.

This isn’t just a brief affair: it’s a full-on dangerous obsession. Jean is shackled to his desire and takes bigger and bigger risks to spend time with Anna. He tells complicated lies, snatches moments for sex in her cell and prison IT room and engages in numerous amounts of texting. Meanwhile, Anna plods on with her constricted life in an emotionally volatile prison environment. Of course, she’s very needy and uses her sexuality to command and control Jean.

Gallienne plays Jean straight (a different turn to the comic role in his semi-autobiographical Me, Myself and Mum). Jean is serious yet slightly dead-pan which serves to lighten, a bit, the emotional intensity, saving Eperdument from melodrama. Exarchopoulos plays Anna with the same unbridled passion that we saw in Blue is the Warmest Colour.

An added casting delight is the Eric Rohmer actress Marie Rivière. Rivière is Anna’s mother, a gentle, vulnerable woman who is shackled by her response to her daughter’s imprisonment. At it’s own confined heart, Eperdument is a film about our own private captivities and the land that rests between admiration and obsession, the dangerous territory when we will do anything to meet our needs and not care about the result.

Director: Pierre Godeau (2016)

 

 

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Elle

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Neighbour Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) helps Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) close the shutters on blowy night

At its dark, oddly humorous heart director Paul Verhoven’s thriller is a about a wealthy woman’s response to trauma. Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), owner of a successful video-game company, lives alone in a house in a nice part of Paris, has respectable neighbours and a complicated relationship with her son. One night Michèle opens the French windows to let in her cat, and to her surprise, a man in a balaclava forces himself into her nicely appointed dining room. He then proceeds to brutally rape her.

Michèle organises her life in the same way that she controls the video games her company releases. With steel-nerves Michèle single-mindedly tracks down her assailant, armed with self-protection and unusual sexual desire. To say Michèle is a victim would only extend to the police report that she refuses to file. The rapist returns. The repeated violation scenes are violent, certainly disturbing to watch, but they are the only moments in the film when the super-controlled Michèle is dominated.

Is this a feminist film? Yes. And no. Seen from the point of view of a woman who is in total charge of her response, there is a resounding yes. Yet it is also worth considering whether a crime as horrific as rape should be exploited to make gripping entertainment. Unsurprisingly Elle (which didn’t win an award) was the most controversial film at Cannes this year.

Huppert’s glacial performance, the ‘still motion’ of her body and icy-comic flick of her eyes succeeds in turning our view of desire and manipulation upside down: we are shocked and we are fascinated. Michèle’s retort to the attack is to enjoy the anger and the thrill of the pursuit, and when she identifies her attacker her response is unconventional. This is explained by Verhoven’s backstory detailing Michèle’s childhood trauma.

Verhoven uses slick thriller devices reminiscent of Basic Instinct to make Elle compelling cinema, while Huppert’s resistance to acting cliché darkens Verhoven’s ink even more, keeping us in a state of genuine unease. And no more so than the one scene which indicates that on a sub-conscious level Michèle knew her attacker’s identity way before the film’s climax.

Director: Paul Verhoven (2016)

Interesting to note:

Elle is Paul Verhoven’s first French film. He was unable to make it in Hollywood due to its violent nature. The script is based on Philippe Dijian’s novel ‘Oh.’ Dijian also wrote the novel, ’37°2 Le Matin’ (Betty Blue

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Isabelle Huppert: the allure of her vacant room

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Negotiating pimps as Isabelle in Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie)

Isabelle Huppert is in London and the sun is shining bright, a lion in the sky, shaking its mane over her enigmatic chill. It’s Huppert Season: films are playing in various cinemas across the city, some accompanied by introductions from herself. Last weekend she was in conversation with Stephen Frears at the Ciné Lumière, and at the Barbican Huppert is currently playing Phaedra(s) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s esteemed production of the same name.

Critics laud Huppert’s intellect, which she expresses with incisive clarity (it’s worth checking out Jonathan Romney’s recent interview in the Guardian). Huppert is a supreme actress, and for years I have been turning her allure over in my mind, trying to understand why she has captivated us for over forty-five years and why we want to connect with her characters.

‘Intense’, ‘detached’, ‘controlled’, ‘fragile’: these are all adjectives writers use to describe Huppert’s performances. They are accurate descriptions, but in my mind her appeal is more complex. Last week I took myself down to see Huppert in a twilight screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie) ‘Every Man for Himself.’ Huppert plays a young prostitute called Isabelle, a role for which Godard told her to simply ‘have the face of suffering.’

On the tube-ride home, in those peaceful hours between rush-hour squeeze and 11.30pm boozed-up passengers, it came to me that in Sauve qui peut (la vie) Huppert’s face is like a vacant room; and that in all her films this is the same, empty and open at the same time. We want to step inside, take up residence in Huppert’s mind and walk with her characters. Her invitation is polite, never pushy, but always difficult to resist.

First released in 1979, Sauve qui peut (la vie) is a linear (Godard calls it his ‘second feature film’, after a decade of experimental work) account of selfishness, economic transaction and relationships. It invites us to observe much that can arise from dark self-obsession, and many of these blacker moments are seen through the eyes of Isabelle. It is divided into four sections: ‘The Prologue’, ‘The Imaginary,’ ‘Fear’ and ‘Commerce.’

‘Commerce’ is Huppert’s section and we observe her life as a prostitute: working in hotel rooms (looking detached and sour-faced as men objectify her), negotiating greedy pimps and also her flat-mates who hate her. At one point Isabelle has sex like a robot with Paul, the lead character, all the while thinking about the practicalities of the next day. There’s also a curious job where Isabelle is hired by a man who wants her to play his daughter in a fantasy-incest scenario.

All the chilly taboos are here: incest, prostitution (domination and submission), physical violence in relationships and allusions to bestiality. Godard is persistent in stretching out the characters’ responses by slowing down some of the moments using an editing-technique called ‘decomposition’ (interesting to note that the initial UK release was called ‘Slow Motion’). These are visual jolts: stills and blurred movements. They detach us and create a space where we can respond with our own voice. We are distanced and at the same time, involved.

Alongside this is Huppert’s very own ‘still motion,’ which invites us into the strange, uncomfortable rooms of Sauve qui peut (la vie). It is displayed by her detached facial expression and the controlled yet casual way she holds her body. Huppert’s ‘still motion’ is the ‘vacancy,’ placing us at the back of her eyes, as she sits us down on the end of Godard’s bed and encourages us to make our own judgments about what we see. It is this perspective that is Huppert’s magic. She has a generosity in her ostensible coldness: she lets us in. We are with her, inside her characters, travelling the corridors of her directors’ vision.

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In Claude Chabrol’s Madame Bovary

Godard’s vision in Sauve qui peut (la vie) is harsh in its treatment of commerce, domination and sex. Yet inside the perspective of Huppert’s mind we stay safe, free to engage with her ‘face of suffering.’ But we are still aloof: able to observe and self-protect. This is exactly where Godard wants us to be, and it is what still makes Sauve qui peut (La Vie) such an effective and relevant film close to forty years since its first release.

Huppert’s cine-magic doesn’t rest here, she also gives us her very own separation.

We see Huppert’s ‘separation’ in all her performances. It’s in the moments when she lifts her eyes and looks to a place that is both beyond her characters and the mountains on the horizon of the director’s vision.

It is Huppert’s space, and it is elsewhere. It is cinema, and it is indescribable. Just as it should be.

 

(London, 7th June 2016)

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Conte de Printemps (A Tale of Springtime)

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‘Rohmer time’ is a soothing tick of simple exchanges we usually take for granted. With Hugues Quester, Eloïse Bennett, Florence Darel,  Anne Teyssèdre

Conversation in Eric Rohmer’s Conte de Printemps is as free as bugs buzzing in tall meadow grasses: a waking-up to truth, and the falling away of wintertime misunderstandings. First in the series Contes des Quatre Saisons (Tales of Four Seasons), the story concerns a blossoming friendship between Jeanne (Anne Teyssèdre), a Lycee/College teacher, and Natacha (Florence Darel), a young pianist.

They meet at a mutual friend’s party. Jeanne doesn’t want to sleep in the apartment she shares with her boyfriend because he is away and has left it in a mess, and so Natacha invites her to stay with her at her father’s place. According to his daughter, Pater (Igor, played by Hugues Quester) is 40 years-old but behaves like a 20 year-old.

Igor has an irritating girlfriend Ève (Eloïse Bennett), who is just a bit older than his daughter. Natacha doesn’t like her, and expresses her disdain with the same unthinking enthusiasm that she uses to spray insecticide on the bushes in her father’s country house. Jeanne is the cool water, applying logic in an attempt to massage out the tension between  Ève and Natacha. She also finds herself attracted to Igor and solves a small family mystery.

Conte de Printemps sets the metronome to a gentle rhythm of space and time, one continued throughout Rohmer’s following three films in Contes des Quatre Saisons (Conte d’Ete, Conte d’Automne, Conte d’Hiver). ‘Rohmer time’ is a soothing tick of simple exchanges  we usually take for granted. An invitation to stay at a friend’s house, sitting on the sofa at a party and having a chat, or asking: ‘Would you rather cut the salami or the tomatoes? Rohmer loves the ordinary, and he kneads out interactions so we can see their importance, thus placing us in the poetry of the everyday. We are never bored and each conversation is as fresh as, well, spring.

Jeanne, Natacha and Ève are equally opinionated. They deliver their views in different tunings. Natacha is un-edited, her youth rendering her unable to control her responses, meanwhile Ève wears her modernity without empathy and tact. She bluntly asks Jeanne why she is a teacher when she could have a much more interesting job in publishing, like herself. Jeanne responds, as in all other scenes, with a saintly self-control that is faintly dour. ‘I prefer to be the boss,’ she answers calmly.

‘I am fanatical about other people’s freedom’ claims Jeanne as she uses her theory to form a cage around herself. Rohmer points to this subtly, and during the final 10 minutes allows her a small release. It’s an experience that breaks a shell, and even though Jeanne returns to Paris to resume her ordinary life, something has been shaken off. She is changed; and her year can properly begin.

Director: Eric Rohmer (1989)

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Paris

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Élise (Juliette Binoche) with her brother Pierre (Romain Duris) 

‘Where is the Universe?’ asks Élise’s (Juliette Binoche) daughter in the title sequence. Élise is with her children, standing high, looking over Paris. ‘The Universe Is everywhere,’ she declares in a calm, unassuming voice. And then director Cédric Klapisch cuts to a shot of Pierre (Romain Duris), Élise’s brother. He is standing on the balcony of his apartment, looking out over the city, facing away from us. And then the title appears ‘Paris’ appears across his back. Immediately, we learn Pierre has a fatal heart condition. He is at the heart of Klapisch’s Paris and his Universe is crumbling.

As with many of Klapisch’s films (Pot Luck, Russian Dolls, Chinese Puzzle and the new TV series Call My Agent) the narrative is built from an ensemble cast, who are all connected to each other in some way: neighbours, students, teachers, colleagues, friends, family, lovers … Alongside Élise’s sister, there is the highly-strung owner of the local bakery, food market traders, and the mourning architect (Albert Dupontel) and best friend to professor Roland (Fabrice Luchini).

Luchini’s Roland is intense and his cynicism is a delight. In Roland’s view ‘beauty is disgusting.’ Roland is a romantic and his obsession with one of his young students (Mélanie Laurent) renders him out of control. With unguarded boyishness, Roland texts her quotes from Baudelaire. He’s persistent, creeps her out a bit, but his persistence pays off. He ends up getting what he wants.

All of Klapisch’s characters walk and talk, and eat and talk and love and talk. No surprise then, that Klapisch learned his craft in New York and he is frequently compared to Woody Allen. Klapisch’s directing is intimate: it presses our faces against the screen that separates us, and the characters. We are close to the cafes, the balconies and the soft pillows of their lives. And all the while Pierre, the man with the medically broken heart sits and stands in stasis, brought on by the indecision about whether to have a transplant that has a 40 percent chance of succeeding.

Klapisch’s choices are an echo of all the manipulations and attentions of today’s hand-held device. The sliding, enlarging, and the swift moving forward; just like our fingers across the small screen. The lives in Klapisch’s Paris may be muddled and playful, and their hearts curious or sick: but the point is they never stop. It is this energy and motion, complete in style and content, which highlights Élise’s line fluorescent: yes, ‘The Universe is everywhere.’ Klapisch is winking here; the Universe is Paris, if only for a couple of hours.

Director: Cédric Klapisch (2008)

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Nathalie

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Nathalie (Emmanuelle Béart) and Catherine (Fanny Ardant)

Mutual desire rattles the loneliness in the lives of two women, one a prostitute the other a gynecologist. One is a shell of controlling sexuality and the other statuesque and supremely elegant. Both are under each other’s spell and falling into infatuation.

The territory is familiar. Well, almost. Catherine (Fanny Ardant) learns via a voicemail message that her husband, Bernard (Gerard Dépardieu) has slept with someone. One evening she walks into a private club and hires a peroxide blonde whom she decides to name Nathalie (Emmanuelle Béart) to seduce her husband.

At first we understand Catherine is testing Bernard’s fidelity. We see the women meet in various locations in their Paris neighbourhood (cafes, a hotel room, her surgery and the club) where Catherine receives an update about Nathalie’s sexual interaction with Bernard. Nathalie’s descriptions are detailed: meticulously sequential and erotic.

We get the impression Nathalie enjoys re-telling her encounters with Bernard more than the reality. If indeed, the encounters actually happened. It is during Nathalie’s narrations that director Anne Fontaine takes us to a place less ordinary than a wife testing her husband. Catherine is fascinated by what Nathalie says turns on her husband. Ardant plays Catherine with eyes as deep and burning as a dormant volcano. Fontaine then goes further: gradually Nathalie opens up Catherine, and it is apparent she is more compelled by Nathalie’s sexual allure, than its effect on her husband.

Nathalie is playing a game; she remains an enigma. We learn that she works in a make-up emporium during the day and likes to ice-skate. By contrast, Fontaine chooses to show small details in Catherine’s domestic life. Nathalie has an ‘otherness’ which at times is frustrating. We want to know more about her, but instead remain like Catherine, an observer.

Fontaine (complicated, unconventional women are her domain: Perfect Mother, Coco Before Chanel, Gemma Bovery) directs Catherine and Nathalie’s interaction with smart restraint. The only physical affection we see between the two women is at the end, when they embrace (dignified, classic contact).

Power between Catherine and Nathalie interests Fontaine more than active sex: what the two women choose to reveal, to hide, and what they choose to twist. They both have an unspoken and non-physical need to dominate and submit. Fontaine makes this wholly believable. Ardour and solitude, erotic and moving, beautifully veil ordinary and complicated lives.

Director: Anne Fontaine (2004)

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Amitiés Sincères (True Friends)

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Jean-Hugues Anglade, Gérard Lanvin and Wladimir Yordanoff: conflict and friendship in the bookshop get-togethers

Friendship between three middle-aged men sits as solid and fragile as their egos, glowing with all the sunshine and shade of a weekend break. Walter (Gérard Lanvin) owns a successful restaurant, Jacques (Wladimir Yordanoff) a bookshop and Paul (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is a writer. Set in Paris and a beachside house with breath-taking views, conflict and comradeship is conducted over wine, food and nicotine.

Walter is the strong taste here. Charismatic and tricky, he is quick to temper, quick to love and has all the force of an Atlantic wave. He has a close relationship with his joyful twenty-year old daughter, Clémence (Ana Girardot) and cannot tolerate any kind of lie. Not from anyone. It’s a stick as strong as his spine and there’s little room for forgiveness. His hardline has broken his marriage and cracked friendships.

And so when Jacques and Paul’s lives become complicated they are forced to lie. Their decision is unsurprising. Jacques is gay and for some reason chooses to hide it. He’s also running for mayor, which is problematic as the current one is Walter’s friend. Meanwhile, Paul is having an affair with Clémence.

No matter how much Walter may hate a lie, his friends surmise he’ll hate the truth even more, and so they remain clandestine in their pursuits.

Jacques is a warm presence: the gentle and troubled smile in the trio. His bookshop hosts the wine and conversation, yet the overwhelming Walter still places him in the shadows.

Paul (Anglade) knows what to say, and what not to say. Anglade’s face is emotional topography. Although controlled and taut with chipped-at male pride, Paul still collapses into Clémence’s charms: mallow dissolving in hot liquid.

Despite Walter’s charisma, it’s curious why he has managed to hold close to Paul and Jacques for so many years. After all, it’s unlikely this is the first clash with Walter’s titanic moral code. But this is France and this is cinema and the logic is unique.

At heart Amitiés Sincères is about the idea of accepting change and staying strong in friendship: it’s a muse over a glass on the terrace, looking out at the ocean and spotting the rock that a tempest cannot shift.

Directors: Stephan Archinard and François Prévôt-Leygonie (2012)

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Mammuth

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Gérard Depardieu plays a man not used to asking for what he wants. With Isabelle Adjani.

Gérard Depardieu wears his corpulence as a heavy soul, a man greased and bled by years of work in the local abattoir. Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern’s blue-black comedy (the humour is more an aching bruise) opens with the pork-factory boss giving a speech at Serge’s (Depardieu) retirement party. ‘Our country owes the great quality of our cured meats to you,’ he says blandly, as Serge’s colleagues look on, munching crisps. Serge is given a jigsaw as a parting gift and returns home to his wife (Yolande Moreau).

The jigsaw fails to entertain. After a fiery conversation with the man who slices hams at the deli counter in the local supermarket and a frustrating trolley incident in the car park, Serge learns he needs crucial paperwork from previous employers before he can start retirement. And so he is forced to renovate his motorbike and take to the road to obtain the documents. Embracing landscapes wide and open, Serge is a solid vision, his ill-kept hair flying behind him, wild and free.

Sometimes meek, sometimes impatient, Serge is a mammoth not used to asking for what he wants. He makes contact with the bosses of previous dead-end jobs, some willing to help him, some not.

Uncomfortable comic gristle binds Delépine and de Kervern’s direction. There’s a scene where Serge connects with an old male friend and the two attempt to pleasure each other: their huge bellies are two domes cramped on a double bed. Likewise, there is an odd, indefinable friendship with his kooky niece.

Serge is a character normally shunned. He is limited and unsympathetic, not a man we would choose as a friend. Yet we want to know him more. Of course, this is partly because he is played by Depardieu. We don’t feel pity for Serge (this film is too smart for that); instead we find him curious. He is a man whose travels result in no life-changing epiphany, but self-acceptance.

Fascinating, yet unlovable is indeed Serge. But he can love. He did love, once, when he was young. She died in a motorbike accident soon after they met. Her presence is a ghost-like figure with beautiful and bloodied face, played by the radiant Isabelle Adjani. She is a comfort, appearing from time to time during Serge’s road-trip, sitting beside him: a more familiar presence than the dead pig meat that used to touch his skin. A reminder, too, as with all true loves, that he is human and valued.

Directors: Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern (2010)

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Vincent, François, Paul et les Autres (the Others)

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Yves Montand plays Vincent as a man weathered by financial strife and mismanaged love. With Gérard Depardieu

Mid-life unease is worn as light as a 1970s sports jacket in Claude Sautet’s expose of friendship and floundering between three men. Energetic entrepreneur, Vincent (Yves Montand), the uptight doctor, François (Michel Piccoli) and disillusioned writer, Paul (Serge Reggiani) all enjoy closeness that cinema normally only shows between women.

Their bond is as strong as their crises. Financial strife, infidelity and muddled marital love (and the aching inability to write) are discussed at tables, walks in the woods and on pavements. Wine flows, the endless cigarette dangles and conversation moves in circles and straight-lines. They fall-out, get grumpy and are complicit, all the time revealing their vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, the ‘others’ in the film’s title are much-loved characters who play a part in Vincent, Francois and Paul’s malaise. There’s Jacques (Umberto Orsini) a handsome shadow of a man with whom Francois’ wife falls in love and Jean (Gérard Depardieu) a prize boxer who needs to gather the confidence start fighting again. The mistresses, girlfriends and wives are a curious bunch. By contrast to the main trio, they are less talkative, but no less solid: dependable, stubborn (a radiant performance from Stéphane Audran as Vincent’ ex-wife) or gently persistent. They are women of their era: pursuing a quiet middle-class rebellion, resisting the path set by their 1950’s upbringing.

Montand’s Vincent is the kingpin performance, wearing a face weathered by money worries and mismanaged love. Montand ploughs his huge appetite for life into Vincent and is similar to the role he played in Sautet’s 1972 Cesar et Rosalie. Here, Vincent is also a clumsy self-made businessman (a wink from Sautet, perhaps, as Montand left the French communist party in 1968) who bounds about with lamb-like enthusiasm for life. Vincent wants control, but can’t achieve it because he wears his heart on his sleeve.

There are no great plot-turns here (never Sautet’s directive): instead we are treated to a moving account of the mechanics and tenderness of the male mind. Vincent, Francois and Paul’s responses are as fresh in the present day as they were at the initial 1974 release. Why? Where most cinematic-drama connects male roles (even fully-developed ones) to action that drive the story forward, Sautet chooses to pin Vincent Francois and Paul up against a wall and semi-freeze them with circumstance. All they can do is reach to their friendship and respond. Truth is revealed, and we are charmed.

Director: Claude Sautet (1974)

 

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Conte d’Hiver (A Winter’s Tale)

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Eric Rohmer reinvents fairytale with grey cold, charming chattering and the hopes of an ordinary woman. Neither Grimm nor Disney, greedy witch or shallow promise, Rohmer’s magic rests in the day-to-day and a heart’s steadfast belief that something, contrary to rational reasoning, will happen.

Conte d’Hiver (the second of Rohmer’s ‘Tales of Four Seasons’) starts with a magical montage of seaside intimacy between Félicie (Charlotte Véry) and Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche). It’s the summer-holiday dream, and at the end, just like in the days before mobile phones and social media, the two exchange home addresses, with the promise to meet up soon.

Five years later, Félicie is living with her mother and young daughter (Charles is the father) and we learn that due to a confusion of addresses the two haven’t been in touch. Félicie is adamant that she will bump into Charles one day, as she still loves him deeply. And with this ‘love ideal’ in mind, naïve and laughable to most of us, she responds to the two men in her life: Loïc (Hervé Furic) an intellectual, and Maxence (Michel Voletti) who owns the hairdresser at which she works.

We see lots of shots of Félicie sitting on the Metro, wearing a bored and wanting expression. Instead of trudging through fairytale forests of snow, Félicie walks the Paris pavements, coat zipped and hood up, beneath winter drizzling rain.

Félicie is a heroine who likes to change her mind. Rashly deciding it would be a good thing to live with Maxence, she packs her bags and takes her daughter to a small town, where she moves into his apartment above his new salon. Shortly afterwards, following a dispute, she heads back to Paris (a wise move) and re-establishes with Loïc, her other boyfriend. The two discuss love, faith and friendship. These are not ramblings but the mind processes we all go through, figuring out what we want and what we believe.

Throughout Félicie’s indecision and Rohmer’s direction of her unexceptional life, we are seduced by her disarming honesty, and strong inner-conviction. This underpins all her decisions. She is never afraid to admit she has made a mistake and pursue another path. Félicie is free: she is not an intellectual (she gets her vocabulary muddled up), yet what she says is touching and truthful. Rohmer breaks our prejudice and we are opened up to Félicie’s reasoning and find ourselves walking by her side and enjoying her company.

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Rohmer seals his fairytale (with Marie Rivière)

Rohmer seals his fairytale by ensuring Félicie’s dream comes true. The moment takes place on an ordinary bus ride (a scene featuring a cameo from Marie Rivière: during which we wonder if Rohmer has resurrected Delphine from Le Rayon Vert). The reunion with Charles is as powerful to adults as the Prince kissing Sleeping Beauty is to a six year-old.

Is this fate, a reward for robust belief or just chance? It doesn’t matter. Rohmer loses us in dreamland: a down-to-earth, yet extraordinary kind. The best kind.

Director: Eric Rohmer (1992)

Conte d’Automne (An Autumn Tale)

Conte d’Été (A Summer’s Tale)

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César et Rosalie

david and rosalie

Reconnected: David (Sami Frey) walks back into Rosalie’s (Romy Schneider) life  

Male adoration and infatuation takes two forms in Claude Sautet’s love-triangle serenade, starring Romy Schneider as the woman unable to choose between a passionate entrepreneur and an aloof artist. Both are obsessed with her, but show their interest in different ways.

Sautet’s set-up is simple: divorcee Rosalie (Shneider) is with César (Yves Montand) a boisterous, successful scrap-metal dealer. He’s the kind of man who drives fast, thinks fast and probably loves a little too fast too. We’re led to believe that Rosalie is impressed by César and is no doubt attracted to his energy.

Then David (Sami Frey), a past lover, turns up. He’s a comic-strip artist: delicate and handsome in a 1970s blow-dried kind of way. He’s a little cold too, and doesn’t say much. In a quiet, persistent way, he makes it very clear to Rosalie that he still loves her. With elegance, Rosalie reaches out to David and reconnects with him.

Sautet’s genius in presenting male psychological response to desire unfolds. Like Stéphane’s (Daniel Auteuil) repressed emotions in Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) and Mr Arnaud’s unspoken obsession (Michel Serrault) in Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud, César’s response to Rosalie is equally detailed. César is scared because he is in love. As a result, he is inconsistent. In other words, he is wholly human. César may be an oak tree, but there are bullet holes in his trunk: he’s hurt and he’s desperate and so reacts with a mixture of seduction, violence and jealous outbursts. These outbursts are directed at David and also, to his regret, Rosalie.

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Isabelle Huppert plays Marite (Roasile’s sister), with David and César (Yves Montand)

All the while, Schneider‘s Rosalie reacts to César’s temper and David’s seeming indifference with saintly patience. Shneider delivers her lines with the freshness of flowers pulled fresh from the ground. Her beauty is marine and her serenity places her firmly on an island. This makes Rosalie resilient: she wants both men, but needs neither.

Rosalie takes her strength from her siblings, her mother and her daughter, with whom she lives in a large, rambling house. The domestic scenes are convincing. The viewer could be a cat, sitting in a room’s doorway, watching warm chaos play out. It’s worth noting that nineteen year-old Isabelle Huppert plays Marite (Rosalie’s sister). It’s one of Huppert’s first film roles, onto which she impresses her characteristic chilly and intense regard.

Despite his short fuse, César is intelligent enough to conclude that if he wants Rosalie to be happy and not leave him, he must tolerate the presence of David. And so César seeks out David and invites him to stay at their summer beach house in the Vendée. Here, Sautet treats us to a blustery ‘male bonding scene’: David and César sporting identical mackintoshes, stiff and toy-duck yellow, on a boat, sailing a choppy sea.

Rosalie appears at peace with the situation but then makes the decision to leave. The voiceover explains: ‘so she can rely on herself and trust time.’ Her two men are confused, yet their friendship strengthens.

Sautet expresses a certain cinematic wisdom about relationships. There is no moral code: it’s just about getting along together. César and Rosalie break the rules, and a new love is created. It’s a distant star, even in this present day, and it’s Shneider’s Rosalie that controls its brightness.

Director: Claude Sautet (1972)

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Le Boucher (The Butcher)

the kne - boucher

The butcher (Jean Yanne) enters his self-inflicted abattoir. With the school-teacher (Stéphane Audran) whom he attempts to seduce with joints of meat

A disturbed butcher falling for a small-town schoolteacher forms the blood and bones of Claude Chabrol’s classic 1970 thriller. Set in the heart of the Dordogne close to one of the region’s prehistoric caves, Popaul (Jean Yanne) is a needy soul: he cuts up dead animals in the day and dreams about women at night. Unsurprisingly, he begins to fixate on the polished sweetness of Hélène (Stéphane Audran), a teacher whom he meets at a local wedding (for which he has provided the meat).

Chabrol directs infatuation and sinister happenings with the soothing clarity of a Grimm fairytale. One woman is murdered, and then, a short time afterwards, another is found dead during Hélène’s class trip to the local cave: a hand hangs over a cliff edge, dripping blood down onto a child’s sandwich.

Yet, despite the general concern caused by the gruesome discoveries, Chabrol ensures the town stays sunny, the children curious and Audran peaceful and quietly delighted with her new and steady friendship with Popaul.

Popaul’s efforts to charm Hélène frequently take the form of dead animal flesh: he talks about pretty lambs that will make great joints, and brings a leg of lamb into the classroom while she’s teaching a lesson on Honoré Balzac. Hélène is delighted that she has a butcher friend who brings her meat.

Chabrol remains faithful to his regular choice not to expose the psychological background of his villains. Instead, he plays with them as a cat with a mouse, artfully manipulating and surprising the audience. This is a clever directorial-tactic, and makes us feel sympathy for Popaul.

We like Popaul: he’s gentle and humble, and has the haunted look of a man who was locked in the cupboard as a small boy, too-often rejected by his mother. Any warm-hearted person wants to reach in and grab Popaul out of the screen, and give him some comfort.

With the authority of a Grecian-goddess and purity of the Madonna (much admired by Popaul, of course) Hélène guards her heart, resisting taking their friendship to the next level. ‘It’s not difficult to do without things,’ she says to a calmly disappointed Popaul. Of course, this makes her even more alluring. Unreachable.

The two become closer, and when Hélène suspects it’s not only lambs into which Popaul likes to thrust his knife, her graceful authority shudders. Hélène is stunned: a doe in headlights.

Yet throughout the final confession scene (arguably Chabrol’s finest) when Popaul has turned the knife on himself, entering his self-inflicted abattoir, Hélène is strong: she steps out the headlights and is resilient.

This is Chabrol’s glorification of women, their purity and strength (in his eyes); and by contrast: the image of a crumbling man, damaged and dying.

Dir: Claude Chabrol (1970)

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Paris Nous Appartient (Paris Belongs to Us)

22.-Paris-nous-appartient-Jacques-Rivette-1961

‘The heroes are dispersed, yet they can’t escape …’ Gerard (Giani Esposito)

Wide spaces and open ideas connect with paranoia and penned-in desire in Jacques Rivette’s first feature, the title of which is inspired by Charles Péguy’s reflection that Paris belongs to those who spend the summer there preparing for the winter season.

Filmed in 1961 and in black in white the story, reflective of the Cold War period, is seen through the eyes of Anne (Betty Schneider), a gentle student, who is in Paris for the summer. She joins a peculiar and compelling group of her brother’s friends: there’s Philip (Daniel Crohem), an American running from McCarthyism, Terry (Françoise Prévost), a femme-fatale and Gerard (Giani Esposito), a theatre director (rehearsing Shakespeare’s Pericles) and the mysterious Juan, a Spanish activist whom the group believe has committed suicide. Philip is convinced Gerard will do the same and so Anne, in good nature, decides to join the theatre group in an attempt to help the director.

Rivette presents them as marionettes in the summer heat (all the more stifling because it’s shot in black and white), unable to go far, and dangling by the strings of their paranoia and introspection. Much time is spent outside cafes (including a memorable cameo from Jean-Luc Godard), walking down the street with solemn expressions and pondering love and ‘other forces’ in studio flats; they all wear their solitude as a heavy coat in summer.

The characters are in torment: their movements are self-conscious and considered and there’s a loud, intense crackle in each one of their heads. Philip, the blonde American is the master, a ghost-like figure, spreading suspicion in a trance: ‘I speak in riddles, but some things can only be told in riddles.’ For Philip, there are ‘secret rulers,’ and ‘the world isn’t what it seems.’

Most affected is the vulnerable Gerard. His face is gentle and handsome and he looks like he could break. Anne is the calm rationalist, who eases him; she’s a smooth pebble against which he chooses to crash his waves.

Poignant and moving is the scene where the two sit by the Seine and discuss Gerard’s staging of Pericles. Gerard has invited Anne to play Marina. He asks Anne about the play:

‘It’s rather disconnected, but that doesn’t matter,’ Anne replies.

Gerard continues: ‘The reason I want to stage Pericles is because it is unplayable. It shreds and patches yet it hangs together over all.’ Gerard could be declaring his love for Anne, but here it is for art. ‘The heroes are dispersed, yet they can’t escape.’ His words are full of portent and he is investing too much of himself in the project.

Although Paris Nous Appartient refers consistently to plots, secrets and revolutions, it is more about absurdity and disconnection: the falling and turning of ideas in a city and in the minds of a group of friends who are looking to make sense of it all.

Pushing the boundaries and refusing to neatly categorise, Rivette captures the characters’ confusion and discontent like the smell of love in a damp room. It’s drawn out, but it cannot be sustained. The lingering is long, beautiful to watch. Eventually the strings that control Rivette’s puppets snap, resulting in conclusive collapse.

Director: Jacques Rivette (1961)

 

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A Conversation with Jean-Hugues Anglade

Jean-Hugues Anglade talks about his inner-fiction, solitude and the landscapes of his youth. And a changing France …

jean-hugues-nice pic

‘There were two realities for me when I was growing up’

I first met Jean-Hugues Anglade last August at the Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême, where he was the president of the jury, and promoting his latest film Je Suis un Soldat, directed by Laurent Larivière. Jean-Hugues plays Henri, a bitter and cynical man who has a pivotal role in an Eastern-European dog-trafficking ring. Henri’s a cold, grey character, the kind of man who keeps his emotions as over-sized jumpers stuffed into a drawer that won’t quite close. Henri has a malcontent not dissimilar to his role as Eddy Caplan the troubled cop in the gritty TV hit series Braquo.

Jean-Hugues’s first major introduction to the Anglophone audience was in the 1986 cult-classic Betty Blue, where he played the passionate Zorg, Betty’s (Beatrice Dalle) boyfriend. Sensuality, sadness and a twisted energy became Jean-Hugues’s language, one he used to interpret roles in numerous films including the heist thriller Killing Zoe and King Charles IX in the much-lauded epic La Reine Margot.

Back in the summer, just before the Festival, Jean-Hugues was involved in the much-reported Thalys train attack en route from Amsterdam to Paris. Just a few days later he turned up at the Festival de Francophone d’Angoulême with his hand in a bandage, looking, understandably, a little tired. However Jean-Hugues remained full of charm and had a genuine interest in everyone he met: directors, fellow actors and the people in the town. At the festival I asked him if we could meet for an hour in Paris during the autumn to talk about his work and his inspiration.

Jean-Hugues Anglade yohan

At the Festival Film Francophone d’Angouleme, August 2015. Photo © Yohan Bonnet/Hans Lucas

Two months later, during our conversation in a brasserie in Saint-Michel, Jean-Hugues spoke with honesty and whimsy: the same enthusiasm of a young boy exploring the forest floor, and the sadness of not quite finding what he is looking for. I found this a reflection of Jean-Hugues journey as an actor, passing through an era colder and more cynical than the one of his youth.

HVK: Henri, your character in Je Suis un Soldat (I am a Soldier) is an intense and complex man.

JHA: He’s a very rude man and he is not likeable and not very sympathetic. He’s a very paradoxical man. He does a very dirty job, trafficking dogs. But it’s not just for himself: it’s for the family and people around him he loves. It’s illegal but it’s the only way he’s found to make money to support his family.

We live in difficult times right now. We have a lot of people without work. Millions of people in France don’t work, and it makes your future unpredictable. The perspective of the future is black.

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‘The perspective of the future is black’ As Henri, with Louise Bourgoin in I am a Soldier (2014)

When I was young in the 1980s it was not the same problem. There were not so many unemployed people in France. Now it’s 6 million. This makes the future very insecure and you can be in work and then out of work. There is always the same problem: how do you pay for everything? Your car, your house …

HVK: Henri’s reaction to this problem is illegal, but it is based on survival.

JHA: Lots of people live thanks to black money in France. And young people without work deal drugs. It’s because everything is expensive in our society.

HVK: At Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême there was a screening of Betty Blue, which I hadn’t seen since I was seventeen years old. There’s a huge difference between the optimistic Zorg, Betty’s boyfriend (at least up until the point when Betty dies) and the pessimistic Henri. Symbolic, too, of the difference between a mid-80s France and France today, which for many people, is just about surviving. It’s a portrait of an economic change.

JHA: I was 30 when I shot Betty Blue. Today I am 60. Zorg and Henri are different guys. In Betty Blue we can understand the environment in the 80s, the economic situation and how young people were dreaming about their future. Today it’s much more cynical.

betty blue - innocent

‘I was innocent. We were like children’ As Zorg with Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue

HVK: People are cynical about money, but also, perhaps, in their relationships. Today they are more cautious about how they connect with people.

JHA: The 80s came after a period of change and ‘flower power.’ I remember when I entered the Conservatoire in Paris it was 1975 and I was 20 years old. It was a very blessed period and time, because we were mentally different.

People were closer to each other and much less interested in money. During this time, it was not that difficult to live in Paris on a small amount of money. You could work in the theatre doing walk-on parts and earn enough to live on for the month. I am very grateful to the Comédie-Français (France’s state theatre) because they paid me properly. I had enough to live.

HVK: Betty Blue was such a big film for my generation. We watched it when we were teenagers. How do you think it influenced our view of romantic relationships?

JHA: It’s a mystery. I don’t know why people from all around the world have been so touched by Betty Blue. Just why this movie had such an … I’m lost for words …

HVK: Do you think it’s something to do with Zorg’s adoration for Betty?

JHA: Yes

HVK: You have this big love for Betty. It is unconditional and without criticism. Men may see the film in a different way, but for women you are like a modern-day Prince: no matter how crazy she gets, you still love her.

JHA: (looks surprised) Even if she’s crazy?

HVK: Yes, even if she’s crazy. In my mind your love for Betty forms the visceral connection that some women have with the film. Of course, for men it could be something different. Quite possibly the allure of Beatrice Dalle.

JHA: Betty Blue was beautiful, aesthetically speaking. In terms of the images, the music, the piano. And, of course, the characters: there was such a sensuality and physical attraction between them.

The attraction between Betty and Zorg can happen in normal life. You can have a situation between a woman or a man or someone you love so deeply, in such a strong way. It can happen very fast with someone you love.

betty-blue - prince boy

‘There was a sensuality and attraction between them’ As Zorg, with Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue (1996)

HVK: I understand you were in a relationship with Beatrice Dalle off-screen?

JHA: (blushes) We were very young. Only once in my life have I been in a situation like this. Everything was confused between fiction and reality, because we were practically living in the same place where we were shooting.

We were living in this bungalow on the beach, just a short distance from the same bungalow Betty and Zorg shared. I remember I had a big German Shepherd with me at the time. It was a very special shoot. It was magic. It was the beginning of my career and I was not aware of everything that can be cruel in this job. I was innocent. We were like children. For Beatrice it was the same.

HVK: Zorg has enoromous energy in the film.

JHA: (laughs) I was young!

HVK: When I was a teenager we watched Betty Blue when our parents were out. It educated us about sex.

JHA: Many people said this to me. The guy who directed Je suis un Soldat saw Betty Blue, despite his homosexuality and despite not having permission from his parents.

HVK: The eighties was an era when cinema could teach teenagers about sex and intimacy in a positive way, as something that was closer to a real experience, yet still erotic. Today pornography is the educator, which is more cynical.

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‘At the moment the camera rolls there is a new birth’ As Eric, with Julie Delpy in Killing Zoe (1995)

JHA: Yes, you’re right. Things have changed so much. It’s like the issue of becoming an actor. I meet lots of young people who want to become actors and you can see that sometimes it’s not a real passion.

Young people ask me ‘What do I have to do?’ So I answer: ‘Try to enter the Conservatoire (CNSAD) which is the best dramatic school.’

And they say, ‘Ah, how long does it take?’ I say ‘It takes 3 years. And there is a big audition, with two or three levels. There are so many people who want to try to enter the Conservatoire.’

And they say ‘Ok, so it’s a lot work.’ And I say, ‘Yes, it’s a lot of work.’ And then the young people want to know if it’s easy to find work afterwards.

Most young people are interested to make films for the wrong reasons. They speak too early about money and glamour and fame.

This was not our goal at all when I started out. It was so vital to succeed in entering the Conservatoire. It was the main event to give meaning to my life. From 1,000 students they had to choose 24, and I was one of them. It felt amazing.

So you can imagine how it was for a guy like me who came from the provinces. I was born in Deux-Sèvres and after that my family moved to Tours, in the countryside. At the time it was very unusual for someone like me to succeed in entering the Conservatoire.

Now, if I meet a guy who wants to become an actor, it’s different. He asks me,‘Could you give me some contacts?’ He wants to get connected with an agent right away.

JHA - Nelly

‘In my youth the sky and the land created different moods’ As Vincent, with Emmanuelle Beart in Nelly and Mr Arnaud (1994)

HVK: Did your family support you becoming an actor?

JHA: Before I entered the Conservatoire they were very concerned. And they asked me to be reasonable and to think about another job. But once I was given a place they helped me a lot and were very positive.

They are very gentle, even though they don’t know the details of my professional life, because it’s so far away from the life they know.

HVK: I know the countryside near Tours and Deux-Sèvres very well.

JHA: Really! You’re married to a French man?

HVK: No, an Englishman! We go to the Charente a lot, and also the area around Tours. The countryside there is very affecting; it forms certain thought-patterns in your head. Makes you see things in a new way. 

And so I was wondering how the landscape you grew up in influenced you as an artist? Your performances are very generous, but contained as well. A see-saw between a positive energy and a brooding darkness.

JHA - young fiction

‘My personality is that I am very solitary’

JHA: Yes. (A big pause) The environment in which you grow up is very important in terms of your education. There are half positive and half pessimist elements, which composed my environment.

I have always been a lonesome guy. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was mostly alone because I was the one boy in the family. I have two older sisters. My father was a vet and not at home much. So I grew up and my personality is that I am very solitary. I felt lonely and sad when I was a boy, and that feeling stays. It’s a …

JHA stops talking and listens for a moment. Someone in the Brasserie has turned on some Blues music.

I do love Blues music and I’m learning to play the guitar. I was just listening to the sound.

So, near where I grew up in the Loire we have forests and castles. We have a lot of history and beautiful autumns. It’s half beautiful and it can also be very melancholic, because the colour of the sky often changes, and so your mood changes too. And sometimes you have a positive vibration and sometimes you can be a bit depressed too.

In my youth the sky and the land created different moods. Sometimes I felt very alive and full of energy and happy to live. Other times I was very nostalgic and melancholic and I wished for something big, a different future that could be far away from this area.

HVK: The woods are particularly special. They do more than create a mood. They connect us to something else, some kind of focused energy. If we can channel this ‘connected’ feeling into our work, our relationship and our passion in life, then we are fortunate. In a way, nature feeds us, forms us and helps us give to other people.

JHA: For me it was the question of how the woods smell. And so many things interfere with that smell. I should write about the woods and my youth. There were two realities for me when I was growing up. There was the normal reality and there was something that was ‘beyond,’ that existed beyond my regular reality.

I was 15, 16, 17 years old and I didn’t know how to explain this feeling I had inside. I should try to explain this ‘double feeling’ by writing about it. The feeling was very strange. It was a kind of fiction, a fiction that I wanted to enter, a ‘second level.’

I’ve felt like entering this fiction throughout my life. This ‘second level’ – it’s the level I’ve been practicing now for 40 years each time I enter a character. There is this moment when you cross into something new. Even if you are aware of the lines you have to work with in a basic way, like a student for many weeks before the shoot begins. At the moment when the camera rolls there a new birth. It’s the same feeling I experienced in my youth, when I wasn’t a professional actor. I still have a relationship with that early feeling.

If you are able to frighten people on screen, if you are able to move people, that’s proof you are able to accept another kind of reality. People want to go on a journey with you.

Braquo

‘I can be tender but also very rude’ As Eddy Caplan in Braquo

HVK: How would you describe the essence of your performances?

JHA: There are two opposites in me. I am always going back and forth. I am one thing and then I am the opposite. There is a very rational way of seeing life and a totally poetic way of seeing life. An unrealistic way of seeing life, perhaps. It’s very bizarre. I act that way, too.

I can seem fragile, but I can be very strong. I can be tender, but also very rude. It is this contrast that made me want to play Henri in Je suis un Soldat. The director wanted me to be very rude, mean and tough. Not to show human sweetness or nostalgia. At the end of the film we understand Henri has experienced a kind of redemption. We shot the film from the beginning of the script, so it was a natural step-by-step process towards his brokeness and redemption.

HVK: Can you remember a specific moment when you decided to become an actor?

JHA: During that period when I wanted to be away from where I was growing up, I went to see all the movies by the Nouvelle Vague directors. I felt very moved leaving the movie theatre. And one day I remember coming out from a Claude Sautet movie called Vincent, François, Paul et les Autres … I decided, ‘Ok, this is what I am going to do. I want to get involved in that kind of world, and become an actor.’

HVK: And then you went on to act in Sautet’s film ‘Nelly and Mr Arnaud’ 

JHA: It was a good movie but I was disappointed with the experience. I met Claude Sautet and he offered me the part, but I was a bit disappointed about the character. I was not excited about doing it, but I accepted it because it was Claude Sautet. I had just come out from La Reine Margot, which was such a crazy and exciting experience for me, and Killing Zoe too. I was very happy working on these films. But when I did the Claude Sautet movie I was a bit depressed. My dream was to have a powerful and main part. It was a disappointment.

anglade et adjani

‘There is a very rational way of seeing life and a totally poetic way of seeing life’ As King Charles IX with Isabelle Adjani in La Reine Margot (1993)

HVK: How did the success of La Reine Margot in 1993 make you feel?

JHA: I had a very positive energy. 1993 was a high-paced year. I was very happy, not because of my private life, but because I had a big energy. It was an electric year for me. My Jimi-Hendrix year. I was suddenly ready, and I could go far. Now it’s different.

HVK: How is it different?

JHA: I’m not as happy as I used to be. I have more sadness in my life. I have two beautiful kids, but it’s different. That’s why it’s very interesting to give me work now.

I did Braquo which is a very successful TV series, but now it’s finished. We just made season 4, which will be out in January 2016. Braquo took me 5 years and I wanted to quit this character, so we finished it.

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JHA spoke with the same enthusiasm of a young boy exploring the forest floor Paris, November 2015 (thank you to Samia Herda for the photo)

I was very happy on the Je suis un Soldat set. It made me realise I want to go back into feature films and play characters who lead normal lives and exist in today’s society.

I have a big energy for social realism and would love to work with Michael Haneke or Jaques Audiard. This is why I’m not shooting right now. I’m waiting for offers that could be interesting.

Helen Van Kruyssen, January 2016

Reviews of Jean-Hugues Anglade’s films at http://www.52frenchfilms.org

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Après Vous

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Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) and the hapless Louis (José Garcia) bemuse Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain)


One simple act of kindness and the hilarious complications that follow form the heart-stone of Pierre Salvadori’s romantic-comedy, one that rolls out bad luck and angst-ridden romance with gags and some very pretty flower arrangements. Daniel Auteuil, French-cinema’s Prince-of-buried-emotion,  plays Antoine, a man of carefully chosen words who bottles his feelings well. Antoine runs a successful restaurant, is married to a competent wife and appears to be in control.

One night, on the way back from work, Antoine rescues Louis (José Garcia) who is just about to hang himself from a tree in the local park. Louis is a stranger, yet from the moment the noose is unwound from his neck, the two men immediately form a connection.

Up to this point, we guess Antoine was having a minor mid-life crisis. He was bored. Now Antoine is a ‘saviour’: his super-hero masculinity is affirmed, and he feels responsible for his new friend. Much to the aghast of his wife, Antoine is determined to help Louis get his life back on track.

The hapless Louis’ to-do list is demanding: he needs a home, a job and wants reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend, the luminous, lily-pale florist Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain). Antoine starts out by intercepting the suicide letter Louis had written to his grandparents in San Malo. In an attempt to beat the postal delivery, he and Louis leave Paris late one night and drive out for a hilarious encounter with Louis’ grandmother.

Antoine then gives Louis a job (he’s a hopeless waiter) in his restaurant; and after his wife leaves him, Louis moves in. Then there’s the added complication of the lovely Blanche. Antoine plays cupid and tries to get the two back together, but in doing so begins to fall for her himself.

Salvadori directs with humour that for the English audience is somewhat on-the-nose and slapstick. Garcia plays Louis as a buffoon, dumber than dumb: emotionally and intellectually limited. He is two-dimensional and it’s difficult to believe Blanche ever considered him as a boyfriend.

Nevertheless, Après Vous is magic. It is hugely watchable because of Auteuil and Kiberlain’s performances. Kiberlain’s Blanche is serene and as unreadable as her flowers; her shop is a shrine to disappointment and frustrated romance. Yet we know she feels deeply, in an ordinary, yet cinematic way (which is Kiberlain’s charm).

Auteuil is not a heart in winter here; comedy has thawed him (a little), and he holds desire with loose reins: holding back, moving forward a little, and holding back again. Auteuil is stardust seduction and for this reason alone Après Vous merits our full and forgiving attention.

Director: Pierre Salvadori (2003)

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Histoire de Marie et Julien (The Story of Marie and Julien)

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THE STORY OF MARIE AND JULIEN, (aka LE HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIEN), Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Emmanuelle Beart, 2003

In the world of Marie and Julien life is not based on the tangible evidence we’ve been taught to trust. Characters are solid: they think, yet don’t feel; and they react. Legendary director Jacques Rivette places them in an educated middle-class life (books, ramshackle kitchens and an adoration of the ‘right kind’ of aesthetics) and proceeds to move its pillars and shake its foundations, creating a compelling and disturbing world.

Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is a clock-smith and is unhappy with the cogs that life has formed in him. He wanted something different: ‘I have the hands of the butcher, not a clock-smith,’ he reasons, looking at Marie (Emmanuelle Béart). His large house is full of clocks in states of repair. Their ticks and tocks could belong to hearts. Hearts that function but fail to fully feel, just like those that belong to Julien and Marie. Marie is a woman who cannot bleed and Julien is a sensitive man who expresses love largely through erotic monologues and the logic of a scientist.

Marie lives with Julien. They have resumed their affair that ended a year ago. Marie is enigmatic, given to mysteriously re-arranging furniture and is intensely jealous of other women that exist, or have recently featured, in Julien’s life. What’s more, Marie’s given to unexplained silences, disappearing into her own ‘other world.’ Yet she needs, she desires and in some strange way, connects with Julien.

Julien is a cerebral man – he expresses his thoughts and his love with distance and a lack of enthusiasm. It’s as though he’s holding back, figuring things out. All the while he’s blackmailing another woman (exactly why, is unclear). The woman discloses information about Marie that makes Julien see her in a new light.

At its disconcerting core, Histoire de Marie et Julien is about love and attachment. It’s about being free, unexplainable, yet solid and reachable. Love is Marie: unknowable and unobtainable. In the world Rivette has created here, they both limp forward, just like time in a malfunctioning clock.

Director: Jacques Rivette (2003)

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Trois Couleurs: Blanc (Three Colours: White)

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Dominique (Julie Delpy) steps out of the church into white light; she’s an unobtainable bride, too pure and too radiant to be made love to by her hapless Polish hairdresser husband. Or at least this is what Karlos’s (Zbigniew Zamachowski) flash-back images imply are the cause of his impotence, Domnique’s reason for divorce in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s White, the second installment in his majestic Three Colours trilogy. Continue reading

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Belle de Jour (Beauty of the Day)

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Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) is distracted, her mind is elsewhere …

Corridors of erotic fantasies help Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) navigate the confines of her private and public life. Or, as the original trailer says: ‘a divorce between the soul and the flesh.’ Séverine has been married to her doctor husband, Pierre (Jean Sorel) for one year: she has little interest in passion, just the idea of romance and someone to take care of her. So much so, that on one occasion we see her ask him ‘to sit with her’ while she falls into sleep. Continue reading

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La Cambrure (The Curve)

Eva (Edwige Shaki) and Roman (François Rauscher) are two good-looking intellectuals who playfully discuss the curves of the female body, its symbolism and its sensuality in this short film (shot in video) which is edited and technically advised (and influenced) by Eric Rohmer, and directed and written by Shaki herself.

The two meet at a sculptor’s studio. Roman has just finished a conversation about his thesis on ‘Body Language in Impressionist Painting,’ and has been examining the curves of the female sculptures in the workshop. A woman (Eva) turns up and leans against his studio door in a way that emulates a sculpture. Roman is transfixed. Continue reading

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Véronique et son Cancre (Veronica and her Dunce)

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An acerbic, comic light is cast over the education system in Eric Rohmer’s 1958 short film. It’s a sharp arrow that strikes at the heart of all that’s rotten about unimaginative teaching, and is as disturbingly relevant to the present day as it is to post-war France.

In short, there are three bored characters – ‘Madame’ (Stella Dassas), her young son Jean-Christophe (Alain Deirieu), and the personal tutor, Véronique (Nicole Berger).

Madame doesn’t want to help her son. Sure, she has affection for Jean-Christophe (we do see her ruffle his hair, rather like a confectioner would a small boy who has just purchased a lollipop). Madame prefers to prop up a late 1950s France with bourgeois appearances: a squeaky-clean apartment and the insistence of good behaviour. ‘Don’t be afraid to be strict,’ she quips to Veronique, ‘The older he gets, the sillier he is.’

And then mother click-clacks out of the apartment … Continue reading

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L’Amour l’Après-Midi (Love in the Afternoon)

Chloé (Zouzou)  is anything but a simpering two-dimension

Chloé (Zouzou) is anything but a simpering two-dimension

It’s a small, claustrophobic world in which Frédéric (Bernard Verley) moves. He has his family at home, and his work in the office. The Paris streets are busy and full of attractive women and with all the strength and passion of youth still in his bones, he spends the long hours that divide lunch and home-time coping with the conflict caused by desire.

Eric Rohmer presents the last film of his six ‘Six Moral Tales’ series as a long cinematic Psalm to temptation. The ‘Prologue’ is a delightful combination of an allusion to sci-fi ‘magic’ and the meandering mind of the married man.

The title sequence is cut with early-seventies ‘plinky-plonky’ minimalist music, full of portent and evocative of another planet. Frédéric wanders the streets of Paris and sits in cafes with a faraway look in his eyes. Of all the beautiful women in Paris he says, ‘I dream I possess them all.’ He engages in the fantasy of a surreal magnetic necklace that ‘annihilates the others’ free will.’ We see him wearing the sci-fi jewel: some women respond, and some don’t.

The prologue is a confession (the viewer feels like a therapist or a Priest). Yet at the same time, it is space-dust which prepares us for the narrative’s first real ‘crackle’ when Chloé (Zouzou) walks through his office door. Frédéric wants what he knows he shouldn’t have (or, indeed, what isn’t good for him) and proceeds to step close to the fire.

Rohmer avoids the temptation to present Chloé as a Jezebel. Chloé is anything but a simpering two-dimension: she’s more forthright than Frédéric’s wife, Hélène (Françoise Verley). Chloé’s a lost soul: her cigarette droops from her mouth, presenting combustible desire.

Rohmer writes clean, direct dialogue between Frédéric and Chloé. Chloé says the things Frédéric is too bourgeois to say. Until Frédéric met Chloé, his class had not given him the confidence to express himself; and now she releases him a little. Frédéric’s words and narrated thoughts toss and turn in his own imagined bed of love with Chloé. ‘I’ve never been so candid, so at ease. With most of the girls I’ve loved, I’ve played a role,’ he says.

L’Amour l’Après-Midi may well be a ‘moral tale,’ but it is more a homily to the power and celebration of free-will. Our strength to resist temptation; or, seen differently, our fear to take a risk. Rohmer lets us decide, but the director’s choice was always moral, rather than imagined fancy absent of credo.

Director: Eric Rohmer (1972)

 

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Vive Le Tour

Vive-le-TourPersistence, pain and the village parade sit solid at the heart of Louis Malle’s 1962 short documentary about the Tour de France. The cyclists pedal as fast as Malle’s camera rolls, and the result is an efficient yet poetic take on the joys and pitfalls of the cyclists and spectator’s view of the race.

We see the villagers (including an array of nuns in different habits) waiting for the cyclists to pass through a French village that looks remarkably similar, from an outsider’s view, to one that exists today. There are squinting faces, funny shaped hats and a parade featuring a huge fabricated giraffe and comic-looking ‘Butagaz’ mobiles.

The cyclists experience difficulties and face their failures. More importantly, they press-on.

Malle commits as much footage to the visual study of the villager’s responses as to the race’s competitors. It’s an egalitarian study and is indicative of a post-war French-ness, one that respects the small and meaningful in the everyday, and backboned the nouvelle vague approach to filmmaking.

Likewise, Vive Le Tour holds a perfect dramatic arc within its mere 18 minutes: set-up, character introduction, challenge, and triumph. Malle further developed this expertise in his longer, fictional films; and alongside the more ‘commercial’ Claude Chabrol was probably the most ‘conventional’ storyteller of his contemporaries.

Director: Louis Malle (1962)

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Les Témoins (The Witnesses)

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Sarah (Emmauelle Béart)

Love is a crashing symbol (and fidelity a distant drum-roll) in André Téchiné’s film about desire, control and the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in mid-eighties Paris.

Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) finds motherhood difficult: it’s hard to write with a young crying baby in the room (although easier with ear-plugs) and the father, Mehdi (Sami Bouajila) is a hard-working cop. Faithfulness isn’t important to Mehdi and Sarah, just love, and in Les Témoins the two have the boundaries surrounding their mutual agreement pushed to the limit.

Love is complicated and no less so when Sarah’s doctor friend Adrien (Michel Blanc) introduces his young lover, Manu (Johan Libéreau) into their circle. They all meet by the sea, where one afternoon Mehdi rescues Manu from drowning. Mehdi finds the ‘rescue’ intensely erotic and quickly begins a love affair with Manu.

Meanwhile, Sarah continues to write despite her turbulent relationship and the demands of her (unnamed) baby. Creativity also flourishes in Julie (Julie Depardieu), Manu’s slightly nervous sister, who has just landed her first big role as an opera singer. Elsewhere, Téchiné casts a grey shadow, one that eclipses the joy. HIV is discovered world-wide and Manu is diagnosed. He is affected quickly and begins the descent. Around him, Sarah, Mehdi, Adrien and Julie, respond with fear, anger and compassion.

Téchiné asserts a visceral energy, one that is true to the passion and surprise experienced by the characters. Béart performance balances pragmatism with depression and hurt, while Mehdi’s frustration and anger reveals a humanity seldom seen in the on-screen working-cop. The trauma increases Sarah and Mehdi’s bond and takes them into a new land: one that‘s optimistic and broadened by genuine love.

Director: André Téchiné (2007)

 

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Nadja à Paris

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Eric Rohmer’s early short film is a sweet, fresh postcard from 1960s Paris, written and narrated by American/Yugoslav exchange student Nadja Tesich who is preparing a thesis on Proust. Rohmer devotes the full 12 minutes to Nadja walking the streets of Paris, observing and connecting with its characters and surrounding herself with its ambience.

Student life in the 60s ‘golden era’ is expressed as something barely recognisable in the present day. On campus, Nadja rests in innocence and gentle muse. It’s a safe haven, a place ‘where everything I need for pleasure or work are within my reach.’ Yet, Nadja knows she must extend herself: ‘the danger is that we’re so comfortable that we don’t feel like leaving.’

So she steps out, a sponge, a doe, unprotected and committed to responding to what she sees. We see her in cafés observing Parisians doing nothing (‘I have no specific purpose, I just sit’), on the left bank watching old men smoking and reading, listening in on other people’s conversations, and having chats with people much older than herself in Montparnasse bars.

Nadja is a voice of reason: her narration is delivered with rational serenity, rather like a doctor telling you your illness is nothing to worry about, that life is beautiful and you should go out onto the street, and observe and appreciate it. After the recent attacks in Paris Nadja’s comments are even more poignant for the contemporary viewer: ‘People know I’m a foreigner, but they accept me. It’s a truly open city.’ Nothing surprises here, but that’s okay, as the film is more a reassuring ‘wave,’ and it still feels ‘new.’ Nadja à Paris reinforces all that is pleasurable in the simple things: a cup of coffee, a good conversation and the characters with which we share our cities.

Paris is Nadja’s first love and her wanderings are a solid indication of Rohmer’s interests, ones to which he remained faithful as a film-maker throughout his career: his adoration of the female voice, and its freedom to explore life without judgment. Truly meandering and a reflection of mind.

Director: Eric Rohmer (1964)

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Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart)

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Mother Love: Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) comforted by his mother, Clara (Lea Massari)

If you’re a teenage boy in a post-war bourgeois family, struggling with a cold father, a Catholic education and two mischievous older brothers, there are three pleasures in life: a mother’s love, Jazz music, and the slow, self-conscious introduction to girls.

Le Souffle au Coeur is a semi-autobiographical comedy in which Louis Malle directs the wiry Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) as a young teenager who’s cheeky and dissatisfied with his place in the family. Laurent has enormous energy with a sulk to match. We see him running to school, late for altar-service at chapel and bounding up the stairs at home like a lolloping puppy.

The adults in Laurent’s house are comic acts whom he dodges and adores. On the ground floor, his father uses a large room as his gynecological surgery, which Laurent observes from afar with irritation and trepidation. The matronly housekeeper attempts to assert discipline (with little effect), while the mother, Clara (Italian actress Lea Massari), is beautiful and playful. She’s the kind of mother who is put on a high pedestal by her sons, whom then spend a frustrated lifetime searching for a woman who can match her radiance. Clara is ignored by her chilly husband yet receives the adoration she needs from her sons.

And, of course, Clara has a lover. One day Laurent sees his mother getting into a young man’s car, and retreats into a mood. Laurent is a true teen: his feelings are huge, but he is never taken seriously. Most memorable is the evening when his two older brothers decide it’s time Laurent lost his virginity. They take him to a brothel, set him up with a young blonde woman, and burst in during the act. And so it comes as no surprise Laurent’s youngest-brother status makes him frustrated and a little angry.

Laurent then goes on a scout-trip and develops a heart murmur, brought on, quite possibly (although never alluded to) by the trauma in the brothel. His mother takes him away to a sanitarium to recover. It’s a nice one, though. There are tennis courts, pleasant bedrooms and pretty girls to flirt with. And there’s also his mother to spy on naked in the bath. Her back is shaped like a cello and Laurent finds it fascinating; this leads the film into new territory, usually only treated by cinema with a grey, heavy hand.

Malle is directing weighty themes here, but not once does the film seem leaden. It is as light as the Jazz-soundtrack, a breezy comedy. The relationship between Laurent and his mother is directed so it is as normal as the day-to-day eating of dinner and going to sleep. Malle avoids judgement. It’s not shocking, and sits surprisingly simple in our minds. A sweet rhyme with little shadow.

Director: Louis Malle (1971)

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Madame Bovary

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MADAME BOVARY, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Francois Balmer, 1991, (c)Samuel Goldwyn

Destroyed by dreams and addicted to sensation, Emma Bovary is a heroine far more complex than a bored housewife who likes a pretty frock in Claude Chabrol’s triumphant adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s novel.

From the beginning Chabrol’s feathery wit and Isabelle’s warm shadows present  Emma as a woman in whom marital promises have commenced a slow death. Emma calls it ‘a fog.’ Charles (Jean-François Balmer), her husband is pitifully dull, yet adoring. His conversation, the voiceover (dry, measured) tells us, ‘is as flat a pavement.’

As Emma’s domesticity with Charles grows more intimate, the more distant she becomes. Huppert constantly casts Emma’s mischievous gaze elsewhere, beyond the boundaries of her small society. She could be anywhere: in a field beyond the garden wall, in the arms of lover, or wearing beautiful dress, dancing at a grand ball.

Emma is certainly calculating, selfish and materialistic; yet Huppert gives her more, making her curiously carefree, coquettish yet melancholy. Barely beyond the title sequence we see Emma in front of a male visitor, sticking her tongue in a crystal liqueur glass, cleaning it of its last drops of fortified wine.

A short while later, Huppert pendulums Emma’s mood towards a petulant sulk. It’s almost comic (helped by Jean-Michel Bernard and Matthieu Chabrol’s breezy score). However, we know there’s a sad stone in Emma that will never move. And so she swings between these two states, without control.

Chabrol writes Emma’s desperate state of mind as something more related to who she is, instead of the restrictive epoch into which she was born. Her mindset is her ‘code’ and there is nothing she can do about it.

We know little of Bovary’s childhood. This is a characteristic of Chabrol’s films. His characters, whether adapted from novels, or new creations, exisit always ‘in the moment.’ Chabrol’s characters react to circumstance, to what they see and what is happening around them. These moments build up, becoming more intense, and then they break into a ‘final confession.’

In Madame Bovary, Emma’s confession is narrated, confirming her inside cog  has turned her towards a place where she no longer exists. A place where Emma has chosen the ultimate sensation, from which there is no return.

Director: Claude Chabrol (1991)

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Charlotte et Son Steak

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Walter (Jean-Luc Godard) with Charlotte

The simple preparation of a steak by a woman intellectually resistant to the dry charm of an intense man (played by Jean-Luc Godard) comprises this neat 10-minute short, directed and written by Eric Rohmer at the very beginning of his film-making career.

It’s snowing and we’re in Switzerland. During the opening moment the on-screen text tells us that Walter (Godard) is introducing Clara to Charlotte in order to make her jealous. Charlotte refuses to rise (externally, at least) and the three trudge through the snow for a bit, before Clara heads off. Walter follows Charlotte back to her small apartment.

Charlotte is clearly in a mood about something, and proceeds to make a steak while Walter stands there, wanting her to kiss him. Charlotte, quite rightly, refuses. Walter is young and clumsy and he has a lot to learn. He lacks charm, commenting that ‘Clara is more beautiful than you. But I don’t like comparisons.’ Charlotte defends: ‘That doesn’t bother me at all.’

All the components of Rohmer’s fascination with the playful, indirect exchanges between men and women are carved out here: Charlotte et son Steak is a charming and succinct exposition for almost all Rohmer’s later films. In Walter is the intellectual man who loves to theorise, largely because he is unable to directly express his feelings. Versions of Walter crop time and again. They are men who stumble in their awkwardness, saying things women don’t want to hear.

And likewise, we see Rohmer’s profound interest in women and how they assert their independence. Rohmer shows how Charlotte open-plumes her opinions and strong will in a tiny domestic environment. The restless Ann (Marie Rivière) in La Femme d’Aviateur (The Aviator’s Wife) does the same in her ‘Maid’s room’ apartment, and likewise the luminous Chloé (Zouzou) in L’Amour l’Après-midi (Love in the Afternoon).

Most memorable is Walter’s line: ‘I’d like to be dead so you’d think more of me.’ Charlotte responds: ‘I’d think of you even less.’ However, at the end the two come together in an embrace. Credo was important to Rohmer, and here it is evident, within just ten minutes, that Walter and Charlotte believe in the simple connection achieved from an embrace. Faith in its power (alongside the sound of a passing train in the distance) upholds Charlotte et son Steak as Rohmer’s most conventionally ‘Romantic’ film.

 

Worth knowing: Eric Rohmer directed this in 1950/1. However, it was only widely seen ten years later, when the uncredited actress who played Charlotte was dubbed by the voice of Stéphane Audran.

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Je suis a Toi (All Yours)

Rent-boy Lucas 
(Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) with baker Henry (Jean‑Michel Balthazar)

Rent-boy Lucas 
(Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) with baker Henry (Jean‑Michel Balthazar)

A rent boy needs a home, a baker needs love and the bakery assistant needs someone to adore her. Set in a smallish town in Belgium, the three needy characters form a trio that bends and breaks the rules of love.

Baker Henry (Jean‑Michel Balthazar) indulges from time to time in webcam sex with Argentinian Lucas 
(Nahuel Pérez Biscayart)
. Lucas is a weedy-looking thing and is as pasty as Henry’s pre-baked dough. During one of their intimate sessions, Lucas declares to Henry: ‘I have no job, no family. Everyone hates me … I am really, really sad.’

Henry falls for Lucas (in a confused and needy way) and spends his life-savings on a ticket to fly Lucas to Belgium so he can live with him. He gives Lucas a home (which he desperately needs), he gives him his ‘love’ (which Lucas doesn’t really want), and he sets him to work for free amidst the flour and ovens in his bakery. Lucas has little choice over his ‘dough-slave’ position.

Understandably, Lucas wants to buck. He is irritated and feels claustrophobic. Using sex to assure shelter is a currency that has lost its value; and it is made complicated by his falling in love with the sweet and tender Audrey (Monia Chokri), who works in the bakery. She’s the yeast in Lucas’ desire and in this he finds the confidence to breathe with fresh masculinity. Henry is jealous and demands more attention from Lucas as a result.

Director David Lambert directs with subdued greys and greens: colours of cabbage, quiet fear and a melting heart. He staccatos this Belgian malaise with some beautifully choreographed flamboyant and volcanic moments. There’s a bouncy Henry throwing his flour around the kitchen as he listens to opera music, Lucas’ unforgettable taut desperation when he realises his new home comes with a price, and some claret-coloured moments in the town’s gay brothel.

Je suis a Toi is at heart a film about ownership and independence, and our need to be loved, but not controlled. It is delicate territory, and Lambert assures the characters stay beautifully human. So much so, that when we would be tempted to judge a character’s unreasonable behaviour, we don’t. Instead our sensibility is guided, never driven, towards a new lesson in love.

Director: David Lambert (2014)

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Villa Amalia

amalia - huppert in silenceIsabelle Huppert is music, solitude and wide-open to experience in Benoit Jacquot’s adaptation of Pascal Quignard’s ‘All the Mornings of the World.’ Huppert plays Ann, an accomplished pianist and composer who lives inside her melodies and rhythms, more than the ostensibly ‘real’ world of objects, space and time.

Seeing her husband kiss another woman is the catalyst that propels Ann to change her life to full effect: she leaves her husband, sells her apartment and pianos, and burns her compositions and recordings. Ann is now a blank stave, determined in her pursuit to be alone. Only confiding her plans to gentle, life-long friend Georges (Jean-Hugues Anglade), Ann heads off to a remote island in southern Europe. All she has is the bag in her hand and the thoughts in her head.

There, Ann rents the simple ‘Villa Amelia’ with breathtaking views of the ocean. It would be easy to write now that ‘Ann starts a new life.’ She doesn’t; and herein rests the film’s intelligence, tri-powered by Quignard’s narrative, Benoit’s vision and Huppert’s interpretation. Instead, Huppert starts a ‘new existence’, and is in total control of her (almost) empty vessel, unencumbered by objects and ambition.

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VILLA AMALIA, l-r: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Hugues Anglade, 2009, ph: Jerome Prebois/©EuropaCorp Distribution

Whilst at ‘Villa Amelia’ Ann receives pleasure by drifting, like a small boat, on the ocean. There are beautiful shots of Ann floating on her back, the sun burning down on her still and silent face. One afternoon, she allows the ocean to take her out dangerously far, and is rescued by a young Italian woman. The two are attracted to each other and begin an intimate connection. There are no plans in this relationship. It just exists, and that is how Ann wants it.

Presently, Georges turns up. His serenity and vulnerability opens up Ann. He is the mellow French horn to Huppert’s 1st violin. There is a peaceful equality between them, which eventually serves to gently guide Ann back to her old environment in France, where her mother is dying and new music awaits.

Benoit directs with a simple vision, always faithful to Huppert’s lead. This is Huppert’s film: she is the composer of her own narrative, playing Ann with characteristic poise and intensity.

In essence Villa Amalia is a study of a musician’s mind. The villa represents Ann’s ‘musical elsewhere’ a place where she exists solely in her creative energy. It’s a subtle delineation, one shown through fingers tapping a rhythm on a table, the occasional humming a small tune, and sitting in silence. They form the shape of music, and are Ann’s grammar and vocabulary.

When Ann’s eyes are fixed on the place where the sky meets the ocean, and she observes the birds moving in the sky, we wholly believe she is reading notes on the horizontal stave. Huppert’s performance takes us with magnificence to a place of pleasurable distraction and quiet meditation, just like a successful piece of music.

Director: Benoit Jacquot (2009)

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Parisiennes

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‘Once I’m interested in someone, the story comes to me …’ says writer Kyoko (Eriko Takeda), who is looking for a woman to inspire the heroine in her next novel. Kyoko arrives at the airport, quietly and with determination, and over the next few days she meets various eccentric Parisians.

First of all, Kyoko talks to the opera-loving taxi driver who takes her to her hotel. While she enthuses about Madame Butterfly, Kyoko firmly dismisses the opera as a cliché. (Later on, however, the music plays a pivotal role in Kyoko’s emotional journey.) The film’s exposition rests in this short interaction: director Slony Sow is opening a film that persistently pushes against cliché, nudging aside any stereotype of an innocent Japanese woman in Paris.

Kyoko searches for her muse with an open, polite heart. She chats about writing and self-expression with the hotel’s chambermaid, who introduces her sister, a lesbian butcher. The butcher is a woman who can tolerate animal blood, but not blood belonging to humans.

The highly-strung stylist, another encounter, is the personification of a woodpecker. She verbally pecks at Kyoko, seeing the possibility of inspiring the heroine of her novel as an ideal PR opportunity. Kyoko makes a graceful retreat. At the Palais Garnier, Kyoko meets an opera singer who is intense and melancholy. She throws Kyoko into a small turmoil, experienced as a private and dramatic moment in her hotel room.

Sow shoots with magic and poetry, but never forcing the image into a place that is unbelievable. This is most evident when Kyoko meets the underground toilet attendant. The scene is lit like a boudoir of buried dreams, where death is coloured and revered as beautiful, and for a moment we are taken wholly into another ordinary, yet surreal world.

Takeda plays Kyoko as a woman who knows her own mind, but at the same time welcomes Paris and wills it to change her. At one point she has lunch with a homeless woman (an ex-night-club owner who claims to have slept with Prince). Kyoko’s gentleness leads to the two making a meaningful connection. The woman asks if Kyoko is looking for ‘the desire for freedom, or the desire to write?’

The spirit of Parisiennes is the spirit of a writer, and any writer watching this will be inspired to emulate Kyoko’s approach to travel and meeting people. Sow and Takeda have successfully captured the magic of Paris. It’s a fresh voice from a director who has a poetic vision of a brave and beautiful city.

Slony Sow (2014)

Interview with Slony Sow and Eriko Takeda coming soon.

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Je ne suis pas un Salaud (I’m not a Bastard)

Eddie’s (Nicolas Duvauchelle) ambition is held in a vice. With Karine (Mélanie Thierry)

Eddie’s (Nicolas Duvauchelle) ambition is held in a vice. With Karine (Mélanie Thierry)

White working-class malaise holds Eddie’s ambition (Nicolas Duvauchelle) in a vice in this tense contemporary thriller set on a Paris council estate. Gripped by swelling low self-esteem, Eddie has tried various jobs, hates them all and finds it difficult to connect with life around him.

One night, after some heavy drinking he is attacked by a gang from his estate. With alcohol-infused confidence he retaliates and is badly beaten up. Shortly afterwards, Eddie wrongfully picks out Ahmed (Driss Ramdi) as a main perpetrator (someone he has seen on the estate a few days earlier) in an identity parade.

The law hounds Ahmed and things get messy. In an attempt to cleanse himself, Eddie seeks to improve his relationship with Karine (Mélanie Thierry) and their young son. He forces himself to accept a job he hates which makes him spiral down further into misery.

Director Emmanueal Finkiel’s main triumph is the elicitation of two exquisite performances from Duvauchelle and Thierry. Thierry plays Karine as patient and kind, representing an iconic, forgiving love. Her face is tender, and she clings to her saintliness to help her cope with Eddie’s frustration and random violent explosions.

Meanwhile, Duvauchelle becomes increasingly pinched, angrier and more desperate as he is unable to express his frustration. Cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine exposes the film as a water-colour left out in the rain: the colours and images cry and bleed with Eddie’s sadness and anger, taking him to a place where there is only one solution that will smash his loneliness.

Director: Emmanuel Finkiel (2014)

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Un Plus Une

Antoine (Jean Dujardin) and Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), landing in place where they are free to fall

Antoine (Jean Dujardin) and Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), landing in place where they are free to fall

Claude Lelouch flings opens the doors, shows us heightened-colours of India, and lets love happen. Well, it doesn’t just ‘happen’ and herein lays the director’s genius: he carefully structures a story while at the same time leads us to believe it is an independent, meandering path. The beautiful tension between control and freedom.

In Un Plus Une, we believe romance roams free between celebrated composer Antoine (Jean Dujardin) and Anna (Elsa Zylberstein). Lelouch places them in his exotic view of a country that he says ‘teaches us that the most beautiful and best investment is generosity and honesty.’ It’s a romantic view, it’s Lelouch’s view and in Un Plus Une it makes magic.

Childless Anna is hugely generous and honest too. She lives in India with her French ambassador husband, Samuel (played by Christopher Lambert), whom, in a certain way, we understand she loves. She meets Antoine at a dinner organised to celebrate his arrival and work on a score for Romeo and Juliet. Antoine is a less optimistic soul, worn out by life and his needy young musician girlfriend whom he has left behind in Paris.

Anna charms Antoine throughout the dinner (by just being herself), and it is evident that Antoine’s interest opens something in her, too. In these moments the two form a bond, which they deepen when they decide to take a journey across India’s terrain: boarding trains, bathing in the Ganges and embracing a mystic lady famous for her hugs. Anna’s husband is a little ruffled by all this, but he understands Anna is a free spirit, and so there is little he can do.

Composer Francis Lai is Lelouch’s long-time collaborator, and given the prominence of music in the auteur’s films, he is something of an unofficial co-director. Here, Lai’s majestic score conducts the lovers, sweeping them up and turning them like leaves in India’s air. Antoine and Anna both land in a place where they are free to fall, helplessly, into each other.

Chemistry between Dujardin and Zylberstein is something of a casting triumph. Dujardin’s disarming smile is a wide, welcoming sofa and Anna collapses into it, all the while holding onto a small reserve. Antoine seeks meaning and substance in his life, and Anna gives it to him. Anna seeks fertility, she desperately wants a child, and Antoine encourages her to seek a solution. There is genuine joy between the two. Lelouch ensures they share an interaction that is believable only because they consistently respond to what they see (and experience) on their adventure together: no cloying mutual infatuation.

Director: Claude Lelouch

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Mon Roi (My King)

Vincent Cassell is Georgio crowned a 'King' by Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot)

Vincent Cassel is Georgio, crowned ‘King’ by Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot)

Director Maïwenn proves the fragility of liberated and moneyed romance by throwing it against a wall and letting it bleed. Georgio (Vincent Cassel) is Tony’s (Emmanuelle Bercot) love-thrill addicted ‘King’ whose crown bounces precariously atop his mop of curls. Tony put the crown there because she is in love with him: she’s addicted to his charm and his energy, and it is destroying her.

Mon Roi is a searing account of infidelity and aching disappointment. Tony has allowed herself to fall in love with and marry the kind of man that is best kept as a lover. It clearly chimed with a modern-relationship truth at Cannes earlier this year: Bercot won the award for best actress.

The narrative is told from Tony’s point of view, through a succession of memories recalled from a rehabilitation centre. There’s nothing like breaking your leg on a glamorous ski-slope and winding up on a grueling exercise program in basic accommodation to make you look back at the past with measured perspective. And so the film unfolds: memories of a euphoric and tempestuous relationship, cut with the very visible metaphor of Tony’s brokenness, and her physical and emotional resurrection. It’s glamour then grit and back to glamour again, equally realistic and affecting.

Georgio and Tony meet dancing in a nightclub. He’s rich, flamboyant and adores her, accepting her and releasing her from her personal insecurities. We are in no doubt that he genuinely loves her. However, Georgio is deeply flawed. He’s a hedonist: he loves parties and he loves women. Cassel delivers Georgio with the energy of a freight train missing a qualified driver. His life’s on speed and he likes it that way, and he will defend his decisions to the end.

Tony needs to feel safe and Bercot reveals this with luminous and intelligent fragility. What is interesting about Mon Roi, is that in an age of the liberated woman, who is widely believed to be ‘more together’ than a man, Maïwenn encourages Bercot to perform Tony as someone who is not in control, more emotionally subservient to her ‘King’. She is providing a somewhat old-fashioned yet paradoxically fresh portrait of modern love.

Maïwenn guides us to draw our own conclusions from this paradox, by stepping outside Tony’s malaise, like a therapist, and questioning the function of their relationship. If Maïwenn were to ever make a sequel, I’d like her to take their complicated relationship one step further. To show us how Tony and Georgio could learn to be together, yet explore their own paths, too; so Tony could find her freedom, experimenting with a balance of indifference and passion with a man who will never change.

Director: Maïwenn (2014)

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Grenouille d’Hiver (Winter Frog)

Gérard Depardieu plays Benjamin, the grey, sad viticulturist and Eriko Takeda disturbs the tombs in his eyes.

Gérard Depardieu plays Benjamin, the grey, sad viticulturist and Eriko Takeda disturbs the tombs in his eyes.

A meditative and elegiac embrace of loss and mourning shapes the gentle heart of director Slony Sow’s much lauded short film, starring Gérard Depardieu as Benjamin, a grey, sad viticulturist.

It’s been a disturbing winter for Benjamin, and the very recent death of his wife (Sabine Lenoël) has rendered him a huge mass of grief. He heaves himself, an awkward rock, between the rooms of his vast stone house, the cellars where he stores his wine and the bleak outside full of gnarled vines.

Before long Miko (Eriko Takeda) arrives, a polite and persistent gift, who has flown all the way from Japan. As she drives into the courtyard, warmth enters the chilly vineyard. Miko is expecting to attend a wine-tasting tour that she had booked through Benjamin’s wife. Understandably, Benjamin’s grief has made him grumpy, and he declares, gruffly, that the tour is off.

Miko will not take no for an answer: she deflects Benjamin’s mood and meanders her way into his house, persuading him to let her stay. With fairy-tale grace, Miko presents him with a Japanese good luck charm in the form of a small frog (‘seeing a frog in winter signifies eternal life’); she disturbs the tombs in Depardieu’s eyes, releasing him to mourn.

Grenouille d’Hiver is a haunting visual poem: eighteen minutes of symbols, silences and carefully chosen words. Sow is directing visual haiku; it is simple and hugely moving. Depardieu is a full presence, a broken king in his own domain. Takeda by contrast is delicate and determined, equally strong in her own way. It is difficult not to see Benjamin as our imagined version of Depardieu himself. Takeda has found a way to reach him. Together, their performances allows East to nurture West, achieving an understanding of mourning that is as bare as vines in winter.

Slony Sow (2011)

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37°2 le Matin (Betty Blue)

'The flower with a psychic antennae and a tinsel heart …' Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) on Betty (Beatrice Dalle)

‘The flower with a psychic antennae and a tinsel heart …’ Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) on Betty (Beatrice Dalle)

Love’s torment starts out blue and beautiful, a wide open sky over Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), an odd-jobber with a writer’s heart, and Betty (Beatrice Dalle) his highly-strung waitress girlfriend.

Zorg is low in confidence (he hasn’t written in ages) and he has a huge, pounding love for Betty, calling her ‘the flower with a psychic antennae and a tinsel heart.’ Whether a distraction or a muse, Betty is unpredictable: she likes sex, loves a temper tantrum, and she thinks Zorg’s a great writer. She believes in him, and of course, Zorg is hooked.

Close to thirty years after its first release, 37°2 le Matin is a celluloid representation of France that is very different to today’s preference for social realism or portraits of grey, confused love. With vibrant colours and high energy Jean-Jacques Beineix directs the episodic tale as a travelling circus of events, holding the trauma of romance, and the joys of desire as something more vital to life than work. It’s a poet’s view of a France that no longer exists, but one in which we all want to believe.

Zorg and Betty start their journey together in a shack on the beach. It’s all very appealing: It’s simple and it meets basic needs. There’s one room where they eat, sleep, make love and, of course, have violent disputes. Betty is a cyclone and Zorg loves it: it’s the crazy energy that keeps them alive. Who cares if Betty throws all the pans out of the window or flings the beer bottles across the room. Material things don’t matter, and neither does a bit of arson if Zorg’s boss becomes (in Betty’s view) unreasonable.

There’s always another odd-job to pay for life’s basics. So when Betty sends their shack up in flames the two head off to try love and luck in Paris. With the same winkety-wink humour that Beineix sprinkles over the rest of the film, Betty gets a job in an Italian restaurant called ‘Stromboli.’ Meanwhile, Zorg tries to write: we don’t know what he’s writing (it’s not important) but it makes Betty love him, and it is this that gives him his fire.

Zorg and Betty’s dizzy mutual infatuation soon becomes as melancholy as France’s fading romanticism. They could easily be riding an old fairground carousel, listening to composer Gabriel Yared’s evocative Maudits Manèges, a melody that sounds like it will never end, grinding itself, hypnotically, out of a small organ. And so the carousel goes round and round, stuck in a cycle of Betty’s increasing neediness and Zorg’s desperation to please her as she descends into psychosis.

Dalle’s boisterous and honest performance is matched equally by Anglade’s acrobatic emotions; his turn is a dance and every muscle shudders for Betty. Anglade’s dedication is moving. He is dashing and sensitive, holding each scene as the nouveau Prince. Yes, Anglade’s Zorg is the man every modern, moody and chaotic woman wants. No matter how irrational she is, he’ll be there, in adoration.

But only up to a point. In the last five minutes it is evident that Zorg’s love for Betty is more important than Betty herself. The carousel collapses. Zorg will do anything to keep his love for her alive: even if this means, in some kind of twisted desperation, he will no longer be able to touch her.

Jean-Jacques Beineix (1986)

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Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud (Nelly and Mr Arnaud)

Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) is the muse and Mr Arnaud (Michel Serrault) is the man who loves from afar

Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) is the muse and Mr Arnaud (Michel Serrault) is the man who loves from afar

Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) is the muse and Mr Arnaud (Michel Serrault) is the man who loves from afar. Desire undeclared, is thus the soft wind that passes through the corridors and large rooms of Mr Arnaud’s smart Parisian apartment. Mr Arnaud is a retired judge, and Nelly is the impossibly beautiful young woman who is typing up his memoires of his time spent in the colonies.

Nelly isn’t a qualified secretary: she landed the roll of scribe after meeting Mr Arnaud in a café via a mutual friend (one of the Arnaud’s old lovers). Nelly has problems: she is married to a lazy man and is 6 months behind with their rent. She works a selection of odd-jobs, one in a bakery (Béart selling bread? Well, this is cinema). Mr Arnaud registers his attraction by saying he’s seen her in the neighbourhood before, a time when her hair was ‘shorter and lighter.’ After a few more sips of coffee and exchanged glances, Mr Arnaud offers her a large sum of money to ease her financial difficulties. Nelly can now hang up the baguette-girl’s apron, leave her useless husband, and move into a studio.

This gives Nelly time to work for Mr Arnaud, which, we suspect, is the result he wanted from his generous offer. And so their unusual love-making begins: Nelly visits Mr Arnaud almost daily: he strolls around his capacious salon dictating his memories and then stares at her, while she types them into a computer which he claims ‘has memory, but no memories.’ From time to time, she’ll catch his gaze, and she says nothing.

Director Claude Sautet explored repressed love in an earlier Béart film: Un Coeur un Hiver (A Heart in Winter). Here, he directs desire as a fire that burns in the silences between their spoken words. It is fuelled by the spark created by the tension between Mr Arnaud’s tight-reserve (yet needing Nelly’s beauty), and by Nelly’s pleasure in being a muse. Whether Nelly wants to step out of the ‘painting’ and physically connect with Mr Arnaud is doubtful. We question, too, whether Mr Arnaud really wants her physically: beauty, after all, stays most beautiful when it is observed from afar.

Vincent Granec (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is Mr Arnaud’s publisher: he’s a man with an intense gaze, conducting his facial expressions with a strict baton. Unlike Mr Arnaud, Vincent is unafraid to make an advance; Nelly yields, and he tumbles into infatuation, mistaking it for love.

Mr Arnaud responds with controlled disappointment. On the film’s release in 1995 The New York Times wrote that Mr Arnaud had led his life with ‘poised indifference.’ This is a succinct description of a generation and class of men (and women) who had learned to control their beating hearts, so much so that a passionate response, especially to love and desire, could only be played out in their intellect. And from a safe distance.

Director: Claude Sautet (1995)

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21 Nuits avec Pattie (21 Nights with Pattie)

Like a grown-up Alice stepping into Wonderland, Parisian fortysomething (‘Caroline’ played by Isabelle Carré) arrives at her recently deceased mother’s country house in southern France to organise her funeral. She finds her mother’s corpse, resembling a man in drag, in the master bedroom. She wasn’t close to her mother, and as she meets the house’s other ‘residents’ and the villagers, a new world opens up.

There’s Karin Viard’s sexually-charged Pattie (whose name holds the title, but not the lead). Pattie’s an Amazonian-bodied woman who gives cheek-reddening, graphic accounts of her sexual liaisons. And then there’s Jean (André Dussollier), a famous novelist who shows up saying he was her dead mother’s lover. Jean’s passions are dark, macabre, a contrast to the comic buffoon who lives in the village, performed by a jangling Denis Lavant.

21 Nuits avec Pattie presents, on surface level, as light and fluffy. The characters are witty and warm, and there’s a surreal, summery brighter-than-normal light that falls on each scene, and in particular Caroline as she walks through the woodland. So much so, that the film presents as a fairytale.

But it’s a disturbing fairytale. Following the disappearance of the corpse, necrophilia is discussed and it’s clear that there’s a loose, yet oddly charming, ‘anything-goes’ morality among the characters. They are all off-centre, more surprising and twisted than we are originally led to believe. So much so, it is difficult to know how to respond.

Directors Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu playfully lift the stones that hold our papery perceptions of the world in place. The brothers question our mainstream moral perception of the world and we’re left disorientated: in the surreal summery light, the eccentric characters strangely makes sense. It’s unsettling, and it is precisely this that makes 21 Nuits avec Pattie worth watching.

Carré’s performance is exquisite. Resisting an uptight Parisian stereotype, Caroline is more ethereal than the oddly masculine apparitions of her dead mother. She enters her mother’s world like a child walking into the circus tent: pale and translucent, a curious watcher, startled by what she sees.

Quietly she opens herself up to a transformation. Her sexuality is re-awakened. Not through frolic or a passionate affair (although she gets close), but by joining the dots in her observations of an unusual world and simply letting it touch her. Just like it should.

Directors: Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu (2015)

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Conte d’Automne (An Autumn Tale)

It’s the vendange, the skies are golden, and Magali (Béatrice Romand) hasn’t time for romance (with Isabelle) ...

It’s the vendange, the skies are golden, and Magali (Béatrice Romand) hasn’t time for romance (with Isabelle) …

Women who want to play and those who want to be alone, women who want to love in a straight line, and those who prefer a curve: match-making, loneliness and re-writing the rules of love are the mellow sunsets in Éric Rohmer’s Conte d’Automne, the fourth film in the Contes des Quatre Saisons (Tales of the Four Seasons).

Two of Rohmer’s ‘heroines,’ actress Marie Rivière and Béatrice Romand come together as mature mutations of previous roles, and for those familiar with the director’s earlier films, Conte d’Automne is like checking-in with old friends you haven’t seen in 10 years.

Marie Riviere is, as always, ethereal and dreamy. She is the happily married Isabelle, best friend of Rhône Valley viticulturist, Magali (Béatrice Romand). Magali lives alone in a stone farm-house overlooking her small vineyard. She has a difficult disposition and is head-strong, a close image of Romand’s Sabine in Le Beau Mariage (Le Beau Mariage) and Laura Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee). Magali is resigned to her loneliness and prefers developing wine to nurturing love. It’s the vendange, the skies are golden, and she hasn’t time for romance.

Isabelle thinks otherwise. Even though she’s in the middle of organising a wedding for her daughter (who can’t stand Magali), she’s determined in her quest to find a mate for her abrupt friend. Isabelle places an ad in a lonely-hearts column and starts to ‘date’ Gérald (Alain Libolt), masquerading as Magali.

autumn tale - marie riviere

Isabelle (Marie Riviere) determined in her Machiavellian pursuit

Riviere’s characteristic eccentricities, although still present, are less introspective than Ann in La Femme d’Aviateur (The Aviator’s Wife) and Delphine in Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray). As she checks out Gérald to see if he’s a good match for Béatrice, we can see an impish, playfulness shine through. Gérald is clearly attracted to Isabelle, all the while she remains gentle and determined in her Machiavellian pursuit: the end does justify the means, and Isabelle doesn’t mind the lie.

The scene where Isabelle finally admits to Gérald she’s been pretending, demonstrates why Rohmer is so successful in portraying women. He remains faithful to their strong femininity and purpose, while being committed to exploring their dichotomies.

Isabelle’s confession comes lightly, pleasingly, with no adherence to dramatic or bold comic stereotype. Isabelle has a strong voice, unashamed and unembarrassed of what she was done. She is unafraid to speak the truth.

Gérald (Alain Libolt) is gently disappointed, yet remains in awe of Isabelle

Gérald (Alain Libolt) is disappointed, yet remains in awe of Isabelle

Gérald is disappointed, yet remains in awe of Isabelle. It’s the typical Rohmer male-character response, consistent in nearly all his films. Male desire is evident, but politely placed in a pocket where it can be controlled. Gérald prefers to intellectually respond to Isabelle, his sinking heart shown only in his eyes as he kneels on a rest of reason. Rohmer’s men are confused by women, but accept they are unknowable and compelling. It’s a true adoration, and certainly one that reflects Rohmer’s unique understanding and intellectual love of women.

Director: Éric Rohmer (1998)

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La Vie en Grand (Learn by Heart)

LA VIE EN GRAND PHOTO - paris

14 year-old Adama (Balamine Guirassy) making a decision

Drug-dealing and reciting poetry in the Paris-projects are unlikely companions in a story about two teenage boys who find themselves selling hashish to make cash for their families.

Mamadou (Ali Bidanessy) the achingly cute younger side-kick to 14 year-old protagonist Adama (Balamine Guirassy) finds a large lump of hashish, and pockets it like a dropped 10-euro note. Money is scarce: Adama’s mother works night-shifts and the two share a run-down one-bed apartment. There is little indication that Mamadou’s situation is better. And so, for good reason, Adama and Mamadou decide to sell the drugs for an impressive stack of cash. They are rather good at it, and grab the attention of a local gang-leader …

This is Mathieu Vadepied’s first feature as a director. He was the director of photography for the feel-good comedy 2011 hit Intouchables (The Intouchables) and so it’s no surprise that La Vie en Grand is not a piece of social realism. This isn’t a gritty expose of gang-land Paris, and shouldn’t be judged as one.

Vadepied shoots in a simple, natural light, keen to make the story as clear as a conversation on a park bench beneath a midday sky. Just like Intouchables, this is an optimistic film remarkable for its charismatic casting and life-affirming belief in the power of humanity to bring change for good.

La Vie en Grand’s success hinges (for the most part) on the boys’ performances. Bidanessy and Guirassy came to the set as non-professional actors. I met both actors at the Festival Film Francophone d’Angouleme a couple of months ago. One year on from production, they looked considerably older. Vadepied was fortunate to shoot Guirassy in that brief magic moment between teenager and young man, like the short period of time before a choirboy’s voice breaks and it is at its purest.

While Bidanessy, the younger one, looks innocent and as comic as a newly hatched chick, there is a strong sense that Guirassy is playing himself through the character of Adama. He is touchingly altruistic for a 14 year-old, and with the gentleness of an old soul, decides to spend the drug-money profits on a washing machine for his mum and shoes for his friends.

Vadepied asserts a romantic upholding of education and poetry as protective havens. Adama and Mamadou store and divide up the dope on school premises: one evening, after working hard into the night, they fall asleep in the sports hall underneath gym mattresses. Spending lots of time within the bastion of the school building, also gives Adama time to focus on his studies: his grades shoot up and he impresses his teacher by enjoying reciting chunks of poetry by Louis Aragon.

Fans of Nordic Noir’s The Bridge will be surprised to hear the melancholy soundtrack ‘Hollow Talk’ by The Choir of Young Believers layer the film’s one ‘heist’ scene. The music tips the film into a deep sigh, reminding us life is a struggle for Adama and Mamadou. Thanks to a teacher’s thoughtfulness, Adama is given the opportunity to make a change, but as the credits begin to roll, we can’t help but wonder, with a maternal heart, what will happen to the sweet Mamadou.

Director: Mathieu Vadepied (2015)

Posted in French comedy-drama, French Film, French film Review, French Movie, French Movie Review, La Vie en Grand, Learn by Heart | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Les Biches (The Does)

les_biches_01

Stéphane Audran’s Frédérique can only look ahead, stunned, a doe caught in the headlights. With ‘Why’ (Jacqueline Sassard)

Claude Chabrol’s take on sexual ambiguity in 1968 is mischievous. Stéphane Audran plays the resplendent Frédérique, nouvelle vague’s colonialist of female lust and control. She’s the wealthy dominatrix who wants power over those she desires, and she pursues them with a hunter’s heart.

Frédérique is relentless. The first scene – at the start of the ‘Prologue’ – sees her approach the beautiful artist, named ‘Why’ (Jacqueline Sassard) on a bridge in Paris. ‘Why’ is minding her own business as she chalks a picture of a doe on the pavement. It’s a simple pick-up for Frédérique: she throws down 50 francs and invites her back to her apartment. There, Frédérique watches ‘Why’ takes a bath, listens to her complain about bad-tasting coffee and seduces her.

Soon afterwards, they head down to St. Tropez, where Frédérique keeps a pleasant villa overlooking the ocean. Residing in the house are a couple of buffoons called Robègue (Henri Attal) and Riais (Dominique Zardi) who Chabrol deploys to shine a light on the lunatic fringes of the so called ‘Rebels’ of the French cultural revolution of the 1960s.

Within the safety and glamour of Frédérique’s villa, Robègue and Riais’ blurt about revolt, play unusual percussive instruments (badly) and quote Finnish proverbs by the fire. Meanwhile Frédérique struts around, dazzlingly louche, rolling her eyes at their stupidity.

Chabrol treats us to some shining  scenes in which we see her manipulate and grump with a pout. Everything’s a game to Frédérique: gloating over a lotto win in front of ‘Why’, coquettishly moving around the kitchen, moaning about what the housekeeper is preparing for dinner, and getting drunk with architect Paul (Jean-Louis Trintignant), wanting him to touch her. There is little doubt Audran loves every moment of her performance, and she is fabulous.

Jean-Louis TRINTIGNANT, Stéphane AUDRAN

Ineffectual Paul (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and the resplendent Frédérique (Stéphane Audran)

Before long, ‘Why’ grows peevish and fed-up with bossy Frédérique. She fancies Paul too. Understandably so: Trintignant is irresistible in just the simple way he sits down on a sofa, crosses his legs, fixes his gaze and smiles a small smile. ‘Why’ and Paul spend a night together, and she is smitten. This turns the vice in Frédérique, sharpening the bitch in her biche, and she decides to seduce Paul. Unsurprisingly Trintignant, basking in the attention of two beautiful women, looks on: he is ineffectual, because Chabrol wants him to be little more than cotton-candy.

Overcome with a twisted sexual jealousy, ‘Why’ starts to behave strangely. The final scene, of course, is a Chabrol-style confession, surprising and dramatic. All Audran’s Frédérique can do is look ahead, stunned, a doe caught in the headlights; and we know, for sure, there’s little chance she’ll make it to the other side.

Claude Chabrol (1968)

Posted in Claude Chabrol, Film Review, French Cinema, French Film, French film Review, French Movie, French Movie Review, French Movie Reviews, French Movies, Gender, Lesbian Films, Lesbian Movies, Nouvelle Vague, Sexuality, St. Tropez, The New Wave | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elle

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Elle

Source: Elle

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Isabelle Huppert: the allure of her vacant room

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Isabelle Huppert: the allure of her vacant room

Congratulations to Isabelle Huppert for her Golden Globe win. Thought I’d repost my essay on why I think she is such a compelling actress

French Film Stories

sauve-qui-peut-la-vie-huppert Negotiating pimps as Isabelle in Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie)

Isabelle Huppert is in London and the sun is shining bright, a lion in the sky, shaking its mane over her enigmatic chill. It’s Huppert Season: films are playing in various cinemas across the city, some accompanied by introductions from herself. Last weekend she was in conversation with Stephen Frears at the Ciné Lumière, and at the Barbican Huppert is currently playing Phaedra(s) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s esteemed production of the same name.

Critics laud Huppert’s intellect, which she expresses with incisive clarity (it’s worth checking out Jonathan Romney’s recent interview in the Guardian). Huppert is a supreme actress, and for years I have been turning her allure over in my mind, trying to understand why she has captivated us for over forty-five years and why we want to connect with her characters.

‘Intense’, ‘detached’, ‘controlled’, ‘fragile’: these are…

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Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême 2016

Isabelle Adjani, Sandrine Bonnaire, Romain Duris, Isabelle Huppert, Sophie Marceau, Lambert Wilson and Catherine Corsini were just some of the talent that attended the 9th Festival Film Francophone…

Source: Festival Film Francophone d’Angoulême 2016

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