Short Takes: France

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Re: Short Takes: France

Postby Johndav » Fri Jan 27, 2006 2:03 pm

The library of reviews you guys are compiling is becoming a vertable treasure. Hats off to you. I've been wondering if i've been missing anything in recent French cinema of a standard to compare with past glories, or if it's a genuine (though surely not irreversible) decline- no Noe allusion intended. Certainly next to several Asian countries, France does seem to have slipped down the pecking order. Anyway, i will look out for L'Equipier especially. I enjoyed A Very Long Engagement before moving here to Brittany. The Bretons are obviously very proud of the chain of lighthouses and of course the coastline + beaches are magnificent. Dequenne a beauty? She's perhaps too firmly entrenched in my mind as the indomitable Rosetta.
Johndav
 


Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Jan 28, 2006 12:01 am

It's hard to say if the overall standard has remained the same. Most of what plays in French theatres nowadays is similar to the fare elsewhere: crowd-pleasing comedies and thrillers -- times have certainly changed. But I don't have a problem with the likes of Assayas, Denis, Chereau, Garrel, Doillon, etc. eventually taking over. But are there enough people now who appreciate that sort of cinema. The debate continues in the pages of Cahiers and the likes. In the meantime, the old masters have continued to make great films like Notre Musique, Historie de Marie et Julien, Triple Agent, etc.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Mar 25, 2006 6:50 am

WILD SIDE (2004)

While discussing his provocative new feature, Wild Side, French filmmaker Sbastien Lifshitz (Come Undone [2000]) recently stated that "Im drawn to impenetrable characters that operate outside the usual norms. I truly love fringe dwellers and people who dont fit with fictions archetypes." His latest features three characters -- Stphanie (Stphanie Michelini), a transsexual prostitute; Jamel (Yasmine Belmadi), a bisexual Arab hustler; and Mikhail (Edouard Nikitine), Stephanies lover who happens to be an illegal Russian immigrant -- that certainly do fit the bill.

Stphanie is seen living the hard life in Paris early on with her two "men." But the situation changes when she is called by her dying mother to come attend to her. As Stphanie makes her way towards her rural childhood home, old memories involving her deceased father and sister come flooding in. At this point, Lifshitz, working with the great cinematographer Agns Godard, who is most famous for her work with Claire Denis, starts to contrast the dingy realism of his early sequences with poetic, picturesque shots of the French countryside featuring a rollicking young Stphanie (who was once Pierre). While this allows the directors artistic sensibilities to thrive, the connection between Stphanie's past and present remains oblique at best. Ultimately, both Jamel and Mikhail, who were practically lost without their woman, make their way to her for support. Those two also remain "impenetrable" for the most part -- the way Lifshitz perhaps wanted them to be as they are often seen brooding silently to Jocelyn Pooks vocative score (a whiff of Patrice Chreau is hard to miss). What Wild Side establishes quite well, however, are the dynamics of the relationship between the trio. It is also a rare film that refuses to make its characters sexuality the main focus. Thats not to say that the film shies away from it (a slow pan of Stephanies body is bound to make Catherine Breillat envious), but rather the confrontations are presented in a very practical manner. Liftsitzs characters may not need others but they do need one another, and thats the only way they will survive. Wild Side is a film made by and for adults.

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*The film is now available on DVD in the U.S.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby A » Sat Apr 01, 2006 11:36 pm

Just saw Raja (Doillion) in the cinema, and wanted to write a few lines. Then I stumbled over arsaib's review and reread it. It is really great, and captures basically everything I would have liked to say. The same as I wanted to say to the director (who kept on talking to much ) I'll say to you: Thanks arsaib, for sharing your thoughts with us.
A
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Apr 02, 2006 12:44 am

Oh, you're too kind, A. I encourage you to add more on the film and what the director had to say when you get a chance.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Apr 09, 2006 3:16 am

Here's an older review of mine.

PETITS FRERES (1999)

Jacques Doillon is considered as one of the most important post-New Wave filmmakers in France, but his name barely registers with even the more ardent of cinephiles in the U.S. However, it wouldnt be fair to blame them because less than 10% of his output, that includes more than 30 features along with many documentaries and shorts, has made it to our shores. And its quite difficult to come up with a substantial reason why that is. It could be said that big names that are required to sell a film abroad are missing from most of Doillon's oeuvre. Also, unlike a filmmakers such as Benot Jacquot, he usually doesn't make "pretty films," even though both filmmakers prefer emotional and psychological complexity in their narratives, while often focusing on youth and sexuality. So, with that in mind, Doillon could be compared to Philippe Garrel, an expert in showcasing the most ordinary and mundane aspects of life in an ordinary and mundane manner, but stylistically hes closer to filmmakers like Andr Tchin and John Cassavetes, the latter being someone hes said to have been influenced by.

Doillon, 61, has been a subject of various cinema studies in Europe. Marin Karmitzs MK2 has devoted high-end DVD box-sets (unsubtitled) to his work with kind words from admirers ranging from the aforementioned Garrel to the likes of Olivier Assayas and Frdric Mitterand. While Doillons best early-to-mid period films like Les Doigts dans la tte (1974), La Femme qui pleure and La Drlesse (1979), La Vie de famille (1985), Le Petit criminel (1990), Le Jeune werther (1993) etc. arent available in the U.S. in any format, his very popular and thus most recognizable feature, Ponette (1996), is, along with Petits Frres (1999) and his most recent effort, the brilliant cross-cultural romance Raja (2003). After reviewing his latest for Film Comment, Phillip Lopate called for a full-scale retrospective of Doillons work -- something which shouldnt have to be said.

Released in 2001 in the U.S., Petits Frres ("Little Fellas"), joins an array of recent French films that are set in the "banlieus" (the projects). However, what distinguishes this effort from most others is its representation which lacks a subjective point-of-view -- a notion bound to divide audiences, and it has, but Doillon has never been one to follow conventional wisdom. Our protagonist in this docu-drama is a 13-year-old Talia (Stphanie Touly), a tough young girl who runs away from her apartment after her stepfather shows up again. Talia suspects that he has molested one of her friends so she is scared for herself and a younger sibling. On her way to getting a gun from a neighborhood dealer, she ends up confronting but ultimately befriending some "little fellas," usually seen engaging in petty crimes while waiting for their chance to move up. Talia (and perhaps the film) loses track when her dog is stolen, so her quest now also involves bringing back her beloved pet. Shot in a realistic manner with most of the actors being locals of the neighborhood, Petits Frres offers a raw view of the world without setting any parameters around it. The activities of the kids arent judged in any manner, nor are they presented as more or less intelligent than they actually are. Doillon has always been good with young actors (Ponette is prime example) so his talent acquits itself extremely well in this situation. Much like its petite criminals, the film drifts aimlessly at times, quite possibly by design to showcase their lives. Only the ritualized ending seems a little forced in this otherwise naturalistic film.

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*The film is available on DVD in the U.S.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby A » Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:41 pm

Last year "Cahiers du Cinema" gave out an issue with a focus on Doillon. i didn't know any of his films then, and my franch isn't really worth much, but I'll try to dig it out. The retrospective showing here, has 15 of his films. I would most like to see "La femme qui pleure" which is missing. Ah, one cannot have everything
A
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Apr 10, 2006 7:53 pm

Yes, it was encouraging to see the Cahiers' piece. And do consider yourself very lucky to be able to watch a good number of his films on the big screen. I've been following your notes very closely.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:00 am

THE LAST MITTERRAND (France / 2005)

The Last Mitterrand (Le Promeneur du Champ de Mars) is a beautifully realized and deeply affectionate portrait of the late French socialist president, Franois Mitterrand. Mitterrand, a political giant in his heydays, came into power in 1981 and held the position until 1995, becoming the longest-serving French president. But director Robert Gudiguian hasnt concocted a biography; instead, he has chosen to portray his subject's final few months based on Georges-Marc Benamous book, "Le Dernier Mitterrand." Benamou, who worked with the statesman while he battled prostate cancer near the end, is one of the characters, though named Antoine Moreau for the film. A young, left-wing journalist whos going through a tumultuous phase in his personal life, Moreau (Jalil Lespert) is assigned the task to write the presidents autobiography. He finds the leader (played by Michel Bouquet) as a physically frail, yet intellectually headstrong human being who prefers not to disambiguate certain episodes of his personal and political life. (Mitterrand was allegedly a high-ranking official in the fascist Vichy government, responsible for sending French Jews to concentration camps.) However, Gudiguian isnt interested in a cross-examination; he wants to explore how the politics ultimately shaped the man. And that concept is also applied to Moreau, albeit in a much more leisurely manner. The Last Mitterrand is arguably the most ambitious film so far from the Marseille-born filmmaker, known for small, socially relevant dramas like Marius and Jeannette (1997) and The Town is Quiet (2000). Its also his most technically accomplished work. But the depth it eventually achieves is largely due to the intelligent, lived-in performance of Mr. Bouquet, who rightfully won the 2005 Csar (French "Academy Award") for Best Actor.

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*THE LAST MITTERRAND premiered at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival (in-competition). It is now available on DVD in the U.K. No U.S. distributor at this point.
arsaib4
 

Re: Short Takes: France

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:01 am

APRES VOUS (France / 2003)

The fact that Aprs Vous ("After You"), a slight yet sweet-natured French rom-com, has done quite well at the U.S. box-office -- about $1m, the benchmark for most foreign films -- shouldnt be surprising because European releases featuring pleasant, sitcom-ish characters/situations tend to "click" with the audiences here, and Im sure everywhere else too, for that matter. Ideally, of course, one would prefer more challenging fare to succeed, but on the other hand, it would also be a bit futile to damn a film for its fame, especially one like this which is aware of its limitations, and thus doesnt attempt to insult anyones intelligence. In Aprs Vous, French star Daniel Auteuil plays Antoine, a selfless maitre d' at an upscale Parisian brasserie. One night after work, while scampering to meet his girlfriend (Marilyne Canto) for dinner, he ends up saving a man from committing suicide in a local park. Antoines monotonous life takes a dramatic turn with this act. First, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Antoine more or less ends up adopting Louis (Jos Garcia), the physical and emotional wreck he saved. And then after discovering Louis love (Sandrine Kiberlain), the cause of his problems, he ends up falling for her himself. Director Pierre Salvadori approaches this trivial premise as realistically as possible, a mistake because the film couldve benefited from some inspired silliness. Thats not to say that it doesnt have its share of droll moments. It certainly does, but with heavily reliance on narrative contrivances. What makes Aprs Vous agreeable, however, is the work of its cast. The ubiquitous Auteuil (about 20 films in the last 5 years -- perhaps following Depardieus footsteps) is in form after duds like Petites Coupures (2003) and Rencontre avec le dragon (2003). Garcia and Kiberlain are also quite effective.

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*The film is available on DVD in the U.S.
arsaib4
 

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