54 posts categorized "French Cinema"

February 15, 2018

VIVRE SA VIE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Vivre Sa VieIn 1962 French New Wave provocateur Jean-Luc Godard shifted stylistic filmic gears as lucidly as Miles Davis revolutionized music. Artistic experimentation was in the air. For his fourth feature Godard took Marcel Sacotte’s book about prostitution in Paris as inspiration to create a fascinating cinema vérité styled character and social study. Godard’s groundbreaking camera techniques add intimacy, suspense, and mystery to his documentary approach to sensitive subject matter. The dramatic effect is memorable as it is meaningful. Every aspect of the movie is effortlessly iconic, not the least of which is the stylish personality profile that Anna Karina fulfills. 

Anna Karina

Never before had the backs of heads and shoulders been exploited to such a delightfully dramatic extreme. Hair styles express nuances heretofore unknown. Broken into 12 chapters, “Vivre Sa Vie” takes a non-judgmental view of a character who is nonetheless doomed.

Godard’s wife at the time Anna Karina is transfixing Nana, a lovely young French actress driven to take up prostitution after meeting a pimp. Forth-wall-breaking moments allow the audience to connect with Anna Karina’s guileless yet fragile beauty in support of her aspirational character. The emotion and intellectual nature that Karina transmits is every bit as affecting as Renee Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s brilliant silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” from 1928. Indeed, Godard references Dreyer’s masterpiece in “Vivre Sa Vie” when Nana goes to a screening at a Parisian cinema.

Anna Karina

“My Life to Live” has just as much social currency today as the day it was released even if its gangster trope ending lets Godard off the hook all too easy. Here is a unique film that takes daring chances while rooting itself in neorealist filmic soil. You can feel its grounded sense of immediacy and truth.  

Anna Karina

Not rated. 85 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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Jean-Luc Godard's fourth film features Godard's wife-at-the-time Anna Karina as an actress-turned-prostitute in this ground breaking example of the French New Wave. Stone Delicious IPA seemed like the perfect beer to go along with this equally attractive film. 

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February 09, 2018

DOUBLE LOVER

Lamant_doubleFrance’s ever-reliable and prolific auteur François Ozon (“Swimming Pool”) confirms his place as an inventive filmic storyteller with a precise sense of style, suspense, emotion, and tone. 2018 has its first great film.

Based loosely on Joyce Carol Oates’s novel “Lives of Twins” (written under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith), “Double Lover” is an alluring erotic mystery built on a puzzle of the flesh. Surrealism and magical realism come into play. You could easily imagine David Cronenberg directing it but the film wouldn’t be near as good if he had.

Jérémie Renier (from Ozon’s 1999 erotic thriller “Criminal Lovers”) plays twin psychoanalyst brothers Paul Meyer and Louis Delord.

Marine Vacth, the unforgettable star of Ozon’s recent “Young & Beautiful,” plays Chloe, a 25-year-old museum guard with model looks who suffers from unexplained stomach pains. Chloe becomes Paul’s patient before the sessions turn romantic to the point that they move in together with Chloe’s expressive cat Milo. Another cat character figures into the storyline as well. Yes, here is a movie with two feline characters played by cats. Brilliant.  

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Rarely, if ever, has a mainstream filmmaker made such explicit use of a woman’s vagina to such sinewy narrative effect. The film opens with a close-up view inside Chloe’s vagina from her OBGYN’s vantage point before morphing into an eye. Hitchcock had nothing on Ozon. Later in the film we watch an interior view of Chloe’s orgasming vagina (in black-and-white) during sex with Renier’s BDSM master Louis Delord. However biologically pornographic these sequences sound, they are composed in service to the film.

Double Lover

This is visceral stuff. Such a high-wire act is not easily achieved. Ozon exerts exquisite control over the diabolically twisted proceedings that draw in a deft turn from Jaqueline Bisset.

To be sure, there are some BDSM sequences between Louis and Chloe that seem sexually abusive if you discount the master/slave relationship at play. Tricky. Ozon balances the scale with a scene of Chloe pegging Paul, even if Paul says he only did it for Chloe.

Double Lover

“Double Lover” is an ideal Valentine’s Day movie for the adventurous. It gets you in the head, heart, and loins.

Rated R. 107 mins. (A) (Five stars  — out of five / no halves)


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January 14, 2018

GOING PLACES

Valseuses -LesFor his second feature, Bertrand Blier based the film on his novel “Les Valseuses” (French slang for “the testicles”). The swinging balls of the film’s provocative French title refers to 25-year-old Jean-Claude (Gerard Depardieu) and Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere), his 23-year-old partner in crime. The two roustabouts are petty criminals on a constant bender of robbing women, stealing cars, and sexually assaulting women if not each other. Indeed, there is a scene in which Jean-Claude buggers his friend after breaking into an unoccupied beachside home because “it’s only natural.”

So it is that Bertrand Blier presents a transgressive outlaw mentality unchallenged by any would-be authority figures in France. Crime is merely a way of life.

Marie-Ange (Miou-Miou) serves as the film’s [hijacked] anti-protagonist after being taken against her will by our thugs du jour. Marie-Ange’s primary objective becomes achieving orgasms, much to the dismay of the sexually adventurous Jean-Claude and Pierrot who find themselves woefully unprepared for the task at hand, try as they must.

Valseuses

The two male characters represent an opposite but equal affront to capitalist ideologies. Neither man is intellectual enough to act with any informed nihilist or anarchist agenda, rather these are cartoonish hippies in search of immediate gratification without regard to social norms. They are punks before the Punk movement took hold, albeit with a more focused approach that found expression though music.

Going places

Jean-Claude and Pierrot seem to briefly relate on a humanist level when they help Jeanne Pirolle, a recently released prison convict played by Jeanne Moreau. Still, their financial generosity and sexual attention backfires when Jeanne sneaks off to fulfill her own fantasy of psychological and physical escape.     

Miou-Miou
 
Although inscrutable to any mainstream reading, “Going Places” succeeds due to the film’s refusal to provide easy answers for its characters’ irredeemable actions. Here is an unapologetic, if infuriating, cinematic provocation that dares its audience to rationalize the orgiastic behavior on display. John Waters could do no better. Governments, politicians, soldiers, and police are busy committing far greater systematically generated crimes as you read these words.

Rated R. 117 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Even the grandest of Bouffers are gonna have a hard time swallowing this 1974 nihilist sexual assault romp with Gérard Depardieu and Miou-Miou. An interesting but uncomfortable look at the French post-new wave sex revolution through the story of two sociopaths on a endless road trip to satisfying their desires.

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December 21, 2017

HAPPY END

Happy-endMichael Haneke’s run of making increasingly better films has come to an abrupt halt. The provocative auteur behind such gems as “Funny Games,” “The White Ribbon,” and “Amour” (an undeniable masterpiece) turns a regressive corner in a failed attempt at comedic satire posited as a familial drama simmering with racial discontent.

Social media and cell phones (used as video cameras) play into Haneke’s dubious story about Eve Laurent, a matricidal teenaged girl sent to live with her remarried dad Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) after carrying out her devilish deed, which Eve videotapes for her own satisfaction.

Although “Happy End” is not without its brief comic charms, the film’s tone is off, the ending unsatisfying. It seems as though Haneke is stealing too much from himself. In layman’s terms, he has jumped the shark.

Happyend

Eve’s murderous scheme (believed by her family to be a successful suicide attempt) plants the young psychopath in the lap of French luxury since Thomas and his wife Anais (Laura Verlinden) live in a large mansion in Calais with Thomas’s ailing grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and Thomas’s mistress-of-industry sister Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and her twentysomething son (business partner) Pierre (Franz Rogowski).

Hidden familial problems abound. Thomas carries on an affair with a local cellist with an articulate if raunchy habit of expressing her outre sexual desires for him on direct messaging on Facebook. Naturally Eve breaks into daddy’s laptop and discovers his secret life. Eve discerns that her dad is incapable of love, at least "love" on her youthful romanticized terms.

The shark-jumping kicker arrives when Grandpa George realizes that Eve has the same killer instinct that enabled him to smother his ailing wife five years ago, a not-so offhand reference to “Amour” where Trintignant’s character did just that.

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Michael Haneke has had an amazing run; he just wasn’t able to avoid falling into one of the many traps the befall most creative filmmakers if they’re fortunate enough to keep making films into their 70s. It’s not too late for Haneke to make another masterpiece on the level of “Amour” or “The White Ribbon,” but it doesn’t seem as likely or certain as it once did.

Rated R. 107 mins. (C-) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)


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September 20, 2017

FACES PLACES — NYFF 55

ColesmitheyThere is beautiful chemistry between the legendary 88-year-old French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda and JR, the youthful French photographer who cares for Varda as a loyal would-be grandson of artistic intentions. JR and Varda share directing credits for this disarmingly sweet and poignant documentary that plays more as a docudrama due to the circumstance of uncertainty regarding Ms. Varda’s health.

The movie is a nuanced sociological study of French culture. Needless to say, the amount of pretense on display is near zero. Think of it as neo-realistic French New Wave ethnographic study in B minor. The personal and artistic elements are articulated to their fullest — a rare cinematic, event to say the least. It doesn't hurt that JR and Agnes Varda are two of the most endearing human beings you'd ever want to spend two hours of your life with. 

The harmonious pair of inspired film-project pals travel to small towns in France in a Mercedes Benz truck decorated to resemble a giant camera. Already we are in a filmic world. The sides of JR’s fancy mode of transportation includes a photo booth where locals are photographed. The truck then prints out black-and-white portraits on gigantic sheets of paper that JR pastes to the sides of buildings to create dramatic personalized statements about the significance of human faces and truth.

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Although Varda’s vision is constantly blurry due to an eye condition, she complains about JR’s proclivity for always wearing sunglasses. She wants to see his eyes. But it is clear that JR separates himself as an artist from his subject so that your attention can focus on the art rather than the artist.

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“Faces Places” is a film you discover and revel in the joy of its simplicity, patience, and naturalistic discourse. Like all of Varda’s films, this one is special. It won this year’s L’Oeil d’or at Cannes for good reason. If you only see one film at NYFF55, “Faces Places” is the one to watch.

Varda&jr

Not Rated. 89 minutes. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

What to Watch at the 55th New York Film Festival from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

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June 14, 2017

DIVA — CLASSIC FILM PICK

DivaIn adapting Daniel Odier’s novel ‘Diva’ to the big screen, Jean-Jacques Beineix set the stylistic tone for a French Cinema movement would later be termed ‘Cinéma du look.’ Luc Besson and Leos Carax are the two other prominent proponents of the ‘80s era French movement that created visually splashy films such as Besson’s ‘Subway.’

In ‘Diva’ Frédéric Andréi is Jules, a young opera lover obsessed with the American singer Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez), a diva who refuses to make records or to be recorded at all. The outlier Jules surreptitiously makes a bootleg recording of a recital before stealing one of the diva’s dresses after meeting her for the first time. Jules is a fetishist as well as a lightning rod for trouble but that doesn’t prevent him from entering into a romantic relationship with his object of desire even as international gangsters and corrupt cops fix him in their sites. ‘Diva’ is a seductive feast for the senses that sticks. There’s no telling how many audience members this film turned into instant opera fans.   

DIVA

Rated R. 117 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)


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January 07, 2017

STORY OF WOMEN — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Story of WomenBased on the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, Claude Chabrol’s provocative World War II era drama features Isabelle Huppert as a lower class single mother of two in Nazi occupied France. Marie’s war-ravaged husband unexpectedly returns home just as she finds her calling as an amateur abortionist for local women, many of whom work as prostitutes servicing German soldiers.

Claude Chabrol’s “The Story Of Women” delves into the conditions of a small occupied French town that transforms a mother of two into a hardened opportunist.

Marie’s motivations shift as she reaches a comfortable lifestyle that enables an affair with a German soldier.

Isabelle Huppert walks a fine line as an anti-heroine whose broken relationship with her husband (François Cluzet) culminates in a betrayal of outrageous proportions. 

Much of this film's power draws from Chabrol's ambiguous handling of Marie Giraud as an imperfect, if industrious woman. Huppert plays the part with a seething passion locked beneath an implacable feminine exterior. Neither Huppert nor the director pass any judgements on Marie's actions, nor does either shy away from her wartime imposed survivalist attitude to the world around her.

Because abortions were criminalized in France [from 1920 to 1975], due to a grievous loss of French males in World War I and II, Marie-Louise Giraud became an ideal scapegoat for the French courts after being indicted for her crimes.

STORY OF WOMEN

Not Rated. 108 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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August 23, 2016

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Battle of AlgiersAgitprop cinema hits a fierce apex in co-writer/director Gillo Pontecorvo’s unique wartime thriller. The audacious filmmaker blends various cinematic approaches, including Italian neo-realism, formal Hollywood, documentary, and theatrical elements. It's equal parts exploitation, propaganda, and activist cinema all wrapped up together.

The film comprises the French Army occupation of Algeria, from November 1954 to July 2, 1962 when the French gave back the Algerian Nation’s independence. Filmed in gritty black-and-whte, the picture was was shot on location in Algeria’s Casbah district, a walled-in landscape of never ending stairways that evinces the Casbah’s English translation, a fortress (citadel).

This film’s boiling wartime narrative gives equal screentime to both sides of the Algerian resistance effort to overthrow their French Colonial Government military occupiers, circa 1957. Still, you could hardly call the film politically neutral. It is based, however loosely, on Saadi Yacif’s “Souvenirs de la Bataille d’Alger,” Yacef’s memoir of his time spent as a tortured prisoner of the French. Anacdotal experience breathes through every scene.

BATTLE OF ALGIERS2

Ali la Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) leads the Arab terrorist efforts of a small group of FLN (National Liberation Front) revolutionaries as they battle against the French military. Jean Martin, a real-life former French Resistance fighter plays Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu, a composite character that leads his brigade of paratroopers to “cut off the head of the snake” (referring to Ali la Pointe specifically). Jean Martin had been unceremoniously fired years earlier from France’s Theatre National Populaire for signing the “Manifesto of the 121,” an open letter signed by 121 intellectuals and published in 1960, calling on the French government to “recognize the Algerian War as a legitimate struggle for independence."

French soldiers ruthlessly torture their Arab prisoners, while Muslim freedom fighters plant bombs in public places that kill and maim many innocent civilians. Both sides are brutal murderers. But they cannot exist without one another. In showing the human traits of soldiers on both sides of the battle, Pontecorvo achieves something bigger than the complex material at hand. Culture shock is here.

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Pontecorvo cast non-professional actors. He used the real leader of the Algerian revolutionaries (Yacef Saadi) to play himself in the film. When a French officer tortures a shirtless Muslim man by aiming a blow torch at the flesh on the prisoner’s stomach, the tone of the film spikes with the unspeakable cruelty on display.

Cinematographer Marcello Gatti combines techniques involving everything from Dutch angles to nimble camera movement to give the audience an urgent sense of tension at the time of the wartime human crisis.

The Filmmaker’s startling use of soundscape shifts between atmospheric silences to conventional musical cues (enunciated with strong rhythmic motifs) gives the viewer an expanded sense of the film’s social and political reality.

Battle of Algiers3

Gillo Pontecorvo’s newsreel styled imagery led the film to be released with a disclaimer that “not one foot” of newsreel was used, as if newsreel footage were necessarily more reliable than any other source of edited filmic imagery.

“The Battle Of Algiers,” which was banned in France for five years, shows the French winning the battle but losing the war in Algeria. The film is a reminder that the imperialist actions of politicians and military commanders obsessed with greed and power will always result in violent backlashes that claim the lives of civilians.

Not Rated. 121 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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Battle Algiers2

August 01, 2016

SUMMERTIME

Summertime Poster“Summertime’s” French title “La Belle Saison” (“The Beautiful Season”) is more apropos for this beautiful film. French Cinema continues to reliably deliver dramatic pictures with serious social relevance and emotional resonance.

Emotionally honest, “Summertime” captures a blossoming lesbian romance struggling to survive against familial and societal factors in '60s era rural France after travelling from Paris.

Izïa Higelin gives a riveting performance as Delphine, a tough farm girl visiting Paris. Higelin’s solid build, and low center of gravity give her character an earthy, sensual physicality. Her endearing overbite is reminiscent of Adele Exarchopoulos in “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

The visibly gay Delphine is through with running the family farm with her provincially minded parents. They think their daughter should already be married, to a boy of course. “Loneliness is a terrible thing.” Delphine’s parents don’t know that she recently broke up with her childhood girlfriend. Her lover is switching teams, to get married.

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The adventurous twentysomething Delphine finds her romantic soul-mate-apparent in the guise of Women’s Lib activist Carole (Cécile De France). Cecile De France has come a long way from the bat-wielding chic in Alexandre Aja’s “High Tension” (2003). Here, her maturity both as a woman and as an actress, gives the film a lusty feminist vision of liberation.

Summertime

Co-screenwriter/director Catherine Corsini crafts a fine romantic period drama filled with organic feminine passion, and political energy. Jeanne Lapoirie’s unfussy cinematography is never less than intimate. American audiences looking for female-led dramas that are authentic by design need only seek out this impressive film.

Rated R. 105 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

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