52 posts categorized "French Cinema"

January 14, 2018


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.


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.     

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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Groupthink doesn't live here.

December 21, 2017


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.


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.


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)

September 20, 2017


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.


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.

Cole smithey

“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.


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


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.   


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

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January 07, 2017


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.


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

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August 23, 2016


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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)

June 29, 2016



LES+ENFANTS+DU+PARADIS“Children of Paradise” is at once one of the dreamiest and yet most theatrically fixed, films ever made. Marcel Carne’s opulent period melodrama became infamously emblematic of a French cinema that Nouvelle Vague filmmakers rejected with impunity in the late 1950s because they thought the picture the epitome of establishment cinema. Perhaps more to the point, the upstart New Wave hotshots didn’t possess the skillsets necessary to create richly layered cinema like “Les Enfants Du Paradis.” You’d be hard pressed to find any French New Wave film that compares with “Children of Paradise” for the elegance with which the film achieves its dramatic goals.

Even to call “Les Enfants du Paradis” a mere masterpiece seems a slight. Made during the Nazi occupation of World War II, the picture feels like a longing goodbye to vanishing emblems of French culture. Under Nazi rules, no film could be more than 90 minutes long. Carne addressed the issue by making two 90-minute films, each one set during a different epoch. It was fitting that “Children of Paradise” was the first film shown in France after Liberation in 1945. Because its composer (Maurice Thiriet) and two of the film’s production designers (Alexandre Trauner and Leon Barsacq) and were Jews, living under threat of arrest and deportation to concentration camps, the film’s production was forced to move between Nice and in Paris.


Jacques Prevert’s multi-plotline script lovingly celebrates French romanticism in its many archetypal forms in a Parisian 1830s-set narrative that takes place on The Boulevard of Crime, an appropriately named bustling theatre district whose ardent lovers follow their messy fates. Marcel Carne called his film, “a tribute to the theatre.” He has an insightful passion for the old theatres of Paris, which is palpable in every frame. You can smell the greasepaint.


The nearly dozen French archetypes, whose lives we follow, are Parisians who make up the local residents of promoters, prostitutes, thieves, conmen, actors, and mimes. We experience these expressively dressed inhabitants squeezed together on crowded streets where the presentational and the representational meet, switch places, and sometimes make love.

Carne frequently uses semi-private backstage spaces in order to frame personal dramas. Music halls packed with volatile French audience members hanging from the rafter; actors, waiting on the other side of the curtain or wall to perform their part in the nightly ceremony of a shared public theatre.


Considered France’s “Gone With the Wind,” “Children of Paradise” has its own equal to Scarlett. Arletty, a popular French model and actress, plays Garance, a sideshow performer turned actress. This stunning figure of nature represents a mature feminist ideal whose Cheshire cat smile seems to signal a wealth of erotic experience. The storyline revolves around Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), a gifted mime who performs with his father’s theatrical troop. Although Baptiste is beloved by the theatre manager’s daughter Nathalie (Maria Casares), the sensitive Baptist only has eyes for Garance. Baptiste isn’t the only man to be manically obsessed with Garance. Pierre Brasseur’s Frederick Lemaitre also has the hots for her, as does her former partner-in-crime Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand). Add to this crowded lovefest yet another suitor, this one a wealthy count, and you have a recipe for a sex-filled melodrama of epic proportions.

Not rated. 170 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


Cole and Mike drink BALLAST POINT WATERMELON DORADO and discuss Marcel Carne's classic of French Cinema LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS (Children of Paradise).

June 14, 2016


Chouf2Cannes, France —Audiences new to modern-day gang related international crime dramas could get a crash course in the genre from Tunisian-French writer/director Karim Dridi. The filmmaker checks off every violent trope right down to a shock ending that will seem oh-so-profound to the film’s targeted audience of urban youth.

Chouf” means “look” in Arabic, and takes on the meaning of a lookout for the purposes of this formulaic waste of celluloid. The heading doesn’t have much to do with the Marseilles-set drama that takes place in an area of high-rise housing projects, but that’s beside the point. “Chouf” is an exploitation crime flick meant to send hearts racing for pubescent boys who dream of the thug life. Such fantasies of making fast money selling drugs in the company a bunch of predictably volatile thugs goes exactly as you would expect for good-kid-turned-bad Sofiane (Sofian Khammes).


Our not-so-gold-hearted protagonist visits his high-rise-living Muslim family in Marseilles while on summer vacation from college in Lyon. The family patriarch is a disciplinarian hard-ass for all the good it does for his ostensibly doomed sons. Naturally, Sofiane’s older brother runs with the local hoods that shoot him dead in the film’s first act. Rather than following through on the promise that his more educated mind seems fated for, 20-year-old Sofiane chooses to seek revenge instead. He joins up with his brother's gang of drug dealers. Evidently, the best thing college has taught Sofiane is how to run a drug operation like a McDonalds. Genius. 

It’s an old saying, if you seek revenge dig two graves. There, I just saved you the two or three hours you might have wasted seeing this piece of cinematic garbage. Next.

Not Rated. 108 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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