Ah, retirement is a wonderful thing. It’s wonderment is evident in so many ways, but currently it is my ability to attend the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival for the first time that has created a joie de vivre in my retired world.
I bought a 10 film pass and have to admit I selected my films largely on when I could go rather than anything more learned relating to knowledge about the films or their directors.
I didn’t get off to a particularly great start with my first four films. First film of my ten was Mon Roi (directed by Maiwenn, whose previous film, Polisse I had enjoyed) and starring the incredibly sexy Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot. Bercot won the Best Actress award at Cannes last year for her performance in this film, but I’m not really sure why as I just wanted to sit her down and give her a good talking to: “Get a grip woman and just get out – go and be the brilliant lawyer you are apparently supposed to be but never do any actual work at.” In short, woman makes a deliberate play at a very sexy man at a club, gets invited home for breakfast, begins a passionate love affair with the charmer with issues, marries him, bears him a child, lets him walk all over her, keeps going back to him, breaks her leg and thinks back over the relationship whilst in unconvincing rehab. Too long (128 minutes), too irritating, too shallow.
Next up was LoLo, directed by and starring Julie Delpy, who plays Violette, a divorcee from Paris who works for a fashion magazine. Violette has been single for a while, and whilst on holiday with her single but swinging girlfriend Ariane is persuaded by Ariane to have sex with a local man, Jean-Rene. Much to her surprise, Violette finds herself falling for the ‘hick’, and they form a relationship when Jene-Rene moves to Paris to launch his banking software. However, Violette’s 19 year old son is not having Maman’s attention taken away from him, so sets out to sabotage the relationship. A not very original story as you can see. A few mildly amusing moments but overall tedious.
Day Two, it was La Belle Saison and Blind Date. La Belle Saison has lingered in my mind mainly because of the luminosity of Cecile de France, who plays Carole, an active participant in the emerging feminist movement of 1970’s France. Delphine is a strapping country lass who moves to the big smoke, partly to enjoy the anonymity that the move brings her, as she has discovered that she is attracted to women, and not the young man that her farming parents desperately hope she will marry. Delphine sees Carole and is instantly smitten – small problem, Carole is in a happy relationship with a man. However, the two do indeed fall madly in love and when Delphine must return home, Carole follows. The film charts their passionate but covert relationship as Delphine is terrified of her parents, and the village, discovering the truth. What will win out – love, or loyalty to parents and conforming to expected behaviours?
In contrast, Blind Date, a first feature from actor Clovis Cornillac, who also stars in the film, is very forgettable. I found this film contrived, and just plain silly, and am still not sure why I didn’t walk out. But, who am I to judge – it won the audience award at the COLCOA Festival (No, I’d never heard of it either but it is the French Film Festival in Los Angeles!), and many in the audience were chortling away at the actors’ antics.
Four down, and not looking that good. Day 3 started the up, but still with hesitations. Dheepan was my first film of the day. This was the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, made by the director of A Prophet and the wonderful Rust and Bone, so hopes were high. And, they were partly realised however the final parts of the film let it down. The film takes us into the world of Tamil refugees who flee to France, and is apparently drawn from the real life experiences of the actor playing the protagonist, Dheepan. Dheepan is an ex Tamil Tiger, who joins up with a young woman, Yalini, who in turn hijacks an orphan girl, Illayaal, so that they can present to the French refugee agencies as a family. I was with this film completely until it turned in its final moments into a gun slinging shoot em out pseudo western, with a totally unrealistic outcome.
From here it was on to another form of gunslinging in Taj Mahal, a film based on the real life 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. We spend most of the film trapped in an increasingly dangerous hotel room with the 18 year old daughter of a French father and English mother, who are there because he has been transferred to Mumbai with work. Mum & Dad go out on the night the attacks occur, leaving Louise back at the hotel. When we are not panicking with Louise we are panicking with Mum & Dad as they try desparately to get back to the hotel, and their daughter. Shot in something like real time, it is an interesting angle on terrorism. However, I found that there were far too many loving close ups of the girl’s face, and her passivity and blankness prior to the attack was plain annoying, which in turn made me struggle to really feel sympathy for her plight or to buy into the tension. I was just not convinced by her, or by her parents.
What will day 4 bring me? Well, it brought me the fabulous Macadam Stories. I really loved this quirky film, which tells 3 different tales of 3 different people living within a decrepit apartment block on the outskirts of Paris. It is both funny and poignant – I laughed out loud on several occasions but there is an undercurrent of sadness in it too. It is too complicated to give a plot outline, but do go and see it. Isabelle Huppert fans need to know that she features in one story, and the wonderful Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is in another.
Day 5 I saw Courted, starring the wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen from the TV show Borgen, and French actor Fabrice Luchini. This is a gentle tale, well told and acted. Luchino plays a disliked County Court judge, presiding over the trial of a man charged with the death of his 7 month old baby. She is one of the jurors, and it turns out was the presiding anaesthetist on an operation he had some years earlier and he had become completely smitten with her during that time. The film’s story aside, I found watching how the French legal system operates quite fascinating. The title is a double entendre as we are in court watching a case play out, and also watching the judge attempting to court her once more.
My last day was another day of two films, starting with The Wait, starring the ever beautiful Juliette Binoche, whom the Variety reviewer called “cinema’s most gifted griever”! How true, her grief at what dawns on us is the death of her son is there in every look and gesture. Her presence chews up the screen. But, she is matched, in both beauty and grief (albeit a grief driven by a different reason), by Jeanne (played by the luscious lipped Lou de Laage) – the son’s French girlfriend who has arrived, at his invitation, to spend Easter at the Mother’s Sicilian villa. A dance of grief, longing, competition for a young man’s love, awakening friendship begins between the two women. Anna, perhaps clutching at straws to help her deny her son’s death, does not tell Jeanne that he has died. Instead she tells Jeanne that it is her brother who has died and that Giuseppe has gone away, but will return at Easter (bit heavy on the religious symbolism – is she hoping for a resurrection?) The film looks beautiful (not surprising given the director was Assistant Director on Sorrentino’s wonderful The Great Beauty) and leaves many things unanswered (the key one being how Giuseppe died), but is rather heavy handed in many places. None the less, the evocation of mood, the visual beauty, the music and the performances of the women, especially Binoche, draw you in.
My French odyssey finishes with the crowd pleasing piece of light but fun entertainment of Rosalie Blum. Rosalie is played by Noemie Lvovsky, whom I saw the week before as the mother in La Belle Saison. We watch this story unfold through 3 different perspectives. First off we are introduced to Vincent, a lonely young man under the thumb of his highly eccentric Mother, who, after a chance meeting, starts to follow Rosalie Blum, a single woman in her late 40’s, early 50’s. Secondly, we meet Rosalie’s young niece. Rosalie hires her niece to follow Vincent to try and find out more about him, and discover why he is following her. Finally, we find out a bit more about Rosalie herself, and the threads of the story wrap up in a feel good manner. Very enjoyable.