Connect with us

Blog

Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2008

Published

on

Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2008

These last four years, I’ve never seen a better film in the “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema” series than actress Mia Hansen-Løve’s directorial debut All Is Forgiven (although that says as much about the hazards of programming an annual series of films not high-profile enough to get into NYFF or Tribeca as anything).

Hansen-Løve’s approach is aligned in many ways with the self-consciously dowdy minimalism practiced by Valeska Grisebach’s Longing and Barbara Albert’s Falling—two recent movies of Teutonic origin (Germany and Austria respectively) that put ordinary people through romantic torture. Elliptical story-telling is favored over the concrete; big romantic and personal ruptures emerge from quotidian dissatisfaction and banal affairs rather than the classical “inciting incident”; airbrushed physical perfection is shunned in favor of “realistic-looking” people; ostentatious mise-en-scene is outsourced for static frames just wide enough to contain all the necessary information and, at special heightened moments, handheld camera; conspicuous elegance is forbidden, and the only sense of release comes during a party dance sequence. I’d hesitate to call this a new arthouse/festival trend per se, but there’s something going on: these films are poised uneasily between Bresson/Tarr-esque rigor and middlebrow sloppiness.

I found Longing and Falling unsatisfying; the former is almost consciously opposed to any pleasure, its actors as ugly as its visual scheme. Falling can’t work out if it’s a lecture on political activism or a personal drama and how to integrate the two. No such problems here. All Is Forgiven starts in Vienna, 1995: a large, window-lit house where Victor (Paul Blain) plays with daughter Pamela (Victoire Rousseau). Victor is ostensibly a family man, yet tensions seem latent with partner Annette (Marie-Christine Friedrich). They go to her family’s to celebrate Pamela’s birthday, and Victor seems on the verge of making out with her sister, eye contact discreetly behind her back. That false lead unconsummated, Victor and Annette move back to Paris. 20 minutes have gone by before we learn that—in addition to writing poetry and looking after his daughter—Victor likes to do coke recreationally. Every day.

All Is Forgiven is so resolutely modest that it took me a while to realize what I was seeing was closer to Yi Yi than another purposefully small-scale festival movie. The style may be hermetic, but all the better to keep the plot away from the melodrama it would’ve turned into in lesser hands. There’s heroin addiction here, destroyed marriages, abandoned children and all kinds of casual emotional damage—but it never feels like one damn thing after another, just a truthful look into the lives of adults fighting problems they should’ve resolved well before marriage and their potential march to serenity. (Imagine the kids from Regular Lovers still pulling the same shit 15 years down the line.) Indeed, what happens is so devastating I began to hope the title was a promise. It is, of sorts, but All Is Forgiven hedges its bets on its conclusion, afraid of committing too grand a gesture. It’s a small movie stylistically, but there’s a whole life in here, literally. Always truthful if rarely comforting, it’s the closest thing to a filmed psychological novel I’ve seen in a long time: when Paul eloquently pins down Annette’s attraction to him as her seeming impression that “my inertia somehow made her stronger,” it’s one of many moments of seemingly effortless insight and honesty.

~

Another must-see is arguably Fear(s) of the Dark, though I’m really just talking about one segment of this animated horror anthology. That would be the last one, a Richard McGuire short that’s a wordless variation on the old trapped-in-a-haunted-house-you-can-never-leave scenario: everyone’s trotting out the same praise, and it’s all true, because this really is the most stunning, near-abstract exercise in black-and-white contrasts in eons. (It also has the best, longest foley sequence of someone fighting their way out from a completely black screen into a crack of light since Uma Thurman fought her way out of the coffin Bill left her in.) Just see it: like the best segments here, McGuire manages not just to set a graphic novel in motion (yes, you Persepolis) but use every trick at his disposal to stun the eye.

Also present, in descending order of entertainment value: Marie Caillou’s samurai ghost story, which has a sinister doctor who keeps forcing a girl to go back to sleep every time she wakes up so she can “complete” her dream. It’s awesome, and curious for anyone who wonders what Frenchi-fied anime might look like. Charles Burns kicks things off with a misogynistic E.C. Comics tribute full of sub-Cronenberg orifice imagery that still managed to creep me out. Lorenzo Mattotti offers up a classicist “I remember one weird summer” story that’s satisfyingly predictable and appropriately melancholy. Blutch provides one of two segments that bridge the various segments, a stupidly satisfying bit about a cadaverous 18th-century marquis walking super-vicious dogs, one of which kills someone on sight every time. It’s perversely funny and not remotely scary, even if the punch-line is obvious, and the decision to break up the shorts is a wise one; this is an anthology of free-floating terror, and the comic relief is a big help.

The only real bummer is the other linking segment, Pierre di Sciullo’s neato geometric experiments backed by an incredibly whiny Nicole Garcia monologue playing mostly to the Michael Moore cheap seats: “I’m scared of having to explain the superiority of Western culture to an Afghan villager watching TV with me.” Nice try lady, but not nearly as terrifying as headless samurai chasing little girls. Only the last segment is an unadulterated knockout, but—especially at a zippy 78 minutes—Fears(s) is consistently rich visually and ever-creepy. And it kicks Persoplis’ ass.

~

I’d never seen a film by Claude Lelouch before Roman de Gare—odd, because the man’s directed 41 one of them, including 1966’s famed A Man And A Woman. Lelouch was French cinema’s whipping boy before Luc Besson—too frothy and substanceless, presumably—and he’s well aware of it. Roman’s press kit comes with a long, remarkably defensive interview where Lelouch lays out the terrain: “The title ’roman de gare’ refers to popular literature, which is not derogatory,” he explains, sounding like Stephen King. “What works commercially is not necessarily bad.” The film came together under a pseudonym—Lelouch became “Hervé Picard,” a young director making his first film. “I wanted to send a message to those who dismiss my work,” the auteur continues. “I wanted one of my movies to be seen for what it really was and not as a Claude Lelouch film.”

So what’s a Claude Lelouch film anyway? Visually light and skillful, Roman de gare is lifestyle porn both high and low, offering up Bordeaux wine orchards and poor mountain farms with equal aplomb. It’s also a glossy circle around territory covered recently in Adaptation and Stranger Than Fiction, without the rigor of the latter or the whimsy of the former. The very first shot is a reference—a sign for Quai des Orfèvres, where author Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant) is undergoing interrogation for murder. Flash-back and we’re in that classical staple of the middlebrow French film, the TV show devoted to literature, Ralitzer comfortably enshrined among France’s novelistic elite. Or is she?

A radio announces that a pedophile rapist has broken loose from prison, and Lelouch layers an extremely slow dissolve—a first-person POV shot of hands and feet climbing down a rope over a car driving fast and reckless, the camera poised on the dashboard. It’s an elegant way to speed things up quickly, and much of Roman de Gare excels in this kind of stuff—Lelouch does long shots of motion nicely, even if he’s no Béla Tarr. The murderer’s face is never shown, but girl beware—if your fiance ditches you in a gas station, perhaps it’s not better to take the first ride a strange-looking man offers you. Especially if said girl—Huguette (Audrey Dana)—is a self-proclaimed “airhead,” and the man (Dominique Pinon) is a shifty-looking creep. But Lelouch gives his fugitive the MO of enticing kids with magic tricks, and that’s how much of the movie functions—sleight-of-hand, misdirection, harmless contrivances to keep the plot moving. By the time Huguette and the man—masquerading, for complicated reasons, as her fiance—arrive at her parents’ house and Lelouch places a chopped-off pig’s head dead-center of the frame, you know there’s no serious reason to get tense: any move that hambone couldn’t possibly be earnest.

Unremarkable but smooth, Roman is a trip back to the good old middlebrow days, when would-be film snobs went off to the art-house to gawk at expensive clothing, pretty countrysides, chain-smoking and fresh country food—the “French film,” presumably always reducible to the same elements. Roman gives people the unchallenging fare they want, and it does so cheerfully; it’s a pleasant enough film, remarkable more for Lelouch’s persistence than anything. Not being interested in solely mortifying my aesthetic flesh, I was hardly immune to the genial, glossy takes on both luxury—yachting to Cannes!—and peasant life (the aforementioned pig’s head). The ending’s a mess, and Lelouch’s view on the interaction between art and life is beyond banal; still, if I’m not fully prepared to lobby for a Lelouch retro and re-canonization, I won’t go out of my way to avoid his work, should it ever be revived. He has a light enough touch (and a casual eye for a good widescreen shot) to quite possibly pull off a minor coup with the right script.

~

Anne Le Ny’s Those Who Remain is a curious romantic dramedy mainly interesting for its casting and ending. Another actress’ directorial debut, it’s glossy and brightly lit enough to be upgraded for American audiences with little effort; even though it takes place largely in a hospital, it’s colorful enough to be a McDonald’s commercial. The unlikely couple are grumpy German professor Bertrand Liévain (Vincent Lindon) and kooky magical pixie Lorraine Grégeois (Emmanuelle Devos): she’ll be the underaged Portman to Zach Braff. But Le Ny generally just avoids the precious: at their first meeting, Lorraine’s too flustered to realize that mascara is smeared all over her face, but she’s just dealing with her boyfriend’s rectal cancer diagnosis and calms down thereafter. In other words, quirk is not her usual mode, although it takes Bertrand a while to figure that out. Devos has done grand eccentricity as well as anyone for Arnaud Desplechin with virtuoso turns in My Sex Life and Kings And Queen; it’s surprisingly refreshing to watch her tackle a standard part and just relax.

Those Who Remain putters along agreeably enough, making the best of the potentially grim story of two people who become involved while their significant others are terminally ill. Devos and Lindon save the screenplay from itself, but despite many agreeable moments I was convinced I was basically watching a higher-toned Richard Curtis movie where a happy ending would be along any moment now, earned or not. The ending is both organic and shockingly abrupt, and, were I a proper English major, I would’ve immediately started wondering if that means Those Who Remain is deliberately subverting genre convention or if I was just imposing my low expectations on a movie that really has nothing to do with contemporary rom-coms. Either way, though, it’s a solid but unexceptional film—a fuzzy, slow romance that turns into the damn-near-suicidal at the end.

Vadim Rizov is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Reeler, Nerve, and, oddly enough, Salt Lake City Weekly.

Advertisement
Comments

Blog

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

Published

on

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

Continue Reading

Blog

Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

Published

on

Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

Continue Reading

Blog

Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

Published

on

Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending