21 January 2021

Stéphane Riethauser's Madame (2019)

Madame is Stéphane Riethauser's first feature and covers family film footage and photos over three generations, the two central interests being Stéphane's relationship with his grandmother Caroline, and his realisation that he is gay.

The family is a wealthy Swiss one, Stéphane growing with his parents in Geneva, although is it apparent that he has always related far more to his late grandmother, who died fifteen minutes before the film was made. Caroline detests convention: her first marriage was more of less a forced one in her mid-teens, she considers that her husband raped her, and she soon divorced him. She became a business woman, trying a few different kinds of business before owning a top restaurant. She married a second time but this too ended in divorce, and she was wary of men being after her for her money. She was the second moman to have a driving licence, and she had a large villa on the Côte d’Azur.

We learn of Stéphane growing up much impressed by reading Le Prince Éric by Serge Dalens, in which he associates one of the characters from his school with the hero. He develops a heterosexual alter ego, Riton, who does all the 'masculine' things that men do, he becomes friends with one of the less savoury young men in the area, smokes cannabis with him, but breaks with him when he is for a joke locked him in with a much older man who tries to molest him. Stéphane has a girlfriend with whom he has sex, but there's still something missing.

Listening to Charles Aznavour's song 'Ils disent' — a song about a gay transvestite — is something of an epiphanic moment, Stéphane working strongly towards the realisation of the fact that he's a homosexual. And then the inevitable coming out, which is of course saying at the same time that there will be no children. Caroline is at first slow to register the news, although she becomes a huge supporter of the gay cause, further cementing the relationship between the two. A joy to watch.

Sébastien Lifshitz’s Adolescentes (2020)

Adolescentes is an amazing documentary film, being the result of regularly filming the development of two adolescents, Emma and Anaïs, from the age of thirteen to eighteen, when they finished their Bac. It took a great deal of editing because the resulting 130-film comes from 500 hours of material. The teenagers are filmed at school, in their families, and together or apart in the outside world in Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze): Lifshitz chose this town because he wanted time to be clearly registered by the change of seasons.

Emma and Anaïs were already friends, which is somewhat unusual in that they are so different from each other: Emma comes from a more financially privileged background whereas Anaïs is from a more modest one; Emma is shy and has a melancholy personality whereas Anaïs is far more outgoing. The film has the outstanding characteristic in that the director has been able to film the two not as actors but as 'real' people who have become so used to the presence of the camera that they no long notice it. Intimate discussions such as the right time to lost their virginity, then talking about losing their virginity, are a matter of course. So too are the tears when, say, Anaïs loses her grandmother, or Emma strongly argues with her mother, and so on.

We follow the pair in school lessons, discussing quotations from Madame Bovary, Emma reciting from Anouilh's Antigone, or Anaïs learning mnemonic devices such as 'Me Voici Tout Mignon Je Suis Un Nuage' for remembering the relation between the planets and the sun, and incidentally the absurdly stupid error that she made in her understanding of the use of this nonsense phrase: few embarrassing scenes, it appears, have been left out.

This film is also a record of the historical events which appeared over this period, such as the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Bataclan massacre, after which the school head assembled the students in the yard to give a speech and the students held up copies of a drawing that was a cross between the CND symbol and the Tour Eiffel. On discovering that Macron has become president Emma isn't impressed, but then she isn't impressed by politics; Anaïs, on the other hand, is very disappointed that Macron has won and seems (the horror!) to have wanted Marine Le Pen to win. In the end they go their separate ways, Anaïs to Limoges to be an auxiliary nurse, Emma to univeristy in Paris.

Hafsia Herzi’s Tu mérites un amour (2019)

Hafsia Herzi first came to fame as an actor in Abdellatif Kechiche's La Graine et le mulet (2007). This is her first feature-length film as director, in which she also plays the lead role as Lila.

Lila has an abusive boyfriend, Rémi (Jérémie Laheurte), with is playing around with other women but still doesn't want to lose her and phones her to tell her he loves her. Lila, on the other hand, is in two minds: she needs some assurance that Rémi is being straight with her, and at the same time she feels that she should break away from his toxic influence. She has a one-night-stand with the affectionate Jonathan (Jonathan Eap), although this doesn't stop her thinking about Rémi. And nor does the brief sex episode at the bottom of the block of flats with a handsome and wealthy Sergio (Alexander Ferrario) she met at a party. She even joins in a threesome with Rachelle (Sophie Garagnon) and Bruno (Brice Dulin).

In the end it's Charly (Anthony Bajon), the budding young photographer who reluctantly also works in his uncle's café, who performs the exorcism. Charly has taken photos of her which have met with commercial approval: he gives Lila one of the framed photos. Lila reminds him of Frida Kahlo, and he recites a poem attributed to her which gives the film its title: the poem's original title is 'Mereces un amor que te quiera despeinada'. When she's in her flat with Charly and Rémi calls, she summons up her courage and repeatedly tells him to get out, saying Charly is her lover. This is untrue, although it could well be a prediction of the very near future.

20 January 2021

Sophie Letourneur’s Énorme (2020)

 

I could simply say that this is one of the worst films I've ever seen: it's a comedy that is in no respect funny, it's wholly predictable, it's ridiculous to the point of idiocy, it's puerile, it's tedious, it has no depth and a single 'idea' is present – a man deciding that he wants a child so much that he in effect becomes a psychological proxy for his wife – and the film is so repetitive that it is nauseous. Instead I have to say that this totally irresponsible sexist junk, which would have us laugh at a criminal offence,* is the worse film I've ever seen.

The movie, starring Marina Foïs as Claire Girard and Jonathan Cohen as her husband Frédéric, concerns a couple who don't want a child until Fred assists in an unexpected birth delivery on a plane by a Spanish woman and goes gooey-eyed as a result. On his mother's suggestion, he substitutes his wife's birth pill for saccarine, ensures that Claire doesn't find out about her pregnancy until it's too late to have an abortion in France, and persuades her that it would be dangerous to have one in England, where the legal period is longer.

To a gobsmacked Marina Foïs on the TMC programme 'Quotidien' last September, the presenter Maïa Mazaurette held up a sign in block letters with 'two years' imprisonment' and 'fine of 30,000 euros' written on it: this is the maximum penalty for 'l'entrave de l'interruption volontaire de grossesse' (IVG), or causing an obstruction to the prevention of pregnancy.

Marina Foïs's response to this was that the film has 'un sujet tellement contemporain que tout le monde va le comprendre, voire en rire' ('such a modern subject that everyone will understand it, indeed laugh at it'): no indication of the slightest awareness that the most important decision in life – to have or not to have a child – is no laughing matter! Jonathan Cohen pointed out that a lawyer in the film calls Fred's meddling a serious action – certainly, although the viewer is supposed to laugh at this – and Cohen concludes 'Le film parle de lui-même' ('The film speaks for itself.'). Indeed, this utter trash certainly does speak for itself. Avoid if you don't want to be sick.

*In French this offence is a 'délit': the French use the word 'crime' for more serious actions such as murder or rape.

19 January 2021

Boris Lojkine's’s Camille (2019)

 

Boris Lojkine began making documentary films of Vietnam – Ceux qui restent (2001), Les Chantiers de la coopération (2004), Les Âmes errantes (2005) – until he tired of a country which he saw was becoming more open, more westernised, resembling other countries too much. He turned to the Central African Republic, and Camille is a fictionalised account of a young French photographer there.

Camille Lepage (1988-2014) is a photojournalist who falls in love with the Central African Republic, where there is civil war. She goes there in October 2013. The film shows the kind of life she lived there, eating with the people, singing with them, giving them what little money she has, a rare white person in a poor black African country torn apart by violence. Many inhabitants think it's necessary to photograph the situation there, many can't understand her, see her as an outsider, while she is frustrated that the people in this country are destroying each other.

Her photos are published in Libération and her family welcomes her home for Christmas 2013 as a kind of hero. Libération want her to help cover Ukraine, but she says there are still problems in the Central African Republic which aren't being publicised. So she returns there, to the country she loves, to the friendhship, to the doubts about her presence, to the bush, and finally to a bullet in her head while on a motorbike in May 2014.

18 January 2021

Aurel's’s Josep (2020)

 

This cartoon, which is Aurel's first feature-length film, is more manga than Disney and based on a true story. Following the victory of the fascist dictator Franco from February 1939, La Retirada began: nearly half a million republicans, communists and anarchists fled from Spain across the frontier to France. They were arrested and sent to a concentration camps, such as the one near the border in Argelès-sur-Mer, where they were subjected to filthy conditions, frequent mental and physical abuse, and racism. The story is told by a dying grandfather to his young grandchild.

The grandfather was a French policeman in the concentration camp and in spite of his colleagues' violence helped the artist Josep Bartolí (1910-95). Josep had been a member in Barcelona of POUM, a revolutionary organisation against the dictator. Aurel had for some years been interested in the Spanish Civil War, being particularly inspired by Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom (1995).

After 1943 Bartolí left for Mexico, where he became the lover of Frida Kahlo, whose huge image can be seen as a kind of watermark on the above poster. From Mexico Bartolí left for the United States, where he met a number of other artists, and where he died. The film is a remarkable achievement, and a hymn to the triumph of culture over barbarity.

Frédéric Fonteyne and Anne Paulicevich's’s Filles de joie | Working Girls (2020)

The English translation of this Belgian film doesn't convey the irony of the (rather old-fashioned) French title: the three women in this – Axelle (Sara Forestier), Conso (Annabelle Lengronne) and Dominique (Noémie Lvovsky), also known as Athéna, Héra and Circé in their working existences – don't exactly have a great deal of joy in their life.

Co-director and screenwriter Anne Paulicevich has researched cross-frontier prostitution, and the result is this fictional study of these three women, who drive every day from Roubaix in France to Belgium (where laws are more tolerant) to sell themselves in a brothel.

All three women live in very different circumstances: Axelle lives in an HLM, is separated from her partner Yann (Nicolas Cazalé), and has custody of their three children; Conso lives a few doors away from Axelle, is single and wants a child by her 'boyfriend' Jean-Ti (Jonas Bloquer); Dominique is older, lives with her unemployed husband and two demanding adolescents (one male, the other female) in a house in the suburbs and also works part time as a nurse.

Each woman has a burden to live with, although there's one very humorous moment in which Conso's 'boyfriend' gets his just deserts. What we have here is in a sense a revenge movie, one which will cement the already very strong bond between the girls. At the beginning of the film we see a body being buried on wasteland, and it isn't until the end of the film that we're reminded of this and see virtually the whole film as the flashback that it is. Drunk, Yann has returned, wants to take Axelle's children, and while trying to rape Axelle her mother hits him with a heavy instrument. Time for all three women to get together, for Dominique to finish Yann off by smothering him, and we're back to the beginning with the burial scene.

Some reviews have criticised the film for representing sterotypes (tarts with hearts, men being monsters, the unemployed wearing vests all the time, etc) and having mixed moods, descending into the thriller genre, and so on. On the other hand, many reviews have seen a very engaging film exploring the hidden world of prostitution and the desperation of the women: I agree with that view of this very feminist film.

17 January 2021

Myriam Verreault's Kuessipan (2019)

 

Kuessipan takes place in the Sept-Îles area, over 600 km to the north-east of Québec city and essentially in the Uashat-Maliotenam Innu community. The film is adapted from the eponymous book by Naomi Fontaine (2015) and is Myriam Verreault's first feature. 

Mikuan (Sharon Fontaine-Ishpatao) and Shaniss (Yamie Grégoire) grow up as friends in this Innu community and swear that they'll never cease to be friends, although they have different visions and it seems as though they will grow apart in spite of the pact they've made. Both also come from different backgrounds within the community: Mikuan's is very loving, whereas Shaniss comes from a broken home.

Furthermore, Shaniss has left school early, has a child and lives with a violent boyfriend. Mikuan, though, is academically gifted and is interested in creative writing. To fulfull her ambitions Mikuan wants to go to unniversity in Québec city, away from the Innu reservation where she has grown up.

Additional complications arise when Mikuan has a lover: Francis (Étienne Galloy) from Sept-Îles, who is white and so represents everything Mikuan's community is against and has had to tolerate for years: greed, the theft of their land. Not without problems, and not without jokes at his expense, Francis is tolerated, although towards the end he feels that the two peoples he and Mikuan represent cannot co-exist, and ends the relationship.

In a tear-jerking scene Mikuan swears loyalty to Shaniss as she moves out of the reserve to university, to success as a writer. We need stories like this to remind us of other worlds out there.

Bruno Merle's’s Felicità (2020)

Felicità? Why the Italian title? It's a song played when Timothée (Pio Marmaï), Chloé (Camille Rutherford) and the young Tommy (Rita Merle, Bruno's daughter) have escaped from the house they were living in, which is not theirs. The title of course means 'happiness', and is one of Tim's favourite songs, by Al Bano and Romina Power, which he plays in the car as they run away. They're running away because Chloé is a maid in the house, although the family of three have been living there because Chloé knew that the owners she worked for would be away for some time, although they've returned slightly earlier than expected.

Much of Tommy's world is seen from her point of view, which sees her parents – particularly her father Tim – in a world-wary, sceptical but surprisingly mature way. Why can't she have ordinary parents? It's hardly surprising she wears ear defenders to block out their nonsense, and when she does the viewer too hears nothing until she removes them. We notice the little girl in a café at a neighbouring table – in reality her sister, as she's another of Merle's daughters – fire an imaginary gun at her, she mocks being dead, and the little girl blows the smoke from her finger as cowboys do their gun in westerns. But her parents notice nothing, being too busy in conversation the other side of the table.

In fact the conversation ceases and Tim puts on a very serious face and tells Tommy that there was a couple who split up, leaving behind a baby and it was her, but that they've just seen the father, and it's Orelsan the rapper*: Tim tells her she has the choice, as he's certain Orelsan will reclaim her, and she'd have access to far more money than her now 'substitute' parents have. Tommy just waives this off as another crazy trick of her father's, which of course it is.

At one point Chloé is visibly upset as she has to tell her husband something: she's being blackmailed because she acted in some movies before she met Tim, and some were porn films. Tim is shattered, but it's all a joke: Chloé can play the same game too.

At another point Tim steals a powerful car belonging to an English person, goes back to his own car and tells Tommy to wait there while he goes to look for Chloé. Should Tommy stay there or go and see what her wayward parents are up to? And suddenly I'm reminded of Ken Loach's Looking for Eric (2009), the part where Éric Cantona makes a sudden appearance, but only in the protagonist's mind. Tommy's sitting in the back of the car with her ear silencers on but she can hear the voice of the person who suddenly magics himself next to her: Orelsan in a spacesuit, talking about choosing what to do.

A very odd film which also plays tricks on the viewer.

*In fact, of course, a French viewer doesn't need to be told who Orelsan is, but the fact that he's a rapper is added in the subtitles.

16 January 2021

Christophe Blanc’s Just Kids (2019)

 

The mother of the family here (surname not mentioned) has died (perhaps of cancer) and the father has killed himself by jumping out in front of a train. There remain three children: Jack (Kacey Mottet-Klein), 19; Lisa (Anamaria Vartolomei), 17; and Titi/Mathis (Andrea Maggiulli). Jack (only just out of minority) gains custody with his uncle (Yves Caumon) as an 'eye'.

Certainly an eye is needed as Jack is very much between childhood and adulthood, and his relationship with his brother Mathis is sometimes brotherly, sometimes fatherly. But then why did the father kill himself? There was no suicide note, but anyway it may have been written by an unreliable narrator: he was involved in some obviously dodgy dealings, of which there's no clarity.

Mathis descends into despair, especially when his female fellow orphan schoolmate leaves. Jack has his loving girlfriend Maureen (Angelina Woreth) until she's forced to leave him: we know that Jack is living in the past, can't move into the future, but who is there to tell him how to move? Maureen rebukes him for his handwriting: graphology suggests his backward-slanting handwriting isn't an indication of a forward mover.

Jack just moves to blowing money on horses, getting off his head in clubs, and moving to a mobile home in Spain – with Mathis of course, but then Mathis is in some ways more mature than Jack. Jack will no doubt learn, but the hard way, which is painful. It took Christophe Blanc ten years to make a feature after the Blanc comme neige (2010) failure, but although this may not be a masterpiece it has great performances by Mottet-Klein and Andrea Maggiulli.

Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau | Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (2016)

 

In a way, the film Théo et Hugo can be compared to Richard Linklater's trilogy, beginning with Before Sunrise (1995), only the couple in that movie, Céline (Julie Delphy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), first get to know each other and take a very, very long time before having sex: see Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). Hugo (François Nambot) and Théo (Geoffrey Couët) have sex first and then get to know each other.

They have sex at the gay sex club L'Impact, 18 Rue Greneta, 2e, in a long scene lasting over fifteen minutes in which bodies kiss, stroke, fondle and have (sometimes noisy) unsimulated sex. This scene – set in real time like the whole film, and of course reminding us of Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7 in format – is hardly pornographic though, as there is no dwelling on the genitals, just the faces and the bodies, the movements.

After the anonymity, Théo and Hugo leave together, still in the early hours of the morning, and their first argument is a serious one: they agree that there's something special about their encounter, although when Hugo reveals that he's not used a condom Théo goes crazy and says he has to go to hospital immediately: Théo is HIV positive. What ensues is not an easy ride, with the two guys having to pass through a homophobic old guy and Hugo being initiated into the medication procedure. This is Hugo's fault or Théo's? Well, Théo's from Lons-le-Saunier (Jura), which is hardly Paris, and, oh, we'll forget that, they're both in the same boat, both as guilty as the other.

After that the film resembles an old-fashioned love story, two people just wandering around Paris before daybreak, buying a meal from the Syrian kebab man, the aged chambermaid from Yvetot talking to them on the first métro, and them arriving in central Paris, to Hugo's chambre de bonne on the sixth floor. There Théo undresses Hugo, examines his genitals in a loving way, as if he's really impressed with his catch, but they don't have sex again, that's for later: who knows, this relationship could continue until, well, the end?

I have a feeling that this could well prove to be a landmark gay movie.

15 January 2021

Marco Ferreri's La Grande Bouffe (1973)

 

La Grande Bouffe is a satire on consumerism and decadent bourgeois society. Four men, who are all called by their real names – Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), Philippe (Philippe Noiret), Michel (Michel Piccoli), and Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi) – are so sick of their tedious lives that they decide to shut themselves in a villa and eat themselves to death. Ugo, a restaurant owner who delights in acting like 'Godfather' Marlon Brando, is the chef; Philippe is a high-class magistrate who lives with his nursemaid Nicole (Michèle Alexandre); Marcello is a pilot and a sexual predator; and Michel is a television producer and presenter. 

Everything is done in the worst of possible tastes. Vanloads of full of food arrive, prostitutes are supplied by Marcello, and a grand festival of noshing, sex, farting and shitting begins. The actual property (here belonging to Philippe) is 68 rue Boileau in the 16e arrondissement, and schoolteacher Andréa (Andréa Ferréol) joins them as she's interested in the tree in the garden underneath which Nicolas Boileau wrote his poetry. (The site is now the Vietnamese Embassy.)

Gradually, all four friends die, although the first, Marcello, marches out of the villa exasperated by his impotence, intending to leave in a 1920s Bugatti, but is found frozen in the car in the morning; Michel dies of indigestion; Ugo stuffs himself to death; and Philippe dies under a bench under the Boileau tree after eating a cake made by Andréa in the shape of two breasts.

The back support of the bench has a common quotation in English by Dorothy Frances Gurney: 'Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth. You're closer to God's heart in a garden than any place else on earth.'

14 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's Quatre aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle | Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987)

 

Quatre aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle are, as the title indicates, four short films following the same two young girls: Reinette (Joëlle Miquel) and Mirabelle (Jessica Forde). Each section is given a title:

L'Heure Bleue

This involves Mirabelle, on holiday in the country, cycling through the hamlet of Saincy, near Rebais, Seine-et-Marne, when she has a puncture and doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do with it. Reinette, about the same age, walks up to her fixes it. She invites Rainette into the converted hayloft where she lives in the summer, and Mirabelle stays with her for a few days: the attraction is watching the moment the sun rises (reminiscent of Le Rayon vert). But the real attraction is Rainette's paintings: she wants to learn art in Paris, although her paintings show a remarkable untutored skill which Rainette possesses. But she's not heard of surrealism, and nor has she heard of the subject Mirabelle is studying: ethnology.

Le Garçon de café

Reinette and Mirabelle are now living together in Paris. They agree to meet in a café, Reinette arrives there first where she installs herself at the terrasse, and the waiter asks her for the 4.50 francs in advance. She only has a 200 franc note, which the waiter refuses and doesn't believe that she's waiting for a friend. When Mirabelle arrives she doesn't have change either, and the waiter gets nastier. When he goes inside, the girls run off, although Reinette returns the next day with the money.

Le Mendiant, la Kleptomane et l'Arnaqueuse

Paris is of course full of beggars and Mirabelle gently rebukes Reinette for giving money to one: it can get expensive.

In a supermarket Mirabelle notices a woman putting champagne, salmon and duck pâté in a bag in her supermarket trolley, and also notices two store detectives watching her. At the checkout Mirabelle secretly steals the woman's bag, the woman is accosted but the store detectives of course find nothing. Mirabelle intends to return the bag to the woman but can't reach her in all the traffic so just takes the bag home. She explains everything to Reinette, saying she was trying to help the woman who must have been suffering from cleptomania, Reinette doesn't understand the logic and refuses to partake of the stolen goods: she can't see how Mirabell has acted morally correctly.

At a station Reinette gives 6.40 francs to a woman claiming she has problems, although it's an old trick and Reinette sees her doing the same to another woman, she challenges her, and the woman starts crying.

La Vente du tableau

Reinette can't afford to pay her part of the rent as the money she's expecting from her grandmother seems to be held up, so she feels she has to go back to the countryside. Mirabelle tells her to try to sell her paintings. A gallery dealer (Fabrice Luchini) agrees to see a painting, likes it and is surprised that Reinette doesn't appear to have heard of Magritte or Dali. He agrees to display the painting on a fifty-fifty basis: he'll ask for 2000 francs. But Reinette wants to be paid now, and she starts to cry. Mirabelle, who's acting as a potential customer, argues with the dealer until he pays Reinette. Shortly aferwards two customers are very interested in the painting. The price: 4000 francs.

Éric Rohmer's L'Ami de mon amie | My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (1987)

 

This is Éric Rohmer's sixth and final film in his 'Comédies et proverbes' series, and the subtitle 'Les amis de mes amis' ('My friends' friends are my friends') is a reference to a French proverb as well as a reference to Goethe's novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities) (1809). The setting is the new conurbation of Cergy-Pontoise.

Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) is a young and very shy worker in local government who currently has no boyfriend and not even any friends. And then she meets the very outgoing Léa (Sophie Renoir), who quickly becomes a very good friend. Léa is just concluding her studies and partly lives with Fabien (Éric Viellard), although isn't exactly ecstatic about the relationship. In fact Léa seems more interested in getting Blanche together with Alexandre, an engineer with a PhD who works for EDF and has a reputation as a skirt-chasing braggart.

And then Léa goes on holiday without Fabien, Blanche seems torn between Alexandre and Fabien, but is given to crying spells and regrets that she has shyly turned down the opportunity to become more acquainted with either Alexandre or Fabien. However, she goes swimming and windsurfing with Fabien, discovers that she more than likes him, and they end up in bed together.

If Rohmer's La Femme de l'aviateur is a film of jealousy, then L'Ami de mon amie is a film of guilt, and Blanche is shot through with guilt for having slept with the boyfriend of her best friend. But Fabien doesn't feel the same because he realises that Léa – attracted to the life of luxury – isn't really his type, but Blanche is.

When Léa returns from holiday she announces to Blanche (much to her unspoken chagrin) that she is back with Fabien, although this is very short lasting and she soon lures herself into Alexandre's clutches: much to the delight of all concerned, as Blanche can now lead a guilt-free relationship with Fabien.

13 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's La Femme de l'aviateur | The Aviator's Wife (1981)

 

La Femme de l'aviateur is the first film in Rohmer's 'Comédies et Proverbes' series and is set in Paris. This time the sub-title is 'On ne saurait penser à rien' ('We couldn't think of nothing', a variation of Alfred de Musset's 'On ne saurait penser à rien' ('We couldn't think of everything').

The irony of the title is that we never see the pilot's wife, although we see her husband, if in fact he is the husband of someone we never see. What is important here, as with all of Rohmer's films, is discussion, the possibility or the impossibility of love, but not certainties, just philosophilcal speculations.

François (Philippe Marlaud) is a university student of law working in a postal sorting office (which reminded me of Cosmo in Patrick Lapeyre's novel Paula ou personne) to get by, and is in love with Anne (Marie Rivière, Rohmer's actrice fétiche), although she's received a visit from her (former?) lover Christian (Mathieu Carrière, who's been away for three months), who has told her his wife is pregnant and he's returning to her.

François doesn't know this and tries to talk to Anne, but she's not in talking mode. By chance, François sees Christian with a woman in a bar, follows them on a bus and then follows them into parc des Buttes-Chaumont.* Shortly before this he gets talking to Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury), a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl interested in languages. And detective stories: François seems interesting. And he tells Anne the story, they tail Christian and his companion, but Anne has to go but leaves her address as she wants to know the end of the story.

And then François is rebuffed by Anne, who is depressed about Christian concluding her romance with her, in spite of not being in favour of marriage, which kills things. So where does François stand? Certainly on soggy ground when he sees one of his workmates much involved with Lucie. Life is a lottery, surely?

*This park was designed by Adolphe Alphand, who was also responsible for his development of the parc Montsouris, the parc Monceau, the bois du Boulogne, the bois de Vincennes, and many other places. This has nothing to do with the story, but is nevertheless very interesting.

12 January 2021

Éric Rohmer's Pauline à la plage | Pauline at the Beach (1983)

 

Pauline à la plage is the third film in Rohmer's 'Comédies et Proverbes' series and is set in Jullouville, near Granville, Manche. Marion (Arielle Dombasle) takes her fifteen-year-old cousin Pauline (Amanda Longet) to her holiday home for a few weeks' break. There they meet Marion's former lover Pierre (Pascal Greggory), who's a windsurfer, and his friend Henri (Féodor Atkine). Later, Sylvain (Simon de La Brosse) will chat up Pauline, and Louisette, the marchande de bonbons, will play a crucial part in the events.

Rohmer is of course a highly literary director, and at the beginning of the movie we have a quotation from Chrétien de Troyes: 'Qui trop parole, il se mesfait', which I would translate as 'The person who talks too much creates his own problems'. This is an excellent description of the film, which in many ways resembles a play with half the scenes at the seaside. The startling thing is that in almost forty years the film has aged so little, although this in part is certainly due to the lack of clothing: this is Normandy, but obviously in the heat of the summer.

Forgetting Chrétien de Troyes, this film could almost be a modernised play by Shakespeare, with Rohmerian dicussions thrown in. Love is the most important thing of interest, with Marion – having experienced one marriage but not love – seeking that sensation. Pauline, being so young, of course hasn't been there, apart from when she was twelve, but then that hardly counts; Henri seems to have become immune; but Pierre is obviously in love with his former lover.

At a dance Marion snubs Pierre, kisses Henri, sleeps with him and is falling into a place Henri obviously doesn't recognise, as proved by the fact that he has noisy sex with Luisette while Marion is showing Pauline the Mont Saint Michel. But then Marion returns early, just in time to catch Luisette hiding in the bathroom with, er, Pauline's boyfriend Syvain. There's a hell of a lot of unravelling to do here, lies to be made, then undone, until the truth isn't known by all, as indeed it shouldn't be. Yep, Shakespeare's written all over this.

Jean Renoir's Une partie de campagne | A Day in the Country (1936; release 1946)

 

Renoir's Une partie de campagne is adapted from Maupassant's story of the same name, lasts just forty minutes, and concerns the Dufour family's day trip from Paris to the countryside (Bezons, which has changed a little since then). Cyprien (André Gabriello) is the ironmonger father, Juliette (Jane Marken) his wife, Henriette (Sylvia Bataille) his daughter, Anatole (Paul Temps) Henriette's fiancé and Gabrielle Fontan plays Cyprien's mother-in-law. They borrow the milkman's horse and cart and stop by an auberge by the river, where they order a meal.

There is a clear difference in classes here: the lust as the canotiers Henri (Georges Darnoux) and Rodophe (Jacques Brunius) watch Juliette and Henriette on the swings, particularly Rodolphe trying to see up Henriette's skirt, is one of the major moments in the film; the clumsy city clothes of the Parisians are out of place compared with the appropriate light clothing of the canotiers. Rodophe takes Juliette in his boat, Henri takes Henriette, and they are both easily seduced while Cyprien and the pathetic Anatole are left fishing.

At a later date Henriette is with her husband Anatole on the riverbank where she was with Henri and, while Anatole is snoozing, she sees Henri a short distance away. Both are visibly moved to see the other.

11 January 2021

Jean Rollin's La Vampire nue | The Nude Vampire (1969)


Jean Rollin (1938-2010) was the son of the actor Claude Martin and Denise Lefroi, who when he was one year old formed a liasion with Georges Bataille, with whom she lived in Vézelay until 1943. But Bataille met Diane Kotchoubey De Beauharnais and there was a brief ménage à trois until Denise left with Jean.

Rollin is noted for his erotic vampire films, of which this is his second. La Vampire nue is easier to sum up than it is to describe. There's a general dream-ike atmosphere although the film in general is marred by a B-movie feel, as if this isn't the main feature. Pierre Radamante (Olivier Rollin, Jean's half-brother) falls in love with a young girl (Caroline Cartier) who's trying to escape from beast-headed men he later discovers are working for his father Georges (Maurice Lemaître): they think she's a vampire and want to experiment on her to discover the secret of immortality.

I could go on but the plot gets very complicated. It's enough to say that she's not a vampire but an immortal, and Pierre in the end joins her in immortality. OK, this was only Rollin's second film, but to say it creaks somewhat is putting it mildly, and I really think all the bare-breasted women must have been there for the box office. I can understand why this film got really mixed (but mainly negative) reviews from professional and amateur reviewers alike, but it might be interesting to see how Rollin fares with a later movie of his.

10 January 2021

Catherine Breillat's Romance (1999)

 

This is a pornographic film. Not. Rather, it's anti-pornographic, although it had to cross a number of censors' walls in order to convince. OK, there's a small amount of graphic, real (meaning unsimulated) sex in this movie, but it's in no way titillating, nothing here is designed to arouse men's lust. This is a feminist film in which Breillat's intention is to depict image as idea, characters with emotions: quite a distance from porn.

Virtually everything is seen from a female point of view, with the protagonist Marie (Catherine Ducey) being the watcher and the doer, and she provides the voiceovers. She lives with her boyfriend Paul (Sagamore Stévenin) in a flat that is almost entirely white, not modern, chic white but hospital white, virgin, characterless, sterile. And sterility, or sexlessness, is the name of the game here. Marie (now there's a name!) hates cotton as she finds it stifling, and yet Paul wears a white cotton tee-shirt in bed and only reluctantly takes it off when Marie asks him to. But even though he has a hard-on and she starts sucking he's not interested: in fact he's not interested in sex.

Already the tables have been turned here: the macho male is hoist by his own petard. At the beginning of the film Paul (a male model) is seen being made up for a photo session by posing (ahem) as a bullfighter in the arena in Arles with a woman he has to pose on tiptoe with in order to redress the balance of height. But Marie is so sexually frustrated that she seeks an outlet elsewhere, and sneaks out of bed with Paul to take his car and drive into central Paris to a bar where she finds herself staring at a man.*

The coup here is that Breillat has recruited Rocco Siffredi, the hardcore porn star, to be Marie's physical Paul, here known as Paolo: in other words he fulfils her sexual needs, but that's all: he's just an object Marie's using, a reversal of the usual objectification of woman.

Then there's the sale mec in the corridor who offers to lick Marie for 'cent balles' as she goes home after watching the sexless Paul reading Bukowski in a restaurant on his own, and although she's not against the licking he then rapes her. Plus, although dyslexic, she (rather badly) teaches French to young kids and attracts the attentions of the head teacher Robert (François Berléand), who invites Marie back to his place, tells her on two occasions that he's fucked 10,000 woman, and introduces her to the delights of sado-masochism.

Paul, Paolo and Robert are all made to look a little ridiculous here, as if Marie had triumphed over them, but who is the real winner when Marie gets pregnant and she blows up his flat? Or is that just a dream, like most of this movie? No matter how many times I might watch it, my conclusions will probably change frequently.

*Thanks to Google I was able to see that Marie had driven 4.5 km from 99-101 rue Bobillat, 17e, to Le Basile bar on the corner of rue Grenelle and rue St Guillaume, 7e.

9 January 2021

Andrew Kötting's The Whalebone Box (2020)

 

 And I thought Edith Walks was crazy. The Whalebone box itself goes back a long way in human time, in fact thirty years. It was then that sculptor Steve Dilworth in Tarbert, Harris – interested in once living objects, shamanism and other things – gave the box to Iain Sinclair, who promised to return it. Sinclair now thinks it's time. It is made from the bone of a washed-up whale and is said to contain a metal box filled with sea water. That's why – although we're not told this in the film – we sometimes see a different box here, in cardboard: Sinclair says he's an old man and the box is heavy; Kötting agrees and says it's like a car battery and you can only carry one of those so far.

So there we are, and the journey back to Harris begins, Kötting and Sinclair going with their 'muse' Eden Kötting, the director's daughter who has a genetic disorder and whose words are given subtitles: this film is in part from her dreams. Obviously there are many literary quotations, such as by Basil Bunting, whose grave in the Quaker cemetery in Briggflatts, Cumbria is visited on the way, and there's mention of T. S. Eliot's walking tour with Ezra Pound.

And of course there are songs, such as the disturbingly shrill 'Murdered Mermaid's Song' by MacGillivray, or the French rap band Quai des Brumes singing 'Julien et Mathias'. This latter may seem surprising, but then Kötting and Eden live part of the time in the French Pyrenees, and a digression in the film is a visit to the ruins of a castle in the times of the Cathars on Mont Ségur, which Sinclair considers crucial. This still doesn't give anything like an idea of the strangeness of the film, but how's this for a quotation from Sinclair, who of course is preoccupied by the relativity of time:

'You just find a right place to go and that's always a site within this forest. There might be a rock over there that would allow you access to the time of your great-grandfather, to the moment in the garden. There might be a waterfall over there which allows you through to the time of your mother's childhood. There are places you go to access time, the ghosts come into the forest and at that point linear time begins.'

No matter how much I stare at the words above I still think: 'This is hippie crap!' Very weird film, quite fascinating, but Sinclair's words, often admittedly fascinating too, sometimes just seem to clog it up.

Andrew Kötting's Edith Walks (2017)

 

This, like Swandown, is a journey with Iain Sinclair, although here it's a walk involving several other people. And it's even crazier. The purpose of this is in memory of King Harold (killed in 1066, of course) and his wife. The journey, or pilgrimage, is in reverse order, beginning from where King Harold's remains are said to be, Waltham Abbey, and ending in St Leonards-on-Sea, where there's a sculpture of the pair.

Harold's wife, Edith Swan-Neck, is a character on the march played by singer and actor Claudia Barton, and the others – apart from Kötting and Sinclair – are percussionist David Aylward, who drums, plays bicycle spokes and anything else he can get a sound from; writer and 'wizard' Alan Moore, who believes time is a box and that Hereward the Wake was a reincarnation of Harold: and Anonymous Bosch, who uses a pinhole camera.

The troupe meet with many incidents on the way, and – as is usual – Kötting fills the film with snippets of different films, the most notable being a 1966 ninth centenary reinactment of the Battle of Hastings performed by young school children and devised by three local head teachers. Wonderful, total insanity. Brexit was of course one inspiration, trying to put together what has has been torn apart, like England in 1066 and the pieces of Harold himself. The film, by the way, lasts just one hour sixty-six seconds!

Andrew Kötting's Lek and the Dogs (2017)

 

This is the last of Kötting's Earthworks (or Landworks) trilogy, which also includes This Filthy Earth (2001) and the French-made Ivul (2009), in all three of which French perormance artist and actor Xavier Tchili appears as 'Lek'. This film is based on Hattie Naylor's play Ivan and the Dogs, which itself is based on the true story of the Russian Ivan Mishukov, who as a child left his Moscow home following abuse from his stepfather and his alcoholic mother. He spent two years living  with a pack of dogs which accepted him, although the time Lek spends with the dogs is much longer. With its overvoices by ‘body psychotherapist’, ‘child psychologist’ and ‘animal behaviourist’ it appears very much like a documentary on one of the most terrifying forms of alienation.

There is also something of Samuel Beckett's play Krapp's Last Tape in this, along with Tarkovsky's film Stalker, although it is in a space of its own. Kötting'x Lek is less adaptable than the non-fictional Ivan, and he leaves his girlfriend Mina and his child to return to the world he knew before. At the end of the film I thought Lek was walking around a dog cemetery, and then a quotation from Eugene O'Neill: 'There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.'

8 January 2021

Andrew Kötting's Swandown (2012)

 

I know this is an insane premise but then could a mixture of Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair be anything else? This is a journey on a swan-necked pedalo from Hastings to the site of the Olypic Games taken in 2011: a total of 160 miles. We meet Alan Moore on the way, who says (probably more in seriousness than jest) that what the film is about is that Ian Sinclair doesn't want anything to happen in Hackney without his permission. And Sinclair on the dreaded Olympics: 'There's not a thing there that stands up to the reality of being on the River Thames.' So there we have it.

All kinds of odd things happen: for instance, somewhere west of Bodiam Castle they drift past a young woman who seems to be doing an impression of Millais's Ophelia painting (suicide on the river, that is), but both Sinclair and Kötting totally ignore her: stage-managed, of course, and it's for laughs, but it gives a general taste of the film. There are also shots from silent movies, quotations from poems and books, all of course to be expected.

The merry pair travelled for four weeks in September and October 2011, during which they got through 84 litres of water, two bottles of whisky, six bottles of wine and twenty-four cans of Special Brew. They also 'got through' eight pairs of sunglasses, a tailormade suit, a pair of walking boots and, er, a camper van. (Well, that's what it says at the end of the film.) It is also noted that Kötting wore the same clothes every day, although Sinclair 'was changed regularly.'

I'm sure I don't have to say that the whole thing is absolutely preposterous, but of course also really enjoyable.

Andrew Kötting's This Filthy Earth (2001)

 

Andrew Kötting's second film throws us into a frightening world set, I'd say, in at an unknown English place sometime in the first half of the twentieth century. It relentlessly pursues the unbelievable violence, prejudice and wilful ignorance in a self-isolating (yes, I know that word is now overused!) rural community where lust for money, sex and drink are the ruling desires, but not necessarily in that order.

No compromises are made here, and I can only shudder to think what an awful mess Hollywood would have made of this.  The elderly farmer father (Dudley Suttton) is very difficult to get on with (as are most of the characters here. His daughters Kath (Demelza Randall)  and Francine (Rebecca Palmer) work on the farm and the brutish Buto (Shane Attwooll) essentially marries Kate as he is after the property, and indeed begins to declare to most people shortly after marriage that it's his land. As for Kath, well, she's just grateful for a regular sex life. Oh, and Buto's brother is always drunk but has the nickname of 'Jesus Christ' because of his dark long hair and his beard.

Loosely based on Zola's novel La Terre, this is a grim world full of dirt, terrible weather and almost universal piggish behaviour. In fact apart from the weather, I was very much reminded of Adoul's Le Souffle.

Francine is touching though, as is the Russian farmhand Lek (Xavier Tchili), who is inevitably the brunt of so many racist insults. It's Lek who's the most competent of the whole bunch, but as the outsider he's also deeply hated and is the village scapegoat: if anything goes wrong, he's the cause.

I could write quite an amount on this devastating naturalistic movie, but suffice to say that it's a gem.

6 January 2021

Carl Theodor Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'arc | The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

 

Originally intended as a talkie, this silent film is considered by many critics as not only a brilliant classic of the silent age, but as a classic of cinema tout court, one of the best films ever made. Here, Jeanne d'arc (Renée Falconetti) is forced into a farcical trial in which it is demanded that she recant her perceived heresy, her hearing voices directly from God, and to 'admit' that she heard voices from the devil. For that, her life will be spared.

Of course, Jeanne refuses to listen to the hypocrites and is burned at the stake. Many believed that a saint had been burned. A stunning film by any measure.

Lisa Barras D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's Good Vibrations (2016)

 

This is the (partly fictionalised) story of the iconic Terri Hooley, who of course set up the 'Good Vibrations' record shop in Belfast, which was seen by some as a crazy thing to go during the Troubles in the 1980s. Terri has no objection to crazy, and at now over seventy – admitting that he has to slow down a bit and that it took him a week to recover from a visit to Amsterdam – also admits that he has the mental age of an eleven-year-old. Some exaggeration there of course, but we understand what he means, and also understand how he must have felt during the generally more positive side of his musical life shown here.

So Terri starts the 'Good Vibrations' shop in the early 1980s – which incidentally has been through at least eleven lives – and a little later started the record label of the same name due to the booming Belfast punk scene. Such bands as The Outcasts were prominent, although the most noted one is of course The Undertones, whose 'Teenage Kicks' became so legendary.

Terri is seen giving his all to ensure that John Peel hears 'Teenage Kicks', a record which he plays twice in a row - something he'd never done before. The sight of Terri (played by Richard Dormer) and his partner Ruth (Jodie Whittaker) dancing for joy when they listen to this magic moment must be the highlight of the film. (Peel always called it his all-time favourite song, and even had a line of it inscribed on his headstone.)

This is the story of a guy who's definitely not in it for the money but the sheer love of rebellious music that is intended to break through any sectarian boundaries.

Alain Jessua: Crèvecœur (1999)

Many French film directors are also writers, but Alain Jessua (1932-2017) made films until 1997 (one intial short and nine features), and then turned novelist, with eight to his credit. Le Crèvecœur ('Crève-cœur' meaning 'heartbreak') is a fictional village here, and in this first novel are many of the features in his films: desperation, artificiality, sex, the future, technology, surveillance, a general sense of anarchy, etc.

France is now essentially an urban country, with people being encouraged (almost forced) to move out of the country, which is a lawless zone where savage human 'rats' terrorise the remaining people. Paris is now a spotless city with polished pavements and businesses run by the state: the penalty for dropping litter is a three-month prison sentence, although it's all right for people to have sex (discreetly?) in churches, as long as condoms are not discarded as litter. Churches are for anyone to enjoy, especially the mainly elderly prayers, and there are images of Muhammad along with other religious icons.

There are essentially two interlinked stories here, with the young Isabelle being rescued from being raped by two 'rats' in a savage area by two cops, and the commissaire Chêne taking her under his control. He's given two weeks to solve the mystery of this girl, whom he 'adopts' into his childless family and who slowly comes to appreciate him not as a potential (and illegal) lover but as someone who genuinely wants to help her – a rare thing in the world that France has now become.

And France is now a police state, where everyone dutifully watches everyone else, including the 'rats', some of whom work for the cops: it's impossible to know what information is being gathered on you. Here cameras don't seem too widely available, but they are left in homes as bugging devices.

There are 'visiophones' and it's by a 'disquette' that Chêne learns of the history of Isabelle's step-father Louis Moulin and his grandfather, the information on it slowly unravelling as this fascinating novel progresses.

4 January 2021

Bruno Dumont's Hors Satan | Outside Satan (2011)

As I mentioned in a recent post, Hors Satan is influenced by Dreyer's Ordet*, although there are many differences: unlike Ordet, Hors Satan is almost entirely set outside; there is very little language and even that – French viewers have complained – is often inaudible because of natural background sounds; there is physical  violence, although little mental violence; no character is named, only a dog.

Le Gars is David Dewaele and La Fille is Alexandra Lemâtre, and the photography of Yves Cape is exceptional. In terms of genesis, the hermit in Dumont's La Vie de Christ was the inspiration: he wanted to make a film about this hermit, although it must be added that Dumont is an atheist. Le Gars sleeps rough in the area to the north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, and le Fort d'Ambleteuse appears in a few of the shots, on one occasion close up.

The fascinating point in this controversial film is that Le Gars can be read as a holy figure, Christ even, or maybe Satan, maybe both. He has a strong platonic relationship with the pale, much younger Goth-type Fille, and although she'd like to make the relationship physical he is opposed to it. At the beginning he kills her sexually abusive stepfather with a rifle which (casually) seems to appear by magic: oddly, the police don't question this odd stranger who is so linked to the murdered father's daughter, but then Le Gars seems to have some kind of (spiritual?) immunity. Later, when La fille mentions that the warden has tried to chat her up, even(!) kissed her, the obviously jealous Gars beats the shit out of him, probably even kills him, but the police don't pay him any mind.

Not only do the wind and the birds make noises, but we hear the breath of any physical action of the characters, including walking around the dunes where Le Gars lives. He not only lives outside time, but outside society, although he's obviously highly respected and cures a young girl, for which his mother thanks him as if he were Christ. For food, he just knocks on doors and is given sandwiches: La Fille even takes in his dirty clothing and hands it back clean. He spends much time praying, looking at the vastness of the ocean and wandering around the dunes with or without La Fille.

There's a fire in one scene, a huge one without any obvious cause. Le Gars walks with La Fille, instructs her to walk on water (in fact on bricks very thinly dividing two small areas of water) and the fire is out. It's a miracle (remember Dreyer)!

There are also noisy human sounds in this film, shouts, shreaks, maybe of torture, maybe of ecstasy, maybe of both. A female hiker asks him the way, he just points without turning to look at her, she joins him, they go through a fence towards the sea, sit down and she produces two beers, puts her arm around his neck and tells him he can fuck her, does he want to? He nods, she strips naked, he remains fully clothed but unzipped and she screams as he fucks her, she foams at the mouth and he kisses her too at the same time as he puts his hand to her throat. Silence. Has he killed her? No, maybe not, as she dives into the water as if she's been reborn again. Later, the police are seen removing a body.

Le Gars is taken away by the police and then released. Then a man neither Le Gars nor La Fille have a liking for is arrested for the murders, his dog (the only being with a name in this film) takes to him, and they both leave the hamlet and walk off to another town. This film is mysterious, inscrutable, exasperating for many, but the meaning can be debated forever: the mark of a truly great film.

*The influence of Robert Bresson is also obvious.

Ousmane Sembène's La Noire de... | Black Girl (1966)

Ousmane Sembène, who is perhaps better known as a writer – particularly of Les Bouts de bois de Dieu (1966) – than a film director, certainly intended his film La Noire de... to mean more than the English version Black Girl*. The 'de' can mean 'from', as in 'from Senegal', but possession is surely indicated here? The black girl (and even the word 'girl' is demeaning) belonging to... who? A nameless white couple of slave drivers in fact.

The illiterate Diouana has sought work as a housekeeper or nursemaid in Dakar, where the white family was very reasonable to her and her main task was looking after the children. Obviously she welcomed going to work in Antibes for them with open arms: a chance to see the former mother country, to live on the Côte d'Azur!

Unfortunately things don't work out at all as planned, and – the children presumably being away at a boarding school – she is expected to be a maid, making all the meals, doing the washing up, the washing and the laundering, obeying her employers' every whim, not even being allowed the chance of seeing anything of the environment she's in: she knows no one, can't communicate her problems, and is treated as a slave, held prisoner to the couple who present her to friends as an exotic toy. Her employers have no conception that they are destroying her, call her lazy and don't understand why she is unhappy. She must be ill.

Diouana is definitely ill, although her illness is entirely caused by her employers. She chooses to end her life by slitting her throat in the bath. She becomes a brief 'fait divers' in the local newspaper, and on the husband's return to the bidonville where Diouana's mother lives, the reception he receives is very cold.

'La Noire de...' was originally published as a short story in the magazine Présence africaine in 1961, and the following year by Présence africaine publishers in a collection of the author's short stories called Voltaïque.

3 January 2021

Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet | The Word (1955)

 

Many film directors have been influenced by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and among those influenced by his Ordet are Bruno Dumont in Hors Satan and Denys Arcand's Jésus de MontréalOrdet was adapted from the 1932 play by Kaj Munk. Its dramatic roots are evident from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film, shot almost entirely indoors in two homes, although even then virtually entirely in a farmhouse.

The essential story is of this farming family which is very religious. The father Morten Borgen lives with his three sons – Johannes, Mikkel and Anders, and his daughter-in-law Inger  who is married to Mikkel.

Johannes is the problem because, although his father intended him to be a pastor, his head became turned by reading Kierkegaard and he now seems to be in full nervous breakdown mode, spending time out on the sand dunes and quoting from the bible as if he were Christ.

However, Johannes states that Inger – now sleeping after her child died during labour – is now in fact dead, which is correct. And when Johannes returns from the dunes to a house full of mourners and a horse-drawn hearse outside, he says, to the consternation of those in the house, that she can be ressurrected. He asks her to awaken, which she does, then this miracle turns the atheist Mikkel into a believer. The closing scene is one of the most moving in movie history.

It sounds strange that such a film – filled as it is with religious zeal and petty religious sectarian rivalry – should have such relevance to the (serious) film industry today, but it does. Critic Robert Ebert said that Ordet is 'a difficult film to enter. But once you're inside, it is impossible to escape'.

2 January 2021

Fabrice Du Welz's Adoration (2019)

 

Fabrice Du Welz's Adoration essentially concerns two young people: the twelve-year-old Paul (Thomas Gioria) and the slightly older Gloria (Fantine Harduin), who is a dangerous paranoid patient at the remote psychiatric hospital in Belgium where Paul's mother works, and where she has sworn that her son will have no involvement with the patients.

Paul seems a little odd in some ways, possibly slightly autistic, although his mother is odd too: she asks him, for instance, if Paul finds Gloria prettier than her. In any case Paul, bored by his seclusion in the woods where the hospital is, is obviously smitten by this powerful and inefffable creature that is Gloria, and will not listen to his mother's or the staff's concerns about him having anything to do with her.

Nevertheless Paul – an extremely gentle young man who cries on learning of the death of a chaffinch he has freed from netting, and knows about the habits of barn owls (birds are important in this film) – runs away with Gloria, and (very inventively) she tells him of the imprisonment she is suffering from her uncle who is after her money. Gloria pushes Dr Loisel (Gwendolyn Gourenec) down the stairs to her death and the two escape.

And it's a precarious escape with Paul and Gloria living on berries and anything they can steal from places. Gloria wants to go to a house in Brittany (4000 miles away), so Paul (completely smitten by this increasingly maniacal, beautiful creature) is game for it.

Their run includes train-hopping Belgian-style, finding a houseboat where the owners have their faith in them and Gloria burns their home down because she thinks they're snake-eyed pigs, and all the time, even as she's drawing more dependent on and closer to Paul, the more she behaves violently towards him.

Towards the end, after being knocked out by his amoureuse on a rowing boat with an outboard motor that they've found, Paul finds himself in the riverside home of Hinkel (Benoît Poelvoorde), a man who has a huge tatoo of a grey heron on his back, and for years has visited the grey herons nearby, the monogamous grey herons living where he hears the voice of his dead wife and communicates with her. No, he's not mad and Paul puts his arm round him. While Gloria is still sleeping, Hinkel tries to fish the true story from Paul as he knows Gloria is very sick. He gets Paul to play the three-egg game with him, and in so doing finds the phone number of Paul's mother.

Gloria – who has been growing increasingly paranoid about hens and her uncle (and Hinkel has hens) – instructs Paul to kill the man. He doesn't, but as Hinkel is driving them away Gloria strangles him, Paul and a bloodied Gloria crawl from the car and continue going somewhere (or nowhere) in the boat, faithful herons flying ahead.

This is quite a movie.

Céline Sciamma's Tomboy (2011)

 

The French for 'tomboy' is 'garçon manqué', but that expression is probably avoided here as a title to avoid confusion with David Delrieux's film of the name made the previous year. Laure (Zoé Héran) is ten years ago and certainly makes a convincing boy. She has recently moved with her family – her unnamed parents and her younger sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) – to a flat in a new area. School has yet to begin, and this is very much a film in which children at play have a high profile.

On first meeting Lisa (Jeanne Disson) Laure says her name is Michaël, and is introduced to the other local children – all boys apart from Lisa – and is wholly accepted as a boy. Inevitably, despite this acceptance her days as a boy are numbered. The first hurdle is playing football for a time: her breasts undeveloped, she can remove her tee-shirt with no problem, but if she wants to go to the toilet she can't just go near the bushes at the edge of the pitch and stick out what she doesn't have to stick out. So she goes into the forest, but the boys call her (male, of course) name, she wets herself, and is of course laughed at.

Another ordeal is swimming, although she deals with that by putting a piece of plasticene between her legs. Then her sister Jeanne wants to see 'Michaël's' friends so she has to be sworn to secrecy. During the family evening meal Jeanne, when asked by her mother if she had a good time with Laure's friends, says she did, and that her favourite is Michaël: both girls laugh stupidly at this.

But time is closing in and Jeanne can't understand why Michaël's name isn't on the list of pupils attending the school lessons. There are only two weeks to go but in fact it's Laure herself who brings about the resolution of the problem: a boy pushes Jeanne, Laure hits him and his mother appears on the family doorstep with her son complaining about Michaël's behaviour. What Michaël? The secret's out and Laure is now seen as an oddity by her former friends.

This film, in its simple way, is making a very important point about difference, about the outsider trapped in a gender she (in this case) can't relate to. In 2019 Sciamma went on to win the Queer Palm at Cannes with Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, which was translated as Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Nicolas Bedos's La Belle époque (2019)

 

This second feature by Nicolas Bedos took some critics by surprise with its intellegence and its complexity, although some thought the film was hopeless. Victor (Daniel Auteuil) is in his sixties and his career as a cartoonist has come to a stop, although he still draws. He's married to psychoanalyst Marianne (Fanny Ardent) who's having an affair with François (Denis Podalydès), Victor's friend.

The problem is that Victor is technophobic: he can't understand computers, doesn't have a mobile phone, hates his wife's GPS, and while in bed with his wife – who's wearing a virtual reality headset – he's reading Modiano's Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue. This title is significant because he sees the café La Belle Époque in Lyon as the most important turning point in his life, where he met Marianne.

The couple's rich son Maxime (Michaël Cohen) has a friend from childhood, Antoine (Guillaume Canet) – who's known and respected Victor – and to perk his father up he's given him an invitation to Antoine's Les Voyageurs du temps. This is a business for wealthy people which is a mixture of theatrical artifice and historical reconstruction in which clients can visit a studio set at any time they choose to live in for the day (or more) – they could be visiting Ernest Hemingway, Hitler, a king's court hundreds of years ago, etc. It's like a film set with actors playing their roles strictly according to the given period. Victor chooses to return to 16 May 1974, the day he met Marianne. The secretary takes his measurements to supply him with the correct clothing to wear, asks him questions about what happened on this occasion, what was said, etc, so that this can be reproduced. Victor willingly supplies the many sketches he made of the occasion: the idea isn't that Victor will be travelling back in time, but that the flavour of the period will return to him.

This is where viewers unfamiliar with French culture will miss out on a number of things that have been recreated when Victor visits the past, such as seeing Danièle Gilbert's golden moptop hairstyle on television; the six eggs in their holder in the bar; the Renaud lookalike in the corner with his guitar; the newspaper France-Soir; the Suze drink, and so on.

Victor is enchanted when he meets Margot (Doria Tillier) playing Marianne and asks her questions, the answers to which are provided by Antoine and his team swiftly consulting the internet and Victor's dusty drawings: they can see what's happening through a two-way mirror, and the actors have earpieces through which the information is conveyed. So far so good, and this is highly imaginative stuff.

The trouble is partly that fantasy mixes too much with reality. I found the second part both too contrived and predictable: the hippy scenes weren't convincing, especially the parody of the orgy; obviously Victor would fall in love with Margot; and Marianne – really irritated by François's snoring and even wearing her VR headset when he's licking her – will of course return to Victor. Yes, it had to be a happy ending.

1 January 2021

Olivier Assayas's Irma Vep (1996)

 

Olivier Asseyas's Irma Vep is a film about a film crew making a remake of Louis Feuillade's silent ten-part classic Les Vampires (1915), with Musidora playing the rooftop jewel thief Irma Vep (an anagram of 'vampire').

The film gives several stabs at the state of the film industry of the time, with the director of the remake being played by Truffaut's iconic Nouvelle Vague actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, here seen as a neurotic, superannuated director (René Vidal) trying to capture back his former glory. He's chosen to have Maggie Cheung (who plays herself playing herself in Assayas's film) as Irma Vep, and it becomes apparent that he's interested in her playing in a skintight black latex suit bought from a sex shop. (Interestingly, Asseyas himself must have been taken by it too, and not so long afterwards he married Cheung, although they separated in 2001.)

The lesbian dress designer Zoé (Nathalie Richard), also a heroin dealer who incidentally is sexually attracted to Maggie, tells her over a meal in a cafeteria that Hollywood is all money and show for very little return. And during an interview Maggie is told by her interviewer (played by Antoine Basier) that René's cinema is passé, as is today's French cinema, which is all about navel-gazing solely designed for intellectuals: in part, no doubt Asseyas agreed with these sentiments.

Although Maggie – speaking no French and the film thus being filled with French and mainly badly spoken English (especially by Léaud) – seems really lost in this insane world, she tries to get into the part, even to the point of stealing jewels from her hotel (in her latex gear) and throwing them into the street from the rooftop: very odd scenes.

René hates the filming and walks out on the first takes, later attacks his wife and has a nervous breakdown. There is no way he can continue the film. It is decided that the director José Murano (played by Lou Castel, who also imitated Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Fassbinder's own Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte (Beware of a Holy Whore) (1971)) will take René's place, although Murano is adamant that Maggie must go as a Chinese woman playing the lead part in a French remake is ridiculous: he chooses Laure (Nathalie Boutefeu) for the role, and of course a new stuntperson will have to be found.

A crazy, fun film who film lovers who will appreciate the references, and maybe a more important film of Assayas's than some critics have said.

31 December 2020

Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper (2017)

 

The title of an article in the Los Angeles Times's 11 March 2017 is 'Director Olivier Assayas’ films are obsessed with public image and female celebrity, including his latest, "Personal Shopper"'. Most of this film revolves around Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who is a 'personal shopper', meaning that she buys goods for rich customers who don't have the time or effort to do so themselves. She works for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) in Paris, and of whom we (and Maureen) see virtually nothing, which is partly why she is so pissed off.

But Maureen had a twin brother (Lewis), who died of a heart defect that she may or may not have too. But Lewis was a medium, and Maureen (neither a believer nor a disbeliever in the paranormal) feels that he may have left his presence in his home in the Parisian area where he lived with his partner Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). She spends some days in the house and sees the angry ghost of a woman who spews out ectoplasm, and then goes. Perhaps that's the end of the problems.

But as Maureen embarks on a vicarious shopping spree for Kyra, visiting London by train, she gets a constant flood of texts from an unknown person, and suspects that that person is the spirit of Lewis. The viewer is somewhat less believing, realising that there is an unknown problem here, and that Maureen is perhaps leading herself into a kind of adolescent trap that most women would have worked out beforehand: a ghost who can not only text but you can see taking time to text? Nah.

In the end it's proved (or is it?) to be the married Kyra's lover (but only for sex(?)) Ingo (Lars Eidinger) who's been sending the texts, and who murders Kyra. And as Maureen leaves Paris to join her boyfriend (who's been working in Muscat, Oman) in the mountains, why is it that an empty glass in the primitive holiday home moves by itself and then crashes? Real, imagined or poltergeist? As Kristen Stewart herself says: 'There is this default reality that we all agree to live in with each other; [Maureen] is not in it at all.' She says that her character is the loneliest person she's ever played.

In the film, there are two specific people mentioned in relation to the paranormal: the female Swedish painter and theosophist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a pioneer of abstract art; she was interested in the paranormal, taking part in and organising spiritualist sessions; some of her abstract paintings, examples of automatic art, were made in a state of semi-trance. Victor Hugo (1802-85) is also mentioned (and played by Benjamin Biolay!): Hugo was exiled in Jersey from 1853-4 and tried (in table-turning sessions) to make contact with the his daughter Léopoldine Vacquerie (1824-43), who drowned at Villequier at the age of nineteen.

This French film is in English, although there are insignificant short scenes in (unsubtitled) French and German. All the same, in any language it pays to watch this brilliant and deliberately irresoluts  film more than once.