6 May 2021

Édouard Niermans's Le Septième Juré (2008)

Le Septième Juré is an adaptation of Francis Didelot's novel of the same name (1958). A film of the same name was also made by Georges Lautner in 1962, set in Pontarlier, Doubs.

Grégoire Duval (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is a chemist who lives with his wife Geneviève (Isabelle Habiague) in provincial France and then one day, while fishing and in a moment of insanity strangles a young woman in a barn. This matter occurs at the end of the Algerian war and many French people are racist, which provides a suitable occasion for the Algerian Khader Boualam (Lahcen Razzougui), the woman's last lover, to be tried for the murder: he is just the scapegoat France needs.

But Grégoire is on the jury and tries his best to point out inconsistencies in the trial: he is wracked with guilt that an innocent person possibly faces the death sentence and he has sleepless nights. He tells his wife the truth but she swears him to a vow of silence because Grégoire's being found guilty would destroy them.

In the end Grégoire can't live with himself, hangs himself in the same barn, and leaves a confession of two murders which are promptly destroyed. So much for justice.

Stéphane Brizé's La Loi du marché | The Measure of a Man (2015)

This film has been compared to some of Ken Loach's film, and of course those of the Frères Dardenne, who must to some extent themselves be influenced by Ken Loach: Loach is a huge name in European Francophone countries, and only a few weeks ago the left-wing Édouard Louis, who originally stems from a basic working-class background in Picardy, published a booket containing a conversation he had with Loach: although without the humour of Loach, this superb film carries the same gritty realism and empathy for the downtrodden, the laissés-pour-compte, as the British director's.

Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is long-term unemployed ex-factory worker with a wife, and a child with severe communication problems. He runs the whole gamut of useless bank advice, scratching a living in poverty, and worse-than-useless unemployed courses which leave people more disillusioned and helpless than before. Eventually he finds a job as a security guard in a supermarket but has to walk out of it because his dignity won't allow him to collar cash-strapped fellow workers for stealing. Welcome to the modern world of work in which class solidarity is a thing of history. A super film which, as I say in the post immediately below, owes something to Patrice Deboosère's Lundi CDI.

Patrice Deboosère's Lundi CDI | Probationary Period (2010)

 

This is a short lasting seventeen minutes. Éric (François Godart) is looking of a CDI, or Contrat de travail à durée indéterminée, a permanent work contract. He begins working as a supermarket security guard, although from the beginning he seems unsuited to the task: his reaction to his boss José (Éric Savin) calling a young child's parents to report him stealing seems a little exaggerated. But more is to come: a woman is caught stealing underwear and she breaks down in the office, causing embarrassment to Éric. She says she has no money to pay for the goods but says he can take it out on her body as his boss does. Éric is dumbfounded, takes the electronic device from the clothing and tells her to go.

In the car park she gets in her car, takes her wig off and phones the supermarket manager, telling him that he eventually cracked: 'trop affectif' ('too emotional'). And so we realise that this is a strong comment about the brutal reality of the business world.

Originally, Vincent Lindon had the idea of turning Lundi CDI into a feature film, although he later learned that Stéphane Brizé had adopted the idea: Deboosère's short inspired Brizé to make La Loi du marché. There are in fact a number of similarities between the two films.

5 May 2021

Francis Veber's L'Emmerdeur | A Pain in the Ass (2008)

No, this isn't the legendary L'Emmerdeur (1973) with Jacques Brel and Lino Ventura, directed by Édouard Molinaro and inspired by Francis Veber's play Le Contrat (1971), but the same film directed by the original playwright Francis Veber, and if that doesn't confuse people nothing will.

But then this is a François Pignon film, starring Patrick Tamsit as Pignon and Richard Berry as Milan. Milan is a hired killer intending to assassinate Randoni (Michel Aumont), who is about to give evidence in a trial concerning political corruption, and his hotel room overlooks the Palais de Justice: yeah, OK, there has to be a suspension of disbelief otherwise no film.

Pignon is obviously a Veberian Pignon, meaning he's stupid, although probably by no means that stupid, maybe even more clever than most of the rest, but certainly shunned by society, and here his wife in particular: she (Louise as Virginie Ledoyen) has gone to live with psychiatrist Wolf (Pascal Elbé), who is definitely more stupid than Pignon.

Pignon is so distressed that he wants to kill himself, but brings down not only his shower head but his water supply in the process: time for the domestic to help, but Milan assures him he'll take care of the job, hiding his artillery at the same time as he tries to pacify Pignon. There's a Pignon in all of us, a hero and a coward, a genius and an idiot, a philosopher and a Colin Wilson, but Veber hits out at all stupidity and mindless pretentiousness. I loved this film, but I absolutely have to see Édouard Molinaro's original movie.

4 May 2021

André Téchiné's La Fille du RER | The Girl on the Train (1986)

This film was inspired by Jean-Marie Besset's play RER, which in turn was inspired by a true event in 2004 in Paris when a young woman went to the police to register an anti-Semitic attack on her on the D line of the RER. It provoked a wave of protest in the country, with a great deal of media interest. A few days later she admitted that she'd invented the story.

Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) is rollerblading and attracts the attention of Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who's doing the same. And he's pretty insistant on getting to know her. Jeanne is unemployed and lives modestly with her mother Louise (Catherine Denueve) who looks after children as a livelihood. When Franck finds a job the young couple live together, until Franck is severely wounded by a knife blow over a drug deal. It's then that Jeanne's life begins to crumble, along with her mind. I would hardly think that this film has anything to do with racism, more the fragility of psychology, especially in the younger generation.

Philippe de Broca's La Gitane | The Gypsy (1986)

I'd not seen any of Philippe de Broca's films before, but this is quite simply a disaster. There are very few reviews of it but most of those admit that this is a very bad film for him. This was the eighties, so perhaps we can forget a comment to the effect that a temperamental computer must be female as it's indisposed once a month, but not the rest of this apparently characteristic blend of comedy and thriller.

Hubert (Claude Brasseur) is a banker divorced from Brigitte (Stéphane Audran) for ten years, although she still frequently contacts him, and she and his daughter Florence (Valérie Rojan) insist his lover Elsa (Clémentine Célarié) is a pute. His secretary Mlle Chaprot (Marie-Anne Chazel) also has eyes for him, although he calls her ugly because of her glasses and slight lack of make-up.

And then the explosion happens: the beautiful gypsy Mona (Valérie Kaprisky) steals his car, he reports it to the police and suddenly the not only beautiful but extremely intelligent, enterprising woman is part of his life, she visits his office, his home, robs the museum of some treasures, robs his bank, has him chase her all over the world, up the Tour Eiffel, they're in love, and that's as far as I'm going. Yes, a disaster, but there are a few moments of interest.

Could it be that the gypsy Ali Baba 'cave' of recycled wonders influenced Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Tire-Larigots in Micmacs?

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze's L'Eau à la bouche (1960)

Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, one of the co-founders of Cahiers du cinéma, is also one of the half-forgotten directors associated with the Nouvelle Vague. He only directed seven films. L'Eau à la bouche is scored by the music of Serge Gainsbourg, the tune of the same name being played several times, sometimes using the words, others only the music, as with Gainsbourg's more uptempo 'Judith'. The film is perhaps representative of the new sexual freedom, with six of the main characters here pairing off.

Virtually the whole of this film is a flashback to the day before, when three people were intended to come to the their late grandmother's château where one of the granddaughters – Miléna (Françoise Brion) – has been living. The other grandchildren are Fifine (Alexandra Stewart) and Jean-Paul (Paul Guers), although just for a laugh Robert (Jacques Riberolles), Fifine's boyfriend, is pretending to be Jean-Paul, to the annoyance of Fifine who nevertheless doesn't say anything. Also present in the château are the lawyer Miguel (Gérard Barray) who has come to read the will, the sex-mad butler César (Michel Galibru) and the new maid Prudence (Bernadette Lafont), plus the all-knowing Florence (Florence Loinod), the cook's granddaughter.

As night falls César sleeps with Prudence, Fifine with Miguel and Miléna with Robert, who is denounced under his true identity by Prudence in the morning. With the coming of Jean-Paul the scene returns to the beginning and continues with Fifine greeting her brother.

All this is played out gloriously theatrically in the sumptuous fading splendour of Château d'Aubiry, Céret (Pyrénées-Orientales), where the only telltales of ruin I noticed was in the broken windows of one of Gustave Eiffel's greenhouses.

Mouth watering.

3 May 2021

Claude Goretta's Pas si méchant que ça | The Wonderful Crook (1974)

Claude Goretta got his idea for Pas si méchant que ça from two news stories: one about the head of a Swiss business in financial difficulties who could only pay his employees by staging hold-ups, and the other of a man who kidnapped the son of a CEO by making him laugh by dressing up as Pinocchio. The idea is that, well, the robber here, Pierre (Gérard Depardieu), tries to calm his victims by showing them that he's not as nasty as that.

Pierre and his wife Marthe (Dominique Labourier) are living a comfortable bourgeois existence in the family woodcraft business which his father (until illness and death) has always been in charge of. And then things go wrong, the artisanal practice is menaced by plastic. But Pierre doesn't want to sack anyone, he'd rather rob businesses than that. And then one day he robs a post office, fires a shot at the ceiling and Nelly (Marlène Jobert) faints. Pierre rushes over the other side of the counter to help her and that's the start of a weird friendship. How was she to know that the gun was no longer loaded?

Eventually they become lovers, she – much to his disgust – even carries out a hold-up herself, heavily disguised and holding up an instruction card to hide her sex. Pierre's leading a double life, both very separate from the other. Until he's inevitably caught and the two women can only look on as the police arrest him.

Gilles Grangier's Le Voyage à Biarritz | The Trip to Biarritz (1963)

In a few seconds, Fernandel can turn joy into sadness, hope into despair, farce into pathos. Le Voyage à Biarritz manages to include comments on the cruel facelessness of economic reality, the class system, the brutal nature of the commercial world, the mindlessness of the paparazzi, the changing nature of society in general and – for good measure – the perceived artificial, mechanical nature of the English; and yet at the same time the film very much remains a traditional comedy. It's based on Jean Sarment's play of the same name, first staged at the Comédie-Française in 1936.

Guillaume Dodut (Fernandel) is the slightly clownish, hot-tempered but loveable stationmaster at Puget-sur-Var (today known as Puget-sur-Argens) who is furious that the last train to stop at the station is to be withdrawn and he has a furious slanging match with coach driver Louis (Rellys) in Le Café de la Gare, which is run by Fernande (Arletty in her last film role). He grabs Louis by the lapel, calling him a fossoyeur (gravedigger), meaning he's in part responsible for the death of rural train stations.

But he's prevented from going further in his anger with Louis when the postman delivers a letter from London, from his twenty-five year old son Charles (Jacques Chabassol). Since Charles was five and expressed a wish to visit Biarritz, the family have learned by heart the blurb about the town and for twenty years Gauillaume has nurtured a burning wish to visit Biarritz with his wife Madeleine (Hélène Tossy) and Charles: he knows all about the delights of the hotels and the scenery. Unfortunately, Charles has other ideas: the letter reveals that he has passed his exams in London as an engineer, although not that he is friendly with the boss of the engineering company, or that he intends to marry Marjorie (Anna Massey): that would be a huge blow to his father, who wants his son to marry Thérèse (Catherine Sola), the station ticket girl.

There are two wonderful scenes in which the English are satirised, the first being when Charles visits Marjorie's family for tea. Her parents simultaneously take the teacups to their mouths, simultaneously put the cups down, simultaneously put a marmelade sandwich to their mouths, simultaneously put them down: all to an infuriatingly repetitive, toy-like musical score: this is a foretaste of Guillaume's later visit to London, where he sees the Changing of the Guard, and says 'On dirait des automates..les soldats de bois' ('They look like robots...wooden soldiers').

Guillaume in London sounds an odd thing, but he's won fourth prize in a Café Bolivar competition: a day in the capital. The coffee company has drawn up a full day for him, including many photo opportunities, many occasions for advertising the coffee, as newspaper vans follow them around and Guillaume has no chance of seeing his son. In fact the last thing his son wants is to be seen with his father in his stationmaster unifrom as it would no doubt put his future in-laws off if they realised anything about Charles's humble beginnings.

But Charles does return to visit his parents, although while they're about to eat the phone goes and it's his London girlfriend Marjorie telling him that her parents were so enchanted by what he's told them about Biarritz that they've decided to spend there holidays there, and it goes without saying the they want him there too. So Charles invents a story to the effect that he's being called away to Biarritz to work as an engineer and he wouldn't have any time for his parents even if they went to Biarritz too: a lie, but a half-lie. Guillaume's wife has already understood the truth: the upwardly mobile Charles has moved on to fresh pastures, or as Fernande puts it, the heartbroken Guillaume is on a different track to his son.

Or maybe not. Charles will be losing his roots, trading his natural, fun- and sun-filled Provence for boring, fog-filled clockwork England. So he fixes Louis's engine, brings more passengers to Thérèse's ticket office than ever before, and she's so sexy and fits so snugly into his arms. Guillaume, of course, provides the final image of the film as he walks the platform with the inevitable toothy, horse-like smile. Precious.

2 May 2021

Jean Boyer's Le Chômeur de Clochemerle | Easiest Profession (1957)

No comment on the ridiculous English translation of the title of this film set in the fictitious Clochemerle. Fernandel (here Tistin) almost always plays the part of the good, constantly smiling toothy, gummy guy, as in this film, where he's at first a tramplike poacher avoiding the gamekeeper Beausoleil (Marcel Perès), who nevertheless enjoys an illegal rabbit stew with Tistin. And then Tistin has a brilliant idea: in a place of full employment, he applies to be a paid member of the unemployed, and succeeds.

He achieves this by the mayor M. Piechut (Henri Vilbert) rigging the vote because he believes that this places Clochemerle at the forefront of social justice, for which Tistin is paid 10,000 francs a month, or the equivalent of over 20,000 euros in today's figures: not a bad haul for doing nothing. But unfortunately the villagers strongly object to Tistin being paid to do nothing, and soon almost everyone is against him.

Until, that is, he starts to do any odd jobs asked of him, and the villagers reward him for it, which he eventually puts in a bank account to the benefit of the village. Result? He's awarded a medal and marries his beloved Jeanette (Maria Mauban). It's all good fun, although I'd have preferred an ending similar to Renoir's Boudu sauvé des eaux.

This film is based on novels by Gabriel Chevallier, who based Clochemerle in Vaux-en-Beaujolais, which now rejoices in the representation with a house with murals of Chevallier's characters, a pissotière, a Clochmerle trail, etc.

1 May 2021

Francis Veber's Le Placard | The Closet (2001)

This can hardly be called one of a series, as there isn't a series, although the main character François Pignon (less often Perrin) appears in Francis Veber's superior comedies a number of times: and he appears as different actors. In part, Pignon is Veber himself, and perhaps the main thing the Pignons (or Perrins) all have in common is that the main character is at variance with consensus reality: they may be shy, obsessional, or any one or a number of other removes away from the norm, but they're out of step. Period. A personal comment: political correctness hasn't even begun to understand the problems it's faced with, and to treat sexuality as a binary is absurd.

Here, François Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) – whose wife has left him taking their son with her – is a minor accountant for a condom company and is facing the sack. Is suicide a possibility? His new neighbour Jean-Pierre (Michel Aumont) seems to think so and tells him that if he jumps from his balcony he'll ruin his (Jean-Pierre's) car: not very neighbourly. So Jean-Pierre invites François in for a drink and tells him he'll find a solution to his problem. And that is: François will have to come out of the closet, admit that he's gay. He isn't, but that's not the point: dismissal on discriminatory grounds is the point, so Jean-Pierre has some compromising photos photoshopped, meaning they're flying all around the office, and of course François's boss Kopel (Jean Rochefort) has problems aplenty.

Francis Veber has a knack of making some really amazing films out of apparently very little material.