Entries tagged with “French cinema”.


The assassination in Prague in 1942 of Reinhardt Heydrich – ‘protector’ of Bohemia and Moravia and one of the planners of the ‘final solution’ – was one of the most spectacular events of WWII. Although it did not change dramatically the fate of the war, it had a strong impact on the moral of both the German as well as the Czech and other nations fighting on the allies side, proving that the Nazi occupiers were not immortal and that punishment was to be inflicted on the heads of their regime. It also led to savage reprisals that destroyed any hope of cooperation between the German and the occupied Czech areas.  ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’ based on a novel by and directed by carefully describes the main characters of this historical drama as well as the events before and after the attack on Heydrich.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3296908

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3296908

 

A few weeks ago I have seen ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ which figured as central character the wife of a Polish Resistance hero who helped him in saving the lives of hundreds of Jews in occupied Poland. The first half of ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’ had the chance to develop as a ‘The Holocaust Planner Wife’ with a description of the biography and ascension to power of Reinhardt Heydrich, from an immoral officer in the German navy to the highest ranks of the SS under the influence of his wife. We are used to think positively about love stories, and this is a love story of a different kind, the one between two mean people, united by an ideology of hate, deeply corrupt despite the cultural polish of their education and hobbies.  This part of the story and the film is supported by the splendid actor work of , with also giving a convincing performance as the hateful and hated ReichProtektor. I liked less the ‘punk’ version of Himmler created by , it was supposed to be sarcastic, but hard to laugh about such an horrific historic character. Over all this part of the film is the best in my opinion, and maybe would have deserved to be developed more. The authors of the script however decided to cut the action in the middle and focus in the second part on the resistance fighters who prepared and executed the assassination, the consequences of their deeds and their fatal fate. It was not bad, but closer to the beaten paths.

 

(video source FilmTrailerZone)

 

Events of WWII like this one seem to continue to be a source of inspiration for film makers – best proof is that ’The Man with the Iron Heart’  is released less than one year away from ‘Anthropoid’. Each brings a different perspective, and some of them succeed in creating solid stories, with heroes we care about (sympathize or hate). It’s the case of this film as well, a film that I recommend.

After having seen last week the 2016 “Frantz” I continued yesterday my ( cure with “The Double Lover” (or “L’amant double” in original) the latest film of the French director, a film that was present also in the 2017 competition at the Cannes festival. Both movies deal with issues of identity, truth and deception and how these can impact relationships between men and women. This is were similarities stop. There are many differences and almost all in favor of the 2016 film.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6367558/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6367558/

 

The story which is ‘freely’ inspired by a novel by Joyce Carol Oates (which has already originated a movie by starts as the story about a relationship between a psychoanalyst and his patient that turns into a strange and uneasy love affair. While the relation between shrink and patient needs to be based on trust and truth, in this case the contrary happens, as each of the two characters avoids fully sharing their feelings, hides things from the past, speaks half truths or plain lies. They seem that they cannot work as a couple on any plan. The bad start of the relation develops to worse and the odd things that happen on screen are complicated by having them told in a mix of genres – French art film with Paris and a museum of disturbing modern art as background, erotic thriller, horror and guilt in the Hitchcock and Polanski traditions. All these get together in a ‘bouillion’ that becomes less and less credible, up to the point that the story cannot be solved but by explaining that all was some kind of dementia delirium with very prosaic physiological roots.  What should have been a sophisticated game of mirrors becomes a multiplication of images by mirrors disposed in a chaotic manner. To make things worse, the ending makes the mistake of explaining too much in sordid details. Hard to believe that the film with this ending comes in the filmography of Ozon just after “Frantz” with the wonderful ambiguity of its open ending.

 

(video source September Film Distribution)

 

Acting is also problematic. Ozon’s choice of actors seems sometimes odd (not only here) because they are characters that do not feel well in their own skins. In this case he chose (his discovery in  “Young & Beautiful “) for a role that needs more expressiveness and fragility than what the actress delivered on screen. There is no chemistry between her and either of the two selves (or twin brothers) played by  . I will never complain about seeing again in a film and I apreciate Ozon’s creating in every film of his strong and interesting feminine characters that break the stereotypes, but her role or maybe roles (another odd double) seem to be wasted talent here.

The Double Lover” never reaches at cinematographic level its ambitions. The jury at Cannes 2017 deserves an award for not giving – despite the names of the director and the cast – any award to this movie.

 

Frantz‘ is one of those films that follows you long after the screening is over. What I and maybe many other viewers of ‘s 2016 film  will remember years from now will be the silhouettes of the two principal heroes – the beautiful German young woman Anna (interpeted by ) whose lover, Frantz,  fell on the front two months before the end of the First World War and the out-of-world French young man Adrien Rivoire (actor ) who is also an ex-soldier, has met Anna’s lover some time in the past, and comes to put flowers on his empty grave and ease the grief of Anna and Frantz’s parents.  One may say that is a miscast, and maybe this is true, but he is a miscast not as an actor, but in the world his fate was to live in.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5029608/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5029608/

 

Frantz himself gives the name of the film, as all characters are tormented by his absence, his falling in the war makes him the victim, but actually everybody in this film is a victim of the absurdity of the war. The film succeeds to present in a moving manner how destinies are cut short by war, and how difficult are healing, forgetting, forgiving. It also asks questions about the capability of humans to cope with the horrors of the past – can they do it while facing the truth which is sometimes more cruel than their imagination allows? Or maybe lies are allowed when they can help healing or avoid reopening fatal wounds?

Ozon’s film also carries an anti-war message. The heroes belong to the two sides of a war that created devastation for both nations. One may have been victor, the other defeated, but both countries are in ruins, millions of lives were lost, the survivors continue to carry the scars of the war traumas but also the germs of hate that will be at the root of the next war. The symmetry of scenes and situations may seem demonstrative, but it’s good to remember that blood, enmity and mistrust divided Europe no so long ago.

 

(video source Moviefone)

 

The film makes use of black and white for the majority of the time, with colors inserted in some key moments, without necessarily marking the borders between reality and imagination, past and present, truth or fiction. It was a very good idea in my opinion to avoid the trap of a happy ending and to leave more ambiguity in place, with a mysterious lesser known painting of Manet handling to the viewers the key to what may have happened next. Questions marks are relevant for both past and future.

Comedies age. All things age actually, films included, comedies included. Seeing 50 years later a film that you remember having laughed at until falling under the chair (this is a Romanian expression, I hope it’s clear what it means) is risky. The experience was interesting and surely much different.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060474/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060474/

 

Filmed in 1966, a little more than 20 years after the end of WWII, ‘s La Grande Vadrouille represents a certain step in the evolution of the French (and not only French) films about the war that devastated Europe and the whole world. Taking distance and starting to allow ridicule replace at least in part hate and contempt for the German former enemies was not a completely new thing, I can remember ‘s Babette Goes to War which preceded it with seven years. Yet, in this story about three British airmen parachuted in occupied Paris and saved by a band of French civilians including a famous music conductor (), a humble paint-man () and a blue-eyed blonde puppeteer () the enemies are still all bad and stupid. It will take a time for the ‘good German’ to show up in war movies and even more time for the cinematographic acknowledgment of the collaboration with the occupiers. Meantime all French are good guys. Or good girls. Or good nuns.

 

(video source StudiocanalUK)

 

The film enjoyed huge success, it was actually from its release until 2008 the most successful French film of all times. I remember having seen it in the late 60s in Romania, and I read about film fans from China for example enjoying it as a huge success after the end of the Cultural Revolution. To a large extent the success is due to the presence on screen of the two greatest comedy actors of the French cinema at that time – and . Both were huge stars and had brought them together on screen in a previous film, and now wrote the scenario of La Grande Vadrouille especially for them. Most of the time they are together on screen and the comic qualities of the two enhance each other, the chemistry between them is obvious and so is the pleasure of acting. Years have passed and I did not fall under the chair any longer, laughs turned into smiles and nostalgia, and I can also see the naivety of the script and the schematic story line – but it’s certainly mostly me.  The two are again together in my mind, at least for the next 50 years.

It’s only now that I had the occasion to see ‘La vingt-cinquième heure’ (The 25th Hour, or ‘Ora 25′ in Romanian) a film made exactly 50 years ago. In 1967, was at the peak of his acting career and popularity. Three years before he had brought to screen Alexis Zorba, the most memorable of his characters in Zorba the Greek. A year later he was going to be Leon Alastray in Guns for San Sebastian and another year after mayor Bombolini in The Secret of Santa Vittoria. The director was , also close to the peak of his career. The book that inspired the movie however had been published almost two decades earlier, in 1949, the same year that Orwell published his ’1984′. The reference is not simply coincidental. While there is a gap of fame and maybe also of literary quality between the two books, ‘Ora 25′ written by a Romanian exiled named Constatin Virgil Gheorghiu, who was running away from the Communist regime that had taken over his country, and Orwell’s masterpiece deal with the same theme – the absurdity of the fate of the single individuals crushed by the wheels of history.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062445

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062445

 

While Orwell’s ’1984′ was looking into the future, making the novel to belong to the genre of the political futuristic dystopia, Gheorghiu’s novel was set in the recent past (of his time) and derived directly from his personal experience in the second world war. There are some problems here, which folks familiar with the biography of the writer and the history of Romania prior and during WWII will recognize, but which will get lost to many other of the other viewers of the film. The film starts in 1939, in a quasi-idyllic Romania, where peasants prosper, but racial laws against the Jews start to be implemented. This may be almost right, only the details in the film are wrong. Deportation of Jews to work camps did not begin until 1941, when Romania entered the war as an ally of Germany. Germany did not occupy Romania in October 1940 as claimed in the movie. There were German troops in the country but that’s different, they were allied to Romania. It was not king Carol the 2nd who started the deportations, and actually by October 1940 he was gone, having abdicated one month earlier, after Romania had lost parts of his territory to the USSR, Hungary and Bulgaria. The real responsible of most of the Jewish persecutions and deportations was the regime of fascist dictator Ion Antonescu, the one under which the writer, Virgil Gheorghiu served as a minor rank diplomat. There is a subtle but hard to accept deformation of history here, and a dose of self-absolution in his own identification with the main character and with another supporting character, the anti-Fascist writer (role played by ) who in the film writes a book with the same name.

 

(video source CG Entertainment)

 

All these historic details are important certainly for the historical record, for Romanian and Jews who lived the period and their successors. Not that much maybe for the film itself. The story of the Romanian peasant denounced and deported as a Jew by the chief of police in the village who had put an eye on his beautiful and virtuous wife () develops as a Kafka-esque story of injustice and fight to survive in the absurd universe of the Europe devastated by war. , the eternal optimist and and unbreakable human being from Zorba builds on screen another character of the same caliber. We need however to appreciate the courageous approach of the authors of the script and especially of director Henri Verneuil who dared balance horror and humor in describing the saga of the wanderings of Johann/Yankele Moritz – successively confused as Jew, Romanian spy, Nazi – always on the losing side, always beaten but never losing hope. At a time when the WWII conflict was still described on screens on heroic style and manichaeistic terms, the authors of this film created an emotional and human story, and a character that anticipates by almost three decades the ones in the films of and about the Holocaust. After an initial quite conventional start the viewer nowadays will discover a film with a catching story, deep significance and wonderful acting.

What a delight! I remember having seen Le Samouraï as a teenager 50 years ago, during the short few years of ideological and artistic de-icing of the Romanian communist regime between 1964 and 1968, when some of the world cinema crossed the Iron Curtain and hopes to re-connect Romania and Eastern Europe with the rest of the world were growing high. These hopes were cut short by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the melting of the Iron Curtain postponed by more than 20 years. Yet, in that period, a few fine movies were allowed to be seen in the East (some of them ‘shortened’ the scissors of censorship) and this lot included this fine gangster movie, a capitalist product with no moral message, not one that could be explained to the revolutionary masses in any case.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062229

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062229

 

Half a century later I had the feeling to live again some of the sensations at the first screening. I remembered the dark room, the smoke of the cigarette, the tweets of the bird, the raincoat and the hat. ‘s look. ‘s sex appeal. ‘s mystery. The Citroen car and the garage where number plates were switched. The streets of Paris which for me at that time looked like a city from another planet, a place I will never be able to put the feet in.

 

(video source astraydogfilm)

 

Of course, I have learned a few things about cinema in this period of time. I can now trace the predecessors of Le Samouraï in the American gangster movies of the 30s and I know that the raincoat was inherited from Humphrey Bogart. I can also identify countless successors that were inspired by this film. ‘s work aged beautifully and this is due to the minimalist approach that reduces details to the exact amount necessary to create the suspense and describe the situations, to a story which is smart, complex and makes sense from all angles you analyze it, to the magnetic power of the principal actors and to the cool chemistry constructed between them. A film noir for eternity.

 

Thanks to ARTE TV I could see now ‘s ‘film noir’ Tchao Pantin (or So Long, Stooge in its English version) starring in the lead role. The film was made in 1983, at a time when I was busy with changing the course of my life, and no wonder I missed it. It represents a milestone in the career of both Claude Berri who after this film took a three years break in order to create his two best known films – Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring – very different in subject and style, and also in the career of Coluche who assumes here a more ‘classical’ and fully dramatic role which could have been a changing point in his career. One year later however, Coluche will die in a motorcycle accident, and this film includes involuntarily kind of a premonitory coincidence as motorcycles and death play a key role in it.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086420/mediaviewer/rm4069560832

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086420/mediaviewer/rm4069560832

 

The story is quite a typical ‘film noir’ intrigue, with the key characters – a drunkard gas petrol pump seller who hides secrets of a previous tragic life and a loser type of small drug dealer of Moroccan origin who hides his own secrets among which a shelve full of books he claims to have read all, are getting together in a world were there is not much to attach to but maybe a peer similarly broken soul. There is also a girl in the film, a punk girl (we are in the early 80s, remember) but her role will become more clear only in the second part, after the younger character is murdered and the quiet and withdrawn older man engages on the path of finding the killers and revenging his friends. Typical intrigue, as I said, which has little chances to end otherwise than it ends.

 

(video source Criips Buldo)

 

As a reader of the ‘serie noir’ books since childhood I cannot avoid falling under the charm of such stories, especially when they take place in Paris, here a Paris of decrepit houses, or messy small flats, of dangerous streets and dubious bars where everything is trafficked. I was not that surprised to find out that the cinematography belongs to Bruno Nuytten the director of Camille Claudel which I have also seen and written about recently, a film that had an amazing cinematographic look. Coluche seems in this film like having taken inspiration from other Big Silent tough guys in the history of the French cinema, his role could have been played in other times and other periods of their respective careers by screen monsters like Michel Simon or Jean Gabin. I liked the performance of as the young punk girl whose profile and appearance seems to announce a quarter a century early the character of  Lisbeth Salander in the Scandinavian ‘Millennium’ saga. While the story has been played too many times before and after this film to surprise anybody nowadays, there are many good reasons to watch or watch again this movie.

 

 

The year is 2017, Camille Claudel is back in town and she seems to go through a revival and reevaluation of her work and short artistic career. A museum dedicated to her life and art opened in March in the small French town of Nogent-sur-Seine, and the museum includes many of the works that survived the agitated 20th century and the destruction by the artist’s own hands. Books are being written about her, and art history starts to take her seriously into account. Before this however, there were the films, and especially this one  Camille Claudel  from 1988. It is not exaggerated to say, I believe, that the film prepared her comeback to the world of arts.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094828/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094828/

 

Camille Claudel deals more with the character of Camille Claudel, her love story with Auguste Rodin, her relationship with her brother Paul, one of the important French poets of the first half of the 20th century than with her art. Actually one of the few critical observations one may have about the visual part of the film is that there is so little art in it, and from the film we cannot make to ourselves an idea about how good she was. We see an artist fighting with her material, we see a woman fighting prejudice in a world and at a time when women were far from being recognized as equal professionally to men, even less in arts. We see the young woman and artist falling under the fascination of her master and being torn between love and admiration for him, and the need to express herself, to be herself. We see her falling down the spiral of vanity and then madness, and it’s up to us to judge whether the roots of her fall are in the social environment, in the attitude of her lover who may be a great artist but is also a womanizer and small human being in terms of relations, or in her own vanity and narcissism. Add to this the ambiguity of the relationship to her brother, and we can now understand the willingly or not, the focus of the script and director was on her personal path rather than on her art.

 

(video source Diego Correa)

 

For this was the first film as director, but he already had in 1988 a long career as cinematographer, including a few superb films by . Not everything works or better said, not everything stood the almost 30 years since the film was made. is superb, beautiful and ambitious, a fighter but fragile at the same time, turn between love and vanity. This is one of her best roles. is very fit to Rodin’s role, at that time his physical qualities were also perfect and added to his huge talent. The cinematography of the film (signed by Pierre Lhomme ) is excellent, and there are many scenes to remember – in the studio where Rodin and Claudel are shown fighting with the material from which they extracted their works, and out in the nature with clear allusions to the period of the Impressionists when this film is set. On the other hand the soundtrack is horrible. The use of violin music which would have been exaggerated even for a melodrama made in 1938, it’s simply a disaster for this film about art and artists made in 1988. Add to this the poor quality of the sound (at least in the copy screened by ARTE TV) which makes half of the dialog incomprehensible even when it is not covered by violins. Maybe digital sound re-working will sometimes in the future save this film. It is highly deserved.

 

There are so many reasons to like this film. First, the cast includes two of the lead actresses of two different generations – the priceless and prize covered and one of the top performers of the younger generation , who after having started and made herself a name in blockbusters took a turn into her career to more profound and fulfilling roles. Then, it’s a story with multiple threads and subtext, but centered around the show (more specifically theater) business where the two actresses live and breathe. Last but not least, it’s a movie that while well told as a story leaves enough room for mystery and imagination. I am just surprised by the relative low impact the film had in festivals and even with the public – and I suspect that some distribution problems were involved.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254/

 

The story written and brought to screen by is said to have been tailored and designed for , and these fine actress really deserves it and makes the best of it. It’s a story about a theater actress who debuted two decades before the action takes place as the younger pole of a feminine couple in a play that is about power fight between ages and a love story built out of that confrontation. She’s now the age of the older woman in the couple and is asked to play the other other on stage, just after the playwright and mentor has passed away. She accepts half-heartily and starts repeating the role in the cottage located in the Swiss mountains that belonged to the author, together with her young assistant (). Is the relation in life a replica of the one in the play? The borders between the two are blurred away more and more as the story advances … and I will tell no more in order to avoid spoiling any ounce of the pleasure of watching one of the most intelligent and sensitive dialogues and intriguing story line I have seen recently on screens.  I will just say that both actresses are magnificent and that the film tells a lot about relations, friendship, art, the borders between art and life, show business cruel rules and the role that ‘smart’ communications play in our lives.

 

(video source IFC Films)

 

And then we have Switzerland, and its landscapes which play such an important role in the aesthetics and in the drama, maybe exactly because of their beauty and apparent tranquility. I loved the threatening metaphor of the snake that gives the name of the play-in-the-film and shows up only once at a key moment. Or maybe it does not, because there is much that is not told in this movie which is exactly the reason some may not like it, and some other will love it and will continue to be haunted by it after the screening ends. I belong to the later category.

 

is close to 80 years old. I was unaware about this biographical detail until reading his bio on IMDB. I thought about him as being much younger, and the reasons are to be found in his films. Verhoeven is a director who does not avoid controversy, from picking his themes and sources of inspiration to bringing to screen strong and special characters (especially feminine ones) who deal with their fate and their sexuality in a very unconventional manner. The director of RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Starship Troopers, Black Book may be drawing to the end of the 8th decade of his life, but Elle continues to position him as a strong and different kind of director, and does not look at all as a slowing down or concluding film of any kind.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3716530

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3716530

 

The film starts with an ugly and violent rape scene, which sets the main theme the movie deals with, but the way the subject is approached by the main heroine and the director is quite different than expected. The victim is a business woman leading a video games company which produces violent games and has a troubled history of herself. Her father was a serial killer imprisoned for perpetuity (there is no death penalty in France) and his name and dark fame was not forgotten by the public, the blame being reflected on his family as well. The whole family is troubled, relationships are broken or hard to keep, side affairs are managed more or less in the open. No-one seems capable to tell the truth or face truth. Police cannot be involved and the threat of the return of the rapist seems to put pressure on the lead character.

 

(video source FilmIsNow Movie Trailers International)

 

The combination of psychological thriller with dark erotics works well because the story is well written, twists and changes surprise the viewers at many moments, and each of the characters (lead and supporting) has a distinct identity and good reasons to act as they do, although their motives may become clear only late in the story. is the perfect casting for the role of Michele Leblanc, a woman who has seen so many and suffered so much in her life, who tries to find appeasement in sex, but do not expect Verhoeven to present some conventional type of relationship. Michele’s connections with men are all episodes of power fights between sexes, where the apparently stronger side does not always win. At the end, there is no moral in the story, maybe just an anti-moral conclusion. Trying to tell the truth does not pay up for the the hero of this story. Her short tentative to stop lying and fooling around (with herself first of all) fails and resorting back to the smaller or bigger lies is the only way to re-establish the balance for the heroes of the story. Or at least for those heroes who survive by the end of the story.