Tuesday, March 27, 2007

French Film Festival 2

This post covers four films: Premonition, Orchestra Seats, Inside Paris and The Right of the Weakest. I found two impressive, one OK and one tolerable.

Le Pressentiment (Premonition, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, 2006)
Darroussin is perhaps best-known to Australian audiences as a regular member of the ensemble cast in the outstanding and thought-provoking films of Robert Guédiguian such as La ville est tranquille (The Town is Quiet, 2000). Like Guédiguian, Darroussin concerns himself with social issues. Premonition is an impressive debut as feature-film director as well as lead actor in which he portrays an upper-middle class lawyer who is dissatisfied with his bourgeois life, leaving his old life behind to the consternation of his family.

He moves into a poor area of Paris, inhabited with immigrants, single parents, unemployed, prostitutes and the like. Darroussin’s character has a Zen manner as he attempts to emotionally distance himself and yet redeem himself by assisting others according to his means. There are long stretches without dialogue which remind me of Kieslowski’s films and there is one visual salute to the great Polish director: a number of pigeons are fighting over a large piece of bread on a cobblestone gutter. The birds fly away, and we see the bread is within a puddle that momentarily reflects the French flag.

The film’s visuals and narrative are not quite as bleak as Guédiguian’s films but just as serious. The cinematography is pleasing, employing lots of natural lighting and capturing the raw beauty of urban decay. The ending is a little controversial due to its ambiguous nature. This slightly melancholy and subtly uplifting humanistic story is very satisfying – the type of film I go to the festival to see.

Orchestra Seats (Fauteuils d'orchestre, Danièle Thompson, 2006)
In spite of this film being a comedy (as previously stated, I’m not a big fan of contemporary French comedy) and its having a commercial release date (May 24), I went to see this film because it has an OFLC classification (and thus I could take my son).

It’s not a bad film, per se, but as far as I’m concerned is just a crowd pleaser that were it in English, would be completely in place at the cinemaplexes. Sydney Pollack plays a small role as a famous American director, but he is utilised clumsily. I was a little surprised to see that this film was France’s official entry as foreign language film for this year’s Oscars. Not my thing.

Dans Paris (Inside Paris, Christophe Honoré, 2006)
This was an interesting film that I found enjoyable enough, but didn’t fully engage me. I’m not sure if that’s the film’s fault, my not getting it, or just being too tired to appreciate it fully. There was a slight sense of whimsy at times, perhaps to lighten the tone, but mostly it was concerned with the dynamics of three adult males: two brothers and their father.

Romain Duris is an excellent young actor, though for me his best performance was in The Beat My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, Jacques Audiard, 2005) – and what a terrific and apt title that was! In Inside Paris, he portrays a depressed man who moves into his father’s and student brother’s Paris apartment after breaking up with his girlfriend. The family is fractured which provides different suspenseful elements and scenarios.

La raison du plus faible (The Right of the Weakest, Lucas Belvaux, 2006)
Having seen four films at the festival this weekend already, I risked pushing the patience of my partner and suffering further sleep deprivation by going to a late Sunday screening of this film. It was the only opportunity I had to see it, and it was a good decision. This was a terrific film.

It started off as a grim social drama with a The Full Monty scenario – a group of men in an economically depressed steel town play cards in the local pub and bemoan their struggles. Multi-story government housing blocks (whose lifts often break down) overlook the town, and are breeding places of despair. Think Mike Leigh, Ken Loach or, perhaps more aptly, the Dardenne brothers – the film is a Belgian/French co-production set in Liege, Belgium.

The film takes a grim turn when the idea of crime is introduced to alleviate their material conditions. With a rag-tag team that include a recently released criminal (played excellently by the director), an invalid, a not-too-bright worker and an unemployed university graduate, it becomes heart-in-your-mouth suspense as you wonder whether these guys can possibly pull it off.

The cinematography is consistent with the finest of social realist dramas and adds wonderfully to the strong character development and gripping narrative. There is so much heart-aching verisimilitude. Whilst I’m planning to see between two and five more films at the festival, this and Premonition are my pick to date.

My earlier report: French Film Festival 1

Matt Riviera's reports from the Sydney French Film Festival: 1, 2, 3 & 4

The Alliance Française French Film Festival 2007 is screening until Tuesday April 3 at Palace Como, Westgarth and Balywn


Maya said...

Paul, you covered this festival excellently. Thanks for taking the time to articulate your responses and for alerting me to this entry. I look forward to having the opportunity to watch La raison du plus faible (The Right of the Weakest).

I caught Dans Paris at our recent SF International and it was probably in my top five. I found it a sexy homage to the nouvelle vague. Honoré may be beleagering the point, however, as his most recent film at Cannes has come under some criticism for trying to hard to emulate Demy.

Paul Martin said...

Michael, thanks for your comments. My observation is that Inside Paris has split opinions among cinephiles. I thought it was OK; others (like yourself) thought more of it. Similarly, I loved Poison Friends while others found it too theatrical. Such is life...

Myself, I'm not very conversant with the nouvelle vogue nor Demy.