Saturday, March 15, 2008

French Film Festival 3

The latest news from the French Film Festival is that Catherine Deneuve will be in town on Tuesday to introduce her latest film, Après lui (After Him). It screens at 8pm. I've seen the film, but haven't had a chance to post anything about it here yet. In short, it has some good aspects, including Deneuve's performance, but it didn't quite work for me. I do think many others will be more impressed by it than me. More to come. Below are reviews of:
  • L'année suivante (The Year After, Isabelle Czajka, France, 2006)
  • J'attends quelqu'un (Waiting For Someone, Jérôme Bonnell, France, 2007)
  • Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies, Céline Sciamma, France, 2007)
  • Faut que ça danse ! (Gotta Dance!, Noémie Lvovsky, France/Switzerland, 2007)
The Year After
This has been my favourite film of the festival so far (other than Azur et Asmar, that is). It embodies what I love most about French cinema - the ability to take a small story about everyday people, and make it compelling. I think what I like about this type of film has a lot to do with what I consider important about cinema in general. We all lead such busy lives that our emotions are often pushed into the background. Seeing on-screen the plight of others helps me to connect with my own feelings. It reminds me of when my marriage ended some years ago, and the ensuing trauma. As I started to heal, I realised that feeling emotions, even the painful ones, is a good thing. To feel is to be alive. To not feel is to be numb, emotionally dead.

This film depicts 16-year old Emmanuelle (or Manu, played by Anaïs Demoustier) whose father dies from an unspecified illness early in the film. Demoustier steals the show in this fascinating and convincing portrait of teenage grief, while the wonderful Ariane Ascarides is used with restraint as Manu's mother. Ascarides is the wife of Robert Guédiguian, and usually plays the lead in his films.

The film is almost devoid of music, which has a sobering effect on the feel of the film. Manu is struggling to come to terms with her loss, while at the same time coming into conflict with her mother. The mother wants to sell the apartment, to start a new life, but Manu is aghast that the reminders of her father's existence will be lost. Concurrently, Manu is confused about her career path and the choices that need to be made at school. The performances are riveting and so oozing with authenticity that I found myself emotionally drawn into the world of Manu.

When I think of Australian cinema and the roles children and young adults get to play, it seems a whole world away from the depth of acting and opportunities that exist for the French market. This film is highly recommended.

Waiting For Someone
This film has a really apt title, something that enhances my appreciation of it. In this sense only, it reminds me of The Beat My Heart Skipped, although both films feature Emmanuelle Devos, an actress that has a quietly intense on-screen presence. She simultaneously looks ordinary yet incredibly beautiful in a non-conventional manner. Needless to say, I enjoy seeing her in a film.

This is an ensemble film, set in a small-to-medium-sized town, with a number of characters whose lives intersect, though not always overtly. The story is about loneliness and the search for love and emotional connection. There is Devos' character, Agnès, a school teacher, her unemployed husband, her brother Louis (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), their mother with dementia, a prostitute, a former student of Agnès who has been away for some time, and a dog.

The film is largely observational, depicting the nuances and ambivalence within human relationships that feels authentic. The film ambles along at its own pace and is always engaging. While there is a bitter-sweet aspect to the depiction of relationships, there is a slight frivolous aspect that involves the dog and a woman with three white terriers that I found enjoyable.

The film is insightful rather than profound, both entertaining and moving. It's the type of film I'd have thought would have a broad appeal in arthouse cinemas in this country, intelligent and well-made without going stupid like many French films that get a release here. I'd go to more French films during the year if they were like this.

Water Lilies
Water Lilies is intelligent film and has what the recent raft of Australian coming-of-age stories lack: an underlying realism. It seems aimed more at an adult audience and I wonder how a teenage audience would respond to it. Or whether it found a teenage audience in France.

The story revolves around a petite 15-year old, Marie (Pauline Acquart). It involves her friend, Anne (Louise Blachère), a member of a synchronised swimming team, and the captain of the team, Floriane (Adele Haenel). The film is basically a depiction of teenage exploration of sexuality and identity, friendship and love. There are some parallels with American Beauty, though that film could never have gotten away with the teenage nudity in this film. But it's not as gritty as say, a Larry Clark film. Of some note, this film is directed by a woman, Céline Sciamma.

The film completely dispenses with parents, a device of convenience, I suspect, to avoid complicating the film with other issues. The focus is clearly on Marie, her friends and their sexuality and friendship. The cinematography is beautiful and the combination of that and the music remind me of someone I can't recall. It's not unlike Van Sant's recent films in some respects but vastly different in others.

The three main characters were all convincing and the story is well-written. It's another example of a small story that the French are often so good at.

Gotta Dance!
Marketed as a comedy, I didn't have high expectations of this film, but it's definitely a cut or more above the typical French comedy that makes it to our shores. I won't call it intelligent, but it isn't stupid like most of them. It looks good, has some good characters, but for me is just a bit of light entertainment that is instantly forgettable. It's more something to see for entertainment without insulting your intelligence.


John B said...

Hi Paul would have liked to see "Waiting for Someone" Jean-Pierre Darroussin is certainly not the best looking of men but he's certainly an actor with a prolific number of movies. The one where he played the gardener opposite Daniel Autiel was probably my favourite performanc of his.

Paul Martin said...

John, I find Darroussin a very credible looking actor. He looks like a normal Joe, and is used to good effect as a regular in the films of Robert Guédiguian.

His directorial debut, Premonition, screened at the French Film Festival last year. He played the lead role in that film, and I found it had similar aesthetics to Waiting For Someone.

I didn't see Conversations With My Gardener. Not that I wouldn't have minded seeing it, but it wasn't high enough on my priorities to go out of my way. It looked fairly ordinary to me. I do like Auteuil, but it depends on the film. When he's with a good director, like Haneke (Hidden) or Christian Vincent (The Separation, alongside Isabelle Huppert), he's a terrific actor, but he's also done a tremendous number of shit mindless, popular films.

John B said...

Hi Paul Auteuil was quite good in Conversations with my Gardner. The film really captured the peace (if you like) of life in rural France. Darroussin's character was a local from far more humble circumstances, whereas Auteuil was a wealthy Parisian who bought a country retreat to get back to his roots.

John B said...

Paul a nice report on the Year After. One I sadly missed. Fingers crossed it turns up on SBS or DVD with English sub titles. Personally I think it's a bit of a shame that some of these festival films only get a single screening. There might be an opening there for an art house cinema to run these more regularly.. even once a month. Not sure if this would undermine the annual festival. Like you I try to see the festival only films rather than the ones that will get a commercial release.

Agreed a busy life can bury ones emotions. Perhaps the cinema is one way of reconnecting. Or simply escaping day to day life and/or enjoying for an hour or two?

Paul Martin said...

John, if I won Tattslotto (or some benefactor would bankroll me), I'd open up a small cinema and screen films like this myself.

Agreed that the cinema has many roles, but what I mentioned is merely the one that is most important to me.