Saturday, March 15, 2008

French Film Festival 4

So the second weekend of the French Film Festival draws to a close, and with it the opportunities for me to see much more. Mind you, there's another four days of screenings, but I've seen all but one film I intended. I still want to see Anna M. tomorrow evening, but with 36 degrees forecast, I might not make it.

I've seen 11 films this year (counting the Lamorisse shorts as one), one less than last year (so maybe I really should get to Anna M.). The overall standard of what I've seen is about the same as last year, though nothing this year matched the amazing Nue propriété (Private Property). The pick for me this year was L'année suivante (The Year After), at least as far as adult films are concerned. An unexpected surprise was Azur et Asmar, a remarkable animated film suitable for children of all ages as much as adults. I rate it my no.2 favourite children's film, just after The Secret of Roan Inish.

Here's my latest reviews:
  • Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema, Various, France, 2007)
  • Après lui (After Him, Gaël Morel, France, 2007)
  • Les chansons d'amour (Love Songs, Christophe Honoré, France, 2007)
  • Pom, le poulain (Pom, Olivier Ringer, France, 2007)

Chacun son cinéma
I ordered the DVD of this omnibus film last year via Amazon France, not long after it screened at Cannes. It was especially commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, and consists of 33 short films by directors of various repute (most of them are well-known and highly regarded). I really loved this the first time I saw it; it brought a tear or two to my eye to see how different stalwarts of the film industry were able to convey in three minutes what the significance of cinema was for him or her. I include 'her', but strangely there is only one female director (Jane Campion) out of the whole collection, and I don't think I'd be alone in saying it was one of the weaker pieces.

It was great to have the opportunity to see this film on the big screen. Madman will be distributing it sometime, but the word is that it will go straight to DVD. That's understandable as I don't think it will have as broad appeal as say, Paris je t'aime did. Paris is a more attractive sell to mainstream audiences than what amounts to essays by auteurs on cinema. For cinephiles, though, who recognise many of the names, the film has tremendous appeal. The format of 33 x 3 minute shorts is conducive for DVD, so hopefully it'll do well.

There were many moments in the film that brought tears to my eyes. Often this was when all we could see was the teary-eyed and illuminated faces of those watching the big screen themselves, absorbed in what they're seeing. There's three segments that didn't make it to the French DVD, those by David Lynch, Zhang Yimou and the Coen brothers. The other contributors are: Raymond Depardon, Takeshi Kitano, Theodoros Angelopoulos, Andrei Konchalovsky, Nanni Moretti, Hsiao-hsien Hou, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amos Gitai, Jane Campion, Atom Egoyan, Aki Kaurismäki, Olivier Assayas, Youssef Chahine, Ming-liang Tsai, Lars von Trier, Raoul Ruiz, Claude Lelouch, Gus Van Sant, Roman Polanski, Michael Cimino, David Cronenberg, Kar Wai Wong, Abbas Kiarostami, Bille August, Elia Suleiman, Manoel de Oliveira, Walter Salles, Wim Wenders, Kaige Chen and Ken Loach.

My favourites are:
  • Cinéma de Boulevard (Claude Lelouch)
    The director traces his love for cinema by recreating various milestones: from the courtship of his parents, to hiding in the cinema during Nazi occupied Paris, to studying film. I loved the credits at the end: Merci maman, merci papa.
  • Where is My Romeo? (Abbas Kiarostami)
    This is typically simple Kiarostami: a collage of faces, all women and all with tears running down their faces, are viewed as they stare at the screen and we hear the final moments of Romeo and Juliet. The final frame depicts an elderly woman, probably the 'Mrs. Kheradmand' who is shown thanks at the bottom of the screen.
  • 47 ans après (47 Years Later, Youssef Chahine)
    Chahine recreates his first appearance at Cannes in 1950, when he was a nobody and could scarcely attract a dozen words in all the French papers combined. Jump to 1997, and actual footage was shown of Chahine receiving the Cannes 50th anniversary special prize to great acclaim. His words of acceptance: "to the young directors of the world, perservere. It's worth it." As an aside, Gus Van Sant last year won the 60th anniversary special prize.
  • At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World (David Cronenberg)
    Cronenberg is the only character in this satirical look at reality TV. He doesn't speak a word, that's left to voiceover by two characters who treat the event of the suicide of the last Jew in the world in the last cinema in the world as just another live reality event.
  • Anna (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
    Closeup of a woman's face, tears running from her eyes (a common theme, evidently). Her boyfriend is explaining something on screen and she goes outside to light a cigarette. The boyfriend comes out and consoles her; she's obviously blind. Iñárritu continues his theme of communication. And even a blind person can be moved to tears by cinema.
  • Dans l'obscurité (In the Dark, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
    A handbag thief finds he must give something in return.

After Him
Having Christophe Honoré as a co-writer might suggest a gritty and challenging story. The premise is tantalising enough: a woman (Catherine Deneuve) loses her twenty-year old son in a car accident and finds herself obsessed with his best friend, Franck (Thomas Dumerchez), who was driving the car. While the film has good elements, I was disappointed with the whole.

There was no one major flaw for me, but a string of them that prevented me from accepting the premise. I just couldn't suspend disbelief and I ended up seeing actors on the screen rather than being drawn into their world.

First up, the film seems like a vehicle for Deneuve's star-power (she is a major celebrity in France. Her performance is very convincing at times (though not always) and I say that as someone who has lost a son. The first distraction comes when it is mentioned that Deneuve's character, Camille, was 20-years old when she had her first child, Laure (Élodie Bouchez), yet Deneuve is clearly 30 years older (and a quick look on IMDb confirms it). This might sound like a small detail, but it made me start to doubt the integrity of the film.

I then started to notice overt contrivances like the way in Franck was despised on the day of the funeral, and the way in which Camille defended him. Camille's response to Franck was contrasted with the attitude of her ex-husband, François (Guy Marchand), again without subtlety. I could have forgiven each of the above, but then the director's camera devices kept intruding, which pretty much lost me. There were too many crane shots and other clever techniques that kept screaming out "look how clever I am". I want a film to be more transparent with its manipulation. I can imagine the target Como cinema demographic congratulating themselves on having seen a gritty French film, but it left me cold.

Love Songs
After Christophe Honoré's really ambitious Ma mère (My Mother) - psychologically and emotionally the most shocking film I have seen - I've been keen to see anything by him. I'd also like to revisit his Dans Paris (Inside Paris) which screened at last year's French Film Festival. I found it well-made, but it didn't engage me at the time.

Alas, Love Songs was another disappointment for me. It's been the best part of a week since I saw it, and I find it a struggle to recall much about it. I found the themes of ambiguous love and sexuality a little laboured compared to Honoré's earlier films, and the singing detracted, giving a showy theatrical element. It reminded me of a device that distracted me in Dans Paris, when one of the brothers directly addresses the audience.

Pom, le poulain
Watching Pom, le poulain with my seven-year old son, I was struck at what a classic and almost-lost genre this film is, at least in the English language. It harks back to the golden days of Disney films of my childhood, conjuring images of Black Beauty and Lassie - stories where an animal is the centre of the story. Films like these are rarely made these days.

Pom, le poulain - foal means foal - is classic in its style of innocence. It is contrived at times (mostly with the use of good/evil stereotypes), but in a way that is enjoyable for children (pre-school and primary school-age) and acceptable to parents.

Mirabelle is the strongest and most reliable of a team of draught horses who, during an accident kicks the boss' son in the head, and is consequently sent away to the protest of the workers. Pom is Mirabelle's foal and loses his will to live in separation from his mother. The film recounts the various experiences of Mirabelle and Pom as they struggle to reunite (and of course, the parents all know they will). I found it enjoyable enough, and it was a nice bonding experience to have my son crying and holding on to me. Hehe, and you thought I wasn't sentimental. He loved it.


John B said...

Hi Paul my thoughts on "Love Songs" were very much along your lines. Extremely disappointing. Potentially a great cast, some very good character actors/actresses possibly marred by a bad script.

The narrow double bed when the menage a trois was in place was a trifle annoying... less so than the singing which failed to appeal at all.

I wonder if I read it right that the 3rd member of the trois a meange was more into Ludivine Sagniers character than the leading male character? She was gorgeous looking and will have to spend more time on looking at her other work and that of her two acting sisters.

I think it's quite a good sign that a week after seeing this movie you don't remember much about it. It suggests that your mind has a protective element to it!

If this gets a commercial release I think I'll have to march at what ever cinema it's playing at. It's one thing to see a dud at a festival. Another to fleece the general publich. Care to give us a hand protesting or handing out your review :-)

Kamikaze Camel said...

That omnibus film sounds very interesting. Nice collection of directors, obviously. I usually have problems with those sorts of films though. Love some of the shorts, hate some of the others. Very unbalanced viewing.

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, I think to appreciate the omnibus format, you have to respect the limitations, and look at the construction of the collection. Short films have inherent difficulties - there's only so much you can convey in 3 minutes. And as an audience member, you can't carry your attachment to a character for more than the allotted time.

So, I don't think you can compare an omnibus film with a regular film. You have to look at it almost as a different medium, and appreciate it for what it is and the theme it is conveying.

In this case, it's a tribute by some of the world's most respected directors, to their chosen artform. For me, I love to watch or read interviews with directors about the significance or meaning of their work, so this is an opportunity to get another perspective on the directors and their work.

So, in that sense, the film is excellent. But if you're looking for a meaty story you can get stuck into, forget it.

Paul Martin said...

John, I have a lot of respect for Christophe Honoré. I'm quite happy for Love Songs to do well at the box office, if it gets a release. It just didn't work for me.