Thursday, February 25, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 2

The French Film Festival open in Melbourne next week. In this post, I offer brief comments on five more films. My pick of them are the family-oriented films: OSS 177, Lost in Rio and First Snow.
  • OSS 117, Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117, Lost In Rio, Michel Hazanavicius, France, 2009)
  • Regrets (Les regrets, Cédric Kahn, France, 2009)
  • La journée de la jupe (Skirt Day, Jean-Paul Lilienfield, France/Belgium, 2009)
  • Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, Rémi Bezançon, 2008)
  • La première étoile (First Snow/The First Star, Lucien Jean-Baptiste, 2009)
OSS 117, Lost in Rio
Michel Hazanavicius has reprised the role of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, agent OSS 177, again played charismatically by Jean Dujardin. He is perfect for the role, a caricature of James Bond in much the same vein as Maxwell Smart or Austin Powers. He has an egotistical, overstated view of his capabilities and sexual prowess, yet always gets his man (and woman, as you'd expect). Dujardin's ability to effortlessly depict charm and incompetence with his handsome Connery-like looks are really what keeps this film going. His comic timing ain't bad either.

OSS 117, Lost in Rio uses every cliche in the book, but that's a given and hardly a criticism. It's set in the 1960s, the Connery era and so plays with the style of that time - the technology, cars, clothing and social changes. It's all a lot of playful fun without adding much to the first film in what I presume will grow to become an OSS 177 franchise like James Bond.

I note that like most films screening at the festival, OSS 177 has an MA festival classification. Theoretically, you could take an accompanied child and - if you don't have a problem with children being exposed to women's naked breasts - children should enjoy this. It's a good family film with good old-fashioned humour.

The first thing that occurred to me as I started watching this film is that not only does France seem to offer more opportunities for female directors to practice their craft (though this one is directed by the male of the species), but it also offers more opportunities to good actresses. But perhaps more importantly, French cinema seems to strong roles for women. Elsewhere in the world, particularly English-speaking countries, women - despite their obvious acting talents - are largely confined to support, side-kick, tokenistic and window-dressing-type roles. Jane Campion's films, including the recent Bright Star are rare exceptions. French cinema values and nurtures a style of film that gives rise to greater equality to the depiction of the sexes. Regrets is one such film.

Valeria Bruni Tedechi is a prolific actress, though unfortunately I've not seen much of her work. She seems a very credible and naturalistic actress and her performance in Regrets is strong and convincing. I know even less of Yvan Attal who in this film plays Mathieu, a Parisian architect crisis. His mother has suddenly fallen into a coma and he rushes to her provincial home to be by her side and her prognosis is not good. While in town, he chances across a college flame and they quickly fall into a passionate affair, despite both being married.

I had problems with the film, which possibly says more about me than it. I found the descent of this couple into crazy and unsustainable situations very disturbing. Mathieu in particular is depicted in a very clumsy manner. That's not a critique of the film or the story as the film accurately depicts how a person can totally lose it. I found him embarrassing and though there is nothing shocking on screen, it was at times as disturbing to me as any social-realist or violent film. I doubt others would find it so. I think Regrets will be well-received by the festival regulars, but it's not my thing.

Skirt Day
Watching this film, I was often reminded of Matt Ravier's comments about it being better suited to television. His suggestion that it might have bitten off more than it could chew intrigued me and, if anything, encouraged me to see it. I like risk, even if it's not completely successful.

I didn't find the film very successful at all.The acting is patchy and the story is improbable, though I presume intentionally so. It takes some topical French issues and rather than being didactic or social realist, it dresses them up in satire, black comedy and melodrama.

While the incompetence of Isabelle Adjani's character (a teacher) may seem implausible, I discussed this at some length with my partner (also a teacher in a school with a similarly difficult demographic) and the conclusion was that this level of incompetence certainly does exist. Some of the scenarios, however, are a little over-the-top, and that's where this film will make it or break it for you depending on your perception.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
This is a fairly run-of-the-mill French family drama/comedy and I suppose, if you're just out for a social evening and don't have a critical bent, you might enjoy it. For me, though, it has a lot of problems, most of which it brings upon itself. First, it's stretched over a number of years (1988 to 2000), inviting criticism of attention to detail. Hair styles don't match periods, characters don't age convincingly and it seems the point was just to play music of those times. I find the device all a bit tired, though maybe I'm taking the film too seriously.

Other problems push incredulity to the extreme, like a mother taking a minute to notice the smell of marijuana smoke in her child's room, or undressing in front of her doctor son. The film is overtly sentimental, and unfunny when it means to be There are staged contrivances that are designed to titillate an undemanding audience. It's obviously not my kind of film, but there's a market for it, and it may well do OK business.

First Snow
First Snow is not listed as a children's/family film, but it has a G-classification and is a good-hearted family film that children of most ages should enjoy. My 9-year old enjoyed it. Basically it's a fish-out-of-water comedy that plays on various stereotypes - a French-Carribean family take a holiday in the snow. The dad (played by first-time director Lucien Jean-Baptiste) is pretty much a loser. He's out of a job, gambles and is struggling to hold the family together. The three children's performances are quite enjoyable and I recommend this as a child's introduction to French cinema.

And from the festival, more information the visiting directors:

MEET THE DIRECTORS at the 2010 Alliance Française French Film Festival!

We are thrilled to announce that Directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Philippe Lioret and Jan Kounen will be in town to present selected sessions of their films during the Festival.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who wowed audiences with the spectacular Amelie, will introduce his hugely anticipated new comedy-thriller MICMACS on the Opening Night, 7pm Thursday 4 March, at Palace Cinema Como. Good seats still available!

Philippe Lioret will introduce the 6.45pm screening of the absorbing new drama WELCOME on Wednesday 17 March at Palace Cinema Como and Thursday 18 March at Palace Westgarth. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A.

Jan Kounen will introduce the 6.45pm screening of the opulent new drama COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY on Monday 29 March at Palace Cinema Como and on Tuesday 30 March at Palace Westgarth. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival opens on Thursday 4 March with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs and runs until Sunday 21 March at the Palace Como, Balwyn, Westgarth and Kino cinemas.

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