Tuesday, March 02, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 3

Below I review films by two of my favourite French directors, François Ozon and Robert Guédiguian. Ricky is not screening at the French Film Festival in Melbourne - ACMI is screening it until 10 March - but it is screening at the festival interstate. Neither film disappointed and, indeed, both actually exceeded my expectations - ain't life grand?
  • Ricky (François Ozon, France/Italy, 2009)
  • L'armée du crime (The Army of Crime, Robert Guédiguian, France, 2009)

François Ozon's Ricky isn't what I thought it would be. In fact, discussing what it is and what it's not would spoil the surprise, because it's definitely worth seeing. Suffice to say, that if you read the ACMI or festival blurb, you may get the wrong impression of the film, which is a good thing.

The film's visuals have a lovely naturalistic look. Sergi Lopez plays a little out of type - more of a sluggard than his usual Mr. Everyman. The other performances are fine but it's the story that wins it. Highly recommended, especially if, like me, you like Ozon. I like that his films are unconventional and diverse, crossing genres and covering different genres. It adds to the unpredictability of his work. In this one, the music (which is nicely subtle) also slightly confounds one.

The Army of Crime
Robert Guédiguian is one of my favourite French directors. For decades, he's been making socially aware realist dramas (like La ville est tranquille/The Town is Quiet) with a regular troupe of actors (and behind-the-scenes technical staff, too). His latest film doesn't disappoint and should be one of the highlights of the French Film Festival this year. It's also a significant departure from Guédiguian's body of work.

First, his regular troupe step into the background with small parts, leaving the main roles to younger actors, like Virginie Ledoyen, Simon Abkarian and Robinson Stévenin. And secondly, it's a period film based on a true story, about a particular group within the French Resistance in Paris during World War II. It sits quite comfortably as a companion piece to films like Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows or Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien.

While the genre is surprising, the ethnic slant isn't. Guédiguian depicts a partisan group of largely ethnic French: Armenian, Italian and Spaniard communists, as well as Polish Jews. The fervour of these foreigners was a contrast to the lethargy of the French at the time. It's the multicultural elements that have attracted me to Guédiguian's social realist films in the first place.

Other than this ethnic element, I don't think the film offers anything particularly new to the genre, but that's not a criticism. Many films have informed us of the horrors of the Holocaust, the German terror, the horrors of collaboration and the French resistance. The film has many strengths. Guédiguian is surprisingly adept at handling the wartime themes but what wins it over is the human element. The film juggles many scenarios and weaves them together skillfully. It left me feeling devastated. At this stage, The Army of Crime, Ricky and The Father of My Children are the three must-see films of the festival. But with up to another dozen films I'm hoping to see, hopefully there'll be a few more gems among them. Exciting!

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.

Ricky is currently screening as part of ACMI's Long Play series until Wednesday 10 March.


David O'Connell said...

Hi Paul, I've been reviewing some of the Festival films too and have found them to be a strong bunch so far. Queen of Play has probably been my favourite. I'm looking forward to Army of Crime. I haven't actually seen any of Guedigian's films so it'll be a first exposure for me.

Great to see some positive reaction to Ricky which I admit to liking as well. I'm also a BIG fan of Ozon's (especially 5X2, Criminal Lovers and Swimming Pool) and though it's far from his best it has its moments.

Paul Martin said...

David, whatever you think of The Army of Crime, you'll find his other films very different.

I loved Criminal Lovers but was lukewarm on both 5X2 and Swimming Pool. Given his penchant for the unpredictable (which Ricky certainly is), I though those two films were a bit too derivative. I know Ricky has its flaws (perhaps intentionally so, like crude special effects), but for me I wasn't deterred. FWIW, my favourite Ozon film is also my first - Under the Sand.

David O'Connell said...

I think Under the Sand might have been the first Ozon film I saw too Paul. I like it a lot, especially it's very deliberate pacing and element of mystery.

Something like Time to Leave is another good example of how Ozon transcends the ordinary - the plot is like something out of the dreariest midday movie that's been recycled a million times before, yet by the end I found it incredibly moving. I even really cared about that character despite his life of selfishness. I keep remembering that last shot too which is one of sublime beauty!

Paul Martin said...

When I saw Under the Sand, I didn't know that Rampling is English. I love that the French have such great roles for women in cinema. The pacing and mystery are great; I also love the depiction of grief. People have preconceived ideas of how a person in grief behaves, and it's those preconceptions that had Lindy Chamberlain wrongly imprisoned for infanticide.

Three Colours: Blue is my equal favourite film and it's Binoche's amazing portrayal of grief. We, the audience, are the only ones in her day-to-day dealings that know her grief and we understand her differently to those she comes across.

The mystery in Under the Sand is that we have Rampling's character's perspective so for a long time it is indeed a mystery. After a while though, as facts emerge, we see that her grief has distorted her view of reality and she is in denial. The point is, I suppose, that if you've experienced grief (and I very much have), you'd relate to how people can respond in unpredicable or unconventional ways.

I liked Time to Leave - my most memorable moment is the conversation with his grandmother, played with such gravity by the wonderful Jeanne Moreau. I don't know if I could say I really cared about the character, though I did warm to him over time. For me, it showed that even pricks can have a nice side to them. Remind me, the last shot was him at the beach looking out across the sand, the bathers and the water?

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
My favourite Ozon's movie is Sitcom and one of his fisrt long metrage. Must see.