Monday, March 08, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 7

  • Micmacs à tire-larigot (Micmacs, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France, 2009)
  • Non ma fille tu n’iras pas danser (Making Plans For Lena, Christophe Honoré, 2009)
I love Jeunet's films, all of them. I love his consistent retro style, the aesthetically pleasing urban and industrial decay, his bizarre characters and their equally weird looks and idiosyncrasies and the predilection for darker themes. Underlying them one senses a real love for the underdog in society and what injustices (or indeed, evils) one has to sometimes overcome.

Micmacs is a Warner Brothers production and it seems that the alignment with a big studio has required some modifications to what Jeunet may otherwise have created. Have no doubt, all the Jeunet signature devices and traits are all there - in bucket-loads. It does seem, though, to be self-consciously catering to a wider market and the film obviously has a bigger budget than his previous films.

Jeunet has assembled several of his easily recognisable actors that he's used in previous films. He's also cheekily referenced some of those films, most noticeably a short homage to Delicatessen. In fact, there seem to be a number of other filmic references. One of the characters is called Buster, for example, possibly a reference to Buster Keaton, whose influence can be felt.

The film is a visual delight, as you'd expect and I'm sure will do very well when it's released just after the French Film Festival ends. I know that every screening at the festival has had strong demand and the session I attended sold out quite some time prior - something I'm not accustomed to seeing at the Kino. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a sold-out session at the Kino until now. Micmacs is perhaps not quite as dark (thematically) as other Jeunet films and is a little more family-friendly, though less so than Amelie. My son loved it, though I found it less satisfying than his previous films. My verdict: good fun.

Making Plans For Lena
This Honoré fellow doesn't pull any punches with his films. Love them or hate them, you've gotta respect the guy and his work. For me, Ma mère is perhaps the most powerful, transgressive film I've seen. It's a hard film to watch, but it's an amazing piece of work. Dans Paris/Inside Paris is a bleak film about a depressive young man that I found difficult and Les chansons d'amour/Love Songs is a strange musical. All these films are gutsy and now we have Non ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser, literally "No My Daughter, You Will Not Dance" but titled Making Plans for Lena for us Anglophones. Having seen the film, I love the original title, which has so much more poignant meaning. I can't really articulate definitively how it relates to the story, but it feels so right.

[Edit: my French teacher has corrected my translation. It should be No My Daughter, You Will Not Go Dancing]

The film starts with a family get-together in the grand-parents' country home before and it immediately reminded me of Summer Hours. Hah! How wrong could I be. This is no light middle-class tale - this is a story about the struggles of people in relationships, about selfishness and conflict, love and contentment. But mostly conflict, and in this regard it reminded me of relationships in trouble in Sam Mendes' painfully honest Revolutionary Road.

I have a take on this film, that I feel is close to Honoré's intention, and I'm sure it will be contentious. Some might consider it misogynistic, and if that's what you think, so be it. Honoré depicts - brutally honestly in my opinion, various conflicts that all involve women.

Léna is a self-destructive and selfish woman. She's also very troubled. She left her husband without warning, taking the two young children with her and ultimately divorces. When needed, she calls upon him at short notice and places demands upon him as if they were still married. Yet she still chides and belittles him.

Léna's relationships with her family are no better. She is close to her father, but is resentful, critical and argumentative with her mother, sister and brother. She has allowed herself to be dominated by an overwhelming selfishness, a ME-ME-ME complex. She wants everything, and she wants it her way. If she is incapable of achieving what she wants, she gets angry with whoever is around for their inability to fulfill her. Regrettably, I have experienced all this first-hand.

I think it is a phenomenon of Western society that women often develop what I call a princess bitch syndrome, or PBS for short. Don't take offence if I use 'women' in a general sense. I don't mean all women and I don't want to qualify myself every time I use the word 'women'.

Women often want it all. They know (and often joke about) it, men know it, and it's simply denial not to acknowledge it. Socially, we rationalise it, we justify it ("it's a woman's right to change her mind" and similar). A common saying is that there's only two words a man needs to have a happy marriage, "yes, dear". Now, I'm all for chivalry, and I extend courtesy towards people of any gender. But the idea that a woman can treat a man like a door mat and he'll just say "yes, dear" - sorry that's just wrong, just like the idea that the customer is always right.

People find harmony within relationships by balancing difference proclivities and through compromises that leaving each person feeling equal and treated fairly. Where there is no approximation of equality and fairness, there is unlikely to be harmony. I'm not really discussing much of Making Plans for Lena, but these are the themes it raises for me.

Just as Revolutionary Road confirmed to me that Sam Mendes' American Beauty was no accident and is based on great insights that matured in the later film, Honoré's Making Plans for Lena cements in my mind how insightful a person he is. Honore's film paints on a much broader canvas, looking beyond a single marriage and yet focusing on just one woman and how she relates to people around her, including her (ex) husband.

The acting in the film is excellent, with Léna portrayed by Chiara Mastroianni and a solid ensemble support cast including Marina Foïs, Marie-Christine Barrault, Jean-Marc Barr and Fred Ulysse. The film's backbone is the writing, which is credite to the director and Geneviève Brisac. It has a mostly linear structure but jumps in time (but not back) and also includes a bizarre though enjoyable digression as a child narrates a story, a folk tale that relates to the themes of the main story.

Christophe Honoré is a director I have a lot of respect for. This latest film is a lot more accessible to audiences than most of his films that I've seen and I found it both enjoyable and thought-provoking. I doubt you'll ever see this on the big screen outside of a festival (or ACMI). Highly recommended.


dmk said...

"...I love his consistent overload of audience-pandering whimsy."

Hey, here's one film I won't ever see - unless I decide I need a quick film to add to my bottom-of-the-year list.

dmk said...

But this Making Plans For Lena sounds great. I've been meaning to check out Ma mère, I was reading about it recently.

David O'Connell said...

You've made me really curious about Honore's work Paul. I missed this latest of his at the Festival but recently picked up Ma Mere cheaply from Amazon UK based on your recommendation and figured it was a good place to start. To be honest I didn't take much convincing considering my own fascination with Huppert!

Paul Martin said...

Ain't Amazon just great for European cinema, David? I buy a lot from there, and also Amazon France. There's often a lot of diversity in prices for the same product between the different branches. I've even bought DVDs from Amazon UK, imported from the US, that are cheaper than Amazon USA.

I know what you mean about Huppert, one of my favourite actresses (if not my outright favourite).

I also bought Ma mère on DVD but I won't be watching it anytime sooner. It can be a hard film to watch, like Irreversible but in a different way. Let me know what you think of it, and you may be interested to check out my original review of it.

I remember it opened ACMI's Focus on Isabelle Huppert. I'd already seen it and the missus saw it on my recommendation. There was a big crowd walking into the cinema with anticipation and when they all came out, faces were quiet, withdrawn and white. Ha! It's that kind of film.