UNE HIRONDELLE A FAIT LE PRINTEMPS 47
Judging from movies like this one, you wonder why everybody is not leaving cities for the countryside and not the opposite. While director Christian Carion does show some of the most difficult aspects of farm life, it’s still rather postcard-pretty. Mathilde Seigner plays Sandrine, a thirtysomething Internet instructor who decides to drop everything and buy the goat farm of Adrien (Michel Serrault), who’s retiring but will still live on his land. Sandrine renovates the installations, turns a barn into a bed & breakfast, organises school trips and sells goat cheese on the Net, to the dismay of Adrien who is still clinging to his old ways. It is indeed a bit befuddling how the Paris girl commercialises her return to nature, but Adrien is being awfully grumpy about it.
The film eventually has the two bonding, but not in a very natural way. Everything has to be spelled out in cringe-worthy voice-over narration and in Adrien’s big dramatic speech to Sandrine. Yet their relation remains fuzzy, and we’re not sure what Carion’s film is going for. The third act feels particularly unsure, like the filmmakers are struggling to find a resolution that never comes. They end up settling for some more unimaginative voice-over, but no closure is attained. Still, the film is quite beautifully shot and generally pleasant, and I enjoyed the performances by Serrault and Jean-Paul Roussillon, who steals every of his scenes as Adrien’s old friend.
The film opens like a punch of face: a couple is preparing to go out for the evening and then bam! They almost drive into an Algerian hooker running away from her pimps. She desperately wants them to let her into the car, but the husband and wife lock their doors and watch passively as she’s brutally beaten by her assailants. Right away, “Chaos” proves to be a frantic and unpredictable picture. Director Coline Serreau favors a stripped down but energetic style, with frantic handheld camerawork matched by a beat-heavy score by electronica virtuoso St-Germain. This effectively communicates the chaotic rush of the lives of Hélène (Catherine Frot) and Paul (Vincent Lindon), always hurrying and overworking, communicating only through answering machines, too busy to care for anyone.
Hélène has a change of heart after witnessing the street beating. She goes to see the prostitute in the hospital and ends up putting her family and her job on hold to stay with the almost dead Noémie (Rachida Brakni). This initially plays like a comedy, with Hélène’s husband unable to take care of himself and her son trying to juggle two girlfriends while she clashes with cartoonish bad guys. But when Noémie comes out of her coma and tells her story… I won’t spoil it, but it’s tragic, horrible stuff. All this exposition feels a bit crammed and there are some slight incongruities, but it’s enthralling how it totally throws the film off-kilter.
From then on “Chaos” becomes a riveting revenge Monte Cristo-style thriller. The tone’s all over the place and side-plots are piled up a bit thick, but eventually it all converges towards a surprisingly satisfying and touching ending. “Chaos” is ultimately very cohesive thematically, joining very different women into a similar quest for empowerment beyond the diminutive roles men force them into. It’s a feminist film, but in a good way.
The second film (after “Monsieur Batignole”) of the festival to deal with the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War, “Laissez-passer” also adopts a light, comedic tone, but instead of tending a butcher shop the protagonists here are filmmakers. Jacques Gamblin is Jean Devaivre, a first assistant-director who works for German-funded Continental Film but secretly fights for the French resistance. The film alternates between his story and that of Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydès), a screenwriter who refuses to collaborate with the Germans even if to live a bohemian life, moving from script to script, home to home, woman to woman.
Bertrand Tavernier directs this with skill but also self-indulgence, letting his film ramble and digress into a 170 minute mess. It’s sometimes hard to follow with all the characters who come in and out and not very clear what Tavernier wants to say about this period. Personally, as much as I love movies I know that there are more important things in life, especially when the world is in such turmoil. It’s supposed to be inspiring how these guys keep shooting in spite of limited celluloid, power shortage, air raids and censorship, but I kept wondering that there must have been more urgent needs for people at the time. One character argues at one point that they’re story-makers, just like there are sheet-makers and bread-makers, which would usually be justifiable but in 1942 Europe?
Nonetheless, some parts of “Laissez-passer” are engrossing. Aurenche’s woman troubles are amusing, Devaivre’s secret missions with the Résistance and the British are suspenseful and I liked the elegantly shot bicycle rides through the French countryside. But I still find it odd how Tavernier only mentions Jews in passing and makes it seem like it wasn’t so bad in the Vichy regime despite the occasional imprisonment of alleged maquisards, and the picture doesn’t have any business going on for almost three hours.
MA FEMME EST UNE ACTRICE 45
Yvan Attal wrote and directed this romantic comedy in which he also stars as Yvan, a sportswriter married to popular film star Charlotte, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Attal’s real-life wife. Between the thinly veiled autobiographic subtext, the Jewish concerns, the husband-and-wife blues, the irreverent tone and the jazzy score, there’s decidedly a Woody Allen influence at work here. And before long, Yvan goes into full neurotic mode after seeing the wife’s latest movie and finding her particularly convincing in the love scenes. Making matters worse is her going away to London to shoot a new film opposite the older but attractive John (amusingly played by Terrence Stamp).
“Ma femme est une actrice” is most notable for the winning performances of its cast, the actresses especially. It’s easy to see why everyone loves Charlotte, as Gainsbourg is simply fabulous in the film. Noémie Lvovsky is good too as Yvan’s circumcision-fixated sister, and Ludivine Sagnier is adorable even though her part as an acting class student is very small. Attal himself isn’t bad, but his character grows grating. His obsessive jealousy is played as a charming quirk, but it’s creepy more than anything. It gets to a point where you wonder why Charlotte wants to be with such a jerk, which obviously undermines the romantic comedy mechanics.
SUR MES LÈVRES 54
This film is sort of like a French (and hetero) spin on the Wachowski brothers’ “Bound”. Emmanuelle Devos is a partially deaf office worker who doesn’t get any respect at work or in her boring personal life. Excitement finally enters her life in the form of a sleazy ex-con (Vincent Cassel) she hires as an assistant. She ends up entangled with the guy physically and in his schemes, as he uses her ability to lip-read in an attempt to steal dirty money from some of his old criminal acquaintances.
“Sur mes lèvres” makes brilliant use of sound and silence. It’s neat how Devos’ character can hush her surroundings by turning off her hearing aid, and director Jacques Audiard uses this effectively to create tension in certain scenes. Unfortunately, I found the story rather dull. The relation between the deaf girl and the hustler is intriguing, but there isn’t much to it. A lady friend I talked to says the film is a great love story, but I never quite got the appeal of being used by a bad boy, cute or not. Also, the pacing of the picture is way too loose. The set up takes forever, and when the payoff comes it’s muddled and rather unbelievable. The quality of the acting and the inspired direction manage to hold our attention, but otherwise the film is not particularly memorable.
L’EMPLOI DU TEMPS 86
Aurélien Recoing (in a quietly powerful performance) plays Vincent, a financial consultant who gets fired but continues to go through the motions of going to work, telling his family lies about meetings and projects and late hours even though he just drives around aimlessly in nearby Switzerland. This is all unsettling, in no small part because we’ve been so programmed to think that works defines oneself. “You get a job, you become the job,” as Wizard would say. For the longest time we wonder why Vincent doesn’t just get another job or at least enjoy his free time, and his constant lies and his ways of still providing for his family are questionable to say the least.
But we gradually realise that the man is having a nervous breakdown, only it’s deeply internalised. Everyone’s had bouts where you feel alienated by a meaningless job and you want to give everything up, which makes the film truly affecting, though it takes nearly the whole length for the emotional wallop to kick in. In fact, the film is most moving after it’s over, as it lingers in your mind depressing the hell out of you. In a subtle but hypnotic way, director Laurent Cantet manages to not only make you feel for Vincent but like him as well. “L’emploi du temps” is a fascinating, unique exploration of the nature of work.
A bleached Jean-Hughes Anglade stars as the utterly amoral Harvey, a rally pilot who’s been hired along with his young sidekick Victor (Cyrille Thouvenin, who’s also in “Oui, mais…”) and loose cannon Simon (Saguamore Stévenin), to drive ten tons of stolen gold through the Moroccan desert for a crooked air traffic controller (Joaquim de Almeida, the bad guy in “Desperado”). “Sueurs” is literally one big chase sequence à la “The Road Warrior”, sprinkled with violent confrontations with other desert-dwellers, cops and especially amongst the four double-crossing bastards.
Director Louis-Pascal Couvelaire seems to channelling Michael Bay, cranking everything up to the loudest, fastest and most explosive. It’s like the whole film is trailer for itself! This makes for a very visceral movie; you can practically feel the desert heat and smell the sweat. I enjoyed the quirky touches, like how the characters turn Édith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien into a nihilistic anthem. “Sueurs” is no masterpiece, but it’s a nice change of pace from all the chatty dramas and chatty comedies.
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