Cinemania 2003

From November 6 to the 16th, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal will be host to the 9th annual CINEMANIA Film Festival, which presents a variety of French-language films subtitled in English. I had a wonderful experience covering the event last year, meeting interesting people and watching great movies (notably Oui, Mais… , which won the Mel Hoppenheim Audience Prize and made my year-end Top Ten), and I hope to do the same this year as well.

For more information, you can visit the official website.

Rire et Châtiment (Isabelle Doval) 32
[ José Garcia stars as an osteopath who’s so funny that people around him die of laughter, literally. The problem with the movie is that Garcia is not that funny, in fact he’s mostly obnoxious. He has a few amusing moments involving Russian dance and first-aid classes, but most of his relentless goofing off falls flat. The film also attempt to be sentimental, but that’s even less successful. ]

Filles Uniques (Pierre Jolivet) 51
[ After liberating her on parole, a judge (Sandrine Kiberlain) befriends a young shoplifter (Sylvie Testud). The two women become like the sisters they never had, going out, fooling around, talking about shoes and even breaking cases together. The film starts from a sitcomish premise and doesn’t really go anywhere with it, but it’s full of deadpan humor and the lovely lead actresses have a lot of chemistry. ]

18 ans après (Coline Serreau) 40
[ In 1985, “Trois hommes et un couffin” was a big box-office hit in France. It was then remade in Hollywood as “Three Men and a Baby”, which quickly led to the sequel “Three Men and a Little Lady”. Now we get the true follow-up, 18 years later as the title announces. Coline Serreau has taken her sorta-franchise back, and she pokes gentle fun at the Americans in the process.

André Dussolier, Roland Giraud and Michel Boujenah are still sharing the fatherhood of Marie (sexy Madeleine Besson), who’s just graduated from university. Various contrived circumstances lead to the three daddies to take a holiday in Provence with their now grown-up little girl, her mother, her gung-ho American husband, his two sons and a kooky housekeeper. “18 ans après” is as sitcomish as it sounds, it’s all over the place and it doesn’t offer anything new or particularly insightful, but it’s lively and cute enough. It’s not half the film Serreau’s “Chaos” was, but there are worse ways to spend 95 minutes. ]

Pas si grave (Bernard Rapp) 65
[ Three dudes (Sami Bouajila, Romain Duris, Jean-Michel Portal) who were taken in as kids by a former Spanish anarchist must now pay him back by going to Spain and bring back a bust of the Crimson Madonna, the dying old man’s last wish. So we get a road trip, a bit of fish-out-water hijinks, a caper and a sex comedy involving a gorgeous Spanish surgeon (Leonor Varela). The film occasionally tries to be meaningful, but it doesn’t need to. It works just fine as a simple, feel-good little comedy filled with the beauty of Spain, colorful characters and music. ]

La fleur du mal (Claude Chabrol) 62
[ François (Benoît Magimel) comes back to his bourgeois French family after 4 years in America only to find the old tensions still intact. His father (Bernard Lecoq) is busy drinking or screwing around, his stepmom (Nathalie Baye) is running for municipal office again even though she clearly doesn’t care for people, and he still feels deeply attracted to his beautiful young cousin/sister (it’s complicated) Michèle (Mélanie Doutey). And then there’s Tante Line (Suzanne Flon), always so pleasant and helpful, or so it seems…

Chabrol’s latest is a very very French black comedy that’s ostensibly about old family secrets, politics and murder, but those are ultimately details. It really comes down to good actors playing interesting characters who engage in endless talking, eating, drinking, screwing… But mostly talking. All the bickering and snickering is most amusing, enough that we don’t mind that it doesn’t lead anywhere. ]

Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire) (Cédric Klapisch) 28
[ A desperately uninspired heist flick in which a timid, lonely TV camerawoman incomprehensibly chooses to hang out with a bunch of dicks who rob jewellery stores, until one day they try for one last score, etc. These guys are supposed to be cool and funny, but they’re just mean, dumb, arrogant and worse of all, boring. The movie is technically impeccable, with great shot composition and music cues, but that doesn’t make up for the uninteresting characters, inconsistent tone and derivative plot. ]

Le lait de la tendresse humaine (Dominique Cabrera) 54
[ They’re only producing, but you can feel the sensibilities of the Dardenne brothers (“Rosetta”, “Le Fils”) all through this purposely brash and unkempt film, both stylistically and emotionally. Shaky hand-held camerawork and natural lighting prevail, with all emphasis on the actors: pop star Patrick Bruel, Dominique Blanc, Sergi Lopez, Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi, Mathilde Seigner and especially Marilyne Canto. She plays a woman hit by a brutal case of the baby blues after giving birth to a third child. Exhausted and desperate, her mind unravelling, she bolts, leaving her newborn and everything behind, and she ends up crashing at her neighbour’s, who has experience of her own with nervous breakdowns.

With its unflinching look at post-partum depression and female despair in general, “The Milk of Human Kindness” is not unlike a smaller-scale “The Hours”. It’s a difficult, rough-around-the-edges picture which offers no clear answers, but just the fact that it depicts the not often acknowledged misery mothers sometimes feel is laudable. ]

Laisse tes mains sur mes hanches (Chantal Lauby) 65
[ Chantal Lauby writes, directs and stars in this charming, quirky romantic comedy about the unlikely but sweet coupling of a middle-aged actress and a young carnie. The love story is endearing, but even more so is the actress’ circle of friends played by a group of lively performers like Alain Chabat, Jean-Hughes Anglade and the wonderfully kooky Rossy de Palma. The movie also benefits from beautiful, rich cinematography by Tetsuo Nagata, witty dialogue, a score of Adamo songs (hence the title) and a touch of fantasy. A true crowd-pleaser. ]

Ah! Si j’étais riche (Michel Munz/Gérard Bitton) 29
[ Aldo’s marriage is going down the toilet, with his wife even sleeping with his pain-in-the-ass boss. So when Aldo wins 10 million euros in the lottery, he decides to keep his newfound wealth a secret until the divorce is finalised so his wife doesn’t get half. This sounds like a wickedly funny premise, but the resulting film is a dud. The gags are lowbrow, mean-spirited, predictable, often all at the same time. Furthermore, the behaviour of the characters rarely makes sense. The couple breaks up yet they still live together for months? Aldo’s a total ass, yet his wife still cares? The audience seemed to find Jean-Pierre Darroussin hilarious, but he left me cold. Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi is a peach, but if you’ve gotta see her in a so-so comedy, you might as well check out “Il est plus facile pour un chameau”, which she also wrote and directed. ]

UPDATE: This year’s Mel Hoppenheim Audience Prize was awarded to “Ah! Si j’étais riche”.