Cinemania Film Festival

The 8th annual CINEMANIA FILM FESTIVAL takes place from Thursday, November 7th to Sunday, November 17th, 2002 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The fest, a non-profit event, is dedicated to contemporary French cinema, presented here with English subtitles. More information can be found at the festival’s website.

QUÉBEC-MONTRÉAL 32

Three buddies going from Quebec to Montreal to fly out to a Cuba vacation, a man and a woman going to Montreal on business, a Quebec couple moving to Montreal… They’re all driving along the same highway at the same time and what do you know, they’re all talking about sex. Ricardo Trogi’s film offers a few insights into man-woman relationships, but it doesn’t add up to more than the cynical conclusion that cheating, disrespectful players get laid while nice guys don’t because women don’t know better.

All the male characters are either misogynist jerks or sensitive losers, and the few female characters are dumb, bitchy and slutty. The visuals are even more unappealing, with every scene set in moving cars shot in bad DV. And it’s not the lame gimmicks that are gonna help: half-clever Ken and Barbie in a red Corvette bits, cheapie CGI, dumb fantasy sequences… The filmmakers want their picture to be an updated “Le Déclin de l’Empire Américan”, but that’s hardly a good thing. Oh, great, another dull flick both pretentious and juvenile! There’s hardly anything worth seeing in “Québec Montréal” that you couldn’t find in a bad TV sitcom.

PETITES MISÈRES 57

Albert Dupontel stars as a bailiff who is starting to feel guilty about his daily obligation to not care about the poor people whose things he repossesses. His job also alienates him from his wife (Marie Trintignant), who tries to escape boredom by compulsively buying stuff, whether she needs it or not. Philippe Boon and Laurent Brandenbourger’s film is a not very subtle but amusing satire of our society of consumption. It’s often deliberately banal, but it’s livened up by surprising outbursts of quirkiness like a Guiness record meditation session, minimalist musical numbers and a giant plush tiger with glasses who follows the bailiff around!

This is the fourth movie I see this year (after “The Good Girl”, “One Hour Photo” and “Punch-Drunk Love”) that depicts department store as over-lit and numbing but with a great sense of composition and color. This makes for striking shots making these ordinary places look surreal, Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent-style. “Petites Misères” runs a little long and would have been more effective as a 30 minute short, but it’s still an entertaining picture.

MONSIEUR BATIGNOLE 62

This film takes place during one of the least glorious times in the history of France, when the country backed down before Germany and essentially became collaborators of the Nazis. Jews in France were gradually robbed of all their rights and ultimately sent to camps. Many resisted and resented the occupation, but others sided with the illegitimate Vichy regime. Local butcher and caterer Mr. Batignole (played by Gérard Jugnot, who also directed the film) is one such “collabo”, even though he thinks of himself as a good French man only conducting business. It might be his opportunistic son-in-law and not him who makes the call to denounce their Jewish neighbours, but by watching passively as the SS take them away and appropriate their belongings and by profiting from the situation, Batignole is as reprehensible. He gets a chance to redeem himself when an escaped Jewish boy knocks at his door and he decides to hide him and eventually take him to safety in Switzerland.

Jugnot’s film is sort of a French “Life is Beautiful”, but with even more broad comedy and caricatural characters. In French fashion, there’s a lot of yelling and arguing, which might have been funnier if it wasn’t for the bitter aftertaste left by the context in which these vaudeville bouts take place. The uneasy combination of light and heavy material doesn’t always work, at least not to the affecting extent it did in Benigni’s film, but it’s well acted and crafted enough. Worth checking out.

UNE AFFAIRE PRIVÉE 72

Guillaume Nicloux’s latest is a stylish, thoroughly intriguing film noir homage. Thierry Lhermitte is a divorced private detective who chain-smokes, drinks, sleeps around with the wrong women, carries debts from back-room poker games and is not unfamiliar with getting beat up once in a while. He’s a noir character all right, down to the utterly cool, nonchalant, couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude.

The film has him trying to track down a 22 year old who has disappeared six months before, but the plot is almost beside the point. “Une Affaire Privée” is all about mood and moral ambivalence, tough talk and casual sex, midday confrontations and late night calls. Through Lhermitte’s investigation, possibilities and leads multiply and he runs into all kinds of people who knew the missing girl in one way or another, but ultimately this isn’t about answers as much as it’s about the questions being asked.

Nicloux’s noir departs from the classics of the genre by taking place not in black & white smoke and shadow but in sort of a greenish brightness. There’s a greenish tint to the film stock, especially in the exterior scenes, and every other shot filled with green clothes, green walls, green light, green trees and grass of course and green Heineken cans. In Des Couleurs Symboliques dans l’Antiquité, le Moyen-Age et les Temps Modernes, Frédéric Portal writes that the color green “is the manifestation of love and truth as revealed in deeds and action” and “symbolises charity and the regeneration of the soul through action and influence.” If that’s what Nicloux is going for, it’s certainly in a wickedly ironic fashion. In any case, this gives the movie an otherworldly feel which, paired with Lhermitte’s solid performance makes for a very compelling experience.

CET AMOUR-LÀ 5

After five years of correspondence with Marguerite Duras, one of her fans goes to meet her in her beach house and ends up sleeping over for sixteen years. Adapted freely from the book by Yann Andréa (Duras’ 38 years younger lover), “Cet Amour-là” hovers aimlessly over their relationship, never managing to be insightful or involving. Many have praised Jeanne Moreau’s performance as the late French author, but it didn’t impress me. Her Duras is always talking like a book, with every line sounding hopelessly written unnatural.

And is that supposed to be a love story? I didn’t feel any emotion between the two beside an old woman into young meat and a vacant young man thrilled to be near a famous novelist. How is that any different than a groupie excited to sleep with Mick Jagger? Duras and Andréa are essentially alone together, with her rambling pretentiously about how great she is and him passively listening or occasionally lashing out at her for being abusive, which makes her answer “I’m not mean, I’m intelligent.”

The film is directed without inspiration by Josée Dayan, who multiplies TV movie-style fade-to-blacks and endlessly lingers over blue skies, crashing waves and sandy beaches while Angelo Badalamenti’s uncharacteristically sappy score drones on. Then it’s back to more excruciatingly dull dialogue about how “cooking is like writing” and “writing is like dancing”, countless bottles of red wine emptied and embarrassing sing-alongs to old French pop tunes. I think we’re supposed to feel sad when Duras dies at the end, but I was just glad this incredibly boring movie finally ended.

OUI, MAIS… 93

If you’re asked whether you want to improve yourself, you’ll certainly agree. But are people truly willing to change? Are we ready to give up all opportunities to complain? Because face it, people like to bitch. When’s the last time you heard someone tell you that “the boss is fair,” “mom’s a peach,” “teachers are interesting”? No, it’s always “this guy’s a jerk,” “I can’t stand her,” “they make my life hell”… “Oui, mais…” (which translates as “Yes, but…”) is about allowing change into your life and stopping to make excuses. Or in the words of writer-director Yves Lavandier, about “a world fascinated omnipotence (financial, political, even criminal) that must learn to deal with tenderness and personal responsibility.” Or if you want to reduce it in the crudest, it’s about a girl trying to free herself from her mom’s guilt-trips to be able to get off in bed!

The film opens like a fairy tale, with gorgeous establishing shots and schmaltzy music, then it introduces its on-screen narrator, a wise and sympathetic therapist played by Gérard Jugnot. Right there, the irreverent but empathic tone and the episodic storytelling remind of “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, but before long “Oui, mais…” reveals itself to be ten times wittier and more involving. We meet Églantine (Émilie Dequenne), a high school girl torn between her father who’s never there, her heinously manipulative mother and her insensitive boyfriend who’s trying to push her into sleeping with him. It becomes so confusing for her that she decides to go see a therapist (Jugnot’s character, naturally). After all, “You don’t have to be sick to heal.”

Lavandier also says he was fed up with how “shrinks in movies are always clowns or psychopaths. One of the worst villains in film history is Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist. That tells you a lot about people’s perceptions of therapists, even though those I know are more like (Jugnot’s character) than like Lecter!” Lavandier’s film thus presents us with a therapist who’s not only a nice guy but who genuinely helps the young girl, making him a pivotal figure. I feared that this would become didactic self-help guru hogwash, but Jugnot’s advice is insightful and not condescending. Furthermore, it’s surprising how much back and forth eventually occurs between him and his client. He might help her along the way, but to a large degree Églantine is helping herself.

This is only Émilie Dequenne’s third picture (after “Rosetta”, which won her the acting prize at Cannes in ’99, and “Brotherhood of the Wolf”, in which she played Marianne), but she’s already establishing herself as an absolutely wonderful actress. She gives a layered, always convincing, very touching performance. It’s wonderful to witness how she goes from wilting flower to a delightfully self-assured young woman. “Oui, mais…” is a great film that unfortunately seems to be falling through the cracks, having been only a modest success in France and having yet to score a North American distributor. That’s a pity, because it’s full of truth and humor and it features one of the best lovemaking scenes I’ve ever seen.

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