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Friday, 11 March 2016

The French Film Festival - Barrie Pattison checks in on the behemoth of film culture


So far, an impressive crop of new releases.  A while back I covered Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days / Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse, an account of Mathieu Almaric’s past, triggered by the discovery of his passport given to a Jewish refugee years before, and Michel Gondry’s endearing Microbe & Gasoil with the kids hitting the road in the home built timber car.  Since then Jaco Van Dormael’s great Le Tout nouveau testament has been up for the Oscar it should have had. The copy of Van Dormael's film in the festival appears to have been slightly modified since the Paris opening which I reported on at the link above. It totally overshadows the other Benoit Poelvoorde movie, Jean Pierre Améris agreeable enough Family for Rent /Une Famille a Louer with isolated rich Benoit hiring Virginie Efira’s battler family to give him the common touch.

Their excellence is matched by Stephan Brizé’s Measure of a man / Loi du marché which kicks off with scruffy, fifty something Vincent Lindon being told he’s wasted his time doing a crane driver course while his benefit entitlement ran out, and follows his struggle to survive among the working poor with the plot taking an unexpected twist when he turns up as a giant Hyper Mart security man. Director and star have built up a body of these (Mlle Chambon, Quelques heures de printemps) but this is better.

The film is is compared to the Dardennes but it connects back earlier, to seventies German arbeiter films like Schneeglöckchen blühen im September (Christian Ziewer, Germany, 1974) or Ken Loach’s hymns to the Unions.  Here the focus on the personal is greater and more effective. Convincing minimal production values. Mainly first time actors and technicians producing a grainy long lens look, with some scenes a single take.

Also superior and also unexpected is Xavier (Quand j'étais chanteur) Giannoli’s Marguerite with Catharine Frot coming back gangbusters as an heiress who sings worse than Florence Foster Jenkins without anybody being game to stop her giving recitals. The actress has nailed a spot among the notables of French cinema here. The dark, detailed bad taste good taste privileged class settings contrasted to the lively decadence of the arts community, all realised in unfamiliar Czech production values, create a kind of early Twentieth Century Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, USA, 1950). The film’s most imposing scene comes when the mean spirited anarchists have Frot  perform at the Cabaret Marot, where she does the Marseillaise, complete with rosette, trident and three corner hat, behind the sheet on which they project (untinted 16mm.!) battle atrocity footage for an audience of bearded nuns, politicians and affronted soldiers. They can’t match this in the finale they construct. Christa Théret (Déa in the Depardieu L'Homme qui rit) seems to have a monopoly on sympathy.

Throw in  Franck Ekonci’s Avril et le monde truqué  from the Persepolis lot, which establishes a fascinating animator’s premise - after the assassination of Napoleon III, the war of 1870 never occurs and the world remains in the steam age, so that in 1947 Paris is a soot blackened low rise metropolis with wood burning automobiles and steam cable car cables. Intriguing to compare this to the cartoon Paris sky lines of  Gay Purree (Abe Levitow, USA, 1962) and Monstre á Paris (Bibo Bergeron, France, 2011). The second half strays from this great exposition, which is unfortunate. Figures are closer to bande dessiné than the digital detail we get now days. Marion Cotillard and Jean Rochefort do voices.

The only disappointment I caught was Clovis Cornillac’s director debut Blind Date / Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglement which labors to make a silly premise into an endearing rom com. Cornillac and Melanie Bernier have apartments either side of a wall which transmits any noise. They battle (she wins with an amplified metronome) reconcile and become lovers without physically meeting, before her big piano competition. The people are appealing and the filming is glossy. The audience seemed to swallow it all.

More as I burn through the ten pass.

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