Saturday 17 March 2018

French Film Festival (3) - Barrie Pattison is not enthused by NORMANDY NUE (Philippe Le Guay) or CE QUI NOUS LIE/BACK TO BURGUNDY (Cedric Klapisch)

Well right now there’s are fifty-two new French films on offer in Sydney with four starting on the hour in five locations most of the time. It seems like sudden abundance but it still represents under half their annual product and we have no way of telling how good the selection is. We haven’t scored Benoît Poelvoorde in Héctor Cabello Reyes’s Sept jours pas plus, Gerard Jugnot’s C'est beau la vie quand on y pense or Gérard Depardieu & Catherine Deneuve in Florence Quentin’ Bonne pomme as examples. There would seem to be some wiggle room left.

I checked a copy of Pariscope I had standing around and there was a choice of  sixty-seven new French films spread over three hundred plus Paris screens that week. Ours go away at the end of the month. Paris screens French films for fifty two weeks a year.

Also the cheapest way to see our lot is to lay out seven hundred dollars.

... and what’s happened to the celebrity introductions? A glass of sparkling is no fair swap.

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Francois Cluzet (at the Cesars, 2014)
In the handsomely produced Normandie nue the cast register, headed by an authoritative François Cluzet, here playing the Normandy Mêle-sur-Sarthe mayor struggling to hold his rural community together. He has inherited the mature French character actor status of Jean Pierre Marielle and Michel Piccoli.

We pick Cluzet up fronting a demonstration where the farmers have blocked the highway with cattle and farm machinery, protesting the conditions that mean properties, which have been in families for generations, are being taken over and farmers are regularly hanging themselves in their barns. Cluzet’s own wife has left him and lives in the next town. It makes an interesting comment on French back to the land films of the thirties and forties - Regain, La Terre Qui Meurt, Goupi Mains Rouges or Farrebique.

This is strong enough - particularly as Philippe Le Guay, the director of Les femmes du 6ème étage/Women on the Sixth Floor, is playing it for comedy.

However parallel plot lines dilute interest - Toby Jones (Alfred Hitchcock in The Girl) as a Spencer Tunick character who sees their disputed Champs Chollet pasture as place for a shoot with the locals bare-assed (bit late coming after Calendar Girls), young Pili Groyne, Jesus’ sister in Le tout nouveau testament narrating about her city dad’s bogus desire to replant himself and butcher Grégory Gadebois resisting pressure to have his now fleshy former beauty queen wife participate.

Vincent Jousselin, son of the neighbourhood’s one-time portrait photographer gets it on with his ex-fiancée’s winning fellow cheese factory worker girl. His meeting with Jones introduces interesting and undeveloped observations on the disappearance of the chemical image. Throw in Philippe Rebbot and Patrick d’Assumcao as two feuding neighboring farmers.

These elements never fuse. Cluzet’s plan to draw attention to their plight through the stunt photos is never convincing and the key development of the locals letting him down seems an afterthought. Probably most damning is that, in this film about the need to go naked, of the principals only Jousselin’s squeeze actually appears (memorably) starkers otherwise leaving full frontals to unidentified extras.

Cédric Klapisch’s Ce qui nous lie/Back to Burgundy has been here before. It struck me as the major disappointment in my highly selective viewing of the 2017 Sydney Film Fest. The film is great to look at, full of ‘scope vistas of seasons changing the Burgundy vineyards - along with beautiful people - but they get to be boring company.

Pio Marmaï comes back to the family vineyards after five years in an unseen Australia. His siblings Ana Girardot and François Civil are running the business. Hospitalised father Éric Caravaca (the only familiar face in a sea of fresh talent) dies and the trio face the question of how to deal with dividing the estate menaced by tax debt.

There’s more wine making detail than anyone could ever want (“only wimps spit at a tasting”) and at great length the action gets to pivot on whether the most talented wine maker among them will carry on the family tradition

Giradot comes across gang busters and the rest are equal to the task but even the best passages, like the brothers lip-synching the dialogue between her and the stroppy picker who they see romancing her in the distance, have a current of meanness out of character with the Klapisch’s best work. 

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