Friday 20 March 2020

Alliance Française French Film Festival - Barrie Pattison bids adieu to cinema in the time of plague

So I sat through the last film the Chauvel ran on Wednesday night before Palace closed it, and all their other Cinemas. They did go to some effort to do the right thing at a time when they must be taking a bath, with Melbourne office staff going all out to refund advance sales. I walked away with the price of the last places on my ten pass returned.

That same night I was notified that the Sydney Film Festival is called off for the first time ever – sensible, as the chilly State was always a breeding ground for winter flu. Event Cinemas are rolling on with special measures in place.

The bulk of U.S. movie theaters have closed along with all those in France and Italy - and probably a whole lot of other places. Curiously the remaining US Drive-Ins are having a surprise boom. I did like Trumpy saying events justified his demand for a border wall where commentators immediately pointed out it would have closed the ‘States off from Mexico which has ten cases of corona virus while the U.S. has thousands. His wall would have done a great job of protecting Mexico.

It occurs to me that that the Chauvel showing of Deux Moi may be the last theatrical screening I get to, a chilling prospect when I was still on a high from having sat damp eyed through the new 2K of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on the theater screen, my first viewing in fifty years and an extraordinary demonstration of the power of real cinema, even if there were only eight people there to experience it. Avoid crowds - go to the movies! 

The Hollywood companies are experimenting with sending their product straight to streaming - at a time when the closure of live sports coverage, the big draw card of free to air TV is putting that at risk. The other side of the virus outbreak is likely to see a different industry - maybe a different world - and there’s no guarantee I’ll be around to experience it.

In the French Film Festival Deux Moi itself is a nice piece, offering director Cédric (L'auberge espagnole) Klapsisch’s thing of slightness combined with substance.

Hypermarket employee Francis Civil is wracked by guilt (it gives him nightmares of being robot delivered in a cardboard box) when automation puts his fellow workers on the street while he’s transferred to a call center. There he pairs with the appealing black girl operator Eye Haidara who stalls customers with her machine voice impression but proves to have issues of her own, rating men like fast food.

Living only a few yards away in the next apartment block to Civil, also facing the rail tracks and having the outline of Sacré Coeur on the sky line, is his Ce qui nous lie/Back to Burgundy  co-star, research chemist, the adorable Ana Giradot. After the break up with her football fan boyfriend triggers daddy issues, she’s urged unsuccessfully into Tinder dating by her chums. The leads find themselves trying to resolve their personal problems with Psis. Enter therapists François Berléand and Camille Cottin, who prove to be associates out of working hours.

Civil’s so winning white kitten strays into area where Giradot adopts it. They both buy pet food from Simon Abkarian’s Marché Bahir Oriental.  We get Civil listening to her singing like Valerian Inkijinov with his unseen neighbor in Tête d’un home and the film keeps on setting up almost meetings recalling the structure of the 1974 Lelouch Toute une vie/And Now My Love. Very French.

By the time we get to their parallel family reconciliations - Civil in the snow country getting his to accept the death of his young sister and Giradot having aced her presentation to the board, ‘phoning her estranged mother in Amiens, the piece has become so involving that we accept the schematic.

Round this out with retiring Berléand haunted by the montage of the lips of his patients speaking their obsessions and Cottin’s sampler-worthy “No love is possible until you love yourself a little.”

Uniformly winning characters, best muted colour and effective choice of unfamiliar Paris locations.

I was less enthused by Christophe (Dans Paris) Honoré’s  Chambre 212Room 21/On a Magical Night which kicks off with forties-ish Chiara Mastroianni refusing to be a Feydeau character and emerging topless from the closet in her young lover Harrison Arevalo’s student flat as he makes out with his Asian girl fiancée Clara Choï.

Mastroianni wanders through the streets greeted by a succession of younger men. Husband musician-actor Benjamin Biolay learns about all this from her mobile which he indignantly flings into the family wash - unreasonably the film suggests. After their argument she moves across the road in designer Stéphane Taillasson’s giant studio decor, to a hotel room where she can see into their flat over the Montparnasse seven screen complex opposite. We spend the picture trying to recognise the display posters - Kiss Me Deadly included.

Through the night she is visited by corporeal versions of her past associations including Vincent Lacoste, twenty-year-old version of the husband and Camille Cottin again, who they desperately try to make glamorous though she’s only prepared to get down to her scanties while Mastroianni and Lacoste go the full Monty. Cottin plays the piano teacher lover Chiara won him away from and she and Lacoste are quite happy to reconnect. She brings the twelve-year-old son they would have had if they stayed together which understandably intrigues Lacoste but this turns into a life sized doll when things look as if Chiara will end up back with the husband. Doors open to reveal mum Marie-Christine Adam and granny Claire Johnston-Cauldwell and a squad of Mastroianni’s shirtless young lovers. Lacoste punches out her cousin whom he felt should have known better.

Things work out next morning in the snow on the street below in front of the Rosebud (!) Cafe. The piece has a kind of big budget studiofied Demy look but a totally different feel. All up, it’s a bit tacky.

I wasn’t all that gone on Le bonheur des uns/A Friendly Tale either though it was made by Daniel Cohen whose Benoît Poelvorde Les Deux Mondes is a fabulous, overlooked piece.

The new film is a name star adaptation inadequately removed from a theater original by staging some of its dialogue in Metro trains, book signings and having the leads bike past the Arc de Triomphe. Though she gets last billing of the four heavy hitter principals, along with Vincent Cassel (again), Bérénice Bejo (again) and Francois Damiens (again), it’s Florence Foresti whose stand-up routines the piece is scaled to. Her “woman in blue” scene where she mimes through the cafe window to passers-by is vintage.

The film has got a glossy, living well texture. Two couples spend their time together but their camaraderie is shattered when, to everyone’s surprise, the novel which Bejo writes becomes a runaway best seller. Her metallurgist husband Cassel (in glasses trying an unsuccessful change of image) can’t adjust even though the royalties get him his dream motor bike. Damiens is spurred to try Alexandrine poetry, bonsai tree culture, Carrara marble sculpture, (considering turning his half complete horse into a likeness of wife Foresti) and epicure cuisine, arriving at dinner parties with Tupperware desert. Foresti finally finds her thing finishing a Paris marathon only an hour sixteen behind the winners.

If all this sounds lame you’d be right. It’s a pity to see people with the talent of this lot punching below their weight. Learning we were getting a world premiere here should have alerted me. It used to be called trying it on the dog.

Yes, I am sorry not to watch the rest - lots of Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve along with the unknowns. We can only wonder if we'll see them again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.