Friday 24 July 2020

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2020 (Revived) - Barrie Pattison reviews a handful of the current offering and contemplates the future .

Well the French Film Festival, high point of the Art Cinema year, came back again after a
plague break. I find myself considering it with some ambivalence. All my life theatrical movie screenings have been the thing I looked forward to. However their spot is gradually being usurped by the desk top. The experiences I share are more often film found on line. Now I sit in a nearly empty auditorium at risk of my life watching a twenty dollar (with piddling concessions) movies when I could be safe at home with a three dollar one from the Taiwanese event.

How the theater chains react to this situation is going to be crucial. People used to say
that there was nothing wrong with the movie business that better films couldn’t fix. I’d
like to think that was still true.

What could be more typical of the traditional Film Festival movie than L'adieu à la nuit/Farewell to the Night directed by André Téchiné and extending the line of his 1998  La fille du RER/Girl on the Train and 1994 and Les roseaux sauvages/Wild Reeds mixing issues with drama.

Deneuve, Téchiné
A big French A-feature with their great female star and an important subject Adieu á la nuit  raises hopes for a major Téchiné-Catherine Deneuve collaboration. She’s gained the gravitas to carry one of these and still has the stature to make it bankable.

Here mature Deneuve runs an equine center (harness racing, children’s riding lessons) within her cherry orchard in the South of France. The symbolism (?) of the eclipse and the depredations by wild boor just protract what is a long and leisurely paced film but things focus with the return of Kacey Mottet Klein the grandson she has raised since his mother died in suspicious circumstances and his dad took off to form another family about which the boy has no curiosity.

Catherine finds finds the kid secretly praying to Allah on a rug in the field, his return to
the faith of their Algerian families coming as a surprise. She’s more at ease with his
pairing with winning Oulaya Amamra and surprised that he doesn’t want to take
advantage of her indulgent attitide to the pair if they want to sleep together in his separate

Turns out his going off to Canada story is a front for the arrangements he’s made to join
ISIS in Syria, taking the girl along. Trouble is they are short on the costs involved (they
have to pay for their own Kalasnhikov and weapons training). The young pair collect his
internet mentor Stéphane Bak for an induction session cross cut with the cheery family
gathering back at the ranch.

Klein resolves to steal the money and is amused and offput to find that Amamra
quoting scripture has become the arbiter of his actions. Catherine springs them and
recruits returned ISIS fighter Kamel Labroudi (Un Prophete) on parole, seeking him
out playing with his little daughter in the park, his court ordered ankle bracelet visible.
She forces a confrontation with the gandson but that doesn’t work out.

This one could use tighter handling to justify its ambitions, with the thriller elements
(escape, chase, menacing fundamentalists) more involving than it’s core family drama.
There’s no uncertainty about where the makers stand but the young recruits are treated
with sympathy and some measure of respect. It’s a more mature work than a lot of what
we have seen from Téchiné.

The incidentals are superior - the horse training, the elderly land lord wanting Amamra’s
company, the mullas coucelling by facebook, her nursing the aged patients in a singalong,
the winning hijab girl explaining that it’s easy to get multiple husbands among the
fighters. Production values couldn’t be beaten.

They also provided another run on Hôtel des Ameriques the 1981 (!) Téchiné-Denueve
study of amour fou in Biaritz in which neurotic relationships and uneven pacing are
already dominant.

Dominik Moll’s  Seules les bêtes/Only the Animals is a handsomely mounted French
thriller, contrasting poverty striken Africa and the snowy French countryside, another
Colonial heritage piece.

Dominik Moll
First up young Guy Roger 'Bibisse' N'Drin is cycling on an Abidjan  road with a reluctant goat strapped to his back but we shift into French dairy country where traveling insurance representative Laure Calamy (Claire Darling) is making it with edgy farmer Damien Bonnard (Dunkirk) who protests “I only talk to the animals and my dog.” Her own dairyman husband Denis Ménochet (Inglorious Bastards) is scornful but when he fails to feed his animals the plot thickens.

In episodes introduced by the first names of five of the principals, the story weaves back and forward over those same initially inexplicable incidents. They finally fall into place. The white car abandoned on the road in the snow belongs to the film’s most familiar face Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who doesn’t get to speak till well after her body has been found and hidden in a hay bale cave by Bonnard, drawing too much attention from his dog. She proves to be having an affair with sexy waitress Nadia Tereszkiewicz  half her age whose video likeness is being peddled by the African stolen identity internet scammer delighted to have gotten a taker so he can blow the money on his side of the planet sponsoring rave parties. There he re-encounters his winning childhood sweetheart and as it turns out the mother of his child but now the mistress of a French businessman visitor.

Calamities strike leaving young gendarme Bastien Bouillon is as baffled as everyone else
and then the cops burst into the grubby shared room from which 'Bibisse' N'Drin is
running his scam - but there’s more.

It’s curious but the Young Africans who talk about reclaiming colonial debt again emerge as the
most sympathetic characters, here battling poverty, first world imperialism and what the
high rise godfather describes as a fate that demands a split on the take.

The rotation of it’s multiple characters shows considerable ingenuity backed by strong
film making and the required quota of sex, violence and hostile fate, which would have
got a less coincidence heavy film over the finish line.

Michel (The Artist) Hazanavicius’ Le prince oublié/The Lost Prince is an ambitious
undertaking with elaborate fantasy settings and effects, a great cast and an interesting
idea. Unfortunately it doesn’t gell into the kind of Wizard of Oz hit they obviously hoped

Bejo, Hazanavicius
Single parent Omar Sy (nice to see him speaking perfect English in the new Call of the
) finds that as his daughter Sarah Gaye becomes a teenager, he is marginalised in her
life and in the bedtime stories he used to tell her where he appeared as the Prince who
rescues her from candy land perils by waving red swim flippers, his place taken by Néotis
Ronzon the so-blonde boy in her class.

Unrecognisable Francois Damiens, El Farto the black wearing heavy in the dreams, guides Omar on a doomed attempt to kidnap the new prince and cast him into the pit of oblivion, with the the fast fading Oubliés, the see-through toy characters who once inhabited the girl’s dreams. Neighbour (she always carries round her door in the limbo setting) Bérénice Bejo provides some comfort and when Gaye runs off to the misrepresented birthday party where the older kids deride her sketch of Ronzon, they have to band together with the new prince to save the day.

Despite Sy’s indestructable charm, some of his scenes are embarrassing as much for the
audience as the characters. The design aspect has its moments. The knitted elephant is a
winner but there are off putting deja vus - the walking inflatable with the goldfish inside
like the manga Kimi to, nami ni noretara/Ride Your Wave  and the ending repeating the
last of the Toy Story films. Hazanavicius is trying to maintain his place on the cinema’s
cutting edge and watching him try is not without interest.

Films about the group are a characteristic French product - people who chose to spend
their time together over the years. You can see the beginning in items like Duvivier’s
1931 Cinq Gentlemen Maudits/Moon Over Morocco or 1936 La belle équipe, already
different to celebrated Howard Hawks comrade movies like Ceiling Zero, Only Angels
Have Wings
or Red Line 7000 from the ‘States. Claude Sautet does one of those in Classe
tous risques
(1960) before he makes the ultimate group movie Vincent, François, Paul et
les autres
in 1974 and they’ve been trying to get it right ever since. Actor Guillaume
Canet joined in with his also all-star Les Petit Mouchoirs 2010 which I didn’t altogether

Well M. Canet and his celebrity cast are back again with Nous finirons ensemble which
picks up the first film’s characters ten years later. François Cluzet is cleaning up his
neglected coastal chalet when the gang arrive unsuspectedly to celebrate his sixtieth
birthday. Turns out there’s bad blood between him and Gilles Lellouche after their last
meeting.  Some of the group have produced children who sit about texting, bored with the
whole thing. Benoît Magimel has come out and brought a boy friend. Marion Cotillard, hair
blondes, manages to get attention with every appearance and Laurent Lafitte finds himself
on Lellouche’s payroll as assistant.

Cotillard, Canet
Turns out that Cluzet has split with wife Clémentine Baert and is turning the place over to her (following a disaster with “the Trocedero affair”). After a bit of raised voice dialogue
they all move down the road reconciled but uneasy. When Baert shows up there’s the
usual friction but neighbour Jose Garcia shows an interest in her, changing the dynamic.

This is a very long movie (134 min. ) and it looks as if it will outstay its welcome even
with nice touches like the baby fingering Lellouche’s face or an outing to the disco but a
boating disaster snaps all the threads back together (didn’t we see this in Palm Beach last year?) with a superior action scene where local boat man Joël Dupuch comes into his own.

Fielding the fresh French talent of the moment, Antoine de Bary’s Mes jours de gloire/My Days of Glory recalls the Truffaut Antoine Doinel films but this one is more perverse and more probing as one time child movie star Vincent Lacoste finds his late twenties slipping though his fingers without work, security - or sex - but as it rolls on we finally get something substantial.

He’s first seen calling out the fire brigade with a gas leak story to get into the flat which
he’s lost the keys to. It’s not long before he’s locked out again. Moving in with mum
shrink Emmanuelle Devos and dad Christopher Lambert, whose major preoccupation is mixing tomato and vodka doesn't make things any more secure beyond giving him the chance to pocket bank notes from mum’s purse. 

Abita, De Bary, Lacoste
His loser friends are no help and getting together with winning school girl Noée Abita (Le Grand Bain), when he's having trouble getting it up, is bound to be a disaster.  Erectile dysfunction is impossible at 27 the cheery doctor prompts. Viagra jokes and  the scene with the chum’s tot enjoying Vince’s virtual reality porno follow.

Vincent loses the leading role in a life of De Gaulle to the fellow actor who jokes about
Vincent's fear of nudity. They give him a make-up that makes him look like Adolph Hitler which they have Vince wear in the street.

Devos' reappearance gives the piece the extra substance it needs and then at the last
minute they manage to turn it all around one more time.

First time featue director de Bary has expanded the film from the short he did with
juvenile of the moment Lacoste. The excellent performances and film craft make it all
kind of winning.

Vincent Lacoste is back in Christophe Honoré’s  Chambre 212/Room 212/On a
Magical Night
but I was less enthused with forties-ish Chiara Mastroianni
refusing to be a Feydeau character by 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.

Greeted by a succession of younger men, Mastroianni wanders through the streets.
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

Christophe Honoré (in shades) with cast
Through the night she Chiara is visited by corporeal versions of her past associations
including Lacoste, twenty year old version of the husband, and 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 was 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 undrestandably intrigues Lacoste but this turns into a life sized doll when it looks
as if Chiara will end up with the husband. The space fills up with mum Marie-Christine
Adam, granny Claire Johnston-Cauldwell and a squad of Mastoianni’s young lovers.
Lacoste punches out her cousin who he felt should have known better.

Things work out in the snow on the street below next morning 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’ve done better (a lot better) out of French Film Festivals but once again it’s always
possible that, inhibited by the price, I missed the best items. Well we’re all waiting to see what happens next and not just to foreign movie events.

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