Saturday 19 March 2022

33rd Alliance Française French Film Festival 2022 - Janice Tong's second Filmic Postcard - PARIS 13TH DISTRICT (Jacques Audiard) and LOST ILLUSIONS (Xavier Giannoli)

Lucie Zhang, Makia Samba - no ordinary lovers in
Jacques Audiard’s Les Olympiades

The complexities of the now – where cultural and sexual fluidity creates a hyper-real feast that promises the world, but in this attempt, delivers only a dull ache in the final show down – and this dull ache, if any sensation at all, is the way we chart our lives these days. Jacques Audiard’s Les Olympiades, Paris 13e Paris, 13th District (2021) opens with a searching shot across a night-time skyline: factories with smoke pouring out, large expanses of sprawling inhabited land on which featureless massive apartment blocks present themselves. This eye is not the god-eye view of Wings of Desire (1987), nor the eye of the vitriolic, Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009). No, it is the eye of a lesser being, the mechanical ‘us’. Just like a drone in search of a story; this eye finally settles on scanning the windows of one such lifeless apartment block to reveal a few illuminated inhabitants, those of switched-on machines and TV watchers. 

We live in a world of disillusionment. 


Enter into the life-erotic, that of Émilie Wong’s (Lucie Zhang); we first see her lazing on a couch, naked, her breasts framing her more than the camera frames the shot, as in, that is all we see – her breasts, her nakedness, her otherness. This striking opening sequence will remain the film’s highlight: Émilie is singing a song in Mandarin, the lyrics of which have not been translated…her voice is lilting and haunting, an effect from one of those kitschy Karaoke microphones – the kind with built-in speakers that reverberate and echo when you sing into it. She is then joined by a guy, black, handsome, amazing head of hair (short Afro), also naked; we’d heard his voice first, off-screen, asking whether she wanted some yoghurt. We’re unsure of the relationship between these two…are they lovers? The kind that share their bodies as well as a dwelling and food? Or, is she a whore, and he, her pimp? Or, her customer?

Who is whose doppelganger? Noémie Merlant
as Amber Sweet 

This scene, in fact, is a flash forward, and as an audience, we get to begin again, and enter into a series of episodic and overlapping stories ‘from the beginning’ – loosely following Émilie’s life in Paris, her exchange with Camille (Makia Samba), the guy from the opening sequence, before handing the baton, so to speak, over to Nora (Noémie Merlant, you would know her from Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)). Her story is one of mistaken identity, having been taken for an online porn-star Amber Sweet. 


All through the film, there is a strong sense of the frantic and the mundane in all of their stories. We are continuously reminded that we live in a world of disillusionment; and although this film can be seen as a fresh new kind of love story; dripping in ennui, it isn’t really that at all. Émilie’s dance of joy perhaps can be understood as a flight into freedom or exhilaration, I’m thinking specifically of Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991), although you see it and understand its intended meaning, but unlikeLes Amants, I couldn’t feel it. 

The dance euphoric


Audiard’s exploration into the flaws of human connection hasn’t moved far from his most well-received film to date, A Prophet (2009) which launched the career of the talented Tahar Rahim. This latest film doesn’t deliver the kind of fatalist but euphoric quality of The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005) or the deterministic thrust of Read My Lips (2001). The fresh and naturalistic performance from relative newcomer Lucie Zhang, however, is captivating; and there are some moments of this film that is beautifully shot too. The story is in part based on the graphic novels by American cartoonist, Adrian Tomine


In the literary world, everyone is someone, until you are not. And please, don’t even try to be that someone, for this is a gated guild that an invitation to join is not always what it seems. With a little first-hand experience of such a world, I found it is even more important in this universe than in the business world, of who you know and who your influencers are, rather than necessarily what you write, and even less so, the quality of your writing. 

Cécile de France, Benjamin Voisin,Lost Illusions

Illusions perduesLost Illusions (2021) directed by Xavier Giannoli is a luminous affair, coloured by a kind of self-illumination of the chosen and the elite; and with this fantastical circus, the self-proclaimed patrons of the arts dance in their finest trickery to push through the receding darkness of what graces they have bought. Cretinous journalism indeed; we are in the land of the jackals and the wolves; with a paddling of ducks to sing or sink. 


I have not read Balzac’s book, Illusions perdues, which was written in three parts between 1837 and 1843, but I can immediately galvanise its context into our current times. The film tracked two of the three volumes, and to do this justice, has a running time of 2 hours and 48 mins (actually, the running time differs when you seek out different websites, but I am pretty sure that the one shown at the AFFF is the longer cut), but the tempo in which the story builds, buoyed by meticulous art direction, fine acting and a pacey script; paints the screen with resplendent costumes haloed in a kind of golden hue. It forms a raft on which the viewer can only breathe the whole thing in, in one single glorious take. There isn’t much room for contemplation; which perhaps was how it must have felt for the doe-eyed innocent Lucien, the hero cum anti-hero of the story. Beautifully played by Benjamin Voisin, (last seen as the young lover in Ozon’s Summer of ‘85 (2020)), a young love-lorn self-published poet from Angoulême who followed his love interest, a lonely but wealthy patron of his “Marguerite” poems, Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France), to seek out a writerly life in Paris. Heartbreak and destitution, fame and fortune, and finally the fall of the unguarded all came in a blink of an eye. 


Salomé Dewaels as Coralie - lovely, but doomed, Lost Illusions

There is little else to do but for us to continue to dream of Lucien, from far away. We still wish for his innocence and success; we still pray for his dreams and talent to be taken for what they are. But, this is not the life illuminated, it is a life of lost illusions; where the dreamic persists only within the dunk of a madeleine.


There were many fine support cast in this film, my favourite once-upon-a-time enfant terribleXavier Dolan, was a joy to watch; perhaps his best since Tom at the Farm (2013) and that’s saying something; my other two all-time favourite actors, Jeanne Balibar and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing were very fine in their roles. Relative newcomer Salomé Dewaels was perfect as the good-hearted but ultimately doomed Coralie and even Vincent Lacoste as the conniving editor of the paper that Lucien penned for was convincingly duplicitous.

The 'crowning' of Lucien, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing  (left, front)00) 
Lost Illusions  


The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently showing in SydneyMelbourneCanberra and Perth from now to the 6th April across a number of theatres. Hobart from 9th to 20th March, Brisbane from 16th March to 13th April, and a little later in Byron Bay, 30th March to 13th April, Victor Harbour 4th to 11th April and Adelaide from 24th March to 26th April.

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