Tuesday 2 April 2024


Jean-Pierre Ameris did a couple of nice Benoît Poelvoorde movies, so his new Marie Line et son juge/Take a Chance on Me deserved attention. It looked like a quirky odd couple movie with now aged Michel Blanc confronted by music video performer Louane Emera in a too short mini skirt that made her legs look stumpy. Well, we got that and quite a bit more – a plausible dissection of privilege, the joyless Le Havre setting and a couple of apparently unlikable characters who become totally endearing.

Waitress Louane Emera’s life is pretty crappy, divided between waiting tables in the port cafe, where she spills his drink over grumpy Blanc’s papers, and looking after her defeated amputee father Philippe Rebbot. Things pick up when she connects wannabe film student Victor Belmondo (grandson of the star.) They go market shopping together and can’t decide whether they want an ugly but comfortable lounge chair. However, when she doesn’t relate to Truffaut, he stops calling. She stalks him and they have a parking lot fight where he ends up in hospital and she finds herself apprehensive in Judge Blanc’s court. Her friendly black court-appointed lawyer Aurélie Léma works up the judge’s sympathy and he goes easy on her – suspended sentence, a no-contact order and a fine. However, fired from the cafe, she can’t even manage a payments program and the slammer looms.

Michel Blanc, Louane Emera, Take a Chance on Me

At this point, the film lifts off with her meeting Blanc in the street and begging for relief and him upholding the legal system but compassionate to the point where he hires her as a driver, while his car is in shop, and finds himself sharing her battered vehicle with the neighbor’s smelly dog. She quotes “People know the law but I know the judge” to him and he attributes it to Coluche, who she’s never heard of. Despite their one hundred and eighty degree differences, they learn about each other and the film pulls off the feat Mr. Blake at Your Service tries for, as their contact enhances both their lives. An interest in his profession is fanned by watching Blanc’s custody case. He pushes a used copy of Le Code Civil into her hands. Add in his failing romance with time-served murderess Nathalie Richard (wasted in Bertrand Mandico films), who he corresponded with after he put her away. Paella, a bulky bunch of flowers and a disk of Jules & Jim are involved.

Dope runner sister Alexandra Gentil shows up with her Slavonic lady friend Ekaterina Rusnak, for a confrontation with dad & they demand she face off with Belmondo despite the court order. This ends resolved at the channel ferry with one of the film’s best pieces of staging.


Performances are endearing and non-judgemental events played in uninviting settings are welcome and not familiar. It is however yet another dim piece where I sit there thinking “Turn on the lights!”

Michel Gondry re-appears with a small scale, satirically autobiographical and suitably weird film 
Le Livre des solutions/The Book of Solutions dominated by Pierre Niney’s manic movie director character Mark Becker, first found battling his producers, including longtime associate Vincent Elbaz (also in Iris et les hommes) They demand a viewing on his film in progress of which all we ever see is a shot of one man pursued by a giant effects department rat.

Pierre’s response is to band up his editing suite followers and steal the hard drives (jokes about winding up leads from both ends) He heads out to the Cevennes and the home of his seventy-year-old aunt Françoise Lebrun - who we discover has had a sustained career since we lost track after her stand out performance in the 1973 La maman & la putain.

In the village, he institutes the reign of terror that his long suffering editor Blanche Gardin is used to - reversing the order of his shots, refusing to see the cut and abusing her hangdog assistant for his coughing fits, when not recording Lebrun and a local under the hose for a shot that will never get to be included.

In with this, he is compiling and illustrating a journal of his Mark Becker Method with maxims like always ignore other people’s advice. An animated segment of his Max le Renard character, along with Lebrun in a farcical cooking video, break up whatever narrative flow the piece has. Niney keeps on waking up his associates to implement crazy ideas including a music recording in a village studio where an impressive score emerges from ego-dominated chaos. Max/Pierre berates his worn down assistant for not calling in Sting to accompany this – which the celebrity then actually does, the boom box track plugged into the sophisticated recording studio. “Ca va aller.”

The lead’s social life struggles ahead (“I hate it when a girl I like wants me to meet her boyfriend”) and he becomes the sash-wearing village mayor, opening a hair salon. His crack brained medical attention to 75 year old Lebrun actually reveals a life-threatening ailment and he decides to reward her with sex, only snapping out when he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. There’s a must-be-fantasy segment where Elbaz appears declaiming that he has ruined him and firing a multi repeating pistol before driving off the road, with no one believing Niney’s account of the meeting.

Gardin has finished the film without him and things go well with the assistant who he gets pregnant. They all pile into the screening of the picture (“I’ll see the film for the first time at the premiere”) setting up an inscrutable ending.

Gondry has chosen to make his return to production with a film from some place beyond Godard, complete with layered disregard for logic and consistency. This all goes on too long but does make a welcome break from what we are usually offered. It’s a massive tribute to Niney that he manages to redeem the lead character by charm. The women, shown unglamorously, also appeal. Production values are conspicuously minimal. 

The festival had a distinctly female feel to it – no leather jacketed agents taking down Arab dope pushers in the mean streets of Marseilles here. The next best thing might have been Vincent Perez’ Une affaire d'honneur/The Edge of the Blade.

Vincent Perez, Edge of the Blade

The aim here is to provide a stove pipe hat duellist piece, where realistic period detail replaces swashbuckling. The account of the Code of Honour among then-illegal Duellists in 1887 post revolution France offers information that we haven’t had before. Revenge is not an acceptable motive, no relatives as seconds, no coaching from the side, wounds from the flat of the blade don’t count - and the rest. This one is into grisly, with a particularly vivid drowning as a lung fills with blood.

It is all right but it comes with built in shortcomings. Real life nineteenth century feminist duellist Marie-Rose Astié de Valsayre intriguingly represented by Dora Tillier (Smoking Causes Coughing) even shows up in a drag disguise, but the character still seems to have been imposed to meet a twenty first century sensibility. We get the Newspaper in-house Salles d’armes, where the grim male members work out and get massages, contrasted with the women’s clubs, whose participants flitter about cheerily. It’s hard to believe that macho journalist Damien Bonnard would ever accept Tiller as an opponent replacement for Roschdy Zem, whose status as a master of arms forbids his participation in duels. 

The encounters themselves are striking, notably the opening demonstration match with the ever admirable Roschdy, facing Spanish champion Pepe Lorente for a society audience (psyching himself up for the encounter, Zem snubs the Prefect of Paris), the epée confrontation in the woods with Zem’s young nephew Noham Edje, who has slapped sadistic Vincent Perez (here pulling double duty as villain and director), the session training Doria Tillier by roping her to Llorente for a finger duel performed like dance. After these, the final stadium sabres on horseback challenge, where military man Perez has the advantage of experience, is an anti-climax.

The mounted face-off with shotguns in the Joel McCrea San Francisco Story worked better, not to mention Stewart Granger’s Scaramouche, Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro and the Errol Flynn/Michael Curtiz films. Those pieces are embedded in the collective memory and any determined viewer will sit there comparing what they see in the new film. We also had training girl fencer Assumpter Serena in the 1992 Spanish El maestro de esgrima. The new film’s instruction in holding the sword like a little bird – too loose and it flies away, too tight and it is crushed – repeats Sammo Hung in Baai ga jai /The Prodigal Son.

Perez, once Christian to Depardieu’s Cyrano, has now directed a handful of films. He is very good with actors – choosing them and directing them - but his placing of emphasis is still erratic.

The period detail on this is irreproachable but we are distracted by the historical references. The then recent horrors of war loom over the characters. Showing the Duellist Association panel of uniformed, aged military officers, who saw their duty as being to the king, the nation and honour and now have no king, is more resonant than Roschdy’s family connections. What becomes of Edje’s mother?

Also this is another movie played largely in deep indoors gloom. It’s distracting to note that papers burnt in the distance create a brighter patch than the candles being lit ostentatiously in front of us. Look really, next time they do one of these, if they’ll get a flashlight, I’m willing to stomp up the cost of a couple of packets of Double A batteries. 


And – outclassing the rest - we get Martin (Eiffel) Bourboulon’s two part, four hour Les trois Mousquetaires, a whopping great success in Europe.

I’ve been watching 3 Musketeer movies all my life but this manages to efface the one between my ears, the one where Gene Kelly is backed by Allen Hale, Oliver Reed and Gerard Depardieu in combating Nigel de Brulier’s Richlieu, who deploys Milady Yvette Lebon, while Louis Hayward hovers in the background in an iron mask.

The new Les trois mousquetaires is more lavish, more rooted in history with La Rochelle insurrection prominent, longer and more accomplished. It is also, outside the Cottafavi film, the only one to embrace the viciousness of Dumas, who is usually reduced to a jolly adventure that will do Saturday afternoons.

Les trois mousquetaires (+ 1)

Straight off we learn about the 1627 threat of the Protestant rebellion against Catholic king Louis XIII. While we are pondering that, Francois Civil finds himself in the rain, fencing off shadowy swordsmen before the lady in the coach takes him down with a point blank pistol shot. Despite the fact that this is happening (again) under cover of darkness, there is no question about which dim figure is which, already a virtuoso effort.

And there are more to come Civil’s sustained queue-jumping sustained advance through the grounds where the king’s musketeers are at training with swords and (yes) muskets, an even more dazzling encounter that puts three – no four – against seven of the Cardinal’s guards in an unedited, minutes long confrontation, a surprise ambush when the Duke of Buckingham has been lured into a trap and he faces attackers, sword in hand, as the action moves outside the open door, through which we now glimpse new figures joining him, Vincent Cassell in the barred cart that takes him to the headsman’s axe, finding it engulfed for an encounter that blows the door away, D’Artagnan and Milady Eva Green galloping side by side along the white cliffs and the royal wedding with sniper monks exposed at the last moment “Tireurs!” These scenes are as good as anything of their kind but there is more.

The closed jewel case where Queen Vicki Krieps gambles her life on the royal protocol is as tense as any of the action material and events are constantly opened out into panoramas of street activity, a costumed ball or the crowded Cathedral which will shortly become littered with bodies. In a production where the technical work is so accomplished it’s maybe unfair to single out Thiery Delettre‘s costumes - earth tones which go with having the lead buried with no indication that he has taken a bath afterwards.

Louis Garrel, often a boring performer, aces the royal character. He uses limited screen time to make central and involving someone who has to command without hesitation, whether or not he is equal to the intrigues around him. “The king has no friends, only subjects and enemies.” If the film has a fault, it is that Eric Ruf’s plotting Richelieu is totally eclipsed. I keep on wondering when Dominique Valadié, their Marie de Medici is going to get her moment too.

Maybe Eva Green comes good in part two which I have yet to see but Lyna Khoudri (The French Dispatch) is a best yet Constance, plausibly youthful but equal to her important tasks – and totally winning. There’s the nice bed scene where she and Civil end up under the mattress. I’m not so sure that I’m on board with the notion of stitching up open wounds as foreplay, which we get here and in Une affaire d'honneur.

It was simultaneously a safe bet to field a new iteration of the so often tested Three Musketeers and a gamble to put such a familiar subject into an uncertain market. Note that a simultaneous English language edition with a black D’Artagnan vanished. Martin Bourboulon has beaten the game and gotten a place at the big people’s table. After this one it will be hard to find a project that will not be an anti-climax – please not the next James Bond film!

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