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Entries in Francophile (68)

Saturday
Sep132014

TIFF: The New Girlfriend

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF continued

 François Ozon remains one of France's most prolific directors. Like most prolific auteurs this means an uneven filmography. Even the very good films can feel ever-so-slightly underrealized. Is it the rush or just the nature of the artistry of the prolific, all first draft energies, favorite or borrowed styles structures and themes, and just warming-up ideas with the occasional lightning-strike perfections?

Like many fans I'm still waiting for another of those lightning strike perfections like certain moments in Under the Sand or 8 Women in full but his not-quite-there efforts can still be highly appealing: Potiche anyone?

The New Girlfriend turns out to be all of the above with grand moments, messy ones, energetic diversions, familiar tropes and half formed ideas... which as it turns out is just fine for a movie about embryonic searches for new identities. It begins with a funereal yet beautiful opening sequence that recalls an Almodóvarian trance, and quickly moves into an Up-like backstory prelude detailing the very intimate friendship of Laura and Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) from childhood to Laura's early death. When we begin our actual story Claire and her husband Gilles (Raphael Personnaez, who also starred in The Gate at this festival) along with Laura's widowed husband David (Romain Duris) and his infant daughter Lucie are all still reeling from Laura's demise. One day on a guilty whim, Laura jogs to David's house to check in on Lucie only to make a startling discovery when no one answers the door and she lets herself in: there's David, in full drag, tenderly feeding Lucie with a bottle like a good mother. Claire can't believe what she's seeing and to cover her tracks for where she was that day with her husband she says she was with "Virginia... a girlfriend, someone you don't know." And thus begins our subject matter with the title taking on multiple meanings. Is David more Virginia than David? Which of them is Claire befriending? How desperate are both of them to recreate Laura in her vacuum? And what kind of a girlfriend can Virginia even be since she has a visible penis? 

The rest of the film is largely devoted to both farcical and dramatic consequences of this new secret in Claire's life with delightfully surprising beats amply peppered across the character arcs. Demoustier proves rather masterful in delineating Claire's internal confusions and hypocrisies, especially and most amusingly her illicit hypocritial thrills in having a new girlfriend at all (the prelude makes amply obvious that Laura and Claire were so devoted and happy together that they didn't cultivate other friendships). But full warning: the film is way too comically provocative and politically incorrect to please the easily offended which many in the LGBT community seem to be of late. Claire for example thinks 'gays are fine, trannys are not!' in one joke that goes over well in context but will surely offend out of it and calls David "sick" while still encouraging him to do it. David isn't as certain of what his gender fluidity means to be a role model for any political agenda. And Gilles ignores ambiguities and is convinced that David is just gay, always has been.

Though Romain Duris has long since proved his worth as a leading man, his screen attraction is entirely masculine, so I'll admit that it was easy to wonder what the film would have been like had the more beautiful Personnaez considered his inner woman instead. Would it have dulled the surprise or the comedy or made Claire's confusing situation between the two men in her life and this new girlfriend more believable?  Who can say? The time jumped epilogue leaves things both tied neatly up and slightly ambiguous as to what went down between the climax and the credits roll but by that time we know the characters well enough to draw our own conclusions. B

previously at TIFF


Sunday
Jul272014

1973 Look Back: The End of the New Wave, the Beginning of My Cinephilia

The team is looking back at 1973 as we approach the Smackdown. Here's Amir with a personal history...

the first known photo of this famous cineaste pair. Before they were filmmakers. [src]Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut were the poster boys of the French New Wave, its most recognizable faces. Their friendship that had begun in the 1940s had carried them through all their years at Cahiers and into their directing careers, was evidenced by Godard’s adoration of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and the latter’s providing the story for his friend’s first film, Breathless. Their early writings manifest the division they had from the beginning about their outlook on the mechanics and politics of cinema. Nonetheless, their friendship continued even through the fraught days of political disagreement in 1968; but no further than 1973. Truffaut’s Day for Night (La Nuit Americaine) was an unforgivable crime in Godard’s eyes, and the latter’s disapproval of the film was a massive act of hypocrisy in Truffaut’s.  They were to never see each other again, and only after Truffaut’s death did Godard find nice words to say about his old friend.

It’s easy to see why Day for Night made Godard’s blood boil. It’s as conventionally constructed a film as one can expect from a nouevelle vague filmmaker, an unashamed love letter to Hollywood and cinema itself – and with an Oscar in its cap, no less. By this time in his career, Truffaut had already been branded a sellout by some and would continue to be called as such. He had, in the opinion of some of the New Wave’s proponent’s, become the very cinema he criticized in his youth. There was no political edge to Day for Night; no radical revision of how the medium operates. It was “a lie,” thought Godard. Some of those accusations might be true, but there is another truth that isn’t mentioned as often: this is an incredible film.

When I first watched Day for Night, I was 19. It was in the days when Toronto’s Bloor Cinema wasn’t yet devoted to screening documentaries. It was a cheap, dingy but friendly gathering place for the neighborhood’s elderly and University of Toronto’s students. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Friday
May232014

Posterized: Xavier Dolan

Mommy, which spurred spirited conversation at Cannes (and really wowed our woman on the ground, Diana) and could walk away with a prize this weekend (as literally all of director Xavier Dolan's previous features have but for Tom at the Farm, which went the Venice/Toronto route instead).

Xavier Dolan at the photocall for "Mommy" at Cannes, 2014

I remain perplexed that an international star with this much critical cachet and this many easily marketable elements (young, hot, queer) hasn't found a deep pocketed patron in the world of US distribution, in the way many auteurs do. Think of how Miramax used to favor certain directors or the way Sony Pictures Classics really invested in building the Pedro Almodovar brand. I keep hoping a younger edgier disribution company (my dream: A24) will fall in love with him because with the right promotion and cultivation, he'd have a devout following Stateside. For now, if only here, he'll have to make do with critics and really hard-working cinephiles who attend festivals regularly.  

The Canadian wunderkind just turned 25 and Mommy is his fifth feature in five years. If he keeps up this pace he could have a filmography that's impossible to be a completist about later on. Get in early and sample the goods. They're yummy. Distributors might not have made it easy for you wherever you live, but at least Netflix has been kind. How many of his previous features have you seen?

 

I Killed My Mother (2009)
Dolan's debut won much acclaim at Cannes including two prizes and became Canada's Oscar submission (it was not nominated). Much film festival chatter and an international release in major cities around the world, EXCEPT THE US, kept the buzz going for another year. Supposedly it hit US theaters this past March (yes, in 2013, four years after taking international cinephilia by storm) but I want proof that it actually happened because it seems like every year since 2009 we were told it was opening. [Available on Netflix Instant Watch]

Heartbeats / Imaginary Lovers (2010)
This unrequited love triangle, available on Netflix Instant Watch, won the "Regards Jeunes" at Cannes and was released in the US briefly in 2011 under its new boring title. [Nathaniel's Review at Towleroad]

Laurence Anyways
(2012)
This trans epic, Netflix to the rescue again, ran nearly 3 hours, and was the first that Dolan didn't star in himself. It took another two prizes at Cannes ("Queer Palm" and "Best Actress") and a brief US release in 2013. [Glenn's love for this movie is huge.]

Tom at the Farm
(2013) 
This thriller about a young man (Dolan) attending his lover's funeral in the country, only to discover that the lover was closeted and the family virulently homophobic, is still awaiting US release. [Nathaniel's TIFF Review]

HOW MANY HAVE YOU SEEN?

 

Friday
May232014

Cannes Diary: Three Palme d'Or Contenders and My Pick for "Best Actress"

Diana Drumm is reporting from Cannes for The Film Experience... 

With the festival dwindling away (as well as this writer’s sanity -- blame the multiple transit strikes, weather and barely affordable lodging), we are closing in on the more probable awards contenders. Out of the hubbub heard in person and online, along with opinions from mine own wonky eyes, here are three that could possibly take home either the Palme d’Or or Best Actress. (Juliette Binoche in Sils Maria I have yet to see...)

Mommy, Two Days One Night and Maps to the Stars after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
May212014

Cannes Monologue: Certified Copy

Andrew with another Cannes-themed monologue… 

At 50 Juliette Binoche remains one of the cinema’s finest actors – excellent in multiple languages. Though her time in Godzilla (now playing) is short, we can look forward to much more in Words and Pictures and Cannes entry Clouds of Sils Maris, the latter written specifically for her. Can Olivier Assayas film capture as many of her finest assetts as her Cannes winning turn in Certified Copy (2010)?

 

Certified Copy, my favourite of the decade (thus far), is remembered most often for its cerebral nature, a puzzle we must solve. Yes, much of it is rumination on theory but it's theory with passion and feeling. For all of its technical and intellectual merit, it’s also a love letter to Binoche from writer/director Abbas Kiarostami. 

Given it’s musings on what’s real and what’s a copy, Elle (Binoche’s character) might not quite qualify as a “real” woman - her name literally translates as “She” – as much as a platform for Kiarostami and Binoche to examine temperaments, hers change at the drop of hat, and ideas. The film makes you work but is all the more rewarding for it. Late in the movie, Elle and James head to quaint restaurant. They are no longer an affable writer and beleaguered fan they were at first but a beleaguered married couple.

She heads to the bathroom to put on lipstick and a pair of earrings. When she returns he doesn’t notice, too annoyed with the subpar wine. She tries to quell his moodiness. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr242014

Tribeca: "5 to 7," Or Why Frustrated Writers Should Back Away From Final Draft

Tribeca coverage continues with Diana on 5 to 7 with Anton Yelchin & Glenn Close

Based on the imaginings of an out-of-touch, middle-aged writer-director, 5 to 7 is about a 24 year-old “writer” (Anton Yelchin) who becomes involved with the 33 year-old wife of a French diplomat (Berenice Marlohe). Brian lives in Manhattan, presumedly on his parents’ dime (Glenn Close and Frank Langella, both painfully misused), and attempts to write, his creative juices facilitated by posting a multitude of rejection letters on his wall and playing lonely man wiffleball in his apartment. Arielle also lives in Manhattan  and is oh so very “French” -- husband, two kids, posh neighborhood, and ability to balance high heels with a well-fitting dress.

Spotting Arielle in front of the St. Regis, Brian pursues her through quips that sound more like early drafts of “wit” rather than the finished product (think Woody Allen without the neurotic charm). She tosses words back at him that are meant to signify mutual attraction. When they do end up in a hotel room together (after she hands him the key), there is zip chemistry between the pair, cringingly highlighted all-the-more when Arielle tells Brian that he is a natural lover and asks whether his other lovers had told him that. That’s the crux of the problem with this film - we are told things consistently through voiceover and character iteration (Brian loves Arielle, Arielle loves Brian, Brian’s mother can see that they love each other), but we’re rarely shown anything substantial enough to back up these assertions. [More...] 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr172014

Cannes '14 line-up announced

Tim here. It's Christmas morning, everybody: the Cannes Film Festival announced its line-up today for this year's edition, running from May 14-25.

Opening Night
Grace of Monaco (dir. Olivier Dahan; starring Nicole Kidman)

Official Selection
Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonelo)
Winter's Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) Yes No Maybe So
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
The Captive (Atom Egoyan)
Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
The Search (Michel Hazanavicius)
The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones) Yes No Maybe So
Still the Water (Naomi Kawase)
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
Jimmy's Hall (Ken Loach)
Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller) We Can't Wait
Le Meraviglie (Alice Rohrwacher)
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
Wild Tales (Damian Szifron)
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo as brothers in "Foxcatcher"

Un Certain Regard
Opener - Party Girl (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, Samuel Theis)
Jauja (Lisando Alonso)
The Blue Room (Mathieu Amalric)
Misunderstood (Asia Argento)
Titli (Kanu Behl)
Eleanor Rigby (Ned Benson)
Bird People (Pascale Ferran)
Lost River (Ryan Gosling, directorial debut) formerly How to Catch a Monster, We Can't Wait
Amour fou (Jessica Hausner)
Charlies Country (Rolf de Heer)
Snow in Paradise (Andrew Hulme)
A Girl at My Door (July Jung)
Xenia (Panos Koutras)
Run (Philppe Lacôte)
Turist (Ruben Östlund)
Beautiful Youth (Jaime Rosales)
Fantasia (Wang Chao)
The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado)
Away from His Absence (Keren Yedaya)

Above: the first still from Ryan Gosling's LOST RIVER

All told, a nice mix of established auteurs, up-and-comers, and just enough new names that the Festival can't be accused of too much imagination (though the representation of women directors is still pretty grim). For myself, Winter's Sleep (over three hours long!), Leviathan, and Timbuktu leap out as being the films I'm most interested, by directors whose careers I'm excited to keep following; but what films are you all most excited to see?

Sunday
Mar092014

Happy Binoche Day

Our favorite French Oscar winner celebrated the big 5-0 today.

Better news:  Several movies on the way!

In both the would be blockbuster Godzilla and Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria, both arriving this year, she has potential talent imbalance problems with co-stars (CGI Monster, Kristen & Chloe respectively) but both films might be great, fingers crossed.

She's also currently filming the true-story The 33 with Antonio Banderas and Rodrigo Santoro which is about that Chilean miners who were trapped for weeks.  Three more movies have been announced but announcing and actually happening are two different things with movies. We'll see. Hollywood has lost interest (Hollywood only allows one French lady at a time so Marion Cotillard has to watch her back with Léa Seydoux rising) but we shouldn't!

Juliette Binoche's last team-up with Olivier Assayas was the terrific "Summer Hours"

What's your favorite Binoche? Mine is 100% Trois Coleurs: Bleu though she's perfection in quite a few others, like ahhhh Flight of the Red Balloon. Just gorgeous.