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Entries in Francophile (71)

Tuesday
Sep302014

NYFF: Saint Laurent is Über-Stylish but...

Our NYFF coverage continues with Nathaniel on France's Oscar submission Saint Laurent.

If you're going to make a biopic of one of the great fashion designers, it better damn well be stylish. Saint Laurent one of two new biopics tackling the iconic French designer Yves Saint Laurent assures you of its gifts in this area almost immediately. There's nary a frame, at least for the first two thirds of the film, that you couldn't frame and admire for aesthetic reasons: rich decadent colors, gorgeous actors as gorgeous people, carefully composed shots in elaborately decorated homes, dark exclusive clubs, and interiors of stores that that are so beautiful in their rigidity that they look more like institutional museums after hours, free of consumers but full of art. Even the daring full frontal nudity is stylish, whether it's employed for confrontational queer desire or for humor as in a memorable sequence late in the picture between a clothed woman and naked one. The scene plays like unintentional comedy for a moment until you discern that it's actual comedy, a meta joke about overdetermined STYLE and the fashion world's self mythologizing nature within a movie positively dripping with style and self-mythologizing.

The director Bertrand Bonello (House of Tolerance, The Pornographer) has chosen the right form for his movie -- at least in part, telling the story visually first and foremost, and lushly and creatively at that. Would that I had a photographic memory to recount the many fine choices but there are three that stuck with me, all from the first and second acts...

dangerous gay players & beautiful dress-up muses after the jump...

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Tuesday
Sep302014

NYFF: Blue Is The Lukewarmest Color

Our coverage of The New York Film Festival continues with Jason's take on actor-director Mathieu Amalric's The Blue Room.

The ordinary afternoon street-scene beyond an open window half-illuminates a hotel room, letting in a miniature horde of visitors - refracted sunlight, a honeybee, a cool breeze, the implacable face of somebody's unexpected husband - all inclined to land upon the sweat-strewn backs of the bed's entangled bodies in one way or another. In Mathieu Amalric's The Blue Room the lovers inside dare this space, their nudity displayed openly, to crash down around them - the bee makes a pretty picture, the breeze cuts the sticky air, and the husband, well, he'll have his day too.

The Blue Room is based on a 1964 book by Georges Simenon, a writer who's been described by some as the French Patricia Highsmith, and much like we've come to expect from adaptations of that writer this story is obsessed with crime and sex and where the twain shall tragically meet - the "criss cross" of Highsmith's Strangers on a Train especially sneaks to mind. Simenon seems less interested in Bruno & Guy's kind of repression though; he and Amalric's concerns seem to blossom off passion's full expression. So sweat and blood roll down parted lips and Amalric lingers upon the contents of that room as if they themselves hold all the answers. Time and again we flash back to the lovers, often frozen as post-coital still-life, flushed and spent - what happens when those moments can't stay contained?

Amalric's film tries to have it both ways, running simultaneously cold and hot - the frame square as an ice-box, the strings lush with heat, a court-room drama told through lurid tales of windswept outdoor encounters - but it tends to meet in the middle more often than not, lukewarm when it should boil and tepid when it should chill to the bone. The fractured timeline structure robs us of too much emotional investment - it becomes more a what-happened than a why; an assortment of mostly unknowable glances piled up and posed.

 

The Blue Room screens tonight Sept 30th (9 PM)

Thursday
Sep252014

NYFF: Entering the Third Dimension with 'Goodbye to Language'

The New York Film Festival is finally about to begin and here is Glenn on one of the must-sees of the fest, Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language.

Much like the film itself, you’ll have to bear with me here. If I get lost or end up on tangents then don’t worry – it’s not only to be expected, but probably the intent. This will probably be messy, but this is a film titled Goodbye to Language so I feel it’s a safe zone, yes? You see, there is a lot to talk about. How about the use of 3D that is perhaps the best I have ever seen. And then there’s the bravura directions that director Jean-Luc Godard goes even once you think you may have his shtick down. And that’s before we get into the concept of subjectivity of ideas. For all I know, the various ideas that I took from Goodbye to Language might not be at all what Godard intended. But therein lies at least part of the film’s brilliance and the wonder of art: you don’t necessarily have to be right to be valid.

Many people won’t like this movie, and even somebody like me who thinks the film is an incredible example of filmmaking has to see their point of view. It’s a tough film if you’re not on its wavelength, but that very instinctual desire to mess with audience expectations is part of why I loved it so much. I have not seen any of the director’s recent cinematic experiments (in fact, the most recent film of his I have seen is King Lear with Woody Allen, Molly Ringwald, Leos Carax and Julie Delpy from way back in 1987), but the title alone suggests something along the lines of Film Socialisme which took a liberal stance on the use of subtitles, and audiences would be smart to know what they’re getting themselves in for before sitting down rather than complaining about the film and its director. This is an experimental film by its most pure definition. Godard is experimenting with the concept of narrative and if viewed and critiqued in the same way as a more traditional film then people are doing not only themselves a disservice, but the film as well.

You can't imagine how amazing this shot is in 3D!

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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...]

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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 ...