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Entries in Francophile (99)

Thursday
May142015

Tim's Toons: Biking through Belleville

Tim here, to celebrate National Bike to Work Week in the only way I possibly could. Because when it comes to animated movies about bikes, there's nothing that can top 2003's The Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet's lightly mocking love letter to the most quintessential elements of French and American culture. Wine and frog-eating on the one side, obesity and urban rudeness on the other, and most importantly for our current purposes, the Tour de France, the most famous bike race in the world.

The bubbly, convoluted story pivots on Champion, raised by his grandmother, whose only interest as a lonely child was in biking. This translates, years later, into his competition in the Tour, from which he's kidnapped by the French mafia as part of their underground gambling ring, from which his grandmother can only rescue him with the help of a trio of elderly cabaret performers. I said "convoluted", right? Because that's a nice word to describe how random and weird Triplets of Belleville can be in its pileup of absurd plot developments. But also, always, delightful and beguiling.

Chomet's tribute to the bike culture in France is, like everything else, predicated on outrageous grotesquerie: in a movie where the entire cast have impossible, distorted body shapes, Champion himself is one of the most extreme examples.

It only takes one glance at his rail-thin body and enormous legs to grasp that this is what a lifetime of single-minded dedication to competitive bike-riding looks like. It might seem like a nasty-minded commentary on athletes destroying their bodies, except that the whole film is based on exaggerated caricature; we could just as easily say that Champion's malformed body is the expression of a soul-consuming passion that's so important to him that he doesn't even realize when the mafia has him chained in front of a movie screen, biking on an endless loop.

That went and got a little nihilistic on me, so let me switch tracks over to the film's other big biking-related sequence: the Tour de France itself, a beautiful little parody of the over-the-top, carnivalesque enthusiasm that crops up when a small town has a great big national event to celebrate, going out of its way to realign everything around this one chance to shine.

And on the more generous side of things, the film also shows off the undulating beauty of its animated countryside, a tribute to the landscape of France that wonderfully shows off the justification for having an internationally well-known biking tour all throughout that country in the first place. The films resting state is to be sardonic as all hell, as often as possible, but it doesn't lack for heart, or even a kind of sentimental affection for the textures of rural France.

The fair concession to make is that The Triplets of Belleville isn't really "about" biking in any sustained way; it's not about any one thing at all. But those things it chooses to glance at get treated with quite a lot of imagination and flair. This might not be cinema's most probing, deep consideration of bikes and the Tour de France, but it's certainly one of the most memorable.

Wednesday
Apr222015

Cannes Lineups: Director's Fortnight

Previously in Cannes news
The Coen Bros led Jury and the Lineups for Competition and Un Certain Regard 

While the competition & un certain regard films are the "star headliners" as it were, they aren't always the ones that garner the most critical buzz or sales or what not. So let's look at what's coming in the Director's Fortnight sidebar. While this section is non competitive, the films are eligible for the Camera D'Or prize if they are among the first films in a director's career, though that's tough to win since they're competing with first films in other sections, too. The last few winners of this prize were: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Oscar nominee Best Picture), Ilo Ilo (Oscar submission Best Foreign Film) and France's Party Girl.

Opening Film

In the Shadow of Women

In the Shadow of Women (France) dir: Philippe Garrel. 
A romantic drama about documentary filmmakers in Paris 

Closing Film

Dope (US) dir: Rick Famuyiwa
This action comedy about high school hip-hop fans who get caught up in a drug deal gone wrong was a huge hit at Sundance (our quick take). It has supposedly been edited since then, which would probably only strengthen it. It's very funny but a bit bloated. 

The Rest of the Lineup is after the jump

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Feb212015

César Winners: Kristen Stewart (!!!), Timbuktu, and More

Can Timbuktu upset IDA for foreign film at the Oscars? The big winner of the 40th annual César Awards (aka the French Oscars) was the Oscar-nominated foreign language film from Mauritania, Timbuktu. It took home seven prizes but despite the excitable headlines 'round the web it wasn't quite a clean sweep and not quite super dominant since it had no acting nominations. But it did terrifically well, all told, losing only one of its 8 nominations, Set Decoration, to another retelling of The Beauty and the Beast starring new TFE obsession Léa Seydoux. Can we please get that one stateside?

Saint Laurent, France's Oscar submission this season (mixed reviewed but also loved by Team Experience) won only Costumes. If it had such restrained love at home, one wonders why France submitted it as it was not typical Oscar bait - way too gay/risque for AMPAS.

The history-making news is that Kristen Stewart became the first American woman to win a competitive César for acting (Adrien Brody won for The Pianist previously). The César Awards often give American stars tributes and honoraries (like Scarlett Johansson last year and Sean Penn this time) but they don't regularly compete and they certainy don't win. The prize was Best Supporting Actress for Clouds of Sils Maria. We can vouch that she's just fantastic in it as the close confidante / personal assistant of Juliette Binoche's diva actress. Their chemistry is, as Margaret said, "insane".  

Which is why this part of Kristen's acceptance speech is so great...

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Wednesday
Feb182015

So Nice, She's Been Nominated Twice: Isabelle Adjani

abstew here. With her second nomination for Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard joins a small but prestigious group of actresses that received both their Best Actress nominations for foreign language performances. We previously discussed Sophia Loren and Liv Ullmann so let's close out the series with French cinematic royalty... 

Isabelle Adjani
after the jump 

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Wednesday
Jan282015

From Sils Maria to Timbuktu, France Celebrates the César Awards

Glenn here while Nathaniel is travelling back from the wonders of Sundance. I do so enjoy looking at national awards since they paint such a gloriously global view of the film world that most of the American award bodies simply do not even attempt. They're always a good way of finding out about films that may otherwise go unnoticed in the ever-expanding world of film festivals (increasingly the only way to see many of these films, anyway) and a great way of finding the next big thing to which you can tell your friends and colleagues, "I saw them first in that tiny foreign film."

This year's César Awards from France have announced their nominations and it's a handsome looking bunch, even if I've only seen a few of the actual nominees (again, blame those tricky new age distribution methods and diminishing foreign indie market). I was super happy to see Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent, France's unsuccessful 2014 Oscar submission, in the mix across the board since I flipped for it at NYFF last August. I certainly enjoyed it more than Nathaniel, and when it finally gets a release across the oceans I'll be more than pleased to beg people to go and see it. Curiously, it will compete against last year's second biopic of the famed fashion designer, Jalil Lespert's less well-received Yves Saint Laurent, in several acting and technical categories.

Elsewhere Abderrahmane Sissako's exceptional France-Mauritania copro Timbuktu adds a collection of César nods to its net of successes including that historic Oscar nomination. Another Oscar nominee, Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, also snagged a nomination, which is hardly surprising, but the acclaimed Dardennes brothers' film missed out in every other category except foreign film, so I suspect there's some eligibility tango being played there. Is she eligible because she's French, but the film isn't because it's Belgian? If anybody can enlighten us that would be fabulous. Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth, his Oscar-nominated documentary about anthropological photographer Sebastião Salgado, also made the César list and we'll have a discussion on that film and the other doc nominees soon.

The last film I need to mention is one that American audiences will finally get the chance to see in April. Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria - simply Sils Maria in France - which had a very successful day despite leaving last year's Cannes Film Festival with no prizes and some questionable buzz. I'm going to assume the César embrace of a French film performed predominantly in English is rare, but don't want to claim it as fact. What I do know is that it's excellent and I'm worried about some of the write-ups it will get when released in America. Nevertheless, the nomination for Kristen Stewart is particularly sweet given how easy it would be for a French organisation to push her to the side and focus on Juliette Binoche. She's the best thing in it after all. Who needs a sequel to Snow White and The Huntsman, am I right?

Following is the entire list of nominees. Which ones have you been lucky enough to see?

Click to read more ...

Friday
Dec262014

The Animated Feature contenders: Minuscule - Valley of the Lost Ants

Tim here. Our journey through the list of films submitted for the Best Animated Feature Oscar now takes us to France and Belgium and the utterly beguiling children’s film Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants. Cumbersome title notwithstanding, it’s a light and breezy little lark, with a simple fairy tale-esque story so elemental in its particulars – an infant ladybug separated from her parents falls in with a colony of black ants and helps them in their war against aggressive red ants - that the movie can get away without having a single word of dialogue to be found anywhere in its running time.

Writer-directors Thomas Szabo & Hélène Giraud have adapted the movie from their television series Minuscule (which I understand to be terrifically popular in places that aren’t the United States), made up of 6-minute comic shorts in which a variety of insects get into comic scrapes. Expanding from such a brief running time up to almost an hour and a half is not for the faint-hearted and Szabo & Giraud haven’t done it flawlessly: the film suffers some redundancy and stretched-out plot developments.

But at the same time, the filmmakers fully exploit the scope of a feature, both visually and in terms of story ambition. There are wide shots all throughout the whole length of the movie that present the ants’ valley as a series of endless vistas of woods and mountains, giving Minuscule the feel of a limitless universe of a sort that only shows up in the very best fantasies...

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Tuesday
Nov042014

The Honoraries: Jean-Claude Carrière, Part 1

Our 2014 Honorary Oscar tribute series continues with a two-part look at the long fascinating career of Jean-Claude Carrière. Here's Amir with Part One.

Here at The Film Experience, we are normally opposed to the idea of past winners receiving honorary Oscars. This, after all, is an honor bestowed on a recipient whose career not only merits the attention, but also lacks it. When there are so many giants of the medium that the Academy hasn't recognized, why double dip with already rewarded names? But there is something incredibly satisfying about seeing three time nominee and one time winner, Jean-Claude Carrière, receive an honorary Oscar this year. His is one of the most fascinating careers in film history, and one that has lasted six decades and spanned several countries and languages. 

Carrière started as a novelist, his first work published in 1957, five years prior to winning an Oscar in the best short film category for Heaureux Anniversaire. In the intervening fifty-three years between his two golden statues, he's worked with filmmakers as varied as Jean-Luc Godard, Andrzej Wajda, Louis Malle, Jonathan Glazer and, most recently, Abbas Kiarostami who penned him a short but memorable role in Certified Copy.

His most fruitful collaboration, one that still arguably defines his career still today, was cultivated in the 1960s. [More...]

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