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Entries in Francophile (94)

Monday
Nov112013

AFI: Agnes and "Cleo"

The film is called Cleo From 5 to 7, but it’s actually Cleo From 5 to 6:30 Exactly”

Agnes Varda states with a chuckle. Varda is the Guest Director for the 2013 AFI Fest, so four of her films are being screened at the festival, starting with her most famous film, Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962). The woman who has been rightfully called the Godmother of the New Wave practically bounces in her chair, which is surprising for a woman her age. I hope I age half as well. Filmmaking and boundary-breaking agree with her.

Cleo From 5 to 7 takes place over a single afternoon. A young singer (Corinne Marchand) waits for results from her medical exam to tell her whether she has cancer. More surprisingly, the story takes place in real time; starting at 5pm and ending at 6:30pm. The film has the hallmarks of many French New Wave films: the preoccupation with cinematic form, the unflagging coolness that comes with good sunglasses and disaffected youth, the filmic experimentation. Cleo From 5 to 7 is different from Breathless or Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Agnes Varda’s unique voice has been attributed to her gender (the New Wave could be a talented boys club), but she attributes it to her background in art instead of film.

Varda says during the discussion that she purposely watched as few films as possible before becoming a filmmaker. Her purpose was to create something totally new and from scratch. Other New Wave auteurs were film lovers first (think of the fantastic book Hitchcock Truffaut). Varda speaks with the same rapture about Picasso and the artists in other mediums that inspired her. Of specific importance to Cleo From 5 to 7 is a painting by a 16th century German artist named Hans Baldung. In the painting, called The Three Ages Of The Woman and The Death, a young woman gazes into a mirror while a ghastly skeleton whispers into her ear.

Varda observes that the picture seems almost scandalous because beauty and death aren’t supposed to go together. Certainly that’s Cleo’s belief in the film. She worries constantly through the film that illness will ruin her beauty. Like the woman in the painting, Cleo constantly looks at herself, and the many people she meets look at her too. This, Varda states, is her feminist message: “Women become real when they stop looking at themselves and start looking at other people.” Cleo is an object to be stared at. The singer’s moment of revelation happens at 5:45pm, during this haunting song:

Agnes Varda sets the song as a midway point: from 5:45pm on, Cleo actively observes instead of passively being observed. The act of observing and the looming question of death make every moment precious. The challenge of making the story seem to unfold in exactly ninety minutes makes it not only a technical marvel - there are a lot of clocks in frame that need to be set precisely - but also inspires deeper examination of moments that might otherwise be missed. As Agnes Varda winds up the discussion, the bubbly auteur tells the audience that this is the theme of the film: fear gives texture to reality.

Wednesday
Oct302013

Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) is voracious. We first note this when she’s devouring a huge plate of spaghetti at her family’s table. She practically hoovers it down, tomato sauce staining her mouth, before going back for seconds. She reads and writes the same way, albeit offscreen, devouring 600 page novels and writing intimate diaries. But what we see is her various oral fixations and one doesn’t eat literature. If she’s not shoving cigarettes in her mouth, it’s food (and, later, body parts). In one endearing moment she shoves a chocolate bar in her wet face during a crying jag getting a huge laugh from moviegoers who've also eaten their feelings.

Adele will eat anything but seafood. That would be a sly tongue-in-(uhhhh)cheek joke if the new lesbian drama BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR didn’t make a point of it in two separate scenes. Instead this provocative film -- already famous round the globe for its explicit sex and post-Cannes disputes between its actresses and director – risks camp by playing it straight. It shamelessly equates oysters to ladyparts and in one scene that is either comical, ridiculous, perverse or all three, Adele’s older girlfriend Emma (Léa Seydoux) teaches her how to eat them… in front of the parents!

Guess what? She likes it.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Oct182013

Two Graces at War

It's Julien your French correspondent to pass a bit of a contentious interview your way. After tampering with the ending of August: Osage Country and cutting 20 minutes off Snowpiercer, it seems Harvey Scissorhands is at it again. Grace of Monaco director Olivier Diahan spoke to French newspaper Libération (in an article published today) about his ongoing feud with Weinstein.

The disagreement is apparently the cause of the film's delay:

What’s complicated right now is to make sure that the critics will be able to judge my own version of the film, and not another one. But it’s not over yet, I haven’t given up. (…) There are two versions of the film: mine and his… which I found catastrophic.”

Quite a strong assessment from the guy who directed My Own Love Song, wouldn’t you say?

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep212013

Three Reasons Why People Ought to Stop Bitching About the Foreign Film Race and Just Appreciate The Movies

There are now 38 Official Submissions for Oscar's Foreign Language Film race, one of The Film Experience's favorite categories. Which means there are now undoubtedly about 38,000 bitchy articles lodged around the web and print... many of them undoubtedly focused on Blue is the Warmest Color, due to its high profile both from content (lesbian sex!) and prestige (Cannes winner).

the new US poster. It's a beauty

I am exhausted by the griping each year about this category. I really am. And often from people who should know better. The grumbling over this oft divisive category reminds me of how Oscar fans like to say...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep102013

"At the Farm" or "By The Lake", Queer Films Among Best @ TIFF

This article was originally published in my column at Towleroad

The French famously call an orgasm "la petit mort" or, the little death. In two new French-language films playing at the Toronto International Film Festival (in full swing through next weekend) this euphemism forgets to be euphemistic. If you like your sex all mixed up with danger -- you know, the way straight people did during the mainstream erotic thriller years (the Glenn Close thru Sharon Stone continuum) -- consider these films 'must sees' when they hit your city. IF they hit your city. It's tough out there for art films, especially gay ones, as recently discussed in a fascinating piece at IndieWire mapping out the problems.

Prolific twenty-four year old writer/director/actor Xavier Dolan has been a sensation on the festival circuit and in Canada since his award-winning debut I Killed My Mother in 2009. Despite the accolades Dolan has yet to win the Stateside following he deserves, even among LGBT audiences. This is largely because his films are in French and they have had a weirdly hard time making their way onto US screens. I Killed My Mother was famously delayed and delayed and delayed again. Before I received a screener a couple of years ago I was convinced that it was an imaginary movie, dreamt up by journalists to make the rest of us feel jealous that we aren't fabulous enough to party in Cannes with them each May. Dolan's subsequent features, the stylish unrequited love triangle Heartbeats (also known as Imaginary Lovers) and the recently released three hour trans drama Laurence Anyways only increased his wunderkind reputation. His latest TOM AT THE FARM may well be his most accessible but reviewing it presents a challenge because the less you know about it going in the better.

Let's keep it very simple AFTER THE JUMP... 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep082013

TIFF: Asghar Farhadi Returns With "The Past"

Weirdest Cannes best actress win"

Nick whispered to me as the end credits unspooled on Asghar Farhadi's The Past. Co-sign. It's not that Berenice Bejo, who was charming in her international breakthrough in The Artist, is not a good actress and she's certainly a beauty. But at least in the context of The Past she's a blank one. Despite the plethora of information writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) keeps sending us -- e-mails are an enormous plot point -- I'm still waiting to hear anything substantial about the character of Marie, Bejo's woman at its center.

Yes yes, we learn that she still loves her ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), has troubles with her teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet, wonderfully cast) and is cagey about her new relationship to Samir (Tahar Rahim). But we learn all of this very quickly in the movies promising opening scenes in which Marie picks up her ex-husband from the airport and brings him home rather than to a hotel room he asked for. 

But after that... what else?

Farhadi has quite a lot else in store for us... though strangely what seems to take precedence is the intricate minutae of its plot, rather than the characterizations. It's not that we learn nothing about the characters exactly, but that they seem to be serving the intricacies of its many twists rather than the other way around. Like Farhadi's recent masterpiece A Separation, we return again and again to the same seemingly tiny event, although this one is offscreen, and its enormous ripples. To be fair to Berenice we do learn two more thing about Marie. First, she's a bit of a dramatic queen and pushes situations and conversations past their natural end point until they reignite or explode. Second, and long delayed... that she is guilt-ridden about her relationship with Samir without realizing it. But it's too little too late for a film that overextends its welcome and pushes its luck with its intended cartographic drama.

Marie between her men. She does this to herself.

When your favorite touch in a hotly anticipated movie by a brilliant director is the subtle dynamism of its title card ("The Past" is erased by windshield wipers as the ex-lovers are reunited in the opening scene) and the thing you relate to most visually is the endearing confused scowl on a young actor's face (Elyes Aguis is just superbly natural as Fouad, Samir's son) something has gone quite wrong. Thanks to a fine turn from Mossafa, Ahmad the exhusband, is the film's most interesting and well defined character. The movie suffers considerably whenever he (wisely) steps out of his place in this quiet heavy love triangle. Three may be a crowd but Marie and Samir are too blandly conceived to carry the film's heavy heart and complicated plot on their own. C

Podcast a group discussion of TIFF 13: Oscar buzz, our favorite films, and more
Ambition & Self Sabotage on Gravity and Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her
Mano-a-Mano Hallucinations Norway's Pioneer & Jake Gyllenhaal² in Enemy
Quickies Honeymoon, Young & Beautiful, Belle
Labor Day in a freeze-frame nutshell
Jessica Chastain at the Eleanor Rigby Premiere
August Osage County reactions Plus Best Picture Nonsense
Rush Ron Howard's crowd pleaser
Queer Double FeatureTom at the Farm and Stranger by the Lake
Boogie Nights Live Read with Jason Reitman and Friends
First 3 Screenings: Child's Pose, Unbeatable and Isabelle Huppert in Abuse of Weakness 
TIFF Arrival: Touchdown in Toronto. Two unsightly Oscars

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