Movie review entries
May 12, 2009
- Le professionel
Si vous ne connaissez pas Jean-Paul Belmondo, arrêtez de lire cet article et allez emprunter À bout de souffle dans le TRC avant de continuer. À bout de souffle est le film qui a rendu célèbre cet acteur qui garde toujours une place particulière dans les coeurs des spectateurs français. Afin d’apprécier Le professionnel, il faut que vous compreniez qu’à l’époque où le film a été tourné, Belmondo était déjà devenu un symbole, un héros immortel qui a pourtant tendance à mourir à la fin de chaque film, tout comme Jean Gabin, son prédécesseur.
L’intrigue de ce film n’est pas très originelle : Joss Beaumont, un agent de service secret est envoyé en Afrique pour tuer le président N’Djala. Entre-temps, en France, la situation politique se modifie et il n’est plus question d’assassiner le dictateur, on décide alors de dénoncer Beaumont à la police Malagawienne. Celui-ci, envoyé en prison, réussit à s’évader et c’est ici que commence le règlement de comptes-Beaumont rentre à Paris au moment de la visite officielle du président N’Djala... Même si l’histoire n’offre rien de nouveau, Belmondo fait plus que de compenser ce défaut. L’intrépidité presque surnaturelle de son caractère étant en fait la base de ce film fascine et son statut du loup solitaire qui lutte contre la machine infernale du système représenté par le service secret et le gouvernement français éveille l’admiration et la sympathie dans le spectateur. Cependant, l’assurance absolue dans tout ce que Joss Beaumont entreprend, sa supériorité complète par rapport à ses adversaires, son succès instantanée auprès des femmes peuvent irriter le spectateur à condition qu’il ne perçoive ce film avec un peu de distance et beaucoup de clémence. Si on prenait ce film au sérieux, on serait obligé de le critiquer très sévèrement pour les performances médiocres des autres acteurs (spécialement celle de Cyrielle Claire jouant le rôle d’une jeune dactylo) ou les connotations racistes qui étaient encore acceptables en France des années 80. De l’autre côté, il serait faux de ne pas mentionner la superbe musique d’Ennio Morricone. En conclusion, je recommanderais Le professionnel à tous ceux qui aiment Jean-Paul Belmondo(et je me demande s’il y a des gens qui ne l’aiment pas !), qui veulent voir comment les français s’y prenaient pour fabriquer des films d’action il y a 20 ans et qui surtout prennent plaisir à regarder les films légèrement bizarres.
April 29, 2009
- La bete humaine
'La bete humaine' est un film qui presente une monde differente, une monde ancien dans lequel une amour peut apparaitre soudainement sans explication ou raison, et le plupart des femmes sont belles, mais stupides. L'age du film est evident et bien que son age soit charmant, le film est difficile de voir avec un air serieux. comme une example du cinema d'un autre epoque, c'est fantastique, mais comme un film, il manque quelqe chose... des acteurs, peut-etre.
- Paris, Je t'aime
C'est un filme extraordinaire qui nous montre les aspects differents et eccentriques des citoyennes (et des touristes) en Paris. Un episode qui je me souviens particulierement, c'est celui qui s'agit du 'con de mime', parce que, bref, c'etait etrange. Le caractere principal ne parle jamais, mais on peut lui comprendre pour le meme raison qui lui separe des autres dans sa vie: il est mime, ses emotions y sont, dans son visage blanc. La fin etait satisfaisante, et on sent que le justice et surtout le magique reste dans la vie quotidienne. Les autres episodes sont aussi interessants, et tres divers, et apres le filme est fini on sent qu'on a vraiment vu Paris. Et on l'aime.
November 10, 2008
- The Science of Sleep
Whether or not “The Science of Sleep” can count as a non-English language film is up for debate, as a substantial part of the dialogue is, in fact, in English. However, it is a French film, produced by Michel Gondry, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and set in Paris.
English is the second language of both the Mexican protagonist Stéphane and his French love interest Stéphanie, becoming akin to a private language for the both of them. I don’t think you have to be as enthusiastic about languages as I am to appreciate how the various changes between English, French and Spanish are an original way of changing the tone and showing how lost Stéphane feels in Paris. Stéphane and Stéphanie speak their shared second language together fluently, and it seems to me to be a metaphor for how they have new selves with each other – how speaking a language gives you the feeling of a slightly new identity – not in opposition to your mother tongue, just different.
So, nonetheless, even though I may be jeopardizing my chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher, I’m reviewing “The Science of Sleep” because it is one of the most original, surreal, entertaining, clever, visually engaging films I’ve ever seen, which also manages to put in a sweet and understated romance and plenty of humour, some of it offbeat, some of it satirical and some of it just very silly (in a good way).
The film is about basically about dreaming, and the travails of a shy, naive young man called Stéphane who experiences very vivid dreams on a nightly basis. He moves from Mexico to Paris after being promised a creative job, but the reality turns out to be much more mundane. He becomes friends with two girls who live in his apartment building, and after some confusion, develops a crush on one of them - Stéphanie. That’s the plot in its entirety, with the only narrative being Stéphane’s (and thus, the audience’s) increasingly tenuous grasp on the difference between dreams and reality, and the developing relationship between Stéphane and Stéphanie. It’s to Gondry’s credit that the film’s main appeal lies away from the “will they, won’t they?” aspect of their relationship, when a traditional happy ending would have made a very easy narrative arc.
The film starts off with a sharp contrast between the naturalist portrayal of Stéphane’s waking life, and the surreal depiction of his dreams on screen. As the film continues, the lines get blurred, as Stéphane’s overactive imagination and vivid dreams interfere with his ability to deal with reality, and he is shown to be something of a fantasist, and certainly very childlike. I’ve never seen what a dream actually feels like represented so brilliantly on screen. Everything is there: how the most fantastic occurrences seem normal, how ordinary characters from ones daily life become monstrous, the state of being half-asleep where it seems as if the real world is intruding on the dream and one can’t be sure which one is “reality”.
Plenty of dreams are symbolic, and of course, he dreams about Stéphanie. The symbols behind the dreams are never laboured, and all of them are so engaging to watch it seems like some were put in for fun. Cardboard cityscapes sway outside of Stéphane’s office window, he bathes in cellophane, and plays in a band all dressed up as animals, singing a nauseating love song for Stéphanie. A recurring dream is that he is presenting his own TV show – a kind of round-up news show on events in his daily life, and whenever his alarm clock wakes him up halfway through he wonders who is trying to take the show off the air.
Stéphane’s waking life has some brilliant moments as well – I found the sharp observations of the petty arguments and predictable jokes between his colleagues hilarious, especially the overweight, sex-obsessed, middle-aged Guy. Stéphane is like a fish out of water with these people; he’s shy, naive and not remotely interested in the "Office Ski Trip" they try and make him sign up for. They turn up his dreams, letting us see them how Stéphane sees them, hilariously juxtaposing the banality of his office life and the outrageous creativity of his dreams. Outside of work, Stéphane and Stéphanie make art projects together, and he charms her with home-made inventions - time machines, a motorised stuffed pony, a device to read her mind. Although this could easily descend into tweeness, it doesn't, thanks, I think, to Gael Garcìa Bernal's portrayal of Stéphane as guileless, awkward and entirely lacking self-awareness, and Charlotte Gainsbourg's level-headed portrayal of Stéphanie. She finds Stéphane charming and possibly a kindred spirit, but also wearies of his frequent strange and childlike behaviour.
I think the film's one fault is that the second half is slightly too long, with most of the witty dialogue, observant humour and romance in the first half. As Stéphane's mental state deteriorates, it seems more tragic that the only place he finds solace is in his dreams. I would have preferred a happier or more conclusive ending, if not necessarily a white wedding between Stéphane and Stéphanie.
However, these are very small faults in "The Science of Sleep" and I would recommend it to anyone. It's rare that a film is both very entertaining, with laugh-out-loud moments and amazing visual creativity, as well as so clever and imaginative that I'd be tempted to call Michel Gondry a creative genius.
November 09, 2008
This enjoyable, if slightly overacted, romp through a thirteen year period of Moliere's life featuring rising star Romain Duris is a must-see for anyone who plans to study the work of this prestigious playwright in the near furture. With echoes of "Shakespeare in Love," the romantic comedy explores a mystery part of Moliere's life. After being thrown into prison for bankrupcy, Moliere was rescued by a rich merchant obsessed with a young mistress. There is only one condition to this seemingly idealistic if a little unrealistic proposal, Moliere must help the merchant to seduce his mistress by teaching him to act, whilst living under the guise of a priest. The story is further complicated as Jourdain (the merchant) is a fool and a terrible actor, his mistress, Celimente, a stuck-up spoilt brat, and his wife a beautiful woman who Moliere falls deeply in love with.
If one takes the story and historical content of this jolly little film with a pinch of salt, it will be an enjoyable rom-com which, despite offering little factual information about this part of molieres life, and being based mainly on specualtion, provides 120 minutes of delightful scenery and pantomime style acting. This said, Duris's performance stands out as a piece of genuinely heartfelt and emotional acting. His chemistry with, Jourdain's wife draws the reader into what would otherwise risk being an insincere, weak spirited comedy.
In conclusion, although not a fantastic representation of Moliere's life and times, this film certainly promises a light-hearted love story, perfect served with a warm "pain au chocolat" and a "cafe au lait!"
October 30, 2008
- Ensemble, c'est tout
Claude Berri’s 2007 Ensemble, c’est tout is a predictable, yet charming, romantic French work of fiction based on Anna Gavalda’s novel which goes by the same title.
Audrey Tautou (Amélie) plays the role of Camille, an endearing but feisty young cleaner, at odds with her family and living alone in a cold under-roof room. Her encounter with a neighbour (Philibert, played by Laurent Stocker) leads to her being taken in by him when she falls ill. Things are, of course, not so simple when she comes face to face with Philibert’s angry, handsome, Casanova-type, over-worked and under-paid housemate, Franck (Guillaume Canet, Jeux d’enfants). Franck does however have his soft-side which we witness in his attitude towards his grandmother (played by the exceptional Françoise Bertin) for whom he would do anything.
The personality clash between Camille (Tautou) and Franck (Canet) progresses, predictably, into a story of romance which runs parallel to the issues raised by the declining health of Franck’s grandmother. The four protagonists complement each other in an odd way, creating a whole unit in which they are all stronger than as individuals.
Altogether, Ensemble, c’est tout is enjoyable, fun and romantic, but remains an anticipated story which is not intellectually stimulating.
October 23, 2008
- Goodbye Lenin!
Goodbye Lenin! is a rare anomaly in film, a German-language comedy that successfully transferred to the mainstream English-language cinema; appropriate, considering the clash of cultures depicted in the film itself. Wolfgang Becker’s sophomore film as writer and director is a masterpiece of cultural commentary, blending nostalgia and satire while viewing one of the 20th century’s defining political moments through a human story that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) is a model Socialist citizen living in East Berlin, who devotes her time to writing letters and galvanising her community in support of the DDR. On the eve of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, however, she sees her son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) taking part in an anti-communist protest and collapses, falling into a coma and missing the entire reunification process. When she awakes, Alex and sister Ariane (Maria Simon) are warned that any shocks may trigger a heart attack, and Alex therefore commits himself to pretending that the Wall never fell down, which becomes increasingly difficult as Western culture increasingly encroaches on reunified
From this (admittedly rather unlikely) premise, Becker constructs a narrative that, through this family, recreates the thrill and upheaval of post-reunification Germany. With a bittersweet taste we see Ariane starting work at Burger King, Coca-Cola banners being plastered over apartment blocks and a group of wide-eyed East Germans watching American porn as the Western world gradually eradicates the distinctive culture of the East, causing comic trouble for Alex as his recovering mother requests specific favourite brands of pickles. Yet the encroaching homogenisation of the nation is largely welcomed, and a genuine celebratory feel is created as the unified German football team progress through the 1990 world cup, with East and West German citizens celebrating together. The famously poignant scene in which Alex’s mother finally leaves their flat and witnesses the changes in all their glory as a statue of Lenin is flown past best encapsulates the extent of the cultural change sweeping the country (see the clip below).
Rather than ram history down the throats of its audience, however, the strength of Goodbye Lenin! is in the way it creates a tapestry of everyday life, with glimpses of the major events rather than front row seats. Much of the action takes place in the closed-off apartments of ordinary people, focussing on the changes in their day to day lives. The enormity of reunification is taken for granted; it is the people who lived through it that we are asked to empathise with; and its central character is one of the most human protagonists one could hope to meet.
Alex inadvertently echoes the tactics of the DDR itself, attempting to protect his mother by disguising her from uncomfortable truths, and the lengths he goes to (including recording fake TV news reports with his work colleague) form much of the film’s comedy. Yet, through this, Alex starts creating his own fantasy version of history, in which socialism prevails over capitalism and eventually welcomes in and subsumes the West. Bruhl is wonderful in a role that combines ingenuity with pathos; his repeated slipping into fantasy is as much to protect himself as his mother, he hurt by the abandonment of the family by his father years ago. This is Alex’s story throughout, and Bruhl brings great feeling to the joys and pains of first love, of responsibility at a young age, of the overwhelming love for his mother that pushes the rest of his relationships to breaking point. In a final heartbreaking moment, Alex’s long-suffering girlfriend reveals the entire plot to his mother in exasperation; yet she, realising what he has done for her, doesn’t give away that she knows and plays along, realising that the charade is as much for him as for her. This final unspoken act of motherly love, just before her death, provides the closure he needs.
Becker’s script expertly treads a line between condemnation of and nostalgia for socialism, refusing to align the film to either viewpoint and taking a somewhat simplistic view of the politics, but ultimately the political aspect is unimportant next to his humanist concern with the people affected by the transition. Underscored by Yann Tiersen's evocative music, Goodbye Lenin! is a film about love and loss, with the situation of the country a backdrop to the relatively simple story of a young man and his mother. Its historicity is specific, but its resonance is universal.
October 22, 2008
- Cinema Paradiso
- Not rated
Cinema Paradiso is a heart-warming tale, full of Mediterranean emotion, about the progression of a young boy (Toto) through life and its associated trials, joys and tribulations. It is set in a small town in the beautiful sun-drenched isle of Sicily, Italy. The focal point of the town is the local cinema. Young Toto develops a friendship with the grizzled and charming projectionist Alfredo, played wonderfully by the late Phillipe Noiret. They both share a mutual love for the cinema and much of Toto’s youth is spent cute-ishly pestering Alfredo to teach him the techniques of cinematic projection. The film recalls a somewhat romantic pre-war age, where the cinema provided a gathering point for the whole community who share their fascinations of the outside world and big-screen characters.
As Toto ages into adolescence, he takes on the role of the projectionist but the focus of his attention turns to the beautiful girl Elena. Here enter themes of love and passion, as Toto awkwardly and ineptly tries to attract the mysterious young woman. However, Toto’s life begins to dramatically change when he is drafted into army service. It is from here that the film draws on another key theme, nostalgia. Toto finds the life of a soldier difficult, and longs to go back to the community and woman he loves. In one of the most moving passages of the film, Alfredo encourages Toto to leave the village and use his creative talents to liberate himself from the constraints of small-town Sicily, and explore the world. It is extremely poignant and somewhat resonant for many young people. The film ends as it starts, with Toto, now a famous and respected figure in the film industry, returning to his beloved home town for Alfredo’s funeral. Toto finds that Alfredo has left him a present and the subsequent and concluding scene is perhaps one of the most moving in cinema. The beautiful piano-laden score, written by Ennio Morricone adds to the overall poignancy and emotion of the film.
The film is a fantastic alternative to the often sterile, monotony that appears from Hollywood, and provides a great foundation for exploring contemporary Italian and European cinema. The film focuses on numerous themes, which the audience can instantly engage with: love, regret, nostalgia, passion, friendship. It will play to all your emotional senses. It will fill you with happiness, make you laugh and I can guarantee it will make even the hardiest of souls cry.
October 04, 2008
- Les Femmes de l'Ombre
Female Agents is the story of four Frenchwomen on a secret mission in France to stop D-Day plans from being revealed. The bad guy is an SS officer called Heindrich who is always one step ahead of the SOE and the heroes are Louise (Marceau) and her brother Pierre, heading a motley crew of girls: Jeanne the prostitute who killed her pimp (Depardieu), Suzy the Follies Bergeres dancer and ex of Heindrich (Gillain), and Gaelle the Christian goody-two shoes (Francois). They are later joined by an Italian Jewish countess Maria (Sansa). Their first mission is successful but their second attempt is disastrous: through a string of blunders, confessions and the cunning of Heindrich, almost all the major characters find death (and themselves).
The script is not bad per se, in its favour there is little Hollywoodian heroism. The girls are at turns cowardly, treacherous, or downright stupid and their reasons for taking part in the mission are far from glorious: Jeanne escapes a hanging thanks to it, Suzy escapes blackmail. One can’t help wonder however what exactly the film was trying to achieve. The title leaves little doubt that its aim was to highlight women’s part in the war, yet these women are hardly the typical fare. Unlike the majority of spies sent to France, these women receive little to no training. Yet the weight of the D-day landing is allowed to rest on their shoulders: and what a mess they make of it! Pious Gaelle reveals all after a single nail is plucked, Suzy threatens the success of several operations with her sentimentalism and inability to fire a gun, Jeanne tries to escape a few times with the cash. Only Louise comes out favourably, but as Jeanne says, she’s barely human. The film is to be praised for not idolizing its central characters, yet the simplistic depiction of men as largely fearless and clever, and women as flawed is unsettling.
The film crucially fails to create a sense of real relationships between these characters. Julie Depardieu, as Jeanne is the exception rather than the rule: she alone manages to create a likeable, vibrant character out of the threadbare script, in her presence the other characters gain a bit of colour. On the other hand, there is no sense of sibling friendship or love between Louise and Pierre which makes the ploy to torture Louise to make him speak preposterous. One can't help but feel a sprinkling of humour would have helped us swallow the ridiculously beautiful smoke-fumed settings, but then, you know, the war is serious and shit, yeah?
Female Agents throws characters at the screen as quickly as it discards them. Characters such as Maria are introduced only to be killed moments later. Perhaps this is an attempt to capture the restlessness of the times but ultimately it just makes it difficult to care about the outcome.
June 12, 2008
- Gegen die Wand (Head-On)
Provocative, charged and beautiful: Gegen die Wand (Head-On) was the first German film to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for 18 years, and rightly so. After a distinct lack of internationally and critically acclaimed cinema coming from German directors since Fassbinder et al., Fatih Akin breaks free from the mould of miserablist 'migrant' cinema to bring us a story about a female German-Turkish protagonist that refuses to revert to stereotype in portraying the complexities of a diasporic German-Turkish identity. In fact, Sibel's background is just that: at the forefront of the film is a wonderful love story. Sibel and Cahit meet in a rehab clinic and, in a desperate bid to escape her controlling father, Sibel asks Cahit to marry her (Why me? I'm a bum! - You're Turkish!). Their life as roommates is far from wedded bliss; as they take their relationship to the next stage, it becomes violent, jealous and passionate, and an event one night leads to their lives taking an entirely different turn. The chemistry between the two characters is superb, and if there is ever a film that makes you want to lift the images off the screen and admire them as wonderfully composed photographs, this is it.