Posts Tagged ‘French Films’

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Micmacs à tire-larigot (2010)

April 4, 2010

Micmacs review

micmacs screenshot

Matt:

Length: 105min

Micmacs isn’t a bad film. Lots of people will like it. The kind of people who like sweet fantasies and serendipitous romances. The kind of people who are happy to suspend disbelief in order to believe that the universe is good, and ordered, and that it watches over us. The kind of people who like Amélie.

I’m a bit more cynical. And I also can’t help thinking “but that’s impossible”, or “but that’s illogical” over and over, even though I know I’m spoiling the fun.

There are plenty of occasions to have those thoughts in Micmacs. It’s set in a universe that has a dash of magic and fantasy to it. It’s a little like an adult’s film in a  children’s universe.

Not surprising, seeing as it’s directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the same writer/director of Amélie, and half of the duo that created Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. Micmacs has the same beautiful appearance as those films, with lovely colours and plenty of creative scenes. There’s also the same fascination for the roles that the tiny and invisible play in chains of miraculous causation (in these films, tiny things are always causing big results).

But the story itself is a little – what’s the word… cartoony. It’s a fairly simple premise – Bazil (the clownish Dany Boon) has a bullet in his head. It can all be traced back to the amoral work of two wealthy weapons companies. He  wants revenge. Bazil hooks up with a group of misfits who live out of a scrapyard. They each have quirky, semi-autistic powers. Like Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup), the human calculator, who can calculate and distance, weight etc just by looking at something. Bazil, with misfits in tow, goes through a bunch of hairbrained hi-jinx to get back at the CEOs of the weapons companies.

There’s not too much to it apart from that. A lot of the screen time is taken up with fun and capers – for example, showing us the contraptions that the misfits make out of junk at their junkyard (which are quite clever and magical). That time is taken away from the characters and the relationships. That’s a trade off that has its pros and cons. I wanted to see the characters developed a bit more. It’s a feeling I often have in films where a team of quirky characters is presented and they each do their little bit, using their special talent.

Micmacs is also a film that seems to have lost something from being exported from France. There are obviously a few French language jokes that are lost in translation. It’s especially obvious because the special quirk of one of the misfits – the ethnographer – is his unusual and garrulous talking style. It seems like it was hard to translate what he’s saying without losing some of the point.

In the end, it’s fun, it’s pleasant, it’s kind of quirky. It’s nice. It looks good. But it has a bit too much sugary fantasy. If Jeunet had piped in some of the darker themes that were present in Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, it would have worked a lot better.

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MOLIERE (2008)

June 13, 2008

Moliere Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 120 min

Précis: Droll farce about an imagined episode in the life of the father of French comedy, when he apparently gained the inspiration to write his own droll farces.

Review by Matt:

Evidently, during the early life of the famous 17th century French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as “Moliere”, there is some missing time about which historians speculate. Where did the young Moliere go and what did he get up to? French director Laurent Tirard wonders as well, and in his witty comedy film Moliere, he imagines a farcical episode to fill in the gap. Kind of like a French Shakespeare in Love, it also tries to explain where Moliere may have gained inspiration for some of his famous plays.

The fantasy history begins after the skint Moliere (played by Romain Duris) is thrown into prison for his unpaid debts. This is a true event, but historians wonder who actually paid the price for Moliere’s release. In this account, a wealthy benefactor steps up with the cash. It’s Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy nincompoop with pretensions of joining French’s upper-class milieu. He offers to take care the debt if Moliere will stay at Jourdain’s château and teach him the great art of acting. Why does Jourdain need these lessons? So he can pursue the requisite French affair of course – he wants to perform a play he wrote to win the heart of Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier), an icy darling of the French court. So Moliere dons a fake priest’s collar, and a fake name, and treads into a situation which quickly starts to resemble a pastiche of his own farcical works. As well as needing to satisfy his unusual contract, Moliere needs to hide his true purpose from Jourdain’s neglected wife, Elmire (Laura Morante). But her artistic sensibilities soon start to attract him to her as well.

Farce time! Moliere serves up a blend of droll comedy and slapstick, skipping through silly schemes, affairs, and mistaken identities with a light tone. It also examines Moliere’s love for theatrical tragedy above the comedy for which he’s loved and, although this doesn’t come across as poignantly as is probably intended, the film still accommodates it smoothly. A few incongruous or flat moments of the “climbing trellises and peering into bedrooms” variety hardly distract from the overall ebullient tone. The film also doesn’t go for the sharp satire for which Moliere’s plays are often admired, but the clownish performances by the two leads – Romain Duris with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and Fabrice Luchini with a likeable foolishness in his – make the film sparkle anyway. A few fanciful moments of absurdity, as Moliere tries to work with his bumbling benefactor, make the film especially worth it – one even reminded me of a favourite scene of mine from the UK series The Office, where David Brent gives an emotional speech in an ostrich outfit. There’s also plenty of sharp dialogue to make you grin and visually the film is sumptuous, decked out with all the ornate costumes and decor of the period.

Moliere aficionados – and likely most of the French audience – will appreciate the extra layer of meaning, as many of the scenes we watch incorporate famous lines and scenarios from Moliere’s own plays (here’s your chance to laugh knowingly at the literary references to prove your erudition to the rest of the theatre). Moliere’s fake priest “Tartuffe”, for example, is a reference to Moliere’s play Tartuffe, and the character is so famous that in contemporary language (French especially), the word “Tartuffe” means a hypocrite, especially one who fakes religious virtue. It’s funny anyway of course and – as proven by boorish old me – you certainly don’t have to know anything about Moliere or his plays to understand and enjoy the film. It avoids the literary pomp that might have dragged it down and is simply a well-told comic story.

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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON) (2007)

March 28, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Matt: 4 stars

Length: 112 min

Tagline:
Let your imagination set you free.

Précis: This portrait of a completely paralysed yet conscious man is made with great intelligence and is surprisingly uplifting.

Review by Matt:

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (played here by Mathieu Amalric), the editor of France’s Elle Magazine and a swinging hedonist, suffered a massive stroke that left him almost completely paralysed. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly dramatises this event. As the film begins, Bauby awakens in a Parisian hospital and discovers that the swinging hedonism is well and truly lost. He can only move a single eye. Bauby has what is known as ‘locked in syndrome’. His mind is fully functioning but he is trapped in his paralysed body.

Like Edgar Allan Poe’s nightmarish story The Cask of Amontillado, in which a hapless chap is bricked up alive in a deep unvisited cellar, you would think it would be difficult for this film to overcome the innate horror of its premise. Or at least it might be pretty tedious: body in bed blinks a lot; family watch sadly. It is sad, and slightly horrific, but The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also fascinating and uplifting. It’s an amazing artistic achievement. The director, New York artist Julian Schnabel, smartly chose to tackle the subject by diving inside the paralysed Bauby and releasing his thoughts and memories. For much of the film we get the unique experience of sharing Bauby’s point of view – the camera is Bauby, and its eyelid flutters as Bauby’s does. This could distract some viewers, but I found it interesting and immersive. In addition we hear Bauby’s inner voice commenting, lamenting, regretting, lusting, wisecracking. The plot is not too linear. Instead we experience episodes involving Bauby’s family, friends and nurses, as well as dramatisations of his fantasies and recollections. Without being insensitive to its subject, the film is often quite funny as we experience Bauby’s lively mind.

But Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also inescapably sad in parts. Max Von Sydow is outstanding and poignant, as he as consistently been ever since he pooh-poohed Death in Ingmar Berman’s famous The Seventh Seal. Here he is Bauby’s ailing father, and his additions to the film’s landscape of emotions are the most touching. Emmanuelle Seigne is also sad and superb as Bauby’s estranged wife, tangled in one of life’s complex knots of love and suffering.

Mathieu Amalric also gives a moving performance as Bauby. There is an extreme contrast between the pathetic and bedridden Bauby and the vibrant pre-stroke Bauby. What quickly becomes evident though is that Bauby’s spark wasn’t crushed with his body. It is now simply trapped inside him like a diver in a sunken diving bell. With the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josee Croze), Bauby is able to use a system of communication using only his blinking eye. Though agonizingly slow, this method not only allows him to communicate his thoughts, but also to complete the incredible feat of dictating a memoir (which was published in France in 1997). Bauby may have made plenty of mistakes during his man-about-town years but, as the film highlights, like all of us he has an indestructible human essence that is capable of greatness.

Although it’s consistently interesting and has many moments of beauty, this is not an explosive tale so you should be prepared for a longish ride. It occasionally seemed to stretch on just a bit. But that is overshadowed by the film’s great intelligence and originality. Its tapestry of overlapping events and emotions is an honest portrait of life, broaching people’s fallibility as well as the greatness of our humanity. It’s moving and often intense. Possibly you will find parts of it devastating. Yet, despite the considerable restrictions of the subject matter and the story, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is much lighter than you’d imagine. Amazingly, by the end it has formed an elevating picture about the wholeness of life.