Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 French Cinema Now

The last festival of the San Francisco Film Society's 2011 Fall Season was French Cinema Now. At least it was the last festival for me. Cinema By the Bay, the San Francisco International Animation Festival and New Italian Cinema followed French Cinema Now but I didn't go to any the screenings.

Running from October 27 to November 2, French Cinema Now screened 11 films. I attended six of the films. I didn't feel well during one and dozed off. I seem to write that a lot, don't I. If I doze off for 10 or 15 minutes I'm bored. If I doze for an hour I'm ill. Fortunately, the film was Le Havre which is currently playing at the Landmark Bridge and at the Opera Plaza next week. I recall falling asleep on Muni on the way to the screening when I took the bus out to Japantown which is very unusual for me. I liked the parts I could stay awake for so I plan on seeing Le Havre at one of the Landmark theaters. I save discussion of it for another post.

All the films I saw were screened at the Viz but the opening of the festival was at the Landmark Embarcadero.

Angèle and Tony starring Clotilde Hesme & Grégory Gadebois; directed by Alix Delaporte; French with subtitles; (2010)
Beautiful Lies starring Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye & Sami Bouajila; directed by Pierre Salvadori; French with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Le Havre starring André Wilms; directed by Aki Kaurismäki; French with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Goodbye First Love starring Lola Créton & Sebastian Urzendowsky; directed by Mia Hansen-Løve; French, Danish & German with subtitles; (2011)
Bachelor Days Are Over starring Benjamin Biolay; directed by Katia Lewcowicz; French with subtitles; (2011)
The Long Falling starring Yolande Moreau; directed by Martin Provost; French with subtitles; (2011)


Despite receiving criticism in many quarters, my favorite film from the series was Beautiful Lies. The situations are contrived, the plot is predictable and Audrey Tautou and Nathalie Baye, as the daughter and mother respectively, give oversized performances as they struggle with their dysfunctions but I still laughted repeatedly.

The premise is a staple of television sitcoms. Jean (Sami Bouajila who is the straight man in the film) plays a handyman at a hair salon owned by Émilie (Tautou). Jean yearns passionately for Émilie who seems disinterested if not hostile. Jean decides to write Émilie an anonymous love letter which Émilie promptly throws in the trash to Jean's disappointment.

Later Émilie meets her mother Maddy (Baye) for lunch. Maddy is a wreck having never gotten over her separation from Émilie's father. Feeling that Maddy needs some romance in her life, Émilie decides to readdress and transcribe the love letter she received and send it to Maddy anonymously. Maddy is initially overjoyed and shows marked improvement until time passes and she becomes depressed that her secret has stopped sending her letters. Émilie had not counted on her letters being an ongoing affair but trying to be a good daughter, she writes another love note to her mother. Maddy is even more disappointed upon reading the letter and tells Émilie that the latest letter shows her admirer has no passion left.

Accepting the challenge, Émilie decides the only way to write a passionate, anonymous love letter to her mother is for her get drunk. The result is one of the best comedic lines I've seen this year. Émilie's letter begins with "Your proud and arrogant breasts..." That still makes me chuckle.

Émilie sends Jean to the post office to mail a bunch of letters including the one to her mother. Jean stamps all the letters at the post office but runs one stamp short. You can guess which letter doesn't get stamped. He decides to drop the letter off since the address is so near. Maddy is now extra vigilant for letters and pounces on the letter as soon as it drops from the mail slot . Maddy quickly realizes what it is and runs to the street to see Jean walking away.

Maddy follows Jean to Émilie's salon and you can imagine the rest. Maddy think Jean is her secret lover, Jean loves Émilie and for reasons not recounted here, Émilie begins to feel hostile towards Jean but needs him to pretend to be interested in Maddy.

The French seem to like raucous and farcical comedies with broad brushstrokes and over-the-top performances. Tautou and Baye are too good as actors to stray too far off the reservations but they both seem to enjoy themselves playing these flawed and neurotic women. Their performances are what buoy the film which is otherwise clichéd.


Bachelor Days Are Over is about a nervous and restless groom (Benjamin Biolay) in the days leading up to his wedding. Qui Qui (a childhood nickname) has a serious case of cold feet which is exacerbated by the stress of selling his place, overseeing the remodeling of the flat they are moving into, meeting the large contingent of non-French speaking inlaws-to-be, his brides unexplained disappearance and not least, the passionate affair he embarks on with a stripper from the club where his bachelor party is held. Constantly holding his feet to the fire are his sister (Emmanuelle Devos in a nice performance) and best friend who feel it is time for him to settle down.

There is a comedic element as Qui Qui juggles all these activites which goes wrong at every turn but as the film progresses, his internal conflict comes to the forefront. Qui Qui isn't a cad and doesn't want to hurt anyone but he is coming to the realization that the woman he is marrying may not be right for him...or maybe she is. He vacillates, it's agonizing and it struck as real as a heart attack. As a confession, I've been in a similar situation and these churning emotions can break you down. I didn't have sex with stripper to break up my relationship but this film struck a resonance with me.

The ending was particulary poignant. Did he make the right decision? Was the ending a tragedy or a triumph? The film leaves this purposefully ambiguous which is one more reason I liked this film.


Angèle and Tony was an offbeat romance. Tony is a squat fisherman; salt ot he earth type. Angèle is a hustler. The audience's introduction to her is while she is having sex with a Chinese man in exchange for an action figure which he assure her is the hottest toy in Shanghai. That scene establishes Angèle's self-worth, motivation and desperation. Angèle wants the toy as a gift for her son who lives with his paternal grandparents. Angèle wants a husband to regain custody of her son. That's where Tony comes in. Angèle thinks she can seduce Tony into marrying her but Tony is not so dumb or self-deluded into buying what Angèle is selling.

The majority of the film is the two coming to terms with each other and gaining some mutual trust. Angèle could easily have been written to be more feral and Tony more willing to take Angèle's interest in him at face value but director Alix Delaporte created a more complex film which look under the surface of both characters. The film meanders in some unexpected ways as their relationship progresses. I was still a little disbeleiving that Angèle would have a change of heart and that Tony would trust her but they both had a certain sense that they both needed to find someone before it got too late. I would have preferred a more "mutual compromised" ending but I can overlook the conclusion of the film.

Clotilde Hesme & Grégory Gadebois are outstanding in the the title roles, respectively.


Goodbye First Love reminded me in mood and tone to a film I saw at the 2011 SF Internation Film Festival, Living on Love Alone. They both followed young women in love who travel to the French countryside for passionate affairs.

Goodbye First Love features Lola Créton & Sebastian Urzendowsky, as Camille and Sullivan - two young people in love. Sullivan is little restless and immature. He decides to take a hiking trip to South America without Camille. At first, he writes frequently but as months pass, the communication goes silent. A great scene signifying the end of the relationship, or precisely the mending of Camille's broken heart, is when she pulls the pins out of the South American map which tracked Sullivan's travels.

Several years go by and we watch Camille become an architect. The film focuses on Camille so Sullivan is missing from her life and the film. When they finally reconnect, by chance, they quickly resume their passions despite Camille's existing romantic relationship. I won't give away the ending but will say Sullivan stays consistent to his character.

Goodbye First Love features a nice performance by Créton whom I saw in Catherine Breillat's Blue Beard.


The Long Falling was my least favorite film of the series. The story of a battered wife who kills her husband and flees to the big city to live with her gay son.

After a strong start, the film lost my interest; enough said.

No comments: