Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 French Cinema Now

I'm so far behind in my posts.  I have films from July which I have not catalogued.  I may as well go in reverse order since those films are fresher in my memory.

The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) held its Fall Series of mini-film festivals.  The season wrapped on Sunday with New Italian Cinema.  Cinema By the Bay preceded New Italian Cinema.  I only saw one film (Amity) at the three day Cinema By the Bay.  Prior to Cinema By the Bay, SFFS hosted French Cinema Now from October 24 to 30 at the Landmark Embarcadero Cinemas.  I saw three films at French Cinema Now.

Camille Rewinds starring & directed by Noémie Lvovsky; French with subtitles; (2012)
Donoma; directed by Djinn Carrenard; French with subtitles; (2011)
Sister starring Kacey Mottet Klein; directed by Ursula Meier; French with subtitles; (2012)


Camille Rewinds is a time travel comedy about Camille (played by director Noémie Lvovsky), an alcoholic actress making horror schlock and facing a divorce from her high school sweetheart.  If memory serves me correctly, she went back to 1986 through a plot device too tedious recount here.  Lvovsky and actor Samir Guesmi who plays her husband Eric, play their younger selves.  Before going back in time, Camille reunites with her three best friends from high school at a New Year's Eve costume party.  The three actresses (Judith Chemla , India Hair & Julia Faure) are younger than Lvovsky and appear age appropriate for the high school scenes.  By introducing the three characters at a costume party where their faces are obscured, Lvovsky sidesteps the issue of their ages when portraying 40something versions of their characters.

When Camille awakens in her teenage body, she has two goals.  First, she wants to avoid falling in love with Eric since he is the cause of so much of her later heartbreak.  However, she needs to have sex with him on a specific date so as to conceive their daughter who is the only bright spot in Camille's 40something life.  Second, she wants to save her mother who died unexpectedly of a stroke.  One of Camille's regrets is that she never told her mother that she was pregnant and her unexpected death meant her mother never knew of the existence of her granddaughter.

The meat of the film shows Camille (with full knowledge of the future and with the sensibilities of a 40 year old woman) trying to maneuver people into situations and her bemusement with the naiveté of the teens and petty tyranny of the teachers.  Still craving alcohol and cigarettes, Camille behaves in a manner inappropriate for a 16 year old girl.  Camille strikes up a friendship with her physics instructor in an attempt to understand her situation.  It becomes clear that the 40ish Alphonse (Denis Podalydès) would make a nice match for the 40ish Camille but he is dealing with the 16 year version and is conflicted about his feeling.

A cute comedy, Camille is bittersweet as we learn that sometimes people die and nothing can be done to stop it and that love is a powerful emotion at any age.  A prolific actress, Lvovsky has appeared in several films I have seen or am familiar with.  She was in House of Pleasure, Copacabana, Farewell, My Queen and 17 Girls.


Donoma was microbudget film about the criss-crossing lives of its characters.  I count seven main characters and associated plotlines set in Paris.  The story which captured my attention involved Amalia (Emilia Derou-Bernal), a Spanish teacher and Dacio (Vincente Perez), her disruptive student.  I'm not sure if it was set in high school or some type of vocational or alternative school.  Regardless, Dacio seems to in his late teens or perhaps early 20s; Amalia in her 30s.  Frustrated by Dacio's classroom disruptions, Amalia confronts him in a shocking manner.  Having him stay late after class, Amalia unexpectedly manually stimulates Dacio to climax (i.e. a handjob).  Surprising both the audience & Dacio, Amalia later relates the incident to her girlfriends.  She compares her arm motion to   vigorously using a toilet brush and seems proud of herself as the most satisfying part of the experience was that it stunned Dacio to silence.  Oblivious to the wholly inappropriateness of her actions and her friends' reactions,

As that story progresses, Dacio & Amalia engage in increasingly cruel & destructive game of one upmanship which ends with Amalia rapping in front of the class about Dacio's small penis and lack of stamina.  It's a tour-de-force performance by Derou-Bernal who has no other credits on IMDB which I'm familiar with.

Skillfully edited, Donoma doesn't have much to say but says it with panache.  All the characters seem isolated from each other despite their physical and emotional bonds.  Confused, frustrated and resentful sums up the prevalent themes among the character.  Donoma was interesting but not fully satisfying.


Sister was my favorite film of the three I saw at the series.  Kacey Mottet Klein stars as Simon, a 12 year old boy who would be called street urchin anywhere else.  Sister is set at a Swiss ski resort and Simon has a bit of the Artful Dodger in him.  Like a businessman commuting to work, Simon lives down on the valley floor.  Having bought a seasonal ski pass, Simon rides the gondola lift to the top of the mountain everyday...where he proceeds to steal skis, googles, helmets, etc. which he hauls back home to sell to the neighborhood kids.

Seemingly orphaned, we eventually meet Louise (Léa Seydoux), Simon's older sister.  We observe a complex relationship between the two where Simon seems the more responsible one and Louise the child or more accurately childish as Louise (age undetermined) can fill out a pair of jeans nicely and attracts the attention of several men during the film.

I am going to reveal a plot spoiler in this paragraph.  The specific nature of Simon's sibling relationship with Louise evolves as vague and open to various interpretation, but Simon blurts out to Louise's latest boyfriend, the true nature of their bond.  Louise is Simon's mother.  Louise became pregnant at age 13 or so.  I thought the actress Léa Seydoux was in her late teens or early 20s.  She turned 27 this year.  In a coincidence, Seydoux was the co-lead in Farewell, My Queen - the film I haven't seen which keeps turning up.

Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) turns up as a wealthy American with two children in tow.  Simon immediately latches on to her as a surrogate mother and Anderson's character coolly keeps her distance.  Simon's outlandish family tale and unusual freedom on the ski slopes strikes the American as odd.

Eventually, Simon's thievery is discovered, his ski pass confiscated and he is banished from the mountaintop resort.  In a reversal of roles, Simon is reduced to tagging along with his sister who has taken a job as a maid for hire.  On one of the jobs, Simon discovers the chalet they are cleaning belongs to Gillian Anderson's character.  When he attempts to steal a watch, Simon's emotional stability crashes down.

As filmmakers and authors have long known, prepubescent boys can tug at ones heartstrings.  Klein, as the unbearably lonely Simon, really delivers the goods.  You want to protect him but all the adults in the film spurn him or take advantage of him.  The film ends on an ambiguous note which interpreted different ways, I left wondering what an adult Simon would be like.  Lacking parental guidance and a habitual thief at age 12, the odds aren't good, but director Ursula Meier and Klein give fleeting glimpses as to the potential of the boy.

Sister was a complex film which delved into weighty issues regarding a young boy's character and emotional state.  Slightly too sentimental for my taste, the film was still rewarding and thought provoking.  

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