The French movie industry’s carbon copy imitation of the Oscars. The awards ceremony is happening tomorrow night—two nights before the Oscars (as usual)—at the Théâtre du Châtelet (as always). The full list of nominees is here. Leading with ten nominations is ‘Saint Laurent’, followed by Les Combattants (Love at First Fight) with nine, Timbuktu with eight, and Hippocrate and ‘Yves Saint Laurent’ with seven each. There were several films in the top categories I hadn’t seen when the nominations were announced last month. In order to cast my ballot, as it were, I managed to catch all in the past three weeks (DVD and en salle). I have blog posts on most of the nominees. For the ones I don’t—those seen of late—here’s my brief take on each:
La Famille Bélier (The Bélier Family): This is the crowd-pleasing, heartwarming, feelgood smash hit comedy of the season, with over six million tix sold since its release the week before Xmas and racking up six César nominations, including Best Film. I originally had no intention of seeing it but, César oblige, had little choice. The story: The Béliers—husband Rodolphe (François Damiens, Best Actor nominee), wife Gigi (Karin Viard, Best Actress nominee), 16-year-old daughter Paula (Louane Emera, Most Promising Actress nominee), and 13-year-old son Quentin (Luca Gelberg)—are a zany family of deaf dairy farmers (they make cheese) in the bucolic Mayenne Angevine—except for Paula, who has normal hearing and thus acts as family interpreter, as it were (Damiens, Viard, and Emera learned sign language for the film; Gelberg is hearing impaired in real life; Viard also looks to have dropped 50 or 60 IQ points for her role). At school Paula chooses chorus as an elective—as that’s what the boy she has a crush on is taking—the teacher of which (Eric Elmosnino, Best Supporting Actor nominee) is a slave-driver who relishes skewering students for their lack of talent (recalling the jazz teacher in ‘Whiplash’, though without the sadistic psychopathic side). But Paula turns out to have talent indeed, so impressing her hard-to-impress teacher—a Parisian who lives his posting in bumfuck rural Anjou as a sort of purgatory—that he takes her under his wing, telling her that she absolutely has to go to music school in Paris, which would, of course, mean leaving the farm and her loving, zany, deaf family. And that’s what she decides to do. The pic actually has a few good laughs and gags, notably from Rodolphe (François Damiens is a well-known Belgian comic actor), who, in a subplot, decides that the mayor of the village is such a condescending idiot that he, Rodolphe, is going to run in the local election to unseat him, even though he can’t hear or talk; to surmount the insurmountable odds he draws inspiration from François Hollande’s writings, which he carefully studies in bed at night; now that’s funny (he wins, of course). The bons sentiments naturally kick in toward the end (have hankies ready, for the tears of joy). Middlebrow family entertainment for the masses (though it will likely be hit with an R rating in the US for the sex talk and allusions, of which there’s a lot). If it wins Best Film I will definitively lose all respect for the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma.
Pas son genre (Not My Type): Clément (Loïc Corbery) is a late 20ish Parisian philosophy professor—in lycée (philo being a required subject for all 12th graders in France) and university—high culture maven, and author (with prestigious publishing house), who cannot conceive of life outside the 6th arrondissement, with morning café and croissant at Les Deux Magots and all. But being a fonctionnaire with l’Education nationale he pretty much has to go where he’s assigned, so when informed that he’s being posted to teach high school philo in Arras—Prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais, which is only an hour on the TGV from the Gare du Nord but not really practical for a daily commute, so he has to live there for at least part of the week—he reacts like he’s being sent to French Guiana, or to a provincial town in Madagascar. Purgatory (a refrain in French movies; see above). Now Clément is not the most outgoing guy: he’s a psychorigide cold fish and arrogant snob to boot, and clearly has problems in his relationships with women (established in the opening scene). But once in Arras, he takes a liking to bubbly hairdresser Jennifer (Emilie Dequenne, Best Actress nominee), asks her out on a date, and stuff inevitably happens. Educated intellectual guy takes up with girl down the education/social class ladder. Not exactly an original cinematic theme, nor what happens between them: she falling for him more than he for her, but then she melting his ice-cold exterior, causing him to fall for her but while she, cognizant that the relationship can’t possibly go anywhere, pulls back. The film—otherwise unexceptional—is carried by Dequenne’s performance. She’s very good and deserves her César nomination (pour mémoire, Dequenne, who’s Belgian, won Best Actress at Cannes for her role in the Dardenne brothers’ 1999 film ‘Rosetta’). So while the pic is not worth going out of one’s way for, it may be seen chez soi on DVD.
Saint Laurent & Yves Saint Laurent: Two biopics on the famous fashion designer in the same year. Can you believe it? Crazy. Don’t producers coordinate these things? I had zero interest in seeing either but, in view of their respective slew of César nominations, decided that I really should. The seven nominations for ‘Yves Saint Laurent’—the first of the two to come out (Jan. ’14)—include Best Actor (Pierre Niney), Best Supporting Actor (Guillaume Gallienne), and Best Supporting Actress (Charlotte Le Bon). This one is the more conventional biopic, covering the couturier’s life from the launch of his career in Algeria at age 21—in 1957, during the war; YSL was a Pied-Noir from Oran—and apprenticeship with Christian Dior to his “Russian ballet” collection of 1976—considered his greatest—with flashes ahead to his later years. The relationship with the high-flying businessman and philanthropist Pierre Bergé, YSL’s companion to the end of his life (d.2008), is a natural focus of the film (Bergé collaborated with director Jalil Lespert, lending him the original 1976 outfits for the reenactment of the runway show). The film, which did well at the box office, received generally good reviews, with Allociné spectateurs giving it even higher marks. It’s a perfectly acceptable by-the-numbers biopic that may be seen (at home; not worth schlepping to the cinoche for). The second one, ‘Saint Laurent’—which came out in October and whose ten nominations include Best Film, Best Director (Bertrand Bonello), Best Actor (Gaspard Ulliel), and two for Best Supporting Actor (Jérémie Renier and Louis Garrel)—covers only YSL’s 1967-76 period. It’s stylized, impressively shot, well-acted, and got top reviews, though Allociné spectateurs were more lukewarm (and the film was not a box office success). On this, I go with the vox populi. The pic, which is an unreasonable 2½ hours long, is tedious and drags for long stretches. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. The one thing I’ll say in its favor, though, is the beautiful outfits for the 1976 collection, which were created by costume designer Anaïs Romand—they look more Arab than Russian in style—as Pierre Bergé and the YSL house refused to have anything to do with Bonello’s film. I know nothing about fashion and care even less about it but was impressed with Romand’s creations, which, IMO, are even better than YSL’s originals.
Un beau dimanche (Going Away): Baptiste (Pierre Rochefort, Most Promising Actor nominee) is an early 30ish itinerant primary school teacher—who appears more intello than your average instituteur—in a beach town near Montpellier, who takes charge of a pupil whose father forgot to pick up at school. When Baptiste takes the boy to his mother, Sandra (Louise Bourgoin)—who works as a waitress in a restaurant on the beach—they strike up a conversation and one thing leads to the next. Yet another movie about bourgeois guy—Baptiste being, as we learn in the latter part of the pic, the brebis galeuse son of a very wealthy local family—and prolo girl (and who has made bad choices in her life and frequented the wrong type of people). It’s a small film, nothing to write home about, and utterly forgettable. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.
Voilà my vote:
BEST FILM: Hippocrate.
This was the best French film of the year. ‘Timbuktu’—which will almost certainly win—is a fine runner-up, though it’s not a French film.
BEST DIRECTOR: Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu).
A semi political choice but deserved nonetheless.
BEST ACTOR: Guillaume Canet (La Prochaine fois je viserai le cœur).
Pierre Niney will probably win this one for his role in ‘Yves Saint Laurent’ but Canet is utterly convincing as a serial killer in his film.
BEST ACTRESS: Sandrine Kiberlain (Elle l’adore).
Most of the nominees here—Marion Cotillard, Adèle Haenel, Catherine Deneuve, Emilie Dequenne—are worthy winners but Kiberlain hit it out of the park with her performance in the film for which she has been nominated. She won the big prize last year and deserves it again.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Reda Kateb (Hippocrate).
Other nominees are worthy but Kateb is The Man, hands down.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria).
Stewart may be an American and who speaks not a word of French in the film but as it’s French-made, directed by a Frenchman, and her performance was tops, she gets it in my book. Claude Gensac, the adorable mamie in Lulu femme nue, is the runner-up.
BEST COSTUMES: Anaïs Romand for ‘Saint Laurent’.
I would normally pay no attention to this category but Romand’s beautiful outfits (see above) merit an award.
BEST FIRST FILM: ‘Elle l’adore’, by Jeanne Herry.
Of the films nominated this is nº1.
BEST SHORT FILM: ‘Les Jours d’avant’, by Karim Moussaoui.
This is the only one I’ve seen in this category—it’s Algerian, though French produced—and is very good (I’ll eventually have a post on it). As it’s a sophisticated little story about the 1990s “dark decade” in Algeria and by a new, young Algerian director, I hope it wins. The New Algerian Cinema deserves the recognition.
UPDATE: ‘Timbuktu’ was the big winner, with seven awards out of eight nominations, including Best Film (obviously). The YSL biopics got only one apiece. I was on the money with most of my choices or predictions. The awards list is here. Variety’s dispatch is here.