Continuing from my previous post on French films nominated for César awards (the ceremony happening tomorrow), Xavier Giannoli’s Marguerite has garnered eleven—tying ‘My Golden Years’ for the most—including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Catherine Frot), and Best Supporting Actor (Michel Fau & André Marcon). It was a hit this past fall in France, with over a million tix sold—meaning it was one of those movies that occasional cinema-goers made a point to see—and received very good reviews from critics and Allociné spectateurs alike. If one doesn’t know the story, it’s set in the early 1920s in and near Paris, where the Baroness Marguerite Dumont (C.Frot) lives in a château with her husband, Georges (A.Marcon)—whom she loves madly, more than he does her (N.B. she’s the one with the inherited wealth)—and fancies herself an opera singer, which is her obsession, performing before friends and invited guests at the château. She sings tragically off-key, but which she has no clue of, as no one will tell her (the Baroness’s character is inspired by the real life American socialite and amateur operetta soprano Florence Foster Jenkins). Husband Georges can’t bring himself to—he always finds pretexts to miss her private performances—the household staff certainly won’t, her devoted butler, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), shields her from all bad news, and her friends and hangers-on will not even hint to her how cringeworthily, comically bad she is (sort of like an academic not telling a fellow academic friend that his work sucks). Not even the opera singer, Atos Pezzini/Divo (M.Fau), whom she hires for private lessons, will tell her that she has zero talent and should just hang it up. When she decides to sing in public for the first time, which no one can dissuade her from doing, reality catches up. Everything one needs to know about the film is in the Hollywood press reviews (all tops) here, here, and here, and in the trailer here.
The scenes of the Baroness’s performances at the château are certainly amusing, though one gets the idea pretty quickly. And watching someone cluelessly making a fool of him/herself does make me uncomfortable. But there’s a lot more to the film than that, one theme being the hypocrisy—but also cruelty—of all those in the Baroness’s social circle who played along with her unwitting farce, as she was fabulously wealthy and generous with her money. Those who politely applauded and then mocked her behind her back don’t come across too well. And all the more so as the Baroness was a nice, sincere, good-hearted person, who would have likely abandoned her opera diva fantasy if she had been made aware of what her fellow socialites really thought of her (lack of) talent. And again, she loved her philandering, indifferent husband, who finally revealed his tender feelings toward her—as she was such a nice, sincere person. The acting in the movie is great, and particularly Catherine Frot, for whom the role—of singing off-key—was apparently a challenge, as she is said to be a very good singer. So, all in all, it’s a good movie. Recommended.
Another film that has received César nominations (eight) is La Tête haute, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot (English title: Standing Tall), including Best Film, Best Director (Bercot also being nominated for Best Actress for her role in the execrable ‘Moi roi’), Best Actress (Catherine Deneuve), Best Supporting Actor (Benoît Magimel), Best Supporting Actress (Sara Forestier), Most Promising Actor (Rod Paradot), and Most Promising Actress (Diane Rouxel). Practically the entire cast is up for an award. The film opened last year’s Cannes film festival, hitting the salles in France immediately after and to top reviews. In short, the film’s protag, Malony (R.Paradot), is a turbulent, out-of-control, manifestly disturbed mid teenager, who has been in and out of state foster homes since he was six-years-old, as his drug addict, white trash single mom, Séverine (S.Forestier, perfectly cast for the role), was not capable of raising him on her own. His case has been in the hands of the same juge d’enfants (juvenile court judge), “La Juge” (C.Deneuve), throughout his childhood and adolescence. Malony, given his personality and behavior, was in a straight trajectory toward a life of delinquency, crime, and prison, but the adults in charge of him—”La Juge” and the social worker assigned to work with him, Yann (B.Magimel), who, one learns, had his own issues in his youth—were determined to do all they could so that would not happen. The film is a two-hour paean to the professionals—here, functionaries in state social service agencies—whose mission it is to put wayward youths on the right path. It took the state to raise Malony. Indeed. The film is not bad. The acting is first-rate and with a great cast. And one cares about Malony—who finally gets tamed by a girl, Tess (D.Rouxel), his first g.f.—even if one wants to give him a good hiding at times. Anglophone press reviews were good overall (here, here, here, and here). Trailer is here.
Mommy, by Xavier Dolan. I’m cheating here, as this is not a French film—though it’s Quebec Canadian, so in French (more or less)—and has not been nominated for any Césars this year, as it came out in 2014—though it did win the César last year for Best Foreign Film (as well as the 2015 Prix de Jury at Cannes). The reason I’m including it here is because ‘La Tête haute’, which I saw some six months after this one, bears a strong resemblance to it, with the central character a mid teen boy, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who suffers from ADHD and is really out of control, along with his devoted but overwhelmed mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), who raises him—no juge d’enfant or assistant social here (though state institutions are looming)—and a neighbor schoolteacher, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who, taking a liking to Diane and Steve, helps Diane out with her turbulent, hyperactive son. It’s a pretty good film, though one should know a couple of things before seeing. First, it’s the fifth feature-length film of the precocious director Dolan (born 1989) and not the first of his to be screened and to win awards at Cannes and other top festivals (Venice, Toronto, among others). Would I have had such a palmarès at his age. Dolan’s previous films, so one reads and hears, contain information that give context to ‘Mommy’, but I had not seen a single one of them (and still have not). A certain number of cinéspectateurs in France—where Dolan has a following—had, though, so knew the antecedents to the story. There was indeed a certain hype over the film when it came out here (October 2014), it did very well at the box office (over one million tix sold, which was higher than for ‘La Tête haute’)—the Quartier Latin cinoche where I saw it was totally packed—and the reviews (critics and Allociné audiences alike) were dithyrambic. Not bad for a 2 hour 20 minute subtitled pic—and it had to be subtitled, as the Quebec French (Joual, in fact) was almost incomprehensible. Quant à moi, I thought the characters were powerful and the acting even more so, but wasn’t as blown away by the pic as were so many others. On Allociné’s 5 star scale, I give it a 3 or 3.5 (not bad to good).
There is one technical feature of the film that bothered me—and this is the second thing to know about it—which is its 1:1 aspect ratio. I thought through much of the film that there was a problem with the projector, realizing only toward the end that the small square image—only taking up part of the screen—was deliberate. Whatever reason Dolan did this—and I haven’t sought to find it out—it really wasn’t necessary IMO. It adds nothing to the film but maybe does take something away. Anglophone critics, who gave it top reviews (here, here, here, and here), manifestly didn’t share my sentiment. Trailer is here.
La vie très privée de Monsieur Sim, by Michel Leclerc (English title: The Very Private Life of Mister Sim). Voilà l’histoire: François Sim (Jean-Pierre Bacri, César Best Actor nominee) is the dictionary definition of a loser. A pauvre type, socially clumsy, and whose life has been one succession of failures: he can’t hold a job, his wife left him because he was so hapless, his teen daughter thinks he’s a klutz, his father won’t even take him to lunch when he comes to visit, and he’s blown golden opportunities to make it with hot babes who were beckoning him to make the first move. And he’s a bore, the type who starts talking at the person sitting next to him on a plane—which is how the pic begins—but saying nothing whatever of interest. Monsieur Sim is shy, awkward, not at all courageous, has a low opinion of himself, and consequently feels very much alone in the world. His is a life of solitude. After losing the last job, he gets a new one, as a travelling salesman for a small company that makes ecologically friendly toothbrushes, setting off from Mâcon—where he lives—in a company car to promote the product, but which becomes a road trip—a road movie—with detours to drop in on his ex-wife and daughter, visit with people he’s met recently and reconnect with those from his past, forges a bond with “Emmanuelle”—the female voice on the car’s GPS—and comes to realizations about himself.
The film is based on British novelist Jonathan Coe’s The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. It’s a sad film but touching, and which does not lose one’s attention. Jean-Pierre Bacri dominates the film as Monsieur Sim. It’s a stellar performance on his part and with a fine supporting cast, including the ubiquitous Mathieu Amalric, la jeune et jolie Vimala Pons, Carole Franck, Félix Moati, and Vincent Lacoste, entre autres. So: recommended. French reviews were good (there are none so far in English). Trailer is here.
Valley of Love, by Guillaume Nicloux. This one—which premiered at Cannes last year—is entirely set in Death Valley, California, where a famous, long divorced (and since remarried) French movie star couple, Gérard (Gérard Depardieu, nominated for César Best Actor) and Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert, Best Actress nominee), have rendez-voused—at a cheesy motel—in response to a request from their dead son, who had committed suicide in San Francisco—where was living—six months earlier and, in his suicide letter, had asked that his parents—neither of whom had tended to him during his childhood—meet there for an improbable reason. The movie is all Depardieu and Huppert—deux monstres du cinéma français, in their first film together in 35 years—raking over the past and dealing with the guilt over the son both had so neglected. Huppert is good comme d’hab’, even if she always seems to be playing the same role, but Depardieu is grotesque. He is so grossly obese—he looks like a bloated whale—that, while watching him, one is half waiting for him to keel over with an infarction. And he actually parades around without a shirt on, showing off his bod… In your face. The film, which was thankfully short (an hour and a half), left me indifferent. It was bof, though did have a couple of positive facets. One was Isabelle & Gérard’s chance encounters with Americans at the motel and nearby restaurants. Des Américains moyens dans toute leur splendeur. One nods in recognition, cackles knowingly, and maybe winces. The other positive facet was the scenery of Death Valley. Otherwise, I have nothing in particular to say about the pic. Hollywood press reviews (respectful) are here, here, and here. Trailer is here.
L’Affaire SK1, by Frédéric Tellier. This one opened in January 2015 but totally passed under my radar screen at the time. It’s been nominated for two Césars, including Best First Film. The pic is a police thriller and based on actual events, of the seven-year manhunt in the 1990s of serial killer Guy Georges, who atrociously raped and murdered seven women in Paris’s 11th and 12th arrondissements. Anyone who lived in Paris during the 1990s will remember well the fait divers. The protag, Franck (Raphaël Personnaz), is a young cop at the celebrated 36 quai des Orfèvres on the Île de la Cité—HQ of several specialized units of the Paris police—who is part of the team—the head of which is cop Bourgon (Olivier Gourmet)—tasked with finding the murderer(s) of the women, whom, once it is determined that it is a single person, is designated SK1 (Serial Killer 1). The film shifts back and forth in time, between the 2001 trial of Guy Georges—who is defended by two lawyers, played by Nathalie Baye and William Nadylam—and the manhunt as it unfolded between 1991 and Guy Georges’s arrest in 1998, with all the frustrations and dead ends. It’s a total genre film, which one has seen countless times, and, as it reenacts a true story, one knows how it’s going to end. But it is nonetheless a taught, riveting thriller, and with a top flight cast to boot. At no point does one look at one’s watch. What one takes away from the pic and the Guy Georges story, entre autres, is the multiple failures of the police of the time, of the serious problems in their organization and of their inter-service rivalries and lack of cooperation, the consequence of which was that, in this case, the serial killer remained unidentified and at large at least three years longer than he should have been—and with young women horrendously murdered in the intervening period as a result. In France’s famously centralized state, the police, despite being national, were anything but. One of the consequences of the Guy Georges case was the systematic recourse to DNA tests and the creation of a centralized police data base for this.