Today is 14th July and it is Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale in France, which means it is time to celebrate French films and French directors. Below I present a number of French films I reviewed on this blog, and this includes films from Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Julia Ducournau and François Ozon, as well as three French-produced animations:
Grande Illusion, La (1937) Regle du Jeu, La (1939) Diaboliques, Les (1955)
Pickpocket (1959) Planete Sauvage, La (1973) Roi et L’Oiseau, Le (1980)
Betty Blue (1986) Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea (2002) Elle (2016)
Odyssey, The (2016) Raw (2016) 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017)
L’Amant Double (2017)
There are so many great French films out there, including the works of René Clément (Jeux interdits), Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins), Jean Cocteau (La Belle et la Bête), Louis Malle (Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud), Agnes Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7), Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai), Jean-Luc Godard (À bout de souffle), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) and Claire Denis (Beau Travail). Do you have a favourite French movie?
Debbie at Moon in Gemini is hosting The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon, which is a fabulous idea since it is an opportunity for everyone to discover or re-discover classic and “must-see” films, or even find hidden gems. I have chosen to write on Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” because it is considered one of the greatest of films (at least in some circles). It is a definite achievement of Robert Bresson, an acclaimed film director, and the film is ranked as one of the greatest films by the Sight & Sound magazine (the 2012 poll). Moreover, Roger Ebert, the late popular film critic, once included it in his “Great Movies” list. And, “Pickpocket” is great, just not in a conventional way. This is because Bresson is a French director who practices some form of austerity in his films, and his films do have a minimalistic quality, even though all the philosophical observations in his movies more than make up for the understated presentation or plot.
This film is Bresson’s debut as a scriptwriter for his movie, but it is also fair to say that he was in some way adapting Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment” (1866) to make this film because “Pickpocket” more or less follows the stages of Dostoevsky’s novel and has similar characters. Like in the classic novel, Bresson is preoccupied with fear, guilt and redemption in his story as we follow Michel (Martin LaSalle), a recently released thief, who struggles to get back to his “job”. Michel is reclusive and apathetic, but he does make friends with Jeanne (Marika Green), a young woman and his mother’s neighbour, and has a friend called Jacques. Bresson conveys to the screen the intrigue of the trade which is called pick-pocketing, as well as its dangerous, claustrophobic and lonely nature. What works best in the film is the portrayal of Michel as a societal outsider who tries inwardly to come to light and good. The main character becomes quite sympathetic, maybe even more sympathetic than in “Crime Punishment”, because the crimes of Michel are less horrendous than the murders of Raskolnikov. Continue reading “The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)”
Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) (1973)
Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. “Fantastic Planet” is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, “Fantastic Planet” is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.
Continue reading “Classic French Animations: “Fantastic Planet” (1973) and “The King & The Mockingbird” (1980)”
Yesterday was Jean Renoir’s 124th birthday, and, to pay tribute, I am reviewing two of this eminent French director’s most famous cinematic creations, which both influenced numerous films made after them and are now considered cinema classics – “The Rules of the Game” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937).
La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)
This film is, arguably, Jean Renoir’s greatest achievement. In the story, a circle of rich socialites meets up in a country house of Christine and her husband Robert de la Cheyniest. The complications then follow as it becomes apparent that aviator André Jurieux is deeply in love with Christine, and Christine’s own husband, Robert, is entangled in a love affair of his own. Coupled to this, Christine’s personal maid Lisette becomes interested in the recent addition to the servant staff – a poacher Marceau, despite having a husband. An intermediary between the couples is Octave, Christine’s trusted friend, played by Jean Renoir himself. “La Regle du Jeu” is very much an “upstairs/downstairs” film where the director satirises the life of the bourgeois on the eve of the war, often contrasting them with their servants. The socialites’ frivolousness, including the fleetness of their passions, are exposed and ridiculed, and, in the end, the characters’ paths and motivations collide and the ultimate sacrifice is made on the societal altar to self-absorption and complacency.
Continue reading “Jean Renoir: “La Règle du Jeu” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937)”
L’Amant Double (Double Lover) (2017)
François Ozon (“Frantz” (2016), “In the House” (2013)) is a French director who is uninhibited when it comes to portraying sexuality/erotica on screen and was exploring it freely in his past films “Jeune et Jolie” (2013) and “Swimming Pool” (2003). His latest psychological thriller “L’Amant Double” is another testament to this director’s fascinating way of portraying psychologically interesting scenarios and sensuality/sexuality on screen. Based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, “L’Amant Double” presents Chloé (Marine Vacth), a young woman who seeks help for her psychosomatic stomach pains from a psychoanalyst Paul (Jérémie Renier). It is not long before Chloé and Paul fall in love and move in together, and all is going well until Chloé becomes troubled by her lover’s personal secrets. This erotically-charged film is not without its problems, but it explores the nature of personal identity from an interesting angle, portrays sexually-charged romance unflinchingly, and plays with our beliefs, expectations and what-if questions. In the end, ‘L’Amant Double” becomes a film not so much about an obsessive romance and morbid fascinations as about the question of the extent to which one’s imagination can overrun one’s sanity and eventually completely undermine one’s perception of reality.
Continue reading ““L’ Amant Double” Review”
To follow from my Rome-location film list which I made last April, here is the list of 10 films that showcase the delightful City of Light – Paris, a permanent place for romance, charm, elegance and sophistication. As usual, this is a subjective, in no particular order, slightly “off the beaten path” films list.
I. Amelie (2001)
This romantic comedy, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Delicatessen” (1991)) and starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz, could be described as the very definition of whimsical Paris. The film is set around Montmartre, a place that once nurtured great writers and painters, and is about a shy waitress, Amélie Poulain, who is seemingly on the mission to better the lives of those around her. Set in Montmartre, naturally, the film features the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur, and Café des Deux Moulins (15 rue Lepic) where Amélie works. However, the film also displays such sights as the distinctive staircase leading to the Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt as well as the Pont des Arts.
II. Breathless (1961)
A “New Wave” film-critic-turned-director Jean-Luc Godard produced in 1960 his directional debut “À Bout de Souffle” or “Breathless“, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg as Michel Poiccard and Patricia Franchini respectively, and what a debut it turned out to be! Breaking from previous confined film traditions, “Breathless” is a thriller and a love story in one package, showcasing such famous landmarks of Paris as Avenue des Champs-Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, and the Notre-Dame de Paris, while action also takes place around Avenues Mac-Mahon and George V (George V Métro station) and the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The final tense scenes take place not far from the Boulevard du Montparnasse – Rue Campagne Première.
Continue reading “Paris: 10 Great Films set in the City”
120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017)
This French-language film about ACT UP-Paris’s activities to promote AIDS-related issues in the early 1990s is defined by Robin Campillo (director)’s personal experience, which makes the movie somehow even more potent, significant and poignant. At the centre of the story is the ACT UP-Paris organisation itself, a non-violent activist group based in Paris, which tries to defend the rights of those (especially minorities) affected by HIV and AIDS, and to seek better treatment for them. The film boasts great performances from Arnaud Valois (Nathan), Nahuel Perez Biscayart (Sean) and Adele Haenel (“The Unknown Girl” (2016) as Sophie, but it is probably the sheer power of its main message which is the most fascinating and memorable of its assets. An important movie to have been made in many ways, “120 BPM” unfortunately also suffers from excessive length and the inability to successfully shuffle organisational and personal issues in the story in its second half.
Continue reading ““120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)” Review”
Some of these films do not contain nudity or contain only limited nudity. The references to eroticism/erotica and sensuality may be only subtle, but powerful. Incidentally, three of the below films are by a British director Adrian Lyne (“Jacob’s Ladder” (1990)) and two by a growing Italian master of subtle and powerful erotically-charged films Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash” (2015)). In no particular order:
1.) In The Mood for Love (2000)
2.) Betty Blue (1986)
3.) Call Me By Your Name (2017)
4.) The English Patient (1996)
5.) The Handmaiden (2016)
Continue reading “20 Unmissable Erotically-Charged Films”
Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting the Horrorathon, celebrating horror movies in the light of the forthcoming Halloween, and I have decided to contribute with a short review of one intelligent and highly influential film which some view to be one of the parents of the modern psychological horror/thriller genre:
Les Diaboliques (1955)
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French-language film “Les Diaboliques” is the film which Alfred Hitchcock was dying to make, but never did (he ardently wanted to buy the rights to the book). The film is not a strictly horror movie, but, rather, a psychological thriller with suspense and horror elements combined. Here, two women, Christina and Nicole, the wife and the mistress of the oppressing director of a boarding school respectively, decide to kill their man and dispose of the body. Everything goes according to plan, but does it really? After the murder, the two women realise that the corpse of their victim is nowhere to be found and the mystery seems to deepen with each passing day.
Continue reading “The Horrorathon: Les Diaboliques (1955)”
Catherine at Thoughts All Sorts is hosting The Colours Blogathon, and my contribution to this amazing and colourful parade of entries is a French cult classic film from the year 1983 called “37°2 Le Matin” or simply “Betty Blue“. Nominated in 1986 for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category, this film of a passionate, but doomed love affair is now almost iconic. It exquisitely, stylishly and powerfully narrates and presents the love story of Zorg and Betty, initially written by Philippe Djian, the author behind “Elle” (2016). Faithful to the book, this movie is like its main heroine, Betty: undeniably beautiful, unashamedly erotic and sensual, and also a bit crazy and self-indulgent, capable of finding beauty in tragedy and charmingly rendering it through a cinematic prism. In “Betty Blue”, what you may find is both an artfully erotic cinematic take on a moving love story, and an uncomfortable film filled with both familiar and unfamiliar character studies. Add to this a beautiful soundtrack by Gabriel Yared and a delightfully colourful cinematography, and you have a truly memorable film about passionate love gone awry.
Continue reading “The Colours Blogathon: Betty Blue (1986)”
Julia Ducournau’s debut feature film “Raw” provoked extreme reactions from the critics and audiences alike. Despite its grim story and graphic imagery, the film managed to gain an all-round critical acclaim. “Raw” is a French-language film about an adolescent girl Justine (Garance Marillier) who enters her first year at a veterinary school in France. There, Justine joins her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), and soon realises that the life of first-year students at the school is not an easy ride, and her recently-acquired (and initially forced) passion for raw meat is the cause for major concern. Realistic in its presentation, the film is known for its graphic scenes of cannibalism, but, ironically, its most shocking premise is not the immoral craving of another being’s flesh, but the film’s ghastly and disturbing setting.
Continue reading ““Raw” Review”
Personal Shopper (2016)
In “Personal Shopper”, a film of Olivier Assayas (“Paris, je t’aime” (2006)), Kristen Stewart plays a young woman Maureen who mourns the loss of her twin brother Lewis. Maureen visits the house where Lewis lived with his girlfriend, and believes that his ghost will try to communicate with her. In her daily job, Maureen is a personal shopper to a rich and famous star in Paris, a job she dislikes and only too keen to break the “rules” of her employment now and then. Soon her personal identity issues mix with her paranormal beliefs, producing restlessness and paranoia. Although admirable in its fresh approach, the film is also unfocused and dull. It tries at least three different points of focus: a ghost story; a murder mystery; and a high-society critique, all of which are underdeveloped and none of which work to a satisfactory conclusion.
Continue reading ““Personal Shopper” Mini-Review”
A Dutch director known for “Basic Instinct” (1992) and “Total Recall” (1990), Paul Verhoeven, has produced his first French-language film to date – “Elle”, based on a novel by Philippe Dijan (who is also known as a book writer behind “Betty Blue” (1986)). “Elle” has already competed for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2016, and deals with a very sensitive topic of a rape perpetuated on a successful businesswoman Michele Leblanc, whose complex relationship with her family and the deeply-seated psychological childhood trauma lead her to have an unconventional response to the attack. This film is as disturbing as it is engrossing, and, overall, proves to be a very satisfying experience, thanks to the outstanding performance by Isabelle Huppert (“The Piano Teacher” (2001)) and to the masterful (though also confusing) mix of a psychological thriller, a Hitchcockian detective story and French black humour.
Continue reading ““Elle” Review”
This may not be Jean Cocteau classic, but something must explain its current opening success in Italy. There are things here I like: Vincent Cassel as Beast/Prince, a powerful soundtrack and great visuals. I hear the story does not live up to all the visuals, but it’s a rule, rather than an exception today. Apparently, there is another “Beauty and the Beast” movie to be announced with Emma Watson in it, but we will also see other Disney animation-themed movies soon. Joe Wright is directing “Pan” (2015), “the origin” story of Peter Pan staring Hugh Jackman; “Maleficent” (2014) with Angelina Jolie is coming soon, and we anticipate (for years now) “a darker version” of the fairy-tale “Pinocchio” (2016) – an animated film directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Modern era and in no particular order:
1. La Haine (Hate) (1995)
Continue reading “My 10 Favourite French-Language Films”