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La vie de famille (1985)
Interesting contemporary drama...
Jacques Doillon has made his name crafting affecting and realistic dramas of which "La Vie de Famille" is a good example. Produced on a modest budget, with simple production values the film is intelligent and affecting. The film follows a complicated and modern 'family'. Emmanuel is in his late 40's and in his second marriage. He lives with his new wife Mara and her daughter Natacha. However he is still linked to his first marriage by his young daughter Elise, with whom he struggles to spend time. Hi life is marred however by conflict with his first wife and his step daughter. As played by Sami Frey, Emmanuel is a contemporary father who is not a constant presence in his daughter's life. This is a constant source of guilt for him. As played by Mara Goyet, 11 year old Elise is a simple and happy young girl who does not understand the complexities of her family life. In an early appearance Juliette Binoche is excellent as the fiery and difficult teenage step daughter. Doillon's film is well worth the investment of time and should have been seen by a much wider audience.
Copie conforme (2010)
An enigma, a puzzle, a portrait and a copy
Certified Copy is at first sight a romantic drama set on a single day in a small Tuscan village. A beautiful, if typical European art-house picture, but in fact it has something much more significant to offer.
I have to laugh at the constant use of the word "pretentious" on this site in relation to films which are challenging thematically and which do not engage all viewers. These reviewers use it in place of the word 'boring' because, I suppose, they feel that labelling it as merely boring suggests they have difficulty understanding it or engaging with it, when in fact that's their criticism.
It's a miss representation of both the correct meaning of that word and what this film achieves. This film is not pretentious, it is exactly what it purports to be - an examination of a relationship in terms of reality and perception. A conversation examining the value of copies within our lives. It is also unmistakably a Kiarostami film. It's not for everybody.
A French woman (Binoche) attends a lecture from a British author, James Miller (Shimell). Miller has just published a book on the subject of copies in the art world. She leaves the lecture early, but not before leaving her number for the author. The next day he calls to her gallery and the pair travel to Luciagno on what seems at first like a date.
As the day progresses and the pair discuss his book and argue about the validity of copies versus originals, a complicity between them emerges. Perhaps they know each other quite well. perhaps this is not a first date. In a café a waitress mistakes them for a married couple and they decide to play along. However this game seems to get out of hand as they assume the roles of a couple who have been married for 15 years. Or do they. Perhaps they are or were married...
Kiarostami skillfully weaves his tale around these two characters while examining his central theme that nothing is really original and that we all assume roles in our lives. This is a recall of the themes he masterfully examined in Close Up.
At first sight the film may seem like an almost clichéd European art film, but it is in fact a version or copy of one, this is examined in a startling scene where the couple argue about the aesthetic value of a fountain. (Which is not real and was only placed there for the film). She loves it he doesn't. He finds it clichéd and ornate, while she has a very personal and sentimental reaction to it, much like many viewers are having to the film. However, Kiarostami is keen to ensure that it's clear that her perception is no less important or correct than his. Hers may be an emotional reaction, but it is a perfectly legitimate one. This film is not called Certified Copy' for nothing, it's Kiarostami's copy of a European art film, but is it any less valuable than the originals? Of course not. It exists in and of itself, independently of the 'original'.
Kiarostami's film is very open ended. It never really explains the relationship between the two, which will exasperate audiences looking for a clear resolution. However, while people may come to different decisions as to the truth all the ingredients necessary are there.
My interpretation is that they are not married, nor are they strangers, I believe that she is his mistress of 15 years and she longs to be his wife, while he is somewhat indifferent to her and probably has a wife. Their relationship is a 'copy' of a marriage without the legitimacy afforded to the other brides who appear regularly throughout the film. Kiarostami's film makes it clear that although she is 'only' the mistress, her feelings are legitimate.
Kiarostami's film looks beautiful and uses it's location to great effect, without becoming a postcard travelogue. His usual visual tropes are all present from the long, unbroken takes to the direct to camera acting. In his first screen role William Shimell gives a solid and believable performance as the pompous and emotionally distant English man, while Binoche in her Cannes Best Actress winning role is a revelation. Her character is a mess of emotions and Binoche performs them with sheer skill. At times one can see that she is portraying her character as portraying these emotions and this acts to add depth to the concept of copies and reality. A brave and thoughtful performance.
Certified Copy is not for everyone. To really 'get' the film one must fully engage in their discussion of some abstract and philosophical themes and in that respect the film may be more enjoyable in retrospect or on second viewing (I need to see it again!). However, for those who submit to it, it's a rich and rewarding cinematic diversion from the Iranian master of illusion.
The Resurrection of Ferrara
The latest film by Abel Ferrara, "Mary", was without doubt one of the most eagerly awaited films of this year's Venice Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix.
"Mary" will of course be linked to two other big 'relegious' films of the moment: "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Da Vinci Code". However the film stands firmly on its own merit.
"Mary" can easily be read as "Ferrara's reply to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"", a film which made great impact culturally and indeed commercially, like one of the summer blockbusters of 2004 in the United States. However "Mary" does not derogate from the sulfurous tradition which characterizes the films of Abel Ferrara since the beginning, and as such his film is significantly more intellectually provocative than Gibson's film, if slightly less approachable.
While giving us a completely revolutionary vision of the character of Mary Magdalene, the director questions the cult of spirituality, while once more questioning his faith with a rare humility.
"Mary" takes as it's starting point the now almost mythical Mary Magdalene, disciple of Jesus. The film then evokes three characters bound by her spirit and her mystery... Marie Palesi, an actress, who is playing Magdalene in a film. Tony Childress, a director who is playing Jesus in his own film. Ted Younger, a celebrity journalist, creating a TV show about religious faith. Between fascination and spiritual search, destiny will join these three together.
Before Ferrara's "Mary" was even thought of, Juliette Binoche had already been approached to play Mary Magdalene by the historian Jean-Yves Leloup who translated the "Gospels according to Mary Magdalene" and was working on a dramatization. At the time, Binoche declined this offer. Today it is partly thanks to her and Jean-Yves Leloup that "Mary" exists. The historian's dramatization forming the film within a film. Due of this thoughtful and rich background "Mary" does not rest only on one simple "reaction" to the vision of Mel Gibson.
The character of Tony Childress (Matthew Modine), director, playboy and megalomaniac seems partly inspired by Mel Gibson but also by Ferrara himself - or his reputation at least. Tony is brilliant in his art but hopelessly poor in life.
The message conveyed by "Mary" is subversive in that the film questions the basis of the mystic Judeo-Christian teachings while approaching what can be regarded as one of the more taboo questions of religion, namely the integration of the female into the Divine Word. From this point of view, "The Passion of the Christ" failed and was even symptomatic of the commonly allowed representations of women in religion, namely the worshiping mother, Mary, and the prostitute, Mary Magdalene and the choice to entrust the role of Satan to a woman, while the Word belonged fully to a man - Jesus. On the contrary, Abel Ferrara, who bases his film on the Gospels discovered in 1945 and in particular on the texts credited to Mary Magdalene herself, provides us with another vision of Magdalene as the chief disciple. He thus returns to the female figure the capacity to spread the Word, which women were dispossessed of through the centuries.
The film opens with Mary Magdalene (Juliette Binoche) directly after the resurrection. The film is warm and glowing. Then Tony Childress (Matthew Modine) yells cut and the audience is plunged into the reality of the film. After the shoot finishes Childress prepares to return to New York. However his leading actress Marie Palesi (Juliette Binoche) is so affected by her role that she reuses to go with him. Instead she abandons her career and goes to Jerusalem in search of the true Magdalene and resolution for her faith.
Back in New York Ted Younger (Forest Whitaker) approaches Childress to appear on his spiritual TV show. Younger's life is a mess, and although his work has lead to his questioning of faith in his personal life he does no such thing. Instead he blatantly cheats on his pregnant wife (Heather Graham). Childress' film "This is My Blood" has caused controversy with the far right and the Jewish lobby. The premiere is threatened with violence. Younger manages to contact Palesi in Jerusalem and creates a telephone confrontation between her and Childress on his show. This confrontation has major implications for all three.
The history of Mary Magdalene, such as it is suggested by the extracts of Childress' film, is put at the same level as those of Marie, Ted and Tony. However, it ends up rising above theirs since its message will touch each one of them successively. The director films much in darkness and closed places - cellars, studios, a car or an empty apartment - leading an atmosphere of oppression, supported by a throbbing musical score. At times this darkness is contrasted with beams of illuminating light. Rather than being a trite visual allusion this leads to a revelatory sense of change.
The acting is sensational, Juliette Binoche seems literally inhabited by her roles - both as Magdalene and Palesi. She goes from serene to distraught to serene again. Forest Whitaker delivers an upsetting performance and proves once more that he is one of the best actors of his generation. Finally the performance of Matthew Modine is cerebral and emotional work, difficult since he could easily have become a caricature of Gibson or Ferrara.
"Mary" is successful in the aim to embrace the complexity of the religious faith. Wiser seemingly than usually, Abel Ferrara delivers a fundamentally subversive work. The film conveys a deeply human message with universal vocation which does not require faith in order to be understood or appreciated. In fact the film can be simply be read as a religious horror film - without the devil.
Disturbing, Stunning, Daring and Dark
Michael Haneke the austere Austrian director of such critically acclaimed films as "Funny Games", "Code Unknown" and "The Piano Teacher" has created in "Caché" (Hidden) his finest film to date.
Starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche the film is a taut and tense personal thriller, which examines important subjects such as guilt and responsibility in the context of western comfort.
Georges and Anne are a happily married middle class couple who both work in the arts. The balance of their lives is suddenly disturbed when they begin to receive video cassettes seemingly surveying the exterior of their home. Anne is quite dismissive of the tape but immediately Georges believes there is a sinister element to the tape. Soon they receive more tapes and disturbing drawings. As Georges fears for the safety of his family he suddenly has to confront his past and allow his wife to learn the hidden secrets of his past.
Haneke's film plays on one level like a common thriller, but it has much deeper psychological echoes as the "hero" George is revealed not to be quite the upstanding family man his family believed him to be. As his wife struggles to come to terms with the revelations their entire comfortable existence disintegrates.
Haneke is not just interested in creating a thriller however and the auteur expertly dissects George and Annes bourgeois life and implicates them both in the treatment by western culture of the east and the third world.
Acting in the film is terrific. Daniel Auteuil is simply excellent in his role, the actor manages to explore his character enough to make us forget it is a portrayal. Juliette Binoche as his wife initially seems not to be at the center of the film, but the stunning actress manages to place herself at the emotional center of the film as the wife and mother.
Expert supporting roles are provided by Maurice Benichiou, Annie Girardot and Nathalie Richard among others.
"Caché" is at once an intriguing thriller and a wonderful examination of guilt and responsibility in a very modern context.
Un tour de manège (1989)
Caraxian Styled Drama...
"Un Tour de Manège" is Pierre Pradinas's only film. He is however an accomplished theatre director. This shows in his film, which is at times overly theatrical in structure.
The film opens as François Cluzet's Al comes to terms with losing his girlfriend Elsa, who has walked out on him. In her absence he has returned to his old vices of drinking and gambling. He also takes the time to audition for a film.
Then Elsa, played by Juliette Binoche, returns and the pair rekindle their romance. At first things are great, but Al's bad habits soon cause problems between the pair. When Al gets the part in the film they move to a better apartment, but their problems follow them, as do a new entourage of people including the nasty Berville (Lavant) and the obsessive Rateau (Silbertain-Blanc). Quickly Al and Elsa's old problems return.
Pradinas's slight film seems lacks character development. Juliette Binoche'sElsa is a mere cipher. She is sad and melancholic, but the film never explores why this is. The character seems like an extension of her more rounded Anna in Carax's superior "Mauvais Sang". This link to Carax is furthered by the presence of Denis Lavant in a small role.
François Cluzet's Al comes off slightly better, the initial scenes give the character some depth, but this is lost later.
The film is most successful visually, with rapturous shots of Paris, as the characters interact mostly on the streets of the wonderful city.
Pradinas's film is at it's most interesting when focusing on the intimacies of the main characters - as they enjoy a cigarette on a park bench, or stare lovingly at each other over a meal, but in comparison to the Binoche/Carax films it apes, the film falls far short.
Adieu blaireau (1985)
Quintessesntial 1980s french thriller
Bob Decout's 1985 thriller "Adieu Blaireau" premiered at the Cognac Festival in 1985. Starring the late french crooner Philippe Léotard, Annie Girardot and Juliette Binoche. The film opens with Léotard's Fred wandering around an underground carpark with a gun muttering the name BB. Cut to titles and the films plot, which will eventually bring us back to this carpark.
The plot is fairly simple: Fred is a petty criminal and a gambler with debts. He was dating a vastly younger woman BB (Binoche) who wants nothing more to do with him. He however is obsessed with the young woman. He is recruited by crime boss victor to carry out a hit to pay for his debt. On the first attempt he is faced with someone out to kill him. He then meets the melancholic Collette a woman of his own age, who knows exactly what he does for a living but is happy to turn a blind eye. The second attempt to carry out the hit leads to the carpark we first see him in and eventually to an empty theatre where things come to a grisly conclusion as Fred realises he may have been betrayed...
Decout's film is melancholic and dark, both visually and emotionally. All the characters seem to have been damaged by life. The film is also strongly influenced by the times. Strong blues and greys offset by neons light many scenes, while shadows and a jazzy score strongly root the film in the 1980s.
Léotard gives a sure, but unremarkable performance as the jaded Fred. Equally jaded is Annie Girardot's Collette. Seeing her here it > is hard to believe she was the number 1 French actress for a time in the 1970s. Juliette Binoche appears only very briefly as BB, the woman of Freds obsessions.
"Adieu Blaireau" is entertaining, yet the characters are quite limited and visually the film is dark and somewhat staid. the direction by Decout, is sure yet un-remarkable. there is nothing here that isn't in many other french thrillers of the mid 80s.
A comic mystery...
"Mon beau-frère a tué ma soeur" is a blend of two classic french genres - the 'policier' and of course the comedy. The film is also a good example of the many movies from France featuring a young female protagonist and a vastly older male protagonist - see also Binoche/Piccoli in "Mauvais Sang", Marceau/Depardieu in "Police" and Béart/Piccoli in "La Belle Noiseuse". Here we have a duo of elderly gentlemen in the Serrault/Piccoli double act. As the bumbling professors Octave Clapoteau and Etienne Sembadel they are madcap and not a little inept. Enter Juliette Binoche as Esther Bouloire a Veterinarian who is on the edge of sanity or so it seems. The two men are entranced by this beautiful creature and during an intimate dinner where they serve her oysters (what else?) she tells them her deepest secret. Her brother-in-law has killed her sister. Considering Esther is a patient at the local Psyche clinic they dont take her very seriously, but in order to spend time with her and hopefully woo the winsome vet the two agree to investigate the mystery. However the mobbed up Bouloire family are more than a match for the professors.
Rouffio's comedy is a strange film, where the over the top performances of all involved are more entertaining than the film itself. A particularly humourous scene has Binoche operating on a very vocal elephant. This was Binoche's second major role after Téchiné's haunting 'Rendez-Vous'. Her performance lacks the skill and confidence associated with her best roles, yet she is positively radiant in an unconventional role. Veteran actors Serrault and Piccoli excell in fairly two-dimensional parts, while Jean Carmet and Milva add class to the film in fairly limited roles.
"Mon beau-frère a tué ma soeur" is not the best work of anyone involved, not least Jacques Rouffio. It is however good fun and bizarre enough to hold your attention throughout. The final scenes involving the Pope in Rome are worth waiting for!
Décalage horaire (2002)
Great cast, great idea and great fun!
Jet Lag is a romantic comedy. It follows all the usual routes, but offers great acting and good humour all the way.
Juliette Binoche is Rose, a thirtysomething who is finally taking control of her life and leaving her abusive boyfriend Sergio (Sergi Lopez).
Jean Reno is Felix. A frazzled businessman on his way to re-kindle his romance with an old flame.
However when a strike and fog halt all flights in Charles de Gaulle the two meet cute and end up spending the evening together. Of course we know they are made for each other, but thats not the point. Its not where they end up its how they get there.
Jet Lag opens with huge energy and a real sense of airport chaos. It then focuses in on the duo in on a hotel room as they spend time together trading insults and exchanging banter. The dialogue is sparkling and the performances spot on.
Then ineveitably their planes take off and they go their seperate ways... or do they?
Thompsons film is a breath of fresh air with Juliette Binoche a revelation in a totally "un-binoche" role. She is cheap and common with a heart of gold. Reno is very much her comic foil, and glerefully allows her the lime light.
Jet Lag is a refreshing take on an old format. It will not suffer on the small screen either so catch it on DVD!