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Not "Raining Stones' or 'The Full Monty' but quite watchable social comedy
Typically the sort of movie I would have loved to love but that I ended up finding only middling. Neither absolute junk nor the masterpiece it could have been, 'Discount', Louis-Julien Petit's first feature, can be considered a relative disappointment probably for promising too much for what little it had in store. Advertized indeed as a social comedy (one of my favorite genres), this tale of marginalized people joining forces to fight the big bad ultra-liberal ogre immediately conjured up in me images of such British delights as 'Raining Stones', 'Brassed Off', 'The Full Monty', 'Made in Dagenheim', et al.) - the kind of intelligent entertainments (no, the two terms are not oxymoronic!) where social commentary goes in hand with great laughs. Unfortunately, the exhilaration expected was not in the cards, although I liked the subject and found the acting tolerably good. What then accounted for the impression of dissatisfaction I was under on leaving the theater? The answer came to me upon reflection: I had simply asked a bit much to what was nothing but a modest effort and which did not look further than that. This is a first film after all and as such its shortcomings are understandable. Petit still has time ahead to make progress and father more accomplished works in the future. His following work, for one, 'Carole Matthieu', a taut social drama, is an interesting prolongation of 'Discount', in a serious mode this time. As I said, the plot of 'Discount' is not at play in my (relative) disappointment. On the contrary, its premise is perfect : in a hard discount store whose management focuses on profitability at any cost, Gilles, Christiane, Alfred, Emma, Momo and Hervé are declared redundant and will soon be replaced by automatic pay stations. After a period of doubt and depression, they decide not to accept the situation passively and under Gilles' guidance soon organize resistance by opening a solidarity grocery selling... goods 'borrowed' from the store they still work in! By stealing those who have robbed them of their jobs, thereby of their resources and dignity, and by redistributing the products among the needy, they become a kind of Robin Hood and his Merry Men (and modernity oblige, women!). A wonderful premise which could have generated torrents of laughs and tears, all mixed together, like in a Capra, a Frears or a Loach gem. The trouble is that, if the satire is biting enough, the comedy lacks hilarity while the drama is scant in emotional punch. As a Whole 'Discount' lacks life , rhythm and relief, its weak dialogues fail to hook the viewer, who is not involved enough and accordingly responds only mildly to potentially strong stimuli. As for the actors (Corinne Masiero, Pascal Demolon and Zabou Breitman in the lead) they are good enough, but never shine particularly because of the lackluster text they have to deliver. Quite imperfect as far as its form is concerned, 'Discount' is nevertheless a film worth watching for substance particularly when it comes its right presentation of the labor relations in today's France. Moreover, not everybody shares my reservations on the film. So, do not shy away from it, you may be part of these happy viewers.
Chante ton bac d'abord (2014)
Singin' in... the school
"We Did It on a Song" is quite a singular movie, maybe the only one of its kind... A documentary? For sure it is one, but a documentary in which the protagonists, although not professional performers, regularly express themselves... singing. Somewhat unusual, isn't it? A very bold project at any rate, which had every chance to derail but nonetheless blossomed into an exclusive masterpiece.
David André, its director, is an expert documentarist ("Armes de dérision massive: "Le Nouvel activisme américain" (2008), "La vie amoureuse des prêtres" (2012),...) and as such, his idea of following a group of students throughout their senior year will hardly surprise anyone. What is more original is the choice of Boulogne-sur-Mer as his place of investigation owing to the fact that the seaside town, once a thriving port, has been hit hard by the crisis, thus deteriorating into a zone where the prospects are anything but bright for the young. André could have been content to accompany a chosen sample of such students for nine months, from their first day back to school to their "bac" (secondary education final exam), along the lines of a pure documentary approach. But he wanted more: his chosen few were to comment on their daily experiences in filmed scenes of their lives combined with interviews of themselves and of their parents. Even more innovatory , he would ask his young 'heroes' to create songs (in partnership with the composer and himself) to sing them on the screen.
But, original and attractive as this idea might appear on paper, would it be possible to really get it off the ground ? Which of the 12th graders would be willing to confide their feelings before the director's camera considering that everybody would know everything about them once the film was shown? Which of them, supposing they accepted (they finally did after viewing a sample of David André's works), would keep the viewer interested for an hour and a half? The director naturally asked himself these questions but finally overcame his doubts and took the plunge. How right he was! How beautifully his bold move paid off! Successful in every category psychological, sociological, documentary and musical this 'documusical' is a genuine enchantment.
The first factor contributing to such an achievement is first and foremost the inspired choice of the main protagonists and their serious involvement in the project. The photogenic Gaëlle Bridoux is undoubtedly its leading figure insofar as not only is she refreshingly charming but she is also the only one having definite ideas about her future. Which does not mean that the others leave you indifferent. On the contrary, they are all interesting persons and even if they do not appear so as of the beginning, they each have their own engaging personalities. And they may be less determined than Gaëlle, but it may be their very insecurities which makes them touching. Rachel - the slender saturnine girl others misjudge as haughty, Alex the punk- looking but adorable boy who takes all lightly, Caroline - the sensitive girl unsettled by the fact she may never be able to leave her narrow dreary environment, Nicolas - the handsome guy with a brain, a heart and... delicate nerves. You all get to know them intimately and when the film closes, you find it hard to have to leave them. Just the way they do knowing that after their finals, their group will be separated and nothing will be the same again.
The other strong point is the social aspect. Through the individual cases described above, the director takes stock of today's problems in a place particularly stricken by deindustalization and its corollaries, decline, unemployment, poverty and loss of bearings. An agenda that would be hard to swallow if the film was made in the mere tone of statement but which is made much more palatable by the empathy for the characters the viewer become closer and closer to. A prodigy Ken Loach ("Raining Stones", "The Navigators", "I, Daniel Blake) usually achieves in the same way, with humor instead of songs
In the final analysis, David André has more than won his bet a bet that looked almost impossible to win. But magically (or rather through a cocktail of passion, talent and perseverance), he managed to make this 'impossible object' possible. An amazing and unique work where opposites meet like they rarely do elsewhere: realism and poetry, journalism and music, Jacques Demy and Ken Loach. Highly recommended for all.
Gang Related (1997)
A duo of cops + dope + a famous-rapper-turned-movie-star, what can you expect from such a mix of ingredients? The usual vile brew, you may say... But surprise! "Gang Related" soon proves worth much better than that a fact you realize right from the very first minutes of projection, and with what pleasure! Directed by the relatively unknown Jim Kouf, the film can indeed boast a personal tone, which makes it easily stand out of the crowd of lowbrow crime movies. Of course there is a duo of cops in this one but, to begin with, they are bad cops, a sure guarantee against an umpteenth rehash of "48 Hours", while creating at the same time a malaise rather uncommon in the duo of cops sub-genre. The two improbable partners here are white detective DiVinci (James Belushi, excelling at being unbearably talkative and self- satisfied) and his black counterpart Jake Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur, surprisingly collected in his last role). Another originality of the script is that they are not reluctant partners like in Hollywood's run of the mill cop movies: on the contrary they are on the same wavelength and not for the sake of fighting the good fight. Or to be more exact they were... as long as their shenanigans did not go too far. Because just now DiVinci is crossing the line. Not content indeed to steal the drug from dealers, he has started to kill them. Which is not to the taste of Rodriguez who, although not a lamb himself, cannot put up with such deviations anymore. Little by little he turns into the Jiminy Cricket type but to no avail: the more he tries to refrain his partner, the more radical DiVinci gets. One of the plot's driving forces is precisely the worsening of the two men's relationships, with a more and more reluctant Tupac Shakur and a more and more freewheeling James Belushi, without the former managing to curb the latter's blind madness. The second main effective element lies in the parallel (and inexorable) worsening of the situation they find themselves in. As a matter of fact, DiVinci, who thinks he has a knack for finding ways out of bad situations invariably makes his mate and him jump out of the fire into the frying pan. The suspense does not lie in their desperate rushing along then it is a recipe for disaster - but stems from the question 'how will DiVinci manage to make them sink even lower ?, Thrilling throughout, extremely well written, "Gang Related" is a superior crime movie and with a moral viewpoint to crown it all. Nothing to do with Tarantino and his complacent displays of cynicism and sadistic violence. In 'Gang Related', the viewer is confronted from the beginning to the end to the question: are you ready to break the law in your everyday life and if so, where do you draw the line? But be reassured, nothing to do with boring lecturing either. Fun and surprise await you instead.
Crash Test Aglaé (2017)
India tries to make it to... India
Year after year, once or twice a summer season, appears a regular UFO, all the more refreshing and enjoyable as it has been unheralded before and so, totally catches you by surprise. And this is the case here. Who indeed had heard before of Eric Gravel (a French Canadian living in France whose first feature this is), of his main actress India Hair (whose hitherto supporting roles often as a schoolgirl or a student - still had not given her a name) and of the movie itself, oddly titled "Crash Test Aglaé", filmed in 2015 but shelved until August 2017? Hardly anybody I would say, but little does it matter since no sooner have you read the summary or watched the trailer than you are hooked: you just feel like going to the closest movie theater in the area to find out about the plot developments. And to become friends with the heroine, 25-year-old Aglaé, that young woman like no others. To tell you more about her, know that the lady has been brought up by irresponsible parents and, as a result, has been suffering from permanent anxiety. In order to fight her insecurities, she has devised a special method, namely living an extremely well-ordered life and practicing her job (as a vehicle crash test worker) in a rigorous, almost finicky way, which incidentally makes her her factory's best preparer. So just imagine the shock she experiences the day she learns the plant she works in is to be relocated: her inner framework logically tumbles down and depression looms. A different job is just unconceivable! Which is why when the parent company hypocritically offers her (along with the rest of the staff) to hold the same job at its new location... India, she... accepts! Even if it means having to travel and live 7,500 kilometers away from her native place, even if the trip is at her expense, even if it includes a pay cut and the loss of all welfare benefits. What does that matter, she will go there come rain or come shine! And away she drives in an old Citroën Visa, accompanied by two co-workers, Liette (Julie Depardieu) and Marcelle (Yolande Moreau), who for reasons of their own - have decided to follow her. An eventful trip ensues, whose twists and turns must not be spoiled: you will be better served when you discover them on a screen yourself, whether small or big.
Suffice it to say that there are plenty of gags and witty lines - mainly in the first half of the film -, the comedy being aptly provided by Julie Depardieu and Yolande Moreau (the latter downright irresistible with her improbable Looney Tunes Granny look and wry humor). Among the most effective comic effects are the satiric bites at today's so-said managers of human resources, their being ridiculed acting as a vicarious revenge on those inhuman fellows (I'm thinking, in particular, of the one in charge of delocations unabashedly eating peanuts under the nose of those he lays off). The relationships between the three women, whether in the factory scenes or in those featuring the trip's disastrous beginning, also rank among the funniest.
But don't be mistaken: "Crash Test Aglaé", while undeniably a comedy, cannot be reduced to this kind of light entertainment. So don't expect a pure exemplary of the genre. For there is more to Gravel's film than just a series of good laughs. As a matter of fact, the more Aglaé moves on, the darker the tone of the narrative gets, passing from a bit crazy at the beginning to more and more serious, going as far as to border on the tragic towards the end. The reason is that, as time goes on, difficulties pile up in hostile environments for Aglaé (now alone as her companions have dropped her midway). And as the young woman never wants to give up whatever the obstacles, the situation cannot but worsen. What also makes the film less funny (but more profound) is that the journey , merely physical at the beginning is gradually matched by another - all interior: Aglaé puts herself to the test and discovers her own reactions to the ordeal she goes through until in the end she knows who she actually is and how she will embrace life in the time ahead.
But although graver the second part sequences are never boring, surprising and unpredictable as they are. The most remarkable thing may lie in fact that in the closing scenes Eric Gravel manages to marry the opposite tones of his film's two parts. Humour and satire then resurface within the philosophical tale but without jarring, thus ending at best this offbeat picture.
As a bonus, this second part features unexpected but all the more impressive views of the Kazakhstan desert.
And let's not forget India Hair for whom the whole movie is a showcase. Her talent really explodes in it. Forceful and stubbornly serious in a comic environment, she stands out of all the other performers. She really carries the whole film on her young shoulders and deserves praise for that
My recommendation is not to miss this stimulatingly original film. Believe me, not only will it surprise and entertain you but it will give you food for thought in addition. Not a bad programme, is it?
Les combattants (2014)
The paratroopers of love
One more "Boy Meets Girl" story? Just another Rom-Com? Not really. First things first, you will never prevent boys from meeting girls and the reverse, so there will always be love stories and thank heaven for them when they manage to rise above the clichés and the cheesiness too many of them bathe in. A defect mercifully avoided by this particular affair of the heart. A mere look at the title ("Les Combattants" - literally "The Fighters" -) is an obvious guarantee that you will be spared the stale old exasperating Cha Ba Da Ba Da tale. Actually, neither the characters nor the situation are conventional or predictable. Take our young Romeo for example: Arnaud is a young carpenter who does not show any real passion for his trade. Docile, mild-mannered and easy-going, he takes life as it comes; in other words he still has to find himself. For her part Madeleine, the girl he meets, has little in common with the frail, sensitive Juliet. Three adjectives best qualify her: brusque, burly and nihilistic. Completely out of this world, the horsey lady has an obsession: mastering survival skills in order to... get through the end of the world! As you can see, not the standard Rom-Com, all the more as the stereotypical gender roles are reversed: Miss Headstrong is the dominant one while Mr. Least Line of Resistance yields and follows... at least for a time.
For all the rhetoric, though, this is a love story. Even if it looks just the opposite. Even if it is set in a more and more unusual context as the minutes pass. And it is precisely the odd settings and the crazy story developments that prevent boredom. Unique in its kind "Les combattants' has romance bloom... within the framework of a training session for wannabee paratroopers and, a little later, in the middle of a survival experience in the grip of untamed nature!
Nothing wishy-washy to fear as you can see. On the contrary in the end you will have been told the touchingly serious story of two creatures who attract each other but have to struggle to find who they really are and to make out how they can relate to each other satisfyingly. Another quality of Thomas Cailley and Claude Le Pape's screenplay, lies in the fact the two characters, a bit caricatural at the beginning, evolve in the course of the action and gain in depth. The last added value is the film's interesting examination of what it is like to be young in today's France, a country once prosperous and proud of itself which now seems to have lost its bearings. Both Madeleine and Arnaud, each in their manner, are disoriented and do not know where they are going. A statement that, by extension, can be applied to a big share of French youth and brings the movie a rich sociological touch.
Always where you least expect him, Thomas Cailley succeeds in combining several genres (documentary, comedy, romance, psychological study, army movie, disaster movie) without ever sinking into confusion. So much so that "Les combattants" appears as a unique example of its kind. Well-served by its actors (delusively bland Kevin Azaïs and always under pressure Adèle Haenel), it will surprise and amuse you while giving you - Thank God in a casual way - food for thought.
Great documentary about the green years of a great writer
It is amazing to think that French writer Colette (1873-1954), world- acclaimed for the imaginative delicacy of her writing and for her indomitable freedom-loving spirit, loomed large on French literature for over five decades and has managed to survive oblivion without even having to endure the least barren period. When in 1900 she first stood out of the crowd, it was, to be true, as much for scandalous reasons as for the qualities of her style. But opprobrium has its compensations: if daring to defy the prudishness of her time through her writings indeed created an outcry it also brought the young woman a cohort of devoted readers. Many indeed were those who bought and read the 'Claudine' series (four spicy episodes in the life of a cheeky teenager turned young married - and bisexual - lady). The novels that followed, once again more or less loosely based on her intimate and/or artistic life ('L'Ingénue libertine', 'La Vagabonde', 'L'Envers du music- hall'...) were also well received, both for their inflammatory content and their inspired style. But the early 1920s marked a turning point in Colette's career as started exploring a new, less provocative vein: evoking her youth. Growing older (she was nearly fifty at the time), the writer felt a sudden urge to look upon her green years. A significant part of her production now concerned the people and the places that had made her youth an enchantment: her mother Sidonie (nicknamed Sido), her native village (Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye), her native region (Burgundy) and its wonderful nature... From 'La maison de Claudine' (1922) to 'Paysages et portraits' (posthumous, 1958), she did write thousands of admirable lines about her ideal first eighteen years and her ideal mother.
Ideal or idealized? That is the very question Jacques Tréfouël, the excellent TV director ('Médecins de nuit', 'Les Eaux dormantes') asks himself in 'I Belong a Place I Have Left'. And he does have questions to ask! Here are some (among others): if Sido was such a perfect mother, why didn't Colette visit her when she was seriously ill while she begged her to? What were her real relationships with her father, one-legged ex-captain Colette? Why did the writer sidestep the eighteen months she spent in Châtillon-sur-Loing after leaving Saint- Sauveur?
To address these uncertainties, Trefouël, playing the sleuth, literally investigates the mystery. He turns his interrogative camera towards Saint-Sauveur and the surrounding countryside (a place which has changed very little since 1890), he snoops around Colette's birth house, he lets us into Colette's school, etc. Like a detective craving to uncover the truth, he interviews and interviews - both local people and Colette specialists (the best known being the novelist-biographer Michel del Castillo). And like a historian, he consults and consults (and shares with the viewer) an impressive number of period documents.
The result is an exciting work, miles away from hagiography, which manages to brush the complex portrait of a complex human being. After seeing this highlight documentary, Colette, Sido and Saint-Sauveur will have lost part of their mythical aura but will have gained authenticity. Which will not prevent you from enjoying Colette's idealized version of her youth: her books dealing with the subject do remain masterpieces of literature, as evidenced by the lines read of Ludmila Mikael and Véronique Silver in the course of the film. Do not be afraid, knowing the author better will not turn you away from her, just the opposite: it will actually give you the desire to immerse yourself in her superbly written memories, idealized as they are.
Nuts? Really? Streisand and Dreyfuss as nutcrackers!
Powerful, punchy, full of frills and spills, why on earth does this exciting court drama remain so little known? 'Nuts', Martin Ritt's next to last opus, is an excellent work though. The direction is solid and its fast-paced editing combined with first-rate performances from such established talents as Richard Dreyfuss, Maureen Stapleton, Karl Malden, Eli Wallach... are a decided guarantee of excitement. At the same time, Martin Ritt, has never been as the king of hollow entertainment, so you can be assured that, as a bonus, he will give you food for thought. Tom Topor's finely crafted play indeed gives him a new opportunity (remember 'The Great White Hope, 'Conrack', 'Norma Rae'...) to advocate human dignity (the basic theme of all his body of work). Ritt does it this time through questioning the limits of American justice and, by extension, of American democracy. In 'Nuts', he rises one more time against the vices undermining the virtues of the system, namely self- righteousness, hypocrisy, selfishness and intolerance. Fortunately for the viewer, the director never preaches. On the contrary, he has the intelligence of putting emotions and entertainment first, making meaning derive from the action instead of inducing it the way they do in heavily demonstrative 'thesis films'.
A lot of reviewers keep complaining about Barbra Streisand being hammy as Claudia Draper, a woman accountable to no-one whose parents want to pass off as insane. I agree with them that Streisand does not go in for subtleties but supposing she did wouldn't be out of step with her character? Claudia's behavior is determined by her adamant resolution to be her own and only mistress, whatever the circumstances are. Now, refusing to be subject to or controlled at any time by - parents, husband, superiors, judges,... requires no small strength of mind, especially when you are a woman. Taking this factor into account, a peremptory tone, strong words, abrupt attitudes or poses make perfect sense then. Playing such a character as Mrs. Soft Touch would even be sheer misinterpretation. Anyway, what just cannot be denied is Barbara's deep personal involvement in the achievement of 'Nuts'. Not only does she give a sincere and passionate performance (even if considering she overplays) but she also produced the film and wrote its score. Not really surprising when you realize both the fictional Claudia and the real-life Barbara are equally determined, and straightforward not to say pushy. Such a miraculous adequation just could not not be. To put it in a nutshell if you do not mind intelligent entertainment feel free to enjoy 'Nuts'... without restraint
The legacy of a war
It is a well-known fact that the ravages of war do not end on the battlefield and that, accordingly, the return home of war veterans does not come easily. Logically a recurring theme in American cinema ('The Best Years of Our Lives' 'The Deer Hunter', 'Coming Home', 'Rambo', and dozens of others), it is oddly enough much less present in French films. The works examining the pangs of ex-soldiers having to deal with their trauma among those - more or less unsympathetic - who stayed at the rear can indeed be counted on the fingers of one hand ('Retour à la vie', 'Les parapluies de Cherbourg', 'La vie et rien d'autre', 'La chambre des officiers', 'Frantz'). Yet this is the theme that Emmanuel Courcol (also known as an actor and the co-writer of four films by Philippe Lioret) has chosen to explore in 'Ceasefire', his first feature length movie and he must be credited for such a move insofar as it was far from the easy option (a contemporary love story, crime movie or comedy would, for instance, have been a less risky business).
The story, set in 1923 (and two years later in the coda) concerns Georges Laffont, a man who, traumatized by the horrors of the First World War, finds it hard to reintegrate into a society among people who only think of forgetting and having fun. For a time, he finds refuge in Africa where he lives an adventurous life before circumstances drive him to return to his family home. There, he must struggle to take a fresh start while dealing with his afflicted mother (endlessly mourning Jean, one of her three sons, killed in action) and with his brother Marcel (whose reason has been faltering also as a result of his experiences in the war). Quite tense a situation indeed, only slightly alleviated by the relationship Georges develops with Hélène, a sensitive sign language teacher.
As can be guessed, with such troubled characters placed in such a difficult situation, drama is guaranteed. And Emmanuel Courcol being a proved screenwriter, his thorough, psychologically detailed script is enhanced into the bargain by relevant sociological and historical notations. Of course a good script does not necessarily make a good film. Does it in the present case ? In this writer's eyes, the answer is definitely yes given the fact that the director Courcol not only illustrates the script of the writer Courcol but also does his best to translate its potentialities into visual realities. The way he recreates the atmosphere of the early 1920's, to begin with, is very convincing despite the limited budget at his disposal. The settings, costumes and props all have an authentic look, nothing to do with the cardboard or too glossy imitations which, in certain movies, block total immersion in the film. The direction is fine, particularly concerning working with actors, Romain Duris first and foremost. Far from the juvenile cheekiness he showed in Cedric Klapisch's trilogy, Duris once again displays his new capacities to step into the shoes of complex adult characters (he who recently was: a man who has everything but disappears, a husband who indulges in cross-dressing, a priest...) As Georges, an embittered man in turmoil, the actor has become a name French cinema cannot do without any more. On a par with him is the always superior Gregory Gadebois who meets the challenge of expressing himself silently (Marcel has become mute) whereas he is a member of the famous Comédie-Française company : his facial expressions and body language are really remarkable. Both actors are well supported by their two female partners, Céline Sallette, feminine but in a fresh unvarnished way, and Maryvonne Schiltz, who gives dignity to the "Mater Dolorosa" she embodies by never overacting.
Some will blame 'Ceasefire' for the dead-time occasionally slowing down the action. It is true that such slow moments exist but after all, this is rather a meditative work than a frenzied action movie. And even supposing they are a shortcoming the other qualities of the film largely outweigh it. A competent director quite rightly privileging characters over showy artistry (sorry, no complicated camera angles or other displays of virtuosity) along with top of the range actors interpreting a thought-provoking story amid the modest but excellent recreation of the early 1920's period... well, there are worse things in life, aren't they?
Cama de Gato (2012)
Meet Joana, a single mother from Setubal, Portugal
What is it like to be an eighteen-year-old single mother in Bela Vista, a popular district of Setúbal, (a medium-sized town by the Atlantic South of Lisbon)? You can find part of the answer in « Cama de Gato» relevant in terms of sociology but only half-satisfying as a documentary. Co-directed by João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis, the film works well as pure social commentary: throughout its 57 minutes running time you will be provided valuable information about Joana Santos, the young single mother in question: the public housing apartment she lives in with her baby girl, the school she still attends (if only very occasionally), the people she mixes with, the cafés she stops at, her relationships with her friends, parents, cousin...
If I say half satisfying, blame it on the choice of the main protagonist, Joana Santos. Well, the girl IS pretty and cheerful, in other words pleasant to look at, but I personally disliked her personality: superficial, self-centered, not to say downright irresponsible. Which is why having to spend so much time with a person whose attitude I globally disapprove of upset me a little. I'd rather have lived an hour of my life with a person more engaging than Joana. To this rule, I have come across only one exception, the long sequence in which the girl talks with tears in her eyes about her botched love story with the father of her child. In this case, Joana appears as a three-dimensional human being, not as a puppet of consumer society always trying to get immediate pleasure. Then, and only then, did I manage to relate to her. The rest of the time, she got on my nerves.
Well you could object to me that films are not necessarily about likable persons or characters and you would be right. In this case you will not be disturbed the way I was by the lightness of the person "Cama de Gato" focuses on and you will be able to fullyenjoy this documentary which, beyond that "shortcoming", has an undeniable sociologic value.
Yagodka lyubvi (1926)
Dovzhenko funny? Are you joking or what?
The name of Dovzhenko immediately conjures up grand images of conquering tractors, heroic people fighting brutish reactionaries, revolutionaries in ecstasy, solemn faces turned towards a better future, vast skies, rolling fields, boundless sunflower fields... but you will never associate the master with farce, antics or slapstick. At least until you discover the existence of "Love's Berries", an amazingly funny twenty- six minute burlesque comedy he made for the VUFU studios in 1926.
As long as you have never seen this romp, you will be excused if you think that the Soviet director and humour do not see eye to eye. But after viewing 'Love's Berries', you will have no alternative but to review your opinion.
Storywise, the plot, as is often the case in the best slapsticks, is minimal. Dovzhenko, as it happens, quite rightly follows Mack Sennett's lesson, who once told Chaplin, "We have no scenario - we get an idea, then follow the natural sequence of events until it leads up to a chase, which is the essence of our comedy." And the Soviet director does it to excellent results. Sight gag after sight gag, the viewer indeed laughs out loud - until the final twist at the misadventures of a man who, reluctant (and that is putting it mildly) to be a father, bends over backwards to get rid of a baby his girlfriend has put in his arms. Constantly thwarted by the circumstances, he tries and tries again and one cannot but be delighted at the blind stubbornness of this new Sisyphus. That is all there is to it but who needs more sophistication in a slapstick?
A far cry from 'Arsenal', 'Earth' or 'Chtchors' to be sure, 'Love's Berries', not content not to follow the official line, has even the luxury to constantly sin against it (isn't the antihero a shamelessly bad life companion, a bad father and a bad citizen?), which naturally did not escape Pavlo Netches, the manager of the VUFU studios where Dovzhenko was learning his trade. After viewing the film, the irate superior simply told the film student: "Sachko, you should be fired from here. You have no talent for writing scripts so stop trying. I'll have a last try with you here's a screenplay. If you manage to make a film of it it is your chance. If you don't I'll give you the sack!"
Dovzhenko complied, hence the conquering tractors, ecstatic revolutionaries, etc. The fact remains that this delightful little film still exists for our biggest pleasure. Try and find that special something (which is not so hard to do as it is often combined on DVDs with the extremely well-known 'Arsenal'). You will not regret it.