Un sac de billes (A bag of marbles)

Based on Joseph Joffo’s 1973 autobiographical novel, this new version of Un sac de billes has all the elements to be an instant popular classic film. Living with his French-Jewish family in Nazi occupied Paris, Joe (Dorian Le Clech) was 10 years old when his parents, Roman and Anna (Patrick Bruel and Elsa Zylberstein), decide to send Joe and his slightly older brother, Maurice (Batyste Fleurial), to the de-militarized zone in the South of France. They must travel there alone and never tell a soul that they are Jewish. The two boys are very young and the road is long and dangerous, but they get helped by many courageous people along the way. And the two brothers become even closer than they were before. Once in Nice the family is reunited: their parents and two older brothers, Henri and Albert. They live there until the arrival of Nazis. The two boys are separated from their family again when they are enrolled in a paramilitary camp. Again they must hide their religion, as they come face to face with the Nazis and the violence. Director Christian Duguay delicately handles the difficult aspects of the story with care. It’s an emotional road-movie-slash-adventure-slash-historical-slash-family drama. If that sounds like a joke, it’s not. It’s a way to tell you how many genres within the same film Duguay has to navigate. He does not just make a nice pleasant film. It is tense. The violence of the interrogation scene is hard to watch. Of the two boys, I thought that Batyste Fleurial seemed the most assured performer. Maurice has buried and muffled his emotions in order to find the strengths he needs to take care of his little brother. I thought this was a clever choice. At times we can’t understand what Dorian Le Clech is trying to say. For the film’s lead actor it can be a problem, don’t you think? And as the father, Patrick Bruel is so good here, showing the love and commitment to his family in the smallest gestures, in every minute details. Patrick Bruel is the real thing. This is based on Joseph Joffo’s real story. The names of his parents and his brothers have not been changed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from August 18 – 28
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/un-sac-de-billes

Un sac de billes (A bag of marbles)

Directed by:
Christian Duguay

Screenplay by:
Christian Duguay
Christian Duguay
Benoît Guichard
Jonathan Allouche
Alexandra Geismar
Laurent Zeitoun
Based on the autobiography by Joseph Joffo

Starring:
Dorian Le Clech
Batyste Fleurial
Patrick Bruel
Elsa Zylberstein
Bernard Campan

110 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Une vie (A woman’s life)

In adapting the novel by Guy de Maupassant, Stéphane Brizé has kept the story pretty much intact, but has scrapped the usual modus operandi. Set in in Normandy in 1819, Une vie tells the story of Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla), a young lady from a noble family living a happy but sheltered life with her parents (Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Yolande Moreau). One day she falls in love with Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud) and marries him. He turns out to be a dreadful husband, a miser who has been unfaithful to her. He has slept with their maid, Rosalie (Nina Meurisse), and she is now pregnant. As described in the film, it sounds more like it was sexual harassment. She listen to the priest’s demands, and what were the conventions at the era, and saves the family from scandal by forgiving her husband. Later she discover that Julien has been having an affair with her best friend, the married Gilberte de Fourville (Clotilde Hesme). Later it is her son Paul, who will cause her much sorrow. As an adult (played by Finnegan Oldfield), his constant demands for money will almost ruin her. At the time it was published (1883), de Maupassant’s Une vie was described as a realist novel. Mostly filming with a handheld camera and improvised as well as scripted dialogue, Brizé brings immediacy and urgency to every scenes. If a few moments of heated arguments between some of the characters are too long, those moments add more credibility to the film. It sounds and looks real. And when things become particularly sad for Jeanne, Brizé flashbacks to a time where things were better. Her husband loved her then, her son was a young and lovely boy and she was gardening with her father. Or are they really flashbacks rather than Jeanne reinventing the truth into a more idyllic imagined life. Judith Chemla and her minimalist acting is the perfect casting for playing a French woman in 19th century’s repressed society. She plays the young or the old Jeanne without much makeup, giving the later scenes an eerie quality. Chemla does old age better than anyone using none of the usual tricks. Cinematographer Antoine Héberlé films the bright, sunny days in the garden and the dark, rainy nights in the mud with the same care and craftsmanship. If this a film to value if, like me, you are tired of the same old lace umbrella period drama.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Une vie (A woman’s life)

 

Directed by:
Stéphane Brizé

Screenplay by:
Stéphane Brizé
Based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant

Starring:
Judith Chemla
Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Yolande Moreau
Nina Meurisse
Swann Arlaud
Finnegan Oldfield
Clotilde Hesme

119 min.

In French with English subtitles.

The trip to Spain

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back with another of their Trip film series. The last film was The trip to Italy (2014), and it was very popular among the lovers of British films. And they should enjoy that one even more. The two comedians are in fine form and some of the dialogue is truly hilarious. Coogan and Brydon are basically playing themselves driving through Spain doing a restaurant tour for an upcoming article in a travel magazine. The story is thin and only serves to make the characters of Steve and Rob have something to come back to when they go back home. Rob is married with two young kids, and Steve has a much younger girlfriend and an adult son who will later join Steve and Rob in Spain. What’s important here is the back–and–forth conversations they have, they throw the ball at each other with perfect comic timing. It seems so effortless, you can’t even figure out if it is scripted or improvised. It’s mostly all done during a meal and in front of the gorgeous dishes set on their table. The jokes may be about the food itself:

Rob: When she said he makes chorizo like his grandmother, is that what she looked like?

Steve: No, Rob. It means the way his grandmother used to make it.

Rob: Fine, well, I think she should be more clear, because I’m picturing a grizzled old woman with the external appearance of chorizo.

 

Another funny highlight is the photo shoot. The posing in front of windmills dressed as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. And they often sing The impossible dream from Man of La Mancha. Director Michael Winterbottom knows that The trip to Spain is not about the food or the scenery, but about the two comedians. The landscape is beautifully photographed by James Clarke. But the dramatic drive of the film is the competitiveness between those two. Steve Coogan is constantly reminding his traveling companion that he received two Oscar nominations for Philomena, the film in which he co-stared with Dame Judi Dench, don’t you forget it. He’s planning to write a sequel (he calls it “a sister film”), but arranging the deal gets complicated when he suddenly gets a new agent and the studio wants to bring in a new writer to rewrite his screenplay. And then there are the improvisations. It starts with David Bowie. Brydon tries to impersonate Bowie, but Coogan tells him it is not how it’s done. They try to outdo each other. Anthony Hopkins and Roger Moore are some of the others. It takes up a big chunk of the film, and after a while it becomes repetitive and annoying. If you liked the first two films, then you probably will like The trip to Spain.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema From August 11 – 20
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-trip-to-spain

The trip to Spain

Directed by:
Michael Winterbottom

Screenplay by:
Michael Winterbottom

Starring:
Steve Coogan
Rob Brydon

108 min.

Rated 14A

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is not the usual British period drama. And with that title, one would expect some Shakespearean film adaptation. It’s not. It is adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district, a 1865 novella by Nikolai Leskov. The original Russian setting was transposed here to Victorian England. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman who finds herself at the wrong end of an arranged marriage. Her father married her to obtain a nice plot of land. Katherine’s husband is Alexander (Paul Hilton), a rich miner’s son. Both Boris (Christopher Fairbank), her father-in-law, and Alexander treat her horribly. She is not allowed to leave the house, and Boris constantly scolds her for not doing her wifely duties and bring him an heir. But the truth is that Alexander does not seem very interested in her. He demands that she undress and leaves her standing naked in the middle of the bedroom as he either goes back to bed, or masturbates while looking at her. They treat her worse than they treat their dogs. One day, Alexander and Boris are called away on business. For months he is left alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie). Katherine feels free. She can go outside and walk around freely. Then she starts a passionate affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of the workers on the farm. Then Boris comes back. He knows what happened and he beats Sebastian. That’s when Katherine kills Boris and starts a murder starts a murder spree that is quite stunning to watch. Stunning because it has rarely been done in that context, in those costumes and that repressive a society. It is minimalist for most of the film. Until the next burst of violence or sex throws all of our expectations out the window. A great pleasure comes from Florence Pugh’s ice-cold stares. She fits perfectly in the film’s mood and restraints. It’s certainly an unexpected surprise. Not for every one, for sure, but if you can stand it, I recommend it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lady Macbeth

 

Directed by:
William Oldroyd

Screenplay by:
Alice Birch
Based on the novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district by Nikolai Leskov

Starring:
Florence Pugh
Cosmo Jarvis
Naomi Ackie
Christopher Fairbank
Paul Hilton
Golda Rosheuvel
Bill Fellows

89 min.

Rated 18A

Django

I knew of Django Reinhardt as the inventor of ‘Jazz manouche’ (aka ‘Gypsy jazz’). But, in reality I knew next to nothing about the man. Django centers on Reinhardt’s experiences during World War II in occupied France. It is estimated that the Nazis killed half of Europe’s Gypsy population. Being a Romani, Reinhardt could be in great danger. But he was a popular musician. The Nazis wanted him to play for them. His agent Charles Delauney (Patrick Mille) already agreed that Reinhardt and his musicians, the Quintette du Hot club de France, will tour Germany. But Django Reinhardt (a solid Reda Kateb) does not want to go. Why? Well, the Nazis did not like Jazz, they tolerated it for a while. But if they toured Germany, the group would have to follow ridiculous rules. Like no tapping of the feet while they played, not to play swing and solos could not be longer than 5 seconds. If Reinhardt refused he and his family would certainly be sent to the camps. Upon the advice of Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France), a friend and lover, he escapes with his pregnant wife (Beata Palya) and his feisty mother (Bimbam Merstein, much fun to watch) to a house in the country, in the hopes that they can cross into Switzerland. This is based on a novel rather than being a factual biopic. Some of the story may have been invented, but the film never claimed to be a documentary. Django is quite suspenseful and tense. Director Comar knows how to sustain the dreadful menace that was probably part Django’s life. I did not know that one of Reinhardt’s hands had been injured in a fire and that he could only play with two fingers from that hand. The hands are provided by Jazz guitarist Christophe Lartilleux. The film is good, but the real draw is the music. This beautiful Jazz manouche is played by the Rosenberg trio. And there’s the troubling Mass for the Gypsies at the end of the film. Unfortunately, that piece composed by Django Reinhardt has been lost. Only a few pages have survived. It’s a shame.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Django

 

Directed by:
Étienne Comar

Screenplay by:
Étienne Comar
Alexis Salatko
Based on Salatko’s novel Folles de Django

Starring:
Reda Kateb
Cécile de France
Beata Palya
Johnny Montreuil
Bimbam Merstein
Patrick Mille

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French, German, and Romany with English subtitles.

Dawson city: Frozen time

Dawson city, Yukon. 1978. A construction excavation uncovers more than 500 lost silent films. That’s where archivists Michael Gates and Kathy Jones-Gates were brought in to start the restoration process and uncover the truth about the films. Dawson city: Frozen time manages to be about the films but also about the city itself. The history of Dawson city is told through old films and photographs. With a population of 500 people, mostly from First nations, Dawson city grew to 30,000 people by summer 1898 because of the Gold rush. We see incredible footage of the harsh conditions the men have to endure to find some gold. At some point movie houses were built to show the film sent from the US. The films were made with the highly flammable nitrate. The reels could burst into flame at any moment, which would account for the multiple fires that happened wherever the nitrate films were stored. It is a small miracle that those films were found in Dawson city. Martin Scorsese’s Film foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.” The uncovered films shown in this film have suffered terrible damage. But Dawson city: Frozen time is a moving tribute to our past, and a powerful reminder of the importance of history, big or small, and how we must do anything to protect it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Dawson city: Frozen time

 

Directed by:
Bill Morrison

120 min.

A ghost story

A ghost story has a notion of a ghost that we taught was long gone since the days of the Casper the friendly ghost cartoons. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play an unnamed couple. They live a quiet life in a small house where they witness some bizarre manifestation, like noises coming from the piano. What is sure is that they’re in love. Then one day he has a fatal car accident in front of the house. She goes to the hospital to identify the body. After she leaves, director David Lowery leaves the camera on the sheet covered body for an inordinate amount of time, until it suddenly pops up from the gurney. The ghost, a walking white sheet with two black holes for the eyes, start walking around in the hospital halls. It is obvious that it can’t be seen by anyone. A door opens in the wall, for the ghost to leave this earth, I suppose, but the ghost decides to stay and walk over to the house it used to live in when it was alive and… well, not a ghost. The quirkiness of those scenes may cause laughs and guffaws from the audience (as it did with me). But before long it becomes clear that Lowery is dead (pardon the pun) serious. The ghost stands in the house looking at the grieving wife. She can’t see that close to her there is a pile of sheet looking at her. There is a long sustained shot where Mara sits on the kitchen floor and binges on a pie. The whole pie! Rooney Mara is incredible to watch! One day, as the ghost looks out a window, it sees another ghost waving from a nearby house. Both can communicate without speaking. And we, the audience, can read the subtitles of their conversations. The ghost is not always quiet. It can be angry, like when she brought a date home. And then she moves out. But before she leaves a message in a crack in the wall. The ghost remains in the house. It stays there watching new tenants come and go. The house may not even be there anymore, but the ghost will remain in the same location. The crazy concept for this film is not as crazy as the facts that David Lowery makes it work. Yes, it is slow. But that’s what gives the films some of it’s beauty. Long shots of the immobile ghost (Yes, it is really Casey Affleck under there) looking into space or, in an earlier scene, the couple cuddling in bed. These long, quiet moments are spellbinding. I was mesmerised by the slow magic pace of the film. This old romantic idea of the sheeted ghost, brings us back to a time when things were simpler. And that’s Lowery is doing: keeping it simple. The acting from Mara, Affleck and the others are what I would describe as minimalist. There is not much dialogue. In mid-film, there’s a rant by a new tenant (exquisitely and annoyingly delivered by actor Will Oldham). After that monologue you are happy to go back to silence. Lowery has filmed in the reduced 1:33:1 screen ratio. It’s like a square that may recall 33mm. The Daniel Hart score often sounds like a string quartet. Helped by Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography, A ghost story feels like you are walking in a dream. You should know that since he could not find a studio to produce it, Lowery forked in the money himself. And so far, it’s my favourite film of 2017.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A ghost story

 

Directed by:
David Lowery

Screenplay by:
David Lowery

Starring:
Rooney Mara
Casey Affleck
Will Oldham
Sonia Acevedo
Rob Zabrecky

87 min.

Certain women

Critics have called director Kelly Reichardt “a minimalist”. She’s as far away from mainstream as you could be, that’s for sure. She has managed through the years and through the films to offer us a singular approach to making movies. Certain women is adapted from three short stories written by Maile Meloy. In the first segment, Laura Dern plays a lawyer who is having trouble with one of her client. William (Jared Harris) wants to get back his disability pension. She has told him that he can’t win, but he insists on getting a second opinion. She’s afraid that William may get violent. The second story is stars Reichardt’s favourite actress Michelle Williams. Williams co-stars with James Le Gros as Gina and Ryan Lewis, a married couple with a teenage daughter (Sara Rodier). Coming back from a vacation, the family stops by to see Albert (the marvellously restrained René Auberjonois), an elderly man they know. They try to persuade him to sell them the sandstones that are lying around on his property. They need the sandstones to build a weekend cottage. But Albert only seems to answer to Ryan. During the trip, Gina realises that their daughter is acting the same way towards her. The third and most powerful segment stars Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart. Gladstone plays Jamie, a lonely ranch hand who is tending horses during the winter months. Driving into town one night, she sees people going into the school, and decides to see what is happening. It’s a legal class about school law taught by young lawyer, Beth Travis (Stewart). After class, Jamie befriends Beth. It is clear that Jamie is hoping that something more will happen between her and Beth. As with her previous films, Reichardt does not use dialogue to tell the audience what her characters are feeling or thinking, or what their motivations are. Instead you see them painfully trying to deal with their feelings of helplessness and frustration. Reichardt works outside the box. Certain women is observational rather than the usual declamatory. Not everyone will like it, but I did. Although the three stories are separate, they are thinly weaved together as some characters cross each other’s paths. Williams is the perfect Reichardt player as she portrays Gina’s cold and stoic intransigence, but also her painful self-loathing. But it is newcomer Lily Gladstone who gives the most heart breaking performance. You can almost hear Jamie’s heartbeat as she seeks friendship and love from Beth. It is impossible for Jamie to read what Beth’s intentions are, and Kristen Stewart’s usual acting demeanour is perfectly used here. I should not forget Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography. He paints Montana’s wintry landscape with earth colors. The least you can say about Reichardt is that she is not your mainstream American director. And that’s fine with me..

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Certain women

 

Directed by:
Kelly Reichardt

Screenplay by:
Kelly Reichardt
Based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s Half in love and
Both ways is the only way I want it

Starring:
Michelle Williams
Laura Dern
Lily Gladstone
Kristen Stewart
James Le Gros
Jared Harris
René Auberjonois
Sara Rodier

107 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The journey

The journey is based on the events that led to the 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The animosities are clearly laid out from the start. The leaders from the two sides arrive at the meeting. Down the hall is Rev. Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) leader of the Democratic unionist party (DUP). On the other side of the same hall stands Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney). He turns to face Paisley. McGuiness is MP from the Sinn Féin party and a veteran leader of the Irish republican army (IRA). As the two men look at each other, there is nothing but disdain. They hate each other. Then they enter separate rooms to have two separate peace talks. That would be it, except that Ian Paisley has to leave his meeting to go celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. McGuiness agrees but only if he travels with Paisley. That way if they travel together, neither of them can be singled out for attack. The drive to the airport was long. We are told that it is unknown what was said during that trip. Screenwriter Colin Bateman imagines a conversation that might have changed the course of history. Paisley was an 80-year-old evangelical Protestant minister who hated Catholics. He called the IRA the Antichrist. And McGuiness doesn’t like what Rev. Paisley said about the Pope either. For Paisley, Martin McGuiness and the IRA, are terrorists responsible for the death of innocent people. He can even remember some the names of the victims. ”We were in a civil war”, McGuiness tells Paisley, adding that there were casualties on both sides. As a chauffeur they have baby-faced Jack (baby-faced Freddie Highmore). He’s been put there to spy on them by then Prime minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens). They have also installed microphones and a camera. The excellent Sir John Hurt appears in one of his last films (he died last January from pancreatic cancer). Hurt plays the operative monitoring the drive and listening to the conversation. This is good acting from Spall and Meaney. The more showy role is Paisley. To play the 80-year-old, 60-year-old Spall has to put a lot of make up and prosthetics. But Meaney holds his own and plays the younger McGuiness as the more tempered and sound of the two statesmen. Colin Bateman has written a good balance of witty and profound repartees. Director Nick Hamm has put the whole thing together with style and a suspenseful build-up that is quite effective. It may not all be factual, but it is pleasurable nevertheless.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The journey

Directed by:
Nick Hamm

Screenplay by:
Colin Bateman

Starring:
Timothy Spall
Colm Meaney
Toby Stephens
John Hurt
Freddie Highmore
Ian Beattie

94 min.

Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy: Marius

Like many people in Québec and around the world, I’m very familiar with the films from Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy (Marius, Fanny and César), as they often played on Radio Canada. I bought the Pagnol plays and read them as a young man. I will focus this review mostly on the first instalment: Marius. The action takes place in the Old Port section of Marseille, France. The waterfront bar is owned by César (Raimu). César’s son, Marius (Pierre Fresnay), a tempestuous young man, is helping his father. Right outside the bar, Honorine (Alida Rouffe) sells mussels with her daughter Fanny (Orane Demazis). Among the bar’s regular clients is César’s friend Panisse (Charpin), a prosperous sail maker. The news that the recently widowed Panisse proposed to Fanny and that Honorine agreed, has angered Marius. He is obviously in love with Fanny. And Fanny seems to be delighted by the jealous attention she gets from Marius. She too is in love with Marius. She breaks off her engagement with Panisse and her and Marius become lovers. But she soon realizes that Marius has another love: the sea. His dreams of sailing and traveling around the world is understandable. He has been living on the waterfront all his life and has seen boats come and go. He has probably heard many stories from sailors about the beauty, the freedom of the sea. The calling is too strong and Fanny sees that it would be pointless to retain him. Even though Marius is still a classic French film, time has not always been kind to older films. It is old-fashioned, of course. But there is a scene in Marius that I found stunning. A declaration of love and affection between father César and son Marius. I certainly was not expecting to find such a scene in that film. You have to take Marius for what it is: a popular melodrama. Like all popular melodrama, Marius has a lot of comedy. The most famous scene is the one when César plays a game of poker with his friends. But his friends all leave one after the other when César keeps insulting them. He even goes so far as calling one of them a cuckold (in French “cocu”). César is an old curmudgeon who likes to argue just for the fun of the argument. They don’t have actors like Raimu anymore, and it is marvellous to see him in the greatest role of his career. His scenes with Alida Rouffe are equally memorable. As the young romantic leads Pierre Fresnay and Orane Demazis are as good as anybody could be. The poetic portions of the play (it is a stage play) about the love of the sea and the desire for freedom are done forcefully and convincingly. Every one speaks with the typical Marseillais accent that is a bit hard to comprehend. So the English subtitles are a good thing. Marius was beautifully restored in its original 35mm format. I am no expert, but I did not see any scratch or imperfections. The saga continues with Fanny and César.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy: Marius

 

Directed by:
Alexandre Korda

Screenplay by:
Marcel Pagnol
Based on his own play

Starring:
Pierre Fresnay
Orane Demazis
Raimu
Alida Rouffe
Charpin

127 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French with English subtitles.