Mademoiselle de Jonquières

Emmanuel Mouret’s Mademoiselle de Jonquières is an exquisitely fluffy comedy of manners and revenge set in 18th century, France. It stars the marvelous Cécile de France as Madame de La Pommeraye, a young, attractive widow. Spending most of her time on her lavish country estate, Madame takes long walks in her garden with the Marquis des Arcis (Édouard Baer), a houseguest who doesn’t seem to want to leave. Madame knows very well that the Marquis is wooing her, but she finds his attempts amusing. Besides, she enjoys the long conversations they have, and the attention of course. Madame’s friend, Lucienne (Laure Calamy), warns Madame about the Marquis. If she is to become his lover, eventually he will leave her at the first opportunity and go to his next conquest. Madame de La Pommeraye dismisses Lucienne’s warnings, and starts an affair with the Marquis. But Lucienne was right. The Marquis des Arcis tells Madame that he has fallen out of love, but they should remain good friends. She tells the Marquis that she agrees, but she’s terribly vexed. To exact revenge, she hires the help of Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), a woman who was seduced, scandalously became pregnant and had to prostitute herself to feed her daughter, who also became a prostitute. That daughter is the Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz) of the title. On Madame’s instructions they are to pretend to be religious devout. Madame arranges for the Marquis to meet them, hoping he won’t be able to resist the (false) virgin Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle de Jonquières is inspired from characters in Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître. It is a lighter, fun version of Les liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. It is a talk fest, a genre of film that I don’t always enjoy. But there is something here that I found irresistible. There is the snappy dialogue and the acting from the two leads. Cécile de France smiling eyes, Baer’s passionate performance. Mouret and Laurent Desmet, his cinematographer, made the brilliant decision to set most of the exteriors, most of the film in fact, in bright and sunny French gardens. The camera has been pulled back to reveal the characters surrounded by spectacular landscapes. The film is at times cruel, yes, but it is also very funny. Mademoiselle de Jonquières is a joy to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 11 – 18
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/mademoiselle-de-jonquieres

Mademoiselle de Jonquières

Directed by:
Emmanuel Mouret

Screenplay by:
Emmanuel Mouret
Based on the stories from Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître

Starring:
Cécile de France
Edouard Baer
Alice Isaaz
Natalia Dontcheva
Laure Calamy

119 min.

In French with English subtitles.

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If Beale street could talk

There’s talk of Oscar nominations for If Beale street could talk, Barry Jenkins’s follow up to Best picture Oscar winner Moonlight. Adapted from civil-rights activist James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, it is a love story between 19-year-old Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and 22-year-old Fonny Hunt (Toronto born Stephan James). Their story is set in Harlem during the early 1970s. When Tish announces she is pregnant, her parents Joseph (Colman Domingo) and Sharon (Regina King in an Oscar worthy turn) are surprisingly supportive. They have more problem telling Fonny’s mom (an explosive Aunjanue Ellis) who is not one to mince words. But after they start living together, the couple has other problems. Fonny is falsely accused of rape and arrested by a racist cop. Tish knows that Fonny has an alibi, and she finds out that witnesses claim that a white man was the rapist. Worse, it seems that the victim has suddenly, and conveniently, moved back to her native South-American country. Desperate to help, Sharon flies there and tries to find her. Such is the plight of African-Americans, then and now. As he did with Moonlight, Jenkins chronicles the lives of American black communities. It seems to us that we are watching something new, innovative, and we are unprepared to see something so fresh, new and real. The emotional impact is coming from every directions at once. The production values are exceptional. From cinematographer James Laxton’s bright colors, to composer Nicholas Britell’s jazz infused score, there is not a wrong turn in the film. It has a perfect ensemble cast, headed by the brilliant Ms. King. But what that impressed me most is the screenplay. James Baldwin’s words (Oscar nominated documentary I am not your negro was about Baldwin and his writings) are treated with so much respect, spoken with such reverence, that it felt that the actors were reading poetry. As if Baldwin was a modern-day Shakespeare. That’s one of the best reason to see If Beale street could talk.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 9 – 16 and February 18 – 20
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/if-beale-street-could-talk

If Beale street could talk

Directed by:
Barry Jenkins

Screenplay by:
Barry Jenkins
Based on the novel by James Baldwin

Starring:
KiKi Layne
Stephan James
Regina King
Colman Domingo
Teyonah Parris
Michael Beach
Brian Tyree Henry
Ed Skrein

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

2018’s Top Ten

Here we go again. From the films I see at the ByTowne Cinema this is my top ten. I see none of the big blockbusters released in the big Cineplexes. To tell you the truth, I’ve had better years! I did not pick Roma or If Beale street could talk because, although I found them admirable, they were not entirely satisfactory. There were some nice surprises. This year’s gay drama God’s own country was better than 2017 Call me by my name.  It was raw and real. And then there is the other gay film The cakemaker. And I will only say “Aw, Maria Callas!”. There are here some small treasures. Enjoy! There is a link to the full review under each titles. Happy new year!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

1. Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט) by Samuel Maoz

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/foxtrot-%D7%A4%D7%95%D6%B9%D7%A7%D6%B0%D7%A1%D7%98%D6%B0%D7%A8%D7%95%D6%B9%D7%98/

2. God’s own country by Francis Lee

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/gods-own-country/

3. The cakemaker (האופה מברלין) by Ofir Raul Graizer

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/the-cakemaker-%D7%94%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A4%D7%94-%D7%9E%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%9F/

4. Hochelaga, Terre des âmes (Hochelaga, Land of souls) by François Girard

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/hochelaga-land-of-souls-hochelaga-terre-des-ames/

5. Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the sunshine in) by Claire Denis

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/let-the-sunshine-in-un-beau-soleil-interieur/

6. Under the tree (Undir trénu) by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/08/16/under-the-tree-undir-trenu/

7. Les gardiennes (The guardians) by Xavier Beauvois

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/les-gardiennes-the-guardians/

8. The children act by Richard Eyre

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/09/13/the-children-act/

9. Three identical strangers by Tim Wardle

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/three-identical-strangers/

10. Maria by Callas by Tom Volf

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2018/11/17/maria-by-callas/

Roma

Alfonso Cuarón’s hommage to the women who raised him stars Yalitza Aparicio, an amazing performer in her first film, as Cleo, a live-in maid working for Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Doctor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Roma is set in 1970 in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. Four children and Teresa (Verónica García), Sofia’s mother, in addition to Adela (Nancy García), another maid, are living in the household. The workload is heavy. The house is a mess, and it’s up to the maids to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Cooking, cleaning after the two dogs, laundry (no machines, done by hand on the roof), taking care of the kids, including putting them to bed at night and waking them up in the morning and dropping them to and picking them from school. When the family goes on vacation or are invited to visit friends, they bring Cleo with them. On her days off Cleo goes to the movies with her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), Adela and her boyfriend. After having sex with Fermín, Cleo finds out she is pregnant. When she tells Fermín, he disapears and is nowhere to be found. Cleo confides in Sofia, and her employer is very supportive and wants to help Cleo. Antonio, who left to attend a conference in Quebec, has given the news that he met another woman and is not coming back. Sofia, the children and the maids go to a family friend’s hacienda for the New Year’s celebration. While there, a wildfire erupts in the forest. The guests are scrambling to put it out as the new year approaches. Back in town, while Cleo and Teresa are shopping to buy a crib for Cleo’s baby, they are witness to the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre, where 120 protestors were killed by Los Halcones, a clandestine paramilitary group. Among the Los Halcones, she recognizes Fermín. As a result of these events, and others, Cleo’s life is often shaken. Technically the film is most impressive. The sound quality, be it the wildfire, the protest or the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or the stunning black-and-white photography (with Cuarón acting as his own cinematography) are sure to get some awards. Roma is a realistic portrait of a maid’s daily routine. But apart from small dramas and the fact that Cuarón’s film takes place in 1970, Roma doesn’t have much of a story. One of my favorite Quebec entertainer is poet, singer, songwriter and humorist Clémence DesRochers. In one of her most celebrated songs, La vie d’factrie, DesRochers gives voice to a woman who has worked in a factory her whole life. The song ends with a dramatic exclamation. “Maintenant j’ai plus rien à vous dire/J’suis pas un sujet à chanson” (“Now I have nothing else to tell you/ I’m not a topic for a song”) Why can’t Cleo’s life be a topic for a film? Historians will tell you that it’s not only the Kings, Queens and politicians that make history. Ordinary people are, at the very least, witness to their times. Sometimes they put out wildfires, other times they help one another when times are hard. The film ends with a reassuring thought, Cleo is not only a maid, she’s a member of the family, she is loved. Her story is worth telling and seeing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 10
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/roma

 

Roma

 

Directed by:
Alfonso Cuarón

Screenplay by:
Alfonso Cuarón

Starring:
Yalitza Aparicio
Marina de Tavira
Nancy García
Verónica García
Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Carlos Peralta
Marco Graf
Daniela Demesa

135 min.

Black & White.

In Spanish and Mixtecan with English subtitles

Ben is back

Ben is back to spend Christmas with his family. Nineteen years old Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) has shown up unannounced at the doorstep of the family house in Smalltown, USA. His mother, Holly (Julia Roberts), is surprised. Ben is supposed to be in rehab for drug addiction. He was released, Ben claims, to visit his family during the holidays. Holly is happy at first. Ivy (Kathryn Newton), Ben’s sister, and their stepfather, Neal (Courtney B. Vance), are more suspicious. There are also two younger siblings from Holly’s relationship with Neal. Later, once Holly comes down from the clouds, she lays down the rules. Ben can only stay a day, he can never leave her sight and she starts by testing his urine. We are meant to understand all the hell that the family has been through because of Ben’s addiction. All the things Ben had to do to obtain drugs, the little games he played, the lies he told to the ones he loves and mostly to himself. And the guilt and resentments. It’s all there in the detailed acting of those two brilliant actors, Roberts and Hedges. Subtext and subtleties. Both of them have the gift of conveying several conflicting emotions at once. In the first half Ben is back is a compelling family drama. Then writer-director Peter Hedges (Lucas is his son) switches gears and it becomes a thriller when Ben and his mother go on a search to find the kidnapped family’s dog. It sounds like a stupid idea (yeah, it is!) that only works because of the performances. We remember Hedges from Manchester by the sea, Lady Bird and Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. In 2018, beside Ben is back, he made two other films, and there are at least two more in 2019. Because of his and Roberts performances Ben is back is worth seeing. unfortunately in the second half the film becomes too predictable. One thing I can say is that it is one of the most unusual Christmas movie. Merry Christmas!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Ben is back

 

Directed by:
Peter Hedges

Screenplay by:
Peter Hedges

Starring:
Julia Roberts
Lucas Hedges
Courtney B. Vance
Kathryn Newton

103 min.

Rated 14A

The wild pear tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

After his college graduation Sinan (Aydın Doğu Demirkol) goes back home to his small country village of Çan. Sinan is an unlikable character who complains and speaks too much. His main problem is that he would like to publish a first novel. But financing proves difficult when you have a gambling father and the debt collectors after your family. Idris, his father (Murat Cemcır), is a teacher who does not seem to care what his family has to endure because of his gambling. Coming home to find out the electricity has been cut is no fun. Of course Sinan has other issues with his father. As he is trying to find the money to publish his book, Sinan meets several people and, in Nuri Bilge Ceylan fashion, has long conversations with them. One is with a writer (Serkan Keskin) he hopes to impress, but annoys him so much that he walks off. He meets two young men, and they have a discussion about religion. At the end there is a nice meeting between father and son that helps to resolve some of their conflicts. The wild pear tree (the title of Sinan’s novel) is too long (over 3 hours), too slow and talkative. But it is also a very beautiful, sunny film with stunning Turkish countryside landscapes. Ceylan’s cinematographer is Gökhan Tiryaki. And Ceylan has used some intriguing poetic images that keeps us guessing. Is it Sinan’s imagination or his paranoia? In other terms, The wild pear tree could be boring to some, but it is not without merit. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The wild pear tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

 

Directed by:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Screenplay by:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ebru Ceyland
Akın Aksu

Starring:
Aydın Doğu Demirkol
Murat Cemcır
Bennu Yıldırımlar
Hazar Ergüçlü
Serkan Keskin

188 min.

In Turkish with English subtitles.

Chef Flynn

When he was a young boy, Flynn McGarry started cooking because his mother Meg’s cooking lacked variety. Meg McGarry being a filmmaker, she recorded her son’s evolution as a haute cuisine genius. Flynn has a kitchen set up in his bedroom, and when he was 12, the family started $160-a-head dinning club Eureka in their home in Los Angeles. Chef Flynn‘s director films Flynn as he is preparing to open a pop-up version of Eureka in New York. Opening night was disastrous in the young man’s view, but the second night goes very well and Flynn is happy. Then he moves to live by himself in New York when he is 16. Now Flynn is 20 and Gem, his restaurant, is located at 116 Forsyth street, New York. Director Cameron Yates also uses Meg’s archives to show a younger Flynn, a cute, freckled, red-headed kid. This is a nice story to tell with nice enough people. There is a minimum of dysfunctionality. Except for the facts that his parents are divorced and his dad is a reformed alcoholic, Flynn seems to be a well-adjusted youth who loves his older sister, his mom and his dad. There is the occasional camera weary moments, as Meg doesn’t seem to be able to stop filming. There are things to be thankful for, otherwise we would not get to see these images of a loving family.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Chef Flynn

 

Directed by:
Cameron Yates

82 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Nothing like a Dame

L´été, quand il fait beau soleil,
Je vois souvent passer deux vieilles
Qui marchent en se tenant le bras,
Elles s´arrêtent à tous les dix pas
Quand j´entends leur éclat de rire
J´ai un peu moins peur de vieillir

Deux vieilles, Clémence Desrochers

 

They occasionally meet for tea. Those four Dames of the British theatre: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright. South African theatre, television and film director Roger Michell had the brilliant idea of filming their conversation where the four ladies are remembering their lives on stage and movies. Laurence Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright is 89, she has now lost her sight and hasn’t been working since 2014. Maggie Smith remembers how dreadful it was to work with Olivier. And Plowright agrees. Judi Dench says that she started popularity came to her after she played Queen Victoria in the Mrs Brown film, then the following year she played Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in love. The others teasingly call her “the Queen”. Eileen Atkins is the least well-known of the four Dames. They discuss about the traditional way to play Shakespeare, using the iambic pentameter, or a more modern, realistic approach. Dench talks about her James Bond films. Maggie Smith reveals that she does not care much about the Harry Potter movies and that she has never seen an episode of Downton Abbey. “I’ve got the box set.”, she says with a smile. The Dames are a tiny bit nostalgic, not much. Mostly they are very funny and warm. I had a very nice afternoon tea with the Dames.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Nothing like a Dame

 

Directed by:
Roger Michell

84 min.

Rated General

Transit

In adapting Anna Seghers’s 1944 classic novel Transit visa, Christian Petzold has made the weird and misguided choice to film in modern-day France even though the action takes place shortly after the German occupation. Transit‘s main character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German exile who lives in Paris after the end of the Nazi occupation. He flees the Paris authorities to go to Marseilles where he hopes to be able to take a boat to America, “le Montréal”. To do that he has to assume the identity of Weidel, a dead writer. In Marseilles, Georg meets a community of Germans, who like him are awaiting permission to leave. There is also a beautiful woman searching for her lost husband. They keep seeing each other because she mistakenly thinks Georg is her husband. He later finds out she’s Weidel’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer). I really liked Phoenix, Petzold’s previous film. But Transit isn’t very exciting or good. It’s slow and boring and so confusing. We are asked to accept a bizarre convention where the characters live in the 1940s, but everything surrounding them is modern, 2018 cars or people wearing 2018 clothes. Whatever the reason (choice or lack of money), it looks cheap and I did not buy it at all. What a disappointment.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Transit

 

Directed by:
Christian Petzold

Screenplay by:
Christian Petzold
Based on the novel Transit visa by Anna Seghers

Starring:
Franz Rogowski
Paula Beer
Godehard Giese
Maryam Zaree

101 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In German, French, and French Sign Language with English subtitles

At eternity’s gate

At eternity’s gate is about the last years of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Living in France with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) shows early signs of mental illness. How do we know? We know because director Julian Schnabel’s camera is telling us in no subtle ways, by blurring and discoloring van Gogh’s point of view or overlapping images and dialogue tracks to imitate a sense of confusion (duh!). But he has other camera tricks. At eternity’s gate has the most unstable camera since The Blair witch project (remember?), and the cameraman seems unable to focus or keep his footing and takes extreme close-ups of van Gogh’s face, his nose, his mouth, his head and his scalp. (Oh no! It’s The Blair witch project part 3!) The painter’s disagreements with Gauguin seems to be the cause of all his anguish. He has a very loving relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who helps him as much as he can. After spending some time in a mental institution, van Gogh is released and moves to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône where he will spend his last 80 days and create 75 paintings. Yes Willem Dafoe is great, but his efforts are muffled by Schnabel’s patchwork approach to cinema. It’s annoying and a mess. Avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on February 1 – 3
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/at-eternitys-gate

 

At eternity’s gate

 

Directed by:
Julian Schnabel

Screenplay by:
Jean-Claude Carrière
Louise Kugelberg
Julian Schnabel

Starring:
Willem Dafoe
Rupert Friend
Oscar Isaac
Mads Mikkelsen
Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner

110 min.
.
In English and French with English subtitles