Colette

Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) was one of the most important female writer. Wash Westmoreland’s exquisite Colette smartly sticks to the facts. She was born in the small country village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy. Gabrielle’s father was a war hero who lost one of his leg in battle. At the time she marries Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) the family is so poor that they can’t give him a dowry. Fourteen years older, Gauthier-Villars was a publisher/author. In truth, published under the pseudonym of “Willy”, his novels were mostly all ghostwritten. This enterprise is not a great success until he asks Gabrielle (Keira Knightley) to write. She writes Claudine à l’école (Claudine in school) was loosely based on her own life as a schoolgirl. It is published in 1900 under Willy’s name and becomes very popular but creates a scandal because of the lesbian themes which further boosts its popularity. It is so popular that Willy locks Gabrielle in her room until she writes a follow-up: Claudine à Paris (Claudine in Paris). Again Willy takes all the credits and squander all the money gambling or on other women. When Colette tells her husband that she’s attracted to women, Willy does not seemed concerned in the least. She doesn’t know that one of her female lover is also Willy’s lover. Over the years Colette gained more independence, became an actress, fell in love with female-to-male cross-dresser Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough) and divorced Willy. Wash Westmoreland has a great production team (costumes, sets, score, cinematography…). It is beautiful. And Keira Knightley as strong female icon Colette has never looked better and nuanced. Bravo! Colette is much fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Colette

 

Directed by:
Wash Westmoreland

Screenplay by:
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland
Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Starring:
Keira Knightley
Dominic West
Denise Gough
Eleanor Tomlinson
Fiona Shaw

111 min.

Rated 14A

Advertisements

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

What is Let the sunshine in suppose to be about? Are we to take this representation of French relations as real? Or as a satire? Director Claire Denis seems to be having a great time with this film. Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, a painter with a mess of a love life. We first see her with a banker (Xavier Beauvois). A terrible human being who treats people as if he owns them. Isabelle seems at first happy even though he’s unable to sexually satisfy her. She eventually leaves him, but throughout the film the banker stalks Isabelle. Then she meets an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle). He is hesitant to start a relationship with her, but once he has, he admits that he had more fun “before”. He liked everything that went on “before” the relationship, so let’s do it again. All these people, including Isabelle, talk non-stop. It’s like I was watching a Eric Rohmer film (oh no!) or Jacques Doyon (more fun), except that Let the sunshine is funnier and less annoying. It’s as if Denis was winking at me, “It’s only a joke!”. But there’s more to it than that. Isabelle’s male friends lecturing her on what she should do, how she should feel. Isabelle dating to the point of exhaustion, or being in tears because she can’t find a man. I think it’s a cartoon on French misogyny. Through it all there is the amazing Binoche. I don’t think I’ve ever liked her as much as I do here. She’s cutting and precise. And at the end (during the end credits no less) Gérard Depardieu joins her. It’s a softer Depardieu, and with Binoche, it is pure magic.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

 

Directed by:
Claire Denis

Screenplay by:
Christine Angot
Claire Denis
Based on Fragments d’un discours amoureux
by Roland Barthes

Starring:
Juliette Binoche
Xavier Beauvois
Josiane Balasko
Philippe Katerine
Gérard Depardieu

96 min.

In French with English subtitles

The seagull

This excellent film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 classic play seems to have everything right. Screenwriter Stephen Karam has done a great job by opening the play a bit, but has kept the story and the motivations (from what I can tell) pretty much the same. The film stars Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress spending the summer at her brother’s beautiful Russian country estate. She’s accompanied by her lover, well-known playwright Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), and her troubled son, Konstantin (Billy Howle). There are other characters with them and they all seem to have one thing in common: unrequited love. There is Masha (Elisabeth Moss), daughter of the estate manager, who is obsessed with Konstantin. But Konstantin is secretly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young neighbour who dreams of becoming an actress. Konstantin is upset at his mother because she mocked one of his plays. He also dislikes Boris and is resentful of his talent. It gets worse when Boris attempts to seduce an all too willing Nina. It may be impossible for modern audiences to understand this community of 19th century over-the-top dramatic actresses of artists and romantic/suicidal youths, but if there is one cast that can do it, this is the one. Bening in particular understands the bigger than life persona and never misses a chance to strike a pose. She’s grand. A refreshing aspect of this film is that the mostly American cast did not feel the need to speak with an accent. Too many times I’ve seen actors absurdly attempting to take a Russian accent or a British accent. To my ear, everyone spoke a very good English without any accents. Director Michael Mayer keeps it all snappy and frothy. Very enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The seagull

 

Directed by:
Michael Mayer

Screenplay by:
Stephen Karam
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Annette Bening
Corey Stoll
Billy Howle
Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy
Mare Winningham
Jon Tenney

98 min.

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

In Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, Annette Bening plays Gloria Grahame, a Best supporting actress Oscar winner in 1952 for The bad and the beautiful. The film is based on the memoirs of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a young British actor who became Grahame’s lover in the late 70s. There was close to 30 years difference between them. In 1981, soon after their break-up, Turner gets the news that Grahame is ill. She collapsed in her dressing room as she was about to go on stage in The glass menagerie. Turner goes to see her and he learns that she refuses to go to the hospital and does not want chemotherapy. All she wants is to go to Peter Turner’s house in Liverpool where she knows that Peter’s family will take care of her. Peter’s parents, Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) are happy to help their friend Gloria but, along with Peter’s brother, Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham), they think that she should call her children and her doctors in New York. As Peter is making the decision to call them, he remembers the beginning of their love affair. Director Paul McGuigan’s flashbacks are so compelling. It’s like Turner sees his memories. He peeks through a door and peeks, literally, into his remembrance. You don’t often see the “young man in love” as very compelling characters. Those are usually the most boring characters. But there is such an emotional investment, both physical and intellectual, from Jamie Bell that we can’t help cheering for Peter Turner. The film is conceptually quite beautiful. I was surprised to see several scenes with rear projections matte paintings, methods that were in use in movies until the 1960s. It’s as if McGuigan wants to underline that Gloria Grahame was a 40s and 50s movie star. In 1981 her best year are behind her, that’s true. But the way Bening plays her, she’s still a star. Actually, Bening is a star playing a star. Whether she’s dancing disco with Peter or dying of cancer in bed, Gloria Grahame was a star. At some point Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay switches the flashbacks from Peter’s point of view to Gloria’s. At that moment Annette Bening becomes a tragedienne. A tour-de-force acting from both Bell and Bening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

 

Directed by:
Paul McGuigan

Screenplay by:
Matt Greenhalgh
Based on the memoir by Peter Turner

Starring:
Annette Bening
Jamie Bell
Julie Walters
Vanessa Redgrave
Kenneth Cranham
Stephen Graham

105 min.

Wonder wheel

Wonder wheel, the new Woody Allen film is not a comedy but a melodrama. “I relish melodrama and larger-than-life characters,” says Mickey (Justin Timberlake) speaking to the camera. Mickey is a Coney Island lifeguard and wannabe playwright, and this type of naration is often used in theatre. This is the 1950s, and the film centres on Ginny (Kate Winslet), a clam-bar waitress and wannabe actress. She lives with her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, and her young son Richie (Jack Gore), an incorrigible pyromaniac. Their apartment next to the boardwalk is surrounded by the noise of the amusement park and the shooting games. The film starts as Humpty’s estranged daughter Caroline (Juno Temple) comes to seek refuge from her mobster husband. Initially Humpty refuses to get involved because he’s afraid the mobster will be looking for her. But her allows her to stay with them. Meanwhile, Ginny has an affair with Mickey the lifeguard, who is a few years younger than she is. That gives Ginny a little break from the gloom of life at the apartment where Ginny and Humpty are always fighting and Richie gets in trouble again with another fire he has started. With Mickey, Ginny can dream to be an actress again, and Ginny is happy. That is untill Mickey meets Caroline and he falls for her. Although this is an original screenplay by Woody Allen, it feels like a play, either adapted from another source or from an unproduced Woody Allen play. A big chunk of the action is stagey and takes place inside the apartment. But even when it does not, the screenplay has a series of speeches and monologues that seems like it was written for the stage. It may have been deliberate. Look at it this way: Ginny played on stage when she was younger, and Mickey, who wants to be a playwright, reads Shakespeare, quotes Eugene O’Neill (Wonder wheel might have been an O’Neill play, or a Tennessee Williams, or an Edward Albee). The characters in Wonder wheel are angry people, clinging on to their unattainable dreams. They are surrounded by a deafening dysfunctional noise. Wonder wheel is well directed by Allen with an acute sense of doom. But there is a lack of focus in the writing. There is enough drama and material for several films. Winslet is unforgettably tense in portraying Ginny’s increasingly hysterical neuroses. And legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s brilliant use of colors is one of the great joy of this Woody Allen film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonder wheel

Directed by:
Woody Allen

Screenplay by:
Woody Allen

Starring:
Kate Winslet
Justin Timberlake
Juno Temple
Jim Belushi

101 min.

Rated 14A

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story

On the surface Hedy Lamarr’s career as an actress is not very impressive. The Austrian-born film actress is mostly known for her nudity and a close-up of Lamarr (then Hedy Kiesler) feigning orgasm in the scandalous 1933 erotic film Ecstasy. Lamarr arrived in Hollywood in 1938 after MGM’s Louis B. Mayer signed her up. The publicity claimed she was “the world’s most beautiful woman”. And they might have been right. Her first Hollywood film was Algiers opposite Charles Boyer. Followed a series of increasingly forgettable films. So why a documentary about Hedy Lamarr? One thing that is not generally known is that Lamarr was also an amateur inventor. In 1942, Lamarr and her friend composer George Antheil designed a device that could help the war effort. Lamarr knew that radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed, and the torpedoes diverted. With their “frequency hopping” device, Lamarr and Antheil could change the radio frequencies and help the torpedoes hit their targets. At the time the Frequency-hopping spread spectrum was rejected by the US Navy, but in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, updated versions of their design appeared on Navy ships. It’s amazing to learn that Lamarr and Antheil’s work led to the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Lamarr made her last film in 1958, was arrested for shoplifting twice, she became addicted to pills and destroyed her beauty with too many plastic surgery. After 6 marriages, she retired to Miami Beach, Florida in 1981 and became a recluse. Today, there are the films of course and her work as an inventor has been posthumously recognized.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story

 

Directed by:
Alexandra Dean

Screenplay by:
Alexandra Dean

90 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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

 

The trip to Spain

 

Directed by:
Michael Winterbottom

Screenplay by:
Michael Winterbottom

Starring:
Steve Coogan
Rob Brydon

108 min.

Rated 14A

The big sick

The big sick is about Kumail, (Kumail Nanjiani playing himself) a stand-up comic who moonlights as a Uber driver. In his comedy routines Kumail talks about his Pakistani heritage and his Pakistani family. One evening, while performing at the comedy club, Kumail is interrupted by an audience member. It’s Emily (Zoe Kazan), a beautiful young woman. After the show, they connect and soon they are dating. But Kumail is hiding something from her. He does not tell her that, according to his traditional Muslim upbringing, his parents are hoping to arrange a marriage for Kumail. His parents don’t even know he is dating a non-Pakistani girl. When Emily, who thought they might have a future together, finds out the truth, she feels betrayed and angrily breaks off with him. A few weeks later, Kumail gets a phone call. Emily has become very ill and has been transported to hospital. He goes to the hospital and although he’s not her boyfriend anymore the doctors need him to authorize an urgent medically induced coma in order to save Emily’s life, while they investigate what is wrong with her. The arrival of Emily’s parents makes things a bit awkward. Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) know all about the break up and how much Emily suffered as a result. But he sticks around and the relationships between him and Emily’s parents grows as they get know each other. Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents have no knowledge of what is happening in their son’s life. His mother, Sharmeen (the hilariously deadpan Zenobia Shroff), invites a new Pakistani girl every time he comes for super. This is such an unusual film. What sets The big sick apart from other romantic comedies is that it is based on the real life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily V. Gordon. They wrote the screenplay together. Some of the facts have changed, except that the real Emily really spent a few days in a coma. Yes, a romantic comedy about a comatose girlfriend. But this is such a great film on so many levels. First: It has a screenplay that sparkle with witty, intelligent dialogues. The evolution of the characters and their stories feels real, not forced. It flows. And if it manages to be both funny and touching that’s because of its excellent ensemble cast. The early lively banter between Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan deceptively seems so easy to do. But that is not so. The easier it seems, the harder it must have been for the actors to achieve. And it is the same for every actors in The big sick. There’s SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Mary, a fellow stand up comedienne, who has such a pleasant way with words. Romano and Hunter are the most surprising pairing of the film. Hunter plays a badass mom with a heart and an attitude. Wearing a pair of worn-out jeans with patches and speaking with the thickest southern accent, you know right from the start that Beth is not a person to cross. We remember Ray Romano from his TV show Everybody loves Raymond. We recognize his voice, his way with words, but we never suspected such depth. You just can’t go wrong with a trio like Hunter, Romano and Nanjiani. Kumail Nanjiani is in every scenes, so he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulder. It is my hope that The big sick will be the sleeper hit of the year.

And the Oscar went to… Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s adapted screenplay lost to Jordan Peele’s Get out.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The big sick

 

Directed by:
Michael Showalter

Screenplay by:
Emily V. Gordon
Kumail Nanjiani

Starring:
Kumail Nanjiani
Zoe Kazan
Holly Hunter
Ray Romano
Anupam Kher
Zenobia Shroff
Adeel Akhtar

119 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Urdu with English subtitles.

Their finest

It probably was not easy to make films in London during the Second World War. London was bombed by the German Air Force. At any moment, your neighbourhood, your house and your life could be destroyed. Looking death in the face was a daily occurrence. But all through this, the people at the British Ministry of Information’s film division tried to make propaganda films. Adapted from a Lissa Evans novel, Their finest is a light film that mustn’t be taken too seriously. The central figure is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) a young woman applying to the Ministry for a job as a typist. But because she previously worked as a copywriter, she’s given the job of writing ‘slop’, dialogue between women in propaganda short films. Catrin is married to Ellis (Jack Huston), a struggling painter hoping that soon he’ll strike it rich. In the meantime, it’s up to Catrin to put food on the table. But she finds that writing ‘slop’ is boring and is snobbishly regarded by her writing partner Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a handsome but sexist young man. But Catrin is not going to let Buckley belittle her. At the Ministry’s request she travels to the coast to investigate a story about twin sisters who helped soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk. But the sisters’ heroism has been overblown by the newspaper. Still, she finds the idea of having two female heroic leads interesting. She makes a pitch to her supervisor, Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant), and it is decided to make it into a feature-length film. To play the twins’ Uncle Frank they hire veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). Ambrose was once a matinée idol. But that was when he played a dashing detective in a popular series of films. Now, Ambrose resents playing a supporting character, and, worse of all, an old Uncle! But he needs the money. There are a few British character actor that almost never give a bad performance no matter in what film they play. One of those actors is Bill Nighy. In Their finest he effortlessly makes it impossible not to fall in love with Ambrose Hilliard. The writing gets sidetracked a bit when the Secretary of War (a pompous cameo by Jeremy Irons) insist that the film needs an American star (Jake Lacy) to make it more profitable abroad. At home, Catrin is falling out of love with her husband, while she and Buckley are getting closer. Even if the topic and the historical setting is original and might have been interesting, I am not convinced that the treatment is satisfactory. Their finest relies too much on old American film clichés. It’s been done so many times. And so much better. But still, what moved me at the end is the screening of their film. How good filmmaking with a good script can make any audience laugh and cry. I think that the film Catrin and Buckley made in Their finest is better than Their finest itself. Too bad!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Their finest

Directed by:
Lone Scherfig

Screenplay by:
Gaby Chiappe
Based on the novel Their finest hour and a half by Lissa Evans

Starring:
Gemma Arterton
Sam Claflin
Bill Nighy
Jack Huston
Paul Ritter
Richard E. Grant
Rachael Stirling

117 min.

Rated 14A

The salesman (Forushande)

Asghar FarhadI’s The salesman is a modern-day tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. The main characters are not Kings and Queens, like in a Shakespeare drama, but ordinary Iranians. To make matters clear, FarhadI has husband and wife Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidootsi) acting in a local production of Arthur Miller’s modern tragedy Death of a salesman. In fact, their life has started to take a downward spiral. They had to flee their apartment building in the middle of the night because it was literally crumbling (the windows were starting to crack). They rent an apartment from a friend who hides the fact that the previous tenant was a prostitute. One day, while in the shower, Rana is attacked by a client of the prostitute. Emad feels totally helpless and angry when he sees his wife so traumatized by the violent attack, and he is consumed with finding the man who did such a terrible assault on her. Just as he did with his two previous films, A separation and Le passé, FarhadI proves to be a masterful storyteller. The screenplay is constantly shifting to different points of view to allow for the maximum dramatic impact and tensions. Likewise, Rana who is understandably emotionally distraught after her ordeal, becomes, by the film’s conclusion, the stronger of the two characters and the moral compass of the film. Both Hosseini and Alidootsi are subtle and minimalist in their approach to acting. There is not an ounce of over acting between them. If FarhadI is a tad less focused here than in his two previous films, he makes up for it with a strong sense of drama and tragedy.

And the Oscar went to… The salesman is Iran’s entry as Foreign language film. It won. But Asghar FarhadI decided to boycott the ceremony when Donald Trump issued a Muslim travel ban involving seven Muslim countries, including Iran. To accept the award FarhadI sent two prominent Iranian-Americans: One of the few female astronaut Anousheh Ansari, and former NASA executive Firouz Naderi. Ansari read a statement from FarhadI. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.” It was the political statement with the strongest impact.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The salesman (Forushande)

Directed by:
Asghar FarhadI

Screenplay by:
Asghar FarhadI

Starring:
Taraneh Alidoosti
Shahab Hosseini
Babak Karimi
Farid Sajjadi Hosseini
Mina Sadati

125 min.

In Persian with English subtitles.