Au revoir là-haut (See you up there)

Albert Dupontel’s explosive adaptation of Pierre Lemaitre’s Goncourt-winning novel makes you think you are either watching a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The city of lost children, Amélie, and most blatantly A very long engagement) or reading a comic book (AKA graphic novels). The film’s early scenes are a good cue of we are to expect later. In the World War I trenches, we meet Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel) and Édouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). The sadistic and murderous Lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte) orders an assault and sends his soldiers to battle. What follows is one of most beautifully choreographed war battle. Maillard almost dies but is saved by Péricourt, just before he is hit himself by an explosion. At the hospital, with Maillard at his bedside, Péricourt discovers that he has a gaping hole where his mouth used to be. Unable to sustain the pain and wanting to escape, Péricourt asks his friend to get him some morphine. Maillard steals the morphine anywhere he can. Péricourt is an artist who was disowned be his rich father (the always marvelous Niels Arestrup). He pretends to be dead and spends his days creating a series of colorful and campy masks to hide his disfigurement. To make money Maillard and Péricourt plan to sell phony war monuments to honour the dead soldiers. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pradelle is back and he is as mean as ever. This is a spectacular film with excellent production values. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart spends most of the film behind masks with his voice only coming in growls and grunts. This is impressive mime acting. Au revoir là-haut is not to be taken too seriously and is a lot of fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 12 – 25
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/au-revoir-la-haut

Au revoir là-haut (See you up there)

Directed by:
Albert Dupontel

Screenplay by:
Albert Dupontel and Pierre Lemaitre
Based on the novel by Lemaitre

Starring:
Albert Dupontel
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Laurent Lafitte
Niels Arestrup
Heloïse Balster
Mélanie Thierry
Émilie Dequenne

117 min.

In French with English subtitles

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Call me by your name

And what I’m trying to say isn’t really new
It’s just the things that happen to me
When I’m reminded of you

Is it okay if I call you mine? from the film Fame (1980), music and lyrics by Paul McCrane

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

Plaisir d’amour (1784), music by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, lyrics by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Awards season is near and one of the films that has been on everyone’s lips is Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name. Some people are hoping that Call me by your name is this year’s Moonlight (the film that was eventually named Best picture at the last Oscar cast following a screw up with the envelopes). Moonlight was the first LGBTQ themed film to ever win Best picture, and there’s talk of a repeat in 2017. But will it win? In Call me by your name, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Italian-American, lives in the Italian countryside with his parents. We are in the summer of 1983 and Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, has hired an American student to help him. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome a 24-year-old man with golden hair, comes to stay with them at their beautiful villa in Lombardy. Oliver will sleep in Elio’s room. Although Elio spends some time with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Oliver is seeing a local girl, it soon becomes clear that the young men are attracted to each other. It’s done in small details. When Oliver suddenly touches Elio’s shoulder during a ball game, the teenager’s reaction is to quickly withdraw. But when they are alone, it is Elio’s turn to touch, kiss and grab, and Oliver to hold back. They are both conscious and wary of their feelings. Oliver is ambiguous. He enjoys the game of seduction and the attention, but is also aware of the danger. But what should happen, happens. Call me by your name is actually not as explicit as screenwriter James Ivory originally conceived it. A lot of nudity (read full frontal) was removed at the request of the actors. And then there is a scene of Elio in bed with a peach (yeah, a peach!). There was Marlon Brando and butter in Last tango in Paris, now there is Timothée Chalamet and a peach in Call me by your name. Guadagnino is such an original filmmaker. In Call me by your name he is more concerned with the small gestures, the furtive glances and the tearful face than the long dialogue scenes that will spell everything out for the moviegoers. The way the part is written, it would be almost impossible to play Elio. There are too many things for a young actor to do, too many emotions at once. But Chalamet hits every nails with brilliance make it seems easy, no sweat, and at the end the audience feels emotionally drained. Armie Hammer is Chalamet’s perfect partner, accompanying him, and us in this intense love story. Hammer, like Chalamet, gives a most multi-layered performance. And as Elio’s dad Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a heartfelt speech to help his son cope with his sorrow. The beauty of the Italian landscapes is casually photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom as we go along for a bike ride or for a swim in a river. He knows that however beautiful it is, there is nothing more beautiful than two young lovers.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 23 – 25
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/call-me-by-your-name

Call me by your name

Directed by:
Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by:
James Ivory
Based on the novel by André Aciman

Starring:
Timothée Chalamet
Armie Hammer
MIchael Stuhlbarg
Amira Casar

132 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

Wonderstruck

I was looking forward to see Wonderstruck, the new Todd Haynes film. The last film we saw from him was Carol, and he also directed Far from heaven. Wonderstruck is set in 1977, and it tells the story of a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) shortly after his mom ( if you blink you might miss Michelle Williams) has died in a car crash. Ben, who never knew who his dad was, finds what he thinks are relevant information. But before Ben can do anything, he has an accident that makes him deaf. He then runs away from his guardians in Minnesota and goes to New York in search for his father. Cut to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. Rose (Millicent Simmonds), , a young deaf girl who runs away from her father to go Manhattan. Rose is searching for her favorite silent film actress (Julianne Moore who plays two characters). In 77, Ben meets Jamie (Jaden Michael), another boy who will help Ben find the answers he needs. While the Rose/1927 part of film was shot in black and white and is silent, the Ben/1977 are a full color reconstruction of 1977. You think “How did they do that?”. There are scenes in New York where you can see down a long street, and every car, every costume, the way people walk and smoke is like looking at a photo or a documentary film. I have no way of knowing if special effects were used. Brilliant cinematographer Edward Lachman has matched the style and colors of American cinema of the 1970s. It is impressive.  But the 1927 scenes are a lot less believable. The film is helped greatly by Carter Burwell’s expressive score. I was initially put off by Wonderstruck‘s lack of focus and its inconsistency. Some bit of dialogue and turn of events, at least in the early scenes, seemed to be a bit corny. But ultimately, I was charmed by the whole film because of its innocence and naiveté. I think all, pre-teens, teens and adults, will enjoy it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonderstruck

 

Directed by:
Todd Haynes

Screenplay by:
Brian Selznick
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Millicent Simmonds
Oakes Fegley
Julianne Moore
MIchelle Williams

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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

 

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.

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.

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

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.

Frantz

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Paul Verlaine, Chanson d’automne, 1866

François Ozon’s Frantz is a rare film that touch you more by what is unsaid than by the what is onscreen. In 1919, Anna (beautiful and talented Paula Beer), a young German woman, visits the grave of her dead fiancé. Frantz was killed during the war, and Anna still lives with his parents. Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber) are very fond of Anna and would like her to find another suitor. But she misses him too much, and, like the Hoffmeisters, is still in mourning. One day Anna learns that a strange young man has been visiting the grave and leaving flowers. When she meets him she finds out that he’s French and that he wants to meet Frantz‘s parents. But that’s easier said than done. After a bloody war, there are a lot of anti-French sentiments in Germany. Not surprisingly Hans and Madga are reluctant to talk to him. But they do. His name is Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) and, he claims, he met Frantz in Paris before the war where they were both studying. He is overcome by emotions and starts to cry when he tells Anna and the Hoffmeisters how close he and Frantz were. In a flashback we see Frantz and Adrien visiting the Louvre. For that sequence, Ozon shifts from black & white to color. It is an idealized version of what happened. As if Adrien had romanticized the memories. Those “memories” of Frantz are painted with small touches of homoeroticism. Whatever reluctance the Hoffmeisters had is put aside as Adrien wins their affections. A scene where Adrien plays music on Frantz’s violin, also goes from black & white to color. Now it is Frantz’s parents who are trying to live through an idealized and colorized world, a world where everything is right again. Every characters in Frantz is living a lie, or rather a in make-believe world, the construct of their own fears and desires. This is at a their time when romantic ideas and ideals were the norms. They covered the truths to feel better, often without realizing it. Or they did, as Anna does, to avoid causing pain to their loved ones. And Adrien? You have to read between the lines to decipher Adrien’s truths. Every one will have their own interpretation. Pierre Niney is having fun playing a romantic, delicate young man who may also be a liar. Or is he telling the truth? We can never tell. That’s what I love about Frantz. It is a complex quagmire of unconscious desires. Frantz is a masterpiece.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Frantz

Directed by:
François Ozon

Screenplay by:
François Ozon
Philippe Piazzo
Based on Maurice Rostand’s play L’homme que j’ai tué and the Ernst Lubitsch film Broken lullaby

Starring:
Paula Beer
Pierre Niney
Ernst Stötzner
Marie Gruber
Anton von Lucke

113 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In German and French with English subtitles.