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.

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.

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.

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

Although The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki is not a really a biopic, it is the story of Finnish boxer Olli Mäki in 1962 as prepares to fight American champion Davey Moore for the World featherweight title. The film covers the few weeks of preparations and training before the match. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) has to travel from his home town of Kokkola to Helsinki. His girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), travels with him. From the start Olli has to deal with the considerable demands of his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff). Elis keeps shoving a series of promotional photo shoots and a documentary crew at Olli. Most of the time he pushes Raija aside so that Olli will take photos with models. There are other problems. Olli Mäki was a lightweight, and in order compete as a featherweight he has to lose some weight. In the two weeks before the fight, we see Olli going through lengthy sauna sessions with his clothes on. When he comes out, his clothes are drained with sweat and he’s barely able to walk. We also see him make himself vomit. Frustrated by the treatment she gets from Elis, Raija returns to Kokkola. But Olli loves her, and when he tries to phone her, Elis berates him and mocks his attachment to small town folks. Olli Mäki (who today is 80 years old) is a simple man in love with a girl. I was won over by the charm of this film. It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. Filmed in grainy black-and-white with a handheld camera as a way to announce its “no fuss“ approach to filmmaking. The acting is realistic and the dialogue seems to be improvised. The two leads are lovely. With his roughed up appearance, Lahti is perfectly cast. But we don’t foresee the emotional impact he carries with him. From the start we are rooting for Raija. That is because Oona Airola is really the heart of the film. That leaves Milonoff as Elis Ask. Well, he is so effectively detestable that I felt I wanted to kick him in the teeth. A simple, lovely little film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

 

Directed by:
Juho Kuosmanen

Screenplay by:
Juho Kuosmanen
Mikko Myllyalahti

Starring:
Jarkko Lahti
Oona Airola
Eero Milonoff
John Bosco Jr.

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Finnish and Swedish with English subtitles.

Tanna

Imagine Romeo and Juliet set among the Yakel tribes of the island of Tanna in the small nation of Vanuatu. The tribe people speak a rare dialect called Nivhaal, and, except for the grass-skirts that the women wear and the penis-sheaths for the men, they are naked. What is most extraordinary about Tanna is that Australian directors, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean have based their Romeo and Juliet on real events that happened to that tribe 30 years ago. Some of the non-actors in the film are playing their own role. You understand that it is about two doomed lovers. Teenagers Wawa (Marie Wawa) and Dain (Mungau Dain) are in love. The handsome Dain is the grandson of the Yakel chief, and returning to the village after an absence, he reconnects with his childhood crush Wawa. The whole thing is observed by Wawa’s little sister Selin (Marceline Rofit). Selin is a bit of a pest, asking Wawa what is happening (even though she knows that her sister is in love with Dain), following her sister, spying on her. Selin is also able to run barefoot through the jungle faster than most people. Marceline Rofit’s fierce running is reminiscent of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beast of the southern wild. When the sister’s grandfather is attacked by members of a rival tribe, Selin runs to the village to tell them what she saw. After the grandfather dies, a meeting between the two tribes is set to arrange a peaceful truce. To make peace a marriage is arranged between Wawa and the son of the chief the rival tribe. The two lovers escape from the village to avoid being separated. This angers the rival tribe and puts their tribe in danger. Mixing documentary and fiction film techniques is nothing new. The films of Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the north in 1922 or Man of Aran in 1934) are good example. But this was a long time ago. The genre has been dead for quite some time. The cast is entirely made of non-professional tribe people, and they are filmed in their natural habitat, doing the things they probably do every days. It is their rituals, their dances and their chants. There is a minimum of artificiality, if any. It is real. That is maybe why there is not a bad actor among them. They are not acting. And the people are charming. Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain make a lovely couple. But as Salin Marceline Rofit steals the movie. That only would be enough to see the film. The breathtaking landscapes, magnificently photographed by director Bentley Dean, who does double duty as cinematographer, is another reason. Tanna is a beautiful, charming and compelling film. A pure joy.

And the Oscar went to… The Australian entry for Best foreign language film, Tanna made the final list of five films to compete on Oscar night. It is strong enough to have won. But Iran’s The salesman was the winner.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Tanna

 

Directed by:
Martin Butler
Bentley Dean

Screenplay by:
Martin Butler
Bentley Dean

Starring:
Mungau Dain
Marie Wawa
Marceline Rofit
Albi Nangia

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Nivhaal with English subtitles.

The commune (Kollektivet)

In 1995, Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg wrote and co-signed the Dogme 95 manifesto. Beside a lengthy, long-winded text, there were a set of vows that ruled the way the two directors, and their followers, were to make movies. These are the rules:

1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be
brought in (if a prop is necessary to the story, a location must be
chosen where the prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the image, or vice
versa (music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is
being shoot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility
attainable in the hand is permitted.
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there
is too little light for exposure, the scene must be cut, or a single
lamp may be attached to the camera.)
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film must be Academy 35mm.
10. The director must not be credited.

The Dogme 95 experiment lasted ten years in which 35 film were made worldwide. But from their first films, both von Trier and Vinterberg admit that they never followed the rules entirely. Today, Vinterberg makes films that are far removed from his Dogme years. The commune stars Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen as Anna and Erik, and Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen as their teenage daughter Freja. After moving in the estate inherited from Erik’s dead father, Anna proposes that they start a commune. It’s clear that Erik is reluctant and only accept in the hope of saving his crumbling marriage. Soon, they welcome a few friends and some other people they have interviewed. Freja goes through the whole affair with a WTF look on her face. But it gets worse when she walks in on her dad and his mistress, a young student called Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Then Erik tells Anna about the affair, and announces that he wants Emma to move in with them and be part of the commune. That’s when Anna starts coming apart. She drinks more and her job as a popular TV news anchor is in jeopardy. As for 14 years old Freja, she has sex with an older boy from school. The commune has a bit of a mocking, satirical tone. When the members  have a meeting, it seems more like an excuse to drink beers. Then the usual “commune” stuff happens. They speak ad nauseam, drink more beers, make a democratic decision by vote, drink some more, and everybody goes skinny dipping. In the early scenes The commune is quite funny, until it becomes a family drama. It is surprising how much Vinterberg has veered from Dogme. You could not get a more conventional looking film. Vinterberg even inserts some pop music songs from the 70s. One thing is sure. One cannot be cynical about Trine Dyrholm’s performance as Anna. It is an impressive exploration of traumatic depression. Otherwise, The commune is too conventional to be interesting. It is quite ordinary.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The commune (Kollektivet)

 

Directed by:
Thomas Vinterberg

Screenplay by:
Tobias Lindholm
Thomas Vinterberg

Starring:
Ulrich Thomsen
Trine Dyrholm
Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen
Helene Reingaard Neumann
Fares Fares
Julie Agnete Vang
Lars Ranthe

111 min.

Rated 18A

In Danish with English subtitles.

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) lives with his depressed wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), and his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) in a small Romanian town. Graduation begins with a rock being thrown through a window of their apartment. This the first of unexplained vandalism made on Romeo’s properties. On that day he drives Eliza to school, where she is supposed to take her final exams, before he goes to the hospital for his shift. Once there though he learns that Eliza has been assaulted. While Romeo is working with the police to find the assailant, he’s most sorry that she missed her exam. He tries to fix that by making some “arrangements” with the Exam committee president and other officials at school, not realizing (or not caring) that those men may be corrupt. To one man he even promises an easier organ transplant. Romeo also takes care of his ailing mother. And once in a while Romeo finds the time to visit his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici). Things gets more problematic when inspectors come to the hospital to ask him questions. This is an intriguing film. But it is made of a series of longish conversations that are meant to show Romeo’s ability to have easy access to special treatments. And though Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus are excellent and the tension and suspense are maintained, at over 2 hours Graduation is too long. Still, it is intriguing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

 

Directed by:
Cristian Mungiu

Screenplay by:
Cristian Mungiu

Starring:
Adrian Titieni
Maria-Victoria Dragus
Lia Bugnar
Rare Andrici
Malina Manovici
Vlad Ivanov

128 min.

In Romanian with English subtitles.

The wedding plan (Laavor et hakir)

A month before the wedding, Michal (Noa Koller), a Ultra-Orthodox Jewish 32-year-old woman, is jilted by her fiancé. It’s just a small thing, the fiancé says. He then announces that he does not love her. Michal is heartbroken. Everything was booked and she had her wedding dress, so instead of cancelling the wedding, Michal decides to try to find a husband and leave it in the hand of God. The plan is to be married by Hannukah. But Michal is a bit obese so she does not have suitors lining up to marry her. Those she meets are of the bizarre type. There is a deaf psychoanalyst and a man who refuses to look at her. When one asks the reason she wants to meet him, She answers “Despair”. Most men would run away when they learn what Michal’s job is. She own a mobile petting zoo. When she travels to a shrine to pray, Michal unexpectedly meets handsome Israeli pop star named Yos (handsome Israeli pop star Oz Zehavi). When he learns of her quest for a husband, Yos seems to find the idea intriguing. He would certainly be an unlikely candidate. If I was first amused by The wedding plan, soon I became annoyed by the central character. Despite Noa Koller’s comic talent, I found Michal to be indecisive and Rama Burshtein’s writing repetitive. Although there are some good things, this film has a lot of flaws.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The wedding plan (Laavor et hakir)

 

Directed by:
Rama Burshtein

Screenplay by:
Rama Burshtein

Starring:
Noa Koller
Amos Ramam
Oz Zehavi

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

The lost city of Z

With a title like The lost city of Z you could expect a cheesy American adventure movie pilling up the clichés. But The lost city of Z is actually a very good biopic about British explorer Percy Fawcett. Earlier in the film, Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) learns that his career in the Royal Artillery is probably at a standstill because of his now deceased father’s drinking and gambling behaviours. In 1905 Royal geographical society asks Fawcett to travel to the jungle between Bolivia and Brazil to map the area. That meant leaving his loving wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his two years old son Jack at home. Coming along with him Corporal Henry Costing (an underperforming Robert Pattinson) and Corporal Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley). Fawcett also recruits some native guides. This is a dangerous trip with the group being attacked by jungle natives with arrows and piranhas infested waters. In the middle of the jungle makes an archeological discovery that makes him believe in the old theory that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region. Back in Britain, his theories are laughed at by some, but embraced by others. James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) was rich and considered himself to be an explorer. He proposed to finance the next expedition, as long as he can join them. But Murray is too fat and becomes a nuisance. There were seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. They were briefly interrupted by World war II. Fawcett’s oldest son Jack followed his father on the last expedition. This is a fascinating true life adventure film. Except from a few scenes (Nina wanting to go along with her husband, reasoning that they are equals is cute but doubtful), most of it is true. Charlie Hunnam is giving one of those grand bravura performance that is very rare. I would call it sensible machismo. Darius Khondji’s cinematography shows the beauty, darkness and dangers of the jungle. It just looks great. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lost city of Z

 

Directed by:
James Gray

Screenplay by:
James Gray
Based on the book by David Grann

Starring:
Charlie Hunnam
Robert Pattinson
Sienna Miller
Edward Ashley
Tom Holland
Angus Macfadyen
Ian McDiarmid

141 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German with English subtitles.

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker is considered one of the most important expressionist and the first female painter to have a museum devoted to her work. Carla Juri plays Modersohn-Becker as a young woman who is bursting with joy. This is the 1890s in Worpswede, Germany, where Paula went to study painting. Her teacher was Fritz Mackensen (Nicki von Tempelhoff), who taught the “proper” way to hold the brush and the “proper” way to paint a basket of fruits. Paula did not follow any of those instructions. She’d hit her canvas with the brush, or scratch it, and I don’t know what else, to paint the most beautifully unconventional baskets of fruits. Mackensen, who believed women could only bear children, did not like Paula or her paintings. Mackensen liked to paint the perfect lines of the perfect hat worn by the perfect woman with the perfect waistline and the perfect life. Paula Modersohn-Becker went out of her way to find imperfect, poor, fat, old people, who sometimes posed naked for her. Fritz Mackensen hated Paula Modersohn-Becker. But Paula found other allies in Worpswede. Many other artists had followed Mackensen there. Worpswede had become an art colony where she met and befriended sculptor Clara Westhoff (Roxane Duran). At a time where women were expected to behave and not make too much noise, Paula and Clara would have none of those rules. They loudly laughed hysterically, uncontrollably, all the time. And Paula fell in love and married painter Otto Modersohn (Albrecht Abraham Schuch). Otto’s first wife had died while giving birth to a daughter. Because of that the marriage between Otto and Paula was unconsummated for several years. Otto was afraid that Paula would also die in childbirth. A frustrated Paula goes to Paris to study at L’École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris there is Clara studying with Rodin. Back in Worpswede, Otto is being pressured by his friends to bring Paula back. Either that or have her committed to an asylum, says Fritz Mackensen. In Paris, Paula is behaving in erratic ways, but producing a great amount of beautiful masterpieces. The exquisite production values brought on by director Christian Schwochow’s team is one of the great pleasures in this film. The work of cinematographer Frank Lamm who lets the sun shine on the bright colors of the clothes, sets and those colourful Paula Modersohn-Becker paintings. But it is actress Carla Juri who is a joy for us to discover. Juri plays through sustained jolts of raw energy, that I am not sure every audience members will be able to enjoy. But this is highly original acting for a highly original character. Carla Juri lets us see the madness coming through the joy and laughter. A great performance.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

Directed by:
Christian Schwochow

Screenplay by:
Stefan Kolditz
Stephan Suschke

Starring:
Carla Juri
Albrecht Abraham Schuch
Roxan Duran
Joel Basman
Stanley Weber
Nick von Tempelhof

123 min.

Rated 14A

In German and French with English subtitles.