Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti is about Paul Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) left Paris in 1891 in the hopes of coming back a rich man. But soon after he gets there he becomes very sick. The doctor (Malik Zidi) orders him to stop smoking and change his diet. He doesn’t, but instead he falls for a local girl, and with her parents consent, they move together in a small hut. And with her love he is now cured. The girl is known today as Tehura, Tehamana or Teha’amana. In the film she is played by Tuheï Adams. Tehura will become one of Gauguin’s most important Polynesian model. (his painting D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? is thought to be his most beautiful Polynesian work) But Gauguin is unable to sell his paintings and they get so poor that they can’t feed themselves. So he goes to seek work. By that time Tehura is in love with Jotépha (Pua-Taï Hikutini), a boy closer to her age. Gauguin is jealous and he locks her in the house while he’s gone to work. I found the film to be too slow and, beside the splendid French Polynesian landscape, it did not have anything interesting to say. In doing my research I learned that Tehura, who really existed, but in the film is probably a composite of all of Gauguin’s Polynesian “wife”, was only 13 years old, while Gauguin was 43, and all his companions were about the same age. While it is probably consistent with the mores of Tahiti at the time, today that information is not good material for a biopic. The filmmakers knew it and there is no mention of Tehura’s age. Neither did they tell us that Gauguin suffered from syphilis, probably a deadly disease at the time. In the film the disease is diabetes. I found the filmmaker to be dishonest. Was Gauguin a great artist? Yes. Should his paintings be seen by more people? Yes. But there is no reason to mask the truth. We should see a person for what they are and were, warts and all. Plus the film is a bore.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 13 – 22
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/gauguin-voyage-to-tahiti

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

Directed by:
Édouard Deluc

Screenplay by:
Édouard Deluc
Étienne Comar
Thomas Lilti
Sarah Kaminsky

Starring:
Vincent Cassel
Tuheï Adams
Malik Zidi
Pua-Taï Hikutini
Pernille Bergendorff

102 min.

In French and some Polynesian languages with English subtitles

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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

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

This part of the history of World War I has not been told before. It is the story of the women being left behind to manage the family farms. Les gardiennes (based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel) is set in the French countryside where Hortense (a marvelously stone-faced and hardened Natalie Baye) has seen the young men from her family leave to fight “les boches”, as Germans were called by the French (the subtitles reads “krauts”). Both of her sons as well as her daughter’s husband have been conscripted. That means that it’s up to Hortense and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, who is Baye’s daughter) to run the farm, called Le Paridier. Hortense hires a young farm-hand to help with the harvest. 20 years old Francine (Iris Bry, a star in the making) is such a capable hard-worker, that she is offered to stay at the farm indefinitely. The days are long and the work is relentless. Director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and men) shows us every details of the work and we are struck that we forgot how beautiful films can be. At times the men return on leave and the women notice how they have changed. Solange’s husband, Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) declares that the Germans are just like the French, teachers and farmers. “The Germans are people like us,”. When Hortense’s younger son Georges (Cyril Descours) comes home on leave he falls for Francine, and they start a secret relationship. But George has already been promised to Marguerite, a local girl. This and the arrivals of American soldiers will turn things around between Hortense and Francine. Throughout the film I was left breathless by Beauvois and cinematographer Caroline Champetier’s images of stunning landscape. For a war film, the calm and the stillness is a welcomed contrast to the usual horrors of the trenches. The women at home were also heroes, let’s not forget it. Bravo to Baye, Bry, Beauvois and Champetier.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

 

Directed by:
Xavier Beauvois

Screenplay by:
Xavier Beauvois
Marie-Julie Maille
Frédérique Moreau
Based on the novel by Ernest Pérochon

Starring:
Nathalie Baye
Laura Smet
Iris Bry
Cyril Descours
GIlbert Bonneau
Olivier Rabourdin

138 min.

Rated 14A.

In French with English subtitles

The young Karl Marx

After his powerful documentary I am not your negro, Haitian director Raoul Peck seems to be happy taking difficult and arduous topics. Case in point is this biopic about Karl Marx, the father of communism. We first meet journalist Marx (August Diehl) in 1844 at 26, fleeing German censorship to go to Paris. It’s there that Marx and his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) meet Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske). Engels is coming from Manchester, England where he reluctantly helps is father run a textile factory. Engels can see that the workers are exploited, overworked, underpaid and he decries the child labour. at the factory. Together, with the help of Jenny and Engels’ companion, Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), they will write The Communist manifesto. That means lots of meeting with socialist philosophers. Since I know nothing about the birth of the movement, I’ve never heard of them. Two of the most well-known at the time seems to have been Pierre Proudhon and Wilhelm Weitling. The young Karl Marx is a most talkative film. Although the acting from the four leads and the production values are excellent, the subject matter makes this film, unless you are familiar with the subject matter, a bit of a boring affair. Still, it’s intriguing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The young Karl Marx

 

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
Raoul Peck
Pascal Bonitzer

Starring:
August Diehl
Stefan Konarske
Vicky Krieps
Olivier Gourmet
Hannah Steele

118 min.

In German, French and English with English subtitles.

C’est la vie! (Le sens de la fête)

It’s going to be a beautiful day. Pierre and Héléna are getting married. That is if everything goes according to plan. Wedding planner Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) certainly hopes so. It’s a big outfit. A 17th-century castle was rented with the reception is to be held in the garden. A ton of staff has been hired, most of them waiters, but also musicians, sound men, electricians, assistants and a wedding photographer. From the start there are a number of small annoyances. The groom’s prefered wedding singer/DJ cancelled, and Max had to hire DJ James (Gilles Lellouche). But Max’s assistant, Adele (scene-stealer Eye Haidara), cannot stand DJ James, and she has no problem voicing her dislike to his face. Max’s brother-in-law, Julien (Vincent Macaigne), is one of the waiter. Julien recognizes the bride as one of his old girlfriend and remains obsessed by her throughout the reception. The photographer starts eating the food before it is served. As if it was not enough, Max’s personal life is also in shambles. As he is about to divorce, his other assistant but also his mistress, Josiane (Quebec actress Suzanne Clément from Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways and Mommy), threatens to end their relationship and starts flirting with a young waiter in order to make Max jealous. Without telling the staff, Max has been planning to sell the business. He had enough! What I liked about C’est la vie! is that it is unmistakably French. A good ensemble cast, headed by the wonderful Jean-Pierre Bacri and an extremely funny script peppered with just enough magic. This not a masterpiece, but it is worth seeing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

C’est la vie! (Le sens de la fête)

 

Directed by:
Olivier Nakache
Eric Toledano

Screenplay by:
Olivier Nakache
Eric Toledano

Starring:
Jean-Pierre Bacri
Eye Haidara
Gilles Lellouche
Jean-Paul Rouve
Vincent Macaigne
Alban Ivanov
Suzanne Clément

115 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

The death of Stalin

When Joseph Stalin suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1954 he urinated on himself. This is a true historical fact that is taken very lightly by director Armando Iannucci and his team. As Stalin’s associates are gathering around him they try to figure out what to do with him. He’s not dead yet, so they kneel to help him, and of course they kneel in the pee. They step in it or they touch him and retreat in disgust. It’s milked until its last drop. You’ve guessed it, The death of Stalin is a comedy about the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). The labyrinthine script is about the power struggle to take the job of Chairman of Council of ministers of the Soviet Union is lampooned. The next in line is the deputy chairman Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). But Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the Soviet security, sees an opportunity to take control. But Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), then a Stalin adviser, is not happy with Beria (or with anything much). They’re all dumb and/or paranoid, and they hate one another. It’s a great cast but I can’t name all of them here. The most noteworthy are Monty Python’s Michael Palin, Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin, Stalin’s demented son and Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, an aggressive military officer who wants to rule everyone. But the best performances are from Simon Russell Beale who gives the film its early drive, Buscemi who does the same in the second half. The death of Stalin is not always great or even funny. but it is fascinating. There is so many f-bombs it might put some people off. (The last time I’ve heard that many in a film was In the loop also directed by Iannucci) There was a lot of criticism about historical accuracy. Duh! Do I cared? Not really.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The death of Stalin

 

Directed by:
Armando Iannucci

Screenplay by:
Armando Iannucci
David Schneider
Ian Martin
Peter Fellows
Based on the comic book La mort de Staline by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Starring:
Simon Russell Beale
Steve Buscemi
Adrian McLoughlin
Andrea Riseborough
Michael Palin
Jeffrey Tambor
Rupert Friend
Jason Isaacs
Olga Kurylenko
Paul Whitehouse

106 min.

The leisure seeker

At the last Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel offered a Jet Ski to the Oscars winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech. Presenting the Jet Ski like a The price is right model, and obviously having the most fun of the evening, was Dame Helen Mirren. And that’s not all! At the end of the Oscar-cast the Jet Ski was rolled on the stage with the winner (Phantom thread costume designer Mark Bridges) and Dame Helen riding on the Jet Ski. In The leisure seeker Mirren co-stars with Canadian icon Donald Sutherland (their last film together was Bethune: The making of a hero in 1990). They play Ella and John Spencer, an elderly couple (Mirren is 72, Sutherland 82) who decide to run away for a last road trip in their motor home, baptized “The leisure seeker”. They are going across America. They did that without telling their children, Will and Jane (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney). The children are understandably worried since Ella suffers from what we guess is cancer and John has Alzheimer. But Ella and John don’t look too bothered by anything. They’re having a great time. While driving the motor home John, a retired English teacher, constant reciting of Hemingway annoys Ella. Sometimes they park the motor home at camping sites, and at night Ella shows John slides of old family photos. He sometimes remembers, and sometimes not. Often other campers gathers behind them to watch the slides. It’s our collective memories, one’s family being like all families. This is America and when they get robbed, Ella knows how to defend herself. And John goes to a Donald Trump rally. And he likes it. Hey! this a road movie, and like all such films they could be painted by numbers. That is if it wasn’t for the two stars. At first Sutherland plays John as a quiet, withdrawn. And he starts talking, and boy does he talk. Layers upon layers the character becomes more complex. Helen Mirren has played Queens and Shakespearean tragedies, but I’ve never seen her play someone like Ella Spencer. A thick southern accented American with a gun, hopping on a motorbike, holding on to her wig and swearing all the way. This is funny, but also sad. People should not forget that this is a film about two people in love. Their last days, as they say, are numbered. So bring your handkerchief.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The leisure seeker

 

Directed by:
Paolo Virzi

Screenplay by:
Paolo Virzì
Francesca Archibugi
Francesca Piccolo
Stephen Amidon
Based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian

Starring:
Donald Sutherland
Dame Helen Mirren
Christian McKay
Janel Maloney
Dana Ivey

112 min.

Happy end

Those who like Austrian director Michael Haneke’s films will be pleased to see this new film, Happy end. But not everyone will. Haneke brings back the father and daughter characters played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert in his last film, Amour. Huppert plays Anne Laurent, head of the dysfunctional Laurent family. The film starts with 12-year-old Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin) filming her hospitalized mother with a smart phone, in text messages she claims to have poisoned her mother. Eve has to go live with her dad, Anne’s brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), at the family mansion. The whole family lives there: Thomas and his second wife, Anaïs (Laura Verlinden), Anne’s alcoholic son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), and the senile patriarch, George (Jean-Louis Trintignant). An accident at the family owned construction site, during which a worker was killed, sends Pierre into erratic behaviors and drinking binges. Anne does the best she canto help him, but there seems to be nothing she can do. Eve finds out that her father has an internet sadomasochistic sexual relationship with another woman. As for George, he desperately would like to die. That accident he had with a car he’s not allowed to drive only put him in a wheelchair, and when he asks his barber to buy him a gun or some pills, the barber refuses. Haneke’s characters are not really likable, and he makes it harder to read subtitles. When we see text messages, the subtitles appear in very small letters at the bottom of the computer or the smart phone. This a very cynical, slow-moving film. I would describe it as a black drama, a black comedy without much humour. Not for everyone.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Happy end

 

Directed by:
Michael Haneke

Screenplay by:
Michael Haneke

Starring:
Isabelle Huppert
Jean-Louis Trintignant
Mathieu Kassovitz
Toby Jones
Franz Rogowski
Fantine Harduin

115 min.

Rated 14A
.
In French and English with English subtittles.

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

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

120 battements par minute (Beats per minute)

Robin Campillo’s 120 battements par minute opens with a shocking scene. During an intervention by ACT UP Paris at a pharmaceutical conference, the key speaker is splashed by a balloon filled with fake blood and handcuffed. At the next meeting held in a college lecture classroom, those events are discussed and some are pointing fingers at Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, the film’s most accomplished performance), the young man who threw the balloon with fake blood. But Sean is unapologetic, his health is declining and there is no time for diplomacy. At the meetings there are many HIV-positive (called “poz” by the members) gay men, concerned lesbians, straight women and a mother and her poz son. They all have different positions about how to force government and big pharma CEO’s to listen to them. For a while 120 battements par minute feels like a procedural. In addition to the lively meetings, we also witness some interventions/protests. In one of them, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to unleash power) take over the offices of a pharmaceutical company, they confront the employees and spray fake blood on the wall. In another one they go to a school with pamphlets and condoms and demand to speak to the students and even stage a kiss-in. This is the early 1990’s and there was no cure for AIDS yet. So we forget how in-your-face ACT UP was. But some people were dying and there was no time to waste being nice. And then the film gradually veers to the more intimate and personal love story between Sean and Nathan (Arnaud Valois, a young handsome actor who, with Biscayart, is the film’s pulsating heart), a new member of ACT UP. In a long bedroom scene, that is the film’s centrepiece, they make love, they talk about their first love as we flashback to those moments, and they also talk about sex and love. Theirs is a tragic story, and there have been plenty in our collective memories since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. There are some stunning moments of pure magic beauty. During a scene at a disco club, Campillo and Jeanne Lapoirie, his director of photography, let the camera focus on the dust dancing on the dance floor. The dust become cells dancing under the microscope. Or in that extended love-making scene where the camera concentrate on the beautiful naked bodies of two young lovers. If 120 battements par minute can be at times didactic, it is never pretentious. It is a passionate, gut wrenching film about love and death.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

120 battements par minute (Beats per minute)

 

Directed by:
Robin Campillo

Screenplay by:
Robin Campillo
Philippe Mangeot

Starring:
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Arnaud Valois
Adèle Haenel
Antoine Reinartz

140 min.

In French with English subtitles.