The midwife (Sage femme)

At 73, Catherine Deneuve is still stunning us with those gutsy performances film after film. In Sage femme, Deneuve co-stars alongside Catherine Frot. Frot plays Claire, a compassionate and devoted midwife. Warm and emotionally invested when she’s helping women giving birth, Claire is cold and distant in private. Then one day she gets a phone call from Béatrice (Deneuve). Béatrice was Claire’s stepmom more than 30 years ago. But Béatrice is the last person Claire wants to see. Béatrice caused a great pain to Claire’s dad when she left him without warning or explanations, so Claire is understandably resentful. At the first meeting, Claire tells Béatrice to leave her alone, she does not want her back in her life. But Béatrice won’t be so easily dismissed. Then Claire learns that Béatrice has a brain cancer. Now Claire feels she has to help Béatrice. But Béatrice is a mess. She smokes too much, drinks too much and should not eat red meat, according to Claire. Beside that, Béatrice is a compulsive gambler. You see her going to some seedy poker game, actually winning a lot of money. When Claire disapproves, Béatrice tells her to leave her be, she wants to live. And Béatrice starts rubbing off on Claire, who finds something she had denied herself for far too long : love. Claire boyfriend’s name is Paul (Olivier Gourmet). The fun of a film like Sage femme is to watch those two brilliant French actresses together. Catherine Frot’s precise, almost clinical acting, contrasts Deneuve’s impulsiveness. Every thing her character does seem to happen suddenly, as if Deneuve was improvising. It is real, she’s the real deal. Sage femme is also notable for beautiful, most realistic births I have ever seen in a fiction film. It makes you want to live life to the fullest.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The midwife (Sage femme)

 

Directed by:
Martin Provost

Screenplay by:
Martin Provost

Starring:
Catherine Deneuve
Catherine Frot
Olivier Gourmet
Quentin Dolmaire
Mylène Demongeot

117 min.

In French with English subtitles.

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Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus)

Paris pieds nus is one of the most charming and inventive comedy I have ever seen. It’s certainly this year’s funniest film. It stars the husband-and-wife clown-like comedy duo Abel and Gordon. Fiona Gordon (who would be physically perfect as Olive Oyl, the character from the old Popeye cartoons) is an Australian-born Canadian, and her partner, Dominique Abel is from Belgium. Gordon plays a Canadian named Fiona who leaves her cold and snowy Canadian town to go help her aunt Martha in Paris. Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva, who died this year, a few weeks before her 90th birthday) is afraid that soon, at 88, she’ll be sent to a retirement home. But once Fiona arrives at her aunt’s apartment, she’s not there. That leaves Fiona with no place to stay. And then it gets worst when the accident-prone Fiona falls into the Seine and looses her backpack, her money, her passport and her cell phone. But nothing is ever lost in Paris pieds nus. Everything is re-used for maximum comedy effect. The backpack (with the money and the passport inside) are found by homeless man Dom (Dominique Abel). Later there is a chance meeting between the two and we also discover what happened to Martha. Paris pieds nus is full of little physical-comedy bits that might recall Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. And it also the clever turns, the esthetics and the French charm akin to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films. I laughed out loud at the scenes of Martha French-kissing her much younger neighbour. Another moment shows Fiona and Dom sleeping in their respective beds, in split-screens, having an erotic dream about each other. His movements are choreographed with hers, at times her mouth is juxtaposed with his feet, and so forth. It manages to be very funny and poetic. But the whole film is like that. It’s all perfectly performed by Abel and Gordon, who not only play the leads but, have directed, written and co-produced the film. It certainly seems as if the late Emmanuelle Riva had a great time. It was a rare comedy appearance for the French cinema legend and she is wonderful. And as an added bonus, we get another legend: Pierre Richard playing an old friend/lover. Riva and Richard dance a soft-shoe routine together. But long before that I had already fallen in love with Paris pieds nus. And I hope you will as well.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus)

 

Directed by:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon

Screenplay by:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon

Starring:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon
Emmanuelle Riva
Pierre Richard

83 min.

In English and French with English subtitles.

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.

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.

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.

Personal shopper

The last Olivier Assayas’s film was Clouds of Sils Maria. It starred Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. Stewart was so good that she won the Best supporting actress at the César. But if you have seen the young American star in her best films (see Still Alice), you know that with small nuanced details she can sketch quite a variety of characters and emotions. In Personal shopper she is Maureen, a young American woman living in Paris. She travels all over Europe buying haute couture clothes for high-profile celebrities. One of her client is French model Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), whom Maureen seldom sees. She just drops by Kyra’s apartment to deliver the clothes. A sort of lost soul, Maureen is waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother, Lewis, who according to Maureen was an amateur medium. He died in France, and somehow Maureen feels she can’t move on unless she gets a sign. So Maureen spends her free time sleeping at Lewis’s house in the hopes that he will reach her beyond death. Lewis is not there, but other ghosts are coming to haunt her at night. And those ghosts also seems to be following her wherever she goes. Or is that her imagination? Then Maureen starts getting weird text messages from a person who refuses to name him/herself. That person is asking too many questions, daring her to wear the clothes she just bought for Kyra. Maureen knows that she is not allowed to do that, but she finds it too hard to resist. She plays along, until one night… I must stop before I reveal too much. Personal shopper is intriguing, but not entirely satisfying. It is slow and a bit depressing. The ghosts special effects are quite good. They are a scary, quiet and calming presence. One thing is sure: Kristen Stewart is quite extraordinary. She’s almost in every scenes in the movie, in every shot. But most importantly, Maureen is, at times, almost a like monologue. Kristen Stewart’s talent is undeniable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Personal shopper

Directed by:
Olivier Assayas

Screenplay by:
Olivier Assayas

Starring:
Kristen Stewart
Lars Eidinger
Sigrid Bouaziz
Anders Danielsen Lie

105 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Spanish with English subtitles.

Oscar nominated animated shorts 2016

I found this year’s Oscar nominated animated shorts to be a mixed bag. Some are great, others are OK. And I found one of them dreadful. Even so, it still interested to see and judge for ourself. Like in previous years, the five nominated films are not long enough for a feature-length program. Three films have been added, two of them were among the ten films on Oscar’s short list but did not make the final pick as a nominee. So here it goes.

Borrowed time (Nominee)
An old West sheriff on the decline revisits the past atop a mountain. Strong contender. Computer animation. 7 min.

Pearl (Nominee)
A girl and her dad and their car. Later on she gets to drive the car, own it and live her own life. Well drawn but short on plot. 6 min.

Piper (Winner)
Canadian director Alan Barillaro’s Pixar/Disney amazing computer animated short a cute baby shorebirds trying to find food on a beach. At 6 minutes it is too short. More please!

Blind Vaysha (Nominee)
A girl who sees the past with one eye and the future with the other. She never sees the present. The usual from Canada’s National film board. A bit boring. 8 min.

The head vanishes (Among the ten films on Oscar’s short list)
An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer and dementia is walking around without a head. A Canada (National film board) and France co-production. 9 min.

Asteria
Two astronauts are ready to plant a flag on a newly discovered planet. But some other species got there before them, Much fun. 5 min.

Once upon a line (Among the ten films on Oscar’s short list)
A man who lives in a black line world comes across a lady from a pink line universe. Chaos follows. Clever. 7 min.

(Please note, this is the last film in the programme and is NOT suitable for young children. A warning card will advise parents prior to the start of this short.)

Pear cider and cigarettes (Nominee)
Canadian animator Robert Valley’s tale of his alcoholic friend Techno Stypes and his health problems. At 35 minutes it is too long and repetitive. Simply dreadful. Does not belong among the nominees.

And the Oscar went to … I predicted that Piper would win, and it did. Sometimes you get it, others you don’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oscar nominated animated shorts 2016

Directed by:
Theodore Ushev
Andrew Coats
Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Patrick Osborne
Alan Barillaro
Franck Dion
Lola Grand
Alexandre Arpentinier
Mathieu Blanchys
Tristan Lamarca
Thomas Lemaille
Jean-Charles Lusseau
Alicja Jasina
Robert Valley

86 min.

Rated 14A

Oscar nominated Live Action shorts 2016

Like every year the Oscar nominated Live Action shorts 2016 showcase offers short fiction films on a variety of topics. Really the best in international films. Some years from now, some of those short film directors may have a significant career in feature films. Those five films are all excellent.

From Hungary Mindenki (Sing). Zsófi is the new girl at school and dreams of joining the choir. But she is heartbroken by what the teacher is asking her to do. In Hungarian with English subtitles. 25 min.

From Denmark Silent nights. A volunteer at a Danish homeless shelter has an affair with a Ghanian refugee. They are surrounded by racism. In English, Danish and Ghanian dialect with English subtitles. 30 min.

El corredor (Timecode) from Spain. A clever comedy about two parking-garage security guards and dancing at work. In Spanish with English subtitles. 15 min.

France’s Ennemis interieurs (Enemies within). An Algerian-French man has to through a difficult interrogation and prodding questions by a young inspector in order to obtain a passport. In French with English subtitles. 28 min.

La femme et la TGV (The railroad lady) is from Switzerland. Stars Jane Birkin as an elderly woman who receives an unexpected letter from a high-speed train engineer. In French with English subtitles. 30 min.

And the Oscar went to… Sing won. All the nominees were good, so it was a good choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oscar nominated Live Action shorts 2016

Directed by:
Selim Aazzazi
Aske Bang
Kristof Deak
Juanjo Giménez Peña
Timo von Gunten

132 min.

Rated 14A