Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2009
(March 5th - March 15th, 2009)
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Paris 36 (*Opening Night Film*)
Directed by Christophe Barratier.
In 1939, Germain Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot) works as the stage manager of the Chansonia music hall located in a work-class suburb of Paris. The Chansonia, though, has been suffering financially and eventually goes out of business. When the leftist Popular Front gained strength as part of the government of Léon Blum, France’s new Prime Minister, Pigoil pursuades Milou (Clovis Cornillac), Jacky (Kad Merad) and Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) to help him to re-open the music hall. Meanwhile, Pigoil’s wife, Viviane (Elisabeth Vitali), runs off with his son, Jojo (Maxence Perrin), who plays an accordian. In another subplot, a sexy dancer, Douce (Nora Arnezeder), auditions and wows everyone, especially with her beautiful looks and singing, which leads to many stares from the men and astonishes audiences. Soon enough, she boosts Chansonia’s business. Writer/director Christophe Barratier, who also directed the delightful, charming and engrossing film The Chorus, doesn’t quite blend the genres of drama, musical numbers, tragedy and comedy with much success and fluidity here. The plot often feels chaotic and scattershot with brief moments of liveliness only during some of the song and, later, the dance numbers. None of the characters truly stand out with the exception of Douce and the underused Pierre Richard who plays Monsieur TSF, an elderly, recluse man, so that makes it difficult to truly care about their dreams, desires, problems or anything else that they struggle through for that matter. On a positive note, the cinematography, costume and set designs all look exquisite and full of life, much unlike anyone onscreen. A much more engrossing and enchanting period piece about a re-opening of a performance hall is Mrs. Henderson Presents which never had a dull moment thanks to its genuinely tender, witty and sharp screenplay. Paris 36, on the other hand, despite its impressive production design and lively cinematography, feels mostly bland, uneven and contrived with only a few fleeting moments of palpable charm, poignancy and vivacity. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens April 3rd, 2009 at the Paris Theatre and Regal Union Square 14.
35 Shots of Rum
Directed by Claire Denis.
Joséphine (Mati Diop) lives with her father, Lionel (Alex Descas), a train driver, and share strong bond as father and daughter. Lionel lives in the same apartment building as his ex-girlfriend, Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue) and a friend named Noe (Grégoire Colin), who's romantically interested in Joséphine. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by The Cinema Guild. Opens September 16th, 2009 at the Film Forum.
Directed by Samuel Collardeys.
15-year-old Mathieu (Mathieu Bulle) struggles to adjust to life on a family-run farm where he gradually forms a bond with its owner, Paul (Paul Barbier), who teaches him how to work there. No distributor, yet.
The Beaches of Agnès
Directed by Agnès Varda.
This lively, witty and fascinating documentary serves as an autobiography of the life of French film director Agnès Varda who has been making films for over fifty years. Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens July 1st, 2009 at the Film Forum.
Directed by Agnès Varda.
Paul Bellamy (Gérard Depardieu), a police commissioner, spends his vacation with his wife, Françoise (Marie Bunel), at her family's home in Nîmes where Jacques (Clovis Cornillac), his younger brother, unexpectedly arrives, as well as Noël Gentil (Jacques Gamblin), a strange man who might have something to do with the disappearance of man named Emile Leullet.
The Girl on the Train
Directed by André Téchiné.
In French with subtitles. Based on a true story and the play "RER" by Jean-Marie Besset. Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), an unemployed young woman, resides with her widowed mother, Louise (Catherine Deneuve), at suburban home in the outskirts of Paris, and spends her time rollerblading through the streets. Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), her mother’s former lover who works as a lawyer and Jewish activist, agrees to help Jeanne find a secretarial job. One day, as she’s shopping for a suitcase, Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a young man aspiring to become a wrestler, not only convinces the salesman to bring the price down but agrees to pay for it as well and asks her out for a coffee date. Soon enough, the two fall in love with one another and, not surprisingly, Jeanne’s mother doesn’t seem quite fond or trustworthy of Franck. Little does Jeanne know about how Franck’s involvement in the drug trade will get him into serious trouble that risks his life. In a subplot, Jeanne slashes her face on other parts of her body to falsely claim that she was attacked by anti-Semites on a train. This particular deceit makes her seem mentally unbalanced, naïve, and hard to trust as a protagonist in the eyes of the audience. The screenplay by director/co-writer André Téchiné weaves together the increasingly troublesome relationship between Jeanne and Franck as well as Jeanne’s lie about the attack. Although the intricate plot as whole has some intense and provocative moments, it too often gyrates back and forth between the two subplots in such a way that its momentum and, ultimately, its plausibility, diminishes, therefore making it hard to feel truly immersed and engrossed in the life of Jeanne or to care about what happens to her for that matter. Unfortunately, the third act comes across rather contrived, lazy and leaves you underwhelmed. On a positive note, Émilie Dequenne gives a charming, radiant performance as the sexy Jeanne and helps keeps you mildly engaged whenever she’s onscreen. The same can be said for the reliable-as-always Catherine Deneuve who adds some gravitas. Ronit Elkabetz is terrific in a support role as Samuel’s Orthodox former daughter-in-law. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, The Girl on the Train lacks sufficient focus, plausibility and an emotional core despite being provocative with a terrific ensemble cast and Émilie Dequenne’s charming, radiant performance. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Strand Releasing. Opens January 22nd, 20010 at the IFC Center and City Cinemas 1,2,3.
Directed by Martin Provost.
In French and German with subtitles. Based on a true story. During the early 20th Centuty, Séraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau), a middle-aged aspiring painter, works as a housekeeper in the small town of Senlis outside of Paris. When she’s not cleaning, sweeping or serving tea, she’s wandering out to observe nature while gathering a variety of ingredients to turn into paint. The ingredients include animal blood, soil and oil from candles. At night, she spends her time painting on huge canvases. One day, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German art critic and collector, notices her paintings and decides to buy them. He encourages her to paint more paintings with such vivid colors that come to life. Soon enough, World War I separates Wilhelm and Séraphine, but they reunite after the war. As he helps her to gain both fame and wealth, she suffers from a mental breakdown that eventually leads her into a mental institution. If only the character of Séraphine would come to life as much as her painting so, then the drama would be much more engrossing. Director/co-writer Martin Provost offers too little insight into the mind of Séraphine. You get to watch her painting along with others’ reactions to her paintings, yet she still remains at an emotional distance emotional from the viewer. Many scenes tend to drag a bit with sluggish pacing that end up making your eyelids feel heavier rather than keeping you wide awake and truly captivated. On a positive note, Provost includes beautiful cinematography with exquisite set and costume designs that add authenticity. Yolande Moreau, the heart and soul of the film, gives a strong and sensitive performance as she sinks into the role of the titular character with ease. It’s not as memorable a performance as that of other actresses who played painters, such as Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in Frida, but at least it helps to slightly invigorate the film. At an excessive running time of 126 minutes, Séraphine boasts a raw and convincing performance by Yolande Moreau along with exquisite cinematography, but it often drags and suffers from lack of insight into the life and mind of Séraphine which keeps it from being an emotionally resonating experience.Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Music Box Films. Opens June 5th, 2009 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.