French Rendez-Vous 2019: “Lady J”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival at Lincoln Center in New York City screened a diverse variety of recent French films. The selections covered contemporary issues like terrorism, PTSD, unemployment and opioids.

The Rendez-Vous opened with “The Trouble with You” (“En Liberte!”), another clever, very well acted comedy from Pierre Salvadori with well written, very different characters. Yvonne (Adele Haenel), a police inspector, discovers that her late husband, also on the force, sent an innocent man (Pio Marmai) to prison. The prison sentence has turned the man violent. After his release Yvonne follows him, hoping to prevent further trouble for him with the law, leading to very humorous complications. Audrey Tautou plays the former prisoner’s partner.

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Adele Haenel and Pio Marmai in “The Trouble with You”

“Girls of the Sun” intensely depicts an all-female group of resistance fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. In “Maya” director Mia Hansen-Love sensitively follows a traumatized war journalist (Roman Kolinka) who travels to India for a change in routine and bonds with his godfather’s alienated daughter (Aaarshi Banerjee).

“Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain”) was an audience favorite, a very funny comedy with a top cast about an unemployed man (Mathieu Almaric, “Ismael’s Ghosts”) who joins a male synchronized swimming team and bonds with the other members (including Guillaume Canet and Jean-Hugues Anglade).

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“Sink or Swim”

The very poignant “Amanda” was a stand-out selection. A young man (Vincent Lacoste) starting to figure out his life in contemporary Paris is forced by a tragedy to become a potential guardian for his 7-year-old niece.

Future blogs will discuss these films and others in more detail.

My favorite of the 15 films I saw, “Mademoiselle de Joncquieres” (“Lady J”), is now showing on Netflix and is loosely based on an 18th century book by Denis Diderot. “Lady J”, written by its director Emmanuel Mouret, is full of sharp, witty dialog that helps make the film supremely entertaining.

The widowed Madame de La Pommeraye (Cecile de France, “The Kid with a Bike”) jokes with Marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer) about his libertine past, saying a large list of aristocratic women is “a small sample of your collection”.

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Cecile de France and Edouard Baer in “Lady J”

Believing he has changed, Madame falls under the charms of the Marquis and they become involved, staying in her chateau. After making trips to Paris, The Marquis admits his is ready to move on. Madame concocts a plan of revenge involving a mother and daughter (Natalia Dontcheva and Alice Isaaz) with aristocratic pedigree, but with a hidden past.

Led by Cecile de France, the cast has a genuine flair for the clever, as well as the more serious dialog. De France is also superb in showing how her character hides the pain and vulnerability caused by her deep feeling for the Marquis. She confides her true self only to her friend (Laure Calamy). Madame’s intricate scheme for vengeance keeps the film absorbing, providing surprises for all the characters. Her anger is mixed with a sense of justice at the treatment of women by men.

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Cecile de France in “Lady J”

The film is well-paced by director Emmanuel Mouret. The stylish costumes and elaborate settings add to the sense of aristocratic excess. The outdoor cinematography is particularly notable.

Director Emmanuel Mouret was at the Rendez-Vous in New York City. He said that the film “Lady J” asks “What is Love?”

He wanted a “different feel” from this adaptation which “comes from a playful novel” that “makes you think while having fun”. He described the story as “Fantastic …  devilish”. He spoke of working with the “sophisticated French text” having “dialog and psychology from before the French Revolution.”

He spent a lot of time in casting which certainly paid off. Of his actors, he said that Edouard Baer speaks like his character. Cecile de France didn’t come to his mind at first for the leading role. After her first reading his changed his mind as she “invested herself” in her part.

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Emmanuel Mouret at Rendez_Vous

He compared his film with “Dangerous Liaisons” which was based on another 18-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. He said that the “common points” were “the manipulator/man seduces women”, but that unlike “Liaisons”, in “Lady J”, the “seducer is sincere, not manipulated”, the libertine has “real convictions”. He believes that Denis Diderot is “less cynical” than de Laclos.

Mouret said his film shows that “Often failures mean happiness”. He said, ”When writing, I feel I am the Marquis”. He added that because he was “injured by love, I do have empathy for the Marquis.” For him. It was “exciting” to make his first film with costumes. He wanted to “show the period as a new period”. He didn’t want the film to look old.

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Telluride 45: “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President”

The Telluride Film Festival often opens with the screening of  a long work. The documentary “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President”, was absorbing throughout its over 4-hour length, and from the title, still relevant. The film was made for the History Channel.

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Director Charles Ferguson (“No End In Sight”, “Inside Job”) said that when he started making the film five years ago, he thought it would be relaxing to make a documentary where the good guys win. The intervening presidential election made things more serious.

Ferguson described “Watergate” as a “very wild ride even if you know” the ending. There were 3500 hours of tape recordings taking place from 1971-1973. The documentary rigorously follows some fascinating facts. The White House tapes talk of a “Jewish conspiracy“ and blackmail photos are discussed. Relatively new reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein cover the Watergate events, because at first, it was believed the investigation was insignificant.

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Director Charles Ferguson at Telluride

The documentary reveals some amazing previously unknown details like Republican Senator Howard Baker being a mole for the White House before the depth on Nixon’s involvement was revealed. (“The Devin Nunes of today” joked an audience member at intermission.)

Afterward former Watergate prosecutors Jill Wine-Banks and Richard Ben-Veniste, former Congresswoman Elizabeth A. Holtzman and journalist Leslie Stahl gave their insights on the era.

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Elizabeth Holtzman and Leslie Stahl at Telluride

Elizabeth Holtzman was one of the House Judiciary Committee members who recommended three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Holtzman said that during the Watergate era the “system worked”. She spoke of the ”courage of the press” and that “Hopeful” was “where we were” after Watergate. She added that today “we find ourselves” with “no check on tyranny”.

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Leslie Stahl at Telluride

Leslie Stahl who covered Watergate correctly described the documentary as “riveting”. She added that the results were “strangely positive” as “we healed”. She believes ”Journalism reached its peak at Watergate, becoming braver and braver” as the Nixon administration “tried to undermine” democracy.

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Richard Ben-Veniste at Telluride

Richard Ben-Veniste said the system “worked, almost didn’t work” before the “smoking gun” of the taped conversation was revealed and with “substandard Republican support” when “factionalism and party loyalty” were chosen “over loyalty to country.” He added that “an aroused public” compelled the Republicans to choose “country over party”.

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Jill Wine-Banks at Telluride

Jill Wine-Banks said Watergate shows a “process that can work”. She said that today, media has “different facts” and that in the Watergate era, we “agreed on facts” with “different interpretations”. She has a “fear (of) what is happening” with the attacks on the press. She added that what Donald Trump is doing is a “threat” and we must “take this on and get rid of the threat to democracy”.

Director Charles Ferguson said that completing “Watergate-Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President.” was the “hardest” filmmaking “I’ve ever done”. He added that the documentary shows that the “relative power of a small number of people” who “could do what was right” was “not entirely lost.”

Telluride 45: “Cold War”

“Cold War” is a masterwork from director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida’) who co-wrote the screenplay. Pawlikowski was chosen Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a tempestuous relationship between a musician and singer in post-WW2 Europe.

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Tomasz Kot (center) in “Cold War”

In 1949 Poland, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) , a piano player, works for the government in searching for folk-singers. Throughout the film, Pawlikowski composes striking black & white images in a square format that give “Cold War” the look of a period film. He creates a memorable scene from the folk costumes. Wiktor is drawn to Zula (Joanna Kulig), a singer.

Kot and Zula give forceful performances and have an intense chemistry together as their characters become attracted to each other.

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Government interference leads the couple to Paris and beyond and their relationship becomes increasingly volatile. Their wide-ranging story is enthralling with some riveting visuals. Kulig’s dance sequence in Paris to “Rock Around the Clock” is mesmerizing.

After the film screened at the Telluride Film Festival, Pawel Pawlikowski said that “Cold War” was dedicated to his parents. Their relationship lasted 40 years and was described by Pawlikowski as “complicated, hectic” and passing through “other countries, other partners”. The characters Wiktor and Zula have the names of his parents.

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Pawel Pawlikowski at Telluride

He called music the “glue in the story”, a love story passing through music history. He said that music, including jazz tunes, has a continual presence in the film.

Telluride 45: “Shoplifters”

“Shoplifters” from Japanese director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda stood out at the Telluride Film Festival. This film received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes. As with his earlier works like “Like Father, Like Son” (2013) and “Our Little Sister” (2015), in “Shoplifters”, Kore-eda examines a family unit with deep emotional sensitivity.

A father Osamu (Lily Franky) uses his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) as a shoplifter for their impoverished family unit. Returning home after a store theft, they see a forlorn young girl Juri (Miyu Sasaki) alone and hungry and they decide to take her home to give her food.

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Lily Franky and Jyo Kairi in “Shoplifters”

After noticing that the girl is bruised, she is “adopted” into the family that includes wife (Sakura Ando), older sister (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandmother (Kirin Kiki). The group lives off of the old woman’s pension.

The film vividly creates the crowded, cluttered living quarters of the family. There is an affectionate rapport between the members of the group. All of the actors give sensitive, nuanced performances. Kore-eda’s films contain some of the most impressively natural performances from children.

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Sakura Ando, Mayu MatSuoka, Lily Franky in “Shoplifters”

Young Juri is instructed into shoplifting and joins Shota in petty thievery. Osamu says that shoplifting is the only activity he can teach the children.

As the actual connections between the family group members are gradually revealed, “Shoplifters” becomes extremely moving and remains an intriguing consideration on what makes up a family.

Telluride 45: “Roma” and Tribute to Alfonso Cuarón

One of the 3 Tributes at the Telluride was to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who received the Oscar for Best Director for “Gravity” (2013). Cuarón’s latest film “Roma” which recently was chosen Best Film of the Year by both the NY and LA Film Critics was screened. The film is showing on Netflix.

Cuarón said he grew to “understanding the technical aspect” of filmmaking, and with this “familiarity” knew what to ask. He described himself as “broke” before his first film “Sólo con Tu Pareja” (1991) was shown at Toronto. This showing led to a film development project with Sydney Pollack that was cancelled. Cuarón then directed “The Little Princess” (1995) in Hollywood which received 2 Oscar nominations.

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Alfonso Cuarón at Telluride

He described his next film, a modern-day “Great Expectations” (1998) as “What I should not do”. He added, “I forgot I was a writer”. He did not participate in the screenplay. He said “I lost 3 years … (of) creative life… very sad.” Cuarón’s next film “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001), which he co-wrote was a Mexican road film and an international success, leading to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) and “Children of Men” (2006).

For “Gravity”, Cuarón said “All credit goes to Sandra (Bullock) and George (Clooney)”. He said that the stunts and needed movement of the actors were “gruesome and very difficult”. He said he was “used to improvise” and “had to find the flow” for “Gravity” to “made it easy” for the actors posed “in the weirdest position” for a film set in outer space.

For “Roma”, based on his life growing up and cared for by an indigenous maid. He wanted to film “where events took place”, using “furniture from home and relatives” for the film to look as real as possible. He said that the maid “loved me” and was taken for granted.

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Yalitza Aparicio (left) in “Roma”

For the first time, he considered the complexities of her situation during a time “ridden by class”. He added she “raised me” adding “more present, some think than my biological mother”.

Cuarón said in making the film, the last thing he wanted to do was consider the sexual life of his mother.

“Roma” is masterfully directed with vivid black and white images. The cinematography is by Cuarón. The title comes from the area of Mexico City where the central family lives.

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“Roma”


Cuarón gives his film an immersive view of life in Mexico City in the early 1970s. The film has a strong use of details like a too-large car regularly scraping the walls of the garage where the floor has pieces of dog excrement.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid lives with her employer family, taking care of the children with whom she has a warm relationship. She participates in family activities like watching TV together. After the marriage between the parents break up, the father moves away and the mother (Marina de Tavira) depends even more on Cleo.

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Marina de Tavira and Yalitza Aparicio at Telluride

The film has many visually striking sequences. A memorable scene includes a panoramic shot of a crowded city street when the family goes to a movie. Later, while Cleo is shopping, a large-scale protest turns violent.

“Roma” becomes an absorbing autobiographical view of Cuarón’s extended family and Cleo’s devotion.

Telluride 45: Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and its Restoration

A major event at Telluride was a restoration of Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind”, 48 years after filming. Welles shot the film between 1970-1975, and ran out of financing before a final edit could be completed before Welles died in 1985. Director Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”) who appears in the film was among those speaking after the film about working with Welles and the restoration.

“The Other Side of the Wind” is an extremely intriguing cinematic view of Welles’ impressions of the changing Hollywood of the 1970s and his own role in it. John Huston is charismatic, marvelous as Jake Hannaford an aging director making a film with several delays. Huston gives his character a macho swagger and an often sarcastic wit.  

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Welles satirizes the youth-oriented films of the era, having Hannaford’s film described as a “dirty picture” with “naked ladies”. Hannaford is called an “old guy trying to get with it”. Hannaford leaves the studio with his entourage for a 70th birthday party given by an actress (Lilli Palmer). Hannaford’s associates include actors from earlier Welles films like a hard-edged Mercedes McCambridge (“Touch of Evil”) and Paul Stewart (“Citizen Kane”). Film students accompany Hannaford, shooting him through different viewfinders.

Reflecting their real-life relationship Peter Bogdanovich plays a former journalist who interviewed the director who has now become a director himself, hot at the boxoffice.  

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John Huston, Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich

Welles adds humor to the party scenes as guests pontificate and over-analyze about moviemaking. Young directors of the era like Dennis Hopper, Claude Chabrol, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky appear as guests spotted at the party scenes.

Welles remained a master of framing for the camera, with distinctive use of angles, lights and shadows. Keeping current for the time, one scene has psychedelic colors.

Party guests attempt to view Hannaford’s latest film with a series of interruptions. In the film a woman (Oja Kodar) is pursued by a man. Both end up naked. Kodar, who was Welles’ companion at the time is listed as co-screenwriter with Welles. Hannaford is described as “making it up as it goes along.”

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Oja Kodar in “The Other Side of the Wind”

“The Other Side of the Wind” is now showing on Netflix.

After the film, Peter Bogdanovich described it as a “sad movie, …the end of everything. He added that Welles ”made a lot of sad movies” and that “artistry” was “his antidote”. He felt “sad Orson’s not here,… like nobody else”.

Joe McBride who acted in the film said ’48 years have gone by”. He described “Other Side” as a ”dense, rich film” and that Welles could “pack so much into every film”. McBride spoke of the fragmentation of Welles’ filmmaking. He said when Welles was asked when people involved with the film would meet Lilli Palmer who was portraying the party host, he replied that all of her scenes had been shot in Paris.

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Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, cinematographer Gary Graver during the making of “The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

John Huston’s lead performance was described by Bogdanovich as “demonic, extraordinary, very contemporary”. McBride said Huston’s character was an attack on the macho Hemingway cult.

Bogdanovich said that in 1961, he was asked to organize a retrospective of Welles at the Museum of Modern Art. Seven years later, he got a call from Welles who told him “You have written the truest words about me in English”. Bogdanovich took over a large part in “The Other Side of the Wind” when comedian/impressionist Rich Little, cast in the role, displeased Welles.

McBride said the “18 hour work days” were “so much fun…full of laughter”. Bogdanovich said Welles was “wonderful with actors, not the crew”, saying “if they must eat, not linger.” Welles enjoyed Fritos, joking “you don’t gain weight if nobody sees you eating”.

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Peter Bogdanovich at Telluride

Frank Marshall, now a major film producer (Indiana Jones films) was a production accountant on “The Other Side of the Wind”, said Welles fired him “every other day”.  He added that Welles told funny stories and would burst into song.

Bogdanovich aid that seeing the last scenes of the film reminded him of the Shakespearean line “our revels now are ended”, adding “it’s as touching”.

After a screening of a short film called “A Final Cut for Orson: 40 years in the Making”, a discussion included Frank Marshall. The restoration procedure was described as a “treasure hunt”, using Orson’s notes. Welles shot on different types of film. Everything was scanned with new technology. This complete type of restoration could not have been done 10 years ago. 

French Rendez-Vous 2018: “Barbara”

“Barbara” is an impressive selection of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in which a director (Mathieu Amalric) makes a film on the life of a celebrated singer known as Barbara. This film was directed and co-written by Amalric, who as actor appeared in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and as villain in “Quantum of Solace”.

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Mathieu Amalric (c) Ed Scheid

As Brigitte, the actress portraying Barbara, Jeanne Balibar is a dynamic presence. She is charismatic in an emotionally intense performance. Balibar received the Cesar, French Oscar, for Best Actress for “Barbara”.

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Jeanne Balibar (c) Ed Scheid

Amalric and Balibar who have collaborated in multiple films were previously married. Both appeared at Rendez-Vous. Amalric said that “the 2 of us” were involved in rewrites of the screenplay.

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Jeanne Balibar and Mathieu Amalric in “Barbara”

In “Barbara”, the director re-creates scenes from the life of Barbara for his film. Footage of the real Barbara is included, making the film a fascinating view of identity and artistry.

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Jeanne Balibar (center) in “Barbara”