French Rendez-Vous 2017: “Heal the Living”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series again brought a wide range of French films to Lincoln Center in New York City. For extra insight, filmmakers appeared to discuss their work. The series opened with “Django”, a well-acted but rather conventional film about gypsy jazz musician Django Reinhardt and his conflicts with the Nazis.

Reda Kateb as “Django”

The finest films included “From the Land of the Moon” with a superb performance by Marion Cotillard as woman with a romantic obsession, “150 Milligrams”, a fascinating film based on true incidents about a female doctor fighting a large pharmaceutical corporation because of a defective drug, and “The Dancer”, a biography of Loi Fuller who left the American West to become the toast of La Belle Epoque Paris.

Other films ranged from young terrorists in Paris (“Nocturama”), Natalie Portman as part of a touring spiritualism act (“Planetarium”), and a bizarre comedy about attempts to import a French ski resort to the South American jungle (“Struggle for Life”).

Gabin Verdet in “Heal the Living”

“Heal the Living” begins as a teenage Simon (Gabin Verdet) leaves to join his friends on a surfing expedition. Director Katell Quillévéré has shot visually stunning scenes of the young men surfing, capturing their euphoria on the waves. Simon is seriously injured in an accident and the film becomes an emotionally powerful study of unexpected connections that can result from a tragedy.

Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen in “Heal the Living”

The screenplay, co-written by Quillévéré, sensitively depicts the variety of characters joined by Simon’s accident. The film is extremely moving due to uniformly strong performances, particularly from Emmanuelle Seigner (“Venus in Fur”), devastating as the injured man’s anguished mother. There are other compelling portraits by Anne Dorval as a musician with a degenerative disease and Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet”) as a compassionate medical professional working with transplants.

Flashbacks show Simon’s exuberant high spirits, emphasizing his loss.

Quillévéré builds acute tension in showing the steps leading to a heat transplant, climaxing with an unflinching view of the surgery.

Future posts will cover more Rendez-Vous films.

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Three Rivers Film Festival: “Dheepan”

The Three Rivers Film Festival last year screened “Dheepan”, several months before its national release. This powerful and absorbing film, which received the 2015 Palme d’Or, the top award at the Cannes Film Festival, shows its master director, Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”), in peak form.

Dheepan is a Tamil fighter on the losing side of the Sri Lankan civil war. To be able to escape to a new life in France as a refugee, he has a woman and young girl pose as his family.

DHEEPAN_poster

Portraying Dheepan, Jesuthasan Anthonythasan, has a similar background to his character. He fought as a child soldier for a Tamil liberation army until the age of 19. He fled to Thailand before reaching France In 1993 where he obtained political asylum. He has written novels, short stories, plays and essays.

“Dheepan” becomes a compelling family drama as the three strangers must adjust to a new life, living in close quarters to each other.

Kalieaswari Srinivasan  and Jesuthasan Anthonythasan in "Dheepan"

Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Jesuthasan Anthonythasan in “Dheepan”

Performances are impressive, particularly from Kalieaswari Srinivasan as the “wife” who continually changes her feelings toward Dheepan. She is also unaware of how to treat her “daughter”, leading to emotional conflicts for the new “family”. Srinivasan has worked in theater In India. This is her first film.

Dheepan gets employment in a housing project overrun by criminals. The films builds an acute tension, leading to a gripping conclusion as Dheepan fights to keep the area safe and protect himself and his new “family”.

Jesuthasan Anthonythasan in "Dheepan"

Jesuthasan Anthonythasan in “Dheepan”

Telluride 2014: Volker Schlondorff Tribute and “Diplomacy”

The Telluride Film Festival Tribute to German director Volker Schlondorff (“The Tin Drum”) was one of the most memorable in the 20 plus years I’ve been to Telluride. Schlondorff wept when presented with his Silver Medallion Tribute, saying it was given by friends. He added “Old men have emotion.”

Volker Schlondorff with his Silver Tribute Medallion at the Telluride Film Festival     (c) Ed Scheid

Volker Schlondorff with his Silver Tribute Medallion at the Telluride Film Festival (c) Ed Scheid

Schlondorff told fascinating anecdotes of his of his development into a celebrated international filmmaker. Born in 1939, Schlondorff grew up in Wiesbaden, Germany under US occupation and was exposed to American culture, including Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and the films of Marlon Brando.

At age 16, he thought, “I can’t stand it here” (in Germany). He intended visiting France for 2 months, but stayed 10 years. He wanted to “escape from childhood”. He believes that because of his country’s history, “guilt befell” the Germans, “whether we wanted it or not.” What he wanted was to “become a little Frenchman.”

Schlondorff told a very amusing story about doing live spoken translations of German films at the Cinematheque in Paris. He described it as freely translated, making up probable lines In French. He said this was “how I learned to write dialog”.

Volker Schlondorff at his Tribute during the Telluride Film Festival     (c) Ed Scheid

Volker Schlondorff at his Tribute during the Telluride Film Festival (c) Ed Scheid

Schlondorff worked as assistant director on a “Zazie dans le Metro”, a 1960 film by his Parisian film school classmate Louis Malle. He also assisted directors Alain Resnais (“Last Year at Marienbad”) and Jean-Pierre Melville, before returning to Germany to direct his first feature, “Young Torless” in 1966. He described his 1976 “Coup de Grace”, about unrequited love during the Russian Civil War, as his “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

His most celebrated film “The Tin Drum” (1979), based on the Gunter Grass novel, received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. There was difficulty in casting the lead role of a boy who stops growing as a protest. 90% of the film would be the presence of the boy, according to Schlondorff, who said he stayed with the film because of the insistence of the producer. In LIFE Magazine, Schlondorff read about the physical condition of young David Bennent who was cast In the film. David ended up being the son of Heinz Bennent who portrayed a lawyer in Schlondorff’s 1975 “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum.”

American films made by Schlondorff include a 1985 TV version of “Death of a Salesman” with Dustin Hoffman and “The Handmaid’s Tale”(1990).

Schlondorff has dedicated his latest film “Diplomacy” to his friend Richard Holbrooke, deceased US diplomat whom the director said was ‘a privilege to know.” Schlondorff said he met Holbrooke through playwright John Guare. They were fellow theatergoers.

Schlondorff said “Diplomacy”, screened as part of his Tribute, shows that “words may be more powerful than weapons.” The film is also a tribute to his beloved Paris.

“Diplomacy” is set in August, 1944, when World War II is turning against the Nazis. Hitler orders General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup, “A Prophet”) to set bombs around Parisian monuments and bridges and to detonate them when the Germans retreat. The bombing of the bridges would cause severe flooding, leading to untold casualties. Von Choltitz has loyally followed orders before, reportedly even to killing Jewish civilians. The General gets an unexpected visit through a secret stairway from Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier, “Wild Grass”)

Niels Arestrup in "Diplomacy"

Niels Arestrup in “Diplomacy”

Schlondorff collaborated on the screenplay with Cyril Gely, based on Gely’s play. The film is an imagined meeting between the 2 historical characters who knew each other in the period of the film. “Diplomacy” shows a master filmmaker in peak form. Focusing on some engrossing conversations between the general and the diplomat, Schlondorff skillfully builds tension.

The clever Nordling desperately tries to save Paris, appealing to von Choltitz about all that Paris represents, even as the German capital of Berlin is in ruins. Hitler had threatened the families of his officers if orders weren’t followed, so von Choltitz considered his family as hostages to Hitler.

Niels Arestrup and Andre Dussollier in "Diplomacy"

Niels Arestrup and Andre Dussollier in “Diplomacy”

Even thought the fate of Paris is known, what makes the film fascinating is dramatizing what led to the outcome, and revealing what happened to von Choltitz, his family, and Nordling. Niels Arestrup and Andre Dussollier, 2 of Europe’s top actors give masterful performances of a remarkable battle of wills.

Telluride 2014

The 41st Telluride Film Festival was again held during Labor Day weekend in the picturesque small former mining town in the mountains of southwest Colorado. A speaker joked that at a place with such beautiful scenery, everyone goes indoors to watch movies.

The film schedule is not announced in advance, adding mystery to the event. The high school gym, Mason’s Hall, and the ice rink are among the places converted into theatres with top-of-the line projection and sound. Even with 9 indoor venues, it’s impossible to see everything.

A conflict with the Toronto Film Festival on film premieres did not seem to have affected the, as always, wide-ranging schedule.

The main street was blocked off for the Opening Night Feed where Festival passholders and guests mingled, ate and drank. This year there was a colorful Russian atmosphere.

Telluride Opening Night Feed

Telluride Opening Night Feed

Telluride always gives three Tributes. This year for a change of pace, one Tribute was to a film, “Apocalypse Now”, 35 years later. For me, the Festival highlight this year was A Close-Up on “Apocalypse Now”, a unique Telluride event. The classic film’s director Francis Ford Coppola and other members of the creative team each showed a clip and discussed the filmmaking process.

Francis Ford Coppola with moderator Annette Insdorf, Volker Schlondorff, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Francis Ford Coppola with moderator Annette Insdorf, Volker Schlondorff, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Francis Ford Coppola with   moderator Annette Insdorf, Mike Leigh, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Francis Ford Coppola with moderator Annette Insdorf, Mike Leigh, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Hilary Swank also received a Tribute. She and star/director/co-writer Tommy Lee Jones enliven the somewhat conventional “The Homesman” which has an unusual starting point.

The other Tribute, to German director Volker Schlondorff (“The Tin Drum”) was one of the most memorable I’ve seen at Telluride. Schlondorff’s film “Diplomacy”, about a German general (Niels Arestrup, “A Prophet”) ordered by Hitler to destroy Paris and the Swedish diplomat (Andre Dussolier, “Wild Grass”) trying to save the city, was a master filmmaker in peak form.

The best film I saw at Telluride was “Leviathan” from Andrey Zvyagintsev, a gripping Russian view of corruption engulfing a family.

Jon Stewart made a notable directorial debut with “Rosewater”, the true story of a journalist returning to Iran to cover the elections in 2009 who is arrested as a spy. Stewart participated in post-film discussions with the Iranian journalist and Gael Garcia Bernal who portrays him in the film.

Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern are both impressive in “The Wild” about a woman (Witherspoon) who makes an arduous, remote hike when her life falls apart. Dern plays her mother in flashbacks. This film seemed appropriate to the mountain setting of Telluride.

Laura Dern and Reese Whitherspoon at Telluride

Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon at Telluride

International films covered the economic crisis. Marion Cotillard is superb in the Belgian Darnenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night” as a woman desperate to keep her job. Ramin Bahrani ‘s (“Man Push Cart”) “99 Homes” depicts foreclosures in Florida. Performances from Michael Shannon (chillingly amoral) and Andrew Garfield (un-Spiderman-like) highlight a problematic screenplay. There Is even a foreclosure In the new version of “Madame Bovary”.

“The Price of Fame”, the new film from Xavier Beauvois (“Of Gods and Men”), inspired by the bizarre plot to kidnap Chaplin’s coffin for ransom, was very clever, a tribute to movies, and a Telluride favorite of mine.

Another unique Telluride feature was an outdoor panel with many major directors including Coppola, Schlondorff, Festival regular Werner Herzog, and directors with their latest at Telluride: Wim Wenders (“The Salt of the Earth”), Mike Leigh (“Mr. Turner”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”), and Ethan Hawke (“Seymour”).

Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog

I missed some of the big titles for some lower-profile choices like “Magician”, an absorbing and thorough documentary on Orson Welles and “Bertolucci an Bertolucci”.

Also at Telluride this year were O(prah) and Q(uincy Jones) as well as Festival regulars Ken Burns(“The Roosevelts”), Leonard Maltin, and Alexander Payne (“Nebraska”).

Future posts will detail Telluride films and events.