Robert De Niro Tribute

Robert De Niro at his Tribute (c) Ed Scheid

The recent Chaplin Award tribute to Robert De Niro from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City was a memorable event. The notable guests gave personalized insights into their collaborations with De Niro. Extensive clips highlighted De Niro’s many indelible performances in films like “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Raging Bull” (1980).

Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

Harvey Keitel who appeared with De Niro in films from “Mean Streets” (1973) to “The Comedian” (2016) spoke of the “excellence” of De Niro’s work and told a highly amusing anecdote of a trip to Rome with De Niro. Paparazzi told police that De Niro and Keitel were members of the Red Brigades and the two were arrested. After De Niro was recognized, the two were released. Newspapers said that De Niro was in Rome with his “best friend Keith Carradine.”

Whoopi Goldberg (c) Ed Scheid

More humor followed. Whoopi Goldberg said that De Niro’s attraction to black women made her feel good about the way she looked. She added that she could tell studio executives “Robert De Niro likes me!” Ben Stiller who appeared in “Meet the Parents” (2000) and its sequels with De Niro, joked about how making “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” hurt De Niro’s reputation.

Meryl Streep (c) Ed Scheid

Meryl Streep who starred with De Niro in “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Falling in Love” (1984) and “Marvin’s Room” (1996) said that when she was a young actress, the only person she knew with a film role was Michael Moriarty. She went to see him in “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973) and thought that the man (De Niro) playing the naïve ballplayer from a rural background was so convincing he had to be a non-professional.

When Streep saw Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”, she was shocked to see the man she thought was a “hillbilly” in “Bang the Drum” portraying an unstable small-time New York hood. With that acting versatility, Streep said she wanted De Niro to be “my teacher for most of my life.”

Both Sean Penn and Barry Levinson, who directed De Niro in films that include “Wag the Dog” (1997), spoke of their high regard for De Niro and his impressive career.

Martin Scorsese (c) Ed Scheid

The Chaplin Award was presented by Martin Scorsese who has directed De Niro in many of his most acclaimed films from “Mean Streets” early in both their careers, to “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, for which De Niro received the Best Actor Oscar, “Goodfellas” (1990), and “Casino” (1995). Scorsese spoke of the “lasting trust” between the two of them.

Martin Scorsese (c) Ed Scheid

Scorsese mentioned an anecdote that he said illustrates why De Niro is such an outstanding actor. He said that while both of them were preparing “Raging Bull”, they were visited by two United Artists executives. One of the executives asked De Niro in regard to the role of boxer Jake La Motta in the film, “Why do you want to play a cockroach?” De Niro forcefully replied “He’s not a cockroach”.

Scorsese later said the executives had planned to pull financing on the film until the encounter with De Niro. Scorsese added that De Niro “never looks down” on the characters he portrays.

Robert De Niro (c) Ed Scheid

In accepting the Award, and after thanking the previous speakers, Robert De Niro spoke of the importance of the arts and organizations that support the arts like the National Endowment of the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System, particularly in such a “divisive” time with “mean-spirited” government policies.

Robert De Niro (3rd from left) being congratulated by Ben Stiller, Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

De Niro joked to the audience that he doesn’t just make films for the “liberal elite”. “That’s what my restaurants are for” he added. He said he makes films “for all of you.”

Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel and Sean Penn (c) Ed Scheid

Robert De Niro, Barry Levinson, Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel (c) Ed Scheid

French Rendez-Vous 2015: “3 Hearts”

The annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and uniFrance films again showed a variety of contemporary French-language films at 3 locations in New York City. After some of the screenings, directors and actors gave insights into their films.

French icon Catherine Deneuve appeared in 3 selections. Denueve continues to make intriguing career choices, often to notable effect. Deneuve appeared in the opening film “3 Hearts” (“3 Coeurs”), in a supporting role, portraying the mother of real life daughter Chiara Mastroianni, as she has done in films such as “My Favorite Season” (1993) and “Beloved” (2011).

Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “3 Hearts”

Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “3 Hearts”

The film is directed and co-written by Benoit Jacquot, known for central female character in previous efforts like “Farewell My Queen” (2012). This film focuses on a conflicted male character. Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde, “Man Bites Dog”), is a tax inspector who misses his train to Paris, remaining in a small French town. He meets Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Nymphomaniac”). They have an immediate connection and spend the night together. They agree to meet in Paris.

Marc is prevented from making the meeting and is unable to contact Sylvie who returns to her unfulfilled life, moving to the US with her husband. Back in the town, Marc gives professional help to Sophie (Mastroianni) who has taken over her mother’s antique shop. Their friendly relationship deepens and they become engaged to marry. Marc is unaware that Sophie is the sister of Sylvie. He begins to wonder after he sees Sylvie’s unique lighter and spots her face in family photos. Sylvie returns to France for the wedding.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni in “3 Hearts”

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni in “3 Hearts”

Deneuve is an elegant presence and skillfully shows her character’s growing awareness and concern of some connection between Marc and his sister-in-law. Will the memorable night between Sylvie and Marc disrupt the close relationship between the 2 sisters and threaten the marriage between Marc and Sophie? Ominous music builds up the tension.

Benoît Poelvoorde in “3 Hearts”

Benoît Poelvoorde in “3 Hearts”

Benoit Jacquot said that while writing the screenplay, he had in mind romantic film classics like “Back Street”, “Love Affair” and “An Affair to Remember,” as well as Douglas Sirk’s movies. While the film has a contemporary setting, the set up of the missed meeting seems to belong to an earlier era, as Sylvie and Marc could have exchanged phone numbers or emails.

A talented cast shows the emotional complications a man in love with 2 sisters, maintaining interest through some contrived and melodramatic events. Mastroianni is particularly effective.

Future posts include the latest films of Catherine Deneuve, Nathalie Baye, Guillaume Canet, Melanie Laurent (as director), Andre Techine, Cedric Kahn, and Christophe Honore.

French Rendez-Vous 2013: “Renoir”

This year the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema again screened an extensive range of contemporary French films at different locations in New York City. The series is sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance which promotes French films. Many screenings included appearances with insights from actors and directors.

One of the strongest films was “Renoir”, set in 1915 during a late period in the life of master Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet). Though weakened by arthritis, Renoir continues to paint at his home on the French Riviera. Director Gilles Bourdos and cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee have given the setting the blazing sun and deep blue water of Renoir’s masterpieces. The painter’s wife has died and he is cared for by a group of female servants.

Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir

His son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), who in the future will become one of cinema’s major directors (“The Rules of the Game”), returns in crutches to convalesce after being wounded in World War I.

As his arthritic hands are bandaged by his female staff, Pierre-Auguste is a poignant figure as he continues to paint. He remains fascinated by the way the skin of a beautiful woman “soaks” the light. He tells his son, “The pain passes, but beauty remains”. Veteran actor Michel Bouquet (“Tous les Matins du Monde”) gives the painter an intense concentration for his work and for what he can still savor in his life.

The Renoirs - son (Vincent Rottiers) and father (Michel Bouquet)

The Renoirs – son (Vincent Rottiers) and father (Michel Bouquet)

His remains inspired by his newest young model Andrée (Christa Theret). Jean is also drawn to Andrée. The film also shows Jean’s growing interest in the cinema as early films are projected for the family. Andrée wants to become an actress and sees the new art form as a route for future success. Jean’s relationship with Andrée will continue beyond the time frame of the film.

Model (Christa Theret) and Artist (Michel Bouquet)

Model (Christa Theret) and Artist (Michel Bouquet)

Like Bouquet, Rottiers and Theret give a deep feeling to their characterizations. Jean comes into conflict with both his father and Andrée as he weighs reenlisting for the war, not wanting to abandon his comrades. The camaraderie among soldiers of different social classes is a subject of Jean Renoir’s masterful “Grand Illusion”.

Full of beautiful images, “Renoir” is an absorbing film on the endurance of art and how this art can be affected by family ties.

After the film, director Gilles Bourdos who co-wrote the screenplay said the idea of the film was inspired by a visit to the Impressionist paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Bourdos said he liked getting lost there and felt he belonged. He wanted to make a film where the Mediterranean played a part. He was born in that area. He decided between Renoir and Cezanne and chose the former since Cezanne “ran from women” in his final years.

Gilles Bourdos

Gilles Bourdos

For him, a problem was how to recreate painting in the cinema. He said that since you can’t feel a painting on screen, he wanted to recreate what the artist was feeling when painting. He has succeeded in this. Bourdos said that the more Renoir suffered, the more his paintings were filled with pleasure, the more voluptuous.

Gilles Bourdos

Gilles Bourdos

Coming posts: Films with Isabelle Huppert, Jeanne Moreau, Audrey Tautou,
Kristin Scott Thomas, and Fabrice Luchini