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.

Telluride 2014: World Economics 1, “Two Days, One Night”

The Telluride Film Festival screened films showing widely varying looks at economic conditions around the world. One of the strongest films at Telluride was “Two Days, One Night”, another notable writer/director collaboration from brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne of Belgium. The Dardennes have twice received the Palme d’Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival for “Rosetta” (1999) and “The Child” (2005).

Marion Cotillard is superb as Sandra, a woman desperate to keep her factory job.  After returning from a sick leave, she finds her position will be downsized due to foreign competition.  After pleading, she is told by a factory manager she can keep her job only if she convinces the other workers over the week-end to give up their upcoming bonus.

Marion Cotillard  in “Two Days, One Night”

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”

Over the weekend she must visit her coworkers and ask them to vote to give up their increase so that she can stay employed. The film has a fascinating complexity as, while Sandra is asking for her own job, she is fully aware of how much her coworkers would depend on the added income at their humble employment level.

Cotillard gives an emotionally intense performance as Sandra visits her fellow factory workers, embarrassed to ask for their sacrifice and feeling “like a beggar”, but knowing how necessary her employment is to her family’s economic struggle.  Cotillard is extremely moving as Sandra whose emotional state is precarious.

Sandra (Marion Cotillard)  and coworkers in “Two Days, One Night”

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) and coworkers in “Two Days, One Night”

The screenplay skillfully creates a variety of characters, so that each of Sandra’s visits is different, one even turning into a family fight. The film builds tension as Sandra, supported by her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) resolutely continues on her quest, seeking allies by the short deadline.

With “Two Days, One Night”, the Dardennes have widened the scope of their films. Their previous films looked at a character’s single personal story.  This one looks at a protagonist and her place in a larger group.

It’s been a strong year for Marion Cotillard. She is also memorable in “The Immigrant”, my favorite film of the year. Further thoughts:

http://letterboxd.com/edscheid/film/the-immigrant-2013/

Future posts will look the world economy through films from Russia and the US.

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.

Telluride: Marion Cotillard

French actress Marion Cotillard received one of the Telluride Film Festival’s three Tributes. On stage, she discussed her career that, besides her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf In “La Vie en Rose”, includes films directed by Woody Allen, Tim Burton and the recent blockbuster, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”.

Marion in shadow

Marion Cotillard

Before “La Vie en Rose”, Cotillard said she “didn’t really understand” an actor staying in character the whole time. “It was a job”. This movie was very special and took me so long to get in the character…I needed 1/2 hour – 45 min. to prepare myself” after arriving early on the set. 

Though her film singing was dubbed by Piaf recordings, Cotillard said that Piaf “sang every day of her life so I thought I have to sing every day of mine. I would come very early on the set so nobody could hear me. I would sing very, very loud. It must have been terrible.” She found it “hard” to get out of character. As Piaf’s appearance became ravaged, Cotillard said she “looked like shit” in the film. She said seeing herself in the mirror with “no eyebrows” was “unbearable”.

DSCF1324

Marion Cotillard at Telluride

Cotillard said that in “Public Enemies” director Michael Mann pushed the actors. She “loved” working on that film. Mann told her he wanted her to speak English without a French accent. 

When asked what type of director she prefers, Cotillard said “Every director like every human being is different”, you must “trust someone”, “no way is better” for a director, but “trust is important” for a good experience. 

She said she loves the English language, describing herself as a “child of American cinema” that she “watched as a kid”. The films were not dubbed. Her parents were actors. She remembers the intense experience of seeing “ET” when young. She “screamed” and “grabbed the seat in front”.   

To perfect her English, Cotillard saved her money pay for a month in New York of Berlitz “total immersion” in English.

Marion Cotillard at Telluride

Marion Cotillard at Telluride

 Cotillard read the screenplay of “Inception” five times. She described it as “very special.” she had “hundreds of questions”. She said writer/director Christopher Nolan is “so smart” and the film’s conception was ten years in his mind. It was a “different world” that the actors went into, needing a “special energy.” 

Because of her work on “The Dark Knight Rises”, Cotillard met director Jacques Audiard just two days before filming “Rust and Bone” and they didn’t talk about the character she would play. Portraying a “totally different character” was a “lot of fun”.

Marion Cotillard at Telluride

Marion Cotillard at Telluride

Director James Gray showed up at the Telluride tribute with a promising clip from his upcoming film with Cotillard dealing with emigrants from Ellis Island. Cotillard’s character is described as a Polish “low life”.

Cotillard’s “Rust and Bone” was then screened. The film opens with gritty realism as Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts, “Bullhead”) is hitchhiking with his young son. They later take leftover food from a bus while travelling to live with Ali’s sister in Antibes in the south of France. Working as a bouncer at a club, Ali meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) as she is being ejected. He gives her his phone number. 

Stephanie is a trainer at a Marineland-type park. An accident involving orca whales causes the stage to collapse. Stephanie’s legs are amputated. Cotillard gives another exceptional performance of raw intensity. The scene where her character wakes up, and with piercing pain and tears, realizes the extent of her injuries is memorable. Cotillard has recently been nominated for Best Actress from both Golden Globes and SAG. Stephanie impulsively calls Ali.

Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone"

Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone”

Ali has become active involved in violent kickboxing. He and Stephanie give each other a different kind of strength to help live their new lives. Ali loves his son, but is immature in watching out for him. “Rust and Bone” remains absorbing and forceful.

Director Jacques Audiard and his co-writer Thomas Bidegain combined separate characters form a short story collection “Rust and Bone” by Craig Davidson. The orca trainer was male in the short story. Audiard is a visual master. Varied scenes like the blazing sun reflected in the blue Mediterranean, and Stephanie with prosthetic legs reaching toward an orca behind glass are particularly striking.

Telluride 2012

Telluride is a small former mining town in southwest Colorado where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank. Every Labor Day week-end it becomes crowded with film enthusiasts. With picturesque mountain scenery and an informal atmosphere, the Film Festival hosts major US and world premieres of major upcoming films.   

Besides the local movie theater and a restored opera house, buildings like a high school and Mason’s Hall are reconfigured with top-flight projection equipment. Part of the library becomes a small screening room showing documentaries on filmmaking. There are now eight venues plus nightly outdoor screenings. 

Telluride is known for very enjoyable conversations among film aficionados waiting in line for the next screening.  A unique aspect is that passholders stand in the line with Festival guests, leading to some informal discussions with international filmmakers on the films they’ve brought to Telluride. (Patrons have a separate line for first access.) I was once in line in front of Helen Mirren and Taylor Hackford.    

Ever since Jeanne Moreau cancelled her appearance at an early Festival, the schedule is not announced in advance, adding a keen sense of anticipation. With a time-frame shorter than most film festivals, the schedule has a selective quality. It’s an intense experience where it’s impossible to see everything.

Banners of previous Telluride tributees

This year, Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner for “La Vie en Rose”), Danish Actor Mads Mikkelsen (the villain in “Casino Royale”) and producer/director/distributor Roger Corman received tributes. 

In Telluride with new films were Ben Affleck, Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Dennis Quaid, Ray Liotta, Gael Garcia Bernal, Salman Rushdie, and Sarah Polley.

Dennis Quaid and Ray Liotta at outdoor seminar

 

MORE TO COME in future posts.