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 43: Two views of Paris

The Telluride Film Festival screened 2 selections with very different views of Paris. “Frantz”, directed and co-written by Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”, “Potiche”) is a very impressive and absorbing film about grief in Post-WWI Europe. The black & white photography emphasizes the somber mood of continual mourning and devastation.

In a small German town, Anna (Paula Beer) makes repeated visits to the grave of Frantz, her fiance killed in the War. One day, she sees Adrien (Pierre Niney), a young Frenchman, tearfully leaving flowers at her fiance’s grave. He tells her he had been close friends in Paris with Frantz before the war.

Paula Beer in “Frantz”

In the town, Adrien faces post-war hostility toward the victorious French. Anna invites him home to meet the parents (Marie Gruber, Ernst Stotzner) of her late fiance with whom she lives. His stories of his time in Paris with Frantz are a deep comfort for his survivors. Intriguingly, Adrien’s reminiscences of Frantz (Anton von Lucke), are in color reflecting a period of deep happiness and a more intense time than the present. One of these flashbacks is set among the art of the Louvre.

Francois Ozon gives the film a deep sensitivity to the human tragedy of war enhanced by the moving performances of the lead actors.

Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in “Frantz”

After Adrien returns home, Anna eventually travels to France to look for him and she discovers new details of Frantz’s relationship with Adrien. Scenes of Anna in Paris are in color, signifying a lively and vital place of new possibilities.

In the very different comedy, “Lost in Paris”, the city becomes a location for some bizarrely humorous adventures. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel are actors, writers and directors (“The Fairy”). Fiona (Gordon), a librarian, leaves her home in Canada to find out what has happened to her aged aunt in Paris.

Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel at Telluride

Fiona undergoes severe mishaps after arriving in Paris. This film becomes a series of clever comedic sequences staged with visual flair. Fiona’s belongings fall into the Seine and end up with Dom (Abel), a homeless man who teams up with Fiona.

Fiona’s eccentric aunt is portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva, in one of her last film performances. Riva has received acclaim in films from “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959) to her Oscar-nominated performances in “Amour” (2012). Riva is a delight and part of a uniquely memorable musical number with comic star Pierre Richard.

Pierre Richard and Emmanuelle Riva in “Lost in Paris”

Fiona’s adventures lead throughout Paris, including Pere Lachaise Cemetery and a terrific climax on the Eiffel Tower.

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.