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”

 

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French Rendez-Vous 2018: “See You Up There” and “A Paris Education”

The best film I saw at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema was “See You Up There” (“Au Revoir La-haut”) that had terrific, vivid cinematic storytelling. The film begins with a large-scale and harrowing sequence on a WWI battlefield where the commanding officer Lieutenant Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte), though he knows the war is over, shoots soldiers to keeps the troops remaining in a perilous assault.

Albert Dupontel and Nahubel Perez Biscayart in “See You Up There”

Two very different soldiers bond after their battle experiences. The face of the younger Edouard (Nahubel Perez Biscayart, “BPM”) is disfigured in the war. The other Albert (Albert Dupontel who also directed) joins Edouard in Paris. To deal with the pain caused by his war injuries, Edouard uses opium and hides his damaged face with elaborate, colorful masks.

In the absorbing story with some clever twists, Edouard fakes his death. Albert ends up making contact with Edouard’s father (Niels Arestup) and sister (Emilie Dequenne). The sinister Lieutenant Pradelle also shows up in Paris. Edouard and Albert concoct an elaborate scam taking advantage of memories of the war.

Albert Dupontel (left) and Nahubel Perez Biscayart (right) in “See You Up There”

“See You Up There” combines strong characterizations with an impressive production design of vibrant post-war Paris. The film received Cesars (French Oscar) for Direction, Adapted Screenplay (co-written by Dupontel), Cinemtography, Costumes and Production Design.

“A Paris Education” (“Mes Provinciales”) was one of the strongest films shown at Rendez-Vous. Young Etienne (Andranic Manet) leaves Lyon to study film in Paris. Director/co-writer Jean-Paul Civeyrac shot the film in black and white, giving it the look of the French new wave.

“A Paris Education”

The film captures the all-consuming enthusiasm of the young would-be artists. Etienne meets fellow cinephiles, also sacrificing everything to get their films made. A character is told “You only love cinema”. Etienne also encounters rivalry among his fellow students. In a humorous touch, Etienne has a series of roommates whose languages he doesn’t understand.

This is a very well-written and acted film about how artistic endeavors affect personal relationships. This Parisian education builds in poignancy.

French Rendez-Vous 2018: “Custody”

“Custody” (“Jusqu’à la garde”) is a gripping drama of a broken family as the father uses his young son as a weapon against his ex-wife. The film is an extremely notable first feature for Xavier Legrand who also wrote the screenplay. Legrand received the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for this film which builds on Legrand’s Oscar-nominated 2012 short film “Just Before Losing Everything”.

When his parents divorce, the court decides that the father will share joint custody of 11 year-old Julien (Thomas Gioria) even though Julien rejects his father (Denis Ménochet) as he is very uncomfortable around him. Julien’s older sister is old enough to decide to stay away from their father.

Thomas Gioria (front) in “Custody”

The cast is impressive. Gioria’s expressive face conveys a range from sadness to pain and fear. As the father’s anger builds toward his ex-wife (Léa Drucker), his actions involving Julien become more threatening. Ménochet becomes a frightening presence to the fearful ex-wife and children.

Xavier Legrand skillfully builds excruciating tension to an extremely tense climax.

After the film Xavier Legrand said that he changed the POV (point of view) of the film to create tension. The camera would follow a character without adopting his POV.

Xavier Legrand at Rendez-Vous With French Cinema in NYC

He added that the father manipulates the others as Legrand believes that violent men, before violence, are manipulators. He said he wanted to investigate the “repercussions of violence”. He wanted to make the audience “listen to silence”.

Legrand said his film is “not in any way personal”. He described himself as a “theater actor fascinated by Greek tragedy.” Léa Drucker who gives an intensely emotional performance as the mother is a theater actor like Legrand. The director said that through testing, he found Thomas Gioria (the young boy) whom he described as an “enormous talent”.

Legrand realized that “Custody” is a “very difficult and dangerous subject for a first film”. He spent three years doing “immersive research” with judges, support groups, and violent men.

French Rendez-Vous 2018: “The Workshop”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival at Lincoln Center in New York City showed a wide range of recent French films, including several nominees and recipients of the César, the French Oscar.

My top film was “See You Up There” (“Au Revoir La-Haut”), terrific storytelling, which received the César for Best Director and several Césars for its expansive recreation of a harrowing WWI battlefield and the vibrant post-War Paris. Two veterans, one portrayed by director Albert Dupontel, and another disfigured during the War concoct an elaborate scam taking advantage of memories of the war. More on this and other films in future blogs.

“See You Up There”

The most audacious, if not the most successful, selection was “Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc”. Director Bruno Dumont, known for raw realism, combines the childhood of the 15-century female warrior with heavy metal music.

Several films had a contemporary resonance. “The Workshop” (“L’atelier”) was a fascinating and tense thriller directed and co-written by Laurent Cantet who received the top prize at Cannes for “The Class” (2008). With thought-provoking results, a writing workshop in a distressed area exposes the divisions between students and the instructor Olivia (César nominee Marina Fois), a novelist.

The setting is La Ciotat, a once prosperous shipping town, now with high unemployment, where the main jobs are servicing yachts of wealthy owners. The assignment for her teenage students is a murder mystery set in their home town.

Matthieu Lucci (2nd from left) and Marina Fois (4th from right) in “The Workshop”

Other students are frightened by the violence expressed in the early writing submission from Antoine (Matthieu Lucci) who is seen playing violent computer games and listening to the tirades of right-wing politicians. Arguments break out between Antoine and his fellow students and prejudices are exposed The instructor considers Antoine‘s writing a promising first draft. The riveting “Workshop” dramatizes how decay incites prejudices.

Antoine’s endless provocation is described as exhausting. As more and more of Antoine’s thoughts are revealed, Olivia becomes increasingly frightened from potential threats of violence. “I scare you”, Antoine says. Cantet skillfully builds tension between student and teacher.

After the film, Laurent Cantet participated in an intriguing discussion.

Director/writer Laurent Cantet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

He said that after finishing “Human Resources” (1999), he had a desire to explore working class culture further. Since the Charlie Hebdo killings, he wanted to make a film on what is like to be 20 in France today. In regard to his character of Antoine, Cantet said “Boredom is killing him”. He added that Antoine has a “thirst for violence” with the border between real life and literary fiction blurred.

He described a long casting process where finding the right young personalities could take up to six months. Cantet’s daughter was involved in the casting. Matthieu Lucci who plays Antoine was found the first day.

Cantet co-wrote a precise script with dialog as literary as possible. He checked the script with people closer in age to the characters to make certain his writing was not off-track. In rehearsal, days were spent talking about film, lives and issues which turned into new improvisation scenes, to verify “The Workshop” was not an “old fool’s view of what’s going on.”

Cantet said he wanted to explore how boredom can become fertile ground for extremism to gain a foothold, attracting the extreme right and jihadism.

French Rendez-Vous 2017: “The Dancer”

“The Dancer” was a highlight of the latest Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series in New York City. The film tells an absorbing story about Loïe Fuller, born Marie Louise Fuller in 1864, who left America to become the toast of La Belle Epoque Paris.

Fuller (Soko) performed in the American West and introduced a unique energetic style of dance with flowing costumes. For a time she stays with her mother (Amanda Plummer), member of a temperance league. When a frustrated Fuller sees her dances being copied by other performers, she travels to France, where her stage efforts can be copyrighted.

Soko (center) in “The Dancer”

“The Dancer” shows in intriguing detail how Fuller developed her unique style of dance. She uses detailed plans, light projectors and spotlights. Poles in her arms cause the sweeping movements of her costumes. Fuller gives amazing performances with colored projections.

In her first film, director Stephanie Di Giusto who co-wrote the screenplay, gives “The Dancer” a vibrant sense of the colorful intensity of La Belle Epoque Paris.

Soko, also a singer-songwriter, gives a performance of fierce determination as Loïe Fuller, conveying her intense dedication in taking her stage performances in new directions. In Paris, Fuller becomes acquainted with a jaded aristocrat (Gaspard Ulliel) and finds a dedicated assistant (Mélanie Thierry). She befriends Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) who becomes a rival. Lily-Rose is the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.

Soko in “The Dancer”

Fuller’s driven performances cause her physical strain, particularly from the weight of the poles in her arms. The film builds to an extremely tense climactic stage performance in Paris, as Fuller’s body strives to match her artistic ambitions.

After the film, Stephanie Di Giusto spoke about Loïe Fuller and filmmaking. She said the French Alps stood in for Colorado. The music of Vivaldi was used in the film for “energy and tension”.

Director Stephanie Di Giusto at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Di Giusto described the important way Fuller built her costumes using a secret mathematical formula. She added that for Fuller it was critical how these costumes were cut, as Fuller was secretive, using a different dressmaker for each part. “The Dancer” received the Cesar, the French Oscar, for Best Costumes.

Di Giusto said that Loïe Fuller’s sketches were patented in Paris, she was the first in her field it to establish a copyright to protect her work. Fuller became a friend of artists like Rodin. Fuller was described as multi-talented by Di Giusto – “dancer, choreographer, filmmaker”.

French Rendez-Vous 2017: “Nocturama”

In “Nocturama”, shown at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, a provocative subject of young terrorists in Paris is weakened by generic characterizations and a lack of contemporary context.

Bertrand Bonello at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

The film’s director/writer Bertrand Bonello (“Saint Laurent”) introduced his work. He said the film was inspired by the “crazy” events in France and throughout Europe. Bonello described himself as “obsessed” with the “contemporary period”. He said the script started in 2010-2011, before many recent events, and that “Nocturama” combines “ultra-realim and abstraction.”

“Nocturama”

“Nocturama” begins as a group of young people methodically go through their planned routines to create large-scale destruction throughout Paris, including assassination and explosions in buildings and cars. The famous statue of Joan of Arc burns.

The characters as written are one-dimensional without any insight or much interest. The film doesn’t give any reason for the young terrorists, they include children of immigrants as well as members of the upper class.

“Nocturama”

The terrorists retreat to a large-scale department store and return to typical juvenile behavior. They get caught up in the surrounding luxury goods, trying on designer items and riding electric cars. This sequence is a very obvious statement on consumerism. One young terrorist declares his hidden love for another. As their hideout is discovered, they repetitiously meet their fates, without emotional effect.

French Rendez-Vous 2017: Marion Cotillard in “From the Land of the Moon”

“From the Land of the Moon” (“Mal de Pierres”) was the best selection I saw at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series in New York City. In the film, Marion Cotillard gives a masterful performance as an extremely romantic woman with thwarted longings.

This film is impressively directed by Nicole Garcia who has acted in several films like the classic “Mon Oncle d’Amerique” (1980) and “La Petite Lili” (2003).

Gabrielle (Cotillard) is driving with her husband and son to an event where her son will perform at a piano competition. Gabrielle suddenly recognizes an address their car passes, and suddenly gets out. The film flashes back to a younger Gabrielle In 1950’s rural France.

Marion Cotillard and Àlex Brendemühl in “From the Land of the Moon”

Cotillard gives Gabrielle a passionate intensity, making for a gripping film. Gabrielle remains unfulfilled. Her mother (Brigitte Roüan) says her daughter has her “head in the clouds”. After an improper attraction from Gabrielle, her mother arranges a marriage with José (Àlex Brendemühl), a worker on the family farm. The marriage is described as “bought you off”. Gabrielle looks dazed after the wedding ceremony.

The screenplay, co-written by Garcia, develops sympathy for José as he tries vainly to understand or relate to his wife.

Gabrielle visits Switzerland for a rest cure. She becomes intensely drawn to Lieutenant André Sauvage (Louis Garrrel, “The Dreamers” (2003)), a sensitive veteran also in the sanatorium for care. He plays the piano. Marion’s developing relationship with André brings a fulfillment that has been lacking in her life. Andre will continue to dominate her life. The screenplay takes some unexpected twists.

Marion Cotillard in “From the Land of the Moon”

The photogenic scenery of Switzerland, emphasizes the healing aspects of the location. Director Nicole Garcia effectively builds tension from the raw emotion of Cotillard’s portrayal. Garcia also elicits fine performances from her supporting cast. Garcia’s other films as director have had notable performances. Her “Place Vendôme” (1998) contained one of Catherine Deneuve’s best.

After the film screening, Nicole Garcia discussed “From the Land of the Moon”. She said that the film is a free adaptation of a book by an Italian novelist set in Sardinia. She added that the subject “fit my manner”.

Nicole Garcia at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Garcia described the main character as “a woman who wants what everyone denies her”. She said that Marion Cotillard is “one of the very best”, and the “best” actress for the part, which is “particular to what she does”. She added that Cotillard brings something “unpredictable” to her characterization. Garcia described the casting as a “great actor” in a “great role.” She added that the strongest roles are ”roles that reveal as we go along.”

Garcia added that she wants “characters to be unpredictable” and that as a director, it is “nearly a duty to forget the script and invent something else.”

Garcia said that some people may see the pain Gabrielle puts her husband through, and “may dislike her, I hope not.”

Nicole Garcia at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Her background as an actor is the “strongest” thing that Garcia believes she brings to directing, to “show actors” aspects of their characters, adding “I don’t tell (them) how to say” the dialog.

When asked to explain the title of her film, Garcia declined, adding that unlike her colleague director Francois Ozon (“Frantz”)  who told her he has approval of foreign titles of his films, she “inherited” the title. She added that a critic told her the landscape in the final scene “looks like the desert, like the moon.”