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.

French Rendez-Vous 2016: Award-winning “Fatima” and Louis Garrel’s directorial debut

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema had early screenings of “Fatima” which received the Cesar, the French Academy Award, for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. With its short 79 minute running time, the film is more of an overview than a deep study of its characters. But this film remains a compelling portrait of Fatima, a middle-aged single mother (Soria Zeroual) and her two much more assimilated daughters living in France. The older daughter (Zita Hanrot, Cesar for Most Promising Actress) is a medical student.

Soria Zeroual and Zita Hanrot in "Fatima"

Soria Zeroual and Zita Hanrot in “Fatima”

The not always appreciated mother tries to fit into a different culture, even facing scorn from some Muslim neighbors. The film builds to a poignant conclusion as Fatima frankly expresses her intimate feelings about life in an adopted country.

Louis Garrel (“The Dreamers”) was at Rendez-Vous with his directorial debut, “Two Friends” (“Les Deux Amis”), an engaging if not original film about the conflict between two male friends that develops when one (Vincent Macaigne) becomes attracted to a female convict (Golshifteh Farahani) on work release in a railway station. Garrel plays the worldlier friend. Surprisingly the film was co-written by Garrel and Christophe Honore who directed Garrel in more unique and intense films (“Love Songs”, “Ma Mere”).

Louis Garrel at Rendez-Vous

Louis Garrel at Rendez-Vous

After the screening Garrel called his film a short “Rules of the Game” and added that the menage a trois is a “gold mine” for conflicts. He said the film shows the “transfer of power” between the two friends after the complication of a third party.

French Rendez-Vous 2016: “Disorder” and Diane Kruger

Director Alice Winocour (“Augustine”) and Diane Kruger were in New York for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema to discuss their film “Disorder”. Winocur expertly builds tension through editing and sound in this thriller about Vincent, a former soldier with PTSD, another impressive performance from Matthias Schoenaerts (“A Bigger Splash”).

Matthias Schoenaerts in "Disorder"

Matthias Schoenaerts in “Disorder”

Close-ups of a shaking hand show the lingering trauma of the war in Afghanistan for the former soldier. He is hired as security for a shady Lebanese financier. When the financier leaves for business, Vincent becomes guard for the rich man’s trophy wife (Diane Kruger). Winocur has staged gripping scenes of suspense as the new bodyguard must protect the woman and her family from mounting threats.

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger and Alice Winocour

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger and Alice Winocour

After the film, Winocour said that she is obsessed with dysfunction. She chose Schoenaerts because his role was “very physical.” She described Kruger’s role as a “perfect trophy wife who liberates herself.” Kruger said her character is married to a “much older” man and “locked in a golden cage…not comfortable.” The film was called an “impossible love story” where Winocour said “he awakens her.”

Diane Kruger, who was born in Germany, said she’s neither American nor French unlike most of her film work. Appearing in large budget films like “Troy” as well as in smaller scale choices, Kruger described herself as “not typecast” which opens doors in her career.

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger

Rendez-Vous with Diane Kruger

Director Winocour spoke of using sound and music to “express the violence of war.” She described “Disorder” as having a “dark romanticism” and remaining on the point of view of the paranoid bodyguard to “understand what he understood.” She wanted to bring “heightened senses” to the film where the “real world seems crazy.”

French Rendez-Vous 2016: Huppert on Huppert

A high point of the latest Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City was an appearance by Isabelle Huppert to discusses her enduring career. It was mentioned at the event that she has appeared in 128 films.

This actress often makes fearless choices in her roles. Even in comedy. In her 2013 “Tip Top”, she played a policewoman who enjoyed physical pain, happily licking up blood dripping from her nose. In her recent “Elle”, directed by Paul Verhoeven, she portrays a woman who has an unorthodox approach to a sexual assault.

Huppert said that in choosing a film “I look for a good director in the first place. I like to expand my space of investigation…not stay in my home county.” She considers “cinema connected to travelling”, having a “double significance”, adding “I like to explore new territories.” She compared acting in film to “travelling in self”, an “inner trip.”

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

She said that a “great relationship” between actor and director is “quite unique…extraordinary” and “exploratory.” She spoke of having “quality moments in life” spent with a director, including seven films shot with director Claude Chabrol. She joked that after she makes a film with a director, it’s frustrating when he chooses another actress for his next film instead of asking her.

Huppert said that Chabrol “never idealized cinema”, treating “his characters as human beings”, as in “Violette” (1978), being “as honest as possible” in their film about a young woman who tries to poison her parents. She said Chabrol was “as accurate as possible” in “Story of Women” (1988) in which her adulterous character who performed secret abortions during WWII was “not nice” in “my observation.”

The staging, Huppert believes “gives the right answer” to a film where “camera movement has to be right.” She said that each film has “it’s own organic movement.” She described her 2012 hostage kidnapping film “Captive”, from Filipino director Brillante Mendoza as physical and “amazing” and quite different from the films she made with Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher”, “Amour”).

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

In her recent “Valley of Love” (https://cinemasight.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/french-rendez-vous-2016-huppert-and-depardieu-in-valley-of-love/), Huppert appears with Gerard Depardieu for the first time in over 30 year, since “Loulou” in 1980. She had appeared in “The Nun” (2013) (https://cinemasight.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/french-rendez-vous-2013-the-nun/), a previous film from Guillaume Nicloux, the director of “Valley of Love”. She liked the roughness he brought to the earlier period film, instead of being very dry like she feels many costume films are. Huppert thought the chemistry with Depardieu would be “interesting.” She found the heat of the Death Valley setting of “Valley” “inconceivable”, but later added that “human nature can get used to any extreme situation.”

She said that this movie could be interpreted in many ways, including as a “spiritual, mystical metaphor about cinema”. In this film the characters played by Huppert and Depardieu receive a letter from their dead son to visit certain locations in Death Valley. Huppert said “The son is really director” who “pulls strings” on his parents.

Huppert will soon make another film with Depardieu. She described herself not being too influenced by their previous experience working together. She called him “just an actor with whom I have a great relation as actress.” She said they “play well” together, adding “we don’t talk much, before or after” filming a scene.

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

When asked if she would want to direct, Huppert answered “No, too lazy, maybe out of curiosity…an expensive curiosity.’ She described herself as “fulfilled as an actress.” She begins with the “outside vision of character”. She called the costume the “first sign” of a character…essential, what we first see.” For her, being able to “transform (her)self” is a “great pleasure.”

Huppert was asked to name favorites of her films. She mentioned two very different experiences. She “warmly” recommended the controversial high-budget Western “Heaven’s Gate” (1980) for which she spent seven months filming, calling it a “great masterpiece.”

She described her 2012 South Korean film “In Another Country”, written and directed by Hong Sang-soo as “one of the most interesting…a special adventure.” Three stories dealing with a foreigner were built around her. For the day’s filming, she received screenplay pages each morning. Filming was “so precise, nothing was improvised.” She called Hong Sang-soo a “great director.”

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema      (c) Ed Scheid

Isabelle Huppert at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Huppert added that “I think my youngest son hasn’t seen ‘The Piano Teacher'”, one of her controversial films for which she was chosen Best Actress at Cannes in 2001.

Huppert said that she liked “White Material” (2009), adding that “films are political”, with a “certain vision of the world.” She said Claire Denis, this film’s director/co-writer wanted to describe the point of view of a woman determined to continue running a plantation in an African country during a time of upheaval. She said Denis wanted to give power to the victim, adding “this woman was viscerally attached to this piece of land…and why she wanted to stay there.”

She added “What you expect of a film…to make people think, that’s already very political.” She said that she doesn’t “ferociously seek out” films with a “very loaded context.”

On choosing favorites of her films, Huppert said “I don’t want to choose, I love them all.”

French Rendez-Vous 2016: “Standing Tall” with Catherine Deneuve

“Standing Tall” (“La Tete Haute”) was the best of the 13 films I saw in this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City. Before the film was shown, Emmanuelle Bercot, the film’s director and co-writer said that “very little is known of the justice court for children”.

Standing Tall theatrical poster_lg

She said that she wanted bring a sense of hope and to instill compassion toward those who fall into a delinquent life through a lack of education. Bercot also wanted pay tribute to people in the system trying to help juveniles break out of the spiral of delinquency.

“Standing Tall” is a compelling, well-written film with distinctive characterizations from a strong ensemble.

The film follows Malony, a young delinquent, for 10 years from age 6. During a meeting with a children’s magistrate (Catherine Deneuve), his messed-up, unstable mother (extremely well-played by Sara Forestier) calls Malony, who has missed 2 months of school, “rotten” and more than she can handle. Also with a crying baby, she leaves Malony in the judge’s office. Malony’s time in courts and detention centers begins.

Catherine Deneuve  and Rod Paradot as Malony (right, in grey jacket)  in "Standing Tall"

Catherine Deneuve and Rod Paradot as Malony (right, in grey jacket) in “Standing Tall”

Bercot who gave Catherine Deneuve one of her best recent parts in “On My Way” (2014) has written another good part for her. Deneuve impresses yet again as the firm but concerned judge wanting to do the best for Malony throughout the years.

Rod Paradot who portrays Malony from ages 13 -17 is an amazing discovery. He gives a vivid performance. The film has a gripping tension as Malony explodes in volcanic rage in frustration from being part of the juvenile justice system and losing his freedom. After a long search Paradot, who lives in the projects, was found in a vocational school, training for his certificate in carpentry. He was awarded the Cesar, the French Oscar, for Most Promising Actor.

Rod Paradot  in "Standing Tall"

Rod Paradot in “Standing Tall”

Benoit Magimel received the Cesar for Best Supporting Actor for his intense performance as a caseworker who had a troubled childhood and remains determined to help Malony break his cycle of incarceration.

Malony, who has periodic reunions with his mother and younger brother, is often his own worst enemy as his fights those trying change his life. Malony and the justice system are treated realistically, without easy answers.

French Rendez-Vous 2016: Huppert and Depardieu in Valley of Love”

The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema opened with “Valley of Love”, most notable for the first collaboration between 2 icons of French cinema, Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu, since “Loulou” in 1980. The setting is Death Valley. Before the film, Huppert spoke of the “very hot” temperature during filming. It was announced that Huppert was in New York to promote the film for just 24 hours as she was involved in a stage performance.

Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu in "Valley of Love"

Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu in “Valley of Love”

Huppert and Depardieu portray divorced actors. Their son whom they had neglected has committed suicide. Each has received a letter, supposedly from their deceased son, that if they visit certain locations in Death Valley, he will appear to them. They have reunited in Death Valley to follow the instructions in the letter.

The film takes a while to build interest, from other than the star pairing, mainly because of the rambling dialog in the screenplay written by director Guillaume Nicloux.

Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert in "Valley of Love"

Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert in “Valley of Love”

Huppert is the best thing about the film. She gives another remarkable performance, showing the depth of her character’s anguish and fear at a possible metaphysical encounter. Like his character, Depardieu’s performance lacks energy for much of the film. Depardieu’s wide girth is addressed as he speaks dialog about not being happy with the way he now looks.

The film improves as it focuses on the tragedy of the son’s death, as does Depardieu’s performance. Depardieu becomes more emotional, glowing with remembrance of an experience at a hotel with his ex-wife. He also shows intensity at a climactic encounter.

In a future post, Isabelle Huppert discusses her enduring career.

French Rendez-Vous 2015: Fresh Views of a Familiar Subject

I was pleasantly surprised that two of the stronger films in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York were from the familiar the serial killer genre. Perhaps, these films made such an impression because both are based on real cases.

“SK1” (“L’Affaire SK1”) is a procedural that follows the multi-year search for and trial of a serial killer, nicknamed The Beast of the Bastille. Director Frederic Teller makes a notable feature debut, showing in fascinating detail the determination of the police investigating the murder of women in Paris. Mistakes prolong the hunt.

Raphael Personnaz and Olivier Gourmet in "SK1"

Raphael Personnaz and Olivier Gourmet in “SK1”

The film is extremely well-acted. The focus is on a young inspector (Raphael Personnaz, “The French Minister”). His partner is played by Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet. One of France’s top actresses, Nathalie Baye (“Catch Me If You Can”) portrays a lawyer after the killer is caught and put on trial. Director Teller, who co-wrote the screenplay, maintains tension throughout. The film has some chilling scenes, particularly when the killer (Adama Niane) makes a court confession in front of the victims’ families.

Nathalie Baye at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema     (c) Ed Scheid

Nathalie Baye at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Director Frederic Teller and members of the cast discussed the film after the screening. Teller said he had access to a trove of documents for different drafts of the screenplay. Nathalie Baye who had been directed by Teller for television said she really enjoyed him as director, she felt they worked very close together as he understands actors.

Teller said his main influence was from French and American films from the 1970s and 1980s that focused on character like “Missing” and “Taxi Driver”. He described “SK1” as “obsessing, searching for the man behind the monster” and added that it was a “film about people fighting evil.”

Frederic Teller after the screening     (c) Ed Scheid

Frederic Teller after the screening (c) Ed Scheid

Also inspired by history, “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart” (“Prochaine Fois Je Viserai le Coeur”) has a very unusual twist in that the serial killer (Guillaume Canet, “In the Name of My Daughter”) is Franck Neuhart, a respected gendarme assigned to the case.

Before the screening, Canet added that because of the complexity of his role, it is the “best part” of his career. He also saluted his “spiritual father” director Jerry Schatzberg who was in the audience, saying Schatzberg discovered Al Pacino (“Panic in Needle Park”, 1971).

Guillaume Canet in “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”

Guillaume Canet in “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart”

The film is directed and co-written by Cedric Anger, a former film critic. Set during 1978-1979, it is an absorbing study of a very conflicted character with several gripping twists to the plot as the gendarme attempts to impede the investigation of himself.

Guillaume Canet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema     (c) Ed Scheid

Guillaume Canet at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (c) Ed Scheid

Canet is impressive. His Neuhart is frightening, deadly violent to his female victims. But his private life, he carries on a tentative romance with his cleaning lady. In torment from the crimes he seems unable to control, Neuhart beats himself, and in unsettling scenes, has barbed wire wrapped around his bleeding arm.