“Far less envy in America than in France, and far less wit.” - Stendhal
We watched three French films recently and overall they were all very good. Living in Australia it is rather more difficult to find a wide variety of good international movies in most DVD shops, so when I see something that looks interesting and in a language other than English, I enthusiastically grab it. In some cases the film has disappointed, but in over 90% of cases we have generally enjoyed my choices.
The first, was the 2009 Catherine Corsini movie, “Leaving” (Partir), which starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi López and Yvan Attal. This was a graphic tale of power, family, love, sex and complex relationships in a typical love triangle - shades of Madame Bovary in a modern-day setting. The film does contain some sex scenes, so be warned.
Scott Thomas plays Suzanne, a well-to-do married wife and mother in the south of France. Her idle, comfortable bourgeois lifestyle bores her and as her children are growing up, she decides to go back to work as a physiotherapist. She begins to study as a refresher, and her doctor husband (Attal) agrees to renovate a storage building as a consulting room for her in their backyard. When Suzanne and Ivan (López), the man hired to do the building, meet the mutual attraction is as sudden as it is passionate. Suzanne has little hesitation to give up her life, her family and all her future plans in order to live this love to the fullest.
The film is gritty and realistic, and even though Suzanne is depicted as the faithless wife betraying her husband and family, one cannot help but sympathise with her, especially as the film develops and her husband’s attitude towards her is explored. It is difficult to fathom what Suzanne is experiencing: Is it true love, an overwhelming passion, or an attempt to reaffirm her femininity in order to experience Ivan’s tenderness towards her (something that is missing from her relationship with her husband)? The vulnerability of each of the three main characters is artfully displayed by the director, who is very restrained in the way she depicts the foibles of all three. Quite an enjoyable movie.
The second film was “IP5: The Island of the Pachyderms” (IP5: L'île aux pachyderms) a 1992 film by director Jean-Jacques Beineix, starring Yves Montand, Olivier Martinez and Sekkou Sall. This was part road movie, part coming-of-age tale, part quest for the ideal love movie. It is notable for being Yves Montand’s last movie (he died in 1991, before the film’s release).
Two young people, Tony (Martinez) a dysfunctional anti-social angry youth and his friend, Jockey (Sall) a black boy, live a precarious existence in the ethnic minority slums of Paris. They deface walls with graffiti and decorate billboards with art. Tony gets in serious trouble with a gang of drug pushers and in order to extricate himself, agrees to deliver a consignment of “gnomes” to Grenoble. En route, Tony decides to head for Toulouse instead, in pursuit of a girl he met briefly in Paris and with whom he has fallen in love. The two youngsters dump the truck, steal a couple of cars and in the second one, they find that Leon, a tramp and mystic (Montand), is hiding in the back seat. They form an unlikely threesome, each pursuing a dream, each finding within themselves a redeeming feature that changes their lives.
Beineix has made some interesting films, including “Betty Blue”, “The Moon in the Gutter” and “Diva”. Socially marginal anti-establishment characters on a quest seems to be a recurring theme with this director. This film has an engaging style, often lapses into visual lyricism and Montand’s acting shines forth like a diamond. The two young leads also do a great job acting and the cinematography, music and direction are wonderful. We were kept engaged and interested throughout this movie that looks at France’s minorities, some of their problems, but more importantly, the universality of human emotions and needs.
Third in the list is Claude Lelouch’s 2007 movie, “Crossed Tracks” (“Roman de Gare”) starring Fanny Ardant, Dominique Pinon and Audrey Dana. This was a quirky film that was nevertheless well made, original and kept you guessing for quite a while with its clever plot and false leads. One has to pay close attention to the story, but at the same time, this is not hard to do as the movie is interesting, the acting is good and the plot has few if any holes in it. One’s changing evaluation of the characters as one watches and learns more of them, is part of the pleasure of watching this film.
The plot centres on (but is not mainly about!) the successful novelist Judith Ralitzer (Ardant). We start out with Judith’s interrogation at a police station regarding the disappearance of her ghost-writer. A the same time, a serial-killer/child rapist escapes from a prison in Paris. A school teacher leaves his wife and children and goes missing, while his wife desperately tries to find him but instead falls in love with the police detective in charge of the case. Further afield, on the road, an annoying and stressed hairdresser, Huguette (Dana) is abandoned at a service station by her fiancé Paul while driving to the farm of her family in the country in order to introduce her fiancé and announce their wedding to them. A man (Pinon) offers her a ride and she pleads with him to assume the identity of her fiancé for 24 hours so as not to disappoint her mother. Who is who? What is truth and what is a lie? Who is the killer and who is the victim?
This is a great movie, full of incident, quirky characters, humour, pathos, intrigue, mystery and drama. We enjoyed it very much and had a laugh, identified with some situations, booed at the villain only to discover that it was a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and were surprised by the ending. The film could have easily been a mess, but Lelouch shows his mastery of the medium, while the actors pull all stops out to give fantastic performances. Pinon is really the star of the film, but is ably supported by Ardant and Dana is quite refreshing as the pathetic “airhead” hairdresser.