Monday, 23 March 2009


“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” - Eric Fromm

It was a little bit like a French film festival this weekend, as we managed to see three French films that a friend had loaned me. The offer was quite welcome as there was nothing decent on television (unfortunately this is now the rule, rather than the exception so we rarely watch TV). The three films were quite refreshing and very enjoyable.

The first is Claude Berri’s 2002 film “Un Femme de Ménage” (The Housekeeper), a romantic bittersweet comedy. It is about the messes we get ourselves with and without love, literally and figuratively. Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) has been left by his wife of fifteen years for another man. He lets his apartment fall into a state of utter disorderliness and it becomes dirty and messy. He hires a young housekeeper, Laura (Émilie Dequenne), with two-toned hair, rather banal tastes and housing problems of her own. Jacques reluctantly allows his housekeeper to share his bed, a victim of his loneliness and hurt pride.

Such an improbable relationship between the older, sophisticated Jacques and the young, banal Laura cannot work, but we hope that it does in any case. The film is simple and direct, no one is right, no one is wrong with both Jacques and Laura being perfectly honest with each other. In an attempt to test their love, they take a trip, Laura gets a haircut, and they spend their days at the beach. The ending of the film is not surprising, but it is rather gratifying. Jacques, who was cajoled into love by the young Laura finds her choice understandable but is grateful that his heart has been opened. This is a chic flick in a way, but also satisfying for men to watch, as many of us will be able to identify with poor Jacques on many levels. Also, it is not saccharine sweet, nor cloyingly romantic. We gave this a 6.5/10.

Incidentally, the director of this movie, Claude Berri, directed the very famous and excellent duet: “Jean de Florette” in 1986 and the 1986 “Manon des Sources”.

The second film we saw was the 2006 “La Tourneuse de Pages” (the Page Turner) by Denis Dercourt. This is a wonderfully dark and understated thriller about revenge. Mélanie Prouvost is a young and musically gifted butcher's daughter who has serious musical ambitions. She fails an audition for entry into a conservatory because of the behaviour of one of the judges, an egocentric pianist, Ariane (Catherine Frot). This causes her to give up her piano playing and grows up to become a clerk. Years later Mélanie (Déborah François) temps for a wealthy lawyer, Monsieur Fouchecourt (Pascal Greggory), and also volunteers to care for his son Tristan (Antoine Martynchiow) during her holidays.

When she goes to the château where Fouchecourt lives, she finds that her boss’s wife is none other than Ariane. She immediately sets out to gain the unsuspecting Ariane's confidence – easy, since Ariane has recently lost all her confidence due to a serious car accident and needs all the extra support she can get. Mélanie manages to become indispensable as Ariane's page turner for important concerts (not only in her métier, but also as a psychological prop. Mélanie also wins Tristan's affection and becomes important to Ariane in more subtle ways. The only person she doesn't seduce is the cool, aloof Monsieur Fouchecourt. Adriane and Mélanie develop a complex relationship, while the true nature of the seemingly sweet Meelanie is revealed slowly in all of its dark and malevolent colours.

The film is well-paced, acted and directed extremely well and the story is satisfying and involving, although one cannot make up one’s mind about the psychologically scarred Mélanie or the vulnerable and dependent Ariane. The music is gorgeous and there is an insight into the world of the concert pianist, in all its complexity. We gave this film a 7.5/10.

The last one we watched was another Claude Berri film, the 2007 “Ensemble, C’ Est Tout” (Hunting and Gathering – what the English title has to do with the film, I’ll never know – the literal translation is “Together, That’s What’s Important” which is much more apt). The film is an adaptation of a best seller by Anna Gavalda and I am sure that it must have disappointed the bibliophiles, but I thought that as a film this was pleasant trifle, a wonderful French bon-bon, light and airy with lashings of whipped liqueur cream and wrapped in fine dark chocolate.

The film recounts the story of four people whose lives blend and clash in a Paris apartment. Audrey Tautou stars as Camille Fauque, a waif who works as a cleaner (“Surface Engineer”!) who smokes a lot, drinks, but eats little. She lives alone in a small attic of an apartment block and meets Philibert (Laurent Stocker), a neighbour who suffers from bouts of anxiety and stutters badly. He improbably wishes to leave his souvenir shop behind him and become a theatre actor. Philibert's housemate Franck (Guillaume Canet) is a chef who lives hard and fast, and whose only care is the welfare of his grandmother Paulette (Francoise Bertin), an old woman who fears old age and hates her dependency on others.

The film has hardly any surprises and is a modern-day fairy tale, a delicious romantic comedy that works because its heroes and heroines are ordinary people with quite ordinary problems, modest ambitions and the universal human need to love and be loved. The way in which each of these people overcomes their fears, their frustrations, the way that they dispense with their psychological baggage is what makes the film engaging and eminently watchable.

The acting is very good (Philibert is a joy to watch!), the direction light-handed and discreet, while the music and cinematography seamless and unnoticeable (in the best sense of the word)! The film rated a 7/10.

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