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March 2007 Archives

March 4, 2007

I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single, 2006

i_do.gifForty-something perfume developer, confirmed bachelor, and henpecked (and only male) sibling in a decidedly female-centric household of six children, Luis Costa (Alain Chabat) - still nursing a wounded heart from his only serious relationship during his twenties (a personal milestone that he nostalgically, but nebulously remembers as his "The Cure phase", indelibly marked by his gothic, Robert Smith-styled, oversized fashion sense, his lover's decision to leave him following an introductory meeting with his disapproving family, and his accidental discovery of his life-long passion when he attempts to recapture her essence by chemically synthesizing her complex scent into a fragrance) - has been officially classified as long overdue for marriage by his well intentioned, but intrusive family (in a motion overwhelmingly passed by the women under the collective resolution brought to the family's "G7" domestic committee). In an attempt to stave off his sisters' aggressive attempts at matchmaking - and who, in turn, have taken the cause of finding a suitable wife for their visibly disinclined brother by flooding the internet - Luis enlists the aid of his best friend and business partner, Pierre-Yves' (Grégoire Oestermann) bohemian sister, Emma (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who, having recently ended a long-term relationship and moved back to France, is eager to prove her financial stability as she settles into a new phase in her life and prepares to petition a Chilean orphan for adoption. Hatching an elaborate scheme to rid the family once and for all of their chronic interference into his romantic life by transforming Emma into the ideal fiancée in order to win the hearts and minds of his sisters and, above all, the family matriarch, Geneviève (Bernadette Lafont), before staging a sudden break-up where he would assume (and eagerly exploit) the role of jilted lover humiliatingly left at the altar, Luis' bright future of meddle-free bachelorhood seems tantalizingly within reach, until he finds himself on the defensive in the chaotic aftermath (and familial wrath) of the aborted wedding against amorphous accusations of unspecified transgressions that undoubtedly caused such a perfect woman to escape his grasp. Evoking the slapstick comedies of Francis Veber in its tortuous, absurd, over-the-top, rapid fire scenarios, Eric Lartigau creates a whimsical, charming, and infectious, if perhaps, characteristically outré romantic farce in I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single. Supported by equally solid performances from veteran actors Chabat (who also conceived the idea for the script) as cosseted man-child and hopeless romantic, Gainsbourg as the world-wise, but vulnerable object of affection, and Lafont as the indomitable, yet overindulging mother prone to histrionics, the film is an enjoyable, well crafted, and irresistible tale on the inexorable - and enviable - travails of love, commitment, and family.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 04, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

The Page Turner, 2006

pageturner.gifFavorably evoking Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie in its taut, slow brewing, and unnerving portrait of dysfunctional class relations, Denis Dercourt's The Page Turner is a distilled, understated, and elegantly realized psychological tale of fragility, revenge, and manipulation. At the heart of Dercourt's dark allegory is a polite, attractive, and meticulous young woman named Mélanie Prouvost (in the astute casting of Déborah François, who played the role of Sonya in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's L'Enfant and embodies the role of Mélanie with the opacity of a Bressonian model in the film), the enigmatic daughter of a provincial butcher (an occupation that also alludes to Chabrol through the film, Le Boucher) who once obsessively practiced to become a professional pianist but, having failed in her entrance audition for a scholarship at prestigious conservatory due to an unforeseen, external distraction, impulsively abandoned the piano and altogether turned away from her musical studies. Now working in a law office as a seasonal intern for a successful attorney, Jean Fouchécourt (Pascal Greggory), Mélanie's diligence and accommodating nature impresses the genial, if abstracted Fouchécourt and inevitably accepts her offer to watch over his son Tristan (Antoine Martynciow) in order for his wife, Ariane (Catherine Frot), a renowned pianist, to singularly concentrate on her rehearsals with her ensemble for an important radio performance that will mark her return to public appearance after an extended hiatus (stemming from a still unsolved hit and run accident). Gradually, Mélanie's impeccable musical training enables her to insinuate herself into Ariane's rehearsals, taking on the seemingly innocuous, but immensely critical role as her sheet music page turner and, consequently, becomes an intimate - and integral - part of her increasingly mercurial performance and eroding psyche. Perhaps the most emblematic aspect of Dercourt's quietly rendered observation of social invisibility and marginalization resides in the catalytic nature of Mélanie's imperceptible, yet palpable toll within the Fouchécourt household, a profound influence that is figuratively embodied through Tristan's goaded, seemingly innocuous accelerated timing of the metronome - a subtle alteration that inevitably exposes the delicate and tenuous dynamic between strength and debilitation, character and mundanity, exaltation and agony.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 04, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

March 3, 2007

Ambitious, 2006

ambitious.gifIn an early episode in Catherine Corsini's dark romantic comedy, Ambitious, a timid, aspiring writer book shop owner named Julien (Eric Caravaca) discreetly, but deliberately, foists his recently finished autofiction manuscript on unsuspecting friend and perennial store patron, Mathieu Séchard (Renan Carteaux), the son of a renowned literary publishing house director in Paris, and immediately becomes wracked with anxiety and insecurity over Mathieu's seeming evasion and prolonged silence regarding his initial impressions of Julien's work, mollified only by his friend's impulsive offer, in passing, to send the manuscript to his father's office. Julien's seemingly amicable, yet intrinsically calculated encounter with Mathieu provides an incisive prelude to the film's overarching themes of exploitation, vanity, and self-absorption, as his reprehensive opportunism is equally matched by the introduction of a mercurial publishing agent named Judith Zahn (Karen Viard) into his life. Delegated with the task of providing feedback on the manuscript's potential for representation, Judith shirks her obligation to review the personal favor submission and, instead, sends an assistant to meet with Julien to tactfully, but decisively reject his work. But Julien soon proves to be a formidable non-client, ingratiating himself into a frazzled and distraught Judith's reluctant company. Newly entrusted into her intimacy, Julien discovers the remarkable contents an entrusted box of souvenirs and personal effects that Judith has inherited from her estranged, late father - a 70s revolutionary who had lived a life of intrigue replete with covert acts of political espionage and assassinations - and decides to surreptitiously embark on a more marketable premise for his next novel, a story based on the mined contents of her father's buried, secret history. Assembling an eccentric cast of morally reprehensible, yet endearing characters - a motley crew that also includes failed thespian, consummate freeloader, and part-time stalker, Julien's former classmate, Simon (Gilles Cohen) - Corsini strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos, revulsion and affection to create a slight, yet acerbic dysfunctional fairytale of the idiosyncratic intersections of deception, manipulation, betrayal, and desire that define the inscrutable course of neurotic true love.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 03, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

The Singer, 2006

singer.gifEach day, a divorced, middle-aged dance hall chanteur, Alain Moreau (in an elegant performance by Gérard Depardieu), attired in his white satin suit and sporting a provincial, stylishly overgrown haircut with a touch of highlights, sings from his stout repertoire of familiar - yet not too iconic - love songs before an appreciative audience in assorted dance halls, upscale restaurants, and nursing homes throughout Clermont-Ferrand: special places where people with palpable life experiences - too old for the frenetic beat of clubs and discotheques - can come together and, for a brief moment, find connection with each other, their formative histories, their personal memories. It is a humble vocation that suits the endearing and charismatic Alain well with his easygoing, confident manner and refreshingly pragmatic outlook over his role - not as an artist seeking to elevate his performance in search of legacy and stardom - but as an entertainer for hire who must consciously remain attuned to the wishes of his audience to sing competently, yet unobtrusively, the sentimental melodies that will entice them to dance, to linger in the moment, to forget their pain, abandon their inhibitions and take a chance. It is perhaps Alain's remarkable ability to put the audience at ease and break down resistances that propels real estate businessman, Bruno (Mathieu Amalric) to bring his newly hired real estate agent, an attractive, recently separated woman named Marion (Cécile de France) to the dance hall one evening, a manipulative ploy with seeming unintentional consequences when she catches the attention of the charming crooner. Instinctually drawn to each other by a sense of displaced longing and mutual woundedness, Alain enlists Marion's aid in finding a new residence under the pretext of finally moving out of the home that he had shared with his manager and former wife Michèle (Christine Citti). But as Michèle strives to reinvent Alain's flagging career in the face of dwindling bookings, declining health, and the increasing popularity of karaoke, his reinvigorated desire to start his life anew is tempered by the ambivalence of leaving behind the intimacy of his beloved dance halls. Channeling the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red in its suffusive evocation of longing and synchronicity, Xavier Giannoli's The Singer is an intelligently rendered, understatedly resonant, and refined portrait of the often bifurcating trajectories of existential and emotional intersections. Concluding with the extended long shot of Alain and Marion in desperate and reluctant embrace from the windows of a café, the silent choreography of souls in restless motion becomes a sublime metaphor for their transformative, star-crossed encounter - fragrant in its fleeting intoxication, heartbreaking in its inevitable conclusion, and indelible in its haunting irresolution.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 03, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema