Friday, August 10, 2007

French Film Evenings

I'm just done attending the The 5th Annual French Film Festival at the Fun Republic multiplex. Conducted from the 3rd to the 9th of August by the French Embassy and the Alliance Française, the ex-reviewer and I were there everyday from the 5th. Only one film was screened everyday with free seating on a first-come-first-served basis.

Surprisingly, there are more takers for French cinema in this city than I would have bargained for. I stood in serpentine lines for over an hour each day, believe it or not, despite getting there at 18:30 for a 20:00 film. Judgemental as it may sound, I think the lines were due in no small measure to the films being free.

I could rant on about it but frankly, I'm not sure it's worth the debate an opinion like that will spark off — especially if one of my recent posts is anything to go by. Most of you know the kind of stragglers I mean, and that's enough said. :-)

I don't think the entire festival was managed well at all. Everyday was an exhausting experience. You first waited forever for passes. Then you went up and waited just to be let into the lobby of the multiplex, and that's just bloody ridiculous! Simply because we didn't pay for the passes doesn't mean they should treat us any less than paying customers. I highly doubt that Fun Republic was screening the films free, don't you agree? Someone, somewhere was paying for the screening. So why should they treat us thus?

But I meander; to the films, then. These are listed in the order in which we saw them.

Les Mauvais Joueurs (The Gamblers)
A fast-paced movie set in a side of Paris you won't see in mainstream romantic films. This is a Paris infested with illegal immigrants and petty crime. Yuen (Teng Fei Xiang), the Chinese rebel without a clue, is an immigrant who does his best to annoy his French "sponsors". Vahé (Pascal Elbé), a thug in love with Yuen's sister, tries to keep Yuen out of trouble with the others. The tension culminates in Yuen losing control and shooting the owner of a sweatshop. The rest of the film plays out neatly, tying up all the possible and sometimes predictable loose ends.

I personally didn't think that the movie was saying anything new or particularly profound about the exploitation in sweat shops, angst-ridden youth, or the seamy underbelly of a large city. It's a story often told in American films, about New York, Chicago, or Boston. But with it's engaging music, quick pace, and decent performances from most of the cast, I enjoyed watching it all the same.

La Petite Jersusalem (Little Jerusalem)
Set in a Jewish community in a suburb of Paris, La Petite Jerusalem tells the tale of three (stereo?)types of orthodox Jewish women in a single household. There's Laura (Fanny Valette), a student of philosophy, grappling with her Jewish identity and love for a Muslim Algerian colleague. Mathilde (Elsa Zylberstein), her sister, is the frum wife, following the Torah to the letter only to find her marriage in a mess because of her interpretation of it. And finally, their mother (Sonia Tahar), is the over-anxious Jewish mother, carrying on about possession and the evil eye on her daughter. Finally though, the film is about the personal journeys of both the sisters towards peace, reconciliation, and acceptance.

La Petite Jerusalem won the SACD Screen writing Award at the Cannes Film Festival and I cannot understand why! The dialogues are nothing great but that could also be because they got lost in translation somewhere. Additionally, another annoying aspect of the screenplay is that the discussions in Laura's philosophy classroom lack depth and meaning. Personally, I don't think Valette is particularly convincing as the young Jewish girl, tortured and torn by her beliefs and her upbringing. Mathilde is more real in her relationships with her mother, sister, and husband. Also, I quite liked the the effective use of grey tones for the grubby neighbourhood the family lives in and the somber mood of the film. The music is also decently effective, if unsurprising, in its discordant piano and the stark acoustic sounds.

You'll find an interesting interview with director Karin Albou and the interviewer's take here.

Le Petit Lieutenant (The Young Lieutenant)
Definitely one of the films I enjoyed most. Le Petit Lieutenant follows the lives of the members of a crime unit in Paris. A rookie police lieutenant, Antoine Derouère (Jalil Lespert), moves to Paris for a more exciting career than he would have had in his native Le Havre. Here he is part of Commandant Caroline Vaudieu's team (Nathalie Baye). Vandieu is a recovering alcoholic who takes an initially ambiguous but finally motherly interest in Antoine. Things go horribly wrong during the investigations of a murder when Antoine’s enthusiasm leads to tragedy.

Each of the characters is superbly acted and even as the film reaches a predictable denouement, you cannot help but feel very impressed with the way it was handled. As more than one review will point out, Le Petit Lieutenant revolves around the personalities of the people in Vandieu's team and their equations with each other instead of the intricacies of the investigation. This, I think, is what makes this a really good film and sets it apart from the usual murder investigation film.

Amongst the most striking things about this film was the complete lack of music. The film ends with Baye on the beach in Nice, looking directly at the camera, the surf crashing behind her. The waves continue to break over the rolling credits and are the only memorable sound in a film otherwise filled only with ambient sound.

Changement d'Adresse (Change of Address)
My very favourite in the festival, this beautiful film follows David (Emmanuel Mouret - also the director) a wonderfully charming, sweetly inept French horn player who is accosted by Anne (Frédérique Bel) while reading an ad for a roommate. David soon finds himself living with Anne. They become good friends, seeing each other through various romantic problems and occasionally sharing more than a living space.

David's love interest is his student, Julia, played by Fanny Valette, while Anne is in love with a man whose name she does not know but who is a customer at her copy shop. David does everything he can to attract Julia's attention and affection, even taking her away on a romantic getaway to the seaside. The surreal and farcical sequence of rapidly changing emotions and events that follow unfolds like a mime - only with dialogues.

The acting from most of the cast is superb and the film reaches a funny but sad climax. I particularly liked Mouret and Bel in their hilarious, innocent, and offbeat way of handling everything a seemingly bizarre life throws at them. Dany Brilliant is quite good in his role as David's smooth-talking and confident nemesis. However, there is something about Valette that I cannot quite connect with. I am, however, willing to admit that she's really good as the reserved and cold young woman because she left me cold altogether.

Bled Number One (Back Home)
Honestly, I am not quite sure if I understood this film. The story is told of Kamel (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche - also the director), Louisa (Meryem Serbah), and Algeria. Kamel's been deported from France and Louisa's walked out on a husband who won't let her sing. The film portrays the effects of their alienation from and oppression in Algerian society

However, a number of the finer nuances, elucidated here, escaped me altogether. I also got the sense that Kamel and Louisa seem to find a manner of friendship, of solace, in each other. This equation remains unexplored in many ways. Perhaps Ameur-Zaïmeche intended for them to be and remain alienated and uprooted but I think the film just might have worked better for an exploration of their equation.

The music is particularly discordant and jarring because suddenly in the middle of events, the scene cuts to a solitary guitar player perched on a hillside with a basic electric sound set up. Out of nowhere he launches into, as the ex-reviewer pointed out, a musical rendition of William Blake’s The Little Vagabond. Kamel merely flits in and out of the scene. Just as suddenly, the film ends with the same man playing a solo. Indeed, I don’t think I understood the film and I am not sure I liked it.


I missed Le Couperet (The Axe) and Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé (Not Here To Be Loved). They both seem quite interesting, especially Not Here To Be Loved. You can find a review for each here and here.


Parth said...

First up, good to have a film festival like this happening at all. The more people see it, the better. Of course, as all things go, organization is more likely than not a lost cause. Thanks for writing these descriptions. Will try and look these up if they are available to rent.

Extempore said...

@Parth: I couldn't agree more - I think the festival was a great idea and I'm just sorry I missed the first four years! Esp because I met some really nice people standing in line each day, including a Bhojpuri film director who provided some very interesting insight into the film industry and theatre in India.

But I was there for six of eight days of this year's Pune International Film Festival and it was much, much better organised than this. There were no mad lines, movies were screened on time, you weren't yelled at by multiplex management to "make a single line, or I won't let you in." Nobody jumped lines ritually without the slightest thought for people who'd been waiting before them. And yet, I'd do this all over again if the opportunity presented itself. :-)

All these films are out on DVD. You should have no trouble renting them. Pls to enjoy only!

Vikram said...

You're very kind about "the stragglers" and about the festival management. I was there and it wasn't as tame as you make it sound.

Ricercar said...

i liked the sound of Changement d'Adresse! Will look out for it :)

Extempore said...

@Vikram: :-) Just too much to go into and I am not sure how faithfully I could reproduce the experience without sounding like a judgemental and unreasonable prat! Which one did you like best?

@Ricercar: It's really a lovely, lovely film! You really must watch it. :-)

Plain Jane said...

Hey just checked...all the films have been screened at some time or the other at PIFF in the last 3 yrs and curiously I seem to have missed them all despite prioritising French films every year! Bizarre...

Extempore said...

@Plain Jane: Right then, next year I'll get there well in time and we'll watch all the French films together! :-)