Palais Royal !
Valérie Lemercier :: France :: 2004 :: 1h40
Two seemingly ordinary people are thrust onto the throne of a fictional (Belgian-like) nation after which they sort out their dirty laundry in public (UK-style). Although clearly a capable actress, Ms Lemercier shows herself at a loss at directing a feature movie – an issue probably picked up by her producers during the editing, inspiring the premature, heavily over-done advertising campaign no doubt intended for a first weekend cash-in before the contents become public. The story-line opens with a simple couple who is completely indifferent as to the death of their father (in-law), the king. Since they are indifferent, the audience adopts their position creating an instant distance between you and the main characters, a distance already implicit by their unconvincing as royalty and unlovable nature. The emotions which are hurled our way as the story progresses are superfluous by consequence, as are the naively intended humorous situations portrayed. Unprofessional camera work and bad sound mixing finish the whole product off, leaving you with the dilemma of whether or not to laugh at the -at times- admittedly funny dialogues. To mutilate one of their gags: from now on ‘bad’ could also be written with an ‘s’.
Zui hao de shi guang
Hou Hsiao Hsien :: Taiwan :: 2004 :: 2h11
Three love stories set in different times and settings with the same actors playing the protagonists. We can welcome back the beautiful Shu Qi (Millennium Mambo), but she is not particularly luckier in these (too slow but) masterfully made tales.
In the first nostalgic and almost wordless tale, she incarnates a billiard-room employee who falls in love with a young man summoned for his military service. They have only barely touched when we are thrown into a silent era courtesan love for a revolutionary, whose strict dialogues are summarized visually into hurtful words on the screen. The chic but painful ambiance is cut into the harsh concrete contemporary world where our lovers struggle as before. Messages sent, messages received, the communication has intensified but it does not make matters any simpler. In this last tale, the viewer is at times simply set aside, at a distance, we see the lovers drive by, we know them but they could also just fade away into the highway traffic, as if their tale is just one amongst many. The importance of their drama, their love, is equally of supreme importance as it is completely futile in the grand scheme.
As time goes by people change, problems change, and music changes, but love remains as does the beauty of Shu Qi.
Emmanuelle Bercot :: France :: 2005 :: 1h55
Common girl fan meets her idol through a TV show, follows her up to Paris and they combine into a necessary but impossible relationship. The two characters are both very physical in their expressions, lacking the development of self-analysis which adulthood brings the lucky ones amongst us. If you are happy you laugh, if you are upset you cry and if you are angry you break something. The complexity of their relationship is not done justice for the viewer, as he is forced to figure it out for himself with their childlike reactions. The Mylene Farmer type idol does not seem like a popstar, but rather more like an over-the-hill actress, and the unattractive provincial fan is a very unlikely love-interest for the nightlife vampire in the popstar’s entourage, both rendering the whole tale unconvincing. Unless you have a special fascination with the nature of teenage fan-hood or a fictional rock-star’s real life I would skip over this one – despite the mysterious raving reception of the press.
Christian Carion :: France :: 2005 :: 1h55
During the Great War (WWI), the French, Scottish and German troops lay entrenched on the Franco-German border in a frozen stand-off. The onset of Christmas brings about an unparalleled cease-fire coming together of the soldiers cumulating into the famous friendly game of soccer. You would expect to be confronted with wounded soldiers rising up from the muddy trenches like zombies in a violin drenched, tear-jerk climax of a scene, but rest assured that you are spared of that. Although emotional, the movie is actually rather light on the horrors of the trenches and skims over to the incredible bottom-up ceasefire. A couple of funny and equally unbelievable scenes bring you to the conclusion that the what you expect is what you get (without the Disney element). None the less, the added value of the film lies primarily in the thought that the general public does not know this story, a claim I can not corroborate. No doubt Mr Carion has pacifistic intentions, but you would already be hard pressed to find a soul wanting to repeat the disaster of the First World War.
Les Chevaliers du Ciel
Gérard Pirès :: France :: 2005 :: 1h42
A Mirage2000 jet fighter has been stolen during an air-show, and our two heros, out on aerial patrol over the north sea, are sent out to get it back. As you can imagine, there’s a whole lot of internal intrigue involved. Although you may be forgiven for thinking that you are dealing with just another simple action movie (especially if you have seen the trailer, or read the title), but you are presented here with quite some spectacular air chases and flights over the beautiful French countryside. About half way through the film you’ll probably be ready to walk out because of the weak story-line, but bear with them – you will be rewarded with some spectacular footage of an air chase over Paris on the 14th of July! The decision on whether or not to walk to your local cinema to watch it is quite tough, because seeing the fighters dip in and out of the clouds (if you’re interested) is something you would want to see on a big screen, but you do have to actually sit though quite some tiresome dialogues for it… suggesting you might want the fast forward button…
(Saga USA – Land of Opportunity part II)
Lars von Trier :: Denmark :: 2005 :: 2h19
After her disastrous stay at Dogville, Grace arrives on the Southern US plantation of Manderlay, which is run as if slavery were still in place. Grace uses her father’s gangster muscle to restructure the farm, ‘liberating’ its inhabitants. The awkward question of ‘Now What?’ turns Grace into a reluctant moralist preacher. A satirical jab at race relations in the New World (American dream – American nightmare theme), as the idealist clashes with the harsh reality. No doubt suggesting that the US has hardly progressed since the age of slavery will not go down too well on the other side of the Atlantic, but all viewers will be rewarded with an aesthetically pleasing and philosophically challenging satire on contemporary ethical discourse.
Woody Allen :: USA/ UK :: 2004 :: 2h03
Provincial young tennis player works his way into the London upper-class and into an amorous claustrophobic love triangle. What starts out as an overly speeded-up romantic comedy turns into a Dostoevsky inspired thriller, without the depth of character. The same themes loom, as our young Raskolnikov-fueled character worms his way through the stable family life of the Hewitt family, confirming the prejudice of the outsider. But all that in beautiful surroundings- houses and apartments- contrasting with the grey English skies. The key thought is supposed to be heads you win, tails you lose, but from the story-line I would recommend that a healthy doses of suspicion, mistrust and paranoia would get you further…