Month: December 2006

Le Grand appartement

Le Grand appartement

Pascal Thomas :: France :: 2006 :: 1h43

Francesca and Martin live in a huge apartment in the middle of Paris, surrounded by an extended family extended with friends. The apartment had its rent fixed long, long ago, allowing them to bungle on through life in a bohemian bliss. The owners of the apartment want to sell, putting pressure on the group which do not see reality as something which concerns them directly.

Boulevard theatre brought to the big screen, with all the usual elements, including the promiscuous husband, songs sung and a lot of caring, meaningful looks to bring about a happy and loving atmosphere. In itself not for everybody, but on top of that there is a real moral to this movie, which is spelt out at the end in case you were too concentrated on something else during the screening. The director Mr Thomas mourns the transformation of Paris into a rat-race which does not allow the tranquility of community life, a life which allows artistic expression.

This main theme is discussed from different angles throughout the movie, but with a persistent nostalgic tone of something which can not be much other than an imperfect recollection of youth. Paris is not as it was, but it never really was as it was either. Of course the idea of living for free is appealing, but the general drawback of its impossibility is sidelined. The movie is plagued by arguments which show bad economics – someone somewhere will have to work for all this!

If we leave the pervasive moral aside, not taking it all too seriously, and turn to the humor, then we find the occasional funny line. More importantly, there are some creative theatrical elements which are a pleasure to watch in cinema (although it’s not for everybody). This is far from sufficient to fill the allocated time. So we get to see some dancing and singing, and such to fill up their romantic existence. There is a certain charm to the bohemian life-style shown, but remember Bertolucci’s Les Innocents, who also does not really succeed, but makes a better case than this movie, partly bu concentrating on youth exclusively. Although as a viewer you wonder constantly what they are going to do next, which is one of the great charms of bohemian cinema, you mostly hope they will just stop. If you go in to watch it, go for Laetitia Casta, who handles her role well, or go and watch something else.

Une jeunesse comme aucune autre

Karov la bayit (Close to Home)

Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu :: Israel :: 2006 :: 1h30

Two girls, Smadar and Mirit, are doing their compulsory military service in Jerusalem. One of them is a rebellious, assertive character, the other a beautiful and enticing introvert. They are sent on patrol together through the streets, taking down ID details of Arabs, a menial and unappealing task. Hesitantly they comply with their mission, trying to balance the demands of the service with their personal lives.

A convincing and captivating portrait of contemporary Israeli society, showing the uncomfortable role of the military in daily life. The soldiers are so young that they can barely deal with the reality around them. It is not as much their fragility -as women- which weakens them, but rather their inexperience. A desperation sets in with the realisation that the society needs them but that they are not really the ones who can do it. The general public is mostly placid about the harassing they’re ordered to do, but towards the end the strain snaps.

The huge differences in character and social background separate the two girls, with their roles well reflected in their duties. The challenges of friendship and love interact through their tour, adding an understanding to their reactions to the world around them.

Brilliantly set up and filmed up close to make us a part of their compulsory rite of passage. The movie is captivating from beginning to end. Do not hesitate to go and watch them in action. As a side note, the French release title (‘A youth unlike any other’), does not do the film justice. The characters are not that exceptional and their obligatory tour is shared by all Israeli youths, not just them. The title ‘Close to Home’ has a lot more impact by adding the realisation that they grow up living with a permanent bomb treat due to political instability. That it is not just a conflict on TV but one surrounding the place they, like everyone else there, calls home.

www.unejeunesse-lefilm.com

Hors de Prix

Hors de Prix

Pierre Salvadori :: France :: 2006 :: 1h43

Irène seduces older men to be able to lead the lifestyle she desires. One night, in a grand hotel, she mistakes Jean, the barman, for a wealthy guest. The game is up quickly enough for her, but Jean had fallen in love and quickly adapts himself to the change of rules to conquer her heart.

From the poster, the title (‘priceless’) and the opening credits, there is no mistaking that you are about to watch some light romantic comedy. In the style of Quatre Etoiles, we get to see Audrey Tautou playing the cynical seductress in a world of superficial wealth. If you are not a fan of Miss Tautou, there is really no point in watching this movie, as it hinges entirely on her capacities and her beauty. The simple story-line, predictable luxury scenery and side characters are not reasons to step into the cinema, as it offers nothing new.

Tautou’s role, which does not really convince, is none the less a pleasure to watch for her fans. The imagery brings out her beauty well, and combined with the clumsy hopeful Jean, they waltz you through the dream world of the Cote d’Azur in cinema. No doubt Jean could have been a little more credible as a Gigolo, and the side characters could have been stronger, but why pass up on a dream? Hors de Prix is the cinema equivalent of that timeless fascination with watching the little bubbles in your glass of Champagne as they rise: you know where it’s going, you know where it comes from, but it seems like magic none the less.

Official site

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris :: USA :: 2005 :: 1h40

-CONTAINS SPOILERS-

A dysfunctional provincial American family road movie where the assorted group of indifferent self absorbed characters to come together at the end, as you would expect. Although funny, the movie is disturbing at heart and forces us into a series of endlessly seen scenes with a dubious morality to hold it all together. It is a dark comedy, but the persistent emphasis on a sort-of realism obstructs the required absurdity to shine through to permit it to transcend into comedy.

The characters all have a single obsessional characteristic to work with, and painfully little love to share. As if being passionate about something requires ignoring everything (and everyone) else. The discomfort these people feel with each other, starts with them all shouting at each other over an atrocious meal. The movie continues with more bad food, bad parenting, bad language, perversity and lovelessness served in a soup of indifference.

The first real moments of kindness come up, bizarrely enough, near the end within the context of a perverse TV-style beauty contest. We are set in the hall with the father as he watches the little girls with excessive make-up pretend to be sexy beauty pageants, seated next to someone we are suggested to be a pedophile. When his little girl, the real star of the movie, comes on, she does a striptease(!) act. Besides the discomfort of watching this all, bare in mind that it was her grandfather -a sex-obsessed drug user- who had been training the little girl behind closed doors. With such a discomforting family life, the audience would have to prefer the leering at sexualized pre-teen beauty pageant contestants, as at least there, the staff showed some caring for the children.

It is not just the little girl who is neglected. Nobody took the time to notice that the son is color blind, which, when it comes out (based on one color-test card!) his dream of becoming a pilot is shattered. Following this neglect, they are then unwilling to console him. And then there’s the suicidal uncle who gets no more than courtesy help from the others. The brutality of living in a loveless world can not just be sung over with a jolly soundtrack, with no consolation to hang on to. The movie’s obsession with the silly duality theory of the main character – that people are either ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ – weighs heavily on the lack of multidimensionality of the characters. The underlying morality badly needs a serious re-think.

One inspired road-movie moment occurs in the hospital, which I will not ruin because it is the most creative and funny part of the movie should you watch it. Many commentators have reminded their readers that the scene (and its consequences) is a rip-off from National Lampoon’s Vacation, but if, like me, you have not seen that movie it should not bother you.

If you go in to judge for yourself, bare in mind that you have to sit through uninspired dialogues, filmed in unoriginal locations with a repulsive theme. For a feel-good movie, it is quite a lot to digest.

www.littlemisssunshine-lefilm.com

Mauvaise foi

Mauvaise foi

Roschdy Zem :: France :: 2006 :: 1h28

Clara and Ismaël have been together for four years. Neither of them are particularly religious, but none the less she is Jewish and he is a Muslim. When she becomes pregnant and they move in together, they get around to meeting each other’s parents and are confronted with issues of interfaith relationships.

The debut movie of Roschdy Zem was no doubt inspired by his will to contribute to the normalization of the relations between people of different religions. Unfortunately, the issues of an interfaith relationship are badly worked out. To take for granted that a couple who has been together for four years has managed to neglect such issues and never met each other’s family, is quite a lot to accept, but let us grant them that to proceed.

The characters take religion as cultural baggage (rather than a spiritual guidance). Such a view on religion, although not particularly pious, would put all the weight on their respective families as the bearers of this culture. This is confirmed by the importance the characters accord to their respective families and their opinions. Of course, if they are so involved with their families, why did they not introduce or at least talk about their loves lives to them? Or if they saw trouble looming behind the door, they could have tackled the subject amongst themselves? Unless they were not as involved with each other as we are supposed to believe. This uncomfortable paradox haunts the movie for start to finish.

If the movie is to be taken seriously, as a drama, it lacks painfully in coherence. The portrayed couple is supposed to be happy in love were it not for their different religions, but actually they have a lot more to worry about than just religious matters and should have been dealt with accordingly. Alternatively, the director could have set the whole movie up as a comedy, mocking the prejudice to reach his aim, but that is not the route he took.

In the movie, as it is, we have to watch the couple almost killing their unborn child in an abortion clinic because they can not work out their relationship. Rather perverse for a supposedly religious couple. The script should have been considerably re-worked before going into the production stage, to allow the characters to come to life, to give their relationship more content and to reach the aims the director must have set for himself. As it stands, the movie is painfully naïve, dull and unilluminating.

www.mauvaisefoi-lefilm.com

Black Book

Zwartboek

Paul Verhoeven :: Netherlands / Belgium / UK / Germany :: 2006 :: 2h25

The Dutch Jewish singer Rachel (Carice van Houten) has to flee Nazi troops in The Hague in 1945, but their escape boat is intercepted and her entire family shot dead and robbed. After her narrow escape, she joins the Dutch resistance under the name Ellis. Through the chaos and immorality of occupation, the brave Ellis bizarrely enough falls in love with an SS officer.

A curious and depressing story of a very strong willed -and beautiful- woman, who in the face of the horrors which History has flung into her face, tries all she can to end the tyranny, even after she has lost everything but her life. The movie develops slowly and realistically, aggravating the impact. An image of people, uniformed or not, caught up in a violent spiral of desperation who try to save themselves, or enrich themselves with the impunity of war. Not a flattering picture of mankind, but a reminder that war generally does not bring out the best in us (despite some noble heroics), should anybody have missed out on the last 50 years of war cinema.

It is unfortunate that such a talented (albeit mainstream) director resorts to making a World War Two movie on his return to Europe after all those years in exile on the other side of the Atlantic. It would have been a pleasant surprise to have made a science fiction movie or something at least contemporary set in The Hague, as the movie does not have much to add to all the other war movies which have been produced in The Netherlands over the years. Verhouven could have used his reputation to de-stigmatize our continent as one which lives in the past and has not done anything since WWII. Maybe next time, if Verhouven sticks around.

www.blackbook-lefilm.com