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November 1995, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Emily Zants <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 21 Nov 1995 06:00:12 -1000
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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French teachers who couldn't go to the Sarasota French Film Festival=20
asked me to e-mail a review of it to their list and I thought it might=20
interest some of the SCREEN-L members as well.  Here it is:
                       Sarasota French Film Festival
                             Nov. 15-19, 1995
     Youth predominated the seventh annual Sarasota French Film Festival,
whether caught in the single-mom dilemma or unemployment.  Once again the
films demonstrated the ability of the French to take an everyday situation
with everyday people and bring out the poignancy of human drama in the
heart of everyman.=20
     The three best films of the festival dealt brilliantly with one of
today's biggest social problems: that of children who grow up without
paternal love and fathers who have never been around their children enough
to satisfy the desire to express paternal love.  Four films dealt with
this topic, three dealing with 12-13 year-old girls and one with a 10
year-old boy - - none had a father present, two were without their real
mother.  The first three were outstanding for many reasons, one of which
was the added scope of emotions that comes with nascent sexuality which
the last one avoided by using a younger age.=20
     The opening night started the theme:_Dis-moi Oui_ (_Say Yes_),
starring the well-known French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade who played the
murderer-king Charles in last year's _Queen Margot_.  The supporting cast
includes Anouk Aim=82e and Patrick Braoud=82 of last year's _Nine Months_.=
Braoud=82 had encountered Anglade the year before, and the director,
Alexandre Arcady, in Sarasota some years ago.  Wereas Hollywood would
undoubtedly cheapen the subject matter, the French deal with the
innumerable nuances and sensitivity of a delicate relationship in a most
elegant manner -- and can still provide high comedy.  Chapeau!  As the
film notes state, "Anglade emerges as a pediatrician with an active
after-hours life and an inability to settle down.  Returning home after an
all-night poker session, he discovers a young girl on the staircase of his
apartment.  She turns out to be a 12 year-old with a critical illness and
a determination to make him care for her, both professionally and
emotionally.  Although he becomes a Prince Charming in spite of himself,
it is she who, in the reverse side of this Cinderella story, saves him
from his own apathy."  Anglade, previously known for more violent action
roles, does a magnificent job, moving from the distanced doctor concerned
about a run-away child, to one with a deep fatherly-love for her and, five
years later, to her lover.  In the beginning of the film he has forgotten
that he was the physician attending her when she first became ill at age 6
when her father died.  The transfer of her feelings to the doctor is all
too understandable.  The film is superb cinema by the standards of any
country and hopefully will not show up in a dilluted rewrite version.  It
has great acting, an avowedly corny plot that holds up its own fiction
extremely well, lovely sets and photography.=20
     The most beautiful film of the festival was_Les Caprices d'un Fleuve_
(_The Whims of a River_):  Both director and actor in this second feature,
Bernard Giraudeau treats the 18th century slave trade and the beginning of
the abolitionist movement, a subject that has attracted him for some time.=
Shot on the island of Gor=82e in West Africa, it co-stars Richard Bohringer=
The cinematography is extraordinary.  It was shot as an 18th century
painting, maintaining the brownish tone of their canvases.=20
Each shot was framed as a painting.  Arabian horses charging over the
sands, sounds of birds, of waves, generated a sense of Africa's rhythm,
it's instinctual beat.  An exiled aristocrat is serving his term as
governor while the French Revolution takes place.  He is given a 12
year-old Black girl as a present by one of the tribal chiefs in return for
goods.  She does not speak at first, but responds to his playing on the
clavecin, which inspires his initial interest in her.  He then attempts to
teach her to read and write, developing a strong paternal instinct for
her.  When she runs away and is taken into slavery, he pursues and rescues
her.  But she has been separated from the other slaves serving him.  She
lives alone, now educated and dependent on him.  He is about to return to
France on the next ship and she seduces him as she has seen the reigning
mulatto of the town do.  Departing, he must abandon her, pregnant with his
child, knowing there would be no companionship for her in France, only
servitude.  The intellectual theme of the movie, that is otherwise
extremely sensual, is that of the 18th-century idea of "equality" which
has led western cultures to imperialization, to an attempt to make other
countries adapt our values and ways of living.  As the chief slave
observes, the Africans live in close tribal and family relationships.=20
Giving the child her own room, educating her, merely alienated her from
her own, separated her, excluded her from any world, left the French
aristocrat with no option but abandonment.  The final word of the film is
that the treatise never got written dealing with "differences."=20
Apparently many spectators felt there were too many explicit interracial
sex scenes; I found them sensitively presented.  It is admittedly not for
high-school presentation.=20
     _Elisa_, with Vanessa Paradis (Marie), who became an overnight
singing hit in 1987 at age 14 and has already proven her acting ability in
Noces Blanches, cavorts and shoplifts with her best friend from the
orphanage Solange, played by Clotilde Courau, accompanied by a much
younger Black orphan boy Ahmed (Sekkou Sall) who has adopted Marie as his
mother figure; finally she encounters her real father Lebovitch played by
G=82rard Depardieu, who composed the song "Elisa" that was playing when her
mother attempted, before shooting herself, to suffocate the three year-old
daughter.  The film is directed by Jean Becker, son of director Jacques
Becker.  Variety: "The song is the French radio staple "Elisa," written in
1979 by the late singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, with whom Paradis
recorded an album and to whom the film is dedicated" (Feb. 20-6, 1995).=20
Flashbacks from Marie's formative experiences with her grandparents,
childhood accomplices, civil servants and a series of men reveal the
social and psychological complexity of her situation.  Vanessa Paradis
demonstrates her full ability as an actress, though doing none of the
singing.  Again the attraction of a young girl who grew up without a
father -- and the conflicting emotions that surface when she finally meets
him constitute the basis of the film.  She had vowed to kill him to
revenge her mother, but when she encounters him, drunk, she can't bring
herself to do it, and pursues other avenues, finally developing a full
trust in her father.  Depardieu plays the dissolute father with consummate
skill, convincing us that had the love letters he wrote to Marie's mother
arrived before her suicide, he would have been a loving and devoted father
and husband.  Rejecting Marie's sexual advances as too childlike to
interest him, he finally realizes the cause of her pursuit and embraces
her as his own daughter.  Clothilde Courau, not lucky enough to find her
father, communicates a equally profound sense of abandonment and ability
to love, her close companions in particular, but through sex seeks the
paternal love she has never known, having no other channel of expression.=
Vanessa, leaving her childhood chums to seek her father, leaves her a
video commanding her to not jump in bed with every man she meets.  And for
Ahmed, she has reserved his first real sexual experience (first, in spite
of his bravado to the contrary), which, however morally questionable,
provides one of the most delightfully comic and tender moments of the
film, for Marie is offering him the true caring love he sought instead of
abandoning him to love on the streets engaged in out of peer pressure
rather than sentiment.=20
     In all three of these films the young girl is never abused by the
paternal figure and is treated with sincere and tender care for her
future, usually in spite of her precocious advances made in pursuit of the
missing paternal love and using the only resources she knows herself to
possess.  In spite of the superb acting in both _Say Yes_ and _Elisa_, and
the exquisite cinematography in _Les Caprices d'un Fleuve_, these
seductive scenes have prevented any distributor from picking up these
marvelous films.  Do they want only a crass and violent Hollywood
presentation of the situation that blatantly condemns rather than exposing
the problem?  Is it that the distributors are all male?=20
     The fourth film, _Sale Gosse_ (_Rotten Kid_) has the advantage of
showing no explicitly sexual gesture between mother and son, given the
age.  I personally find the mother's constant slapping of the kid much
more offensive.  But violence in America is okay?  The expression of love,
even if it has sexuality attached to it (heaven forbid!) is not?  Sale
Gosse, won the "First Feature" award at the San Sebastian Film Festival.=20
It is definitely a first feature, its most distinguishing characteristic
being its ability to keep the spectator riveted to an everyday problem in
a working, single mom's life in a lower class milieu, without any real
plot developed, outstanding hero or heroine, or major event.  While the
son desperately seeks a father, he simultaneously feels immense resentment
for his mother's boyfriends, she in turn seeking male affection, support,
and sexual gratification.  The struggle of mother and son to reach an
understanding and express their love for one another constitutes the
tension that keeps our attention.  Claude Mouri=82ras, a former photographe=
and documaker, generates a sense of desperateness by having Axel Lingee,
the 10 year-old in his first acting role, run continually, or appear
out-of-breath after running.=20
     _Sale Gosse_ might also be placed in the second major category of
films shown, that of the lower class unemployed.  _La Fille Seule_ (_The
Girl Alone_), directed by Benoit Jacquot, depicts a day in the life of a
young girl who is pregnant.  "Though very little happens in the ordinary
sense, Ledoyen is mesmerizing to watch, in a film that captures without
explaining the opaque density of personality" (film notes).  Several
people seemed to find this an appropriate summary;  some others, along
with myself, found the non-stop bitching on both sides between the
girlfriend and boyfriend as boring as the girlfriend's 10 walks down the
same long hotel corridors and her 4 struts down the same Paris street from
her job to the cafe where her unemployed boyfriend awaits her.  The
close-ups of her face failed to denote anything but preoccupation.  It
wasn't so boring that I walked out, however.=20
     _Etat des Lieux_ (_State of Things_), was called one of the best of
the new wave of films about life in the Paris banlieu by Molly Haskell,
dealing not only with violence and alienation, but the whole spectrum of
working class and jobless people, old and young, fits and misfits, those
who clash with the cops, with each other and family, and those who get
along, thus eluding the melodramatic clich=82.  Director Jean-Fran=87ois
Richet, coming from this rough milieu, proves able to distance himself
from it yet maintain empathy.  Shot in black and white, appropriately, it
takes the out-of-date 1917 communist stand for revolt against the
bourgeoisie, or against the "ruling" class -- and we know who "ruled"
after that historic revolt.  The film's announced claim to fame was that
it only cost $30,000.  We are taken through a series of disputes -- mostly
vented rage by the workers themselves and police confrontations -- to end
in a grand "screwing" of the bourgeois wife by one of the working brothers
(at her request) on the hood of their car in the garage.  Music helps
communicate brute sexuality and the film ends before any climax.  $30,000
may get you a good "bang" but it doesn't make a film -- in my humble and
jaded estimation.=20
     _En Avoir ou Pas_ (_To Have Some or Not_), the first film by director
La=82titia Masson, is "Funny with a real feeling for the joys and
difficulties of escaping one's background and one's limitations, . . . the
story of two young people inventing their lives" (film notes), dealing
with the problems and concerns of today's youth.  Variety notes that
Sandrine Kiberlain (Alice) is a promising newcomer to the screen; she
played in last year's La Patriote. as well, though in a minor role.=20
"Writer-director Masson has a natural ear for dialogue and a simple,
direct style of filmmaking . . . The use of locations is consistently
inventive, and the supporting cast, inclusing a cameo by director Claire
Denis as Alice's mother, is uniformly good" (Oct. 9-15, 1995).  As in
other banlieu films, young people caught in the unemployment (currently
11%) problem in France are seeking an out, and at the same time a
meaningful relationship with another human being.  It is a touching
vignette of the life of youth today without groveling in the dirt.  Though
there is no "event" in the Hollywood sense, the film solidly holds your
attention throughout.=20
     The best and most delightful film in this banlieu or unemployment
category was Les _Apprentis_ (_The Apprentices_), co-starring Guillaume
Depardieu and Fran=87ois Cluzet.  The former proves here worthy of his
parents acting ability and already master of his father's (G=82rard's)
ability to turn an encounter into comedy by a twitch of the lips, a raised
eyebrow, or rolling eyeballs.  More comedy than tragedy communicated the
need for human bonding and compassion and made this a truly delightful
film filled with youth.  It is directed by Pierre Salvadori who also
directed the young Depardieu in last year's _Cible =82mouvante_ (_Wild=20
     Hard times were the apparent excuse for _Adult=8Are (mode d'emploi)_
which could only be shown on a Playboy channel or in a porn theater.  It
will undoubtedly not find a distributor -- or will it?  Christine Pascal
was the director.  Richard Berry was the only representative of the film
present in Sarasota and immediately disavowed any part in the film other
than hired actor; his role is the only one that lends any credence to the
adulterous adventures.=20
     Several films fell into the category of historical or real life films
without being banlieu films.  The most refreshing one was _Au Petit
Marguery_, the actual story of the author's parents.  Laurent B=82n=82gui
adapted and directed his own novel about his own parents closing of their
restaurant.  The master chef, displaying a mouth-watering array of dishes
inside the kitchen and out, while friends and family engage in a farewell
dinner.  The son's memories of growing up in the restaurant and other
flashbacks add profoundly poignant moments to this very bourgeois family
reunion.  As the film notes state, B=82n=82gui "captures the way food and
friendship form the interlocking nexus of French culture, and we
understand why - with communal dinners to sort out their problems and
assuage their souls - the French have so little need of the analyst's
couch" (film notes).  This most delightful film, resplendent with everyday
drama, is showable to any public and will hopefully find its way to this
     _Une Femme Fran=87aise_ (_A French Woman_) won the awards of the Mosco=
Festival for best director (R=82gis Wargnier of "Indochine" fame), best
actress (Emmanuelle B=82art) and best actor (Gabriel Barylli).  It must hav=
helped to have Daniel Auteuil and Jean-Claude Brialy playing supporting
roles.  Wargnier noted that he had only learned last year that this was
his own mother's story.  Leaving that personal and sad bit of reality
aside, it is essentially the story of a Madame Bovary, so bored with her
provincial life that she keeps finding lovers to escape it, transposed to
a war milieu where the woman, married to an officer who is thrice called
away to battle (WWII, Vietnam, Algeria), jumps in bed with various men to
satisfy her need for affection and sex.  But whereas Flaubert reveals
numerous social, educational and even religious levels inducing
aspirations toward escape and rise in the power structure, Une Femme
Fran=87aise shows no greater context than that of a woman needing sexual
satisfaction and affection to feel herself exist.=20
     _Les Milles_, the closing film of the festival, clearly brings to the
screen the French engagement in internment of the Jews during World War
II, but also demonstrates the apparently historically true story of at
least one officer who refused to obey orders and attempted to save those
in his camps when the Germans invaded France.  Though he did not succeed
on Schindler's scale, his aborted attempt did permit the escape of such as
Max Ernst.  The film appears appropriately when numerous right wing groups
are threatening a repeat of World War II's prejudices.  Jean-Pierre
Marielle plays the French officer who disobeys orders.  Sebastien Grall is
the director and wanted to show the action of an ordinary career officer
who had no concept of heroism in merely doing his duty, though his "duty"
defied orders.=20
     _A la Vie, A la Mort_ (_To Life, To Death!_) captures the life,
flavor, people of Marseille, by director Robert Guediguian, born in the
North of Marseille.  To be compared with Yves Robert's adaptations of
Pagnol: _La Gloire de Mon P=8Are_ and _Le Chateau de ma M=8Are_.  I did not=
it, but heard many say they found it "very enjoyable".=20
     The French have always excelled at comic films and this sense of
comedy is present in many of the films mentioned above, including _Say
Yes_, and _Elisa_.  The Festival began appropriately with a retrospective
of Jacques Tati, including _Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot_, _Mon Oncle_, a=
_Playtime_.  Three other films were featured exclusively as comedies, the
first, _Gazon Maudit_ (_French Twist_) having been chosen already as the
French Oscar nomination and _Les Anges gardiens_, featuring Christian
Clavier and G=82rard Depardieu in a classic playoff that remains
     _French Twist_, starring, written and directed by Josiane Balasko,
consists of a series of infidelities flipping from heterosexual on the
husbands behalf to lesbian on the wife's behalf and ending with the
suggestion that a homosexual one awaits the husband.  The Spanish actress
Victoria Abril plays the unsuspecting and loving wife who is saved from
despair when Marijo (Balasko) has a breakdown in her VW van in front of
the couples house.  Though full of ironic twists and turns as the
traditional love triangle takes on different genders, the "Oscar" quality
is missing.  It would be a good tape to take home and show to a lover
suspected of infidelity, however.=20
     _Les Anges gardiens_ (_Guardian Angels_) was directed by Jean-Marie
Poir=82, known for _Les Visiteurs_ (1994), and written in conjunction with
one of the stars, Christian Clavier playing a priest and pitted against
the owner of a big Paris night club with friends caught in the drug trade.=
Beginning with a typical American gangster chase in Hong Kong, and
repeated in a more comic mode with Depardieu the object of pursuit.  The
film reaches a different level of comedy when a morphed guardian angel
appears to plague Carco (Depardieu) about his lies; at the same time,
Clavier's morphed diabolic angel appears to induce him to sin.  As only
Clavier and Depardieu can see their own "angels" misunderstandings
accummulate hilariously.  Great screwball comedy, it remains pure
entertainment, rare in French cinema and a disappointment to those who
expected a Moi=8Aresque lesson.=20
     _L'Ann=82e Juliette_ (_The Juliet Year_), starring Fabrice Luchini in
perfect comic form, is a forest of subplots.  Philippe Le Guay is director
as well as collaborator on the script. The moral of the story seems to be
that you shouldn't make up an affair you are not having because you might
be held responsible for murder of that person.  The film contains
delightful malentendus because of the fictional Juliet.=20
     _Le Journal d'un S=82ducteur_ (directed by Dani=8Ale Dubroux) was anot=
comedy enjoyed by some, but which I did not see;  similarly for _D=82sir=82=
based on a Sacha Guitry play.=20
     The first newcomer of the festival was Benedicte Loyen who plays the
fruitless object of a painter's desire in the third vignette of _Les
Rendez-vous de Paris_, all written and directed by Eric Rohmer.  All three
chance meetings conclude in an unexpected manner, one typical of Rohmer,
or of Chaos Theory, for that matter.  As Variety noted, they do "what
Rohmer does best: yards of well-turned, subtly inflected dialogue shot
with little or no artifice, a seemingly endless supply of coquettish,
ultra-cute babes and a handful of slightly bemused men acting as sounding
boards" (Apr. 3-9, 1995).  My own version is that Rohmer takes a paragraph
of Proust and magnifies it, this time into only 30 minutes of film each.=20
The first vignette shows what happens when a so-called "good friend" tells
you your boyfriend is seeing other women regularly.  A stolen wallet,
found and returned by one of the "other women"  The second one makes the
tour of Paris parks by way of distraction for a woman trying to break off
with her live-in; her companion, a would be lover, seeks a more concrete
relationship and is about to succeed when the woman accidentally sees her
live-in boyfriend with another companion.  And finally, a painter seeks to
generate a relationship via art works.  Loyen exemplifies his image of
mankind and he follows her to a Picasso exhibition, luring her back to his
studio, to no avail.  Safe to show to high school students who might have
the patience for one vignette, especialy the first.=20
     Two new events were added to this year's festival, a "Rendez-vous des
profs" and a "Caf=82 au cin=82ma" film discussion.  Teachers of french film=
met early Thursday morning to get acquainted and establish a platform for
discussion of films viewed.  Next year, another "Rendez-vous des profs"
will be held an hour and a half before the first Thursday film.  The
meeting allowed us do identify one another for more discussions later, as
well as share suggestions for film possibilities in classes.  The "Caf=82 a=
Cin=82ma" had two successful evening meetings, the first on the opening
night and the second Sat. evening before the last showing of the gala
film.  These discussion sessions will undoubtedly continue next year.=20
! Prof. Emily Zants, U. of HI  "... and the whole of Combray ... sprang !
! Tel: (808) 237-8082          into being, town and gardens alike, from !
! FAX: (808) 237-8284          my cup of tea."                   Proust !
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