Thursday, June 11, 2015

VIVA LA LIBERTA
(LONG LIVE FREEDON)

Toni Servillo, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi 


In this political drama set in Italy, Toni Servillo (from "La Grande Belleza") is cast in a dual role. He plays both the disillusioned leader of the opposition party Enrico Oliveri who disappears and his lunatic identical twin brother Giovanni Ernani who is persuaded to fill in for Enrico during his absence.

Servillo plays both characters, differently. As Enrico, he is more pensive as the depressed politician who is clearly fed up with the rigors of his very demanding job. He shows up unannounced in France at the house of his ex girlfriend and her family. He is mostly in hiding and just wants to clear his mind. No questions asked, she accepts him and lets him join her family in their daily routine.

As Giovanni, he is the complete opposite. Portrayed with a sort of twinkle in his eyes, the identical twin is more loquacious and surprisingly does have some strong political views about the state of the nation. Soon enough, the populace is awakened from his more vibrant political rallies where he speaks eloquently about empowering people to get the government they truly deserve.

The film exposes some political wheeling and dealing of the government but doesn't handle it too heavily. Mostly presented through a sarcastic tone of comedy, especially when Giovanni is in high spirits and rallying the crowd at the political rallies.

In the same manner that Enrico has no clue about what to do next with his life, the last part of the film simply fails apart. With a general lack of vitriol, the movie ends ambiguously. Honestly, the brilliant acting from Toni Servillo is the only redeeming factor in this otherwise slightly boring motion picture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

DIPLOMATIE
(DIPLOMACY)

Greenbelt 3 Cinemas 
On the evening of August 24, 1944 - the Allied Forces were closing in on the German troops. One man was assigned a herculean task by the Fuhrer Hitler -destroy the city of Paris as revenge for the Allied bombing of Berlin. His name was General Von Choltitz, the military governor of  Paris, France. Famous sights in the French capital like the Arc of Triomphe, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral were all rigged with explosives. 

Cue in Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling. The consul appears unannounced using a secret staircase and gains entrance into the suite/office, he is there to persuade Von Choltitz to defy Hitler's orders. 

Scenes of the film which was adapted from a 2011 stage play by Cyril Gely are mostly confined to the suite of the General who has set camp in the elegant Hotel Meurice in the center of Paris.

Naturally, it is dialogue driven as the two main characters play a cunning game of cat and mouse as the clock is ticking away. A forceful battle of wits ensues as Nordling appeals to the General's humanity to spare the city of Paris. He reminds him of the cultural importance of the city as well as the million of lives that would be lost when Paris is destroyed. They reminisce about their lives before the war and also talk about their families. 

The Consul is sly, manipulative and also for lack of a better word, diplomatic. But this doesn't make it any easier for the General. Von Choltitz is portrayed as an iron willed military officer who has never disobeyed Hitler's orders. Caught in a delicate predicament, he is visibly torn between his duty to his superiors and his responsibility to save mankind and preserve the culture of a great city.

The two actors who portray these important characters are veteran French thespians who are reprising roles they have already played to great acclaim in the stage play. It is fascinating to watch them argue, persuade, convince, dissuade and argue some more. Their repartee was excellent and I think they can even do these roles in their sleep. 

Of course, we all know that General Von Choltitz had a change of heart so Paris retains its title as the city of lights. But throughout the film, the suspense of the 'what if' scenario kept the audience at the edge of their seats.

"Diplomatie" is highly recommended and my favorite film of all the movies I watched during this year's French Festival. Its themes are close to my heart (diplomacy and history) and Paris (my fave city in the world) is highlighted for its cultural importance.

Monday, June 8, 2015

L'HOMME QU'ON AIMAIT TROP
(IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER)

Greenbelt 3 Cinemas


1976 when the casino wars was in full swing in Nice (the French Riviera), Agnes Le Roux returns home. After a failed marriage and doing humanitarian work in Africa, she is eager to claim her inheritance so she can start anew. 

Renee Le Roux, her mother and the owner of Le Palais de la Mediterranee casino is hesitant as her company is having financial troubles. Through the prodding of an ambitious lawyer named Maurice Agnelet, Agnes betrays her mother by selling her shares to her mother's rival, a mafia type who is taking over the whole area. 

Aside from featuring the estranged relationship between mother and daughter, the passionate affair between Agnes and Maurice (who is twice her age), the later part of the film turns into a court-room drama. 

Apparently after her mother's casino closes down and her affair with Maurice ends, Agnes suffers from severe depression. Much to the chagrin of her mother, a despondent Agnes tried to kill herself. A few months after she disappears. Renee is convinced Maurice killed her daughter, even though there were no witnesses and her body was never found, the case dragged on for years. 

The cinematography is very scenic, given that it is filmed in the French Riviera. The wardrobe though looks quite modern as there are no flare pants, long sideburns nor any flowery/hippie fashion style. 

One cannot pinpoint whether it's a thriller, mystery, romance or a court-room drama. Or a bad mix of all these genres. In the same manner, the original French title which translates roughly to "The Man Who Was Much Loved" doesn't coincide with its English title "In the Name of My Daughter".  Confusing.

Catherine Deneuve as I have mentioned before is still a stunning presence. As Renee La Roux, the pain and anguish over the disappearance of her only daughter is visceral and poignant. Guillaume Canet's boyish appearance makes it hard to believe that he is much older than Agnes. The main draw is the brilliant performance of Adele Haenel as the intense yet fiercely independent daughter, she captures the essence of the troubled Agnes with subtle conviction.

At the end of the film, we are told that a year after Maurice was acquitted, he lost an appeal and was sentenced to 20 years. Last year 2014 in the third trial on the case, Maurice's son accused his father of killing Agnes Le Roux in Italy and he was sentenced to another 20 years.

Really tragic, if you ask me. More so for Renee Le Roux as her daughter's body was never found. The case remains yet another unsolved mystery with no clear resolution nor closure which pretty much echoes the way this film unfolded.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

3 COEURS
(3 HEARTS)

Greenbelt 3 Cinemas


As the title suggests, this is a tale of 3 hearts. But it is not your ordinary love triangle story, it comes with a twist. The kind of twist which can only exist and truly thrive in a French setting.

One night Marc, a homely tax auditor misses his train ride back to Paris. Stuck in the province, he meets a woman who stepped out to buy cigarettes. They walk around all night talking about anything but themselves. No names nor contact details are exchanged. The next morning at the train station, they are smitten so agree to meet next Friday at 6 P.M. in Paris at the Park near the Eiffel Tower. 

The 2nd heart belongs to the mysterious woman, Sylvie. She owns an antiques shop with her sister. Disillusioned with her marriage, she returns to their mother's house. As agreed, she takes a train for the rendez-vous to Paris, yet by 7 P.M., "Marc"  is a no show. Deeply frustrated, she agrees to relocate to the U.S with her husband.

Sophie owns the 3rd heart. After her sister relocates, she must deal with the business and discovers certain discrepancies with their accounts. She encounters Marc who helps her sort out the books. Soon enough, they fall in love, get married and have a child. Unbeknownst to either of the sisters, they both fell for the same man.

The brilliant acting by the ensemble cast of well known French thespians redeemed this averagely interesting film. Catherine Deneuve in her brief role as the matriarch is still a stunning presence. Chiara Mastroianni, her daughter with the late Italian actor, Marcello Mastroianni plays the more emotionally fragile Sophie with much conviction.

While Sylvie played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, (daughter of the late musician Serge Gainsbourg and English actress Jane Birkin), enthralls us in her role as the more impulsive sister. Both actresses are polar opposites, both in their acting style as well as their personality. Gainsbourg has her minimalism style with a bohemian flair. While Mastroianni is more expressive. So it was interesting to watch them cast as sisters with different personalities who were quite close and fond of each other.

Honestly, the story line is quite incredulous. You kept wondering when Marc will connect the dots and learn that Sylvie and Sophie were sisters. Although there were some familiar gestures which both sister shared but which Marc probably thought was coincidental until his world is in turmoil once he finds out the truth.

I notice two main problems with this particular film. The creepy foreboding music that accompanied most of the scenes between Marc and Sylvie. I was constantly on edge because I expected some 'accident' to occur but it never did. Perhaps, this was the director's way of 'warning' the audience that this type of scenario is wrong?

Another thing is the voice-over which popped up an hour into the film. It simply mentioned a few details about Marc then went silent until the conclusion. As is the norm with some if not most French movies, the ending was open ended. It is up to you to form your own conclusion. Frankly, it doesn't take too much effort to ascertain that it doesn't bode well for these three hearts.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

L'AMOUR EST UN CRIME PARFAIT
(LOVE IS THE PERFECT CRIME)

20th French Film Festival
Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

The vast Swiss Alps in all his majestic glory provides an excellent backdrop for this bizarre drama. Marc (Mathieu Amalric) is a creative writing professor at the University of Lausanne.  A Don Juan who beds his impressionable students and lives with his possessive sister Marianne (Karin Viard) with whom he has this semi-incestuous relationship. 

Upon the disappearance of one of his students (who in the beginning of the film is shown naked in his bed), a mysterious woman named Anna (Maiwenn) enters his already chaotic world. She claims she is the step-mother of the missing student and wants to trace her last known whereabouts. Soon enough, Marc and Anna start this torrid and very passionate affair. 

Even if the viewers know that Marc is somehow involved in the disappearance, he doesn't seem at all alarmed by this development. He carries on with his flirtatious ways, being charming although physically he isn't really an attractive man, per se. Much credit must be bestowed upon Mathieu Amalric (one of the hardest working French actors in the industry) for accepting this intriguing role. There is no doubt that there is much more to Marc than is shown but Amalric manages to insert just enough charm for the viewers to 'invest' in his character's well being even if he is clearly a disturbingly flawed character.

Several threads are interwoven yet somewhat fall short in actually providing a clearer bigger picture. It is not exactly marketed as a whodunit with investigators searching for clues, gathering evidence and interrogating Marc as the last person to have seen the student alive. It is a mystery that isn't tightly plotted but structured just loose enough for viewers to start being distrustful of the right people and scrutinizing them before suspicions are confirmed.

Based on a Phillippe Dijan novel entitled "Incidences" (which naturally I have never heard of, let alone read!), the film takes on an increasingly bizarre vibe with twists that don't quite make sense. But the panoramic scenery of the imposing snow covered mountains, the Alpine chalet where the siblings reside as well as the very modern edifice of the University of Lausanne are enough reasons to contemplate this film. Another bonus is Almaric's nuanced performance as Marc.

Friday, June 5, 2015

LA FRENCH
(THE CONNECTION)

Greenbelt 3 Cinemas


It is 1975 and the coastal town of Marseille in the south of France has become the hub of organized crime. Led by charismatic Gaetan "Tany" Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), the head of a gangster organization simply known as La French - it deals with drugs, prostitution, corrupt cops, illegal gambling, money laundering casinos and other crime related activities.  His main market is in the US where he exports high grade heroin. He ruled the drugs trade for several years. But he soon meets his match in the tenacious Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin), a former juvenile court magistrate who is newly assigned to the anti-organized crime unit of the Marseille police force.

The film is loosely based on real events and the lead actors did their best to portray their real life characters with much conviction. Both of them are given much leeway to work with the wealth of information available for their roles. Both of them are shown as loving and supportive heads of their respective families. Both achieve notoriety within their circles. Both of them are ruthless and take their 'jobs' seriously. And the fact that they look almost identical made for interesting viewing. 

Judge Pierre Michel is very dedicated and passionate about stopping the menace of the drug trade. He is overzealous to a fault even taking risks which affect his family life. He is portrayed by Jean Dujardin, who achieved fame as the silent movie actor in the acclaimed black and white film "The Artist" which won all the major awards, the year it was released. I still see him as the actor with the goofy smile and the twinkle in his eyes so it can be distracting to witness him as a serious, never-say-die-attitude police judge. He is quite convincing, both physically (the long sideburns ruled) and artistically. 

Tany Zampa was quite a polarizing figure, back then. He was a larger than life crime boss who headed the huge 'empire' composed of Corsicans, Neapolitan Italians and thugs who cooked massive amounts of heroin for export to the United States. Gilles Lellouche was credible as the ruthless gangster who didn't hesitate to kill or have his henchmen kill anyone who stood in his nefarious ways. In fact, he registered more screen presence than Dujardin. But then perhaps it is because bad guys tend to be glamorized more in these types of films. 

The crime thriller was a bit exciting but did lose some steam midway after some of the action packed scenes laid low but then it picked up a notch towards the suspenseful ending. Clocking at over 2 hours, the story lacked focus here and there but it never felt overplayed. Its solid substance and gritty nature was compelling enough to hold one's attention even for 135 minutes.
 

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