Again we have two films here that are very similar in theme – one celebrates fashion, and one celebrates beauty pageantry. Plus, both are set more turmoiled times – ‘Papicha’ during the mid 90s when the country had civil unrest, and ‘Misbehaviour’ is set amidst the Women’s Liberation rallies of London in 1970. Both are directed by females and I very much liked both movies.
Mounia’s Meddour’s ‘Papicha’ is the more unnerving movie of the lot, and from what I read is fairly autobiographical. The film is about Nedjima (played by Lyna Khoudri) who get caught in the crossfires of the civil wars via her passion for designing clothes. As Muslim insurgents come in her neighborhood, she sees an abundance of posters saying women should be wearing abayas and hijabs. As a counter to that, she has an idea to create clothes using the haik, the traditional garment worn by Algerians. This is her big act of defiance, and one that has catastrophic results for everyone. The visuals here are very powerful, and I have to admit that I was not well versed in this part of history before watching the film. There were some parts that were definitely difficult to watch, but all in all, a very worthwhile film. This was screened at Cannes last year, and I am just catching up to it now.
‘Misbehaviour’ is about a different kind of rebellion – women’s liberation – and the film is set during a more specific event, the 1970 Miss World Pageant in London. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, the film is about the five women who was arrested for disrupting the pageant, viewing the proceeding as a ‘cattle ca”. This stars a bunch of good actresses, like Kiera Knightley and Jessie Buckley playing the feminist activist. But half the film is about the inner workings of the pageant, and I thought that was the more interesting part – the activists are written like cardboard characters. 1970 was also the year that the Miss World Organization crowned its first black recipient, and it was curiously also the year that South Africa had two delegates – one black and one white. The pageant was taking more progressive steps (whether intentionally or not) and that was sidetracked by all the protests. I found the film fairly engaging as well, and I was especially taken by Greg Kinnear’s performance playing Bob Hope. Put this one under your to-watch pile!
Mati Diop’s ‘Atlantics’ is one of the most romantic movies of 2019. In its heart is a tale of forbidden love. Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is seventeen years old, and she has already been promised to Omar for marriage. Omar is from a wealthy family so Ada’s own parents have been pushing for this. But Ada is miserable, for she is hopelessly in love with someone else, Soulemane (Ibrahima Traore) On surface you would think this is just a variation of the Romeo and Juliet formula type of love story. And even if this film were just that, I would have already been happy with it, for that story is told in a poetic way that it has already gotten to me. But no, Diop has other ideas, as the film transforms into another film quickly, a ghost story of sorts, a narrative on migrant workers seeking revenge. A group of young men has been working on a building and have not been paid, so in frustration, sets off to sea en route to Spain. Something goes wrong and they get stuck int he ocean. To say more would be to spoil the film. I have never been a fan of scares, but the ghost here aren’t necessarily that – they represent a more oppressed kind, even as they try to reclaim the loves that they left behind. I thought this story and film was fascinating, and I bought into it from the first minute. There’s a certain innocence in the love that Ada and Soulemane share, and if, like me, you are a hopeless romantic, you would be rooting for the two star-crossed lovers instantly. The film has a lot of layers, and I probably need to see it again to see subtleties I may have missed the first time. This film won the Silver Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s the first ever entry in history that is directed by a black woman.
I come from the old school where I want my love stories to be lush, wistful, even, and especially, sentimental. Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of A Lady on Fire’ has been described as such, as it tells a story of a forbidden love affair between Marianne (Noemie Merlant) who has been commissioned to paint Heloise. The catch – she won’t pose, so Marianne has to pretend to be a friend and memorize her face, to paint later. The portrait is to be sent to the man Heloise has been promised to, and Heloise doesn’t seem to be very keen on the idea. Sciamma’s style here is very subtle, and very slow-paced. I appreciated it because of the time and place setting – France in the 1770s. But I have to say that a lot of times it was much too subtle. Plus, I don’t know if I really got into the story line about the servant who got pregnant and had to get an abortion – I felt that that part of the film distracted from the main love story, which I wanted to immerse myself into. But the romance part was very effective – intense without being too sweet. There’s a quiet dignity to it all. The film is very poetic in words and also visually – everything looks very beautiful, as if you were being sucked into the painting. I liked the film a lot, but to be honest I did not love it – there is a coldness to the film that I did not like. But I thought that for the most part it was very successful. I know a lot of people have been comparing it to ‘Call me By Your Name,’ but this did not have the electricity of Elio and Oliver. The undercurrent here is quieter, though the spirit of love – given and unrequited – is apparent.
Nadav Lapid’s ‘Synonymes’ is one of the weirdest, oddest movies I have seen this year. And I did not sense that from the very beginning. I did not know anything about the film upon seeing it, but something about it beckoned me. I thought for some reason that it had gay content (maybe because the lead, Tom Mercier, is very attractive, or I was attracted to him) but there wasn’t really anything explicitly gay about it, although it had a lot of homoerotic energy in it. It’s the story of Yoav, who moves to Paris after serving in the Israeli army. (This is apparently partly based on the director’s life) Just right after being in Paris, he loses all his worldly possessions and is helped by a couple (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte) who clothe him and helps him gets settled. At some point you can sense there is some ulterior motive there, but then the movie goes to a totally different direction. Lapid uses Yoav body liberally – showing us all of it, and so much of it that we get to know it as intimately as we get to know what is on Yoav’s mind. But as much as we get to know him, I found that Yoav is still a puzzle towards the end of the film – the pieces we get to know don’t really all fit, and the last part of the movie got more and more bizarre. My takeaway from the film is varied – I don’t know if I was supposed to laugh, or get annoyed. One thing is for sure, though, not a second of the film was boring.
What is it about falling for the unattainable? It’e the theme as old as time that keeps on taunting us, and I have to admit there is a certain romanticism to it that I clung to when I was younger. But now that I feel that time is so precious, unrequited love just seems a waste of my time. I recently saw two movies with this theme and found myself still getting into the idea, but feel I am a lot more grounded now about reality.
In Andrew Steggal’s ‘Departure,’ that theme is a lot more forgivable, given that the story centers around fifteen year old Elliot (Alex Lawther) who goes home with this mother to their vacation house in France to pack it up as they are in the process of selling it. he meets a young boy Clement, who fascinates him, and this gives himself a clue to their sexual orientation. This languid-paced film is slow, even for me, and Juliet Stevenson who plays his mother is fantastic. All of that still cannot overcome the laziness in storytelling. This held such promise that did not deliver.
Speaking of slow, Marco Berger’s ‘The Blond One’ is glacial in pace. There is a lot of subtlety int he story that every minute, every silence, every ‘insignificant’ scene all constitute great narrative. And again, with the unattainable. This Argentine drama centers on two men who have recently become roommates. Even though Gabriel (Gaston Re) is seemingly ‘straight’ (he brings home women) he carries on a relationship with Juan (Alfonson Baron) and it becomes a no-strings-attached relationship, until it becomes not. I had a little bit of a problem with the dynamics of the relationship, but then I thought why should I when they don’t. It shows more about societal limitations in Argentina about homosexuality (or bisexuality) that men are not comfortable expressing their orientation. This is one of those movies that quietly gets you. You watch and you realize you are suddenly so affected by it.
When you are young and in love, the feeling consumes you, and art can be the only avenue that can properly express and describe that feeling. Perhaps you will be able to relate to a song, or a film. Phillippe Lessage’s ‘Genese’ tries to distill that moment in a story about two young people trying to navigate their feelings. On one side is Charlotte who in the beginning of the film is asked by her boyfriend for an open relationship. She resists the idea but meets another young man and starts going out with him, and gets to be treated badly by that guy. More complex is Gillaume’s story line. Gillaume goes to an all-male boarding school and finds himself falling for his (straight) best friend. I found myself drawn more to Gillaume’s story, as he makes stupid decisions after stupid decisions because of that attraction. One night, when he tries to kiss him, the friendship gets strained, and gets permanently damaged. Theodore Pellerin is heartbreaking as Gillaume, and he has a cringe-inducing scene wherein he starts to profess his love for his ‘friend’ in front of the class that just cut through my heart in equal parts shame and despair. How many times have we all been in a similar situation wherein we do things in am act of desperation responding to our unrequited feelings? (I raise my hand) The oddest thing about the movie is that around the last twenty minute mark, it segues to a completely unrelated third story line about characters that I find later are from an earlier film of his called ‘The Demons.’ I wonder if he had originally shot a sequel and just abandoned it and didn’t want to waste the footage so he included it here? Anyhow, we get a third of something truly fantastic here, and I am still haunted by it.
Louis Garrell’s ‘A Faithful Man’ (L’homme Fidele) is a French rom-com farce, and it’s very French. It’s set in Paris, and it’s funny in a weird way. The film starts with Marianne (Laetitia Casta) telling her lover Abel (Garrell) that she is pregnant, by another man’s baby, and that other man is their close friend Paul. I personally think this is horrid, but Garrell treats the matter with a light touch, and we see Abel go off his merry way. Then years later, we find out Paul has died, and Abel and Marianne resume their relationship. First of all, I would probably still be bitter and have my guard up but I guess the French are a little more flippant about these things, and we are now supposed to root for them to be together. But then, the child, Joseph, is one of those precocious childs who tells Abel that he thinks Marianne poisoned his father. So we have now a bit of murder mystery in the plot. That sounds like a lot of plot for a 75 minute film, but it’s all compact. I haven’t even mentioned Eve, Paul’s younger sister, who has been infatuated with Abel since she was a young kid – and honestly, all this zaniness kind of works. I found myself chuckling and smiling, and swooning over Garrell with his tousled hair and puppy dog eyes. As far as rom-coms go, this is sweet and skews more old-fashioned, but there’s a modern element to it. To me, it felt like I was in Paris eavesdropping on these gorgeous people’s lives, and sure – Paris in Summer? Delightful.
Do you ever wonder how Olivier Assayas would do a Woody Allen movie? Well wonder no more because he does just that in ‘Non-Fiction.’ This film is a funny film about relation ships in modern times, and about how social media and technology has affected how we deal and interact with each other nowadays. It is also a commentary about the French Publishing industry – how it tries to survive and thrive in these ever-changing times. But really, ‘Non-Fiction’ is abotu relationships, and how we navigate and circumvent what we know, who we love. My family always say I like movies that are ‘talkies,’ and this is certainly one that classifies as such. I think at times there’s too much talk here, and I am pretty sure I missed a lot of topical French references, but I love the great performances by all here, especially though Guillame Canet and Juliette Binoche (the latter I could watch do nothing on screen) I think this probably warrants a second viewing for me to fully grasp, but I would gladly do it.
The ‘gay hustler’ genre is an integral part of queer cinema. I remember int he olden days when most films about gay men had this factor. And for some reason, I am always interested in it – there is something in there that endlessly fascinates me. I know it is somewhat of a tired concept, and really, Camille Vidal Naquet’s ‘Sauvage/Wild’ could somehow feel familiar. But this film felt a little different. First of all, it’s immensely sad as it centers around Leo a street hustler in Strasbourg, who has a very different attitude about hustling. He seems to be not out for just the money. He seems to be a fleetign soul who just wants to be loved – he has no qualms about kissing his client, and he is kind of in love with a fellow hustler who advises him to just look for someone older to take care of him/ (Indeed, that character eventually gets in a similar situation) Leo’s health is failing, and he uses crack. It’s all very bleak and depressing, to be honest, and the caretaker in me wants to shake him up and say, :there are other choice, there are resources which could help you be on the straight and narrow road.’ But of course, we all make mistakes, and we do what our heart tells us to do. The ending here is unconventional – it will make you ponder in its open-endedness, and it will probably upset people. But I looked at it differently after thinking about it – there’s a certain romanticism in being free and doing what you really want, even if sometimes it could lead to destruction. We face those choices everyday, and I sometimes feel it takes more courage to be true to your heart. I have to admit Leo stayed with me for a bit after leaving the movie theater, and at times I couldn’t figure out if I fell in love with him, got mad at his choices, or maybe, I was just in awe of how much he knew what he loved.
Once in a while, there’s a movie that really touches me. I may not be the best movie in the world, but nowadays I find that stories that touch me are rarer to find. But ‘Un Frere’ (A Brother) took my soul in 70 minutes or so, and now I just need to tell the world to see it because chances are, it’ll touch someone else’s soul too.
Tom (Simon Royer) is vacationing with his family when he finds that another boy Felix (Marin Lafitte) is temporarily living in their house. And it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going. He falls in love with him, and finds a little about himself in the process. Royer’s wide eyed innocent performance is spot on, and it was great to see that exact moment when we see him recognizing that he is attracted to Felix. And int he beginning we sense that Felix may not really be into it, but as their friendship deepens, we see Tom’s effect on him. This is a sweet and sour summer story, with elements of awakening and coming of age, and perhaps the French provincial version of ‘Call Me By Your Name.’ It’s charming, and it made me cry just a little bit.