‘Four Days in France’ (‘Jours de France’) is one of the weirdest movies I have seen in a long time. It is one of those films that is truly hard to describe. Directed by Jérôme Reybaud, this premiered at Venice Film Festival. It stars Pascal Cervo as Pierre Thomas. At the beginning of the film, Pierre leaves his lover in the middle of the night, and starts driving through Central France. We don’t know why he is doing this – we get a very vague idea in the end. As he goes through the different rural cities, he goes to rest stops and cruising areas looking for hookups. Most of the time he is aided by the ever-reliable phone app Grindr, where he ‘meets’ the men of Central France (Are there really that many there?) There is the idea that he has sex with a whole lot of them, but curiously he doesn’t. He meets a lot of other people along the way – his French teacher from childhood, a young gay man who wants to move to Paris, an older lady walking to the market.
And then there’s his partner, who (again) uses Grindr to track him down. That familiar notification notice of Grindr is ever ubiquitous here, if Pierre isn’t listening to classical music. One can find this film very tedious, pointless even. At times I did as well, but I have to admit I also liked the languid pace of the film, and was amused by the quirky characters he met, even if most of the set ups were quite contrived. This film runs at least 140 minutes, and you feel its length. Oddly enough, though, I felt that my time wasn’t wasted.
It’s always refreshing for me when I find a film that seems like it did not come from a factory. Everything in ‘What We Have’ is interesting, and unpredictable, but never manufactured or fake. It’s the story of Maurice, played by Maxime Desmons, who also wrote and directed this film. Maurice is an actor has moved from Paris to a small Northern Canadian town, and the locals are asking why he would ever move there. We find that he has a lot of demons inside him, and slowly these come out as he gets entangled in the life of Alan (Alex Ozerov) his French language student.
This is a very affecting story, and you at once get invested in these people’s lives. The story takes interesting twists and turns, and at times is very unsettling to watch – but it is extremely real and explores issues of loneliness, commitment phobia, and teenage bullying. It is exhilarating, and it never alienates. Desmons is fantastic, with just the right amount of detachment to make you feel for him as you feel his journey. It will leave you thinking about the characters even after the film has ended.
It was one of those nights – nothing is sticking to me. I started and stopped three films already, and nothing is sticking to me. Until I told myself – just pick one and let it play, commit to it, and chose ‘Things To Come’ (L’avenir), directed by Mia Hanson-Love, and starring Isabelle Huppert. (And yes, it was a film I started and stopped a couple of nights ago) It’s a French film, and the one thing I know about French film is how it sometimes challenges me, or baffles me, or entertain me, but more often than not, I am never bored by it. This film is no exception – the story of Nathalie (Huppert) a philosophy professor who goes through some kind of middle-age crisis. Her husband has suddenly left her, her young adult children are starting lives of her own, and her health-problematic mother passes, leaving her with a freedom she never asked for. I can certainly relate to that scenario. What to do, indeed, when you wake up and realize all you have is a ten year old cat named Pandora. Hansen-Love also wrote the screenplay, is wise enough to not fall into every trap she sets up, and we get a bittersweet and honest story, with a richly textured performance by Huppert – who is all warm, cynical, funny, acerbic all in scene after scene. As Fleetwood Mac sings ‘Unchained Melody’ at the end, you feel like you know Nathalie inside and out and have been in the journey with her, and want to spend more time with her. Sure, there are things that made me scratch my head – the extended Philosophy talk didn’t really help the narrative, and it could use a ten minute cut – but this is a great film for introspection, and I bet we will all learn a little but about ourselves after seeing this film.
“Happy” is one of those films I just randomly chose, based on nothing. It is a French film, so score one for it, and directed and is starring Jordan Goldnadel. He plays Florent who meets an American girl (Isabel Ryan) in the streets of Paris. They are two attractive people who obviously get attracted to one another. I wish there were more to the film than that, and sometimes it feels like it is trying to say something else. But, as one character in the film says, maybe these two are people who meet for a specific reason and they leave and enter each other’s lives, sort of like two ships passing in the night. I think if you look at this film as some great distraction – the beautiful people alone in beautiful romantic scenery in Paris make it worth the watch – you will enjoy it. There’s just nothing more to it, and sometimes that’s just fine.
The first twenty minutes of ‘Theo And Hugo’ (or, ‘Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau,’ its French market title) shows raw, graphic sex. I was put off by it initially. Though not exactly porn, it is very explicit. I wondered what it was doing in a fairly mainstream, if indie, film. Directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, though, know what they are doing. they put it in juxtaposition with what comes – a real tender and sweet love story between the characters of Theo (Geoffrey Couët) and Hugo ((François Nambot) I am reminded of that anecdote wherein a long-life gay couple was asked in their 50th Anniversary where they met, and everyone, expecting somewhere ideal and romantic, and the answer was ‘while trolling for dick.’ because surely, some of the best love stories start with sex.
The film, for me, tackles a couple of issues. First, the aforementioned romantic aspect of it – there is something almost defiant about finding love at a sex club. But it makes sense – most times people go there because they are looking for more than skin. When both of them leave the place, they find out they have unprotected sex and a reality sets in – one of them is HIV positive, though with an undetected viral load. But in these modern times, you can actually go to the hospital and get a gay man’s equivalent of the ‘morning after’ pill – a round of medications to stop the virus from spreading. Honestly, I did not know that those things existed, but then again it could be something that may not be available in US markets yet. (And surprise of all surprises, they did not have to pay for it!) Plus, I thought that the setting was quite beautiful. Set in the northeastern part of Paris, it was nice to see it just as beautiful without the cliched settings of the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysee.
I loved the film, which was made foe hopeless romantics. I loved the fact that these two imperfect souls met and fell in love in minutes. I loved the fact that despite the big odd, the love and attraction for each other won – I couldn’t help but think that if this story was told fifteen years ago, the HIV positive aspect would have been a mood killer. Nowadays it is treated just as another inconvenience. The latter part of the film tries a little too much and slowed a bit of the action, but ultimately, this film is a big celebration. Celebrate it.
Everyday we make choices – when we are walking, do we take one route, or do we take another? You sometimes think what if – what if I did something differently? Aimee Friedman, in her novel “Two Summers” ponders that question. Summer Everett is on her way to visit her father in Aix-en-Provence in France and as she is about to board the plane, her phone rings. Its her father on the phone telling her not to go. But what if she didn’t pick up the phone and got on the plane? Friedman gives us two versions of what happens, and both give her a different kind of summer. But what is interesting about the story is how the stories around her do not change, and we get views on how she would react to these externals in both situations. This is a cute novel, and not as airheaded as you think: it posits a very deep question, and leads everyone to the exact same place in the end. Is everything fate? Can we change what happens in our leaves? Do things change based on split-second decisions we make?
‘Five,’ directed by Igor Gotesman, is interesting to me because it is a French film that is current, and I always liek those because they give me a sense of how people live in different places, and this one is set in the City of Lights, Paris! so C’est Magnifique! Too bad it is about French millennials, and it turns out the French kind is as annoying as American ones, in sense of their feeling entitled. Pierre Niney (he played Yves in that YSL movie) is Samuel, whose lifestyle is being funded by his rich father as he pretends to be studying to be a doctor but, really, he wants to be an actor. So he rents a fabulous Left Bank apartment with his friends until he gets caught and gets disowned by his father. So what does Samuel do? He starts dealing drugs, of course. All this is directed in a fun, light setting (Niney gets to keep his expensive wardrobe and perfectly coiffed hair) and everyone gets to have fun while this is all happening (even as they go to the ‘seedy’ part of town and one of his friends braids his hair to appear gangsta) Of course, until the party ends and since this is a French film, the tone abruptly changes in the ending. Gotesman seems to be very American-inspired, though, because there are touches of rowdy behaviour and language, as if he is imitating a Judd Apatow movie. But then again, what do I know, right? Maybe that is really what is going with French youth nowadays. These characters outstayed their welcome for me, and I wanted to smack every single one of them. But I have to say, though, it was never boring.