I know French Director Arnaud Desplechin has a huge fan base, and his new film ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ cater to that. I am only finding this out because I absolutely loathed his new film ‘Ismael’s Ghost” and I just did not get why the film was garnering raves, even opening Cannes Film festival last year. Sure enough, a lot of what is in the film are nods to some of his earlier films and are ‘inside jokes’ of sorts. Obviously, I did not get most of them, as I don’t even know if I have even seen any of his other films. I can’t say I am an expert on French Cinema, as I only see what is accessible to us here in the States.
Needless to say, I thought ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ is a hot mess. Stories and characters weave in and out and ten minutes into the film, i was already exhausted by it. They say if a film doesn’t engage you after a certain number of time, then you will never get it. I never got this. I know that the director character here is supposed to mirror Desplechin, and I guess that metaphor works that way: there is too much going on here, as if ideas have exploded in his head, and I just don’t have the patience for it. The version I saw was the ‘Director’s Cut,’ which is the version longer than the one shown in Cannes. Perhaps I would like that version better, although some reviews have indicated that this ‘fuller’ version makes more sense. Well, it still did not make sense to me, and I really have no interest in finding out more.
Laurent Cantet’s ‘The Workshop’ (L’Atelier) is set in La Ciotat in Southern France, near Marseilles. The shipping town has seen better days, and now the town sees itself catering to rich folks who park their yachts in their marinas. We see a group of young people taking a writing workshop, under the tutelage of Olivia, a famous novelist who leads them to write a collaborative story. Marina Fois’ Olivia is a city girl, a Parisian, and in the beginning we see the kids making fun of the way she speaks – fast, urgent, cosmopolitan. These kids are a cross-section of kids nowadays : of different ethnic descent, liberal, slightly bitter about the hands they are dealt with. One of the young men in the group, Antoine (Matthieu Lucci) is a provocateur – he disagrees with the other kids maybe for just the sake of being a contrarian, or maybe he really does believe what he is spouting? We don’t really get to find out exactly how he feels until the end, and even then I wasn’t so sure. This is a kid who watches alt-right speeches while doing sit ups, so I don’t really know whether to take him that seriously.
This is a thought provoking film, and curiously could be a story about anywhere in the world, as we see society getting more and more divided by the day. I thought the character of Antoine was fascinating, and Lucci is appealing in that dangerous/sexy/scary/infuriating kind of way. I bet he becomes a big star. There’s enough talk here that will make you pause and ponder, and may want to question what you think you believe in.
I am one of the generation who ‘grew up’ with ACT-UP. I remember once going to one of its meetings by mistake. It was at the “Keith Haring Room’ at The Center in New York City in the Mid 80s, and I thought I was going to a group meeting of some sort, and walked in to ACT UP. And I was scared, I was trembling. It was a whole group of very militant people, all garbed in black. of course, I knew what they were fighting for, but seeing their faces and their hostility face to face was an affront i didn’t expect. I ran out of there right away. I couldn’t handle it – their intensity weakened me. I look back at that now and think, can you imagine being on the receiving end of all that energy? Well, darn right, I could, and it was that rage that spurred the action that was needed at the time. I often saw the news reports of their activism, and then I would kind of shake my hand, but with my eyes now, knowing what I know, and after time has passed, I can only view all of as great bravery – hand battle in the war that is still on going.
BPM captures the Parisian energy of the time. Directed by Robin Campillo from his screenplay (with Phillippe Mangeot) this film is a depiction of a war, in the same vein as one would see ‘Schindler’s List,’ for example. While we are fortunate to be living now in a time where much of what was discussed here as battles won, it is good to see how we got to this place. This film tells the story of the activism in Paris that went on, and the loves and battles they lived through. It has the great performance of Nahuel Perez Biscayat as Sean, who is one of the activists who got the disease from his teacher, and his unlikely partner in Nathan (Arnaud Valois) who is negative. They form a bond that is unflinching in its honesty.
But, like all war films, it’s too exhausting to watch for me. In these times where we see resistance in form everyday, it is a reminder that we never do stop fighting in life. This is the opposite of the feel good movie, and I spent the evening after seeing this in deep solitude. I thought about the friends I have lost, the friends still affected by this. I thought about my life – how I survived all of this, and how I still do not feel completely safe from it. I slept with these thoughts, and this morning still could not figure out how to feel, how to write. I think this film is a great representation of the war a lot of people had to go through, and I hope people see it.
‘Madame’ is some sort of Cinderella story, but most things about it don’t really connect. In Amanda Sther’s first feature, a dinner party is almost disrupted when Anne realizes she has thirteen guests. Seeing that as some sort of bad luck, she makes her maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) join the table. Maria is instructed to be quiet and unobstructive, but she catches the eye of David (Michael Smiley) a rich art consultant. Some kind of romance follows, but Anne feels threatened and tries to thwart it.
The film and story is a good idea, but this film is marred by a couple of things. First of all, Colette’s Anne is such an unformed character that we do not understand why she does what she does. De Palma is great here, though, and gives Maria enough pathos and joy that you do feel for her, but everything around here seems wooden. The film is pretty to look at, and I appreciated the shots of modern day Paris and its suburbs. But to be honest, I got bored most of the time.
There’s a lot of sex going on in Belgium. Or so it seems, based on Laurent Micheli’s ‘Even Lovers Get The Blues.” When a group of friends loses one of their own, things go haywire and a lot of bed-swapping goes on. Maybe I am dense, but I found there were a lot of characters in the film, and there was not much (any) exposition to these characters that I was confused a lot of the time about who is who among here. That’s why I really did not care much for any of these people, and when they had the inevitable showdown at the lake, nothing registered. I like some of the artsy elements in the film, but over all I was very much unmoved by it.
Some quick hits on some flicks.
I really liked Die Geschwiter (Brother and Sister) which is set in Berlin and touches upon a couple of issues. Written and Directed by Jan Kruger, it is the story of a gay man who finds himself involved in the life of a brother and sister who are illegal refugees from Poland and Russia. He initially gives them a place to stay, then he gets romantically involved with the brother, but are they really just brother and sister? And is he really gay, or is he just being used? We never really get direct answers for some of these questions, and that’s not the point perhaps. We get a glimpse of life where refugees are discriminated, and I learn here that this type of thing doesn’t just happen in America. This was thought provoking and also engrossing.
From France comes Baisers Caches (Hidden Kisses) which is about a gay teenager from suburban France. It is a story about young love, homophobia, bullying. This was really disturbing to me – do these stories still exist in this day and age? I thought the younger generation now do not care about the sexual orientation of people their age? While the film does provide a nice ending, I was really bothered by some of the bullying scenes. At least it gives a positive message for this younger generation.
I am happy that in your local Cineplex between all the summer movies of superheroes and action sequences, there exists a film like ‘Paris Can Wait.’ This film, directed by Eleanor Copolla (Francis Ford’s wife) is, like your average summer movie, a whole lot of nothing. But with its French scenery, French food, and French suitor in the way of Aurnaud Viard, it just seems a lot more sophisticated and worldly. And in the summer heat feels like a great reftreshing creme brulee.
Diane Lane frames the whole film as Anne, a housewife of a movie producer (Alec Baldwin, barely here) who spends her time in his shadow. While at Cannes Film Festival, she develops an earache which prevents her from flying to Budapest with her husband. Instead one of his associated, Jacques (Viard) drives her to Paris. The film then becomes a glamorous road movie, as the normally day trip stretched to two, and along the way, they both explore the French regions, from Aix en Provence to Lyon, weaving through restaurants and museums and Roman aqueducts. To me it’s all interesting, with the shots of fresh lavender fields, and mouth-watering food. I was very much enchanted by all of it, as we see all this through Anne’s eyes. Is Jacques an opportunist French man or is he just plain French? The film will not let you spoil its romantic premise, but then why would you want it to? This is a film of moonlights and slow dances, and sometimes on a Summer afternoon it’s as much as an escape as a space battle. Maybe even better.