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Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Like every other francophile and film buff in town I’m getting excited in the run up to the UK release of Jacques Audiard’s new film, Un prophète (A Prophet).

To my mind – and many others – Audiard is France’s best filmmaker in modern times. His work first came to my attention when I was at school. We were studying the Nazi occupation of France and our teacher made us watch Un héros très discret (A Self  Made Hero).

Audiard’s screenplay about a nobody who passes himself off as a WWII Resistance hero had me captivated all the way to the tense end. His cinematography taught me that cinema truly was le septième art and that it was an art form that didn’t necessarily need a titanic budget (it was Leo and Kate’s love story that dominated screens that year) to impress.

Later I was spellbound by his De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat that My Heart Skipped), a thriller about a musical prodigy who gets caught up in the murky world of real estate. It was one of those films that stayed with you a long time after leaving the cinema. Certain images were etched in my mind but above all I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character.

It is Audiard’s heroes – or, I should say, anti-heroes – that make his films so compelling. Yes, his films are stylishly shot. Yes, the plot grabs you and doesn’t let you go. But it is as psychological portraits that his films become masterpieces.

Perhaps it is because Audiard is both screenwriter and director that he is able to create such powerful characters. Taking up the mantle of director/auteur from Truffaut and the rest of the Nouvelle Vague, he brings together visual and script to explore the identity of someone on the edge of society, an outsider whose inner flaws will bring about their own downfall.

Telling the story of an illiterate young arab’s transformation in a tough French prison, A Prophet promises to be equally hard-hitting and equally memorable. It’s won a bucket of awards (including a Grand Prix at Cannes and Best Film at the London Film Festival) and huge amounts of praise from the critics. (It’s got an amazing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

I’m hoping to catch an advance preview this Wednesday at the BFI (I think there’s still tickets), where it’s being screened as part of an Audiard and French thriller season this month.  I’ll let you know if it lives up to expectations.

Also on show as part of the season are A Self Made Hero (January 15) and The Beat that My Heart Skipped (January 11 & 20), which I thoroughly recommend. For a full list of the BFI’s programme click here.

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Capturing a life as colourful as Coco Chanel’s in 1 hour and 50 minutes was never going to be easy. The revolutionary designer who cut up corsets to allow women the freedom of more masculine clothes was a bag of contradiction. As The Independent points out, “despite her vaunted pride and independence, she was not so proud or independent to refrain from sponging off men.”

So it was perhaps inevitable that Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel would receive mixed reviews. When the film came out in France in April, critics attacked Fontaine for getting too bogged down in biographical detail and failing to fully explore Chanel’s complex character.

Libération’s critic complained:

[Le film] manque l’essentiel : le (sale ?) caractère d’une femme qui réussit à monter sa propre marque… à une époque où  les femmes qui voulaient s’affranchir de leur foyer avaient le choix entre bonne ou prostitué.” [The film missed out on the most important aspect: the (dirty) character of a women who launched her own fashion label in an era when women wanting to escape home life had two options: to be a servant or a prostitute.]

Le Nouvel Observateur derisively summed up Coco Before Chanel’s plot as follows:

Quand Coco s’amuse, et ce n’est pas souvent, Coco contente. Quand Coco s’ennuie, la plupart du temps, Coco pas contente.” [When Coco has fun – which isn’t often – she’s happy. When Coco is bored –most of the time – Coco isn’t happy.]

But most of the French critics reserved praise for Audrey Tautou, who, playing the title character, brought  depth which the film otherwise lacked.

Le Monde said:

Chanel aura pour première utilité de reléguer Amélie au musée. L’actrice n’élude aucun des travers: l’ambition forcenée, la mythomanie, l’absence de scrupules.” [Chanel has above all served to relegate Amelie [Poulain] to the dustbin. The actress doesn’t avoid any of her bad points: her crazed ambition, her pathological lying, her lack of scruples.]

British critics, who finally got a chance to see Coco Before Chanel when it was released in the UK this week, thought much the same. Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail, branded the film a “stodgy biopic”, while Wendy Ide in The Times said: “Rather staid in its approach, this film is nowhere near as fascinating and unpredictable as its subject.”

Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, not overly excited by this “tastefully furnished drama that rolls out pretty conservatively”, saw Coco Before Chanel as memorable for Tautou’s performance: “She can carry off a big role in a big movie, and portray a complex, creative personality. This is a world away from Amélie’s simpering ingenue.”

Next year, another Chanel film comes out. This time the focus is on Chanel’s relationship with the revolutionary composer, Igor Stravinsky. Will Chanel & Stravinsky better illuminate Chanel’s character? Will Anna Mouglalis, who plays mademoiselle do as well as Tautou?

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Want to do something really French this Bastille day?

The artists behind En attendant Godard – a film being made in homage/challenge to the most radical director of the France’s Nouvelle Vague – invite you to take part in /sabotage filming that’s taking place in London and Paris in the next week.

Members of the public are welcome to come dressed in character or as themselves to be interviewed about Jean-Luc Godard. Or if you’re feeling particularly counter-cultural simply set yourself the challenge of being in the background: The director, Will Brown, dares you to do what you wish, no matter how off-beat, in a bid to catch the attention of his cameraman. Brown says:

“The challenge is to shoot a multiple location, transnational fiction film for no money whatsoever. Aesthetically I want to ground the film in Godard’s work but I want to prove him wrong when he says that cinema is dead.”

Filming is scheduled at:

Southbank, London 13 & 14 July from 5pm

Alimentation Générale, 64, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Paris 18 July from 9pm

Bois de Boulogne, Paris 19 July from 6pm

For more information contact:  wjrcbrown@googlemail.com

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Cannes Film Festival 2009     

Cannes Film Festival 2009

We’re half way through that stellar event on any film buff’s calendar – the Festival de Cannes – and you might be, like me, disappointed about the minimal coverage it gets in the English-speaking press. So here’s five French language blogs on the festival I’d like to share with you:

Don’t be fooled by the English sounding titles, Because We Cannes Cannes Cannes and In The Mood For Cannes are two great blogs en français. The first, from the Film de Culte webzine team (who you can also follow on Twitter), mixes up longer features, focusing for example on the president of this year’s film jury Isabelle Huppert,with picture posts and overview lists. The second is written by screenwriter and film critic Sandra Mézière, who takes us on a more personal journey through the festival.  

If the côté “people” (as the French like to call celebrities) is more your thing, try the AlloCiné Cannes blog for photos and Le Buzz and Pure People for gossip, videos and more.

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When it comes to lavish dramas in historical French settings, I’m easy to please. I have to reserve special praise though for Chéri, which I had the pleasure to indulge in at the British Film Institute last Thursday. This masterful adaptation of Colette’s Belle Époque novel sees the reunion of Dangerous Liaisons director-writer duo Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton.

With the same skill they applied to Laclos’ tale of sex, love and deception, they draw out the best moments of badinage, tension and tenderness from Colette’s rich text. They magic the world of Chéri on to the big screen – the sumptuous art nouveau world of Paris before the First World War where ageing courtesan Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer) falls for Chéri (Rupert Friend), the 19-year old son of another courtesan.

The froth and frills Consolata Boyle’s set and costumes captivate but it is Pfieffer’s subtle portrayal of a beautiful woman who knows age is catching her up that makes this film so utterly charming.

I was equally charmed by Frears himself. His wit shone in the talk he gave after the show at the BFI on Thursday. No artistic bullshit for him. Asked, for example, why Colette was less frequently adapted than Jane Austen, he quipped: “Because she wrote in French.”

Well, good job that didn’t put him off. The Frears/Hampton/Pfeiffer team have become expert adaptors of French novels. Here’s hoping they try their hand at Balzac next.

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The iconoclastic French cinematic movement known as La Nouvelle Vague turns 50 this year. To celebrate cinemas across the UK, working in partnership with the BFI, will screen the works of its directors, including François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard from mid-March until mid-May.

These titans of le 7eme art transformed French cinema and made it what it is today. For this alone their films would be worth seeing. But they are also very enjoyable to watch. If you want to swot up a bit before going to see a Nouvelle Vague film, read this post from La Plume et l’Image or if you prefer to read something in English try this post from Blue Grass Film Society.

The Nouvelle Vague festival kicks off with a two day conference this weekend at Ciné lumière in South Kensington. Tomorrow night, Bernadette Lafont, star of Truffaut’s court métrage, Les Mistons, is guest of honour and will hold a Q&A after the film screening. For more information about the talk see Ciné lumiere’s website.

Truffaut will take centre stage at Barbican with eight of his films shown there from April 10 to May 31. Meanwhile, BFI South Bank is showcasing a wide range of Nouvelle Vague oeuvres throughout April including Godard’s seminal À bout de souffle and lesser known films, such as Agnès Varda’s boldly experimental La Pointe courte.

The festival isn’t just confined to London. Audiences in Belfast, Bristol, Edinburg, Sheffield and Liverpool will be treated to screenings of Les Quatre cents Coups and Pierrot le fou. For more information see BFI New Wave.

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A French spy film set in London has shot to number two in the French box office.

The film, Espion(s) has also received rave reviews from the press in France for its beautiful shots of London and sexy storyline: Guillaume Canet plays Vincent, a baggage-handler at DOrly who is forced into becoming a spy by the French secret service and MI5 after he witnesses a bomb explosion. His first task is to charm the French wife of an English millionaire.

Its being touted as an art-house, more philosophical version of the Bourne films. Lets hope it makes it way over here.

If you want to get the views of average French people on the film see Allocine. This useful website gives a synopsis of the film, details the star ratings given by big French publications and has users’ film reviews.  

For more high-brow analysis, try Matthieu Tuffreaus cinema Blog at Le Monde. (You can find Allocine‘s homepage in my bookmarks and a link to Matthieu Tuffreau’s blog in my blogroll.)

Or if you just want an overview in English, try this page from The Guardian.

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