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Showing posts with label François Ozon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label François Ozon. Show all posts

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The only thing that I can think of that's close to Justice

This is an accreting series of responses to The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

3 November

This is an accreting series of responses to The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Yorgos Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou love presenting universes where x obtains (or x and y do = given..., find a value for...), and that just is so : in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), they have surpassed the self-imposed and serial strictures of The Lobster (2015), but, in these English-language films, they have barely caught up with the power of Alpeis (Alps) (2011)...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 10 March 2017

Michèle : Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to make us stop doing anything at all

This is a review of Elle (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

10 March

This is a review of Elle (2016)

Prelude :

The beauty of cinema can also be a film’s bane, in that, just as one creates the film for one’s self as one watches (which, frankly, one just does not with a play – or a symphony, or painting), and then in one’s mind afterwards : one may need a re-examination of what happened at Point A (and / or what it may have meant), because, seen from Point B (and Point C), what one thought then does not fit, or poses questions…

With a review such as this one, begun on the day of release and worked on amongst other things, time, and over-recreating the film, seem to have taken one too far off course (just now - hence this note) : the film as a whole, and the much more varied aspects of Isabelle Huppert’s role of Michèle, now seem like the coast-line, seen through a telescope, because matters of navigation have taken on an unhelpful life of their own, with one's not consulting the charts, but puzzling over, and cogitating, items noted and brought into the cabin at the time.

Yet, partly, even that would-be poetic description avoids the truth that, when generally trying to make reviews that are no more ‘spoilery’ than a trailer (whatever use a trailer is to someone who wants to watch a film), and by discussing and trying to give a flavour of the film (rather than reciting – an interpretation of – what happens in it), one just cannot be too specific about some things : here, exactly how Michèle’s life fits into that of the others whom we see, and ending up, in what has been said, omitting to be more rounded.

Well, you know I've got me an imaginary friend
And it's his daydreams they buy in the end
He won't let me break, he won't let me bend
He puts it all together and I just press send
And he's a shadow behind me in the light
And he takes me walking in the park at night

He makes me do something wrong,
Do something right
And disappears before the morning

Quoted, with kind permission of Ezio Lunedei (@eziolunedei)
'The further we stretch' ~ Ezio [Black Boots on Latin Feet (1995)]

During pre-festival drinks one Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest), and talking about Lars von Trier (and where he has been since Breaking the Waves (1996)), it was remarked – to someone likely to be in the know – that von Trier appears to have been working his way through DSM-IV. (Or DSM-V, as he remarked, since he was in the know, and the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual controversially stood about to be adopted [an article for Mad in America writes 'How Reliable is the DSM-5 ?'].)

Here, we are in a different territory, more as where - in adapting Michel Houllebecq’s novel - Atomised (2006) gives us a generalized sense of the formative parental relationships. Likewise, with the young protagonists of Jeune et Jolie (2013), or, also directed by François Ozon, In the House (Dans la maison) (2012), with Isabelle (Marine Vacth) and Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), respectively, both doing what they can, because they can : when Isabelle is asked for a reason, by her mother, for setting herself up as a sex worker, she provides a sufficient reason for this purpose, but to make money does not account for why she did this. (In this respect, the closest parallel with Michael Haneke's films - please see below - is in the chilling mood of The White Ribbon (2009).)

Three images from The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte), and its shoot

On the level of the film's ambit, and how it communicates to us the different places where it resides, Elle has something in common with Eastern Boys (2013). However, although the latter - though to very little effect (other than adding variety to the changing dominant scene ?) - evokes a merging of the power-play of the everyday world with that of gaming and gamers, Elle (2016) actually does it. Regarding the 'shop of horrors' shown in the still below (which clearly equates to an armoury, or other repository, for one's character to select weaponry in a game - and which may even have equipped her attacker, with the hood, and some sort of special codpiece ?), one is almost in two minds whether, when someone is feeling threatened to the extent of buying equipment, that disturbing state of mind is being matched by another one, in having such a clear sense of contemplating what to buy, and to achieve what end :

As to Michèle’s purchases, and how we see them used (and notably not used again), there must be some ambiguity whether – however they might have been employed – she was thinking, as in a game, in part offensively. If so, we might wonder whether thinking in terms of attack, rather than defence, helps her generate the perception of danger on which she acts : she does act in a highly precipitate way on slender grounds (and with no consequences (for her)). (If it is, indeed, a genuine apprehension of threat, given that Michèle seems unengaged and disingenuous when explaining her pre-emptive actions - just as when, earlier in the film, she more than mischievously blamed a substantially wrecked bumper on quelqu'un ?)

Michèle (Isabelle Huppert - who brought us the insane and transgressive intensity of Haneke's The Piano Teacher (La pianiste) (2001)) is interchangeably gaming in her living whilst also living in her gaming, and so candidly says to Richard Leblanc (from whom she is, if not divorced, then separated), about his young girlfriend, You've broken the rules. (Richard suggests that he was not aware that there were any, but thereby plays her game : he may not recently have read, or at all, Eric Berne's book Games People Play, on transactional analysis...)

Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel in The Piano Teacher (2001)

Oscar Isaac, as the title-character of Inside Llewyn Davies (2013), the pair of Paul and Peter (played, respectively, by Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) in Funny Games¹ (1997) [the German-language original], and Michèle in Elle all have in common that they prioritize their (emotional or other) need over that of others : it is partly in the degree of the middle example that it differs, with its scenario of torture and pain. (Which Michael Haneke says that he is willing us not to keep watching. Having, one way or another, disposed of three members of a family, it turns out to be only so that Peter and Paul can cyclically move on to exploit an earlier introduction to another family as an entrée for their previous opening gambit.) With Llewyn Davies, even if he were not portrayed as a performing artist, persisting until he becomes successful (as we always knew that he did), there is a narcissistic quality to him that may make us find him unlikeable.

In any case, with Michèle in Elle, she is much more nuanced and changeable than Llewyn Davies, who is set (more or less) on his destiny. We see Michèle both as the victim of an attack, but also as one who (as we all can and do) chooses her own victims. For example, just in relation to her ex alone (played with patience by Charles Berling), we see Michèle at least four times exploit circumstances to punish him, whereas, at the same time, she has no anger or retribution for (but a continuing relationship with) three men who have quite deliberately exploited or humiliated her - it may, equally, be a response by them to something in her (and so some sort of match, not exactly made in heaven, but which draws them to each other³), but it seems to unlock something in her psyche to which she can respond. It fascinates and stimulates her, which we are shown, when she takes the opportunity to observe one of these men from a distance, and give free rein to sexual excitement and climax.

[Returning briefly to when Michèle determines to buy the black axe (as shown above), it is only in remembrance, fantasy or dream (or some combination of all) that she imagines, and in a game-like way, the damage that such a weapon could cause. Significantly, picturing this seems to gives her power – as we see on her face, when she emerges from it – but, for some reason, she then does not ready her weapons . Perhaps, on various levels, she no longer wishes to do something so damaging, when it has been so graphically seen. Is it also, perhaps, as if the rules of combat say so (or those, at any rate, of playing an on-line game), where sometimes items are only available to be used once… ? Since Michèle has disarmed herself / is unarmed⁴, her reaction has to be ad hoc - with what happens to be within reach (Verhoeven is obviously causing us to recollect Dial M for Murder (1954)).]

It seems not unlikely that the element of religious observance at this moment heightens, or gives rise to, Michèle’s arousal, and that her being drawn to these men is also because of something in the behaviour or character of her father. However, this film is not Nymphomaniac Vol. I (2013) (or Vol. II (2013)) – although it is in other ways – or Marnie (1964), or Spellbound (1945), and we hardly know any more about Michèle’s father, and her relationship with him, than she herself narrates. Given that she tells what seems a frank and open account to one of the men, but is in seductive mode still (having covertly made her intentions very clear to him), she may want to judge his reaction / arousal, and we then have only bares bones to judge by, from elsewhere in the film, of the truth of the story of her father and her (he is now 76, and her last contact with him was at around the age of 10).

It is with Michèle as she is, rather than how she has come to be, that Paul Verhoeven concerns himself and us - even if she takes herself as a given, with fierce and fiercely held attitudes, and holding others in disrespect (for example, we twice hear her how she just rebuffs criticism for entering without knocking, by asking why she should, when she has the key). Even so, one can say too much about nerdyism in programming or related fields, but Michèle and Anna (Anne Consigny) must have been brought to be friends by something more than occupying the same maternity ward⁵, especially in order that they achieve success in the world of designing and making games of extreme violence and eroticism (which feel quite large and loud, bursting into the safety of the auditorium).

Film composer Anne Dudley, who wrote the score for Elle, appeared in conversation about her career with Matthew Sweet (@DrMatthewSweet), on Radio 3’s Sound of Cinema (on Saturday 11 March 2017)

And then [in the aftermath of the scene of violence] our character, Isabelle, behaves in quite a, an unexpected fashion, and continues to behave in a quite (Laughs) unexpected fashion throughout the film. And, um, when I was discussing this film with Paul [Verhoeven], he said, ‘Well, the music has to give her a heart, because… she… could be seen as quite a cold character’.

As you say, she’s the CEO of this company that makes incredibly violent… video-games. She seems inured to violence. […] She deals with [her past] in her own way, but she’s potentially quite icy, so the music, especially with the harp, sort of, doing this round-and-round rhythm all the time, gives her a sort of heartbeat, a sort of centre.

Dudley’s score brings that sense of such a centre (and of why it is needed) so well, when we are watching, and yet explains how, afterwards, we might be bewildered by what Michèle has calculatedly (or recklessly) done – and, often enough, with an element of the self-destructive in it. (So it is that, when she has an accident in the car, we are disbelieving at her next choice of person to call, when calls to Anna and Richard both go straight to voicemail.) Or, early on in the film, when she is about to have dinner out with a group of friends (a sparkling wine is just being ordered, so a call has to be made to delay pouring it), she declares to the party, in quite simple terms, that she has been attacked, as if she can do so, quietly and factually, and then they move on to other things : Michèle simply does not see that, in the circumstances, a level of question and comment (which she just does not want) is bound to ensue, and does not accept responsibility when it does, but coolly insists on silencing the line of enquiry (leaving us in no doubt that she likes to try to have things on her terms).

At Michèle's dinner-party on Christmas Eve : Vimala Pons and Charles Berling (as Hélène and Richard)

It is also clear that (as we all can do) Michèle disapplies some rules, in respect of others (to the extent of seriously being told You’re so selfish, it’s frightening), but expecting that they should hold for her : at her dinner-table, we have – of all things – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 playing [Brief Encounter (1945)], but – as well as flirting, and more – waiting for the right moment to press on the weak point (irrespective of what the consequences may be), and then denying any responsibility again. (It may not be a meaningful distinction (and not one of which she is likely to be conscious) whether Michèle does what she does because she 'needs to', or because – pre-emptively, and selectively – she can : at a crucial time, when she asks, of another who acts as she³, Pourquoi ?, all that she is told is C’était nécessaire.)

However, it is more alarming, when someone is in a coma and Michèle is being shown a scan of an aneurysm, that she can in all conscience ask You’re medically certain this is for real ? - and one can see that the medical practitioner, hearing this response (as she must hear many an unusual response), knows better than to engage with such highly bizarre thinking. As if divorced from the presenting facts, and lacking in empathy, it is borne out by telling the unconscious person that she does not believe it, and calling the aneurysm an act of treachery – but this is not an inter-player chat, berating someone for having betrayed a strategic alliance in a game…

In the very closing shot of the film, when there might be reasons for Anna and Michèle not to be there (after the launch-party for the new game), it does seem - as more than suggested earlier - as if Anna's and her understanding of, and for, each other runs more deeply than between others : we had heard that, at the office, in the oddly delighted inquisitorial energy with which Anna tells her some news about Robert (Christian Berkel)).

Martin Scorsese made The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), truly ahead of the game, because there are people in the world who are / behave like Jordan Belfort - not because he wanted us to like him / his story. Watching Elle twice makes us more aware of what - as we all might (like to) do - Michèle not only subversively does, but how hurt and distrustful she feels.

Final remarks – how little Michèle is really present in Elle :

If we closely consider our view of Isabelle Huppert, on screen, we will realize that, by one or other of these techniques, her character generally avoids being truly present to us : degrees of soft focus, as well as imparting pallor to her, or limiting the aperture of the camera or the use of light on her so that she is under-lit.

Twice, when she is telling a story about herself and choosing to charm / be charming (to one of the nurses, and at her dinner-party), Michèle gives a veiled appearance of being candid, but she knows exactly what impression she chooses to give, whereas there are probably only three (or four) occasions when we can say that she is directly present in the way that the other characters are. (There are even extreme out-of-focus views of Michèle, looking across the car to Patrick, as he drives her back after the launch-party – a hint of Crash (1996) ?)

In Brody's opinion, Huppert’s performance is no more than standard — which, for an actor of her rare art, is high — but not distinctive. She is, as she usually is, precise, controlled, dryly witty, understated, fiercely committed, risqué.

A closing thought :

Giving a childish excuse, youngsters might say that ‘Mr Nobody did it’ – or that quelqu'un had.

What if someone whose treatment caused her to became dehumanized – and was no longer allowed to be Michèle - because, whoever that was, that was not who this person was now ?

Could that person inhabit the second half of the name Mich-èle, and become just Elle... ?

End-notes :

¹ In films from Haneke's oeuvre, we need not limit our thinking to Funny Games, though, because – without spelling them out – themes in The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny's Video (1992), or The White Ribbon (2009) are highly relevant here.

² If so, although seeing Llewyn Davies' narcissism play out (and bothering to contrive to get to Chicago, but with no idea how to present himself) is relatively uninteresting, because his is an almost one-dimensional portrayal, and The Coen Brothers import positivity to the affect through Carey Mulligan and to her in the musical numbers (although they are done less well than usually given credit for). On the level of the quality of the film and of its music, and the depth of the performances, might one think that Un cœur en hiver (1992) has much more to offer ?).

Daniel Auteuil (as Stéphane) in Un cœur en hiver (1992)

³ In the book that he wrote with John Cleese, Robyn Skynner describes The Family Systems Exercise in this way : Its purpose is to show what lies behind the way that couples pick each other out across a crowded room ! Families and How to Survive Them by John Cleese and Robin Skynner, Oxford University Press, Oxford (1984), p. 17.

⁴ Whatever that – and there are very good reasons for asking – says about Michèle's deeper motivations.

⁵ Of course, that does happen commonly enough, at a pivotal time in a mother’s life. Yet we only hear about the connection between Anna and her (seemingly ?) inconsequentially when, with apparent absolute candour, she tells a story that invokes the two women before King Solomon : is Michèle broken in the sort of way where she would want half a disputed child ?

Or where, in all the circumstances, someone might normally be expected to explode at an employee who still cheekily expects to be paid, she just says no.)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Flaws that stopped one sleeping

This is principally a critique of Before I Go to Sleep (2014), not a review

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

2 September (updated 26 November)

* Contains many spoilers – this is principally a critique of Before I Go to Sleep (2014), not a review *

A film such as Cell 211 (Celda 211), despite having a flaw at its centre that was challenging to spot, deserved a release (and, at least on DVD, got one). However, to Before I Got to Sleep (2014), the following Tweet sadly does apply :

As to plausibility, if one wanted a digital camera, one would do well to buy Christine’s make – it is apparently indestructible ! But, on other matters, the question put mainly to Steve Watson, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, at the Q&A on Monday night at Cambridge Film Festival / #CamFF 2014 follows.

Premise : Christine does not remember the previous day, and sees no one, every day, but the person whom she takes to be Ben (because he tells her so)
Question : So what does reason does Mike have to pretend to be Ben [which, in fact, he may do out of guilt, but clearly resents doing] ?

An immediate answer was not forthcoming, which, accepting that writing the book had been some while ago, was fine. However, the best that director / writer Rowan Joffe and he came up with (slightly later) was that of cementing the memory by repeating a version of the past, because Christine’s forgetting is not certain.

Nothing, though, could address the fact (put to Steve) that, if Christine woke up with a sudden memory of the real Ben and being married to him, nothing that fake Ben could do to pretend to be he would make him look like him – and, if she remembered that she was married to the real Ben, he would have to persuade her that he is also Ben, and that he married her after Ben 1 and she divorced…

The book and film’s reality and need is that it wants to present the to us as much as to Christine man who is really Mike (Mike 2) as Ben, and so have us believe that he is her pre-injury husband. Yet, if Mike wanted to pretend that there are images of him marrying Christine, i.e. proof that he is her husband (and so legitimate), he would have done it photographically, not physically.

The images are so patently cut together that they would never convince anyone, let alone a woman staring at them because she cannot remember the events that they show : the film gives us what appeared to be a dishonest close-up of what a crude job it is, with a cut-line between their heads, whereas a medium shot shows the heads touching, or, at any rate, so close that there would be no white space in between

* * * * *

As to the positives, with a variation of date rape, any woman could wake up in bed with a man, not knowing who she is or why is there, and drugged into accepting that she has no memory and that he is her partner… Or we could ask, as philosophers in the past have, how we know that the external world exists and that we are not ‘brains in a vat’ : receiving sensory data with no senses, beyond having those stimuli, to perceive the world that we apparently see and feel …

So it is not as if the film / book does not pose questions. (Though, as Hugh Taylor (Festival supporter and regular put it), it is not as if it is not full of holes, and turns Nicole Kidman into that traditional character of the helpless woman.)

Nonetheless, there is such a spoilery list of things to consider (most of which were evident during or just after the screening, and just condensed into the criticism implied by the question posed) that one must wonder what Watson / Joffe thought they were doing regarding a plot that worked. Not an exhaustive list, but the more obvious ones, follows :

* Mike 1, even if he has good reason to suspect Mike 2, seems to act fairly strangely for a doctor – contacting Christine out of the blue, without her husband’s knowledge (and encouraging her not to change that position), and expecting her to trust him

* In fact, her levels of trust are worryingly high (given what she later fears about him, albeit curiously having been taken to a remote reservoir), and indicate that the issues below (of getting her discharged) should, from the point of view of her vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, have made that extremely difficult without very convincing bona fides

* How does Mike 2 have Christine’s telephone number, if, as we are told, she was discharged from a hospital / home (unless she has some contact with it or equivalent day services) ?

* And how does he have the photographs of Claire (with which he stimulates Christine’s memory of Claire), and would he not have been using photographs of her taken with the man who is really Ben (to trigger memories of those times, too, before the attack) ?

* Maybe some questions of acquired brain injury would be considered a psychiatric issue (under the provisions of s. 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended)). If it were thought one, to protect the interests of a person with no memory from exploitation, signing them off to an appropriate place for her care and aftercare would almost certainly have had to be part of the discharge (please see below) – not to somewhere where she is at home all day and almost never leaves the house :

* What does Christine have for lunch ? How does she get vitamin D or exercise, for example, if she does not leave the house (she cannot leave the house, because she does not know where she is ?) ? How are her dental and health needs met, etc. ?

* And, although we only see a period inside term-time, what happens in the holiday ? Can their lives really be confined to a house that is as central to this fantasy as François Ozon’s is in In The House (Dans la maison) (2012) ?

* Neurological tests should have established what (important) part of her amnesia is from the injury, what from the fear-memories of the attack, if she came to this house as recently as four years ago : the film makes scant distinction

* The simplest divorce, where there are no real assets and no children, can be a paper exercise. However, with a wife with a son and who, because of her problems with memory, almost certainly lacks capacity, it is just not clear on what basis one would straightforwardly be obtained. (Out of the possible ones of adultery, ‘unreasonable behaviour’, desertion, two years’ separation with consent, or five years without consent, probably the last, being the time spent in hospital(s).)

* Whenever exactly it happened (the film seems a little unclear, maybe because Mike 2 is lying about the divorce ?), it would have been a major event in any hospital / care home, and almost certainly involving The Court of Protection, because of the need for someone’s valid agreement, to make sure that Christine’s interests would be represented, to what would happen to Adam and how the assets of the marriage would be divided :

* Her share of any proceeds of sale would be held on trust for her, again supervised by the Court, and yet we seem to have the house passed off as where Christine has always lived with Ben…

* Again according to Mike 2, Christine was in hospital / care when he came for her and discharged her – so who was he somehow pretending to be with his forgeries, and why, if that was Ben, he would not have been her next-of-kin as her former husband, so why was he allowed to take her ‘home’ (unless we are to suppose that the hospital / home has somehow forgotten that significant legal step in Christine’s life) ?

* Why would her actual next-of-kin (probably her elder parent) not have been contacted – or is that the nature of Mike 2’s forgery, e.g. to pretend, say, to be her brother ?

* If the attack on Christine was as violent as we see, not only would blood be all over the room and the corridor, but pathology would also have established that it did not take place where her body is found :

* Mike and she may have been checked in under assumed names, but they had met before (maybe there), and no proper police enquiry would have failed to link the injured body to the hotel (because of the blood and a sheet from a hotel), and hence to the people who had occupied it

* One reason is that there are laundry-tags or codes (even if removed), and missing sheets from hotels that night and the type and size of the sheet in which she has been found wrapped would have narrowed the field – just using a hotel sheet, in itself, did so much to implicate Mike

* He did not seem to premeditate the attack, since he was attempting to get Christine to agree for him to call Ben to tell him of the affair, and then got angry and violent towards her with the phone when she tried to stop him : he left her, for some reason naked (would someone have recognized her clothes as such ?), where it is clear that the sheet that he used to clothe her would have been from an airport hotel in the vicinity

* If Claire has been contacting the last place where Christine was an in-patient, why would they have been telling her what she reports about Christine – and why does she not tell Christine that she has a grown-up son ?

* Has Mike dummied up a forged death certificate for Adam (in case Christine has the energy to go through the contents of the tin ?

* The fact that he tells her that she has remembered Claire before is not conclusive that she has not had a memory of her real (former) husband before, but maybe chloroforming her and relying on her having forgotten in the morning is a sufficient remedy for someone intent on living with the woman whom he nearly killed and who is frightened of seeing him every morning – perhaps just for the occasional times when (as we see) her levels of trust lead to intercourse…

* The film also seemed confused as to when Adam was said to have died / when Christine was attacked in relation to it (but maybe because of Mike 2’s lies again)


Whatever the quality of the production (with Colin Firth having to contain his role much of the time to give us a shock - and, to go back to that question in the Q&A, the shock that he gives us is precisely because, for our benefit alone, he needlessly pretends to be Ben, rather than being himself), the plotting is just not worthy of it.

With a 36% rating of Rotten on the Rotten Tomatoes web-site from critics, and 50% from audiences, here is a link to what some of even the most positive reviews admitted...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

More Haneke than Buñuel ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 December

Jeune et Jolie (2013) was screened at The Little Theatre as part of Bath Film Festival 2013

How many reviews of Jeune et Jolie (2013) am I going to have to read where its uninspired writer references the completely irrelevant Belle de Jour (1967), just because - whatever the fit - it is the only film that, in each case, he or she can think of where a woman works as a prostitute ?

* Tim Robey* in The Telegraph

* Ian Freer in Empire

* James Mottram in Total Film

* Nigel Andrews in The Financial Times

* Andrew Nickolds at TAKE ONE

And so on...

Have they never seen Natalie (2003) or even Sleeping Beauty (2011), which have far more in common for how the topos is treated ? What, in fact, does a married woman with sadomasochistic fantasies have to do with a seventeen-year-old, who has just uncomfortably lost her virginity ?

Sooner that, though, than being smugly dismissive (Mark Kermode in The Observer) or claiming that Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) is indisputably better (Brian Viner, Mail Online : Viner says that Jeune et Jolie 'is in no way a match for' the other film, but they are very different films, no more capable of being compared than Superman and Bambi just because both (of J&J and Blue) feature sex.

Reviewers tediously also want a motivation for what Isabelle does. As i** carps :

Ozon's motives in making this film are as inscrutable as those of his teenage heroine Isabelle (Marine Vacth) [...] who, for reasons Ozon doesn't even begin to make clear, decided to embark on a part-time career as a teenage prostitute

They see (as the quotation shows) the fact that no motivation is stated is a flaw, which it might be in a world of perfect rationality, but that is not our world. So, Nigel Floyd (for Film4) reports :

“I didn't really try and understand psychologically who [Isabelle] was," Vacth has said. "I wasn't interested in knowing exactly. And anyway I couldn't, because François didn't tell me anything about her psychology.” The second half of this statement is more revealing than the first. Given that their creative collaboration was so one-sided, it's not surprising that the film suffers from an atmosphere of uncontrolled, unrevealing salaciousness.

Has Floyd even seen the film, if he thinks it salacious, one might wonder.

All this business about motivation is ultimately a dead end, a red herring, and would have one interrogate Amour (2012), when Michael Haneke is on record here, and in relation to other films, that it is up to us how we view them, and there is no one way.

What more do we want, and why, than what the films tells us : that Isabelle's friend Claire and she were approached in the street (Claire previously alludes to this encounter in talking to Isabelle), and the man said his number. Do we need spelt out what impulse led Isabelle to follow up a man interested in her ? Obviously, most girls of her age would do nothing with it, but why should she not register the number and act on it ?

In fact, an answer to why she did is utterly boring, when the fact is that she did, and we see her approaching room 6598 where not her first client awaits her, but Georges, with nothing of what preceded. There is something seriously wrong with the idea of cinema-going if that does not suffice, and critics are unhappy not to be told more.


* At least Robey goes on to make this (necessary) observation : 'The film makes more sense if you see it as a companion piece to Ozon’s last one, In the House, which had a 16-year-old male schemer insinuating himself into a series of power plays'.

** In the edition on 29 November 2013.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Young and attractive*

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

1 December

This is a review of Jeune et Jolie (2013), as shown at Bath Film Festival 2013 (@BathFilm)

99 = S : 16 / A : 17 / C : 16 / M : 17 / P : 16 / F : 17

A rating and review of Jeune et Jolie (2013)

S = script

A = acting

C = cinematography

M = music

P = pacing

F = feel

9 = mid-point of scale (all scored out of 17, 17 x 6 = 102)

After the location of the opening section, François Ozon’s film is set in Paris, but more by implication than by depiction (except for showing a fascinating bridge where it seems to be the fashion to leave a padlock on the side mesh) in a film that haunts interiors. For a film that seems to centre on the sexual act, it is impressively unsexy, unlike its distinctively arousing contemporary from Abdellatif Keciche, Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), and it really hinges on the seasons, starting with the summer, when Isabelle (Marine Vacth) turns 17.

In her head at least (though this is true of the pupils in both Keciche’s film and – another vehicle for Adèle Exarchopoulos – Pieces of Me (2012)), this is high time to lose one’s virginity, which is shown typical gritting-one’s-teeth style as if it is just something that has to be done**. Impossibly, since her German lover (no virgin) is with her and escorts her home, she looks at where it happened as if outside herself, so we know from this, and her lack of desire to see him, that the act has significance beyond our measure.

Keen though she is not to announce what she has done to her friend Claire, she does capitalize on it, and the attention that men give her. Comparisons have been made with classic Buñuel in Belle de Jour (1967), but Isabelle’s motivations – to the extent that we ever understand them – are nothing to do with sadomasochistic fantasy, nor (as in the rather dire Sleeping Beauty (2011), and despite what Isabelle pretends) with lack of funds as a student. If one is reminded of any recent film parallel, not least by how J&J ends, it is the excellent Natalie (2003), for doing something just because one can…

The film neatly sets up expectations that Isabelle’s brother Victor, who spies on her going topless on the beach and with whom she makes – and breaks – an agreement to tell him all about her lovers’ tryst, is going to remain important : what is, though, important is what her first sexual experience with another meant, for that moment of standing outside herself was almost reminiscent of the coping strategy of Samira as a victim of gang-rape in As if I am not There (2010).

This, I believe, rightly remains unclear. It has some bearing on what Isabelle did, but we are too little privy to her therapy sessions to know whether the psychological truth behind it all becomes clear to her. As a pithy description on IMDb says, this is a film in four seasons and four songs, the first of which we hear when she is reflecting on what happened on the beach. As befits songs (and it remains to be established whose words are set), they can exist outside the realm of the person with whom they are visually associated, just as a singer can tell a tale of jealousy without being a jealous person :

Without a teacher’s voice intervening, what is effective is a moment when different members of the class, Isabelle included, recite parts of a poem by Rimbaud, and then are shown, in their seats, interpreting it. Not only is one reminded of the school setting, and relatively impenetrable protagonist, of the previous film (In the House (2012)), but also of the provisionality of what we see and hear, whether in poetry, or in film.

The taboos that are broken share ground (though not content) with films of Haneke’s such as Benny’s Video (1992), Funny Games (1997) or The White Ribbon (2009), with both writer / directors showing that they have insights into the world of adolescence and the excessive liberties that it can lead to. The alliance between brother and sister to keep secrets, and that uneasy interest in each other’s sexuality, is the germ of what happens, the sort of rebellion that Haneke keeps coming back to.

The seasons denote attempts to come to terms with sex and relationships from the first sexual act to thinking oneself invited to perform lesbian acts, and, in between, a searching for identity, warmth, a place to be oneself that ranges from flirting with one’s stepfather (Frédéric Pierrot***) to trying to love a peer. In all of this, the threatened connection between mother and daughter holds firm, but there is the unsettling feeling that what one did / who one is perceived to be will break through.

Ozon’s film is seamlessly constructed, thoughtful, intense, and the performances that he has from Vacth and from Géraldine Pailhas as her mother Sylvie are highly impressive, with solid support from Pierrot, a little more able sometimes as Patrick, even if his way of expressing himself is pounced on to his ill by Sylvie, to see the wood for the trees. Ultimately, Ozon leaves us to ponder, whether or not as parents, what he has brought to us here.

Though there is also a follow-up piece here


* The film gives as its English title Young and Beautiful, but any student of French will tell you that jolie does not mean 'beautiful' (which is belle). One of the posters for the rising star Peppy in The Artist (2011) is Young and Pretty, but Peppy does not suit a leading lady, and would fit the dog better.

** Rather implausibly, given what twentieth-century girls lives are like (plus she is described as a tomboy later on), she bleeds, as if her hymen had been intact.

*** A prolific film actor, best known to me from being a foil to KST in Sarah's Key (2010) - a film unfairly slighted by UK critics - and, in a different capacity, in I've Love You So Long (2008).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

DJ Kristin is spinning discs

This is a review of In the House (Dans la maison) (2012)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

3 April

* Contains spoilers *

This is a review of In the House (Dans la maison) (2012)

Another posting is a detailed attempt to understand what is happening in this film, but it is not a review – this is.

The story presents itself as an unfolding, a relationship between a teacher and a sixteen-year-old ‘learner’ (as the staff now have to call the pupils), in his class Sophomore C* at the Lycée Gustave Flaubert** : Germain (Fabrice Luchini), the teacher, first learns that he has this class (we know nothing about what else he does – whether, even, he teaches any other class) from Anouk, the school secretary (with whom, if not now, he has almost certainly had an affair).

Less interested in his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) than in marking homework (does the affair with Anouk subsist, a diversion of Germain’s care and attention ?), he is excited by an account (marked à suivre, to be continued) of his weekend by a Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer) fully as much as if Claude had spied upon Germain’s thought, actions and life and written it up, gives it a B+, and shares it with Jeanne – she has to suspend her uncertainty about what will happen in the wake (pun intended !) of the death of Bruno, the owner of the gallery that she runs, whose funeral service Germain, kindly, declined to accompany her to.

Everything stems from these facts, Claude’s attitude(s), Germain’s obsessive fascination, and his continued sharing with Jeanne : it is almost as if, on one level, Claude is writing to Jeanne by the epistolary mediation of Germain, because, when Jeanne says that she is reminded of the fondness for gossip of her cousin in Yorkshire (which, I believe, explains why her accent in French is less tight than usual, because we are not meant to see her as native to this country), Germain opens his critique of the latest instalment from Claude by saying that he writes like ‘a provincial cousin’.

It is patent that Germain is forgetting who he is, what he is doing, and almost fictionalizing his own work as a teacher by devoting himself to a creative effort and a creator who, although good, do not objectively merit it, a risky projection, most likely, of the ambitions that he could not fulfil for himself as a writer.

Who is teacher, who is being taught lessons, and what of this family with which Claude involves Germain (and Jeanne, through him : at least twice, Claude asks Germain if he is showing the episodes to anyone else, who straightaway denies it, although he keeps trying to moderate by invoking the spectre What if someone else read this ?) ?

These are the essential questions that this film poses in three very good performances by the named characters, and also by the family whose house, lives and thoughts Claude effortlessly seems to infiltrate (reminiscent of the manipulation in Funny Games (1997) and, more recently, The Imposter (2012)) – they will not directly lead to the answers that I have found in this film, and, without them, the ending will only partly work.

Yet it is as striking as Ali Smith’s close to her stunning novel The Accidental, and, if a viewer is anything like me, he or she will want to watch a second time*** to track how its course as affected by knowing where it is going.


* The French education system may have taken this from that of the States, or vice versa.

** There seems to be such an establishment in Rouen (where Flaubert was born, and died).

*** This film is, with its cinematic credentials in place, all about the watching that audiences do.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

KST with a Yorkshire cousin

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

3 April

* NB Spoiler City : What follows is not a review as such, and takes as read that the film has been watched and its plot is no surprise *

The closing shot of the film, before a screen comes across from left and right to meet at the point where a double shooting has taken place, shows a two-storey building with eight (or ten ?) sets of French doors onto balconies. Dusk has somehow fallen, and the lit-up windows are mini-screens or stages on which we witness dancing, sex, etc., and, in one case, first a man and then a woman being shot (top, second from left). Other stories for Scheherazade to tell...

The opening shots were of a boy of around sixteen dressing, first his muscular torso with no head, and he will turn out to be Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), but, by the time of the closing shot, we may even have forgotten how the film started, such has been our journey, circumscribed and maybe claustrophobic as its locations have been :

* In and around the Lycée Gustave Flaubert

* The flat of Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas)

* In and around the house of what comes to be called that of 'the Raphas' (Denis Ménocet (Rapha Artole père), Emmanuelle Seigner (Esther), and Bastien Ughetto (fils))

* In and around the gallery that Jeanne runs (and thinks of as hers), Labyrinthe du Minotaur (with all its echoes of Theseus and Ariadne, Minos, Pasiphaë, and Dædalus)

* Approaching and inside the complex that contains the basketball court

* Queuing outside and in the cinema

* Finally, just outside the Germains' flat (after we have been shown Garcia's house and him on a bus to the former)

That is the entire compass, I believe, of In the House (Dans la Maison) (2012), but one may not have realized as much in watching. Our cast, too, is quite narrow beyond those mentioned, being Anouk (the school's secretary), the headmaster, the twins Rosalie et Eugénie (both played by Yolande Moreau), and Bernard, the maths teacher whose test Germain 'steals'.

I hypothesize that :

* French forms of greeting apart, Germain and Anouk are (or have been) more intimate than just colleagues

* Even before the events unfold, nobody atthe school much liked Germain, who may have been reactionary (or otherwise caused conflict with authority)

* Jeanne has probably thrown herself into the gallery both because childless, and because of Germain's relative lack of interest in her and what she does (and maybe she, in her turn, was intimate with the former gallery owner Bruno, whose funeral Germain early does not attend, calling it 'a mass')

* Maybe some (or all) of this does not exist outside Germain's head in the present of the film, for the following reasons :

(1) As with Nabokov's Humbert Humbert in Lolita, Germain is fascinated by Garcia because of the latter's writing, and is a Germain Germain, seeking, as Humbert does, to be untruthful to himself about what the fascination is

(2) If Garcia = Germain, Germain projecting his desire and drive for good writing onto another part of himself that concocts an enticing supply (after all, although what he takes to be the inventiveness (if it is not autobiographical) of Garcia's writing keeps him interested, the writing itself (at best) shows promise, not great genius), he can distance himself psychologically, by entering a psychotic experience, from any or all guilt for attacking his wife, humiliating 'a learner', and stealing the maths test

(3) For all that we know, the return to school (and the announcement of the reintroduction of school uniform, complete with the prurience of seeing Garcia dressing) onwards is imagined, because Germain has already been suspended (and maybe is already at the Institut de la Verrière, the psychiatric provision where his other, younger, more promising self (Garcia) visits him) - the scene, shown to us and which Garcia tells him that he watched, with learners in everyday clothes strikes a strange note, which might suggest the unreality of the uniformed scenes

(4) If so, then he tells himself a story of his own being drawn in (perhaps as to the centre of a labyrinth, Ariadne's (Garcia's) string taking him to face the Minotaur monster at the heart of him / his life) to excuse the three culpable acts listed in (2), above, and to provide his internal rationale for being led on and on, as if like Macbeth or Othello, to his destruction

(5) Esther Artole tells Claude Germain that his thinking that he loves her is 'in his head' and irréelle, and he is only in proximity to her by having, in part, helped her son Rapha with unreal numbers (such as the square-root of -2) : if Germain is - as Beckettt says about his prime character in Company - devising it all for company, then his neglect of Jeanne becomes Claude's interest in getting close to and seeking to seduce Esther (with all her Old Testament echoes in a book of her own)

On quite another level, the film seems to present itself to us much like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, trying to piece together the puzzle of what is happening in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), and there is often its playful feeling to the unfolding of each instalment from Garcia and its reception by the Germains. On another, Garcia is not unlike the son in Benny's Video (1992), or another schemer in the rather dire Bel Ami (2012) (not to mention The Imposter (2012)).

If, though, Germain had his admission, prior to (on a 'straight' reading) or during which (on a reading where, as Germain showed on the blackboard, the conflict is within) Garcia is the internal enemy (= the younger writer who Germain once was, back to haunt him, but at the same time intrigue him), the film has a different character that fits the ending.

Perhaps consumed by his failure as a writer and being but a teacher (just as Jeanne's biological 'failure' may have caused her to seek a career), we may see Germain spurred to fond imaginings that turn toxic and bring / have brought his downfall, a little in the same way that a noise that we hear in sleep incorporates itself into a dream and then, at what seems a remove of time, appears to wake us.

Interestingly, I have now seen a variant of the landscape poster that is in @CamPicturehouse on Neil White's (@everyfilmteled's) web-site, which shows Garcia next to Germain on a bench, with the Rapha house foregrounded (and even with a Narnia-style lamp-post, which, rather, reminds me of Magritte and his anarchic Empire of Light paintings)...

We cannot see Garcia's face, but just look at the expression on Germain's, regarding him !