Thursday, December 17, 2009

L'oncle de Russie (2006)

This is certainly one of the moving films I have seen. The story seems so real that I wonder if this is based on true story. Francis Girod, director & writer, cast Claude Brasseur to play Gaston.

After 50 years declared missing, 70-year-old Gaston Boissac returns to the small town of Soulières. In the 2nd World War, he was captured by the Germans and sent to Stalag. When the war ended, the Russians liberated him. However, instead of sending him home, he was sent to a labour camp to help building the country of Russia. He was declared missing and refused contact to Western countries. Illiterate he was, Gaston had his Russian wife's friend to help him write letters and send them to France. After 10 years without reply, Gaston gave up.

In 1989, when Gorbachev came to power, President François Mitterrand went to Russia, along with French TV journalists. It was then they heard that case of Gaston Boissac. Gaston returns to his hometown, along with a TV journalist and a Russian interpreter because he cannot speak French anymore. The café owner tells the journalist the rumour about the undelivered letters, that the letters from Gaston did arrive, but his brother and the mayor profited from Gaston's "death", so they pretended never to receive the letters.

I find it so sad that because of greed Gaston must suffer so long. Those suffering years can never be reimbursed. Claude Brasseur plays Gaston to perfection. In the beginning, he looks happy to be home. As time passes, he learns the betrayal that made him lost his inheritance and the woman he loves. He plans to sue his brother. His brother, however, has a shocking news to him. The movie ends with the news of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Les soeurs Brontë (1979)

This was on TV last night. I was surprised at first that a movie about the
Brontë sisters was made by the French people. The most striking thing of this movie is its visual beauty.

It starts when the Brontë family are adolescent. I didn't even know that they had a brother, Branwell, a painter and poet. However, Charlotte's talent in poetry is more wanted than his. The family are poor, so Anne and Branwell work in the family Robinson as a governess and a tutor. Here Branwell has a passionately love affair with Mrs Robinson and when she breaks it off, he runs to opium and sleeps all day. He is the first to die.

Emily is a tomboy, wear pants when she is walking on the heath. She is very much like Catherine Earnshaw. There is a beautiful scene when she explains to her sister that she dislikes wild rose (=love) and prefers holly (=friendship). Anne is the kindest and most sensitive of them all. She reminds me of Beth from Little Women, or - of course - Helen Huntingdon. Charlotte is the eldest and their leader. She persuades their aunt to send her and Emily to Brussels to study. In this foreign land, she has a unique relationship with her professor.

It's not clear what illness Emily and Anne suffer. Emily passes away first, followed by Anne. It's also not clear what makes the 3 sisters write novels. There is a scene where Charlotte finds Emily's poetry by accident and starts an argument when she wants to publish it - because Emily disagrees.

Female writers are not very common at that time, shown in the scene where Charlotte and Anne come to see their publisher (Emily chooses to stay at home) and receive a cold reception, until they tell him that he has invited them and that they are Currer Bell and Acton Bell, the names they use. Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, and Wuthering Heights have become popular in England and America. The movie ends with Charlotte, married now, gets her place in high society. Her simple dress looks out of place among the high society, but Charlotte doesn't want to be another person than she is.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Un crime (1993)

I heard that this movie was a disaster when it came out, but after watching, I must say that I like it. Most of the movie took place in the same apartment, with 2 actors only. It reminds me of one of the movies I like: Sleuth, with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier.

Un crime is based on Gilles Perrault's book called Le dérapage, but director Jacques Deray made a very loose interpretation that it was said the author couldn't recognize it anymore. The story is as follows: The trial of young Frédéric Chapelin-Tourvel (Manuel Blanc), which has been going on for months, interests all people in Lyon. He is accused of double murder: killing his mother and father. His brilliant lawyer, Charles Dunand (Alain Delon), finally can convince the jury that the accused is not guilty. What is supposed to be a great victory to Dunand turns into a nightmare when Frédéric tells him that he is indeed the killer. Is Frédéric serious? They make a rendez-vous in the crime scene, where Frédéric tells Dunand what really happened in the night of the murder.

Although the cast is minimum, the movie is very gripping. Another interesting character is the concierge, whom Frédéric treats badly. It makes sense then when he testifies in the court against Frédéric; it can be said that he tries to get revenge. All through the night, Frédéric keeps changing his story to Dunand. First he says he is the killer, and next, her mother's lover is the killer. Dunand shows him holes in both stories and when he feels he has had enough and left the young man, Frédéric bumps himself into a running car to get his attention and to get the lawyer back into the apartment. The next scene shows Frédéric has a bath. I wonder if the nudity is necessary and I think it means he is now ready to bare it all. Dunand then learns that the root of the problem has started years ago, when Frédéric was 12, and for the first time, the young man is ready to open his heart to his lawyer, who after months of trial has become some kind of father to him.

Dunand knows the truth in the end, but of course he is not happy. Justice doesn't exist, he says. "It's enough to rub shoulders with the justice to know it doesn't exist." For men, maybe. Only God is just. What is just for one person is not always just for another. Justice is not exact, it's often like shadow. For Frédéric's father, justice is perhaps done, but what about Mr & Mrs Chapelin-Tourvel? Le monsieur, didn't he take care of Frédéric? Fed him and schooled him?

Manuel Blanc's Frédéric is full of anger and bitterness that I don't have sympathy for him. From the first he tells Dunand that he wishes to save the family's reputation. I myself would prefer he is not that angry and shows innocent on his face (it would be easier for his lawyer and jury to decide, right?) - like young Alain Delon's Tom Ripley. What did his mother's lover mean to him, anyway? He hardly recognized that man.

The movie features beautiful buildings in the city of Lyon, which are well photographed. In short, this movie is not to be missed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Le toubib (1979)

It's hard to believe that this movie was handled by Pierre Granier-Deferre, who also directed the wonderful La veuve Coudrec and Le train. Alain Delon said that he bought Harmonie Ou Les Horreurs De La Guerre by Jean Freustié because he liked the novel, so I believe that they at least had started well. It must be the transfer to the screen which went wrong. Btw, Bernard Giraudeau who plays François, got the César nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The story is set in June 1983. Famous surgeon Jean-Marie Desprée (Alain Delon) was left by his wife 1 month ago and now he works in a modern movable hospital, where the 3rd world war is taking place. He is a lonely man who opens his heart only to his sister Marcia and his dog Marius. A new nurse, Harmonie, arrives to join the team and Desprée is struck by her idealism, which gives him back something he thought has lost: hope. He tries to humiliate her at first and makes her leave, but these efforts only bring him to learn to love her. The ending, however, is a sad one.

I read that this is an anti-war movie, made to show the horror of war. If that is the intention, then the most successful scene must be the necropolis (=burial site) where Desprée and Harmonie find decayed bodies of the soldiers, most of them half buried. In contrast with this horror, the hospital is situated in a beautiful place, where there are swans on the lake nearby.

What really doesn't work for me here is the love story between Desprée and Harmonie, which I think needs more screen-time. I just don't believe that this young woman can make him change his mind. Like in the case with La race des seigneurs (also by Pierre Granier-Deferre), it seems a few scenes are missing.

Le battant (1983)

Le battant (=The Fighter) is the 2nd movie officially directed by Alain Delon. I must say that I like Pour la peau d'un flic better. This first work is more energetic and more humourous: the ending especially. Le battant is sombre with slower pace, and the main character's face is pale, perhaps after 8 years in prison.

Based on André Caroff's novel, the plot is actually good with many twists. Delon plays Jacques Darnay, a criminal wanted by the police and his old pals, because they think he has hidden a little bag of diamonds worth 6 millions. In 1974 a robbery took place in a jewelry store and the owner was murdered. Darnay was arrested because his alibi was weak and sent to jail because his lawyer was mediocre. However, was Darnay really involved in the robbery and was it him who killed the owner? After 8 years, Darnay gets out of jail, but it seems he is safer inside. The world has changed and he doesn't know who are his enemies. They kill his best friend Mignot and his mistress to show him that they are serious. Things turn better for Darnay when Gino Ruggieri, one of his old friends, sends his own mistress, Nathalie, to get the truth out of him. We can see how a woman can do when she is not treated right.

Although dedicated to René Clément, le battant pays homage to Jean-Pierre Melville. In the scene where Darnay goes to Mignot (Michel Beaune)'s hiding place, the room reminds us to Jef Costello's in Le samouraï. The refrigerator is placed outside the door. As if afraid we will miss this, there is a close up of the birdcage, completed with the music by Francois De Roubaix. To top this, François Périer is cast as Gino Ruggieri.

Like in Pour la peau d'un flic, the theme song is used again and again. I can understand why one of the guys who are following Darnay swears when he hears Oscar Benton's Bensonhurst blues and changes radio station immediately.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

État de manque (2008)

This was on TV last night and I found it quite entertaining. Safia, Elsa, and Amandine work for an insurance company in La Défense. They think they have a grave problem each: Safia cannot reach orgasm and wants to stop drinking, Elsa stop smoking, and Amandine thinks she is too fat. These three finally conclude that Aurélien Rinauro, their co-worker, is the source of their problems. This guy once had a brief affair with each of them and they cannot get over it. Furthermore, every day they see him courting the attractive Kim. They plan to pay revenge on him.

Safia crashes his car, Elsa insults his manlihood on lifts' wall, and Amandine sabotages his mobile's answering message. They also put drugs in his mineral water than he falls asleep during an important meeting, and then find him an assistant who looks like a tart, so that no woman will go near him anymore. This last idea turns out to be a boomerang. Like in Francis Veber's Le dîner de cons, they each nominate a tart and after inviting the 3 poor souls to a dinner, they will choose the best. Their choice falls into Allison.

At first Allison looks as dumb as can be. Her spelling is horrible and she cannot do right a simple task. However, Allison is a hard worker, and after Amandine's boy tells her the truth "You're my mom's tart", she proves to Rinauro that she is the best assistant he's ever had and pays revenge to Safia, Elsa, and Amandine.

The first half of the movie is very good and I was a bit disappointed when Rinauro won in the end. I wanted Safia, Elsa, and Amandine to win. Perhaps the director chose to let morality win. The three went too far when they sacrifice Allison because of her appearance. I also think it's rather impossible that Allison changes that fast, or perhaps she had no experience as a secretary before? But she had been working for months (8 months?) in the insurance company before being promoted as Rinauro's assistant. She couldn't even type address on the right place. I'm glad Allison has a happy-ending, though.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Borsalino (1970)

After the success of La Piscine, actor Alain Delon worked again with director Jacques Deray. This time Delon, who also co-produced, asked Jean-Paul Belmondo to join the project. In 1969, Delon and Belmondo were at the peak of their career. They worked together in 1957 when they started as actors in Sois belle et tais-toi and in 1966 in René Clément's Is Paris Burning?, but Borsalino was the first where both had lots of screen time.

Marseille 1930. Roch Siffredi (Delon) is out of prison and looking for his girlfriend Lola. She is now with François Capella (Belmondo). The fight between Siffredi and Capella ends with a friendship. These two starts with a little job and later do bigger and more important jobs, until when they defeat Poli and Marello who rule the town. They become the true leaders of Marseille, but Capella realizes that the time will come when he and his friend will kill each other, therefore he decides to leave France. However, like his motto "La chance, ça n'existe pas", Capella never has that chance.

Based on Eugène Saccomano's book, Bandits à Marseille, Jacques Deray did a wonderful job in re-creating the atmosphere of Marseille in 1930. The sets (I'm particularly amused with the train and the death scene of Nono - where there are lots of 1930's cars in the background. They must have blocked the whole area.) and the costumes are superb. We also must not forget the catchy soundtrack by Claude Bolling. The title Borsalino itself is taken from the brand of the fedora worn by actors in the movie. The plot is also not bad. We witness the 2 petty bandits who climb their status, first only hired to steal a race-horse until becoming the most powerful men in Marseille. The scene in the fish market reminds me of Ordralfabétix from Astérix and how a line like "Your fish is not fresh anymore" can cause mass fight. The ending is also perfect, both main characters are gone forever.

Forty years after the movie was made, finally the DVD is available. Interesting when I think about it: Forty years after, a movie was made. Now, for us the new generation, the DVD is available, again after 40 years. The DVD is full of extras: documentaries and interviews about the genesis of Borsalino, the filming, the premiere, and the success. I love watching Claude Bolling plays the theme song. There is also a 19' interview with Alain Delon, which is rare - because I have many of his movies on DVDs and if there is any interview, it is short. I usually search on YouTube -, where he shows us how to wear the hat and my most favourite part: when he mentions the other Roch Siffredi, that actor.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin is the first book of Émile Zola I have ever read. Bored with contemporary novels (some of them are very good, but I find that I've wasted money on most) and after concluding that perhaps Alexandre Dumas is my most favourite author, I want to try another Frenchman's works. My choice fell into Thérèse Raquin, because it was translated by Robin Buss, who also worked on The Count of Monte Cristo and The Black Tulip, which I find readable.

Émile Zola's are like Thomas Hardy's works: always gloomy. First published in 1867, Thérèse Raquin has 4 main characters: 1) Madame Raquin, a haberdasher, 2) his son Camille, 3) her orphaned niece Thérèse, whose mother was Algerian, and 4) Laurent, Camille's friend. Thérèse marries Camille, but is unhappy with her life. She has an affair with Laurent and both make a plan to murder Camille so they can marry. The murder is done and none suspects them, but haunted by nightmares and guilty feeling, the new couple is doomed forever.

Émile Zola spent lots of time here to study the temperament, especially after Camille's murder. Laurent and Thérèse's hope to be happy after removing Camille turns out to be impossible. What they plan for the future cannot be realized. The guilty feeling has killed their passion and they begin to blame each other. Husband and wife are killing each other, that reminds me of an amusing movie called La poison by Sacha Guitry. The Thursday evening gathering is perhaps like what René Clément realised in Gervaise.

The ending is not a happy one, but the book is readable. I look forward to read more works of
Émile Zola.