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Category Archives: French Film

Call Me By Your Name

I don’t like slow. I’m pretty sure I don’t like slow. But this film is slow. And I liked it.

It’s a summer in the early 1980s, and for some inexplicable reason a hunky Yank named Oliver turns up at an academic’s house in northern Italy and stays for the summer. As you do. For some reason the family speaks English with an American twang, and Oliver seems to understand Italian far better than he speaks it. The son in his mid teens, Elio, vacates his bedroom for Oliver, sleeping instead in an adjoining bedroom, which, apparently, is unsuitable for Yanks, given their delicate temperaments. And this exposition takes at least half an hour. Did I mention the film is slow?

I mean, any slower and I’d have popped out for a three course meal in the middle and probably not have missed any significant plot points. And yet, I stayed engaged. This surprises me. Usually I want the film to move, but I really didn’t mind the slow and steady building of character layers, the quiet, lounging nature of their days or the inconsistent progression of the central characters’ relationship.

Oliver and Elio connect, then disconnect. They approach an equilibrium, then are thrown off. Elio acts out, as teenagers are wont to do; Oliver doesn’t come home, as hunky Yanks are wont to do. Slowly (I did say it’s slow, right?), the unbalanced nature of this character development endears these two uncharming characters to me. I feel Elio’s angst as he recognises his attraction to Oliver, and I accept Oliver’s resistance to his own attraction.

This is, perhaps, one of the most endearing and relatable aspects of the characters: their internalised homophobia is something I recognise in myself. At no point in this film (and there was plenty of time to include it), does any other character make a homophobic comment. The only place homophobia appears is within the gay characters themselves. Elio’s parents push the couple together; other members of the community never pass any comments on their sexuality; and yet, the central characters resist their urges not only because of the age gap but because of their perceptions of right and wrong. It’s a deeply endearing process that breaks my heart.

SPOILER ALERT: Now, if you keep reading this post, you will encounter comments relating to the ending. If you’ve not seen it, stop, watch, and then carry on. The only reason this film is worth writing about is because of a magical moment of cinematic genius at the end, so I’m writing about it.

The long road to Oliver and Elio finally acting on their urges jars splendidly with the immediate nature of sex and dating in this century. That slow development is entirely foreign to younger generations, and to have it depicted in this manner is a valuable cultural record if nothing more.

But it is more. And as much as I rail against the slowness, as much as I just want something to happen, the languishing nature of the plot here leads to one beautiful moment of cinematic bliss. It begins when Oliver leaves to return to America: I felt the pain of that separation like it was my own. And it wasn’t just lovers: saying goodbye like that has been part of my life since I was 11 when a slew of deaths and departures began for my family. The gut-wrenching numbness depicted here could have been mine. And the moment when Oliver tells Elio that he’s getting married, the finality of that moment; the internalised homophobia inherent in the act; and most of all, Elio’s silent, howling alone-ness echoed in my heart like they were my own.

There, at that moment, is the genius of this film. The slow slow build, the euphoric collision of love and lust, and the sudden wrench of separation culminating in absolute despair resonate with my experience. And I sat in awe at how this film took me there so subtly, so deftly, so firmly.

Would that I had the talent of James Ivory Luca Guadagnino to recognise the value of slow.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 in Cinéfracture, Film, French Film, Frenesy Film Company, Italian Film

 

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Suffragette

suffragetteSuffragette is the story of a fictional woman in early twentieth century London, who becomes involved with the Suffragette movement to enfranchise women in the United Kingdom. Maud Watts is an ordinary mother, working in a laundry to help make ends meet. We see the journey she takes as she goes from merely supporting suffrage, to actively and militantly campaigning for it.

This technique of using someone who becomes involved in a movement to illustrate how people interacted through history is one I appreciate. I think it provides a view of history that is easier to relate to, and is possibly more accurate as it doesn’t present history merely through the eyes of leaders.

In this instance, the ploy is largely successful. It is easy to empathise with Maud, especially as her son is taken away from her. But it is this element of the plot that somehow gets lost along the way. One minute she is a mother, and the next she is just a suffragette, and her son is neither seen nor mentioned again.

From a feminist perspective, perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. But the purpose of creating this fictional character as a lens through which to view history is to humanise the story. The tragedy of losing such a precious relationship could not be understated, and its impact on the protagonist should not have been overlooked. It is at this point that the film goes from being brilliant to being somewhat clinical, and having the feeling of a docudrama, rather than a film.

The dialogue, nonetheless, is brilliant throughout, and demonstrates an impeccable skill. Carey Mulligan’s performance as Maud is professional and engaging.

I just wish the writer, Abi Morgan, had stuck more doggedly to her initial approach.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 in BFI, British Film, Film, Film4, Pathe

 

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Amour

Amour probably won’t rate too highly on many people’s radars. It’s a little slow, the plot is a little controversial, but only if you have some knowledge of it, and it has no real pizazz to draw attention to itself. It doesn’t even draw you in terribly well, but nonetheless, I admire it deeply, and think it deserves more attention than it is likely to get.

As a film, it is strongest in what I think is one of the most important aspects of all films; it takes the transcendent, the metaphysical, the magic of life, and plonks it down into the stuff of life, the grit and grime of reality where it rubs up against a higher meaning, a sense of purpose.

We meet the protagonists as they attend a recital at a theatre on the Champs Elysée. The elderly couple speak to the pianist afterwards, and they are clearly on familiar terms. From here, they return home to what seems a humble but comfortable existence. The following day, the wife suffers a stroke, which paralyses her on her right side, and their world is slowly changed. In fact, the gradual decline of her condition sometimes lulls the audience into a false sense of security as the couple adapt and change to accommodate alterations. The change, however, doesn’t cease.

If ever there was a good reason to make a slow film, this is it. The gradation of the woman’s deteriorating condition is carefully crafted to draw your attention away from the inevitable. The couple simply carry on with life and take control of whatever they can take control of.

I really wish more films were like this. There is no reason to divorce the transcendent from the prosaic, and here where they coexist they say something that few other mediums could put so eloquently. If the opportunity arises, see this film.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 6 November 2012 in Film, French Film, Les Film Les Losange, Wega, X-Filme Creative Poole

 

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Le Chef

I love when comedies turn into dramas without me even noticing. I felt the slightest pang of disappointment a few minutes into Le Chef, at the fact that it was looking like a romp, and I was thinking the characters wouldn’t develop a great deal. I was wrong. Before I knew it I was completely engaged with these two chefs, who seemed at first to be one-dimensional. And although the laughs just kept on coming, the two central characters raised the experience well above a romp into the realm of pure drama.

Le Chef begins with its central character, accomplished chef Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn), moving from one job to the next because he can’t tolerate his customer’s choices. His partner, expecting their first child, finally impresses upon him the importance of having stability for the sake of the child, and he takes a job as a painter. His talents, though, are soon recognised by Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Renot), one of the finest celebrity chefs in France, and he leaves another job to take an unpaid internship.

Le Chef is not the best French film I’ve ever seen, but that’s a tough challenge. It lacks some energy at times, but overall, it is hilarious and fully engaging. I wish more films could strike that wonderful balance between what is funny and true characterisation.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 15 June 2012 in Film, French Film

 

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La Guerre Des Boutons

Taking Offspring Number One off to Manuka to get a bit of the benefit of having the French Film Festival in town was quite an experience! I haven’t been to this cinema in years, and it hasn’t changed at all (even the popcorn tasted like it might have been there since my last visit!). But this film made it all worthwhile.

La Guerre Des Boutons (or The War of the Buttons for those who are too lazy to figure that out!) proved an excellent choice given that we don’t have time to see more than one this year. But really, how could you go wrong with any film in a French film festival?

The premise is simple; gangs of boys from two rival country towns in walking distance of each other elevate a long-standing tradition of conflict to all out war in which the greatest victory comes by the ceremonial removal of the buttons from the opponents’ clothes. It may not sound all that terrifying, but the wrath of a French mother towards a son returning home with no buttons is nothing to be scoffed at!

The film is a romp, but in that inimitable French style, the humour is offset by some brilliantly crafted characters, whose more human side is shown as the impact of the Algerian War is felt in the town. The balance between humour and the film’s more serious themes is impeccable, making La Guerre des Boutonsa film for all ages.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 17 March 2012 in Film, French Film, French Film Festival

 

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The Ghost Writer

To the extent that Americans love a good conspiracy theory, the Brits are equally keen on questioning the integrity of their Prime Minsters. Roman Polanski caters for both predilections in his magnificent new film, The Ghost Writer.

Ewan McGregor plays the titular character, a writer hired to massage the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister into shape following the mysterious death of another ghost writer. Gradually, and innocently (which is refreshing), he discovers a web of intrigue and finds himself reluctantly wrapped up in it, at his own peril.

However much I like this as a film, it’s the story, penned originally as a novel by Robert Harris, that I find so magnificently intriguing. Remaining almost entirely fictitious, and needing no awkward date stamp, this story draws a shocking parallelism from the circumstances surrounding the era of fear following the 9/11 attacks. And surprisingly, since it parallels so literally the Anglo-American response, it is as relevant here in Australia as in the US and UK.

I can’t say too much about it, lest I spoil it for you, but this is a great film, and you must go see it. That is all.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 19 August 2010 in British Film, Film, France 2 Cinema, French Film

 

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Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve always been moderately fond of Danny Boyle’s films. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I just notice his name on the end of films that I like quite regularly. Slumdog Millionaireis different. I loved it, and was shocked to see his name flash up at the end!

Although the plot is somewhat convoluted with a bit of ambiguity in its chronology, the story is intriguing, and although I went when I was kind of focused on something else (namely a meal at my favourite Lygon Street cafe), I was engaged quickly, and the film held my attention until the end.
There are some great performances from some child actors, and spectacular performances from the adult cast, but the star of this film is definitely the cinematography. From the slums of Mumbai to the Taj Mahal to the beauty of India’s countryside, even the most dire of circumstances is presented beautifully, composed with a delicacy that is not common in films about this subject matter.
There aren’t many films that successfully depict the horrible realities of our world and retain a sense of possibility and optimism, but Slumdog Millionaire does this beautifully. I suppose I will have to reassess my opinion of Danny Boyle. If he makes another film as good as this one!
 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 in Celador, Film, Film4, Indian Film, Pathe

 

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