Tag Archives: French

Anatomy of a Fall-2023

Anatomy of a Fall 2023

Director Justine Triet

Starring Sandra Hüller, Milo Machado-Graner

Scott’s Review #1,422

Reviewed March 4, 2024

Grade: B+

The taut legal thriller, Anatomy of a Fall (2023) is rich with mystery and almost immediately offers the viewer a character’s surprising death. The rest of the film is spent trying to figure out how the death occurred as a trial surfaces.

The mountainous puzzle made me as the viewer anticipate a shocking conclusion or at least a cemented ending leaving nothing to the imagination.

In plain terms, I wanted to know why the character died, at whose hand, and how the act was done.

As good as the film is the ending underwhelmed me. I was left wanting more than I was offered. This is undoubtedly a result of the enormous buildup.

However, the effort is spectacular, and some of the year’s best acting is showcased by Sandra Hüller and Milo Machado-Graner, who give rich and dramatic performances. They stay believable and nuanced in challenging, teary scenes. 

Sandra (Sandra Hüller), her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), and their eleven-year-old son Daniel ( Milo Machado-Graner) live a secluded life in a remote town in the French Alps.

Tension develops when Sandra, who is a writer, is interviewed by a reporter at home as they sip and enjoy wine. Samuel ruins the moment by blasting an obnoxious song loop causing the interview to be aborted.

Suddenly, Samuel is found dead in the snow by Daniel! The police question whether he was murdered or possibly committed suicide. Samuel’s suspicious death is ultimately presumed murder, and Sandra becomes the prime suspect.

As the trial begins, the events of Samuel’s death are uncovered while the complexities increase. A disturbing journey into Sandra and Samuel’s troubled relationship is explored with Daniel being at the center of the drama.

Anatomy of a Fall is a slow-moving vehicle but that’s a large part of its appeal for me. After Samuel’s death, the film features quiet scene after quiet scene of Sandra and Daniel being interviewed by either their lawyers or others involved in the case.

While not action scenes, the dialogue reveals an incredible amount of backstory. An incident that occurred years earlier is key and the remnants of that unfortunate activity are vital to the entire reveal.

With tremendous acting the film is also significant in scoring Justine Triet an Oscar nomination for Best Director when shamefully few female directors have ever been given this distinct honor.

Unfortunately, Triet’s nomination comes at the expense of Greta Gerwig NOT being nominated for the ginormous blockbuster hit Barbie. I’d give the nomination to Gerwig but why couldn’t they both be nominated?

Triet also wrote the screenplay and wisely crafted an unpredictable vehicle. Since Sandra is on trial the writing could have felt forced or generic but it doesn’t. There are also no silly television drama moments of unnecessary legal jargon or canned shocking tense moments.

What Triet serves up is genuine and humanistic.

The cold and snowy atmosphere reminds me of a Swedish film from 2014 called Force Majeure with a similar story of uncovered secrets and backstory. They are both set in the French Alps ironically enough.

I expected more from the ending but Anatomy of a Fall (2023) mesmerizes and keeps one guessing never feeling boring like some legal dramas can.

While Triet’s Oscar nomination may be questionable, Hüller’s is not and I’d even argue she deserves to win.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Justine Triet, Best Actress-Sandra Hüller, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best International Film (won)

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Director Jacques Demy 

Starring Dominique Sanda, Michel Piccoli

Scott’s Review #1,397

Reviewed September 10, 2023

Grade: A

Une Chambre en Ville (also known as A Room in Town) is a 1982 French musical drama film written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Colombier, and starring Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, and Michel Piccoli.

Those familiar with Demy’s other works like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) will be aware that his preferred genre is the musical drama and in Une Chambre en Ville, the dialogue is entirely sung.

And those unfamiliar with his work are recommended to give his films a chance. They are flavorful and offer exceptional production design to say nothing of other ingredients.

I liken the film to be most similar to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because the story involves two people destined to be together but who are thwarted by many obstacles threatening to ruin their happiness.

Demy creates a distinct Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet final ending in the best of possible ways.

The story is set during a workers’ strike in Nantes, France in 1955. A steelworker named Francois (Richard Berry) has a fling with the married daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) of his widowed landlady, Margo (Danielle Darrieux).

His girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon), who works in a shop and lives with her mother, wants to get married but he is unwilling, partly because they have no money and nowhere to live.

Oh, and he also has met Edith.

On the street, François is accosted by Edith who is a beautiful woman who wears only a fur coat and has decided to take up part-time prostitution to pay bills. Her husband owns a struggling television shop.

The two have a blissful night together in a cheap hotel and fall madly in love.

Une Chambre en Ville is at first jarring because the dialogue is in the form of a song. But after merely a few minutes I became invested and enamored with the characters. This occurs when Francois and Margo ‘discuss’ the strike and even though she is upper-class she supports the workers.

They quickly bond.

Before this though, the tone is set with black-and-white cinematography of the workers’ strike that quickly turns to color. My hunch is that Demy wanted to promote the seriousness of the situation and alert the audience that they were not watching a rosy musical with tap-along tunes.

There’s a message of pain, struggle, and depression which doesn’t make the film a downer either.

As with Demy’s other films, the art direction and set designs are gorgeous. The director has a talent for introducing the most fragrant colors like red, yellow, blue, and green, that are powerful and enshroud the characters in pizazz and vibrancy.

The set highlights are Margo’s apartment drizzling with red color and contemporary patterns and furniture and Edith’s husband’s television shop. The greenish hue reveals a tacky yet sophisticated French style. These and other sets are superior efforts.

The main attraction is Francois and Edith and I was smitten with them almost immediately. Some may think this is odd because basically, Francois dumps his nice girlfriend for a sexy prostitute who flashes her naked body to him and then beds him.

Nonetheless, I became enraptured. They make ‘love at first sight’ seem believable and possible. The thing to remember is they are both wounded by their circumstances and are reaching for their desires out of desperation.

The finale of Une Chambre en Ville is dazzling but painful to watch. I alluded to a Romeo and Juliet catastrophe and this is no joke as the star-crossed lovers meet a dire ending.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing what happens.

Jacques Demy creates a film made in 1982 that feels nothing like a 1982 film as we are believably transported to 1955.

Une Chambre en Ville holds up as well as Demy’s films made two decades earlier and he proves none of his creativity and romantic dramatics have waned.

Ma Mère-2005

Ma Mère-2005

Director Christophe Honoré

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel

Scott’s Review #1,103

Reviewed January 21, 2021

Grade: A

Brilliant French film actress, Isabelle Huppert, turns in another outstanding performance in Ma Mère (2005).

The film is a daring and sometimes shocking experience met with mostly derision from many fans and critics. The subject matter is hard for the weak of heart to take or understand, or maybe even put up with.

The taboo nature of incest is what the film is about but also the dark and far reaches of the human psyche and emotion. A heavy and ingenious film for where the filmmakers dare to go.

I found it brilliant.

Fun fact Ma Mère was rated NC-17 when it was released in the United States. The reason was “strong and aberrant sexual content”. Despite the sexual fetishism, there is NO drug use.

Huppert plays a recently widowed and sexually adventurous woman named Hélène. She is visited by her young and restless son, Pierre (Garrel) just before his father’s death when he plans to reside with his parents on their lavish island villa.

Instead of mourning the loss of her husband, Hélène boasts about her infidelities to Pierre as he copes by masturbating to and then urinating on his father’s pornographic magazines.

Ma Mère is not a happy film but quite intriguing. Of course, the film is French which automatically gives it a sense of style and sophistication which writer/director Christophe Honoré dazzles the audience with.

If the film were American it would not work at all. The characters need to be European.

An intense attraction develops between mother and son when Pierre struts around the villa naked and broods. Instead of acting on her impulses, Hélène encourages her uninhibited sex partner Réa (Joana Preiss) to have sex with Pierre.

They do so at a popular shopping and nightlife complex. Hélène looks on longingly as the partially clothed couple makes love with passersby raising no objections.

Hélène appears to be turned on.

Things get stranger when afterward, Hélène includes her son in an orgy with her friends. After the orgy, Hélène decides that she must leave her son to travel. While saying goodbye to Pierre, she implies that something taboo has happened between them and that she must leave to prevent it from happening again.

We are left unsure of what she means.

Hélène’s motivations are unclear or is she simply a good poker player? Does she feel bad about her attraction to her son or does she secretly revel in it?

There is a ton of masturbation and jealousy in this film. There is also a hefty dose of sadomasochism and such talk. It’s for the extremely adult viewer.

Ma Mere leaves the viewer to ponder many questions throughout the running time. Is Hélène a lesbian or just sexually promiscuous? What is the back story with her husband? Do they happily cheat on each other or what is their arrangement?

I completely get why people wouldn’t be enamored with Ma Mère. It’s a tough watch though I laughingly find myself wondering if those skeptics are mostly prudes.

I found myself absorbed by the machinations of the characters, especially Pierre and Hélène, and chomping at the bit to figure out what would eventually happen to the characters.

Spoiler alert- the film does not end happily.

A criticism hurled at Ma Mère is that why we should care about the characters. There is nobody to root for. While mother and child partake in orgies and other sexual dalliances, it’s not as if Hélène exactly takes advantage of the boy, nor is he especially likable.

I deem the film fascinating.

For a weird trip inside the minds of sexual deviants and those who love the joy of sex and sexuality, Ma Mère (2005) is a delightful experience.

It’s also creepy shit.

The ending is dire and dreary and will make the viewer think long after the film ends. And that is what provocative films do. And so do great films.

Anyone who thinks they have a mommy complex will soon be cured.

Isabelle Huppert does it again.

A Prophet-2009

A Prophet-2009

Director Jacques Audiard

Starring Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #1,034

Reviewed June 18, 2020

Grade: A-

A Prophet (2009), known as Un prophète in the French language, is a prison drama/crime thriller made exceptionally well and told from a character perspective rather than a plot angle.

Skirting any traditional genre prison characteristics, the film instead crafts a character study with the conflicting emotions of its main character taking center stage.

The result is a layered, complex experience led by a brilliant acting turn by actor Tahar Rahim.

Malik (Rahim) is a nineteen-year-old French youth of Algerian descent imprisoned for six years for attacking police officers. Friendless and unable to read, he is vulnerable and coaxed into murdering a witness involved in a crucial trial.

He becomes embroiled in tensions between the Corsicans and Muslims who populate much of the prison.

Malik cannot forget his participation in a murder, tortures himself, and has frequent nightmares of the incident. He slowly rises to the ranks of power within the prison community becoming involved in dangerous events and pivoting from meek to fear.

Largely avoided are overused prison elements common in many films of similar ilk. In other films, humor or standard dramatic situations occur that make a watered-down experience. A Prophet breathes fresh life into the prison film, albeit grisly and violent life.

The film is not for everyone and is extremely dark, even brutal at times.

During murder scenes, blood and guts are spilled at an alarming rate, and there ceases to exist many characters to sympathize with.

Malik is the main character but is an opportunist, readily doing what he must to gain power and control. Can we blame him? No.

Malik is a complex and nuanced character who is a joy to watch and dissect. He starts his prison tenure as a naive and timid boy, illiterate and easily manipulated. Over time, he grows into a seasoned gangster becoming involved in intricate plots and messy situations.

Actor Tahar Rahim successfully makes the character both likable and detestable, fleshing him out so the audience will love and hate him. This is the mark of a wonderful actor who can give complicated dynamics to the character.

Prison life is portrayed exceptionally well by director Jacques Audiard, who relays an authentic representation. It was good enough to make me never want to be imprisoned anyway. He wisely hired former convicts as both extras and advisors to flesh out the experience.

Life in prison, Audiard style, is not a rosy picture, but one filled with pain, fright, and violence. The Arab population, woefully underrepresented in cinema, is given a voice.

Another subject matter, homosexuality, a popular addition in prison films is not explored. Mostly played either for laughs or providing a conveniently situational plot device, A Prophet does not need the inclusion, too much else is going on.

Although a titillating prospect for many, the subject may have added a sexual or romantic angle taking away from the main point of the film, which is one man’s journey within the prison system.

Told from one man’s viewpoint, A Prophet (2009) is a triumphant French film that deservedly received accolades for its courage and realistic feel.

Starring a young actor with great potential and a brave director unafraid to develop logical storytelling and avoid typical traits, one wonders what their next project will be.

Violent gangs, corrupt guards, and impressionable prisoners would be a good way to continue.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Foreign Film

A Cat in Paris-2010

A Cat in Paris-2010

Director Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

Starring (ENGLISH) Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Blum 

Scott’s Review #1,006

Reviewed April 1, 2020

Grade: A-

For any lover of all things cats or all things Paris, A Cat in Paris (2010) is a double-punch winner in themes alone and a pure treat.

The French-made film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature along with Chico and Rita (2010), another foreign language animated feature, both considered surprise entries.

This was monumental as it aided subsequent non-American features to be allowed into the mix.

The former is a moody and mysterious caper story involving a cat and a young Parisian girl and the adventures they share. The traditional ink colors and hand drawings are lovely and creative, adding to the inventive mood.

The feline-centered story and feminist empowerment angle provide a unique and worthy experience to be well remembered. The French language version contains native language voices while the English version has English speakers.

The main protagonist of the film is Dino, a pet cat who leads a double life. By day he lives with his friend Zoe (Lauren Weintraub), a little mute girl whose mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), is a detective in the Parisian police force.

He sneaks out of the window each night to work with Nico (Steve Blum), a slinky cat burglar with a heart of gold, who regularly evades captors as he glides and swishes from rooftop to rooftop with the picturesque Paris skyline serving as a backdrop.

Dino’s two worlds collide when one night Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures and falls into the dangerous hands of Victor Costa (JB Blanc), an intimidating gangster who is planning the theft of a rare statue.

Now the cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame.

In an acute tongue-in-cheek final moment, Nico gives Jeanne a snow globe with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in it as a Christmas present.

Despite the film being an animated one, this fact does not take away from the cultural and sophisticated Parisian experience.

Delicious views of the distinguished Eifel Tower and the luminous, glowing skylines of the City of Lights assuredly will captivate each viewer fortunate enough to have ever visited the magical city in person, or those who have daydreamed an afternoon away imagining experiencing the grand city.

Alfred Hitchcock’s work is mirrored throughout A Cat in Paris, specifically his film To Catch a Thief (1955). That film is set along the French Riviera instead of in Paris but features a cat burglar, a thrilling rooftop climax, and enough cat and mouse-thrills to last a lifetime.

The director’s work is easy to spot, and the filmmakers are wise to adapt to his style, carefully weaving elements into an animated film with the hopes of exposing children to intelligent filmmaking.

Adults will equally love the film.

At a mere one hour and five minutes, nearly teetering classification of a short film instead of a full-length feature, A Cat in Paris (2010) more than accomplishes what it sets out to in the limited time.

Utilizing fantastic silhouettes and lit shapes and angles, the visual treats alone make this one exceptional. Adding tidbits of the greatest film director of all time’s work without outright stealing it is a wise choice.

May more intelligent international animated films like this one receive their deserved exposure to mass audiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

Director Jacques Demy

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Scott’s Review #911

Reviewed June 17, 2019

Grade: A

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), translated in French to mean Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is a darling and daring film, unique like none other, consisting of all dialogue being sung recitative, like an opera or a stage musical.

But wait there’s more.

The film has an abundance of colorful and dazzling set designs that enrich the entire experience amid the lovely French culture and atmosphere. Interspersing one of the loveliest melodies imaginable and the result is a stoic treasure.

The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and several other nominations.

The film is divided into three parts and moves along chronologically over six years. Part One is The Departure, Part Two is The Absence and Part Three is The Return, each title representing a meaningful part of the story.

Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve (Deneuve) own a struggling umbrella boutique in Cherbourg, France. Genevieve falls in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a local mechanic, and they have sex the night before he is drafted to war, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.

Madame Emery and Genevieve must decide what options are best when she is courted by wealthy jeweler Roland (Marc Michel), who is unaware of her pregnancy. Genevieve and Guy continue to write letters to each other as she softens towards Roland and a decision is made.

An injured Guy returns from the war and events kick into high gear as the love birds face an uncertain future amid surrounding barriers to their happiness.

To embrace the flavor and pacing of the film takes a few minutes of patience- like some viewers becoming accustomed to sub-titles in general, which the film also possesses, the singing is initially quite jarring but before long is to be embraced and appreciated for its unique nature.

To stress the point, the film is not a standard musical, with songs mixed in with conventional dialogue, and each line of the film is sung.

Deneuve, who with this role gained wider recognition beyond simply a French audience already familiar with her work, shines brightly in the lead role, never looking lovelier. The young lady, hardly appearing just sixteen (in truth she was twenty-one) carries the film with a chic and sophisticated style perfectly in tune with the 1960’s time-period.

Her magnificent grace and elegance make her the primary reason to tune in as she sings her lines flawlessly and with unforced precision.

The story is unequivocally a basic one of a girl meets a boy, the boy is drafted into the army, the girl becomes pregnant, the girl meets another suitor, and the boy returns home as conflict arises, but the magic is what director Jacques Demy does with the piece.

Everyday life is presented in situational scenes adding substance and commonalities. Genevieve and Guy are in love and face external as well as internal obstacles. At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), a quiet young woman who looks after Guy’s aunt, is secretly in love with Guy, as she adds a secret weapon to the film.

The audience cares for the characters, especially Genevieve and Guy, but the supporting characters add a robust quality worthy of mention.

Anne Vernon is pivotal as Madame Emery, stylish and lavish, she is concerned for her daughter’s well-being, while slyly seeing opportunities to save her boutique. Guy’s sickly Aunt Elise provides security and love to those who heed her advice and is remarkably played by actress Mireille Perrey.

The vivid colors and sets make The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tough to forget. Stark and florescent painted pinks, greens, and blues, mainly on the walls, provide zest and flavor, a grand style all its own.

With bright and crisp designs, the result is reminiscent of a lavish Hollywood musical, but with a cultured French twist. The result is perfect, and one can easily immerse themselves in both the singing and the artistry.

The recurring main song “I Will Wait for You” (the main theme, also known as “Devant le garage”) is delicious and emotional as it appears in many poignant scenes.

Those seeking a charismatic and distinctive experience with nuances and a hint of experimentation will undoubtedly sink their teeth into this fruity and tasty treat.

With a French atmosphere for miles, the film is simply encompassing all that is good and cultured about French film.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) will entertain and unabashedly knock your socks off, with something grandiose and sizzling with flavor.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Song-“I Will Wait for You”, Best Music Score-Substantially Original, Best Scoring of Music-Adaptation or Treatment

Diabolique-1955

Diabolique-1955

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meuisse

Scott’s Review #878

Reviewed March 16, 2019

Grade: A

Diabolique (1955) is a masterful French thriller that is as compelling as frightening and offers insurmountable influence in years to come.

Shamefully remade and Americanized in 1996 starring Sharon Stone, a waste of time if you ask me, the original is the one to discover.

With a perfect blend of psychological intrigue, never-ending suspense, and even a good mix of horror that Hitchcock would find impressive (more about him later), the film is brilliant in its pacing and frequent twists and turns.

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques is set in a crumbling boarding school in the metropolis of Paris. Sadistic headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meuisse) runs a tight ship but works for his Venezuelan wife, Christina (Vera Clouzot), who owns the school.

Michel is immersed in a torrid affair with schoolteacher, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) and regularly abuses both women as well as his students. The two women embark on a plot to kill Michel, but when they succeed in their plan, Michel’s body goes missing.

The women panic.

In a few fun trivia tidbits, director Clouzot, right after finishing Wages of Fear (1953), optioned the screenplay rights, preventing Hitchcock from making the film. This movie helped inspire Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

Robert Bloch himself, the author of the novel version of Psycho, has stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is Diabolique. If the film displays nuances incorporated in Psycho, this is undoubtedly the reason.

Clouzot also directs his wife Vera in the prominent role of Christina.

The brilliance is it could have been made by Hitchcock since the entire experience has his stamp and influence even though his best works lay ahead of him in 1955.

Still, from the Gothic mood to the “can’t believe your eyes” twisted, blood-curdling ending, the director immediately comes to mind every time I watch the film. The “shock” ending only exceeds expectations with a fantastic delivery.

The film takes an unusual stance on the dynamic between the two women, Christina and Nicole. Rather than take a traditional route and make the women rivals for the man’s affections, Clouzot makes the pair co-conspirators.

This only deepens their relationship as events unfold and take a darker and more dire turn.

They rely on each other as teammates rather than despise each other over their love for another man. Intelligently, they spend their energy on making sure the insipid man gets his just comeuppance for his dirty deeds.

Nicole leads Christina in the direction she needs to go.

The black and white cinematography is highly influential to the mood. With each unexpected twist or scene of peril, the lighting is perfect in radiating the suspense. The camera juxtaposes the frequent glowing of the white against the dark black exuding a frightening, ghost-like presentation.

The entire setting of the school is laden with dark corners that provide good elements of foreboding and sinister moments to come.

As the women become more and more unnerved by the limitless possibilities that the missing body presents, many questions are asked but are impossible to answer. “Where is the body?”, “Could Michel be alive?”, “If he is alive is he hell-bent on revenge?” The viewer will also ask these questions throughout most of the final half.

When an unknown person begins to call the women the questions multiply.

Clouzet uses frequent shots of objects to enhance the tension even further. Closeups of a dripping bathtub, a typewriter with a man’s hat and gloves, a woman’s feet as she removes her shoes, and a woman running in terror through the school.

These facets only enhance the overall experience as the suspense and the terror begin to mount.

Diabolique (1955) is considered one of the greatest thrillers of all time and I concur mightily with this assessment. A French version of Psycho (1960), that combines an acclaimed director’s ingenious subtle ideas into a giant web of delicious filmmaking.

The viewer will never see the surprise ending coming even if they think they have the plot figured out. This point alone is reason enough to see the film realize its greatness.

Au Revoir Les Enfants-1987

Au Revoir Les Enfants-1987

Director Louis Malle

Starring Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto

Scott’s Review #859

Reviewed January 21, 2019

Grade: A

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), the English translation Goodbye, Children is a powerful story of youth and friendship amid a French boarding school during the Nazi occupation of France.

As World War II rages on Director Louis Malle crafts a tragic and poignant film that resonates on many levels featuring both good and evil and the forever loss of childhood innocence.

The film is based on actual events that Malle experienced as a child when he attended a Roman Catholic boarding school. At age eleven he witnessed a Gestapo raid in which three Jewish children and a Jewish teacher were savagely rounded up and taken to Auschwitz concentration camps and presumably to their deaths.

What a powerful and tragic event he faced, and he brilliantly transplants this into his film.

We meet young Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) as he bids his mother farewell and takes a train to his boarding school after a lengthy vacation. The headmaster introduces three new students one of which is Julien’s age. Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) is socially awkward but excels at mathematics and piano.

The boys initially dislike one another but slowly forge a powerful bond when they are immersed in playing a game of treasure hunt together. Julien soon discovers that Bonnet is Jewish, and the school is protecting him from capture.

The film is divided into two main stories, the troubled relationship and subsequent friendship between Julien and Bonnet, the revelation that Bonnet is Jewish, and the benevolence of the school officials to the plight of Jews.

The latter gives Au Revoir Les Enfantes a socially relevant angle as the audience begins to care deeply about Bonnet and the other Jewish boys yearning for education and freedom.

Their innocence and confusion over being hated are effective and painful to watch.

The tyranny of the Gestapo is matched by the kindness and courage of the teachers who defy the anti-Semitic policies and admit Jewish students into the school under assumed names.

The teachers are the heroes of the story and largely unsung as they yearn to give children of any religion a good education and a chance at happiness and fulfillment.

I would love to see schools feature Au Revoir Les Enfantes to their students as a lesson in bravery.

Any viewer who has visited France will assimilate nicely with the good culture and sophistication of the country envelopes. Most scenes occur at the boarding school with lessons being learned and the growth of many of the students, but a favorite scene takes place at a gourmet restaurant.

As Julien and his mother lunch with Bonnet and others the meals, staff, and ambiance exude French style and goodness, but among these luxuries also lies the constant threat of the Nazis as they bombard the restaurant and attempt to kick a Jewish man out of the establishment.

Malle wisely affixes the camera closely on the faces of Manesse and Fejto with a glowing quality that is both beautiful and haunting. This results in many scenes featuring the expressions of the boys including wonderment, shock, intensity, and fear.

The young actors rise to the occasion and perform their roles flawlessly with a natural quality.

The boys learn a myriad of valuable lessons most notably that the world is unjust and filled with unfairness. Malle gives the finale more than enough power and angst to leave the viewer pondering the fates of the Jewish characters.

Their fates are undoubtedly sealed by the Nazis the hows and the whys are left ambiguous eliciting powerful emotions.

Au Revoir Les Enfantes (1987) is a superb and relevant offering depicting the pain and fear experienced by Jewish people in a tragic period of history. Told through the eyes of children the film hits home as innocence is discovered and then lost.

The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but was defeated by Babette’s Feast.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

La Vie en Rose-2007

La Vie en Rose-2007

Director Olivier Dahan

Starring Marion Cotillard

Scott’s Review #790

Reviewed July 18, 2018

Grade: A

As a true fan of French actress Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (2007) is the tremendously talented lady’s finest role to date- and I would venture to say one of the best in film history.

She immerses herself into the pivotal role of singer Edith Piaf and churns out a breathtaking performance.

Besides the vehicle to showcase her acting chops, the film as a whole is lovely, offering the poignant life story of the troubled star, adding enough French zest to offer more than just a biography.

The way that the plot is constructed is quite interesting as the story of Edith Piaf is told in a non-linear fashion. The highly complex singer’s biography is recounted first telling elements of her childhood and concluding with events occurring shortly before her death.

Her childhood is difficult so she is raised by her grandmother in a bordello and discovered on the streets to begin her meteoric rise to acclaim. The events of the film are known to be fairly accurate making the song-stresses life story awe-inspiring.

The visual aspects and cinematography elements of La Vie en Rose are lovely.  With soft, muted tones, the film is rich with culture and has a wonderful French way about it.

Since the story commences in 1918 the period is fraught with a rich history including World War II and a lavish trip to New York City where Edit performs.

To say nothing of the lavish Parisian settings, the “look” of the film is enough reason to watch in wonderment.

Enough praise cannot be reaped upon Cotillard as Piaf and as enjoyable and profound as the film itself is, the casting of the French actress is both perfect and unimaginable to think of anyone else in the role.

As treasured a performance as Cotillard gives, the filmmakers wisely choose to leave Piaf’s actual voice in the musical numbers. Anyone else mimicking her would be unimaginable and frankly insulting. And an imitator would not have served the film well.

Regardless of the voice-overs, Cotillard delivers such a flawless and brave performance that it makes the film what it is. Piaf was known as a very difficult woman to deal with both personally and professionally, though there were many sympathetic qualities to her given her tough life.

Cotillard’s facial expressions and mannerisms perfectly mimic the star’s qualities so much so that the actress seemingly becomes the singer. The actress deservedly won the Best Actress Academy Award for her layered performance.

The final scene of the film is both profound and ghastly. A very ill Edith, looking haggard, clown-like with heavy makeup, decides to take the stage for the final time, aware that she is dying.

Refusing to cancel her show, she performs her well-known number, “Non, Je ne regrette rien”. She then exits the stage in a frail manner and dies shortly thereafter. She was the consummate professional and star until the moment of her death. This particular scene is a wonderful culmination of the film.

La Vie en Rose (2007) solely judged as a biopic is a very good piece of filmmaking that tells a graceful, sometimes moving story of incredible talent.

With a performance such as Cotillard’s the film goes to another level and the performance becomes the main event. The emotions and the characteristics the actress undertakes are astounding and go down as one of the finest depictions in cinematic history.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Actress-Marion Cotillard (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Costume Design

The Bridesmaid-2004

The Bridesmaid-2004

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Benoit Magimel, Laura Smet

Scott’s Review #548

Reviewed December 14, 2016

Grade: B+

A more modern offering by Claude Chabrol, (many of his films were made in the 1960s and 1970s), his 2004 film entitled, The Bridesmaid, continues the tradition of compelling, macabre, story-telling immersing the viewer in strange behavior by the central characters, as they obsess over each other in one way or another.

The film is in the French language.

The Bridesmaid contains two plots- one explored fully, the other not explored as much as might have been hoped- the latter being the more interesting of the two.

Philippe is the only son of his mother, Christine, and the only male in the household- his two other sisters live there as well. Christine is divorced and works as a hairdresser.

The family is a rather typical one save for a creepy incestuous bond between Philippe and Christine-very romantic in their conversations with each other, and Philippe’s penchant for carrying around a head statue carved to resemble his mother.

He regularly sleeps with the statue and kisses it on the lips.

As the youngest daughter is to be married, Philippe meets and bonds with one of the bridesmaids- Senta. The two embark on a torrid love affair and become inseparable. As their love flourishes, Senta becomes obsessive in her undying love for Philippe and asks him to kill a stranger as a way of proving his love for her.

This leads to confusion as Senta kills another character, thinking this is what Philippe wants. Philippe becomes both afraid and titillated by the young girl.

The main plot is very reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic, Strangers on a Train, as one party is bloodthirsty and the other a more innocent victim of the plot, yet in Chabrol’s film, the other party suffers from issues of their own in the emotional sense.

Senta is unbalanced, and a mysterious figure from her past- Rita- described as her stepmother, appears a few times, as she dances with her much younger partner.

A local girl mysteriously disappears early on in the film, which may be a red herring to the stories, or perhaps related to all the events of the film.

I was more intrigued by the mommy/son angle, but perhaps that is Chabrol’s way of confusing the audience. Oddly, the duo has simmering chemistry, yet each character never fesses up to being obsessed with the other- it is merely implied.

Philippe dislikes Christine’s beau, who figures prominently in the main story of Senta’s machinations, but I wanted more of Christine and Philippe.

Stylistically, The Bridesmaid is dreamy and builds at a slow momentum, similar to Chabrol’s earlier films- we are aware that the story will play out in a strange, interesting fashion, but we do not always know just what road Chabrol might take, nor what plot points may or may not be revealed.

Perhaps less developed than some of his fantastic earlier efforts, but a recommended watch for someone in the mood for a morbid, left of center, story to sink one’s teeth into.

Claude Chabrol is a director I admire greatly for his use of fascinating elements that keep the audience guessing as to what is coming next, and this is a joy in itself.

The Kid with a Bike-2011

The Kid With A Bike-2011

Director Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring Thomas Doret

Scott’s Review #416

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Reviewed June 18, 2016

Grade: B

The Kid with a Bike is a small French film from 2011 that has received acclaim and recognition worldwide.

The film tells the story of a troublesome young boy abandoned by his struggling father and various dramas that unfold.

I found the film somewhat disappointing as I expected a bit more than I was given.

Throughout the very short one hour and twenty-seven-minute run-time the young boy broods and defies either authority or his caregivers, or fights with various people he encounters as he attempts to find his father.

The boys bond with a local hairdresser who takes him in and is interesting, but her motivations are not made clear other than being kind.

Why would she take in a strange kid? We do not learn all that much about this character and that is a shame.

There is one element towards the end of the film that was shocking and well done, but overall I expected something a bit deeper from this movie given all of the praise surrounding it.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Les Cousins-1959

Les Cousins-1959

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Braily

Scott’s Review #402

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Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: A-

Les Cousins is a 1959 Claude Chabrol French-language film.

Made in black and white and set in Paris, the focus is on metropolitan life as seen from the perspective of one of the main characters, who is from the country and far removed from the bustle and complexities of city life.

The focal point is contrasting traits- personality, background, and otherwise. The film delves into psychological aspects that lend themselves to making the film a character-driven thought-provoking experience.

Les Cousins is open to many interpretations. The film, therefore, has many nuances to ponder and sink one’s teeth into deep thought.

Les Cousins is about two male cousins, Charles and Paul.

They appear to be similar in age and are both law students, but opposites in almost every other way. Paul is the alpha male- self-centered, quick-tempered, and forceful. Living an affluent life in the heart of Paris, he has many friends, is a social butterfly, and has no filter with his criticisms and judgments of others.

Charles, on the other hand, has a completely different set of qualities. Sent by his mother to live with Paul and study for the agonizing, impending law exam, Charles is meek, quiet, and insecure.

When Charles meets Florence, a beautiful friend of Paul’s, who has a reputation for “sleeping around”, Charles falls madly in love with her, almost love at first sight, unaware of her reputation.

What follows is a strange triangle between Paul, Florence, and Charles that is laced with jealousy, revenge, and ultimately violence.

Each of the three principal characters and their relationship with each other is interesting to ponder and is at the heart of the film.

When Paul realizes that Charles is in love with Florence is he disturbed by this turn of events? Does he feel sorry for Charles or elicit some perverse joy in bedding Florence in front of Charles? If so, why does he resent Charles?

Is Florence in love with Charles or is it a guise? Does she even realize the extent of his love for her? A sexually expressive woman, she is not outlandish in her appearance and seems quite virginal to the outside viewer.

Does she enjoy the fact that the unwitting Charles sees her as pure? Does she wish that she was virginal?

Finally, the complexity of Charles’ character is mysterious. We learn that he writes letters to his mother to give updates on his studying habits and exams.

Does he harbor resentment toward his mother? Is he a “mama’s boy”? Is he overwhelmed in the city? Does he truly love Florence (tough to believe after one or two dates) or yearn for the freedom that she represents?

We see countless scenes of Paul and his good-looking friends engaging in various forms of merriment, usually in his modern apartment, overlooking the city.

He is affluent. Is this the main reason for his popularity?

The party-goers are all well-dressed and very good-looking- sort of a fraternity party for the exceptionally tailored if you will.

Interestingly, a female couple- appearing to be a lesbian couple- featured numerous times at the parties. Is this meant to show Paul and Parisians as open-minded and progressive?

A revolver- with only one bullet in a six-chamber gun prevalent throughout the film in a Russian roulette sequence comes into play after the film.

Without completely revealing the ending, someone is mortally wounded in the last sequence and we are left to ponder what happens now.

Are the survivors lives forever changed and ruined? A knock at the door just before the credits roll leaves us wondering who is there.

My one complaint about Les Cousins is that it takes a long time to get deep into the complexities of the film and I was left pondering after it ended more than I was completely engaged throughout.

I also wondered if the pompous and over-indulgences were slightly overdone to elicit more audience reaction and contrasting elements between Paul and Charles.

A French new wave experience by one of France’s best directors, Les Cousins is a character study of three interesting characters that leave the audience thinking about their lives past, present, and future, comparing their idiosyncrasies, actions, and thoughts to delve deeper into their psyches.

La Femme Infidele-1969

La Femme Infidele-1969

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Stephane Audran, Michel Bouquet

Scott’s Review #397

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Reviewed April 23, 2016

Grade: A-

Another gem by French director Claude Chabrol, La Femme Infidel (The Unfaithful Wife) is a 1969 film later remade in the United States in 2002, directed then by Adrian Lynde.

Having seen the remake a few times before watching the original, I cannot help but compare the two films, which in itself is fun for me since both films are vastly different from one another, especially as I find myself further pondering each.

One is more conventional- the other more psychological.

Successful insurance executive Charles Desvallees lives in the suburbs of Paris with his beautiful wife Helene and their young son.

Life is seemingly idyllic, as they enjoy every luxury imaginable beautiful house with a beautiful landscape and a dutiful maid.

Charles has a sexy secretary, smokes, drinks, and enjoys life at work and Helene frequently goes to Paris for shopping sprees, beauty treatments, and to attend the cinema.

What could be missing from their lives?  Helene is a bored housewife and has embarked on an affair with Victor Pegalla, a writer who lives in Paris.

When Charles grows suspicious of Helene, he hires a private investigator to track her activities and reveal the true story of how she spends her time.

Admittedly, I was highly influenced by Unfaithful, the 2002 remake starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere when I viewed La Femme Infidel.

The remake is set in New York instead of Paris and is more polished and less psychological- a Fatal Attraction-type slick thriller if you will.

The “other man” is much sexier and more passionate, and the connection is more primal than in the original. This changes the tone of the film from a sexual and lustful one to a more complex and psychological dynamic- La Femme Infidel is a more thinking man’s film.

Victor is handsome and well-groomed, but he is rather similar to Helene’s husband, so we wonder what the main appeal is- if she is seeking adventure.

Lane’s 2002 character’s choice is easy- her affair is based on the physical attractiveness of the man. 1969’s Helene is not having her affair for that reason-, the reasons, besides boredom, are unclear, making the film more complex.

When the main action (death) occurs at the midway point, the film goes in a different direction and becomes complicated. No longer is the main plot of Helene’s adultery, but rather what Charles has done and the repercussions bound to follow.

Do we see Charles as the villain and Helene as the victim? Who do we feel sorry for? Do we root for anyone? Certainly, the character of Victor is not explored in much depth. What are his motivations? Is he in love with Helene?

Helene is an interesting character. Is she meant to be sympathetic or hated? Or just complex?  One can interpret her in different ways- the woman has it all beauty, a faithful husband, and a wonderful home life- why does she risk sacrificing it all for a fling?

Does she dare to want more out of her life and have some adulterous fun? It does not seem that Helene is in love with Victor or has any desire to run away with him or leave her husband.

Charles is also a character to be analyzed closely.

Throughout the film’s first portion, he is seen as a victim- his gorgeous wife has mysterious contempt for him and plays him for a fool. She spends his money and cheats on him, while he adores her and resists his young, flirtatious secretary, who has a thing for Charles and wears short skirts seemingly for his benefit.

She is much younger than Helene. Later, his character’s actions and motivations shift from victim to arguably brutish and primal. A momentary outburst changes his motivations and the texture becomes calculating.

In the end, Charles and Helene come together and resume normalcy in their lives, but will things ever be the same? Will the trust ever reappear in their lives? Is Helene now afraid of or intimidated by her husband or rather, does she now have a newfound desire for her alpha, take-charge husband?

The 1969 version of La Femme Infidel is layered, complex, interesting, and left me thinking about the film and that is a very good sign.

The remake, while very good, is more of a blockbuster, produced kind of film, while the original goes more for thought.

The lack of sex appeal in Victor is a negative of the film as are his motivations, but the character-driven nuances of the other characters make this a thought-provoking watch.

Violette Noziere-1978

Violette Noziere-1978

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Isabelle Huppert

Scott’s Review #378

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Reviewed February 16, 2016

Grade: B+

Another in the legion of thrilling and mysterious films by French director Claude Chabrol, Violette Noziere (1978) tells the true story of an eighteen-year-old Parisian girl, who plots her parent’s murder in 1930’s France.

The fact that the tale is true to life makes it even more horrific and mesmerizing.

It is beautifully shot, though the action largely takes place in interior settings.

This film is a cerebral experience.

The film is classy in every way- like French films typically are, and Isabelle Huppert (Violette) takes center stage. She is gorgeous and interesting-looking (reminiscent of a young Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the lead role.

Violette appears to be a typical French teen but harbors a dark secret and something always appears glum about the character. She works nights as a prostitute accosting wealthy men.

When she meets handsome but spendthrift, Jean Francois, a young man she fancies, she becomes his main source of income and slowly begins to plot the murder of her low-income, yet stable parents, in an attempt to inherit their apparent savings.

The story is somewhat murky as Violette’s version of events (mainly in the past and concerning her father) is accusatory. She insists that her father sexually abused her as a child, but is this in her fantasy world, or did this happen? One never knows.

Making the film compelling is that Violette’s parents are quite likable. Struggling to make ends meet and provide quality life, they prepare home-cooked meals, enjoy life, and appear to be decent people.

What is the reality?

Later, we witness a rivalry between Violette and her mother. In one scene we see Violette’s father bouncing his daughter on his knee while the mother looks on filled with hatred.

When she attempts to seduce her husband, unsuccessfully, Violette looks on amused. Is this solely in Violette’s mind?

Chabrol, an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, keeps the suspense going throughout the film, but the heart of the film belongs to Huppert.

From the start of the film, amid meaningless banter with her more refined girlfriend, the audience can tell there is something amiss about Violette. She seems lonely, like a lost little girl yearning for some excitement as her eyes stare into the distance.

Her true colors are slowly exposed, yet Chabrol never makes her all-out crazy. Violette always has a cool, calm, demeanor and that is why the film succeeds.

For fans of Chabrol, or film fans eager for a foreign language treat, Violette Noziere is a rare find, a welcome addition to the growing number of his films I have watched with interest, and heartily enjoyed.

The mystique, the beauty of the artistry, and the twists and turns are top-notch.

Irreversible-2002

Irreversible-2002

Director Gaspar Noe

Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel

Top 10 Disturbing Films #4

Scott’s Review #375

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Reviewed February 7, 2016

Grade: C+

As I ponder my review of Irreversible,  a 2002 French thriller and “art film”, I am attempting (as I always do) to look at the film critically, from a story and a technical standpoint, as well as a myriad of other aspects that make up a film.

This is admittedly a toughie.

On the surface, I despised the film wholeheartedly (more on that later), but from a critical standpoint, I found characteristics to admire and give credit to. One thing is for certain- I never want to see this film again.

The story is told in a non-linear style, begins after the story, and works backward, which I credit the film for, giving it a unique storytelling experience, cleverly done.

Two Parisian friends, Marcus and Pierre, go on a rampage after Marcus’s girlfriend is brutally raped and beaten. In panic mode, they learn the name of the attacker (Le Tenia) and go to a gay BDSM club aptly named “The Rectum”, a place the attacker requests, where they fervently search for him all the while beating club-goers and cause havoc.

Since the story is told in reverse, the audience is initially in a state of confusion at the events transpiring, and the jagged, shaky camera work, a very creative technique, only adds to the chaos. We only know that two maniacs are running rampant, destroying everything in their path.

Slowly, we realize what their motivation is as we work backward.

We are introduced to Alex, a beautiful young woman- in the early stages of pregnancy, who is Marcus’s steady, but used to date, Pierre. They are all very good friends. We see the romance between Marcus and Alex, and, working even further backward, we see Alex sitting alone in a park, reading a novel, and enjoying a bright, pleasant day in the park.

This peaceful closing scene contrasts drastically with the rest of the dark film. The film then becomes a flashing, frenetic, black-and-white experience, which I do not understand.

The film is quite bizarre and intensely brutal. The rape of Alex in a dark, gloomy underpass is one of the most intense and disturbing scenes I have ever witnessed in the film, and at one point I needed to leave the room briefly.

The scene is ten minutes in length and Alex is anally raped and then beaten into a comatose state. It is a sickening scene and we witness her pain, misery, and humiliation.

When Pierre and Marcus avenge her rape on who they think is Le Tenia, the scene is also extremely brutal. After (supposed) Le Tenia is captured by them, he attempts to rape Marcus, and Pierre grabs a fire extinguisher and bashes the victim to death as the face is repeatedly destroyed in full detail. It is a tough scene to watch.

I question the motivations of the director wholeheartedly and wonder if he intended to story-tell, or simply make as gruesome and shocking a film as possible.

I have read that when the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, many people walked out of the auditorium in disgust- I can see why.

Irreversible is severely homophobic, with repeated gay slurs being used throughout the gay club scenes, and is also anti- Asian as evidenced by Pierre’s and Marcus’s racial slurs directed at a taxi driver.

The motivations of the character of Le Tenia make no sense to me as it is revealed he is a gay man. Why a gay man would brutally rape a female is unclear to me. This, combined with the extreme brutality, anti-gay, anti-minority, and anti-women, renders the film rather pointless from a story perspective.

My assumption after processing the film is that the director wants us to sympathize with nobody in the film, except Alex. Pierre, Marcus, and Le Tenia are all hateful characters.

It is interesting how, at first, since the beginning is the end, the motivations of the characters are unclear and confused.

My admiration of Irreversible (2002) comes solely from the unique camera work, the clever pacing of the film in the form of backward chapters, and the frenetic style of the opening work, however, the homophobia, racism, and brutality left me cold and I could not shake the feeling that this film is shocking for the sake of being shocking, and one that I ultimately cannot applaud.

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Bernadette Lafont

Scott’s Review #303

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Reviewed December 19, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director whom before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968.

He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement.

In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it.

It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.

The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large, this way on the surface, but throughout the film, there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows of coming around the bend.

As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

The film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood.

Paris, one of the world’s most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.

Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love.

One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other and ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killer’s bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years.

Creepy? Yes.

The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girl’s heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly.

This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. The ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail.

During the murder, it almost seems like the victim is welcoming death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim, or is a new girl the killer’s next target?

In the final shot, we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is not a happily-ever-after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal.

I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

Les Biches (Bad Girls)-1968

Les Biches (Bad Girls)-1968

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Stephane Audran, Jaqueline Sassard

Scott’s Review #292

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Reviewed December 3, 2015

Grade: B+

Les Biches (translated to mean Bad Girls in English) is a French-Italian film from 1968 about a peculiar relationship between two women, one a wealthy, gorgeous, sophisticate named Frederique, and the other a poor, waif-like, struggling street artist named Why.

They embark on a tumultuous love affair marred by competition for handsome Paul Thomas, the local architect.

At its core, the film delves into the class struggle, lust, and violence.

The beginning of the film sets the tone as Frederique provides Why with a large sum of money as she stops to admire her art on the streets of Paris. She invites Why back to her lush villa in gorgeous Saint Tropez, where Frederique lets two outrageous gay men co-habitat with her.

The household is a circus of sorts as the men prance around wildly, but Frederique teaches Why about high society and good living.

Soon Paul is introduced to the story and takes a shine to Why. She calmly rejects him and Frederique then begins to fancy him, thereby emotionally rejecting Why and leaving her feeling out in the cold.

The film then takes a psychologically dramatic turn as the characters turn against one another.

I admire this film as it is an unorthodox story, especially for 1968. Same-sex stories are not the norm these days and the interesting key is that the classes are different.

Frederique has control and power over Why because she has money. Paul admires Why, but he cavorts with Frederique. Is he genuinely interested in her or does he value her money most of all?

The film never makes the distinction crystal clear, but one speculates it is the latter. Frederique uses her wealth (and beauty) to obtain what she wants- namely, Paul to spite Why.

Why is younger and fresher and has not been marred by the world…yet? The gay men are cartoon-like. It is not clear exactly who they are or why they live in the villa. Little background is known about any of the characters.

Foreign-language films, especially of the 1960s and 1970s are fascinating- filled with life and interesting facets and Les Biches is a prime example of interesting film-making.

A trip down the bi-sexuality lane with two gorgeous women at the forefront of the story, both struggling for power over the other, though one with a clear advantage.

Interesting to note that at the time of release is the film was touted as a lesbian skin-flick and humorously miss-thought to be entitled “Les Bitches” (perhaps to get audiences in the door), but is hardly a sex romp- quite the contrary as the psychological elements overtake everything else.

Les Biches (1968) is an odd little adventure, but one to be appreciated and traveled with an open mind if the mood is right. Stylish and interesting and certainly non-mainstream, it challenges the social norms of the day and provides certain Hitchcock-like elements, especially in the final chapter.

(Le Boucher) The Butcher-1970

(Le Boucher) The Butcher-1970

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Stephane Audran, Jean Yanne

Scott’s Review #273

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Reviewed September 14, 2015

Grade: A-

(Le Boucher) The Butcher is a French thriller made in 1970 that is slow-moving at first but progresses to a dramatic crescendo as the latter part of the film escalates, and turns from plodding to cerebral mind-blower.

Mirrored after and inspired by director Alfred Hitchcock, The Butcher is surprisingly not quite horror (based on the title one might assume it is), but rather, an intelligent dreamy thriller.

Gorgeous schoolteacher Helene Daville is smart, confident, and filled with a zest for life. She tutors children needing extra help laughs with them and even lets one sip champagne during a wedding to try the taste of it. She enjoys living and the occasional adventure.

One day, at a wedding, she meets the local butcher, Paul Thomas, and they immediately hit it off as they tenderly walk home together. Cordial and kind, they develop a friendship and laugh together.

As time goes on, a series of killings begin to occur in the town.

Helene begins to suspect Paul of the murders and wrestles with her conflict between her budding love for him and her revulsion at the thought of being in love with a vicious murderer. Her conflict is the point of the film.

The relationship between Helene and Paul is an interesting dynamic and, I now realize, the reason for the slow pace of the picture. Helene and Paul enjoy a nurturing, caring courtship and the film successfully achieves the intended slow build.

The murder mystery is rather secondary and helps support the main plot. We know little- almost nothing- about the female victims. They are strangers to the audience and the reason for their deaths is unknown.

The killer simply kills- no motivation is revealed. This is what makes the film so cerebral and mysterious.

The Butcher is a love story intertwined with a thriller. It is not a mainstream thriller in the conventional sense and the final twenty or thirty minutes reeled me in completely and gave me great admiration for the film, which I had been hedging about throughout.

The meat of the film might have started an additional thirty minutes before it did in my opinion, but then again the slow build may have been intended to make the result more powerful. The moral conflict, love versus hate, tenderness, affection, caring, devastation, and betrayal are all explored during this relatively brief finale.

Besides, the blurry camera shots and angles from the vantage point of an automobile driver traveling down a dark, tree-lined street are highly creative and unique.

The comparisons to Hitchcock are evident.

Helene is similar to Tippi Hedren’s “Melanie Daniels” from The Birds. She is glamorous, alluring, blonde, tall, well-dressed, and the heroine of the film. Attractive and blonde are traits featured in many Hitchcock films.

Paul, on the other hand, reminds me of Rod Taylor’s Mitch, also from The Birds, though not as handsome or charismatic. Still, their relationship reminds me of the two of them as the chemistry oozes from the screen and a romance and thriller are combined.

Helene is perceived as a wholesome wonderful person by the audience, but is she truly?

In the end, we are left questioning her true feelings and are left with a distaste in our mouths. Her choices confuse us or is she simply a complex human being like each of us is?

The interesting aspect of The Butcher (1970) is it leaves one questioning how we would handle Helene’s dilemma, and more importantly, how we would channel our feelings if faced with a similar predicament.

Venus in Fur-2013

Venus in Fur-2013

Director Roman Polanski

Starring Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric 

Scott’s Review #270

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Reviewed August 23, 2015

Grade: C

Venus in Fur is a French-language film from 2013, directed by the enormously talented Roman Polanski, and based on the American play by David Ives.

Interesting to note that Ives’s play is itself based on a novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch entitled Venus in Furs.

Polanski’s film adaptation is a filmed play and takes place entirely within the walls of a theater, except for the opening shot, as the camera pans inside the doorway of the theater as if the audience were the eyes of an approaching theater-goer.

The subject matter is quite adult- sadomasochism and dominance, though there is little nudity, and is not perverse in any way.

The story surrounds Thomas, a stressed-out writer-director of a new play set to open soon in Paris. Finishing touches must be handled as well as casting the lead actress!

His play is an adaptation of Venus in Furs and a frustrated Thomas is on the phone complaining about an unsuccessful day attempting to cast the lead role of Wanda.

A disheveled actress named Vanda wanders into the theater and attempts to convince Thomas to let her read for the part, which she desperately wants.

Initially, Thomas is turned off by Vanda as she is dressed slutty and is on the middle-aged side and, in his mind, wrong for the part. When she finally does convince him to let her read for the part, she becomes Wanda and a strong, bizarre, sadomasochistic, attraction develops between the pair as they run lines together.

Roman Polanski might very well rank within my Top 10 favorite directors of all time list (Rosemary’s Baby-1968, is one of my favorite films), but this work disappointed me.

Containing a cast of only two characters, I found the story to be limiting and became tedious as the story developed. It was tough to distinguish when Thomas and Vanda were in character and when they were expressing their true selves and I did not find either particularly likable.

This may have been intentional, but confusing and dull nonetheless.

The sexual-fetish subject matter is prevalent, but not in a tasteless way. The initial roles reverse as Vanda goes from a whimpering, pleading actress needing some work to a dominatrix, who obtains control over Thomas, who in essence becomes her slave.

Thomas begins as a powerful director with an ego and ends up catering to Vanda’s every whim. They develop a deep emotional connection that they simultaneously realize.

The main issue was not feeling much connection towards either character. I detected no chemistry between them. The dominant soon becomes submissive, but who cares when you are invested in neither character?

On the plus side, I loved the basic theater set. This instantly reminded me fondly of my college days and rehearsing/performing in a theater similar to the one in Venus in Fur, complete with the rustic red audience seats and the moody ambiance of the theater.

Venus in Fur (2013) has an interesting premise as people immerse themselves in the roles they play, but a disappointing film, especially coming from one of the greats.

Whatever the exact reasons, the film did not work for me. Interesting premise, but ultimately failed for me.

Two Days, One Night-2014

Two Days, One Night- 2014

Director Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne 

Starring Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione

Scott’s Review #268

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Reviewed August 21, 2015

Grade: B

Two Days, One Night (2014) is a French-language drama starring the wonderful and highly talented Marion Cotillard, who received an Academy Award nomination in 2015 for this role and is the main draw.

I never tire of viewing any of her film performances, however, I felt the film itself lacked something special. Adequate, but below the standards I was expecting given the award recognition.

The film is good, with an interesting tale of morality, but becomes redundant as it goes along.

Sandra, played by Cotillard, is a working-class woman living in an industrial town in Belgium. She works in a factory and struggles to make ends meet with her supportive husband, Manu. They have two young children.

It is revealed early on that Sandra has a history of suffering from depression and has recently been forced to take a leave of absence from her job due to her struggles.

Now recovered, she is ready to resume normalcy but her boss forces a vote among her sixteen colleagues who decide to either save her job or eliminate her position, thereupon each will receive a hefty bonus.

Sandra and a co-worker she feels close with, convinced the boss to allow an anonymous vote the following Monday, leaving Sandra with one weekend to convince the others to save her job.

The conflict is that during Sandra’s absence, the department was able to run successfully so why is she needed?

The plot has an interesting moral concept. Will people sacrifice personal gain to assist someone else? The fact that Sandra is a kind woman makes the decision seem easy. However, many of her colleagues struggle to put food on the table for their families and could use any extra wages manageable.

The audience is on the side of Sandra and her equally kind husband, who continually talks her out of giving up and instead encourages her to spend the weekend convincing the others to vote for her come Monday morning.

The weak point is that it contains one basic formulaic story and does not branch into anything more. The plot is simple but I expected a bit more from this film.

The action takes place throughout one weekend and the entire plot is that of Sandra traversing the town looking for colleagues to persuade them to vote for her. Most of the people she encounters are sympathetic and, if they cannot help her, they empathize with her.

Soon, we get that she needs their votes. It becomes the same scene over and over.

The character of Manu is undeveloped. We learn nothing about him except he is a devoted husband and father, but what about his feelings? How did he deal with Sandra’s depression? Strangely, many co-workers Sandra looks for are not home at the time, requiring her to go to the park, the laundromat, or the pub to track them down.

I question the authenticity of the story.

Sandra’s boss has the power to pit colleagues against each other (supposedly approved by management) and to assume the destiny of one employee.

There is no Human Resources department mentioned throughout the story until almost the final scene when a manager appears, and it is never explained why the boss can get away with this. There is also no mention of a union, which in factory work is common.

Furthermore, Sandra and Manu never mention consulting an attorney- yes, they are poor, but surely a conversation might have occurred.

The title also does not make sense- Two Days, One Night- the film begins on a Friday and ends on a Monday morning. What does the title mean?

Two Days, One Night (2014) is a film featuring an honest performance from a talented actress (Cotillard), but a tad bit slow and tedious at times, and repeats similar scenes over again.

The film is a nice, simple, quiet story, but nothing spectacular.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Marion Cotillard

The Young Girls of Rochefort-1967

The Young Girls of Rochefort-1967

Director Jacques Demy

Starring Catherine Deneuve, George Chakiris

Scott’s Review #252

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Reviewed June 30, 2015

Grade: B

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) is a musical fantasy set in a small French town outside of Paris.

The story focuses on a set of gorgeous twin sisters, Delphine and Solange, played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac, who yearn to escape their small town for the bright lights of Paris and hope for romance in their lives.

The twins can have any man they want, but enjoy the thrill and excitement of conquests and being chased and sought after by seemingly all available French men. They spend their spare time discussing and fretting over various loves.

The film is so French and pure musical fantasy and logic are not the main focus. Much of it does not make much sense in fact, nor does it need to. It is pure fantasy.

The film excels by being dreamlike, bright, and sunny. The vivid, bursting colors and lovely sets enhance the look of the film.

In particular, the coffee shop set is a dream. All the central characters gravitate to the café for drinks, gossip, and song and dance.

A great deal of the action takes place here, which is a major plus to the film.

The Young Girls of Rochefort, which was made in 1967, is very state-of-the-art in terms of art direction and colors.

The loose plot, which is not at all the reason to watch this film, is silly. The twins, longing for love, meet several men, all possible suitors, but their true motivation is to get out of Rochefort and find real excitement in the big city of Paris.

One cannot help but realize that the men are a means to an end for the girls.

The heartfelt part of the story belongs to that of the twin’s mother, Yvonne, who also longs for love. Yvonne runs the café and still pines for a long-lost love whom she jilted because of a funny last name. She now regrets her decision and the audience’s roots for her to find happiness.

She is a wholesome character whereas Delphine and Solange are selfish and are attempting to further their careers as musical artists.

My main criticism of the film is the casting of Gene Kelly as one of the love interests of the sisters. Far too old and well past his prime at this point, the casting just doesn’t work. Yes, he is an amazing dancer, but the age is too great to be believable.

In the end, the main reason to watch The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) is to escape, let loose, and enjoy a bright, cheery, fantasy film.

Certainly not to be analyzed, the film succeeds in providing good escapist cultured, French fare.

Oscar Nominations: Best Score of a Musical Picture- Original or Adaptation

The Past-2013

The Past-2013

Director Asghar Farhadi

Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #171

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Reviewed September 16, 2014

Grade: B+

The Past (2013) is an international film directed by acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who directed the brilliant A Separation in 2012.

Despite being directed by an Iranian director, the film is written in French and set in France.

While not quite on the level of A Separation, The Past is still a good, layered, and quite compelling film, though admittedly slow-paced in spots, similar to real life.

The film centers on a couple, Marie and Ahmad, amid a divorce. Marie lives in France with her two daughters from a relationship before Ahmad so they have no children. He lives in Iran and comes to visit and finalize the divorce proceedings.

Further complicating the situation is that Marie is in a relationship with another man, Samir, who has a son with his current wife, who is a vegetable in a coma after a suicide attempt.

What were the events that led her to attempt suicide? Did someone reveal something of importance to her? If so, who?

Questions such as these compel viewers to invest in the characters.

The Past is an excellent family drama done right- there are no needless stereotypes and the children serve more of a purpose than being cute or attractive wallpaper like in many family dramas.

Each child involved- there are 3- has real feelings and realistically expresses themselves. All three principal adult characters are mature, complicated, and have depth. Nobody is the villain and the intent is not to make the audience root for one couple over the other- the film is more mysterious than that.

Rather, the audience spends the film trying to figure out secrets that the characters keep.

Is Marie ready to divorce Ahmad or does she still love him? Does Samir blame Marie for his wife’s condition? Why does the oldest daughter hate Samir so much?

These are questions that arise more and more as The Past unfolds.

Another interesting facet of the film is there are no red herrings introduced to manipulate the viewer. The film is simply a detailed, complex drama.

All three leads (Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa) give wonderful performances, though I’m not sure why Bejo’s performance is considered the standout.

Upon completion and thought, I noticed many similarities to A Separation.

The Past (2013) is a good, solid, family drama, with rich writing and honest, compelling situations.

The Red Balloon-1956

The Red Balloon-1956

Director Albert Lamorisse

Starring Pascal Lamorisse

Scott’s Review #170

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Reviewed September 15, 2014

Grade: A

The Red Balloon is a poignant short film (34-minute running time) in its innocence and creativity.

Directed by acclaimed French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, it tells the story of a young Parisian boy named Pascal who befriends a special red balloon that arrives and greets him one day.

Amazingly, the balloon follows him everywhere and they become inseparable friends. The balloon has a mind of its own and protects Pascal from schoolyard bullies and others who do not understand nor care about his bond with the balloon.

The balloon does not leave his side and during school hours and sleeping hours waits outside.

Director Lamorisse’s children play Pascal and a little girl with a similar blue balloon.

The entire film is shot in Paris so many beautiful glimpses of the city are featured. The neighborhood (Belleville) where most of the adventure involves little Pascal and his balloon meandering through the streets to and from school, sadly no longer exists and was destroyed in the 1960s due to decay.

It is a bleak, melancholy neighborhood that perfectly contrasts the extreme brightness of the balloon.

The Red Balloon is a thought-provoking short film and contains almost no dialogue. None is needed as a powerful message of friendship, heartbreak, and loyalty is portrayed.

The climax of the film is heartbreaking yet uplifting.

The Red Balloon is a film for all ages to enjoy and fall in love with and, in fact, for many years the film was shown to children by educators.

The Red Balloon is the only short film to win the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Screenplay-Original (won)

The Missing Picture-2013

The Missing Picture-2013

Director Rithy Panh

Starring Randal Douc

Scott’s Review #157

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Reviewed August 21, 2014

Grade: C+

One question continued to go through my mind while viewing The Missing Picture (2013). Is it a documentary or a foreign film? It is a documentary, but strangely, the film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

I hate to say this, but after fifteen minutes or so I found the film quite dull.

I respect the creative, expressionist clay figures and enjoy the black-and-white real-life clips of the horrific events from 1970’s Cambodia.

But I found the narration as dull as dishwater.

I watched forty-five minutes of the one hour and thirty-five minutes run time and deduced that I had gotten the film’s point. It does not take away from the importance of the subject, but the presentation could have been a bit more exciting.

This is a common occurrence in the documentary genre.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Rust and Bone-2012

Rust and Bone-2012

Director Jacques Audiard

Starring Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts

Scott’s Review #137

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Reviewed July 26, 2014

Grade: B+

Rust and Bone (2012) is a French language film that tells the difficult love story of a successful, cultured, whale trainer (Stephanie) who is seriously injured in an accident and left without legs.

She has an unlikely romance with an unemployed former boxer (Ali), who leads a troubled life providing for his young son.

Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts give outstanding performances as the two leads. Their powerhouse acting is simply the main reason to watch this film. They are amazingly convincing and Cotillard’s performance alone is astonishing.

Cotillard, who has already won an Oscar for La Vie En Rose (2007), is one of the best younger actresses around, and Schoenaerts showed great promise in 2011’s Bullhead.

The film is character-driven as both lead to difficult, challenge-filled existences. Ali attempts to return to boxing and Stephanie attempts to cope with life after losing limbs. Together they slowly bond and a love story blossoms.

Slow-paced, realistic, and complex, the relationship between the two is at the heart of the film.

The one negative I found with the film is how the story direction meanders to several different plots, some even unnecessary to the main story, so much so that it becomes unclear what the main story is supposed to be.

This results in an uneven viewing experience.

Still, beyond that flaw, Rust and Bone (2012) are well worth the price of admission for the superb acting and wonderful love story told.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film