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L'Atessa (The Wait)


L'Atessa

Although I’m including this as a French film, it is actually an Italian production set on Sicily. The two lead female actors are, however, French, and the dialogue shifts seamlessly between French and Italian depending on who is present in the scene.

Juliette Binoche’s Anna is mourning the loss of her son, Giuseppe, as we witness the sombre religious rites and a house blacked out from daylight with mirrors covered. She receives a call from Giuseppe’s girlfriend, Jeanne, who is due to visit, but she doesn’t tell her about Giuseppe.

Jeanne arrives while family members are still present, and is clearly confused by what she sees. At first Anna doesn’t want to see her, but when she does she says that she has just lost her brother. One gets the feeling that Anna sees Jeanne as a continuing link with her son, there being more than a touch of supernatural about this film.

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La dorMeuse Duval


La dorMeuse Duval

This film is categorised as a comedy, and for the first half one can believe it is. But as things progress it becomes very cynical and while comic elements remain, the unfolding events are far from funny. It is based quite closely on the novel Les Bottes Rouge by Franz Bartelt.

The title is a play on words from the title of the poem ‘Le Dormeur du val’, penned by Arthur Rimbaud in 1870. Rimbaud was born in Charleville-Mézières, a town on the River Meuse close to the Belgian border and the setting for this film. The film’s director, Manual Sanchez, was inspired by this poem, and another by Rimbaud entitled Ophélie, and you will see the clear influence of the latter from the image above.

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Chocolat


Chocolat

Not to be confused with the 2000 film of the same name starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, this is in fact the story of Rafael Padilla, a Cuban born negro who became a celebrated clown in Paris at the turn of the 19th Century. Omar Sy plays the clown Chocolat, a name he comes to despise because he finds it denigrating. But ,unfortunately for him, the attitudes of the time towards coloured people were unlikely to change simply because he rejected his circus name.

The makers of this film have significantly changed some of the historical details but the thrust of the story remains true. In his association with the clown George Foottit, a Parisian star, the duo become great favourites with audiences. Chocolat is Foottit's knockabout sidekick, who endures his somewhat demeaning role with a smile. Until, that is, he starts to resent his treatment while at the same time aspiring to greater things, such as playing Othello! But are the Paris audiences ready for this?

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Après le sud


Après le sud

I'm not sure what the title Après le sud alludes to, but the English title, Heatwave, perhaps better describes the film. Set in the south of France on a sweltering hot day, we follow the lives of four people. A series of largely unrelated events lead to tragedy, but first the director sets the scene by introducing us to each of these people. Before the credits roll, we see Georges, an elderly man, who is lovingly cleaning his shotgun in his flat. This perhaps foretells of trouble to come, but at this stage everything is quite innocent.

After the credits we move to the apartment of Amélie, and her mother Anne. Anne is grossly overweight and we're treated to a very explicit view of the two women as Anne gets in the shower after Amélie steps out. Typical French realism. Amélie leaves for her summer job in a supermarket, while Anne, after a few household chores, sets off in a taxi. She leaves a message saying she's going to Aix, but in fact is headed for a clinic in Marseilles for gastric band surgery to control her weight.

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Souvenir


Souvenir

Liliane works in a paté factory, her job being to place items of garnish on terrines of paté as the final part of the process. It is repetitive and mind-numbingly boring. In the evenings she sits alone at home, having a drink or two and watching the TV. Then one day, Jean, a temporary worker arrives and immediately feels that he recognises Liliane as a once famous singer who, with her song Souvenir, was just pipped for victory by ABBA at the Eurovision song contest.

Liliane assures Jean that he is mistaken, but he won't be dissuaded. Eventually his insistence causes Liliane to miss her bus, allowing Jean to take her home on his scooter. When Jean doesn't turn up for work one day, Liliane goes to find him. It transpires that Jean's father is also a great fan of Liliane, or Laura as she was then known. Jean's mother is, however, less than impressed. After a lot of coaxing Jean persuades Liliane to perform at a local club, where she is a great success, especially in the eyes of Jean's father.

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Cézanne et Moi


Cézanne et Moi

Back to Amazon Prime and French films, the latest being this biographical story of the friendship between Paul Cézanne and Emil Zola. These schoolboy friends maintained a relationship throughout their lives, but this friendship was tempered by bad feeling when Zola, whose mother struggled financially after his father died, became more bourgeois, while the little-rich-boy Cézanne, from a wealthy banking family, wasted his genius in a devil-may-care life of women and contempt for authority. His work was consistently relegated to the Salon des Refusés, which displayed work not accepted by the jury of the Paris Salon.

In matters of love, or more correctly sex, Cézanne has no problems while Zola's timidity prevents him from approaching women. He becomes entranced by one of Cézanne's model's, and mistress, who calls herself Gabrielle. As the film jumps from youth to their more mature lives, we see Zola married to Gabrielle, although she now uses her real name, Alexandrine (née Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley).

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Les Hommes du feu


Les Hommes du feu

Films about firemen, as with those involving the police and other emergency services, seem to hold an enduring fascination for the public. But such films often concern themselves with acts of extreme bravery, or extreme disaster, with heroic derring do. But here the director has deviated from this approach, and in Les Hommes du feu we have the story of a largely unspectacular rural fire station in the south of France, with the men and women shown serving the community during some far from spectacular incidents, although nonetheless important in their own right. Of course, being French, what we do have are some very human story lines underpinning the action.

Bénédicte Meursault has been transferred to this rural brigade to join an all-male team. She is a deputy chief so will outrank all bar the captain, Philippe, who is a wise and experienced operator. Having endured the 'initiation' of being on the receiving end of a bucket of water as she leaves the captain's office, Bénédicte seems to settle in quickly, soon impressing her male colleagues during the exercise runs around the station. However, this honeymoon period is rudely ended when, after her first major call out to a road accident, it transpires that the team overlooked a casualty who had been thrown clear of a vehicle. As team leader it was her responsibility to check, and even though the conditions on the night were horrendous, with driving rain and a confused scene, this oversight plays heavily on Bénédicte, who offers her resignation. But Philippe refuses to accept it.

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L'École buissonnière (The School of Life)


L'École buissonnière

A delightful French comedy-drama set in the forests of Solonge, where the director Nicolas Vanier grew up on a family farm. This film is a treat for anybody who enjoys nature in addition to telling a heart-warming story.

The film begins in 1927 Paris, where after the war there are a lot of orphans. A woman named Célestine arrives at an orphanage where she is asked if she would take a young boy named Paul, who was originally from the area in Solonge where she lives. She is reluctant, and we detect that this boy features in her past, although we do not learn any more at this stage. She is introduced to Paul, and seeing the conditions in the orphanage, and how he is treated, her compassion overrules her reticence.

When they arrive back at Sologne we see that Célestine is in service to the local Count. Her husband, Borel, is the gamekeeper on the Count's estate. She introduces Paul as her cousin's son, which tells us that his real identity is best kept secret. He isn't there long before he learns of Totoche, the local poacher, characterised superbly by François Cluzet. Borel's main objective in life is to entrap Totoche in the act, this being all the more amusing since Totoche has a thing going with Célestine, who acts as an advanced warning of Borel's plans. Initially Totache wants nothing to do with Paul, but after Paul rescue's his dog from the river, the two gradually become friends, with Paul lapping up Totoche's immense knowledge of the life of the forest. As a drama this film could easily double as a nature documentary.

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Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon)


Mal de Pierres

Back to French films after the excitement of Black Panther. And this time it is a drama set in 1950s Provence, starring Marion Cotillard as a troubled young woman, Gabrielle, seeking more from life than her humble existence on a lavender farm is offering. The film actually starts years later with Gabrielle, her husband, José, and son, Marc, going to a music competition, where Marc is to play. On the way their taxi is held up by a double-parked lorry in Lyon, and as Gabrielle gazes out of the car window she spots a street name that has a great significance for her, but at this point we don't know why that is.

We then cut to her as a much younger woman, standing in a stream with the water seemingly stimulating sexually her as it rushes between her legs while she wears no underwear. From there, she goes to a school, where the teacher is alone as she sits down at the back of the room. When she does approach him it becomes clear that she has a serious sexual crush on him, feelings that he in no way reciprocates. Back at home, her mother in particular is very disturbed by Gabrielles behaviour, matters coming to a head when Gabrielle, having once again not managed to gain the teacher's attention, assaults him at the post-harvest party. After this she runs off into the countryside, resulting in the need for a search party, that finds her collapsed with exhaustion on an embankment.

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Médecin de campagne (Irreplaceable)


Médecin de compagne

Another gentle French film that takes us into rural France were the local doctor, Jean-Pierre Werner, keeps the inhabitants healthy through a combination of years of experience and a very pragmatic approach. Once again the English title goes for simplicity, focusing on his 'irreplaceability' rather than his doctoring. But the need to replace him is a factor in the film, because at the beginning we see him diagnosed with a brain tumour, and being told that he must slow down. But, he's not that sort of man, and he continues with his work, which is clearly very important to him.

His consultant at the hospital, obviously conscious of Jean-Pierre's stubbornness, arranges for another doctor to help him, Nathalie Delezia, who Jean-Pierre mistakes as a patient when she arrives late in the day at his surgery. One can see that he initially resents her presence, being somewhat picky when overseeing her dealings with patients. But she isn't easily upset, and gradually eases her way into the practice. Initial concerns from some of the patients, who have become dependant on 'Dr Werner', gives way to acceptance and in time she becomes the doctor of choice for some of them. She is, however, unaware of Jean-Pierre's illness.

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Ce Qui Nous Lie


Ce Qui Nous Lie

After a bit of a break I'm back to watching French films while exercising on my static bike. Amazon has added quite a few French films since I last looked, and Ce qui nous lie has been a superb reintroduction. The English title is Back to Burgundy, which while describing the basic plot, doesn't capture the essence of the story. The translation of the French title is What binds us, which more accurately describes what is a story of family bonding as three siblings come together to resolve financial difficulties following the death of their father. It is beautifully filmed in wide screen with sublime scenery.

The story takes place almost entirely within the environs of a vineyard, where we are first treated to a view from the house as the seasons change, our narrator being the young Jean. But Jean left the family to travel the world, largely because of his uneasy relationship with his father, something that we visit as flashbacks during the story. Jean has now returned from his vineyard in Australia, the reason being to see his dying father. His sister, Juliette, is overjoyed, but his younger brother Jérémie is not so happy, having feelings of animosity towards Jean, particularly as he wasn't there when their mother died. Things are not helped when the three find that the 500,000€ inheritance tax on the estate is far beyond their ability to pay, forcing them to consider ways to raise money.

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The Shining


The Shining

We watched this classic horror film yesterday evening as it was Halloween. Released in 1980, contemporary reviews felt that it didn't do justice to Stephen King's book of the same name, but over time it has gained respect and is now regarded by some as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Personally, I found the acting a bit stilted, perhaps reflecting the period, while much of the psychological tension came from the soundtrack, with loud dramatic crescendos accompanying the critical moments. Very old school horror.

The plot is straightforward enough. Jack Torrence, played by Jack Nicholson, takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook luxury hotel, which is always snowed-in during the winter. He will be there alone with his wife and son, but as a writer he relishes the tranquility. Nevertheless, the hotel manager does point out that the isolation can be a problem for some people, and recounts the story of how one previous caretaker, Charles Grady, went berserk, killing his wife and two daughters before turning a shotgun on himself. During the family's tour of the hotel it was also ominously pointed out that the building had been constructed on a Native American burial site. At this point one realised that it wasn't perhaps the place to be. Also during their introduction to the building, we learn that their son, Danny, has a telepathic ability, this being shared by the hotel's chef, Dick Halloran, who refers to it as 'shining'.

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Payback


Payback

The other evening I was browsing Amazon's catalogue and came across this 1999 film with Mel Gibson. The summary sounded interesting so I went for it.

It's a classic crime movie from perhaps a earlier age. I subsequently read that the director wanted to shoot it in black and white, but the studio wouldn't agree. Instead the colours were 'bleached' in post-production, giving it a monochromatic feel, particularly during the street scenes. There's lots of violence but also a degree of black comedy, much revolving around an ongoing 'misunderstanding' over a sum of money that Gibson's character 'Porter' is trying to get back.

We start with Porter being treated in a far from clinical environment for the removal of bullets from his back. It's a while before we see the reason for his condition, which basically arose because of a betrayal by his wife Lynn, and a partner in crime Val Resnick. Resnick is in any event a sado-masochist, who not only likes hurting people but also enjoys pain inflicted at the hands of a particularly brutal sex worker. He's also in hoc to the syndicate, this being the reason for his original betrayal of Porter.

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A Monster Calls


A Monster Calls

This film received very good reviews when it was released and I caught up with it this week on Amazon Prime. I can see why the critics and audiences liked it. It focusses on Conor, a young boy who is struggling to come to terms with his mother's illness while at the same time suffering significant bullying at school. He deals with things with a passive reserve that strikes you as remarkable, the young actor Lewis MacDougall giving a truly impressive performance.

Conor has a recurring dream, involving the church and the large yew tree within a cemetery that is visible from his house. The church collapses and the tree disappears into a yawning hole, and Conor is desperately trying to hold on to somebody on the edge of the opening. He always awakens at what becomes the symbolic time of 12:06.

As his mother's condition worsens he is visited by the Monster, an incarnation from the large tree with internal fires that shine through its eyes. Conor reacts with confusion rather than fear, which is remarkable in the circumstances.

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Mediterranea


Mediterranea


My choice of French films on Amazon Prime is reducing having watched a good number of them. That's not to say that Mediterranea was a reluctant choice, but the subject matter is certainly contentious at this time. It follows the journey of two Africans from Burkina Faso through Algeria and Libya before eventually reaching Italy. It contains all the ingredients that we have become accustomed to seeing regularly on the news. A trek across a desert, robbed by bandits who were probably primed by the very people who were arranging their passage, and finally the perilous boat journey to Italy. Among a significant proportion of the population I've no doubt that empathy for such people is zero, but this film shows what it must be like to be dependant on a range of people who for the most part wish you weren't there.

In Italy they meet up with other Africans and are introduced to a squat, which wasn't quite what they expected. In terms of work opportunities, there aren't any, and they are exploited as cheap labour picking oranges. However, the lead character, Ayiva, is not only a good worker but is also adept at developing relationships, leading to him being welcomed to the home of an Italian family. But the local villagers are far from happy about the presence of the Africans and in time tensions boil over leading to attacks on the immigrants. This provokes retaliation, with the authorities rounding them up and sealing off their squats. Ayiva's friend, Abas, with whom he travelled to Italy, is badly beaten by a group of young Italian men.

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Les Cowboys


Les Cowboys


Learning French has given me a far greater appreciation of French films, mainly because I watch a lot more of them. This 2015 film was recently added to Amazon Prime and I watched it this week. The title is perhaps a bit misleading. Certainly there are cowboys, of the French variety, these being people in a rural area who have an affinity with the cowboy life, dressing up accordingly for the occasional gatherings where the usual cowboy fare is on offer. It is all harmless fun. At one such gathering the Ballard family are seen enjoying themselves. We have the father, Alain, Nicole, his wife, their son Georges (aka Kid) and daughter Kelly. Alain is clearly is very fond of his daughter, as we see him dancing tenderly with her. But later in the day they realise that she is nowhere to be seen. After questioning some of her friends, it transpires that she had a boyfriend, Ahmed, a fact not known to the family.

When she doesn't turn up Alain, visits Ahmed's father, and also goes to the police, who aren't particularly helpful. In time it becomes known that she has left with Ahmed, and this sets Alain off on a mission to find her. The years pass and with Georges now a young man he and his father continue the search, although Georges is less committed than his father. Kelly has previously let the family know that she doesn't want to be found and that she has a new life. They also learn that she has a child. None of this dissuades Alain. As his father becomes more and more obsessed, Georges finally refuses to help any more. Unfortunately, tragedy then strikes when his father falls asleep at the wheel of his car.

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The Town


The Town

We watched this 2010 film yesterday evening. The free offerings on Amazon Prime are not always that appealing but this turned out to be a good choice. The cast was fairly star-studded, with an interesting performance from Jon Hamm as a no-nonsense FBI agent, and Blake Lively as the somewhat down-market sister of one of the four criminals upon which the film is based.

We are told that the Charlestown neighbourhood of Boston (aka The Town) is renowned for producing armed robbers, generation after generation. One such group is shown pulling off a very professional heist. After 'convincing' the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) to open the safe, they escape with the money after first microwaving the CCTV tapes and dowsing everything they've touched with bleach, to remove any DNA traces. But one of the group, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), comes across as a bit psychotic, having needlessly assaulted the assistant manager after a silent alarm was triggered - actually by Claire Keesey. Another of the group, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), comes across as the brains and the one who regards a professional job as one where nobody gets hurt, which puts him at odds with Coughlin. He is therefore less than pleased when Couglin takes Keesey as a hostage as they escape the bank.

Claire Keesey is released unharmed but Coughlin has retained her driving licence, with a view to finding her should there be a need to keep her quiet. However, it was clear that during the heist, and later in the escape van, MacRay had become interested in her, so he offers to 'take care' of the situation, intentionally wanting to keep Coughlin away from her. This is where the main storyline of the film develops, as MacRay initially befriends Claire, and then forms a deeper relationship.

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Hippocrate


Hippocrate


I don't know what things are like behind the scenes in a French hospital, but you get the feeling when watching this film that it is perhaps a fairly accurate portrayal. The fact that the director, Thomas Lilti, is a medical doctor, goes a long way to explaining why this may be the case. There's quite a lot of black humour as the staff joke about a range of medical issues, along with some serious partying, such activities serving as a pressure release valve for staff working under a lot of stress with at times inadequate resources.

The English title is Diary of a Doctor, which is fitting as it follows a junior intern, Benjamin, who arrives for his first stint at the hospital full of confidence. The fact that his father is a senior doctor at the same hospital turns out to be more of a liability than a blessing, but Benjamin is keen to impress. He soon meets up with Abdel, an Algerian doctor who is interning at the hospital as his qualifications are not accepted in France. But it soon becomes clear that Abdul has the benefit of experience, something Benjamin is lacking.

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Lady Macbeth


Lady Macbeth

After this week's chilling film at the cinema, Detroit, this was another chilling experience but for entirely different reasons. Ostensibly a period drama, set in rural Northumberland, it begins with a marriage. Katherine, played quite marvellously by Florence Pugh, has literally been sold to a wealthy merchant, Alexander Lester. And she is treated like merchandise, being forbidden to leave the house and suffering humiliation in the bedroom, where her husband demands to look at her naked but has no desire for physical contact. Alexander's father, Boris, is no less unsavoury than his son, and is constantly berating Katherine for not giving Alexander a son, somewhat difficult as they never participate in sexual intercourse.

This suffocating existence continues until both Boris and Alexander are simultaneously called away on business, leaving Katherine with unprecedented freedom, allowing her to take walks out onto the moors. One day she investigates a fracas in an outhouse where a group of male workers are mistreating one of the female staff. There she has an encounter with Sebastian, a bold individual who literally lifts her off the ground. This excites her, and she contrives to meet him in the grounds. It isn't long before a tempestuous sexual relationship ensues, with Katherine releasing all her pent up emotions.

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From Paris with Love


From Paris with Love

After playing 18 holes of golf on Friday, in very warm conditions, I wanted just to relax in front of the TV in the evening, watching something that wasn't too demanding. A search of Amazon Prime revealed From Paris with Love, and the synopsis seemed to fit the bill exactly. John Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a foul-mouthed instrument of death and mayhem, who is assisted by James Reese, a personal aide to the US ambassador in Paris. But we're jumping ahead a bit.

Reese is a very able aide, but he hankers for a more exciting role and doubles as a low-grade CIA operative. He's constantly asking his minder for more challenging tasks, stapling a surveillance bug under a desk, after failing to stick it with chewing gum not actually cutting the mustard for him. On the personal front, he has a beautiful French girlfriend, Caroline.

His wish is granted when he's asked to go to the airport detention centre where Wax is being detained over an argument about bringing cans of energy drink into the country. Wax is ferociously verbally abusing the custom officials and despite Reese's suggestion that similar drinks could easily be bought in Paris, Wax won't back down. A bit of diplomatic privilege finally breaks the deadlock. When they get in the car the reasons for Wax's attachment to the cans of drink becomes clear, and it isn't because he likes the taste.

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Arrival


Arrival

I missed Arrival when it was released at the cinema and took the opportunity to view it this week as it had been added to Amazon Prime's offerings. Other than the basic fact that it featured the arrival of aliens to Earth I knew very little about it. The first relief was that it wasn't one of these films where the aliens destroy large swathes of the world's major cities. In fact it is the exact opposite of that. These aliens have come to help us, because in 3000 years time they will need humanity's help in return.

The story explores the power of language and plays with time in a way that requires you to think quite hard about what's going on, and even then come away perhaps not fully understanding what you've just watched. As I've said, the complete opposite of the 'annihilation' movies.

Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguist who has previously helped the government, and who is therefore the natural choice when alien vessels appear at twelve locations around the globe. They are large pods that hover above the ground, and when we are given the chance to see inside we observe that the natural laws of gravity seem not to apply. But that's jumping ahead. Of course, the appearance of alien vessels immediately puts the military of the countries involved on red alert, although initially they are all working together to try to understand the threat, if there is one. This accord eventually breaks down with China in particular seemingly gearing up to take military action.

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The Sweeney: Paris


The Sweeney: Paris

Another French language film from my watch list on Amazon Prime, this time not a comedy but lots of action. Interestingly for a French film it has an English language title, but apparently it had been know as The Squad, and Antigang, before settling on The Sweeney, piggybacking what was already a popular name from the British 1970s TV series. Most reviewers have found it odd, and a little bit daft, that this film should have been made after the poor reception given to the 2012 British film of the same name. It seems that the Paris version is a virtual remake of this earlier film.

All this being said, the French do make a good cop film, as witnessed in the popular series Engrenages, screened in the UK under the title Spiral. And despite the poor reviews given to the Paris Sweeney, I don't think you can fault it for action, and the backdrop of Paris always adds the extra something to any film.

In case anybody doesn't know, which I doubt is the case, Sweeney comes from London rhyming slang, Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad. The British TV series portrayed this outfit as a law unto itself, cutting official corners but obtaining results. The Paris Sweeney exhibits the same characteristics, but hyped up to the extreme. The film starts with the team causing 40,000€ of damage arresting a small group of robbers. Good results but rather expensive, and the new commander, Becker, is about to make changes. To complicate matters, the team's leader, Serge Buren, is having a relationship with Becker's wife, Margaux, who's on the team. Cartier is Buren's sidekick, a small man who certainly outperforms his stature.

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I Daniel Blake


I Daniel Blake

I didn't get to see this film at the cinema when it was released but it has recently been added to the Amazon Prime collection and I watched it yesterday evening. It was well publicised at the time of its release so I already had a fair idea of what it was about, but in actually viewing it I was still shocked at the portrayal of the current state of Britain's social welfare system. I accept it's a story and not a documentary, but reaction to the film when it was released, from those who had experienced the system, was overwhelmingly supportive of the fact that it was telling things very much as they are.

Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in Newcastle who is recovering from a heart attack. His cardiologist has told him that he isn't yet fit enough to return to work even though he would like to do so. Despite this, having undergone a 'work capability assessment' by a woman who is clearly reading from a script and has, it would appear, little medical expertise, he is deemed to be fit for work. Because of this he is denied unemployment support allowance and must instead apply for jobseekers allowance. He tries to explain that he has been told by his doctor that he can't work, but the bureaucratic machine is now in full swing and if he doesn't comply he will be sanctioned, which means he'll get nothing. He's given no choice other than to go to a presentation on how to produce a CV.

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Le Talent de Mes Amis


Le Talent de Mes Amis

It's been a while since I viewed a French language film from Amazon Prime, basically because for various reasons I haven't been using my exercise bike, and that's when I watch these films. I had been working through a watch list and had more or less exhausted it, this latest film being one of only a few unwatched. Intuitively I had a less than enthusiastic feel for it, and as it turns out my intuition was spot on. It's received poor reviews and according to Wikipédia (France) it only lasted a month on cinema screens after release. The opening sequence suggest that the film may turn out to be a bit of a song and dance affair, but this is purely a confusing distraction.

Alex Lutz plays the lead role. I knew nothing of him but it appears that he is well-known for a highly successful one-man theatre show, as well as being an actor and producer. For this film he sits in the director's chair for the first time, metaphorically of course as he is present most of the time on screen. This is yet another male mid-life crisis story but in this case we have three males, Lutz as Alexandre Ludon, his work mate Jeff, and a schoolfriend from the past, Thibaut. Alexandre and Jeff work for a large multinational and are bored with their lives. This manifests itself in childlike behaviour that is, quite frankly, too silly for words: infantile, in fact. Their wives, Carole and Cécile respectively, provide the sanity - quelle surprise! Carole is undergoing IVF treatment and Alexandre appears to have no understanding of what this means for her, his empathy quotient being somewhere just above zero. Jeff seems more switched on at home, but is certainly less so at work, where his behaviour verges on slapstick.

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John Wick


John Wick

I reviewed John Wick: Chapter 2 a while ago having seen it at the cinema. With the original now on Amazon Prime I thought I should fill in the back story.

Unsurprisingly this original is very similar to the second chapter, or should I say the second chapter continued the first. The plot is much the same, somebody seriously upsets John Wick and pays the ultimate price. On this occasion John has recently lost his wife and after the funeral he receives a cute puppy, called Daisy, something that his wife had arranged to give him so he could transfer his love. Filling his Mustang up with fuel, with puppy sitting in the passenger seat, another car rolls in with music blaring and a number of men who you know immediately are going to be trouble. The leader, Iosef, remarks on John's car and asks "how much?", to which John replies that it's not for sale. Iosef says something to John in Russian and is surprised when John replies in Russian. Not to be denied, the gang break into John's house that night and take him by surprise, stealing the car and killing Daisy.

Iosef is the son of Russian crime syndicate boss Viggo Tarasov, and while almost everybody realises the folly of upsetting John, Ioseph doesn't, and doesn't really care. His father soon acquaints him with John's reputation. When Iosef asks half-jokingly if John is the Bogeyman, his father says no, he's who you send to kill the Bogeyman. He goes on to say, "I saw him kill three men in a bar with a pencil - with a pencil!" From this point on Viggo's task is to stop John killing his son. Meanwhile, Aurelio, the owner of the garage where Iosef took John's car to have a new identity has contacted John, having thrown Iosef out after flooring him. John learns Iosef's identity from Aurelio and ignores Viggo's subsequent attempts to reach some sort of compromise.

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Hell or High Water


Hell or High Water

I missed this film at the cinema but it's just become available on Amazon Prime. I've not actually tagged it as a comedy but there is a wry humour throughout.

At the beginning of the film we're introduced to two brothers, Toby and Tanner, robbing a bank. There is a degree of amateurism about them and we immediately see that Tanner is the one leaning towards violence, while Toby seemingly wants to avoid any bloodshed. We later understand this difference, Toby being the 'clever' one of the two, while Tanner being an ex-con and basically a bit wild. The story becomes more interesting when we learn the reason for their criminal activity. Their mother is recently deceased and the Texas Midland Bank is looking to repossess her farm because of an outstanding reverse mortgage on the property. Thus we have the ironic situation whereby the brothers are stealing exclusively from Texas Midland to repay Texas Midland. A Robin Hood-esque sort of tale.

This, of course, tends to move ones sympathies to the brothers. But there is no such sympathy coming from Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton. On the cusp of retirement he immediately sees some interesting features to the thieves' MO. For a start, why are they only targeting Texas Midland. And why are the amounts stolen so small. Marcus, along with his native Indian partner Alberto are on the case. Hamilton's plan is to wait in what he regards as the next town to be robbed, having decided that the criminals were sure to come calling.

Meanwhile we learn a bit more about the two brothers. Toby is divorced, and his motive in all this is to provide a good life for his ex wife and two children. Tanner seems to be in it merely for the thrill of the game, at one point leaving Toby in a diner while he pops out impromptu to rob the bank across the road, resulting in a panicked escape leaving Toby in a state of disbelief.

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Miss Montigny


Miss Montigny

The Amazon summary of this film labelled it as comedy, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as such. In fact, in many ways it is quite sad, the ending in particular being a bit bitter sweet.

The story takes place in Montigny, a former mining town in Belgium. Sandrine is our central character who works in a supermarket promoting cheese but dreams of opening a beauty salon. She's already found a run-down premises, which her and her friend Gianna are trying to redecorate. Sandrine's mother Anna is very supportive, too much so as it ultimately turns out. Meanwhile, Anna's relationship with Sandrine's father isn't all that it should be and her life goal seems to be to help Sandrine succeed where she herself feels she has failed.

Raising money for the salon is proving to be difficult and, encouraged by her mother, Sandrine signs up for the Miss Montigny contest in the hope of winning and using the prize money to realise her dream. At the sign up, Sandrine and her friend Gianna fill in the forms, guessing their vital statistics. This bit of laxity ends up being a big mistake.

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Cousines


Cousines

I've tagged this as a French language film but it's actually Haitian and the dialogue is more of a creole, making it almost impossible for me to understand, give or take the occasional identifiable French phrases and words. It's also a very low budget film, with an estimated budget of $85,000 compared with an average of $100 million for a major studio movie. This is reflected in the production values with both sound and vision being less professional than we've perhaps come to expect. However, this should not be allowed to detract from this offering from the fledgling Haitian film industry, a country that doesn't enjoy the wealth of other nations.

Jessica is a young woman whose father is working in America. She rents a room from friends of her father, Margareth and Gasner, but early in the film she learns that her father has died. If this wasn't bad enough, Gasner is adamant that she must leave her room, since her father was paying the rent and without it, Gasner needed to rent the room to somebody else. Out on the street, Jessica goes to her cousin, Johanne, who takes her in. From there, Jessica visits her estranged mother, who is invalided, neither speaking nor, it would appear, hearing. Jessica realises that there is no place for her there, and returns to Johanne's.

Johanne has a number of 'boyfriends', her way of life really being nothing less than prostitution, although each boyfriend sees her as a future partner rather than a prostitute and she strings them along rather than treating them as clients. Jessica observes this but is non-judgemental. Johanne, on the other hand, is quick to advise Jessica that she should never follow the same path.

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Captain Fantastic


Captain Fantastic

You know you have an interesting film when the Guardian's film critic Peter Bradshaw awards it one star, while the Observer's critic, Mark Kermode, awards it four. Which of them is right ? This is certainly a unique sort of film, although our esteemed professional critics always seem to be able to make comparisons with earlier offerings. For me it was something different and although at times it stretched credibility, it certainly turned conventional wisdom on its head as far as raising children is concerned.

The film starts with a moving panorama of a forest in the Pacific Northwest, before zoning in a nervous deer browsing foliage. You just know this animal is going to meet a sticky end, but the manner of its demise makes you jump. A young man daubed with camouflage mud is the hunter and soon the rest of the family arrive, all similarly muddied, led by Ben, the father. This has been an initiation into manhood for Bodevan, the eldest son. If you think his name's odd, try the others: Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai, three girls and another two boys. The names were chosen to make them unique, each being the only person 'in the world' with that name. This exemplifies the philosophy that Ben adopts for his children, who he home schools in a forest encampment, where they all bunk out in a giant wigwam.

They hunt, trek, train in self-defence and climb sheer rock faces while amassing an enormous amount of book-based knowledge in their isolated existence, where the cult of social media, and the associated technology to access it, doesn't so much not exist as is totally unheard of. They speak multiple languages, critique literature at a level far beyond their years, wrestle with quantum physics, and much else. And they reject outright the world that exists outside their parochial existence.

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Five


Five

The name 'Five' isn't an English translation, but the original French title, which is a bit surprising.

The plot is a bit daft, as is much of the film. But it's meant to be a comedy and is indeed amusing. The language is coarse at times, probably more so if I could understand this very informal French. Subtitles tend to anglicise this type of speech, probably cleaning things up in the process.

Basically we have five friends, Samuel, Timothée, Vadim, Julia and Nestor, who have been together since childhood and always dreamed of sharing a place together. This dream materialises when Samuel offers to pay half the rent of a desirable apartment. Samuel's father thinks his son is at medical school and supports him financially on this basis. However, Samuel has a desire to be an actor and spends his time at theatre rehearsals, where he falls for the exquisitely French Maïa. Everything comes crashing down when Samuel goes to a garden party with his father and is called upon to treat a man who has collapsed. It soon becomes clear that he has no medical training whatsoever, cue for his father to cut him off, both physically and financially.

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Julieta


Julieta

Looking for a film to watch on Amazon Prime yesterday evening we decided on the well-reviewed Julieta. Not a French film this time, but Spanish, and a slight hiccup at the beginning when I had to work out how to display the missing subtitles.

The film starts with Julieta (Emma Suárez) packing to leave for Portugal, bubble-wrapping a small statuette the significance of which is revealed much later in the story. It is to be a new life with Lorenzo. But a chance meeting with a childhood friend of her estranged daughter stops her in her tracks. Beatriz (Bea), the friend, tells Julieta that she had met her daughter, Antía, in Switzerland, where she was living with three children. Julieta subsequently informs Lorenzo that she won't be going to Portugal, leaving him totally baffled.

We are then taken back to Juileta's youth, with Adriana Ugarte now playing the younger woman. She is on a train and declines an invitation to chat with a man who sits opposite, instead going to the lounge car. This results in two major emotional episodes, the first being that she meets Xoan, a fisherman, who will become her partner, and the second that the man she moved away from commits suicide, something for which she feels in some way responsible.

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Mon Roi (My King)


Mon Roi (My King)

Directed by French actress Maïwenn Le Besco, this film certainly offers a female perspective of what it must be like to be a woman in love with an absolute jerk. I felt sorry for her and embarrassed by his shameless mistreatment. Vincent Cassel plays the said jerk, Georgio, while Emmanuelle Bercot is his long suffering girlfriend/wife Tony.

The film starts in the mountains where Tony launches into an aggressive downhill ski slope, this being the prequel to us seeing her in convalescence recovering from a serious leg injury. During this recovery she reflects back on her relationship with Georgio, the good, the bad and the awful. In fact the film continually jumps between the convalescence home and their past, to the point that at the end I wasn't too sure what time frame I was watching.

Their relationship starts in a club, where Tony eyes Georgio, prior to flicking water in his face. In doing this she is emulating what she had seen him do years before, when she was serving in a bar. It was part of his chat-up technique. They are instantly attracted to each other and thus begins a fun-filled period, which is portrayed as being everything one could wish from a relationship. The only problem is that Georgio had a girlfriend, Agnès, a model, who calmly informs Tony that she has stolen her man. It transpires that Georgio has known quite a few models: quite a few women in fact. And Georgio hasn't quite fully broken off his relationship with Agnès, so when she attempts suicide and ends up seriously ill in hospital, Georgio starts to spend more and more time with her, and less with Tony.

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Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)


Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)

This film is set against the backdrop of the Algerian independence movement. It follows the life of three brothers from the end of the Second World War up to Algerian independence in 1962, although we are in fact first introduced to them when, as children, their father's land was taken away from the family in Algeria. The film has attracted controversy in respect of historical accuracy, with accusations that it portrays the French as the villains, while likening the Algerians to the Resistance during the War. I must say that I certainly came away with that feeling.

As adult brothers we are next introduced to the three of them, Messaoud, Abdelkader and Saïd, at a parade in the Algerian town of Sétif. This was on the morning of 8 May 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered. The film depicts the French forces opening fire on the marchers, the impression given that it was French aggression, while historical reports are more equivocal, indicating that there was aggression on both sides. Whatever the truth, it is acknowledged that this event was a turning point in Franco-Algerian relations, leading to the Algerian War of 1954-1962. In February 2005 the French ambassador to Algeria formally apologised for the massacre, referring to it as an "inexcusable tragedy".

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Pension complète (French Cuisine)


Pension complète (French Cuisine)

Another whimsical French comedy with a somewhat improbable plot, but that doesn't really matter. François and Charlotte run a gourmet hotel and restaurant, but while François is fixated on attaining his first Michelin star, Charlotte is feeling neglected. Charlotte's sister Pascale appears to be an almost permanent fixture, as well as being somewhat of an embarrassment with her devil-may-care approach to life. Early in the film we have the low point of François forgetting Charlotte's birthday and then trying to make amends with a rapidly conjured cake and a rendition of happy birthday from the staff. Charlotte is not impressed.

Into this already strained relationship comes Alex, Charlotte's former husband who was thought to have died in a tsunami. This clearly brings with it a few problems. First, there is the fact that as Alex isn't dead, he remains Charlotte's husband, nullifying her marriage to François. Second, and arguably more of a problem, is that Alex still legally owns the hotel, even though it was rebuilt and its image completely transformed after Alex disappeared. Third, and perhaps the biggest problem of all, is that Charlotte appears to be gravitating towards Alex and away from François. However, François reluctantly agrees to give Alex a room, allowing him continuing access to Charlotte. Full board, you might say, which is the literal translation of the French title.

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Eye in the Sky

I didn't get to see this film when it was at the cinema but caught up with it the other evening on Amazon Prime. It's a tense film that explores the modern day fight against terrorists by the use of armed drones and other technology. Some of the equipment shown is either pushing the envelope quite hard or purely fanciful. The high resolution cameras on the drone I can just about believe, as I can the camera mounted in an imitation humming bird on a wall outside the property under surveillance, but the flying bug was perhaps pushing things a bit too far. Even if I accept that such a thing exists, which it may well do, manoeuvring it as precisely as was shown in the film using just a smartphone sized controller seemed highly questionable. But let's forget the tech and consider the plot.

Eye in the Sky

Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell based at the Northwood control centre in Middlesex, UK. She is part of an international team monitoring Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi, Kenya. In Nevada a USAF team is controlling an armed drone while at Pearl Harbour the intelligence centre is responsible for identifying targets using incredibly fast, and accurate, facial recognition technology. Kenyan troops are also on standby and they have field operatives monitoring the target property. The weak point in the chain turns out to be a COBRA meeting attended by British Government ministers, the Attorney General and the long-suffering and very frustrated Lieutenant General Frank Benson, played brilliantly by the late Alan Rickman.

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Au nom de ma fille (Kalinka)

Another high quality French film that recounts a true story of how a father pursued justice for his daughter over 30 years. While many films that are based on real events come across as a bit over dramatised, this film has a very authentic feel to it and certainly seems to adhere very closely to the actual events of this case.

Au nom de ma fille (Kalinka)

André and Danièle Bamberki have two children, a son and a daughter, Kalinka. We're introduced to them at their home in Casablanca, Morocco. Dieter Krombach is a German doctor who helps the family when their car goes off the road, injuring Kalinka. After this episode he becomes very attentive towards Danièle and they end up having an affair. André discovers German language learning tapes at home and this alerts him to what's going on. Despite Danièle saying that the affair was over, André remains suspicious and once more finds that she is with Krombach. This leads to their divorce.

The children go to visit their mother in her new home with Krombach in Germany. While there Kalinka mysteriously dies, aged only 14, allegedly as a result of an injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit (cobalt-iron), given by Krombach supposedly to help her tan. André is, however, suspicious and obtains the autopsy report. This indicates that his daughter may have been sexually assaulted. From this point on he is convinced that Krombach isn't telling the truth and sets out to uncover exactly what happened. His daughters body is exhumed and a further autopsy shows that the sexual organs had been removed, a fact that further deepens his suspicion.

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Gemma Bovery

I had read about this film when it was released and although it wasn't included in Amazon's free Prime offers, I decided to fork out £3.49 to see it. The attraction was that it had a fair amount of French dialogue and it stars Gemma Arteton, who I find very attractive.

Gemma Bovery

The plot involves a baker, Martin, who, having eschewed the life as a publisher in Paris, has returned to his little home town to run his late father's bakery. Onto the scene arrives Gemma Bovery and Charles her husband, an English couple who have bought a rundown house opposite the baker's home. Martin is immediately taken with Gemma, constantly looking at her to the point of leering - "goodbye to sexual tranquility". But that's not his only interest in her. He is fascinated by the fact that a 'Bovery' has moved into the area, the very region where Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary, was born, and where his famous novel was set.

His fascination deepens when Gemma appears to be having a liaison with a young man, Hervé, whose family is local aristocracy. The parallels with Flaubert's novel intrigue Martin. He imagines himself as a director of a film and casts these characters into their present roles. To Martin the parallels with the Madame Bovary novel are glaringly obvious, even if they're not so to his wife and son. Emma and Charles from the novel become Gemma and Charles. In the novel Emma's romantic involvements don't end well, and Martin fears that the same fate awaits Gemma. He therefore takes steps to try to end her affair with Hervè.

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L'Hermine (Courted)

Amazon currently has a number of very good films on offer that are free to watch for Prime members. The latest on my watchlist is L'Hermine, referring to the attire of the criminal court judge in this courtroom drama. The English title, Courted, is a play on words, referring obviously to the court, while also alluding to the romantic story that runs in parallel with the progress of the trial.

L'Hermine (Courted)

Michel Racine is the judge, or more correctly in the French criminal court (cour d'assises), le président of the court. A fact that he takes pains to point out to a number of the witnesses, who mistakingly address him as Monsieur Judge. He has a ruthless reputation, not improved by having a touch of the flu, and is about to try a case where a young man is accused of killing his baby daughter by kicking her. We are shown the preliminaries of the case, including the selection of jurors. During this process, whereby the judge picks names from a pot, the name Ditte Lorensen-Coteret comes out, causing an immediate change in the judge's demeanour. There is obviously history between them.

The trial commences and a recess is called much earlier than usual, caused it seems by Judge Racine's encounter with Ditte. When things recommence the accused, Martial Beclin, refuses to answer any questions, simply saying in response to each that he didn't kill his daughter. The trial progresses with evidence from witnesses and interventions by the lawyers for each side, but it is interesting how the judge himself also asks searching questions. Also, before each witness is dismissed from the stand the jurors are also given the opportunity to ask questions.

During a lunch break Racine contacts Ditte by SMS and eventually they arrange to meet. Apparently such a meeting between the judge and a juror is not illegal but highly unusual. It transpires that Ditte, a nurse, looked after Racine after a serious accident, following which he had effectively fallen in love with her. Attempts then to stay in contact with her had failed. He doesn't want this second encounter to end in the same way and expresses his love for her, while she remains noticeably noncommittal. At a subsequent meeting between them, Ditte's 17 year old daughter is there, having unexpectedly come to court to watch proceedings. Racine and her actually get along very well, although she does take a call when he's part way through reciting verse, prompting him to remark that she obviously wasn't impressed by the poet.

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Un Homme Idéal

This film scored highly on Amazon Prime and received 100%/79% scores from the critics/audience at Rotten Tomatoes, which isn't a bad recommendation.

Un Homme Idéal

Mathieu Vasseur dreams of being an author while he works shifting boxes in a dead end job. Soon after we're introduced to him, his latest manuscript is rejected by the publishers. Then a strange thing happens. While carrying out a house clearance of a deceased elderly man, who they are told has no family, he comes across a journal that was written during the Algerian conflict. Complete with sketches and photographs it's not only a wonderful record, but it's also a credible piece of writing. Mathieu decides to copy it and submit it as his own work. The result is astounding, the publisher telephoning to compliment him and seek a meeting. This he defers to give himself time to put together some credible research materials and acquaint himself more fully with the Algerian conflict.

The book is a phenomenal success, and at a reception organised in his honour one gets the impression that some people have doubts about his ability to write such a book at a young age, with limited life experience. But he carries it off, and what's more he meets a young woman, Alice Fursac, a literary expert who he first saw when he peeked in on a lecture at a college where he was collecting stuff as part of his job. Inevitably he and Alice become an item, and we jump forward to see them on the way to visit her parents, a wealthy couple who live in a mansion in the south of France. The credits include reference to La Seyne-sur-Mer in the Var Department of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

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The Hateful Eight

I missed this film when it was on at the cinema and we caught up with it on Amazon Prime this week. It's classic Tarantino: lots of violence and blood but with an underlying humour throughout. As Mark Kermode said in his Observer review, "Hard to hate but tough to love."

The Hateful Eight

It's a long film presented in 'chapters', the first of which is 'Last Stage to Red Rock.' As the stagecoach crosses the breathtaking winter landscape, magnificently filmed, it encounters Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter with three corpses to transport. At this point we're also introduced to the passengers in the stagecoach, John 'Hangman' Ruth, and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue. After a bit of negotiation, and with an obvious reluctance, Ruth agrees to Warren accompanying them. The reluctance is because Ruth's passion for bringing prisoners in alive, so they can hang, exposes him to far greater risk than if he were to bring them in dead.

Further along the road they encounter and pick up Chris Mannix, a former confederate marauder who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock, a claim rubbished by Ruth who regards him more as a criminal than a lawman. This 'yes I am, no you're not' banter continues between the two of them.

As the coach makes its way, trying desperately to outrun a blizzard, we're treated to a greater insight into its occupants, and also some gratuitous violence by Ruth towards Daisy. To him she's a murderer who deserves no special womanly treatment. In time they arrive at Minnie's Haberdashery, an isolated outpost that receives weary travellers. One is bound to ask why there would be a haberdashery store in the middle of nowhere.

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Dans La Cour

I'm working my way through the French language films on Amazon Prime and from the brief summary on screen I expected this to be another light comedy. It's billed under comedy and drama but the story is for the most part a bit sombre, and the ending is far from funny. That said, there is some humour along the way.

Dans La Cour

Antoine is a seriously depressed singer with a rock band and the film begins with him walking out of that life, literally. Unskilled, and of a somewhat sullen disposition, he finds it difficult to find and hold down a job. A woman at the job centre (agence d'intérim) suggests a job as a caretaker (guardien) at an apartment block, which comes with accommodation. He gets the job, not as a result of his interview which is far from sparkling, but because the landlord's wife, Mathilde, played by Catherine Deneuve, takes a rather instant liking to him. Mathilde, as it turns out, is also depressed, worrying herself awake at nights because of a growing crack in one of the walls.

Antione and Mathilde are thus somewhat like souls, and as he struggles with life, not helped by drinking and taking drugs, she becomes more and more obsessed with the state of the building. A particularly annoying tenant, Laurent, is continually bothering Antoine, while another young man, Stéphane, who also lives in one of the flats, presents problems by storing a number of probably stolen bicycles in the courtyard, one of Laurent's bugbears. Then Lev arrives, selling self-help books on meditation, and Antoine, feeling sorry for him, ends up allowing him to stay in the storeroom. Lev has a dog, and the night time barking becomes another source of complaints from Laurent. Thus Antoine's desire to have a quiet life turns out not to be realised. The comedy aspect of this film lies in these many interactions.

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L'Edudiante et Monsieur Henri

Claude Brasseur plays Henri, a curmudgeonly old man living alone in a Paris apartment. Constance, played by Noémie Schmidt, arrives to rent a room. Henri is far from welcoming, the room having been put up for rent by his son, with whom he doesn't really get on. Constance isn't hopeful that she will get the room, but she does, only because Henri apparently picked her name out of a hat, or so he says.

L'Etudiante et Monsieur Henri

Constance is in Paris to study, her parents being market traders in Orléans. There is a piano in the flat that's strictly off limits to Constance, which is a pity since she plays. We learn that her music teacher in Orléans discouraged her, thus her attempt to study academically, a forlorn attempt as it turns out when she fails her examinations. We also learn that Henri's wife, long deceased, played, thus Henri's sensitivity on the matter. During a visit by Henri's son, Paul, his wife, Valerie, asks Constance to play the piano. Henri relents in the circumstances but as Constance plays Henri is moved to tears, but he realises that Constance has talent.

Henri doesn't like Valerie and plots a devilish scheme to get Paul to realise that she isn't the woman for him. Henri asks Constance to seduce Paul. Not to the point of anything serious happening, but to make him realise that there are better choices for him. Constance doesn't want to do this, but a bit of less than gentle persuasion by Henri, along the lines of "if you don't do it you must leave', causes Constance to play along with the scheme. It turns out to be a bit too successful as Paul falls for Constance (who wouldn't?), while his wife leaves him and starts divorce proceedings.

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Une Famille à Louer

My latest French language film is a good bit lighter than the last (Éperdument). This time we have an entirely improbable scenario but, in the time-honoured fashion of French films, the characterisations make it appear believable while providing a good deal of amusement.

Une Famille à Louer

Paul-André is a businessman who in making lots of money from software development burnt himself out. He now lives in a palatial if somewhat boring mansion with his butler, appearing to be constantly morose although denying that is the case. Violette is a single mum with two children and has just been released from remand after assaulting a supermarket security guard, who caught her stealing a chicken to feed her family. She is broke and under threat of losing her children to care. Interviewed on TV she makes a heartfelt appeal about the importance of the family and not wanting to lose her children.

Paul-André catches this interview and has the brilliant idea of helping Violette, by paying her debts and renting her family. As I've said, the plot is improbable. His reason is that he wants to experience having a family before committing to have his own. Having dispensed with the assurance that he is not looking for a relationship with Violette, a contract is drawn up for a three-month trial. Violette insists, however, that he lives with them. So we see Paul-André leaving his mansion to move into a house that has the appearance of a shanty.

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Down by Love (Eperdument)

The French title of this film, Éperdument (madly / head over heels), perhaps conveys its story better than the English one. It's based on what was a quite recent real life event, when in 2012 a prison governor, Florent Gonçalves, was jailed for a year after having sexual relations with one of the female inmates at a remand centre at Versailles. The woman concerned, Emma, had been part of a gang that carried out a horrific assault on a young Jewish man who died of his injuries. The governor had a brilliant career in front of him, being at that time the youngest in that position.

The film takes a somewhat more sanitised view of this affair. The woman is named Anna in this dramatisation and we are never told what her crime was, while the governor is Jean Firmino. The casting of Guillaume Gallienne as the governor provides a remarkable likeness to Gonçalves (second photo). Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Anna.

Down by Love (Eperdument)

The way the story is told suggests that what started as a fascination between the two of them slowly developed into a deeper relationship, leading to the point where he was infatuated, thus the film title, jeopardising his job and ruining his relationship with his wife. In the real life story, Emma had lured the young Jewish man to his death, suggesting she was somewhat of a seductress. In the film Anna is shown as falling for Jean rather than overtly seducing him, although at one point she does pose topless for an art session while he is watching, the class being taken rather bizarrely by his wife, who also works in the prison. In fact at this point his wife begins to suspect that there is something between them. However, at an earlier point in the story Anna asks to be transferred because she feared things were getting too serious, and much later she says to her mother that she didn't want Jean to lose his job, or to be responsible for breaking up his family. She certainly doesn't come across as a classic femme fatale.

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April and the Extraordinary World

It was my birthday on Tuesday and we sat down to watch a film of my choice on Amazon Prime. Based on reviews I chose this French animated film that has the appearance of the bande dessinée comic books that are popular in France, and a story line that it well fitted to a comic strip. We are treated to an alternative world that is the result of a failed scientific experiment in the time of Napoleon III that results in his demise. The development of a serum to make the Emperor's troops invincible creates instead talking animals and two talking reptiles that escape the explosion that finished him off.

April and the Extraordinary World

The story recommences in 1931. Napoleon V now rules and all the renowned scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have disappeared. This alternative world has not, therefore, benefitted from their discoveries, and steam power is the prevalent technology. We are introduced to a young girl called April, who watches her parents try to recreate the invincibility serum, but the authorities want to get their hands on it and the resulting chase ends tragically with her parents' death within a strange black storm cloud.

By 1941 April has grown up and takes up the challenge of the serum, working in a hidden laboratory in the head of a statue. But she is still pursued by the authorities. She has a cat, Darwin, a speaking cat of course. She eventually develops the serum and tries it on Darwin, who is seriously unwell, but it doesn't seem to work. Thinking Darwin has died, in anger she throws things about the lab, among which is a snow globe given to her by her mother, but which actually was filled with the original serum. Darwin licks a bit of the leaking liquid and revives.

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The Concert

Back to the French films on Amazon, although this one starts in Moscow and the first 40 minutes or so are largely in Russian, with subtitles of course.

The Concert

Dismissed from the Bolshoi orchestra thirty years earlier, for hiring Jewish musicians, Andrei Filipov has a cleaning job at the Bolshoi but his mind is still on the stage, conducting his beloved music. By chance he intercepts a fax from Paris inviting the Bolshoi to perform at the Châtelet Theatre and at that moment decides to reconstitute his old orchestra and go to Paris impersonating the Bolshoi. Getting the musicians back together is no easy task and neither is finding a manager and backer. At times one feels the whole venture is going to fall apart, particularly when we find out that none of the musicians has a valid passport. However, Gypsy friends are at hand, and we witness the musicians lining up in the airport departure hall with their photographs from the photo kiosk, as the Gypsies stick the photos in each 'new' passport and officially stamp it. The interest of an inquisitive police officer is soon dealt with!

We arrive in Paris about halfway through the film, where a prominent violin soloist, Anne-Marie Jacquet, has been requested to play Tchaikovsky's violin concerto with the orchestra. The reason for this choice becomes apparent when we learn that there is history between soloist's manager, Guylène, and Filipov, and that Anne-Marie has a history of which she has never been made aware. The disorganisation that prevailed before the group left Moscow doesn't improve on its arrival in Paris. In fact, once each of them is given some money in advance, they disappear on the town and don't turn up for the first rehearsal. Things are not looking good.

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Our Kind of Traitor

Skimming through Amazon Prime the other evening we came across this film, which was a bit surprising as it was only released in May 2016. However, during the lead-in Amazon Prime were credited along with other producers, so that perhaps explains things.

Our Kind of Traitor

I remember seeing the trailer at the cinema so had an inkling about the story. It's based on a John le Carré novel, so the pedigree was good.

The prologue treats us to some shady goings on involving the Russian mafia, leading to gangland executions of an apparently respectable family. This cues the main story involving Dima, a mafia money man who has become a target of his new boss, The Prince, and seeks a way to protect his family from what he sees as the inevitable outcome. To do this he befriends an innocent holiday maker, Perry, who's on holiday in Morocco with his barrister wife, Gail, she being rather too involved in her work and leaving Perry to his own devices. Dima sees Perry as an incorruptible 'good man' and entrusts him to carry information back to MI6 in Britain, as a trade for the safety of Dima's family. Unfortunately the mafia has a highly placed politician in Britain that can thwart these plans, but a tenacious MI6 agent, Hector, is prepared to ignore his superiors' orders and pursue Dima's offer. He co-opts Perry and Gail who at first are reluctant to agree to help, but as time passes Perry, and then Gail, begin to feel sympathy for Dima, despite his mafia connections and his violent background.

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Comme un Avion

My latest French film viewing on Amazon Prime. It fascinates me how the English titles of French films are often far removed from the original French. In this case 'Comme un Avion' becomes 'The Sweet Escape'. I can see the reasoning behind each, the change presumably reflecting the distributors take on the different cultures.

Comme un Avion

Michel dreams of being an airmail pilot and spends quite a lot of time walking around with a model plane in his hand simulating flying. Thus you can see where Comme un Avion (as a plane) comes from. Despite being bought flying lessons for his birthday, one suspects that he realises that he will never be an aviator, so when he spots an advert on line for a kayak, his attention is immediately drawn to the similarities of cruising along in a plane and cruising along in a kayak. So he buys the kayak and plans a self-sufficient adventure, having had no training other than practising by walking around on his roof terrace with the frame of the kayak suspended about him as he pretends to paddle.

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Les Anarchistes

I'm back to watching French films on Amazon Prime while I'm on my exercise bike. I've had a break while I watched Season 3 of Arrow, which quite frankly has started to become a bit too daft as they try to develop new plot lines. Everyone's turning into a superhero of sorts!

Anyway, back to Les Anarchistes. As the Guardian reviewer said, "…. a film that couldn’t be any more French if it tried." It opened the Canne's Critics Week in 2015. Set in Paris in 1899, Jean Albertini is a normal policeman who is taken aside by a superior and asked to infiltrate an anarchists' group. He gets himself a job at the nail factory, a hellish sort of place where the workers have plenty to grumble about, and where members of the group are employed. He strikes up a particular friendship with Elisée Mayer, after 'saving' him during a police raid, which itself was a set-up to enable Jean to prove his loyalty to the group.

Les Anarchistes

While Elisée clearly trusts Jean, other members of the group are less sure. Elisée seems not to be in the best of health, and his girlfriend, Judith, soon starts to develop an interest in Jean, feelings that Jean willingly reciprocates. We therefore have the classic dilemma of the infiltrator having split loyalties between his police role and his feelings for Judith.

The anarchists exploits become more and more daring, while Jean continues to feed intelligence to his superior. We see Jean becoming concerned as he is obliged to participate in criminality and at one point asks to be taken off the case, a request that is firmly rejected. The dichotomy has to come to an end and as you may imagine there isn't a clean solution.

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Martyrs

The Telegraph's headline for the review of this film is "Why Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is the greatest horror film of the 21st century". Meanwhile other critics have not been impressed, the Observer dismissing it with only two lines. It is probably the most horrific film I have ever watched.

Martyrs

It's difficult to review as any spoilers will make watching it almost pointless, unless you just want to witness the horror. It starts with a young girl, Lucy, managing to escape from painful captivity in an abandoned building. She is sent to a Catholic orphanage where she is befriended by Anna, who quickly realises that her quiet new friend is haunted by her experience, believing that monsters are attacking her.

The film moves on and the girls are now young women. Lucy believes that she has tracked down her tormentor from the days of her incarceration and dispenses summary justice to the woman and her family. She contacts Anna and at this point, about half way through the film, one doesn't really know what is going to happen next. What does happen is both surprising and shocking, and the second part of the film reveals why Lucy was taken as a child, and this time it is Anna who is to suffer.

As with many horror films religion plays a part, a big part in fact, but not perhaps in the way you may imagine. This is religion at its most fundamental, reminiscent of medieval times, where its proponents seek the ultimate truth and are prepared to inflict great suffering to satisfy their curiosity. And when the truth is extracted? Watch the film, but not if you are of a nervous disposition.

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Potiche

In the list of French films on Amazon Prime, Potiche has figured large for quite a while now, so I thought I should give it a try. Une potiche is a decorated porcelain vase, but in familiar language it can mean a trophy wife.

Potiche

Catherine Deneuve plays Madame Suzanne Pujol, the trophy wife in this French comedy. Set in the 70s, Mme Pujol sits at home while her husband, Robert, runs the family umbrella business, a business started by Suzanne's late father. Robert is a mean-minded boss, a philanderer, and treats his wife as a know-nothing. They have two adult children, Joëlle, who is unhappy in her marriage and as uncompromising as her father, and Laurent, who is a left wing idealist.

Robert's management style has led to a strike and his bombastic attempts to resolve it have laid him low, requiring him to convalesce. It unexpectedly falls to Suzanne to meet the strikers and try to resolve matters. She seeks the help of the mayor, and member of parliament, Maurice Babin (played by Gérard Depardieu), there being a 'connection' between them. He paves the way and her conciliatory approach, treating the workers almost as family, soon wins their trust. Laurent is co-opted to use his design skills to enhance the product range while Joëlle also gets a job, but doesn't quite accept the new philosophies - her father's daughter, as they say.

It all moves along with much humour and careful attention to the period in which it is set. Delightful, in fact.

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Chaos

Chaost
Back to the exercise bike and another French film, this time Chaos.
I'm not sure how to categorise this film. In parts it's quite brutal, but I think it passes as a comedie noire.

The film opens with a bourgeois couple, Paul and Hélène, he a totally self-absorbed business man, and she the working wife who takes care of everything else. They are dashing off somewhere when a woman runs down the middle of the road towards their car screaming for them to open the door. Paul promptly locks it, and the three men chasing the woman proceed to beat her mercilessly, leaving a bloodstain on the car's windscreen and her in the gutter. Hélène wants to get out and help, but Paul's having nothing of it, his priority being to drive to the nearest carwash.

Hélène is haunted by what has happened and finds out to which hospital the woman was taken, where she pretends to be a friend. The woman, Noémie (aka Malika) is in a coma, suffers a cardiac arrest and the medical staff can't say whether she will be partially paralysed. Hélène talks the hospital staff into allowing her to stay at the hospital, where she devotes herself to helping Noémie recover. It's a slow job, and not helped when the thugs find out that their victim is alive, and make an attempt to abduct her. Hélène, however, turns out to be quite a resourceful protector, and after a second attempt to abduct Noémie, Hélène spirits her off to her mother-in-law's. (The mother-in-law's relationship with her son, Hélène's husband, is another subplot.)

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Barbecue

Back to the exercise bike and therefore back to watching French films on Amazon Prime.

The latest was Barbecue, a lightweight comedy that has hardly inspired the critics. Lambert Wilson who plays the lead character, Antoine Chevalier, is singled out for doing a good job in a lacklustre film.

So what did I think?

Well it wasn't all that bad. It made me laugh and I found the characters a lot more believable than in some Hollywood light comedies.

Barbecue


Laurent - Baptiste - Olivia - Yves - Antoine - Jean-Michel



Antoine, the vain, philandering scion of a family firm, is someone who has done all the right things to keep healthy, but suffers a heart attack during a fun run just before his 50th birthday. When his surgeon gives him advice on following a healthy lifestyle, he replies that he had already done all that, and look what happened. So he decides instead to leave work, eat the wrong things, drink more and smoke when he feels like it, much to the annoyance of his doctor wife, Véronique.

The film revolves around three couples and a single friend, Jean-Michel. They were at college together and meet up regularly, the barbecue title of the film referring to the opening sequence when they are enjoying one of their get-togethers.

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Alléluia

Back to the Amazon Prime movies and the latest was Alléluia, a Belgian made French language film. It's been on my watchlist for a while, but I had avoided it up to now as it looked a bit sinister. My suspicions in this respect proved to be correct.

Alléluia

Michel is a serial womaniser who charms his way into relationships for the sexual experience and then to con money out of his victims. Gloria, who works in a morgue, is his latest conquest, and he leaves her after extracting money for a fictitious shoe company that he invented for the purpose. But Gloria isn't like the rest, she tracks him down and rather than take him to task, proposes that he continues with his exploits while staying with her as his true partner. This was always doomed to fail, and it does spectacularly.

Michel then woos and marries Marguerite, a lovely jolly woman who believes Gloria to be Michel's sister, although she soon begins to worry about their level of sibling intimacy. The foreplay before relieving Marguerite of her money naturally involves sex, at which point Gloria completely loses it. What follows is shocking in the extreme, be warned.

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Grand Central

Because we're puppy sitting, which entails a couple of walks a day, I haven't been on the exercise bike much, and as a result I haven't been watching French films, which I usually do while exercising.

I did, however, manage to finish watching Grand Central. A 'Central' in French is a power station, and Grand Central is a nuclear plant. An unlikely setting for a story of romance, but in the hands of the French female director/screenwriter Rebecca Zlotowski it works.

Gary, played by Tahar Rahim (Un Prophet), is a casual worker looking for a job. The interview for the power station is no more than a formality, as there aren't that many people who want to work in highly radioactive areas. He joins a team led by Toni (Denis Ménochet) and is soon introduced to Toni's fiancé, Karole (Léa Seydoux), who has a novel way of showing Gary what over exposure to radioactivity is like. At their first meeting, before he knows who she is, she kisses him passionately while explaining that he is probably feeling fear, blurred vision, head spinning, legs shaking - and that's just a small dose! An interesting analogy. Of course, the inevitable happens, as Gary and Karole start an affair.

Grand Central

The film concentrates on the close group of workers who exist almost outside normal society. Gary appears uneasy when he's with Toni, presumably because of guilt, but he ends up rescuing Toni after his airline becomes detached, resulting in Gary receiving a high dose of radiation when he removes his protective gloves. I wasn't sure at one point whether Gary was contemplating letting Toni suffocate, and I felt that Toni also harboured the same fear.

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Suzanne

My French film season continues courtesy of Amazon Prime. This week the film was Suzanne, the story of a young woman's life from childhood, albeit that the film jumps large periods of time as her story unfolds.

I didn't know what to expect from this film. It starts at a children's dance show where Suzanne is with her father, watching her elder sister, Maria. We soon learn that their mum has died young, although we never learn why. The father, Nicolas, an HGV driver, is doing his best to bring up the two girls. At first Maria appears to be the 'wild child', but it is Suzanne who becomes pregnant and has the child, much to her father's shame.

Suzanne

Suzanne then meet Julien and he becomes the centre of her life, to the extent that she leaves her child, Charlie, with her father. But Charlie is taken into the care of foster parents as Nicolas's job means he is away from home for long periods.

Next we jump to a court hearing, where Suzanne is charged with theft and assault in relation to acts carried out with Julien, who fled justice and left her to carry the can. She is sentenced to five years in prison. While her father becomes almost estranged, her sister continues to support her.

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En Équilibre

Another French film from Amazon Prime. This time a love story but far from conventional.

Marc Guermont is a stunt horseman who is seriously injured during a scene. The take involves the horse and rider falling but after successfully doing this the horse, Othello, stamps on Marc's spine having been spooked by a dog. As a consequence he is left a T10 paraplegic.

Florence Kernel is the insurance assessor sent to settle his claim. Marc had already 'thrown out' the previous assessor when he had arrived at the hospital, and Florence had been sent to try a more gentle approach. But Marc felt that he was being short-changed and refused an early settlement. Florence, meanwhile, seemed to be beguiled by Marc's philosophy of life. A classical music lover, he questioned why she hadn't pursued her ambition to be a concert pianist, and this left her questioning her current life.

En Équilibre

She had clearly developed strong feelings for Marc and one is left with the impression that her marriage and family were no longer satisfying her. She is taken off Marc's case, as the company wants a fast settlement, and it stops his interim payments to pressurise him. Florence takes the unusual step of recommending a lawyer, an old college friend, and Marc realises that her interest in him perhaps extends beyond the professional-client relationship.

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Une histoire d'amour

Working through the Amazon Prime list of French films I came to this one. It's very dark and certainly not easy to follow. Reviews were poor and I can see why. It was the debut feature from actress-turned-filmmaker Hélène Fillières and based on a novel by Régis Jauffret -- itself inspired by the murder of financial tycoon Edouard Stern.

Une histoire d'amour

There are really only three characters, who we simply know as the banker, the young woman and, although it isn't clear who he is at first, her husband. The young woman is played by Laetitia Casta, a sultry brunette, while her husband is far from young. She is having a relationship with the banker, who's a masochist and not a very nice person. Her husband is fully aware but I wasn't quite clear about her and his motives, other than perhaps a promised $1m gift.

The title translates as "A Love Story", but there doesn't appear to be much love about. She plays the dominatrix, reversing their real life roles where he is all powerful and she is the slave. Some of the scenes are extremely sensual but certainly not loving. All along he either refers to her as a pute (whore) or a muse, while she seems to be strangely attracted to him. Although I've not read or seen Fifty Shades of Grey, from what I've heard there are probably some similarities with this story. The film jumps about in time and you certainly have to pay attention and concentrate quite hard to fill in the gaps.

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Chic

Helen spotted this film on my Amazon Prime watch list, where I had added a number of French films without paying too much attention as to what they were about. As this one has a fashion theme, it appealed to her, and I didn't mind as I could listen to the French. As it happens the 'French' was tricky to put it mildly, much of it delivered at speed and hardly text book.

Chic

The story is whimsical, reflecting perhaps the fashion industry. Alicia Ricosi, played by Fanny Ardent, is a top fashion designer who's in the doldrums after a break up with her beau. Her assistant, Heléne, is given the job by the fashion house manager, Alan, of restoring Alicia's interest in her work by finding her a new man. This fails miserably, but by chance Alicia meets up with Heléne's Breton landscape gardner, who Heléne has in fact recently fired, and he proves to be the muse that Alicia has been looking for - two artistic types, if you get the drift.

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Pauline à la plage

Yet another French film from Amazon Prime. Made in 1983, I found the acting a bit wooden, but given that the Rotten Tomatoes review awards it 100% from the critics (87% audience), who am I to judge?

I believe that the acclaim for the film probably rests with the fame of its director, Éric Rohmer, described by the Daily Telegraph after his death in 2010 as "the most durable film-maker of the French New Wave", and with his characterisation of the four principal people.

Pauline à la plage

Pauline arrives with her older cousin Marion at the family holiday home on the coast of north-west France. They soon meet up with an ex boyfriend of Marion, Pierre, who is clearly overjoyed to see her again, and hopes to renew their partnership. But Marion has other ideas, and is soon involved with Henri, an older man who is clearly a bit of a womaniser, and to whom Pierre takes an instant dislike.

Pauline, meanwhile, is observing all of this, while having also struck up a friendship with a local lad, Sylvain. Marion's not too keen on Sylvain, while at the same time she is pursuing what is clearly an affair with Henri that's going nowhere. Her advice to Pauline is, therefore, somewhat hypocritical, and doesn't carry much weight.

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La Jalousie

Today's Amazon Prime film was a bit more challenging than the comedy I reported on yesterday.

Set in Paris, and filmed in extremely contrasty black and white, I believe it fits the genre referred to as New Wave.

La Jalousie

It begins with Louis leaving his partner, Clothilde, with whom he has a daughter, Charlotte, to start a new relationship with Claudia. He and Claudia are both actors, although Claudia isn't working and is somewhat depressed because of this. They live in a garret, which while may sound very romantic, is actually depressing for Claudia who wants something better. Louis says he loves Claudia and can't live without her, although this doesn't stop him flirting with a woman at the theatre where he is working, nor with a woman in the cinema. Meanwhile Claudia seems even less interested in a monogamous relationship, casually picking someone up in a bar.

The film's title is fitting, as Clothilde is jealous, for obvious reasons, while both Louis and Claudia exhibit feelings of jealousy, each it seems suspecting the other of infidelity. That was my reading of the situation but I may have got it wrong.

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Une Heure de Tranquillité

Michel finds a rare jazz album at the flea market and can't wait to get back to the flat to listen to it. For the next 80 minutes everything that could happen to stop him listening to his album does.

Une Heure de Tranquillité

His wife, Nathalie, has something important to tell him (she had been unfaithful) but he doesn't want to hear it. The Polish builders, who turn out to be Portuguese, flood a room, as well as the apartment underneath. Michel's son is housing illegal immigrants in the maids' quarters upstairs. The flooded neighbour redirects party guests to Michel's apartment. Oh, and Nathalie's best friend arrives to confess to having an affair with Michel. What does a man have to do to listen to his record?

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La Proie (The Prey)

I was so keen to see the end of this film that I prolonged my exercise bike session until it had finished. Well over an hour and a half. I normally watch a film over two sessions.

This was another Amazon Prime offering and I must say that the French films that I've watched on Prime so far have all been very good. This was no exception.

La Proie (The Prey)

Franck Adrien, a convicted bank robber, shares a cell with John-Louis Maurel, who's been accused of rape but professes his innocence. Adrien is the only one who knows where the bank heist loot is hidden and a group of other prisoners are intent on making him reveal where it's hidden. With the collusion of the guards Adrien is continually physically harassed by these prisoners.

Maurel is also a victim of harassment, but in his case because of his crime. At one point Adrien defends him, and when it transpires that Maurel is to be released, because his accuser has supposedly retracted her evidence, Adrien asks him to convey a message to his wife, this being a coded message that will allow her to find the loot.

Maurel, however, is far from innocent, and he and his wife collude to abscond with Adrien's young daughter, illegally adopting her as their own child, while also making off with the bank money. Adrien is visited by a former gendarme who tells him of his fears about Maurel being a serial sex offender and worried for his family's safety, Adrien escapes prison and sets out to find Maurel.

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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Yet another film from Amazon Prime, this time an adaptation of Jacques Tardi's comic book series. So it's certainly on the light side, you could even say silly, but it has a strong pedigree being a film by Luc Besson.

The cinematography seems almost to simulate a graphic strip, to the extent that when the film started I wasn't sure if it was real or animated, although this confusion didn't last long.

This film is pure comedy. The eponymous heroin is an author with a twin sister who suffered a serious injury during a tennis match, leaving her in bed on a drip with a hat pin though her head. I'm sure such an injury would be fatal but this is a fantasy, so stay with it.

Adèle, who should be in Peru researching her new book, is in fact in Egypt to recover the mummy of the doctor to the Pharos, whom she believes could help her sister. The small problem of the mummy being long since deceased is to be overcome with the help of a 'mad' scientist who has already resurrected a pterodactyl from its egg in a Paris museum; so a mummy should be easy.

Unfortunately the pterodactyl is causing mayhem, including the death of a politician and his mistress, so the scientist has been arrested and sentenced to death. Such problems are not insurmountable for Adèle, who embarks on a succession of hare-brain schemes to release the scientist, after her appeal to the French president fails, spectacularly! The president's dog is called Nelson, which rather amused me.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

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Les Adoptés

I'm gradually working my way through the French films that are free to view on Amazon Prime. The latest was Les Adoptés. Mélanie Laurent, who co-wrote the screenplay, directs and stars in this film. Not surprisingly, it's a film with a very female perspective.

Les Adoptés

Perhaps I'm biased, but French films seem to get under the skin of personal relationships far more convincingly than many American ones. Lisa (Mélanie Laurent), a single mum with a little boy, has an adopted sister, Marine (Marie Denarnaud), and the two of them enjoy a close relationship more symptomatic of twins than of a sister and an adopted sister. When Marine falls in love with Alex (Denis Ménochet) this relationship is destabilised, and Lisa takes a dislike to Alex. Their mother, Millie (Clémentine Célarié) is the voice of reason as the two sisters struggle to come to terms with a new set of emotions.

Marine and Alex go through a bit of a bad patch but make up, only for tragedy to strike. With Marine hospitalised, and in a serious condition, Lisa and Alex gradually warm to each other, Alex becoming a sort of a father figure for Lisa's son, Léo, brilliantly played by Théodore Maquet-Foucher.

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Belle & Sébastien

Belle & Sébastien is my latest viewing on Amazon Prime. This is a beautiful French film with the absolutely stunning backdrop of the French Alps.

The film starts with the young boy, Sébastien, and his adoptive grandfather, César, walking in the mountains. The initial views are breathtaking. César is searching for 'The Beast', a feral dog suspected of killing sheep. Other hunters from the village, lower down the mountain, shoot a deer, leaving its fawn on a precarious ledge. What follows is a vertiginous scene where César lowers Sébastian over the edge to recover the fawn. It made me feel quite queazy.

Belle & Sébastien

Sébastien roams the mountains at will, seemingly in preference to school, and it isn't long before 'The Beast', a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and he meet up. The dog, which is wary of adults, forms a bond with the child, and Sébastien does everything he can to protect his new friend.

All this is taking place during the Second World War and German soldiers are posted in the village, their orders being to catch Jews, who they suspect are being led across the mountains to Switzerland by the local doctor, Guillaume.

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The Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart

After La Fée, my latest viewing on Amazon Prime, the French film La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur, brings everything down to earth with a bump.

Based on a true story, it tells of a gendarme, Franck Neuhart, who doubles as a serial killer.

It's a disturbing film, featuring a killer who selects young women at random and executes them. His approach is to pick them up, it seemingly being quite common for young college girls to hitch lifts home, and then shoot them in the car and dump their bodies by the roadside. He doesn't assault them beforehand, his motive seemingly being simply to murder them. He uses stolen cars, which he abandons after the crime. And he writes little missives to the Gendarmerie, where he works, anonymously explaining his actions.

The Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart

The rivalry between the police and the gendarmes (they are different forces in France) is displayed, the former regarding the latter as what we would probably term country bobbies, not a patch on the city forces.

Franck is clearly mentally disturbed, and when he starts a relationship with the young woman who does his laundry, Sophie, one fears the worst. But he seems to have feelings for her and his conflicted emotions are clearly on display.

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Elle L'adore

Another French film from Amazon prime.

Muriel is the number one fan of the popular singer Vincent Lacroix. She is also a bit of a dreamer, recounting stories of questionable veracity to her friends. She works as a beautician and has two children, although they live with her former husband.

Elle L'adore

Vincent meanwhile has a girlfriend, Julie, who is a bit highly strung, and one evening 'loses it' because Vincent is playing poker with some friends. The friends leave, Vincent and Julie fight, and Julie is killed as a result of a terrible accident.

Vincent, obviously fearing for his career, hatches a plot to absolve himself from blame. He drives to Muriel's, where without telling her what has happened, he asks her to drive to his sister's in Switzerland, having moved Julie's body from his car boot to hers. Muriel would do anything for Vincent, so she agrees.

As far as Vincent is concerned everything goes to plan, Muriel having confirmed as much. But things didn't go to plan, and Muriel used her initiative, resulting in Julie's body being discovered in the Dordogne. The two police officers who lead the investigation are Pascal and Olivia, who are in a relationship, but Olivia has been unfaithful and there's friction between them, a fact that in the end affects the outcome of their case.

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Un Prophète

Having watched all the French DVDs that I recently bought I'm now finding films for streaming on Amazon Prime. The latest was 'A Prophet' a crime thriller based around a French prison where a Corsican gang leader, César, and his henchmen effectively run the place.

Un Prophet

A young Arab prisoner, Malik, arrives and is quickly picked out by César as a useful asset. To gain César's protection, which is worth having in what is a very dangerous environment, he must do a 'little job' for him - kill another inmate. From this point on he becomes César's property, while being haunted by his victim.

This film has a very realistic feel about it. It won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix in 2009 and Best Film at the London Film Festival in the same year.

As the plot develops Malik starts to undertake more jobs for César during his 'good behaviour' release days, these having been expedited as a result of César's influence. But Malik is far from stupid, and he starts to develop his own interests. Meanwhile César's influence is threatened when a number of the Corsicans are returned to Corsica, reducing his muscle, while a growing Muslim contingent in the prison is seen as a threat.

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11.6

I've come to the conclusion that where cinema is concerned I'm either easily pleased or my tastes doesn't align with the majority. Yesterday I watched 11.6, a French film about a security guard who one day just drives off with 11.6€ million in banknotes. That sounds straightforward enough, but his motives weren't financial, which separates this from the usual genre of bank heists. Reviews of this film were luke warm.

11.6

It's based on the true story of Toni Musulin, a complex individual who likes expensive cars and practises Krav Maga, although his use of this martial art in the film is limited to a few debilitating holds on his colleagues, by way of jests. He buys a Ferrari f430 Spider for 92,000€, apparently funded from hard-earned savings, amassed no doubt because his wife runs a bar and his money remains his.

A conscientious employee, he isn't at all valued by his boss and you can see his frustration building as the story unfolds. Once he has decided on the heist he distances himself from his wife and his normal work partners so as to not implicate them in his actions. Then, with meticulous planning, and reliance on the very poor procedures at his security company, he drives off with the money.

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