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In my interests below, I list French language, cinema, theatre, politics, art, and wine. And while French brought me to a lot of these things, I also like all of them in a more general way. I really love languages and their connections. I also have a thing about how theatre and cinema, art, politics and wine all hook up in some way. As I think of these ideas, I can hear the thwonk of the cork coming out of the neck of the bottle, and the gentle squeak as the cork is twisted off the tire-bouchon. Ah, that oakey, musty, acidic aroma wafting, wafting and people talking and talking and talking. And, oh they found out we have some sets of boules and they want to play pétanque. "Let's pick teams and play in the shade of those plane trees." The sounds of summer resonate: the crunch of the terrain under foot, the click of the iron bocce knocking in the players' hands, and the soft kiss of the wooden cochonnet as it hits the ground scuttling down to its resting point where it will await the arrival of each team's battle-worn aggies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Canadian-American in Paris

Love is here to stay!

Canadian-American Frank Gehry has had a wonderful week in Paris with his Louis Vuitton Foundation inaugurated on Monday while the George Pompidou Center is giving his work a major career retrospective.  Paris continues to enthrall with her capacity to preserve the old and integrate new architecture.

"The harmonious combination of history and modernity in Paris is truly unique. Other cities, notably many Italian cities, are also steeped in history and have incredible contemporary art and design scenes. But the old and the new tend to remain very separate. In contrast, Paris has learned to integrate the two. It negotiates the fine line between its rich history and cutting-edge design in fascinating ways. Many other European cities struggle with this awkwardly and often unsuccessfully."  Michael Hermann interview in This Paris Life

Friday, June 27, 2014

Venus in Fur: Theatrical Cinema at its Best

The French Press really loved La Vénus à la fourrure (Venus in Fur – written by Roman Polanski and David Ives – the latter is the dramatist who wrote the Tony-nominated play) – you can check out the ratings on the French site allocine – even if French is not a language you speak well, the star ratings will give you an idea of how well this film went down.

If you’re interested in reading more (in English) check out the Press Kit that was put out for the 2013 Festival de Cannes where Venus was in competition.

Watch a clip from the play that opened off-Broadway in 2010 and moved onto Broadway in 2011 – I think Nina Arianda is delightful.

Trailer with Emanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Almaric

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Camille Claudel 1915 - Austere Emotion

Bruno Dumont's Camille Claudel 1915 depicts three days in the life of Camille Claudel, the French sculptor, who was confined to a mental asylum by her family in 1913.  Bruno Dumont collaborated with Juliette Binoche in creating the scenario and arranged for filming to take place in a real asylum near Avignon in the South of France with mental patients and their nurses taking part in telling the story of a few days in Camille Claudel's life.

In this interview on NPR, Binoche discusses the film, the issues it raises, and the life of Camille Claudel.  Juliette Binoche interview
Sheila O'Malley's thumbs-up review published on Roger Ebert's site
New York Times - Stephen Holden, "The Agony of an Artist's Commitment"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Attila Marcel: Memories, Movies, and Make-Believe

Sylvain Chomet's fisrt live action film has not been widely reviewed outside of his Canadian homeland, so here are two reviews, one from the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and the second from the Montréal Gazette:

Attila Marcel: Toronto review
Attila Marcel: Montréal Gazette

Age of Panic - La Bataille de Solferino

Age of Panic, one of today's new films at the Sacramento French Film Festival has had a couple of interesting reviews from Variety and from Filmmaker's review of the Lincoln Center's Rendez-Vous with French cinema earlier this year:

Rendez-vous with French 2014: Age of Panic and Other
Age of Panic Wins Audience Award at Paris Cinema Fest

Friday, June 20, 2014

On My Way, Catherine Deneuve, Emanuelle Bercot, and the road movie

In his New York Times review of Emanuelle Bercot’s latest film, Elle s’en va – On My Way, Stephen Holden describes it as a road movie.  This particular film genre is not as pervasive in France as it is in films from the US.  But what constitutes a road movie?  Is it primarily a male-defined genre or can we identify a feminine approach to this type of  film.

In the road movie, the main character or characters leave their home and travel other places.  From an historical point of view, we can trace the narrative’s roots back to Ancient Greek epics such as The Odyssey or Ancient Mesopotamian sagas like The Epic of Gilgamesh, where an initial fight between the two main characters – Gilgamesh and Enkidu – is followed by their grand journey to Cedar Mountain where they destroy the mountain’s monstrous guardian.

They also kill the Bull of Heaven, which brings the wrath of the gods upon them.  Enikidu is sentenced to death.  Distraught at the loss of his friend, Gilgamesh sets out on a long and dangerous journey in search of eternal life. Some cineastes – notably German director Wim Wenders - will say that the origin of this desire to roam lies even deeper into history, in our nomadic prehistoric roots, “in [our] primal need to leave an account of [our] passage on earth.” (New York Times, Nov 11, 2007). 

As far as cinematic history is concerned, we can find examples of the road movie even in early Hollywood films.  Charlie Chaplin’s tramp, for example, is a character that is always on the road.  The genre really blossomed, however, after the Second World War with the increasing presence and use of the automobile.  In the 1960s, the road film really gained recognition with such epics as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969).

The road movie in France also began to flourish in the late 1960s and 1970s – Gérard Oury’s Le Corniaud (1965), Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Weekend (1967), Bertand Bliers Les Valseuses (1974).  

More recently, we have seen other examples: 
Western (1997) by Manuel Poirier - a Spanish shoe company representative and a Russian hitchhiker track down love as they wander and hitchhike through Brittany.

Time Out (2001) by Laurent Canet - a 50-year-old executive is laid off, but rather than tell his family, he pretends to go to work but in reality passes the time driving the highways of France and Switzerland, reading the paper, or sleeping in his car.

The Grocer’s Son (2007) by Eric Guirado sees an estranged son return home from Lyon to his family’s home in the Drôme countryside and help out by driving the family’s grocer’s van from village to village.

Voir la mer  (2011) – Two brothers drive their motor home from Burgundy to Saint-Jean de Luz in the Basque country but they come across an attractive young woman who has never seen the sea so together they head for the Basque coast.

The road movie genre is often characterized as a means of creating narratives that explore space and mobility, cross boundaries, and lead to escape from a stifling society and a mise-en-question of location and identity. In the hands of male directors, the genre is more often than not a romantic escapism where the automobile or motorbike allows the male protagonist to shake off the shackles of responsibility: job, home, marriage.  By contrast, however, given that women have usually played roles within the home or in a space strongly connected with the private/domestic world the very presence of a woman or a couple of women alone on the road is a paradoxical insubordination to the status quo.  Among the first woman-directed road movies was Chantal Ackerman’s  Les rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), but perhaps the best known road saga directed by a woman is Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) (1985) directed by Agnès Varda and recently restored and re-released in cinemas in France.  It tells the story from the end back to the beginning of a young woman who takes to the road and ends up frozen to death in a ditch.  We follow the police investigation and discover in reverse order the events that led to her wretched demise. 
Ten years later, Yolande Moreau – a Belgian actress and comedian - made her début in film-making alongside Gilles Porte with a road picture of her own: Quand la mer monte (When the Sea Rises) (2006).  She plays the role of Irène.  She is touring northern France with her one-woman show, where a stout, loud, and somewhat unattractive woman wearing a clownish mask comically confesses to the audience that she has murdered her husband. At each performance, she randomly selects a man from the crowd and makes him both lover and accomplice to a robbery she is planning. Having broken down one day on the road, she is helped by Dries (Wim Willaert) who was passing on his moped.  As a way of thanking him for his help she offers him two tickets to the show.  He comes with one of his mates, and she spots him in the audience during her performance.  She chooses him as her "chicken" for that show.

Later, she goes out with Dries and his friends for a drink.  They all hit it off quite well, but the next night, to Irène’s surprise, Dries shows up again for the show but gets thrown out of the theatre for berating some audience members who arrived late.  Even though she is angry with him, she sees him after the performance and slowly their relationship evolves as she is drawn into the mesh of Dries’ life.  She sadly sees him lose his job unloading and stacking vegetables on the open-air market, but then happily she gets to know him as one of the operators of Totor, his town’s famous giant puppet, who only comes out for the town’s festivities.  The carnival atmosphere that surrounds the parading of the giant puppets contrasts with Irène’s holding on to the domestic side of her life through her regular evening phone calls to her husband, where they discuss the tiles they should choose for their kitchen and how things are going at his work. 

Emmanuelle Bercot’s road movie also combines a feeling of escape from the domestic humdrum with a renewal, retrieval, rediscovery, or maybe a reinvigoration of family life? With Catherine Deneuve in the central role, the film explores domestic relationships, a particular genre of cinema (the road movie), whilst also engaging in a contemplation of life lived both on screen and in reality as Mick Lasalle of the San Francisco Chronicle proposes in his review of the film.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Film Pairings

Film pairings

Wine and cheese or wine and movies?
When I watch films at home I often like to have a glass of wine.  I also believe in stimulating the local economy, so I buy locally made wines and we have several favorites from wineries we visit in the foothills of El Dorado county, in the Lodi appelation, and elsewhere.  At the same time, while reading the descriptions and getting sneak previews of  the films at this year’s Sacramento French Film Festival, I have had  ideas popping through my head of how the film’s themes remind me of other films that took a different perspective on a similar theme. 

The opening film is Lucas Belvaux’s adaptation of Philippe Vilain’s novel.  The story brings together a couple from different backgrounds and observes them as they fall in love, out of love and even over love. 

If you’d like to try to pair the opening night film with a film that explores similar themes as Pas son genre, I‘d suggest any of these accompanied by a glass of a local California cru.

La Dentellière (1977) (The Lacemaker)
In Paris, Béatrice (Pomme), timid and innocent, played by a young Isabelle Huppert, lives at home and works in a hairdresser’s.   Her only friend, Maylène, who has been dumped by her lover, takes Pomme on holiday to Cabourg, a pretty town on the Normandy coast. Soon, Marylène gets involved with a new man and leaves Pomme on her own. At a café terrace, Pomme, savoring a glace au chocolat catches the eye of François, a self-confident French literature student attending the Sorbonne.  Gradually, they become lovers and Béatrice moves in with François in Paris.  But can their love bridge the cultural gap that separates them.

Trailer: La Dentellière

Suggested pairing: Heritage Oak (2013) Sauvignon Blanc (serve cold and savor)

Romuald et Juliette (1989) (Maman, There’s a Man in Your Bed)
Coline Serreau’s follow-up to her 1985 blockbuster Trois hommes et un couffin (Three men and a Cradle) has the late-night cleaning woman Juliet, played by a compelling Firmine Richard helping a company president, Romuald (Daniel Auteuil).  She discovers a plot to frame him for food poisoning in his factory’s yoghurts.  As she takes a bigger role in his affairs, he falls deeper and deeper in love with her.
Suggested pairing: Capay Valley (2009) Tempranillo (red wine that you can drink chilled or even with an ice cube)

Le gout des autres (2000) (The Taste of Others)
In this multi-layered comedy directed by Agnè Jaoui, three women and three men who are quite opposites open a number of possibilities for liaisons, but their personal culture, tastes and backgrounds will determine the course of their loves.  One of the central relationships is between Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri), the owner of an industrial steel barrel plant in Rouen and a forty-year-old actress, who tutors Castella  in English.  After reluctantly seeing Clara in a performance of Racine’s Bernice that he had to go to since his wife insisted that their niece was acting in the paly, Castella discovers the world of theater and a Bohemian lifestyle quite at tangents to his own lifestyle.  The path of true love never runs too smoothly in this vibrantly dialogued take on life in provincial France.

Suggested pairing:  Sierra Vista (2013) Grenche rosé  (chill this light and refreshing summer pink)

Une femme de ménage (2002)  (The Housekeeper)
In Claude Berri’s adaptation of Christian Oster’s eponymous novel, Emilie Dequenne (Pas son genre) is Laura, a young spirited woman who does cleaning work.  Jacques  (Jean-Pierre Bacri) a fifty-year old sound engineer, whose wife has just left him, is in a mess so he decides to hire Laura to do his cleaning.  Circumstances force her to ask him if she can stay at his place for a few nights and little by little he begins to fall for her, despite her disturbing his ordered world of reading, jazz music, and apértifs with his similarly aged friends.

Trailer: Une femme de ménage (no subtitles)

Suggested pairing: Sierra Vista (2011) Viognier (put it on ice then discover the delicate balance of experience and youth)

Fauteuils d’orchestre (2006) (Avenue Montaigne)
In this Daniel Thompson romantic comedy, young Jessica (Cécile de France) arrives in Paris from Mâcon, a small city in the Saône-et-Loire department in Burgundy.  She has come in search of the "luxurious" world her grandmother had always told her about when she worked in Paris as a maid.  Jessica is hired as a waitress in a café that caters to the bourgeois, the elegant, the famous, and the ordinary:  the nannies, the refuse collectors, and technical staff of the areas various theatres and concert halls.  She discovers the beauty and finery of this upscale part of Paris and also the backstage of this world of celebrity and fortune.  And, she also finds love but it is not quite what she expected.

Trailer: Fauteuils d’orchestre (2006)

Suggested pairing:  Domanine Chandon Blanc des noirs – enjoy this California sparkling wine which is also served at the White House

Angèle et Tony (2010)
Seen at the 2011 Sacramento French Film Festival, this film takes us to a small fishing town on the Normandy coast where Tony works as a fisherman. Angèle, a pretty young woman with a tarnished past, arrives looking for work.  Tony takes her on as a fishmonger, teaches her the trade, and lodges her in a house he shares with his mother.  Their relationships Tony, his mother, and Angèle are strained, but as Angèle adapts to her new environment, Tony starts to like her.  Their destiny is still fraught with risk and confrontation as  they try to come to terms with their imperfect match.

Trailer: Angèle et Tony

Suggested pairing: A Holly’s Hill’s red - Mourvèdre or maybe a Patriarche – if you find a Petit Patriarche go for it.