About Me

My Photo
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, January 2, 2015

Bruno Dumont a chronicler of life in the North of France

Stephen Holden's breezy but as usual well-written and thoughtful review of Bruno Dumont's latest film to come to the USA - L'il Quinquin - makes one or maybe two small but significant slips.  He says that the film is set in the extreme northwest of France, which would put it in Brittany - le "Far-Ouest"- a place of Celtic sensibility.  However, one of the significant elements of all of Dumont's work - with the exception of the Camille Claudel film - is that his work emerges almost organically from the North - the area of Northeastern France where he is from: Ballileul, Dunkerque, Douai, Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing.  The region is the Nord-Pas-de-Calais - part of French Flanders - that means a few things: life in small towns in this area hangs between the rural and the urban, the industrial and the agricultural creating a gritty often grimy entanglement of a peasant's hard-nosed look at life cut with a working-class sense of struggle. It is also the place of carnival where larger-than life giant puppets that come out for the raucous festivities; a time when conventional hierarchies and decorum are thrown over as the kings and queens of the carnival throw caution to the wind, usurp power, and engage in lustful riotous acts.  Lastly, this region has a sense and history of incorporating the grotesque/macabre into its artwork - the deepest carnal instincts flare up in all kinds of ordinary situations. J'attends avec plaisir la sortie du film.

Alane Delhaye and Lucy Caron

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.