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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Les Miserables No More at the 15th French Film Fest at The Shang

I can’t fully say that misery is over. Chance watchers were still allowed to get in on the last minute and the ushers had the same alibi. “It’s management’s decision.” Queuing began an hour before, a good advantage for those who saw a film with a running time of roughly one hour and 30 minutes or less while it remains a pain in the ass to those who came from watching close to three hours (read: “The Secret of the Grain”). Good thing that DepEd delayed the start of classes on the 15th.

Nonetheless, the 15th French Film Fest (I can’t believe I’ve been a parasite to this event for more than a decade now) at The Shang on June 3 to 13 was worth surviving. This year’s line-up probably saved the day. Some notes:

André Téchiné’s La Fille du RER (The Girl on the Train). The plot is probably born out of the idea of observing people in public. This applies to me when I notice passengers on the train, how they behave and how their presence could launch a thousand ships of good and bad backstories. Jeane, a regular passenger of RER (a means of transport in French suburbs, as opposed to the city center’s Metro, a line we probably took ages ago when we visited Euro Disney) faces her own survival instincts upon stumbling on life’s hurdles. The film deals on the psychological and emotional checkpoint and how people manage to bear it. There’s nothing bad for me except for the long and a bit tiring exposition of the premise. Catherine Denueve, by the way, makes an appearance as Jeane’s protective mother.

Jacques Doillon’s Le Premier Venu (Just Anybody). For more than two hours, this talky film explores the lives of two intersecting couples dealing with love, mischief and closure. It’s one of those films that will make you feel clueless on what the heck is all about (and if you’re not too patient, you’ve probably left the cinema). The humor (be it intentional or otherwise) is reminiscent of Gil Portes’ “Pitik-Bulag”, it’s either you extremely hate it or extremely love it. Just the same, it’s going to squeeze a fool out of you. One sequence shows a similar Jean-Luc Godard scene, particularly from “Band of Outsiders”, but after blinking, it’s gone. Out of another long conversation between the two male characters, there floating in the pond are some toy ducks. I guess it cements what the film is trying to say.

Philippe Lioret’s Welcome. This drama revolves around a swimming instructor and an Iraqi national who is trapped in the French border while attempting to illegally cross the English Channel. The friendship built between the two characters could be interpreted in different ways. It could be the instructor’s dream of having a son after failing a marriage or it could have a dash of homosexuality which is the reason behind the divorce. Either way, the images of the English Channel crossing are enough bounds to enjoy the film. It’s a beautiful visualization on what a man can do in the name of love. I heard from the queue that the actor who played the Iraqi national has a resemblance to a famous soccer player in France. Maybe there’s a statement somewhere from the filmmaker that I didn’t bother to explore. Good acting, well made and engaging. “Welcome” is my third favorite film from the festival.

Philippe Faucon’s Dans la Vie (Two Ladies). This is probably the shortest film among all the entries. Second best on my list, it’s a simple tale about two old ladies coming from different races and religions but still manage to get along. Storytelling-wise, there’s nothing much to say on top of its basic premise. Scenes from their daily lives are shown like taking a bath, watching television, having dinner and attending worship. Uneventful at face value but underneath is a treasure box of some socio-political statements. What I appreciate most is this thought that the only reason the ladies had a fight is not about their cultural differences but their being human. Very raw from acting to direction, a product from the people who are probably trying to make a film for the first time, the film may seem very elementary but it has a lot to say.

Eric Rohmer’s Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee) and Le Beau Mariage (Good Marriage). If you’re accustomed to Woody Allen’s talky works, Eric Rohmer’s films are not a total stranger to you. Generally with less humor and more intellectual than Allen’s, both of Rohmer’s films in this year’s line-up discuss a certain topic and make a conclusion in the end. “Claire’s Knee” is about a man who is about to get married and became obsessed to a young girl’s knee. “Good Marriage”, on the other hand, is about a young girl’s hypothesis on getting married. Aside from the script and the sanctity of the spoken words, the filmmaker doesn’t seem to prioritize the other technical aspects like the medium’s visuals and even musical score. That’s the impression I got after watching the two films.

Abdel Keniche’s La Graine et le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain). Hands down, this is my top pick. I’m not sure if a capsule review would suffice but let me try. It’s about unemployment. Sixty-year old Slimane gets sacked out of his job at the local shipyard. Then we get to see his big family, two families to be exact. We were introduced on how a Franco-Arabic clan lives in the French suburbs and how they manage to fit in the society. So it’s about unemployment, family, races and migration. But there’s more. The last act narrates some very engaging sequences about redemption, reconciliation, dreams and this painful truth that sometimes, it’s not the unemployment or racial differences that kills the society. Superbly acted and directed, I will always be reminded by the greatness of this film for at least the next ten years.

Olivier Assayas’ L'heure d'été (Summer Hours). I almost missed this because “The Secret of the Grain” runs for roughly two hours and a half. Glad that I got the first slot in the chance watchers’ queue and that I was able to run fast just to catch a seat right before the film starts. “Summer Hours” tells about a family who meets at least once a year for old time’s sake. Everything changed when the matriarch passed away and the children decided to sell the house which is a symbol of the past. I can say that the first sequence got me hooked on how the camera pans from one character to another, telling stories on how they’ve been all in the absence of music. When the children left and the old mother was seated by her lonesome, a sad musical score is heard. As noted from the opening credits, this film is partly funded by Musee D’Orsay (my other favorite museum in Paris). The museum made a participation in hauling the family’s artwork collection and exhibiting them to the public. This is to say that what we see on display has some bits and pieces of the past, built with different memories and sentimentality.

Dominique Farrugia and Arnaud Lemort’s L’Amour C’est Mieux à Deux (The Perfect Date). This is the festival’s opening film and, for me, the weakest among the line-up. Very Hollywood in treatment, the film tells the dilemma of a man who is not that fortunate on getting hooked with the right woman. In one event, he learns a story from his grandparents that a couple should meet and get acquainted out of randomness. This sets the main protagonist’s search for love. Very predictable and glossy, “The Perfect Date” delivers some witty punchlines that made me endure the rest of film.

Too bad that I missed Claire Simon's "Les Bureaux de Dieu" (God's Offices) due to schedules.

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