Saturday, 28 March 2015

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: IN THE COURTYARD (DAN LA COUR)


2/5

Fifty-something Antoine is jobless and depressed. By pure chance he hired as a caretaker in an apartment block that had seen better days. Filled with eccentric occupants, this seems to be the place he would fit right in. One of them is Mathilde, who is slowly but steadily being consumed by a mental illness. Will Mathilde and Antoine mange to help one another to see the light in the end of the tunnel?

IN The COURTYARD is an unfortunately misfired drama from a very good director Pierre Salvadori (his previous film BEAUTIFUL LIES is one of the best comedies I have seen in recent years). The whole affair seems as uninspired as the lives of the main characters.

The plot is barely existent, consisting of a few mes-en-scenes, but some snappy dialogue and a few quirky secondary characters is not enough to pull out a good film.  The story does not seem to have the middle and the end, and the clumsy wrap up of multiple storylines is ultimately unsatisfying.

Catherine Deneuve is one reason to see this film. She’s still got it - the beauty and the craft. The scene where she visits her old house and starts criticizing what the new owners had done to it, is a delight.

I wish I could find more interesting, original stuff in this little film which would appeal to the fans of Salvadori and Deneuve.  This is a rare case for a French cinema, where the screenplay is at fault. With a little story to tell even for its relatively short time span of 97 minutes, IN THE COURTYARD is a very average drama, that cannot compete with many great releases of the year.

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: TOKYO FIANCÉ


3/5

20 year old Amelie arrives to Tokyo full of enthusiasm. Being born in Tokyo and then raised in Belgium, her only dream is to become a true Japanese and a writer. Very quickly she meets Rinri - a student she would teach french. Time flows and before she knows it the relationship with the Japanese boy from a good family becomes very serious. When torn between the prospect of a serious relationship and freedom, what would Amelie choose?

TOKYO FIANCÉE is an autobiographical account (and a bestselling novel) from Amelie Nothomb, who had written numerous novels about her Japanese experience. At the core of the film, just like in the famous LOST IN TRANSLATION, is a collision of two cultures, this time it's Belgic and Japanese.  

Amelie on the surface is an optimistic and easy person, but deep inside she is independent, responsible and tough. She makes mistakes of course, like any young woman of her age, but she has very serious attitude to decision making and maybe overthinking everything a little bit.

Amelie's adventures in Japan are simple and life-like. It's best described as "slice of life" story. Her relationship with Rinri is a very even one, and all the dramas are created by Amelie herself, constantly making fuss over the culture differences she is only learning to understand. 

This movie is a calm and enjoyable experience with a great soundtrack and some nice acting. If like Amelie you are interested in all things Japanese, or in watching an endearing love story, you will enjoy TOKYO FIANCÉE.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL (AVANT L'HIVER)


4/5

Paul has everything one may want from life. He is a respected surgeon with a successful practice. He has a glamorous home and an intelligent, beautiful, loving wife. When roses start to arrive to his office and home he takes it as some sort of a joke. But the truth is much scarier than he thinks. Very soon lies are told, friendships are broken and the truth from the past is revealed. Paul has now began a period of transition. With the summer of his life far behind, will he be able to find peace with himself before the first winter chill?

BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL is a drama mystery with some macabre undertones. Finding characters in the situation where they live comfortably, seemingly secure behind their electric gates, with their impressive bank accounts, the film creates an atmosphere of something dark lurking in every corner. The danger both comes from outside and from within the minds of Paul, his wife Lucie and their best friend Gerard. While Paul is dealing with a serious problem, the real reason for his confusion is his desire to reconcile the past with the present. Ironically, the only person who can give him an answer, is also the most distractive in his life.


The film is beautifully shot. Clever photography can make you feel peaceful and in the following second - on edge, reflecting the switching moods of the characters. Director Philippe Claudel once again picks up a difficult topic. Without excess of melodrama and with minimal dialogue he is a master storyteller.  BEFORE THE WINTER CHILL is maybe a little too long, cut out ten minutes it will be perfect.  As it is, the movie has a few slow moments, but the mystery part never lets you to be distracted. Don’t expect all the answers however. Just like in real life some pagers stays forever unturned.

Friday, 20 March 2015

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: PAPER SOULS (LES AMES DE PAPIER)


21/2/5

Paul used to write books, but since his wife had died five years ago he can only write funeral speeches. His life takes a bizarre turn, when Emma approaches him to write the speech for the funeral of her husband, who had been deceased for some time, but had never been properly buried. After a while Paul feels an attraction to Emma, but things get complicated, when the birthday wish of Emma's little son comes true and Nathaniel, her husband, comes back from the dead.

PAPER SOULS is a strange film, its premise is stuck somewhere between THE GHOST and DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS. It is a perfect example when originality works against being sensible. The supernatural part kicks in when the first third of the movie is over and there's nothing in the beginning that have prepared you for the ghost story. The feeling of the irrelevance of the "ghost" subplot what not left me until the final credits.

Dealing with the problem of one's loss in the most lighthearted way possible, PAPER SOULS tries to define its genre, and the films incompletion is obvious in every scene. Using a few writing cliches to manipulate the viewer, the film is too preoccupied with being original instead of telling a good story. Julie Gayet as Emma has usually a great screen presence, but here is wooden and unenthusiastic, as if she recognised the imperfections of the project she got involved with. The best acting here comes from Pierre Richard, in the role of Paul's neighbour Victor.    The veteran comedian shows in every frame that he still got it, and nailed a few genuinely sentimental moments.

PAPER SOULS is an example of the film, where an interesting idea was underdeveloped and turned into something very ordinary. While having a major identity crisis, the movie is never boring, but that alone is not good enough.

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: BREATHE (RESPIRE)



4/5

Life is not perfect for Charlie whose parents go though an intense on-off relationship, but she is a perfectly happy teenager who does well at school and loved by her classmates. When a beautiful transfer student Sarah arrives to school she becomes Charlie's best friends. But very soon Sarah gets tired of Charlie and starts to torment her. Charlie doesn't know how to fight back, but there's only that much she can take. There comes "the last straw" and nothing will ever be the same.

The movie is focused on intense relationship of two female leads, both of them are at their best. Josephine Japi as Charlie perfectly catches the transformation of her heroine from a quiet girl loved by everyone, to an outcast no one can understand or recognise.  Lou de Laage is uncanny as an evil tormentor Sarah, who protects her pain on others and only that way is able to survive.

Shot on a hand held camera, that adds authenticity to the scenes, BREATHE is a slow burning thriller. Demonstrating how quickly and irreversibly a familiar situation can go terribly wrong this movie will make every parent cringe in their seat.

BREATHE does not have much action, but it sucks you in with the performances and curiosity about the true motives of the heroines. It is emotionally draining, but also a rewarding experience. A really exciting piece of Arthouse cinema that is worth checking out.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: GEMMA BOVERY



41/2/5

Life imitates art in this quirky film based on a comic book. Martin is a baker, and an intellectual from a big city who had chosen a quiet life in Province. But it is shattered when an English couple moves next door. Their names are Charles and Gemma Bovery and for Martin it is a sign. Madame Bovery is his favourite book, and when Gemma's life falls into the pattern of the famous heroine, Martin is ready to help. But is he helping Gemma, or just fuels his obsession?

GEMA BOVERY is a short and focused comedy with a touch of a dark humour. It holds together mainly by the performance of Fabrice Luchini, whose desires and longing for the real romantic adventure is written all over his  face. Gemma Arterton does her best, and is lovely to look at. There's a lot of food on screen, mostly bread, and there's a magical atmosphere of Province. The France here is  guidebook perfect and the characters are to match.

While the story is somewhat predictable, it has many, funny moments. Gemma herself does not look like a heroine from some classical book. She simply lives, stumbles, makes mistakes, tries to correct them and makes the new ones. Martin is shown mostly as a voyeur, but the one who has to step up and take part in the action if he wants things to work his his way.

The director Anna Fontaine has created a lavish film and has total control of her story. Keeping it precise and concise she confidently touches upon the things that matter, making serious points without preaching. 

Deceivingly lighthearted, GEMMA BOVERY will leave a long lasting impression. It is a comedy about love, classic literature and middle age obsessions that could have been made only in France.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: SUMMER NIGHTS (LES NUITS D'ETE)


3/5

During summer nights a group of men meet in the house in the forest to dress and live as women. Some of them are gay, some are not, but they are united by a passion of being their inner self and nothing can stop them from expressing that, even if it may hurt the ones they love.

Set in 1959 during the Algirian war the movie focuses on the character Michel - a married civil servant in Paris who struggles with his feminine side and torn between two lives he leads. He has a wonderful relationship with his wife Helene, whose rebellious nature causes trouble to his career. But while Helen does not seem to care what society thinks, will she be able to accept her husband’s strange desires?

SUMMER NIGHTS is shot in 4:3 full screen ratio, which gives it a feel of a film shot in 1958. The atmosphere has an authentic touch to it, and performances to match. Unfortunately it is the writing that lets SUMMER NIGHTS down. Many storylines lead nowhere and they are being wrapped in the most unsatisfying way or simply dropped. The story of the relationship between Michele and Helene works well, but this is not enough to feel good about the ending, when many characters’ conflicts are left unresolved. The movie  has a short run of 90 minutes, but even then a few lengthy scenes should have ended up on the cutting floor.


To sum it up, SUMMER NIGHTS forgets that even an art house film has to be entertaining, which is probably it is greatest flaw.

Friday, 13 March 2015

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: FAR FROM MEN (LOIN DES HOMMES)



5/5

Two men in the desert, in a country torn by war. One - is an ex solder, now a teacher, entrusted to take a prisoner to the court to a little town - the nearest point of civilisation.  The other had killed his cousin and is due to be executed. Their trip through the desert is a choice, but whose choice? Two men are going to experience a few adventures and brushes with death, before they can really decide where their destination lies.

FAR FROM MEN is based on the short story by ALBERT CAMUS called THE GUEST. The original story is all about the illusory value of a choice. The movie is a longer version as it examines what would have happened if the characters had made a different decision from the story. It takes them on a journey, but ends up exactly like the short story does. This way the movie and the literature compliment each other.

AWAY FROM MAN is a slow burning thriller. When we are introduced to Daru he is a teacher in a small Algerian village and tries to keep himself neutral to the horrors of raving war. Virgo Mortensen's performance is all about what we don't know about his character and this is enough to hook you in, even though the beginning is pretty slow. When Daru is entrusted with a prisoner he refuses to take him at first. Then he gives the prisoner a choice. This choice will shape everything that is to come.

AWAY FROM MEN is a sort of a road movie with deadly adventures and even deadlier consequences. With its slow pace it has a lot visually to offer. The country on screen is beautiful indeed. Accompanied by soundtrack composed by Nick Cave it has mesmerising visuals to match. This is a film that requires attention, focus and thought process, but is very rewarding at every turn.
   

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: THE YELLOW EYES OF CROCODILES (LES YEUX JAUNES DES CROCODILES)


31/2/5

THE YELLOW EYES OF THE CROCODILES as a film would not exist if not for a bestseller book. In France the book does not have a status of an intelligent novel, but of a popular one. I guess if you want to write a popular novel, make sure that your main character is a single forty something mother who succeeds against odds. Such character is Jo, with her unemployed husband who leaves her, two daughters that she has to raise on her own, a mother who only cares about money and a beautiful sister obsessed with becoming a famous writer.

The film is played on the opposites of the two female leads - Jo (Julie Depardieu) and Iris (Emmanuelle Bear). Jo is a Plain-Jane with the heart of gold, easily manipulated and never ready to stand up for herself. Iris is a spoilt brat, that still dwells on one time she could not get what she wanted and ready to lie, cheat and blackmail to get her way.

Like many french films these days THE YELLOW EYES is a little detached from reality: it's enough to write a good book to become a bestselling author, you can still afford to leave in an apartment with the view of Eiffel Tower even on the little salary of a university lecturer, and you can meet the man of your dream in a local library. It's a one episode soap opera, but the one done well. It is full of action, drama and over the top sentimentality. The good actors make it work. Supporting cast includes Patric Bruelle (Iris' husband) and Alice Isaaz (Jo's rebellious daughter) who is a great newcomer and one of the reasons the film is such a fun to watch.

If the ending feels a little abrupt, it is because  THE YELLOW EYES is the first novel in the trilogy. A definitely french and irresistibly guilty pleasure, the film will effortlessly win you over. But just like the French say about the book, it is not an intelligent movie but a popular one.
   

MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: SAMBA


4/5

Samba (Omar Sy) is an illegal immigrant from Senegal who is trying to make ends meet in Paris and become a certified chef. Things get tough when his application is rejected and he is under obligation to leave France. But then he meets enigmatic Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) - a middle aged woman with problems of her own. As two build their friendship their both lives slowly, but steadily, go back on track. But will the one mistake from Samba’s past is going to finally catch up with him and destroy everything he is about to build?

SAMBA is a dramatic comedy about taking chances and rebuilding from scratch. A love story with the background of social French issues, it is designed to be both uplifting and a little sad. The immigration problem is showcased as the one impossible to repair and unorthodox methods the characters use in order to evade the rules seems like the only solution.  

But it not the main focus of the film. SAMBA is trying to make the point, that even when the system lets you down it’s the real people and their willing to help each other that matter.

Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano riding on the success of the INTOCHIBLES (their previous film, also with Omar Sy) still love to make movies full of optimism. SAMBA is all about dialogue and hilarious set pieces that will never let you down and always feel fresh. Omar Sy is a good performer, and is quick to win over your sympathy. Charlotte Gainsbourg is a little too reserved, but she is also quirky and as the film progresses we learn that there’s more to her character than we originally imagined.

Music by Ludovico Einaudi is repetitive, but suits the film’s tone of urgency to find a solution to the characters’ many problems.

SAMBA does not have many surprises in store, but it is designed to please. Walking out of the theatre you will feel a little better about yourself and the world you are living in, and this does count for something.



MFFF MOVIE REVIEW: THREE HEARTS (3 COEURS)


41/2/5

Mark is a 47 year old accountant, who had missed his train to Paris and stuck for the night in a provincial town. Here he meets Sylvie, with whom he spends the night wondering the town's streets and falls in love. They do not exchange phone numbers, promise each other to meet in a week's time... Alas that does not occur. Unexpectedly, Mark meets Sophie, Sylvie's sister. He does not know that the two women are related and begins dating Sophie. It is not long until three hearts are locked in a triangle of passion, lies and an ultimate betrayal. What will be the collateral damage and what is the right choice to make, when wherever you turn you hurt someone?

Benoit Jacquot created a love triangle like no other - the movie is very dark even at the height of the positive moments in the characters lives. The main titles open with an alarming music, menacing piano cords that prepare you for a very tense viewing. This love story is shot like a thriller, with many moments of genuine fear. You do feel for the characters, and while it is easy to assess the wrong choices they make, it is also clear that being who they are they could not do otherwise.

Benoit Puelvoorde is in unlikely serious dramatic role. His Mark is a weak man who only shines when the light of the others reflect on him. He understand this, saying in the very beginning that the most important thing for him when he is involved with a woman is to be a part of her private life. Sylvie and Sophie are ready to provide this light, and in Mark they find the source of this magical feeling they could only dream of. Now they are ready to sacrifice everything for this ability to love. Mark's problem is that he feels too much, his inability making decisions changes when he is with the one he loves, but it only leads to more wrong decisions and inevitably to a disaster.

3 HEARTS is not a light viewing. It is not a short film, and some may find it slow, but the love triangle is done here like never before and the story feels fresh and engaging.

Although it is not a perfect movie: having a few redundant subplots (the downfall of a tax evasive mayor for example) and some loose ends, the story could have been a little cleaner and more focused. There is too much symbolism in the movie - the image of a lighter that has to be shaken and pushed hard to produce a flame and the antique mirror, that Sylvie had bought and never managed to sell, are overused, as If the director trying too hard make sure we understand how meaningful these objects are for a film. But all this can be forgotten for the originality in which the topic is presented and the ending, that may not be unexpected, but is ultimately satisfying.