I recently had the pleasure of seeing a number of films at the Alliance Française French Film Festival, including previously reviewed Populaire (Régis Roinsard, 2012) and Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski, 2013). While French cinema can be obscure at times, there are plenty of delightful films out there. Do yourself a favour and try and catch one some time. Subtitles are no biggie. Read on for a few short reviews on the remaining films I saw at the festival.
Domestic Life/La vie domestique (Isabelle Czajka, 2013)
This was described in the festival guide as “a smarter Desperate Housewives” and so that being one of my favourite television shows, I was intrigued. However, it held nowhere near the amount of excitement and scandal. It was interesting, but only in the sense that it was just SO mundane, and mundane everyday life isn’t often depicted in film. Domestic Life follows a day in the life of four different women who are all married with kids. One of them works part time and is trying to secure an interview, whilst the other three are stay-at-home mums. I can see that the purpose of the film was to demonstrate that the domestic life can be damn depressing sometimes, and doesn’t quite get the respect that it should. However, it was hard to feel too sorry for the majority of them when they were rich enough to not have to work, and had the luxury of being able to have friends over for coffee while the kids are at school, followed by a trip to the mall for clothes shopping where they smirk at fat people. Not to mention their amazing homes. They all had at least one obvious personal issue, but then this was overshadowed by a subplot about a missing child which ended up acting as a massive juxtaposition to their relatively easy lives. Juliette (Emmanuelle Devos) is given the most screen time and if the focus had solely been on her it might have worked better – she is clearly the busiest, filling up her day with a succession of mundane tasks that bring her little joy, and get in the way of what she wants to do for herself. The other women are not given much screen time so their characters were under-developed. I am guessing that this film is probably incredibly realistic, but sometimes reality is boring. I’m on the fence with this one.
Going Away/Un beau dimanche (Nicole Garcia, 2013)
I’m not sure why they didn’t directly translate the much better French title ‘Un beau dimanche’ (A Beautiful Sunday), but then I don’t know if much did translate. Not to me anyway. I found this a bit of a bore, but there may be those who appreciate the character study. It was too slow for me, and I found the main woman (Louise Bourgoin) a bit annoying. The film starts with a supply teacher (Pierre Rochefort) dropping a kid at home and then offering to look after him for the weekend while his Dad is away… um: BOUNDARIES. Then he ends up finding the boy’s mother and they start a bit of a thing, she needs help, and he has to go back to his past to help her. The second half of the film which centred on his estranged family and this past in question, could have been better developed. I was interested in what had happened to him and it wasn’t explained in much detail. The scenery was nice to look at, and so was Pierre Rochefort, but otherwise this left me cold.
It Boy/20 ans d’ecart (David Moreau, 2013)
If you’re scared of venturing out to foreign films, then this may be the perfect introduction – this was a very typical rom-com, although the age range between the two lovers made it something different. Virginie Efira stars as Alice Lantins, 38 year old editor at fashion magazine, Rebelle. Starting to feel the effects of ageing, she fears that she will miss out on a promotion to a younger and feistier woman (Amélie Glenn). Following a chance meeting with a cute 19 year old college guy, Balthazar (Pierre Niney), she is encouraged by a colleague to fake a relationship with him to show her boss (Gilles Cohen) that she too is hip and with it. Of course, love blossoms, but he is unaware of her scheme, and blah blah blah. But maybe that sounds too dismissive because I really enjoyed it. The music was great – both the score by Guillaume Roussel and the various songs included (in particular, ‘I Think I Like U 2’ by Jamaica was a great opening to the film). There were plenty of laughs from all of the cast, including Charles Berling as Balthazar’s father, Luc. Virginie Efira (who also co-wrote the film) was beautiful in the lead role, though I didn’t quite buy her whole ‘I have crow’s feet’ schtick because there was not a wrinkle in sight – she is GORGEOUS. I may have fallen a little bit in love with Pierre Niney. HE. WAS. ADORABLE. At one point in the film someone refers to him as ‘Dujardin Lite’ so obviously that’s appealing, but I personally thought he was more Andrew Garfield-esque. There’s meant to be 20 years between them but in reality there are only 12 and she’s a bombshell so they actually made a pretty cute couple. It was quite refreshing to see this type of relationship depicted on screen (we usually only see the reverse and we see this in the film also). The ending to the film is fairly clichéd, but in that way we all secretly love so that is totally forgiven. It was like something out of a teen movie/my dreams. If you want a break from reality, you should have fun at this one.
The Finishers/De toutes nos forces (Nils Tavernier, 2013)
Selected as the opening night film of the Alliance Française French Film Festival, The Finishers follows the journey of ex-Ironman competitor Paul (Jacques Gamblin), and his teenage son Julien (Fabien Héraud). Julien suffers from congenital palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, and the relationship between him and his father is strained, with Paul made even more miserable due to his recent redundancy. Inspired by a previous father-son team, Julien convinces his father that they should compete together in the upcoming Ironman championships as a bonding exercise and to get his Dad’s groove back. Marketing for the film states that it includes “characters inspired by a true story”, whatever that means. It did seem VERY contrived, and a bit hard to believe in some instances. Mega muscly men in their prime struggle to finish the race, so what chance does Paul have when he is carrying the weight of his son? (He swims with a boat carrying Julien attached, he rides a bike which has Julien sitting in front, and he runs whilst pushing Julien’s wheelchair). It actually made the triathlon look damn easy for the regular participants in some parts, particularly in the cycling leg. Despite the contrivances, it was extremely touching and inspiring, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. Even when I saw the trailer a few days later I teared up just thinking about it! The acting was solid, including a beautiful performance from Jacques Gamblin (it was his face that made me cry when I saw that trailer afterwards), as well as Alexandra Lamy as Julien’s mother, Claire. It was also refreshing to see that Julien was played by someone with a disability in real life (Fabien Héraud), rather than an able-bodied actor just trying to prove their versatility. The scenery in (somewhere near the mountains? Not exactly sure!) as well as Nice was exquisite and a nice touch to an overall beautiful (albeit contrived) piece of French cinema.
*The Finishers will receive its own cinematic release from 17th April exclusive to Palace Cinemas