Tag Archives: French

Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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    Rating: C/ Puppylove opens with two 14-year-old kids preparing to have sex. The awkwardness and authenticity of this scene made me think the movie itself was going to be more realistic than it was. But no, the ick factor of this film goes way above and beyond a realistic amount and into a level of ridiculousness. Let me explain. The girl in the movie, Diane (Selene Rigot) is a young teen and looks barely old enough to be weaned off Barbie dolls. She also seems to be in love with her ineffectual father (Vincent Perez) (Freud would be proud.) At the beginning, we see the girl, Diane, befriend Julia (Audrey Bastien,) the remarkably self-possessed nymphet daughter of overbearing intellectual parents who is all too aware of her effect on men. Continue reading Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

Marie’s Story (2014)

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The Miracle Worker in a convent. Sister Marguerite (Isabelle Carre) is a well-meaning but somewhat naive French nun who lives in a convent-slash- school for deaf girls. When Marie Huertin (Ariana Rivoire) arrives, Sister Marguerite as her work cut out for her. Born both blind and deaf, Marie is the wild offspring of working class parents (Gilles Treton and Laura Duthilleul) who, although apparently kind and compassionate, were not up to meeting the needs of their out-of-control daughter.

Marie can’t or refuses to dress herself, eats like an animal, and bites and claws anyone who stands in the way of her achieving her whims. While the Mother Superior (Brigitte Cattilion) believes that Marie can’t be helped and should be sent to an insane asylum or someplace else better equipped to control her unusual behavior, Sister Marguerite takes her on as her own personal project despite being very ill herself. This leads predictably, after much frustration and doubt, to a Eureka moment akin to Helen Keller’s at the water pump and some gradual bonding between Marguerite and her protege.

Marie’s Story is a film which, while very well-acted, should seem familiar to people who hve seen films such as The Miracle Worker, Nell, or Truffaut’s slightly superior oldie The Wild Child. While the character’s disorders are slightly different in the two latter films (having previously been feral humans rather being born blind and deaf,) the set-up is very much the same. The big confrontation between Marguerite and her young charge over whether the wild young thing should eat with a fork strongly echoes a defining scene in The Miracle Worker, while the sequence where the girl is tormented by the poking and prodding fingers of some mean-spirited deaf girls seems reminiscent of the boy’s jarring first arrival to supposed ‘civilization’ in The Wild Child.

It is not surprising that this film should seem uncannily similar to The Miracle Worker, after all, both are based on true stories that occurred around the same time period and both incidents resemble each other a great deal. If Annie Sullivan was a nun who was dying of an incurable disease, well… With all that said, acknowledging that no, Marie’s Story does not feel fresh or particularly innovative or original. it is not a bad movie by a long shot. There’s are some good performances.

Ariana Rivoire does an amazing job as Marie. Not once does she break character, it is easy to imagine that she is really a disabled, nearly feral young girl. Isabelle Carre provides steady support, and while she did not impress me as much as Rivoire (Rivoire admittedly having the more showy role,) she didn’t fail to compel me as a true woman of God. I don’t know if there is a God (being a very skeptical agnostic,) but if there is, people like Sister Marguerite do him proud.

Despite very little dialogue spoken by the character throughout the film, Gilles Treton as Marie’s father touched my heart in a way I can’t exactly explain. You can tell by his look of concerned devotion that he is a good man who provided his daughter with a life much better than most severely disabled people in that era could dare to dream of. He just couldn’t provide her with what she needed most; communication. I found myself liking his character even though he had next to no lines, just call it a hunch, or really good acting on Treton’s part. Although it gets a bit too sentimental at times, Marie’s Story has a good story and strong characters.

It’s a good film in all respects, but it just can’t manage to avoid the pitfall of seeming like ‘another Miracle Worker type’ movie. It doesn’t differentiate from the former enough to give it a true identity. However, if you want a film with Faith-based themes that doesn’t condemn the Catholic church yet doesn’t feel like a proselytizing ‘Christian movie,’this might be a prudent choice. I enjoyed this movie and as a skeptic I consider it a religious movie that doesn’t make a agnostic want to barf. It balances God with a fascinating (if familiar) story and gifted actors. In French. So if you like these kinds of movies, in all likelihood, you’ll enjoy this one. There are far worse films about people living with handicaps to choose from.

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Au revoir les enfants (1987)

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A single look can change everything.

Louis Malle’s heartbreaking autobiographical film is set in 1944 at Catholic school in Nazi-occupied France, and chronicles a naive preteen’s wrenching coming-of-age. Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse,) a well-to-do adolescent mama’s boy, thinks he knows everything there is to know about the real world, but things are about to get a whole lot realer, and life a lot more harrowing, during a seemingly uneventful stint in boarding school.

A pixyish, somewhat androgynous child already contending with impending puberty, a harrowing experience in it’s own right, Julien is first seen bawling out his doting mother (Francine Racette) at the train station, where she prepares to send him on the train to school. “I don’t give a damn about dad, and I hate you,” he sniffles, caught in the throes of typical adolescent self-absorption and angst.

But Julien finds unexpected pleasure and enjoyment at the academy, where he roughhouses and plays with the other boys in his age group, sells black market jam to the crippled kitchen hand and school outcast Joseph (François Négret,) and strikes up a tentative friendship with a low-key, musically gifted boy named Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö.)

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The nosy Julien does some prying and discovers that his new friend is actually a Jew, named Jean Kippelstein, and smuggled into the school by the altruistic and rebellious Father Jean (Philippe Morier-Genoud.) A hell of a priest and a hell of a good guy, Father Jean quietly defies the Nazi Occupation and does what he thinks is right regardless of what society expects of him.

You might think that 20th-century upper-class French kids are somehow less rambunctious than the modern American preteen, but this movie will inform you otherwise. The boys in this movie, are rowdy, wild, combative, and often rude and mean. They just don’t have an Xbox to lull them into complacency. Most of them are more or less completely unaware that their country is in discord, preferring to roughhouse, haze the new guy, and read each other the dirtiest book they know (The Arabian Nights, the veritable Fifty Shades of Grey of their time.)

Filmmaker Louis Malle chooses wisely not to make the boy characters too worldly or introspective, instead deciding to stick to a more realistic approach to adolescence. And the movie is not without it’s humor- when Jean and Julien wander off during a treasure hunt and get lost in the woods, they run into a scared wild boar and are charitably wrapped in a blanket in the back of a German military vehicle and returned to school.

When they return home to their peers, however, Julien elevates the story to legendary heights- now there was not one, but one hundred mad boars and the soldiers shot at them as they ran through the woods. Why, they barely escaped with their lives. This provides some comic relief, but it also has a lot of truth to it- stories all seem to get bigger in the minds of young boys.

Au revoir les enfants is tender, true-to-life, and achingly sad. The children behave as children will, ignorant of the impending storm, and the adults talk worriedly among themselves. The matter of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a series of decisions and choices, and morality doesn’t always triumph over doing the cowardly and ultimately shitty thing.

There is at least one main character who does a terrible thing (not Julien, whose ultimate act is comprised of folly. not malice) This person screws the others over and is presumably rewarded for it. The movie teaches a sad but true lesson- Happily ever After can occur for the most undeserving people. The righteous man is not always the one who gets a good outcome. And doing the right thing should be because it’s the moral thing to do, not because you’ll be rewarded for it.

The child actors do an admirable job in a foreign film that almost everyone with a taste for a rich narrative should find accessible. At the end of the movie, Julien says he’ll remember that last morning in January til the day he dies. You should remember this movie as such;  not because it is traumatic, but because it is moving and beautiful, without a hint of bitterness for a carefree childhood torn asunder by life’s cruel ironies.

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The Wild Child (1970)

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During a short period in my late teen years, I had a offbeat interest in feral children and the behavior of kids forced to sink or swim in scenarios of extreme neglect. A strange obsession for a much loved, protected, and comfortably middle class white kid, but I’ve always been fascinated by abnormal psychology; how the mind works, or doesn’t work, depending on the situation. So I had had Francois Truffaut’s “The Wild Child” for several years, bought during the peak of my feral child phase, when I impulsively picked it up and popped it into my DVD player.

I don’t know much about Truffaut, having only seen The 400 Blows years ago, and I always get him mixed up with Au Revoir Les Enfants and Murmur of the Heart director Louis Malle. I was bored for the first few minutes of The Wild Child, but I quickly got into it’s modest but psychologically intriguing narrative. The Wild Child is not a sentimental film (certainly less so than The Miracle Worker, which it mirrors in many respects.) In some ways it has a clinical feel, but at the same time is empathetic to the characters and their motivations.

In the 18th Century, dedicated scientist Jean Itard (writer/director Francois Truffaut) takes on his hardest challenge yet: a dirty, wild, malnourished boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol) found in the woods of rural France. The boy, eventually named Victor, is taken to the School for the Deaf and Dumb where he is eyed and prodded by curious onlookers, actually becoming a spectacle for visiting Parisians.  Finally, when the people at the school tire of their dancing monkey and contemplate dropping the boy off at a institution for the incurably retarded, Itard takes charge and brings Victor to his home on the outskirts of Paris.

There Itard and his housekeeper, Madame Guerin (Francoise Seigner) set out to train the child to be a proper human being. But Itard becomes increasingly obsessed with indoctrinating Victor into civilization, taking his failures incredibly hard and busying himself with instructing his young charge with rewards, punishment, and earnest attempts to give  the kid a normal life. However determined Itard is, he still fails at the most rudimentary aspect of the boy’s education- treating him like a human child and not a science experiment. He becomes increasingly frustrated at his inability to teach Victor language, and considers surrendering him to a potentially dreadful institution.

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  The Wild Child is based on the true story of the ‘Wild Boy of Aveyron,’ and from what I understand it is fairly faithful to the facts. What the scientists, the townspeople, even Itard fail to realize is that Victor’s behavior isn’t that of a incurable crazy or an imbecile. The way Victor acts, emotes, and relates to people is quite normal for someone of his unusual upbringing. He doesn’t like wearing clothes; he never had to wear them in the wild. He doesn’t understand stairs. He abhors the idea of eating with a fork. Are these the traits of a moron? Of course not, he’s never had to do things differently. In truth, Victor’s ability to survive in the wild and hunt and gather from a very young age requires much more ingenuity than being a proper 18th Century Dandy, but the ‘normal’ upstanding citizens don’t see it that way. They just think he’s defective and stupid.

The boy who played Victor was an adolescent gypsy boy and nonprofessional actor; in truth, he often doesn’t appear to be acting. The child on which this movie is based is speculated to have been Autistic, it would explain why his parents rejected him  at a young age and tried to kill him (as evidenced by the scar on his throat) before driving him into the woods. Whether or not Victor has an Autism Spectrum Disorder or has just been deprived of a normal childhood and developmental milestones, Jean-Pierre Cargol displays one of the most natural, unshowy portrayals of severe Autistic-like behavior I’ve ever seen. It’s impossible not to sympathize with Victor watching this movie; it’s the obsessed, chilly Itard that comes off as weirdly alien. However, Itard’s sometimes harsh methods of behavioral modification is preferable to the alternative of being shackled up in a mental ward. It is Guerin who approaches Victor’s challenges with  the unconditional love of a mother. She is a catalyst to the unfeeling, judgmental Frenchmen who treat Victor like an animal and an outcast.

There aren’t a lot of close-ups or expressions of sentiment in The Wild Child, but it’s a great film for people with any interest in psychology whatsoever. Despite the lack of earth-shaking events, there’s a lot going on under the surface, in contrast to loud, big-budget movies that are ultimately hollow.  The main conflict involves Itard struggling to discover if Victor has a innate understanding of empathy and fairness, or if he only reacts as such because he’s been conditioned to. Whether what he finds out ultimately satisfies him is anyone’s guess. The Wild Child is a slow-moving film but those interested in sociology and the inner workings of the human mind should find a treasure trove of intriguing thoughts and ideas.

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Enter the Void (2009)

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Life after death as the ultimate trip, as envisioned by Gaspar Noe. Epileptics need not apply.

it is safe to say that Enter the Void is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an experience I have very mixed feelings about. My emotions throughout this movie ranged from excitement and wonder to tedium and at long last, utter boredom and disgust. The first hour or so of this polarizing feature had me at the edge of my seat, it was an experience of startling uniqueness and innovation akin to watching Eraserhead or A Clockwork Orange for the first time.

The next thirty minutes my attention began to wander, but by the last half hour, as we are treated to an interminable scene of people in a sleazy Tokyo hotel getting it on while a strange light emanates from their genitals, my reaction wasn’t quite so charitable. “Please God make it stop,” my inner critic groaned. And at long last, when the constant love-making (although to call what these broken people share ‘love’ would be pushing it big-time) and psychedelic headache inducing-visuals were over, I was all too happy to retire to my bedroom to go to sleep.

To call Enter the Void, despite it’s visual verve, low on plot and lacking direction would be to make epic understatement. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think there’s ever been a motion picture where we saw less of the protagonist’s face. That’s because Oscar (Nathaniel Brown,) an addict and dealer slumming it in Tokyo, is mostly behind the camera as we see his life, and eventually his death, through his own eyes. Oscar is a ne’er-do-well who lives with his seductive younger sister (Paz de la Huerta) in a dive apartment and is in denial about his full indoctrination into the druggie lifestyle. Neither sibling seems like a particularly bright light, each talking in a bland, deadpan drone, and Oscar has less than familial feelings for his sister and late mother (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte.) The girl, Linda, a stripper, also seems eager to get in on in a less-than-sisterly way with Oscar, unless making bedroom eyes at your brother while cooking food for him in your panties is a regular way for siblings to behave.

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After his loving parents’ brutal death in an automobile crash, Oscar has promised unreservedly to look after and protect his vacuous but weirdly sensual sister. Being that he can’t be arsed to get a regular job, Oscar runs drugs for the strangely philosophical Alex (Cyril Roy.) At the beginning of this film Oscar takes a shitload of DMT and goes on an epic high, as we hear his thoughts and witness a storm of swirling shapes and colors. He goes off to a dive club to meet the sniveling Victor (Olly Alexander,) which turns out to be his last hurrah, so to speak, as Oscar is shot by the Tokyo police through the door of a shit-stained urinal and dies shortly thereafter. But, to Oscar’s shock and relief, he discovers death is not the end. For the rest of the movie, he floats around Tokyo and witnesses the people in his life converge in unexpected and disturbing ways.

This is my first Gaspar Noe film, and I think he had an amazing idea and a totally legit way of visualizing it.  But ultimately Enter the Void is too long and has too little to say, with ponderous scenes that go on… and on for seemingly hours. I love the way The Tibetan Book of the Dead is incorporated here, I think it’s really smart and clever. I would have liked to have seen it used more or to better affect. But how many hazy aerial shots of people screwing can you watch before a movie like this begins to feel like an extended music video? We get it, Gaspar Noe, you have some talent maneuvering a videocamera, but please stop showing off and give us a story, a conflict, a set of characters that behave in an interesting or believable way. Enter the Void is probably an unmitigated wonder while you’re blitzed on magic mushrooms or hungrily devouring pot-laced brownies, but in the end it’s about as profound as the average TV quiz show. Oh, it’s pretty to look at. But Ohmygod is it tedious. And it’s a tedium that goes on for 2+ hours.

I’m not a prude. Sex and violence have their place in a story. But none of the characters in this film are remotely likable or sympathetic. They’re simply bad people doing bad things. Enter the Void is like a stoned guy at a cocktail party who momentarily gains your attention. He tells crazy stories without a single ounce of credibility, and for a while you’re sucked in by his colorful, gregarious bullshit. But then after two hours you kind of just want him to come back where he came from and take his gear with him. Nihilism has never looked so gorgeous and yet so empty and shallow. At one point, the stripper sister in this film says she can’t stand another minute being amongst these horrible, horrible people. Funny. The sober viewer can weirdly relate.

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Blue is the Warmest Color (2014)

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Dare I say that I didn’t quite fall in love with this film the way everyone else seemed to? I’ll be the first one to say that “Blue is the Warmest Color” is altogether a very well-made movie. But it, like anything else, has it’s faults, The first and second halves of this film seem like entirely different movies (and are individually each the length of a separate motion picture, Good God is this movie long.)
The first half is full of joy and vitality, while the second portion, the more inferior one by far, ploddingly deals with the tragedy of a doomed love affair. While Adele, the heroine, is a compelling, likable character at the beginning, by the end she is a pathetic needy husk of a woman, lacking a shred of dignity or decency. Furthermore, by the conclusion it’s hard to root for the broken lovers to reunite. Frankly, they’re toxic to one another! But I digress. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), who is fifteen when this story starts,  is a voracious reader and insecure beauty who is still navigating her intrinsic passions and inner desires, Although Adele hangs with a group of friends in her local high school, she finds she cannot relate to their banter concerning boys and hookups. Adele dates a male classmate for a little while, even sleeping with him at one point, but Adele finds she desires something that young men can’t offer.

When Adele spots Emma (Lea Seydoux) in a crowded street, it’s lust at first sight. Emma awakens something in Adele that she hasn’t experienced before, a kind of intense longing. Emma, a blue-haired, charmingly tomboyish artistic type, is older and more experienced than the youthful Adele, but she takes to her from the moment they officially meet.

Emma and Adele kiss in the park, discuss art and literature, and have sex. Lots and lots of sex. In fact, for a hetero chick, the prolonged sequences of lesbian love-making seemed a little bit excessive. There was one scene in particular that seemed to go on for ages and feature about eighty different positions. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is not porn, but it does seem to cross that line disconcertingly often.

If there’s any fault to be had in this critically acclaimed movie, it’s certainly not in the acting. Both leads, especially Exarchopoulos, blew me away with their incredible performances. The script, similarly, is often exceedingly natural and compelling. However, a film should only be three hours long if not a dialogue or shot is wasted. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

A passionate embrace, a mere mention of skin can say more than a handful of borderline pornographic sequences ever can. Are these scenes necessary to show the love the heroines feel for each other? No. Moreover, the realization that the actresses didn’t have a good experience with this director makes me wonder if filming this movie was awkward or degrading for them.

Mostly, though, the movie was just too long and the second half too uneven for me to give the movie more than 3.5 stars. The actresses are lovely and fiercely talented, and the film is worth your time (if you happen to have a spare three hours to watch a movie,) but I found I just didn’t love it as much as I should’ve.

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Baxter (1989)

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While I stand by my belief that human beings are the only creatures capable of true, premeditated evil, a film premise concerning a homicidal, misanthropic dog with a razor-sharp human intellect was too fascinating to pass up. That’s what this movie is all about, really… even if it’s rough around the edges in some parts and so, so hard to watch at others, you can’t fault it for creativity. For a dog, who is considered ‘man’s best friend’ and a protector of humankind, to be a incarnation of human’s worst qualities, is a innovative idea, to say the least.  But, ultimately, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the titular Baxter. As always, the ‘superior’ evil of man wins over the force of a clawed, toothed animal’s will.

We are introduced to Baxter’s world in a distorted, bizarre sequence featuring the dogs in a pound making a ruckus and baring their teeth. It’s a normal real-life scene, except for the way it’s handled, which is uncanny and eerie at best, completely surrealistic and mundanely terrifying at worst. This sets up the development of the canine anti-hero, a bull terrier who should be considered immoral and malicious, to say the least. Meet Baxter. He’s not like other dogs.

Baxter is adopted and given to an elderly lady (Lise Delamare) as a birthday present by her daughter. To say that Baxter dislikes the old woman is an understatement. Bored and infuriated by the uneventful life of a docile, neglected house pet, Baxter knocks the old woman down the stairs twice, finally killing her.

After the lady’s death, Baxter goes looking for a perfect human to spend the rest of his life with, ideally, one who ‘feels neither love nor fear’ (Baxter’s ugly thoughts are brought to life by the late French actor Maxime Leroux, who maintains a creepy, almost sociopathic inflection throughout.) After another failed endeavor aimed at finding the ideal master, Baxter gets saddled with Charles (François Driancourt,) a sicko adolescent obsessed with Hitler. At first Baxter finds he can respect the youth’s nihilistic worldview, but what is the price of this twisted partnership? And when the boy’s degenerate behavior surpasses that of even Baxter, what price will be paid?

Firstly, if you find yourself particularly unnerved by cruelty towards animals in movies, don’t bother to watch this movie. It won’t inspire you, ingratiate you, or offer you anything but hopelessness and violence. However, if you like dark, unusual films with a hint of horror, this might prove to be your type of flick. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize “Baxter” as black comedy, though there are certainly some who may disagree with me on that point. Despite a lack of likable characters, the movie becomes twistier and more tragic by the minute.

I really liked the scenes shot from Baxter’s point of view. The choice to make the actor who plays Charles so young was a good one- his youth paired with his complete ammorality makes the situation all the more disturbing (it deserves to be mentioned that the kid actor does a very good job, despite this being his only movie.)

I was a little quizzical about the portrayal of the human characters. Maybe it was written as such to drive home Baxter’s belief about the inferiority of certain people, which ties into the kid’s Neo-Nazi ideology, but the people featured in the film display a dazzling ignorance. From the rotten teen’s parents, who decide not to confront him about his Nazi paraphernalia because he’s ‘going through a phase’ to the pretty brunette who sleeps with the youth after he compares her beauty to that of Eva Braun, the humans don’t seem to have a brain among them.

This mostly works, except for one scene that almost ruined the movie for me in it’s ridiculousness. Let me set the scene, if I may, of a couple (Jany Gastaldi and Jacques Spiesser)   that have adopted Baxter (post- dead old lady but pre- Nazi scuzzbucket.)

The duo have a new baby who Baxter has a deep and abiding hatred for. The baby has almost fallen (or been pushed?) into the fountain in the yard once, so what do the mom and dad do? They go in to have sex, leaving the tyke on the lawn. Whether or not you know the dog is trying to kill the baby (which you wouldn’t, let’s be honest,) would you leave the child in a yard with a fountain he has a propensity for crawling toward? No.

Pretending two people of non-retarded intelligence would do this just to advance the plot is lame to say the least. But if you overlook that scene (argh,) “Baxter” is a thought-provoking film and a singularly bizarre character study. I would like to get a hold of the book on which it was based, “Hell Hound” by Ken Greenhall. Also, is it weird that now I want a bull terrier? 😛

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