Tag Archives: French

Belle de Jour

15 Apr

 

Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour” caused a minor stir by chronicling the soul-searching of a bored Parisian housewife who, for obscure reasons, takes up part-time work as a high-class call girl. Provocative and erotic but never base or graphic, the film’s a deep dive into the psyche of its heroine; entwined in fantasy and fulfillment, the film gives Buñuel, a deft surrealist (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” his signature work), opportunity to reach into his bag of tricks and smudge the edges of reality the way Dalí or Munch might on a canvas.

On the outside Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) has it all: a spacious flat in a nice neighborhood and a classic, good-looking husband by the name of Pierre (Jean Sorel) who works long hours as a surgeon. Everything’s perfect, yet there’s an aloofness and conflict behind her wide, luminescent eyes. The film begins with Pierre and Séverine in a horse-drawn carriage ambling though the countryside when Pierre orders its driver to halt and his assistants to assail her. It’s one of the many fantasies we get from Séverine’s point of view. In another she’s dressed in a virginal white gown and men throw mud and perhaps worse at her – thoughts of Pasolini’s “Salò” well up. 

The carriage bell, the beat of hooves and the mewling of cats work their way mysteriously into scenes within the flat and brothel. What’s it all mean, and what of Séverine‘s masochistic fantasies? A troubled childhood? The desire to break free of a coddled life, yet an unwillingness to jump? A self-destructive bent to feel alive? Perhaps simply the intoxication of strange men in strange places? It’s a tease throughout, and the real-world pairings as arranged by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) are almost as far out as Séverine’s fantasies, especially the client who demands that she dress up like his recently deceased daughter. Then there’s the gangster who gets freebies on the house, and the obsessed john who follows Séverine home. Ever lurking too is Pierre’s buddy Henri (Michel Piccoli, who has the mug of a mortician) who’s on to Séverine’s game and quite taken by her seeming piety and the wild side just beneath. Séverine outwardly loathes him. “Keep your compliments to yourself,” she tells him.  Continue reading

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Agnes Varda

7 Mar

A Pioneer Of The French New Wave, Filmmaker Agnès Varda’s Career Spans The Playful And Pointed

Filmmaker Agnès Varda with street artist JR. (Courtesy Cohen Media Group)closemore

Filmmaker Agnès Varda has seen and done much in her life — from witnessing the German invasion of France during World War II, to becoming the female face of the French New Wave, to hanging out with enigmatic Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison and, now, being recognized with a Charles Eliot Norton professorship at Harvard.

Varda, who was born in Brussels and spent most of World War II on a boat off the French port of Sète (where her mother was born), stumbled into film. Bestowed with the birth name of Arlette Varda, she changed it at the age of 18 — something that other famed French filmmakers of the time like Jean-Pierre Melville and Chris Marker did as well. A photographer by trade, Varda returned to Sète to shoot pictures for a friend who was physically unable to make the journey to the Mediterranean fishing port.

That photographic mission inspired Varda to make a cinematic postcard of the area with Philippe Noiret (“Cinema Paradiso”) cast as a man trying to reconcile a rocky marriage. The result was the 1955 film “La Pointe Courte” — the title referring to a small, water surrounded quarter of Sète. Shot using natural locations on an incredibly modest budget — and reluctantly edited by fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais who was working on a similar effort at the time — the film is widely considered the forerunner of the French New Wave. Continue reading

The films of Jean-Pierre Melville

3 Dec

6 Films To Celebrate French Noir Master Jean-Pierre Melville’s Centennial At The MFA

Serge Reggiani in Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Doulos," released in 1962. (Courtesy Rialto Pictures)closemore

If he were alive today, Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the great faces of French cinema, would be 100 years old. (He was born in 1917 and died of a heart attack in 1973). To commemorate the filmmaker’s 100th birthday, the Museum of Fine Arts is running a retrospective of the auteur’s work.

If you’re unfamiliar with the name (and too many Americans are), Melville minted chic, noir-ish gangster flicks that have been widely cited for their influence and echoed in the hip, popular works of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann and John Woo. Melville also was a contemporary of, and collaborator with, many of the iconic directors of the French New Wave in the ’50s and ’60s — namely Jean-Luc Godard — and employed many of the great French actors of the time, most notably Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.

Now revered for his unique style and approach (he made the fedora and the trench coat as synonymous with the French gangster genre as dusters and 10-gallon hats are to the American Western) Melville almost didn’t become a filmmaker. Born an Alsatian Jew by the surname Grumbach, he fled to England after the 1940 German invasion of France. Later, he returned as a member of the French Resistance. His nom de guerre was indeed copped from the “Moby Dick” author, who the young freedom fighter held in high regard. After the war, Melville applied to become an assistant director, but his license application was denied so he launched his own production company. The rest, so to say, is cinematic history. Melville produced a spartan 14 films — nearly all fine cut gems. Continue reading

Interview with director Olivier Assayas

16 Mar

Inspired By Progress For Women, A French Filmmaker Prefers To Keep His Movies About Them

Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas on the set of "Personal Shopper." (Courtesy IFC Films)closemore

French auteur Olivier Assayas, whose kinetic style and eclectic works have enchanted cinephiles over the past 30 years, doesn’t particularly relish the term “muse.” “It’s somewhat cheesy,” he notes during an interview to discuss his latest release “Personal Shopper.” The inspiration garnered from his lead actresses, Assayas says, germinates from a more genuine and iterative process.

Past partnerings with Maggie Cheung, his wife from 1998 to 2001, yielded the deconstructive melodrama “Irma Vep” (1996) and the sobering “Clean” (2004). With fellow countrymate and longtime friend Juliette Binoche, he churned out “Summer Hours” (2008) and the top 10 list-maker “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014).

“Personal Shopper,” which opens in Boston this Friday, marks Assayas’ second collaboration with American actress Kristen Stewart, who starred alongside Binoche in “Sils Maria” and has since become a highly sought-after talent. Stewart made the unlikely transition from the box-office bait, teen-targeted “Twilight” saga, to an art house darling collecting raves for her recent efforts in “Café Society,” “Still Alice” and “Certain Women.” And “Personal Shopper,” which scored Assayas Best Director honors at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, will likely only raise Stewart’s stock.

“I discovered Kristen when doing ‘Clouds,’” Assayas says, “and [during filming] I learned how capable she was and I was fascinated. Once that was done, I was inspired by her and wrote the part [of Maureen Cartwright in ‘Shopper’] with her in mind.”  Continue reading

Blue is the Warmest Color

5 Nov

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’: Tantalizing and très French in its sensual complication

By Tom Meek
November 4, 2013

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Abdellatif Kechiche’s beguiling portrait of passion and betrayal received much ado at Cannes, where it won the top prize and garnered an NC-17 rating as it came ashore here in the states. At three hours in length, the French film, originally and more simply titled “The Life of Adèle,” is just that: the tale of a young woman coming of age and her sexual awakening. The big brouhaha whipped up is over Adèle’s true love being another woman. For the middle third of the film as their relationship blossoms, the girls, one in high school and one in college, have torrid couplings under the noses of their parents. It’s pretty graphic, with lip-to-labia contact, contorted scissoring and deep-tissue rump massages.

110413i Blue Is the Warmest Color

The first of these protracted scenes feels apt and genuine, as it’s fueled by ardor and emotion, but the following ones feel staged and exploitive by comparison. Still, it’s how the two women, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux), meet and their journey that drives the film, not the over-the-top sexcapades. Adèle, fairly popular at school, has a quick, trivial interlude with a male classmate who, after achieving the conquest, becomes cold and aloof. Then, out at a gay club with male friends, Adèle wanders into the abutting lesbian meat-market where she’s instantaneous shark bait. Across the bar, she and the blue-haired Emma (perhaps the impetus for the American title – that and the fact Adèle is almost always wearing a blue dress or like-hued attire) lock eyes repeatedly. The sharks circle closer and take their exploratory nips. That’s when Emma steps in and pulls Adele from a persistent plier, offering a sprig of earnest camaraderie without pander or expectation. But clearly there’s desire.  Continue reading