Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reviewing Three Films From the 18th French Film Festival in Manila

June 9, 2013

The 18th French Film Festival was held at the Greenbelt 3 Cinemas in the last three days, from June 7-9, 2013. Featured films are: "What's in a Name", "The Dandelions", "Camille Rewinds", "Cycling with Moliere", and "Rust and Bone." As before, admission is FREE!  

Here are my personal reviews of three of these films:

1)  CYCLING WITH MOLIERE (original title: "Alceste à bicyclette")

"Alceste à bicyclette" is about two actors. One is Gauthier Valance (Lambert Wilson), a handsome actor who is currently the star of a medical drama on TV. The second is Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini), a retired old school actor who now lives a hermit-like life on a small resort town.

Valance planned to stage celebrated French playwright Moliere's ultimate classic play entitled "The Misanthrope." Valance wanted to play the lead role Alceste, and was coaxing Tanneur out of retirement to play the secondary role of Philinte. Tanneur could not make up his mind and convinced Valance to stay on for a week, so they can practice reading the play, each actor alternating in each role.

However, an Italian divorcée named Francesca (Maya Sansa) gets into the picture and drives the story of the two actors from its multiple scenes of rehearsals to its climax and resolution. 

I knew no French, and had to rely on English translations. I am pretty sure that a lot of the humor and drama was lost in the translation. The other problem is the fact that I did not know "The Misanthrope" nor about Moliere himself. So I am sure I am also missing out on a lot of nuances in the conversations between the two guys. 

This movie is all about passion -- the consuming passion of Tanneur about Moliere, in particular. I can try to understand it of course, but I am sure I would appreciate it more had I known more about the playwright and his works. 5/10


2)  WHAT'S IN A NAME? (original title: "Le prénom")

"Le Prenom" is about a group of five middle-aged friends who are having a Moroccan dinner get-together one night. The hosts are Pierre (a literature professor) and his dutiful wife Elisabeth (nicknamed Babou). Claude is a professional trombonist who was Elisabeth's best friend. Vincent is Elisabeth's joker of a brother, whose wife Anna is pregnant with their first child. 

It was the matter of naming Vincent and Anna's unborn baby boy that starts us off in this adventure of bitter wit and sharp barbs all within the confines of Pierre's apartment. From a heated argument about the name Vincent plans to give his son, their conversation devolves into more serious and painful matters about each other's secrets they have been keeping from each other all these thirty odd years they have known each other as close friends.

"Le Prenom," with its confined action and lengthy dialogues, felt like a play. The passionate cast, led by Vincent Bruel and Charles Berling, were also acting like stage actors with their over-the top, exaggerated (therefore not too realistic for film) reactions and exclamations. I found out afterwards that it was adapted by Mathieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere, based on their 2011 stage play. 

This script of this film is reminiscent of a 2008 French play by Yasmina Reza called "Gods of Carnage", made into a film called "Carnage" by Roman Polanski. That play/film had two middle-aged couple whose arguments begin from a fight between their sons to topics totally different from what they started talking about. My previous blog entry about "Gods of Carnage" had been picked up by Rappler and published HERE.

As with other foreign language films, I felt a lot of the humor and wit is lost in translation into the English subtitles. Especially in a very wordy screenplay like this one with practical jokes and secret revelations, so much subtleties in the use of language is expected, and I surely missed. This is already very good as I watching it, but I have a feeling French-speaking people found it even better. I will definitely watch a live English language performance of this play if there was one. 6/10


3)  RUST AND BONE (original title: "De rouille et d'os")

"Rust and Bone" had Oscar buzz earlier this year, though it did not earn any nominations. This latest Jacques Audiard opus is the most familiar title there in this film festival.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a street fighter, a selfish brute of a guy. Ali lives largely for himself alone, treating people around him like mere objects. Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a killer whale trainer who lost her legs in a freak accident. She is very frustrated by her unconventional relationship with Ali. Will it have to take a major catastrophic event to snap Ali out of his numbed sensibilities?

Your attention will undoubtedly be riveted to Marion Cotillard as she is the highlight of this film. This attention will be both for her passionate performance, as well the astounding special visual effect of her without two legs. Those scenes of Stephanie swimming at the beach or in the throes of passion in bed were so realistic. There was also a scene of Cotillard with a killer whale very memorable for its beauty. 

Too bad Cotillard was not on screen too much for the last quarter of the film, and we will miss her presence. But that last quarter was when Matthias Schoenaerts ups his acting card and comes up with a performance to remember before the film ends.

This is not a film for everybody. The development of the story is very slow, in typical French fashion. It took almost two hours to reach its climax, which may not sit well with viewers used to Hollywood films. There were graphic scenes of sex and violence, reflecting Ali's lifestyle, which may be too repetitive. However, those who patiently wait for the ending sequences will be satisfactorily rewarded.  6/10


  1. my favourite is "Cycling with Moliere, of course, from your reviews. always I've been atracting by dramas like this one. I don't know why, but I like o watch drama about realy interestng people, like Moliere.

    1. You are based in Europe, Leau? Do you speak French?

  2. I haven't seen any French film yet. I'll try to check on CYCLING WITH MOLIERE.

    1. Of the three films I wrote about, what was it about Cycling that makes you want to check it out?

  3. I think what's in a name would be a good one with a adventure among friends and the eventual name they would select.

  4. I have yet to see any of those French films. But I have heard of and read good reviews of Rust & Bone.

  5. Will be taking a peek on these movies online. Ive seen some french movies and they are quite good :)

  6. Uy! French Movies. Does the movies are is English or French

    1. Adobo, these are in French with English subtitles.