June 13, 2014
The Embassy of France to the Philippines, the Alliance Française de Manille, and Institut Français hold the 19th French Film Festival from June 10 to 15, 2014 at the Greenbelt 3 cinemas in Makati City. Unlike the previous years though when admission was free, this year they are charging P100 per screening.
The opening film of this year’s festival is “20 ans d’écart” (“It Boy”). Others in the lineup are “La Vénus à la fourrure” (“Venus in Fur”), “Mon âme par toi guérie” (“One of a Kind”), “Une autre vie” (“Lovers”), “Amour et turbulences” (“Love is in the Air”), “Les beaux jours” (“Bright Days Ahead”), “L’Écume des jours” (“Mood Indigo”), “Quai d’Orsay,” and “Situation amoureuse : C’est compliqué” (“Relationship Status : It’s Complicated”).
Here are my personal reviews of three of these films that I have seen:
1) La Vénus à la fourrure (Venus in Fur)
"Venus in Fur" is one mesmerizing film, the latest by controversial director Roman Polanski. This is despite having only one setting -- an old Parisian theater on one stormy night. Furthermore, it has only a cast of two -- Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. There is something so vital about their one hour and a half long conversation that that is simply compelling.
Amalric plays Thomas, a stage director conducting an audition for lead actress for his play entitled "Venus in Fur." Seigner plays Vanda, an down-on-her-luck actress who arrived very late for the auditions. Vanda convinces Thomas to still give her a chance to audition. Thomas will soon discover that he will get more than what he bargained for.
Amalric and Seigner worked very well together with an electric chemistry and erotic tension that transcends language barriers and subtitles. I would have imagined a younger actress to play Vanda, but I must admit that the 48-year old Seigner still manages to be as sexy and seductive as Vanda should be. Amalric's character was captivated by her allure, and so will you. Of course, director Polanski will not make his wife look bad.
This film is based on a play by David Ives, and this was obvious in the way the dialog of the characters went. It was fascinating, and at times confusing, how their conversations moved from within the play's script into reality seamlessly. For people who love the theater, this film that will grab them from the get go all the way to its unpredictable climax. 6/10
2) Quai d’Orsay (The French Minister)
Arthur Vlaminck is a fresh graduate from a noted university is hired to be a speech writer for the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexandre Taillard de Worms. Arthur would soon discover that his new boss is vainly self-centered and overly meticulous. Despite saying he wants a speech which is direct to the point, he has a speaking style that tends to be pretentious and rife with quotes from classic political texts.
The script brings us in the thick of the daily goings-on in the French foreign ministry, as the busy bureaucrats address this and that conflict. While the superpowers, US, Germany and France, are mentioned by name, the smaller countries they have issues with are hidden under fictitious names, like Ludemistan or Ubanga. There are generous references to NATO and the UN.
The elegant egoistic Minister Taillard is very well-portrayed by Thierry Lhermitte. He knows his character very well and the subtle style of comedy the role demanded. You will feel sorry and root for the harassed and toxic Arthur Vlamnick as played by Raphaël Personnaz as he not only deals with his difficult boss, but all the other big egos in the staff as well. Nils Arestrup provides that balancing force as he calmly plays the efficient Chief of Staff Claude Maupas.
From the start, you already get that this is written as a political satire as you witness Taillard address pressing issues with his strange idiosyncrasies -- how he orders a rewrite without even reading the draft, how he makes papers fly around by merely entering the room, or how he wildly wields his neon highlighter as he goes through his readings. This pattern unfortunately tends to be repetitive and will lose steam as the film progresses. 5/10
3) L’Écume des jours (Mood Indigo)
The basic story seems simple enough. Boy lives a charmed magical life with his outlandish inventions and talented friends. Boy meets the girl of his dreams and marries her right away. Girl falls ill with a mysterious ailment, and boy does everything in order to save her.
In the hands of noted French director Michel Gondry however, this tale is taken to surreal directions, fantastic and absurd. It was obviously going to be an art film from the get-go with the out-of-this-world imagery that gets weirder and weirder as the mood of the film turns from happy to somber. There were some very disturbing images of blood and gore, which felt misplaced in this film whose general mood was romance.
Audrey Tautou is of course a familiar name, playing the ill-fated Chloe. This role is somewhat reminiscent of her past roles. Romain Duris plays Colin rather unevenly, as you cannot really read his true personality of his character. Omar Sy, who was recently seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" plays Colin's faithful valet/friend with the flair for preparing fancy food, and dancing with his rubbery legs to blues music.
This will not be an easy watch for mainstream movie audiences. This is strictly for the art-house crowd. I read that this film was based on a beloved 1947 French novel by Boris Vian, and fans of the book liked how this film brought their favorite story to life. However, for those unfamiliar with the book, this film with its two hours plus running time will be unbearably slow and bizarre. 3/10.