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Séraphine-Movie Review *** 09/30/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true events, Cairo International Film Festival, César Awards, Emotional Drama, European Film Awards, French language film, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Martin Provost, Newport Beach Film Festival.
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Séraphine (French) 2008 ***
Based on true events

Written and directed by Martin Provost (with co-writer Marc Abdelnour)
Starring Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, and Anne Bennent

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Actress (Moreau), Cairo International Film Festival
WINNER, Best Actress (Moreau); Best Film; Best Music for a Film; Best Original Screenplay; NOMINATED, Best Director (Provost); Best Sound, César Awards, France
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Moreau), European Film Awards
WINNER, Best Actress (Moreau), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards
WINNER, Jury Awards-Best Actor (Tukur); Best Actress (Moreau); Best Director (Provost); Best Film; Best Screenplay, Newport Beach Film Festival

Based on true events in the life of artist Séraphine Louis.

In early twentieth-century France, German art collector Wilhelm Uhde moves temporarily to the rural town of Senlis. There, he becomes aware that his cleaning lady, the humble Séraphine, privately produces exquisite paintings that he believes would thrill the art world. Séraphine is completely unschooled in art, and even makes her own paint colors. Uhde promises to become her patron and create an exhibition in Paris, but then he must flee France because of the war. Séraphine continues painting constantly. A deeply religious woman, she believes that her inspiration comes directly from God speaking to her, a belief that eventually carries her into madness.

For more about Séraphine Louis’s life, and to view a few of her magnificent paintings, visit Art Scene Today or do a search for Séraphine Louis. When I see the photograph of the real Séraphine, I appreciate the casting of the incredible actress Yolande Moreau in the title role.

Highly recommended.

125 min. Not rated. Suitable for older children and teens.


The Chorus-Movie Review *** 06/01/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, César Awards, David di Donatello Awards, Drama, French language film, Golden Globes, Highly recommended, Lumière Awards.
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The Chorus (French) 2004 ***
Les choristes

Directed by Christophe Barratier
Starring Gerard Jugnot, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, François Berléand, and Jean-Baptiste Maunier

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Music in Feature Film; Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Music; Best Sound; NOMINATED, Best Actor (Jugnot); Best Director (Barratier); Best Film (Barratier); Best First Film (Barratier); Best Design; Best Supporting Actor (Berléand), César Awards, France
NOMINATED, Best European Film (Barratier), David di Donatello Awards, Italy
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film (Barratier), Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Film (Barratier), Lumiere Awards, France

In post-war France, Clément Mathieu (Jugnot) takes on a new job teaching music at Fond de L’Etang, a school for incorrigible boys. Mild-mannered but tough, Clement has an unusual approach – he teaches the boys to sing. One in particular, Pierre Morhange (Maunier) has a special talent. Although Clement soon finds himself on the outs with the cruel Principal Rachin (Berléand), he finds solace in the knowledge that he has played a role in helping Pierre’s talent get recognized.

This was the first film for director Christophe Barratier, and it met with much critical acclaim. The lyrics of the Academy Award-nominated song “Look to Your Path” (Vois sur ta chemin) were written by Barratier. The film’s story line is certainly not unique, but it is definitely worth seeing. Besides outstanding acting by all parties, the music is absolutely beautiful, as is Jean-Baptiste Maunier’s angelic voice.

Favorite line: Action – reaction! (Principal Rachin’s chilling modus operandi for punishment)

Highly recommended.

97 min. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references and violence


La France-Movie Review 04/23/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Chicago International Film Festival, Emotional Drama, France, French language film, Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival, Musical, Prix Jean Vigo Award, Romance, World War II.
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La France (French) 2007

Directed by Serge Bozon
Starring Pascal Greggory and Sylvie Testud

WINNER, Feature Film-Serge Bozon, Prix Jean Vigo Award,France
WINNER, Festival Award, Best Director-Fiction (Bozon), Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival
NOMINATED, Gold Hugo-Best Feature (Bozon), Chicago International Film Festival

This is a very unusual “artsy” film about a band of deserting soldiers led by Le Lieutenant (Greggory). Roaming the French countryside during World War I as they try to reach freedom, they are soon joined by Camille (Testud), a young woman who has disguised herself as a seventeen year old boy so she can search for her missing husband. He is off at war and has sent her a mysterious letter ending their relationship.

What is most unusual is that every once in a while the soldiers take out instruments and break into song, songs that in themselves are unusual because they are more pop tunes than tunes from the World War I era.

Yes, that’s what they do.

At first, I wasn’t taken with this film but it grew on me and I liked it. The performances of both Pascal Greggory and Sylvie Testud as their relationship changes are what kept my interest.

But, caveat spector!

102 min. Unrated. Some nudity and violence.


Korkoro-Movie Review *** 04/08/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true events, César Awards, French language film, Montréal World Film Festival, World War II.
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Korkoro (French) 2009 ***

Based on true events
Directed by Tony Gatlif
Starring Marc Lavoine, Marie Josée-Croze, James Thiérrée, Mathias Laliberté

WINNER, Grand Prix des Amériques (Gatlif); Prize of the Ecumenical Jury-Special Mention (Gatlif); Public Award (Gatlif), Montréal World Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Music for Film, César Awards

As a family of Gypsies travels through the countryside of France during World War, they are followed by Claude (Laliberté), a little boy orphaned during the war. Claude is eventually welcomed into the closeknit family, who, with the help of sympathetic locals, must constantly avoid capture by the Nazis.

James Thiérrée, who plays Félix Lavil dit Taloche in the film, is variously described as an acrobat, clown, poet, and magician. Thiérrée did most of his own stunts and improvised many scenes. He captures the free and joyous spirit of the Romani people, and, despite the serious subject matter, this film has much humor and light moments. Also watch (at least) one of Thiérrée’s other spellbinding performances on YouTube.

With Korkoro, director Gatlif has taken on a seldom-addressed group that was slated for the extermination camps; some say it is the first such film treatment. Inspired by true events, Gatlif intended the work to be a documentary but lacked sufficient supporting evidence and decided to release it as a feature film instead.

Highly recommended.

111 min. Not rated. Suitable for older children.


Elevator to the Gallows-Movie Review *** 11/18/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, French language film, Highly recommended, Louis Malle, Miles Davis, Movies, Prix Louis Delluc, Suspense, Thriller.
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Elevator to the Gallows (French) 1957
Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

From the Criterion Collection

WINNER, Prix Louis Delluc (Louis Malle), France

Directed by Louis Malle
Starring Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Yori Bertin, and Georges Poujouly
Score by Miles Davis

The musical score lends a special air of suspense to this thriller about Julien (Ronet) and Florence (Moreau), a couple planning to murder Florence’s husband, and Veronique (Bertin) and Louis (Poujouly), a young couple who don’t seem capable of planning anything, but leave a trail of crimes behind them. Hauntingly filmed in black and white, the style is reminiscent of Hitchcock, with a decidedly French sensibility.

Amazingly, this is the debut feature film by the late legendary French director Louis Malle (Murmurs of the Heart), filmed when he was only twenty-four years old. He had previously spent several years creating underwater films for Jacques Cousteau. Malle’s collaboration with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis for the film’s musical score has also become legendary. (Watch the Special Features for an inside look at Davis’s improvisation process.) Jeanne Moreau’s movie career went on to great success after her performance in this film.

Highly recommended.

92 min. Unrated. Adult themes.


A Prophet-Movie Review 10/23/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Arabic language film, Cannes Film Festival, Dark Drama, David di Donatello Awards, French language film, Golden Globes, London Film Festival, Thriller.

A Prophet (French) 2009
Un prophète

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Film, British Independent Film Awards
WINNER, Grand Prize of the Jury; NOMINATED, Palme d’Or, (both for Jacques Audiard), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER and NOMINATED, Numerous Awards, including Best Actor (Rahim); Best Director (Audiard); Best Cinematography, César Awards, France
NOMINATED, Best European Film, David di Donatello Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Film, London Film Festival

Directed by Jacques Audiard
Starring Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, and Adel Bencherif

Growing up in France with no family, Malik (Rahim) spent his early years in reform schools. At nineteen, he is put into prison for six years for assaulting a police officer. Malik is of Arab descent and speaks both French and Arabic. To survive in prison, he becomes errand boy to mob boss César (Arestrup) and is eventually forced to commit horrendous acts of violence both inside and outside the prison. Although he has to undergo humiliation and isolation with this arrangement, Malik learns how the mob world works.

Malik experiences prophetic visions and “visits” from one of his murder victims. He eventually takes advantage of his prison time to educate himself to read and write. When the tides of power change and César loses most of his henchman, Malik is near the end of his term. Despite all the odds against him, he survived.

This is a long film and not for the faint of heart. The violence is ongoing and explicit; the conditions of the prison are horrifying. Tahir Rahim, a newcomer, manages to maintain Malik’s inner dignity. Rahim received many accolades (see above) as did director Jacques Audiard.

149 min. Rated R. Violence, sexual content, nudity, language, and drug content.


Paris, je t’aime-Movie Review 08/28/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Cannes Film Festival, Comedy, Dark Comedy, Dark Drama, Emotional Drama, French language film, Movies, Romance.
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Paris, je t’aime (French) 2006

OFFICIAL SELECTION, Un certain regard, Cannes Film Festival

A collection of very short pieces by twenty noted directors, whose sole directive was to create a film with the theme Paris, je t’aime (Paris, I love you).

What they produced is a motley set of films characteristic of the individual directors: some are touching, some are funny, some are romantic, some are weird. The theme of “loving Paris” is sometimes approached from a very tangential angle.

Many familiar faces appear, such as Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Marianne Faithfull, and Juliette Binoche. Altogether, this is a very enjoyable DVD, and I don’t know that I’d be able to pick a favorite piece, since they are so very different. There were only a couple that I thought were not up to par with the majority.

Even the piece with mimes took an unusual approach that I could identify with (a prisoner begs to be released from the same jail cell as a pair of mimes).

There has since been a similar project, New York, I Love You, that I haven’t seen. The reviews are not as favorable.

120 min. Rated R. Language and drug use. Adult themes.


Summer Hours-Movie Review 07/20/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Emotional Drama, French language film, Movies.
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Summer Hours (French) 2008
L’heure d’été

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film, National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA
SECOND PLACE, Best Director (Assayas); Best Film; Best Screenplay (Assayas), National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA

From the Criterion Collection
Directed and screenplay by Olivier Assayas
Starring Edith Scob, Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche, and Jérémie Rénier

A quiet film in which three adult siblings must cope with their mother’s death, and then with the country estate full of valuable art that she has left behind.

The film begins with the mother Hélène (Scob) hosting a family reunion and expressing her wishes for what happens to her belongings after her death. The mother was very emotionally invested in the house and its contents, an amazing collection of fine art. Her moderately famous artist uncle lived in the house, and she loved him very much–their relationship might even have gone beyond that of uncle and niece.

Her children, Frédéric (Berling), Jérémie (Rénier), and Adrienne (Binoche) are busy with their own lives. They, and their children, have no more than a passing interest in keeping the traditions of the family home going. After the mother’s death, the three grieve for a time and then dispassionately disperse of the house’s collection.

This is touted as Assayas’s most personal film to date; in creating it, he drew upon much from his own life. The Special Features contains a fascinating discussion of how the director chose the collection of art work used in the film, some of which is original and some of which had to be copied. The fictional artist uncle’s own artwork and notebook sketches also had to be created, and great care was taken to reflect the times he would have worked in.

103 min. Unrated. Adult themes.


The Witnesses-Movie Review 04/04/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Emotional Drama, French language film, Movies.
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The Witnesses (French) 2007
Les témoins

Official Selection, Berlin International Film Festival

Directed by André Téchiné
Starring Michel Blanc (Adrien), Emmanuelle Béart (Sarah), Sami Bouajila (Mehdi), Johan Libéreau (Manu)

The film follows a group of friends in 1980s Paris, as the days of sexual freedom begin to be affected by the AIDS epidemic. Adrien (Blanc) falls for the handsome young Manu (Libéreau), but their relationship remains that of friends. Adrien’s longtime friend Sarah (Béart) has a relationship and a child with Mehdi (Bouajila), but she is a free-spirited writer who does not feel cut out to be a mother. When Mehdi and Manu meet, their relationship impacts all of their lives.

My favorite performances in the film are Béart, who has appeared in a long list of films (for my review of another, see Strayed) and Libéreau, whose fresh approach to life and love does not last.

112 min. Unrated. Sexual content and adult themes.


The Horseman on the Roof-Movie Review 02/10/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, French language film, Movies, Romance.
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The Horseman on the Roof (French) 1995
Le hussard sur le toit

Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Starring Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez

During the 1830s, with revolutions happening all over Europe, Italian patriot Angelo Pardi (Martinez) escapes soldiers from the Austrian empire who are fighting in northern Italy. He flees into France, planning to meet up with like-minded friends. He escapes from many impossible situations and tries to save lives from the cholera epidemic racing through the countryside. Eventually he meets Madame de Théus (Binoche), a marquess who must leave to find her husband before she is put into quarantine, and they travel together.

Despite the illness and hardships the couple faces, somehow this story maintains a light touch. The beautiful music and scenery contribute, but the two stars especially make the two hours most enjoyable. (Offscreen, Binoche and Martinez became a couple for a time and had a child together.)

Favorite lines:
Angelo explains his continuing good health: “Cholera avoids me like the plague.”
Madame de Théus to Angelo: “You fell from the sky.” (He was on the roof of her house.)
French soldier to Angelo: “You’re as good as dead, pretty face!” (I couldn’t catch the French words, but that was the English translation.)

119 min. Rated R. Some nudity.