Rendezvous continued

When the dust cleared, I finally ended up seeing only five more films in the Rendezvous with French Cinema series at the Walter Reade. The price of doing business.

Over the last few years, the Rendezvous went from being one of my favorite events to one that I dreaded. This year was a huge swing back towards the positive side, with several films that I eagerly look forward to seeing again ASAP.

Briefly, then, the other five that I haven't discussed yet:

Palais Royale -- Valerie Lemercier.
Strange time for a comedy about a "people's Princess" a la Diana. I mean, the Di craze is so, well, so 1990s. Lemercier, who is best remembered for her lovely performance in Claire Denis's Friday Night, is apparently a popular stand-up and has cracked film bigtime (she's in at least one other film in this series). As a performer she is not without charm, an eccentric female clown not quite in the tradition of Lucille Ball, without the slapstick skills of Ball or Carole Lombard, or the determined wackiness of Ginger Rogers or the warmth and dry wit of Jean Arthur or Irene Dunne or . . . well, she's painless enough. As a writer-director, she has not sense of structure or timing. In its relentless mean-spiritedness, Palais Royale is refreshingly unworshipful around its royals, but the film is an utter mess, albeit with a few belly laughs.

Not Here to Be Loved -- Stephane Brize
(Anybody know how to do accent marks here? 'Cause Brize has two accents egues and I can't figure this stuff out.)
Here's a film that divided my friends and colleagues rather sharply. Ronnie Scheib (of Variety) and I both liked it. Ira Hozinsky hated it. (I think Daryl Chin wasn't too thrilled either, but you'll have to check his blog to be sure.) The split, I think, is based on our comparative reactions to what is, admittedly, a rather predictably sentimental plotline. Patrick Chesnais, in a wonderfully glum performance, is a bailiff, an officer of the court whose job consists mainly of bugging people about unpaid bills leading to evictions and repossessions. Now 51, he is barely living, a prisoner of a deadening routine of meaningless work, a loveless relationship with his aged father and his feckless son, who is reluctantly joining him in the firm. He starts gazing out of his window at a dance school across the street and one day goes there to study tango . . . . It's not Shall We Dance? (neither the Suo, which is a delight, nor the ghastly American remake), because this is a film that stoutly resists anything resembling exuberance or levity. Rather, Brize keeps the tone low-key, almost Bressonian in its rigorous detachment. She uses long takes brilliantly to explore the awkwardness of social situations, their terrifying potential for embarrassment. And I think that is what makes the film work despite its admittedly hokey ending. Of course you can see how the relationships between fathers and sons will be worked out, whether he will get the girl, but Brize's steadfast refusal to treat the material with anything but detachment -- not ironically, but almost clinically -- lowers the treacle quotient radically.

Heading South -- Laurent Cantet
At a time when mainstream American film has utterly abandoned any interest in issues of class (or in how people make a living, for that matter), it's fascinating to look at the work of Laurent Cantet, a filmmaker who is primarily concerned with precisely those issues, class and work. Even his new film, Vers le sud (Heading South), while set in a leisure paradise, the tourist side of Haiti in the late 1970s, is about the pernicious influences of those two pressing realities as much as it is about race or the nature of a repressive society. Cantet's protagonists are three women who have come to Haiti for sex, quite simply, sex with attractive younger men. Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) is a college professor from Boston, Brenda (Karen Young) is a recent divorcee from Atlanta, Sue (Louise Portal, in the most unflashy role of the trio) is a warehouse forewoman from Montreal. Brenda and Ellen find themselves in competition for the attentions of Legba (Menothy Cesar), a bright young man who is perfectly contented to live off their favors.

Early in the film, there is a shot of Brenda walking along the beach. The camera tracks along with her, with only the horizon visible in the background; with the camera moving alongside her, she appears to be standing still. It's a perfect metaphor for Ellen and Brenda's situation, with each struggling against the reality of their situation -- neither of them is going to "win" Legba and take him home to the States, and as Ellen says when taunting Brenda, they couldn't even if they did convince him to come away. The characters in Cantet's films (Human Resources, Time Out and now Heading South) are trapped by economics and by the class roles that accompany such a stern reality. The class structures are subtly indicated in this film, but omnipresent nonetheless.

One other grace note that I found particularly appealing, although I need to see the film again to see how Cantet is using it: Heading South is a film with an unusually variegated auditory texture, built on the contrasts between many different kinds of Francophony: Ellen's precise, almost literary French with her discernible English accent, Brenda's American-laden French, Sue's Quebecois and her own accented French, the Creole spoken by the Haitians among themselves and the various accents they bring to the French they speak to the tourists. There are more class differentiations at work here, but I need another viewing to unravel the patterns at work.

And I can't wait to do so. This is easily one of the best films shown in this program in many years, on the same level of ambition and achievement as the Techines and Chabrols that have highlighted the Rendezvous in the past few years.

Le Petit Lieutenant -- Xavier Beauvois
Beauvois is one of the darlings of Cahiers, which ain't a bad thing, but I must admit that this is my first exposure to him. It's not hard to figure out what attracts them to his work, the same thing I like about this police procedural is its dry, uninflected coolness. Jalil Despert plays the title role, a young Lt. fresh out of the national police academy who is assigned to the Homocide squad in Paris. Nathalie Baye, his immediate superior, is just returned to active duty after a long stint behind a desk resulting from a serious drinking problem. They begin working on a case involving the murder of a homeless Russian immigrant worker and . . . .

Sounds like an episode of Law and Order stretched to almost two hours, except that Beauvois uses his camera like a scalpel and the film is richer in texture than any TV show could be in one hour. (TV at its best works on the accumulation of detail over many episodes; texture is the result of such an accumulation.) Baye won a Cesar (the French equivalent of the Oscar) for her performance, which I thought rather ironic since the best thing about it is how unshowy it is; no American actor ever wins an Oscar for this kind of understatement. But she's terrific, as is the entire ensemble. This is another film I can't wait to see released here.

Zim and Co. -- Pierre Jolivet
This, however, is the kind of film that is more likely to get commercial distribution here. It's a painless, lightweight teen comedy about a slightly feckless young man (Adrien Jolivct, the son of the director and quite pleasant) who suddenly finds himself facing a prison term resulting from a fairly scooter accident, unless he can find a full-time job; he gets the job but it requires a car, which means he needs a driver's license and so on. There's nothing really wrong with the film; it's harmless fun and the young cast is appealing. But Jolivet directs it as if it were a 90-minute-long Mountain Dew commercial.

Monday morning marks the beginning of press screenings for the New Directors/New Films festival, so it's up with the rooster and off to the cinema. Tough life, huh?

Comments

I wish we would get the film "Heading South" down here in Baltimore sometime! someone please tell me when it comes out in DVD!

For a list of many DVDs dealing with female sex tourism, you can visit this link:

http://www.beaumonde.net/romancefilms.shtml
George Robinson said…
Given that it's been playing in France for a while, it may be out on a Region 2 disk pretty soon. I'd check FNAC or Amazon.fr. for more details.
Don't know if it has a US distributor yet and heaven only knows if it will play Baltimore when it does.

best,
g