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Wives and Lovers

Better than i remember it ....
This one is a forgotten gem. I watched it again after some 35 years and it struck me that all the ingredients for a good film are on display. Firstly, a stellar cast that are all uniformly excellent. A directer who, tho predominately from a TV background, innately understands the material .. and lastly, a wonderfully taught script by Jay Presson Allen who would go on to pen such films as Hitchcock's "Marnie" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie".

If you're a fan of the genre, in this case the early 60's 'sex comedy', you could do worse than to seek this out. It's a cut above the Doris Day/Rock Hudson films of the period.

I don't know who manages the back-catalogue for Paramount, but this could certainly do with a DVD release given the popularity of the afore-mentioned Day/Hudson films and the buying power of the baby boomers. Certainly, it has more 'bite' in the screenplay with some dialogue that obviously went under the censor's radar at the time.

La femme en bleu

A chauvinistic take on obsession ......
I've seen 2 more recent offerings on DVD from director Michel Deville and quite enjoyed them so I thought I would give "La Femme en Bleu" a try. This one didn't do it for me I'm afraid.

The story is simple enough. Pierre spots "The Woman in Blue" in a shop one day and is instantly intrigued. He wonders to himself whether he should approach her but decides against it. Upon leaving the shop he again sees her in the distance and slowly his intrigue turns into obsession. The rest of the film sees us joining Pierre in his quest to find this mysterious woman. He enlists his friend Edmond to assist in locating her and also draws in his sometime lover Aurelie (Massari) who reluctantly agrees to help him as well.

That's the film really ... at a plot level anyway. Of course, Deville is exploring more deeper concepts here, primarily that of OBSESSION. Pierre's obsession with the mysterious woman in blue and Aurelie's obsession with him. Why would she assist in the search for a potential rival? Perhaps a little bit of the 'if you can't beat him - join him' philosophy perhaps? This is a FRENCH film afterall !! The music of Schubert features prominently throughout as both a background score and often as a plot device. Most films are written and then scored later -- watching this however, I couldn't help but feel the Deville chose some of his favourite Schubert pieces and constructed a film around them. A novel approach if nothing else.

I must say i did find "La Femme en Bleu" quite chauvinistic tho. Piccoli's character is far from likable and why Aurelie tags along just doesn't ring true ... but as I said earlier ... this IS a French film. I doubt it would appeal to a female audience (they may even find it offensive) and, frankly, has little to recommend it it to a male one either.

Haz conmigo lo que quieras

A sexy, quirky black comedy in the style of Almodóvar
I caught a little bit of "Haz Conmigo lo que Quieras" on cable one night and it immediately grabbed my attention. To my surprise i found it was available on DVD so i immediately purchased it.

The plot is not simple to describe as it takes a number of twists and turns. Essentially, it's the story of Manalo - a debt collector who's job it is to harass his targets into paying up. His job is to dress up in a bunny suit, follow them wherever they go and embarrass them into coughing up the dough! This can be both humiliating and fraught with danger (as Manolo soon finds out). Along the way he meets Maribel (played by the wonderful Ingrid Rubio) and the attraction is instant. Together with Maribel, Manolo sets out to prove to his boss that he is ready to dump the bunny suit and move up the ladder to 'strongarm' man in the debt collection agency.

This film should certainly appeal to fans of Almodóvar or even Tarantino. It's a wonderfully quirky, sexy little black comedy as only the Spanish can do. All the more surprising considering it's the directorial debut of Ramón De España. He shows a wonderful flair for character development and comedy.

Grab the DVD ... you wont be sorry.


German Hal Hartley with a touch of Claude Chabrol...
Here we have the story of Lukas - a young man doing community service (delivering meals-on-wheels) as his penance for avoiding compulsory national service. Early in the film he meets Isabella, a rather troubled girl, on a bus. She hands him a note that simply says "Help Me". Why she needs help is not immediately clear, but during the course of their relationship Lukas does indeed discover the meaning of her 'note'. This sends them both on a downward spiraling course that neither of them could foresee....

I quite enjoyed "Schussangst". It's a story of how society has lost its sense of 'community' .. that even in a large city, we are essentially all alone. Much like a Hal Hartley film, we meet a number of interesting, sometimes quirky, characters along the way -- all of who contribute something to the final outcome. There's also a thriller undercurrent to it (as the title would suggest) that is very reminiscent of Claude Chabrol.

One of the better German films i have seen. Worth a look.

Anatomie de l'enfer

Interesting as always ... but not one of Breillat's best.
I am a great fan of Catherine Breillat. I have seen many of her films now and have enjoyed each and every one. She is an interesting film maker, always provocative, always prepared to push the boundaries of cinema. 'Anatomy of Hell' tho left me somewhat bored. It seems to me that with each new film, Breillat is becoming ever more compartmentalized. Here, her mission is to specifically explore the female sex organ and the affect this may (or may not have) on the male sexual and emotional psyche. The problem is, since she's chosen such a narrow subject (no pun intended) to examine, there really isn't enough material here to sustain an entire film ... even one with a brief running time as this (approx 80 mins).

Another downside also is that the film is totally reliant on the 2 leads, and frankly, Siffredi is just not up to the task. On the other hand, as always, Breillat casts an interesting female lead. Amira Casar, with her porcelain white skin, her voluptuous curves and her pitch black hair certainly holds ones interest. I get the feeling Breillat, when making the female casting choice, looks for younger and more glamorous versions of herself -- you'll rarely see a blonde.

There are the trademark 'pluses' of Breillat in this film tho. Her thoughtfully conceived set design for example ... her minimal editing .. sparse use of lighting. These all add up to good story telling techniques in my book. But alas, there is just not enough substance to the narrative to make this a good film.

I really do wonder where she is going to go from here ... ?

Camille Claudel

Just expensive melodrama .....
What is it about French *EPICS* that makes them so dreary? 'Camille Claudel' suffers from the same intrinsic problems as its predecessors ('Entre Nous' comes to mind). Too much style ... not enough substance. Make no mistake folks ... this is a very lavish (read expensive) production. Perhaps that is the problem. Too much time and money spent on production design and cinematography and not enough time on script development. This is supposed to be a character driven piece yet somehow the 'story' just gets lost in all that grandeur. It's only during the last 3rd of the film do we we actually get to see any sort of 'performance' from Isabelle Adjani. For the rest, both her and Depardieu are minnows lost at sea in a maze of bloated film sets awash with moody lighting.

Yes .. the cinematography IS breathtaking so kudos to Pierre Lhomme. I beg to differ with other reviewers about the musical score tho. It's one of the worst i have endured in recent times. More often than not it seems to be totally out of place (and out of context) to the scene we are witnessing ... almost as if it had been scored without actually *seeing* the film.

I cant help but feel how this story would have been handled by a director with some understanding of the nature of art, but more importantly ... the ARTIST. Those having seen Jacques Rivette's 'La Belle Noiseuse' will understand. And for those interested in Depardieu driven historical pieces, seek out (the hard to find) Le Colonel Chabert. He's performance in that film is exquisite.

This is an overly melodramatic film and a sad waste of money. They could have made 3 films for what this one must have cost. Not recommended.


Where does Chabrol find them ... ?
I have to hand it to Claude Chabrol. He certainly has an eye for casting his leading ladies. For 'Masques', here we have Anne Brochet in her first feature film. From the moment we first lay eyes on her, she comes over both mysterious and enigmatic. Chabrol cleverly does not allow us to see her eyes -- she is wearing sun glasses due to still convalescing from a past medical condition. When her eyes are finally revealed, we indeed see Chabrol's casting astuteness. Oh-La-La ... such wonderful peepers. Brochet is very reminiscent of Emmanuelle Béart here.

This is one of the more conventional mystery/thrillers from Chabrol. Essentially a detective story of Roland, who's sister has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. His investigations lead him to her last known whereabouts -- the country home of game show host Christian Legagneur. Roland poses as a journalist under the pretext of interviewing Legagneur for a book. Here he meets, and falls in love with, Legagneur's god daughter Catherine. Is it she who holds the key to the disappearance of Roland's sister? Watch the film to find out.

'Masques' is probably not one of Chabrol's finest but interesting none the less. Certainly worth a look for both Anne Brochet as the child like Catherine and Philippe Noiret's wonderfully over the top performance as the game show host. As in all Chabrol films, people are never quite what they seem. Unfortanately, the villain of the piece is revealed a tad too early in this one. To be fair tho, Chabrol does salvage the film in the final act.

Full of the usual fair of fine food .. fine wine .. and a few cigars smoked. Worth a look.


Un coeur en hiver

I must say at the outset, i have only recently become acquainted with the films of Claude Sautet. My introduction to this director came through his 1972 film 'César et Rosalie'. I enjoyed the film but wouldn't call it exceptional. After having now watched 'Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud' and this film, i will certainly go back and make a reassessment.

'Un coeur en hiver' is, however, nothing short of a masterpiece -- a showcase for acting talent and directorial mastery. Something that immediately struck me while watching this film was the *compactness* of the performances. This film has not one ounce of fat in it. Never is a gaze held for longer than it should be -- never a word of unnecessary dialogue spoken -- it doesn't run a minute longer than it should.

I have seen both leads in many films now. I thought Emmanuelle Béart was wonderful in her other collaboration with Sautet 'Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud' and her star shines even brighter here. Both films deal with the same subject matter -- falling for the wrong man and unrequited love. The jury is still out for me on Daniel Auteuil. I've seen many of his performances (and perhaps that's the problem) and i've never found him totally convincing. Not so here however -- Sautet reigns him in and extracts a wonderfully nuanced performance.

But the real star here is Emmanuelle Béart. Her portrayal of Camille, a violinist virtuoso, is stunning and utterly convincing. One can only imagine the painstaking preparation she underwent for this role (yes, she did take violin lessons prior to commencing this project). A role, incidentally, not dissimilar to Lori Singer's cellist in Robert Altman's 'Short Cuts'. The beautiful physicality of the performance is what draws you in. Whether you love or loath classical music is largely irrelevant here -- it's the passion and commitment in the delivery that counts and Béart is magnetic.

Claude Sautet won the trophy for best director in France's 1993 César awards for this. We can only lament he made so few films and the fact that very few are available on DVD.

A must see for those who love intelligent film making from a director with complete mastery over the medium....


Petites coupures

A Convoluted Mess ....
The plot in Petites Coupures certainly left this viewer dumbfounded.


In the space of 48hrs or so, Auteuil's character has an affair with a teenager, loses his wife's affections, attempts to seduce Scott Thomas, is rejected by her goes on to grope yet another female character in the back of a car and then is finally shot for his trouble.

***end of spoiler***

wha ???

The only saving grace in this flick is Kristin Scott Thomas. Similar to Charlotte Rampling, she seems a *natural* to star in French cinema. My hope is that one day François Ozon may cast her in a part where she can show her true talent.

There are some fine French films such as the remarkable Le Colonel Chabert begging for a DVD release, yet this is the tripe that gets chosen.

Avoid this one.


Le chignon d'Olga

A charming little film....
I almost gave up on Le Chignon d'Olga. It was late and i was tired. The film started with an endless array of characters all being introduced within a short space of time. Quite frankly, i was lost and couldn't figure out who was who.

Glad i stuck with it tho cos, once i got a handle on the characters, i found the film thoroughly enjoyable.

I can see why director Jérôme Bonnell is compared to Eric Rohmer. They seemingly both like to concentrate on the small nuances of peoples everyday lives, and as another reviewer mentioned, these type of films never get made in Hollywood. I, for one, hope the French never stop making these small intriguing films (this one was shot for under 1,000,000).

I will be watching for further offerings from Jérôme Bonnell. French cinema seems to be in safe hands.



La sirène du Mississipi

Cant get enough of Deneuve....
I've slowly been collecting the films available on DVD of both Catherine Deneuve and Francois Truffaut. Both actress and director have done some stinkers in their time - fortunately Mississipi Mermaid is not one of them.

Next to "The Soft Skin", coincidentally staring Deneuve's sister (the late Francoise Dorleac), this would have to be my favourite Truffaut film.

As well as directing, Truffaut also wrote the screenplay. Something that always strikes me about Truffaut is his almost childlike innocence when presenting a story -- one could almost call it naivety.

There's a scene towards the end of the film where Belmondo returns to the apartment in Lyon with the remains of the loot. He rings the doorbell and Deneuve answers wearing a negligee. In the time it takes Belmondo to reach their room from the street, Deneuve changes into her dress, puts on her best pair of stockings and shoes, then lies on the bed and pretends she is asleep. It's a scene that could almost come from the mind of a child - but that's Truffaut for you.

Watching Catherine Deneuve in her films of the late 60's is indeed a sensory pleasure. She is so extraordinarily beautiful it is almost painful for us to watch. Incidentally, for those fans, there are a couple of topless scenes of her in this film - indeed a sinful pleasure.

I disagree with previous posters. I see nothing 'Hitchcockian' about the film at all. As for the 'look' of it - i love the look of the older film stock used in the 60's. It certainly gives films of this period a unique look.

Highly recommended for both Deneuve and Truffaut fans......

The L-Shaped Room

A truly touching performance by Leslie Caron
I first saw this film when I was I'm my early teens and for some reason it always stuck with me. Some 30yrs later, I watched it again last night and was awestruck by the performances in this fine fine film.

Leslie Caron was nominated for an Oscar for her role and won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for her performance .. and rightly so. Such a touching, understated delivery that will have you too fall in love with her character Jane.

It's hard to believe I am only the 2nd user to comment on this forgotten gem. Films like this really illustrate the dire state of motion picture making these days. They sure don't make em like they used to folks.

Available on DVD, unfortunately not in it's original aspect ratio. Perhaps one day someone will release it in wide screen to truly appreciate the gritty black & white photography.

Highly recommended .. a flawless film throughout !

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