Tag: france

Movie Review: Subway (1985)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from our friend Sam.

Luc Besson can be uneven, surely, but his output is so large it’s to be expected, and generally if I see his name attached to something I’m interested. I was pretty excited to hear about one of his earliest features, Subway, which sees the filmmaker sticking to his gritty urban French roots. The film focuses on Fred (Christophe Lambert), a spiky-haired safe-cracker who flees to the labyrinthine caverns of the Paris subway when a group of armed men chase him down for robbing wealthy trophy wife Héléna (Isabelle Adjani). He meets various eccentric denizens of the underground and fights to outwit the transit police, eventually forming a band with different musicians he meets down there. It’s a weird time.

I totally didn’t expect what this movie threw at me, but it was so great it didn’t really matter. It’s rife with bizarre characters and silly subplots, and no one has recognizable motivations, and everything is awesome. There are multiple musical sequences, exciting chase scenes, super cool locations, and general fun times. I loved the appearance from Jean Reno as a taciturn drummer, and Jean-Hugues Anglade as a weasely roller-skating thief. Christophe Lambert’s character is kind of an idiot with anger issues, but I liked his haircut. And Isabelle Adjani is just like… super pretty. Damn. And she hates rich people despite appearances. The real star of the movie is the setting, though, and I totally want to move into the Paris subway. It’s the best place.

Subway is a strange, fun film but it does drag as the story meanders around as much as its characters, and by the final scene it’s turned into this melodramatic romance that also has rock music? But it starts out as a chase-thriller with comedic elements. It’s all over the place. I liked the blend of genres and unpredictable plot, but the frequent switches in tone and focus made it an uneven film on the whole. But that’s a pretty minor criticism considering how much I enjoyed it overall! Thanks, Luc Besson!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Another wacky late-night-in-the-city movie, I think, like Desperately Seeking Susan or After Hours.

Movie Review: La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Setting the standard for future upper/lower class satire, Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game places a group of well-to-do French aristocrats and their bickering servants in an isolated chateau for a weekend party. Various romantic entanglements and misunderstandings occur, centered around married Austrian expat Christine (Nora Gregor) and the various men who love her. On the lower floors a new domestic hire attempts to seduce the wife of the mansion’s head groundskeeper, who is armed and ready to kill anyone laying hands on his wife.

Despite my love for art history and film coming together, I somehow knew very little about Jean Renoir (painter Pierre Auguste’s son, hello) or his career. I know The Rules of the Game is considered a masterpiece by many, and I thought the Upstairs/Downstairs premise sounded promising, but somewhere in the mix I lost interest, and in the end I’m not much of a champion of the film. Though I appreciate snarky social commentary as much as the next person, I didn’t find these characters or stories compelling enough to care much about what was being said, and the film as a whole felt uneven. There are some very funny moments and a number of overly-dramatic ones (the over-acting is pretty intense) but most of it falls in the middle, and I found myself less than engaged during several scenes. Christine’s flighty romantic nature and her philandering husband’s inability to commit aren’t strong grounds for a compelling story, you know? The subplot with the servants was more interesting (plus there’s a gun!) but it’s less of a focus. I understand the points being made about how rich people suck (duh) and the working class is kind of silly (I guess?) but I would have appreciated a more interesting script.

Not that everything in this film is bad, obviously. As I said there are moments I really enjoyed, especially those involving the flirty maid (Paulette Dubost) and her attempts to piss off her overbearing husband. The chase through the party is especially funny. The whole proceedings are shot beautifully, and I know Renoir’s use of deep focus is considered pioneering for the time. There are several scenes wherein the forground action is as important as the background, and he gives us fascinating moments with large groups and impressive rooms. I may not have been particularly engaged by the story or dialogue, but I was happy to just look at this movie. I also liked Renoir’s appearance as Christine’s doughy best friend Octave, whose comment of “I’m not the marrying kind” and general familiarity with her made me think this was 1930s code for “gay” but it turned out he just liked to fool around with ladies. Wishful thinking on my part, I guess.

I know this is a highly-regarded classic, considered one of the best films ever made, etc, and maybe it’s my low-brow tastes talking but it just didn’t do it for me. Mostly it just reminded me that rich white people are usually boring, but if that’s the focus of your movie I need it to be somewhat interesting, somehow.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Obviously a lot of people have drawn from Renoir’s approach, I’m most familiar with Julian Fellowes’ versions in Downton Abbey and Gosford Park.

Movie Review: Trois couleurs: Bleu (Three Colors: Blue) (1993)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles‘s computer.

When Julie (Juliette Binoche) loses her husband and young daughter in a vicious car crash, everything changes. Her husband was a famous French composer whose commissioned symphony for a national celebration is left unfinished. Julie sells most of her assets and leaves her large, empty chateau for a small apartment in Paris where she hopes to cut herself off from all reminders of her former life. She lives quietly but is consistently haunted by her past through strains of her late husband’s music, and his former assistant who wants to find her.

I had never seen any of Kieslowski’s much-lauded Three Colors trilogy, and honestly knew very little about it except that it’s something I should see, so it seemed finally time to give the first film a go. With a slow, contemplative pace and a mesmerizing performance from Binoche, Blue shows more than it tells. The majority of the film is a study of one woman’s pain, as she silently grieves the loss of her family and gradually comes to understand the freedom (however unwanted) it’s given her. There is a lot of empty space, but the gorgeous camerawork and palpable feeling of Binoche keep the sparse narrative afloat through the middle stretch. As Julie’s past forces its way back into her life, the story takes on elements of mystery and romance, and the action is propelled forward. It’s an interesting blend of plot points and genre tropes in a film that maintains a focus on one character’s mourning.

I liked this film but found it a little lacking as a whole. The mix of minimalist character study and sudden mystery/grungy late additions to the story was a bit jarring, though the tone remained understated. Binoche is marvelous and the visuals are breathtaking, and the theme of emotional liberty is handled deftly, I just could have done with a more focused plot.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I suppose the next film in the trilogy makes the most sense, though I know they’re not narratively linked. Otherwise maybe something lighter to lift the sadness this film emits, one of your favorite feel-good movies.

Movie Review: Le Trou (The Hole) (1960)

Seen: On dvd on my friend Sam’s projector set-up.

After our Cage weekend featuring The Rock, a friend recommended another prison-related movie that I hadn’t heard of. Le Trou is a deceptively simple film that focuses on a group of affable male prisoners who plot to escape their cell by digging a tunnel in the sewers underneath the prison. They spend weeks setting up their plan, monitoring the guards’ movements and routines, and then take turns digging for days straight under the cover of a nearby construction project. Mostly they hang out and are best friends and it’s adorable.

Describing this movie makes it sound kind of boring, which is too bad. It really is just a bunch of super friendly French dudes hanging out in a cell, being super nice to each other, and having a super good time together. It’s paced slowly but never dull, as we see new cellmate Geo (Michael Constantin) get to know the other men in the group, and share his own story. He accidentally shot his wife through the shoulder during an argument, and she accused him of attempted murder so he’s not getting out any time soon. They trust him enough to bring him into their plans, and the story moves along gradually from there as the various pieces come together.

There isn’t a lot of tension, which is interesting for a prison break film. Most of the people who work at the prison are shown to be polite and forgiving, and this is definitely not a high security set-up. (Honestly it looks like a pretty nice time, everyone is friends and they get free soup every day! Why would they want to escape?) As their work moves along it seems likely they’ll escape, and they work so hard for it you hope they do. It’s filmed in a tight, intimate way that makes the viewer a part of the group, a fellow inmate and friend, and the stakes are raised through the connection forged between character and audience. I know it doesn’t sound it, but this film is compelling and just all-around good.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmmm probably another prison movie? I haven’t seen The Great Escape but that’s an option. Or Cool Hand Luke is always fun.

Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) (2010) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Oh wow it’s been a while but I have a new review up over at 366 Weird Movies! That site’s pretty great, you guys, and I’m always happy to contribute to it. I’d been curious about Certified Copy since it was released in the US, but missed it in theaters. Various reviews I’d read had lauded its mysterious depiction of a bickering couple, and I must say it is intriguing. In many ways it is a stereotypical “European arthouse” film, but it has one weird element to it that makes it more interesting than just two well-educated people having a long conversation. Please check out my full review of the film. I worked really hard on it.