Tag: france

Movie Review: Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard) (2009)

In my quest to become familiar with more foreign filmmakers, especially women, I thought Catherine Breillat’s rendering of the Blue Beard fairy tale would be a good fit. Plus it’s only 80 minutes long so I could easily squeeze it in before work. Set as a frame story, the film spotlights two young sisters hanging out in an attic in what appears to be the 1950s. They read from the story of Blue Beard and add embellishments and commentary periodically. The book’s tale concerns two similar sisters, though in their teens, who are poverty-stricken after their father’s death.

They must marry for money, and are considered by local nobleman Blue Beard (Dominique Thomas) as potential mates. He chooses the younger sister Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) for his wife, as she doesn’t look at him as an ugly monster suspected of killing his previous wives, but rather as a gentle, shy older man. The two live contentedly for a while in his castle, with Marie-Catherine pleased to finally be given preference over her older sister Anne (Daphné Baiwir). But she suspects a dark secret when he leaves her alone for a business trip.

Hmm not too much to say about this one, I don’t think. It’s a slow-paced, sparse telling of a pretty simple story, with some gender and sisterly politics thrown in for a more contemporary flair. There are lush landscapes and gorgeous costumes seemingly culled from a few eras. The leading ladies are good at having wide eyes and pale skin, and Dominique Thomas is appropriately gruff. The final shot is exquisite.

There just isn’t much to this movie. I didn’t love it or hate it, finding it diverting enough for its visuals, likable main character (she’s feisty), and easygoing child actors, but too ambiguous and minimal to really enjoy. I think that’s all I have to say? Damn. Most boring review ever, sorry.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez. More women-centric European period pieces I guess. Ever After? Shakespeare in Love?

Movie Review: Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec) (2010)

I am lucky to have a very kind boyfriend who will track down hard-to-find movies I want to see on a whim. Then again, isn’t he lucky to have a girlfriend who’s so awesome? I think so. Anyway, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec has a lot going for it: it’s written/directed by Luc Besson, who has a fairly strong track record for me; it’s based on a French comic book that I just ordered; and it’s about a strong lady protagonist who uses her wits and wiles to combat weird mystical elements in the 1910’s! Wowee!

The odd plot concerns multiple storylines that sort of come together eventually. A baby pterodactyl magically hatches from an egg in a natural history museum. An old dude hangs out with it while the cops try to figure out what the hell is happening. Adèle, a world-adventuring journalist, travels to Egypt to unearth a mummy who was once doctor to a pharaoh, with the hope that his ancient expertise can cure her fatally-ill sister. But first she needs to bring him back to life. And hope he speaks French.

This film rides the line between goofy camp and sincere corniness way too often, resulting in an uneven and unsure-of-itself production with its fair share of fun, memorable moments. I really wanted to like it since it has so many elements that I support- strong heroine, early twentieth century setting, fantastical adventure tropes, weird subplots- but it just doesn’t quite work. The tone is all over the place, and while I was pretty sure it was meant to be a comedy, there were these offputting dramatic/scary moments that didn’t fit in at all. Plus the dialogue is not as witty as it thinks it is (then again, who knows how the translation on our version was).

The cast does its best to elevate the so-so script. Louise Bourgoin is absolutely charming as the title character, pulling in equal amounts of spunky determined heroine and unexpected comic relief. She also has a rather impressive costume collection. I quite enjoyed Gilles Lellouche as well, who is very funny as the put-upon Inspector Caponi assigned to track down the pterodactyl. And Nicolas Giraud is beyond adorable as a shy scientist with his eye on the oblivious Adèle.

The special effects are noticeably sub-par, which is too bad, since there’s a lot of pterodactyl-flying and mummy-reanimating to be done. The story doesn’t make a lot of sense, which wouldn’t be a huge deal if I felt the film making fun of itself more. I don’t know if it’s translation/cultural issues or what, but there’s just something off about the overall tone and atmosphere, making it more confusing than anything else. It’s too bad, since it’s a fun and interesting premise, so I’ll try my luck with the comics. I applaud the imagination and sense of adventure maintained in the movie, though.

3/5

Watch Instead: There are several shades of The Mummy laced throughout, which is a decidedly superior fantasy/action/adventure with a sassy lady. I’m sure it would work as a double feature, too, if Adèle does pique your interest.

Movie Review: Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) (2003)

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Coincidentally (or maybe not?), shortly after the release of The Illusionist in Boston, a local theatre had a showing of Sylvain Chomet’s first film The Triplets of Belleville for Valentine’s Day. It was so cool. The almost dialogue-free story follows a dedicated grandma and her put-upon dog on a wild adventure that takes them from France to an alternate-universe New York. While competing in a major bike race, her grandson is kidnapped by winemaker mobsters and taken to America to perform in a bizarre gambling scheme. His grandmother follows his trail, eventually teaming up with the eponymous triplets- 3 elderly eccentrics who were a famous singing group in the 20’s.

I hadn’t seen this film in about 5 years and had forgotten just why everything about it is extremely great. It’s set in this weird alternate universe that’s mostly familiar but laced with enough oddities to place it well outside the realm of real life. The characters take on Chomet’s wonderful mix of hyper-exaggerated design paired with extremely detailed, observed movements and affectations. The colors are gorgeous, steeped in yellow and sepia with bursts of warm reds and oranges. Though a mix of computer and hand-drawn animation, the film maintains a gorgeous sketchy style with noticeable pencil lines and painted backgrounds. I could stare at this movie forever.

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The story is almost unbelievably zany, with a primarily dialogue-free script and unpredictable adventure. I love the mix of musical numbers, unexpected sight gags, small slice-of-life moments, thrilling chase scenes, and Americana parody (uh news flash, I guess Chomet hates America). The mobsters are hilarious, the triplets are kind of gross (what with all the frog-eating), but ultimately endearing, the grandson is tragically doe-eyed, the grandma is basically the second-best grandma ever (after my own, of course), and the dog is so stupid and fat.

I don’t think there’s anything I don’t like about this movie. It’s beautiful and weird and utterly imaginative. Great soundtrack, too.

5/5

Pair This Movie With: I’m going with A Town Called Panic, that completely awesome, utterly insane Belgian animated tale that everyone in the world should see and love.

Movie Review: Nid de Guêpes (The Nest) (2002)

Here’s another pick from scanning netflix instant in search of something fun. Lucky us! Setting itself up as an elaborate mystery-thriller, The Nest puts together two groups who’d usually be at odds with one another- government agents and low-level criminals. When an Albanian gangleader/brothel owner/supercriminal is finally captured through European police cooperation/teamwork, his heavily-armed transport is met with a slew of masked gang members ready to bust him free. They’re chased into a huge storage warehouse for computer equipment, where a group of thieves have enacted a plan to steal a truckload of computers. With a seemingly endless number of well-armed grunts coming after their leader, the two groups join up and do their best to fortify the warehouse with little hope of escape or rescue.

The Nest represents a genre I really dig- the one-location movie. I find it especially interesting in action thrillers, forcing the script to become inventive with its setting and resources, and often allowing more focus on character development. These aspects are handled perfectly here, with a team of distinctive and likable characters, who all must find their own way to contribute. There’s the good-hearted thief intent on saving his injured best friend, the highly capable ex-firefighter-turned-security guard, the stern German agent, the brassy computer wiz, the taciturn acrobat, and the badass French agent attempting to lead them all to safety.

Though the movie is slightly on the long side for an action flick (there is a good amount of set-up), the script is tight and smart, allowing the story and characters to unfold at their own pace, with a few big surprises and emotional punches thrown in. There are several big shootouts and impressive stunts, along with a high death count and even a bit of parkour (this is France, after all). It takes itself seriously and I so I took it seriously, finding myself completely swept up in the events and the tension-riddled premise. It’s just a really solid movie.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm any other awesome action movie, I guess! Die Hard feels right since that’s another one-location one. Or if you want to keep up the French theme I’d go with District B13 or Taken.

Movie Review: L’illusionniste (The Illusionist) (2010)

This was the one big holdover from 2010 I was still really excited to see, tapping into my love of both The Triplets of Belleville (which I’ll be seeing in a theater next week!) and traditional cel animation. Based on an unproduced script by Jacques Tati for his daughter (though just which daughter remains in contention), The Illusionist tells the quiet tale of a wandering magician traveling around Europe and struggling to get gigs in the wake of the rock and roll craze of the 50’s. During a stint at an isolated Scottish bar, he befriends a young maid who thinks he’s actually magic. Despite their language barrier, she follows him to Edinburgh and stays in his apartment, believing he can provide expensive gifts for her with his magic powers. He doesn’t want to ruin her fantasy, but as it gets harder and harder to find work as a performer he must resort to other means to get money.

I’m a little torn on this one. First, the good stuff: Of course, the animation and visual design are absolutely stunning. Chomet has this way of giving extremely detailed, closely-observed movements and affectations to characters with exaggerated designs, creating a juxtaposition that completely works. The landscapes and backgrounds are gorgeously rendered in watercolor, soaked in smooth warm colors. Chomet’s ability to tell a story with little-to-no dialogue is tremendous, and he achieves a number of adorable sight gags and touching dramatic moments with the absolute minimum of spoken words. I really enjoyed the character of the slightly stuffy magician, with his oversized clenched fists and comic height. The circus-y dudes who lived in their hotel were all pretty interesting too, some very funny and some impossibly sad.

For all that I liked about it, there are a few things that troubled me about The Illusionist. While I will certainly praise Chomet’s visual approach to storytelling, there are just a few things that are difficult to communicate without dialogue, leaving a lot of holes in the plot and characterization.

The biggest issue I had here is with Alice, the young girl. First of all, how old is she? At first I assumed she was around 11 or 12, since I could see someone that young who grew up in an isolated rural area believing in magic and not understanding how the world works, and wanting a lot of pretty things. But by the end she’s dating a dude and wearing high heels and has boobs, and I’m pretty sure not more than a year passed. So maybe she was closer to 16-17? In which case it is ridiculous that she would leave her home, move in with a stranger who spoke a different language, and then encourage him to get her pretty shoes and dresses while not even thinking about a job for herself. And why the hell would a grown man indulge a teenager who should know better? Either way, she’s a pretty flat character who comes off as a completely selfish idiot when I think she was supposed to be cute and naive. It was frustrating, since I didn’t want to hate her but couldn’t help finding her annoying.

Ultimately The Illusionist is saved by its breathtaking animation and many moments of sweet humor and touching drama. It’s a fairly serious film, especially in comparison to The Triplets of Belleville, but quite enjoyable. If the writing had been stronger- especially concerning Alice- I would have absolutely loved it, but I can’t quite overlook that weakness. Still better than most of the films playing right now, though.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Mary and Max– another animated drama focusing on the relationship between a young girl and an older man- seems fitting. It will make a nice contrast as this film relies heavily on narration and spoken word to tell its story.