If anything, this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema proves to be pretty standard fare- two things French Cinema is best known for: an obsessive love story and coming-of-age drama top the program's hodge-podge of 8 films I've seen. Other than three standouts I've posted previously, here are the skinnies on the others:
The Thorn in the Heart (2009) - Gondry
Rather than heavy handed, emotionally exhausting, exploitative dysfunctional-family genre doc approach that are synonymous with any Amerindie doc nowadays, Thorn in the Heart plays out like a gentle Gondry family album. Gondry pulls no hard punches at his silver haired school teacher aunt Suzette and the relationship with her emotionally scarred, troublesome middle-aged son Jean-Yves as Gondry chronicles many schools she'd worked for in different small towns over 30 years. It should've been called Aunt Suzette I love you, then again, that wouldn't have been dramatic enough.
OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus (2009) - Hazanavicius
This France's answer to tongue-in-cheek, 007 spy spoof franchise's second installment is true to its source- split screen, candy colored, painstaking recreation of the swinging 60s, hot babes. A smarmy, sexist, racist, anti-semite, homophobe secret agent Hubert de la Bath/OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) needs to buy back the list of collaborators from a Nazi officer (Rüdiger Vogler) who is living large in Rio. There he meets his match in beautiful Dolores (Louise Monot), a Mossad agent who is after the Nazi.
Since it's French, 117 never gets belly laughs, only occasional uncomfortable smiles. I mean, Holocaust jokes get old really fast.
Non ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser/Making Plans for Lena (2009) - Honoré
Christof Honoré paints a difficult picture of being a single mom and I'm not talking about Baby Boom. Chiara Mastroianni is nothing short of a revelation as a discombobulated mom of two, dealing with well meaning but nosy parents, sibling rivalry and her estranged husband whom she can't ever get over. Her portrayal of Lena, the not so perfect woman, is as honest and revealing as anyone can get. The original title is from a fable Lena's son tells her- about a headstrong woman who can't find a suiter who could keep up with her dancing. When the devil matches her stamina, her father intervenes, hence the title. English title is also an apt one, as her parents try to help her out (but not obsessively). Superb supporting cast include- Marie-Christine Barrault as mom, Marina Foïs as her bitchy sister, Jean-Marc Barr as her estranged husband and Louis Garrel as a hunky younger love interest. One of my favorites from the series.
Le Hérisson/Hedgehog (2009) - Achache
Based on a best selling book The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the film tells a story about a frumpy middle aged concierge of a upperclass Paris apartment and a precocious young girl, Paloma, who decides that she would kill herself on her 13th birthday (she can't stand her bourgeois family). Josianne Balasko is great as the main character Renée as the lowly character who leads a double life- in one she acts the stereotypical concierge, in the other she is a cultured bookworm. It's the other life that only a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, rich, refined old Japanese gentleman and Paloma notice. Their friendship slowly opens up stone faced Renée and change Paloma's outlook on life.
As I was reading the book, I was wondering about how the diary-like monologues would translate, Achache does a good job at rather economical filmmaking- movie within a movie, Ozu references and some Japanese sumi-e inspired animation sequences. A tear-jerker.
Welcome (2009) - Lioret
Calais, the town on the other side of English Channel is full of illegal refugees from the Middle East. Police monitors if its citizens are violating the law by helping foreigners. A passive swimming coach (Vincent Lindon) at a local pool with marital problems gives lessons to a 17 year old Iraqi refugee who is staying at the detention center. Little does he know that the kid is planning on swimming across the channel to England to reunite with his girlfriend. Lindon with his basset hound looks brings out sympathy from me like no other. Deeply moving.