Sunday, March 7, 2010

18 again: Les Regrets

Les Regrets (2009) - Kahn
An introverted Parisian architect Mathieu goes back to a small town where he grew up, to tend to his dying mother in her final days. There he spots his old fling Maya on the street. So begins this wish fulfillment, a-second-chance-at-what-could've-been story. Even though they've grown up and have separate lives- Mathieu married to an architect partner and Maya to a brutish local farmer, they've been keeping the memories of their first great love and heartbreaks. This time, they can't take their hands off of each other. So they carry on with their affairs under the noses of their semi-suspecting spouses. Yvan Attal, (My Wife is an Actress, Les Patriots) is great as mild mannered Mathieu who gets blinded by his rekindled love. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (It's Easier for a Camel, Nennet et Boni), plays indecisive Maya. With her tiny raspy voice and big, deep fawn eyes, Tedeschi could bring out madness in any man.

Cedric Kahn (Red Lights) doesn't patronize his characters, compared to Todd Field's Little Children which is filled with cynicism and its characters' actions are borne out of boredom in white suburbia. In Les Regrets, surely they act like teenagers in heat - Mathieu brings out a frightened little girl in Maya and she encourages his boyish machismo. But even with Mathieu's full-blown obsession and erratic behavior, and Maya's indecisiveness, they are painfully aware of their surroundings and can't shake off the weight of their responsibilities. They are endearing, sympathetic human beings.

With measured and effective Philip Glass's score and Nina Simone's Sinnerman bookending the film, this contemplation on regrets (in which most great literature/art is based upon) gets high marks from me.

Restless: Le Bel Âge

Le Bel Âge (2009) - Perreau
The film starts with a teenage girl Claire sneaking into the huge decrepit mansion owned by her grandfather, Maurice, at night after partying with some friends. In the morning, Maurice comes into Claire's room and she hides under the bed. Later, Claire picks up an envelope with money in it from the mantle downstairs. As the film progresses, we learn this delicate dance between the young and the old who don't know how to communicate with each other, has been going on for a while.

Claire, a sullen 18 year-old school dropout and would-be swimming champ, is just like any other teenager- unsure of herself and restless. She hangs out with her group of friends who mean little to her, not because she enjoys it, but that's what's expected of teenagers: boyfriend, sex and general mischief.

She meets an old fashioned bookish boy who works for a local casino as a security personnel. He reads Conrad and has elaborate fantasies about traveling. He constantly pushes her to travel with him, but for Claire, he's sometimes just too square.

Perreau makes a point in the beginning of the film with one repeated scene from Claire and Maurice's points of views that it is about two people. But for Maurice, who's nearing the end, life for him is nothing but full of regrets. As the title suggests (same as Pat Bennatar's 1986 song), the film is an ode to that short, precarious time in life when one is teetering on the verge of adulthood and full of potential. Wonderfully played by baby faced Pauline Etienne, Claire is a smart teen who embodies that volatile period perfectly with her wide piercing eyes that both express vulnerability and determination. Her life is an open book full of possibilities.

Legendary actor Michel Piccoli (Le Mépris, Belle du Jour, La belle Noiseuse) is wonderful as a cranky, aging former resistance fighter, who had to make some tough choices under the German occupation. It's his memories that would enable Claire to go off on a journey of her own.

Beautifully shot by Céline Bozon in a foggy, rural, seaside town , Le Bel Âge is a somber examination of youth well done.

Forbidden Fruit: Püha Tõnu kiusamine/The Temptation of St. Tony

Püha Tõnu kiusamine/The Temptation of St. Tony (2009) - Õunpuu
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The film's first 2/3 is strong, filled with Roy Andersson-like wiry absurd humor with amazing black and white cinematography in a decaying, cold, barren world that is Estonia . Tony (Taavi Eelma) is a bird's-nest haired, mild mannered manager at a factory. He has good intentions and a good heart. But he constantly gets shit on by both his boss and workers alike. He is a typical middle man with the soul of a common merchant. With his defenselessness and a dorky appearance, Tony sticks out like a sore thumb wherever he goes. It is a dog eat dog world. Õunpuu delivers that message with bravado. This Kafkaesque tale is definitely a satire a la Buñuel. The fun is in the surrealistic visuals (from Tarkovsky to Lynch) and absurdist humor (including staging of the miserablest play Uncle Vanya). After Tony falls for a beautiful daughter of a factory worker he just fired, things take a drastic turn and he ends up in a grand, decadent club called Das Goldenes Zeitalter (The Golden Age). There Denis Lavant with his lizard like face makes an appearance as Count Dionysus Korzybski, the Chaplin-esque master of the ceremony, looking not unlike one of the grotesque creatures depicted in many paintings of The Temptation of St. Anthony. The film goes totally absurdistan from there- a chainsaw, running in snowy landscapes with only leather thongs on, ice skating link and cannibalism. But even with its (literally) messy ending, The Temptation is an experience to be had.