Thursday, March 29, 2018

Arnaud Desplechin on Ismael's Ghosts

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Arnaud Desplechin was in town for his new film Ismael's Ghosts opening stateside and I jumped on the opportunity to interview him again because I adored the film. Desplechin, as usual, is just as unpredictable and sprawling as his films in person. He loves to talk. And his enthusiasm for his love of cinema and his actors are infectious. Here is how it went this time:

So there are two cuts of the film. I’ve only seen the director’s cut. Can you tell me about the differences of the two? Are you happier that only the director’s cut is released in the States?

The thing which happened in France is that because I’m French, we could afford two versions of the film at the same time. So we had what I called the ‘strange’ version and we had director’s cut. So at the (Cannes) festival we showed the Director’s Cut and in the cinema we released the shortened French version. After that I just remembered that this line from Larry Gross, you know Larry Gross? He is a screenwriter and a film critic. He asked me what the meaning of the short version was, and he told me in a very patronizing way and I loved it: “My dear Arnaud, in terms of storytelling, this French version is a complete non-sense.” (Laughs) I’m not good at cursing. So all I could say was that we don’t have the trapanese in Tel Aviv and that there is no explanation why Ismael saying that his brother’s dead (which is a deeper problem). But he is alive again in the later part of the picture as he makes an appearance on the Skype chat. So you miss all that part. So I can say that French version was more focused on the love triangle. It’s like a popular fiction which is more sentimental and the other, longer version is more cerebral.

It’s the first time you have a protagonist who is a film director. Was this intentional?

I had one character already who was an artist in my films. He was in Kings and Queen. He was a violinist. It was an humble profession. For me, to make someone a violinist was a very transgressive thing to do because I feel much more comfortable with a doctor or a scientist or whatever to give to the character. But this time I told myself, I reached an age where I can say ‘screw it we will see what happens when I give a character a job of film director'. When I said that, my producer was not too happy, “come on, not the film director!” In my defense, film director is a humble one. Ismael never says that he’s a director. He’s just a humble filmmaker. Translated from French, film director is more like Film Builder (realisateur). It’s not really a word, the concept doesn’t exist in terms of filmmaking. The director in the film is Henry Bloom, the…cineaste as we say in French.

Ismael loves his job. You can see him struggling when not directing in the attic. Zwy (played by Hippolyte Giradot), the producer, the number guy, is the real director in that sense.

You are saying it’s not a self-reflexive movie just because the main character is a director?

Like Ismael Vuillard in Kings and Queen, who shares the same name as in this film, they are artists who are going too far. They are overdoing anything they are doing. They are both gross, insulting… ah (laughs) Ismael is the type of the director I would love to be because he allows himself to do everything I forbid to do myself. For Matthieu, he loved to be Ismael, he kept saying, “how can he do that? I’d never dare!” It’s something you think about doing but never dare to do it, like shooting your producer! (Laughs) That’s why we loved this character. He’s our little devil for Mathieu and I.

Thing I’ve wondered about is your fascination with espionage thrillers as they appear in your films.

My first feature Le Sentinelle was already a spy film. Even in My Golden Days, there is a elements of a spy film. I’ve always been interested in that kind of topics. I’m a big fan of Jean Le Carré, Robert Ludlum and even John Grisham. The title Ismael’s Ghosts, not to quote Norman Mailer, but as an homage, Harlot’s Ghost, which is a spy novel.

But I knew at the very beginning that I wanted to depict that this director would escape to the spy world while writing alone in the attic. That you will only have bits and pieces of the life of diplomat. And you will never know if he is a spy or a total idiot. You will never have the answer. It was a tribute to Broadway Danny Rose where you have bits and pieces of life and the agency of Broadway Danny Rose but you won’t have the whole story. So I knew that why he is writing about his brother being a spy because he is daydreaming about a man who disappear to the other part of the world.

But I still didn’t have the character of Ismael and I didn’t have a idea of a proper film. He is escaping but why is he escaping? I finally thought when I realized that his wife being disappeared for twenty years, him being a widower and her appearing again has a lot to do with his escape. Then I had the movie which was a movie in two parts - one part in the island with two women and the other in the attic.

Ismael, the same name as the one in Kings and Queen, and Daedalus again. this time Ivan.

I had to! Come on. What kind of names could I give? One of my character is inventing Daedalus for sure.

Not only three main actors, all of whom are wonderful, but I really enjoyed other great actors in this film - Hippolyte Giradot, Alba Rohrbacher and was good to see Catherine Mouchet. How was the casting process?

It’s a long process. It’s not the same as casting the main actors. But for Alba, it was a piece of cake. Because I had two monsters of French screen - Charlotte and Marion. I was thinking who could survive between these two such huge movie stars. I had to go with someone not French. But Alba is not only an incredible actress, she has such an incredible face, a face in a classical painting. She could be the wife of Louis or she could be the fiancee of Ismael. Ismael doesn’t have to settle with a ‘young newcomer’ you know? So avoiding the cliché of an old director dating a young woman, we have Alba, with her ageless, beautiful face like in a classical Italian painting! I was a huge fan of her work and that’s how I decided on her.

Catherine Mouchet, even the part was small, it was important for me to introduce her in the role because it was a key moment of transition from a comical scene where Ismael is tied to the bed to a pure melodrama. For that I needed to have a strong, well known face to have that jump from two different tones. It was also a tribute to her career. She has such an amazing face so I didn’t want to have just any doctor, but I wanted to have Catherine Mouchet!

And Hippolyte Giradot, I mean, we are good friends and he was great in Kings and Queen as a drug addict. In this film, when Mathieu is madness, Hippolyte is the reason. His character Zwy, is my favorite inside joke. Zwy Schomel - the name is so ultra Jewish. There are so many consonants no one could pronounce or spell his name, it was hilarious. Hippolyte is not Jewish and nor am I. We are both Catholics but we were educated by this Sephardic North African guy the ways of the Jews. We three were very close. So that element was kind of homage to this person, Pierre, we knew. I knew a bit about Ashkenazi community but when I arrived in Paris, I met Pierre and learned a lot about Sephardic Jews. Hippolyte knew the guy all his life, he knew his ways, so he created Zwy in Pierre’s image. It’s nice. Zwy says, ‘we are too old for this shit’, it reflects us, Hippolyte and I, getting old.

There are a lot of moving shots, zooming shots and intense orange colors. Especially the scene with Mathieu and Alba. Your cinematographer’s Irina Lubtchansky.

She is the daughter of William Lubtchansky (DP of countless French New Wave films including films by Agnes Varda, Jean Luc-Godard, Jacques Rivette and Philippe Garrel).

How did you and Irina go about creating the film’s look?

I don’t know how to say in America (talks to the interpreter), oh, a gel, in front of the lamps. It’s commonly known as the 'Storaro gel’. It’s a very specific one and the most expensive one you can have. Producers hate it when you want the Stroraro gel but I wanted to use it in that bedroom scene with Alba and Mathieu. Because you don’t know if its a dream or real. I wanted to add something magical in that scene so Irina and I both decided to go for the ‘Storaro gel’.

We used the same gel for the sunset in the beach house. It’s where Charlotte against the tree asking, “Do I sleep like a nun?” I was not supposed to shoot the scene that way, not at all. I had a totally different plan. We started with the emotion of that scene and i was sitting beside Irina and we had a long lens- it was supposed to be still and the reverse after that. It was pretty elaborate you know. But the performance she was giving to me was so intense that I took the zoom and started to move in without stopping. I was absorbing the scene brought on by Charlotte’s performance. We finished it that close (gesturing about a foot). So we did it. It was not the first take, it was 6th or 7th. I went to Charlotte and said, “This is it. you gave me everything you have. The scene is done.” It was never planned that way. Sometimes your actress and actors, mainly in my case, actresses, give me everything they have in their faces and I can’t stop capturing it. A face is such an amazing landscape, she really swallows the cinema at that moment.

There is a element of lost love and the love triangle that resonate to the romantics in me but the subplot of Jewish guilt/the survivor’s guilt, portrayed here by the great Laszlo Szabo really touched me. I’ve recently watched Memoir of War/La douleur by Emmanuel Finkel, based on the writing of Marguerite Duras. The pain of losing someone is so great that you lose the sense of self. Is it something you were exploring?

First of all, I love La douleur, I love the book and I love the film. All the actors are astonishing, every part of the film is astonishing. That is a very specific loss when you don't have the body to bury. It’s an endless one. I can mention a chapter in Sabbath’s Theater, the Philip Roth novel where the main character, when he was young marries this woman. Then she disappears. Its the war and you don't know if she is dead or not. She could be dead.

You have this father who is unable to moan her. So the suffering is always vivid. It is starting to be not as vivid as before for Ismael, because he just met Charlotte. Suddenly there is a second chance. For her dad, he is too old for that. There is guilt. If someone dies, someone dies. If someone disappears, it’s because of you. As Carlotta was saying, “You were too heavy,” She had a heavy father, so she had to escape to her fate. So there is a guilt in the character of Henry Bloom.

Carlotta comes back to her father on his deathbed. But there is no chance for her and Ismael getting back together is there?

I don't think so. Marion and I were discussing the script and trying different things. I think I just discovered something in the editing room, something Marion did without warning me and perhaps without knowing what she was doing: is that Carlotta the character is back on the island where she used to go with Ismael when she was young, she thinks, “I want my husband back.” It’s that simple. She is devilish, She is deliciously devilish with the dance scene with Bob Dylan song and everything. Then Ismael disappears. You realize that the second part of the movie, she doesn’t come back to get her husband, she goes back to her father. It seems to me that Marion plays a little devil in the first movement and she plays the second movement as a saint. I remember Pascal the producer saying to me after the first screening of a rough cut, “It’s strange that Marion has two faces,” and I thought that was the definition of great performance. I didn’t realized that when I was writing it, but Marion offered me that with her performance. I am really overwhelmed when I think about it.

Tell me if I am wrong but how I see the film is that in order to move on when you are in a rut artistically, you need a push from the ghost of the past.

Yeah yeah in a way. How can you run if you are stuck between Gainsbourg and Cotillard? But he does. He is running to his hometown and daydreaming about his film rather than actually making it. As he buys live hens to get eggs for breakfast, he has no love life any longer. (laughs) So he can just focus on his work.

Tell me a little about Roubaix, your hometown. You are very harsh on describing the town in the film. Is it as ugly as you say?

It’s the worst. My next film will be totally different. It will be about Roubaix. It’s about the social tolls of the town. It’s the poorest town in France. Where you have the most immigration population, mainly Algerians. One third of the population is wearing the veil, as you’ve seen that funny scene with Hippolyte in town. The first terrorist attack was in Roubaix during the Yugoslavian War. There was a riot and police was storming the houses with firehoses. It was really ugly. It's a really violent city.

The way I am painting it- more sweet and gentle, I’m trying to see the beauty of this ancient city. But it’s a nightmare as I’ve shown in that train ride scene. It’s my… what is that wonderful Canadian movie called...

My Winnipeg?

Yes, it’s like My Winnipeg. But the town is less richer than Winnipeg. 60 percent of the population is unemployed which creates violence. And there is no solution. All these people there are trapped in the merciless system. But I still have great tenderness for the city. I think it’s still beautiful and there are beautiful people living there. I have absolute anger and love for the city at the same time.

I’d love to see that movie. Very much looking forward to it.

Ismael's Ghosts is playing in New York's Quad Cinema and FSLC. The film will open in Los Angeles on 4/6. Please visit Magnolia Pictures Website for info on national rollout.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Creative Process Can Use Some Help from Ghosts of the Past

Ismael's Ghosts (2017) - Desplechin
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Could Ismael's Ghosts be seen as Desplechin's 8 1/2? is the question that kept coming up in my head while watching the film. At 58, Arnaud Desplechin lends a deeply personal, metaphysical insight to inner struggles of a creative mind, even more so than in My Golden Days. In his usual sprawling ways, Desplechin goes on explaining the difficulties of filmmaking process and throws in the Jewish guilt/survivor's remorse: What do you do when your loved one, long presumed dead but never forgotten, comes back to your life? This quandary is one of the ghosts that our protagonist has to reckon with.

With multiple flashbacks and movie within a movie, Ismael's Ghosts tells a story of Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), a boorish movie director. While struggling with his The Man Who Knew Too Much style, Hitchcockian cold war spy movie project based on his suave (but estranged) diplomat brother Ivan (Louis Garrel), starring Garrel, Ismael falls for timid but supportive, loving Astrophysicist Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg). He has been maintaining a good relationship with Henri Bloom (Laszlo Szabo) the father of his missing wife Carlotta (Marion Cortillard) as they share the same grief and loss.

The movie is narrated by Sylvia. Intimidated by this charismatic movie director at first, but charmed by his broken 'widower' side of him, she falls in love. But the reappearance of Carlotta (Marion Cortillard), a long declared absent wife of a Ismael, tests their relationship. Walked out of her marriage at 20, Carlotta manifests herself some twenty years later at the Ismael's childhood beach house where he comes to write. No explanation is good enough for Ismael, furious with Carlotta for sabotaging his life, first by disappearing and now coming back, he resents her greatly. Unable to compete with magnetic Carlotta, Sylvia calls it quits and goes back to her telescope at an observatory up in the mountains.

After sleeping with Carlotta, Ismael flees to his home town of Robaix. All broken up and melancholy, with mixed up memories and emotions brought on by Carlotta, he becomes a hermit. With the production of his spy movie's future uncertain, the company sends in his friend/line producer (Hippolyte Giradot) to convince Ismael to finish the movie. In that chaos, the director finds his inspiration flowing once again, helped by the ghosts of his pasts so to speak.

In the meantime, Carlotta visits Henri and her presence freaks him out and sends him to a hospital. For everyone who loved her, the impact of her disappearing was too great and deep, her presence is not welcome but painful reminder of their loss. As similarly themed recent movie A Memoir of War based on Marguerite Duras' book tells us, the pain of losing someone and no sense of closure is too great that even the eventual return can't remedy its wounds.

Desplechin deals with a lot of complicated thoughts and emotions on screen, acted out by three very good actors on the top of their game. And as usual, his writing is excellent. His preoccupation with an international spy in the name of Dedalus is still there, this time Ivan, not his alter ego, Paul. Deliciously self-reflexive and touching, Ismael's Ghosts is another great testament of Desplechin's unique talent as a film enthusiast and a great writer.

Ismael's Ghosts opens theatrically at The Quad and Film Society of Lincoln Center on March 23rd in New York

Monday, March 19, 2018

Youthful Melancholy

Primrose Hill (2007) - Hers
Primrose Hill
Twenty something friends talk about music, friendship while walking up the hill overlooking Paris. There was some kind of tragedy there, Sylvia, the sister of Stephane, whose voice over recites the dream she had about the hill, had gone missing some time ago. That tragedy lingers around the rest of them. This sets apart Hers films from other twenty something walking-and-talking films. Melancholic yet still romantic, Primrose Hill observes youth(fulness) with a sigh- a fleeting moment in time- there is shot of a white haired old man, standing still, watching them playing soccer. In grainy film shot images, we find comfort and familiarity, the joy of being young preceded by sadness. This is my second Mikhaël Hers, I guess I will need to see Memory Lane.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Direct Cinema

Nawet nie wiesz, jak bardzo cie kocham/You Have No Idea How Much I Love You (2016) - Lozinski
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I've seen some excellent documentaries coming out of Poland recently. You Have No Idea How Much I Love You is one of them. The set up is simple: it's a recording of family therapy sessions - mother (Ewa Szymczyk), daughter (Hanna Maciag) and the therapist (Bogdan de Barbaro). With close ups of these three people, sometimes the camera panning, sometimes over the shoulder, are as direct cinema as you can get. It's not their bad complexions we notice, but their eyes, catching the lights as they speak that lend the film's hypnotic power. Lozinski focuses on these three and nothing else and we are held captive audience, holding on to every word spoken.

Even though they grew apart, these two women got together in the hopes of solving their differences - abandonment issue, loneliness both stemming from Ewa's divorce when Hanna was still young. Blames, waterworks, breakthrough. It's truly captivating stuff.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2018 Preview

There are different ways to celebrate the arrival of Spring. But if you are in New York, there is only one way to do it, in style- you go see some great new French films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It's a proud tradition around this neck of the woods.

The 23rd edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is here with array of films by established filmmakers and first timers alike, including Bruno Dumont (Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc), Mathieu Amalric (Barbara), Raymond Depardon (12 Days), Toni Marshall (Number One), Léonor Serraille (Montparnasse Bienvenüe), Léa Mysius (Ava), just to name a few.

FSLC is partnering again with UniFrance this year, putting emphasis on presenting emerging women directors. To quote Executive Director of UniFrance Isabelle Giordano:

French cinema today is unafraid to delve into the issues at the forefront of our collective consciousness, which is reflected throughout this year’s selection. In particular, we’re extremely proud to showcase a wide variety of women’s stories—films about women’s resilience during times of war, millennial women trying to find their place in the world, the glass ceiling, and even the childhood of a young girl destined to become a legend. As ever, we are thrilled to introduce American audiences to bold newFrench voices, this year including Léa Mysius, Léonor Serraille, Maryam Goormaghtigh, and Marine Francen.
The series runs 3/8 -3/18. For tickets and more info, please visit FSLC website.

Here are the films I was able to sample:

Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc - Bruno Dumont
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It does makes sense that Bruno Dumont's latest is about Joan of Arc. She personifies the Christian devotion and spirituality, so it comfortably fits in his filmography. It also makes sense that Jeanette is a musical comedy: as he brazenly made it clear since his first foray into comedy with L'il Quinquin and last year's Slack Bay that comedy is just a flip side of a coin- that his austere films (dotted with bizarre surrealist moments) can easily be rip-roaringly funny when they go two millimeter off the path.

Young Jeanne (Lise Leplat Prudhomme, and later played by Jeanne Voisin) is a precocious girl living in Domrémy, north-east France (Dumont's beloved home region). She and her friend have been praying to god to save France from English invaders to no avail. She encounters a twin dancing nuns or, has a religious epiphany of Ste. Marguerite & Catherine, telling her to lead the French army. They conclude their meeting with a choreographed headbanging with Heavy Metal music.

I get what Dumont is trying to do and Jeannette should work in theory. His Bressonian approach, using non-professionals to convey the serious subject such as faith and purity of Joan of Arc is a noble attempt and should be praised. But when you think of Joan of Arc, it's usually the haunting close ups of Renée Jeanne Falconetti's face in Dreyer's poetic masterpiece Passion of Joan of Arc that come up to mind. In comparison, Jeanette can come across as a bad high school musical, complete with b-boy moves and falling off a horse for laughs.

Dumont's full framed beautiful composition highlighting the big sky country is there, so as the picturesque, windswept, soft lit sand hills of Brittany. But can it offset the silliness? You will be the judge.

Barbara - Mathieu Amalric *Opening Night Film
Mathieu Amalric's continues to show his impressive directing chops with Barbara, starring his ex, the immensely talented singer and actress, Jeanne Balibar. As the case with his award winning On Tour, Amalric's kaleidoscopic reverie on show business is a Fellini-esque controlled madness. Still, his deep love for performers is always palpable. And it's Balibar front and center here. She plays Brigitte, an actress interpreting the details from the legendary french singer's life, being directed by aimless, but passionate film director Yves (Amalric). As the film moves along, it becomes hard to distinguish Brigitte from Barbara and vice versa.

The title sequence accentuates the importance of Barbara's dictation of each word as she speaks, title appearing in intervals as she pronounces words rhythmically. It's all about mannerisms and gestures and the heavy make-up and her singing style, which Balibar tackles confidently. Added is movie within a movie meta-ness. But it doesn't take away the spotlight from its star.

Born Monique Andrée Serf in a Russian Jewish immigrant household, the singer took her grandmother's name as her stage name and became Barbara. Her melancholic love songs which were all written by her, touched a generation of listeners and helped her to become a national treasure. She also had a very pronounced nose which Brigitte lacks. There is a scene where Brigitte gets her face cast for the nose. In some scenes she wears it and in others she doesn't. Amalric is interested in recreating those details up to a point but leaves it to the flow of the film. He uses archival footage of the real singer in the beginning and back to Brigitte faithfully studying and practicing her every gesture and singing style. But as the film progresses, he cuts rapidly back and forth between Barbara and Brigitte, with added grainy footage of Balibar reenacting Barbara on stage, blurring the line among all three.

Amalric is an astute student of cinema. He is keenly aware of the medium and knows how to benefit from its possibilities but not in a showy way. His aimlessness is also his best asset. The film is rhythmic, fluid and free. One of the year's best.

A Memoir of War - Emmanuel Finkel
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Emmanuel Finkel tackles on semi-autobiographical book by writer & film director Marguerite Duras. And it's an ambitious one. The film starts with Marguerite (Mélanie Thierry) in German occupied Paris at the tip end of WWII. She had found her own journal which is essentially the book the film is based on, but she doesn't recall if it was she who wrote it. She is waiting for her husband Robert's return. He has been in custody for his resistance activities. Robert's prolonged absence has been a disorienting, unraveling experience for her.

We roll back to 1944, just before the scale tipped for the Allied forces. Marguerite was approached by Rabier (Benoit Magmiel, becoming more and more like young Gerard Depardieu), a collaborator, working for the Vichy regime, offering help to find where Robert is. He is a working class bloke who dreams of opening up a bookstore and thus fancies Margueritte because she's a writer. Her circle of friends in the resistance first think it's too dangerous for her, then admit that it might be a good opportunity for her to play Rabier to get important information.

First, fear and intimidation grip her but she plays along as Rabier leads her on to the promise of Robert's well being. It is clear that he wants something in return - ratting on her resistance friends. A dangerous game of cat and mouse play out.

Not unlike Duras scripted Hiroshima mon amour, A Memoir of War concerns the effect of war has on people- the guilt that survivors have to carry around weighs so heavily on them that they lose their sense of self. Marguerite often sees her surroundings in a third person perspective. She also sees herself from a distance as if she is experiencing an out of body experience. Duras doesn't put blames on a collaborator alone. Holocaust happened. As a human being, we all have to wrestle with the fact that it happened. Using shallow depth of field, Finkel makes sure there that there is a distance between people at all times. There is a striking scene of empty Paris just before its liberation where Marguerite rides her bicycle. But she will never be free from that guilt. And it won't stop even if she has Robert back finally.

Thierry is a revelation as Marguerite, a learned, intellectual woman who slowly gets broken emotionally. A Memoir of War is a great film.

12 Days - Raymond Depardon
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The French law requires 12 days of involuntary hospitalization in a psychic ward for anyone deemed danger to him/herself and others. Nearly 92,000 people are placed under psychiatric care each year. After those initial 12 days, a judge makes fateful decisions based on doctor's observations on these cases in the courtroom.

The famed filmmaker/photographer Raymond Depardon gets an access to these court hearings for the first time and gives voices to the voiceless for better or worse. The result is a fascinating documentation of the unseen, underexposed mental problems the modern society faces.

The courtroom cases with 3 camera setups, we witness these hearing sessions to determine if the involuntarily hospitalized persons will continue to be involuntarily hospitalized or not. Many of them are obviously disturbed and suffering from mental disorder- a girl who was repeatedly raped thinks only way to get the bad sexual energy out of her body is to slit her wrist, a man who killed his father 10 years ago longs to go home to his father, etc. Some are comparatively mild encounters with the law- an office worker who brandished a knife in front of her boss and co-workers, a man in a violent outdoor brawl. All of them don't want to be locked up. All they do is medicate. Judges listen, they can be compassionate, but the results are always the same - ruling for involuntary hospitalization beyond 12 initial days. The film is a startling and chilling document of real life unfolding because we see these kind of cases all the time on our streets, in our subway stations and homeless shelters. 12 Days remind you of our complicated, psychologically fragile society where we are not equipped with dealing with the massive flow of mental illness.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Nobuhiro Suwa
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Jean-Pierre Léaud plays an aging actor Jean, starring in a movie in southern France. He is having a hard time how to play death. The director (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) insists it being played like him quietly falling asleep. Jean prefers it as an 'encounter', something more impactful, at least on camera.

The project is getting delayed because of his young co-star refuses to come out of her trailer because her heart is broken after an affair with a dancer. "It will pass soon", Jean says. So he has an unintended mini vacation and free to roam around a picturesque, sun drenched town.

He encounters the ghost of his long lost love Juliette (Pauline Etienne) in an abandoned mansion where he once lived. He abandoned her 40 some years ago and she committed suicide by throwing herself in the lake. As he starts to living in that abandoned house, the local kids armed with amateur movie making equipment, barges in and starts following him around.

Along with last year's Death of Louis XIV, Léaud plays a role that deals with aging and mortality. As the face of French New Wave, he is an embodiment of living legend. But he's not really considered as a great actor. At 73, with his leathery, sagging face, he is rather the testament of ravaging flow of time. Nobuhiro Suwa, a Japanese director who's been making films in France, like Albert Serra and Tsai Ming-Liang before him, uses this walking icon for a subtle contemplation on lost love, the joy of cinema and passage of time. Falling somewhere between The Great Beauty and Cinema Paradiso but very very muted in tone, The Lion Sleeps Tonight might be a little too sentimental for some.

Custody - Xavier Legrand
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Xavier Legrand's debut feature Custody is about a domestic violence case that plays out like a thriller. Going for detached, observational documentary style of Dardennes brothers, his mastery in getting an amazingly natural performance out of his talented cast must be commended.

Custody starts out with the custody mediation hearing which lays out the typical situation - abusive husband (Denis Ménochet) who has an upper hand financially gets the joint custody of their 11 year old son (Thomas Gioria) on weekends, even though the kid wrote a statement that dad has been abusive and threatening to his mother (Léa Drucker). Because there is a little evidence of physical abuse.

It's really painful to watch as physically imposing, threatening dad manipulating the kid to get at mom and into their lives again against their wishes. Custody slowly builds up to an explosive conclusion and it's unbearably tense.

It says a lot about the inadequate system in terms of domestic abuse and how things are stacked up against women to prove that abuse can take many different forms.

Montparnasse Bienvenue - Léonor Serraille
montparnasse bienvenue
Paula (Laetitia Dosch) just got dumped by her professor boyfriend of 10 years. She makes a scene outside his flat by screaming and banging her head against the door and ends up in a hospital getting stitches on her forehead. With a fluffy cat in tow, homeless, aimless Paula drifts from one place to another, trying to score a place to spend a night while cursing out Paris, the most unfriendly city in the world.

While on the metro, Paula meets exotic Yuki (Léonie Simaga) who mistakes her for her elementary school classmate (it's her Heterochromia iridium - one brown and one green). Yuki invites her to stay at her flat and even gives her a lead for a job - babysitting for a wealthy woman in exchange for a maid's room in the attic. Paula also gets a job at a lingerie shop in a department store after many failed interviews. Naturally chatty, she makes friends everywhere she goes.

At first, Dosch's Paula strikes as a typical 'crazy girlfriend' but after a while, we ease into her quirks and get charmed by her personality. Dosch makes her character endlessly endearing and relatable. First time writer/director Serraille does a great job painting a complicated young woman trying to navigate the world.

'Nothing is that black and white', one of the characters says to her. This resonates throughout the whole film. Montparnasse Bienvenüe is not really about post-college syndrome (think of Francise Ha!)- Paula is 31 but always lies that she is 29 as if that makes a huge difference. But as the film's original title (Jeune Femme - young woman), suggests, it paints a general picture of a modern woman who charges through life with 'fake it till you make it' spirit. Constantly hilarious and immensely watchable, Montparnasse Bienvenüe is a comedy gem.