Last night I saw the first of 8 selections from the 2010 French Film Festival, "Kokoro Liberte" at the Verona on Oxford Street with my daughter. The film is based on real-life stories of gypsies rounded up in the German-occupied France of 1943 and on the life of the resistance fighter, Yvette Lundy. A gypsy family travels the French roads during WW2. Upon reaching a town where they traditionally stop for a few months and work in vineyards, they learn that a new law forbids them from being nomadic. Moved by their situation, the town's mayor, and the schoolteacher, give the gypsies some land to enable them to qualify as "settled".
The storyline focusses on the band of 15 gypsies, especially upon Tranoche, who is bordering on maniacal at times. It was much more than just physicality, he was at times a whirling dervish. In the end he is hunted down like a dog, but not before he shows much love to the orphaned Claude. The period setting was faithfully portrayed and the lighting and colouring restrained. The soundtrack was infused with music as was the life of the gypsies. However, the gypsies' thirst for freedom makes a sedentary lifestyle difficult to bear. They are rounded up by the nazis with much help from the local sympathisers of the Vichy Regime.
Guide: A small atmospheric film (8/10)
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
This was a very beautiful film, on a par with "A single man" for beauty, but with a more involving story line. The two leads crafted very strong characters with the emphasis upon Coco's strengths. However, when I researched their backgrounds, I realised that the relationship between the two of them was based upon rumour with very little, other than imagination, to flesh the story out. So, a virago of made-ups! However, as a film it hung together very well.
When trying to hightlight the barriers that Chanel had to negotiate to make an impact and have her creativity acknowledged, you do her a dis-service by down-playing the considerable contribution of Stravinsky. During the period of this film (early '20s) he had sooo much going on, that to be ravished emotionally like this would have made impossible to achieve. Keep things in perspective. Tell the truth, even when from a different angle.
Kirsten much prefered the Coco story of last year with Audrey Tatou. I suspect this showed a more realistic version of Chanel who was no wilting violet, and the actress, being unknown to me, did not come with a gentle, sweet history.
Guide: Hard to accept but beautiful (6/10)
Queen to play
I had to be talked into this film by a lover of all things Kevin Kline who is his usual sardonic self as an ailing French doctor with a penchant for chess. Sandrine Bonaire is wonderful - yet again. She can be so plain and just like us, until she allows that tiniest of smiles to play around her lips. A cleaning woman from Corsica gets hooked on chess in a most intruiging dream-like scene, who then pursues it until she is not too bad. This has impacts on her family, which they deal with maturely rather than tossing the baby and the bathwater down the drain.
There are a number of scenes where the film-maker tries to explain the joy and release that Bonaire's character finds in chess. The image here shows one such scene. The closing scenes of the film with her screaming into the ocean is another.
Afterwards, the four of us went to the cafe above Berkoulou's on Norton Street where there was a lovely jazz singer crooning along with a most accomplished pianist who used an Apple laptop instead of sheet music. Lovely night.
Guide: A joy to watch even for this non-chessplayer (8/10)
The Army of Crime
In Paris in 1941, a group of young, foreignborn resistance fighters, are ordinary people who risk of their lives when faced with ethical decisions, whilst life proceeds as normal for the rest of the populace. At first, the Germans rely on the French police to quell this branch of the resistance, but after the murder of a high-ranking general they ramp up the pressure. Some of the group roll over and inform. Spectacularly reproducing the era, the film confronts us with questions of moral commitment that are pertinent even today.
The first hour of the film is a challenge, and the audience is not spoon-fed. Understanding the relationships between this motley group takes time. Recreation of the period is astoundingly good, distracting to some extent. The scene in the dungeon when the main characters are tortured is confronting.
I am finding myself more and more able to hear individual words in French. Many I do not know but I can hear the breaks between the sounds now. This is a vital first step, I feel.
Guide: complex and confusing and very long. But very authentic.(6/10)
Tomorrow at Dawn
A famous concert pianist puts his family and his career on hold to live with his mother as she undergoes chemo, even though his younger brother lives with her. The underpinning to this film was not cohesive. The musician is said to be going through existential angst, but no attempt is made to explain this further.
The younger brother seems not to have grown up but has the emotional reactions and enthusiams of a ten year old. He is a history reenactment buff, but all those involved blur the edges of the game and the reality, to the point of death.
There are a number of scenes where the audience laughed out loud, eg the dining scene when the musician gets a sense of how real this is for the others at the table, and when the brothers drive away from a duel dressed in their Napoleonic uniforms.
Guide: A poorly explained film. The two main characters existed in a vacuum. (5/10)
Set in the Langedoc, this is the story of a marriage that fails and the retribution that can ensue. However, it does not ring altogether genuinely. There is too much black and white.
What is missing from the marriage that causes KST's character to make the choices she does? Yes, there is no explaining sudden lust and her character is described as being "on heat". She leaves her two children, and her life, to live the life of an itinerant fruit picker who has to pawn a watch for petrol.
Are we to believe that the comparison of sex with husband, and sex with her lover are meant to represent the divide that caused her to act as she does? She is rejected by her daughter and does not react. Her son tries to remain her friend but she does nothing to quell his disquiet. Very much a feminist tract.
Guide: Another fine performance from KST. More information about her marriage would have been useful.(7/10)
A really good film which I will review in a separate post.
Guide: Excellent film: acting, photography, script, ending.(9/10)
Anything for her
Julien (the absolutely gorgeous Vincent Lindon, yet again) is devastated when he wife is arrested and found guilty of murdering her boss. Whether she is guilty or not is not really examined by the drama - we take her word for it.
They have a small boy, Oscar, who controls much of the emotion of the film. One gets the slight impression that Julien is more committed to Lisa (Diane Kruger) than she may be to him. But this is not investigated either. The story is his devotion and total belief in her and how he is going to get them together again. He is a teacher and a regular guy. But even the police at the end do not believe this.
Guide: This was an excellent film of its genre - drama/thriller. No my usual fare but approached from a different angle. The script was tight, the characters were believable, and there was no groan at the end. (8/10)