Monday, February 27, 2012

Post-Oscar Quickies


Well, I went 3 for 5 in my Oscar predictions, not very good considering how obvious the pickins' were this year. I feel sorry for Viola Davis, she really got robbed. Meryl Streep needs another accolade like I need another peanut butter and bacon sandwich, or the world needs another song from Billy Crystal.


This was a dreadful year for the Academy Awards, with all sorts of nasty politickin' and, I suspect, some leakage of info. No one expected Streep to win until late last week, when rumors began to surface and suddenly all the big smart pundits picked her for their fantasy ballots; often using the same verbiage about her "not being denied". And the fact that The Tree of Life won, ummmm, nothing, just points out the organization's bloated moral bankruptcy. In all, this year's Oscars did a fine job of promoting Cannes as the world's leading purveyor of meaningful awards.

Now, how about some REAL French films?




The 15 Year Old Girl (1989)***1/2

A romantic triangle ensues when a 40ish divorced dad (Jacques Doillon, who also wrote and directed) invites his estranged teenage son (Melvil Poupard) to accompany him to one of those fabulous Mediterranean beach houses for the summer. Poupard refuses to go unless he can bring his girlfriend Juliette (Judith Godreche), who’s a mature 15 and bustin’ out all over. Well, you can imagine what happens during the long lazy days of summer, and before long Godreche has cast a romantic net that ensnares all of her housemates. While this idea would be recycled a couple of years later in Louis Malle’s excellent Damage, here Doillon directs in a very slow and deliberate style, building romantic tension with fleeting glances and quiet narrative spaces. The film has no profanity and minimal nudity, and defuses the situational ick in a thoughtful manner that seems normal and organic.



Fissures (2006)***1/2 (aka Ecout le temps) 
Emilie Dequenne has one of those faces the camera loves, and she lends her exquisite jaw line to this mystical thriller. Dequenne plays a sound engineer who returns to her hometown – a damp and muddy farming community in the north of France – to investigate her mother’s untimely death. When the yokel constables come up empty, Dequenne discovers that in this case walls really can talk – at least to her high tech microphone – and finds clues in fragments of voices from the past. Part police procedural, part ghost story, Fissures is one of those movies you really have to give your full attention, or you’ll be quickly lost. But Dequenne makes it easy to remain alert.




Leaving (2009)***

These days, Kristin Scott Thomas seems to make a new movie every couple weeks. And amazingly, she’s pretty great in all of them. Here she’s the bored wife of a doctor (Yvan Attal) who’s never at home. When a studly Spanish carpenter (Sergi Lopez) is hired to renovate her garage, passion blooms amid the drywall dust and Thomas decides to pursue one last chance for happiness. But it’s tough sledding to be suddenly among the 99%, and too much of the film is devoted to Attal’s angry – and justifiable – financial warfare. Leaving is well paced, beautifully filmed and Thomas, Lopez and Attal are all terrific. But somehow it doesn’t quite gel and never becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Definitely worth watching but a magical something was left on the table.




A Single Girl (1995)****

Virginie Ledoyen, who is not good looking or anything, carries this tale of a young woman starting a new job as a waitress at a snooty Paris hotel. The story unfolds in real time, and along the way we learn all about Ledoyen’s life struggles and personal issues, the majority of which are self-induced. Directed by the perpetually underrated Benoit Jacquot, A Single Girl paints an involving existentialist portrait of a quietly desperate life, and ultimately makes a compelling case for traditional values of family and responsibility.