Mireille's Musings - April 30, 2009

American Cinema

A few of my favorite American films from the last few years:  


The Artist: This film, which won several awards in the US as well as France and other countries, centers on the relationship between a young rising film star and an older silent film star who finds himself in a changing world as silent films give way to the “talkies.”

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and others star in this spy movie full of drama and intrigue, set in the cold war era.

My Week with Marilyn: Michelle Williams is the star in this story of a young aspiring filmmaker’s time with Marilyn Monroe (played by Williams) as Laurence Oliver’s The Prince and the Showgirl was filmed.

Yogawoman: A film every woman should see. Yoga gives one center, helps to cut through our drama and much, much more. A woman knows how a woman feels.

Anna Karenina: A classic revisited in an unexpected and beautiful form with the stunning Keira Knightley and great music score.

Zero Dark Thirty: The story of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 and the final raid that left him dead, showing the dark side of the search for information.

Silver Linings Playbook: The chemistry between Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is magical in this story about a man recently released from a psychiatric institution and trying to reconcile with his estranged wife as he meets a new woman with her own troubles. A winner that shows the ups and downs and surprises life can have for us.

Argo: This dramatic thriller tells the story of the rescue of six American diplomats held hostage in Iran in 1979. Exciting and some surprisingly funny moments as well.

Song for Marion: In this comedy-drama, there is lots of self-growth and humor as a grumpy man reluctantly fills his terminally ill wife’s place in a seniors’ choir.

Adore (formerly Perfect Mothers): Drama and trouble rule in this movie set in Australia, as two mothers who are best friends engage in affairs with each others’ sons.

Mud: Another powerful film. An engaging Southern drama with superb performance of Matthew McConaughey and the two boys. One of the year’s best in my book.

Before Midnight: A well-acted and intimate perspective on love, life and commitment. This is the sequel to the earlier Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, this time set in Greece.

The Butler: Truthful, powerful, brilliant acting by both Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker. A must see. Great messages about oh so important topics. Another top one of the year.

Blue Jasmine: Nice to have Woody Allen back to NYC, though Annie Hall it ain’t, and the theme ain’t pretty, but the acting of Cate Blanchett as a social climber gone downhill à la Streetcar Named Desire mode makes this black comedy a top film since Match Point.

Enough Said:
You won’t laugh throughout this insightful comedy but Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini explore the mess of post-divorce in a touching, vulnerable way.

Mademoiselle C: Funny story about this film as years ago when my first books came out, a French friend told me I was the Carine Roitfeld of lifestyle! I had to admit to not knowing (I did not read French Vogue or any Vogue for that matter) who she was and left it at that. So, when this film came out, I had to see it to discover in many ways a typical French Woman who doesn’t get fat and has her own opinions, passions, values (family first) and indeed represents the kind of French women I like and try to project in my books and certainly the type I’d like to hang around with: women who are bien dans leur peau, active, not afraid to take risks, respectful of any human being they are dealing with, seductive, no nonsense and with a good sense of humor. Mlle C deserves to succeed in her next act, and there is not an ounce of doubt in my mind that she will. It’s all about reinventing oneself to keep young and curious and enjoy life.

Chéri is based on the 1920 book of the same name written by Colette. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the glamorous retired courtesan who is encouraged to teach Chéri, an idle young socialite, some lessons in love. A tale of mismatched lovers in decadent Paris of la belle époque.

Partir is a kind of modern Madame Bovary, intense drama about love, infidelity and betrayal…with the elegant Kristin Scott Thomas showing yet another side of her talent as a beautiful wife of a doctor with two kids and two homes. The flashback shot at the start gives us a hint of things to come. She’s bored to death with her life devoid of surprise and with her husband’s help decides to go back to work (she was a chiropractor). She falls madly in love with the Spanish worker who works at the house and here goes new job, new man, new life. To go means to leave it all, husband, children and all the comfort of her life, and build anew. The sensuality and humanity of her relationship with the Spanish lover is the high point and shows the happiness but also the misery and destruction and the inevitable ending.

Memory of love is another version of Partir’s themes of love, infidelity and betrayal, with a different ending, taking a risk to show a different approach with a happy ending—hardly credible but worth showing that choices exist. Same class of people as in Partir ,though a younger generation (this time the bored young wife married to a surgeon falls madly in love with her tango teacher) and an additional twist of amnesia and a more in-depth approach to true love, though the second part of the film is weak. The big problem of the 21st century: a lack of confidence in true love and deep spiritual values. Wang Chao is a risk taker but doesn’t quite pull it together, though I’d still highly recommend seeing this film.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button may have been a tad too long, but what a love story! Cate Blanchett is as stunning as ever and Brad Pitt ain’t bad either, especially as he gets younger!

I loved Rachel Getting Married, where Anne Hathaway confirmed her great talent not seen since The Devil Wears Prada.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona–Penelope Cruz is simply intoxicating, and I can’t imagine what the film would have been without her presence.

The film The Visitor tells the story of a young Syrian musician in love with a young Senegal artist who lives illegally in NYC’s East Village. He foolishly gets caught in the subway, is sent to a prison in Queens, faces bureaucracy and eventually is deported back to Syria. The especially touching characters are the supporting ones, including his mother who leaves her Michigan home to come to the rescue, and the Connecticut professor who lets them use his NY pied à terre and falls in love…with playing the drum. I definitely recommend seeing it.

I wanted to like Priceless because its star, Audrey Tautou, is so very French, but I’ve decided that maybe she should stick to “Amelie” types of roles. I was appalled that in her latest film, she characterizes all that I detest in actresses—namely, taking a part that reduces them to negative stereotypes: the non-stop smoker, drinker, perpetual shopper (dripping in only designer clothes, handbags, etc., ad nauseam), brainless and superficial. But the movie is a comedy and the ending saves it. One pleasantly redeeming thing you can expect to discover is the young, handsome, and talented Gal Elmaleh, who is a comedian the French have been enjoying tremendously these days.

Flight of the Red Balloon is worth seeing for its beauty and intensity of observation (through the eyes of director Hou Hsia). I must admit, however, that it was bit disappointing. I felt this way in spite of the fact that one of my favorite actresses, Juliette Binoche, plays the lead role–and does so masterfully. What’s truly disappointing is the child’s part, which is totally lacking the depth and whimsy offered by the character in the original version of this movie. But overall this film is a departure from traditional storytelling, and in that sense needs to be applauded.

Then She Found Me is warm, hilarious, engaging and entertaining. Bravo to Helen Hunt for directing and acting in this serious romantic comedy. The topic is highly trendy (a childless mother obsessed with her ticking biological clock) and the acting team (Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick and Colin Firth) participates to the many-sidedness of need.

I’m not a great fan of thrillers, but after having discovered the stunning Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her part in Michael Clayton, I could not resist seeing her in Julia. She plays the part of an alcoholic who kidnaps a child and keeps us halting for almost 3 hours. Great ending, too.

And then there’s Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose. Isn’t she the quintessential French woman?  If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this movie already, I highly suggest you rent it.  The soundtrack is fantastic as well. 

I also adored Ellen Page in Juno. I find her smart, funny, and very beautiful with her feet on the ground. My kind of girl.

The Savages, staring Laura Linney and Philip Seyour Hoffman, is for those who may enjoy a bit of baby-boomer black humor, but it left me with bittersweet pleasure. The acting depicts the details of family dynamics at their worst, but the ending gives one hope to dream that the siblings may have learned a thing or two so they may have a better future.

Atonement is an irresistible film with great performances, evocative settings and the beautiful Keira Knightley wearing the most gorgeous green dress.

A splendid film that won all sorts of recognition is Bella, a romantic drama filled with sensual moments and deep feelings—demonstrating that true love goes well beyond romance. One of the best films I’ve seen in recent years. Exquisite acting.

The Blind Side… my absolute fave…especially as it was produced by Molly Smith, though objectively it’s a great, great film; we need more of these…the message and all the little oh so powerful phrases and the humor make it a winner. And Sandra Bullock deserved the Oscar, by far her best role.

Films about love (being a hopeless romantic, no surprise that these were also my top picks….)

An Education is one of the best films I’ve seen in recent months. It’s all about self-discovery. One pleasure is the way that education evolves over the course of the film: new experiences, lessons learned, choosing between life and love or all of the above? The tension throughout is particularly enjoyable and so is the seduction (and dangerous moments) between a 16-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man. A whirlwind romance with a great, healthy ending.

Bright Stars is another that counts among the best, though much more of a tragic and impassioned relationship between the romantic poet Keats and Fanny (who is a beauty). Though it’s a story of first love with a sad ending, it’s not a depressing film as it gives value not only to love but to tenderness and sensibility.

Broken Embraces: This might be the third favorite film seen in the last few months. Having a weakness for any film by the oh so talented Almodovar (not to mention a great admiration for the oh so talented and radiant Penelope Cruz), his latest film has a bit more mystery on his usual themes: love, passion, jealousy, sex, regret and fatality. A must see, and there is no doubt a lot to reflect about after seeing the film.

And then some “feel good movies” like:

Looking for Eric: A wonderful comedy with lots of laughs about the story of a middle-aged postman whose life is falling apart.

Whatever Works As a fan of Woody Allen’s (like a lot of French people), I was glad to see a film based in New York again after his Barcelona and London detours. A bitter, retired New Yorker has a dim view of just about everyone but himself and changes only after he lets a young and naïve runaway stay in his apartment. Great dialogues and acidic reflections. A vintage Woody Allen.

The Last Station is another love story which is funny, complex and richly emotional with two terrific actors, Helen Mirren (as Countess Sofya) and Christopher Plummer (as Tolstoy), stressing the difficulty of living with love and the impossibility of living without it.

Up in the Air: Can any woman resist a film with the gorgeous George Clooney (made even more famous in France with his appearance in the Nespresso “what else?“ ad)? A “coup de maître” if he ever needed one! In Up in the Air there is a seeming disconnect between the star and his character, and it does take time to notice the approaching darkness. The subject is rather appropriately fitting with the present reality of an economically failing America. Subplots help to have a few laughs while making fun of traditional coupling.

Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer: My kind of woman when it comes to taking risks, living in the moment and much more. So much talent, but another sad example of the effect of drugs throughout her life, though she managed to live to 87.

Not a feel-good movie, but nevertheless an important subject:

Food, Inc.: With so many books, TV shows and films about our food industry and the corruption of our agricultural process, one wonders why the overweight/obesity is not decreasing. We need to ask ourselves what the missing element(s) is/are so we can make a difference in the 21st century. Time is of the essence and individual responsibility paramount. Of course, parents, schools, communities, the food industry and the government need to do their parts, too. It’s a concerted effort where consumers have a powerful voice. For sure, this film will cut your appetite for at least a few hours.

Plus some disappointments…

Sherlock Holmes: The true pleasure in this film was watching Holmes and Watson act. For the rest, although Ritchie’s visual style is admirable, I miss the Dickensian/Carollian side of the treatment. An age factor, for sure, but this overproduction was at once excessive and exhausting, and were it not for the ending I would have left the theater much sooner.

Avatar: I had no strong desire to see the film until I read something like, “the most beautiful film I’ve seen,” and other strong comments. Ok, it is well made (at that price, it should be), but I truly don’t get all the hoopla. Yes, great special effects, 3D, etc., but cliché themes of love, much too much violence and at least 45 minutes too long. It seemed that the viewers around us agreed.