Mireille's Musings - April 30, 2009

The Best of French Cinema: My Favorite Films

I’m happy to report that French cinema is making a comeback. Here are some classics I never get tired of, and many new films I have been impress

Un Amour de Jeunesse: Adolescent love. Universal. Part of growing up. Well done.

Saveurs du Palais:
For food lovers…a comedy about how a sensual, no nonsense French woman (Catherine Frot is perfect for the part) was appointed as the private chef of French president François Mitterand. Life at the Palais de l’Elysée…

Quelques Heures de Printemps: About assisted suicide and the conversations (and lack of them) between mother and son. Filled with tensions with superb acting by Vincent Landon.

Dans la Maison: For François Luchini’s fans, a French teacher and his precocious student’s transgressive story about his relationship with a friend’s family.

Temps de l’Aventure
Emmanuelle Devos will move you in this sensible love story that does not forgive adultery but helps understand “le coup de foudre” crush

Renoir: An exquisite film on the French Riviera about Renoir and son with the wonderful French actor Michel Bouquet.

Demi Soeur: A touching comedy about a 60-year-old with an 8-year-old mental age. Josiane Balasko is precious.
Short of being in Venice, go and see the film

The Tourist for the super views of la Serrenissima. The plot and acting (especially Johnny Depp…after his brilliant performance as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland) are disappointing but the views of Venice are amazing, making you feel like you are there going through the canals and reminding us how lovely a place it is with its architecture, palazzi, light, market, food and people. Worth the trip even sitting in the theater.

Des hommes et des dieux (“Of men and gods”) A beautiful and exceptional film about the trappist monks in Algeria’s Atlas region in 1996, a few months before they were kidnapped and killed. This film won the “grand prix” in Cannes and hopefully will get an Oscar. It’s unlike the standard code of films today, read special effects, speed, sex, cynism, etc.; it is about universal values like courage, solidarity, fraternity, love, the meaning of life…and death and commitment (facing threats, in this case terrorism).

La Môme What a film! Marion Cotillard is superb and shows great talent and a brilliant future. Edith Piaf’s tale of a child singing in the street, who then becomes famous without finding happiness, is touching indeed. She had to live by herself, succeed and stay strong in the midst of that challenging world of entertainment.

Non ma fille, tu n’iras pas danser, with three great French actresses like Chiara Mastroianni, Marina Fois and Marie-Christine Barrault, could have been great. The acting certainly is to paint three generations dealing with the challenges of love, divorce, independence and many traps of 21st century family life. And the acting is quite good. What is less good and actually saddened me is seeing these various women chain smoking and being irresponsible by giving young viewers the feeling that smoking is cool. It is not. When shall we have better role models? When will women have the guts to turn down representing such stereotypes with such cheap shots giving the idea to the young and naïve that smoking is cool?

Coco avant
(before) Chanel with the captivating presence of Audrey Tautou is perfect timing for less is more and the pursuit of simplicity, which are such important themes these days.  There are great lines throughout the film. The young actress would have made Coco Chanel proud.  It is the kind of film no woman should miss seeing at least a couple of times.  The messages are timeless, the fashion and scenery beautiful, and the love story of her youth real but sad.

is a German film about the life of Clara Schuman, a celebrated composer and pianist who lived in the shadow of her tormented husband, the great romantic composer Robert Schuman.  Add to her challenge material difficulties and the meeting of the young Johannes Brahms in the couple’s life, which complicates daily living.  Grief and unhappiness, mixed with tender scenes (especially the Schuman childrens’ adoration for the young, playful Brahms) and great music from three very talented artists make for a touching film.

Entre Nous (The Class) was well received in Paris and New York, as family and 21st century education are topics both cultures can relate to. Put it on your “must” list. All I will say is that it is the best classroom film I have ever seen. It’s a feast of language and a melting pot of cultures. It teaches us about dialog and democracy. It has a universal message and will touch us at any age.

La graine et le mullet (The Secret of the Grain) is a long film on unusual subject matter that speaks to my generation. It’s about France becoming a melting pot–something most French do not accept well. The many subtle insights resonated with me as I grew up witnessing much of this process. The best part of this film is its women, food and sensuality. You will crave for a great couscous after seeing how the real stuff is prepared. The terrific Hafsia Herzi (Rym) has great potential as an actress and her belly dancing, along with the suspense of the last thirty minutes shows the depth of the filmmaker’s humanism. All three films are powerful in their own way and will allow foreigners to get a deeper understanding of French life.

The well-known Josiane Balasko’s most recent film, La cliente was the talk of Paris earlier this year. It is the story of a 50-year-old (played by the superb Nathalie Baye) successful businesswoman who buys the erotic services of a young man (the gorgeous Eric Caracava). It’s the old question of “can one buy love with money?” But of most interest is the suggestion by Balasko that we live in a man’s world and if women want to be successful in that world, it may be worth looking at and understanding what goes on in a man’s sphere. Buying pleasure is one of the last male bastions, and Balasko handles the subject with panache and a couple good laughs. A few themes: the client is king; women’s solitude, women’s pleasures, men’s insecurity, pleasures vs. passions and taboos galore. Neither men nor women look so good in the 21st century world she depicts: women want men to be protective, responsible, authoritarian with children, and macho, though not too much. Women’s demands are so off the chart that a lot of gorgeous, interesting men choose to remain bachelors because the modern woman scares them. Not the best situation but Balasko likes us to leave the theater disturbed. A great film.

The haunting French film Un secret got rave reviews from me and most of Paris.  It should be available for viewing in the U.S. by now.  If so, don’t keep it a secret!  

L’empreinte de l’ange is a film I highly recommend for American audiences. It premiered the day I arrived in Paris and features two of my favorite French actresses, Catherine Frot and Sandrine Bonnaire. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity. The plot is based on a true story, and is truly captivating: six years after the death of her baby during a fire at the maternity where she gave birth, a depressed woman comes across a little girl about the age of the daughter she lost. Convinced that it’s her daughter, the mother tracks the little girl down and goes after her. The scenes between the two “mothers” are incredible, and the end is disturbing. The face off between the two mothers — one obsessed, neurotic and convinced of her good instinct versus one threatened to lose her child– is gripping and even the music adds to the mystery. Catherine Frot leads us into this slow and crazy thriller. The acting is simply fantastic.

Retrouver Sara is based on a true story of a French woman who marries an Iranian man. They are deeply in love, have a first child and while she is a nurse and he is looking for work she becomes pregnant and a second girl is born. Meanwhile, he turns aggressive, violent, and nuts. One day, he forbids her to have access to the children and claims she is unfit and has a lover, neither being true. He runs away with Sara and moves to Montreal. The mother is trying to get her daughter back and it’s an interesting lesson in the judicial system and all its obsolete rules and slow motion. The end is great: she never gives up and with friends and a bit of luck she recovers Sara who is safe though confused, and the father goes to jail. A disturbing film showing how a human being can change so much, so fast and turn family life into nightmare. Also fascinating is the topic of cultural differences.

Roman de Gare was the bone-chilling thriller of the year–at least in France. It is a sensuous film with a tricky plot directed by Claude Lelouch (of A Man and a Woman fame) with the talented Fanny Ardant and Audrey Dana. A must see.

Un Coeur simple, based on a Flaubert short story was a must see for me. The film portrays the touching story of a young peasant girl in Normandy who is all kindness and love in spite of all the miseries she endures. Goodness wins over evil any day anywhere. So refreshing.

The Violin is a modest little masterpiece (in Spanish with English subtitles) about an octogenarian fiddle player embroiled in an Indian peasant uprising.

Le renard et l’enfant (The Fox and the Child) is a modest film wherein a fox, a child, and beautiful scenery make for a charming film that is about the unique communication between a female fox and a young human. The child is played by a most stunning ten-year-old girl with freckles, an old-fashioned hairdo, and the voice of an angel.

Tous les soleils is the best 2011 film I’ve seen so far and the best in a while…from fave Philippe Claudel a romantic comedy which takes place in my alma mater Alsace especially in delightful Strasbourg with its cinematic canals and lovely gardens. A mix of French and Italian culture with a super actor Stefano Accorsi with the themes of the good life from friendship, affection, music, altruism, family and fantasy and a lovely ending. Only the French can do this and the sensibility of the producer and actors are terrific. A must see.

Ma part du gateau gets second best so far for 2011. A film that is both entertaining and very profound dealing with current topics: a rich (and heartless, arrogant and more) boss who fires entire staff due to globalisation, single mothers, poverty vs luxury,21st century kids yet no lesson in this film simply a good story mostly believable, with catchy phrases and well acted with Gilles Lelouche ad Karin Viard.

Last but not least, I highly recommend the film Caramel–it’s a delightful romantic comedy for any woman.