Friday, February 27, 2009


Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (right) likes to push the envelope, but subtly, regarding human psychology, sexuality, needs and desires. At her best -- Dry Cleaning and now her new THE GIRL FROM MONACO -- she tosses together characters of wide divergence, then watches them connect in ways that can seem rich and wonderful, as well as frightening and destructive. In her latest, set on the French Riviera, she links a pricey, high-class lawyer (Fabrice Luchini, below right) defending

a client (Stéphane Audran) accused of murder in a case involving the Russian mob; the lawyer's bodyguard of Algerian descent (Roschdy Zem); and an ambitious weather girl (newcomer Louise Bourgoin, above left).

From the first scene, which appears quite romantic, with its classy people and gorgeous location, the rug is pulled from under us with simplicity and style. By film's end, forget the rug; we’re no longer even sure of the walls, floor or ceiling, because, morally speaking, these characters -- whom we've now seen from so many angles and odd situations -- have gone through such major changes that we --and they -- may have arrived somewhere close to their core.

All the while, however, we're here on the Riviera, luxuriating in the sun and sights, the posh hotel rooms, the surf and sand. In many ways -- cast, location, events -- this is Fontaine's most "mainstream" movie and yet it will leave you considering anew things like class, morality, men, women, guilt, justice and even -- maybe particularly -- feminism.

The Girl from Monaco screens at the Walter Reade Theater Friday, March 6, at 1pm and Saturday, March 7, at 6:35 -- and at the IFC Center Sunday, March 8, at 1:30. Good news for future viewings: Fontaine's film will be distributed theatrically in the US by Magnolia Pictures this coming July.

Guillaume Depardieu, left, with Max Baissette de Malglaive, in Versailles

There's a scene in Pierre Schöller's VERSAILLES that I believe will stay with me forever: it combines the past and present with the haves and have-nots so spectacularly and simply that it becomes indelible. The movie itself has its ups and down, with the former far outweighing the latter. One of its stars, Guillaume Depardieu, who died from pneumonia last fall, has one of his best roles here -- in a film that matters, rather than in some artsy, pretentious train wreck like Pola X.

Schöller's film is about family, both blood and found; the meaning of caring; and the widening gulf between classes in today's France. It tells a strange and often sad story, with a lot of elipses, some working better than others. But because of the commitment of the writer/director and the rich, finely observed performances from his entire cast, the movie holds together and leaves you thoughtful and satisfied, even if you might like a little more information. What Schöller chooses to provide, however, is always pertinent to his themes. For the rest, I suppose what's missing might appeal more to our usual sense of back-story and sentiment than to the ideas that the writer/director wants us to consider. He may have misjudged how to best balance this equation, but only slightly.

In his very young leading man, Max Baissette de Malglaive (pictured above, and with Depardieu, further above), Schöller has brought to the screen a remarkable face and presence. This is a child performance for the ages. Young Master de Malglaive has been cast in Richard Berry's upcoming adaptation of Franz-Olivier Giesbert's L'Immortel. We'll be interested in seeing the results.

Versailles screens at the Walter Reade Theater Friday, March 6, at 3:30 and Sunday, March 8, at 6. If the IFC Center it will be shown Saturday, March 7, at 1:30. There's no US distributor attached as yet, so catch it while you can.

Left to right: Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Karin Viard
Christopher Thompson in Change of Plans

Danièle Thompson's exquisitely funny, charming and moving ensemble pieces have brightened Rendez-vous twice before (Avenue Montaigne, La Bûche). Her third directorial effort CHANGE OF PLANS does so again, this time with perhaps a bit more melancholy than usual. But then, we're all getting older and, we'd like to think, wiser. In this outing, Thompson offers as her centerpiece a dinner party but she moves her time frame before, during and after the event, as the mood strikes her (and her characters). This group of people, who initially appear rather shallow and easy to anger, slowly grow into complex and likable characters, their fallibilities not withstanding.

As usual, this writer/director has coaxed together a sterling cast: eight top stars (plus several other enjoyable actors, including Christopher Thompson, the director's son and co-writer): the always interesting Karin Viard, Patrick Bruel (so different in this role from last year's Un Secret), Marina Fois (you won't recognize her here as the same actress from The Joy of Singing), the hugely popular Dany Boon, Marina Hands (from Lady Chatterly and Tell No One), Emmanuelle Seigner (a little weightier here, but warmer than usual and even more alluring), and old hands Patrick Chesnais (below center, with Blanca Li) and Pierre Arditi, whose initial scene together is the funniest in the film. All these actors perform like gangbusters, and Thompson has given them a lot to work with.

Interestingly, the arc of the film is almost the exact opposite as that described in the FSLC program notes ; one wonders if its writer had actually seen the film. The connections involving time frame, characters and events that Thompson is able to make among her people finally gives her movie the weight it needs to be something more than an entertainingly brittle, lightweight comedy. You'll laugh, of course, but you'll feel more than that: the kind of melancholic understanding that only aging in a long-term relationship can provide.

Change of Plans screen at the Walter Reade Friday, March 6, at 6:20; Sunday, March 8, at 8:45; and Monday, March 9, at 3;30; at the IFC Center it screens Saturday, March 7, at 7. No US distributor as yet, but surely the starry cast, the comedy, and Thompson's past record will change this?

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