Friday, January 28, 2011

Bidding adieu to Fehner-SILENT VOICES/Elbé-TURK'S HEAD

TrustMovies is only sorry that he did not watch these two very fine films sooner. There remain only two days in which to view (it closes on Saturday January 29), but since, once you order a film for download, you have two days in which to view it, that actually leaves you a full four days to catch up. And since both films under consideration here are too good to miss, I hope you'll take advantage of, as Elia Suleiman might put it, the time that remains.

Léa Fehner's eloquent SILENT VOICES is an exceptional imagining of the lives of others. Most films attempt this leap but few have done it with the skill of Ms Fehner -- all the more surprising because this is her first full-length feature. As director and co-writer (with Catherine Paille), she chooses her scenes and her dialog carefully, pulling us into her stories (there are three of them) with a visual immediacy that is rare.

We don't always know what is going on, but so specific are the intentions of the actors at each moment and in each of her equally specific scenes, that we have no trouble maintaining interest until slowly all the characters -- who they are and what they want -- come together.

It is prison that links these stories. Ms Fehner (shown at right) is not afraid to let her camera scans many inmates and their visitors, in addition to those we come to know best, and from the short sharp "takes" she gives us, it is clear that she probably could have devoted her story to any of these people and come up with a movie worth watching.

The three tales Fehner does tell -- and well -- involve an Algerian woman (Farida Rahouadj, above), who receives her son's casket-bourne body sent from France and so goes there to learn what happened to him.

Another has a sixteen-year-old girl, Pauline Etienne (above, right: seen in Restless at last year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema) meeting a young, strange but quite enticing  "Russian" immigrant (Vincent Rottiers, above, left, and seen in last year's In the Beginning and I'm Glad That My Mother Is Alive, both at Rendez-vous).

The third and by far the strangest (that Fehner is able to pull this one off is only a millimeter short of miraculous) involves a sad fellow (Reda Kateb, above, right, from A Prophet) and his angry girlfriend (Dinara Droukarova, above, left of Since Otar Left) and the fellow (fine French standby Marc Barbé, shown below, right), whom they meet perhaps by chance.

These characters are all connected (or will be) in ways they may not know or understand, but their lives bounce off each other, sometimes with major results, so that we come to care about all these people, no matter what. Ms Fehner carries this off with such aplomb that I am in awe. Silent Voices -- which, in the original Qu'un seul tienne et les autres suivront translates something like "Let one person hold on (or maybe "dig in") and the others will follow" -- is a splendid, don't-miss movie. With no US release in sight, try to catch it in this last two days of the festival. Click here for where and how.


Pascal Elbé has been a noted actor in France for a decade or more, but because he tends to make mainstream movies, we don't see much of him on the festival/
arthouse circuit. Too bad, because he's a good-looking and talented guy who may just now be coming into his own. Over the past few years he's co-written some films, and in 2010 -- with the new movie TURK'S HEAD (Tête de turc), he's gone solo in the writing department, taken a lead role in the film and directed it, too.
A sudden triple threat, as it were.

The good news is that Elbé (shown at right and on the poster, right, as well) has done a competent-or-better job in all three departments and chosen as his topic and theme life in the banlieues outside of Paris. This could hardly be more timely and important just now, given the off-and-on crime and riots that bedevil the areas, together with accusations of police brutality.

This writer/filmmaker covers it all, packing it in and wrapping it up in a fast-paced 87 minutes (including credits) that are awash in irony. These are neither simple-minded nor heavy-handed ironies: They're as pointed as most of the events shown are believable.

From the beginning, when a doctor who ministers to the banlieue treats a very ill woman, whose husband, played by the usually fine Simon Abkarian, waits for the medical services to arrive. They don't because, as the doctor sits in his car phoning for help, banlieue kids atop a nearby building start pelting his auto with rocks -- large ones -- and finally a molotov cocktail. At that point, they take off, except for the cocktail tosser who realizes that the occupant of the auto is not moving and will die (if he isn't already dead) once the fire reaches the gas tank.

At this point, the film speeds from irony to irony, gathering steam and anger in every direction -- from the  husband whose sick wife is now dead; from the doctor's brother (the ubiquitous Roschdy Zem), a police officer clearly of eastern descent who already hated the kids even before his brother went into a coma; and from the kids themselves who are beginning to suspect one of them own is a turncoat.

Elbé has a sense of history ("Since when does a Turk save an Armenian?" asks one character in some amazement over a certain event) and in his story introduces a very interesting Turkish family: a single mom (Ronit Elkabetz, above and below, left) and her two sons, Bora, that cocktail tosser (Samir Makhlouf, at left, two photos above) and his little brother. The filmmaker does not tie up everything into neat bows, though I wish he had left the Akbarian character to stew in his own juices, rather than becoming the official boogey man who must have vengeance but is too strupid or grief-stricken to manage it properly.

Turk's Head is melodrama, but for the most part good melodrama with a point. France had better make inroads toward the solution to the banlieues before the country thoroughly divides against itself. The movie, most definitely worth a watch, is still downloadable until just before midnight, Saturday, January 29. Click here to learn how to download it.
And that's it for this festival, a surprisingly excellent one, over all. Except for French Kissers (not my cup of French roast), there wasn't a ringer in the entire bunch, and a half dozen of the films were as good -- and as varied -- as anything Hollywood or most American independents are turning out. I hope that the fest's sponsors Unifrance and Allocine will do this again next year. And start earlier with the PR and announcements so that we'll have time to gear up, check in and put ourselves in order.

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