Friday, March 2, 2012

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA-- 2012--opens at Lincoln Center, IFC & BAM

Well, this certainly is French week, in Hollywood, what with The Artist raking in most of the major Academy Awards this past Sunday, and here in New York, as the Walter Reade Theater's most popular annual series -- RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA -- opened last night (at Alice Tully Hall) with the second most popular movie in French cinema history: THE INTOUCHABLES (Intouchables). This year's series, which comes to us, as usual, courtesy of The Film Society of Lincoln Center together with uniFrance, is one of the best in memory, offering a wealth of must-sees, a number of just plain good films, and one major clinker, the likes of which proves an embarrassment to all concerned. (It's always salutary to have one of these as a kind of bad-movie touchstone that puts all else into perspective.)

I'll have more to say about Rendez-vous starting tomorrow. Right now I'll concentrate on Intouchables, which, though sold out for its two Rendez-vous screenings, is being released in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company in late May 2012. So you can see it then. And if you appreciate foreign films, you probably will because, despite the pan Stephen Holden gave it in today's NY Times, it's a lovely piece of film-making, a model of classy discretion compared to movies of the "buddy" genre that are made over here. (Whatever his opinion of the film artistically, Holden gets his facts wrong: the caretaker does not coax the millionaire into paragliding; it's the other way around. And they are not strapped together paragliding, symbolically or in any other way: That would probably be fatal to them both.)

To begin with, the main characters -- one of France's riches men, now a paraplegic and a hunky Black African from the banlieues -- are so much more than the usual oil and water types that people the genre, so that the movie's arc always becomes, "They hate each other now, but they'll grow to love each other eventually."  These two -- played superbly by the gifted François Cluzet (above, center) Tell No One, In the Beginning) and Omar Sy (dancing, two photos above, and above, right, who walked away with this year's Best Actor award in France) -- are in each other's corner from almost the beginning. They can help each other, and they know it. So they do it. While this might lessen suspense and anticipation in a lesser film, here it simply allows the filmmakers, Eric Toledano (below, right) and Olivier Nakache (below, left), to concentrate on how all this happens and to give us the succulent, enjoyable details. These details are handled, by the way, with the kind of brevity, subtlety and wit that you do not often find in American "buddy" movies.

Above all Intouchables is a great love story, albeit one without sex or even much eroticism (well, ears do get rubbed erogenously). It puts you on cloud nine and keeps you there for most of its near-two-hour running time, as it bonds classes, races and men. No wonder it has raised the ire of a racist slut-politician like Jean-Marie LePen. More power to it! Though based on reality (these two characters do exist; they helped each other in this manner and remain friends today), the movie is still a lovely fairy tale, one that has a lot to teach us. And that combination, of course, is one of the prime reasons that we love -- and trust -- movies. Some of 'em, anyhow...

You can see the entire Rendez-vous 2012 program and venues by clicking here.

4 comments:

Betty said...

Still no review for The Artist yet? That means it's either too off-the-charts good or off-the-charts bad to review.

James van Maanen, said...

Hi, Betty -- and thanks for your comment. The Artist? No, I didn't review it because I wasn't invited to see it. At this point, I only cover those films to which I am either invited to a screening or sent a screener. And The Weinstein Company, though they sent me about a thousand emails with blurbs and trailers and press releases galore, did not see fit to issue an invite, even after my asking several times, "Hello? When's the screening?".

Since I am seeing movies for free, I feel an obligation to cover those first. And at this point I am getting so many invites that this rules out covering much of anything else. Once in awhile -- for instance, when I actually paid money to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and felt it was exceptional mainstream entertainment -- I'll relent and cover a movie that I was NOT invited to as a critic.

I did see The Artist (a friend took me for my birthday) and enjoyed it quite a bit. It had some lovely stuff in it but if I were to have chosen a Best Picture of the year, out of the nominees given, it would have been Hugo (I have not yet seen The Descendants). I find the work of The Artists director, Michel Hazanavicius (who gave us the two OSS movies that also starred Jean Dujardin) a little too repetitive and obvious for my taste. The Artist, as enjoyable as it was, seemed to me to lack much content.

And I would love to be able to see Dujardin in a movie where he did not act in "quotes," constantly commenting on his own performance. This style of acting was a requirement in The Artist and in the two OSS films, and he does this sort of thing exceptionally well. But what would he be like simply performing a role that did not require those "quotes"? Dujardin has made some films in France that would qualify, but we have not been able to see them over here yet. I am actually disappointed that Rendez-vous did not see fit to include one of these in its program, now that Dujardin has hit to international big time.

I interviewed the actor a couple of years back (that post is here: http://trustmovies.blogspot.com/2010/05/jean-dujardin-is-back-oss-lost-in-rio.html). I asked him about doing some possibly non-comedic/satirical roles, and his repsonse really whetted my appetite to see what else he could do!

Anyway, Betty, I didn't plan to go on at such length, but I hope this gives you some idea of my response to The Artist. Actually I should probably do a blog post on the film, and Dujardin and all of this. Some day, when I have time...

Again, thanks for taking the time and trouble to post a comment!

Betty said...

Thanks for your reply.

I saw Intouchables opening night at Alice Tully. Were you there too? I found the film to be funny and touching, but almost racist at times. What bothered me in particular is when a song repeating the words "The Ghetto" played when the black nurse started his job. What did your companion think of the film? You often mention his thoughts in your review but not this time around.

James van Maanen, said...

Hmmmm.... No, I didn't think of Intouchables as racist at all. But I didn't notice that song that mentioned The Ghetto a few times, either. Though, after all, one of our two heroes was from the ghetto. The banlieues, some at least, are pretty much the equivalent of the ghetto, no? And the movie did seem to recognize cultural/race differences and to see the world as it is.

I wasn't at Alice Tully Hall on opening night. The Weinstein Company had a couple of press screenings prior to Rendez-vous' opening night so I saw the film the day before. But my companion did not see it. He usually watches screeners (if the PR people happen to send same) with me at home.

Meanwhile, I hope you can get to some more of the Rendez-vous films.