Saturday, June 18, 2016

At FIAF this coming Tuesday: Brigitte Sy's deep, dark and beautiful ASTRAGAL

Coming up at FIAF's CinéSalon this Tuesday, July 21, is a film of which I'd never heard but am very pleased to have now experienced. ASTRAGAL (L'Astragale) is a gift from actress/ writer/director Brigitte Sy, who, as director and adapter of a landmark French autobiographical novel of the same name (by Albertine Sarrazin), brings us the adventures, usually pretty dark, of a smart Algerian girl in France during the 1950s. TrustMovies best knows Ms Sy as an actress (Genealogies of a Crime, Regular Lovers, Declaration of War) but he has also seen her earlier work as writer/director, Free Hands. He finds Astragal an enormous improvement over that former film.

What seems most remarkable is how well Ms Sy (shown at left) succeeds on every level she attempts, all the more surprising because Astragale is a period piece, and Sy captures that period, with the help of her cinematographer (Frédéric Serve) and production and costume designer (Françoise Arnaud) so very well. The look, the feel, the detailing all seem extraordinarily precise and right. Even better, though, is the casting of the film, which includes two fine French actors: the beautiful Leila Bekhti, whom I've often enjoyed (A Prophet, All That Glitters) but had no clue that she possessed the ability to the handle a complex role like this one, and Reda Kateb (Me, Myself and Mum and Far From Men, among his many other choice roles) 

Ms Bekhti (above and below, right) plays Albertine, the heroine of the film, whom we first meet escaping from prison and taking a fall that will damage her ankle for life. Rescue comes in the form of M. Kateb (above and below, left), who plays Julien, a criminal with a kind heart but former obligations. And so begins a relationship that will start and stop and start again for a decade or more, as Julien attends to his life and loves and Albertine, constantly in hiding, finds employment as a prostitute, even as she begins writing poetry and prose that show a distinct and deepening talent.

Astragal is one of the more genuinely poetic films I've seen in a long time, and its poetry extends not only to the writing we occasionally hear spoken, but to the look of the film (the black-and-white cinematography is splendidly of its time and simply gorgeous to view); the "feel" of the period that Sy, along with her crew and actors, conjure; in the performance of the two leads and their supporting cast; and the entire "spirit" of this project -- in which incipient feminism appears on the French scene and the "place" of women begins to change. Albertine, of course, is in that double bind of being both female and Algerian.

Our heroine spends the film "on the lam," as it were, not exactly running from the authorities (she has broken out of prison, after all) but keeping quietly under wraps (she's often in a blond wig, as above, for disguise). As the small incidents build, so do the characters of Albertine and Julien. When her best friend from prison, Marie (Esther Garrel, above and below, left), suddenly reappears, Albertine must choose and grow.

How this works out and what happens to both the novelized and actual Albertine we learn as the end credits roll and more information is passed to us. The effect is sad because all this seems so unnecessary, but Astragal is about both the past and the change to come. The latter, I suppose is what makes the former more bearable. That, and this film's enormous truth, beauty and spirit.

You have the chance to view Astragal, this coming Tuesday, June 21, at FIAF in New York City. (There's one showing only, at 4pm!) Click here to learn more and/or to purchase tickets. (And remember: FIAF members get into the the CinéSalon programs free of charge.)

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