Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Maïwenn's sweet-and-sour delight, LE BAL DES ACTRICES

Attention: film buffs-- particularly those who groove on French film and French actresses: A young actress and filmmaker with the one-word moniker of Maïwenn has made a movie that you will be sorry if you miss. It's showing now through January 29, as part of MyFrenchFilm, the online film fest you can download off the web for just a bit more than $2.50 per film, a bargain in this day and age. If you're a serious foreign-film buff, for about  $19 you can down load the entire package: eleven full-length movies and another ten short films.

The film in question is called LE BAL DES ACTRICES (All About Actresses is the English title) and it is one for the books. Posing as a documentary being made by Maïwenn (shown at right) about the state of being an actress in France today (even as such, it's pretty damn good), the movie begins with a "musical number, in which all the "stars" take part -- they play themselves throughout the film (or perhaps they're playing/parroting the way in which the French public perceives them) -- and continues with time spent with each star, as she tries to figure out her next career move. Each of these chapters has its own musical number that comments, in its way, on what we've just seen, on the actress, and on her desires. Finally, there's a "screening" of the finished documentary for the actresses to critique. Through all of this, the film is non-stop, thought-provoking fun that is also on-target satire that is sometimes quite moving.

The actresses include Jeanne Balibar (above, in black leather!), Romane Bohringer, Julie Depardieu, Mélanie Doutey, Marina Foïs, Estelle Lefébure, Maïwenn herself (her full name is Maïwenn Le Besco, and she's the sister of Isild), Linh Dan Pham (below, with her "movie" mom & dad), Charlotte Rampling, Muriel Robin, Karole Rocher and Karin Viard. If at least some of those names don't get your heart racing, you're not the Francophile you thought you were.

Representing the male set are Joey Starr, who plays Maïwenn's main squeeze, Nicolas Briançon as her producer -- and the likes of Yvan Atal, Jacques Weber, Pascal Greggory and Bertrand Blier, all playing themselves in director mode.

The film moves from ditsy and silly to frank and funny to rich and moving -- often on a dime. From Viard's cow-milking sequence on a farm (under Blier's helm) to Foïs (above, center) fooling around with Botox, from the actress as parent (in both birth and adoption modes) to the actress aging (Bohringer's section is simply amazing: Is this the reason why we haven't seen that much of this fine actress -- shown below, left -- of late?), the cast and crew take us inside each actress' head, heart and ego. It's an alternately beautiful, crazy and not-so-pretty place to be.

The filmmaker makes fine use of the fantasy element in movies -- in her musical numbers, as well as in the way in which these women sometimes perceive their world. Maïwenn colludes with them in their view, even as that view collides with realty as most of us know it. She's part of the game; she knows it; and she's smart enough to make this clear--never more so than in her finale, which bring all the women together and lets the filmmaker have her cake and eat it, too. Dare I suggest that you'll be wolfing it down, as well.

Le Bal des Actrices will play in through January 29.  You can access it here. (You can also vote for your favorite film in the festival -- something I've neglected to mention until now.)

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