Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rendez-vous: Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche's SMUGGLERS' SONGS and Laurent Achard's THE LAST SCREENING

The marketing materials for Rendez-vousLAST SCREENING (Dernière séance) suggest a mash-up of Psycho and Cinema Paradiso. This makes for attention-grabbing copy, but does it really sound appealing? In practice, though the movie does indeed combine certain elements of both those classic films, its genre-mashing does not work very well. Directed and co-written by Laurent Achard, The Last Screening is basically a classy slasher movie -- with plenty of blood and screaming from the all-female victims -- and a back story for its leading man (think of him as a combination of Tony Perkins and Philippe Noiret -- whoops, that doesn't work very well, either) that seems manufactured to the point of silliness, creating a character who remains unbelievable (if not incredible) at best and so never attains our sympathy in the least. (That all goes to those victims, their demise dwelled upon nearly to the point of sadism.)

In a small town, an old fashioned repertory cinema is about to close for a make-over into -- I forget what -- but not a more modern cinema. Bad! The projectionist, an attractive young man named Sylvain (Pascal Cervo, above) with nice eyes but who has a thing for ears, is also -- no spoiler, as we learn this within the second scene or so -- a serial killer who de-ears his victim (just one ear; he's not greedy), which he then places -- oops, that would be spoiling things a bit. Into this mix comes the cinema owner, a woman who is in charge of the de-construction and a young actress who's playing the title role of Phèdre at the local legit theater. Various killings ensue. And ensue some more.

In what universe, pray tell, does this film take place? There are no police, no investigation of the killings (I counted around 30 ears, hence 30 victims), no mention of anything wrong or suspicious by anyone we encounter. Granted, Sylvain kills whores and other "unnecessaries," or maybe he sometimes goes to a another town. But when he is literally accosted and stopped mid-killing, surely something of these goings-on might leak out? Well, it's that kind of nit-wit movie. But because it is so film-buffy, I guess that makes it some kind of art. What? You disagree? Well, M. Cervo makes a cute, sexy, sinister and sociopathic leading man with mommy issues aplenty (that's Karole Rocher as mom, above), while Charlotte Van Kemmel proves an attractive, though maybe endangered, leading lady. Otherwise, this one's bloody, nutty and forgettable. It screens Tuesday, March 6, at 8:30 pm at the Walter Reade; Thursday, March 8, at 6pm at IFC Center; and Saturday, March 10, at 1:30pm, again at the Walter Reade. Messieurs Achard and Cervo, plus the film's producer Sylvie Pialat, will appear in person at all three screenings.


Ever wonder how the French Revolution came about? No, not around the court of Louis XVI, which is where, movie-wise, we usually get wind of it. In these days of the growing (then subsiding) Arab spring in the east, and the western world's Occupy movement, filmmakers are starting to take notice. I suspect Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche (Wesh wesh, qu'est-ce qui se passe?) has been thinking about all this for some time, for his new film SMUGGLERS' SONGS (Les chants de Mandrin) is rife with the spirit of a growing feeling of and for some kind of new democracy... only back in France in the 1700s. Jumping off from the death/matryrdom of French folk hero Louis Mandrin, Ameur-Zaïmeche, as both writer and director, brings such a fine feeling of now-as-then to the goings-on that I believe audiences lucky enough to see his 97-minute movie will come away charged anew with the sense and spirit of how democracy might build, once citizens of all classes (particularly the underclass) learn to understand and reason around the concept of justice.

One member of the overclass, a Marquis played very nicely indeed by actor/filmmaker Jacques Nolot (above), wrestles with this notion and what it might mean to his servants, his feet and his general well-being, as he chats with a smart peddler, equally well-played by Christian Melia-Darmezin. The filmmaker himself (below) takes on a major role here, as Bélissard, the leader of the small band of the Mandrins, now that Louis is dead. In crisply photographed images, many of them beautifully composed (by Irina Lubtchansky), we move with this fearless band of warriors as they train a new recruit (a deserter saved from military execution), have the songs of and about Mandrin published (we see the fascinating steps to printing and publishing centuries before the time of self-publishing and computers), and witness an exciting jail-break, along with some other tense situations.

Small in scale but done with what seems to me to be surprising accuracy, Smugglers' Songs might be the earliest example of Occupy France, as it show us how the fire of revolution was lit, back when. This little gem, perhaps the "sleeper" of this year's Rendez-vous (you can view the entire series by clicking here), screens Tuesday, March 7, at 9:30 pm at IFC Center and at the Walter Reade on Thursday, March 8, at 6:15pm and Friday, March 9 at 1:30pm. Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche will appear in person at the first two of the three screenings.

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