Saturday, October 17, 2015

That great comic director, Pierre Salvadori, is back--with a strange, sad IN THE COURTYARD

While TrustMovies does not have a favorite director, he certainly has favorite directors, and among those who make comedies, he would place the splendid Pierre Salvatore at the top of the list. From Cible Emouvant through Après Vous and Priceless, this guy makes us laugh buoyantly while grounding his movies in very human/ humane terms. His films are a joy in so many ways. No wonder I was greatly looking forward to his newest film, IN THE COURTYARD. Surprise: There are a few laughs in the movie but many more smiles, and finally, if there are no outright tears, I suspect that, once seen, this quiet and unusual film will stay with you in odd ways for some time to come.

M. Salvadori, shown at right, has here made his most elusive film to date -- one that deals with depressed people (his other films do this, too, but in a much more comedic manner) in ways that seem both believable and empathetic. Further, the filmmaker is blessed to have at his disposal two top-notch stars, both of whom are pictured below: one a long-time icon of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve; the other an actor who has been working in film for years but may at last have a role in which he makes an indelible mark, Gustave Kervern.

The two play off each beautifully and effortlessly, Ms Deneuve in that rare role in which she is neither wise nor strong, and in fact is not at all in charge of her life. Kervern essays a musician who has suddenly given up his career and his life -- to disappear into some place where he can be left alone. Via the efforts of one of those French civil servants who actually cares about the people she serves (this scene and the actress who plays it -- I believe it is Carole Franck -- are keepers indeed), our "hero" finds his way into the good graces of the couple who owns a mid-size apartment building in town (Ms Deneuve and, as her husband, Féodor Atkine).

The building is peopled with an odd assortment of folk whom we get to know but fleetingly -- with the exception of a sad and sexy, drug-addled ex-sports star (played by Pio Marmaï). There's a blind man, a chronic complainer, and a Russian emigre (in the penultimate picture) with a troublesome dog who stars in the film's most inventive and amusing fantasy sequence. A crack in the owner family's apartment wall (below) leads to more depression, humor and odd plot developments. All along the way, Salvadori keeps a gentle but firm hold on everything from event to character, never allowing the former to circumvent the latter.

How the movie develops is part of its low-key charm. It goes places -- after that crack in the wall, for instance -- that broaden and deepen, but toward character rather than situation, which makes the movie much less "funny" but more real in terms of the people we're getting to know. Exactly how real we won't discover until the finale -- on one level unexpected (if we are viewing all this as "comedy"), on another quite determined by everything that has come before.

The movie -- running 97 minutes, in French with English subtitles and released to DVD this past week via Cohen Media Group -- has, on the DVD "extras," a fine and supremely well edited Q&A with the director which is one of the best filmmaker interviews I've so far seen. In it, Salvadori speaks of how the movie came about, why it is so intentionally different from his other films and how Ms Deneuve proved instrumental in helping it along. (The icon is known for her generosity to French filmmakers and her willingness to take a chance on their projects.) He also tells us why his second most recent movie, Beautiful Lies, made its debut amidst the worst possible circumstances. (This may account for why we've never seen the film on this side of the pond,)

If you, too, are Pierre Salvadori fan, In the Courtyard, will be a don't-miss in terms of understanding the artist's complete oeuvre. While it might not be an appropriate place for PS newcomers to begin, stick the film on your "watch-it-later" list. As for me, I am now wondering just where -- and why -- this talented filmmaker will venture next.

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