Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Enigmatic EMMANUELLE DEVOS: FIAF hosts a sterling, eye-opening series featuring perhaps the finest actress in all of France

You'll recognize her immediately, even if you may not instantly recall her name: Emmanuelle Devos, the multi-award-winning actress who has already, at the age of 53, graced the screen (and French TV) in some 81 roles. TrustMovies would call her an icon of French cinema, perhaps the icon because she is a better actress -- more versatile and seemingly up to any challenge -- than, say Catherine Deneuve or even Isabelle Huppert, both of whose work (and beauty) I treasure. Ms Devos may not be quite as beautiful, though she can be hugely exotic and glamorous when she wishes, but she is an exceptional performer who is always in-the-moment and never indulges in a false one.

In fact, the actress will be appearing in one of the films in the FSLC Open Roads series -- Marco Bellochio's Sweet Dreams (above) -- this coming week, as well as starring, along with Natalie Baye, in Frédéric Mermoud's Moka (shown below), which will open at New York City's Film Forum the following week.

So it is a particular treat that tri-state audiences have in store as the French Alliance/Institute Francaise (FIAF) hosts an eight-week/eight-film CinéSalon series titled Enigmatic Emmanuelle Devos and featuring some of Devos' finest and most varied performances -- in movies that are themselves equally worthwhile. The actress selected these eight films, and she herself will be present for an in-person Q&A following the first of the screenings (Read My Lips) on Tuesday June 6 at its 7:30 pm showing.

I have seen seven of the eight films to be shown and can verify the quality of each. Given the enormous range this actress has shown over the years, there are plenty of other good films of hers that are not included here. But the eight below beautifully demonstrate how easily Devos can move from genre to genre, role to role, comedy to dark drama without missing a beat. Here is the complete schedule below, with my brief comments on seven of the eight film included in italics.

Read My Lips (Sur mes lèvres)
Tuesday, June 6 at 4 & 7:30pm
35mm, directed by Jacques Audiard, 2001. 115 min. Color.
With Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Devos, Olivier Gourmet, and Olivier Perrier. In French with English subtitles.
In her breakthrough role, Emmanuelle Devos plays Carla, a lonely, hearing-impaired secretary who hires and falls for ex-convict Paul (played by the ever-electrifying Vincent Cassel). While she initially resists Paul’s clumsy advances, Carla allows herself to be lured into helping him to carry out a dangerous underworld heist by using her lip-reading skills. Smoldering with erotic tension, Read My Lips is one of the most captivating thrillers by Jacques Audiard, the master of the contemporary French genre film, and the first film for which Emmanuelle Devos received a César award for best actress. "A sharp, inventive mix of love story and film noir" – Philadelphia Inquirer Winner of three 2002 César Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Actress,
If you've never seen this nifty genre-jumping thriller/drama, it should be a must. If you have, it is good enough to warrant a repeat viewing. Devos is spectacular indeed.   ....TM
Emmanuelle Devos will appear in person after the 7:30pm screening for a Q&A Free wine & beer following each screening.


Tuesday, June 13 at 4 & 7:30pm
35mm, directed by Sophie Fillières,
2005. 102 min. Color.
With Emmanuelle Devos, Lambert Wilson, Bruno Todeschini
In French with English subtitles.
In this delightfully zany comedy, Devos plays Fontaine Leglou, an anesthesiologist weighing a marriage proposal from her live-in boyfriend. While her life appears to be perfectly on track, Fontaine feels the itch for adventure: she provokes confrontations with strangers, considers an affair with one of her patients, and participates in a fire-eating display. Writer-director Sophie Fillières peppers Fontaine’s quest for happiness with wonderfully witty dialogue composed of non-sequiturs, word-play, and unexpected confessions. Full of offbeat characters and chance encounters on the streets of Paris, Gentille is a charming paean to settling down without losing your taste for eccentricity. “A breezy relationship comedy” – Variety
Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening.
This is the single movie in the eight that I have not seen, so you are on your own here. But if it stars Devos, how bad can it possibly be?      ....TM


Kings and Queen (Rois et reine)
Tuesday, June 20 at 4 & 7:30pm, 35mm, directed by Arnaud Desplechin
2003. 150 min. Color.
With Emmanuelle Devos, Geoffrey Carey, Thierry Bosc, Olivier Rabourdin, Mathieu Amalric
In French with English Subtitles
In what is probably her greatest role and undoubtedly one of the high points in contemporary French cinema, Devos plays the sublimely complex Nora—doting mother, manipulative partner, scared little girl, and independent woman. As Nora faces the impending loss of her father and prepares to marry a rich businessman to provide stability for her young son, writer-director Arnaud Desplechin deftly balances psychological drama and comedy to create an unforgettable portrait of Nora and the men in her orbit—notably her ex-boyfriend, the ne’er-do-well violinist Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) who is institutionalized at the request of an anonymous family member. "Fully alive and extraordinarily intelligent."—The New Yorker
It has been at least a decade since I viewed this one, but but I remember being utterly floored by the performances of both Devos and Amalric. Director Desplechin's work -- combining philosophy, psychology and film-making skill -- has been an acquired taste for me, but it is a taste that has only grown stronger over the years.  ....TM
Winner of the 2005 César Award for Best Actor, Mathieu Amalric.
Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening.


My Sex Life…or How I 
Got Into an Argument
(Comment je me suis disputé… [ma vie sexuelle])
Tuesday, June 27 at 4 & 8pm, DCP, directed by Arnaud Desplechin,
1996. 178 min. Color.
With Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Devos, Emmanuel Salinger, Chiara Mastroianni, Denis Podalydès In French with English subtitles.
In Arnaud Desplechin’s freewheeling and breathlessly inventive film, and what is arguably her first important role, a luminous Devos plays Esther, Paul Dedalus’s longtime girlfriend. Dedalus, a neurotic, Joycean 29-year-old grad student can neither finish his thesis, nor commit to a girlfriend. Following his circle of friends and lovers into their every late-night, cigarette-fueled argument over love and philosophy, director Arnaud Desplechin revels in the chaos of being young and self-involved. “A delayed coming-of-age masterpiece and one of the great French post–New Wave films” —Art Forum
One of Desplechin's earlier works, this goofy, charming, uber-intelligent and frustrating combination can delight and drive you nuts in equal measure. I wonder, however, why the curators of this series did not program this one prior to the Desplechin's Kings and Queen, which will be shown the week previous?    ....TM
Winner of the 1997 César Award for Most Promising Actor, Mathieu Amalric. Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening.


Just a Sigh (Le temps de l’aventure)
Tuesday, July 11 at 4pm
DCP, directed by Jérôme Bonnell,
2012. 104 min. Color.
With Emmanuelle Devos, Gabriel Byrne, Gilles Privat.
In French with English subtitles
On a train to Paris, a seductive Englishman (Gabriel Byrne) approaches struggling actress Alix (Devos) and asks how to get to a church on the Left Bank. After a horrible audition and with only hours to spare before she has to return to the provinces, Alix decides to go to the church and finds the handsome stranger…in the middle of a funeral. Wistful yet forward-looking, romantic yet real, Just a Sigh is a Brief Encounter for our times, a portrait of a restless woman on the brink of change that displays the full range of Devos’s wonderfully detailed acting. “Ms. Devos, a mainstay of French cinema, suggests a younger Catherine Deneuve.” —The New York Times
An unexpected delight, this seeming trifle turns out to have remarkable depth, most of which comes from Devos' spectacular performance that delves into character in the most specific and haunting of ways. it will have you laughing out loud one minute and holding your breath the next.      ....TM
Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening. Presented as part of FIAF’s First Tuesdays. See for info.


The Other Son (Le fils de l’autre)
Tuesday, July 11 at 7:30pm
DCP, directed by Lorraine Lévy,
2011. 105 min. Color.
With Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbé, Jules Sitruk
In French, English, and Arabic with English subtitles
The old tale of infants switched at birth is given intense political and religious resonance in this story of a French-Israeli Jewish couple discovering that their eighteen-year-old son Joseph is actually the son of a Palestinian family…and that their own son has been raised in the West Bank. Director Lorraine Lévy avoids the pitfalls of a melodramatic situation to deliver a surprisingly nuanced, closely observed vision of the life of two families on either side of the Israeli West Bank barrier. Playing the Israeli mother, Devos leads a stellar ensemble of French, Israeli, and Palestinian actors. "Propelled by a hopeful, good-hearted humanism."—The New York Times
An absolute must-see, if you never caught its theatrical or DVD release. You can read my complete review by clicking here.     ....TM
Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening. Presented as part of FIAF’s First Tuesdays. See for info.


Those Who Remain (Ceux qui restent)
Tuesday, July 18 at 4 & 7:30pm
35mm, directed by  Anne Le Ny,
2007. 93 min. Color.
With Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Yeelem Jappain
In French with English subtitles
A staid professor and an ebullient graphic designer develop an unexpected friendship when they meet at the hospital where both their partners are being treated for cancer. Though they have radically different ways of coping with their difficult situations, Bertrand and Lorraine find solace in each other’s company. But when their relationship threatens to turn romantic, both have to reexamine their lives. This sensitive look at the struggles faced by caregivers and loved ones of people with long-term illness rises to great heights through the opposites-attract pairing of two of France’s greatest stars, Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos. “[An] exquisitely observed psychological drama.”—The New York Times
My full review has now disappeared (along with all else on the site of the late, lamented Greencine), but this early film from director Le Ny is a real gem of character and quietly moving situation. Do try to see it, if you did not catch it during its earlier Rendez-vous with French Cinema screening a decade ago.      ....TM
Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening.


Tuesday, July 25 at 4 & 7:30pm
DCP, directed by Martin Provost
2012. 139 min. Color.
Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet
In French with English subtitles.
This exquisitely crafted biopic follows novelist Violette Leduc’s hand-to-mouth existence in Paris from the dark days of the Occupation to the existentialist ferment of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and her eventual triumph as the author of La Batârde. Focusing on Leduc’s peculiar relationship with her champion and unavowed muse Simone de Beauvoir (played by the great Sandrine Kiberlain), Violette is a startlingly accurate, stark look at life on the fringes of Paris’s cultural elite. Devos brings a desperate, compelling intensity to the role of this driven outsider who came to be admired by luminaries such as Sartre, Camus, and Genet. "Director Martin Provost's epic portrait of novelist Violette Leduc is so compelling, even thrilling, in its frank depictions of female sexual voracity."—Los Angeles Times
Martin Provost -- who gave us the splendid Seraphine -- has done it again with this second terrific bio-pic, and Devos is amazing, as usual. Read my complete review here.              ....TM
Special guest speaker to be announced. Free wine & beer following each screening.


To get tickets
simply click on the link to any of the individual films, above, and proceed from there. (FIAF members, of course, can view any and all the films for free!)

About FIAF
The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) is New York’s premiere French cultural and language center. FIAF's mission is to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures. FIAF seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression. Support for this program is provided by UniFrance. Special thanks to Géraldine Bryant (Le Bureau Films), Debbie Acosta, John Kochman (Cohen Media), Clémence Taillandier (Distrib Film), Élodie Dupont (Festival Agency), Mike Maggiore (Film Forum), Geneviève Villaflor, Jimmy Weaver (Film Movement), Jonathan Hertzberg (Kino Lorber), Eric Di Bernardo, Dave Franklin, Adrienne Halpern (Rialto), Adeline Monzier (UniFrance), Nadège Le Breton, Steven Martin (Why Not Productions), Olpha Ben Salah, Esther Devos, Livia van der Staay (Wild Bunch), Jean-François Gabard, Sophie Sarr (Zelig). CinéSalon is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. CinéSalon is sponsored by Air France and Delta Air Lines, BNP Paribas, Lacoste, and Renault Nissan. Wine courtesy of Vinadeis, the exclusive wine sponsor of CinéSalon. Beer courtesy of Kronenbourg 1664, the exclusive beer sponsor of CinéSalon. Program Sponsors: Air France and Delta Air Lines, American Society of the French Legion of Honor, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, Edmond de Rothschild Foundations, Engie, French American Cultural Exchange (FACE), Florence Gould Foundation, Hermès Foundation within the framework of the New Settings Program, Howard Gilman Foundation, Institut français, JCDecaux, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), Office de Tourisme de Boulogne-Billancourt, and Pommery.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kyle Eaton's SHUT UP ANTHONY to screen at this year's Brooklyn Film Festival, June 2-11

If you're in the Brooklyn area and looking for a decent dark comedy about neurotics and their druthers, you could do a lot worse that a new movie from Oregon filmmaker Kyle Eaton entitled SHUT UP ANTHONY that makes it East Coast premiere this coming weekend as part of the 2017 Brooklyn Film Festival. In it, the filmmaker (Mr. Eaton is shown just below) tracks the tale of the titular Portland fellow, an unhappy-but-he-doesn't-seem-to-know-it guy who manages to lose his girlfriend, job and most of his little remaining dignity over the course of a very fraught weekend.

As acted by an unusual performer named Robert D'Esposito (shown below, left, and further below, right), Anthony could be properly described as your typical "big lug": a little overweight, nothing special in the looks department, alternately appealing and not so, and yet oddly sexy at times. Mr. D'Esposito makes sure this character stays just this side of nasty. He talks too much, and doesn't have a lot that's positive to say. Yet he is intelligent and sometimes darkly funny, so it's not all that difficult to sort of, kind of, just barely enjoy him. A little. This is quite a balancing act, and D'Esposito walks the tightrope well.

Mr. Eaton has also given his characters enough interesting things to say that we easily hang on. When Anthony hightails it out of town to head for the timeshare that his family has co-owned (with another family) for years, he runs into an old friend, Tim (Jon Titterington, above, right and below, left) whom he has not seen for maybe a decade.

The two prove to meld like the proverbial oil and water, and as hostilities escalate, the movie grows darker -- and funnier. The filmmaker relies a bit too heavily on the trope of the old-family-secrets-revealed, and so his film turns out not to be quite as original as we might have imagined going in.

But the performances are excellent, and when that girlfriend (the very good Katie Michels, above) turns up at the timeshare, things arrive at a nicely foaming climax involving photos important to both families and a very necessary detente.

Along the way we get a gem of a scene involving a perky, adorable motel clerk (Amy Miller, above) and another in a bar with an lanky and aggressive pool player.

What happens when our boy gives into alcohol and mushrooms -- involving finger-painting, photography and a couch -- provides the movie's funniest moments.

All in all, Shut Up Anthony amuses and entertains just well enough to make its 92 minutes move along in sprightly fashion. It will screen at the Brooklyn Film Festival this Saturday, June 3, at 4 pm and again the following Saturday, June 10 at 8 pm. Click here to view the entire Brooklyn Film Festival schedule.

Monday, May 29, 2017

John Butler's HANDSOME DEVIL embraces school ties, rugby, friendship and the GLBT life

A difficult movie not to like because, although it trods a road a number of other films have also taken, it does so with enough spirit and surprise -- together with a refreshing lack of the typical and expected -- HANDSOME DEVIL ensures that its entire experience will be easy to enjoy and embrace. Beginning with a young man telling us of his most embarrassing moment, and ending with this, too -- but with just enough of a twist to put a smile on our faces -- as written and directed by John Butler (shown below, who earlier gave us The Bachelor Weekend), the movie makes for swift, engaging fun.

Taking place in one of those British (or maybe Irish) boys' prep schools ripe for redress and comeuppance, where sports -- specifically rugby -- seems to be all-important, Butler's film has one of its two leading men, a bullied and bottled-dyed redhead named Ned (Fionn O'Shea, at left, below) forced to room with a new boy, Conor (Nicolas Galitzine, below, right), who turns out to be an ace rugby player.

How this relationship works out is not quite what you may expect, nor are the other major relationships in the film, which exist between Ned and his teacher, Mr. Sherry (the always on-target Andrew Scott, shown two photos below) and between Conor and his homophobic-but-hot rugby coach, Pascal (Moe Dunford, shown at left in the penultimate photo below).

There are a number of other subsidiary characters, but it is this quartet that carries the movie: they -- and the interesting plotting and byways down which the story carries us. Handsome Devil is not a "love story" in any usual sense of the word. Instead it's about friendship, sexual preference identity, and finding the strength to stick to your guns.

Granted all this is a tad easier when you're a crack sport star than when you're a bullied nobody. And the movie seems to understand this and take it all into account as it wends its way toward its expected happy ending.

But the way in which the movie reaches that ending is filled with enough growth and change to satisfy, I think, even some naysayers. Little wonder the film has done so well on the gay festival circuit. It's feel-good without the often accompanying baggage of feel-stupid.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running a just-right 95 minutes, Handsome Devil opens in limited theatrical release this Friday, June 2, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 and in New York City at the Cinema Village. The film's VOD and DVD release will arrive hot-on-the-heels the following Tuesday, June 6.

OPEN ROADS 2017 -- Part II: Here come Amelio, Aronadio, Vicari, Daneli and more

As TrustMovies viewed the remainder of this year's Opens Roads series 
of new Italian cinema, via The Film Society of Lincoln Center 
and Istituto Luce Cinecittà, he has posted each here.
 He was able to catch 13 of the 14 films, all but
a couple of which are very worth seeing.

TrustMovies can verify how difficult it is to grow up in a family that is enmeshed in a lunatic religion. Most religions are exactly that (ultimate faith is, after all, a crazy deal-breaker for a rational person), but some religions are more loony than others. While mine was that of Christian Science (as practiced by my particular family, it was neither very "Christian" nor at all "scientific"), the religion in one of this year's Opens Roads series' better films is that of Jehovah's Witnesses.

As directed and co-written by Marco Danieli, it seems to me that the movie plays scrupulously fair with this religion, showing it -- crazy is it is -- to be peopled by folk who want and hope to do the right thing. Yet what this does to the children brainwashed by the religion via their parents and their church elders (shown above), however, proves very difficult. And so it is for the two sisters -- one nearly of age (Giulia), the other much younger -- whom we meet in THE WORLDLY GIRL (La ragazza del mondo). The younger is probably lost for good, having spent her entire life in this religion. The older one, though -- excelling in school and hoping to go to University (a no-no for the Witnesses) and still possessing a mind and spirit of her own -- is having quite the struggle.

Via an extraordinary young actress, Sara Serraiocco (shown above), this struggle is brought to pulsating life and truth to produce a memorable movie. So grounded is the film in the reality of the religion and of the outside world pushing in on it, as well as both the inner and exterior life of its heroine, that there is not a scene here that rings false. (How our girl slowly handles the desire for and then experience of sex is particularly well done.)

In the role of the young and very problemed fellow Giulia falls in love with is that fine actor, often seen at Open Roads, Michele Riondino (shown above), and he, too, is thoroughly genuine and believable in this catalyst role. The plot take numerous twists and turns, but given the character and background of its two protagonists, what happens, right up to and including the finale, makes perfect, if sad but salutary, sense. This character study -- of a religion and its participants -- is a must-see. The Worldy Girl screens only once: Saturday, June 3, at 4 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

One of the more bizarre entries in this year's Open Roads is THE WAR OF THE YOKELS (La guerra dei cafoni), an oddball combo of Romeo & Juliet/War of the Buttons with a heavy overlay of class consciousness and idiot humanity, Italian-style. The first hour (and more) of this 98-minute non-romp is pretty heavy going: obvious, tiresome and snail-paced. Then, during the last half-hour, things pick up considerably, and the movie almost redeems itself. But if you imagine that it is going for the expected happy ending, think again.

The movie has all the makings of something legendary -- except for ingredients good enough to make that something into a legend. As directed and co-written by Davide Barletti and Lorenzo Conte, the film is so full of arbitrary changes in tone and one-dimensional characters that it mostly elicits a very large shrug. Yes, the rich and the poor have long fought each other. What else is new? Not exactly "new" but at least typical and expected is the love story that develops between the leader of the wealthy class and the pretty young girl from the downtrodden bunch (newcomers Pasquale Patruno and Letizia Pia Cartolaro, shown respectively, right and left, above).

A dog goes missing, due to a smack from the oar of the would-be hero -- a particularly nasty and stupid young man -- and this hangs over the movie nearly start to finish. But, as I mentioned, things turn stranger and less expected in the final section, and this may be enough for you to take a chance on the film. Shot in some splendid and highly photogenic locations in, I am guessing, Italy, maybe Sicily, The War of the Yokels screens on Sunday, June 4, at 1:30 pm and Tuesday, June 6, at 4:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

Can the workplace kill you? Yes, indeed, and if that doesn't finally get you, toss in your own family responsibilities and you'll have even a less good chance of survival. This thesis is given a good run for its money in Daniele Vicari's latest film, SUN, HEART, LOVE (Sole, Curore, Amore) is which noted Italian actress Isabella Ragonese (shown below) gives a wonderful performance as the put-upon worker/mom. 

This is one of the darkest films in a very dark Open Roads 2017, which is all the more surprising because the movie is so full of energy and near-improvisational humor and charm. 

But what begins on a difficult-but-relatively-light note slowly turns heavier -- without losing a bit of its credibility -- as the life of our heroine (one of them, at least) begins spiraling out of her control. Signore Vicari doesn't point fingers too heavily at anyone here. The boss begins as a pretty decent guy, who eventually has concerns of his own that take precedence over those of his employees. 

Our gal's out-of-work husband appears to do as well as one might expect from the typical Italian male. One might question why this pair decided to have four -- count 'em -- children, rather than maybe one or two that they could more easily afford. But this is Italy, a very Catholic country, and so we must let that idea pass unquestioned. Her friends rally 'round to help as best they can, as well. One of these is the film's secondary heroine -- a woman (Eva Grieco, above, right) -- who has given up the career that her mother preferred she choose to become an "artist," and she is also, it would seem, a lesbian who is having some trouble embracing this idea. We see a lot of her dance work (which is often quite striking), especially toward the finale, which contrasts dance and death. Sun, Heart, Love is a film for today's hugely difficult environment, and it is also one of the stand-outs in this year's Italian series. The movie screens Saturday, June 3, at 6:30 pm and Wed., June 7, at 2 pm at FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

Gianni Amelio has long been one of my favorite Italian writer/directors, and his latest film -- TENDERNESS (La tenerezza) only burnishes even brighter my love of this filmmaker's work. Adapted by Amelio, Alberto Taraglio and Chiara Valerio from a novel by Lorenzo Marone, The Temptation to Be Happy (a title of which turns out to be an explanation of the film itself), the movie also makes a fine follow-up to Amelio's little-seen but enormously affecting earlier film, L'Intrepido, in both spirit and poetic beauty. The less you know about plot here the better, for the movie unfolds with grace and some shock. Yet what happens is indivisible from both the film's and the novel's titular theme. A dark but honest look at the Italian family under extreme stress, the film slowly unveils its characters, with believability and surprise going hand in hand.

An old man, a recently retired lawyer, played in award-winning style by Renato Carpentieri, appears to be completely on the outs with his own family, even as he adopts a new family who has just moved to Naples and is housed in the apartment adjoining his. The husband and wife are played by two of Italy's finest actors -- Elio Germano (above, right, and an Open Roads regular) and Micaela Ramazzotti (above left, and recently seen in Like Crazy), while the lawyer's actual daughter is played by the beautiful Giovanna Mezzagiorno, here looking as plain as I have ever seen her. Who these people are and how things slowly change are played out with such intelligence, beauty and finesse that my hat is again off to Signore Amelio. Our understanding of what we, as individuals, have control over, and what we don't, makes such a difference. And Amelio forces us to think and feel and grow like few other filmmakers can. Tenderness screens Friday June 2, at 6:30 pm and Monday, June 5, at 4:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reader Theater.

Another excellent, if bizarre, comedy to screen this year is the new one from Alessandro Aronadio, who, at an earlier Opens Roads, gave us the surprising and remarkable One Life, Maybe Two. With EARS (Orecchie) Aronadio is in full comedic mode, and the result is extremely funny -- and original, too. His star is a delightfully hang-dog actor named Daniele Parisi (below, left), who plays a substitute teacher of (among other things) philosophy and is quite down on the world, in particular, of course, the state of Italy and its populace. I suspect it will be rather easy for audiences to identify with this character, given that Italy voted into office again and again a certain Silvio Berlusconi, just as we here in the USA have given over our Presidency to a fool and a fraud named Donald Trump.

We follow our hero from his awakening in the morning to discover a note from his girlfriend informing him that a friend of his has died and that she has taken the car. He can't remember just who this friend actually is, and he is also suffering from a ringing and a pain in his ears, and so he sets out to discover who the late friend might be and to assuage that ear pain. What happens is hilarious, bizarre and just crazy enough to be more than a little bizarrely credible.

I laughed harder and more often during this film than I have at any Hollywood comedy in some time, and by the finale, I was also caught up short in discovering how very much like that of our hero my own attitude toward the world is. The film ends with a thoughtful and moving speech over a plastic-wrapped casket. To say that Ears is an original is surely understating the case. And the terrific black-and-white cinematography (by Francesco Di Giacomo) is another reason not to miss it. The movie screens Friday, June 2, at 3:45 pm and Monday, June 5, at 9 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

One more to come: As I view each
I will add my notes on the remaining films
at the top of this link. Stay tuned....

View the entire schedule of the
OPEN ROADS series by clicking here.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER: one of Georges Franju's lesser works hits Blu-ray/DVD

If you've ever wanted to learn more about those semi-famous son et lumières that were born in France back in the 1950s and then came to international prominence in the 60s, have I got the film for you! Rather pedestrian in all other ways, this disappearing-corpse-that-then-turns-into-a-murder-mystery movie was directed and co-adapted by Georges Franju, the fellow who gave us the enduring Eyes Without a Face and the lesser-known but lovely WWI fantasia, Thomas The Imposter.

In the Special Features section of this nicely produced Blu-ray disc, M. Franju, shown at left, discusses the film on camera in footage made during the shooting of this 1961 release. The filmmaker explains that he wanted his movie to be all sorts of things -- from mysterious to thrilling to funny, surprising and more. SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER is all of those things. What it isn't, however, is very good. The film was co-written by the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who gave us the novels upon which both Diabolique and Vertigo was based, as well as the adaptation of the much better Eyes Without a Face.

This odd mixture of tones worked better in other Franju films. Here, however, it combines with the typical and not particularly convincing "mystery" tropes and the lavish attention to detail regarding the design and execution of the son et lumière in a manner that becomes almost a kind of "exercise" in weirdly near-experimental film-making.

It's fun for buffs, certainly, and for Franju "completists," too, but it will probably leave the more typical arthouse/foreign film patron scratching his head -- in wonderment. Or annoyance.

On the plus side is the very starry (for its day) cast of pros, led by a young and slickly handsome Jean-Louis Trintignant and the then popular Dany Saval (both shown above), with names like Pierre Brasseur (below) and the sleazily sexy Philippe Leroy in supporting roles.

The plot has to do with an old, wealthy Count who inhabits a fabulous French castle and one day disappears. When his would-be heirs gather, what they learn sets off the plot in which, one after another, they begin being "bumped off."

Modern-day movie-goers will remain a few steps ahead of the plot at all times -- except for a couple of genuine surprises along the way. And the use of the castle for the son et lumière, the design and execution of which (above) cleverly figure into a few of the murders, is also fun. If only the film's pacing had been a bit faster.

Still, the chance to see a Franju film of which few of us will have heard should prove enticing to many, as will the chance to view M. Trintignant so young and spry.

From Arrow Films' new Arrow Academy division, in French with English subtitles and running 95 minutes, Spotlight on a Murderer is distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group and hits the street for purchase and/or (I hope) rental this Tuesday, May 30.

As usual with Arrow's endeavors, the transfer is excellent, bringing the black-and-white cinematography to crisp, sharp life. Extras includes the original trailer for the film, plus that aforementioned interview, which is part of a made-for-French-television documentary from Le courrier de cinéma series shot during film-making in 1959 and aired on New Year's day 1960. The documentary includes interviews with Franju, Brasseur, Trintignant, Saval and other actors and runs 28 minutes.