I Love Lucy N

Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle, 1974)

At the start of the movie, seventeen-year-old Lucien (Pierre Blaise) kills a bird with a catapult. As it is war time and this is occupied France, I at first assume this is food. (Later, he shoots rabbits and breaks the necks of chickens.) But there’s not a lot of meat on a song bird, even if you are desperate.

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If You’re Happy and You Know it

Happy End (Michael Haneke, 2017)

On a scale of 1 to to Von Trier, this is about a seven.

The Laurent family run a formerly construction firm near Calais and in the second sequence, a long shot from a security camera, we see a collapse of earth next to a huge set of foundations, complete with a Portaloo falling into the abyss. We are already on the edge, having seen smart phone footage of Eve Laurent’s mother in a bathroom and apparently taking sedatives, and of Eve (Fantine Harduin) doping and possibly killing her pet hamster.

Eve goes to stay with her father Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his new wife Anaïs (Laura Verlinden), elderly grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and aunt Anne (Isabelle Huppert). The Laurent family is in crisis — Georges wants to die, Thomas is having an affair, Anne is considering marriage to Lawrence Bradshaw (the as-always splendid Toby Jones) and Laurent family firm manager Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is out of his deoth and drinking too heavily.

Haneke expects us to fill in a lot of the gaps — he likes filming from a distance, softening the suicide attempts and violence, sometimes letting us imagine it. There are skips in time where we have to infer events. And Thomas’s sexting is almost illegible, given the tiny surtitles, although that might be as well.

There are other lacunae — the class positioning of the Laurent’s servants, Rachid (Hassam Ghancy) and Jamila (Nabiha Akkari) is fairly obvious, but the role of the illegal migrants in the Jungle camp at Calais seems underdeveloped. There’s something here about white, upper middle class privilege, but it ends up more to Anne’s favour and Thomas’s detriment than might be helpful. Are these the same people that Georges has talked to in a long shot, a moment tinged with potential violence as that’s the filmic language of Happy End.

The title is of course ironic, or at least ambiguous, as those of us who have seen Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998) or even La Bonheur (Happiness, 1965) can attest. But perhaps that’s all too obvious.

A Short Film About French Feminism

La Belle Saison (Summertime, Catherine Corsini, 2015)

I spent a day grumbling about the sense that this was two films which didn’t quite dovetail together — but then I read an abstract about Nancy Astor and thought about her niece Joyce Grenfell and things slid into place.

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A Short Film About First Love

Un amour de jeunesse (Goodbye First Love, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011)

(Spoilers in final paragraph)

So here the first love is between Camille (Lola Créton), 15, and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), 19, and this doesn’t seem to bother anyone. He’s an artist, apparently, or a builder, possibly, but he’s going to drop out of university and go to South America for nine months. She’s going to sulk, because she doesn’t want him to go, and doesn’t seem to want to go either. Or he won’t let her.So, whilst he’s off channelling his inner Angel Clare, she goes through a series of objectifying jobs and trains to be an architect, taking up with a Norwegian architect. Lorenz (Magne Håvard-Brekke). Then Sullivan comes back.

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You’ll Know It When You See It

Les amants ([The Lovers] Louis Malle, 1958)

In the opening credits of Malle’s second feature film there is an engraving of the Map of Tendre, an imaginary land on which can be reaced the route to true love. So, here we have Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau), in a difficult and encouragedly open marriage with newspaper proprieter Henri (Alain Cuny) in Dijon, who regularly visits her friend Maggy (Judith Magre) in Paris so she can hang out with polo-playing hunt Raoul Flores (José Luis de Vilallonga). When Maggy and Raoul are invited for a meal in Dijon — against Jeanne’s better judgment — she breaks down in the sticks and is picked up by archaeologist Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory). Whilst you’d expect her to slip into Raoul’s room, it is Bernard who snags her attention.

This was released just before the French New Wave and appears in a crisp black and white, especially the magical night scenes in the third quarter of the film. At times I felt a twinger of the river sequence in Charles Laughton’s directorial masterpiece, Night of the Hunter (1955). The camera, meanwhile loves Moreau, although she is repeated reflected in mirrors. The film doesn’t seem to judge her character, although at times you might judge her — oscillating between impatient and not getting the hell on with it. It anticipates the adulteries of Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur ([Happiness], 1965), where I also expected Judgment to wreak havoc. But this is how the other half live — and it’s not entirely clear whether Bernard will fund her lifestyle.

Apparently this caused no end of kerfuffle when released in the States, leading to a pornography trial — although I’d be sceptical that anyone could get their rocks off to this. Indeed, Justice Potter Stewart ruled it wasn’t pornographic at the Supreme Court, saying that he knew hardcore porn when he saw it.

I wonder what he had seen?

And Anything But the Truth

The Truth (La verité, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2019)

Tucked away in the credits is the detail that the film that veteran actor, Fabienne Dangeville (Catherine Deneuve), is making with starlet Manon Lenoir (Manon Clavel), Memories of my Mother, is an adaptation of a short story by Ken Liu, in which a space-travelling mother visits her daughter every seven years.

I’d quite like to see that film, which is not to dis this one.

Dangeville’s son-in-law, Hank, a struggling American actor who may have a drink issue, is played by Ethan Hawke, possibly best known for the Before … movies, made every seven years with Julie Delpy.

Well, actually, every nine years, but Juliette Binoche as his wife and Dangeville’s daughter, Lumir, is not that far from the Delpy role. Hawke, to be honest, does little, but be awkward about how much French he speaks or understands.

The two of them are visiting their mother on the occasion of the publication of her autobiography, called, natch, The Truth, although it is plainly nothing but. Noses have been put out of joint, pasts libelled, and there is a dark secret from decades ago involving a rival actress.

Deneuve is, as you’d expect, radiant, as she’s been since The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. You never quite know when her character is helpless or actually just artful.

Watching Paint Dry

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma, 2019)

Some point after 1725, the artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned by a Milan-born countess (Valeria Golino) to paint the portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), whom she intends to marry off to a Milanese nobleman after the death of her elder daughter. Héloïse, formerly a novice at a nunnery, has other ideas and has already worn out a (male) painter. Marianne must pretend to be a companion, and paint in secret. Continue reading →

A Murmuration of Stalins

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)

I’ve been watching Armando Iannucci’s comedy for decades now. He was there behind On the Hour and The Friday Night Armistice, not to mention The Thick of It and In the Loop. Much of his work this century has been exploring the back stabbing shenanigans at the heart of politics, even as reality outstripped him.
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