The Artist

At the time of its release, my local cinemaplex only showed The Artist at 5pm. Who in their right minds would go and watch a French silent movie? Several prizes – including some Oscars – later, The Artist is back in the cinemas, this time at nearly every possible slot. Who in their right minds wouldn’t want to watch an Oscar-winning flick?

Several people, apparently – because everywhere people were reported leaving during the film. It even happened during my visit to the cinema. Surely this means The Artist must be an awful movie! Erm no… but it may be interesting to put some things into a perspective. Sadly for you, that’s my perspective.

First and foremost, the fact that The Artist is a silent movie is not that breathtaking if you watch more than just Hollywood fodder. One recent example of a recent silent was Aki Kaurismäki‘s Juha (1999). True, that’s not entirely recent, but it’s closer to 2011 than a lot of critics noticed. That Kaurismäki made a silent movie isn’t the most flabbergasting fact of the day either: you had to be 18 minutes into his film The Match Factory Girl to hear the first word being uttered. Anyway, if you bother to look into the topic of silent movies for a mere five minutes you won’t have a tough time finding some fairly recent examples.

Which brings us neatly to the next point… The Artist is not a silent movie. Are we in a nitpicking mood? Perhaps, after all 99% of the film is silent, but the remaining 1% is of interest here. Given that the film has been so heavily debated, we’ll skip the usual synopsis of the film and dive straight into the review section. At one point, the actor is shown the latest hype: a movie with a speaking section. The actor is adamant in his belief this will never become popular, but the truth of the matter becomes clearly visible shortly thereafter: when retreating to his star lounge, the artist suddenly realizes he isn’t in a silent world anymore: the glass he puts down makes noise, his dog barks and there’s chitter-chatter from the chorus girls who pass by his door. He, however, is unable to speak.
Proof that The Artist isn’t silent? Not really, even at the time of silent movies, sound effects were occasionally used during the showing of a film. Of course, those were only gimmicks and required some props for the orchestra to use during the performance, but occasionally silent movies didn’t mind adding a gimmick. One of the sound-producing props in The Artist during that particular scene is a ringing phone, a nod to Alfred Hitchcock‘s transition from silents to talkies (in Blackmail). The Artist is crammed with similar nods to the movies of the 1920s and 1930s, including a musical number that’s a tribute to Busby Berkeley.

By the time you’ve followed The Artist up to that point, you’re well into the era of the talkies. The silent movies were no more (not counting occasional exceptions like Juha and, let’s not forget, Modern Times) and the talkies had taken over. The truly silent actors had remained silent and were on their way to oblivion and/or self-destruction. That things don’t remain awful should be evident: the final climax of The Artist (the silent actor and the it-girl of the talkies dancing) is probably the most shown clip of the film. What you don’t see is what follows… the dance routine is finished and you hear the actors breathing heavily. Another take is requested and here you hear the artist speaking he doesn’t mind doing one more take. The heavy French accent is hard to miss. Sure, the artist may not have had a voice in the film, but the actual reason was that actors like him, who barely mastered the English language and/or had a terrible voice, had lost their career due to the invention of “language”. In the silent era, actors were chosen for their looks and style. The addition of voices required fresh blood.

In a way this makes The Artist less a silent movie than a movie documenting one of the biggest transitions in cinema’s history. At a time when 3D is becoming all the hype (again) and digital screens take over the celluloid screenings, it’s nice to see a film reflect on a change in cinema that was even more decisive. That the film is showered with prizes, is hardly the movie’s fault: Hollywood has always been accused of being self-congratulatory and now there’s just another bit of prof suddenly people seem to mind? The problem here is that audiences, and especially mainstream audiences, don’t have the slightest knowledge of (and: interest in) cinema’s history. Bérénice Bejo (as the it-girl) is a wonderful example of a “slapper”, but how many people know that term? (Though of course, this is mainly a dictionary issue: the “slapper” style iconized by actresses like Clara Bow and Louise Brooks is more famous than its name – discerning enthusiasts may be interested to know the term was coined after the movie The Slapper.) Do not forget that most people growing up today can’t probably even name a Hitchcock title. By way of comparison, modern cinemagoers treating themselves to a night at the movies may undergo the same shock you’ll get if you start watching an Icelandic mythological movie without subtitles (offer not valid if you are or understand Icelandic).

True, some teens will be subjected to clips of silent classics (Nosferatu and Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari are often picked because of their expressionistic value), but that’s not the same as watching Hollywood pat itself on the back for one hour and a half in a semi-documentary silent film. To be honest, if you’d quizzed the Hollywood hotshots at the Oscar ceremony on their classic film knowledge, the results would have likely been quite disappointing too. Unfortunately, those modern cinemagoers will flock to the forums and other birdnoise-producing crannies of the internet and declare how awful The Artist truly is. Well, it is not. If you’re the sort of person that likes to ridicule quiz contestants who think Brussels is a country, then feel free to laugh at these idiots too. However, don’t feel awful about angrily waving a fist at the tv stations as well: chances are high you won’t see a classic movie before midnight tonight and only a handful of channels worldwide don’t mind showing a classic from the 1930s. Having said that, people who think Mount Etna is in the “European country” Japan are pretty hilarious, aren’t they?

8/10

Simon Werner a disparu

Having the soundtrack for your debut feature made by Sonic Youth… how cool is that? Never mind that gimmick, is Simon Werner a disparu (or Lights out, which is – for some reason – the international title) a good film? Let’s review and find out.

The original title says it all: Simon Werner, student, has disappeared. Or has something happened to him? The film opens with a party to the tunes of Love Like Blood. After all, the film takes place in the early nineties. Because the film offers more than one perspective on what’s happened, Killing Joke‘s song features a couple of times – yet it didn’t get the same amount of press as Sonic Youth’s tracks. Not unsurprisingly so, because the band actually compared a full album of instrumental tracks for the movie. At the time of release who could predict Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore would break up and Simon Werner A Disparu OST might become the final Sonic Youth release?

Maybe I’m noticing this because my upcoming novel also exists of multi-perspective angles, but this seems to becoming quite the rage (I better hurry then with the rewrite or I’ll be accused of jumping on a bandwagon – never mind my having started working on it in 2009). Truth be told, unlike some of these movies, Simon Werner doesn’t always have the strongest stories for them to be retold again, but at its core there’s something much more frightening than the disappearance of a young man: teen anxiety. Set in an obviously not very poor neighbourhood, it’s all about being part of the group here. Thus for some, the school becomes a place with nice hideouts.

All that leads to only question: what has happened to Simon Werner? It looks quite likely that he hasn’t just disappeared, but if that’s the case, who knows more about the disappearance and possible murder? At the end of the movie, you’ll know this, but the ending left a lot of people with an uncomfortable feeling. Cult fans (especially those who’ve watched a giallo or two) will not be surprised that it isn’t always the most likely suspect who’s responsible for a (possible) crime. If that worries you, Simon Werner says more about you than about the 1990s. There’s lots of gossiping in the film and eccentric or asocial characters are just ready to be served as scapegoats. (Just like Alice seems born for the role of femme fatale.) And that is the true story behind Simon Werner’s disappearance. A simple whodunit, this is not.

Good movie, good soundtrack and a fair bit of nostalgia for the previous century. Are we content? Yes, we are. Have we mentioned that the film also looks good? No, not yet, but I’m sure you can come to that conclusion just by looking at the trailer below.

7.5/10

Angèle et Tony

Aaah, love… or, as the French call it, l’amour… or, as the Germans call it Liebe … for today I’ll review a French film on l’amour that I watched while staying in Germany.

Fans of comparisons may be keen to hear that Angèle et Tony reminded me of Ken Loach‘s Raining Stones. Only here it’s not about getting a child a wonderful dress, but it’s all about love. In a way, as both protagonists – Angèle and Tony, as you might have guessed – are not the most romantic people in the world. But the tone of both movies is similar.

Another movie that Angèle et Tony is reminiscent of is Naked (by Mike Leigh) and this for two reasons. Angèle is the sort of hard-headed woman that wouldn’t be out of place in Leigh’s masterpiece about lost souls. This is proven – and that’s the second reason – by the opening scene where Angèle is involved in a bit of rough, loveless sex: not in an nightly alley, but in a daytime environment that could only be described as romantic if you have a fetish for concrete. After the sex, she gets a doll for his son and races to a pub to meet Tony.
Tony is late and instead of talking he brings her to her work. Only she doesn’t go for another shift in the factory, she nicks a bike and rushes off to the school. Just in time to give the doll to the boy’s grandfather. Angèle, you see, lost her parental rights and that’s not all: every now and then she has to check in with the social services to see if she doesn’t stray from the right path again. Like stealing a bike… of which she knows nothing, of course.

So is Tony’s life a bit more romantic? Don’t get your hopes up too high: Tony lives with his mother, he and his brother are fishermen and their mother sells the fish at the market. It isn’t exactly screaming out romance to me.
So why have Angèle and Tony hooked up? Tony is tired of being alone and advertised his interest in a potential partner in a newspaper ad. Angèle is the one who responded. Tony has a hard time expressing his love and in the rare occasions he tries to overcome this flaw, Angèle usually pushes him away. Anyway, Tony is somewhat happy that there’s a new face in the house and Angèle doesn’t wait long and tells everyone she is about to get married. After all, a wedding document helps her getting back her parental control.

Of course, Angèle’s hiding her personality behind layers of armour in combination with the grumpy stubbornness of the fisherman may be standing in the way of a marriage, so whether the wedding bells will eventually toll is something that’s hard to predict. Well, probably not: every fibre in the movie points towards a happy end of some sorts… and some sorts it is, a genuine “Hurrah for Hollywood” happy end wouldn’t fit the movie, so we’re having none of that.

Stylistically, the film – the debut feature by Alix Delaporte – observes the couple from a distance, adequately reflecting the distant nature of the protagonists. Likewise, the film shows Angèle overcoming her inner turmoil by using long shots of her riding around on her stolen bicyle. Some say this takes the pace out of the film, but I don’t agree: for me it shows how Angèle copes with the situation. No long interior monologues only a voice-over could deal with, but brainless peddling on a bike through kilometres of hardly inhabited land. Here a comparison with a Dardennes movie springs to mind. If you ever wondered how Rosetta (of the eponymous movie) would look nowadays, Angèle et Tony offers a more than valid possibility.

Rosetta, Naked, Raining Stones… I’ve likened Angèle et Tony to some social masterpieces, haven’t I? To say this film can proudly stand between those would be lying. Especially in the early scenes I felt a fast forward button could be a handy tool in a movie theatre, but at least the film is not mimicking these masterpieces, but offering a slice of real life and the brilliant movies just spring to mind. And the director shouldn’t feel too awful: even the Dardennes haven’t been able to equal the 10/10 that I awarded to Rosetta. Seven out of ten means your film is good and that is what Angèle and Tony is.

Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec

Ask people to think of Paris and a lot of the answers will include “the Eiffel tower”, “the city of love” and – since a couple of years – “Amélie Poulain”. Adèle Blanc-Sec, the latest offering by Luc Besson, combines a lot of these ingredients. Based on a comic, the adventures of the French adventuress are told in a style most viewers will associate with Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, but is in fact a lot older than that. These films go back to the old style of “cinéma de papa” the Nouvelle Vague directors reacted again. Apparently in Blanc-Sec, there is a need to go back to tell entire back stories of a lot of characters. And a need for CGI because it’s the only way to tell the story of a pterodactyl coming to life because an adventuress is looking for a way to communicate with the dead. Who else will save Adèle’s sister?

Adèle Blanc-Sec presents itself as the bastard child of movies like Amélie Poulain (in how it’s told) and La Cité des Enfants Perdus (in the way the characters look). The baddies in this film seem to compete in ugliness, whereas the old and talented professor doesn’t just look old, he looks mummified. Rather more disturbing is the film’s sense of humour. The police force looks like they’ve taken lessons from inspector Clouseau and there’s a fat drunk Adèle enjoys a post-bath smokewho, when he’s not staggering around on the streets of Paris, is emptying his bladder against a Parisian monument. And ever so often is disturbed by one of the supernatural elements of the film (from pterodactyls to mummies). Feel free to laugh if you’re inclined to, but if not, be warned that the first ten minutes will only please those who love la comédie française

Things drastically change when Louise Bourgoin pops up, the heroine of the film. Louise doesn’t really look like the comic version of Adèle: she is a lot more beautiful and her presence drips off the screen. We find Adèle in Egypt where she’s surrounded by the ugliest locals the casting crew could find and in the middle of an adventure that brings us to another simile: she’s a bit like Lara Croft, our Adèle. Not that she’s a saucy one, our Adèle. She’ll only strip in front of an abducted mummy. But that’s another story…

Les aventures extraordinaires d’ Adèle Blanc-Sec doesn’t make a bit of sense, but if you don’t mind your movies to be adventure films with stereotypical characters, hyperbolic features and comic book style plots, then you won’t mind this one. The CGI isn’t always credible, but then again, neither is the film. It’s a comic book come to life (much like a pterodactyl), you dummy.

6/10

La Fille du RER

The 'fille' on the way to the REROn your left you see Jeanne, portraying a young woman (or: girl) descending some stairs to take the local train in Paris (or: RER). And that’s why the film is called The Girl on the Train or (in its original title) La Fille du RER. It may be any RER, but Jeanne (as portrayed by Emilie Dequenne) isn’t any other girl. Jeanne’s story shocked France and many other countries in 2004. Yes, La Fille du RER is based on a true story and this time the producers didn’t make that up to make a larger audience flock to the cinema, this truly happened… or did it?

Let’s scroll back to 2004 and the unsettling news that a young woman was attacked on a local train by a group of youngsters who had taken her for a Jewish girl and had assaulted her. They’d cut some of her hair off and had carved in her belly.
Outraged? Well, so was France. But… prepare yourself for more outrage. Not long thereafter, it was revealed that the attack hadn’t taken place at all and the girl had invented this story. Rather than to question why a girl would do such a thing, the media were angry they’d been used and condemned the girl for inventing such a crime.

Fast forward to 2009 and to a film by André Techiné that tries to shed some light on the backgrounds of this story.

 And yes, that’s what we get to see: the full background of the story, though it must be added that sometimes this doesn’t always make for engaging cinema. But as a psychological study it’s a fairly interesting film. Mainly because it shows how things can develop if you’re living a lie, an extreme lie.
La Fille du RERThe film explicitly shows the involvement of the media in this story, changing Jeanne from the victim of a outrageous crime to a symbol of how today’s rotten society has no respect for other people and victimizes them beyond belief. And then,
when the story was revealed to be untrue, rewriting her as another symbol, of a respectless girl with no shame, a lack of knowledge of history and a sick tendency to manipulate the media. (Never mind Jeanne never actively looked up the media to sell her story.)

This is a trap Techiné doesn’t fall for, instead spending from the start of the movie a lot of time portraying the events that led up to the young woman’s fabricated story and developing more insight into this girl’s ‘twisted’ psyche. You get to know Jeanne, feel her despair, see her degree of naievity (i.e. how she was manipulated by her boyfriend) and, despite her errors, you can feel some sort of sympathy for her. Not unlike Rosetta then, Dequenne’s breakthrough role. In fact, you (or at least I did) feel so much for her that by the end of the movie (when Jeanne is jailed for deceiving everyone) you also feel a bit of outrage against the French system, because a jail sentence may not be the right punishment for this girl. (Usually, we don’t tell you how movie end here at DV, but in this case it’s different as a) the film is based on a true story and therefore a bit of googling would’ve given you this information too and b) the film is more of a social study rather than a whodunit thriller.)

If you’re in for a night of engaging cinema, we advise you to seek elsewhere, but if you’d like to find out how people can derail and psychology ticks your right buttons, then you might find this the right movie for the night. 

 Score: 6 to 6.5/10

Here’s the French trailer with Dutch subtitles. If you’d like to watch it with subtitles, go to the film’s site:

Ne Te Retourne Pas

Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) is a novelist who’s married with two kids. After a not so successful conversation with her publisher, Jeanne sees a young girl on the street, running away from her. Which doesn’t sound so extraordinary.
Nor is it special that she notices her husband and kids have put the table on a different position. But they claim they’ve never touched the room and photographs seem to back up their story. And that ain’t all: Jeanne has the weird feeling his family is making odd movements behind her back. That’s enough to make anyone mad! Or is it??

I must admit the premise of Ne Te Retourne Pas is so unbelievable I actually had a hard time not laughing out loud in my local cinema. “Goodie,” I thought, it’s finally arrived: the first feng shui horror movie!” The way Jeanne freaks out about a table being moved a couple of inches is simply ludicrous.
Sadly, this sort of problem with a lot of modern French cinema: in L’Empreinte de l’Ange Cathérine Frot also gets on your nerves so much you lose all sympathy for the character (in Frot’s case a woman who believes a young girl is her dead daughter). In Ne Te Retourne Pas Jeanne is so neurotic (or, let’s face it, quite a bitch) you can’t find sympathy for her major problem of not remembering which direction the table was pointing to.
However, don’t give up on Ne Te Retourne Pas (or Don’t Look Back, to use its international title): things get better as Jeanne gets madder.

Yes, after a while Jeanne has more problems recognizing stuff or even people. After a while she doesn’t even recognize her children or her husband. And by this time you – yeah, you, the cynical type who was mocking the film by calling it a feng shui horror movie – get inside Jeanne’s head. Because sometimes you actually see Jeanne’s delusions. People change while you’re watching them and you start disbelieving your own eyes… “Surely that person’s face didn’t just change?” Yes, it did.

It’s not often you hear me say this, but the special effects actually warmed me up for this film. And things don’t stop there: after her apartment and family have changed, Jeanne suddenly sees a new face in the mirror. Jeanne has become another Jeanne (Monica Bellucci). What is going on? The only clue Jeanne finds to her changing world is an old photograph from an old trip to Spain. Maybe she’ll find the answer there…

Are you intrigued? I can imagine you are and let’s face it, Ne Te Retourne Pas feels like a different sort of movie. And there’s not much to complain about the second part of the film: once Jeanne (Belluci) leaves France, the film finally gets on the right track. Now, don’t believe I’m blaming Marceau: she’s actually quite good as a character losing her mind (or thinking she does). And yes, I assume it’s horrid to watch your entire world suddenly being different from how you’d always imagined it. Having to believe a total stranger saying he’s your husband while not even being able to recognize yourself in a mirror. But because of Jeanne’s many tantrums in the beginning of the film (the table has moved!!!) you can’t feel empathy with a woman being unable to find her way home. Much like the aforementioned L’Empreinte de l’Ange where Frot’s character is so neurotic you feel like bringing her to a mental institution yourself. By the time the films nears its twist climax (Frot wasn’t mad, her baby daughter hadn’t died in a fire but was saved by a childless woman who’d raised her as her own), you feel unwilling to accept the twist and end up with the sensation two hours of your life have been completely wasted.

That Ne Te Retourne Pas manages to recover from this is proof that the second half of this film is pretty darn good. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you see the director is also the writer of the film. Her name is Marina de Van and you may not recognize the name, but she also wrote a couple of François Ozon movies (Les Amants Criminels, Sous Le Sable and 8 Femmes). Amants was another movie that suffered from a premise I couldn’t cope with (it was partially saved by the excellent actors Jérémie Renier and Natacha Régnier), but 8 Femmes proved de Van could come up with a climax that sounded odd but acceptional at the same time. Ne Te Retourne Pas was her directing debut and she may have shot herself in the food by describing Jeanne’s initial world with unnecessary scenes (much of the backstory was unneeded and only helped you getting irritated by this neurotic woman)… but de Van manages to pull you back into the film with the second part of her story.

Which brings us to the final score and that’s 4/10. However, when this movie will be shown on tv I will record it, which I may not do with every movie I’ll give a score of 5.5 or 6 to. Ne Te Retourne Pas may not be good, but it’s an interesting failure and it deserves your attention as much as well-made but brainless popcorn fodder. In fact, in a couple of years time you’ll say: “Oh, Ne Te Retourne Pas, that was that half-arsed movie with the changing faces.” But you’ll still remember it and in a way, doesn’t that count too?

Here’s the (French) teaser:

More Masters of Cinema

Good news from Eureka: next month their Masters of Cinema collection will release La Tête Contre Les Murs (The Head Against The Walls), the full-length debut of Georges Franju. Franju is known by most cult enthusiasts as the director of the essential horror movie Les Yeux Sans Visage (if you haven’t seen it now, cancel all other engagements and watch it) and the crime caper Judex.

Franju’s debut is described by Eureka as “an intense study of the clash between medical ideals […] Mocky plays François Gérane, an aimless young man whose delinquent tendencies cause his father to have him committed to a psychiatric ward. There, under the cold command of Dr. Varmont (Brasseur), he finds himself fighting for his dignity, sanity, and freedom, barely holding on through the new-found love of his girlfriend Stephanie (Aimée) and the promise of rival Dr. Emery’s (Meurisse) more humane techniques.

Compassionate yet unflinching, La Tête contre les murs is a bold precursor to the likes of Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Milos Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, revealing Franju’s poetic gift for creating images both concrete and evocative, and an ominous hint of the clinical horrors yet to come in Les yeux sans visage.”

Here’s a look at the special features:

• Original French theatrical trailer

• A new video interview with Jean-Pierre Mocky filmed in 2008

• A new video interview with Charles Aznavour filmed in 2008

• 48-page booklet containing newly-translated interviews with Georges Franju, newly-translated writing by Jean-Luc Godard, and an article by Raymond Durgnat (author of Franju).

Sounds good, especially bearing in mind the excellent work Masters of Cinema had done on their release of Judex,  an edition you’ll want to have in your collection.

Later in the year (though no date has been set) Eureka will also release Die Finanzes des Grosherzogs and Phantom, two rarer films by F.W. Mürnau. Keep an eye on those as well…

Here’s a link to the entire Masters of Cinema collection.

Une Aventure

The more movies you see, the fewer you’ll remember. Have you ever gotten the feeling you’re reading the synopsis of a movie and it takes a few moments before you realise you’ve already seen the film?

Tonight pan-European channel ARTE will broadcast Une Aventure, a 2005 movie by Xavier Giannoli.  Giannoli and co-writer Jacques Fieschi took Sophia Burnett‘s idea and turned it into a feature film. The title is quite vague, but the German title (Ich Darf Nicht Schlafen) reveals more: Ludivine Sagnier is a young woman who’s both narcoleptic and afraid to fall asleep.

The movie begins with Julien (Nicolas Duvauchelle) arriving home from work. In the hall of his apartment he spots Gabrielle, in night garments and seemingly estranged. She says something, but he can’t understand her because of the glass between them. He meets her again the next day and falls madly in love with her, despite already having a girlfriend.

I can only imagine the creators of this movie did a lot of research about the mental problems of Gabrielle’s character, but they forgot to wrap that idea into a compelling story. Some critics have remarked the similar tone between Une Aventure and Blue Velvet, a movie you shouldn’t try and compare your movie with.

The movie couldn’t make me get involved, even though there are nice scenes and it’s always nice to see Ludivine Sagnier act. Especially if you know the movie was released in the same year as Sagnier became the mother of Bonnie. The father was one… Nicolas Duvaichelle.

There’s no real reason not to watch it if you get the chance to do so, but four years later you’ll only remember this movie when you’ve mentally combined “Ludivine Sagnier” with “narcoleptic”.

5/10

Dans Les Cordes

Dans Les CordesThe first movie that springs to mind is Girlfight.
But this is not Girlfight. Yes, this is a movie about a girl who wants to make it in the world of female boxing. But that’s where the parallels end.
This is Dans Les Cordes.

This is the movie debut of director Magaly Richard-Serrano. If her name is familiar, you’re probably interested in boxing. Magaly Richard-Serrano is a former junior boxing champion of France and the niece of a former world champion. Boxing isn’t just a part of the family tradition, the boxing blood is running through Magaly’s veins.
And Richard-Serrano was able to translate this love onto the screen, so that we, non-boxing moviegoers, could also understand what it feels like to be a boxer.

Richard Anconina (Joseph) is a former boxer. He has a daughter (Angie), who wants to claim the junior title one day, and a niece (Sandra), who’s also into boxing. Sandra has been raised as a daughter ever since her mother died. Sandra looks up to Angie, but when Angie is severely wounded during a fight and has to skip the next match, Sandra seizes the opportunity to claim her share of the limelight, wins the match and becomes the champion in her category.
Which is when things get worse… Sandra suddenly starts to lose weight, so she could end up in Angie’s weight category and claim the title Angie hadn’t been able to win. Angie is furious. With her cousin, who even tries to fit Angie’s clothes so she can see how much weight she’s already lost. With her dad, for abandoning all hope in her. And with her mother, who starts blaming Sandra for everything, claiming she is as much of a rotten apple as her late sister (Sandra’s mother). One big happy family!
Angie and Sandra fall out, one training becomes extremely vicious (ever wanted to see two girls beat each other to pulp?) and the family ends up completely shattered. And this with the ultimate fight only days away…

Angie, dad and Sandra discussing boxing

More than Girlfight, Dans Les Cordes manages to capture the feeling of what it’s like to be a boxing girl. On the other hand, if you compare Girlfight and Dans Les Cordes, you’ll have to confess that in the end Girlfight is the better of the two movies.
Ultimately, the tragical history of Angie’s family lacks the intrigue to keep you interested for the full 90 minutes. To overcome that, the film should’ve focused more on the boxing itself or have focused more the characters (as it is, the characters are 2.5 dimensional rather than 3D).

Three boxers working outWhich doesn’t mean that Dans Les Cordes is not a good movie: my ultimate verdict for this movie will be 6.5 out of 10. But this 6.5 movie shows so much passion (for both boxing and cinema) that you’re willing to overlook the unfinished bits.

Louise Szpindel is very good as Angie. You sometimes wonder if boxing isn’t one of her hobbies. (I hadn’t seen her before, but this was already her tenth role.) Richard Anconina is very famous in France (though not a lot of his movies have made it across the border), but probably the most famous person (globally) in this movie is Maria de Medeiros, who gets to play the labile mother.

I read somewhere that the director worked six years on this film before it was finally finished. As is often the case with projects that take up such a long time, the result is not a complete success. I don’t know why: maybe because the people involved get so familiar with their work they lack the ability to cut into their beloved work with a severe critic’s mind. As is often the case with such projects, the viewer feels the love for the project so much (s)he doesn’t have the heart to be very critical about it.

Dans Les Cordes is far from the best movie you’ll see this year, but there’s enough love put into this picture you’ll be able to enjoy it, even if you won’t remember it for the rest of your life.

6.5/10

Focus

Fuori Orario’s sexually themed weekend was a bit strange. Not because of the subject, but because of its execution. On Friday night the transmission started with such a delay the programme was different from what had been promised in the tv guide. Still the two movies they’d planned to show (the homosexual drama Sex in Chains and Koji Wakamatsu’s Sex Jack) were shown, which cannot be said of day two. Completely unscheduled but perennially welcome, we got to see Hedy Lamarr again. If you need me to tell you the movie was Ekstase, you should be ashamed of yourself. And go and rent it now.

dvd coverAfter Sex is Comedy by Breillat (which I skipped, as it was dubbed) it was time for another unscheduled event: Focus, the making of a porn movie. This documentary was filmed by Francis Leroi, also director of the porn movie Regarde-moi. Focus opens with Leroi admitting he’s financially forced to make the porn movie and really not looking forward to it. Leroi wrote, directed and produced saucy movies and porn movies from the 60s to the 80s. He is the producer of the cult porn Le Sexe Qui Parle (Pussy Talk – I’ll leave it to you to gather what the synopsis is) and some of his saucy movies have titles that make you expect the worse (Charlotte gets her panties wet, anyone?). If you want to look at his filmography, be my guest. In 1983 Leroi tried something different (just after the movie Ma Mère Se Prostitue – I wish I was making these up) and helmed the horror movie Le Démon dans l’Île. It’s still unwatched on my shelves, but apparently it’s quite a good horror movie. Sadly, Leroi couldn’t continue with his new found love and went back to directing movies about Emanuelle (chapters 4, 7 and the tv series) and Rêves de cuir. Finally the man cracked in 1995 and turned his back on cinema.

Francis LeroiFast forward to 2000 and his financial problems. Hardly motivated to direct another Film X (as porn movies are called in France), he decided to have a digital camera follow him and his actors. The result, Focus, was shown on Leroi’s website.

Hindsight is a nice thing. Now we know that Leroi died of cancer in 2002. This sheds an extra light on Focus and the unwillingness of the man to film another hardcore movie.

One of the key scenes is the fight Leroi has with his lead actress Ovidie. Ovidie acted in pornographic movies before directing porn movies herself and writing her Porno Manifesto. Right after Ovidie and Leroi are having words on a scene, the camera follows Ovidie. She tells the other people in the room she won’t allow being treated like this. By now she’s worked with Truffaut star Jean-Pierre Leaud (in the movie Le Pornographie, co-starring her and Jérémie Renier) and Diva director Jean-Jacques Beineix (in the movie Mortel Transfert) and claims she can tell when someone wants to abuse her. Leroi claims she’s an arrogant starlet. It’s hard to pick sides here, even though you tend to feel more sympathy for a dying man (but we don’t know if anyone at the time knew the man was in his final years). Basically, Leroi wanted to do another take of a sex scene. Ovidie claimed she’d already done all that was in her contract and that the director wanted to get her to do a sex scene for free. In the end a producer had to step in and tell both parties to leave each other alone.

Focus tells you what happens on the set of a glamourous pornographic movie. Material being stolen, sexual scenes being rehearsed (“So if he does this, you’ll do that…”) and egos clashing. I’m assuming there was also hardcore footage, but this being a national tv channel those scenes were not included (instead, they showed clips of Dreyer‘s Gertrud, the movie they were going to show the following week). Allow me to speak for everyone when I remark: Ermm??!? (Quite odd to see a documentary about a porn movie mixed with arthouse cinema.) Focus also included interviews with people close to Leroi, most of them having worked with him on several movies.

One scene is completely different though: we see two people on a bench, sitting near the water. One is Leroi, the other is his mother. He asks her question, some of which she answers reluctantly. One is a vital question: how is it for a mother to realize her son is making his money by directing pornographic movies? The mother admits that wasn’t easy. Two people on a bench, saying true things as the water floats by.

The full title of the documentary is “Focus – Les Coulisses du Porno”. It’s no longer available on a website, you may find the film on DVD (but even that one seems to be out of stock).