Tag Archives: French

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: BPM (120 BEATS PER MINUTE)

BPM (120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE)
France
Director: Robin Campillo
Runtime: 143 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies.com grading: A+

[Seen October 9th at the New York Film Festival, where it received the second of two standing ovations, and that is rare.]

They say that the closer the drama is to one’s real life experience the stronger the story that comes out of it. Nothing could be closer to the truth than the viewing of Robin Campillo’s aggressive yet tender drama BPM (120 Beats Per Minute) that makes its bow at the Angelika and the Lincoln Center October 20th and is France’s strongest submission to the Oscars in decades. Campillo, in discussing his film during the Q & A, spoke about being an Act-Up activist in the Paris Chapter during the 80s and 90s and literally seeing his then lover die of AIDs while no cure was visible in sight; his and the actions of this force of nature that was gay activism eventually led to the release of the medicine that would curb the corrosive effect of the AIDs virus and at least allow those who were positive to live (and love) if at all for a little while more than if they had not been given anything at all.

From the moment it starts, BPM is two hours of a literal battle not for equality, but for the very right to simply exist. Much like its title implicates there are no pauses for contemplation for contemplation’s sake; Campillo’s film is, without machine guns, a war movie that involves a rather broad spectrum of people at the bottom of society: gays, lesbians, and those infected with the blood of HIV-positive people. Anyone who either witnessed or survived the 80s and 90s can and will tell you that to even be gay during that period was tantamount to already have the ‘cancer’, and thus, be not just an undesirable, but also be unworthy to life itself. In short, it was a period where gay men and women would have to slip back into the dark, remain silent, and let AIDs do its infernal work.

So what was one to do then? Once it was made clear that those in the bottom could never aspire to have their voices heard, the only thing that anyone then had left was becoming the cry in the dark. BPM illustrates this effect in a chilling sequence where the members of Act-Up Paris infiltrate a pharmaceutical corporation and start throwing bags of fake blood everywhere and unto their executives. The intent is to shock, of course, and it makes its mark, but it’s also to sling back the blood corporate France  had on their hands. It’s hard not to see a clear correlation between these events and the many that transpired here in the US when Act-Up protested, how one can view this and not be reminded of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and David France’s searing documentary How to Survive a Plague. [Side note: David France’s newest documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson is currently in cinemas and on Netflix.]

Robin Campillo moves between the documentary — Act-Up meetings and protests — and the personal, inserting smaller yet more poignant stories that stand out from the mass of activists that occupy the large tapestry of participants. First in line we get Nathan (Arnaud Valois, standing in for Campillo), a twenty-something young man who’s joined Act-Up and is seen as a bit of an outsider since he’s negative (most aren’t). There he meets the very vocal Sean Dalmazo (Argentinean actor Nathan Perez Viscayart in a compelling, riveting performance) who’s passion for life is as big as his need for action from those at the top to deliver the drugs he needs to live a bit longer. There is the hemophiliac kid who’s mother unwittingly gave infected blood to for months, effectively infecting him. Also shown are Sophie (Adele Haenel, a tremedous presence, but underused — also the only marquee name in the movie) and Thibaut (Antoine Reinartz), an activist with whom Sean clashes often.

The brilliance of this ferocious movie is that it never pauses for maudlin and I loved that. Too often, AIDs-related movies treated its characters’ deaths like over-long operas to be played out in slow motion as if somewhat fascinated at the fact that yes, gay men did die dramatic deaths, disfigured, weighing less than their clothes, listening to some campy classical music. [And as a side note, I noted the conspicuous absence of sex in AIDs movies made in our own soil raises the question, do we still, even now in 2017, still have issues with gay sex represented on film?] This movie uses house — the music of the time — to express its defiance at the face of death. Even the central romance that becomes born under the threat of death — that of Sean and Nathan — is played with a vibrancy I have not seen in any American film about the same topic. It’s probably what will make this stand out from its American counterparts, that it knows death (for many) is looming, but embraces life, the ultimate spectacular now, as its own affirmation. And the sex? Confessional, revealing, and ultimately, a means to mourn those who have passed on, who were loved.

BPM opens at the Angelika and the Film Society of Lincoln Center October 20.

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: LET THE SUNSHINE IN

LET THE SUNSHINE IN
France
Director: Claire Denis
Runtime: 92 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies.com grading: C+

If there is something one can state about acclaimed French film director Claire Denis is that she definitely is unpredictable. Most directors tend to have a connected style in their storytelling, and that, one can say, defines the director’s body of work. With Denis, you can’t really say her pictures have a theme, a sense that one story somehow flows right into the other even when some of her greatest films (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum, and White Material) have taken place in Africa. Her 2013 film Bastards (Les salauds) was a compelling black hole masquerading as film-noir; the movie reeked of pure, conscious evil that lay within its characters. It was almost a horror movie by way of the human exploitation (and particularly the subjugation of women to their masculine counterparts).

Her latest entry couldn’t be more divorced from the underbelly of society and is even more removed by anything she has done before. The poorly titled Let the Sunshine In (technically, the title should read Bright Sunshine Inside) is a light as a feather character study of Isabelle (luminously played by Juliette Binoche), an artist going from one relationship to the next, each one ending in what seems to be an ellipsis. When we first see her, she’s in the middle of having sex with a married banker, That doesn’t end well, predictably so. She moves right into the arms of an actor, and then into yet an unnamed man who sweeps her off of her feet in a club to the sounds of Etta James’ “At Last“. [I sensed some perverse irony in the selection of this title, and Denis of course, delivered.]

My one problem with the movie stems from the fact that other than a leisurely paced portrait of a woman who’s basically clueless about herself and what she wants, Let the Sunshine In never quite manages to intrigue you about Isabelle’s misadventures in a way that Woody Allen’s female-centric studies do. It takes the very late entrance of a certain French actor posing as one thing, but being something completely different, to neatly explain Isabelle to us, even when she herself remains totally and tonally blind. Perhaps this is what Denis’ movie is meant to be: a snapshot of a ridiculous woman, on a love treadmill, going nowhere. Maybe I need to see this odd little film again when it reaches US cinemas (a thing that seems meant for next year). Directors love to play games on their audiences and remain one step ahead. For now, my impression is that of a movie that didn’t quite deliver despite having a brilliant star on scene for 90 minutes, living, breathing, and failing to love.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE)

Canada/France
Director: Xavier Dolan
Runtime: 98 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies’ grading: B+

Even though It’s Just the End of the World is based on the Jean-Luc LaGrace play of the same name, this could very well be yet another of director Xavier Dolan’s incursions into his own semi-autobiographical movies which deal with overbearing mothers and overall family dysfunction (and if you haven’t seen them you should; starting with his striking debut film I Killed My Mother and culminating in Mommy, he has amassed an impressive body of work based mainly on variations on a theme.

His seventh movie more or less delves into familiar Dolan territory: Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a famous writer, has returned home (pretentiously titled “Somewhere…”) to make an announcement. He hasn’t been home in 12 years, so when we see his family — punkish younger sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) arguing with her mother Martine (Nathalie Baye), while older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel, vicious) glowers on and his wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard, cast against type playing a soft spoken bumbler of a woman) anticipates in quiet timidity — we know that something already is not right. The second Louis walks through the door they shower him with affections and praise and the occasional family banter, but it’s a set-up for something darker that makes its way rather quickly.

We never know why, but it seems there is some unspoken tension in the room between Antoine and Louis. Antoine is fast to turn not just mean but downright vicious at the very presence of Louis in the house and take every chance he has to sour the moments of happiness Martine and Suzanne experience. During all this, Louis ponders on his announcement — the right time to make it — while he spends time with his family, mostly in conversations about the past as they inevitably rehash and occasionally reveal some resentment in his success and his return to the house. These conversations invariably turn sour and it’s clear that perhaps returning was perhaps not the best idea, especially where are unhealed wounds that no one will talk about.

Xavier Dolan uses his technique of filling the screen with his characters’ faces to achieve a sense of claustrophobia and it works; I often felt repelled by almost all of the characters — Louis included — at one point of the other. While Louis emerges by far as the most sympathetic, he has no strength, it seems, and does next to nothing to stand up for himself; instead choosing to suffer in pained silence as his family prattles on in staccato rhythms about this or that, occasionally lapsing into spurts of verbal violence that sends them off in different directions, as if too afraid to even sit down together. As a matter of fact, there is a palpable sense of something terrible and unspoken just lingering underneath everyone’s mind, but neither the playwright nor Dolan explore it, leaving the viewer somewhat up in the air with a sense of “well, it’s clear the brothers hate each other, but no one knows why”.

Perhaps Antoine envies the life that Louis has been able to lead. He is the most antagonistic of them all, Martine being basically the mother in Mommy, redux, and Catherine the stuttering teacher in the same film. [The only one who seems to be her own creation is Suzanne.] Antoine, however, is an enigma — is he homophobic, or simply a man full of self-hatred and contempt that perhaps the younger brother made it while he marinated in a low-paying job making tools? We’ll never know; Dolan does not give us answers. In a way, this is closer to Woody Allen’s Interiors, in which that family was also on verge of destruction because of some inner fracture that has divided them all.

What is true is Dolan continues to deliver on his films (despite other critics’ negative reviews). The man knows how to tell a character study of people caught in a hell called home, unable to leave, as the people in Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel.

It’s Just the End of the World is available on Netflix.