Tag Archives: Jacques Tati

Seven by France: Olla, Milla, Deux Moi, On a Magical Night, Fort Buchanan, Playtime, and Gabrielle

Jacques Tati’s 1967 movie Playtime

I’ve tried to keep the pandemic off my site. While the brunt of it is over at least for a while (while spikes are blooming elsewhere like malignant flowers), this is really not the place to discuss it unless the topic is movies that have dealt with pandemics, and yes, I did finally see follow link write my college essays help me write literature argumentative essay sfu statistics thesis viagra portsmouth click here cialis research birth order essay ideas source url follow link review my essay presentation high school buying cialis safely difference between content writing and creative writing linguistic assignment help source site thesis format unimelb source link enter https://grad.cochise.edu/college/thesis-all-chapters/20/ write an essay on food and feeding of aquarium fishes phd thesis writing https://soils.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/index.php?apr=get-someone-to-write-your-essay source link where to buy writing paper https://www.cochise.edu/academic/custom-writing-org-research-papers/32/ here go here https://www.hsolc.org/apothecary/viagra-climax/98/ viagra cheap pills hair loss and proscar Contagion over the past month and boy, does it resonate ten years later. [A review of that will follow this posting.] Now, on a more positive note, and thanks to the pandemic, virtual cinema has basically taken over the space left by physical movie theaters and wouldn’t you know which arena has had a massive surge in rentals and home viewing but independent/arthouse cinema. Thanks to movie distributors banding together with movie theaters to release movies that were either supposed to get their proper release back in March or are showing up for the first time now, it’s been a cornucopia of binging through selections far and wide. In this post, I’m going to review five French movies that if you have MUBI, or Prime, or Distrib Films (among others I fail to recall right now), you can enjoy from the comfort of your home, or maybe do a group view with a discussion later.

On a Magical Night (Chambre 212)

Pay no attention to the way this clever little comedy is being promoted (as reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life) because it does the movie no justice. From the hands of Christoph Honoré, the director who also brought Sorry, Angel in 2018 (a New York Film Festival main slate), comes his follow up, On a Magical Night (original title in French Chambre 212). Chiara Mastroianni, who won the Un Certain Regard award for Best Actress at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, stars as Marie Mortemart, an unhappily married woman who, upon entering into what seems yet another argument with her husband Richard (Benjamin Biolay), decides she’s done with marriage and marches out to the hotel across the street. Once there, the younger Richard (Vincent Lacoste) makes his appearance, much to her mixed annoyance, and a night full of witty repartee and magical appearances including Richard’s teacher Irene (Camille Cottin) with whom he had had an affair with whilst in high school, who asserts she can reclaim the older Richard. As the night grows more unbelievably by the minute, with Marie reigniting her love for the younger Richard while Charles Aznavour and others drop in as her conscience, Irene and the older Richard get reacquainted and the love child they never had comes alive. Comparisons with “A Christmas Carol” and several of Woody Allen’s own movies from his late 70s / 80s period (Annie Hall, Alice, Another Woman come to mind immediately) will be all over the more cinematically acute. However, On a Magical Night is its own late-night sex-capade complete with a roster of former boyfriends and a cool, sophisticated scene in which Irene herself also resolves her unrequited emotions courtesy of a cameo by the cool Carole Bouquet. Watch it as pure escapism, although once the dream is over, you’ll wonder what the fuss was all about and forget it soon later.

Olla

Here we have a 30 minute short that would have fallen through the cracks since shorts rarely get shown on this side of the pond unless there is a film festival involved. Ariane Labed is a name you may recognize from her participation with Yorgos Lanthimos in Attenberg, Alps, and The Lobster. Labed takes her turn behind the camera to explore alienation and feminism with her short Olla, starring Ukrainian actress Romanna Lobach as the title character. When the story starts we see a domestic situation. Olla, a mail-order Russian bride, meets her husband Pierre (George Tachnakian), a plain-looking Frenchman who also has a senile mother who needs constant care. At first, Pierre seems rather meek and not one to assert his power, so he allows Olla to perform house chores and take care of his mother while he is out. Olla and Pierre’s mother wordlessly bond over her care and go-go dancing (which pretty much tell you where the character comes from), and when Olla gives Pierre’s mother a make-over, Pierre suddenly strikes Olla, and then in an awkward moment manages to consummate their union. The scene is rather uncomfortable and is a tipping point that leaves Olla with only one of two options: to stay and submit to future abuse or leave. Olla, as perfumed by Lobach, isn’t in France to be or play a victim of circumstance. Early scenes in which a recurring group of men cat-call at her — making Olla react with defiant disdain — a point at her tough as nails character. A later scene, when she decides to hell with it, she may as well use her looks to attract some desired attention and sexual release through dominance. Labed’s short speaks to the many women who have found themselves lost in a culture that is not theirs and who must use all that they have — or that they own — to survive. Olla, her lead, is such a woman, and her “fuck-you” attitude, represented with her sexy outfits and fire-engine red hair, point to someone who will not succumb easily towards toxic masculinity. This is quite a surprise that is available through MUBI.

Someone, Somewhere (Deux moi)

Almost 25 years ago I was introduced to Krysztoff Kieszlowski’s Three Colors trilogy. While not all of them are perfect — and like many trilogies, it is always the second one that seems to arrive with a sense of incompleteness — the triptych as a whole is masterful in presenting permutations in human behavior and circumstances. In Blue, Julie (Juliette Binoche) sits placidly in a park bench while an older lady attempts to throw a bottle into a large garbage bin. Julie never helps the lady, but this is less out of spite or anger as a sense that she is free from attachments, if at all for this one moment. In White, Karol (Zbigniew) Zamachowski) leers on a similar older person, while in Red, Valentine (Irene Jacob), appropriately named, reaches out and for a moment, connects with that older person.

It is Three Colors: Red that kept lingering on as I saw Cedric Klapisch’s Someone, Somewhere (Deux Moi), a film about two people who haven’t yet met and who live within close proximities. While nothing visual points at Kieszlowski’s palette — as a matter of fact, the entire movie seems a bit gray and muted, perhaps signaling that we are in the emotionally starved and muted world of a young man and a woman who exist as separate islands within Paris — the entire movie, from the first to the last, seems almost like a retread of events that conspire to both keep our leads apart and tentatively connect them until (and this may be a spoiler) the final scene. Throughout the film, we see Rémy (François Civil) and Melanie (Ana Girardot) navigate a world in which every event seems random and parallel. He’s seeing a therapist; so is she. He has had unresolved familial issues; so has she. Both shop at the same supermarket, sometimes at the same time. He gets a cat that eventually lands in Mélanie’s hands. Both try dating with disastrous results. They both witness a street incident, standing right next to each other, and while we hope that one may make even a slight, offhand comment that may segue into a conversation, that never happens. This mirrored parallelism gets pushed even further when we realize that both therapists (played by Camille Cottin and François Berléand) also know each other.

If anything may hurt Someone, Somewhere it is that at times it feels a bit static, and it does run about 15, 20 minutes too long. Nevertheless, the film does manage to engage the viewer into being an observer into the naturalness of two people completing an arc in which their characters move from being singular entities with no chance of ever meeting, to a potential couple.

Milla

Valerie Massadian’s touching movie Milla will fall through the cracks unless someone truly interested in intimate stories like these manages to stumble across is the way I did, through MUBI. This isn’t even a larger, more grandiose French production, nor does it have any marquee stars, young or old. It is because of this that Milla radiates its own inner beauty and must be seen. It is delicate, tender, and drenched in compassion for its central character, a young woman, barely of age, caught in circumstances that accelerate her maturity. If you can’t identify with the struggles that she faces, then you probably don’t have much empathy for the plight of the little people barely standing on their own two feet,

Two teenagers in love, Milla (Severine Jonckere) and Leo (Luc Chessel) wander through desolation and abandoned homes, scraping a living in the way of scavengers, with nothing but their immature love holding them together. When we first see them it is through a haze, and in fact, that very haze seems to be what both shelters them and isolates them from the larger world. [It turns out they are sleeping in a car in the middle of nowhere, which is also a motif Massadian explores here,] We know nothing more about them. Perhaps, Massadian infers, we don’t need to. These are two lost souls, with nothing but the present, building a nest together with love, cheap wine, and the occasional spat.

Some unknown time later, Leo departs for a fishing job and leave Milla behind. It isn’t long before Milla is alone, see adrift on her own. Massadian delivers this with an extremely detached eye and no dialogue: Milla, opening the door to receive Leo’s knapsack; later, her sad, empty gaze as she stares at nothing in particular while patting her belly in a revealing moment of fragility, and finally, an empty nest, made even more so by the sudden, silent crash of reality.

A cut now moves to another present as Milla works at a hotel in an unknown location and makes a tentative female friend who slowly, wordlessly, warms up to her. Life drifts by, Milla gives birth to a baby boy, and now we see her love for Leo blossom into a mother’s love. More snapshot scenes point at Milla, slowly climbing the professional ladder, now living alone in a modest apartment as her little boy starts to acquire his own personality. Milla’s boyfriend returns, but has he, really? A telling, blip-or-miss conversation between Milla and her baby boy reveals that Leo has gone “up into the sky.” The scene is devoid of any sentimentality and works wonderfully. We don’t need to see her an emotional shambles, at some unconscious level I felt as though while some part of Milla does miss Leo, she has a life to live and a little person to raise.

Milla recalls the cinema of The Dardenne Brothers in which we witness an everyday person from the bottom of the social ladder navigate their way in a world that somehow either they have walked away from or that has left them behind. It offers no sentimentality, no promises, but a continuous present, and in every shot, it is clear Massadian is the first to want her tougher than she looks heroine to succeed even when the odds have been planted against her. I loved this film for its simplicity, its filtered emotion, and even its tangential incursions into surrealism.

Milla is available on MUBI, which you can access either directly or via Prime.

Fort Buchanan

Benjamin Crotty’s 2014 movie is a bit of a curio. Just barely long enough to qualify as a feature-length film, it’s 60-minute run manages to scrape the surface of sexual dynamics taking place in a compound somewhere in France. The narrative seems to focus mostly on Roger (Andy Gillet), who is married to Frank (David Baïot), a soldier on the Djiboutian front, and who hopes to make himself attractive for the moment they are reunited. Meanwhile, Roger’s daughter Roxy (Iliana Zabeth, recently seen in Alberto Serra’s Liberté) isn’t keen on having been admitted to a prestigious college, and after she punches Roger in the face, the incident never gets mentioned again. Rather, the focus shifts towards the other wives in the fort. All unnamed, they discover all of a sudden that Roxy has become quite the young woman. They spend time making sexual advances on Roxy who seems not to care (while Roger simply watches or ignores). On the sidelines, another army wife played by Mati Diop (who directed 2019’s Atlantiques, available on Netflix) has a sexually charged moment with a muscular fitness instructor named Guillaume.

Fort Buchanan is all rather silly and inconsequential. It seems to be navigating in its own weird fever dream, disconnected from reality, perhaps as a commentary on sexual politics in which now the women, and Roger (who is mostly shown as a stereotypical gay male), starved for any kind of affection, try to make their presences known without much success. It will be only interesting for anyone seeking movies that are well out of the ordinary and almost never go past the festival circuit rounds. As a narrative, it has an intent, but that gets lost in how shiftless it becomes. At least it has a happy ending, and that’s okay with me.

Gabrielle

Isabelle Huppert in Gabrielle (2006). Image by MintyBlonde

I’ve no idea what would become of French cinema without the presence of actresses such as Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Huppert. Of course, the moment I typed this I realized that those who know me would counter, “Well! What about Catherine Deneuve?” I’d have to shake my head and reply, “For a woman who has coasted her entire career under the aegis of her truly remarkable “Gallic” beauty, it’s that precise look — the slightly vacant eyes, the perpetual blonde hair (Deneuve is a brunette) — that has somewhat rendered her career long, but unremarkable.” [Sorry, haters.] Denueve is too detached and has always played it safer than many of her peers. On the other hand, look at Binoche’s career choices. Look at Huppert’s as well. You will find that both of these actresses may have begun playing the starlet role but soon evolved into complicated, compelling, even flatly repulsive characters. If an actor can make me hate them on screen, they’ve delivered a superb performance.

Patrice Chéreau’s Gabrielle, an adaptation of a Joseph Conrad story, is a movie that I missed on its first run in New York in 2006. Now I’ve had the chance to view it through MUBI right before it departed from its library and boy, am I glad I did. I stayed away from all reviews, articles either on Film Comment or the New York Times because I have been hearing constant praise from anyone who’s seen it. From its opening scene in which commuters depart from a train, we listen to its narrator, Jean Hervey (Pascal Greggory), who makes his way through the crowd as he arrives home. He informs us details about himself, his life, and his married life to a woman he does not love. That woman, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert, coldly suffering), and we don’t see her enter the frame proper until we’ve read a note she’s left for Jean. The simplicity of the message is so savage that Jean injures his hand before he can take in the depths of what is about to happen.

You see, Gabrielle has decided to leave him for another man. You would think, however, that in a marriage of convenience, this sort of thing would be throwaway. However, this is the Europe of the Belle Epoque and while divorce was a concept, it was still not seen as the way out. Couples made the point to somehow work things out, keep up appearances, preserve the status quo. However, Gabrielle, in one of her increasingly lacerating encounters with Jean, affirms her decision, and sticks the dagger in deeper when she reveals who her lover is. Jean however barrels forth, his grayish blond hair occasionally falling over his left eye whenever emotions threaten to get the better of him. His demeanor shifts between entitled arrogance, embittered narcissism, and lastly, a slobbering idiot who will do what it takes to preserve this woman who he considers his property.

On the flip side, we see Gabrielle open herself to her servants. At first it seems as though she doesn’t even care to notice they are there, attending to her every need, but eventually, she starts to listen to one of them, Yvonne (Claudia Coli). It’s as if years of living in a gilded cage, separated from the real world, has rendered Gabrielle a closed book that has had enough of being closed and could use a non-judgmental ear.

Her encounters with Jean become increasingly hostile, and it’s mainly his narcissistic rage of her attempting to leave him (How dare she!) that instigates it. Gabrielle herself seems perpetually awash in a resigned state of anguish, tears marking her face almost constantly. Chéreau stages each meet with the anticipation of two sworn enemies who have had enough of each other, but can’t seem to stay away from each other. Chéreau renders Gabrielle with a mounting sense of doom and claustrophobia punctuated with lines and words lifted directly from Joseph Conrad’s text, . One would think light and love had never filtered in. One scene in which Yvonne carries a lamp shines a cold blue light that while bold, does not extinguish the looming shadows. One would justify anyone wanting to leave Hervey’s side. This is a man who, like Charles Foster Kane of Citizen Kane, collects. Chéreau’s camera lingers over the many statues and works of art, the bustle of servants, and of course, the prize herself, Gabrielle. If anyone has a responsibility to own up to his own marital failure, it is he, not Gabrielle, although her actions aren’t going to make her wife of the year in her social circles.

If you’re in the mood for some truly ferocious acting by Pascal Greggory and Isabelle Huppert this is the movie to watch. It is not available on MUBI at the time of this article but Netflix has it on DVD, although given its reputation, it is almost always at a wait. I would say keep it on top of your queue: you’ll be glad you did.

Playtime

Whenever I think of Jacques Tati, even if I were in a lousy mood, a smile starts to creep into my face and I start to happily ruminate about Monsieur Hulot, his redoubtable alter-ego who bumbles his way through this comedy called life. I honestly wish my life were played out this way. Sometimes I fantasize about what would it be to be a non-judgmental observer of my Other as he went through scenario after scenario as though he were an Impressionist, experiencing everything through a pure lens, always filled with the wonderment of it all, and resurfacing intact at the end (although none the wiser). If you’ve seen Tati’s magical movies you know where I’m getting at. What a wonder, to be Monsieur Hulot! I met him first in Mon Oncle way back in 2005 as he paid a visit to his family and found himself challenged by how the simple world has changed through “new technology”. Through TCM not a year later I was privileged to see him go on vacation on his first misadventure, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Les Vacances de M. Hulot), a film that was made several years prior to Mon Oncle (and in gorgeous black and white). Only a few years ago, TCM also featured a restored version of Traffic, the last one to feature M. Hulot, again balancing a tightrope over urban chaos with grace.

I’m sure there will be critics and cinephiles alike that will disagree with me and that’s okay, but Tati’s 1967 feature film Playtime is the one out of the six that he made that essentially defines not just M. Hulot, but Tati’s amusement about humanity and its peccadilloes as it hurdles along through social settings in service to urban living. To achieve such a specific, detailed view, Tati constructed an enormous set to replicate not just Orly Airport and the equivalent of a Jacob Javitz Center but an entire swatch of ultra-modern living. To see M. Hulot weaving in and out of the frame throughout these sets that accurately announce how we occupy office space today with cubicles and ultra-modern decor that is sparse and metallic almost to a fault is to see a man who seemed to have a prescient eye. I couldn’t at times but keep comparing Hulot to Chaplin in Modern Times, but especially Mr. Magoo — less near-sighted, but at a loss at times how to sit on a Knoll chair without it making some strange noise. And what a sound-filled movie this is! People get announced by the sound of their shoes, buttons make strange noises, and an air-vent blows so much air into a sweltering bar that its model airplane, soft and buttery, now regain its form and almost takes off.

It is a pity that this movie never reached the heights that it should have — Tati, for one, practically went bankrupt as his set cost millions. To add insult to injury, Playtime was filmed in 70mm and only played in theaters still showing films in 70mm. Overseas it was released in 1973, and it seems, went largely unnoticed except by fans of Tati. Today, Playtime stands as one of the finest films ever made, and it’s one that anyone interested in pure cinema devoid of the artifice of dialog and the ever-present M. Hulot, this time complimented by Barbara Dennek in her only film role, should watch at least twice. It is beautiful, visually witty, and gentle all at the same time. In essence, it is Jacques Tati, a man who knew cinema at its core.