Category Archives: France

Roberto Succo (2001)

You can’t predict crazy

The film Roberto Succo from director Cédric Kahn, based on a true story, takes a hard cold look at the crime spree of an escaped Italian mental patient. Roberto Succo slaughtered his parents and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for a ten year sentence. He escaped, traveled to France and then embarked on a life of crime: stealing cars, and committing rape and murder along the way.

When the film opens a wild-eyed Roberto (Stefano Cassetti) who calls himself ‘Kurt,’ meets 16-year-old schoolgirl Léa (Isild le Besco), who’s on holiday in Southern France, at a seaside disco. He drives a flashy car, has wads of cash, is full of glamorous tales of his exploits, and Lea gets caught up in the drama of their romance. Kurt claims to be English, yet his accent seems Italian to Léa. There’s no sex between them-just some groping and the odd dry hump,  and when she returns home to the Savoy Mountains, he promises to see her again.

roberto succo

The film is largely episodic, and at times the narrative picks up as Roberto commits another crime or drops back into Léa’s life. In one scene, the police respond to a missing person’s report, and it’s at this point that police detective Thomas, (Patrick Dell’Isola) begins to piece together that a series of seemingly random crimes have been committed by the same individual who’s running amok across France.

After speaking to a few witnesses and putting together a crime spree map, Thomas concludes, correctly as it turns out, that they are dealing with a madman. Unfortunately Thomas’s superior doesn’t think the case is that serious….

While some of the film follows the dogged investigation, when scenes switch to Roberto, the tempo changes dramatically.  His victims will be leading their normal routines when suddenly Roberto bursts into their lives with his erratic, manic behaviour. Whether he’s ranting about endocrinology, Stendhal or Marxism, he’s clearly terrifying insane. Some of his victims are able to play cool while others aren’t so fortunate. In terms of violence, we see a post slaughter scene and photos of a slaughter scene. Not too gruesome in its distance but certainly dire enough to place a heavy weight on the narrative. The most terrifying aspect of the story has to be the sheer randomness of his attacks.

Meanwhile as the police dig for clues, Robert visits Léa. They have a relationship of sorts with him spinning various versions of himself and Léa either largely swallowing or deciding to ignore the glaring inconsistencies in his tales.

Roberto is clearly a fantasist and the film shows that well. At times he brags he’s a terrorist, a Marxist, and when given attention he’s caught in the moment as he spews out various elaborate, grandiose versions of his life. Stefano Cassetti delivers a convincing performance as the mercurial madman who doesn’t seem to have a goal other than ‘freedom.’ His victims exist to help him achieve that careening, elusive ideal. Towards the end of the film, he rants his insane version of the fate of one of his victims, and while we know his version is twisted, the horrifying fate of the victim haunts the scene.

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Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent) 2007

Given the delicacy of the subject matter, Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent), a 2007 film from writer/director Anne Le Ny (Les Invités de Mon Père, The Chameleon) potentially could have been a three-hanky film, but instead of tears, this is a quality, thought-provoking film that soars above cheap clichés and easy solutions.

Teacher Bertrand (Vincent Lindon), appears to be coping with all the demands placed on him while his wife, terminally ill with breast cancer, is back in hospital. He manages to juggle his job, his domestic responsibilities, and frequent visits to the hospital with some ugly scenes with his uncooperative 16-year-old step-daughter, Valentine (Yeleem Jappain) who illogically and emotionally blames him for her mother’s illness.  During one of his visits he meets a young, attractive woman, named Lorraine (Emmanuelle Devos) who’s visiting her boyfriend about to have surgery for colon cancer.

those who remainSince neither Bertrand’s wife or Lorraine’s boyfriend are released from hospital, Bertrand and Lorraine continue to run into each other. The occasional cup of coffee morphs into a relationship that’s fraught with difficulties.

Obviously the subject matter places the characters in the middle of an emotional minefield. Both Bertrand and Lorraine meet due to the serious, life-threatening illnesses of their spouses, and they are drawn together by a strong mutual attraction. But is that the only element that pulls them together? One of the issues explored by the film is that when we support and nurse a dying spouse/loved one, we are essentially in a very lonely place. Relatives and friends can drop by to offer help, but they are able to leave. Both Bertrand and Lorraine are on a journey to the end of the road. At one point, Lorraine, who states that she’s no Mother Theresa, questions whether or not she’ll be ‘good’ or strong enough to be the person that she’s expected to be–after all, everyone expects her to stick with her boyfriend and it would seem extremely callous to dump him while he’s recovering from surgery. 

There’s also a supportive visit from Bertrand’s sister, Nathalie (played by writer/director Anne le Ny) who arrives with her husband and child in tow. It’s obvious that Nathalie has problems of her own, and the film does a wonderful job of showing how awkward it is to discuss one’s own problems in light of the impending death of another family member. It’s clear that the pall of illness and death is upon the household–no matter how much everyone tries to pretend otherwise. And it’s also clear that while Nathalie and her family are free (and relieved) to leave, Bertrand must remain until the end–whenever that may be.

If this sounds like a depressing film, it’s really not, and that’s largely due to the delicate, sensitive script which doesn’t wallow in the death aspects of the film or milk the obvious emtion of the drama, but instead includes little details such as the magazines bought by the visitors and the relationships carved with hospital personnel in the gift shop. And of course the film includes superb acting. Vincent Lindon excels at these wounded stag roles, and he’s sympathetic and admirable–always keeping his voice in a mellow reasonable tone–even as his world collapses around him. Emmanuelle Devos  as Lorriane is a bit of a dark horse here, and there are many unanswered questions about her attraction to Bertrand. Is their mutual attraction just an attempt to escape from the realities of looming death, or would their attraction extend beyond the hospital? They are both in that same lonely place, and so they understand each other’s concerns, but whereas Bertrand has been coping with his wife’s illness and battle with cancer for over 5 years, Lorriane’s journey is just beginning.

An excellent film about loss, grief and survival, Those Who Remain is highly recommended for anyone in the mood for serious French drama.

This is an entry into Richard and Caroline’s World Cinema Series 2013

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Love is My Profession (1958)

“You can’t explain happiness.”

Based on a Simenon novel, Love is My Profession (1958) aka En Cas de Malheur examines the power of sexuality and the issue of control through the obsessive relationship between a bourgeois French lawyer with a young girl. The young girl in question is Yvette, played by sulky kittenish Brigitte Bardot, a woman for whom morality isn’t exactly absent, but it is skewed. Normally, affluent middle-aged lawyer André Gobillot (Jean Gabin) wouldn’t cross paths with someone like Yvette, but Yvette seeks help and legal representation from Gobillot after she and her friend Noémie  (Annick Allières) attempt to knock off a jewelry shop, and Yvette ends up bashing the jeweler’s elderly wife over the head with a crowbar. After the robbery goes wrong, Yvette manages to run away to a bar where her sometime lover, student doctor, Gaston (Claude Magnier) works. Yvette gets the notion that she needs legal help and picks out Gobillot’s name from the phone book. Whether or not you think this is a stroke of luck or not may depend upon your romantic tendencies. 

Gobillot at first refuses to represent penniless Yvette until she raises her skirt and in an unforgettable scene reveals her lack of underwear and her garter belt. From this moment, Gobillot is a goner, and his personal and professional lives spiral out of control.He represents Yvette in court and by some clever, but unethical legal footwork, Gobillot manages to get his client free. Instead of Yvette walking back to her former life, Gobillot pays her bill at a hotel that’s all too conveniently close to the courthouse.  DVD covers often depict scenes far more salaciously than they actually are in the film, but this DVD cover is an exception. Bardot’s skirt is lifted higher in the film and you can see her garter belt and it’s also obvious that she’s not wearing underwear. Well the offer she makes to Gobillot is rather frank after all….

One of this marvelous film’s great characters is Madame Gobillot, played exquisitely by Edwige Feuillère. She’s not exactly a long-suffering wife, but she understands her husband better than he understands himself, so she’s one step ahead of his intentions when it comes to Yvette.

Gobillot begins an affair with Yvette, and although this should be a private matter, the illicit relationship has ramifications on everyone in Gobillot’s life. His wife initially accepts the affair as a silly passing interest, and she decides to tolerate it and keep the lines of communication open until Gobillot comes to his senses. Meanwhile Gobillot’s devoted old maid secretary, Bordenave (Madeleine Barbulée) is alternately shocked, concerned and titillated by Gobillot’s flagrantly erotic relationship with Yvette.

The complexities of the film’s characters add significantly to a tale that could be trite in the wrong hands. After all, the mid-life affair of a man of substance with a giddy, promiscuous blonde is hardly unexplored territory. While Gobillot’s relationship with Yvette is heavily sexual, there’s a large slice of the father-child dynamic at play. Gobillot treats Yvette rather as he would a naughty five-year-old, and this method works for the most part–even though her behaviour includes drug use and flagrant infidelity. For her part, self-confessed prostitute Yvette feels that she owes a debt to Gobillot, but their relationship extends beyond gratitude and also beyond the material security he showers her with.  Yvette’s sense of morality includes admitting infidelities to Gobillot, and he treats her like a child when she confesses or is upset–even holding a tissue while she blows her nose.

As the affair grows more serious, Madame Gobillot’s tolerance is stretched to breaking point, and in once great scene, Gobillot tells Bordenave that he’s giving his wife “real reasons to hate” and compares this to a “mercy killing.” While Madame Gobillot’s tolerance is a strategic move, her decision to allow her husband ‘freedom’ to indulge in this affair proves catastrophic. Freedom and possession also raises its head in Yvette’s relationships with Gobillot and Gaston. Both men want exclusive ownership–whereas Yvette seems happier with no constraints on her behaviour.

Love is My Profession was remade into the 1998 film In All Innocence (En Plein Coeur), and interestingly the original film is bleaker and its characters much more complex. It’s impossible to watch Love is My Profession without recalling Simenon’s life and his turbulent marriages. At one point while married to first wife, Tigy, he had a long-term affair with the maid, Boule, and when he and his wife travelled to America, his wife stipulated that the maid remain behind. However, when Simenon began an affair with Denyse, the woman who would become his second wife, his then current wife sent for the maid to join them. There’s a very odd scene in the film which includes Janine, the maid (Nicole Berger). Is it just me but is there some swinging going on there?

Love is My Profession is an entry into Caroline & Richard’s Foreign Film festival.

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C’est La Vie (1990)

In C’est La Vie (La Baule-les-Pins), it’s Lyon 1958, and it’s time for 8 year-old Sophie (Candice Le France) and 13-year-old Frédérique’s (Julie Bataille) annual holiday to Brittany. But this year, something’s wrong. The children’s father, Michel (Michael Berry) isn’t joining the family right away, and then the children’s attractive mother, Lena (Nathalie Baye) pulls a shabby bait-and-switch at the train station. She goes on to Paris alone while the girls are taken to Brittany in the company of their nanny, Odette (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). The only one who seems happy with this arrangement is Lena, and she waves goodbye to her sobbing children. This holiday is going to be different. 

Poor Odette, who has two children of her own, has complete charge of Sophie and Frédérique. The rented house turns out to be a disappointment, and the children sensing, but not fully understanding, the implication of their parents’ separation, misbehave whenever they can. Luckily Lena’s sister Bella (Zabou Breitman), her husband Léon (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and their four children provide some stability and normalcy for their two cousins. Then Lena arrives to rescue Odette and it becomes clear that Lena has a lover, a much younger sculptor named Jean-Claude (Vincent Lindon). 

While the adults are supposed to provide structure and routine, we see how things begin to disintegrate once that fragile membrane of parental attention is removed. Bella and Léon’s large colourful family life is shown in contrast to the miserable marriage of Lena and Michel. Léon is one of those fathers who has a definite persona as a family man. He tries–even if he doesn’t always succeed, and he seems hardest on his eldest son, Daniel (Alexis Derlon). Both Bella and Léon try to remain neutral about Michel and Lena’s divorce until they’re finally forced to choose sides.

C’est La Vie does a marvellous job of showing the parallel world of the children in contrast to the world of adults. Just as the children have no clue about the impending divorce between Lena and Michel (until they overhear the news), the adults are largely excluded from the children’s world as they run amok and wage class warfare against Club Corvette–a club for paying child members which excludes them. While the adults are often clueless about the children’s escapades, Frédérique has an unsettling glimpse into adult relationships. The film shows the conflicts of the individual who must choose between desire and family responsibility, and we even see how animals are inevitably impacted by the vagaries and instability of adults.

Films which take a child’s view of adult problems are not always successful, but C’est la Vie hits just the right note of innocence and mischievousness, and all the characters are very well-drawn including the landlord, Ruffier (Didier Bénureau) who watches the shenanigans with barely veiled disgust and dismay. Director Diane Kurys presents this difficult summer with delicate sensitivity and more than a dash of humour. Anyway, C’est La Vie is a delightful film which keys into one of my pet theories that family problems are magnified by a holiday. Take family members out of their routine and throw them together, and if there are problems, a holiday will accentuate them. Perhaps this explains why I have a weakness for films that show people on holiday.

This post is part of Caroline’s and Richard’s World Cinema blogathon. Trust me, the film is much better than the DVD cover indicates.

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Vénus Noire (2010)

Some stories need to be told, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that those stories–transcribed to film–result in an enjoyable or entertaining experience. This of course brings up the whole question of just what we expect when we place a DVD in the player. I know that I want to be entertained. If I’m educated in the process, then that’s great, but while Vénus Noire (Black Venus)  tells an incredible story, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. Am I glad I watched it? Yes.

Vénus Noire begins in France with a scene of eager young doctors at the Royal Academy of Medicine. It’s 1815 and this is a lecture hall filled with young men studying medicine. The lecturer proceeds to hand around a jar containing the unusual genitals of a “Hottentot” woman, and he also has a life size cast of the woman’s body. The upshot of the lecture is that the Hottentot woman resembles the baboon–rather than the human. That sort of gives you an indication of what you are in for with this story.

Vénus Noire is Saartjie Baartmann (Yahima Torres), a former servant from the Cape who in 1808 travelled with her entrepreneur employer, Hendrick Cezar (Andre Jacobs) to London. Lured by the promise of riches and the possibility of owning her own farm in the Cape, Saartjie becomes a highly successful draw and a big moneymaker. Hundreds squeeze into the shabby little theatre and watch the so-called Hottentot Venus who is dressed in a sheer costume, paraded around in chains like a wild animal, and managed with a whip. Off the stage, Saartjie smokes cigars, knocks back booze and even shops followed by two black attendants, but Saartjie and Cezar’s performance outrages certain members of the African Association (Britain saw the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807) who see Saartjie as horribly exploited. Saartjie and Cezar end up in court with both of them arguing that she performs of  her own free will. She’s not a slave, and yet due to racial inequalities, it’s easy to argue that the act which is in extremely bad taste, also exploits Saartjie–after all what other choices does she have?

When Saartjie is more or less forced to leave England due to the messy trial, things go downhill. They hook up with animal trainer Réaux (Olivier Gourmet) and Jeanne (Elina Lowensohn) and become the entertainment for various Paris salons, kink shows, and brothels. If Saartjie was exploited before, it’s nothing to what awaits her in Paris….

At 159 mins. Vénus Noire is a long film, and throughout the course of the tale, Saartjie’s act doesn’t basically change–although it is modified to include even more degrading exhibitions. During the performances, Saartjie objects occasionally, and most of the objections occur when she’s fondled by the audience or required to exhibit her genitals–either at kinky parties or for French doctors. Films which require the audience to accompany the protagonist on a journey of degradation can be extraordinarily painful and even an exercise in masochism. As the endless scenes from Saartjie’s act continue, I’ll admit that I had a difficult time watching performance after performance of this poor woman who is trotted out for ‘entertainment’ repeatedly.

Vénus Noire is most interesting for its blurred boundaries. Is Saartjie, for example, performing of her own ‘free will’? Well, if ‘free will’ means that she agrees to walk on stage, then, yes, she’s there of her own free will. But if ‘free will’ means that Saartjie wants to perform for a leering, groping crowd, then the answer is ‘no,’ Saartjie is not acting through free will. There are several other instances of the blurring of boundaries in the film–Saartjie is forced to exhibit her genitals for the pervs of Paris and for the doctors of the Royal Academy. Is there a difference? Both lots pay for the pleasure, and one lot may be drooling, but for Saartjie, who’s on the receiving end of the voyeurism, there’s little difference.

And of course, finally, the Royal Academy, measuring every angle of Saartjie’s body (reminds me of the Nazis)  make note of her genitals and extraordinary buttocks, yet panning the audience of Saartjie’s shows, we see only crowds of freaks–the ugly, the deformed, the pock-marked–a race of imperfects who squintingly point a finger when noticing the differences of others.

From director Adellatif Kechiche (Secret of the Grain)

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Les Invités de Mon Père (2010)

Some militant acts are easier on the eye than others.”

I’m a die-hard fan of Fabrice Luchini, and I’ll watch any film in which he features. For that reason, I bought Les Invités de Mon Père, a 2010 film from director Anne Le Ny on a whim.

Can anyone beat French film when it comes to portraying the subtleties of family relationships? To me, that’s a rhetorical question. Les Invités de Mon Père depicts a three-generational family with a number of problems that are more or less swept under the rug under a crisis precipitates some ugly and honest confrontations. This really is a superb film, and for co-writers Anne Le Ny and Luc Béraud, the drama depicted here is so real to life, it rather uncannily mirrors a real-life situation I recently watched devolve. 

Les Invités de Mon Père is labelled as a comedy, and some of the comedy arises over the hypocrisy of attitudes towards immigration. While a light comic tone is maintained throughout, this is also very serious drama which examines the events that lead to a seismic shift in the moral decisions of some of its main characters. 

Lucien Paumelle (Michel Aumont) is an 80-year-old activist–a retired doctor who lives alone in his rent-controlled Paris apartment. He has two middle-aged children: Business lawyer Arnaud (Fabrice Luchini) and a daughter Dr. Babette Paumelle (Karin Viard). Arnaud, affluent and status-conscious, is married with children, and his relationship with his father is a little strained. Babette, on the other hand, has always been very close to her father, and in fact she followed her father into a medical career. She lives with her lump of a boyfriend, Rémy (Olivier Rabourdin) and is overworked treating poor disenfranchised patients.

Lucien announces to his family that he’s going commit a “militant act” by allowing some illegal immigrants to move into his apartment. Both of Lucien’s children are concerned about this decision–after all Lucien is an elderly man and this could potentially violate his apartment lease. Arnaud’s wife is also worried and in a moment of concern, she visits the immigration centre where Lucien volunteers and suggests that the immigrants who move into her father-in-law’s apartment should meet a certain criteria of suitability. 

A dinner party is arranged with Arnaud, his wife Karine (Valérie Benguigui) their children, and Babette and Rémy in attendance. They’ve dutifully gathered together a few bags of old discarded clothing to donate to the immigrant family they’re about to meet. To their shock and horror, Lucien’s houseguests are a svelte blonde Amazon from Moldovan named Tatiana (Veronica Novak) and her daughter, Sorina (Emma Siniavksi). Any idea that Lucien’s “militant” act  is motivated by charity is squashed permanently when he blithely lets slip that he married Tatiana a few days earlier.

At this point, the film follows Arnaud and Babette as they are faced with the dilemma of whether or not they should step in and interfere with their father’s relationship with Tatiana. Both Arnaud and Babette undergo personal crises as they question their moral obligations and their lives subsequently fall apart. Arnaud shifts from a sliver of glee that his dad has the hots for this peroxided blonde to confronting the truth about his poor relationship with his father. Babette, on the other hand, feels cheated as she sees her father’s apartment taken over & trashed, her mother’s possessions hidden away, and a small inheritance disappear. 

The question becomes at what point should steps be taken to intervene. Should Arnaud and Babette ignore their father’s behaviour? Have they the right to interfere? As the film plays out, just what is acceptable and what is unacceptable becomes a matter for moral debate. The film does an excellent job of showing how we may think that we act according to a certain moral code, but that circumstances can arise to test those beliefs. Both Arnaud and Babette find themselves horribly torn by conflicting moral beliefs while Arnaud’s wife, whose decisions are black and white and not coloured by familial relationships, has a much easier time deciding which moral path to take.

While all the actors deliver marvellous performances, both Fabrice Luchini as the materialistic Arnaud and Karin Viard as his sister Babette are spectacular. Arnaud goes through a range of emotions while he observes his father’s behaviour, and these emotions range from sly glee to cold, unemotional acceptance of his father’s decisions. Poor Arnaud is also under siege from his children who both approve of Lucien’s behaviour for different reasons. While Lucien digs in deeper with Tatiana, Babette, feeling rejected by her father undergoes a horrible identity crisis with life-changing, hilarious results.

For French film fans, Les Invités de Mon Père is a must-see, and it’s certainly a film that engages the viewer into one of those “what-would-I-do-under-the-same-circumstances” scenarios.

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Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962)

“I only remember loathing my husband even more than usual.”

Thérèse Desqueyroux, a 1962 black & white film from director Georges Franju, is based on the book by Francois Mauriac. The film begins with the acquittal of Thérèse Desqueyroux who’s been charged with the attempted murder of her husband, Bernard. We are not privy to the trial–instead the story picks up as Thérèse leaves the deserted Palais de Justice in the company of her lawyer. Thérèse’s father waits for them in the distance, and while an acquittal should be good news, Thérèse’s father doesn’t greet his daughter. Instead he shuffles her off in a chauffeur driven car admonishing her that she’s already damaged the family enough.

On the drive back to her home, Thérèse (Emmanuelle Riva) recalls the events that led to the accusation of attempted murder, and it’s a stroke of irony that the evidence of the intended victim, Bernard (Philippe Noiret), is the one thing that saves Thérèse from imprisonment. The film segues to Thérèse’s moody youth and idyllic days spent with her companion, Anne (Edith Scob). Anne is convent-educated, and Thérèse notes that Anne’s purity is “still largely down to ignorance. The Ladies at the Sacre Coeur placed 1000 veils between reality and their daughters.”

Thérèse, the richest girl in the area, then marries the very stodgy Bernard. One of the reasons for the marriage, Thérèse claims is “to have the joy” of Anne as a sister-in-law. People marry for worse reasons, but Thérèse’s passivity in the acceptance of her fate appears to play a part in the marriage which is welcomed by both families. Naturally the marriage is a disaster, and Thérèse grasps all of its ramifications only after the honeymoon which includes her husband’s “nocturnal inventions.” Thérèse  seems doomed to accept the boring life demanded of her by Bernard and his family, but this all changes when she meets the young man Anne loves, Jean (Sami Frey), someone with whom she can discuss Chekhov.

There’s an unexplored tantalizing undercurrent of lesbianism between Anne and Thérèse which would appear to be endorsed by Thérèse’s repulsive sexual experiences with Bernard. The plot doesn’t pursue this early hint, and ultimately Thérèse remains an enigma–even to herself . Just as Thérèse isn’t exactly sure why she married Bernard–a man who bores her to tears, neither is she clear why she tried to poison him.

The film emphasises the idea of hypocrisy–Bernard and Thérèse’s families are more concerned with appearances than anything else, so Thérèse is ‘freed’ from the legal consequences of her act only to face even worse condemnation at home. One scene however struck a false note. Thérèse returns home after the case is dismissed and teases herself with the possibility that Bernard would open his arms to her and ask no questions. That seems either impossibly naive (which Thérèse isn’t) or deranged. After all, what husband is going to accept a wife back at his side, in his bed as before, or even worse–cooking his food–when you’ve tried to off him by overdoing the arsenic?

While the book was published in 1927,  the film is set in the 60s. And the updating begs the question: why is an independently wealthy young woman corralled into marriage with a man she finds loathsome? Still in spite of that flaw, the film has aged well and Thérèse, whose main problem according to her in-laws is her intelligence,  is seen as a feminist heroine who is given no options–or at least considers no options–except marriage to a complete bore.  While marriage is seen by Thérèse” as a “refuge,” ultimately, as she’s absorbed into Bernard’s family, she loses all sense of identity and individuality.

Director Claude Miller has a remake in progress of the film which will star Audrey Tautou as Thérèse.

Thanks to www.bookaroundthecorner.wordpress.com for bringing this book to my attention in the first place.

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