Category Archives: Daniel Auteuil

Someone I Loved (Je L’Aimais) 2009

“Dealing with a Frenchman in love is too dangerous.”

Someone I loved (Je L’Aimais) is based on the best-selling novel by Anna Gavalda. It’s the story of Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), who takes his daughter-in-law, Chloe (Florence Loiret Caille) and two small granddaughters to the family chalet to stay following a family crisis. Pierre’s son, Adrian, has abruptly dumped his wife and children, and Chloe who “never saw it coming” is so emotionally devastated, Pierre thinks it’s wise to take her away somewhere quiet for a few days until she stabilises.

When the film begins, we see a tear-stained Chloe as she and the children are hustled away by car to the remote chalet. She’s angry, she’s hurt and she’s confused. Once there, her children are glued to cartons while she tries to make sense of what happened. Pierre tries to engage her in several ways–at one point telling the story of his brother who went to Indochina after a broken love affair and then who later died of TB.  Then one night, Pierre is driven to tell the story of an affair he had years earlier….

Flashbacks via Pierre’s interrupted story-telling reveal just how 46-year-old Pierre, an affluent Paris businessmen, and director of his own company, met and fell in love with interpreter Mathilde (Marie-Josée Croze). Pierre admits that he was ambushed by his passion: “I didn’t know I was programmed to love like that,” he confides to Chloe.

Over the course of the affair, Pierre has to juggle family and career demands with the desire to be with Mathilde. Theirs is a long-term, passionate affair–potentially the most damaging variety. Scenes with Mathilde are juxtaposed with scenes of Pierre’s unhappy, argumentative family life. According to his status-conscious wife, Suzanne (Christiane Millet), Pierre is never “there” for the family. Interactions between Pierre and his  two teenage children rapidly devolve into shouting matches, while he’s nagged non-stop by his wife when he does put in an appearance. All the phases of the affair unfold: the ecstatic beginnings, the ‘what-about-us’ phase, and the final stage as the affair disintegrates. The film does a marvellous job of showing the heady sensation of the affair. Pierre’s time with Mathilde is an equivalent of being on holiday from his job and his responsibilities.

We know that Pierre didn’t leave his wife–that is evident in the film’s very first scene. But we don’t know the reasons behind his decision. While Pierre’s story of the affair consumes most of the film, there’s also Chloe’s reaction. As a woman on the losing end of an affair, will she have sympathy for Pierre? How will she feel about Pierre’s decision to remain with his family? As the wounded party in her marriage, she makes a unique audience for Pierre, and his story gives her incredible insight into the other half of adultery.

In some ways, Someone I Loved may sound like rather rote fare, but it isn’t. Like any marvellous French film, the sum total is greater than its parts. As Pierre tells his stories and reveals his regrets, he must confront some unpleasant truths about his character. At one point, he admits, painfully, that his choice was “atrocious,” yet at the same time, it’s fairly easy to draw the conclusion that there was no easy solution. Now in his 60s, would he have regretted making the ‘other’ choice?  Is his regret for staying with his wife simply because the unchosen path (“The Road Not Taken“) seems infinitely more desirable?

From director Zabou Breitman

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To Paint or To Make Love (2005)

“They were literally stripped bare overnight.”

The title to the film To Paint or To Make Love (Peindre Ou Faire L’Amour) seems a bit silly. After all, the two activities aren’t mutually exclusive–although they probably shouldn’t be attempted at the same time. However, after finishing the film, I think the title refers to the fact that we make choices in life, and some choices are as the title suggests–we chose one thing or we chose another. IMDB lists this film as a comedy. I’d disagree with that.

Middle-aged Madeleine Lasserre (Sabine Azema) drives off to the countryside one day to indulge in her hobby–painting, and she sets up her easel and chair in a picturesque field and begins to paint. Her tranquility and her concentration, however, are interrupted by the arrival of a blind man, the local mayor, Adam (Sergi Lopez). Madeleine is intrigued with Adam and also enchanted with the deserted farmhouse he shows her. Madeleine returns to Paris and persuades, her husband, William (Daniel Auteuil) to come back to the spot. They both fall in love with the farmhouse, and decide to retire to the country, leaving behind their boar-pate consuming friends.

So far, so good. At this point there seems to be a myriad possibilities facing the Lasserres. Will they be bored to death in the country? Will the farmhouse fall down around their heads? Are their new neighbours Adam and his much younger wife Eva (Amira Casar) up to anything odd? William and Madeleine find themselves spending a great deal of time with Adam and Eva, and I watched the film, I began to get creepy vibes….

I was surprised–and disappointed by the plot twists. I thought I was about to get some sort of psychological thriller as a degree of manipulation does seem to be taking place. But instead, I got something completely different.

It’s time to return to the title and its symbolic meaning: The Lasserres enjoy a loving marriage, and they are about to enjoy a leisurely retirement. These may be things that just seem to have happened, but their lives are the result of the choices they have made along the way. Once they become full-blown swingers, they are faced with other choices, and the film rotates around these choices, and let’s be clear here–these are choices even though it may seem as though William and Madeleine are swept along.

I can’t say I enjoyed To Paint or To Make Love very much. This is a very superficial treatment of a shift in lifestyle that demands some sort of explanation. We don’t get to know the Lasserres very well, and we certainly don’t get to know what it is that they’re thinking. Considering the vast leap they take, you’d think there would be at least some discussion–if not an entire marital meltdown. There’s no real explanation why the Lasserres find it acceptable to leave their former monogamy behind once they’re let loose in the country, and it’s impossible to take this film at face value–yet that seems to be exactly what we are supposed to do. There are many questions left unanswered–are we, for example, supposed to see these experiences as ‘liberating’ or are we supposed to see the Lasserres as middle-aged idiots in the throes of some sort of yuppie crisis?

This is a poor role for Auteuil. He could play this role in his sleep, and it’s unfortunate that the part of William doesn’t present more challenges for this fine actor. In French with subtitles, the film is directed by Arnaud Larrieu Jean-Marie Larrieu.

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My Best Friend (2006)

 “Some people can’t play sports. I can’t make friends.”

my-best-friendMy Best Friend, from director Patrice Leconte, is a comedy about self-focused antique dealer Francois Coste (Daniel Auteuil). Middle-aged Francois is divorced and has a casual, emotionless relationship with a girlfriend, and he’s the business partner with lesbian Catherine (Julie Gayet). The film presents three social situations that collectively sum up Francois’s life–a funeral, an auction, and a dinner with business acquaintances.

When the film begins, Francois attends the funeral of another antique dealer and notes a mere 7 people attend the ceremony (and that includes the man’s widow). Later that day, Francois and Catherine attend an auction together, and here Francois rather impulsively buys a Greek vase for 200,000 Euros from the 5th century B.C. The vase comes with a story–apparently it was made to commemorate the death of a friend.

Catherine is annoyed by the purchase of the vase. The gallery doesn’t have the money to float this sort of purchase the vase, unless Francois turns it over quickly with a profit. To her surprise, Francois admits that he wants to keep the vase himself, and he ignores the fact that he’s not exactly working in unison with his partner on this deal, or that he’s jeopardizing their business in his selfish pursuit. Things come to a head that evening at a restaurant when Catherine challenges Francois to produce a ‘best friend’ within 10 days, and with the vase as the prize to the winner, Francois begins a hunt to find a friend. It isn’t long before he hooks up with gregarious taxi driver, Bruno (Dany Boon). This scenario opens up many episodes of clumsy attempts by Francois to make friends.

While on the surface, Bruno seems to be the sort of person who makes friends easily (hence Francois employs him to give lessons), in reality, he’s not much better off then Francois. The difference between the two men is that Bruno makes an effort, and is genuinely interested in people. Francois, on the other hand has a tendency (like most of us) to confuse acquaintances with true friendship. But both Bruno and Francois are terribly lonely people. The difference is that Francois doesn’t really understand that until he’s confronted with the notion of how many people would show up to his funeral.

My Best Friend is a change of pace for Leconte. With the impressive Widow of St Pierre, The Hairdresser’s Husband, The Girl on the Bridge, Intimate Strangers and Monsieur Hire in his past, My Best Friend–with its warm and fuzzy, clichéd moments, is much lighter fare. I prefer Auteuil in serious roles (Heart in Winter, The Elegant Criminal, Sade), but if you have to stick him in a comedy, at least give him one of those dastardly comedy roles. My Best Friend is a decent film, lighthearted with strains of meaning (what is life all about, etc), but for this Leconte fan, it doesn’t come close to some of previous films.

Cineaste interview with Leconte:

http://www.cineaste.com/articles/making-friends-the-hard-way.htm

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Cache (2005)

“You have too much to lose.”

The theme in the French film Cache is guilt and responsibility–and the theme is developed slowly and subtly along with the plot. The film begins with footage of a nice upper-middle class home in a fairly quiet section of Paris. Nothing really happens for a few moments, and then all of a sudden, the footage of the videotape–and that’s what we’ve been watching–reverses. It seems that middle-aged married couple Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) are watching a videotape they’ve just received with footage of their home. Just who sent the tape and why it was sent is a mystery. There is no note–no explanation–just the tape and the unsettling conclusion that someone is watching them.

More tapes arrive along with child-like drawings that hint of something horrific. With the police unwilling to do anything to intervene until something actually happens, the Laurents mull over how to react. Strangely enough, Georges, instead of working together with his wife to find some sort of solution, clams up, and becomes secretive. While tension mounts in their marriage, Georges tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the mystery on his own.

Cache (this means hidden in French) explores the notion of guilt–and not just Georges’ guilt–but collective French guilt towards their treatment of the Algerians. The Laurents are both gifted intellectuals–Anne works for a publisher and is proud of a book she just saw published about globalization. Georges hosts a popular television programme about literature. They live in an immaculate modern home with walls of books, and host friends for chatty, intellectually stimulating evenings. But beneath this surface of correctness, in reality, Georges is a smug, self-satisfied man who refuses to examine his past actions, his responsibility, and his subsequent guilt. Gradually the film explores the idea that a single act can affect the lives of several generations. The film’s use of videotape underscores the notion that sometimes what we see is just a facsimile of the real thing, and this, of course, extends to the idea that sometimes how we appear to be is a fairly decent facsimile of the real thing too.

DVD extras include an interview with Austrian director Michael Haneke who explains that the idea for the film was inspired by a real-life event that took place in Paris in October 1961, when during a peaceful demonstration,  an unknown number of Algerians were  brutally murdered by the police and dumped in the Seine. Haneke cleverly weaves other politically unstable, global situations in the film through television footage broadcast in the Laurents’ home. Warning: there is one extremely graphic and disturbing scene involving a chicken. This is not a film for everyone, and while it’s thought provoking, exactly how much you enjoy it may depend on your acceptance of a film that really offers no solid ending. For Auteuil fans, the role of Georges Laurent allows the phenomenal French actor to display his considerable talent.

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The Valet (2006)

“The neighbours complain about your all night parties and girls shrieking in ecstasy .”

In the Valet, a French comedy from director Francis Veber (The Closet, The Dinner Game), wealthy businessman Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) juggles wife Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas) with supermodel mistress, blonde bombshell Elena (Alice Taglioni). Elena, tired of Pierre’s promises that he’ll divorce his wife, threatens to dump him, and while he pleads for more time, a tabloid photographer snaps a tacky photo of the couple. Inadvertently, hapless car valet Francois Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) is also caught in the photo.

Eagle-eyed Christine spots the photo and questions Pierre. Pierre glibly explains that the supermodel must be with the valet. Then to cover his slimy tracks, Pierre pays Pignon to pretend to be Elena’s new lover.

Now the premise of the film may not sound very funny, but with Veber’s experienced, light touch, this is a perfect French comedy. Pignon’s new found success with the leggy supermodel creates admiration and envy at work, and meanwhile Christine (who holds the purse strings) plays a game of cat-and-mouse with her slimy spouse. Daniel Auteuil is so great in these sort of roles, and as Pierre his smile is just a little too forced, a little too set, as he frantically tries to juggle wife, mistress and competing private detectives. In French with subtitles.

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Un Coeur en Hiver (1992)

 “I don’t usually throw myself at people.”

coeur en hiverIn Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) Maxim (Andre Dussollier) and Stephan (Daniel Auteuil) work together in Paris. Maxim (Andre Dussollier) owns and runs a business that specializes in violins. Maxim’s clients come from all over the world to buy, sell, or repair their instruments. Stephan (Daniel Fauteuil) is an employee, and it’s his job to repair and also build violins. Stephan obviously loves his work, and he does his job with precision and excellence. Maxim is charismatic and has the social skills Stephan lacks. Maxim is the person who meets the clients and flies all over the world to bring back the violins Stephan salvages. Stephan is quiet, self-contained and far more complex than Maxim. The two men have an interesting relationship. On the surface, it would appear that they are equals whose different talents create a great working partnership, but the story, which is at first narrated by Stephan, reveals an inequity in the relationship. One day, Maxim confesses that he’s in a relationship with a violinist, Camille Kessler (Emmanuelle Beart). He introduces Camille to Stephan, and trouble begins.

Camille Kessler is used to people taking care of her. There’s her long-time, slightly jealous agent/manager, Regina who is also ready to act as a protective duenna. And then there’s Maxim. He’s so grateful that Camille looks at him, that he’s ready to take her on any terms–even though he knows her music comes first. Stephan appears to be incapable of emotion, yet many questions remain as to his motivations. Does he play mind games with both Camille and Maxim or he is genuinely stirred by a tweak of passion? The acting is phenomenal. Emmanuelle Beart as Camille is subdued and self-contained, and her passion appears to be only for music–until the right buttons are pushed. Auteuil–as always–masters his role of Stephan–a complicated man who doesn’t appear to need anything. It would be a tremendous understatement to label this film ‘a love triangle’ as the film is far more complex than that. The plot remains (after watching the film at least a dozen times) open to several interpretations. This marvelous French film (with English subtitles) and directed by Claude Sautet, will have a special appeal to classical music lovers. The soundtrack is stupendous. For those interested–to understand Stephan’s character, read Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time. (The novel is even mentioned in the film.) Stephan is a modern-day version of Pechorin.

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L’Adversaire (2002)

 “All the good and evil I did was for you.”

In the French film, L’Adversaire Jean-Marc Faure (Daniel Auteuil) appears to be a highly successful man. According to Jean-Marc, his wife, Christine (Geraldine Pailhas), family and friends, he’s a successful doctor employed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Jean-Marc lives in Northern France and supposedly commutes to his office in the WHO building, in Geneva, Switzerland. In reality, Jean-Marc never finished medical school, and he spends his days hanging out at the WHO building doing research through public access records and trying to crash conferences. His life as a jet-setting doctor is funded by the savings of family members and friends who let him ‘invest’ their money for them. Jean-Marc’s fantasy world comes crashing down to earth when various investors start demanding their money and the 18% per annum interest he promised.

When the film begins, Jean-Marc and his family live in a cramped flat, and he drives an old car. Encouraged by his wife who can’t understand why they live so modestly, he purchases a large house. Under increasing financial strain, Jean-Marc can no longer keep up his lifestyle and he erupts into increasingly bizarre behaviour. Using flashbacks, the film travels back and forth in time as friends and acquaintances are questioned by police. The police want to know if Jean-Marc’s behaviour ever left hints of the lies. And the friends’ memories form the pieces of the puzzle.

Daniel Auteuil fans know just how great an actor he is, and the role of Jean-Marc is perfect for Auteuil’s understated, quiet screen presence. Auteuil is extremely convincing in the role, and this may be the greatest role of Auteuil’s career, but at the same time, the character is deeply unsettling. Jean-Marc is a ‘hollow man’ who dons the persona of a doctor as one dons a costume. He vacillates back and forth between mute detachment and euphoric behaviour when he buys objects for himself or for his family. It’s clear, however, that he’s most comfortable when lecturing others about the politics of the medical profession, and during these moments, he comes to life. A strong sense of foreboding and impending doom builds as his lies unravel. Jean-Marc’s wife, Christine is another fascinating character, and there are moments when she clearly is suspicious, but turns away from her doubt. Even Jean-Marc’s best friend and colleague Luc (Francois Cluzet) from medical school doesn’t suspect the truth, and this is remarkable.

The film’s initial premise reminded me of another excellent French film, Timeout but L’Adversaire is chilling and ultimately is a much darker tale. “L’Adversaire” is based on the true-life story of Jean-Claude Romand–a man who posed as a successful doctor for 18 years. Romand is now serving a life sentence for his crimes, and author Emmanuel Carrere’s book goes into further detail of this horrific story. The film is in French with English subtitles.

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