Category Archives: Fabrice Luchini

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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Full Moon in Paris (1984)

 

 “A myriad possibilities were out there waiting.”

 

Full Moon in Paris (Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune) is the fourth film in director Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, and this film is inspired by the proverb: ‘A man who has two women, loses his soul. A man who has two houses loses his mind.’ As with many Rohmer films, Full Moon in Paris explores the mysteries of human relationships.

full-moonInterior designer trainee, Louise (Pascale Ogier), works in Paris, but lives in the suburbs with boyfriend, Remi (Tcheky Karyo). The very traditional Remi, who works for the town’s planning department, wants to get married, but Louise drags her heels, and says she needs ‘space.’ She decides to renovate her apartment in Paris and rather than rent it out, she keeps it with the idea that she will use it once a week. Remi objects, but Louise is adamant that she needs time to herself. She claims: “the experience I’ve missed is loneliness.” Louise wants to stay in Paris on Friday nights and attend parties–without Remi, and this becomes a point of contention between them. Remi accepts it, but he doesn’t like it. It’s clear to the viewer that the last thing Louise wants on a Friday night in Paris is to be alone.

While Louise ploughs her time, energy and attention into her Parisian pied-a-terre, her home with Remi remains bare and has that barely unpacked look. The two homes are in stark contrast to one another. Louise’s Parisian apartment is tiny, cozy and stamped with her personality. On the other hand her home in the suburbs is impersonal and untidy.

On Friday nights, Louise begins to attend parties either alone or with a male friend, Octave, in attendance. Octave (Fabrice Luchini) is a writer, and although he’s married and has a child, he admits that he loves seducing women. He’d like to seduce Louise, but she argues that she really isn’t into the physical side of a relationship, so their relationship boils down to discussions that consist of Louise’s largely untested and self-focused opinions about relationships, and Octave trying to argue Louise into having sex. Octave is a little bit of a voyeur, and there’s the sense that he also enjoys observing Louise for material for his next novel. Some of the best scenes occur between Louise and Octave–two egoists who imagine that everyone else exists for their benefit.

Pascale Ogier plays the character of Louise well. Her hair annoyed me beyond reason, but her acting was excellent. Lacking any true introspection, Louise is slightly prim and proper, shallow, selfish and not particularly intelligent. Unwilling to commit, she analyzes her life with herself as the center of her universe while objectifying Remi. In the beginning of the film, Remi goes halfway to meet Louise’s insistence that she remain in Paris and party on Friday nights. Remi attends a party, and I can’t really say that he’s ‘with’ Louise as she is obviously flummoxed when Remi arrives. For the brief time he’s there, Louise ignores her fiancé, and dances with a musician. But then when Remi leaves, understandably annoyed and uncomfortable at being ignored at a party full of Louise’s friends, she pouts and turns on the tears. Just like the saying, Louise “wants to have her cake and eat it too.” And that translates, in this case, to Louise wants to have a steady relationship with Remi, but she wants to be single once a week with Remi alone at home wondering what she is up to.

There are so many great scenes in this film, but one of my favourites takes place at Remi and Louise’s home in the suburbs. Louise has returned home and as usual she begins playing her little emotional games with Remi, and this time, Remi, who’s a fairly stoic character, shows his impatience.

Fabrice Luchini, one of my favorite French actors is wonderful as always in this film. All too often, he is relegated to the supporting male role. Luchini as Octave follows Louise around looking desperately for a crumb of hope that she’ll eventually wear down and have sex with him, but in spite of Octave’s designs on Louise’s body, their relationship remains interestingly cerebral. Luchini’s facial expressions are wonderful; he has a sort of fanatical joy at times, and in this film, his eyes gleam when he discusses future plots and possible trysts with Louise. Octave and Louise seem an unlikely couple–although this doesn’t deter Octave in the slightest. The fact that Louise lacks intelligence and introspection does not cool Octave’s ardor. And even Louise’s little cat-and-mouse game serves to fuel his lust rather than deter him from his goal. His eyes swell with anticipation as his glance sweeps Louise’s body, and really these two—Louise and Octave deserve each other.

Full Moon in Paris is one of the very best Rohmer films. It is full of delectable revealing conversations between the characters, but perhaps the most revealing conversation of the film is the conversation between Louise and an unidentified artist (Laszlo Szabo). It’s the artist, who’s just listened to a litany of Louise’s self-inflicted woes, who points out that the men in Louise’s life have some say in what happens. And it’s this idea that never occurred to the self-focused Louise. If you’ve watched and enjoyed other Rohmer films, you will enjoy this film and its examination of the often unspoken struggle for power within relationships. Most people either love or hate Rohmer films–there seems little middle ground here. And as for me, Rohmer is one of my very favourite directors.

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Le Colonel Chabert (1994)

 

“Lawyers see worse things than writers can invent. I’ve seen wills burned, mothers despoil their lawful children on behalf of those bred in adultery, wives use their husbands’ love to murder them or drive them mad so as to live with their lovers. I’ve seen ugly quarrels over still-warm corpses. I have seen crimes, Sir, that human justice is powerless to punish. Our offices are sewers that no one can clean.” (Derville to Chabert)

Colonel Chabert (Gerard Depardieu), one of Napoleon’s greatest officers is declared dead following the battle of Eylau in 1807. But Chabert is not dead–he survives a severe head wound and after suffering great hardships, he returns to Paris years later only to discover that he has been declared dead, and his wife (Fanny Ardant) is remarried to Count Ferraud (Andre Dussollier). Chabert, now in poor health and suffering from memory loss, has lost his wife, his social status, and his fortune amassed under Napoleon.

Chabert seeks legal recompense through the services of the brilliant lawyer, Derville (Fabrice Luchini), but what exactly does Chabert hope to regain? His wife is married to another, his military past, in a France now ruled by the Bourbons, is an embarrassment, and his fortune has disappeared, and only the enigmatic Countess Ferraud holds the key to the missing fortune.

chabertThe film, Colonel Chabert is based on the book by Balzac, and as any Balzac fan knows, no other writer delved so intensely into the intricacy of the human soul–Balzac is fascinated with motivation–what drives us to commit illogical or destructive acts. Colonel Chabert is the story of a man who survives numerous atrocities only to discover that everything he longed to return to has simply vanished–even he is a ghost. Chabert’s rage about his lost fortune–the loot and plunder from various military campaigns under Napoleon–serves under to underscore his anachronistic approach to wealth. Loot and plunder are no longer popular under the Bourbons, and the Countess Ferraud has moved on and now stakes her wealth on sugar mills & colonialism. Meanwhile Count Ferraud chases shimmering illusions of rank and power through the peerage, and he pesters his wife for money to indulge his schemes. Chabert wants to regain his fortune and stake it on an ad-hoc military training camp for those who wish to restore the emperor to the throne.

Gerard Depardieu as the shabby, destitute Colonel is magnificent. He is in turns violent, wretched, haunted, and pathetic. Fanny Ardant is in the words of Derville, “superb”–a desperate woman who escaped a brothel but who now fights for her position by keeping a tight rein on the purse strings. But the most fascinating role falls to Fabrice Luchini as the lawyer Derville–Derville is intrigued by the Colonel and his former wife, and in deciding to accept Chabert’s case, he treats it as an exercise in observing human motivation. Ultimately it’s Derville, a rising member of the bourgeoisie who holds the reins of power on the film. One of the most powerful scenes in this film (and there are many) takes place in Derville’s office when he describes the moral atrocities lawyers witness–and participate in every day. Derville’s speech is adapted directly from Balzac’s novel.

Structurally, the film is flawless. The opening sequences of the frozen dead at Eylau are immediately contrasted with the noise and activity of Derville’s office. Chabert sometimes relapses into reveries of his past life, and flashbacks include intimate moments with his wife and then scenes from the Battle of Eylau. One scene, accompanied just by the elegance of Beethoven’s music (Ghost) shows the prelude to the battle as the French cavalry line up for a charge. There’s a certain beautiful grandeur to this, which echoes the empty rhetoric of war–noble sacrifice, adherence to duty and blind courage in the face of death. The film follows the cavalry charge towards the Russians and then records the collision of the cavalry with rifle power. All the elegance and beauty collapses in the face of such bloody, useless carnage–the realities of war. This film includes some of the most magnificent, terrifying and moving battle scenes ever seen on the screen. I have watched this film at least a dozen times, and I am still as fascinated by it as I was the first time I saw it. The director, Yves Angelo, skillfully creates sympathy for both the Colonel and the Countess, and shows that nothing is ever simple, and the complexities of life often cause us to commit acts that are never completely understood. The costumes are marvelous, the acting flawless, but for me, ultimately, it was the story that makes this film–a peerless study in human nature–unforgettable.

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Claire’s Knee (1970)

claires-knee

“At the same time, it was my good deed.”

In my teens, I was lucky enough to see my first-ever foreign films–Belle de Jour (Luis Bunuel), and Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer). Both films were a major revelation to me, and both films triggered a life-long love of French cinema.

Claire’s Knee (Le Genou de Claire) is film 5 in director Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series, but it is not necessary to watch the other films in the series to make sense of Claire’s Knee. However, Rohmer films are really only for the serious French film aficionado. Rohmer’s critics charge that his films are pretentious and boring, and while it is true that Rohmer films are not noted for their action sequences, nonetheless, I find his films fascinating and re-watch many of them when I have the chance. Most of Rohmer’s films are full of conversations between characters, and if you find the characters interesting, or if the issues they face intrigue you, then you may enjoy Rohmer films. However, if you dislike one Rohmer film, you will probably dislike them all. And no one seems to be blase on the subject–he’s a director whose films you either love and rave about or you loathe and avoid.

Rohmer seems to have an obsession with French people on holiday, and Claire’s Knee is not an exception to that. In Claire’s Knee, 35-year-old diplomat Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) visits his holiday home located near the French-Swiss border at Lake Annecy. He is preparing to sell the property prior to his upcoming marriage to long-time girlfriend, Lucinde. Here Jerome meets writer and long-time acquaintance, Aurora (Aurora Cornu), who is staying with a female friend and her 2 teenage daughters, Laura (Beatrice Romand) and Claire (Laurence de Monaghan). Aurora professes to be in the midst of a struggle with a fictional character–an older man who is obsessed with younger girls. Jerome makes a strange bargain with Aurora, and he agrees that he will encourage Laura to fall in love with him. Aurora claims that observing the relationship Jerome has with Laura will help her solve the plot difficulties she is experiencing. Is Aurora’s interest in encouraging a relationship between Jerome and Laura motivated by dispassionate intellectual curiosity as she claims, or is there something darker afoot? And why does Jerome agree to indulge Aurora?

But Laura, in spite of her youth and inexperience, possesses a charming wisdom that unnerves Jerome, and then Laura’s half-sister Claire arrives. Claire is much less introspective and appears to be more experienced. Jerome discovers that Claire “troubles” him with a “real and undefined desire,” and he quickly becomes obsessed with the idea of touching Claire’s knee.

Jerome plays a strange game. On the one hand, he’s getting married to Lucinde because their long-standing relationship has never dulled–in spite of the fact that during a confession to Aurora, Jerome admits that both he and Lucinde have ‘strayed.’ Jerome argues that he doesn’t “look at women any more,” and the sense is that Jerome has now decided, at age 35, to ‘settle down.’ Passion seems to have little to do with it, and while Jerome professes disinterest in all other women, there’s a subtle hint or two that he wouldn’t exactly be averse to a holiday fling with Aurora if she felt so inclined. Aurora, on the other hand, makes one or two slight but significant comments about Jerome’s relationships with women.

Aurora delicately avoids any physical entanglement with Jerome and instead appears to be intrigued with him as a ‘character’ in a literary sense. Explaining that characters have their “own logic” Aurora maintains that in a novel sometimes what doesn’t happen is as interesting as what does happen. The idea of the interest in non-action is never clearer than in Rohmer’s films. In Claire’s Knee the fascination with the non-occurrence is carried out with sheer perfection, and the interest remains in the question–‘what actions will a character take in a certain situation?’ Rohmer is a very prolific director, but the languorous film Claire’s Knee remains one of my very favourites. Keep an eye open for a very young Fabrice Luchini in the role of Vincent, Laura’s boyfriend.

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Moliere (2007)

 “Speak to me in the language of Moliere.”

Moliere, from director Laurent Tirard is a tasty romp through 17th century France. The film’s main premise is to present the backdrop story to Moliere’s success. There are some gaps in Moliere’s history, and during a thirteen-year period, he toured in the provinces with his troupe of actors. Here, he honed his satirical skills, and gained immense popularity before establishing himself at La Salle du Petit-Bourbon in Paris. The film Moliere attempts to explain some of the murkier details about Moliere’s past by presenting a slice of his life that mirrors the elegant style and wit of his wonderful plays.

moliere1Moliere (Romain Duris) is a talented but penniless actor who finds himself thrown in jail when he cannot pay his debts. But a rich gentleman, Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) pays for Moliere’s release. Jourdain, however, wants something in return, and he arranges for Moliere to arrive at his splendid country mansion. Jourdain, prosperous, and eager to improve himself, is in the habit of employing experts to teach him various skills. And he employs Moliere to teach him acting skills. It seems that Jourdain, although married to the deliciously lovely, Elmire (Laura Morante) is enamored with a shallow young widow, Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier). Jourdain intends to present himself at one of Celimene’s celebrated salons and impress her with a rendition of something written in her honor.

Now since Jourdain can’t tell his wife that Moliere is there to help him seduce another woman, Jourdain dresses Moliere up like a priest and tells Elmire that Moliere (now named Tartuffe) is in their home as a spiritual advisor. And here on Jourdain’s country estate, as events unfold, ‘real’ life assumes aspects of a Moliere play complete with a cuckolded husband, star-crossed lovers, and a fake kidnapping. Fans of Moliere will recognize names and plot elements of his plays, and of course, the implied idea is that Moliere’s greatest inspiration came from this episode in his early life.

Moliere, while not quite as good as the plays, is highly entertaining. The film also explores the idea of Moliere’s frustrated desire to write great tragedies, and it’s through his relationship with Elmire, that he finally realises the importance of comedy. With flawless timing, and impeccable acting, this is a witty, clever, and good-natured costume drama.

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La Discrete (1990)

 “I tire rather quickly of people.”

In the French film La Discrete, Antoine (Fabrice Luchini) is a would-be novelist. Antoine is at loose ends after a sudden break-up with his long-time girlfriend, Solange, and he mentions to his friend, Jean, that he wants revenge. Jean, a bookseller, and a publisher of erotica suggests that Antoine select, seduce, and dump a random woman. Jean encourages Antoine to keep a diary of the affair–with the intention of seeking publication of all the salacious details.

la-discreteAntoine, who is a bit of a misogynist, considers this an excellent idea. With Jean’s coaching, he creates an advertisement for a typist. The applicant will become the victim of Antoine’s plan, and she will also be the protagonist of the diary-form novel.

Antoine speculates about the woman who will respond to his ad. He is severely disappointed when shy, skinny, quiet Catherine applies. Of course, on one hand, she seems the perfect victim. But on the other hand, Antoine finds Catherine rather too plain. He tends to fall for flashier women. Antoine, however, goaded by Jean, proceeds with the plan….

Naturally, many moral questions arise as the film develops. Antoine has an agenda, and he already has a chip on his shoulder. Thanks to the deliciously clever script, Antoine–who could easily be perceived as an unlikable rogue–seems way out of his depth. Catherine is so quiet, controlled, and self-contained, Antoine begins to wonder if she possesses hidden depths of licentiousness. Fabrice Luchini plays the role of Antoine–he’s an incredibly talented actor–usually playing supporting roles which capitalize on his intellectualism. In La Discrete Antoine fancies himself as a ladies’ man, he considers himself far more sophisticated than Catherine–whom he labels “provincial.” Catherine–both the object and the prize–is nonetheless a sentient being with very strong ideas. Antoine objectifies Catherine as he pursues his less-than-admirable goal, but he also objectifies Manu–Jean’s unattractive lumbering assistant. Antoine’s self-centeredness seems to disallow consideration of others, but his relationship with Catherine causes him to gain the introspection he never knew he lacked. La Discrete is a prime example of all that’s best in French film–fine acting combined with an extraordinarily clever and provocative script that provides much food for thought. Antoine says, “there are certain encounters, dates, moments that mark you forever.” Directed by Christian Vincent.

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Intimate Strangers (2004)

 “What to declare and what to hide.”

In Intimate Strangers, William (Fabrice Luchini), a Parisian tax lawyer, is at the end of his working day, when an attractive young woman named Anna arrives claiming that she has an appointment. Expecting the usual presentation of tax problems, William is both shocked and intrigued when Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) begins to weepily unburden herself with a litany of marital woes. At first, William is too stunned to respond, but then it dawns on him that Anna think he’s the psychiatrist, Dr. Monnier (Michel Duchaussoy), two doors down. At this point, William should do the ethical thing and reveal that Anna is in the wrong office. But he doesn’t … instead he makes an appointment with Anna for the following week.

intimate-strangersFlirting with guilt, William approaches an old girlfriend, Jeanne (Anne Brochet) and explains his dilemma. She’s horrified by William’s lack of forthrightness, and she senses that William is attracted to Anna, and that’s why he’s reluctant to come clean.

While William struggles with his dilemma, Anna discovers the truth, but then she begins to show up for ‘chats’ anyway. The film explores the relationship between William and Anna–they now have no doctor-patient professional bond, and they’re not exactly friends. William’s disapproving secretary, Madame Mulon (Helene Surgere) is dying to get to the bottom of the relationship. With a strong Freudian approach, the film focuses on both William and Anna’s contrasting backgrounds, and the appeal they hold for each other becomes increasingly clear. The film’s delicate and ironic humour casts William–a man who’s never, ever stepped out of line in his life–suddenly in a delectably untenable position. Is his own life so anemic that he’s now become an armchair emotional vampire addicted to Anna’s salacious confidences? And what about Anna’s role? Does she just need a friendly (free) shoulder to cry on, or is something darker afoot? …

Luchini is one of my favourite French actors, and his ability to act with just his facial expressions fits the role of William very well. This is a role in which William is supposed to listen, and Luchini’s control over his facial expressions is–as always–quite extraordinary. As a fan of director Patrice Leconte’s work, I consider Hairdresser’s Husband, Monsieur Hire, The Widow of St Pierre, Girl of the Bridge some of the best films I’ve ever seen. One of Leconte’s favourite themes is the emotional distance between people whose ability to truly communicate and bridge these distances is usually adversely affected by the emotional scars of life. Can the emotional distance between people be bridged, and if it cannot, does it matter? Can an unconventional relationship with inherent emotional distances between the participants still exist? Intimate Strangers (Confidences Trop Intimes) explores these questions through the main characters. This film is NOT a romance, and to see it as such is to underestimate its message. Discard the idea of a romance, and consider the final scene. In French with English subtitles.

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