Category Archives: Gerard Depardieu

The Singer (2006)

I just finished watching a rather spotty comedy Tais-Toi! (Shut up!) starring Gerard Depardieu and Jean Reno. I’m adding that film to my stack of forgettable Depardieu films, but then since he is such a prolific actor in French cinema, it’s only natural that he’s going to make an occasional stinker.

Deciding I wanted to see Depardieu in something good, I pulled The Singer off my shelf. Gerard Depardieu as a washed-up lounge singer? This had to be good….

And it is.

The Singer (Quand J’Etais Chanteur) from writer/director Xavier Giannoli stars Depardieu as middle-aged lounge singer Alain Moreau. Alain sings his carefully selected romantic ballads with his own back-up band, and his career is managed by mother-hen ex-wife Michele (Christine Citti)–a woman who used to sing along with him. Apart from worrying about Alain and his career, Michele also runs a bar called the Aquarius. According to Michele’s boyfriend, Daniel (Patrick Pineau), Michele is putting on weight and worries too much about Alain.

Based in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, Alain enjoys celebrity status, but it’s something he doesn’t take for granted, and he steadily and patiently works at maintaining his fan base. He’s gracious to autograph seekers, and during his performances at small clubs and weddings, Alain always gives his older audiences his whole attention while he creates or recreates romance for those paying to hear him sing.

One night at a gig, Alain meets and is very attracted to the much younger blonde estate agent, Marion (Cecile de France) and he’s introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance, Marion’s boss, Bruno (Mathieu Amalric). It’s not so much that Alain sweeps Marion off her feet as much as he takes her off guard. She’s vulnerable due to a recent break-up, and then there’s always the regret and embarrassment of the morning after….

Given The Singer‘s premise, this could be the sort of plot that’s rife with clichés and/or sentimentality, and there are a couple of scenes which seemed about to lead to some old familiar paths. Instead the film firmly veers away from all of that nonsense and offers a well-rounded, highly believable, compassionate portrait of a man who knows his weaknesses and his limitations–even if those who surround him don’t.

The seasoned actor Depardieu plays this difficult role with gentleness, grace and dignity, and the result is a surprisingly touching film. One of my favourite moments: when Alain admits he puts blonde highlights in his hair to maintain the sort of look his fans expect. And for Depardieu fans, it’s a great deal of fun to see him singing and using that famous screen prescence for a slightly different purpose.

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Filed under France, Gerard Depardieu

Balzac: A Life of Passion (1999)

 

“Spare me your base reflections.”

The French made-for-television film Balzac: A Life of Passion chooses to concentrate on the two great passions in Balzac’s troubled life: writing and women. This is not a wonderful film, but if you are a Balzac fan (me), a fan of French costume dramas, or a fan of Depardieu and Fanny Ardant (me again), then you’ll want to catch this 180-minute drama.

balzac2Framing the film is a scene in which the young Balzac rushes to his sour, cold and disapproving mother, Charlotte-Laure (Jeanne Moreau) and she rejects his attempts for affection. Apparently Balzac is near the bottom of his class–hence no affection and certainly no parental approval. And this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film’s theme: Balzac’s lifelong quest for love, affection and approval.

The film explores the significant relationships with the women in Balzac’s life: his unpleasant mother, of course, as well as the much older, tragic Madame de Berny (Virna Lisi), the capricious Laure d’ Abrantes (Katja Riemann), and the final great love of his life Eva Hanska (played by the spectacular Fanny Ardant). Over all of his love affairs, Balzac’s mother reigns with her sour disapproval and her conviction that she’s destined for hell thanks to her son’s blasphemous books.

Balzac’s supreme masterpieces take a back seat to the love affairs in this tale. There are, however, some great moments, for example when Balzac explains to Laure d’Abrantes that he fears thousands of “blank pages.” Moments such as these reveal a glimpse at a man haunted by the fear he would die before finishing La Comedie Humaine. And Balzac was a workaholic–a man chasing his own demons while trying to avoid debts and debtors’ prison. To Balzac : “The Imagination is an impatient mistress,” and the film tries to examine Balzac’s conflict between love and art, but largely fails and instead the idea seems to be that Balzac wore himself out chasing women while juggling his writing career.

In spite of its stellar cast, the film, from director Josee Dayan fails largely thanks to the portrayal of Balzac. He just isn’t a very interesting character here. Apart from a few scenes that reveal a thinking, brilliant mind, for the most part Balzac comes off at times as eccentric and brutish, at others as a bit of a nutter. Take the scene for example when he hunts for the Countess Hanska at the masked ball. He careens through the ballroom like a buffoon dressed up in someone’s old curtains. Ardant is, frankly, the best thing in the film: luminous and complex, she steals the film even as she spins circles around the seemingly slow-witted Balzac.

There are a few references to Balzac’s novels: The Chouans, Modest Mignon, Cousin Bette, Colonel Chabert, but overall if you want to discover the genius behind La Comedie Humaine, well you won’t find that genius here. Coincidentally, the film adaptation of Colonel Chabert also stars Depardieu but that film makes my top ten list of all time. That said, Balzac’s death scene is painfully accurate. I was disappointed in the film, but still glad I saw it, and now I’m going over to my bookshelf to pick out a Balzac novel to reread.

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Filed under Fanny Ardant, France, Gerard Depardieu, Period Piece

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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Filed under Fabrice Luchini, Fanny Ardant, France, Gerard Depardieu, Period Piece

Boudu (2005)

“She’s so hot to trot, 10 fire engines couldn’t stop her.”

Fans of French actor Gerard Depardieu should enjoy the light-hearted French comedy, Boudu. In the film, directed by Gerard Jugnot, Depardieu plays hobo Boudu–a homeless man so depressed by the death of his dog that he attempts suicide. Art gallery owner Christian (played by the director) reluctantly saves Boudu.

Christian wants to impress employee and potential mistress Coralie (Constance Dolle), and so stuck with the half-drowned hobo, Christian drags Boudu home. At first this is supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but once Boudu settles in with Christian and his neurotic wife Yseult (Catherine Frot), he doesn’t want to leave.

This film is a remake of the 1932 version Boudu Saved From Drowning, and others may recognize the plot from Down and Out in Beverly Hills. This updated version of Boudu is cruder with an emphasis on Boudu’s bad manners and sexual antics. Inevitably, the hedonistic Boudu acts as a catalyst in Christian and Yseult’s household.

Catherine Frot is a marvelous French comedienne, and the role of Yseult is perfect for the multi-talented Frot. Here as Yseult, she’s a neurotic, alcoholic, pill-popping middle-aged woman who lives in a medicated haze and expresses her unhappiness through her largely fictional medical problems. While her husband frantically tries to put out fires in order to not upset his wife’s nerves, their marriage is based on avoiding any confrontations and harsh truths. Boudu stops all this nonsense of course.

Depardieu is in top form and while he subdues his intellect for the role, he fills the part with his terrible manners and refusal to fit into societal norms. Some of these scenes are just hilarious, and I get the feeling that Depardieu had fun making this film.

Some great lines:

“I only want to kiss you, not to poke you.”

“I bet she unbends your banana.”

“When my guts go to war, it’s Hiroshima.”

“Good food lifts my tits.”

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Filed under Comedy, France, Gerard Depardieu

How Much Do You Love Me? (Combien Tu M’Aimes?) 2005

“I made an attempt to become a good person.”

The reality of a prostitute’s career is an ugly business. Can this be translated accurately to the silver screen? Probably. But chances are that the average film portrayal will be abysmally unrealistic (the romantic fantasy Pretty Woman, for example). So add Bertrand Blier’s How Much Do You Love Me? (Combien Tu M’Aimes?) to the stack of unrealistic, problematic films involving prostitutes.

The prostitute in this film is the luscious, buxom Daniela (Monica Bellucci) who sits in full view of a café window showing off her wares as she waits for men to cough up 150 Euros for the pleasure of her company. One evening, mild mannered clerk, lonely middle-aged Francois (Bernard Campan) who claims to have won the lottery, offers to ‘buy’ Daniela’s services until his 4 million euros run out. Daniela accepts, and so she leaves with Francois and moves into his grotty little apartment.

Blier’s film plays with several themes before disintegrating into a surreal conclusion. Francois, it seems has a weak heart, and well … Daniela may well push him over the edge. In time, it appears that Daniela may very well be in love with Francois, but is he in love with her? Gerard Depardieu plays a relatively small role as Daniela’s pimp Charly, and in his few scenes, he manages to steal the film.

With opera music to enhance the drama, some scenes are wildly overplayed, and yet other scenes involving Charly and Daniela are staged for high drama, but then fade into an off-kilter humour. The plot seems to spin out-of-control as the film progresses, and the occasional surreal moment eventually consumes the entire film. But if you want to check out Monica Bellucci’s bod, then start here. The film ultimately pays homage to the Italian Sex Goddess, loving lingering on each body shot, finding any excuse to capture, acknowledge and worship her beauty.

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I am Dina (2002)

 “An anarchist right in our midst.”

I Am Dina from Norwegian director Ole Bornedal is a difficult film to categorize. Set in 1860s Norway, it’s a romantic period drama–but with strong overtones of the supernatural. In this tale, soap opera blends with mini-epic, and combines with elements of Wide Sargasso Sea and Wuthering Heights. Ultimately it’s 125 minutes of solid–rather odd–entertainment that delivers some mixed feelings about the protagonist–Dina.

Dina is the only child of a wealthy couple. One day a horrible accident (for which Dina is blamed) kills Dina’s mother (Pernilla August). In his grief and rage, Dina’s father (Bjorn Floberg) rejects the child. Dina reverts to a terrified, animalistic state and literally goes mad. This is a horrible, dramatic beginning to the film, and the pristine setting of the beautiful fjords somehow just makes the dying mother’s screams even more horrific.

So the scene is set to make Dina a very sympathetic character … Her father loathes her, he ignores her whenever possible, and soon he has a completely wild, filthy child running all over the fjords. Thanks to intervention from a concerned friend, Jacob (Gerard Depardieu), a tutor named Lorch is brought in for Dina. He beguiles Dina with the cello, and she takes the bait. Lorch then becomes the only person to have any sort of emotional bond with Dina.

Dina (Marie Bonnevie) grows up to be a beautiful young woman, but she’s still extremely strange–one quick look establishes that. But her strangeness doesn’t deter her father’s old friend, Jacob from demanding Dina as a bride. Jacob really should know better, but he can’t help himself. When Dina’s father attempts to force her to marry Jacob, Dina shows just how wild, strange and violent she can be. But this is really just the beginning of Dina’s non-conformist, violent behaviour.

Part Bildungsroman (and the film–by the way–is based on a best-selling trilogy), the film explores the effects of Dina’s traumatic childhood on her adult decisions. Haunted by ghosts, she is in love with the presence of death, and she tends to hurt anyone who loves her. On one hand, there’s a lot to admire about Dina–but then she treats the unfortunate men in her life abominably. Lustful Gerard Depardieu, for example, converts into terrified quivering jelly after less than 24 hours in her company. Although immersed in a patriarchal society, Dina destroys any attempt at male domination–and her reaction to the males in her life shows Dina at her most gracious, but also at her most predatory and monstrous. Ultimately, this lavish tale can be seen as Dina’s triumph over a lifetime of self-destructive patterns of behaviour.

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Filed under Gerard Depardieu, Norway

La Vie en Rose (2007)

 “I’m never far from Paris.”

This wrenching biopic of the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf is 140 minutes long, and it covers Piaf’s awful childhood, her turbulent adolescence and her doomed love affair with love-of-her life boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins). Marion Cotillard plays the adult Edith Piaf, and she’s nothing less than amazing here as she ranges from a streetwise teenager who earns her living singing in the streets to a morphine-addicted chanteuse who struggles to make the next performance. Sylvie Testud stars as Piaf’s half-sister Momone, a girl who’s basically Piaf’s partner in crime until Piaf hits the big time, and then she is absorbed into Piaf’s large circle of caretakers, fans and hanger-ons.

As a child, Piaf was abandoned by her mother, left with her paternal grandmother, and raised in a brothel. In some ways, these are the halcyon years for the sickly child who is raised erratically amongst the prostitutes. Then Piaf’s father returns from WWI and retrieves his child, he rejoins the circus, and of course, little Edith is eventually expected to contribute to the family coffers, and this is where her gift–her marvelous voice–comes into the picture.

Teenaged Edith Piaf is singing on the streets of Paris for a living (and handing her money over to her brutish pimp lover) when she’s spotted by club owner Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu). While this was a lucky break for Piaf, as fate would have it, it was an unlucky break for Leplee. The film highlights moments in Piaf’s life, going back and forth in time, and this methodology works. Instead of seeing Piaf becoming Piaf (apart from a little stage coaching and a change of last name), instead we see Piaf being Piaf. She seems essentially the same–although her material circumstances do change.

Watching La Vie En Rose puts a whole new meaning to Piaf’s song : Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, for she led a life in which tragedy and triumph went hand in hand. One wonders what Piaf’s life would have been without the gift of that incredible voice. Here she’s portrayed as a not-particularly nice person, but as a woman who possesses an indomitable spirit and who knows what she wants. There’s a tantalizing gray area in the film concerning Piaf’s booze and morphine (up to 10 injections a day) addictions. At what point do her caretakers and manager become facilitators in order to secure the next performance? Directed by Olivier Dahan, in French with subtitles.

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