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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Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? (1993)

“My only family are the animals, and they’re very liberal.”

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? (Por Qué Lo Llaman Amor Cuando Quieren Decir Sexo?), a 1993 film from director Manuel Gómez Pereira, slots, somewhat uneasily into the Rom-Com genre–although the film’s setting is not quite the usual backdrop for the boy-meets-girl scenario.

Gloria (Veróica Forqué) has a solid reputation in the porn star world. Perhaps it’s because she loves her job, or perhaps it’s because she’s good at it, but whatever the reasons are, Gloria puts in a number of nightly live sex peep shows with her long-term partner, gay Karim, and together they are known as Carnal Fire. She’s saving money in her refrigerator for her dream of opening her very own “artistic porn” club: Nights of Glory. Gloria’s plans come to a screeching halt when Karim comes down with the mumps and announces that he’ll be unable to work for months.

Karim, however, produces a replacement–the studley young Manu (Jorge Sanz), a compulsive gambler who’s heavily in debt to a couple of thugs and who’s willing to do anything to get the money he needs.

Neither Gloria nor Manu are sure he’s going to be able to perform sex, live and in public, and there are lots of behind-the-scenes gags with the other performers. After a few practice moves, soon it becomes clear that Gloria has a great new partner, and it seems possible that with Manu she’ll be able to save the money she needs. Enter Manu’s well-to-do parents Sole (Rosa Maria Sardá) and Enrique (Fernando Guillén)….

While this is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, there are some very funny moments–especially so in Gloria and Manu’s live performances. Gloria provides fantasy settings for her audience–and so we see some funny shots of a half-naked fireman with a hose, a leather-clad biker dude, and a half-dressed Roman. Manu is initially very awkward and wants to apply logic to Gloria’s fantasy scenarios while she claims she can no longer have sex “unless there’s applause at the end.” My favourite scene takes place in the TV studio with Gloria and Manu hired as S&M performers. This scene captures Gloria’s naivete as she gushes over her silver wig, and black leather S&M wear, saying how she loves Nazi clothing.

As a fan of the delightful Verónica Forqué, I had to watch this film, and she’s cast perfectly in the role of Gloria. To Gloria, who is very comfortable in her own skin, sex is natural and nothing to be ashamed of, and she seems happy to share her sexual experiences with the heavy-breathers in the peep-show cubicles. Gloria is a perfectly created character–in spite of the fact that she’s a major porn star, she exudes innocence, and even though she’s paid to perform sex, she’s ultimately playful and doesn’t see sex as dirty. Only Forqué could play a naive porn star with such infinite finesse.

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? is also about the role of fantasy in our lives. Just as Manu and Gloria provide a number of fantasies for their audience, they are also ultimately swept up in Manu’s parents’ fantasy of a tight-knit nuclear family, complete with respectable jobs and a grandchild. Gloria, who is a kind, very natural people-pleaser, has no problem moving from pleasing the peep-show crowd to indulging Manu’s parents’ fantasy of a happy family. The question is: how long can it last?

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex?, a very typically post-Franco sexually frank Spanish film which should attract fans of Almodovar, is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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Cinema Verite (2011)

Add Cinema Verite to the list of worth-catching HBO films. This interesting, well-acted and thought-provoking film is based on the story behind the very first reality TV show, and after watching the film, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard the story of the Loud family–the subjects of a 1973 PBS documentary miniseries called An American Family. Attractive Santa Barbara based Pat (Diane Lane) and Bill Loud (Tim Robbins) along with their 5 children seem like perfect raw material to producer Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini)–the man who had the creative idea to film an American family as entertainment–not a particularly easy sell according to Cinema Verite. Gilbert is directed towards the Louds by a mutual acquaintance, and when he pitches his idea of filming the Louds in their upscale Santa Barbara ranch style home, at first Pat is resistant but then folds and agrees to participate. The cameras move in and the action begins.

On one level, the Louds appear to be the perfect American family with a stay-at-home attractive mother, a hard-working Nixonite dad and 5 talented children, but under the surface everything isn’t as Disney as it first appears. Cinema Verite depicts Gilbert as being fully aware of the potential for cliff-hanging drama within the fractured family structure.

This 2011 film which runs to 86 minutes cannot, of course, do justice to all the drama contain in the 12 episodes that aired in 1973, so while some issues and events are given centre-stage, other aspects of the Loud family drama are given short shrift. Nonetheless, this is a very entertaining film which asks some relevant questions: is there such a thing as reality TV when participants are aware that cameras are recording their every word? Does the presence of cameras inevitably cause people to commit acts they wouldn’t otherwise? Do people get caught up in their own roles and, in essence, subconsciously write a script for the roles they are playing? Does a camera turned on the family dynamic cause more introspection? Finally, of course, there’s the question of whether or not the series subjects are exploited, and that’s covered in the film’s final scenes.

The Loud family saga explodes through Bill’s exposed infidelities with numerous women including one brainless wanna-be actress, and then there’s the oldest son, Lance (Thomas Dekker) who takes up residence at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, and becomes best friends with Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn before he decides to go and find himself in Paris. The film doesn’t emphasis the radical cultural impact that Lance’s homosexuality must have caused through the episodes weekly beamed into American living rooms. Lance Loud was the first openly gay person to appear on American television, and he basically comes ‘out’ during the course of the series. One scene depicts some of the nastiness he faced as a result of the programme.

Diane Lane as Pat Loud is as superb as ever, and she’s also a very sympathetic character–a woman who’s managed to submerge her suspicions about her husband’s infidelities until the cameras arrive. Cinema Verite argues that the Louds participation in the series caused the family to implode. Perhaps a meltdown would have occurred without the camera crew on hand, but there’s a very strong argument that at the very least the Loud family’s participation in the series hastened the family crisis.

From directors Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

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Familia (2005)

The Canadian film Familia from director Louise Archambault appears to begin its focus with divorced, single parent Michèle (Sylvie Moreau). A brief glimpse of Michèle’s gambling addiction and a short encounter with her current steroid-selling boyfriend/boss, Scott (Claude Despins) illustrate a life of failure, irresponsibility and flux. Unfortunately, Michèle’s bad decisions pour down on to her 14-year-old daughter, Marguerite (Mylène St-Saveur). A confrontation between Michèle and her latest boyfriend results in yet another midnight flit with Michèle and Marguerite’s few belongings stuffed into the car, and what doesn’t fit in the car is tied onto the roof.

Time to hit the road… Michèle, a part-time aerobics instructor, would really like to start afresh in California, but she needs money to fund this make-over. Off to mum’s to plead for cash, but Madeleine (Micheline Lanctôt) doesn’t have any to spare and seems fairly oblivious to Michèle’s dilemma. No matter, Madeleine’s much younger husband, (Jacques L’Heureux) lusts after Michèle, and he’s perfectly happy to offer some cash in exchange for a grope.

Michèle doesn’t make it to California and ends up on the doorstep of childhood friend Janine (Macha Grenon), and here’s where the family dynamics begin to get complicated. Janine is the sister of Marguerite’s father who was married to someone else when he impregnated Michèle. The complicated layers of deceit, self-deceit, and irresponsibility peel back as various family members appear on the scene, and the film raise the old nature vs nature question through its portrayals of three-generations of troubled characters.

As the film plays out, its focus shifts to Janine, nicknamed Hitler by her 13-year-old daughter Gabrielle (Juliette Gosselin),  Janine, a successful interior decorator runs a tight ship at her immaculate home and naturally and foreseeably, Michèle’s presence and influence wreaks havoc in Janine’s formerly orderly home. Unfortunately, Janine has too many distractions to see it coming. With her husband Charles (Vincent Graton) largely absent, Janine has good reasons to suspect him of infidelity.

When the multiple crises erupt, the film takes a step back from Michèle’s disastrous choices and Janine’s painful suspicions and takes a look at the larger family picture here. Janine’s mother, Estelle (Patricia Nolin), is a cold fish who believes that all problems can be successfully avoided through shopping while Michèle’s mother desperately tries to stay younger in order to keep her repulsive husband interested. By stepping back and taking a look at this older generation, Michèle and Janine begin to make a lot more sense–and by that I don’t mean that they were inconsistent characters, but rather their backgrounds explain their adult choices. 

And since the film takes a look at the older generation, it’s balanced by taking a look at the choices made by Gabrielle and Marguerite. Once again, these two young girls are very much influenced by their mothers, and in one poignant scene Michèle, who manages to largely ignore her daughter, asks Marguerite what she wants out of life. Marguerite replies that it’s very simple–she wants to not be like her mother. 

On the down side, the film comes dangerously close to condemning the entire male species–with the sole exception of Marguerite’s grandfather who seems the most stable of the bunch. However, that complaint aside, ultimately Familia, a highly entertaining film offers believable flawed characters caught in various economic and social dilemmas for which there are no easy answers, and we see generations of women paying for the mistakes and the irresponsibility of their parents. By the time, the film concludes, we see the characters overcoming patterns of behaviour, and one scene which includes Janine and her ever-disappearing husband has to be one of the best melt-down scenes ever made.

Familia, a Canadian film, is mostly in French, and it’s an entry into Caroline and Richard’s world cinema series 

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Manuela Sáenz (2001)

“If you wonder about Bolívar, it’s enough for you to know that I loved him when he was alive, and now that he’s dead, I praise him.”

Set in the 19th century, Manuela Sáenz from director Diego Rísquez is the story of the lover of Simon Bolívar, the Venezuelan revolutionary who fought against Spanish rule and united a number of South American countries into La Gran Columbia. Manuela Sáenz played a significant role in Bolívar’s life but seems largely lost to history. This film is the perfect companion film for the Columbian political satire, Bolívar is Me.

Manuela Sáenz begins in the year 1856 with the arrival of a whaling ship in Paitu, Peru. On the ship is the young Herman Melville (Erich Wildpret) who’s heard that Manuela Sáenz lived there at one time. He’s astonished to learn that she is still alive, and he seeks her out. Now partially paralyzed, she lives with her two faithful servants and a number of dogs named after Bolívar’s enemies in a primitive hut which overlooks the ocean. Impoverished, she’s managed to survive by translating and also selling tobacco. Melville meets and talks briefly to Manuela (Beatriz Valdés), but he only seems to stir unhappy memories (this actually happened btw). She asks him “Why do you want to meet this ruin of history?” He replies: “Well, I’ve always been interested in legends and you are one of them.” Meanwhile diphtheria arrives in Paitu and the death toll begins to climb….

The film is told with flashbacks and the ‘present’ is filmed in sepia while the past is in colour. Through the flashbacks we see a few glimpses of Manuela’s early life. She was a bastard child, the product of an Ecuadorian woman and a Spanish officer and grew up in a convent–although those 2 latter details are not made clear. Later her family arranged marriage with a British merchant, Dr. Thorne, but her life changed drastically when she met Simon Bolívar and they quickly became lovers. Scenes show how she left her outraged husband, and she was later made a Colonel in Bolívar’s forces. Other scenes depict how some officers were appalled by her behaviour and resented her presence while others embraced her commitment.

This is primarily the tale of the love story between Manuela and Bolívar, and the emphasis is on their relationship rather than the events that took place, so when revolts and battles occur, there’s little detail which really is a pity. The film doesn’t emphasise that in sympathy with the revolution against Spain, she’d already left her husband in 1822 before she met Bolívar. The sexual passion between Manuela and Bolívar is evident, and when circumstances force them to be apart, their correspondence keeps the relationship alive. Manuela’s greatest treasure is a box full of his letters.

When Bolívar is finally overthrown and sent into exile, Manuela remains behind, but her presence is a dangerous reminder of Bolívar. Bolívar’s enemies considered her capable of starting a counter-revolution, so she too is sent into exile. Scenes show a long arduous trek with her loyal supporters (former slaves) before she finally settles in Paitu where she  remains until Melville’s ship sails in.  

The film quality is spotty; some scenes appear more faded than others. One of the scenes depicting the burning of a body is a little over done, but apart from that, this is an interesting film in spite of the fact that it left this viewer dissatisfied with the patchy history of Manuela. While her passion for Bolívar is evident, her defiance of social laws, which includes leaving her husband and dressing in men’s clothing, hints at a fascinating woman. Other scenes however leave a lot unexplained. She holds a mock execution, for example, which angers Bolívar and he ultimately bans her from his presence–not a permanent ban, I should add.

Manuela Sáenz, a Venezuelan film, is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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Happy Happy (2010)

Ok, so the Norwegian film Happy Happy (Sykt Lykkelig) from director Anne Sewistsky may not change your world, but it is an entertaining way to spend 85 minutes–especially if you’re interested to see how climate impacts personal lives.

Happy Happy begins with the arrival of a small family to a freshly rented house–Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens), her husband Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), and their adopted black son, Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy). They’re new to the remote rural area and are renting the house right next to their landlords, another young family composed of Kaja (Agnes Kittleson), husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelson) and son Theodor (Oskar Hernaes Brandso). Kaja, a happy go-lucky German teacher at the local junior high, can’t wait for the new family to move in. She’s hoping that they’ll become friends, and after an initial introduction, it’s clear that Kaja’s optimism and desperate need for friendship mask a lifeless marriage fraught with problems. Kaja’s neediness and obvious admiration for the other couple (she sees them as being sophisticated and glamorous) spell trouble, and Elisabeth sniffs that Kaja, although pleasant enough, is a shade too desperate. And when there are no other neighbours for miles around, who wants the woman next door to be so needy for any sign of human companionship?

As it turns out, proximity and social isolation can be a dangerous thing, and since there seems to be little to do on those long, Norwegian winter nights, after a  few awkward dinners, the 2 couples get together in the evenings to play games. Kaja and Sigve welcome the social interaction, but Elisabeth finds the evenings tedious, and taciturn Eirik would obviously rather be off on one of his mysterious moose hunting expeditions. After games of Charades falls flat, Sigve, much to Elisabeth’s annoyance,  invests in the board game Couples. An evening’s entertainment  which includes some pointed personal questions, reveals fractured relationships along with the rather embarrassing information that Eirik claims to no longer has sex with Kaja due to her perennial yeast infection–a condition she adamantly denies.

The film’s subplot concerns the relationship between the children, and while the adults play Charades and board games, Theodur decides to make Noa play ‘slave.’ So we see several games afoot–all of which have serious consequences. Sigve, Elisabeth, Kaja and Eirik all try to play at being happily married, duplicitous facades which slip as the film wears on, but even as the couples try to fool each other, honesty between the respective partners isn’t exactly on the table either, and a crisis must occur before some painful truths finally make it to the surface.

Nothing too earth shattering happens here, and the film takes a light, comedic approach to some serious issues. While I didn’t quite buy the ending, for this viewer, the culture and lifestyle adjustments made for climate made this well-acted film entertaining and worth catching.

Happy Happy is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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Bolivar Is Me (2002)

“He’s woven a dangerous thread between fiction and reality.”

Jorge Alí Triana’s Columbian film Bolívar Is Me (Bolívar Soy Yo!) is ostensibly a comedy that looks at exactly what happens when an actor loses his grip on reality. But under the surface of the film’s humour, there’s a serious political satire with a message about the inevitable demise of idealism within the political structure.

When the film begins, popular telenovela actor Santiago Miranda (Robinson Díaz) who is playing the role of Simón Bolívar, El Libertador in the television series The Loves of the Liberator, prepares for the concluding scene by reading Don Quixote. In real life, Bolívar died in bed from TB (although theories have recently floated that he was poisoned). The producer doesn’t think this sort of ending helps the ratings, and so the series has been rewritten to show Bolívar executed by firing squad. Everyone on the set is aware the Miranda has become a little too involved with his role, and even his real-life lover, Alejandra (Amparo Grisales) who plays Bolívar’s lover, Manuelita in the series can’t tell if Santiago loves her or the role she plays. Consequently Alejandro has dumped Santiago during the filming of the series and he’s suffered a breakdown. Today, Santiago, who in his role of Bolívar, is about to face the firing squad and the end of the show, goes berserk and storms off the set. He argues that since the show has re-written history to suit the ratings, there’s no reason why he can’t rewrite history too, and so in full dress uniform, he escapes to the airport and heads for Bogata. The director (Santiago Bejarano) and a psychiatrist (Gustavo Angarita), in hot pursuit of Santiago, intend to put the troubled actor into a strait jacket, lock him up and control his behaviour with medication: “something like a lobotomy but with drugs.” Alejandra believes that Santiago is so out of touch with reality that only she–as Manuelita–Bolívar’s trusted lover who once saved him from an assassination attempt–can bring him back safely. She’s told to avoid using the words “no,” and “death,” and so in a strangely twisted reality-mirrors-fiction way, she heads out to save Santiago.

Santiago’s misadventures are really very funny. Since he’s an actor, people accept that he’s stepping into a role, and it seems perfectly normal for him to show up at the President’s office in costume or riding on his horse, Paloma. He’s the star at a National Independence day parade, but the problems begin when Santiago opens his mouth at an important political summit meeting and begins talking about Bolívar’s  Gran Columbia–the countries Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and Bolivia, united.

Since the historical figure of Bolívar is symbolic, various factions want to co-opt his popular image. First the government wants to harness Santiago’s mass appeal–both as a telenovella actor and also as the symbol of Bolívar, but once Santiago breaks out into the countryside, guerillas, the Simon Bolívar Bolcehevique Front/Simon Bolívar Popular Revolutionary Army also see the value of this modern-day Bolívar.

Bolivar is Me is really a clever film. On one level, it’s about an actor who loses touch with reality and becomes his role. That’s the funny part, but it’s also the story of a man who has an ethical problem with playing a character whose historic mission has been co-opted, re-written and diluted into meaningless. We never quite know whether or not Santiago is completely off his rocker or whether he’s fully or partially aware that he isn’t Bolívar. In several speeches, Santiago lays out his discontent with the political system and his annoyance at the way Bolívar’s name has been used to decorate various shabby buildings. Santiago says that Quixote is “man as he should be,” and yet at the same time he states that “the three greatest dummies in history have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and me.” Of course, at this point, Santiago appears to be speaking of himself as Bolívar.

One of the cleverest aspects of the film is the way it shows how casually history is rewritten until the truth is obscured by time, myth, and political expediency. Santiago is appalled to see what Bolívar has become:

Now I understand what a symbol is–to be a statue of bronze so that pigeons can shit on you.

The film also shows real footage of the M-19 Palace of Justice siege on 6th of November, 1985–an incident in which M-19 Guerillas (19th of April Movement) took over the building and held hundreds hostage. There are various versions about what happened, so who knows what the truth is anymore.  The 19th of April Movement removed Bolívar’s sword from a museum, and in Bolívar Is Me, we see the guerillas returning the sword to Santiago. By the film’s conclusion, we see the Society of the Spectacle–authentic life replaced with its representation. According to Guy Debord:  

“The Spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

And by the film’s conclusion, it’s easy to see that history is about to be rewritten again….

Bolivar is Me is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

Some of the scenes take place at the Quinta de Bolívar Museum.

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