Tag Archives: friendship

Water Lilies (2007)

water liliesWater Lilies (Naissance des Pieuvres) is a French coming-of-age film that dabbles in the dark waters of budding female sexuality. The film takes a long time to warm up but the wait is well worth it. Plus there’s always the film’s gorgeous cinematography.

Set in the suburbs of Paris during long hot summer days, the film begins with various teams of girls preparing and then participating in synchronized swimming in a large public pool. Marie (Pauline Acquart) is there to watch her best friend Anne (Louise Blanchere) perform, but in reality, Marie moves her seat to get a better look at the striking Floriane (Adele Haenel).

Marie, who’s shrimp of a girl, idolizes Floriane, and it’s easy to see why. In the water, Floriane performs with grace and dexterity–out of the water, she’s not so pleasant. Blonde, tall and shapely, Floriane is loathed by her team members and has the reputation of being the team “slut.” Wherever she goes, males vie for Floriane’s attention, and most of her focus is on Francois (Warren Jacquin), a good-looking popular male swimmer. 

Marie begins to neglect her friendship with plump, unpopular Anne, and she tries to join a swimming team. But does she really want to swim or does she need an excuse to hang around Floriane? While Marie is discontent with her body, and even tries on a swimming suit on top of her clothing, Floriane is a study in self-confidence. Marie’s discontent about her body seems to translate to a desire to be like Floriane, and yet there are also strong strains of sexual feelings mingled in with the hero worship. Floriane’s character appears as clearly defined and developed as her body, and Marie’s less defined character appears to waver and then become absorbed in Floriane’s shadow.

Although Floriane rejects Marie’s tentative worship at first, gradually she begins to allow Marie into her life, and Marie, assuming the subordinate position in the relationship, seems content to do favours and provide alibis for Floriane. While Floriane initially seems the stuck-up type: popular, attractive, and confident, her cruel streak appears to be put aside for her friendship with Marie, and yet an edge of cruelty remains. Which is the real Floriane?

Meanwhile, Anne, left to her own devices, begins to have romantic feelings for Francois and makes bold overtures towards him in front of his team mates.  Marie’s close friendship with Anne seems ruined, and at the same time, Marie’s new friendship with Floriane doesn’t bode well. Adults stay largely in the film’s background, and the parents are noticeably absent while the teens are left to their own devices.  

In some ways, Water Lilies tackles the familiar issues that often crop up in films that focus on teens: sexual inexperience, sexual confusion, conformity, etc. But Water Lilies is a beautiful film that handles these issues with great subtlety and it’s impossible to guess where the film is taking the viewer until the final credits roll.

To say more about the plot would ruin the viewing experience for those out there who haven’t watched the film yet. If you are a fan of French film, and enjoy slow-moving, thoughtful and provocative drama, then chances are that you will enjoy Water Lilies from first time director Celine Sciamma.

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Mariposa Negra (2006)


“Sometimes it’s better not to know.”

The marvelous, amazing and ultimately tragic film Mariposa Negra (Black Butterfly) follows the relationship between two young Peruvian women who are thrown together by circumstance and then swept up in brutality orchestrated by Montesinos, the head of Peru’s Intelligence Service. This is yet another incredible film from director Francisco Lombardi. After his fantastic Ojos Que No Ven and Tinta Roja, I couldn’t wait to see Mariposa Negra, and I was not disappointed.

When the film begins, young idealistic schoolteacher, Gabriela (Melania Urbina) is engaged to judge, Guido Pazos (Dario Abad) when he is brutally murdered in his apartment. Tabloid journalist, Angela (Magdyel Ugaz) is assigned to cover the story. As usual, her boss, Osman (Gustavo Bueno) hands her an outline of the sort of muck he wants her to write. The torture and murder of the judge–a man who’d received death threats–turns into a sleazy story claiming that the judge was killed while participating in a homosexual orgy.

Grief-stricken Gabriela begins haunting the newspaper office. Already ripped apart by the loss of her fiance, Gabriela is outraged at the tabloid headlines. Gabriela, who comes from a privileged background, is largely oblivious to the uglier side of Peruvian politics, and so she interprets the tabloid story in a linear fashion, seeing it as a pack of lies that needs to be corrected rather than a piece of propaganda controlled by Montesinos. After Gabriela creates a scene in the newspaper office, Osman orders her dragged outside, and there she waits for hours, determined to talk to the journalist who wrote the story about Guido.

Angela notes Gabriela’s tenacious, patient presence outside of the building, and she approaches Gabriela. Is she driven by curiosity, a spark of compassion, or is she motivated by the urge to pop Gabriela’s innocent illusions about Peruvian society? After meeting Angela, the two girls–similar age but from opposite backgrounds–strike up a relationship. These two characters are both fascinating women, and their relationship is at the heart of this incredible film.

Angela has no illusions, is tough and jaded. While she contemplates ambition, she’s lost her drive, and her editor bitches at her for her lack of enthusiasm without realizing that he is responsible for her attitude. With all those sleazy stories she’s told to write, she’s world-weary enough to realize that she’s caught in a maze of corruption, and that fighting against it is futile. But then she meets Gabriela–a girl who comes from a protected, cosseted environment, but who will not rest until she has revenge. Confronted with Gabriela’s naivete, Angela is at first brusque but then she becomes curious about Gabriela. This curiosity is tinged with a protective edge.

Gabriela discovers that tapes exist of Guido’s death, and Montesinos, who had a penchant for taping his illegal activities–ordered the torture and murder (termed ‘medical operations’)–along with video commemoration of the killing.

Ultimately this is a tragic story, immensely sad and incredibly disturbing. But at the same time there’s beauty here–Gabriela’s single minded, obsessive desire to meet Guido’s killers and her calm acceptance of her inevitable fate. To her, giving her life is worth the risk if she can clear Guido’s name and catch his killers. Angela, at first, dismisses Gabriela as a lightweight, incapable of holding her own on the streets, but Gabriela possesses what Angela lacks–a belief system, and that gives her strength and makes her impervious to fear. Common sense and a strong sense of self-preservation would hinder Angela from undertaking the sort of risks Gabriela takes, and Gabriela continues to surprise Angela.

The only film I can compare to Mariposa Negra is George Sluizer’s Dutch film Spoorloos (the American version starring Jeff Bridges is The Vanishing) in which the main character, Rex Hofman possesses the same sort of single-minded obsession as Gabriela. There is simply no peace in this life, on this planet until Gabriela completes–or fails–her mission. Obsession usually causes stress and often-erratic behavior, but in Mariposa Negra, Gabriela’s obsessive quest to avenge Guido actually gives her peace and an unnerving otherworldly serenity. Gabriela’s aura of innocence adds to the film’s strong sense of fatalism.

Mariposa Negra from director Francisco J. Lombardi highlights a dark period in Peru’s history. The downfall of Montesinos eventually came as the result of the exposure of his secret videotape stash by Peruvian journalists who were brave enough to expose Montesinos via television and risk the consequences.

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Saturn in Opposition (2007)

 “Rules exist even in relationships.”

In Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro), director Ferzan Ozpetek creates a vibrant, vital film that deals with issues such as friendship, death, loss and grief. The film quickly establishes the relationships between a close-knit group of friends and then charts what happens when tragedy strikes.

saturn-in-oppositionSuccessful writer Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino) lives with his lover Lorenzo (Luca Argentero). Others in the group include Davide’s ex-lover, Sergio (Ennio Fantastichini), married couple Neval (Serra Yilmaz) and Roberto (Filippo Timi), and successful therapist Angelica (Margherita Buy) and her husband, banker Antonio (Stefano Accorsi). Also in the group is the troubled, coke sniffing, pill-popping Roberta (Ambra Angiolini) and newcomer, doctor and budding writer Paolo (Michelangelo Tomasso). All these characters are introduced within the first minutes of the film, and it’s a bit overwhelming to absorb who they all are and their significance to one another, but no matter. Once the first few minutes of the film are over, not too many new characters are added, so it’s possible to settle in and just watch and enjoy this sensitive portrait of friendship.

In adversity, some of these relationships are stretched to the limit, and sadly already-strained relationships cave in under the pressure. Just how these characters offer support and love is the substance of the film that showcases Ozpetek regulars.

Ultimately this is not my favourite Ozpetek film, but then again there’s some stiff competition. I’d rank this one probably my least favourite with the following order: Steam, Facing Windows, Harem Suare, His Secret Life, and now Saturn in Opposition in last place. In some ways, Saturn in Opposition reminds me of His Secret Life–a death, and the friends who form an ad-hoc family of characters.

I loved the scenes that depicted Antonio and Angelica’s children. The parental presence seems largely absent in this home, and instead the daughter dominates and terrorises her younger brother. Clearly the adults in the film prefer each other’s company with the children left–more or less–to their own devices. Friendship–rather than familial connections dominate here, and this is underscored by Lorenzo’s father and stepmother’s visit. They remain largely ignorant of Lorenzo’s personal life.

Not a lot happens in Saturn in Opposition, but then again that’s the film’s structure, and the plot focuses on relationships not action. The film’s exquisite beauty is found in scenes with perfect shots–the empty bench, empty rooms and the final shot of the abandoned table–all echo the ephemeral qualities of life and the enduring relationships between friends.

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Live-In Maid (2004)

 Live-in Maid (Cama Adentro) is set in Argentina in 2001 during the financial crisis that devastated the economy, and the film examines the shifting relationship between a middle-aged woman and her live-in maid. Divorced, upper-middle class Beba Pujol (Norma Aleandro) is used to a pampered life, and that’s largely due to the constant ministrations of her faithful maid of 28 years, Dora (Norma Argentina). The two women serve as a contrast in economic opposites. Whereas Beba is manicured, expensively dressed, and coiffed, Dora is heavy-set, and her haggard appearance is secondary to her function as a workhorse.

maid2When the film begins, the economic crisis is already underway in Argentina, and Beba is feeling the results, but she’s in denial. Unable to pay her maid for over seven months, she has just begun to join the masses in attempting to sell any precious possessions for a little cash. While many lay their wares on the sidewalks, in Beba’s case, she enters a shop and masquerades as a customer before she’s driven by necessity to explain her purpose–the sale of her china teapot to the shop owner.

Beba is used to privilege, and so it’s very difficult for her to adjust to a new life based on poverty. She still expects the maid to fill her glass with whisky, and she still expects to have her hair done even though at this point, she can’t even pay her maid for keeping her large Buenos Aires apartment spotless. Dora gets room and board for her efforts, but she is unpaid labour. Since the relationship between Beba and Dora is supposed to be a financial transaction (Dora works and Beba pays), when Dora is faced with the prospect of never getting paid, the relationship between the two women is severed. But this also allows the women to renegotiate their relationship outside of monetary considerations.

Live-in Maid is not an overtly political film, but nonetheless it addresses many relevant social issues. These two women are actually the single most important figure in each other’s lives. Beba’s only child lives in Spain, and Dora has a long-term relationship supporting the very shady Manuel. For 28 years, Dora has ‘served’ Beba, and there are many things they both accept about the inequity of their relationship. There’s a moment when Beba offers Dora a better, larger bedroom, but Dora rejects it. Their relationship cannot shift from its old paradigm so easily. Even though Beba is penniless and is exploiting Dora, it’s difficult for her to let Dora go, and it’s equally difficult for Dora to leave even though she’s not getting paid. The financial aspects of the relationship mask the emotional commitment they both feel.

In the beginning of the film, Beba is not a particularly sympathetic character. Her refusal to give up luxuries–such as hair appointments and whisky seem to reflect her shallow, materialistic character. But a few scenes later, after many humiliations, Beba chokes on a meal she accepts in lieu of cash payment for make-up she is trying to sell, and this incident acts as a wake-up call for Beba. This film could so easily have slipped into sticky sweet sentimental drama, but instead Live-in Maid maintains a crystal clear poignant portrait of two women who desperately need each other, but who are reluctant to admit it. Instead it is easier for them both to cling to the defining financial transaction–something that passes all too often as a substitute for a relationship with another human being, and once that financial transaction is abandoned, the women are free to redefine their relationship on new ground. From director Jorge Gaggero, Live-in Maid is in Spanish with subtitles.

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Filed under Argentinean, Political/social films

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:


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Filed under Comedy, Daniel Auteuil, France, Patrice Leconte

Man on the Train (2002)

 “Why’s sweetness so dangerous?”

The films of French director Patrice Leconte focus on unusual, non-definable relationships. In the film Man on the Train, the unusual relationship is between retired poetry teacher, Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) and aging criminal Milan (Johnny Hallyday). The lives of these two men intersect, quite by accident, in a chemist shop. Milan wants aspirin, and Manesquier offers to give him a drink of water at his beautiful country home.

man-on-the-trainThe two vastly different men realise that they actually have a fair amount in common, and over the course of a few days, they exchange certain guarded confidences. It is particularly difficult for Milan to relax and accept Manesquier as a fellow member of the human race, but gradually, a wary trust begins to build. For a brief time, they allow themselves a glimpse of each other’s lives–and both men play with the idea of what their lives could have been if their choices were different.

The entire film rests on the idea that the relationship between these two different men is believable. To be honest, for the first part of the film, I was not convinced, but as the film reveals more about the characters–Manesquier in particular–then my disbelief vanished. I understood why Manesquier took the chance of allowing a rather shady character into his home. I particularly loved the ending of the film–and I was left with the sort of feeling I always have after watching a Patrice Leconte film–a feeling that I’ve been allowed to see something quite rare and fleeting. Jean Rochefort is a veteran of French cinema, and his performance is, as always, superb. Hallyday, a French musician, was great as the rough around-the-edges bank robber–a man whose life might have been very different if only he’d been dealt a different hand. If you enjoyed this film, I heartily recommend tracking down copies of Leconte’s other films. They are all masterpieces of French cinema.

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Filed under France, Patrice Leconte

Poison Friends (2006)

 “Why do some people write?”

Poison Friends concerns a group of young French university students who are, to various degrees or another, impressed, awed, influenced and duped by the charismatic, intelligent and domineering Andre Morney (Thibault Vincon). The film begins in a large lecture hall in a literature class led by Professor Mortier (Jacques Bonaffe). As with all classes, many personality types are enrolled, but on the very first day, Andre Morney sticks out. Professor Mortier asks for a volunteer to conduct a presentation, and Morney leaps to the podium without hesitation. Confident, domineering, brash, and egotistical, he manages to make all the other students in his immediate circle feel somehow inferior. No matter the situation, Morney always manages to set himself up as the judge, the superior, the more experienced.

poison friendsMorney’s attitude works in several ways on his crowd of friends. He convinces one friend to become an actor, and in this situation, Morney’s confidence seems to work like osmosis for Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger). The graduate students in Morney’s circle are all working on papers, and several of them have literary ambitions including Eloi Duhaut (Malik Zidi), the son of a famous novelist (Dominque Blanc). If Morney even sniffs that one of his friends has literary ambitions, then this just becomes an excuse to belittle and humiliate the would-be writer. Morney’s favourite lecture–which he doesn’t hesitate to give to his friends–is to castigate those who have literary ambitions. To him the question ‘why we write’ is followed by the answer because we are ‘weak.’

Most of us have known some manifestation of a Morney character in our lives. If we are lucky, they are unmasked before they can do much damage to themselves or to their circle of friends. The Morneys of this world can be dangerous figures or just sad. In Poison Friends, Morney is depicted as a character who thrives in academia where his BS is largely undetected until it’s time to actually produce. The film’s setting is therefore perfect for this tale. We are able to see Morney’s manipulations and his pathological need to always assert his superiority–even when the evidence screams otherwise. In French with subtitles, Poison Friends is directed by Emmanuel Bourdieu.

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Three on a Match (1932)

 “She’ll probably go to reform school.”

threeThree on a Match is the story of three schoolgirls who lose touch with each other, but reunite by chance a few years later. Mary (Joan Blondell) is the wild one who gets in trouble and ends up in a reform school. Ruth (Bette Davis) is the serious, quiet one who becomes a stenographer. Vivian (Ann Dvorak) is the popular, pretty girl. With just a few brief scenes, the plot establishes the basic character of each girl, and then shows how each girl is essentially still the same in adulthood.

When the three women–now adults–meet in New York, Vivian is married to the highly successful lawyer Robert Kirkwood (Warren William). While Ruth and Mary envy Vivian’s social position, her chauffeur driven car etc., they also feel that she’s incredibly lucky to have such a nice husband. Vivian, however, is bored to tears by her husband and her lifestyle. She’s the sort of person who never appreciates the good things in life because they fall into her lap so easily. Vivian’s pouting results in her husband suggesting that she needs a holiday. Vivian packs up the couple’s only son and heads for a ship sailing to Europe.

Unfortunately, Vivian meets a lowlife gangster Michael Loftus (Lyle Taylor) and jumps right into disaster….

Three on a Match is a pre-code film made in 1932. It’s a bit sentimental, but well acted. A tight plot, and a stellar cast create a delightful film. Bette Davis has only a tiny role, and Humphrey Bogart also stars in a small (but memorable) role as gangster, Harve.

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Class Trip (1998)

“It’s very easy, you know, to disappear.”

Class Trip (La Classe de Neige) from director Claude Miller is a strange and ultimately unsatisfying film that just misses being memorable. The film begins in a classroom meeting with parents listening to the teacher’s instructions regarding the upcoming class trip to the Alps. While the parents gather and attentively listen to the teacher’s long list of required belongings, the parents (Francois Roy and Tina Sportolaro) of Nicolas, a particularly sad, and solemn child stick out.

Nicolas’s father, who is annoyingly overprotective, decides to drive Nicolas to the resort rather than allow him to take the trip by bus with the rest of the children. Nicolas sticks out like a sore thumb, and while the other children experience joy and a sense of liberation in the new environment, Nicolas is solemn, emotionally withdrawn, and terrified he’ll wet the bed. Haunted by gruesome daydreams and nightmares, it’s obvious to his teachers that Nicolas is ‘different,’ but all their kindnesses and special attentions fail to reach this damaged child. Nicolas, does, however, establish an unlikely relationship with the class extrovert, Hodkann (Lokman Nalcakan).

The film goes back and forth between reality and fantasy as Nicolas slides into nightmares and gory daydreams. While these are necessary to show Nicolas’s damaged emotional state, these interjections became too much when the film blurs the fantasy sequences into reality. At times it’s clear that Nicolas is having yet another nightmare, but at other times it isn’t obvious until the nightmares become horrific and surreal.

One of the best scenes in the film takes place with Nicolas and his father at the fairground. The father warns Nicolas to avoid strangers and then proceeds to tell him about organ thieves who lure children away and steal their kidneys. It’s not an easy task for parents to alert their children about evil in the world without pricking the protective bubble of their innocent childhood, but there’s also a fine line between warning children of the many dangers they face and paralyzing them with fear. Is Nicolas’s father just over protective or is there something more sinister afoot?

Class Trip wasn’t what I expected, and it was certainly interesting enough to keep me watching to the end. Also, I enjoyed the film’s realistic portrayal of children. I just tried to watch a film from a child’s perspective that was sickening sentimental; Class Trip did not fall into that trap of idolizing its child subjects. Unfortunately, the film’s unsatisfying ending left a lot to be desired. In French with subtitles.

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Big Girls Don’t Cry (2002)

“You’ll end up in the gutter if you keep this up.”

I am not, generally speaking, a fan of teen films. There are a few exceptions, and this excellent coming-of-age tale Big Girls Don’t Cry (GroBe Madchen Weinen Nicht)is a good example of a teen film that should appeal to all ages. Excellent acting, and a good script combined with a great soundtrack elevate this film far above the usual teen angst drama. The film isn’t about such superficial issues as who is going to the prom; it’s much more substantial than that. Set in modern Germany, the film explores the relationship between two sixteen-year-old girls, Steffi (Karoline Herfurth) and Kati (Anna Marie Muhe). Friends since childhood, the girls are inseparable, but when Steffi discovers that her father has a mistress, aspects of her character drive a wedge in her relationship with Kati.

On the surface, Steffi appears to have the better home life, but this is just a facade, and just how far she’ll go to keep what she’s got is one of the central points of the film. Big Girls Don’t Cry covers many of the same issues as other teen films–sex, parties, curfews, and the struggle for independence as the teenage subjects venture into the adult world. But what makes this film exceptional is that it tackles far bigger issues and asks the question: do friendship and loyalty override all other moral values? Directed by Maria von Heland, the film is in German with English subtitles.

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