Tag Archives: holiday

C’est La Vie (1990)

In C’est La Vie (La Baule-les-Pins), it’s Lyon 1958, and it’s time for 8 year-old Sophie (Candice Le France) and 13-year-old Frédérique’s (Julie Bataille) annual holiday to Brittany. But this year, something’s wrong. The children’s father, Michel (Michael Berry) isn’t joining the family right away, and then the children’s attractive mother, Lena (Nathalie Baye) pulls a shabby bait-and-switch at the train station. She goes on to Paris alone while the girls are taken to Brittany in the company of their nanny, Odette (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). The only one who seems happy with this arrangement is Lena, and she waves goodbye to her sobbing children. This holiday is going to be different. 

Poor Odette, who has two children of her own, has complete charge of Sophie and Frédérique. The rented house turns out to be a disappointment, and the children sensing, but not fully understanding, the implication of their parents’ separation, misbehave whenever they can. Luckily Lena’s sister Bella (Zabou Breitman), her husband Léon (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and their four children provide some stability and normalcy for their two cousins. Then Lena arrives to rescue Odette and it becomes clear that Lena has a lover, a much younger sculptor named Jean-Claude (Vincent Lindon). 

While the adults are supposed to provide structure and routine, we see how things begin to disintegrate once that fragile membrane of parental attention is removed. Bella and Léon’s large colourful family life is shown in contrast to the miserable marriage of Lena and Michel. Léon is one of those fathers who has a definite persona as a family man. He tries–even if he doesn’t always succeed, and he seems hardest on his eldest son, Daniel (Alexis Derlon). Both Bella and Léon try to remain neutral about Michel and Lena’s divorce until they’re finally forced to choose sides.

C’est La Vie does a marvellous job of showing the parallel world of the children in contrast to the world of adults. Just as the children have no clue about the impending divorce between Lena and Michel (until they overhear the news), the adults are largely excluded from the children’s world as they run amok and wage class warfare against Club Corvette–a club for paying child members which excludes them. While the adults are often clueless about the children’s escapades, Frédérique has an unsettling glimpse into adult relationships. The film shows the conflicts of the individual who must choose between desire and family responsibility, and we even see how animals are inevitably impacted by the vagaries and instability of adults.

Films which take a child’s view of adult problems are not always successful, but C’est la Vie hits just the right note of innocence and mischievousness, and all the characters are very well-drawn including the landlord, Ruffier (Didier Bénureau) who watches the shenanigans with barely veiled disgust and dismay. Director Diane Kurys presents this difficult summer with delicate sensitivity and more than a dash of humour. Anyway, C’est La Vie is a delightful film which keys into one of my pet theories that family problems are magnified by a holiday. Take family members out of their routine and throw them together, and if there are problems, a holiday will accentuate them. Perhaps this explains why I have a weakness for films that show people on holiday.

This post is part of Caroline’s and Richard’s World Cinema blogathon. Trust me, the film is much better than the DVD cover indicates.

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Are You Being Served? The Movie (1977)

“You were beckoning and waving your y-fronts.”

Jonathan at Ruthless Culture recently popped over here for a few minutes and took the trouble to recommend a film based on the popular comedy series Are You Being Served? I haven’t seen all the episodes in the series, but when I heard that there was a film version of the series set in the Costa Plonka, well I knew I had to see it. Films that show the British abroad often make good comedies (Carry on Abroad), and then there’s that idea that the British go a little mad when set loose on a beach under a baking sun (Shirley Valentine).

Are You Being Served? The Movie  begins in the familiar environment of the Grace Brothers department store. With renovations about to take place that will necessitate the closing of the business, Young Mr. Grace decides that all employees will be given the incentive to take their holidays during the shop’s closing, and the incentive underwriting this whole deal is an all-expenses paid package tour to various exotic destinations. While the departments are selected for different destinations, the Ladies Wear and the Men’s Wear departments are collectively slated for the Costa Plonka and the Don Bernardo Palace Hotel.

The film starts off a bit slowly as the back ground for the Costa Plonka adventure develops. Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) doesn’t want the necessary vaccinations, Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton) stalks Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard), and Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister) hopes the holiday will yield sexual opportunities. The fact that Mrs. Peacock won’t be accompanying her stuffy husband, opens up perceived opportunities to both Captain Peacock and Mrs. Slocombe, but unfortunately not towards each other.

The only person who seems to really enter into the spirit of things is Mr Humphries (John Inman) and his liberation from the Men’s Wear Dept. allows him to reveal a colourful, imaginative wardrobe. His eye-catching pink leisure suit and matching hat are worn for the plane trip.

The arrival at the Don Bernando Palace hotel begins the holiday-from-hell scenario. The film was made during a period when many British holidaymakers were adventuring abroad for the first time, and returning home with nightmare stories of unfinished hotels that lacked plumbing. A similar sort of situation awaits the Grace Bros. staff when they arrive and are greeted by Don Carlos Bernardo (Andrew Sachs, who played the role of Manuel in Fawlty Towers). Difficulties with the language and a handy mispronunciation leave the Grace Bros. staff in their individual ‘Pent-a-houses.’ And they’re not what you’d expect.

During dinner, the shenanigans take place with a love note addressed to “Dear Sexy Knickers,” and this is where the misunderstandings begin. As the night arrives and the moon rises, assignations and unexpected interruptions begin to take place between the Pent-a-houses. Part bedroom farce and part Shakespearean Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, bed-hopping takes place at a furious rate. Whipped into a frenzy by an outhouse toilet, a randy revolutionary and the promise of Mrs. Slocombe’s knickers, the Grace Bros staff spend a restless night in the torrid Costa Plonka

Are You Being Served? The Movie is not subtle humour. It’s lowbrow and crude at times, and the humour doesn’t really take off until the Costa Plonka. The script is full of double entendres–some really funny and some a bit tired and worn, but overall there were certainly enough laughs for me. Part of the film’s success can be found in showing how the holiday in the Costa Plonka liberates some of the characters from their usual Grace-Bros-bound behaviour, while others still try to assert the hierarchy so firmly established within the workplace. The opportunistic union man Mr Harman (Arthur English) ever harking on about the rights of working man, masquerades as a lord to get the best room. And this brings up the general inadvisability of going on holiday with people you also work with….

And then of course, there’s even a drag scene and a fake drag queen.

Some quotes from the film:

Oh don’t they get bold in the tropics?

I hardly think that 2 mussels and a shrivelled up prawn will effect my libido.

She needed a father figure.

You’ll give the British a bad name.

Here have you been showing  ’em your knickers again?

Just tell them we’re British and they’re spoiling our holiday.

Look at that crumpet around the pool!

Those are false booby-doos.

I object to being ravaged.

What are you going on about? Bet that’s not the first time you’ve lost your knickers in the tube?

You’ve got no authority over me, so get stuffed.

I’d be halfway to Paris by now if the electric blanket hadn’t caught fire.

Ride off into the sunset and try to forget you ever met me.

So thanks for the recommendation, Jonathan!

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A Month By the Lake (1995)

a month by the lakeFans of British films set in the picturesque tourist destinations of Italy should really enjoy the engaging and highly entertaining film, A Month By the Lake from director John Irvin and based on a story by H.E.Bates. And while nothing much really happens in the film it’s an enjoyable romp, thanks mainly to the talents of the film’s leading actors Vanessa Redgrave and James Fox.

One of the unspoken rules in films that depict the British abroad, is that away from the damp and the fog of their native land, they tend to drop inhibitions and go just a little crazy as they engage in activities and relationships they wouldn’t dream of indulging in in their native land. Take Shirley Valentine and Where Angels Fear To Tread–just two of dozen of titles that explore the behaviour of the British abroad.

A Month By the Lake begins with Miss Bentley (veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave) striding up the steps of an elegant lakeside Italian villa. This is the Lake Como resort Miss Bentley has visited every year for 16 years, but this is the first time she’s come alone. Although her father has recently died, Miss Bentley returns alone to the resort as she loves Lake Como and has made firm friends amongst the other guests. This is, we are told via voice over narration, that last glorious summer before the war.

But while rumours of war grumble in the background, the action focuses on the villa and its guests. There are a couple of middle-aged American women there and also the solitary retired British Major Wilshaw (James Fox). Lonely Miss Bentley is attracted to Major Wilshaw on the very first day, and while circumstances throw them together upon occasion, he’s beguiled by the saucy, young American governess, Miss Beaumont (Uma Thurman) who has charge of two little Italian girls.

This gentle romance follows the trials and tribulations of Wilshaw’s courtship, and while the film could so easily have become cliched and like a million other films on the same subject, A Month By the Lake is saved by its wry humour and sly look at the many foibles of human behaviour–vanity, willfulness, boredom and loneliness all gilded with the fact that these characters are far away from home and the repercussions of their behaviour may not wash ashore on their doorsteps.

The film keeps the shadows of impending war in the background, but the sense remains that so much is on the brink of loss and destruction. Vanessa Redgrave steals the film as the buoyant Miss Bentley, so easy to underestimate and designate as “spinster” while underneath passion and an irrepressible zest for life longs to burst free

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Les Sanguinaires (1999)

“We’ll either die of cold or boredom.”

In the French film Les Sanguinaires, as the millennium approaches, Francois (Frederic Pierrot) the Paris-based owner of the Jetlag Travel agency plans a special ‘getaway,’ and he invites a group of friends to join him in what he promises to be a unique experience. While Paris is clogged with those who seek to celebrate the millennium,  Francois, his wife Catherine (Catherine Bauque) and their friends travel to one of the Sanguinaire islands located near Corsica. The plan is to sit-out the millennium and basically avoid it.

sanguinairesThings begin to go wrong almost immediately. Stephane (Jalil Lespert), the young man who runs the island’s lighthouse is supposed to be there to meet them and take them to their rented house. Although he does show up hours later, a grim mood begins to descend on the holiday makers as they realize that the island is so isolated, they are basically stranded. But it gets worse…when Stephane does show up with the food, everyone realizes that the lodgings are primitive and without heat. Although some of the adults and the small children try to put a happy spin onto the adventure, the teenagers, who already resent being ripped away from Paris, are appalled.

As the days wear on–without television, telephones or radio, the determination to have a good time stretches very thin. Tension mounts when Stephane begins to be very popular with the children and inadvertently the leadership role shifts from Francois to Stephane. Francois resents Stephane’s popularity, and as some of the adults begin to plan a New Year’s Eve party, Francois becomes increasingly more taciturn and depressed.

Les Sanguinaires is not Cantent’s strongest film. It’s a strange tale that begins as one man’s avoidance of the crass, commercialism of the millennium, and it’s entirely conceivable that a travel agent, who has spent the last few months planning other people’s holiday destinations for the millennium,  would cringe at the flamboyant celebrations and massive numbers of tourists who will descend on Paris for the event. So it makes sense that Francois would invent an alternate way to celebrate,  and that those plans would involve a quiet escape far from the crowds. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the island getaway isn’t so much an alternative as much as it’s Francois’ attempt to deny that the millennium is taking place.

After reading short descriptions of Les Sanguinaires, my impression was that it was some sort of feel good film about a bunch of aging yuppies who got together for chats and intimate exchanges as they wax on about the future of the planet, the wankerism of politics and embarrassing confessionals about their relationships. Les Sanguinaires is not a feel-good film; it’s a vaguely disturbing and unsettling tale. While the group struggle to put a brave face on the choice of destination, it becomes increasingly apparent that avoiding the millennium means a great deal more to Francois than anyone can possibly understand.

The film raises questions which are never addressed by the plot, and this contributes to the film’s overall disturbing mood. There’s an underlying menace throughout the film which is emphasized by the bleak island; will Francois go postal or will Stephane abandon this lot of spoiled Parisians who sometimes don’t treat him particularly well? Although Francois gathers a fair number of friends for this little get-together, most of the other characters seem to be there for decoration. There’s little time spent exploring the thoughts or reactions of the friends as the situation becomes increasingly more uncomfortable.  Since Francois is a travel agent, and cooking up bang-up holidays is his business, it seems plausible that his friends would have expected something a bit more exotic than this bleak, subsistence-level destination, but apart from a few significant looks, the friends remain mute on the subject–a little disgruntled bitching would not have been out of place.  Les Sanguinaires could have been a much better film, but that said, it’s not bad. The film’s underlying air of mystery and unresolved questions linger long after the credits roll.

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A Propos de Nice (1930)

Jean Vigo’s first film A Propos de Nice begins with a blast of fireworks and then an aerial view of Nice. Made in 1930, it’s a subtly subversive silent film about 25 minutes long. Vigo’s camera moves very quickly as it captures various sights of this resort city maintained for the leisure time of the filthy rich. The film gives the impression that it captures a day at Nice beginning in the wee hours as various working class people prepare the holiday areas for the wealthy, and ending as dusk begins to arrive. We see waiters cleaning tables, street sweepers cleaning the streets, and then the wealthy begin to sally forth. The beribboned dogs of the wealthy taken for a walk along the promenade are in contrast to the shots of the cat sitting in a gutter full of rubbish. 

A Propos de Nice is a very clever film, and Vigo manages to make some strong statements with his camera somehow revealing the revolting superficial layers of a sick society full of stark contrasts. First there’s a stark contrast between the wealthy and the working class. We see women scrubbing clothing while the rich are at play. While some rich visitors lounge in deck chairs, others are dedicated to various pursuits such as tennis, and bowls, and yachts glide gracefully in the harbour as their white sails pick up the breeze. Still other members of the wealthy set zoom around in racecars, or alight from their chauffeur driven cars, decked in furs. These shots are in contrast to the glimpses of the working class, boys that play hand games, and one impoverished boy who appears to have a diseased face. 

Another emphasis in the film is the frivolity on hand. Some of the shots record a carnival as festive floats make their way through the streets of Nice. While these floats are supposed to be attractive, Vigo includes some grotesque shots and also captures the almost desperate gaiety of a handful of dancing girls. Another point Vigo makes is the transitory nature of life. At one point a shoe shiner polishes a shoe of one of his customers, but the shoe disappears. Another man lounging in a deck chair appears to burn to death under the rays of the sun. Another shot shows a man sporting a chest full of medals, and then we see a graveyard…. 

 

 

Vigo’s camera shows the viewer that there are two faces of Nice. One side of Nice is experienced by the privileged and the wealthy, whereas the other side—the real side of Nice—is experienced and endured by those who remain in poverty, serving their “masters.”

 

 

 

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Filed under France, Jean Vigo, Political/social films

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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Around the World in 80 Ways (1987)

 “Best line my tummy so’s I’m able to perform.”

Australians always manage to create some of the most demented comedies I’ve ever seen, and Around the World in 80 Ways from director Stephen MacLean makes my list of top 10 all-time great comedies.

Around the World in 80 WaysWally Davis (Philip Quast), who according to his dad has “gone funny,” owns and operates a tour bus and runs a beachfront trailer/cafe shaped like a giant banana. After the trailer is repossessed, Wally heads home with the plan to raid the family savings account, but Mum, Mavis Davis (Diana Davidson) leaves for a long-desired whirlwind world tour dumping Dad, geriatric Roly Davis (Allan Penney) at the Twilight Rest Home as she heads for the airport. Wally’s dad suffers from “galloping senility” and has “started boring himself to death” thanks to a treacherous blow delivered by neighbour and former business partner the portly, toupee toting, used car salesman Alex Moffat (Rob Steele).

As Mavis Davis departs on the low budget tour that becomes the holiday package tour from hell, her lustful neighbour Alex Moffat unexpectedly joins her. Meanwhile Wally springs Dad from the rest home with the help of his younger brother Eddy (Kelly Dingwall), an “unemployable tragedy”, but all Dad wants to do is set off in hot pursuit of his wife arguing that Moffat, his rival, neighbour and ex-business partner,”pinched my business and now he’s trying to pinch my Mrs.”

But there’s a BIG problem….Wally needs the money in Dad’s savings account to bail out his trailer from repo. So instead of spending the savings on a world tour to catch Mavis, Wally and Eddy improvise. Since Dad only has 2% vision, they simply PRETEND to travel the world in pursuit of the ever-moving Mavis. Stops on the travel tour include: Hawaii, Las Vegas, Rome and Japan, and Wally creates all of these countries aided and abetted by Eddy, his sound system, Nurse Ophelia Cox (Gosia Dobrowolska), and a small army of inflatable dummies. Oh, and Wally ‘borrows’ Moffat’s “Wedding Cake of a house” named “Tara Moffat” for his world tour. While Mavis is dragged across the world, enduring one miserable experience after another, Roly Davis has the time of his life at home.

You have to see this film to believe it–some of the best scenes, for me at least, are in “Las Vegas” when Wally is both a chorus girl and Elvis, and the way in which Wally creates fake flights and airports is brilliant, amazing, and hysterically funny. And take a good long look at the tour guide, Lotta Boyle (Judith Fisher)–she looks uncannily like Hilary Clinton. The way in which the film juxtaposes the real tour with the fake tour is brilliant, but beneath all this comedy, there’s a motto here: you don’t have to travel the world to have the time of your life. If you loved Muriel’s Wedding or Welcome to Woop Woop you will enjoy this insane comedy film too.

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