Tag Archives: infidelity

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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Someone I Loved (Je L’Aimais) 2009

“Dealing with a Frenchman in love is too dangerous.”

Someone I loved (Je L’Aimais) is based on the best-selling novel by Anna Gavalda. It’s the story of Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), who takes his daughter-in-law, Chloe (Florence Loiret Caille) and two small granddaughters to the family chalet to stay following a family crisis. Pierre’s son, Adrian, has abruptly dumped his wife and children, and Chloe who “never saw it coming” is so emotionally devastated, Pierre thinks it’s wise to take her away somewhere quiet for a few days until she stabilises.

When the film begins, we see a tear-stained Chloe as she and the children are hustled away by car to the remote chalet. She’s angry, she’s hurt and she’s confused. Once there, her children are glued to cartons while she tries to make sense of what happened. Pierre tries to engage her in several ways–at one point telling the story of his brother who went to Indochina after a broken love affair and then who later died of TB.  Then one night, Pierre is driven to tell the story of an affair he had years earlier….

Flashbacks via Pierre’s interrupted story-telling reveal just how 46-year-old Pierre, an affluent Paris businessmen, and director of his own company, met and fell in love with interpreter Mathilde (Marie-Josée Croze). Pierre admits that he was ambushed by his passion: “I didn’t know I was programmed to love like that,” he confides to Chloe.

Over the course of the affair, Pierre has to juggle family and career demands with the desire to be with Mathilde. Theirs is a long-term, passionate affair–potentially the most damaging variety. Scenes with Mathilde are juxtaposed with scenes of Pierre’s unhappy, argumentative family life. According to his status-conscious wife, Suzanne (Christiane Millet), Pierre is never “there” for the family. Interactions between Pierre and his  two teenage children rapidly devolve into shouting matches, while he’s nagged non-stop by his wife when he does put in an appearance. All the phases of the affair unfold: the ecstatic beginnings, the ‘what-about-us’ phase, and the final stage as the affair disintegrates. The film does a marvellous job of showing the heady sensation of the affair. Pierre’s time with Mathilde is an equivalent of being on holiday from his job and his responsibilities.

We know that Pierre didn’t leave his wife–that is evident in the film’s very first scene. But we don’t know the reasons behind his decision. While Pierre’s story of the affair consumes most of the film, there’s also Chloe’s reaction. As a woman on the losing end of an affair, will she have sympathy for Pierre? How will she feel about Pierre’s decision to remain with his family? As the wounded party in her marriage, she makes a unique audience for Pierre, and his story gives her incredible insight into the other half of adultery.

In some ways, Someone I Loved may sound like rather rote fare, but it isn’t. Like any marvellous French film, the sum total is greater than its parts. As Pierre tells his stories and reveals his regrets, he must confront some unpleasant truths about his character. At one point, he admits, painfully, that his choice was “atrocious,” yet at the same time, it’s fairly easy to draw the conclusion that there was no easy solution. Now in his 60s, would he have regretted making the ‘other’ choice?  Is his regret for staying with his wife simply because the unchosen path (“The Road Not Taken“) seems infinitely more desirable?

From director Zabou Breitman

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Autumn Marathon (1979)

“I’m not a talented man. I just translate talented writers.”

Set in Leningrad, Autum Marathon (Osenniy Marafon) is touted as a sad-comedy. It’s the story of translator and lecturer Andrei Pavlovich Buzykin (Oleg Basilashvili), a middle-aged man who’s caught between two women. Andrei is married to Nina (Natalya Gundareva) but locked into a passionate affair with typist Alla (Marina Neyolova). When the film begins, Andrei is busy juggling his affair and his marriage while satisfying the demands of his wife, his mistress, and his career. On top of that, he is hosting a Danish professor, Bill who’s there to work on Russian translations and learn about Soviet culture at the same time.

As the story continues, Andrei finds himself in hot water with his mistress, his wife, and his publisher. Trying to keep both women happy, Andrei passes off a number of increasingly thin lies, and on some occasions, he even tells both women the same lies. There are tense scenes with Nina and the poisonous undertones at the dinner table, and these moments are contrasted with petulance and stone silence from Andrei’s mistress. With Alla pressuring Andrei for marriage, Nina unable to believe Andrei’s pathetic lies, and his publisher warning him to “stop chasing women,” the tense domestic situation reaches a crescendo.

Autumn Marathon is an enjoyable look at a very familiar story. Andrei, who is unhappy with either his wife or his existence, finds some solace in the arms of his mistress, and yet he’s loath to take the final step of breaking away from Nina completely and seeking a divorce. One of the funniest scenes takes place when Alla produces an expensive jacket that she insists Andrei wear home because she wants him to look “modern.” He explains that he cannot just show up in his apartment in a brand new jacket as his wife will be suspicious. Andrei is nagged into accepting the jacket and then must suffer the consequences when Nina sets eyes on it.

One of the interesting things about Autumn Marathon is while the film is ostensibly about a love triangle, the plot shows that the affair is just a symptom of Andrei’s characters flaws. Andrei’s biggest underlying problem is that he’s a push over, and it’s because of this huge character flaw that Andrei finds himself in a state of limbo, unable to make a decision and stuck between Nina and Alla. This character flaw is explored by views of Andrei’s other relationships–relationships in which he cannot set boundaries. Pushy obnoxious neighbour Vasili (Evgeni Leonov), a man who insists that Andrei & Bill go mushroom gathering manages to cause immense trouble with a bottle of vodka. And then there’s a fired teacher, Varvara (Galina Volchek), a woman who begs for Andrei’s help. Andrei cannot refuse Varvara–the word No does not exist in his vocabulary. And this relationship with Varvara brings the final blow to Andrei’s life. This is not a relatively simple matter of  a man who cannot chose between two women–Andrei is a man who cannot decide anything.  His life is totally out of control and under assault from forces that he is unable to harness. From director Georgi Daneliy

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Sidewalks of New York (2001)

“We’ll put that romantic crap to bed for once and for all.”

It’s impossible to watch Sidewalks of New York without realizing that the film is either a homage to, or derivative of, Woody Allen. But that doesn’t make Sidewalks of New York a bad film, and if you’re a Woody Allen fan, you may find yourself enjoying the film more than you thought.

sidewalks of new yorkSimilar to Woody Allen’s brilliantly funny Husbands and Wives, Sidewalks of New York also examines male-female relationships, infidelity, and marriage through a handful of characters. And as in Husbands and Wives, during Sidewalks of New York, from actor/writer/ director Edward Burns, scenes also segue to interviews in which the characters are asked key questions regrading their personal relationships and their attitudes towards sex, love and relationships.

Sidewalks of New York begins with Tommy (Edward Burns) engaged in an argument with his girlfriend. After being thrown out, he moves in temporarily with middle-aged Lothario, Uncle Carpo (Dennis Farina) and then tries to find a new apartment. He uses real estate agent Annie (Heather Graham) who’s married to cheating dentist Griffin (Stanley Tucci). Griffin’s self-confessed “European attitude to marriage” has him in an affair with scrappy waitress Ashley (Brittany Murphy). Ashley is doggedly pursued by doorman/future rockstar Ben (David Krumholtz). Ben was married to teacher, Maria (Rosario Dawson).

The interconnected relationships between these careening characters are explored with humour, but honestly Dennis Farina as Uncle Carpo steals the film, with Stanley Tucci coming in as a close second. The all-too brief scenes with Farina are hilarious. Carpo’s advice to the love-lorn Tommy: “Nothing heals a broken heart like a brand new piece of boodie”  is enough to screw up a man for the rest of his life, for while Carpo thinks he knows all about women, his approach to women might have worked in the 50s but it’s too out-of-style to work in the 21st century:

“I’m an animal. I’m twice as vital as any married man 1/2 my age. I’ve had sex with with over 500 women, and I’ve left them all baying at the moon.”

The weakest part of the film is Maria’s relationship (such as it is) with Tommy. She is the sketchiest drawn character of the lot. Heather Graham just doesn’t cut it as Griffin’s wife, and since she is a main character, this is unfortunate. Here as Annie, she delivers her lines to Griffin with a little smile that sometimes just seems out of place, but she seems much more at ease in her scenes with Burns.

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Husbands and Wives (1992)

“I’ve always had this penchant for what I call Kamikaze women….I call them Kamikaze because they crash their plane into you. You die with them.”

The film  Husbands and Wives, Woody Allen’s brilliantly funny examination of marriage, begins with married couple Professor Gabe Roth (Woody Allen) and his wife Judy (Mia Farrow) engaged in a low-level bicker right before their friends Sally (Judy Davis) and Jack (Sydney Pollack) arrive for the evening. The two couples plan a night out enjoying each other’s company over dinner, but before they leave for the restaurant, Sally has an “announcement.” With a sort of subdued excitement, Sally tells Gabe and Judy that she and Jack are going to separate.

Husbands and wivesSally’s announcement is delivered with the same sort of emotion you’d expect if this couple had made a decision to go on holiday in the Bahamas rather than their usual destination. While Judy is devastated by the news, which to her seems irrational and enitrely unexpected, Gabe is suprised but content to accept Jack’s statement that it’s “no big deal.” The news is so unsettling to Judy that the evening is entirely spoiled.

Sally and Jack’s announcement of a separation kick starts the rest of this very funny film. While the tightly-coiled Sally claims to look forward to being single, she becomes the date-from-hell when she discovers that Jack has had a woman on the side for some time, and that he’s now living with his bimbo aerobics instructor, Sam (Lysette Anthony).  Judy fixes up Sally with the lonely office bachelor Michael Gates (Liam Neeson), a man who’s just broken up with his long-term girlfriend. And added to the pot is Gabe’s young student, Rain (Juliette Lewis) whose short story “Oral Sex in the Age of Deconstruction” gets his attention.

The film follows Sally’s dating adventures, and Jack’s ‘relaxed’ new life with his aerobics instructor, while in the meantime Gabe and Judy’s marriage dives into the slow-burn of decay and disintegration. Gabe and Judy engage in night-long bickering that begins innocently enough with pointed questions tossed like javelins, and these sometimes esoteric questions devolve into accusations as the night wears on.

As the characters pursue each other in a sort of A Midsummer Night’s Dream compendium of unsuitability, shrewish, sour Sally dates the needy Michael, Jack watches inane comedies with airhead Sam, and Gabe wonders if Rain will be his next kamikaze woman.

Filmed in a semi-documentary style, the drama is intersected with interviews conducted with each of the subjects as they answer questions or render their version of events. Woody Allen’s savvy and often merciless approach to marriage captures all the subtle nuances–denial, avoidance, projection, and sex as a tool to dance around so many other issues. Judy’s ex-husband even makes a few appearances in interview slices as he recalls Judy’s passive-aggressive behaviour and while he argues that she “gets what she wants,” we see it happen through flashback encounters with Gabe and in a passionate argument with Michael.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is my favourite Woody Allen film, but Husbands and Wives comes a very close second. Marriages are impenetrable to outsiders, and each marriage has its own rules of play–often unspoken and barely understood by its participants, but in Husbands and Wives Woody Allen’s wit and intelligence effectively dissects the hellish dynamics of two very different relationships. From any other director, Husbands and Wives would be just another drama, but Woody Allen constructs two very believable marriages and then tears them apart with his usual inimitable style.

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Nest of the Gentry (1969)

“Is it true that I’m home at last?”

The Soviet film,  A Nest of the Gentry (Dvoryanskoe Gnezdo) is based on the novel by Ivan Turgenev. It’s the story of the return home of disillusioned Lavretsky (Leonid Kulagin) after he separates from his wife, Varvara (Beata Tyszkiewicz) in Paris. While the beautiful, elegant Varvara is the toast of Paris, Lavretsky is sadly out-of-place in the salon society, and after learning of his wife’s affair with another man, Lavretsky decided to return to his country estate in Russia. During his long absence, the estate has fallen into a state of decay, and during the film’s first scenes, Lavretsky wanders through the house with a loyal serf by his side. Everywhere he looks, things are falling apart–from the broken frames of portraits to the cobwebs flung across unused rooms.

nest of the gentryLavretsky has returned to the refuge of his long-unappreciated estate to “plough the land” and he very soon reconnects with long-time acquaintances–the Kalitins. The oldest girl of the family, Liza (Irina Kupchenko), catches his eye, but she already has a suitor, the dilettante Panshin (Viktor Sergachyov), a government official who comes by to lay siege to Liza on a daily basis. Liza’s mother encourages the match, and it’s one of those situations where the mother is enamoured with the daughter’s beau and arranges the match through a sort of thwarted desire. Liza, who’s a deeply religious girl, is ambivalent about Panshin, but not rebellious enough to openly disobey her mother’s wish. So it seems as though the match will take place as Panshin’s courtship extends through the long summer days.

Lavretsky’s arrival upsets all these matchmaking plans, and as he continues to visits the Kalitins, he falls in love with Liza and his feelings are reciprocated. Lavretsky is tied in marriage, but then the news comes that his wife is dead….

The film includes flashbacks of Lavretsky’s life in Paris, although his wife is a screaming success in the salons of Paris, Lavretsky seems out-of-place, superfluous, and even in the way as Varvara glitters and glides through the elegant company. But somehow Lavretsky is equally out of place in his dilapidated country estate.

Nest of the Gentry is a difficult novel to translate to the screen as a large portion of the novel is spent explaining Lavretsky’s background and his hideous education at the hands of his “anglomaniac” father. While Turgenev’s novel explains the idea of the ‘superfluous man’–an upper class man divorced from Russian culture, these portions of the novel are mostly absent from the film, and that’s unfortunate as these sections underscore the Russian upper class divorcement from their own culture. Lavretsky’s background, and the fact that his mother was a serf is only briefly mention. Several scenes, however, underscore the idea of French decadence and artificiality in direct contrast to the gorgeous summer scenes in the Russian countryside. There’s one great scene of the idle rich lounge by the river’s edge while in the background serfs sing as they slave on the estate.

The film is also quite gentle in its treatment of Panshin, and while the novel spends pages on Panshin’s egoism, the film, apart from sticking Panshin in the clothes of a dandy, doesn’t address his character or his desire to ‘westernize” Russia.

The film also ends inconclusively, and somewhat unsatisfyingly with the characters’ fates still up in the air. Those complaints aside, Nest of the Gentry is a gorgeous adaptation that should please fans of Russian literature and/or Soviet cinema, but a mini series format would perhaps effectively capture the details of the novel that this film missed. From director Andrei Konchal

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Therese Raquin (1980)

“Everything…as always.”

Zola is one of my all-time favourite authors, so when I saw this British television production of Therese Raquin from 1980, I had high expectations. The 60s-70s saw some of the very best BBC adaptations of classic novels–Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Zola’s Nana, Casanova (from his memoirs), and now I’ll add Therese Raquin to the extended list. This is a superb adaptation, and if you are into Zola, period drama, or British television, do yourself a favour, grab this 2-disc set, and prepare yourself for some fabulous viewing.

thereseWhen the film begins, Therese Raquin (Kate Nelligan) is a young married woman, wed to her dull, child-like cousin, Camille (Kenneth Cranham). They live with his mother, the very solid, very reliable and steady Madame Raquin (Mona Washbourne)–a woman who tends to coddle her only child Camille so much that it’s impossible to tell if he’s really sickly or if he’s just been indoctrinated to think he’s a semi-invalid. Madame Raquin runs a small shop, with Therese helping, and Camille works elsewhere as a clerk. The three live above the shop, in modest but stable circumstances.

Life for the Raquins has an established routine, and it’s a routine that Madame Raquin and Camille enjoy. Each Thursday evening, is ‘domino night’ and old friends Olivier Michaud (Philip Bowen), his wife Suzanne (Jenny Galloway), Michaud’s father (Richard Pearson), and Grivet (Timothy Bateson) gather to play dominos for a few sous while they enjoy each other’s company. The predictability of these evenings plays out with the same script every week, and everyone except Therese enjoys the time spent with these old friends. She’s so bored, she’s stupefied.

And then one-time artist, now petty clerk Laurent Leclaire (Brian Cox) enters the picture. There are hints dropped that Laurent is a weak, dissolute character as he failed to finish his legal studies and instead pursued a career as an artist with the necessary accoutrement of naked models. But with little talent, he now works as a minor clerk. Laurent immediately recognizes and is fascinated by Therese’s latent sexuality, and to Therese, the debonair Laurent seems different and exciting. Therese’s sexual awakening stirs dark passions, and Laurent, who initially visits the Raquins for free meals, becomes obsessed with his best friend’s wife. Drawn to each other, they indulge in an addictive, passionate, and explosive adulterous affair but find their moments of passion severely crimped by Therese’s oppressive home life and Laurent’s penury. Soon they hatch a plot to murder Camille.

Therese cannily understands that the small social group that convenes every Thursday is interested in continuing the predictable social pattern above all else, and she schemes to turn this to her advantage. Unfortunately the tedium of Therese’s suffocating life is not alleviated by the exchange of men. The Thursday evenings, which take place with boring regularity, but are supposed to represent the highlight of the Raquins’ social life, are so intricately rendered that even boring takes on a fascinating aspect. It takes a great deal of skill to replicate boring and make it interesting but this is achieved in this splendid production. Similarly, the abject poverty of Laurent’s life is underscored in just a couple of scenes. While the Raquins have a very small modest, lifestyle, they seem positively rolling in money when we see the reality of Laurent’s horrible life in a frozen, filthy garret.

Each stage of this fascinating, painful and sometimes horribly cruel story is executed upon the stage with precision and perfection. There’s Therese and Laurent’s passionate explosive affair–a phase in which these two characters fuel each other’s impatience and sexual appetite, dragging everyone else into the inferno. And then there’s the aftermath, the recriminations, the guilt, the self-loathing and the latent cruelty that spills out onto poor Madame Raquin. And in the meantime the domino evenings become a hypocritical travesty, a painful pantomime.

This is an exquisite riveting production with top-notch acting blended with Zola’s understanding of human nature. From the highs and lows of passion to the abject cruelty and inhumanity that plays out in the Raquins’ household, this is a feast for Zola fans. Keep your eyes open for Alan Rickman in a fairly small role.

Now if someone would just release the 1968 BBC version of Nana on DVD….

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Coup de Torchon (1981)

“I’ve got no choice. First, I’m underpaid; second, my wife takes all my money;and third, fining you is practically a civic duty.”

In the French film Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate), Jim Thompson’s noir novel Pop. 1280 is transposed from the rural American South to French West Africa. And here the film becomes a blistering critique of the corrosive nature of colonialism. You can draw your own conclusions about the connection between the American South and colonialism, but the bottom line is that the film works.

It’s 1938, and the world is on the brink of WWII. While at first the spectre of war appears to be a daunting prospect for the French characters stuck in this West African outpost, as the plot spins out, it becomes clear that the prospect of imminent war is really a matter of slow bubbling excitement because it represents a shift in the doldrums and a heightened connection with the outside world. By the end of the film, war has been declared and within minutes blacks are rounded up at gunpoint as an almost carnival atmosphere is unleashed within the white power structure.

The protagonist of Coup De Torchon is the middle-aged, flabby, sweaty Chief of Police Lucien Cordier (Philippe Noiret). Stuck in some African town for eons, Cordier has gone to pot–physically and morally. Whereas in most regions of the planet, being the Chief of Police is a position of some importance, Cordier is regarded by the other displaced Westerners with scorn, and he’s treated just marginally better than the blacks. From the minute Cordier gets up, his days are an endless humiliation–beginning with his nasty wife Huguette Cordier (played with housewifely slovenliness by Stephane Audran) and her so-called ‘brother’ Nono (Eddy Mitchell). Blatantly cuckolded in his own home, things don’t get better when Cordier steps out the front door. Whether he’s treated like a janitor by the wealthy Vanderbrouck (Michel Beaune) who pisses in the public toilet right underneath the Chief of Police’s window, or whether Cordier is the butt of jokes made by the local pimps, he leads a miserable life. But in order to swallow these humiliations, Cordier pretends they aren’t happening. So when he sees his wife cuddling, kissing and fondling her ‘brother,’ Cordier resorts to petty acts, and he tries to pass off the pimps’ rudeness as friendly fun, but Cordier’s humiliations at the hands of the white population escalate until he finally asks for advice from a fellow policeman.

Cordier takes the advice to heart and begins eliminating his enemies, fabricating stories or circumstances about their deaths, and as the Chief of Police, he’s in a perfect position to exact revenge and cover up his crimes.

It’s difficult to identify with the lengths Cordier goes to swallow his pride and accept the humiliations shoved down his throat on a daily basis. Perhaps the most egregious of these humiliations are those he suffers from his wife, but then again Cordier has a mistress to console himself with, the spunky, married Rose Mercaillau (Isabelle Huppert). Cordier is basically a coward at heart and even allows his mistress to be beaten in public by her husband rather than openly challenge him. And as is typical with Cordier, he is comfortable only with sneakily attacking rather than challenging and confronting. Ultimately acts of brutality do not give Cordier courage.

The native blacks in the film wisely stay out of the way of the white people as much as possible, and the areas in which the whites and the blacks merge is often violent and explosive with the Africans on the receiving end of the erratic behaviour of the whites. A couple of scenes indicate that the social behaviour of the French offers a degree of entertainment for the native blacks–albeit if watched safely from a distance. While Cordier can hardly be described as a defender of the blacks by any means, his speeches indicate that too many years in the colonies have left him incapable of making a moral decision, and that colonialism has eroded away any standards of good and evil he possessed.

While the film from director Bertrand Tavernier gives no hint about Cordier’s standards of behaviour in his pre-Africa years, nonetheless statements dropped by Cordier indicate that his sense of morality has been scrambled by the things he’s seen in Africa:

“At first it is horrible. But then you start to think about starving kids, little girls sold into slavery, women whose sex is sewn up… God created murder out of pure kindness. Murder is nothing compared to those horrors. ”

Cordier latches on to the new, idealistic, female teacher who arrives in town to teach the natives to speak French, and while he observes that this is a noble mission, he sardonically notes that she will enable the black children “to read their daddy’s name on French war memorials.” While Cordier finds the teacher admirable, it’s not long before she too is disgusted with him for his lack of moral courage.

There is the sense that far from home, the French characters act in a fashion that would not be acceptable on their home turf and that Cordier is ultimately influenced by those around him. Vanderbrouck, for example, wouldn’t be pissing in a roofless toilet if he lived in Paris and Madame Cordier might be more mindful of her neighbours if she was stuck in a small French town. The pimps wouldn’t intimidate the Chief of Police, and they certainly wouldn’t take potshots at bodies if they saw them floating by in the Seine. These actions are all indications of the general breakdown of society and indeed Cordier indicates this at one point while acknowledging that his standards have slipped:

“Grammar gets rusty like everything else if you don’t use it. And in Africa the same goes for good and evil. What’s good? What’s evil? Nobody knows. It’s not much use here. So it gets rusty too. Must be the climate. ”

And with the general breakdown of society corrupted by colonialism, crimes become–as Cordier notes–collective and confused:

“I try to save the innocent but there aren’t any. All crimes are collective. We contribute to each other’s crimes. We all shot your brother. And maybe I did a bit more than my share. ”

Ultimately Coup de Torchon is an examination of the erosion of moral courage through the corrosive insidious presence of colonialism. Most of the film’s characters lack moral courage and no longer speak out against what is morally wrong. They all turn a blind eye to one egregious situation or another–with Cordier as an extreme example. He’s the low man on the totem pole while ironically he is the one who is supposed to be enforcing laws as they impact behavior in the French colony. Lacking moral courage, and unable to identify wrong from right, good from evil, Cordier begins his cowardly path of revenge but simply misses the point that revenge isn’t what’s needed: it’s moral courage that’s glaringly absent.

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Full Moon in Paris (1984)

 

 “A myriad possibilities were out there waiting.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Eric Rohmer, Fabrice Luchini, France

Blood and Wine (1996)

 

“The interesting thing about rich people is that they’re so cheap.”

There are some films that burn images on our brains, and Blood and Wine from director Bob Rafelson is one of those films. There’s a scene in the film when wine merchant Alex Gates (Jack Nicholson)–who’s really a pathetic loser–is whooping it up in a swanky motel with Cuban mistress, Gabriela (Jennifer Lopez). To Gabriela, who works as a maid for a revolting rich family, Alex is a great catch; he’s a business owner, has a nice home and drives a red convertible. So what if he’s married? Alex is so broke his wife Suzanne (Judy Davis) can’t even write a cheque at the supermarket. But in this scene, Alex orders room service–complete with champagne while Gabriela stalks around in red heels and black lace lingerie. This scene is perfect. Alex and Gabriela leave reality behind and indulge themselves for a few hours, pretending that this fabricated experience is ‘real.’

bloodBlood and Wine is a sadly underrated crime film, and it’s the tale of how a middle-aged man, pressured by debts and yoked to a wife, a mortgage, and bills dreams up the sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape his hum drum existence and run off into the sunset with his mistress.

When the film begins, the heist is already planned with the major players in place. The stinking rich Reese family are leaving their ostentatious mansion (an uncomfortable cross between a swap meet and a museum) and sailing off on their yacht leaving their Cuban maid to housesit. The plan is that Gabriela will let Alex and his partner Vic (Michael Caine) into the house so they can lift Mrs. Reese’s diamond necklace from the safe. Things go wrong with the theft  immediately, but when Alex’s home life interferes with his criminal plans, events take an explosive turn.

Blood and Wine works so well because of its strong characterizations. The heist is just a heist, but it’s the people who try to pull off the crime and the people who get mixed up in the fallout that make the film so interesting.

First there’s Alex’s marriage: when Suzanne first appears on the scene, she’s using a cane for a broken ankle. Alex and Suzanne are at each other’s throats in less than a minute, and when the recriminations begin, it isn’t pretty. Suzanne who doesn’t seem to deserve such a louse for a husband, but then the issue is raised of just how she got that broken ankle, and gradually the ugly history of their turbulent marriage is raised.

Then there’s Suzanne’s son Jason (Stephen Dorff) who’s grown up protective of his mother and who harbors a slowly stewing hatred of his stepdad.

Vic, Michael Caine plays Alex’s partner, and this casting was a great choice. At first Vic appears to be a laid-back bucolic character, but as the film develops, Vic’s true character is revealed: vicious and unpredictable, Vic grows increasingly impatient with the screw-ups and whatever (and whoever) gets in the way of his share of the loot.

As for Gabriela, well she’s a girl who looks out for the best opportunity–whoever that might be.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Blood and Wine perhaps it’s time to see it: it’s a believable tale of greed and lust.

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Filed under Crime