Tag Archives: relationships

Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent) 2007

Given the delicacy of the subject matter, Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent), a 2007 film from writer/director Anne Le Ny (Les Invités de Mon Père, The Chameleon) potentially could have been a three-hanky film, but instead of tears, this is a quality, thought-provoking film that soars above cheap clichés and easy solutions.

Teacher Bertrand (Vincent Lindon), appears to be coping with all the demands placed on him while his wife, terminally ill with breast cancer, is back in hospital. He manages to juggle his job, his domestic responsibilities, and frequent visits to the hospital with some ugly scenes with his uncooperative 16-year-old step-daughter, Valentine (Yeleem Jappain) who illogically and emotionally blames him for her mother’s illness.  During one of his visits he meets a young, attractive woman, named Lorraine (Emmanuelle Devos) who’s visiting her boyfriend about to have surgery for colon cancer.

those who remainSince neither Bertrand’s wife or Lorraine’s boyfriend are released from hospital, Bertrand and Lorraine continue to run into each other. The occasional cup of coffee morphs into a relationship that’s fraught with difficulties.

Obviously the subject matter places the characters in the middle of an emotional minefield. Both Bertrand and Lorraine meet due to the serious, life-threatening illnesses of their spouses, and they are drawn together by a strong mutual attraction. But is that the only element that pulls them together? One of the issues explored by the film is that when we support and nurse a dying spouse/loved one, we are essentially in a very lonely place. Relatives and friends can drop by to offer help, but they are able to leave. Both Bertrand and Lorraine are on a journey to the end of the road. At one point, Lorraine, who states that she’s no Mother Theresa, questions whether or not she’ll be ‘good’ or strong enough to be the person that she’s expected to be–after all, everyone expects her to stick with her boyfriend and it would seem extremely callous to dump him while he’s recovering from surgery. 

There’s also a supportive visit from Bertrand’s sister, Nathalie (played by writer/director Anne le Ny) who arrives with her husband and child in tow. It’s obvious that Nathalie has problems of her own, and the film does a wonderful job of showing how awkward it is to discuss one’s own problems in light of the impending death of another family member. It’s clear that the pall of illness and death is upon the household–no matter how much everyone tries to pretend otherwise. And it’s also clear that while Nathalie and her family are free (and relieved) to leave, Bertrand must remain until the end–whenever that may be.

If this sounds like a depressing film, it’s really not, and that’s largely due to the delicate, sensitive script which doesn’t wallow in the death aspects of the film or milk the obvious emtion of the drama, but instead includes little details such as the magazines bought by the visitors and the relationships carved with hospital personnel in the gift shop. And of course the film includes superb acting. Vincent Lindon excels at these wounded stag roles, and he’s sympathetic and admirable–always keeping his voice in a mellow reasonable tone–even as his world collapses around him. Emmanuelle Devos  as Lorriane is a bit of a dark horse here, and there are many unanswered questions about her attraction to Bertrand. Is their mutual attraction just an attempt to escape from the realities of looming death, or would their attraction extend beyond the hospital? They are both in that same lonely place, and so they understand each other’s concerns, but whereas Bertrand has been coping with his wife’s illness and battle with cancer for over 5 years, Lorriane’s journey is just beginning.

An excellent film about loss, grief and survival, Those Who Remain is highly recommended for anyone in the mood for serious French drama.

This is an entry into Richard and Caroline’s World Cinema Series 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987)

 “Some things are better left unsaid.”

In the French film, Boyfriends and Girlfriends Blanche works for the Cultural Affairs office in a small urban town. She’s 24 years old and single. One lunchtime, she meets Lea, a student, who lives with her boyfriend, Fabien. Lea and Blanche–although opposites in many ways, strike up a relationship, and soon they are the very best of friends. Blanche even begins giving Lea swimming lessons. One day, at the local swimming pool, Blanche spots Alexandre, and she’s immediately smitten. Apparently, most of the women who come in contact with Alexandre are similarly smitten. He’s a notorious ladies’ man, but he’s also known for his poor taste in women.

boyfriends and girlfriendsLea immediately begins encouraging Blanche’s interest in Alexandre, but at the same time, Lea emphasizes that he’s not really Blanche’s type. In fact, the more Lea talks about Alexandre, it seems likely that he’s more Lea’s type–at least she seems to feel the challenge of a relationship with him. Lea is also blatantly dissatisfied with Fabien, and she notes that with Fabien, “all my little games fall flat.” Lea is just marking time before they break up.

Rohmer delightfully dissects the difficulties involved in both beginning and ending romantic relationships. The delicate progress of courtship is recorded before the characters even seem to be aware of the new relationships they find themselves in. The uncertainty surrounding Blanche’s hopeful and desperate interest in the rather caddish Alexandre is touching. The characters–as always in Rohmer films–create all the interest. As a director, he enters the minds of his characters and studies their motivations through their conversations and their actions.

Blanche is sweet, pert and rather easy-going. Lea is much more elegant, complicated, and harder to please. Alexandre is very much at ease in his elegant skin. He’s confident and suave–the complete opposite of the much more sincere Fabien. The film gravitates around the idea that opposites do indeed attract–and knowing one’s ‘type’, does not necessarily lead to making better choices.

Boyfriends and Girlfriends is one of Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, and this series tends to be a little fluffier than many of Rohmer’s other films. Rohmer’s Moral Tales Series, for example, includes more substantial and philosophical films which deal with weightier subject matter. The Comedies and Proverbs are lighter–less serious fare and the other five films in this series are: The Aviator’s Wife, Full Moon In Paris, Le Beau Mariage, Pauline at the Beach, and Summer. Rohmer films are always full of conversations–there is rarely action here–and most of his films seem to mention, at the very least, holidays. The characters in this film find that their romantic lives are somewhat influenced by holidays. People seem to either love or loathe Rohmer films–the most critical find the films boring and pretentious–I, however, return many times to my Rohmer collection, and I am fascinated by the characters and the relationships they form.

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Un Coeur en Hiver (1992)

 “I don’t usually throw myself at people.”

coeur en hiverIn Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) Maxim (Andre Dussollier) and Stephan (Daniel Auteuil) work together in Paris. Maxim (Andre Dussollier) owns and runs a business that specializes in violins. Maxim’s clients come from all over the world to buy, sell, or repair their instruments. Stephan (Daniel Fauteuil) is an employee, and it’s his job to repair and also build violins. Stephan obviously loves his work, and he does his job with precision and excellence. Maxim is charismatic and has the social skills Stephan lacks. Maxim is the person who meets the clients and flies all over the world to bring back the violins Stephan salvages. Stephan is quiet, self-contained and far more complex than Maxim. The two men have an interesting relationship. On the surface, it would appear that they are equals whose different talents create a great working partnership, but the story, which is at first narrated by Stephan, reveals an inequity in the relationship. One day, Maxim confesses that he’s in a relationship with a violinist, Camille Kessler (Emmanuelle Beart). He introduces Camille to Stephan, and trouble begins.

Camille Kessler is used to people taking care of her. There’s her long-time, slightly jealous agent/manager, Regina who is also ready to act as a protective duenna. And then there’s Maxim. He’s so grateful that Camille looks at him, that he’s ready to take her on any terms–even though he knows her music comes first. Stephan appears to be incapable of emotion, yet many questions remain as to his motivations. Does he play mind games with both Camille and Maxim or he is genuinely stirred by a tweak of passion? The acting is phenomenal. Emmanuelle Beart as Camille is subdued and self-contained, and her passion appears to be only for music–until the right buttons are pushed. Auteuil–as always–masters his role of Stephan–a complicated man who doesn’t appear to need anything. It would be a tremendous understatement to label this film ‘a love triangle’ as the film is far more complex than that. The plot remains (after watching the film at least a dozen times) open to several interpretations. This marvelous French film (with English subtitles) and directed by Claude Sautet, will have a special appeal to classical music lovers. The soundtrack is stupendous. For those interested–to understand Stephan’s character, read Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time. (The novel is even mentioned in the film.) Stephan is a modern-day version of Pechorin.


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5X2 (2004)

“I don’t believe in fidelity, it’s not natural.”

It’s not unusual to find a film that examines the disintegration of a marriage. What makes director Francois Ozon’s film 5X2 different is that the film works backwards in time from the divorce to the day the couple first fell in love. With fine attention to detail and mood, Ozon reveals 5 crucial stages of the relationship beginning with the cold, clinical details of the divorce, a dinner party, the birth of the couple’s son, the wedding, and finally Gilles (Stephane Freiss) and Marion’s (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) romantic beginnings at a holiday resort.

Since the film begins with the couple’s divorce, we know how the story ends. But we don’t know how this relationship began–or more significantly where things went wrong. Starting with the bitter aftermath of a divorce, Ozon peels away the layers of unhappiness that constitutes this relationship and the story catalogues minor annoyances and major transgressions along the way.

Gilles and Marion’s story is somehow sadder for the reversed sequence of events, and the interesting element here is that just as we write Gilles off as a husband and father (in the third segment), in the fourth segment we see that Marion isn’t exactly without blame either. They chose to divorce while other couples in the film accept infidelity and rampant dislike as a matter of course. 5X2 is clever, dark and underneath the beautiful scenery and occasional slant towards romance, the film takes a stark, fatalistic view of human relationships. Anyone who has survived the destruction of a relationship should be able to relate to this film’s method of unraveling the crucial and complicated moments catalogued in a decaying marriage. 5X2 contains a fair amount of nudity and sex. In French with English subtitles.

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Closer (2004)

 “Why do I feel like a pervert?”

Closer is the story of two couples–Dan & Alice and Anna & Larry. Dan (Jude Law), a journalist who writes obituaries meets Alice (Natalie Portman), a transplanted stripper from New York when she’s involved in a car accident. They strike up a relationship and move in together. Dan is attracted to professional photographer Anna (Julia Roberts), and she meets dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen) as a result of a prank arranged by Dan. Closer charts these four people at crucial moments over a period of years, and explores how infidelity permanently affects their relationships.

Closer begins as a gooey boy-meets-girl romance, but then quickly slides into a much darker, and more interesting film that explores the nasty side of human motivation. Dan indulges in infidelity with a standard approach, and his affair with Anna follows a rather typical pattern of deceit and subterfuge. Dan, however, fails to understand Larry’s incredibly complex character–for Larry is a man with hidden depths and strengths. While many films focus on the subject of infidelity by narrowing the topic to the discovery, and subsequent fallout, Closer takes a much bolder approach. Larry understands the power and permanent pain one can cause by a well-timed confession lobbed correctly. Larry uses infidelity as a weapon and as a strength. In an ordinary drama, Larry could be scripted to be the cuckold, but instead, he becomes the puppet master. Clive Owens as Larry delivers an incredible performance. As a fan, it’s gratifying to see him in a role that allows him to flex his skills. Owens’ performance of Larry–the true Nietzschean hero is phenomenal.

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Summer (1986)

 “I’m not normal, like you.”

Summer  (Le Rayon Vert) from French director Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series is basically a ‘boy meets girl story’. The plot is centered on Delphine (Marie Riviere), a Parisian woman who finds herself alone for her annual holiday. Delphine attempts to salvage her holiday by solitary sorties to several locations. In Biarritz, she meets a Swedish woman whose confidence and predatory behavior serves only to undermine Delphine’s confidence even further.

summerSummer is a character study of a single woman’s voyage through urban loneliness, and in true Rohmer tradition, the action is dialogue driven. Many of Rohmer’s films include some reference to the Parisian annual holiday, but in this film, the plot never strays from the idea of the annual exodus from Paris. Herein lies Delphine’s dilemma–she doesn’t want to be alone, but she doesn’t exactly glow when she’s around other people. When surrounded by others who attempt to make Delphine feel comfortable, her behaviour alienates them and ultimately isolates her. She’s idealistic, and that makes her interesting, and she clearly doesn’t fit in with the more social groups she constantly mingles with. However, Delphine’s tendency to whininess and constant crying detracts from the film. Rohmer films often concern an admirable character who is troubled in some way. In Summer, Delphine as a central character is too weak to bolster the entire film. There are psychological depths to her behaviour that are unexplored, and the film remains less substantial than many other Rohmer films.

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Chinese Roulette (1976)

 “Eavesdroppers often hear the false truth.”

chinese-rouletteWealthy businessman Gerhard Christ (Alexander Allerson) leaves his stiff emotionless wife, Ariane (Margit Carstensen) and sulky physically disabled daughter, Angela (Andrea Schober) for the weekend. Ostensibly, he’s traveling on business to Oslo, but in reality, he meets long-term mistress Irene Cartis (Anna Karina) at the airport, and together they drive to his country chateau for a dirty weekend. Meanwhile, his wife, Ariane, thinking her hubbie is safely off in Oslo, packs her bags and leaves for the chateau with her lover Kolbe (Ulli Lommel). When Angela catches on, and realizes that her father is lying about his whereabouts, she too heads for the chateau with her mute, serene governess, Traunitz (Macha Meril).

All the characters descend upon the chateau, destined for embarrassment and an ultimate showdown. Faithful–but unpleasant housekeeper Kast (Brigitte Mira) and her son–would-be author Gabriel (Volker Spengler)–maintain the chateau in the Christ family’s absence. Kast is a fascinating, repulsive character. Her face smacks disapproval of the Christs’ behaviour, but more than anything else, she loathes Angela. She’s not alone in this feeling. Angela’s mother loathes her daughter too, and Angela–not unaware of the total lack of maternal feeling, goads her mother constantly. It becomes apparent that the housekeeper has been aware for some time that both Mr. and Mrs. Christ have long-term lovers–and she’s juggled both adulterous couples separately at the chateau on weekends. So while each of the Christs have remained in ignorance about their spouse’s affair, Kast knew. Is she a faithful, close-mouthed retainer, or she is disloyal for keeping quiet? This paradox is just one of the puzzles in Chinese Roulette.

One of German director Werner Rainer Fassbinder’s favourite themes is the inherent exploitive nature of human relationships, and this theme is at work in Chinese Roulette–one of Fassbinder’s most stylized films. Obviously there’s a hierarchy of power in all the relationships–both of the Christs, for example, select extra-marital partners who are substantially socially and economically their ‘inferiors.’ The relationships between the characters are not connected by emotion–instead the relationships are glued together poorly by obligation, exploitation, or payment. The unloved and apparently unwanted Angela–who operates under the assumption that her parents’ adultery is connected to her disability–uses a game she calls Chinese Roulette to bring everyone together in what appears to be a socially acceptable setting, but in reality this nasty, spiteful game of truth reveals the underlying pathology in all their relationships. Fassbinder fans should enjoy this lesser-known title. In German with English subtitles.

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