“There are four men I loved. I killed two of them.”
Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) is a divorced, successful Parisian art gallery owner. When the film Kings and Queen (Rois et Reine) begins, she embarks on the journey to see her father–a famous writer–in the country. The men in Nora’s life make a great fuss of her as she departs. There’s her rich fiance, and her assistant who both see her off with a certain ceremony and fussiness. Once at her father’s, it’s apparent that all is not well. He complains of stomach pains, and a trip to the hospital reveals he has cancer and just a short time to live.
At this point, Nora falls apart. Not only is she about to lose her father, but he’s also raising her small son. Nora turns to her ex–Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) who’s currently locked up in a mental hospital–and this may or may not be a bad thing as he’s also wanted by the IRS.
The film is structured–and the term is used loosely–into two sections and an epilogue. The discursive plot meanders back and forth into Nora’s past and reveals … well … a considerable amount of dirty laundry–including one long meandering sequence with her first dead husband. This sequence takes place while Nora waits in the hospital for news of her father. It’s not clear if this chat with her dead husband is a dream, or a ghostly visitation–but whatever it is–it is the first sign that the film has derailed.
While the structure-less plot is a horrible problem here, another problem with this film from director Arnaud Desplechin–is its characters. I’m comfortable with disliking characters, and as a matter of fact, unlikable characters can often make a film–or book–much more interesting. The characters in Kings and Queen however, aren’t just unlikable–they’re annoying. Nora is at first revealed as this ‘together’ gallery owner, but the big send-off by the men in her life should have been a clue that she has a tendency to unravel. And unravel she does … several times. But then none of the characters are quite how they present themselves–take Nora’s wealthy fiance, for example–she’s supposedly marrying him for stability, but he has a narcotics habit that pulls the rug out on that theory. There’s such a dichotomy between how the characters see themselves and the reality from the viewer’s point of view, that ultimately the film is self-indulgent and pretentious.
Emmanuelle Devos delivered an incredible performance in Read My Lips, and her performance here is faultless too. Kings and Queen deals with some very complicated ideas of human behaviour, and unfortunately the constant meandering and lack of structure let the film down. Somewhere in the 150 minutes of Kings and Queen, I suspect there was a decent film. In French with English subtitles.
“My wife has it in for me.”
In Nobody’s Life (La Vida de Nadie) Emilio (Jose Coronado) is a successful economist who works at the prestigious Bank of Spain. He’s happily married to the attractive Agata (Adriana Ozores) and together they have a son named Sergio. Emilio is so talented when it comes to money matters that all of his relatives and even his best friend, Jose (Roberto Alvarez) hand over their money for Emilio to invest. Emilio insists that he prefers to deal in cash, and no one seems to find this a bit fishy.
Things begin to unravel for Emilio when Jose announces that he and his wife are getting divorced. Jose must move out of the family home, and he needs money in order to furnish his new place. So he turns to Emilio and explains that he needs some of his invested money back. But the money hasn’t been invested, and Jose’s divorce is just the beginning of Emilio’s troubles. It seems that Emilio’s life is a complete lie, and the pressure is now on to keep everyone deceived. Meanwhile, Emilio experiences a powerful attraction towards his son’s babysitter, Rosana (Marta Etura)–a young girl who’s seeking a scholarship.
Nobody’s Life is from Spanish director Eduard Cortes, and this is an incredibly well paced, well-acted drama. The film grows slowly in intensity until it reaches an extremely tense, riveting conclusion. Timeout and L’Adversaire are both recent foreign films that deal with a similar theme, and if you enjoyed either of those titles, you’ll like Nobody’s Life. Nobody’s Life is not as cerebral as Timeout, and not as ominous as L’Adversaire, but it’s a very clever film complete with twists and turns that keep the viewer focused on Emilio’s constant, slippery efforts to escape detection. Emilio’s attraction to Rosana adds a great deal of depth to the drama as the relationship allows him to escape into further deceptions–and at this point it’s obvious that it’s necessary for Emilio to deceive himself above all others. In Spanish with English subtitles.
“You are as immoral as I am, but you don’t practice it.”
Martin (Hache) is a splendid character-driven drama from Argentinean director Adolfo Aristarain. The film focuses on the relationships between four diverse characters–Hache also known as ‘Jay’ (Juan Diego Botto), his emotionally remote, wealthy father Martin (Federico Luppi), actor Dante (Eusebio Poncela), and Martin’s girlfriend Alicia (Cecilia Roth). The film begins in Argentina with an upset Jay spending an evening in a club and carelessly taking a drug overdose. Martin flies to Argentina to see his son, and Jay’s mother, who is remarried and is expecting another child orders Martin to take Jay back to Spain. Martin agrees reluctantly. He’s busy working on a new screenplay, and he doesn’t try to hide his lack of interest in his son.
Martin seems to have little in common with his two main people in his life. There’s the bubbly, extrovert Alicia, who’s so outspoken, Martin seems embarrassed to be seen in her company. And actor Dante, is a self-professed Epicurean, and that basically seems to mean that he leads a no holds barred life of considerable excess. In contrast, Martin is quiet, withdrawn, cold and serious. He makes a study out of avoiding commitment, and when the confrontational Alicia drives a point of truth home to Martin, he simply backs her off with demeaning comments. Both Alicia and Dante don’t seem to expect much from their relationship with Martin, and that’s just as well because he’s cold and unapproachable.
Dante and Alicia befriend Jay, and even though they are both terminally irresponsible people, they are appalled by how Martin handles his son. Dante loves the anonymity of living in a hotel, but he makes room in his life for Jay, and Alicia, who has a drug habit that increases in proportion to her unhappiness, is ready to form some sort of unit together with Martin and Jay. While both Dante and Alicia chide Martin for his lack of emotional involvement towards his son, Martin remains stubbornly resistant to help and suggestions.
It’s the phenomenal acting from Roth and Poncela that make this film so memorable, and some of the best scenes occur in the discussions that take place between the four characters. The conversations reveal a great deal about the dynamics of the relationships (think Eric Rohmer–but not as cerebral), and the film’s focus is on acceptance of individuality–especially the acceptance necessary for a parent-child relationship. In Spanish with English subtitles.
“But you have to come to grips with yourself.”
The Austrian film Antares explores three tangled domestic relationships. The stories unfold separately, but all three couples live in the same high rise building in Vienna. As neighbours, they know one another by sight, and each of the stories interlock at crucial moments.
Directed by Gotz Spielman, Antares is an engaging, adult glimpse–often with stark reality–at three different, and difficult modern relationships. The first couple–nurse Eva (Petra Morze) and her husband are locked in a listless marriage that may or may not be helped by the fact she works the night shift. Her schedule allows her to indulge in a very physical affair with visiting physician Tomasz (Andreas Patton). With full frontal shots and a little bondage, this couple doesn’t have much time for words, and can barely gulp down a glass of wine. Meanwhile, Eva’s hubbie is blissfully unaware of the affair. One of the film’s best scenes occurs when Eva returns glowing and satiated from a recent tryst, and her hubbie turns up the classical music while they eat, noting, “that’s real passion.”
Meanwhile unpleasant, insecure and jealous supermarket checker Sonja (Susanne Wuest) has managed to convince her boyfriend Marco (Dennis Cubic) that she’s pregnant. This announcement brings on the offer of marriage, and Sonja mistakenly believes that this deceit will effectively seal Marco to her. She brushes off the skepticism of an older workmate by stating that she’ll just work out the details later.
Nicole (Martina Zinner) and her very unpleasant, insufferable spouse Alex (Andreas Kiendl) are the third couple. Although they are separated, he refuses to get out of her life (mainly because no one else will put up with him), and he barrages back into her flat announcing that he’s changed. He hasn’t–of course–he’s still a petty bully with violent tendencies, and Nicole makes the mistake of trying to appease him.
Spielman’s deft direction and his very clever interlocking moments make for an excellently made film that permits an intimate glimpse into his characters’ lives. The alienated characters are mostly an unpleasant lot, and this may put some viewers off the film. That said, the film makes some bold statements about why some people remain in relationships–even when alienation and boredom have set in, and unrealistic expectations and demands have worn a tired path through any hope these characters had of marital bliss. In German with English subtitles.
“We’re not from Pakistan.”
Any film from director Ken Loach film deserves a look, and A Fond Kiss, although lighter fare than this director’s usual films, is not an exception. Based on the rocky romance between an Irish Catholic music teacher and a Scottish-Pakistani man, the film takes a good hard look at the difficulties faced when contemplating a relationship that crosses cultures and ethnicity.
Casim Khan (Atta Yaqub) is a young, modern Glaswegian. A DJ by night, he hopes to open his own club. He’s also a good loyal son, and lives at home with his parents and two sisters. His father emigrated from Pakistan decades early under conditions of extreme hardship, and now the family owns a small corner shop. An arranged marriage is planned for Casim and he’s due to be married in a matter of weeks to his cousin, Jasmine, when he meets and falls for Roisin Hanlon (Eva Birthistle), a teacher at his younger sister’s school.
The film does an excellent job of showing the clash between Casim and Roisin’s cultural expectations, and their failure to understand the pressures each bears when societal forces align against them. Casim straddles both Scottish and Pakistani cultures, and he successfully manages to negotiate each by leading a double life. The duality of Casim’s existence is depicted particularly well in a scene at a club. Casim’s western self is enjoying the evening at the club when he sees his sister trying to enjoy herself there too. Casim’s muslim standards kick into high gear and he orders his sister home. In one of the best scenes on the film, Casim and Roisin discuss religion. There are so many points of agreement, and yet they are also theologically poles apart. Each finds some aspects of the other’s religion absurd, and somehow this scene captures the difficulties this couple will face if they should decide to make the relationship more permanent.
In the hands of many directors A Fond Kiss would be standard predictable boy-meets-girl fare. But under Loach’s direction, the plot is elevated and thought provoking. As a result, this is a blisteringly honest film, and while Yaqub’s performance is a little weak, Eva Birthistle is wonderful. Flashes of humour soften the possibly harsh interpretation of Casim’s parents’ expectations adding a lighter element in what could so easily been an impossibly depressing film. Ken Loach is one of the most interesting directors working today, and if you enjoy this I also recommend Bread and Roses. In English and Punjabi with subtitles.
“I’ve read about drunken girl gangs.”
Directed by Alain Resnais Private Fears in Public Places weaves together the interconnecting stories of a disparate group of lonely French singles while examining loneliness and the inability to communicate as fatal obstacles to intimacy. The result is a very clever film that resonates long after the credits roll. Private Fears in Public Places at first seems to treat its subjects superficially (and this is underscored by the often hearted handling of the subject matter), but now days after watching the film, I am still mulling over the characters’ actions.
Paris real estate agent, Thierry (Andre Dussollier) shows a series of apartments to Nicole (Laura Morante), but her fiancé Dan (Lambert Wilson), ex-army and now unemployed argues that everything she finds is too small. He insists he needs a study for undefined purposes. Meanwhile, Thierry’s coworker–single, religious Charlotte (Sabine Azema) insists on sharing inspirational videotapes. These tapes are a yawn fest to Thierry, until he discovers something rather surprising. In the meantime, Thierry’s lonely sister Gaelle (Isabelle Carre) goes on a series of blind dates.
Dan avoids Nicole and the impending crisis in their relationship by hanging out at a local bar. The only person Dan can connect with is bartender, Lionel (Pierre Arditi), and while Lionel is not exactly paid to listen to his customers’ stories of woe, this goes along with the territory. Lionel, however, has problems of his own, and he employs Charlotte to mind his demented father while he works shifts at the bar.
Based on a play from the nimble mind of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn (and if you ever get a chance to see one of his plays performed, grab the opportunity), the light comic approach belies the seriousness of the subject matter. What could so easily have become a depressing dissection of the inherent loneliness of city lives is tempered with humour. The short scenes end with snow falling. Yes it’s winter in Paris, but the characters also live in a frosty state of emotionally barren lives. Thierry and his sister may share a flat, but they crawl into their own little corners, sharing little. Charlotte creates a façade that covers some much more interesting behaviour, and Dan cannot vocalize his unhappiness in spite of Nicole’s repeated attempts. In French with subtitles, this is another marvelous film from Resnais.