French Film

Review of The Midwife (Sage Femme): Two Catherines are better than one!

Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot are the main stars of French film The Midwife (Sage Femme).

In The Midwife (Sage Femme) we get two Catherines for the price of one – Catherine Frot as Claire, the midwife of the title, and Catherine Deneuve as Béatrice, a figure from Claire’s past. For many viewers, seeing these two together will be more than reason enough watch the film.

Claire works in a small hospital where all the midwives get along; her works exhausts her but she enjoys it. Her future is uncertain, because the hospital will soon be closed (hence the “Resist” sign hanging from it). She is the single mother of Simon, who is off at medical school.

Actress Catherine Frot received maternity training and delivered six babies in the course of filming The Midwife (Sage Femme).

We hear Béatrice before we see her, as Claire listens to her voice on her answering machine. We find out later that it’s a voice she has not heard for more than 30 years.

With great reluctance, Claire goes into Paris to meet Béatrice, who is dying of brain cancer and looking to reconnect with people from her past. She needs familiar faces and moral support. Fair enough. Far as we can tell, making amends, and seeking forgiveness are not part of her plan. She seems to be the guilt-free type.

Béatrice was mistress to Claire’s father, but she left him one day without a word of explanation. It’s not clear what she was to Claire  – something between a big sister, aunt or mother figure? (Some of the critics who don’t like this film are annoyed that such things are not spelled out.) What is clear that Claire has never forgiven Béatrice – not for the affair itself, but for her departure.

We have no idea how Béatrice has been supporting herself all these years either, though a scene in a gambling den offers a partial answer. I read somewhere that those were real gamblers, not actors.

The two women have many disagreements and misunderstandings before they come to a sort of truce. (Minor spoiler, sorry, but you could figure that out from the trailer.) Though these women are straight, that’s the same pattern many romantic comedies follow, isn’t it?

Speaking of romance, Claire has a one-step-forward, two-steps-backwards one with long- distance truck driver Paul (played by Olivier Gourmet, who has worked so often with the Dardennes brothers.) Here his character is quite amiable, not glum, silent, tortured or creepy as he has often been in other roles. Paul and Claire share adjoining garden allotments. (Gardening, earthiness, sex – is it too obvious? I’m willing to let it go.)

Béatrice does not have a visible love interest, but even though she is seriously ill, she still has an appetite for alcohol (whisky and wine) and lots of red meat. Cigarettes, too! However unlikely that might be in real life, it’s a signal that she’s not yet ready to just lay down and die and that she’s still chasing pleasure, wisely or not.

Colours and clothes were among the pleasures of The Midwife for me. Though Béatrice dislikes Claire’s frumpy beige raincoat, Claire does wear a pretty blue scarf, which matches the blue couch in her otherwise boring apartment. Béatrice has an absolutely gorgeous coat in a rich, jewel-like purple. No matter how distraught she might be, she always looks good! (I also read that her film wardrobe is by Yves St. Laurent.) In a nod to Deneuve’s past ads for Chanel No. 5, you might notice a big bottle on her bathroom shelf, if you look carefully. (Nothing bad happens to it, but keeping glass bottles in rooms with hard floors seems very unwise. Don’t ask me how I know.)

In the French film The Midwife (Sage Femme) Claire (Catherine Frot) checks her image after trying on lipstick belonging to Béatrice. She takes a spritz of perfume, too. See the bottle of Chanel No. 5, almost hidden by her shoulder?

The Midwife is unusual in that Catherine Frot was not just acting in scenes set in Claire’s workplace. Frot received several days of training in a French maternity ward and delivered six babies in the course of filming. Those scenes were shot in Belgium, because babies younger than three months old cannot be filmed in France. (In the U.S., babies who “act”  must be at least 15 days old.)

Writer-director Martin Provost (Séraphine, Violette) said he wrote the film with Frot and Gourmet in mind, and he was very happy that they agreed to appear in the film. In this interview, on a British site called The Upcoming, Provost talks about that and the birth scenes.

The Midwife (Sage Femme)
Written and directed by Martin Provost.
With: Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourme, Mylène Demongeot, Quentin Dolmaire

In Montreal, The Midwife (Sage Femme) is playing in the original French-language version at Cinema Beaubien and Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, and with English subtitles at Cineplex Odeon Forum.

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Django review: Go for the music – ignore the plot

Reda Kateb, centre, plays jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in the film Django, directed by Etienne Comar.

The French film Django presents the life of renowned jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt during the last years of World War II in Occupied France. The music is wonderful, but the plot is disappointing. It features a fictional, generic, femme fatale while all but ignoring Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a real-life Luftwaffe officer who loved the very music that the Nazis criticized as degenerate. Schulz-Koehn wrote about jazz and even supervised recording sessions under the name Dr. Jazz. More than once he helped Reinhardt and other musicians get out of trouble. Wouldn’t you want to know more about such a conundrum? (Director Stanley Kubrick had hoped to make a film about Schulz-Koehn. The Atlantic wrote an article about that.)

Many German officers attend jazz concerts in Paris, despite that degenerate label. (Signs warn that they’d better not try any dancing, though.) Django (played by Reda Kateb) does not mind playing for Nazis. Music is all he knows and he has to make a living, after all. He also declares “It’s not my war.” On the other hand, he’s in no rush to leave the familiarity of France for an extensive tour of Germany, and the idea of playing for Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and other bigwigs holds no appeal at all, especially since solos, syncopation, quick tempos and other musical flourishes are strictly controlled, when not banned altogether. (Does that fall under the “banality of evil?”)

Django’s manager reminds Django and his bandmates that saying “No” to the Germans is a very dangerous thing to do. The fictional femme fatale, Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France) points out that travelling into the heart of Nazi darkness would also be dangerous. There’s no happy solution to this problem.

After a certain amount of dithering in Paris, Django and his entourage head for the border in hopes of crossing into neutral Switzerland. It’s a closely watched border, though, so they must wait (and wait and wait) while hoping that members of the Resistance will deign to help them eventually. The film pretty much grinds to a halt at this point. Django plays in local bars to earn some food money, sometimes hiding his face under a hat, sometimes not. It seems extremely foolhardy considering his fame and unique style.

(SPOILER!) In one laughably silly scene Django is being chased by tracking dogs, so he lies down in the snow and sprinkles a few handfuls of the white stuff on top of himself. Somehow, I don’t think that would fool the dogs at all.

As many viewers will already know, Django did indeed survive the war, but as far as I can tell, the film fudges his escape attempt. The implication is that he made it into Switzerland and presumably stayed there until the war was over, but in fact, the Swiss border guards would not let him in.

What I did not know before seeing this film: Django Reinhardt could also play huge honking church organs and compose for them, too.

Things I learned later from Google: Django Reinhardt was touring England with his Quintette du Hot-Club de France when England declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939. Django returned to France immediately, but the Quintette’s violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, stayed in England until the war was over.

In regard to spending the war in France, Django said: “It is better to be frightened in your own country than in another one.”

In France during the war you could trade a Django Reinhardt record for two kg of butter on the black market. Django Reinhardt died May 16, 1953 at the relatively young age of 43.

Django is 115 minutes long

Director: Étienne Comar.

Screenplay: Étienne Comar and Alexis Salatko, based on the novel Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko.

With: Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Beata Balya, BimBam Merstein, Gabriel Mirété, Vincent Frade, Johnny Montreuil, Raphaël Dever, Patrick Mille, Xavier Beauvois (In French, German, English, Romani dialogue)

Music by the Rosenberg Trio.

In Montreal, Django is playing, with English subtitles, at the Quartier Latin Cinema, 350 rue Emery, H2X 1J1.

Django Reinhardt’s music, as performed by Nomad O Swing, Eclectic Django and Denis Chang, can often by heard at Montreal Jazz Bar Diese Onze, 4115-A, rue St. Denis, H2W 2M7.

Mustang Review: Turkish sisters struggle to maintain their independence

 

The young women who play sisters in the film Mustang have a great rapport and are very believable as siblings. (Metropole Films)

The young women who play sisters in the film Mustang have a great rapport and are very believable as siblings. (Metropole Films)

Mustang opens at the end of the school year – as our main characters, five sisters, are saying goodbye to their friends and teachers. In their school uniform of white blouses, loosely knotted ties and a-line skirts they look like girls you might see right here on the streets of Montreal. They seem happy, self-confident and they have long, glorious hair. (The kind of hair I always wanted to have in high school. . .sigh. All the cool girls had long hair. They were great at field hockey, too.)

About that title, Mustang, which might make one think of a Western, it’s all about that hair. In the press kit, Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven says “A mustang is a wild horse that perfectly symbolizes my five spirited and untamable heroines. Visually, even, their hair is like a mane and, in the village, they’re like a herd of mustangs coming through. And the story moves fast, galloping forward, and that energy is at the heart of the picture, just like the mustang that gave it its name.”

Back to the story: It’s a beautiful day, so the sisters decide to walk home instead of taking the school bus. The story is set in a seaside village on the Black Sea, and their walk takes them by a beach. This leads to some playful frolicking in the water with their male friends. Oh, oh.

By the time they get home, their grandmother has already heard about this indiscretion and she pretty much accuses them of engaging in an orgy. (What will the neighbours think? What will they say?) She also beats them, starting with the oldest one first, and working her way down chronologically. As outraged as she is, things only get worse when her son, the girls’ uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) comes home. (Their parents have been dead for years.)

The life the sisters had known is over now. Grandma (Nihal Koldas) gathers up their telephones, their computer, confiscates books, makeup, and any other thing that might have a pernicious influence, and locks all of it in a cupboard. The sisters are driven to a local clinic and made to suffer the indignity of virginity tests.

Their home becomes a “wife factory.” Neighbourhood women in headscarves come in to instruct them in sewing, stuffing a duvet, cooking (they even make chewing gum!) and advanced window cleaning. They must wear muddy-coloured, long-sleeved dresses. Sometimes when the family is just hanging out, we can hear speeches on the TV about how women ought to behave.

Before we know it, the two oldest girls, Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan) and Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), are serving coffee and cookies to the neighbourhood women. It’s a sort of an audition, or presentation of the merchandise, really. A woman will offer a son as a groom, then bring her husband in, that very same day, to confirm the engagement, with rings and red ribbons. The wishes and opinions of the future partners don’t seem to matter. At least Sonay manages to get engaged to the guy she’s already been seeing on the sly. Selma is not so lucky; she’s paired off with a guy who looks just as unenthusiastic as she does.

Ilayda Akdogan plays Sonay in a wedding scene from the film Mustang. (Metropole Films)

Ilayda Akdogan plays Sonay in a wedding scene from the film Mustang. (Metropole Films)

There’s an interlude at a soccer game that might remind some viewers of Jafar Panahi’s film Offside. The youngest girl, Lale (Gunes Sensoy), is a big soccer fan, but her uncle won’t take her to matches or even let her watch them on TV with him when his pals come over. But, after some violent incidents, the authorities decide that a coming match will only be open to women and young children. All the sisters welcome this chance to escape the wife factory and they join their friends for a raucous bus ride and a joyful game. (Turkey really did have some women-and-children only games in 2011, with 41,000 fans attending.)

After this outing, the walls around the house are made higher still, a tall wrought-iron gate is installed and bars are placed on the windows. The place really feels like a prison, now. However, all this “security” will come in mighty handy for some of the sisters later.

To my shock and surprise, when school starts again, none of the girls are allowed to return. (The actress playing Lale was 13 in real life, but she looked younger than that to me. I’m not sure how old she was supposed to be in the story.) No one comes to find out why they aren’t in school.

Throughout the film Lale has been watching, without saying a lot, but it’s obvious that she’s in no hurry to become a housewife. She’s plotting to rescue herself and her remaining single-but-already-engaged sister and we get to be a part of it. She might be young, but she’s very resourceful and she’s already found a good ally on “the outside.” An ally, mind you, not a prince or a knight, because she is not a helpless girl.

While some parts of the film are upsetting, maddening, even tragic, the bond the sisters have is wonderful to behold. Viewers who don’t have any sisters might well wish that they did. The actresses are so comfortable together they are very believable as sisters. Outdoors, they do gallop like mustangs, but at home they might tumble around playfully, or cuddle up together, like a bunch of kittens.

Hundreds of teenagers auditioned for parts in the film. Elit Iscan (Ece) was only one with previous acting experience, though you wouldn’t know it. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven first saw Tugba Sunguroglu (Selma) on an airplane flight.

Ergüven was born in Turkey but she’s based in France now. She often moved between France and Turkey, and also spent time in the U.S. and in South Africa, where she earned an M.A. in African History.

The film was shot in the Black Sea village of Inebolu. It is 600 km from Istanbul, though in the story the sisters are 1,000 km from the big city. For them, it probably seems as far away as the moon.

Mustang was written by Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour.

 

I really enjoyed the film’s sound track. Most of the tunes were composed by Australian musician Warren Ellis, of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Three tunes (or fragments of them) that Ellis recorded with Cave are in the film, though they are not on the Mustang sound track album. Those tunes are Home, Moving On, The Mother. Of the 12 tracks on the album ($9.99) 11 are by Warren Ellis, and one is from the Turkish band Baba Zula. (Here is a link to the Mustang soundtrack, at iTunes.) Coincidentally, Baba Zula played here in Montreal in October, 2015. Two other tunes, Yüksek Yüksek Tepeler (The Song of a Homesick Bride), performed by Selim Sesler, and Esrefoglu Hear My Words (Eyefoölu Al Haberi) performed by Ahmet (Dede) Yurt, are in the film, but not on the soundtrack. I think their tunes provided the lively dance music at a wedding reception. (Selim Sesler’s music is here, on iTunes; there’s a video of Ahmet Yurt on YouTube.

Mustang is a France-Turkey-Germany co-production For those who care about such things, Mustang is France’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar.

Mustang is in Turkish. In Montreal a version with English subtitles is being shown at Cinéma du Parc and Cineplex Forum. The version with French subtitles is being shown at Cinéma Beaubien, Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, and Méga Plex Pont Viau.

 

FNC 2015 Review: Love by Gaspar Noé

In this scene from Gaspar Noe's film Love, Electra (Aomi Muyock) and her boyfriend Murphy (Karl Glusman) relax in their Paris apartment. New neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin) can be seen through the window.

In this scene from Gaspar Noe’s film Love, Electra (Aomi Muyock) and her boyfriend Murphy (Karl Glusman) relax in their Paris apartment. New neighbour Omi (Klara Kristin) can be seen through the window.

 

“Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” It’s not a very original complaint (sorry!) but that’s what I was thinking, long before Love, the latest film from Gaspar Noé, was over.  I wasn’t able to appreciate it. And it’s actually two hours and 14 minutes long, strictly speaking.

The film is called Love, but “Clueless Jerk,” might be a more apt title.

The main male character is an American in Paris named Murphy (Karl Glusman). His girlfriend, dark-haired Electra (Aomi Muyock), left him because he got another woman pregnant.

The film opens with Murphy and Electra having sex. Is that Murphy’s dream in the present day, or is that Noé telling us that they used to be a couple? Could be either, I guess. His phone rings and Murphy wakes up. He is in the same room (though it has different decor now) and the woman in the bed beside him is blonde. It’s New Year’s Day and the call is from Electra’s mother. She has not heard from her daughter for two or three months and she’s worried. Does Murphy know where she is?

There’s lots of voice over as we hear Murphy’s thoughts, which are not very interesting and (when it comes to the blonde, the mother of his child), quite rude and crude.

As the story unfolds we see that Murphy behaved very badly on many, many occasions. He  wishes he could turn back time, though there’s no indication he would have behaved differently.  In his mind, he declares his love for Electra, over and over. I was not convinced. Is he even serious about that, or is it just a story he’s telling himself, now that something bad might have happened to Electra, and she might be permantently out of his reach?

There are so many sex scenes in Love. I hear that you can see that kind of thing on the Internet, at home, for free. No need to go to the cinema! There isnt much laughter between this couple, though. What kind of relationship is that?

Love is in 3D, which added nothing to the experience for me, except for a scene where Murphy blows smoke rings, which was cool for a few seconds.

If you are already a Gaspar Noe fan, Love might be for you, especially since he will be in town to present the film.

LOVE, 134 Min, VOSTF

Written and directed by Gaspar Noé

Cast: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Juan Saavedra

Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 at 8 p.m.

Concordia University, Alumni Auditorium (H-110), Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montréal, QC

Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, 1:30 p.m.

Cinéma du Parc 2, 3575 Ave. du Parc

Read more about Love on the FNC web site. www.nouveaucinema.ca/en/films/love
The Festival du nouveau cinema runs from Oct. 7 until Oct. 18, 2015

 

Sunday night cinema: Le Cinéclub: The Film Society presents Le Plaisir by Max Ophuls

A scene from the film Le Plaisir (Pleasure) by Max Ophuls.

A scene from the film Le Plaisir (Pleasure) by Max Ophuls.

The raison d’être of Le Cinéclub: The Film Society is to give people the chance to watch worthy films in their original film format, that is, not via DVD. This is not something average film fans can do at home, no matter how wonderful their setup might be.

Tonight’s presentation is Le Plaisir (Pleasure) by Max Ophuls. It’s a 1952 film in three parts, (Le Masque, La Maison Tellier, Le Modèle) all based on short stories by Guy de Maupassant about men, women and their pursuit of pleasure. Jean Servais provides narration as the voice of de Maupassant. It’s in French with English subtitles. More details about the plots can be found on the Facebook page for the screening of Le Plaisir.
The Harvard Film Archive says: “Max Ophuls (1902-1957) was a supreme stylist of the cinema and a master storyteller of romance, doomed love and sexual passion. Fusing the subject of his stories with his endlessly mobile camera, he choreographed emotion, overflowing into ecstatic and extended moments that merge images of desire with desire for cinema.”

Ophuls is known for his fluid camera movement, as pointed out by Noel Murray of the AV Club who decribes the filmmakers work this way:
“short, expertly crafted scenes, in which the actors dwelled on the comic subtleties of human interaction while Ophüls moved the camera around them at odd angles, like an eavesdropper craning his neck to take it all in.”

On the review site DVD Verdict, Daryl Loomis says: “Le Plaisir is beautifully shot by Ophuls with attention to fine details. The film is packed with sweeping tracking shots and constantly changing perspectives. The lighting and camera shots are often put at opposing angles, adding to Joe Hajos already delirious music. With strong performances all around and a great sense of style, Le Plaisir is a true pleasure to watch.”

The Criterion Collection has made a DVD of the film; people who cannot attend the screening might check that out. Those who do go, and like the film, could buy it for repeat viewing. Many reviews of Le Plaisir refer to that Criterion DVD, like this one, by V.F. Perkins in Film Quarterly and this one, by Fernando Croce in Slant Magazine. This essay by Robin Wood, appears on the Criterion Collection web site. Reading them in advance will prompt viewers to be on the alert for various events and film techniques, but those who dislike “spoilers” are advised to read them after watching the film.

LE PLAISIR (Pleasure) 1952, France, 97 min. French with English subtitles) directed Max Ophuls
With Claude Dauphin, Gaby Morlay, Madelaine Renaud, Ginette Leclerc, Danielle Darrieux, Pierre Brasseur, Jean Servais and Jean Gabin.
A short film by Georges Franju will be shown before Le Plaisir
Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015 AT 6:30 p.m.
Cinéma VA-114 of Concordia University, 1395 René-Lévesque Blvd. W. (metro Lucien l’Allier, metro Guy)
General admission: $8, students and seniors (65+) $6

See Facebook for more information.