Drama

Jean Renoir – La grande illusion (1937)

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One of the very first prison escape movies, Grand Illusion is hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Jean Renoir’s antiwar masterpiece stars Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay as French soldiers held in a World War I German prison camp, and Erich von Stroheim as the unforgettable Captain von Rauffenstein. Read More »

Francois Dupeyron – La Chambre des officiers AKA The Officers’ Ward (2001)

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Quote:
A man who thinks he’s found an easy ride through the Army during World War I has his world turned upside down when facial injuries render him unrecognizable in this wartime drama. In the summer of 1914, Adrien Fournier (Eric Caravaca) is an engineer conscripted into the French Army, where he is made a lieutenant and assigned to join a group of soldiers helping to design and build a bridge to move troops near the front lines. While scouting a suitable location for the bridge, Fournier and his fellows are caught in the middle of an attack, and a shell explodes in his face. Fournier survives the attack, but while his limbs and his body suffer only minimal damage, his face is torn to shreds — only landing in the mud prevents him from bleeding to death (the dried muck seals off a number of key blood vessels severed by the blast). It is some time before Fournier can be moved to an Army hospital, and he cannot talk through his ruined mouth, communicating with notes scratched onto a small chalkboard. Fournier finds himself in a special hospital wing for officers who’ve suffered severe injuries (a relatively comfortable area a good bit different from the crowded and spartan wards for common foot soldiers), and as a dedicated surgeon (Andre Dussollier) struggles to rebuild Fournier’s face with the primitive means available to him, the once-handsome engineer ponders an uncertain future. Commiserating with Fournier are Alain (Jean-Michel Portal), his best friend from college; Pierre (Gregori Derangere) and Henri (Denis Podalydes), a pair of fellow officers also suffering facial injuries; and Anais (Sabine Azema), a patient and warm-hearted nurse who brings hope to the hospital’s most severely injured men. La Chambre Des Officiers was screened in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.
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Lav Diaz – Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012)

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Quote:
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. A variant of the condition, dementia pugilistica (DP), is primarily associated with boxing. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, ice hockey, professional wrestling and other contact sports, who have experienced head trauma, resulting in characteristic degeneration of brain tissue and the accumulation of tau protein. Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression which may appear within months of the trauma or many decades later. (Wikipedia)
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Jean-Luc Godard – Éloge de l’amour AKA In Praise of Love (2001)

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Quote:
Having trodden the path towards ever-increasing obscurity in the 1990s, the eternal maverick of French cinema, Jean-Luc Godard made a surprising come-back with Éloge de l’amour, his first major theatrical release outside of France for well over a decade. More sophisticated and mature than Godard’s increasingly abstract and inward-looking works of the 1990s, it is a film which manages to capture the essence of Godard’s cinema (his political concerns, his love of character, his enthusiasm for cinema and literature, to say nothing of his near-pathological contempt for mainstream cinema). At the same time, it is a challenging work, packed with content whilst employing a minimalist approach reminiscent of Robert Bresson (another great director who is often referred to in the film).
The film is divided in two contrasting parts. It begins with an author’s seemingly doomed attempts to realise a ‘project’ (perhaps a film, but we cannot be certain of this). This part of the film is shot beautifully in black-and-white, almost as a sombre elegy to monochrome cinema. This includes some stunning night shots of Paris, immediately evocative of the Nouvelle Vague cinema of the 1960s in which Godard played such a major part. Two thirds of the way into the film, the mood and style change suddenly, as if we have been propelled into a dream. Thanks to the marvels of the latest digital technology, the images suddenly take on an otherworldly form, with overly saturated colour and some occasional visual distortions.
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Siegrid Alnoy – Elle est des nôtres AKA She’s One of Us (2003)

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Quote:
While the official jury opted for a long German joke, the deliberation for the FIPRESCI award in Stockholm transpired in, literally, a matter of seconds; the choice was that clear. As our citation states, “Elle est des nôtres” is an ambitious and extremely promising debut, a moving symbosis between its director, Siegrid Alnoy, and her lead actor, Sasha Andrès. Titled after a populist French song (and thus poorly translated to English as “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow”), “Elle et des nôtres” resonates with a cultish ring of unwanted belonging; she is one of us, she is one of us. In a way, Siegrid Alnoy’s first feature, which premiered at the Critics Week earlier this year at Cannes – and has proven to be one of that awful festival’s true discoveries – is about possibly the most banal yet damaging cult of them all: human society in the early 21st century. Her main character, Christine Blanc (musician Sasha Andrès, remarkable in her first feature film role) is appropriately named: she is a blank. Perpetually clothed in the same red business suit, Christine toils in limbo as a temp for bosses who don’t know her name, aspiring to full-time employment and social acceptance in her suburban Annecy environment, all indistinct malls, glass office walls and stifling sterility, approaching her daily interactions with the false veneer of politeness. Read More »

Orson Welles – Histoire immortelle (1968)

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synopsis

Immortal Story was directed by Orson Welles, who also stars as a fabulously wealthy, but bitter and dictatorial, European merchant. Soured on life, Mr. Clay (Welles) decides to play games with the lives of others. He decides to make the “immortal” legend of a sailor seducing a rich man’s wife come true and even picks the sailor (Roger Coggio) himself. Through Mr. Clay’s machinations, the sailor beds a beautiful younger woman (Jeanne Moreau) whom Clay pays to pose as his own wife. There’s little more to the story than that, but Welles weaves his short tale with an economy and expertise which proves he hadn’t lost his touch by 1969. Based on a story by Isaak Dinesen, The Immortal Story was originally made for French television; it was also the only Orson Welles-directed film to be released in color. Read More »

Laurent Cantet – L’emploi du temps AKA Timeout (2001)

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REVIEW

Film festivals are by their nature notoriously cut off, isolated in such a manner they rarely function as the best place to fully appreciate or accurately evaluate the merit of new works. Laurent Cantet’s astonishing “L’emploi du temps” (“Time Out”) suffers from no such equivocation. It is a masterpiece, the best film shown in this strong festival.

Cantet’s debut feature “Human Resources,” distributed in the U.S. through the Shooting Gallery Film Series, was a marvel of political urgency, social verisimilitude and human conflict. Outlined with some of the same Oedipal struggles of that film, “Time Out” is a perfectly made, emotionally piercing and artistically accomplished examination of the desperation and despair of an essentially good and caring man driven to craven, absurd acts of self-delusion. With echoes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passenger,” the movie presents a terrifying and gripping portrait of a man so alarmed at what he has become that he invents an idealized portrait to cover up his faults and limitations. Read More »