Oui, oui mes amis! It’s that time of year again. From light-hearted comedies, to dark-minded thrillers, a wide array of French films will be descending upon Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX and Windsor Cinemas from March 16th. Here’s a quick look at just some of the films you’ll be able to check out over the coming weeks.
Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément!
Director: Clovic Cornillac
Starring: Mélanie Bernier, Clovis Cornillac, Lilou Fogli
Opposites attract in Clovis Cornillac’s sweet and sugary Parisian rom-com, Blind Date.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Two unnamed neighbours, played by Clovis Cornillac and Mélanie Bernier, find themselves in the unlikeliest of romantic relationships after the latter moves into her tiny new Parisian apartment. He is a talented inventor who craves silence, whilst she is an aspiring pianist – and together their conflicting interests spark the strangest of romantic entanglements. Separated by a thin expanse of dry wall, the two find themselves getting to know one another intimately, despite never actually meeting.
Cornillac’s film sets itself apart by ensuring that the would-be lovers not only never meet or see one another, but that they also never learn each other’s names. It’s a refreshing and unique approach that gives renewed focus to astute dialogue and character growth. As the duo flirt and fight through the blank dry wall, their warmth and affection for each other exudes both through the partition and out of the screen. From bickering about singing in the shower, to teaching each other how to cook, the effervescent chemistry that the lead duo shares is an incredible feat of smart writing and sharp characterisation.
Cornillac, who shares writing duties as well as directing and starring as the male lead, is brilliant, but the star of the show has to be Bernier, who gives a radiant performance behind her thick-rimmed glasses and tight hair bun. The plot may lean on some fairly recognisable tropes (such as awkward cases of mistaken identity), but the rousing finale and hefty emotional payoff makes Blind Date a charming and bubbly time at the movies.
Director: Christian Vincent
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Victor Pontecorvo
Dry wit, sappy romance and justice for child-killers – French drama Courted has it all. If only it could balance all three and add some depth, we might have had a modern classic on our hands.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Supreme Judge Michel Racine (Fabrice Luchini), president of the criminal justice-dealing Assize Court, is having a hard time. He’s recently divorced and the butt of gossip and rumours amongst his fellow law workers, he’s contracted a bad flu the night before presiding over an infant-murder trial, and to top things off, ex-flame Ditte (Sidse Babett Knudsen) has been randomly selected as a juror on the case, forcing them to work in close proximity for the entire span of the trial. As romance re-blossoms and the case heats up, Racine discovers a late-in-life optimism that he thought had escaped him forever.
Courted is a peculiar film, in that director Christian Vincent (La Discréte, Haute Cuisine) doesn’t seem entirely sure what he wants it to be. There’s an odd blend of harrowing courtroom drama mystery, light romance, and bursts of dry, quirky Murphy’s Law humour, which – while each having its moments – doesn’t quite gel together the way it should. Luchini and Knudsen do solid work, injecting each of their roles with enough charisma to invest in their separate characters, but unfortunately their romantic moments fall mostly flat; their backstory connection is shallow, and their chemistry sadly lacking thanks to the absence of any passionate or sentimental moments.
Much more intriguing is the court case itself, surrounding a young man (Victor Pontecorvo). Unfortunately, the trial is reduced to a backdrop to serve our key players’ fairly stagnant storylines, when really it should be front and centre. We’re left with an entertaining, if ultimately empty string of law-revolving vignettes that could have been something great; if only Vincent had remained more focused.
The White Knights
Les Chavelier Blancs
Director: Joachim Lafosse
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Louise Bourgoin, Valerie Donzelli
White people problems in the Third World: The White Knights, despite an interesting narrative, is hindered by those front and centre.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Belgian-French drama The White Knights is inspired by one of the past decade’s most arresting, world-spanning stories – the Zoe Ark controversy of 2007. The plot here revolves around the Move for Kids campaign, a NGO headed-up by Jacques Arnault (Vincent Lindon) and his girlfriend Laura Turine (Louise Bourgoin).
The group’s mission involves rescuing 300 children from a civil war in African nation Chad. Sounds honourable right? Here is the catch: the team members – hiding their true identities as adoption-agency workers – plan to take the children to France, away from their families, instead of setting up a compound in Africa like they have promised the locals.
The story itself provides a fascinating insight into white privilege taking advantage of those less fortunate. The lead characters’ actions – lying and buying their way through various situations – appear to be ripped straight from the headlines. However, The White Knights never quite delves into the moral, political, and cultural quandaries – favouring to depict the nitty-gritty details (bureaucratic red-tape, funding negotiations etc.) over significant discussion or contemplation.
Director Joachim Lafosse favours personal drama between our blustering, selfish lead characters. The drama relies entirely on Jacques and Laura’s spiteful relationship quarrels. Jacques, prone to intimidation over care or consideration, spends the majority of the film’s bloated 112-minute run-time, snapping at his rag-tag group of helpers. The socio-political overtones are heavily underdeveloped, shining the spotlight on our Caucasian leads, rather than the Third World around them.
The White Knights has it share of positives, aided by an arresting visual style and fine performances. However, the divide between story and storyteller fails to capture truly interesting titbits on offer.
Coup De Chaud
Director: Raphaël Jacoulot
Starring: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Grégory Gadebois, Karim Leklou
Heatwave makes life difficult for all its inhabitants, but its muddled writing leaves it oddly cold.
Raphaël Jacoulot’s Heatwave is a movie that is at odds with itself. It is about village life and small town politics. It is a murder mystery. It is communal and picturesque. It also happens to take place during a terrible heat wave. None of this is related, and the movie seems to be okay with that.
Jean-Pierre Darroussin plays Daniel, the mayor (and vet) of a countryside hamlet in France. His townsfolk are restless; playing pranks on the cow farmer (Carole Franck), and causing all kinds of trouble in the village square is Josef (Karim Leklou), a kleptomaniac who’s also, as the movie suggests, a raving lunatic.
Leklou is perhaps the movie’s best player. He’s eerily convincing as the deranged Josef, whose wild and inexplicable behaviour takes him from stealing local groceries to almost raping a little old lady. His mother defends him (“He had little oxygen in his brain when he was young!”), but surely she must accept defeat and realise her son is frightfully uncontrollable.
Josef, however, isn’t fully fleshed out as a sympathetic troublemaker. He’s not pushed to the extreme of his potential. Where does he fit into the grander schemes of the villagers and their plans? Why is there a heat wave? It appears as a backdrop but has no direct impact or consequence on any of the characters or the plot. I would’ve liked a story just about Josef. He could be a very interesting young boy. Or a story just about the heatwave, and how the village struggles to survive under its weight. It doesn’t work when you put the two together.
Images courtesy of the Alliance Francaise Film Festival, Paramount Pictures, Vendetta Films, Umbrella Entertainment, Madman Entertainment & Potential Films