C’est La Vie! The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival has returned for another year, so why not head out to Perth’s independent cinemas, indulge in some wine and cheese, and experience the latest and greatest of French films? We checked out a few of the films on offer so you can decide what might tickle your fancy:
See You Up There (Au Revoir Là-haut)
Michael Philp & Elle Cahill
See You Up There chronicles the lives of two men, Edouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel), who meet on a WWI battlefield and become inextricably tied to one another. After Péricourt becomes horribly disfigured, the pair return to Paris and survive by selling fake war monuments. As the pair become rich, it soon becomes apparent that great wealth brings great attention, and that they can’t keep hiding from their past.
Shifting from the hollowness of war and post-war poverty, to the extravagance of the Roaring 20’s, the filmmakers have done everything in their power to accurately portray the two extremes; beautiful cinematography illustrates the chaos and desperation of war, while the production design captures the dandiness of the 1920’s.
The comedy throughout is appropriately dark, with writer/director and lead actor Dupontel not shying away from the realities of post-war exploitation. Despite this, he makes sure to let in a little slapstick and farce, emphasising the film’s 20’s aesthetic.
Yet despite its comedic veneer, See You Up There carries an often unspoken darkness, and is never shy about addressing the roots of its characters’ poverty. That uncanny balance is what makes the film stand out.
Ladies (De Plus Belle)
Too often we forget about those who survive a battle with cancer and the challenges they face in picking up the pieces of their lives afterwards. This is where De plus belle comes in, a story about a breast cancer survivor learning how to rebuild. Florence Foresti plays Lucie Larcher, a single mother who has just had a double mastectomy and is struggling to regain the confidence she once had. When she meets Clovis (Mathieu Kassovitz), a smooth-talking bachelor, her self-image and beauty is put to the test as she struggles to feel beautiful in the way that he sees her.
Never has there been a more appropriate time to describe a movie as ‘just fine’. Des Plus Belle isn’t terrible, but neither is it great. The story is original enough, and explores the definition of beauty, as well as society’s perception towards breast cancer survivors. The acting is solid, with nice performances from both of its leads, but does it get to me emotionally? No. Does it fell like a captivating drama? No. All in all, it’s just fine.
Could this have been a great movie? Sure. But I think to do so, it would have required taking a lot more risks, but then again, I don’t believe this was the type of film it was striving to be. No, it just wanted to be a simple, heart-warming affair, and that it does achieve. It’s enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t push the envelope.
Golden Years (Nos Années Folles)
André Téchiné comes from the same rich stock that flavoured French cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s, telling stories about the human condition and filming them as if they were songs. His latest, Golden Years, addresses the human condition like so many of his others, but it plays less like a song and more like a demo track with missing verses. It’s quite a confounding experience.
From what I could tell, Golden Years unfolds out of order, which wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if it wasn’t trying to examine the mental and sexual ramifications of appearing as the opposite gender to save your life.
In the film, Paul Grappe (Pierre Deladonchamps) escapes from a shelter while recovering from war wounds and gradually loses his identity after dressing up in his mother-in-law’s old frocks. He sells his body to soldiers back from the front, alienates his wife, Louise (Céline Sallette), and eventually feels more comfortable in stockings than boots.
What happened here? Where did Paul go? Did he always have crossover tendencies, or was it just the war? Nothing’s ever quite clear. Téchiné instead snips off large portions of important events so that what we’re left with are all the uninteresting middle bits and none of the punchlines. No man stays dressed as a woman for no reason. I’m sure Paul had a good one. We just never find out what it was.
The School of Life (L’école Buissonière)
It’s not hard to pull School of Life apart. It’s full of well-worn tropes, twists that you can see from a mile off, and at times it feels like several different stories crudely sewn together. It begins promisingly enough – there’s a hint of a discussion on vegetarianism that you just hope will go somewhere – but by the third act it’s clear that none of that potential is going to be handled well. Information is revealed seemingly at random, rivalries disappear, and a romance appears with all the passion of a box being ticked.
And yet it insists on being too sweet and charming to dismiss entirely. Totoche (François Cluzet) is the biggest culprit of this. An endearing take on the forbidden father figure, Totoche is a poacher with a knack for inventions and the perfect foil for Borel (Eric Elmosnino), an uptight gamekeeper obsessed with catching him. You could make an entire film out of those two playing cat and mouse and it would be wonderful. For a little while, School of Life is that film. What a pity it feels the need to grow up.
Images courtesy of Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, StudioCanal, Arp Sélection and Umbrella Entertainment.