Thursday, May 20, 2010

Recent French stuff: The Girl on the Train and Bluebeard

There is officially neither rhyme nor reason to how boutique films get booked in Boston, as these relatively late-arriving imports from France demonstrate. Bluebeard, okay, that's in large part about when the Brattle has an opening in their schedule, which can be especially difficult right now (it still had to share space with the end of the Boston LGBT Film Festival), but I didn't realize that The Girl on the Train was lagging so long after its New York release. I tend to expect a film to hit Boston within a couple weeks of New York, and I was kind of surprised when I saw that it actually took almost four months for it to hit Boston. I saw it on the last day of what turned out to be a two-week run at the Kendall; five days later it was on DVD. I'm kind of surprised that Boston ended up at the tail end this time, but I guess we should be considered lucky it got booked at all - plenty of midsized cities probably didn't get that, and I'm pretty sure it would have just blown right past me without a video release.

It's interesting that I found The Girl on the Train so much better than Bluebeard, if only because they've got a certain amount in common - both recent French films, picked up by Strand for distribution, with about the same "just okay" scores on IMDB. They're both also rather more passive than I usually go for. And while I think that Girl is a much better film, I wonder how much the attached name that I recognized influenced me.

After all, I was kind of excited to see Girl on the Train once I saw that Émilie Dequenne was the star; Dequenne, you see, was the damsel in distress in Brotherhood of the Wolf, a thoroughly entertaining action movie from about ten years ago that I loved all-around (I imported an HD-DVD from the United Kingdom a couple years ago so that I could have it in HD format, and find it frustrating as hell that director Simon Gans hasn't done anything besides Silent Hill since), and Ms. Dequenne specifically. While she's been working steadily, not much has been the sort of thing that makes its way to the U.S., and a poster that sells the show with "hey, one of your movie crushes is still really pretty" puts you in a good mood.

On the other hand, Bluebeard comes from director Catherine Breillat, who is known as a provocateur; she does movies like Fat Girl and Rape Me that get a reputation for unpleasantness to match their reputation as pretty good movies. I've generally got little time for that sort of film, so I've avoided her stuff in the past. So, I'm coming in thinking "movie by pretentious lady most known for shock value", which isn't so encouraging.

It's probably worth mentioning that Bluebeard was the Chlotrudis movie outing of the week, and you never look forward to the movie someone else chooses as much as the one you choose yourself, but I was planning to see it; this just wound up choosing which day I did. It led to one of those uncomfortable post-film discussions with friends, where everyone else seems to enjoy it and I'm wondering what sort of drugs they took before I got there. It also really seemed as if the others were trying to make it better than it actually was at times.

One example of that was pointing out that one of the children telling the story share's Breillat's first name, and maybe this is significant. And I suppose it may be - the names of these two kids were the names of the sisters inside the story rearranged (Marie-Anne and Catherine become Anne and Marie-Catherine), and if what happens in the end is autobiographical, that's a hell of a thing. But I kind of think it doesn't matter; does knowing this make the movie any better, or does it simply make it more obviously self-indulgent? I think the latter, and if that's the case, I kind of resent that a bit - it's a huge part of the movie that doesn't work unless you know the director's personal history, because the events in question are pretty random otherwise.

La fille du RER (The Girl on the Train)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

The Girl on the Train is based upon an incident that drew a fair amount of attention in its native France, but makes an unusual choice or two in telling the story. Director André Téchiné and co-writer Jean-Marie Besset (who had previously done this story on the stage) pay little attention to what the incident meant for the public at large, instead trying to get inside the head of the girl in question.

There's nothing extraordinary about Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne). She's quite pretty, maybe a bit spoiled by her mother Louise (Catherine Deneuve). She spends most of her time rollerblading around Paris, catching the eye of Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a handsome young man training to be an Olympic wrestler. Her mother encourages her to apply for a job with Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), who served in the army with Jeanne's father, while Franck gets them set up as "caretakers" of an electronics shop that mainly serves as a front for moving drugs. An incident there leaves Jeanne shaken, leading her to...

Well, now we're getting into stuff that happens relatively deep in the movie. Let's just say it kicks up a stir, and Louise turns to Samuel for help. In many cases, we'd see that stir, and it would serve as a reason to examine the tensions that exist in today's France, and Jeanne's behavior would be a symptom of those troubles. That's not the case here, though; instead, we spend a lot of time watching Jeanne do things that establish her as quite unremarkable, and if she's an exemplar of some societal ill, it's not the one that gets headlines after she goes to the police.

Full review at EFC.

Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard)

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement)

I don't think there have been any musical animated adaptations of "Bluebeard", and the reason why is pretty obvious: Once you remove the sex and violence to make it family-friendly, there isn't much left at all. Surprisingly, given her reputation, director Catherine Breillat avoids the lurid nature of this fable for as long as she can, before draining the fun right out of it.

Once upon a time, there were two sisters, Anne (Daphné Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), who were summarily sent home from boarding school after their father's death means their tuition will no longer be paid. They look to have no prospects, at least until invited to a party by a local noble (Dominique Thomas), whom the ladies shy away from because of his bizarre blue beard. Well, and because he's old and fat. Oh, and, right, there's the little matter of how he seems to take a new wife each year because he allegedly murders them. Still, younger sister Marie-Catherine is undeterred; she sees something in him other than grotesquerie and might even be strong-willed enough to live with him - at least, until he leaves on a trip to the provinces, giving her they keys to the castle but saying she must never use that one...

Soon, we see that the tale is being told by two more modern sisters exploring their attic, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) and Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites), with precocious younger sister Catherine teasing Marie-Anne for getting scared. These scenes seem a bit like padding, at least at first, but it's easily forgiven because these are cute kids, behaving in a way that sisters do, with Catherine clever for her age but not adult-smart. They're fun digressions.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: