Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New from France: The Joy of Singing, Inspector Bellamy

This post was originally going to be somewhat longer on both ends - I intended to see one or two other films in the MFA's series on Friday afternoon and Claire Denis's White Material tonight. Why have I not? Well, let me put it this way - I never get off the 47 bus as the right spot to see things at the museum. Never. On Friday, as usual, I missed the MFA stop, didn't realize I'd gone too far until the train pulled into Ruggles Station, and then got a bit turned around and ended up walking to Dudley Station. Sunday I at least managed to get off one stop too early, which was OK, since the schedule left me plenty of time.

Tonight, after seeing that Kendall Square was going to hold White Material over a week, I opted to go see The Narrow Margin as part of the VES screenings at the Harvard Film Archive instead... Only to get there and see a note taped to the door saying that it was unavailable, and they'd be playing the first two chapters of Godard's History of Cinema instead. Eh, no thank you. I stopped by Mr. Bartley's for a delicious burger as compensation (there's no line on summer weeknights for a seat!), and then walked home to find the UPS guy just leaving the Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray Discs on my doorstop. I'm no superstitious person, but I am willing to accept that as a message, and am watching three and a half hours of fantastic animation with amazing sound and picture instead.

Thing noticed while writing the review for Joy of Singing: I think the last time I used the word "airhead" was when reviewing The Girl on the Train. Do the French use this character type more than others? Speaking of which, I see Girl on the Train and Bellamyshare a writer. How odd, to never see anything by someone who has had a decades-long career and then see two in relatively rapid succession.

Le plaisir de chanter (The Joy of Singing)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 November 2010 at the Museum of Fine Arts's Remis Auditorium (New Films From France)

There are music and voice lessons in The Joy of Singing, but there's also sex. And spies. And screwball strangeness. It's a leftover stew of a movie, with filmmaker Ilan Duran Cohen apparently throwing in whatever bits of story caught his fancy and coming out with a droll, if occasionally bizarre, comedy.

Arms dealer Hans Muller has recently died, which is a problem for a great many people, as he was moving a shipment of uranium at the time. French Intelligence believes that a USB card with information on who purchased it may be in the hands of his widow, Constance (Jeanne Balibar), so they task a pair of agents to get close to her: Muriel (Marina Fois), thirty-five and starting to worry about her inability to conceive, and Philippe (Lorant Deutsch), her much younger partner and lover. The easiest way to get close appears to be the singing class she takes from opera singer Eve (Evelyne Kirschenbaum), but everyone else has the same idea: Anna (Caroline Ducey) is probably with Israeli or Russian intelligence, Xavier (Eytan Kirch) with another agency, and Julien (Julien Baumgartner) is a prostitute hired by Reza (Frederic Karakozian), a bear of an Iranian. They've got their work cut out for them, because while Constance seems to be an airhead fortunate to have married well and been widowed relatively young, her sister-in-law Noémie (Nathalie Richard) thinks it's an act and she murdered her husband.

If it's an act, it's an amusingly convincing one. We get a sense of this character and the movie's general sense of humor early on, when she's walking out of Eve's building and has her purse snatched. Instead of panic or terror, there's a confused look on her face that says "again?", and that's before we learn that, no, this is not the first time her bag has been stolen or her apartment searched. The film is one long, Gallic shrug at increasingly absurd situations, a laugh at how ineffectual the authorities are and how the ditzy Constance is seemingly able to just drift through, apparently unharmed and unaffected by the dead bodies and strange entanglements appearing in her wake.

Full review at EFC.

Bellamy (Inspector Bellamy)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 November 2010 at the Museum of Fine Arts's Remis Auditorium (New Films From France)

The opening scene of Claude Chabrol's final theatrical film gives a hint to why he was often compared to Alfred Hitchcock, though with a French sensibility: His camera threads its way through a graveyard until it finds corpse that is not there to be interred: It's burnt to a crisp, still in a sitting position, and clutching a steering wheel like nothing terrible has happened. The head is on the ground next to it. For all the gruesomeness of the image, it's a jaunty, whimsical moment, the sort of black comedy that was Hitch's trademark.

From there, things become rather more French. We see a man, Noel Gentil (Jacques Gamblin), lurking around the Nimes vacation home of Paul Bellamy (Gerard Depardieu). Paul's wife, Françoise (Marie Bunel), sends him away, but Paul, a Paris detective of some renown, cannot resist a mystery, especially when the alternative is spending time with half-brother Jacques Lebas (Clovis Cornillac). It turns out that Gentil is really Emile Leullet, the owner of the car, and with his insurance fraud discovered, he wants Bellamy to help him and his lover Nadia (Vahina Giocante) to find a way out of what he claims is not cold-blooded murder.

The story sounds ridiculous when described like that, and I suspect that there is no way to describe it where it would sound otherwise. Bellamy spends a good deal of time ferreting out information that should have been given to him up front, while the final pieces fall into place from somewhat conveniently. To the extent that Bellamy is a murder mystery, it is about determining degrees of culpability. Though Bellamy is not on official police business, he is still engaging in one of a detective's most important duties - trying to determine what a suspect is capable of, at that crucial moment, when there's no definitive evidence. Indeed, not being on official business is why Bellamy is able to spend so much time giving this thought.

Full review at EFC.

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