Saturday, August 29, 2020

Fantasia 2020.08: Alone and A Mermaid in Paris

Only two movies with embargo dates on Thursday, so at least I haven't fallen much further behind in the last day. I'm kind of starting to feel the festival grind that I occasionally hear people talk about (but which I've seldom felt at Fantasia), and it's really making me miss the in-person experience, where even if I feel like I'm falling behind, there's another movie to get to and another and while it's nice that I'll have no more reviews to do at the end, I really miss the grind.

Anyway! Remember how earlier in the summer there were stories going around about people watching movies on the Seine? That movie was A Mermaid in Paris, and it's had an interesting year, opening up in March, seeing theaters close a week later, coming back when they re-opened in July, and if Box Office Mojo is to be believed, making pretty good coin in South Korea when it opened there. I wonder if it will make it here; I remember hearing about it enough early in the year to figure it had the profile, but I kind of don't know what the landscape is going to look like over the next few months with some theaters open while others running virtually and it likely being hard for distributors to supply a film to both. It's a bummer that I didn't love it more, but the female lead reminds me of young Julie Delpy and who doesn't love that?


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

There's a note at the end of the credits for Alone that states it was based upon another movie, and there's a temptation to wonder if anybody really would have known that this was adapted from any specific one of the couple thousand movies with a similar setup in Sweden or elsewhere. It and Försvunnen share the same screenwriter, so good on him getting paid twice for the frame of a decent, solidly-made thriller that wouldn't be particularly original even if it weren't a remake, but gets the job done.

It opens with Jessica (Jules Willcox) packing her stuff in a U-Haul and getting ready to move; not exactly sneaking out of town but not saying any long goodbyes; it's been a rough year. There's a little bit of weirdness on the road with an SUV that is going way below the speed limit and then riding her tail after she's able to pass. The same car shows up in the motel parking lot that night, with its driver (Marc Menchaca) coming up to apologize, which is kind of weird, but then she sees him broken down on the road, and then…

Well, let's just say that a guy doesn't have a room in his cellar with bars on the windows that locks from the outside if he hasn't done this before, and while that could be formidable, the film does not revel in Jessica's helplessness - it establishes the seriousness of the situation with Jules Willcox capturing how this situation is almost paralyzingly frightening, but the filmmakers quickly move on to the next stage of things. It's something the film does well throughout, so that even in the moments when Jessica has a brief advantage or chance to put some distance between her and her abductor, there's often a lingering force that threatens to freeze her even beyond the practical things that slow her down.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Une sirène à Paris (A Mermaid in Paris)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

France doesn't quite produce a steady stream of movies like A Mermaid in Paris, but probably more than wind up making it to even boutique theaters in the United States. If it feels like there used to be more, when Jean-Pierre Jeunet was working steadily with his movies getting world-wide distribution and some adventurous distributors picking up both animated and live-action movies that had one foot in the surreal, that's likely because it's not easy, with most of them winding up like Mermaid - often on the wrong side of the border between cute and cutesy, featuring a French sense of humor that is hard to translate, and so focused on whimsy that it's light on everything else. It's the sort of film one looks at and wants to love only to find that doing so is a bit harder than it looks.

Taking place after a series of 2016 floods that are well-remembered in France but maybe not so much in the rest of the world, it initially introduces Gaspard Snow (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who spends his evenings singing in the semi-secret below-decks section of Flowerburger, the floating restaurant started by his grandmother and currently owned by his aging father (Tchéky Karyo), who has decided to sell despite the nostalgic Gaspard's objection. A couple regulars have disappeared lately, walking straight into the Seine because of some sort of siren call. Apparently, the floods have washed an injured mermaid up the river, whom Gaspard finds and tries to rescue. When she awakes in Gaspard's bathtub, Lula (Marilyn Lima) is shocked to see that he is apparently immune to her song, which generally causes men to fall so deeply in love with her that their hearts explode, and what neither realize is that while he tried to bring her to a hospital the previous night, her song was overheard by a young doctor (Alexis Michalik), and his scientist wife Milena (Romane Bohringer) is determine to discover what happened - and perhaps take revenge.

Director Mathias Malzieu is actually best known as a rock star, though he also became an author before he started adapting his stories into films, and Mermaid is a multimedia project as well, with both an album and a book coming out more or less simultaneously. I wonder a bit if it might work out better as an album where he can hit an emotional theme or event, play with it for a few minutes and not really worry too much about the nuts and bolts of how it fits together. The story here makes a certain amount of sense, but Malzieu and co-writer Stéphane Landowski cut a fair amount of corners, telling the audience about Gaspard's heartbreak but seldom showing it affecting his personality, or having him seemingly betray no curiosity about having met an actual mermaid until very late. That Lula has killed is something that the film seldom reckons with, other than it being an easy excuse to make Milena an antagonist, and while there's some interesting stuff going on with Lula never having been in a situation where she could love before and Gaspard's hardened heart, it's a metaphor that Malzieu and Landowski thoroughly lose track and control of by the end of the film..

Full review at eFilmCritic

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