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15th Cinefranco - Toronto (with film reviews)

23 Mar 2012

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Cinefranco returns for its 15th year taking place at the prestigious TIFF Bell Lightbox.  Once again, Marcelle Lean and her crew programme the best of what is French commercial cinema.  Viewing these films reminds one of the French way of living, their practices and joie de vivre.

Cinefranco runs this year from March 23rd to April the 1st.  For complete list of films, program and showtimes, go to the website at:
http://www.cinefranco.com

So why this article then?  This article provides capsule reviews of 10 out of the 14 feature films to be shown that should help you select the films to see.  Note that there are also two programs of French shorts.  The films range from France, Belgium and Canada among different French speaking countries.  Screeners were provided courtesy of Cinefranco.  Merci beaucoup!

L’AMANTE DU RIF (France/Belg/Morocco 2011) **
Directed by Marjiss Nejjar
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The segment of Aya (Nadia Kounda) being shot singing Bizet’s Carmen while dancing in the open depicts the dream of romance and freedom she seeks.· The setting is Rif, Cordillera.· Unfortunately, this is not going to happen in real life.· Perhaps this is her punishment for looking down on her mother who had given up on her life to look after her husband and family.· Aya’s brothers are drug tarffickers working for the Baron.· Aya is jailed.· Her mother gets her out only so she can wed, but Aya deems this way out as another prison sentence.· The film works all right in this depressive mode but never gets out of it.· Director Nejjar favours music and dance which are always around whenever there is an opportunity.· Aya eventually escapes in her own way but with dire consequences.· An ok film on the depressing side.

BEUR SUR LA VILLE (France 2011) ***
Directed by Djamel Bensalah
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Three comics Tran, Doumbia and Booder, headed by the latter play three misfits of the police force in the little French town of Villeneuve-Sous-Bois.  Khalid (Booder) is made chief of police to solve the case of a serial killer believed to be Muslim, as a laughing stock for political reasons.  But Khalid proves that he is not as dumb as everyone thinks.  He uses common sense and street smartness to aid the chief investigator, Diane (Sandrine Kiberlain) solve the case of the grisly murders.  The gore is kept at a minimum for the sake of comedy.  Bensalah’s film is often politically incorrect, especially towards the Arabs, but one is forgiven is one pokes fun and himself and the film’s main star who keeps saying that is all right every time a racial slur is made against the Arabs.  But Bensalah’s film is well intentioned and all good comes out in the end.  Veteran French/Belgium actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Van Damme lay their hand in cameos.  Comedienne Josiane Balasko is memorable as ‘granny’, the foul-mouthed bum who had more up her sleeve than one can imagine.  BEUR SUR LA VILLE is a comfortable blend of silly humour and detective story.

LA GUERRE DES BOUTONS (WAR OF THE BUTTONS) (France 2011) ***
Directed by Yann Samuell
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Based on the famous 1912 French book of the same name by Louis Pergaud, WAR OF THE BUTTONS, the book has been remade many times even by the British.  This 2011 version comes in competition with another adaptation and not to be mixed up with – LA NOUVELLE GUERRE DES BOUTONS (THE NEW WAR OF THE BUTTONS).  The setting is 1960, in a village in the south of France. A gang of boys, aged between 7 and 4, led by the intrepid Lebrac, is at war with the children of a neighbouring village, the sworn enemies. It is a war that lasted for generations, a war without end without concession. To defend their honour and proclaim loyalty, the boy warriors will do anything to show they are the stronger side even if it means fighting battles in the nude or admitting a girl (horror!) into their esteemed ranks. The only thing these brave soldiers fear is to be caught by their parents after a skirmish has left them deprived of buttons and with their clothes in tatters. In that event, discretion is most definitely the better part of valor, as they say.  The film is a family outing at heart with not foul language and hardly any violence thought there is one fight scene involving a knife.  Director Samuell balances the gang fights with no blood and gore, though one must cringe that such fights must result in casualties.  But the core message in the book on the fight for independence and rights for children does not get across in the film.  The big party thrown by Lebrac to celebrate children’s independence turns out more ofr a celebration in which all the kids pig out and have a good time.

MON PIRE CAUCHEMARE (MY WORST NIGHTMARE) (Fr/Belg 2010) **

Directed by Anne Fontaine
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Writer/director Anne Fontaine’s (NETTOYAGE A SEC, NATHALIE, COCO AVANT CHANEL) funniest comedy to date benefits from Isabelle Huppert’s terrific performance as a haute ***censored*** tamed by an uncouth handyman, Patrick (Benoit Poelvoorde).  A sort of modern day Taming of the Shrew, but this is material often seen before in romantic comedies, the type that Hollywood churns out by the dozen each year.  MY WORST NIGHTMARE benefits from the imprint of its star and also director.  The film contains the charm of the French as well as its Bourgeous uptightness and romantic liberties.  It all starts when Agathe (Hupert), an art gallery manager encounters the foul mouth Patrick at a school PTA meeting.  Their sons, who are best friends, bring the two together but it is not till Patrick is hired by Agathe’s husband (Andre Dusollier) to work on the house that the fireworks begin.  Will Patrick eventually bed down Agathe?  Well he does get her to accompany him to the Ikea to pick out the closet while he downs the Swedish meatballs if that is any indication.  Unfortunately, the film’s second half cannot match the first, the film falling apart right after Agathe utters the line to Ptraick that she cannot live without him.  The film is all downhill from there with an ending regarding an art painting that makes no sense.

NI A VENDRE NI A LOUER (HOLIDAYS BY THE SEA) (France 2011) ***
Directed by Pascal Rabate
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A combination of Jacques Tati and Jeunet/Caro (DELICATESSEN) type of comedy but never reaching those heights, Pascal Rate’s film is more whimsical than laugh-out loud.  I found myself hardly laughing at all, thought still very much amused by Rabate’s characters’ antics.  He shoots an assortment of characters that holiday by the sea on the coast of France.  These include several couple, a pair of leather-clad punks, a traveling salesman meeting his mistress and families in a caravan park.  The humour comes from events like chasing a runaway kite, moving in an overturned caravan, playing gold and scrabble, invading a nudist camp among other things.  Rabate’s camera is observant and well placed, and captures effectively the reactions of the faces of his characters, as evident in the car race scene going on at 10 mph at the film’s start.  There are several familiar faces that non-French audiences can still recognize like Dominique Pinon (from DELICATESSEN), Maria de Medeiros and others.  The end is a quietly relaxed entertaining delight pretty much like a holiday by the seaside.

OU VA LA NUIT (THE LONG FALLING) (France/Belgium 2011) ****
Directed by Martin Provost
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OU VA LA NUIT, more appropriately titled WHERE THE NIGHT GOES reunites director Martin Provost and actress Yolande Moreau once again after their highly successful SERAPHINE which won both the Cesar (French Oscar) for Best Picture and Best Actress for Moreau.  Moreau delivers once again an arresting performance of an abused wife, Rose Mayer (Moreau) who finally cannot take it anymore and kills her husband at the same spot he ran an innocent girl over years back from his drunk driving.  The whole small village knows of her unhappy marriage and she becomes suspect.  She runs away to the city to live with her gay son, Thomas (Pierre Moure) who himself had run away from home from the abuse.  Based on the George Simenon novel, this film is a Belgium film at heart, with a Belgium director and actress with it shot and based in Belgium.  This is the kind of depressing film which seems to have no light at the end of the tunnel – the kind of film audiences avoid.  But Provost’s film has heart, when Rose meets a kindly widow Madame Talbot (Edith Scob) who finally aids her.  OU VA LA NUIT is my pick of the best film I have seen at this year’s Cinefranco.

LE PREMIER HOMME (THE FIRST MAN) (France/Italy/Algeria 2011) ****
Directed by Gianni Amelio
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Italian director Gianni Amelio’s (PORTE APERTE, LAMERICA) best film to date won the International Critic’s Prize (FIPRESCI Prize) for Special Presentations.  His film is a complex and multilayered story of a famous author, Jacques Cormery (Jacques Gamblin), an Algerian who returns to his home country to find terrorism and political unrest tearing the country apart.  The film tells many stories, the story of Algeria and how and why it has become this way, the influence of childhood and growing up on the man (and hence existentialism that makes up the literary works of Albert Camus) as well as the conflict between the French and Algerians as depicted from the childhood friendship between Cormery and a local.  Though the film is highly contemplative, allowing the audiences to think as the film progresses, Amelio’s film is not without riveting moments.  The best segments involve the confrontation between his fierce grandmother and the butcher and the speech he gives regarding the execution of his childhood’s friend’s son for terrorism.  THE FIRST MAN is family political drama at its moving best!  It should be noted that Jacques Cormery is the alter-ego of French literalist Albert Camus who died in a car crash when his handwritten manuscript contained the character of Cormery, a character with a background very similar to himself.

R.I.F. (France 2011) ***1/2
Directed by Franck Mancuso
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An ex-cop, writer/director Mancuso’s (COUNTER INVESTIGATION) second feature expectedly deals with the life of a cop.  Probably reflecting the difficult life of a dedicated cop, this film, an action suspensor has a simple premise that is executed in style, precision and occasional brilliance.  On a vacation from Paris to patch up his rocky marriage, cop Stephane Monnereau (Yvan Attal in an exceptional controlled nuanced performance) leaves his wife (Valentina Cervi) behind at a gas station while he and his son take off on a tow truck to get their abandoned car.  Upon return, he finds that she has disappeared.  Stephane engages the local cops headed by Baumann (Pascal Elso) but they believe that his wife left him as opposed to his believing that she had been abducted.  Events unfold that now leads to Stephane becoming the lead suspect.  He races against time to try to save his wife before getting arrested.  Thought the film lacks the momentum of the first half and the climax is a sort of a let-down, this story is typical of the many hundreds of missing people occurring every year.

LA SACREE (Canada 2011) **1/2
Directed by Dominic Desjardins
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The most appropriate film to open Cinefranco, LA SACREE hails as the first French language film from Ontario that features a secret, hidden French speaking Ontarian town that seeks tourists to boost their economy.  Or the town will shut down.  This is not the first film dealing with this type of subject or lead character.  Here, the lead is a con man Francois (Marc Marans) who undergoes a change of heart as he aids the town.  What he choses to attract visitors is a new brew.  But he believes that this brew will help his fertility as his sperm does not swim and die, which poses a problem as his rich fiancée, Sofia (Marie Turgeon) wants a kid before the wedding.  Of course Marc falls again for the love, Angelique (Genevieve Bilodeau) that he had left behind.  This modest $1.2 million production looks good and holds the audience’s interest pretty well as a light comedy.  Director Desjardins could have done more with the script’s ideas to lift his film above what LA SACREE eventually turns out to be – a film in which the audience is has seen everything happening before.

TOUTES NOS ENVIES (ALL OUR DESIRES) (France 2010) ***
Directed by Philippe Lioret
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TOUTES NOS ENVIES is a film that cares for people.  Claire (Marie Gillain), a young judge at the Lyon court of Justice aids a woman in debt while she learns that she is suffering from terminal cancer.  She keeps her illness from her husband, Christophe (Yannick Renier) and children but the truth will eventually rear its ugly head.  Lioret directs his film with deep emotions, aided by the moving piano score that accompanies many of his scenes.  Veteran actor Vincent Lindon plays Stephane, a seasoned disenchanted judge who aids the woman and supports Claire.  This is a truly moving story that should keep audiences riveted from start to finish.  Wish I could say more of the movie, but the screener gave up half way through its running time.  But what I have seen has been pretty good so far!

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