- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
TIFF Bell Lightbox – Summer in France
TIFF’s 2012 edition of SUMMER IN FRANCE returns with an excellent assortment of French fare from directors like Jean Renoir, novelle vague Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut and classic directors like Marcel Carne, Henri-Georges Cluzot, George Franju with favourites like Jacques Tati and Jacques Demy.
No need to travel to the continent to experience French culture as TIFF Bell Lightbox says.
The films programmed include quite an exhaustive list by Francois Truffaut, my favourite of all the French directors. He is the reason I took French, so that I could understand his films. Also screening is my personal Truffaut favourite THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (LA MARIEE ETAIT EN NOIR), his homage to Alfred Hitchcock. His last film was also a Hitchcock tribute, VIVEMENT DIMANCHE which is seldom screened.
Whether viewing for the first time or umpteenth time, these films are timeless classics.
For full information on the films, then program listing, venue and ticket pricing, check the TIFF website at:
Capsule reviews of a number of the selected films are provided below to aid you select the films to see:-
L’ARMEE DES OMBRES (ARMY OF SHADOWS) (France 1969) ****
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Based on real experiences in the French Resistance, Joseph Kessel’s fiction novel is given worthy treatment in Melville’s 150 minutes film adaptation. The centre of the piece is civil engineer Resistance Fighter Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) who at the beginning of the film is captured by the Vichy police and put in a prison camp. A violent escape and other adventures allow the audience to be treated to the detailed exploits of the Resistance fighters. Though not short of action and suspense (the best bit with the audience waiting almost two minutes waiting for Gerbier to execute his second escape), Melville effectively creates the mood of the desperation of the fighters and the atmosphere of the dangers of the times. Simone Signoret steals the show as Mathilde, one of the chief organizers of the Resistance. The film is well paced and flows smoothly from start to finish with the Arc de Triomphe in the initial and final shots. ARMY OF SHADOWS is as meticulously plotted as one of Melville’s heist movies.
(Screening on Jul 17, 6pm)
ASCENSEUR POR L’ECHAFAUD (ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS)
(France 1957) ****
Directed by Louis Malle
One of Jeanne Moreau’s early films that director Louis Malle help put on the filmmaking map. Moreau does a lot of sulking and wandering around the city like a crazed lady when her lover (Marurice Ronet) fails to turn up for the rendezvous after being locked and trapped in an elevator after office hours as a result of a murder they both conspired on. The victim is the husband and the target the prize money that the two lovers hope to live happily ever after with. But as stories like these are, nothing goes as planned. A young couple steal the car and murder two German tourists with Ronet being the prime suspect. Director Malle fills his suspense thriller with lots of details that aid the story’s authenticity, especially in the segments in which Ronet is trapped in the lift. The black and white cinematography (by Henri Decae) is superb and aided by an excellent jazz trumpet score by Miles Davis. A beautifully stunning and entertaining suspense thriller!
(Special Screening date: Sep 2, 3.30pm)
BELLE DE JOUR (France/Italy 1967) ***
Directed by Luis Bunuel
BELLE DE JOUR, based on the novel by Joseph Kessel is a somewhat fascinating film about a dedicated wife and prostitute by day (or from 2 to 5 pm to be exact). Severine (Catherine Deneuve) sneaks out every afternoon and worked for Madame Anais (Genevieve Page) daily. Her sexual encounters include a hoodlum (Pierre Clementi) who she falls for and ends up with a precarious situation. He shows up at her place and shoots her husband (Jean Sorel). This is a rather weird film, rather standoffish in the way Deneuve inhabits her role. She fantasizes abuse and humiliation (beatings and s**t thrown at her) while still loving her husband and whoring at the same time. Michel Piccoli has an unforgettable role as a womanizer who wants Severine who despises him. All good thins must come to an end and so does the whoring in the afternoon. A neat premise and a good naughty story for a film appropriately directed by Luis Bunuel (EXTERMINATING ANGEL) who directs non-mainstream films.
(Screening July 26 at 9pm)
DIABOLIQUE (France 1955) ***** Top 10
Directed b H.G Clouzot
Undoubtedly the best suspense murder thriller of all time! Based on the novel by Pierre Boileau, the film is the typical Hitchcock movie. It was rumoured that Clouzot bought the rights of the novel just before Hitchcock could, thus infuriating the Master of Suspense. But Hitchcock could not have made a better film. Shot in black and white with the word sinister printed on every scene, DIABOLIQUE tells the story of a mistress and wife of a boarding school owner conspiring together to commit the perfect murder. As one school colleague put it - it is really strange to see the wife comforting her husband’s mistress. Simone Signoret plays the strong mistress while Vera Clouzot plays the weak hearted wife, both abused physically and mentally by the man they plan to murder. Of course in stories like these, things never go as planned. The body goes missing and the plot twists more than once at the end. Clouzot ‘s film contains some wickedly brilliant moments. The one in which the wife begins to warn her husband of the poisoned wine he is about to down only to get slapped by him is a classic. She then quietens to pour him more of the poisoned wine. Another has her burn the evidence with a match, the light brightening up her face to reveal her reaction. As the two women leave in the car to drive back to the school with corpse in the boot, the neighbour says casually that the cops are around the major intersections theses days. One sentence of dialogue such as this one is sufficient to drum up the audience anticipation for the entire car trip. The atmosphere of the 50’s countryside France, the boarding school and emotional trappings of the two women are all wonderfully created. DIALBOLIQUE was remade with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani in the 90’s, but some films like this one (and all Hitchcock films) should never be remade.
(Special Screening date: Fri Jul 20 845pm)
LA JETEE (France 1962) ****
Directed by Chris Marker
LA JETEE (THE JETTY) is short absorbing 29 minute film by Master cinematographer (who worked in the Wong kar-wei films) constructed entirely from black and white still photos. It tells the nightmarish story of a post World War III experiment in time travel. A man (Davos Hanich) is a prisoner in the aftermath of the war in a destroyed, post-apocalyptic Paris. Scientists use him to research time travel, hoping to send test subjects to different time periods “to call past and future to the rescue of the present”. Marker deals with memory, coincidence, logic, philosophy and a dozen other complex issues in this remarkable film. And the biggest surprise is the actual opening of the sleeping girl’s (the man’s lover) eyes.
(Special Screening date: Aug 21 630pm)
JULES ET JIM (France 1962) ****
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Based on the semiautobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, JULES ET JIM (JULES AND JIM) is the definitive best film ever (before till even the present) of a ménage a trios. Jules (Oscar Werner) is married to Catherine (the informidable Jeanne Moreau) but carries on a friendship with Jim (Henry Serre). Catherine also loves Jim. Jules is willing to allow Catherine to divorce him and marry Jim so that he will not lose her, as he cannot satisfy all of her needs. The villagers call the 3 of them lunatics but these are the happiest lunatics one will ever see on screen. And this makes one of the happiest films Truffaut has ever made. Despite the relationship problems, when things are right, the three have a really good time. Catherine is spontaneous to a fault – sporting a moustache and pretending to be a man; jumping into the river but everyone (audience included) cannot help it from fall in love with her. The film tracks their relationship from the first meeting, through the Second World War, through the marriage and after. The soundtrack by George Delerue is also amazing and named 10 Best soundtracks of all time by TIME Magazine.
(Screening July 27. 645pm)
LA MARIEE ETAIT EN NOIR (THE BRIDE WORE BLACK) (France 1967) *****
Directed by Francois Truffaut
My personal favourite Truffaut movie and French film of all time sees sultry siren Jeanne Moreau do away with the 5 killers who accidentally shot her bridegroom on her wedding day. Julie methodically tracks them down one by one and kills them without remorse. Truffaut gives her femme fatale more human feelings than necessary as she almost falls in love with one of them. Five of France’s most popular actors of the time (Claude Rich, Charles Denner, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Lonsdale) play 4 of Julie’s victims, and to me a delight to watch all of them on the screen again. This film is Truffaut’s tribute to Hitchcock after he interviewed and the Master of Suspense wrote the book Hitchcock. Using Hitchcock’s frequent composer Bernard Hermann, the film has the complete Hitchcock feel. Truffaut has been described as the kindest of film directors and this film illustrates why. He does not let the innocent characters die. The cleaner who steals and drink from the bottle that holds the poisoned liquor is emptied by Julie. When the school teacher Julie impersonates to do away with a victim is arrested, she calls the police to prove her innocence. THE BRIDE WORE BLACK is unfortunately Truffaut’s least favourite film as he had a big argument with his cinematographer on the look of this movie, but to this critic the film is still near perfection!
(Special Screening date: Fri Jul 27 845pm)
LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG)
(France/Wet Germany 1964) ***** Top 10
Directed by Jacques Demy
Arguably the happiest film ever made. THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is the umbrella store owned by Madame Emery (Christiane Legrand) who lives with her 17-year old daughter, Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) in the apartment upstairs. She falls in love with poor mechanic, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) who lives with her bedridden Aunt Elise (Claire Leclerc). Mother objects to the affair but Geneviève pursues her love. When Guy has to leave for a 2 year military service, she is impregnated and coercised to marry another man to support the child. In the hands of other directors, this knocked up affair of a couple forced to marry others would not have turned out like this. Colourful (umbrellas, clothes, shop décor and even the car repair shop) with the dialogue sung out as a recital totally with music by the fabulously talented Michel Legrand, nothing can be as delightful as watching this film on screen. The last 5 minutes of the film, the most tragic, in which the separated couple finally meet by chance is the most moving and unexpected that can be imagined. Bring lots of Kleenex for this entry and be prepared to see this film again and again. Michel Legrand was nominated for the Oscar for the unforgettable song he wrote for the film: “I will wait for you”. The film was nominated for a total of 4 Oscars including Best Foreign Film and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 1964.
(Special Screening date: Aug 18, 530pm)
LA REGLE DU JEU (THE RULES OF THE GAME) (France 1939 ) ****
Directed by Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir’s banned RULES OF THE GAME had someone in the audience burn a newspaper during a screening. Controversial for its day for its depiction of society and the downfall of class, the game here could refer to the rabbit shoot, or the game of romance or the game of reaching a higher class status. Whatever the film’s characters have in mind, they are all distracted by mostly tragic love affairs and thus never satisfied. So, Renoir weaves his tale of satire coupled with a mix of tragedy and comedy in which everyone comes off a little less better in the end. The well shot hunting shoot comes off as a bit disturbing considering the huge amount of rabbit carnage that results. Still ‘everyone has their reasons’, (the film’s most quotable saying) for behaving in a certain way. Though made in 1939, the film is still relevant in the observation of how human beings behave in trying to impress within a certain societal class.
(Special Screening date: Fri Jul 13 at 9 pm)
WEEKEND (France 1967) ***
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
WEEKEND is one of the earliest of Godard’s philosophical exercises which is easier to comprehend that his later ventures. This one at least makes sense and can be interpreted compared to others that only Godard understands and expect everyone else to. The film focuses on a bourgeois married couple Roland (Jean Yanne) and Corinne (Mireille Darc) who have secret lovers and are also planning each other’s murder. They alos intend to inherit Corinne’s father’s money but that is as far as the meaningfulness of the plot goes. They encounter a whole lot of colourful but bizarre characters that express their outlook on life on the senseless and f**ked world. The long initial single-take 10 minute accident sequence in which a car passes through a traffic jam is a Godard classic. The cause of the jam is a car crash in which bodies are strewn all over the road but no one seems to bother. Roland and Corinne finally reach their destination and create more atrocities. A weird, wonderful and brilliantly shot and scored movie!
(Special Screening date: Aug 16 at 630 pm)
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