About Me

My photo
In my interests below, I list French language, cinema, theatre, politics, art, and wine. And while French brought me to a lot of these things, I also like all of them in a more general way. I really love languages and their connections. I also have a thing about how theatre and cinema, art, politics and wine all hook up in some way. As I think of these ideas, I can hear the thwonk of the cork coming out of the neck of the bottle, and the gentle squeak as the cork is twisted off the tire-bouchon. Ah, that oakey, musty, acidic aroma wafting, wafting and people talking and talking and talking. And, oh they found out we have some sets of boules and they want to play pétanque. "Let's pick teams and play in the shade of those plane trees." The sounds of summer resonate: the crunch of the terrain under foot, the click of the iron bocce knocking in the players' hands, and the soft kiss of the wooden cochonnet as it hits the ground scuttling down to its resting point where it will await the arrival of each team's battle-worn aggies.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sacramento French Film Festival 2014

Sacramento FrenchFilm Festival

Connecting and Re-connecting
As we get ready for the thirteenth annual Sacramento French Film Festival, I have been looking for relations between the films that are on this year’s program and those from previous festivals. 

Re-relating with Lucas Belvaux
The opening night movie is Lucas Belvaux’s ninth feature film Pas son genre  (2013).  At the 2002 festival we had the opportunity to see his daring trilogy (2002) On The Run, An Amazing Couple, and AfterLife.  These films do not tell the same story from different points of view but weave together three film genres – a thriller followed by a romantic comedy and then a melodrama – together they give us the parts, the outcomes, and consequences of the combined scenarios of all three movies.  

In 2010, the Festival brought us another tour de force courtesy of Belvaux: Rapt (2009), a powerful drama about the downfall of rich and powerful businessman derived from the real-life kidnapping of Baron Édouard-Jean Empain in 1978.  Two years later 38 Witnesses (2012) came to our Festival.  Once again we encounter a tough drama that is also loosely based on a true story this one from New York City in 1964.  Kitty Genovese, a young New York waitress was brutally murdered on a residential street, but not one of 38 witnesses  the police questioned that were in the vicinity, could remember hearing or seeing anything. Belvaux moved the action of his film to Le Havre on the Normandy coast, France’s biggest container ship port.  The police investigation and the unraveling of the story take place against the backdrop of giant container ships and the massive docks with their monstrous cranes and offloading gear that tower over the city's inhabitants.  

Pas son genre
Belvaux’s latest film differs quite a bit in tone and mood from his 2009 and 2012 features, however that is just on the surface, since this drama also revolves around conflict. A high school philosophy teacher from Paris – Clément Le Guern - is transferred to the “Provinces,” the town of Arras in the Pas-de-Calais department. As he settles in to what he hopes will be a temporary residence, he meets Jennifer, a hairdresser who has lived there all of her life.  The story that ensues is an adaptation of a novel by Philippe Vilain, an author who seems to study love as a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional thing that can bring people together and tear them apart as they grapple with the different ways each views love.  The movie develops in a way that we’re both attracted and distanced from each of the characters – Vilain’s novel was written in the first person from the point of view of the philosophy teacher, but Belvaux tries to draw his story from both points of view – his and hers, the Parisian and the provincial, the philosopher and the hairdresser.  

This portrait of how differences in background and culture coalesce while also complicating and impeding love is made all the more engaging by the performances of the two central characters.  Emilie Dequenne plays Jennifer, bubbly and a little naive, fun-loving, at times a little on the garish side, and yet lovable and heart-breaking. Loic Cobery’s Clément is very handsome, enticing, but a little condescending and at the same time a really passionate teacher.  Both of them are new to the Sacramento French Film Festival. 

Emilie Dequenne - Like Lucas Belvaux Emilie Dequenne was born in Belgium. In 1999, she was cast by the Dardenne brothers – also from Belgium - to play the title role in Rosetta, a gritty story about a young woman who desperately tries to find work and hold on to her job so that she can be a part of society and live what she sees as a normal life.  She was awarded the palme d’or for her interpretation of Rosetta. In 2009, she received her second award at Cannes – le prix de l’interprétation feminine in the Un certain regard competition for her role as a young mother who murders her five children in Joachim Lafosse’s A perdre la raison, based on a true story.

Loïc Corbery is also a distinguished actor but most of his work has been on the stage.  He has been a sociétaire of the Comédie Française since 2010 and has played all kinds of classical roles from plays by Molière, Corneille, Shakespeare, Aristophanes, and the like.  Like Grégory Gadebois, another Comédie Française actor who starred in Angèle et Tony (SFFF 2011), he brings to the screen a unique and solid theatrical training that adds strength and depth to his performance.

Other connections
This film has lots of dimensions and angles to it taking us into the heart of French culture, introducing us to a multi-faceted and constantly changing and challenging world of life and love.

Return to Flanders - Lucas Belvaux was born in Namur in Belgium.  His home-town has a lot in common with the city of Arras, the setting for Pas son genre. Today Namur is the capital of Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) and Arras is the chef-lieu of the Pas-de-Calais department in France.

However, throughout their histories both cities have changed hands having been variously owned by, among others, Counts of Flanders and Dukes of Burgundy, and both cities have fine examples of Flemish architecture. Arras, sometimes known as the most southern of the "capitales" flamandes, has a population of around 50,000, which makes it very provincial when compared to Paris, but Arras has a long proud history as a powerful northern city and one of the preferred residencies of the medieval Dukes of Flanders.

Arras and Social Conflict - By setting his film in Arras, Belvaux also reminds us that this area is an historical focal point of class struggle.  One of the first coal miners’ strikes took place in the region in 1831 and Emile Zola set his novel Germinal against the backdrop of the northern French coalfields.  Incidentally, one of France’s greatest revolutionary leaders, Maximilien Robespierre, was born and raised in Arras and was elected by the population to be their Tiers état representative and the Etats généraux of 1789 whence he went on to lead the French Revolution.

A Belgian French film - France has always had a knack of corralling and glorifying artists, actors, musicians, dancers or other famous people who came to live and work in France and preferably spoke some French.  Leonardo da Vinci, obviously an Italian but a friend of François premier spent the last years of his life in France and left his most beloved painting in France (La Jaconde) the Mona Lisa. Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch artist who discovered himself in France made Arles his home for a short time and that Provençal city still celebrates the Dutchman today, as Antibes commemorates Picasso’s residence at the Chateau Grimaldi, and, in a Renaissance castle perched on a craggy hill in the Aquitaine, le Chateau des Milandes houses the Josephine Baker museum. French culture abounds with men and women who moved to France to work and became adoptive daughters and sons: Mary Cassat, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Cécile de France, and many more.  We can add to that list the Belgian-born Lucas Belvaux and Emilie Dequenne.

Anna Gavalda - In one scene of Pas son genre, Clément asks Jennifer what she reads.  She replies, “des romans” (novels) and goes on to give the example of Anna Gavalda. Gavalda is a prize-winning and best-selling author of several novels and short stories, but her writing is often considered too easy to read in the opinion of a number of literary critics.  Ensemble, c’est tout (Hunting and Gathering) a novel published in 2004 was made into a film by Claude Berri - starring Audrey Tautou.  That film drew large crowds at the 2008 Sacramento French Film Festival. 

Les géants – giant puppets - The giant puppets we see during the Carnival of Arras are another intriguing feature of the Belvaux film and one that reflects the cultural gap between the two main characters.  The puppets, a very popular part of many festivities in the north of France, are so big that the puppeteers have to go completely inside the puppet. They can be as tall as eight meters and are constructed on a basket frame made of wicker. Their presence at carnivals and festivities in Flemish towns on both sides of the French-Belgian border dates back to the sixteenth century and the giant puppets may have their origin in Spain or Portugal – at that time the Spanish crown held territory throughout the area.  Originally, the géants were Saints and protagonists from the Bible carried through the streets on local saint’s days, but in the years since the French Revolution they have assumed a secular and popular identity.  

Colas and Jaqueline, Arras' giants, are dressed as artisanal peasants and have been around since the carnival of 1891.  In 1995, they gave birth to their son Dédé.  They come out in late August for the festivities celebrating the end of the Spanish occupation (1659) and they can sometimes be seen at Bastille Day.  However, their major sortie is during the Fêtes d’Arras at Carnival time – after all that is their anniversary. 

We have seen the giants before at the Sacramento French Film Festival. Our opening film of 2005 SFFF – Quand la mer monte (2004) (When the Sea Rises) starring Yolande Moreau and Will Waert and filmed on location featuring the giant Totor a puppet from Steenwerck.

Karaoke - The role of the karaoke in Pas son genre is another aspect of the film that may pique our curiosity as it articulates the cultural distance between Clément and Jennifer. Its not a feature of any French films that I can think of, but it has been used in a number of American movies.  Marlow Stern, an entertainment editor at The Daily Beast, has compiled a list of greatest movie karaoke scenes.  From the list, I think my favorite for its beauty and depth of meaning is Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.
 Karaoke tends to be a device used in comedies and romances to externalize some of the inner feelings of the protagonists.  In Pas son genre, the karaoke scenes have a similar role for Jennifer, but her love of karaoke stands in opposition to Clément’s passion for opera. 

No comments: