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All about Audrey., 26 June 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is exactly the kind of movie which grows on you .It takes some time to take off and the first part begins to drag on till the confrontation happens .

Although on the dole (she's got the RSA,French minimum income),Constance (check the first name) has remained a self-assured woman,still believing that the Provinces world is still waiting for her and that she he'll make short work of any rivals .A go-getter ,she does her fitness trail every morning :to be supplanted by a rookie ,Audrey,is unthinkable. Audrey is younger,prettier ,not so naive as she appears first.It won't be long before she knows all the tricks of the trade."I 've slept with a man" she says to her"friend";pretty soon she's got the golden key to the labor market :a CDI (an open-ended contract,a permanent employee contract).It's the straw that breaks the camel's back! And the immoral ending makes sense ,even though when she sits in Audrey's office it may be short-lived for someone is watching her, with a puzzled look.

There is filler (many sex scenes and some nudity, scenes in a hospital, the night club)but every time Marina Fois and Josephine Jappy have a scene together ,it takes the film to stratospheric levels: pretending to make friends with Audrey, Constance goes out of her way to destabilize her rival,to discredit her in her boss's eyes.She urges her to follow her love Alexandre to Russia ("if it were New-York ,I would not think twice ,but Poutine,well ,it is not a safe place to be " " What do you know about it? Eloping with a true love is marvelous when you are young")

Another reason for which Constance hates Audrey is her youth :she's forty and she can't stand being ousted by a beginner .Hence the excellent scenes of the health trail when the older woman wants to prove her rival (and mainly prove to herself) she can live her far behind .

A cruel tale of the labor market in which they're always at each other's throats.

L'invitata (1969)
Two for the road., 24 June 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Joanna Shimkus's career was short ,but few have really forgotten her "burial at sea" in Robert Enrico's "Les Aventuriers"(1966).If she had not given up acting when she married Sidney Poitier,she would have certainly found her place in the European cinema.

"L'Invitata" is a fine road movie with two symmetrical scenes which depicts similar situations .Anne is upset when her boyfriend (Perrin)brings an English friend for the night (actually we do not really know whether they had an affair).In the last scene with François (Piccoli) and his wife (Clotilde Joano) it's Anne's turn to feel like an intruder ;when she's left alone by the sea on the beach of Saintes Maries De La Mer,she has understood that the whole world does not turn around her.

During the long travel from Paris to the south of France ,she and François have met people who may have helped her see the world in a different light: the baker and his delicious bread,fresh from the oven,Viennese pastries ,the wedding Anne seems to attend from the outside.The episode of the sculptor is more conventional ,but ,as far as François is concerned, it prepares the ground for the scenes in his house.

A lovely film.

Same meat,different gravy., 24 June 2017

Let's call a spade a spade :this is melodrama .Although it's given a "modern" treatment ,it is melodrama.Although Sir Bob Geldof is part of the cast ,this is melodrama .Although the movie desperately tries to sound "rock" ,this is melodrama.Although 25% of the dialog is in English (this quarter stems from the presence of the Boomtown Rats leader who says some lines in French much to his credit),this is melodrama.Although it's based on a renowned intellectual book, this is melodrama.

Melodrama all down the line .From the prologue where a little girl counts in English ,goes home , finds her mom in the bath with another woman ,and runs to her dad the ending ,where a little girl picks flowers on the graves in a cemetery and gives them to her (lonely? does history repeat itself?)mom.

Louise's parents did not care that much about her :mom was what the French call a Bobo (Bourgeois Bohème) ,Dad ,a rock star," constantly hopping from airplanes to luxury hotels to concert stages" (Fraghera).And just when Louise is pregnant by her loving boyfriend Pablo ,she learns that her mother has a cancer .The future mommy resents this coquette reckless mother and cannot make up her mind to tell her mom she will become a grandma soon.All people around urge her to do it,and when she does, it will be too late (the best scene is perhaps Louise showing her baby -in-womb radio-graphs to a mom who cannot hear her anymore -like Susan Kohner crying over her mom Juanita Moore's dead body in Sirk's "imitation of life" ,melodrama in all its splendor.)

Do not get me wrong .I do love melodramas,but this one is not thoroughly convincing : how can we believe Louise writes best- sellers when we never see her scribble a single line?Although praised for her over-the -top performance,one can think that Isia Higelin 's diction leaves a little to be desired.One can prefer seasoned Carole Bouquet although the part is not really worthy of her talent.Jacques Weber has a nice supporting part of a doctor who loves rock and cut singles when he was young.Sir Bob Geldof strums on his guitar and sings one or two tunes ,but as Rolling Stone wrote :"though it would be nice to report that his exemplary battle against world hunger inspired a satisfying solo career,such is not the case".The best song of the score does not belong to him ,it's Dick Annegarn 's splendid surrealist "Bruxelles".

"Mauvaise Fille " is same meat,different gravy: all the elements of good old melodrama are present :the little girl left to her own devices, who finds success in life, who sees her mom dying when she 's about to bring a new life to the "planet" (a line in the movie),her resentment,her fear to give birth ,her remorse near the deathbed ...

It's as though the screenwriters suddenly appreciated how humorless it was and attempted to introduce funny lines in the priest's speech in the cemetery.

Oceano Nox, 24 June 2017

A young man is seeking inspiration for his first poem in Sète,a city on the hot Mediterranean coast .The movie is divided into chapters ,a la "Cléo De 5 A 7" ,chapters which could be called : "Rémi and the fisherman" " Rémi and the poets from the past " "Rémi and Léonore" "Rémi and the dictionary" "Rémi and booze" etc ....The film itself falls into the Neo Nouvelle Vague genre and should be reserved for highbrows who like this kind of stuff .The others might yawn their head off for there's no real screenplay and its fortune- cookie philosophies can (it is useful) replace a sleeping pill in case of insomnia.

Maléfices (1962)
I put a spell on you., 22 June 2017

On Noirmoutier Island,The Passage Du Gois, a periodically flooded causeway is unique in the world for its length (4.5km), . Its 9 signals provide sanctuary to the more reckless who are taken by surprise as the water rises.(Tourist Office)Noirmoutier has been connected to mainland France by bridge since 1971-the film was made in 1962 ,so the only way to the island was the Gois.

Henri Decoin's Films Noirs of the second half of the fifties were only a pale reflection of his great movies ("Non Coupable" "La Fille Du Diable " " Les Inconnus Dans La Maison" ....)But in 1962,out of the blue, "Maléfices" nearly matched Decoin's heyday ,with its deadly charm,its oppressive atmosphere, its sense of mystery ,and unabashed confidence when the overrated Nouvelle Vague was ruling.Given inspiring material, the director could still rise to the occasion.

And the material is first-class: a diabolic(!) suspense by Boileau- Narcejac :must it be repeated that ,without them "Les Diaboliques" and "Vertigo" would never have existed ?

The movie begins with a long panoramic shot on the famous Gois (see above)enhanced by a lugubrious ominous score .François ,married to Catherine ,lives in Beauvoir/Mer .He is a vet surgeon and he travels all over the region ,in his Deux-Chevaux car .The first scene (not from the novel) shows a peasant whose cow is sick: he does not really believe in science ,but he does think there is a curse on his cattle .François does not take it seriously and however...

Called on Noirmoutier island to treat a sick leopard ,the vet meets a mysterious attractive woman,Myriam .Almost reluctantly ,he becomes her lover in a house where a statuette and disturbing paintings made by the owner who was born and lived in Africa for years seem to have maleficent powers .Myriam,jealous and possessive does not want to share her lover with his wife .And because of a strange (tropical?) disease , Catherine falls into the well:although she survived the "accident" she becomes sicker and sicker: illness or poisoning?Or did Myriam cast a spell on her? The disturbing woman wants to return to Africa and François to follow her there.Having read books provided by a strange doctor,François begins to believe in black magic power.The only way to save his wife would be to break the spell while following his mistress ...

Decoin takes advantage of the filming on location (the tragedy on the Gois is a model of simplicity and efficiency),he makes the Noirmoutier landscapes as threatening as Henri Calef did in 1949 with Le Mont Saint Michel in "Eaux Troubles" .And those who read the book will agree that Juliette Greco was the ideal choice (I cannot think of another actress in the part of this sexy witch ).

Against all odds ,and without writing a spoiler,one can go as far to write that "Malefices" is a story of Amour Fou ;and when it's over ,the viewer will not really know who really killed who.

The novel begins with a confession the hero sends to the police and the story is a long flashback.However the screenwriters did a very good adaptation,to creditable effect.

"Maléfices " was Henri Decoin's (short-lived ) renaissance.It's his only worthwhile effort in the sixties ,and it is a sparkling black diamond,the lost great thriller of the era.

Like this? try these...

"La Cage" Robert Darène 1963

"Rosemary's baby" Roman Polanski 1968 (note the similarities when François reads the black magic books.)

The parrot steals the show., 19 June 2017

André Hunebelle was an odd-job man ,always seeing which when the wind would blow when he made his movies;hence his eclecticism ,so to speak:comedies,swashbucklers (genre in which his gave his most pleasant works ),spy thrillers ,spoofs ....

"Ma Femme Est Formidable" belongs to the "Theatre De Boulevard " genre and conveys all it its clichés: husbands and wives ,lovers, intrusive mother-in -law ,curious concierges (the obligatory Pauline Carton),all happening in a bourgeois milieu : dentist ,artists,hint at a marquis , mom-in-law has a game of bridge planned and everybody meets for the Winter sports ,a luxury at the time.

All is borrowed in the exceptionally poor screenplay :the scene when Fernand Gravey takes revenge on his supposedly unfaithful wife strongly reminds you of Raimu in "La Femme Du Boulanger"(the baker's wife),the statues replacing La Pomponnette,the female cat.The trick of the costume ball has been used a hundred times or more.

Louis De Funès appears a a tourist who finds it hard getting a room in the hotel managed by Noel Roquevert who was featured in countless fifties French films.

The discreet charm of running away ., 18 June 2017

This is the kind of movie which is lauded far beyond its station by chic intellectual TV magazines and it depicts posh "bourgeois (more or less) Bohemes".

Let's accentuate the positive :it's a great pleasure to see Marie - Christine Barrault and Guy Marchand team up again 40 years after "Cousin -Cousine" which was nominated twice for an Oscar at the time!Marchand makes the best of an underwritten part and does not seem to take his role seriously (whereas his character's condition is serious ):the scene where he laughs at the presents he is given is probably the funniest in the whole movie(a stick cane?I can walk!).Barrault transcends the cardboard character of the liberal over-possessive mom ;the only real moving moment belongs to her in the airport cafe ,the actress injecting more emotion in her playing you think it's possible when she talks about her own marriage ("we were clueless,we did not know if we were in love" ).But their lost affair was perhaps the deepest in the whole film ,because it has stood the test of time :Barrault's final scream deeply moves the viewer and explains the first picture of a man in tears.

Bruno Pulutzu gives a restrained effective portrayal of Antoine's partner .Laurent Lafitte ,on the other hand is more intrusive than convincing ;his desire for another man is not fully exploited and could have renewed (in French mainstream) the now trite subject of homosexuality (see how "Mariage Pour Tous" mom rejoices when she thinks that her gay son and his mate are going to get married).Even more intrusive ,and even verging on ham is Agnès Jaoui's Ariel .The actress hogs the stage ;the character is the stereotype of the modern liberated smug woman and the thespian does nothing to rectify it ,she seems incapable of showing these self-assured persons may have a darker side to them.Nicolas Bedos in awe of a girl he considers a goddess is certainly a good moment though.

Some critics call "L'Art De La Fugue" caustic,scathing ;it actually takes no chances,raises no important questions even though it sometimes charms or appeals.The scene when Ariel savors an ice cream while smoking in a public place is revealing : it's the woman who criticizes her who is blamed.These people live in a "feel-good" world ,the present zeitgeist of the French scene.And if they shun any responsibility (that's what the title-the art of running away- means) ,it 's because they know they are part of the privileged classes who do not have any problems to make both ends meet.

A walk on the Maginot line., 16 June 2017

The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapon installations built by France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany. (Wikipedia) .Unfortunately,it did not prevent the Germans from invading France in 1940.

The movie was filmed on the Maginot line -one can wonder whether it is a propaganda movie-and it is the main interest of the film today .We enter the place with its different levels ;in France ,we often hear about this line,but if you want to see how it was ,it is really the movie to chose.

Based on a Pierre Nord novel ,the screenplay is a muddled affair ;an officer,Bruchot, is jealous of one of his colleagues ,D'Espinac ,who made a more brilliant career than him ;besides he covets his wife and a quarrel breaks.The day after D'Espignac is murdered and Bruchot becomes the main suspect .It is essentially a whodunit :three officers can have committed the crime and a German infiltrated the French forces.Aristocratic Victor Francen investigates to clear his name.

Today ,the documentary side is much more interesting than the mediocre plot.

Jean Delannoy was the (obscure,nowadays) director's assistant ,and he said that this man was probably addicted to a drug (possibly cocaine)

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There should be prisons for innocent people...., 10 May 2017

...they are a nuisance to live with in a cell!says the abortionist to her mate ,a girl who claims she was arrested for something she has never done.Afterward ,the old shrew will give a bad piece of advice to her.

This scene in jail is probably the best of a rather undistinguished movie :the plot is not exciting,the whodunit is totally disappointing;the only thing which was not derivative(at the time) is the two-cop team,the "experimented" tough guy and the rookie,who will finally reveal himself smarter than his older colleague.This kind of characters is cliché to a fault now.The flashback is useless,the trick they use to confound the murderer as old as the hills.

Desperate times call for desperate measures., 1 May 2017

Based on Jean Bruce 's "Lila De Calcutta" ,which ,as the title reads ,took place in India ,the action was transposed to Thailand whilst keeping the subject :plague bacillus injected by "the chosen ones " to eliminate the shameful human race who destroys the world with their atomic bomb.

After exploiting the swashbucklers,in the wake of James Bond ,Hunebelle made his first (black and white) OSS 117 in 1963 ("OSS 117 Se Déchaine ",also starring Matthews as the lead).For his second effort in the field ,Prodis productions granted color , composer Michel Magne - less inspired than in the Angelique saga- and filming on location.In fact ,only 25% of the film was filmed in Thailand.Kerwin Matthews and Pier Angeli were able to combine business with pleasure ,but Robert Hossein and Dominique Wilms never left Paris where they did all their scenes in Boulogne-Billancourt studios.

This is the kind of movie in which the scenery ,at a time when people would not travel much, is the real star.Robert Hossein (who would also play a doctor in Hunebelle ' s last attempt "Pas De Roses Pour OSS 117"(1968)) gives a restrained performance as the villain doctor Sinn (sic),the best thing to do when a clever actor has to work with ,say, very average material.Kerwin Matthews lacks Connery's charisma and humor and Pier Angeli is pretty but bland .

Having said that,the best OSS 117 Hunebelle made was certainly his third one "Furia A Bahia Pour OSS 117",(1965)starring Frederick Stafford and Mylene Demongeot.

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