Plus que jamais (More Than Ever, 2022)

The fourth film I saw at the Europa! Europa Film Festival was the one I had heard a little about (and is from the German-French-Iranian director of 3 Days in Quiberon), but it turned out to be the one I liked the least. However! It is very much a film for Vicky Krieps to further blossom into the grand actress of European cinema that she has threatened to become the last few years. She really is one of the best.


For a film that could easily be a disease-of-the-week mawkish tearfest made for TV, this drama about a woman dying of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis steers clear of a lot of the particular pitfalls of that genre, though it can never entirely escape it. However, it’s about the way that Hélène (Vicky Krieps) come to terms with her future, such as it is, and the way she has to hurt the ones she loves in order to protect both herself and them. Of course, it comes inbuilt with its own terrible additional layer of heartwrenching irony, in that it’s the film’s co-star Gaspard Ulliel (playing Hélène’s husband Matthieu) who died in real life shortly after this film was made. If Krieps reminds me a bit of Julianne Moore, it’s only because she’s every bit as fine an actor as Moore (who hasn’t shied away from similar roles), and indeed has become one of the more dependable European actors in recent years (whether in films like Bergman IslandCorsage or of course the fine-toned comedy Phantom Thread).

CREDITSPlus que jamais (2022) poster
Director Emily Atef; Writers Atef and Lars Hubrich;  Cinematographer Yves Cape; Starring Vicky Krieps, Gaspard Ulliel, Bjørn Floberg; Length 123 minutes.
Seen at the Classic, Melbourne, Sunday 26 February 2022.

Les Pires (The Worst Ones, 2022)

When looking at a catalogue of films such as that for the Europa! Europa Film Festival, where almost every title is entirely unknown to me, and even most of the directors and stars aren’t ringing any bells, you may wonder, how do you select what films to go see? I’d like to say it was because they won awards (like this one, which won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year), but no, it’s not usually that. Obviously if they have had any critical response I do take that into account but for the most part, I don’t know the films, I look them up, and then I go to the ones directed by women or indigenous filmmakers because it’s a way to narrow down a long list of films I know nothing about. And for the most part, you get good results; this one is no exception.


Films about filmmaking are a really pretty familiar topic to any festivalgoer or even casual watcher of movies, because there’s no story filmmakers like to tell more than their own one (I mean, write about what you know is a cliché for a reason). The focus here is on the kids who have been roped into the director’s vision, which appears to be some kind of Kes-like vision of a working class life, particularly Lily and the younger boy Ryan, who play siblings in the film-within-the-film. It takes a little time to get going, but ultimately there’s quite a nuanced take on what’s going on: the film’s director alternately feels like a tyrant, having childish fits of anger on set at his (child) actors’ lack of commitment to the emotion, then a slightly creepy guy setting up a sex scene involving the teenage Lily, and ultimately as a man with quite a complex layered emotional emptiness at his heart who is fairly open about it when talking to Ryan. The young actors have their own struggles with their colleagues, schoolkids and the townspeople, and as it goes on there’s plenty of lowkey angst, but it’s relatable and understandable, and never overwhelms the story. This film won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2022, and I think it’s a strong choice.

CREDITSLes Pires (The Worst Ones, 2022)
Directors Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret; Writers Akoka, Gueret and Elénore Gurrey; Cinematographer Eric Dumont; Starring Mallory Wanecque, Timéo Mahaut, Johan Heldenbergh; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at the Classic, Melbourne, Sunday 26 February 2022.

Sis dies corrents (The Odd-Job Men, 2021)

Since moving to Melbourne at the start of February, I’ve already been to films at a couple of small film festivals, so I thought I might cover those this week. One of the festivals was the Europa! Europa Film Festival, which runs in a couple of related (but I believe independent) cinemas in the Melbourne suburbs, the Lido and the Classic. It was a good excuse to visit both these areas and their fine cinemas, which are both very pleasant multi-screen environments, and if I lived closer to either Hawthorn or Elsternwick I’d definitely visit again. The festival itself presents a number of titles from the past few years that haven’t had much of a media profile, the kind of thing that you see at these festivals and then more or less disappear completely, which is a shame because all the films I saw had plenty to recommend them, not least this Catalan film by a woman filmmaker about some men on the job.


This Catalan-language film is made entirely with non-professional actors (the characters have the same first names as the actors), making it all the easier to imagine them as actual handymen, fixing plumbing and electrical issues across the city. Focusing on men with this career is a canny way to incorporate a range of social milieu, whether an upmarket studio, a wealthy home and a flashy kitchen showroom, or the rather dowdier and more lived-in small apartments of the city, with an old man who is keen to let people know about his health regimen, or a home with a harassed father and two impish daughters. There’s no real big plot to speak of, aside from that it’s Moha (Mellali)’s first week with the group, as the older man who runs the company (Pep Sarrà) is retiring; his colleague Valero (Escolar), however, is an aggressively annoying man who is quickly and unthinkingly racist towards Moha and it takes much of the film for him to soften his attitude. Indeed, he’s such an unpleasant bully of a man that it’s difficult to watch what is otherwise a sweet, very low-key film, but the director does her best to keep things moving along with a minimum of fuss and no over-explication of the themes.

CREDITS
Director Neus Ballús; Writers Ballús and Margarita Melgar; Cinematographer Anna Molins; Starring Valero Escolar, Mohamed Mellali, Pep Sarrà; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at the Lido, Melbourne, Friday 17 February 2022.

Criterion Sunday 621: Rosetta (1999)

The opening of this film is iconic, and to a certain extent it’s what put the Dardenne brothers — already in their middle age and having had years of documentary and film experience behind them — on the map. Our title character just barges forward relentlessly, getting into a fight with her employer (who has just let her go at the end of a probation period), and in the first few minutes we don’t even see her face, just the arch of her shoulders, her propulsive forward movement, the determination that the back of her head implies, the anger at not having a job anymore. This defines the film and while it does slow down at moments, for meals, brief tender passages between people, for the most part it’s this forward momentum that carries it. Obviously it’s a style that the brothers were working on in their earlier film La Promesse but it comes to fruition here, in a film that delves into the lives of those living outside of established social safety nets, a hard-scrabble existence of living paycheque to paycheque, needing work to survive and doing anything they can to get it, a generation Rosetta exemplifies and had such a strong effect there was even a belief it led to a law protecting the minimum wage in Belgium (it didn’t, but it certainly must have galvanised opinion). It still holds up all these decades later, and the Dardenne brothers still have strong careers on the back of its impact, but it’s hard to get over the way this central character is introduced, the force with which that swing door is pushed as this film begins.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Directors/Writers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne; Cinematographer Alain Marcoen; Starring Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Olivier Gourmet, Anne Yernaux; Length 93 minutes.

Seen at the Paramount, Wellington, Friday 28 July 2000 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, Melbourne, Friday 3 March 2023).

Criterion Sunday 620: La Promesse (1996)

By all accounts, certainly by that of the filmmakers themselves, this is where it all began for the Dardenne Brothers. They’d made documentaries, even a couple of features, beforehand and had built up a bit of a career since the 1970s, but here is where they applied those techniques to fiction in a way that would become their trademark — a restless camera constantly following their protagonists, eschewing careful blocking and marks in favour of this documentary-like verisimilitude, using unknown actors (often non-professionals) and of course following often overlooked working class lives. So here we are introduced to Roger, played by the actor who would probably most closely be linked to the Dardennes, Olivier Gourmet, as an apparently nice boss, and his son Igor (Jérémie Renier, who would return in L’Enfant), though it soon becomes clear Roger is a dodgy operator, exploiting immigrants, using them for construction work, and then when one dies by accident, covering it up despite his widow (Assita Ouedraogo) and baby living in one of his properties. So this leads to the promise of the title, between the dying man Hamidou and Igor, an ethical dilemma of the nature that would also come to define the Dardennes’ filmmaking. It’s all beautifully shot and composed, with a breathless headlong rush into danger, as Igor defies his father and starts to make his own choices in life.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • There’s a short piece with more recent interviews with both Gourmet and Renier reflecting on making the film, being there at the start of the Dardenne brothers’ journey into successful filmmaking.
  • There’s also a much longer interview with the brothers by an American film critic at their office, which really gets into the detail of their career and work on the film.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Directors/Writers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne; Cinematographer Alain Marcoen; Starring Jérémie Renier, Olivier Gourmet, Assita Ouedraogo; Length 94 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Melbourne, Sunday 26 February 2023.

Criterion Sunday 619: Le Havre (2011)

Even working in France, with French actors (and he has done so before), the very specific style and timing of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki is extremely clear here from the very first frames. The way every shot is lit, carefully placed splashy lighting with a high contrast almost noirish feel, but via comic books, the saturated blocks of colour in the set design, and the pacing and deadpan humour. It all comes together beautifully for what is ultimately a fairytale. We all know this isn’t how this story plays out but there’s also an inbuilt sense that people don’t want to see that, though in telling his story — of immigrants from Gabon trying to make their way to the UK, but discovered in a shipping container in the Normandy port town of Le Havre — he is also very much telling it from a European perspective, an idealised one of people just looking out for the best for their fellow humans (even the jaded police inspector). The Africans feel like set dressing to what is otherwise a perfectly pitched comedy — a comedy, partly because so abstracted from reality — of European tolerance to immigrants. So that — whether the film or reality — slightly sours what is otherwise a very lovely, laconic evocation of community.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Aki Kaurismäki; Cinematographer Timo Salminen; Starring André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin; Length 93 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Melbourne, Monday 27 February 2023 (and sometime on DVD at home, London, in the early-2010s).

تحت الشجرة Taht el Karmouss (aka Sous les figues) (Under the Fig Trees, 2022)

I’m working through fuller reviews from my list of favourite films of 2022 (here) but among them are a few that I wasn’t expecting, like this gentle, lilting Kiarostami riff in the fig orchards (rather than olives), structured as a series of two-handers between various characters over the course of a couple of working days (or maybe it’s just one, I can’t quite recall). In any case, a fine film with a predominantly woman-centric cast and crew.


This is a rather gentle film with some darker undertones as a group of (primarily) young women come together picking figs in an orchard, or at least I’d say that was the focus of the film, whose single setting means this functions as a sort of chamber drama. Indeed, the group of pickers includes some older women and men, who have a choral role to play, singing and commenting on the kids’ actions, and some young men of various types, including a rather sleazy and opportunistic boss. Throughout the day various pairings of these characters get together and hash things out, and while there is no big reveal or drama to speak of, a number of smaller stories play out in a naturalistic way. It’s all very lovely, though you’ll need to take a moment to get into its rhythms, in a setting — and with a title — suggestive of some Kiarostami films, though this is Tunisian (not Iranian).

Taht el Karmouss (2022) posterCREDITS
Director Erige Sehiri أريج السحيري; Writers Sehiri, Ghalya Lacroix غالية لاكروا and Peggy Hamann بيجي هامان; Cinematographer Frida Marzouk فريدا مرزوق; Starring Fidé Fdhili فداء الفضيلي, Feten Fdhili فاتن الفضيلي, Ameni Fdhili أماني الفضيلي; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at the Embassy, Wellington, Sunday 30 October 2022.

Criterion Sunday 593: Belle de Jour (1967)

This is likely a film that grows over repeated viewings, but on first viewing for me, it has a (presumably quite deliberate) quality of being very carefully controlled at a rather lugubrious pace. Nobody really emotes strongly, nobody moves quickly, there’s an unrushed quality that’s at odds with the lewdness of the setup, as if Buñuel, having drawn people into a sex film about bondage and control, wants to keep that as far away from the screen as possible. Instead, what we have are hints at the interior life of Sévérine (Catherine Deneuve), little flashes from growing up that hint at some trauma (without, crucially, making anything so plain as to give words to it), her fantasies of sexual domination, and then her move into working for a brothel during the days her husband is away at work (hence the name the brothel’s madam, played by Geneviève Page, gives her, also the film’s title). But the pacing allows the film’s hints to seep into her character, played by Deneuve as a sort of unemotional tabula rasa, and suggest, perhaps slyly, some idea possibly of liberation (or equally a chauvinist desire to see women subjugated; it’s never really clear whose point of view we’re truly seeing). However, it shares all the visual hallmarks of late Buñuel, an almost matter of fact depiction of surreal and subversive ideas by characters who seem rather dull and conformist.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Luis Buñuel; Writers Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière (based on the novel by Joseph Kessel); Cinematographer Sacha Vierny; Starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page, Pierre Clémenti; Length 100 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Saturday 26 November 2022.

Criterion Sunday 590: Trois coleurs : Rouge (Three Colours: Red aka Three Colors: Red, 1994)

I think even at the time of its release, this was widely thought to be the best of the trilogy and it holds up. There’s still something about Kieślowski’s style that seems overly fussy, overly attentive to the right image, the right idea, expressed in the perfectly written way that nevertheless feels a bit over-rehearsed somehow? But it all comes together in this third part, focused on the idea of “fraternité” and suffused, truly suffused, with the colour red (not in the way of say Cries and Whispers, mind, but the colour is consistently a presence throughout the narrative). It’s about the way people come together — or almost do so, with missed connections throughout the film, only emphasised by the focus on telecommunication (those opening shots tracking telephone cables, and phonecalls — including the eavesdropping thereon — being a running motif throughout). Irène Jacob, of course, is every bit the model in the central role of Valentine, but she also ties things together with her slightly lost look — that look that’s on her poster, and repeated in that final image — like the lost dog she comes across that kickstarts the narrative, or the puppies it gives birth to, a lost look also imitated by Jean-Louis Trintignant’s ex-judge Joseph, or Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) — the man you sense may be Jacob’s life partner, whose path never quite meets hers until, eventually, surprisingly, it does. And for all this seems engineered to be satisfying, it is also quite satisfying, a fitting conclusion both to this trilogy and to Kieślowski’s career.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Krzysztof Kieślowski; Writers Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieślowski; Cinematographer Piotr Sobociński; Starring Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Lorit; Length 99 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Friday 18 November 2022 (and first on VHS at home, Wellington, in the mid-1990s).

Criterion Sunday 589: Trois coleurs : Blanc (Three Colours: White aka Three Colors: White aka Trzy kolory. Biały, 1994)

Revisiting again the site of my early exposure to world cinema, I think I liked White more than Blue on first exposure, but partly that was me responding to the comedy inherent in the setup (a man is left by his wife and feels compelled to reinvent himself in order to win her back). However upon rewatching there’s a certain rather nasty edge to this humour (which is dealing with the “egalité” of the French flag and national motto), and Julie Delpy is placed in a rather thankless position by the story. This is, after all, her ex-husband’s story, and Zbigniew Zamachowski has a clownish sense to his despondency. The colour palette isn’t as suffused in the film as the other two episodes so perhaps that also means it doesn’t stand out visually, though it has its moments. Primarily, what I love is Preisner’s score, which has a jauntiness while also incorporated some of the more traditional Polish motifs of his work. It’s a solid film, but Blue has the edge, while Red is the one that endures I think.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • Once again the disc includes two earlier, short works, both of these by Kieślowski. The first is Siedem kobiet w róznym wieku (Seven Women of Different Ages, 1979). The loose seven day structure allows Kieślowski to focus on different participants in a ballet class and performance, who as the title suggests are of different ages. We get the young girls and women doing their practice, then another performing on stage, an older ballerina hanging around looking disappointed at not getting much work, and then a ballet instructor teaching the young girls we saw on the first day. It really emphasises, through these little glimpses of them at work, just how much of an effort it is to be a ballet dancer, the constant rehearsal, the pointed comments from the teachers, and the physical exertion (one of the days is soundtracked almost entirely by the ballerina’s heavy and belaboured breathing).
  • The other short film is Gadające głowy (Talking Heads, 1980). There’s a fairly simple concept at work here, as Kieślowski interviews people about what they want from life, moving from younger to older respondents (with their birth year listed in the lower left hand corner). You can track a certain greater reflectiveness as the ages tick up of course, but there’s a core of hopefulness and wisdom that the film is tapping into, even if you could hardly call these brief snippets of interviews particularly enlightening on an individual level. This is about people across society, from all ages, reflecting on what they want from the world.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Krzysztof Kieślowski; Writers Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieślowski; Cinematographer Edward Kłosiński; Starring Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr; Length 91 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Sunday 13 November 2022 (and first on VHS at home, Wellington, in the mid-1990s).