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An Impossible Love

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Set over the course of several decades, An Impossible Love is a love story told through the words of the protagonists’ daughter, slowly revealing a bleakness underneath the picturesque French scenery and fashion.

Virginie Efira (Elle) plays Rachel, a secretary in 1950s France, who falls head over heels for Phillipe (Niels Schneider). Whilst Rachel is a hybrid of sweetness and naivety, Phillipe is a collection of affectations in a pair of skinny jeans. On their first date together, he takes great delight in Rachel having never heard of Nietzsche, becoming giddy at the prospect of lending her not one, but two of his works. He also sports a fine line of racism running through his core, which Rachel manages to overlook because of her affection for him. When she falls pregnant, however, Phillipe runs away from fatherhood, returning intermittently to see his daughter, Chantal and play with Rachel’s simmering devotion to him.

Directed by Catherine Corsini (Summertime, Leaving), and based on the book by Christine Angot, An Impossible Love follows Rachel as she fights for Phillipe to recognise his daughter. Being a single mother in the ‘60s is never touched upon; Corsini focuses solely on Rachel’s struggle and her constant, almost tragic hope that Phillipe will stay for longer than one night in bed with her. All of this would be enough to fill two melodramas, but a third act reveal rachets up the drama to a point that borders on horrific.

Those familiar with Angot’s book and her other work will know exactly where the film is headed once Phillipe returns (again) to check in on his now teenage daughter. Taking a much darker turn, An Impossible Love charts how Phillipe, hiding in the shadows, continues to flex his dominance over the two women.

It says something of Schneider’s (Heartbeats) performance that his shadow looms heavily over the rest of the film. Estelle Lescure and Jehnny Beth play the adolescent and adult Chantal, both bringing a brooding intensity to the role that echoes Schneider’s earlier scenes. As Rachel, Efira tries to muscle through the darkness, it’s a tragedy watching her realise almost too late where her sights should be set.

Despite all of its strengths, the film’s greatest weakness comes after the aforementioned third act revelation. Both women know of Phillipe’s secret and yet, not realising they both know, they refuse to talk about it. An Impossible Love charges through the scenario with the 30-something Chantal snarling at an elderly Rachel. It doesn’t need to be spelt out that the daughter has become the father, and yet the film feels the need to dress her up as him and talk like him. It just feels a little heavy handed in light of how it tackles other topics.

What is wanted instead is more shared screen time with Beth and Efira as they navigate the weight of 30 years of an oppressive patriarchy. This may all sound like a minor quibble but having spent so long leading its audience to this point, it feels that they, like Rachel, deserve a better send off.

 
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Sophia Antipolis

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This film is set on the French Riviera, but it’s not remotely luxuriant or escapist. The titular Sophia Antipolis is a technology park, and to the extent in which the downbeat story has a focus, it’s the discovery of an incinerated human body – and the mystery of its identity and how the unfortunate person met their doom.

The characters here include a Vietnamese woman who came to France in response to a matchmaking service, a couple of security guards and a young woman who decides to have a breast implant operation. Their paths intersect, sometimes vaguely, and the mundane is intermittently offset by the bizarre in the form of references to peculiar or mystical experiences and apocalyptic possibilities – and a meeting of an organisation which purports to be neither a sect or a cult, but which certainly looks like one. The pace is slow, and the effect is mostly limited, one notable exception being a powerful – and ugly – combat training scene. The cast includes non-actors.

Sophia Antipolis is an odd little movie, as much for what it lacks as for its content: there is virtually no music, there’s not a great deal of plot in the conventional sense, and most of the main characters are unnamed. There are some effective static shots, but the pervasive muted and hollow ambience makes it both diverting and dull in roughly equal measure. Virgil Vernier’s films get praised for their ‘documentary feel’, and the way they supposedly blur fiction and non-fiction, but it’s a mixed blessing at best.

 
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Amanda

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2018 French drama Amanda follows David (Vincent Lacoste), a 25-year-old Parisian who juggles an abundance of jobs to make ends meet, whom after the tragic death of his sister Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb) must decide whether to take guardianship of his seven-year-old niece, Amanda (Isaure Multrier).

Paris as a backdrop and the circumstances by which Sandrine passes speaks to the current challenges faced by France and is done-so not to create a mood of despondency but as a showing of resilience in the French spirit.

Relationships and the process of recovering after a loss are at the core of the film, with David and Amanda able to deliver on these themes in delicate performances that range from heart-rending to saccharine.

Use of parks and tennis add subtext to Amanda, with issues relating to mounting prejudice that threatens to derail French culture – this aspect is acknowledged but it never negatively impacts the characters arcs.

Despite tackling heavy subject matter, there is an intimacy that works to the benefit of Amanda, thanks to scenes mostly involving no more than two characters – with this no better on display than in a heart-warming mother-and-daughter embrace.

At 107 minutes in length, Amanda does feel its run-time and where director Mikhaël Hers could have tightened the focus of the film, instead injects an excessive amount of side-characters and stories as if to punish David and create opportunities for him to cry.

Where films focusing on children losing their parents have a knack for being manipulative, Amanda chooses not to wallow in sentimentality but to stand as a message of endurance for a country threatened by external forces that challenge its culture.

 
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Le Grand Bal

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Midway through Le Grand Bal, a French documentary from writer-director Laetitia Carton that covers an intensive eight-day long multi-cultural dance festival held in regional France, two attendees discuss their frustration over the female dancers’ ability to follow tempo; the male voicing concern that his partner’s intense concentration makes her unable to be present within the moment; the other, informing that if her concentration were to stray that it would be of detriment to the collective.

Being very European in attitude, this exploration of ‘being’ whilst living in a totalitarian society is central to the premise of the Le Grand Bal, with the film’s subjects (all undoubtedly of privilege) having the point of view that life ought to be a shared experience of love, passion and joy.

Le Grand Bal sensitively examines the attendees search for connection and is done so in a way that speaks to their spiritual desire for unity and not as a means for the film to pass judgement.

Despite covering a wide scope of themes, including notions of anti-consumerism, the crippling fear of rejection that plagues the human condition, and the prevalent hand of sexism seeping through in a purpose-built utopia, Le Grand Bal never feels overstuffed, with the film comprising largely of dance routines that delightfully show the jubilance in the eyes of the participants.

Narration connects the scenes together though not to discredit the audience’s intelligence but to internalise the feelings experienced by the dancers that are difficult to comprehend at a surface level.

From the all-encompassing joy of a Greek Zorba to the intimacy of a waltzing embrace, Le Grand Bal is optimistic filmmaking fuelled by a contagious spiritual energy.