The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 8: Daniel Auteuil

Daniel Auteuil is one of the very few actors whose films I will watch without reserve. If I could find more of his films here, I’d be in heaven.

The first film I saw was Sade. Set during the French Revolution, it focused on the imprisonment of aristocrats by the Jacobins, including the infamous Marquis de Sade. The film has been compared both favourably and unfavourably to others about the Marquis (including Quills), but I prefer it. The acting and storyline are not overdone and the historical drama is solid. Due to the lack of choice at my local video store, this was the only film I saw for several years. Fortunately the ease of renting online and buying from Amazon helped change that.

From viewing Sade, I then found the films Le Bossu and Ma saison préférée. I recommend both, but it is films like La fille sur le pont and 36 Quai des Orfèvres that I absolutely adore. He’s also starred in comedies (Le meilleur ami), as an unlikeable businessman who has to find someone to pose as his best friend, and the occasional English film (The Lost Son), where he plays a private eye living in London, an exile from his native Paris, who begins to investigate the trade in child slavery.

When I stop to think about what it is exactly about Daniel Auteuil that draws me in… I just can’t put a finger on it. I really can’t. He’s not classically handsome, like Cary Grant (or any other dark-haired actor you might care to name), but I can’t ignore his on-screen presence.

As Sade, he evokes horror and distaste in the other characters, yet manages to win over the young Emilie as well as the audience. Sade is famous, but Auteuil also makes him easy to relate to, very human. As Gabor in ‘La fille sur le pont’, he compels Adele, intrigues her, and tricks her, but he’s a man with many failings. His characters have depth along with the charisma.

In addition to the films mentioned above, I also highly recommend: Peindre ou faire l’amour, Caché, and MR 73. Or you could just go down the list at IMdB.

And a very happy birthday to my favourite writer and friend, Tiffany Reisz!

Movie: Copie conforme (Certified Copy)

Copie conforme (Certified Copy) stars French actress Juliette Binoche, perhaps best known in the English world for her role in The English Patient, or the foodie-romance Chocolat, and British operatic baritone William Shimell.

James Miller is an English writer of a new essay entitled ‘Certified Copy’ (Copie Conforme/Copia Conforme), which addresses authenticity and originality vs. the value of copies in art. Elle (Binoche) attends a lecture in Italy by Miller, but the film is immediately ambiguous about the relationship Elle & James have with each other. At first, it seems as if they might be strangers, but as the film progresses, their relationship seems more like a marriage on the rocks, or even perhaps that of a man and his mistress. It is never defined. After posing for a shopkeeper as a couple married 15 years, their relationship becomes unclear. The bickering, the intensity of their arguments; all are essential to keeping the viewer guessing as to their true nature.

The film is an excellent pas de deux; it may not be appreciated by everyone, as it is fairly undramatic until towards the end, and is very much a character-driven piece. Binoche is fantastic as Elle. It’s impossible not to feel for her, and to commiserate with her anger over Miller’s apparent indifference. And William Shimell as James Miller is convincing and subtle. One might never guess that his background is in opera (though his voice is a delight to listen to, whether he is speaking English, French, or a broken Italian.)

The language varies during the film: Elle is a native of France, James is a native of England, and the film is set in Tuscany. He speaks English, mainly, and some French, with a tiny smattering of Italian. She speaks all three languages fluently. Depending on the scene, they switch back and forth. James seems nearly as comfortable in French as in English, though he reverts to English during times of frustration and stress. Elle is comfortable in all languages, though she uses French during conversations with her son and when she is angry or sad.

As the film progresses, so does the relationship between Elle and James. One leaves the theatre wondering: are they married? were they married? The film ends with more questions than answers, but in some ways that is its charm. There are no easy answers, no quick endings with plots tied up in a neat bow. It’ll provoke conversation long after the reel has finished.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 7: Movies set in Paris

Sometimes I get a little homesick for Paris. Strange, considering I’ve only been there once, and that was some time ago. But, every once in a while I need to watch a film (or two) set in Paris to get my fix.

First up, the very excellent Before Sunset. It stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and is the sequel to Before Sunrise (set in Vienna). I’m not a huge fan of either Hawke or Delpy, but I just can’t get enough of this film. It’s a pas de deux; Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meet again in Shakespeare & Co., 9 years after they failed to meet up again in Vienna six months after their first meeting. It’s a very quiet film; there’s not much drama, but a lot of talking. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy its intimacy.

Second, La Vie En Rose (La Môme), starring Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf. The role won Cotillard the Best Actress Oscar, an award incredibly well-deserved. I took everyone I knew to see it in the theatre, merely as an excuse to see it again. Gerard Depardieu also stars, and Jean-Pierre Martins (from the French rock group Silmarils) played Piaf’s lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan. I’d listened to some of Piaf’s songs before, but this film cemented my admiration and love of chanson. Cotillard lip-syncs, but it would have been difficult for her to match Piaf’s unique voice. Unlike Before Sunset, La Vie En Rose is full of drama; Piaf’s life began in Belleville, and her father was a circus actor, her mother a singer. She traveled with the circus until her father left her with family at a brothel. When she returned to Paris she eked out a living singing in the street, where she was discovered. That part of her life alone would be enough for a film, but there’s more. Always more.

And third, the film Fauteuils d’orchestre (Avenue Montaigne), with Cécile de France, Albert Dupontel, Dani, Sydney Pollack and Valérie Lemercier. Jessica (de France) comes to Paris and finds work in a café across from an arts complex. An art auction, a piano concert and a Feydeau play are occurring on the same evening, and the resulting meetings of all the other characters with the cheerful Jessica are the meat of the film. The interconnectedness is charming; it’s a film that never fails to leave me smiling.

So there you are: three films that help evoke Paris for me. Do you have a place you’re fond of? Or is there a film that evokes a remembrance of a favourite place?

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 5: Audrey Tautou

Audrey Tautou Cannes I have a bit of a thing for Audrey Tautou. Okay, more than a bit. I can’t quite define what it is that I like about her. She is talented and gorgeous, but there’s also an intangible something that has caught my fancy.

I, like most of the English-speaking world, first met Ms. Tautou in the film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain. The film is a fantasy Paris narrated through the eyes of the fanciful dreamer, Amélie, where clouds turn into animals, old men find their childhood toys, and she can dream of love.

The film is a delight to watch and has become one of my favourites, perfect for a quiet afternoon with a cup of tea.

But what about her other work?
Another of my favourite films is Priceless (Hors de prix), where she co-stars with Gad Elmaleh, playing a young gold-digger who mistakes a bartender for a wealthy target. It’s a charming comedy and the premise seems funnier and far more interesting in French than it might be as done by Hollywood.

She starred in the blockbuster The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks, though I can’t say that it is among my favourite films. I far prefer her in films such as Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite, where she plays a young woman who falls in love with a veterinarian who is a non-practicing Jew. She decides to convert, and the film is part comedy, part philosophy.

If I had to make a list, I’d recommend the following films:

  • Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite (God is Great and I Am Not)
  • Dirty Pretty Things
  • Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel)
  • Hors de prix (Priceless)
  • Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie)

No matter what, if you haven’t seen a film with Audrey Tautou (excluding The Da Vinci Code), then you haven’t really had the chance to appreciate her talent. And in the meantime, I’ll go watch Priceless or Amélie and see if I can figure out just what that something is.

Link: IMdB

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 2: French films

I won’t make the attempt to list every French language film that I love, but here are three of my especial favourites…

La fille sur le pont (The Girl on the Bridge), with Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis.

Adele is a woman with nothing to lose, standing on a bridge over the Seine, willing herself to jump. Instead, she meets Gabor (Daniel Auteuil, one of my favourite actors), a knife-thrower needing a new assistant. Hardly a safe choice, but far better than cold river water. It’s a strange partnership, but one that compels. (Also, for those that are into it, Daniel Auteuil has some very nice guyliner. Perhaps that’s partly why I like this movie so much! Yum!) The film is shot in black and white and the theme track is by Angelo Badalamenti, sung by Marianne Faithfull.

And that connection leads me to the next film, actually a mini-series. Directed by Josée Dayan, with the soundtrack by the aforementioned Angelo Badalamenti, Les liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is based upon the novel, but brought forward into 1960s France. It features a diverse, all-star cast, including Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett, Nastassia Kinski and Leelee Sobieski. If you can, pick this one up in its 3-disc edition, as the 1-disc edition has been edited down (and I have yet to be convinced that the dialogue wasn’t overdubbed by other actors). This is by far my favourite adaptation of the novel. I’m not at all fond of the one starring John Malkovich. The film Valmont (with Colin Firth) is worth a look. But this version… it sizzles. Plus it has Catherine Deneuve, one of France’s premiere actresses.

And that brings me to the third film of this post, the very classic Belle de Jour. It’s probably Deneuve’s best known film, though it certainly wasn’t the first of hers I saw. (That honour goes to The Hunger, which also starred David Bowie and a young Susan Sarandon.) Severine is a young wife, bored and dissatisfied, and not physically intimate with her husband. She first satisfies herself with vivid, erotic fantasies, but takes those fantasies a step further when she becomes ‘Belle de jour’, a prostitute at a Parisian brothel.

Directed by surrealist master Luis Buñuel, Belle de Jour is a striking film, even if one is not very interested in slightly kinky sex and the BDSM tendencies of Severine’s erotic fantasies. Catherine Deneuve is a master of her art. I could watch her films for hours without complaint.

Next time you’re at the video store – oh, who are we kidding – you’re really looking on Netflix or something, since it is 2011 – check out one or all of these films. You won’t regret it.