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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Freedom Films with English Subtitles

Roman De Gare (2.5 Slithy Toads) and The Grocer's Son (Le Fils de l'epicier) (1.5 Slithy Toads). Both seen Sunday afternoon June 22, 2008 at Cinema Village, aud. #3 and #1.

I have this thing with French (ooops, Freedom ) films. I tend to find many of them are overrated because they're in French, that things critics wouldn't put up with in an American film suddenly become acceptable when in a foreign tongue, the French tongue especially. Amorphous plotlessness, cloying sentimentality, other things. This isn't limited only to French films, though I think it infects the critical response to them more than to others. This may be a legacy of the fact that the French critical establishment and directors in its spell were especially crucial to the development of the "New Wave" 40 years ago. Or maybe it's all Benjamin Franklin's fault. There's also a certain bias critics have toward certain directors in the US that might not withstand an emperor's new clothes scenario.

I wasn't particularly eager to see Roman de Gare, but it was holding on at the box office, and my sister told me that it was actually pretty good by overrated French film standards. By and large, I think she is correct. The Grocer's Son had opened while I was in Toronto for Bloody Words and fell below my radar (though I'm not sure I'd have noticed even if I'd been in NY; it doesn't even look like all of the NYC papers reviewed the movie though the NY Times reviewed it quite lavishly and the VIllage Voice has a recommended asterisk next to it as well), but it also seemed to be getting good word of mouth and had times that matched up nicely at the same theatre, so I decided to do both.

I won't argue too much with my sister. Roman de Gare isn't at all bad, but it's also a triumph of filmmaking over a weak, weak script. For those who don't know, Roman is the word for "novel" in French (I take credit for selling many Romans into slavery in France), and Google's translation program says that a Roman de Gare is a pulp novel. In this particular instance, about a famous writer of thrillers whose "secretary" may in fact be writing them, and who may or may not have killed the ghost when he decides it is time to get credit for his work. Most of the novel is spent with an odd stretch when the ghost hooks up with a woman who's just gotten dumped by her fiancee at a service station, then (why, exactly) agrees to impersonate him on a familiy visit before hooking up with his employer for a cruise from Cannes to Elba, where he is thought to have fallen overboard on the return voyage. The movie starts with a brief scene of the writer being interrogated in his murder investigation. The director Claude Lelouch is an old French hand though this may be the first of his films I've seen, and via the use of music and all the other items in a director's arsenal he's able to generate a lot of suspense and atmosphere. There are some nice scenery shots of the Alps (I think?) outside of the village where the girl's family lives. A fishing expedition with him and her daughter (her daughter?) turns into a major intrigue. But none of it makes much sense. If not for the prologue we would have no reason to give a murderous interpretation to the writer's actions. That's one of many gaping plot holes, and there are just too many for me to give this more than a grudging tilt on the positive side of the scale, though it might be worth studying as a primer on the director's craft. An American movie that I'd think of similar is Backdraft, which Ron Howard manages to make almost good thru directorial skill in spite of a flawed script.

I don't know if The Grocer's Son is bad, but it's the quintessential example of an overrated French film. Very simple scenario: patriarch has heart attack, black sheep son returns reluctantly to his bedside, father insists not only that his grocery store must be open but that the traveling van that provide groceries to rural communities must go on the road as well, son reluctantly agrees, and (would you belive, stunning shock ahead, spoiler of all spoilers) he grows to like it so much that he's still running the grocery van when the credits role. If this were an American indie with a comparable scenario the rote routine hackneyed nature of the entire movie would be royally derided. Um, son returns home and takes over father's meals-on-wheels route? The film is gorgeous to look at. Lots of pretty mountain scenes maybe on the opposite side of France from the Alps (??) I viewed in the earlier film, maybe more in the Pyrenees? The lead actor is attractive, though not enough so i wanted to stay awake just to look at him, or at the scenery. Anyone with the modest intelligence to know this fine blog is worth reading could probably write the rest of the movie after watching the first reel. But the photography is reallly nice! Did I tell you that the photography is nice? The reviews I linked above both talk about the nice little touches and how well-observed the movie is, but haven't we stopped settling for that in Amerindie cinema? Why would anyone still consider it to be enough if the mountains border Spain and France instead of Pennsylvania and Ohio?

And if you haven't clicked the Cinema Village link about, click it here. I'm so glad their new discounts for Moving Image members make me more inclined to traipse down to it, because it is one of NY's treasures. The main screen where I saw Grocer's Son is really nice by art theatre standards. Screen #3 was carved out of the basement and is as good as any screen at the Quad or most at the Lincoln Plaza. Screen #2 I don't like so much, but it was carved out of the mezzanine level of screen #1 which was hardly ever needed customer-count wise, and the renovation to add the extra screens made the complex more viable while keeping the bulk of the main screen intact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not just going to sit here and listen to your neocon ranting and bashing the French. It's fine for you to vote for George Bush, Joshua. It's fine for you to support his misadventures in Iraq. But when you start calling perfectly innocent people "Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys," you have really crossed the line mister. If a demi-battallion of Cuirassiers show up on your doorstep, plant an Eagle on your stoop and shout "Vive L'empereur!" don't come crying to me.