Cinefile - Cinefile October-November 2019 French releases
In this October-November 2019 Cinefile podcast, RFI's Rosslyn Hyams talks to Little Joe's leading actress Emily Beecham, and looks at For Samaa, Alice et le Maire (Alice and the Mayor). Also, Roman Polanski's An Officer and a Soldier (J'accuse) and Costa-Gavras Adults in the Room, and more.
The title of the Franco-Algerian film Papicha, which won hearts at Cannes in the Un certain regard section means pretty girl. In this film it applies in the plural, and makes the subject all the more biting.
Why hide beauty, when as the poet John Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty, is a joy forever"?
Mounia Meddour sets her film in a particular period of acute repression in Algeria in the 1990s. Since then the cries for women's rights have become louder. But progress in most quarters is patchy.
Here's a film which flies in the face of curtailment of rights and freedoms seen through 20-year-old Nedjma's experiences and encounters.
Her journalist sister assassinated, her student friends traumatised and prevented by machismo from making the most private and personal choices about their own lives, Nedjma decides to organise a fashion show with revealing clothes made out of a cloth, a haïk, traditionally used to cover women like a hijab.
Papicha is young and full of energy. The fast-moving action flows from one chapter to the other. With the action revolving around Nedjma's all-female university residence, Meddour's characters span a range of male and female situations.
For example, one male shop owner is sympathetic to the girls, another puts on a front for the religious fundamentalists, another delights in the cloistering of the girls, exploits them and would even rape them.
Females and males are equally part of the clampdown on freedom for women, but women fight the hardest against it.
Meddour's film avoids pitfalls and endows Papicha with appeal beyond the 15-35 female age group.
Click on the "play" button above to hear Emily Beecham talking about "Little Joe" and about the rest of this films in this edition of our Cinefile podcast.
Fahim, the little chess prince
Gérard Dépardieu (as grumpy chess coach Xavier Parmentier) reigns supreme in this French film for all ages, which just fails to bring tears to the eyes. Fahim, the Little Chess Prince is based on the true-life story of a Bangladeshi wunderkind, son of an asylum seeker who's determined his misfortune will transfomed into 8 year-old Fahim's triumph.
Cinefile - Cinefile September 2019 - Port Authority, Du Sable et du Feu
In this month's early autumn Cinefile, Rosslyn Hyams meets director Danielle Lessovitz and her leading actress Leyna Bloom to talk about Port Authority. Director-Producer Souhail Benbarka's Du Sable et du Feu, is a love story, and a cloak and dagger story, based on 19th century true-life characters embroiled in international conflicts. Click on the arrow in the photo to listen to Cinefile.
Lessovitz' début feature was nominated for an Un certain regard award at Cannes in May as well as a wave trophy at the Deauville American Film Festival in September 2019.
She sets her love story between Wye, a transgender woman (Leyna Bloom), and Paul (Fionn Whitehead) a down-and-out young white man who lands in New York, at Port Authority bus station, homeless, friendless, but mildly charming.
Lessovitz confronts the two. She, although strikingly beautiful, is a misfit according to the mainstream population. He, because he's poor and naive, is also a misfit in a society which measures success on how much you have in your pocket and your address.
Her family is the 'ballroom-voguing' family, with its strong mother role. It's more than a club who like dancing and dressing up, they all look out for each other and form a community. His family is a step-sister who slams the door in his face.
Their seemingly impossible love story convinces in streams of fashionable colours and simple but poignant dialogue.
Lessovitz says her film celebrates, "the family that's chosen," against the inherited parents, siblings and other relations.
Love does triumph in this film.
Du Sable et du Feu (Of Sand and Fire)
Souhail Benbarka's fourth feature, an epic-style historical romance co-written with Bernard Stora, hit the screens in France and elsewhere this month.
It stars Rodolfo Sancho as a Spanish spy, Domingo Badia, sucked into in a plot that involves French emperor Napoleon.
He plays opposite and sometimes very closely with Carolina Crescentini as the English noblewoman, as Lady Esther Stanhope who falls in love with Prince Alibey, the man Badia pretends to be.
Things of course go wrong for the handsome couple and their burning passion. They get a taste of power and it drives them crazy and drives them apart.
The film spans 16 years from 1802 to 1818. Lady Esther, a favourite at the court of George III and the niece of his prime minister, turns into a blood-craving religious fanatic converted to Islam after falling in love with the alleged Syrian prince. A prophecy made in her youth said she would become one day queen of Palmyra. So that's what she does.
Badia is recalled from his dangerous mission to organise the overthrow of the Sultan of Morocco by tribes from the north, just when he starts to believe he should replace the sultan himself. Damn he thinks as with bared teeth he smashes all the glass and wood he can lay his hands on to overcome his frustration.
Stanhope, transformed from genteel English rose to warrior-queen Meliki, bares her teeth when screaming at her many troops to "kill the infidel". In a dramatic speech, she explains to Badia who she sees now as her enemy, that they don't worship the same Allah.
Spanish actress Marisa Parades of Almodovar and other fame plays Meliki's lady-in-waiting. Dutiful Mrs Williams whisked away from pastures green to the middle of the desert.
Cinefile - Cinefile Late Summer 2019 - Untouchable and Late Night
In this late summer Cinefile podcast, RFI's Rosslyn Hyams speaks to UK documentary film maker Ursula McFarlane about Untouchable, a moving and compelling set of interviews, audio recording and newsreel footage, which revisit a deeply rooted culture of different types of harrassement in the film sector via the Harvey Weinstein case. Also Late Night, an overall feel-good film which carries a sharp observation of the effect of power and hierarchy in the TV business. Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling star in Nisha Ganatra's latest.
Click on the arrow to listen. 18 minutes.
Cinefile - In which... Denis Lavant talks about Alverson's 'The Mountain', Lav Diaz about 'The Halt'
In July's Cinefile Rosslyn Hyams speaks to leading French actor Denis Lavant, and a Philippines film director, the prolific and multi-talented Lav Diaz. Click on the arrow on the photo above to listen to the interviews. Or subscribe to Cinefile.
Also known as a psychosurgical odyssey, The Mountain was released in the US in July on the heels of it's French première at the Champs-Elysées Film Festival.
The Mountain has a serious track record, featuring in the Venice Film Festival 2018 followed by Sundance in 2019.
US director Rick Alverson's 5th feature is on the surface about the practice of lobotomy, invented by a real-life doctor called Walter Freeman in America in the 1950s. Jeff Goldblum and Tye Sheridan play respectively lobotomiser Dr Wallace Fiennes and his would-be lobotimised photo assistant, Andy.
Of course, that's the top layer. Its slow pace, lacklustre palette and trunkated, creepy dialogue, potentially lull the viewer into a mindless state. However, if you seek, you may find issues about today's America, or about many parts of the world today. Alverson puts a lot of thought into this film.
The Mountain is a mind-game, where the mostly eery calm of the cajoling or passive characters is blown apart by French actor Denis Lavant. He plays French single-father Jack, who wants lobotomy-mad Dr Fiennes to operate on his teenage daughter, the object of Andy's first love.
Lavant is known for his energy and seemingly unbridled action on stage, as well as on screen. His ability to slip into the skin of arresting characters out of a Tolkien novel or a Shakespeare play or from a French equivalent of East Enders, makes him any director’s dream, but he selects carefully.
"Jack is already a bit schizo to begin with. I don’t need to analyse this character to be able to play him. I just have to act the character if you like. Rick Alverson is great and really knows how to direct actors. He suggests plenty of imaginative ideas."
Listen to Cinefile podcast to hear more about Denis Lavant's take on The Mountain.
Ang Hupa -The Halt
The four-hour-40 minute long film is largely dark and once again deals with Lav Diaz' main concerns, the politics and sociology of his country, the Philippines.
Set in 2034, when the volcanic action has put out the light, a raving, deluded dictator (Joel Lamangan) is manipulated puppet-style by two women security chiefs (Hazel Orencio and Mara Lopez). Their ambition and love of power drives the plot while their passions are inflamed by a love-triangle involving a teacher with a quest and a part-time escort job (Shaina Magdayao).
The man to follow is the enigmatic Hook Torollo played by Piolo Pascual. He realises that he will achieve greater fulfillment from helping street children than firing rocket-propelled grenades or the like.
Philippines director, writer, producer, composer, editor Lav Diaz could of course say much the same in a shorter time, but he maintains that this would zap his propos. Not just a whim, and far from detracting from the story-telling, the slow pace adds fluidity to Anga Hupa -The Halt, allowing the film to sink in.
"I want to work more on spaces, so you can actually touch the thing, a corporal experience with the medium. The so-called audience must also be engaged, not just entertained... rather than being subordinated to the action of Tom Cruise. I want you to see the ants and the birds and the wind."
Première at Cannes
Lav Diaz', Ang Hupa or The Halt in English premièred at the Cannes Director's Fortnight in May 2019, it also screened at Poland's New Horizons and the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Listen to the Cinefile podcast or by clicking on the arrow on the photo above to hear Lav Diaz talking about the dictatorship, street children, homosexuality on film, and why there are a few glimmers of light in his literally dark films.
Cinefile - All about Yves, My Polish Honeymoon and Zombi Child
In this month's Cinefile podcast, RFi's Rosslyn Hyams speaks to film makers Bertrand Bonello and Benoit Forgeard and actress Judith Chemla about their latest films released in June in France. Click on the photo above. Quick-fix reviews below.
Zombi Child by Betrand Bonello
Essentially a teen movie around a Franco-Haitian story, told as a zombie story, based on the possible zombie case of real-life Clairvius Narcisse. From an educational point of view it has a lot to offer. It carries a pre school-holiday warning about summer love, and slips in valuable, not chicken, nuggets of Napoleonic French history.
However, interesting as it is to discover little talked-about French elite institutions, and popular as zombie films are at present, Bonello's film misses the mark and Zombi Child lacks the suspense and boldness of his previous youth hit, Nocturama (2016).
All about Yves by Benoît Forgeard
Can a fridge fall in love? Become a new-age matchmaker? Could a fridge take over our lives? Yves is a smart looking and sounding fridge-freezer programmed to improve eating habits.
The machine is imposed on a sausage-consuming rapper who has moved into his granny's home to write a star-quality composition. A gimmicky rom-com à la française, like chocolate and hazelnut paste spread over a hot contemporary topic. Love it or hate it. It's entertaining.
My Polish Honeymoon by Elise Otzenberger
A young Jewish mother reluctantly leaves their baby in Paris with grandparents to spend a few romantic few days in Poland with her child's father. Poland, not Venice because Anna's husband has been invited to attend a commemorative ceremony in his grandfather's home village, in Poland.
Anna leaps at the chance like Bambi. Otzenberger mixes comedy and gravity, fact and fiction, to vehicle a personal story, tied to the historical tragedy and horror of the World War Two attempt at genocide in Europe. Should the search for roots become so important when it means uncovering dead-ends, disappointments and a scarred present?