March 10, 2007

Rendez-Vous. 9.

James Van Maanen on two more from the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series.

One to Another Jean-Marc Barr impresses me as a bit of a transgressive, a fellow who enjoys tearing down borders, particularly where sexuality is concerned. I may be unfairly allowing my perception of his character in films such as Don't Let Me Die on a Sunday and Cote d'Azur to rub off on his person. But after seeing One to Another (Chacun sa nuit; site) at Rendez-Vous, which Barr co-directed with Pascal Arnold, and hearing him speak at the Q&A following this film, I suspect this is true.

One to Another was inspired by a murder of a young man in the western countryside of France some years back. Although justice was done in terms of anyone involved in the killing being brought to trial, no motive was ever uncovered. It's the motive - and how this expands to encompass the victim, his friends, family, community and country - that concerns the filmmakers.  (It certainly concerned the audience, several members of which came up to me to discuss this, post-screening.)

The victim here is also a transgressive. He uses his sexuality to revolt (against exactly what, we don't know: perhaps it's simply that adolescent need), and he uses it on family, friends, males, females, for fun, profit, power and (being French) philosophizing. Arnold and Barr have assembled a cast of extremely attractive young performers, all of whom appear unclothed a good portion of the time. (The only face/body I recognized was that of Pierre Perrier, who graced last year's Cold Showers at Rendez-Vous). These kids behave quite naturally under circumstances that, finally, make them all seem very strange indeed. And they handle dialog that, were this not taking place in France, among the bourgeoisie, I might have had even more trouble accepting as real.

The film dances back and forth in time (which most frequent film-goers should be used to by now) as the dark plot pushes ahead, taking us from skinheads to orgies, incest and betrayal. Though the film is never less than engrossing (and extremely easy to watch, given the display of youthful flesh on view), I finally question its obviousness. Barr told the audience that he and Arnold did not want to explain things to viewers, but rather force us to wrestle with the question of motive ourselves. Yet from the way in which the filmmakers tell the story, I think no alert viewer will be able to take any other view except the one the moviemakers have fashioned, whether they be cognizant of this, or not. (I also don't know whether the sexual escapades on view were indigenous to the real characters or created for the movie by the filmmakers.) While I see the lead character/victim as a troubled provocateur whose actions finally cause havoc, from pieces of what Barr said, I think he sees his hero/victim as a kind of liberating force who might lead us into a new age of pan sexuality, if only we could follow him. Easier said than done, as this movie most assuredly - and unsettlingly - proves. The film is set for distribution by Red Envelope. I will certainly watch it again, once it has made a transfer to DVD.

Blame it on Fidel The most recent film of which Julie Gavras's Blame It on Fidel (La Faute à Fidel, (adapted by Gavras and Arnaud Cathrine from Domitilla Calamai's novel; site) reminds me is the lovely Italian movie by Paolo Virzi, Caterina in the Big City. The father in both films is quite different, but the sense of how politics, economics, school and community - not to mention parents - help direct a child's life is equally important to each film. In Blame It on Fidel, the pleasantly well-off bourgeois parents, very well-played by Italy's Stefano Accorsi (The Last Kiss) and Julie Depardieu (Le Petite Lili), make a sudden but quite understandable turn toward the left, which prompts their older child Anna (a knockout first performance from Nina Kervel-Bey) to grow angry at the loss of a nice home, social standing, and her much-loved, right-wing nanny - not to mention the disapproval of her equally conservative grandparents.

This could be a set-up for any number of easy comedic scenarios or knee-jerk screeds from both left and right. Instead, the film concentrates on Anna's growth and change, as she, her parents and her younger brother all twist and turn, this way and that, trying to make their new life work. The film is set in the early 70s, with the election of Chile's Salvador Allende, toward which Anna's parents work quite hard, figuring prominently into the mix of events. This peoples the family's apartment with some unusual and amusing characters. Anna's dad has his own history to deal with (via Franco-controlled Spain), while Mom leaves her freelancing at Marie-Claire to work on a book about abortion (not yet, but soon to be legal in France).

Gavras's film is consistently and gently amusing but never loses track of what's at stake for everyone involved, including the country of Chile. This gives the movie a deserved weight that grounds it in reality but never overpowers it. The coda is rather amazing: a silent (music but no dialog) series of scenes that build into perhaps the best example I've seen of why the secular is preferable to the religious, ending with a quietly inclusive moment of sheer, sweet perfection. Red Envelope is also distributing this one, which is, need I say, a Don't-Miss.

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Posted by dwhudson at March 10, 2007 8:09 AM