Le Monde newspaper's film reviews

Should there still be any doubt about the selection of the 7th edition, here is an anthology of reviews of this year's film selection published in Le Monde.

Marguerite & Julien by Noémie Luciani

Taking the incestuous love affair between a brother and sister as her starting point, Valérie Donzelli invents a disconcerting, feverish and composite work.

It is not a film but a multitude of compressed films (...) where we hardly need struggle to find gems.

Donzelli has been criticized for rendering her theme insipid or for dodging it, but what she instead envisages is a cinematic experience. How can incest be told just like any other love story? With humor? By taking lyricism literally? As a family tragedy? As a costume drama? Today? Yesterday? The director seems to ask these questions in the twists and turns of each scene.

Faultless by Noémie Luciani

The actress embodies a manipulative woman in the provincial thriller by Sébastien Marnier. Neither a big, bad villain, nor truly kind, neither monstrous, nor human, she fascinates as much as she repels. Constance is a character who provides Marina Foïs with an opportunity to develop to perfection a refined, surgically precise performance, and one which is a standout in the actress's very fine filmography.

Parisienne by Noémie Luciani

Director Danielle Arbid plunges us into student life of 1990s' France.

Paris experienced, Paris encountered, Paris dreamed up: Danielle Arbid does not invite us to a history lesson but instead offers an affectionate portrait of France and its capital. A polyptych constructed around the romances of Lina, the film's protagonist, each experience opens doors to a different Paris – well-to-do or hard-up, student or thirty-year-old, communist or royalist, indolent or commited. Reproched for her abrupt changes of mind as doors open and close, Lina is not so much an opportunist as she is curious, less flighty than avid for experience; she is eighteen years old, a smile on her lips, and with plenty of time ahead of her to judge and be judged. 

Parisienne, which has joy in its heart like its heroine, does not ask these question, it offers them, like Lina, smiling, offers herself to the encounter. This smile does not make political life more stimulating or France less contradictory, but it helps one to live in it. What remains to be seen is if it combines with the past, the recent past, fiction or the present.

Prejudice by Noémie Luciani

For his debut feature, Antoine Cuypers films Nathalie Baye and Thomas Blanchard, a mother and son connected by an indestructible bond.

The film is compelling, very well written, and tense from start to finish. It is exceptional. This is due to its duo of actors being wonderfully in tune. Thomas Blanchard has created a unique and unsettling character, one whose weaknesses and strengths we constantly confuse, one we would like to cherish without managing to do so any better than those supposedly close to him. Nathalie Baye is peerless. Absolutely credible and perfectly inscrutable. A Medea lurks within her, a monster who would barely surprise us if she were to slaughter her whole family with a table knife – but with hardly a shout, it is all there in her eyes.

(…) it is their tragedy in the tragedy, their additional burden in the downfall – and yet, constantly, this could resemble, does resemble, love.

The Demons by Noémie Luciani

Philippe Lesage captures the inner anxieties of Felix, a young boy whose name, with its roots in "happiness" could not suit him less.

The much touted carefreeness of childhood (perhaps dreamed up by adults who believe they are nostalgic for it) only exists in passing. Childhood is a serious business, a period when the awareness of our tiny selves can turn the least little thing into a mountain of anxiety that blocks out the sun.

Felix muddles all his fears in his mind: those that lead to laughter (catching AIDS by playing at Mommy and Daddy), those that provoke goosebumps (the child-killer who lurks). Adults appear not to see them, as though the exit from their own childhood has deprived them of this sensitivity. Philippe Lesage presents a chilling portrait of these adults, perhaps more so in the group effect rather than the one he sketches, in the background, of the killer.

The New Kid by Noémie Luciani

Behind its appearance of being a tale of adolescence, Rudi Rosenberg's film, which follows the arrival of a new student at a junior high school, opens up a path between melancholy and optimism.

The New Kid is lovely to look at. Its pastel colors and soft light seem to kindly caress the cheeks of its young protagonists, rapidly situating the story in a gentle and hushed world, which seems comfortable. But this softness is deceptive: The New Kid actually talks about cruelty. A cruelty so ordinary that we've lost the habit of seeing it for what it is: that of school students amongst themselves.

The New Kid resembles its characters. It has their grace, assumes their fragility, embraces their cruelty and absurdities. And it constantly invites us to laugh at them, without unkindness or scorn, but because by learning to laugh at ourselves we learn how to no longer fear the laughter of others.

In short, there is nothing new in the film's predictable epiphany, but the paths that it opens up, through humor, gentleness, and restored kindness concurrently tempted by nastiness, along with the constant assertion of the right to grow up without renouncing childhood, sharply and pertinently rewrite this lesson as old as it is difficult to learn, when you are twelve years old and the dizzying prospect of life lies ahead.

Ogres by Noémie Luciani

Director Léa Fehner energetically depicts a traveling theater troupe as nutty as they are charming.

Traveling theater as over-the-top art. On stage, too much make-up, too many screams, too much lighting and music, too much energy for performers not to leave the stage drained and exhausted. In the wings, too many egos and too many dramas, too much proximity between bodies and hearts: people's lives merging, melding, and breaking apart, all at once.

In Ogres, the camera almost always moves with the current, as though abandoned in the whirlwind of crazy energy: we do not follow the story like spectators but like dead leaves caught in the propeller of a boat racing off at speed.

This perpetual movement, maintained and endured, which passionately embraces the film, is as vibrant, beautiful, and great, even in excessiveness or in tragedy, in the dizziness of its sadness. With or without Chekhov, we do not exit from this life.

A Decent Man by Jacques Mandelbaum

Filmmaker Emmanuel Finkiel offers a chilling chronical of national unease, starring Nicolas Duvauchelle.

The film is a chilling success, a chronicle of French social unease, clinical and unsettling, its novelistic dimension notwithstanding, in ways rarely addressed by the country's film industry. 

Shot in an environment related to a blue-grey no man's land, filmed in the endless reflections of windows and mirrors which evoke the cinema of a Darezhan Omirbaev chronicling the social and human glaciation of post-Soviet Kazakhstan, A Decent Man is a film that points the finger at the bitter reality striking French society today. The disappearance of social solidarity, the focus on individualism and success, the humiliation and relegation of society's rejects, the rise of communitarianism, the exasperated withdrawal into themselves and the racist temptation of a deserted fringe of "genuine" French folk. 

Bang Gang by Jacques Mandelbaum

Eva Husson films young women and men experimenting with sexual boundaries in the digital age.

The film plays with immersion: a ballet of bodies and nudes, the omnipresence of screens, swathes of electronic music, pure carnal consumption. Utopia and debasement. Beauty and ugliness. The exaltation of desire, the alienation of pornography. Few explanations, little depth, little context, minimal plot. Instead the desire to expose adolescent opaqueness to the light of cinema, to paint the surface of things in glowing colors.

The film's virtues lie in the stubborn rigorousness of this bias. It doesn't veer from the openwork framework of a news item. The subject isn't altered by novelistic stuffing. To show the triviality of acting out, its instinctual imperiousness, its transgressive necessity, its blind submission to appearances. To also show its conclusion, both mediocre and fruitful, shameful and radiant. Because Eva Husson does not overplay things, in the way that a Larry Clark, an unwavering adolescent, may do. Nor does she sweeten the dose, like a Hollywood teen move. She evokes from close up what it is: an initiation that sometimes combines the highest and the lowest, and which one can hope to come through with an intelligence more open to the world.

This Summer Feeling by Noémie Luciani

How does one continue to progess in keeping with life's rhythm now that Sasha is dead, even though everything linked to her, friendships, blood ties, the love that bound her to Lawrence, did not die at the same time that she did?

The second feature by Mikhaël Hers, This Summer Feeling sketches, more than it recounts, the singular repercussions of this death that struck down a young life in the middle of summer. From one year to the next, from Berlin to Paris, from Paris to New York, for Lawrence (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Sasha's sister Zoe, the returning season revives a particular melancholy linked to this feeling of persistent continuity, even though passing time makes the pain less intense.

Moka by Noémie Luciani

Performed with as much precision as fantasy by Emmanuelle Devos, who teams up again with Frédéric Mermoud after Accomplices, this magnificent woman does not make up the entire film, which is rigorously directed, both full of restraint in its muted lyricism and rich with the textures of damaged and constantly changing human beings. The depth is the film's beating heart – alone at first, then the disconcerting and warm echo that is heart of the prey so delicately embodied by Natalie Baye – and all the filmmaker's intelligence shows in the fact that he never attempts to speak more loudly than this semi-regular beat, but instead captures it from close up, without tricks or devices, as though with bare hands.

Posted on Saturday, February 4, 2017

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