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?
Cinefile - CANNES 2019 SPECIAL: Les Misérables, Atlantique,
In this Cinefile, RFi's Rosslyn Hyams looks at three films which premièred at the Cannes Film Festival, Les Misérables, Atlantique and My Brother's Wife.
Ladj Ly’s police thiller has it all. An engaging plot, credible, just larger than life characters, pace and an athletic camera lens.
The joint-winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize shared his trophy with Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau, which, like Les Misérables, has a devastating and cruel social divide.
Ly’s Les Misérables remains rooted in the everyday but made of stuff of memorable films, it surprises and shocks.
A new police officer, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) joins a crime squad whose beat is a poor, tough and drug-infested housing estate. Stéphane immediately locks horns with rough, bossy and mouthy Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada who has grown up in the ‘hood (Djebril Zonga).
They have to find ways of dealing with all the local clans, from teenage girls to estate lords, to bored penniless pre-teen boys hungry for kicks, the religious gang and also, the outsiders and very muscular circus team.
Ly portraits these groups and some indiviuals, but refrains from judgment of people or characters. They are drawn from his real life experiences of growing up in a poor area. In Monfermeil, many families were originally from Africa, but their children, like Gwada the police officer, have grown up in France. The younger generation, Issa’s, were born in France.
Ly disproves the old saying that directors should neither work with children nor animals. On his first film no less, he takes the risk of working with both.
His own son plays Buzz, the all-important drone operator, and Issa is the wayward teen who attracts trouble like a magnet and cannot resist stealing an adorable lion cub. Only the lion cub belongs to the circus, and in particular one lion-tamer with massive biceps. The housing estate is a tinderbox. The theft sparks a war between the three local crime squad officers.
Director Ly can handle them all.
He and his crew turn the most ordinary and unattractive places into décors and real-life into cinema.
Ly has refreshed the European approach to social dramas with some strong character actors, and pumps excitement into French cinema.
Another prize winner at Cannes. Maty Diop’s debut feature won the Grand Prix. It’s set in Senegal and is based on a short film which was tied to the film festival. Atlantique explains why young men leave behind their loved ones and risk their lives on the sea. They hope of finding jobs for which they will be paid.
A young woman, Ada, is promised to a rich businessman. Her true love Suleiman is a construction worker, too poor for her family to consider him a suitable husband.
Diop pitches the natural playing style of young Senegalese actors against a story of the supernatural, with special, rather than visual effects. The green laser beams in a club, its mirrors and the moon were used to effective mysterious effect without adding the zombie eyes. Quite a teen film, in spite of the serious case of the effects.
Le femme de mon frère, My Brother’s Love
Anne-Elisabeth Bossé makes this Québecois rom-com with socio-political undertones, an agreeable watch. Bossé plays Sophia, the sister who feels ditched by life because she can’t get a job in spite of her PhD.. She then feels doubly ditched by her brother who falls in love with her own gynaecologist.
Bossé bounces her often hilariously sad lines off her wonderfully crazy '68er father (Sasson Gabai) and mother (Micheline Bernard) or off brother Karim (Patrick Hivon).
Director-screenwriter Monia Chokri’s constant stream of sometimes deeply satirical humour, seems made for the actress. Charming in many ways, love, couples and connections are at the heart of Canadian-Tunisian Chokri’s happy-ending, 30-somethings, debut feature.
Listen to the film directors Ladj Ly and Monia Chokri and film score composer Fatima Al Qadiri in the Cinefile podcast. Just click on the arrow in the photo.
Cinefile - Nadav Lapid's Synonymes and Alvaro Brechner's A Twelve Year Night
Cinefile this month talks to Nadav Lapid the director of the Franco-Israeli 2019 Berlinale Golden Bear-winner, Synonymes, and to Spanish star actor, Antonio de la Torre about his role as former rebel and former president, José Muhica in Alvaro Brechner's A Twelve-Year Night.
A TWELVE-YEAR NIGHT
Alvaro Brechner’s film is so beautifully shot in parts that it disconnects from the extremely tough story of three Uruguayan leftist rebels in 1973 who are thrown into prison and kept in solitary confinement for some 12 years. The junta chief says he wants to make them lose their minds.
Based on the true story of the rebels who survived years of inhumane treatment to become politicians, one a minister and one, José Muhica, president, from 2010 to 2015.
Brechner’s film which has enjoyed plenty of success internationally, released in France in March.
Brechner throws in a love-sick sergeant with a heart and shows not all Uruguayan soldiers were as mean as the army chief.
However, neither this scene nor the amazing way he captures light and shades, detract from the effect of scenes of rough-handling and torture. The painful result is partly because, the three main actors on the rebel side, Antonio de la Torre as Muhica, Alfonso Tort as Eleutherio Fernandez Huidobroa and Chino Darin as Mauricio Rosencof, handle themselves so well.
They experienced some hardship in preparing their roles. De la Torre said “we all lost about 15 kilos for this film and whenever we had a break, all we would talk about was food.”
A feeling of numbness starts to creep in the film during its series of different forms of humiliation and of jail-transfers. It's still impossible to imagine how these could have men felt day after day, night after twelve years of nights of being ill-treated, living in squalor, hungry and thirsty.
Listen to the interview with guest of the month, Antonio de la Torre in the latest Cinefile.
Anyone who knows the recent history of Uruguay knows that the nightmarish and sad scenes will come to an end and there will be a happy ending.
Writer-director Nadav Lapid is a philosophical sort. He’s concerned with questions of identity in general and Israeli identity more specifically and even more specifically masculine identity.
For example, he said in Berlin just before receiving, along with his producer Sayeed Ben Sayeed, the Berlinale’s Golden Bear in February 2019 for Synonymes. “It’s very tough to be a woman in Israel.” He agrees that it’s tough to be a woman in many places actually.
Philosophy and satire
In his award-winning French-co-produced film which released in France this spring, Yoav (Tom Mercier) a young Israeli who has quit Israel some time after his military service, is fleeing the Israel he doesn’t identify with, and seeks to become French.
Yoav discovers that underlying an appearance of freedom in a country largely at peace, is a similar identity is also defined by everyone feeling the same, being taught to feel the same about their country.
In strange circumstances, he meets Emile (Quentin Dolmaire), an aspiring writer and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte), a musician. They are two seemingly contained, slightly odd, rather cold and artistic individuals who warmly befriend Yoav.
The runaway is also investigated by Israeli agents to whom he speaks in perfect literary French about the Battle of Troy, contrasting with one Israeli's bullish , sexist provocation.
Combined with biting caricatures, and high-energy dance scenes Lapid allows his poetic side to irrigate Synonymes which at times flows fast, and then slows down to a pseudo New Wave pace.
Listen to more of the interview with Lapid in Berlin in the latest Cinefile.
If you enjoyed Cinefile this month, you can subscribe to the podcast.
Cinefile - 'The Journey' and 'Whatever happened to my revolution'
Mohamed al-Daradji's film The Journey, or Baghdad Station, which has finally released in France, begins with a daunting prospect of a suicide bomb attack. "I think it's important for French people, and everyone, to see this and think about maybe why some people become [radicalised]."
Tout ce qui me reste de la révolution (in English: Whatever happened to my revolution) has taken French director-actress Judith Davis' from the stage to the screen. "After the stage play of almost the same name, I felt I had more to say about the important matter of political committment in our times, and for my generation."
Click on the arrow above to listen to the interviews in this month's Cinefile.
The Journey (Baghdad Station)
Daradji's fifth film, which won recognition at the Toronto Film Festival is a psychological thriller in a time capsule.
A young woman, a determined look in her eye, bulk around her middle and her hand on a trigger. All around Sara (Zahraa Ghandour), the usual hustle and bustle of the central station of the Iraqi capital on the day, former dictator Saddam Hussein is executed. A day when the renovated hub is to be inaugurated with a little ceremony.
Little does she know that the train carrying the VIPs will be late and that she is about to make an unexpected journey with wise-guy Salam (Ameer Jabarah).
Little does he imagine the full weight of their encounter and where it will end.
Throughout the film, Daradji has the spectator meet the war-scarred of Iraq, or the region more broadly. The Journey seems something of a miracle film given the volatile situation during the film shoot.
As well as telling an exceptional tale, Daradji also reveals stories and casualties of everyday life and love – and the will to survive in a war zone.
The Iraqi director wasn't daunted by the risk of filming a vulnerable subject in the renovated Baghdad Station at a time when his country was recovering from war – and under threat of more violence from the Islamic State armed group.
Tout ce qui me reste de la révolution (Whatever happened to my revolution)
On a remarkably sunny day in France, Angèle (Judith Davis) has just lost her job and lost her peg with her former sexist employer. She is boiling with rage as she graffittis a rude gesture on a bank machine with a marker pen in broad daylight.
Just then, a gentler encounter, a young teacher called Saïd, comes her way, along with his class of inquisitive seven-year-olds.
Davis's character is sufficiently unconventional and sufficiently recognisable as a child of revolutionary parents fighting for the same kind of changes her elders were confronting 50 years ago.
Angèle's anger is a motor for the high revs of theatrical or witty comedy in a film which nonetheless calls into question philosophical and political values of our society.
The father hanging onto the past and the mother making the most of the achievements of the revolt.
Davis is supported by fabulously lively and talented actors, Claire Dumas and Malik Zidi, who wowed last year's Angoulême awards jury, headed by Karine Viard.
With its unwieldy title, there's something positively refreshing about Davis' debut.
Almost a revolution in French film.