Non-Fiction (2019)

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Direction: Olivier Assayas
Country: France

French auteur Olivier Assayas, an important figure in the European contemporary cinema since the ‘90s, tells a conversational modern-day tale, slightly inspired by Eric Rohmer's The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993) and containing some pertinent observations about hypocrisy in the art world - the emphasis is on literature and cinema - and the effects of the ever-evolving technology. Non-Fiction stars a talented ensemble cast with Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne, and Nora Hamzawi embarking on extensive dialogues that oscillate between well-rounded and routine.

Canet’s Alain Danielson is an ambitious Parisian publisher totally immersed in the digital development of literature. His wife, Selena (Binoche), is a successful TV actress who complains about being a hostage of her profession. While the husband is sexually involved with Laure (Christa Théret), his freewheeling young assistant, the wife maintains a long-standing affair with the struggling writer Leonard Spiegel (Macaigne), who prefers chaos to authority and stutters every time a journalist makes him uncomfortable questions about his books.

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The latter almost never agrees with his busy, often insensible wife, Valerie (Hamzawi), but they have fun together, nurturing their relationship with enthusiastic discussions about art, politics, and Leonard’s real-life-inspired writings. Valerie works for David, a left-wing political candidate, whose transparency becomes blurred after a sex scandal. In order to spice things up, Alain refuses to publish Leonard’s new work, considering it repetitive and boring.

Loaded with multiple discussions and personal opinions, the film sometimes lacks some sort of empathic envelope, playing the extramarital affairs as enhancers for tension. However, it finishes much better than it starts, gradually creating a lived-in sense of roominess to expose the world of the characters.

Shot in 16 mm, this Assayas’ satisfying yet unremarkable effort is not as strong as The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) or Personal Shopper (2016), but becomes exquisitely affecting in its final third. Non-Fiction’s main strength is perhaps the non-judgmental posture together with the acceptance of life, with all its complex phases, as it is. Yet, I felt this was the type of story that Truffaut would make look charmingly witty, whereas Chabrol would turn into a pseudo-thriller.

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Sauvage / Wild (2019)

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Direction: Camille Vidal-Naquet
Country: France

Abstaining from any preconception or modesty, first-time writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet portrays a painful existence in the raw, unsentimental drama Sauvage/Wild. The story follows Léo (Félix Maritaud), a 22-year-old male prostitute with self-destructive behavior. He is impassive in the face of his decaying health as he beats the streets dirty and lascivious for small cash. Homeless and sick, he sells his body to buy drugs, but what he actually seeks is love and tenderness. Far from being a likable hero, the young protagonist is completely adrift, entangled in a downward spiral that makes him standing at the edge of an existential cliff.

Léo nurtures feelings for Ahd (Eric Bernard), the toughest of the prostitutes circling around the area, but his love is not reciprocated. Ahd is not even gay, and yet he found an older man who is taking him to Spain. It’s his chance to have a more stable life.

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Léo also gets a golden opportunity to get on the right track when someone honest gives him a hand and shows intent to stay with him. Does he have the reasoning to grab this chance and leave the streets that expose him to multiple dangers?

At once unpolished and corrosive, Sauvage/Wild is immersed in a grim reality. This character study forces us to reflect on behaviors and choices, and ultimately fear, emptiness, and loneliness.

Fueled by Maritaud’s impressive performance, this sunless tale builds something more than just sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. In the end, it’s almost impossible not to think about the poor Léo and how he could transform his life into an easy ride.

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Custody (2018)

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Direction: Xavier Legrand
Country: France

First-time helmer Xavier Legrand engenders an engrossing story filled with tremendous tension and emotional truthfulness, where domestic terrorism inundates the lives of a mother and her two children. After one year, Miriam (Léa Drucker) is still stalked and threaten, both physically and psychologically, by her ex-husband Antoine (Denis Ménochet). He decided to start a legal battle for joint-custody of their 11-year-old son, Julien (Thomas Gioria). The latter and his sister, Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux), 18, write a statement to be read in court, saying they don’t want to see Antoine anymore since, whenever he is around, they fear for the life of their mother.

Despite the gravity and concern that this sensitive case demands, the judge, persuaded by Antoine’s lawyer, allows him to keep Julien on weekends. Selfish and obsessed, Antoine doesn’t really care about his son, inflicting him continuous psychological torture to reach his ex-wife, whom he suspects is having a new affair. Temporarily out of work, he uses every single minute to pest the family, creating discomfort all around, inclusive in his own parents, who, in vain, try to show him the right way.

This violent, jealous man is insanely obstinate and his attacks of fury can be very destructive. When nothing seems to work, he shamelessly changes tactics, playing the nice guy who now regrets his bad behavior. How can this man be so blind to the point of not realizing that the image he wants to pass is far from being affirmative with his attitudes?

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Drawing a painful realism from each scene, Legrand extends his Oscar-nominated short film, Just Before Losing Everything (2013), with no drags or redundancy. He manages to aptly depict the silent anguish of the boy and the restlessness of his family. It’s devastating to see a child completely paralyzed by fear and that sentiment is even more infuriating when it’s one of the parents that deliberately inflicts it.

Custody is heartbreaking, but never feels manipulative, thanks to the believable performances. Indeed, both Ménochet (In The House; Glorious Basterds) and the young newcomer Gioria were perfect choices for their roles. I point them out as the most influential pieces of a film that, rising on the strength of an uncomplicated, solid script, is easier to admire than to enjoy.

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Climax (2019)

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Direction: Gaspar Noé
Country: France

Provocative French-Argentine helmer Gaspar Noé continues to show an alarming inability to write interesting or intelligent stories. Like in other previous polemic moves such as Irreversible (2002) and Love (2015), the only goal in Climax is to unconditionally shock, no matter how. Hence, this time he gathered a group of professional dancers, coming from different backgrounds, to rehearse in an abandoned school and embark on a party turned into unplanned LSD trip that quickly falls out of control. Be aware that this diabolical nightmare can upset sensitive stomachs and induce severe aches in weak heads. It’s all very artsy, though.

The necessity to call attention to himself starts right away when the final credits are exhibited at the beginning of the film, a prank that complies with the unnatural developments that come next. Human decadence and degradation are portrayed with the assistance of a palette drenched in super saturated colors, potentiating the hallucinatory vibes induced by images and music. Up in the first place, the protracted dancing scenes are just there to distract us. They are time-consuming, giving us some time to prepare ourselves for the repulsive avalanche of happenings that serve Noé’s darkest pleasures.

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The plot is shallow, assembled with no curves ahead. It’s an abhorrent cocktail of cruelty, violence, paranoia, sadism, unbridled libido, racism, abortion, sexism, suicide, hysteria, and incest. There is a vague allusion to a flag connected to a sect and regular black screens with pseudo-illuminating thoughts like: ‘life is a collective impossibility’ or ‘death is an extraordinary experience’. Genius!

The positive aspects of the film are limited to the eclectic soundtrack and the intrepid camerawork, suffused with oblique and high-angle shots as well as spinning movements meant to daze and confuse.

Insidiously vicious, Climax requires patience, a resistant stomach, an all-embracing sense of humor to deal with the nonsense, and lots of tolerance toward its intellectual emptiness.

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Claire's Camera (2018)

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Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: France / South Korea

I can understand why Claire’s Camera, the new drama film by Korean director Hong Sang-soo, may be considered a bit shallow for some viewers. At the first sight, the story feels somewhat underdeveloped, but a deeper look into its incidents made me appreciate it more. Shot during the 2016 Cannes film festival, the film is an insouciant 68-minute reflection on relationships and time, the transitory and the permanent.

The most delightful episode of the film happens during its first minutes, when Manhee (Kim Min-hee), a film selling person in Cannes, is forced to resign from work without an acceptable reason. Her boss, Yanghye (Chang Mi-hee), justifies the fact with a sudden loss of confidence after five years working together but contradicts herself during the explanation. She states she hired her because of her honesty, something you can’t change with time, but now is trying to convince her that it changed.

After a while, we learn that the true reason for the dismissal was jealousy. The 50-year-old filmmaker So Wansoo (Jung Jin-young), for whom they work, slept with Manhee while drunk. Nothing wrong with that if he wouldn't be maintaining a romantic relationship with Yanghye.

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The sadness of being without a job becomes attenuated when Manhee befriends Claire (Isabelle Huppert), a full-time Parisienne teacher and part-time photographer who is in Cannes for the first. She meets director Wansoo by chance, becoming a bit shocked by how much he drinks, and through her magical camera, encourages Manhee to figure out what she wasn’t capable to understand.

Fluctuating with slight temporal shifts, the narrative feels manifestly comfortable while the dialogues don’t measure up to other Sang-soo works, but feel naturally engaging nonetheless. Only some of the scenarios felt a bit too composed.

This is the second time that celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher; Elle) works with Sang-soo, following their auspicious collaboration in 2012 with In Our Country. In turn, Min-hee (The Handmaiden), after the polemic news regarding her real-life affair with the director, continues his muse, having participated in all his works since 2015.

Claire’s Camera is not among the director’s best efforts and yet, has the power to captivate us with its lightness, effortless spontaneity, and instinctive charm.

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Let The Sunshine In (2018)

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Directed by Claire Denis
Country: France

French director Claire Denis created her own niche of fans with thoughtful dramas like "Beau Travail", "The Intruder", "35 Shots of Rhum", and "White Material". She now returns in top form, after two documentaries and one short, with an engrossing story adapted from the 1977 text A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes. Juliette Binoche is an unquiet, emotionally unstable Parisian artist who desperately needs true love to survive. Isabelle is indeed a difficult divorcee who dreams of the perfect love. However, the men she picks are usually married, volatile in their emotions and decisions, and not so accessible as she would like them to be. 

At the same time that she closes one door to the despicable banker Vincent Briot (Xavier Beauvois, director of "Of Gods and Men" at his best), who is only interested in the pleasures of life and informs her he could never leave his wife, she opens another one to a successful younger actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who seems as nearly disorientated with his life as she is with hers. There’s also Mathieu (Philippe Katerine), a cordial, wealthy and single neighbor who keeps inviting her to spend some days with him in an estate in the countryside. She doesn’t pay so much attention to him as she keeps searching for something spicier in her relationships. 

Social class is also a factor that weighs in her evaluation of men. Hence, her preference goes to Marc (Alex Descas), a circumspect 50-year-old fellow artist, instead of the ordinary Sylvain (Paul Blain), with whom she flirted one night just for fun. She has nothing to lose in probing different relationships, but life can get dramatically tortuous when you don’t get what you’re looking for.

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Lonely, frustrated, and somewhat depressive, Isabelle can’t be blamed for feeling jealous of one of her best friends, Ariane (Sandrine Dumas), whose amorous life is better than ever. Maybe that’s why she embarked on inconsequent sexual encounters with her ex-husband François (Laurent Grévill), who now takes care of their 10-year-old daughter. Isabelle acts with indifference in regard to the kid. Her general dissatisfaction and inconstant mood consume so much energy from her that she can’t help crying alone.

Be aware that this is not a romantic film. It’s exactly the opposite. The self-assured Ms. Denis, who collaborated with Christine Angot in the script, takes the path of success by making it deliciously complex and witty. Her detailed observations are meticulously transposed to the screen through a fantastic Binoche, incredibly compelling in her performance, and the outstanding supporting cast. 

The finale is simultaneously droll and trenchant, with a 10-minute appearance from Gerard Depardieu as a spiritual counselor. His own relationship with his partner also reached an impasse. Yet, he talks in circles until drawing a smile from Isabelle out of a false hope. Can she let the sunshine into her life? I have serious doubts. Denis’ most diaphanous work to date is a subtle, powerful, and intelligent look at human relationships and society.

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The Guardians (2018)

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Directed by Xavier Beauvois
Country: France / Switzerland

The wartime rural story illustrated in the French drama film “The Guardians” is painted beautifully with suave brushstrokes and surrounded by a bucolic aura whose contemplative attributes don’t interfere with the controversial emotions expressed by the characters.
 
The film was co-written and directed by Xavier Beauvois, a recurrent presence in Cannes, where he won the jury prize in 1985 with “Don't Forget You're Going to Die” and the Grand Prix and prize of the ecumenical jury in 2010 with “Of Gods and Men”, a memorable reflection about faith and terrorism.

In 1916, the 20-year-old Francine Riant (magnificent newcomer Iris Bry), an honest and hardworking orphan, joins the Paridier farm for the harvest season to help Hortense (established actress Nathalie Baye), the unsmiling matriarch of the Sandrail family. Since Hortense’s sons, Constant (Nicolas Giraud) and Georges (Cyril Descours), and son-in-law Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) went to the frontline to fight the German invaders, the responsibility for the farm practically fell in the hands of women. Hortense’s husband is too old and tired to undertake any type of heavy work, while their daughter, Solange (Laura Smet), deals with too many tasks both inside and outside the home. Thus, the family sees the healthy Francine as a true savior and she becomes Georges’ sweetheart during the course of his regular visits. This defrauds the intentions of the young Marguerite (Mathilde Viseux-Ely), Clovis’ daughter from his first marriage. Georges is very fond of her, but for him, she's like a younger sister.

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Frolicsome American soldiers are stationed in the village while waiting for orders to join the front. Their presence shakes the peace that reigns in the family, affecting Francine, who is obliged to move out of the farm carrying Georges’ son in her womb.

The Guardians” is an icy tale of injustice, war, love, despair, and adaptability, which unfolds serenely yet assuredly with attentive period detail. Regardless the relative predictability of the events, Beauvois doesn’t trouble us with irrelevant tears or screams of anguish. He rather stimulates the intellect through the sensational imagery - impeccably photographed by Caroline Champetier - and patient storytelling, engendering a glorious finale with music and a radiant smile of love and hope to counterbalance the fissures of a fragmented heart.

Enduring pain as mothers, wives, or lovers, the women are the true heroes and villains of a quietly emotional film that comes fortified with engrossing performances, an appropriately moving score by the one-and-only Michel Legrand, and a refined editing by Marie-Julie Maille, a regular collaborator who also co-wrote.  

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See You Up There (2017)

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Directed by Albert Dupontel
Country: France / Canada

French post-war drama film "See You Up There" develops with shades of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Louis Malle. This stylish period drama, set in France in the 20’s, addresses topics such as friendship, war and family trauma, corruption, and survival. Actor/director Albert Dupontel ("Bernie") adapted Pierre Lemaitre’s novel The Great Swindle and gave himself the main role. He is Albert Maillard, a former accountant who tells his peculiar WWI story in a Moroccan police station. 

Maintaining a moderate to fast pace and leaning on an objective storytelling, the film displays a French funny side regardless of the sadness associated with the fictional account. Yet, we can glimpse a bit of the American classic mood in its demeanor. The merit goes to Dupontel, whose charming performance always brings some natural humor in the way he talks and moves.

In 1918, soldier Maillard was able to survive the brutal German attacks, without ever imagining that the biggest trouble would come from his own superior, captain Henri Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte), a monstrous tyrant. Seen as a sanguinary sadistic, the latter didn’t want the war to end and, in a pure act of madness, starts shooting his own soldiers from behind, confirming his heinous conduct as a leader. While trying to escape the unscrupulous captain, Maillard falls in a deep, narrow trench where there was a dead horse. It was his good friend Edouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a talented draughtsman, who saved his life. During this process, Edouard is shot in the face, becoming facially disfigured.

Taken to an infirmary, the speechless man gesticulates to ask his friend to kill him since he doesn’t want to be sent back home. He begins to panic at the thought of seeing his father again, the bitter president Marcel Péricourt (Niels Arestrup). But of course, anyone could tell that Maillard was not tailored to kill not even a fly, so, he managed to give his friend a false ID and hide him in a secret place, informing his family that he had died like a hero while serving the country.

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In the meantime, Maillard is forced to steal morphine from other handicapped war veterans to give it to Edouard, who, refusing any type of surgery, hides his face behind a mask. In order to communicate, he uses a personal ‘translator’, a neighbor kid named Louise (Héloïse Balster), who understands him better than anyone. Despite spending his days pacifically drawing, he becomes anxious after finding out that Pradelle, who decided to make a living with a corrupt business involving soldiers’ corpses, is on the verge to marry his sister, Madelaine (Émilie Dequenne). Struggling to eke out a decent existence, the two friends decide to set up a con scheme, using the artist’s brilliant drawings as a source. 

Despite the conventional storytelling, there’s a lot to like in Dupontel’s best film to date. In addition to the noticeable costume design, the mise en scene is memorable and the rich cinematography feels vivid. The pans and zooms operated by the camera are quite active and efficient, whether in its dynamic or rigid modes, and, fortunately, the war depictions were never too visceral to superimpose the aggravating family trauma. Even heartening at the end, there is a bittersweet taste that fills our mouths when we think how easy it is to destroy a human life.

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Revenge (2018)

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Directed by Coralie Forgeat
Country: France

Luxurious in its first minutes and viciously brutal in the remaining time, “Revenge” is a heavy, breathtaking ride that will make fans of horror/action genre rub their hands with glee.

The film, a product from the mind of newcomer Coralie Forgeat, thrives with devoted performances by Matilda Kutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, and Guillaume Bouchede, who were able to convey all the distress, trauma, alertness, and resentment required to make the film succeed. Other fundamental aspects include the intermittence of Rob's disturbing score, which keeps alternating with suspenseful silences, and the super sharp cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert, which comes filled with impressive close-ups and medium-range shots. The quality of the editing, carefully handled by Forgeat, Bruno Safar, and Jerome Eltabet, is especially noticeable in Jennifer's nightmares sequences. 

The plot is very simple and direct, yet, the way it was executed turns the film into one of the biggest blood soaking baths of the year. The sculptural Jennifer (Kutz), an American socialite, follows her wealthy French lover Richard (Janssens), a married man, in his annual hunting trip to the desert, where he retains a house. Her plan was to stay for two days with her sweetheart before the hunting begins. However, Richard's friends, Stan (Colombe) and Dimitri (Bouchede), arrive one day earlier than expected, getting utterly fascinated with Jennifer’s beauty. When Richard leaves the site for just a couple of hours, the uncontrollable Stan doesn’t resist his sexual impetus and rapes her, having the impassive Dimitri, an avid marshmallow-eater, ignoring the scene. 

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Refusing money as a compensation for the traumatic experience and threatening Richard, Jen is pushed off from a cliff after trying to escape the three madmen. Although gravely wounded with a tree branch stuck into her belly, she survives and considers no other option rather than revenge.

Memorable scenes include Jennifer’s unimaginable beer-brand tattoo made under the effect of a hallucinogenic drug, several painful attempts of taking out external objects from inside their bodies, and the thrilling final cat-and-mouse game around the house’s narrow hallways.

Overwhelming emotions and feminist prowess are drawn from the visceral, agonizing, and often-cartoonish images that hold this sick n' ferocious film together. Even if excessively sanguinary, it runs at a dazzling pace and boasts impeccably mounted episodes.

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This Is Our Land (2018)

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Directed by Lucas Belvaux
Country: France / Belgium

Belgian cineaste Lucas Belvaux, author of "Rapt" and "Trilogy: One, Two, Three", returns with "This Is Our Land", a piercing political drama set in a small Northern French town.

Emilie Dequenne is Pauline Duhez, a dedicated, unselfish nurse and single mother of two, whose tranquility is shattered after an invitation from her family doctor and personal friend, Phillipe Berthiez (Andre Dussollier), to join his populist party and run for local mayor. The party dangerously believes in a France exclusively for the French, but Pauline, seduced by the idea of a radical change for the better, seems too flattered to really pay attention to the possible consequences. Her initial reluctance in accepting the invitation was immediately overcome after going to an election rally of the party where the persuasive, self-confident leader, Agnes Dorgelle (Catherine Jacob), the daughter of a neo-nazi, convincingly exposed her political intentions. This faction is enthusiastically supported by a discontented local minority, which includes Pauline’s best friend, the fanatical Nathalie (Anne Marivin), but is also fiercely contested by many who demonstrate on the streets, opposing to their obnoxious principles.

After her media baptism, Pauline starts losing patients and is frequently insulted on the streets. She is seen as the quiet puppet of Agnes and Phillipe, who didn’t even discuss the party’s program with her. The situation gets even more delicate when Pauline, who had divorced from her husband five years before, starts dating with an ex-high school boyfriend, Stephane Stankowiak (Guillaume Gouix), without knowing his violent political past as a radical nationalist militant. Moreover, she gets devastated when her communist father, Jacques (Patrick Descamps), cuts ties with her due to the impossibility to cope with the idea that his daughter is a fascist.

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Webs of lies encircle this misguided woman as she gradually discovers the real intentions of those who surround her, including her beloved Stephane. Despite the contradictory feelings, she ends up choosing love in detriment of politics, living the illusion that he is a changed man.

Even with the violent scenes in need of a more convincing impact, the film, co-written by Belvaux and debutant Jerome Leroy, was mounted with a consistent narrative flow while its emotional grip is maintained until the last minute. The writers were inspired by the shocking political ascension of Marine Le Pen during the French presidential elections in 2017, and managed to slightly disturb through a few sharp observations.

The sad transformation of Pauline develops plausibly with the character constantly oscillating before a proud vanity for being chosen and a blind discomfort for the reactions around her decision. Filthy political strategies, inflamed slogans, speculation, and forceful poses, all of them contribute to the social decay of a naive nurse.

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The Workshop (2018)

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Directed by Laurent Cantet
Country: France

This fiction centers on a teacher-student relationship that becomes a dangerous game as the characters discover more about each other. French helmer Laurent Cantet earned credit with works such as “The Class”, “Time Out”, and “Human Resources”, observant considerations about France in the 90’s and 00’s. After the modest comedy-drama “Return to Ithaca”, he’s back with the humorless “The Workshop”, a film he co-wrote with Robin Campillo (“120 BPM”), which, toggling between the human drama and the slow-burning thriller, tackles France’s social reality in an interesting yet volatile way.

Marina Fois is Olivia Dejazet, a celebrated novelist who takes the challenging task of coordinating a summer social integration course for teenagers. The goal is to have the young group of participants writing a fictional noir novel set in their Southern town, La Ciotat, having the long-gone industrial prestige of the city and possibly some real experiences, helping their effort.

Because the young participants are mixed-race, the exchange of ideas sometimes brings tension, and the main ‘agent provocateur’ is Antoine (Matthieu Lucci), a sullen French-white solitaire who often shocks his colleagues with an aggressive posture marked by extremist ideas and pretentious coldness. Antoine is very intelligent, but the constant ennui in his life makes him a detached, radical person. He is strongly influenced by his cousin Teddy, whose ideas corroborate with the extreme right-wing party. They have a fixation with guns that impels them to shoot at the stars at dawn with their faces camouflaged with dirt.

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In a preliminary phase, the film is dispersed and disarticulated, regardless the heated debates and the efforts of the non-professional cast to ring spontaneous. Things change gradually as the story evolves into something deeper. However, Cantet’s inability to assume a risk-taking posture never made him dug to the very bottom. Even addressing current socio-political issues of extreme importance in the group’s discussions - from ISIS to the Bataclan incident to the immigration crisis - this is all about murder, and how one can kill without a real motive.

Little by little, Olivia becomes excessively curious, even fascinated, by the self-reliant posture of her rebel student. Can he be a real threat to her and his mates? Definitely! And Olivia knows that. Still, she wants more from him, especially after hearing his keen if unpleasant remarks about one of her novels. In a way, Olivia tries to use him. She invites him to her own house and interviews him in private. She is in command, attempting to extract ideas that would serve to feed some fresh fictional character in her book. Is she helping him being a better person? Here is where exploitation bites hard, questioning a strange mutual attraction that was never too dark to impress.

If a sordid episode takes you to a dispassionate climax, the finale tries to tenderize even more what had happened. It’s a hopeful, and yet, too immediate conclusion. 
Both Fois and Lucci deliver competent performances, becoming the pillars that support Cantet’s enterprise. All the way through, “The Workshop” keeps oscillating between the good and the average.

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Lover For A Day (2018)

Directed by Philippe Garrel
Country: France

Philippe Garrel’s “Lover For A Day” allows us to immerse ourselves in a complex situation lived by father, daughter, and his lover. Gilles (Éric Caravaca), a philosophy professor, is openly dating and living with 23-year-old Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), one of her former students. She totally aimed at him, ultimately vanquishing the fierce resistance he was putting on her advances for one entire semester. It has been three months since the couple is living together in Gilles' Paris apartment, but an unexpected visitor, who is not exactly a stranger, changes somehow the dynamics of their lives. I'm talking about Gille’s daughter, Jeanne (director’s daughter Esther Garrel), who is the same age of her father’s girlfriend and was suddenly kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment. Heavily disappointed and broken-hearted with her first amorous disillusion, she struggles to recover the balance, sank into a depressive state that makes her attempt to jump from a window. Unfortunately, this particular scene happens to be the less fruitful of a film that manages to catch our eye through the spectacular black-and-white cinematography by the veteran Renato Berta, a regular choice of Alain Resnais and Louis Malle in the past. The melancholic plot actually serves as scaffolding for these visual impressions.

Ariane becomes closer to Jeanne after saving her at the last minute. Knowing about each others’ secrets, they agree to keep Gilles misinformed - Ariane doesn’t mention Jeanne’s almost-fatal weakness while Jeanne doesn’t tell her dad that Ariane is the cover of an adult magazine.

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It's obvious that these women want something different from their relationships. Unfaithful and luxurious, Ariane enjoys freedom in an open relationship that reveals to be ineffective in many ways, whereas Jeanne only wants her boyfriend back, remaining tied up to that afflictive agony that keeps bringing into her mind that she was dumped without prior notice.

Unfolding with an articulated storytelling and resorting to an occasional voiceover for that purpose, the film deals with love, infidelity, jealousy, and even risks throwing in some political ideas involving the Algerian war for independence. 

Excavating moods and expressions, Garrel, who addressed these same topics in “Regular Lovers” and “Jealousy”, trails a bumpy road in this examination on the volatility of love and relationships. What you will see is classy cinema, framed with a stylish retro glow, but not devoid of a few uneven passages that feel more prosaic than poetic. Even dismaying in its conclusion, the auteur crafts it with sufficient élan to deserve a favorable mention.

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Happy End (2017)

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Directed by Michael Haneke
Country: France / Austria / Germany

German writer-director Michael Haneke earned cult status with gut-wrenching dramas such as “The Seventh Continent”, “The Piano Teacher”, “The White Ribbon”, and “Amour”. In his most recent work, sarcastically entitled “Happy End”, he addresses depression and suicidal tendencies as he depicts a French middle-class family, at the same time that faintly glances at the European migrant crisis. The story is loosely tied to the Oscar-winner “Amour”, which, like this one, also starred Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant as daughter and father.
 
Its premise, smartly steeped in technology, shows us an absorbing sequence of images recorded on a smartphone. At first, we see a woman being filmed while in the bathroom, and then unconscious due to a mysterious drug poisoning. Afterward, that overdose is transferred to a hamster, which ends up stiff in his cage, intoxicated with anti-depressives. The author of the videos is Eve (Fantine Harduin), a 13-year-old who, even admitting her guilt in both cases, never passes the sensation of evil or darkness. With her mother in the hospital, she is going to live with her estranged father, Thomas Laurent (Mathieu Kassovitz), his new wife, Anais (Laura Verlinden), and their baby.

However, the camera turns momentarily to Anne Laurent (Huppert), Eve’s aunt, a divorced workaholic who has to keep an eye on her demented octogenarian father, George (Trintignan), and her demotivated son Pierre (Franz Rogowski), who is facing a drinking problem. While Thomas is a well-established doctor, Anne and Pierre run the family business, a construction company in Calais that has been going through serious financial difficulties. Their disquietude associated with rescuing the company expands into a panic when a dangerous landslide occurs in one of the construction sites they were operating, causing a worker to be injured. 

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The emotional turmoils arrive from many fronts. Pierre is not getting better, feeling useless and ashamed of himself and attracting trouble in every move; Eve is becoming as much depressive as her mother was and finds out that his father is having an extramarital affair with a cellist; after eluding his caregiver Rachid (Hassam Ghancy), George flees from home in a car to commit suicide, but the best he can do is restraint, even more, his moves by becoming wheelchair-bound. He’s a stubborn man, though, and will study other ways that could make him end his sufferable existence. The only 'normal' situation seems to be Anne’s engagement with a British lawyer, Lawrence Bradshaw (Toby Jones).

The scenario is ideal for Haneke’s wry observations, who depicts the usual emotional fissures and inner sufferance with a disarming dark humor that keeps the film on its feet, even in the most strained situations. 
The aesthetic maturity of the static long-shots don’t compromise the emotional strength of the tale, but rather compensate the numerous close-ups that intended to dig deep into the characters’ broken souls.

While the ridiculously funny finale is quite clever, pumping up a film that had fallen in drowsiness for a while, the ultimate confessions and empathic understanding between granddaughter and grandfather is, perhaps, the most questionable scene of the film.

Even familiar in tone and less effective than Haneke's previous material, “Happy End” feels destructive inside out, and the Austrian helmer shows it with a sardonic artistic touch.

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Faces Places (2017)

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Directed by Agnes Varda and JR
Country: France

Sympathetic French New Wave filmmaker Agnés Varda, 89, links up to photomuralist JR, 33, in the sweet and humorous documentary “Faces Places”, a celebration of friendship and art alike. The two artists visited several French rural villages and small towns for the pleasure of making art, homaging the hard-working local people.

The spontaneous duo gives wings to creativity while visiting Jeanine, the last surviving soul of a waiting-to-be-demolished coal miner neighborhood, a tireless farmer who deals with 800 hectares alone, Pirou Plage, a ‘ghost’ village whose construction was never finished, a longtime mailman friend, a solitary retired artist, two very distinct goat farms, and a chemical factory. All these places were chosen to plaster large black-and-white pictures that JR’s photobooth van spills out itself. However, my absolute favorite work included the figures of three wives of Le Havre dockers pasted on colorful vessels, in a clear support to feminism, a movement/topic that has been inherent to Varda’s personal work for a long time. In the Southern village of Bonnieux, they’ve also turned a cautious woman into a model star with her glamorous picture filling a downtown's building facade.

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Real life is shown without preconceptions, even when the work doesn’t achieve the desired success. It happened with a collage on a Nazi-era bunker that rests on a desolated Normandy beach. The film then moves on with new adventures and ideas, keeping us tied up to its well-edited course of events. 
 
It’s extremely amusing when they jest about Varda’s blurry-eyes condition, whose treatment immediately revives Luis Buñuel’s classic “Un Chien Andalou”, or JR’s tenacity in hiding his eyes behind sunglasses.

Socially conscious if slightly repetitive in its structure, the good-natured “Faces Places” reserves a touching moment to be presented at the end, having the reclusive philosopher/filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard at the center.

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Double Lover (2017)

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Directed by François Ozon
Country: France / Belgium

Whenever I take a look at the filmography of prodigious French director François Ozon, I feel very comfortable stating that he is one of the most versatile storytellers working today. Regardless which genre he picks to dive into, his filmmaking style and artistic vision persist interesting, even when the scripts don’t facilitate his moves. Unforgettable films like “Under the Sand”, “Swimming Pool”, and “8 Women” became true classics, while “In The House”, “Young & Beautiful”, and “Frantz” earned a generally good reputation among critics and cinephiles alike. However, quality and consistency are variable factors in a cinematic career and Ozon lost his footing in his new film “Double Lover”, a cynical, erotic, psychological thriller starring Marine Vacth and Jérémie Renier. Both actors had worked with the director before; the former in “Young & Beautiful” and the latter twice, in “Potiche” and “Criminal Lovers”, released nearly twenty years ago.

Even piling up gripping tension throughout, the story didn’t captivate me so much due to the fact that Ozon simply forgot that, in most of the cases, less is more. Adopting several strained and calculative tactics within his genre-bending approach, he attempted to fuse the suspense of Brian De Palma, the sensualistic pleasures of Jean-Claude Brisseau, and that sort of “Alien” fixation of a woman with something creepy inside her guts. 

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At the center of the story is Chloé (Vacth), a 25-year-old single woman and former model who is referred to a psychoanalyst after her gynecologist has concluded that the piercing bellyaches that keep tormenting her should be mainly psychological. At the age seven, her mother confessed she was an accident, and she was entrusted to her grandparents. It was no surprise that the lonely and fragile Chloé undertakes to seduce her therapist Paul Meyer (Renier), promptly revealing her sexual dreams with him after only one session.

After being considered apt for a normal life again - celebrated with a part-time job as a museum watchwoman - she moves in with Paul. However, she becomes suspicious and slightly paranoid about his past, after finding an old passport of his with a different surname. Whether by accident or terrible fate, she discovers that Paul has a twin brother named Louis, who is also a psychoanalyst. Yet, his personality and working methods are completely opposite to the ones followed by his estranged brother. After scheduling an appointment with this enigmatic man, Chloé is given a thorough diagnosis of her condition and becomes trapped in a dangerous web of personal fascination and sexual desire.

You may expect the unexpected in this adaptation of the 1987 novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carol Oates. Still, the twists are so uneven and deviant that made me experienced them more as nonsenses than effectively stimulating points. By dabbling in hazy mirror games and cheap, artificial glamour, Ozon squanders the chance of presenting something consistent, both thematic and genre-wise. Notwithstanding, and considering “Double Lover” as a punctual misstep, I keep my expectations high for his next move.

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The Son of Joseph (2017)

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Directed by Eugène Green
Country: France

The Son of Joseph”, the newest drama from American-born French-based helmer/writer Eugène Green, was magnificently written, but felt a bit clumsy in its rendering.

Divided into five chapters, the film centers on Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), a frustrated teenager who keeps asking his lenient nurse mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier), about the father he has never seen. The answer is always the same: “you have no father”. Needless to say that, finding this secret unacceptable, he resolves to act on his own to finally reach the one who never showed any interest in him.
 
He finds out that Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric), a vain, self-centered publisher, is the man he desperately searched for his whole life. What he wouldn’t imagine is that Oscar is a satan’s servant, a despicable, greedy bastard who is unfaithful to his wife and doesn’t even know how many legitimate children he brought into this world.

Pretending to be a writer, Vincent infiltrates himself in his father’s arty circles and gets to know Violette Tréfouille (Maria de Medeiros), a disoriented literary critic, who, even appearing in only a couple of circumstances, becomes the funniest and more satisfying character of the film.

Vincent quickly realizes that his biological father is a lost battle, but unexpectedly stumbles upon the latter’s brother, Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), a natural father figure with a kind temperament, a God believer and a farmer wanna-be, who immediately assumes the paternal role with joy and passion, bolstering it by dating with Vincent’s mother.

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Green continues to adopt the same direct filmmaking style observed in his previous dramas, “La Sapienza” and “The Portuguese Nun”.  Yet, here, despite some affinity with the cinema of Alain Resnais, he didn't get away from excessively mechanic dialogues and tacky postures that often catapult the theatrical modes of expression to a greater extent. Moreover, the visual aesthetics weren’t brilliant and we’re only left with the interesting biblical connotations of a tale that could have been more attractive if the tension hadn’t been injected so forcefully. By doing so, it just increased the contrivance of the scenes.

The absence of score is compensated with an extended live music act, performed with lute and voice, when son and ‘adoptive’ father were immersed in the Louvre's culture. 

“The Son of Joseph” encompasses the following aspects: the artistic, the philosophical, the religious, the parenthood, the drama, the romance, and the satire. Question: was this enough for us to remember it in the future? Answer: No.

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The Death of Louis XIV (2017)

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Directed by Albert Serra
Country: France / Spain / Portugal

The purist cinema of Catalan Albert Serra was never easy to assimilate whether due to its deliberate fluctuating pace or challenging topics, yet, in my eyes, it’s always fascinating. If last year’s “The Story of My Death” managed to aggregate a few more followers of Serra’s singular indie style, the heavy historical drama "The Death of Louis XIV" will divide audiences since the prolonged cheerlessness related to the unhealthy state of the cited French king, who reigned for 72 years and died slowly of gangrene at 76, can be frustrating, gloomy, and distressing.

The script, penned by Serra and Thierry Lounas, was inspired by the Duke of Saint Simon’s memoirs, focusing exclusively on the last days of the King. You'll witness his gradual disappointment, whimsical exasperation, and occasional despair, as well as the vain efforts of a group of experienced medics who were trying to solve the puzzle related to the sovereign’s ailment.

The first scene of the film got stuck in my head. Louis, flawlessly performed by Truffaut/Godard’s protégé Jean-Pierre Léaud, sunk down in a huge chair with a weary expression on his face, saying he would love to join the guests in his grandiose salon but couldn’t find the strength to do it. His prostrated eyes only sparked when his dogs were allowed to come near him, a very rare situation since Dr. Fagon (Patrick d'Assumçao) has prohibited any contact with the animals.

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A group of loyal friends, stationed around his bed, applauds gleefully whenever his appetite returns, but his unresponsiveness for the court’s matters is quite visible, especially when the Duke of York insists about unlocking funds to finance a security construction plan.
Feverish and nauseated, Louis grows weaker each day that passes and his leg problem has no immediate solution. Both Fagon and Blouin (Marc Susini), the king’s most devoted servant, end up agreeing in summoning the best doctors of the Faculty of Paris. However, and since their theories also reveal to be useless, the last hope is Le Brun (Vicenç Altaió), a confident healer from Marseille, whose vague mystical creeds are regarded with deep suspicion by the medical team.

The lugubrious, dusky atmosphere encircling the story requires patience and nerve, but is also poised, touching, and mature. The settings, impeccably mirroring the era, were depicted with a keen eye for detail and it's noticeable the triumphant aptitude to combine colors and shadows within the impressionistic image compositions. Each Rembrandt-like close up gives us instant access to a particular state of mind, such is the power of the human expression captured by the frames. While Jonathan Ricquebourg’s jaw-dropping cinematography is purely revivalist, the direction, one of the most accomplished I’ve seen these days, is filled with incantatory rigor.

Totally shot indoors in a conscious yet agonizing delirium, "The Death of Louis XIV" is a long, slow, and arduous walk toward an inevitable death. 

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Heal the Living (2017)

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Directed by Katell Quillévéré
Country: France / Belgium

Heal the Living”, a French-Belgian drama with the heart in the right place, marks the  return of French director Katell Quillévéré (“Suzanne”), who co-wrote the script with Gilles Taurand based on Maylis de Kerangal’s 2016 novel “Mend the Living”. His fourth feature interweaves three distinct stories linked by a heart transplant. 

When the opening credits start to roll, a propelling pop/rock song surrounds us as we follow three young friends gathering in central Le Havre for a vibrant morning of surf. Simon Limbres (Gabin Verdet) left his girlfriend’s room very early and pedaled at a high speed toward his friend’s cute yellow van.

As the surfers ride the waves with tremendous fun, sequential stunning shots taken from a variety of angles keep framing the huge masses of water hitting the lens of the camera with quite an impact.
  
Everything had been fascinating and the excitement of the physical activity makes them a bit sleepy on their way back. Hazardously sleepy, I should say, because a car accident sends Simon to the hospital with a severe internal bleeding in his head. After some time in a deep coma, surgery is no longer an option, and the pair of medics responsible for his case considers him perpetually braindead. Thomas (Tahar Rahim) is the most attentive and considerate of the doctors as he explains to Simon’s parents, Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Vincent (Kool Shen), that organ donation is something they should consider. Even not pushing them in any way, he makes clear that this must be a fast decision as all the organs are still working properly. One can only imagine how this must be a difficult decision for the parents, who just lost their only child and now have to ponder about what to do with his body.

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The storytelling then veers to Paris, where we find Claire (Anne Dorval), a single mother of two, pretending she was dead on the bed. It was a prank for her sensitive younger son, Sam (Théo Cholbi), whom she suspects is gay. Maxime (Finnegan Oldfield), the first-born, exhibits an earnest personality and doesn’t understand why she lies to Sam, concealing her true state of health. In fact, Claire is dying because of the increasing dilatation of her heart. Believing that her time has come, she inadvertently seeks for her ex-lover, Anne (Alice Taglioni), a classical pianist who, surprised to see her, becomes appalled by the news of her illness. Notwithstanding, Claire has one last chance to live if she agrees to take Simon’s heart.

The medical team at the hospital composes the remaining segment of a tale whose perspective evolves not only with throbbing drama and expectation but also with a priceless optimism.

Even occasionally lacking fluidity in some passages, “Heal the Living” adopts an altruistic and positive posture, appealing as much to reason as to emotions.

A slow-and-steady, measured pace was deliberately assumed in order to earnestly encompass the least detail in this peculiar and blurry cycle of life and death. At the film's terminal point, the light and hope emanated from the story touched me, pumping my mood and elevating my spirit. However, by then, I just wished I had experienced this exalted state long before.

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After Love (2017)

Directed by Joachim Lafosse
Country: France / Belgium

Joachim Lafosse is a Belgian auteur with a propensity to describe complex family affairs with objective accuracy and sharp vision. Even though, “After Love”, his new dramatic creation starring Bérénice Bejo and Cédric Kahn, is a timid follow-up of the revered “Our Children”, released five years ago.
Fanny Burdino, Thomas Van Zuylen, Mazarine Pingeot, and Lafosse himself, are credited as writers, and the story was specified to extract the maximum acting skills from the pair of leading actors.

Bejo is Marie, the only daughter of a wealthy couple who bought her the beautiful house she’s living in. Khan plays her husband, Boris, an indebted handyman who seems more interested in playing the victim than finding a proper job. Two beautiful daughters are a result from their love, which gradually came to an end after a 15-year marriage. Even in the verge of splitting up, Boris has an agreement with Marie that consists in looking after the girls every Wednesday nights. Regardless the rules imposed by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Boris keeps breaking them, insisting in marking his presence at all times. He even overstays and sleeps at the house, sometimes acting as if everything was fine. Well, it’s not fine, because Marie admits she doesn’t love him anymore and all the moves he attempts only make her mad.

The saturated relationship causes a relentless friction that translates into many arguments where aggressive voices and behaviors scare the poor little girls out. This scenario is a real torment for everyone - parents, kids, and even friends who, when invited, feel overwhelmed with Boris’ acerbic posture. It’s even painful for us, viewers. Afterward, in order to release the accumulated tension, Lafosse resorts to the melancholic music of Chopin through a rendition of “Piano Sonata Nº3” by Artur Rubenstein.

Bearably tolerating each other, Marie and Boris, still have their doubts, especially during happy moments spent with the kids or when the desire of their bodies surpass the porous petrifaction of their hearts. 
The reason why they put themselves in this situation is purely financial. Marie wants to sell the house for a fair price and grant one-third to Boris, but he refuses, claiming 50% to cover his effort and time put on reparations of the property.

Lafosse examines this burdensome relationship with focal sharpness and emotional bait, however, the constant pace in conjunction with the cyclic relapse of the predicaments become slightly fastidious as the time advances. After playing their love/hate game for some time, the couple finally settles things out with dull expressions on their faces. There is hardly any aspect to be learned from this plausible exercise, except perhaps that marriage can gradually transfigure and take you from heaven to hell.

Eternity (2016)

Directed by Tran Anh Hung
Country: France / Belgium

France-based Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung is known for his sensitive depictions of plausible life dramas through a meditative approach. All this is reflected in the worth-discovering first works of his short filmography, such as "The Scent of Green Papaya" (1993), "Cyclo" (1995), and "The Vertical Ray of the Sun" (2000). This trilogy concerns his country of origin and you should start with it, in case you’re not familiar with his work.

Eternity” is his first ‘French’ story, following “I Come With the Rain” (2009), a minor neo-noir thriller whose action takes place in the US, Philippines, and Hong Kong, and “Norwegian Wood” (2010), an unconvincing Japanese romantic tale. Hung wrote the screenplay based on the novel “The Elegance of Widows" by Alice Ferney.

Choppily narrated by the helmer’s wife, Tran Nu Yen Khe, the film stars Audrey Tautou, Bérénice Bejo, Mélanie Laurent, Jérémie Renier, and Pierre Deladonchamps, whose characters belong to the same family and are tied by strong bonds.

The narrative begins with the focus on Valentine (Tautou) who, at the age of 17, marries Jules (Arieh Worthalter), a good-natured troubadour. They become proud parents of six children. Predestined to live a long life, Valentine goes through a lot by seeing her loved ones departing to the other world due to illness or war.

The painful sensation of losing a child haunts her again, many years after her husband's death, when her son, Henri (Renier), marries Mathilde (Laurent). The narrative shifts again to the latter’s cousin, Gabrielle (Bejo), and her quiet husband, Charles (Deladonchamps), since both couples are intimately connected and, like a family curse, will inevitably deal with death in their own ways. 

Eternity” sweeps family generations with a cyclical boredom. On one hand, we have the aching, mournful women; on the other, the quiet, introspective men. All the frames are rigorously composed through elegant period settings and painted with saturated colors, predominantly embracing yellowish and reddish tonalities. Hung draws its natural formalism from Rohmer. However, the orchestrated classical piano music and the occasional use of slow motion techniques only increase the melancholy of a tale that would benefit if less contemplative and a bit more expeditious in its strategies for the big screen. 

The lugubrious atmosphere that surrounds the drama is soon turned into enervation, and you will probably find yourself making an effort to stay awake only not to miss the superfluous ending.
Totally forgettable, “Eternity” reveals a nostalgic Tran Anh Hung in need of urgent inspiration.