François Ozon continues to pump life into his work – ‘The New Girlfriend’ is full of that special ingredient

The_New_GirlfriendDirector: François Ozon
Original Title: Une nouvelle amie
Country of Production: France

There is no definition of sexuality than can be exposed as essentially true. There is always the taste of new beginnings alongside the creation of something novel in François Ozon’s take on life. The New Girlfriend can appear as courageously outlandish at first sight, but with any thoughtfulness, it is really a stadium of delicacies, complications and desires flung about in a representative fashion that gives one a resounding connection. Your thoughts bounce along a treacherous path spread out by Ozon’s ability to mix fully puffed amusement with gasps of the wonderfully curious. Temptation must be Ozon’s mantra.

An opening sequence assigning the breadth and charm of friendship spreads like butter across the screen as two girls grow from seven years of age to wedded ladies of the household. There time together does not wither until the moment death comes knocking on Laura’s door. This comes as no surprise, but might just break the record for your quickest teardrop in movie history. Laura’s best friend Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) will never forget this woman and serve the pledging duty of casting a watchful eye over the now late husband of Laura and her unforgettable baby boy. Touching scenes are squeezed in of father and son learning to walk amid the occasional close-up featuring the infant complex – the face of widespread joy and innocence, yet so quickly redirected by desperate cries. I’ve always wondered what the core cause for such fraught tears in babies is – it is surely driven by angst, a cry of why oh why have you bought me into such incomprehensible existence!

The film is not all bread and butter, as unmistakably surprising discoveries must be made. Late husband David (Romain Duris) has a secret of his own that once unclothed he is more than happy to share with dear Claire, and consequently lead a course between unchartered territories. Demoustier is utterly desirable in her ability to balance an act of lust and empathy. Her eyes tell conflict as she moves from a rather repressed individual to something far deeper. The act is unparalleled in the film, but Demoustier consumes enough space to focus most of one’s attention. One becomes wholly dependent on her phenomenal performance. Duris has a sure fire way of achieving what he needs and is ever so close to reaching an equal counterpoint, though he isn’t given the easiest of circumstances, to say the least.

Ozon is in full command here, I imagine him to be a toxic romantic with a passion for the psychologically displaced. He puts the audience in such unexpected situations during instances like stringing close-ups of make up being applied to a face only to reveal the same features attached to a body placed in a tidy coffin. He is not telling the simple stories that one may at first believe, but instead there are always openings where small wounds need attending. To my dismay, a final act burnout seems required to add some punch to the film, but it only seeks to hinder the elegance of that which has come before. Nevertheless, the entire experience should considerably outweigh any particular event or device, though not to be confused with the specific rendering of a powerful image. The mind will always hold onto something novel or unfamiliar. Novel is positively a blend of François Ozon.

4.5/5

The Dreamers is Cinema

the_dreamersAs Theo says to Matthew in The Dreamers, “Nicholas Ray is cinema”, we too can say, “Bernardo Bertolucci is cinema”. Cinema is a dream of sorts, a projected fantasy that seeps into our own reality, which is exactly what the three characters in The Dreamers aspire to achieve. Theo and Matthew argue about Chaplin and Keaton, Chaplin is a showman, but Keaton is a real filmmaker; Isabelle plays sadistic games that arise out of a forfeit, because the movie buff wasn’t buff enough. Not only is there a battle for love between these characters, but a battle for love over cinema, which informs every waking moment of the trio’s behaviours. Everything becomes a metaphor for cinema: the thought-provoking ideas, the irrational arguments, and the expanded consciousness are all attributable to what cinema seeks in content.

Michael Pitt is a cool American. He wears his blonde hair back and a straight-laced jacket and jeans to his own perfection. He is in love with the cinemateque, which may explain why he is yet to make any friends, but this will inevitably become the place where he does make friends, in the comfort of Parisian brother (Louis Garrel) and sister (Eva Green). This is just perfect. Matthew narrates with a strong sense of nostalgia that he never wanted that first night to end; a first night in which they walked the streets of Paris at night. We can all relate to the blissful stagnation of a new friendship that blossoms faster than we’d expected, the immediate understanding of another human being that brings our thoughts into a place of peace. However, the peace and solitude that Matthew finds is soon shaken up and he is introduced to new ways of life, to say the least.

Matthew takes the fall. He goes with it. This is the point were some viewers may struggle with the contemporary liberality of certain situations. I say embrace it. This story is touching, intimate and heart-breaking. It is another perspective, and Bertolucci’s cinema consistently shapes new ground-breaking ways of understanding different people. He, unsurprisingly, brings his colour palette to the fore; a rich blue-turquoise is blended with warm yellows that invite us into the home, which looks like a field for cultural vegetation. The camera drifts through the apartment, up the walls and across the bedroom; sharp angles or unnecessary editing rarely obstructs our eye. Every filmmaking element that Bertolluci adopts makes us fall deeper and deeper into this (wet) dream. It is a masterclass.

Matthew is able to peel a banana into three segments with the utmost precision. Theo can’t walk around the house without wearing a green jacket to cover his balls. Isabelle can’t cook and prefers to build dens instead. It is child’s play mixed with a wonderful depth of psychological trauma. Isabelle can’t fathom a life outside. Theo struggles to control his domination and jealousy. Matthew wants to make a clear step towards what the hell is actually going on here. Do we ever really get to discover this? The conclusion is much like a dream would conclude: we think we know but we never really do know.

This dream is serious. The strikes are taking a fast hold on the streets of Paris, Isabelle is losing sense of her stability, and Matthew is vitally torn between his own vision of right and wrong. But, each moment is broken down into its own, it captures an essence of human friendship, of love, and of purely letting yourself be absorbed by life. It is only here then that the true oddities of each character are able to come to light, they become part of each other’s space and try to become one. This really is an extraordinary tale, bold and noteworthy on all levels of its execution. I can’t imagine that you will ever forget watching this movie. That is an experience to behold!

 

Two Days, One Night – a moment in time

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Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit) – France, 2014

UK Release by Artificial Eye – 22nd August, 2014

Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Brief synopsis: When Sandra discovers that her work colleagues, amidst her own suspension for depression, have opted for a pay rise in exchange for her not coming back, she desperately tries to persuade each and everyone of them to do the moral thing.

This film reveals a mastery of craft from The Dardenne Brothers. It is social realism at its best, it is cinema at its purest and most endearing and it is an Oscar-worthy performance from Marion Cotillard as Sandra.

You will live and breathe alongside Sandra as she encounters a most delicate battle of morality and justice. You will feel her pain, her hope and her despair as you collide along her path. The dynamic of human life and relationships is prolifically explored and yet devised with such simplicity that the paradox is one of beauty. The audience is left to discover as Marion does, there is no confusion here, we must go on her journey and witness the selfish and the kind. In its purest form, it is good versus evil and the answer is half by half.

The camera lingers on Marion as we go with her side by side; when a picture is well crafted, camera and facial expression is all it takes to convey a world of feelings. So, it is here, as the camera is moved in close with Marion during moments of despair and it never fails to catch the slightest nuance in her expression. It never lets her escape for we are always there in her every moment. A tension created by meticulous precision in displaying the landscape between scenes and keeping every moment one of urgency for Sandra and, thus, the audience. Certainly, this is an anxiety inducing picture and one of sheer artistic brilliance.

5/5

Jeune & Jolie – Francois Ozon is staking out impressive territory in the cinema

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MOVIE REVIEW

Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful)
Mandarin Films, France
94 Min
1.85:1
UK Release: 29th November 2013

DIR François Ozon
PROD Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
SCR François Ozon
DP Pascal Marti
CAST Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling

Just when you thought there’d been enough fascination with teenage girls’ coming of age in the cinema, François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie) comes along. Ozon’s provocative and vibrant tendencies are far from asleep in this wonderful and intriguing exploration of a 17-year-old girl’s malicious entry into the world of prostitution. The film instantly reminded me of Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour where Catherine Deneuvre, playing a frigid housewife, also steps willfully into the enraptured trade. However, of course, Ozon is far less ambiguous and detached as Bunuel, taking the situation into far more emotionally challenging places, heralded by the stunning performance from the young and beautiful Marin Vacth.

The film begins with a provocative shot of Isabelle (Vacth), our heroine, on the beach in her bikini, seen through the lens of peering binoculars. It then becomes clear that Isabelle is on a seaside vacation with her family and desperate to lose her virginity with the mentality of getting it done and out the way. She’s even happy to tell her younger brother “it’s done” when she gets in. Ozon then cuts to the fall and we are greeted by a vamped out Isabelle, one laced with a silk blouse, heels and vivid rouge lipstick. She will sleep with any man for $300 and appears to favour the elder. This plot may seem gimmicky, but there are many more twists to come and Ozon crafts a film that is far more complex than at first may appear; it certainly isn’t an impermeable and literal diary of a teenage prostitute.

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Despite the film being a voyeuristic approach to a young and beautiful girl having sex, there isn’t much erotica, and the attitudes and positions of Ozon’s characters, alongside the framing and cinematography, are surprisingly uniform. This isn’t to say there’s no nudity or startling imagery, for starters, we’re talking about a French film here! Though, the shots are well lit and nicely complement the dramatic approach of the film. I’m not saying that Ozon particularly needs to push the boat out with his style; the mood suitably meets the confinements of our lead girl Isabelle. Her wicked compulsion is self-contained and her emotions rarely float above the surface, but when they do, it is a combination of self-destruction, redemption and arguably bad parenting – just some of the themes entwined into this uncanny picture.

The biggest area, no doubt, to critique is “why”? Isabelle comes from a rich family, so money is out the question. The family appears stable, thus ruling out childhood trauma or repression – her Mother actually encourages her to grow up by leaving out condoms on the side! Perhaps Isabelle wants her own sense of control, a chance to breakout, and her families bourgeois inclinations may have driven her towards this. However, it ultimately boils down to the fact that sometimes we don’t exactly understand our actions and this is positively implicit of a 17 year old. The story might not have been pulled off if it wasn’t for Vacth being such a strong and intriguing lead as Isabelle. Not for one minute does the film feel dull; Isabelle’s next step is constantly ambiguous. Ozon crafts his films in such a lifelike, yet peculiar fashion that one could watch on with intent for hours before dawning back to reality.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

Blue is the Warmest Colour – Kechiche isn’t filmmaking, he is creating magic

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MOVIE REVIEW

Blue is the Warmest Colour
Wild Bunch, Quat’sous Films, France
179 Min
2.31:1
UK Release: 22nd November 2013

DIR Abdellatif Kechiche
EXEC Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua
PROD Geneviève Lemal, Olivier Théry-Lapiney, Laurence Clerc
SCR Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalya Lacroix, Julie Maroh
DP Sofian El Fani
CAST Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kéchiouche, Mona Walravens

You could write a million words about this film and there would still be room for interpretation. Indeed, it has pinned many controversial talking points across the web, most notably around French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche’s portrayal of sexuality. It is by far the director’s richest film yet and he hasn’t showed any signs of retreating to safer grounds after his setback in 2010 with Black Venus.

The film is ultimately a coming of age drama with emotional setbacks. It doesn’t exactly sound new or daring, not even with the lesbian supplement. However, the films intimacy is epic, the performances are absolutely exquisite, the film feels unique in every sense of the term. Kechiche has a truly unrestricted perspective on emotional maturity. Critics have argued that a young curious girl wouldn’t jump straight into bed and perform ‘scissor-handed’ sex positions with another woman, and this is therefore detrimental to how lesbians behave. On the contrary, these are the characters; Kechiche gives a startlingly realistic portrayal of young desire and lust. The sheer notion of sexuality is negative, as one wouldn’t raise such issues against a straight couple.

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The films 3-hour length complements Adele in finding her sexuality, it couldn’t be any other. However, the time, almost magically, glides by the viewer and you are left eyes wide open, enlightened, yet surveyed of your moral codes. A message underlines the movie, that you should not judge someone by who they are or the way they look. For example, the blue-haired art student, Emma (Lea Seydoux) is a beautiful character full of wisdom and charm, but she may at first appear second-rate and atypical. Our heroine, Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos), on the other hand, is friends with the ‘cooler’ kids at high school and has a customary presence. However, as soon as her ‘friends’ sight her lesbian inclinations, they bully her profusely, physically and verbally. Here, Kechiche is laying bare the realities and hardship teenagers commonly face in adolescence.

As the relationship between Adele and Emma blossoms, Kechiche skips forward a few years to show the couple living together happily domesticated. However, there is always a fragile sense of Adele’s struggle to relax into her sexual identity. The couple’s tenderness is unsurpassed, but social struggles interfere and Adele battles to conform to Emma’s bustling and articulate network of friends, alongside making friends of her own. There is an avid display of food, drink, art and culture on show, exhibiting Kechiche’s routes as very much a sociable filmmaker. It is remarkable how Kechiche managed to thread so many cords into one sweater with this film.

Blue is the Warmest Colour will place you under its spell and the actresses will present to you a new realm of the magnificent performance.

5/5 stars.

Watch the trailer below: