THE TRUTH (La Verite, France, 2020)

July 2, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Surely every movie lover will savor the chance to watch two of France’s screen titans go at each other as combative mother and daughter. Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche don’t disappoint in this latest from writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda, who was previously Oscar nominated for SHOPLIFTERS (2018).

Ms. Deneuve stars as Fabienne Dangeville, an aging French Oscar winning actress who has recently published her memoir. To celebrate the book, her daughter Lumir (Ms. Binoche) is coming with her family for a visit. Husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a self-admitted second rate actor, and their daughter Charlotte (newcomer Clementine Grenier) is awfully cute and meeting her grandmother for the first time. Lumir is a scriptwriter, and harbors less-than-favorable childhood memories of dear old mom.

The personalities of mother and daughter are pretty easy to ascertain. Fabienne admits “I’d rather be a bad mother, a bad friend, and a good actress.” She’s a petty and sometimes nasty woman, who’s quite self-aware. Lumir is the type that has critiqued her mother’s memoir with post-it notes throughout, and calls her out on the false claims of being a doting mother. Most of the movie deals with memories, honesty, and family relationships. It’s not just Lumir who is bothered by book. Fabienne’s long time handler Luc (French screen veteran Alain Libolt) reacts strongly to being omitted entirely, as if he never existed.

Fabienne waves off the criticisms by claiming she’s an actress, so the naked truth is not expected … whereas interesting stories are.  The film opens with Fabienne being interviewed by a journalist (Laurent Capelutto, “Black Spot”), and between this interview and what we learn of the memoir, we can’t help but chuckle at some of the real life similarities. First, Ms. Deneuve’s real middle name is Fabienne, and there are teases of her multiple lovers and “almost” movie with Alfred Hitchcock.

A large portion of the film is spent on the film-within-the-film that Fabienne is working on. It’s a science-fiction film (from a short story written by Ken Liu) that focuses on an unusual and difficult mother-daughter relationship. Lumir spots the obvious symmetry, but we are never really sure if Fabienne does, as she’s so busy firing barbs at the lead actress played by rising star Manon Lenoir (the first feature for Manon Clavel). For the elder Fabienne, acting has always been about being a star, so she struggles seeing the younger actress take a role she herself would have embodied 50 years prior.

Other supporting work comes from Christian Crahay as Jacques, Fabienne’s live-in cook (and more); Roger Van Hool as Pierre (man, not turtle) as Lumir’s father who is listed as deceased in the book; and Ludivine Sagnier (SWIMMING POOL, 2003) who plays a younger version of Fabienne’s character in the film-within-the-film. One key character we never actually see is Sarah, a deceased woman who was a friend and fellow actress to Fabienne, and a kind of surrogate mother to Lumir when she was a young girl. Sarah’s memory still hovers over the lives of Fabienne and Lumir, and may be at the heart of any possible reconciliation. Koreeda is a terrific director, and watching the performances here is quite entertaining. We do have the feeling that the script could have gone deeper emotionally had it not attempted to tackle so much. Additionally, many scenes felt like they were begging for more biting comedy than what was there. This is mostly played straight, which leaves Ms. Deneuve and Ms. Binoche to carry the load – a burden they handle quite capably.

watch the trailer:


IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER (L’homme qu’en aimait trop, Fr, 2015)

May 29, 2015

in the name Greetings again from the darkness. The best French films excel at showing how relationships and personality traits can get intertwined to create a big mess where only a small blip once existed. Based on the book by Renee LeRoux, this film from decorated director Andre Techine is self-described “fiction based on real events” and follows the events that began in 1976, and the fallout over a murder-mystery during the next thirty plus years.

Catherine Deneuve plays Renee LeRoux, the owner of a casino in Nice, and mother to Agnes (Adele Haenel). Agnes returns home from Africa after a split from her husband. She is strong-willed and free-spirited, and intent on cashing out her share of the casino to open her own little shop.

Mother and daughter are tormented by their lack of a close relationship, and this frustration intensifies due to the pressure on Mom’s casino business applied by local mobster Fratoni (Jean Corso), and even moreso thanks to the romantic relationship that brews between Mom’s trusted business advisor Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet) and the much younger Agnes.

Maurice is a well-known (and admitted) Lothario and his business savvy manages to maneuver Agnes into betraying her mother at a crucial time. This betrayal leaves both Maurice and Agnes with a substantial financial gain, while Mom loses her casino. Agnes devolves into obsessed-lover and stalker, while Maurice is content to continue playing the field and enjoy his riches. Soon enough, Agnes disappears without a trace, and of course her mother suspects Maurice has killed her. With no body and no evidence, there can be no murder charges, and this sets Renee on a lifelong mission of proving him guilty.

It’s nice to see Ms. Deneuve take on this role, and the best scenes involve her interactions with Ms. Haenel and Mr. Canet (who wrote and directed the 2006 gem Tell No One). The interactions between these characters is fascinating to watch, and provides some insight to the not-always-positive side of human beings. It’s also a sign of the times as cigarette smoke is present (sometimes in mass quantities) in most every scene, and the French version of “Stand By Me” fits perfectly in a rare moment that lacks tension. The final act provides quite a statement on the justice system in France, though one hates to jump to conclusions based on a few minutes of a movie.

watch the trailer:

 

 


BELLE DE JOUR (1967, France)

August 3, 2014

belle de jour Greetings again from the darkness. Nearly 50 years have passed since director Luis Bunuel brought the 1928 novel of Joseph Kessel to the big screen. It became an instant film classic. The story of erotic fantasies is told with Bunuel’s unique surrealistic style. Not the same style as his earlier films, but still, it’s the unmistakable eye of a master.  The film also presents a young Catherine Deneuve at her most striking.

Ms. Deneuve’s Severine plays bored housewife to her doctor husband (Jean Sorrel).  He is extremely patient and understanding of her coldness in the bedroom, and it’s clear that she loves him, despite the lack of physical attraction. Soon enough we are provided a startling glimpse of Severine’s masochistic fantasies. It’s not until later that we begin to understand what drives her imagination.

Severine deflects the advances of an older family friend (Michael Piccoli), who is so attracted by her purity, and he unknowingly leads her into a world that might satisfy her in ways that her gentleman husband hasn’t. When Severine meets Madam Anais (Genevieve Page), she begins playing out her fantasies through the afternoon shift at the brothel … all while keeping up the necessary appearances for society.

Bunuel provides us teases of the sources through flashbacks and sound effects … a carriage harness bell and the periodic meows of a cat.  It’s never Bunuel’s intent to answer all questions, and he certainly makes no moral judgments towards Severine.  Instead we get an exploration in the variances of love, sex and fantasy.

In the end, we aren’t absolutely certain that we can distinguish between Severine’s reality and her fantasy, but we do understand the importance of her fantasies within the structure of her day to day life. If watching Ms. Deneuve perform in this gem inspires you to see more of her work, I recommend Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.  Also, it should be noted that she continues to act to this day.

watch the original trailer: