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:


August 16, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The psychotic, sadistic son of Saddam Hussein is the subject of this film from director Lee Tamahori. Tamahori has a history of colorful films with terrific visuals that are somewhat lacking in substance. This latest film falls right in line, though it had much potential.

The key reason to see this one is the explosive performance(s) of Dominic Cooper. He plays two characters who happen to look identical, but are polar opposites in thought and morals. As Latif Yahia, Cooper plays a genuinely nice citizen of Iraq who gets forced into the role of “fiday” or body double for Saddam’s evil son Uday. For lack of a better description, Uday is psychotic and thrills only at abuse of power. This is not political corruption per se, because Uday has very little role in the Saddam government. But it is the most frightening example of absolute power corrupted.

The script is based on the real Latif’s story, and the closing credits catch us up on the key players.  Mr. Tamahori interjects actual footage of the war in Iraq, but it really adds no substance.  At its core, this is a story of a good guy fighting a bad guy … albeit in a most unusual manner.

 This has to be an actor’s dream come true … playing two such different characters, one of which allows, even requires, your actions to go over the top. Cooper is best known for his much different roles in Mamma Mia and An Education. While there have been many actors who have played dual roles in movies, very few are as spellbinding as Cooper in this one.  His performance ranks with Al Pacino in Scarface and Vincent Cassel in Mesrine. The movie is very difficult to watch because of the actions of Uday, but Cooper’s performance makes it worthwhile.

 The support work is provided by Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) as Uday’s lover, who also risks her life by getting cozy with Latif. I am really not sure about this character and although I am a fan of Sagnier, this story line seemed to take away from the battle of wits between Uday and Latif. Combine that with the movie being about 10-15 minutes too long, and I believe the script could have been tightened up resulting in an improved movie.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want a look at a possible Oscar contender for Best Actor – Dominic Cooper is amazing

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a documentary on Saddam or Uday Hussein as this is a dramatized version

watch the trailer:

MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY #1 (pt 2, 2008)

September 6, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is part two of director Jean-Francois Richet‘s tale of famed criminal Jacques Mesrine. As in part one, Vincent Cassel delivers a frightening portrayal of this psychopath who is addicted to the spotlight, danger, women and little else.

This second film drives home the point that Mesrine was little more than an ultra-aggressive hoodlum. What I mean by that is that he was no criminal mastermind. No real strategist. He just steals when he needs money and then quickly helps the press fill in the blanks on his escapades. Watching him swell with pride as he is pronounced France’s Public Enemy Number One is just plain creepy.

Ludivine Sagnier (so great in Swimming Pool) plays Sophie, his last girlfriend. Watching her reaction to her dog being shot in the final shootout tells you all you need know about her and her relationship with Mesrine.

Much of this part is based on the police chases and the efforts put into “catching” Mesrine and his accomplice. His new partner in crime is played by the terrific Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Amalric has the steely eyed stare and the acting chops to hang with Cassell.

While I truly admire Cassell’s performance in these two films and I find both extremely well made, I still feel a bit empty about the subject matter. Mesrine was a brutally violent criminal who managed 3 daring prison escapes, numerous bank robberies, kidnappings and killings. However, there is just not much depth to the man. Maybe it’s true … some people just want to see the world burn. No matter what, these two films should be seen as close together as possible. This is ONE STORY cut into two pieces. Set aside 4 hours and see the entire thing.

For my comments on part 1, please click on this link:


August 29, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Haven’t looked at next week’s new releases yet, but I am almost hoping for a rom-com after watching this film and Animal Kingdom back to back. That’s a couple of very rough, though well made films.

Jacques Mesrine was an infamous French outlaw/bank robber/kidnapper who actually began to feed on his media coverage. This film, as well as part 2, are based on his own writings while he was incarcerated. Somehow Vincent Cassel captures the pure evil of Mesrine and presents him as the charismatic and powerful figure he evidently was.

Having apparently lost his soul during the war in Algeria, Mesrine joins forces with a local crime lord played by French acting legend Gerard Depardieu. Their wake of criminal activity is only eclipsed by the pile of bodies. No surprise that Mesrine’s wife runs from him and he then hooks up with Jeanne, played by Cecile DeFrance. They seem to be the perfect match and quickly become known as the French Bonnie and Clyde. Only they are much more violent and brutal. In fact, Mesrine seems to thrive on risk and danger.

Mesrine manages a daring prison escape and even attempts to break back into the same prison to keep a promise of helping other prisoners escape. Director Jean-Francois Richet does an excellent job of displaying the menace of Mesrine and the absolute lack of morals he flashes.

The film never drags even while he is on the lam through Canada and the U.S. Since the film is broken into two parts (Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 will be released in a few weeks), I found it very interesting that the first film opens with what appears to be the end of part two. Maybe I am wrong, but that’s how it looks.

The score is terrific and Mr. Cassel delivers his best performance yet. He is riveting as Jacques Mesrine. Not sure I recommend it as a double feature with Animal Kingdom. They are both excellent films, but that’s an overload of crime and violence for one weekend!  Mesrine: Killer Instinct is French with English subtitles.

For my comments on part two, please click this link: