Film Review: LA PETITE FILLE QUI AIMAIT TROP LES ALLUMETTES

LA PETITE FILLE QUI AIMAIT TROP LES ALLUMETTES (CANADA 2017) ****
(THE GIRL WHO WAS TOO FOND OF MATCHES)

Directed by Simon Lavoie

Chosen as this year’s Canada’s Top 10 films of the Year, the Quebecois film LA PETITE FILLE QUI AIMAIT TROP LES ALLUMETTES receives a deserved run this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is a strangest of all the 10 films and rightly so because the novel (by Gaétan Soucy) it is based on is indeed a strange one. This novel was chosen for inclusion in the French version of Canada Reads, broadcast on Radio-Canada in 2004, where it was championed by actor, film director, screenwriter, and musician Micheline Lanctôt.

The story is about two siblings who live in complete isolation with their father. They are both his "sons".  One day the father kills himself by hanging and his sons decide one of them needs to go to the nearby village to get a coffin.  While in the village it is unveiled that the one son is actually a female although she has no idea of that (she has no idea of sexuality and thinks she was castrated when she was very young and that is why she doesn't have testicles). It also become apparent she has been being used for sex by her brother and eventually becomes pregnant with child.

The film takes certain liberties with the novel and director Lavoie changes a few things to make it more believable.  Lavoie lets the audience know from the beginning that one of the siblings is a girl and not a boy.  This is a wise decision as the actress playing the part looks more feminine than masculine despite the male clothes and short hair.  The father only hangs himself at the 30 minute mark of the film.  The evil things that go on are revealed while the father is alive while he has a part to play in them.  In the book the girl thinks she was castrated while in the film, she is told by her father that her pee-pee dropped off when she was a child.  Her Prince Charming in the film is a land surveyor for the government and not a mine inspector.

The story is a dark one.  Twists in the plot show up every 15 minutes or so, and they are not for the better.  But the girl is strong willed and able to resist her brother, the villagers and her unknown fears.

The film is even creepier with the existence of the unknown monster kept in the shack outside the main house.  Who or what is this creature?  Director Lavoie teases the audience, led to believe at first that it would be the siblings’ mother. 

The film is a worthy and well plotted adaptation of the novel.  Wisely shot in black and white with choral music in the soundtrack to give the film a Gothic look, the film captures both the creepiness and innocence of the girl in the story.  A  disturbing film undoubtedly due to its theme, but indeed a Top 10 Canadian film of the year! 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rcH8cJ-PGo

Film Review: Call me by your Name

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (France/Italy 2017) ***
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Luca Guadagnino’s (I AM LOVE, A BIGGER SPLASH) CALL ME BY YOUR NAME arrives with all the accolades after playing major festivals around the world after premiering at Sundance and Cannes.  I did not think too much of it when I first saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival, so I had to view it a second time to see what I could have missed.  The second viewing proved no different in the way I felt about the film, so I had to analyze the reason so many fellow critics loved this film while I just barely enjoyed it.

It should be noted firstly, that 2017 saw the release of three excellent but different gay films.  BPM from France, is a documentary felt drama dealing with AIDS activists that is both moving, real and riveting.  Britain’s GOD’S OWN COUNTRY showed  that gay life is as tough as fucking against a wall, as experienced by the gay farmhand who finally gains acceptance of his lifestyle and finds love.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, however is fantasy gay life as if bathed in sunlight and swimming in clear waters in the country and eating peaches.  It is the gay kind of movie that straight people want to see - all pretty and non-troubling with no rough sex in the toilet. 

The two lead stars are straight.  Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE LONE RANGER) plays Oliver, a summer guest at Professor Perlman’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) summer house in Italy.  Every year, the professor invites a student to assist in his research, which incidentally is hardly shown in the film.  The other straight lead is Timothée Chalamet who plays the 17-year old Elio Perlman, the professor’s son, who falls for Oliver.  Both are American actors though Chalamet practised his Italian prior to acting in the movie.  His father is French and mother Jewish which is  suitable for his role as an Italian Jew in the movie.  You call me by your name, and I yours.  It all sounds so romantic.  The gay couple hardly encounter any obstacles, except a few minor ones.  Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) opens his heart out to his son in one of the film’s best segments, but that is about all the obstacles so far in this gay fantasy.

Guadagnino’s film is undoubtedly stunning, with sunlight lighting up many scenes.  The luscious eating of a peach and the sexual seduction (who seduces whom in the film?) is very erotic.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is adapted into the script by James Ivory from André Aciman’s coming-out and coming-of-age novel.  Still, together with films such as PHILADELPHIA, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME even made by a gay director (Guadagnino is openly gay) is a worthwhile straight gay film to watch it, but don’t expect life to unfold the way life does in this film.  Disgustingly beautiful - the film is all good-looking on the outside and feeling like a fairy tale, neglecting the downers of coming-out gay.   Things never turn out this perfect in any gay coming-out story.  The film feels even more awkward as Elio looks way under below the age of 17.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AMgliTBFKU

Film Review: Happy End

HAPPY END (France/Germany/Austria 2017) ****
Directed by Michael Haneke

Austrian director Michael Haneke, whose last film in 2012 AMOUR won both the Best Foreign Film Oscar and Cannes Palme d’Or returns with a sequel that continues the exploits of the Laurent family.  Though critics at Cannes were generally unimpressed with HAPPY END, the film is still not without its artistic pleasures.  For one, Haneke still shocks with this film, though on a lighter scale.

HAPPY END can be seen as a film that infuses many of the traits of Haneke’s previous films.  When the film opens, the audience sees what is happening though the recording on a cell phone, the routine of a 12-year old (Fantine Harduin) similar to the video surveillance in Haneke’s film CACHE (HIDDEN).  This 12-year old is not one to be tampered with.  She has a mean streak, spying on her father’s (Matthieu Kassovitz) computer and discovering his affair and poisoning a girl she dislikes at camp and her pet hamster.  This is reminiscent of the power of children in Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON.  The bourgeois French family is held together by Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert), the father’s sister.  But suicide is in the mind of Anne’s father, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  In Hanake’s first film, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, the whole family committed mass suicide after a banquet meal.  The dysfunctional family is all reminiscent of FUNNY GAMES in which a family is disrupted by a home invasion.

HAPPY END follows AMOUR where Anne has taken over the family business from Georges.  The business has also just suffered a mishap in which several employees were killed.  The CEO of the company is Anne’s deadbeat son (Franz Rogowski) who is hot-tempered and mentally unstable.  At the same time, Anne is being engaged to be married to her tolerant fiancé (Toby Jones).   All the events are seen from the point of view of the 12-year old, which brings the film to a good focus.

HAPPY END is a film that looks at the entire Laurent family rather than one or two characters as in Haneke’s other films.  It is also lighter and funnier with death often just brushed off.  In the scene when the servants’ daughter is bitten by a dog, Anne arrives with a box of chocolates.

But HAPPY END is serious in its consideration of suicide.  Georges, in a comical scene, asks his tailor of 20 years to help him with getting him a gun or poison to end his life.  Georges has already made one attempt on his own life by driving his car into a tree, but the family and cops have suspicions as the car left no tire brake marks.

The film ends with the wedding celebration of Anne rudely interrupted by her unstable son, Pierre with refugees from a nearby camp in Calais..  Hanake cleverly  places the European migrant crisis into the the film's plot in the film’s climatic wedding scene .  But Anne is able to deal with him, in a comical, unexpected way.  (She breaks his finger.)  The ending is just as funny and shows that life goes on, happy or not.  What constitutes a HAPPY END, is the question Haneke poses.

HAPPY END flows so smoothly that it demands a second viewing to examine what one might have missed.  The film is shot in French.

Trailer (en Francais): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0hv8I9YbDk

Film Review: La Danceuse

LA DANSEUSE (THE DANCER) (France/Belgium/Czech 2016) **

Directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto

A 2016 French biographical musical drama film based on the true story, directed and written by Stéphanie Di Giusto and co-written by Thomas Bidegain and Sarah Thiebaud, based on the novel by Giovanni Lista, LA DANSEUSE opens with the film’s subject and protagonist carried away after what looks like an injury during a dance.  This scene is returned to at the film’s halfway mark after she collapses from her first performance.

Director Di Giusto then takes her audience back to the dancer’s early days before she began her dance career, which is assumed must be a famous one.  Loie Fuller (Soko) is revealed as a rebellious teen taken in by her stern mother after her alcoholic father dies.  Loie promises to be obedient and not cause trouble which translates in movie terms that she will be disobedient and cause trouble.  Besides posing nude and starring on stage, she finds her calling as a dancer, though what occurs on screen does not seem credible.  One assumes what occurs must be true as the film is based on a true story.  Di Giusto uses that as carte blanche to bring in whatever she likes and portray the incidents however she deems suitable.  The result is a rather rough film, with too many incidents inserted inappropriately leaving the narrative disjointed.

Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) is Loie’s dance peer.  Her appearance might eclipse Loie’s story, but Di Guisto keeps that in check.  Still it is hard to like Loie’s character.  Di Giusto shows her as strong willed, stubborn to perform at risk of her personal health, self destructive  and one who never accepts authority.  Loie comes off as an unlikeable character no matter how dedicated she is to her art.  As for the choreography with flowing dresses, it is quite different from ballet or modern dance and is a style in itself, taking a while to get used to.

The film is oddly shot in French and quite a bit in English.  The mother is English while the father is French, which is assumed the reason.  LA DANSEUESE is a period piece set in France and the period atmosphere and costumes show it.  The film won the Cesar for Best costume Design (by Anais Romand).

The most famous of the cast is Gaspard Ulliel who always looks dashing in this case playing Loie’s romantic interest.

The film is an ok biography which is keen to reveal the (anti-feminist) prejudice of the times and travails the main subject went through.  Di Giusto makes no attempt to make any of her characters likeable from Loie, to Isadora Duncan and to lover Louis and her other lesbian lover, Gabrielle (Mélanie Thierry). The result is a difficult film to like.

LA DANSEUSE was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.  It took a year before finally released here, and might be worth a look if one likes period drama with some dancing added in for good measure.  The film was nominated for several Cesar and Lumiere Awards, including nods for Best First Feature and acing (main and supporting) roles.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hqdhfZ7UFA

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