Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Day Seven

One of the axioms I adhere to as I select my films for the day is, "When in doubt go with a French film," not only out of respect for French cinema but also for the opportunity to gain some insight into the ways of the French.  Thus a couple days ago the lackluster comedy about building an indoor ski slope in French Guiana earned some merit for the commentary that France is run by interns in the summer months when everyone is on vacation.  I wasn't so lucky today, though, in learning anything about the French from two French films in the Market other than that the French can make comedies as lamebrained as Hollywood.

In "Pattaya" two guys hoodwink a dwarf to get a free trip to Thailand where they hope to let their hormones go amok.  They have responded to a challenge by a fight promoter in Thailand for a dwarf to fight its champion dwarf.  All expenses will be paid.  The two French doofuses who try to pull this off entice an Islamic dwarf they went to school with but had only ridiculed that they have won a trip to Mecca and would like him to accompany them.  They try to ditch him when they get to the airport, but he manages to get on their flight to Bangkok, which he thinks is a connecting flight to Mecca.  The plane is packed with rowdy guys excited about all the sex they're going to have in Bangkok.  This was idiotic enough for Hollywood to steal the idea and do a remake.

"We Can Be Heroes" at least had a pertinent and serious subject matter, though it's wasn't necessarily material for a comedy--a single father trying to raise two young daughters.  He is a shumck and is making a mess of it.  He has been reported to the social services for repeatedly being late in picking up one of his daughters from school.  When a woman comes to their home to interview them and size up their situation, the daughters reveal how much they like their Saturday outings to the supermarket when there is free food so they can have a picnic and that the smell of vinegar in the apartment is the ointment their father has been applying to their hair to combat lice and how their father lets them sleep in when they don't want to go to school.  The daughters are clearly cheerful and happy, but that doesn't matter to the woman.  She orders the husband to attend parenting classes.  Those too are a vehicle for shtick making a mockery of these issues.

The deadly serious "The Stopover" came to the rescue for French cinema. A plane load of French soldiers is flown to Cyprus at the conclusion of their tour of duty in Afghanistan for three days of readjustment before returning home.  They have all been shaken by their war experience.  As they drive to their luxury hotel two women express their relief at not having to worry about bombs on the road.  They engage in debriefing sessions trying to ease the pain of their time at war.  There is considerable friction between the three women soldiers and their male cohearts.  One of the women puts a knife to the throat of one of the men harassing them.  This was an authentic portrayal of a relevant subject.

Not so relevant was my forth French film for the day, the Compettiton entry from Olivier Assayas, "Persoanl Shopper" starring Kristen Stewart in a role similar to the personal assistant she served as to Juliette Binoche in 2014's Competition film "The Clouds of Sils Maria," also by Assayas that won her a French Cesar.  She is equally captivatig here though in a comtinual haggard and bedraggled state.  She shops for a wealthy, famous socialite, who we see little of, while trying to cope with the recent death of her twin brother.  They are both psychics.  Her brother vowed to give her a signal that there is an afterlife.  It's been three months and she's still waiting.  At last there are some possible hints--water faucets suddenly spurting water, glasses dropped and mysterious texting on her phone.  A stalking element is drawn into the plot compounding the tension.  

All the mysticism earned this film laughs of ridicule from my audience and two zero star reviews from "Screen's" panel.  There have been thirteen Competition films screened so far and there has only been one zero star review, setting this film well apart from the others, even though enough critics liked it to spare it the lowest overall score.  The film is hardly worthless, but the deeper it trespasses upon the supernatural, the less credible it becomes.

Jim Jarmusch's frivolous "Paterson" earned high marks from all of "Screen's" eleven reviewers, down from twelve after Manojla Dargas bowed out, except for the two from France.  As with me, they found this restrained story of a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey who writes poetry more drab than droll. There is an immediate danger sign that this movie has problems with the brief glimpse of a cute dog sitting on a chair.  He becomes a recurring character--the last refuge of a screenplay desperate for material.  The dialogue was little more than a dashed-off rough draft.   This had none of the zing and quirkiness that mark so many of Jarmsuch's film. The inane conversations of bus passengers and innocuous banter of husband and wife are an embarrassment for the man who gave us "Coffee and Cigarettes."

Pedro Almodovar is equally bereft of having much of a story In "Julieta,"  my third Competition film for the day.  This movie defies the theory that everyone has an interesting story.  What caused the estrangement of a daughter from a mother could certainly make for a good movie, but Almodovar put little effort into elevating this story told in flashback beyond the ordinary.  One can't help but to continue to ask, "Why should I care about this?"


Matt said...

I'm a fan of both Assayas and Jarmusch so no matter what I'll catch their newest movies. From what I've seen both are getting mixed reviews. Actually, most everything is getting mixed reviews. I've been following on Keyframe/Fandor for critic reviews and Letterboxd for non critic reviews. Also, I see Scott Foundas is now with Amazon Studios and pushing Handmaiden. Keep up the reviews! But don't tax yourself. Enjoy!

george christensen said...

Matt: I wouldn't discourage anyone from the Assayas or Jarmusch films. They may be lesser efforts, but as we know they are significant filmmakers and their work should be seen. Good to know Foundras is still writing. I haven't seen Todd McCarthy's byline. Is he here?