Monday, June 11, 2007

A few initial reactions at the SFF

The opening night film was one of those big budget French productions Piaf, directed by Olivier Dahan, from the genre of French equivalents of the English heritage movie. Thus a star turn by a largely, till now unknown actor, covers a French institution with wonderful technical precision while displaying a fair amount of courage in rendering herself ugly for much of the movie. Piaf has had a fascination for me for a long time and her records get played still on the car stereo. In Australia her memory was kept alive and her reputation enhanced especially, a couple of decades ago now, by Jeannie Lewis doing first some concerts and then later a very good turn in a full scale musical drama of her life. That was a show that packed them in for quite awhile.

The structure of the new film was its own worst enemy and I cant resist quoting from A O Scott's otherwise quite supportive piece in the New York Times in which he describes the shifting time stuctures:
" La Vie en Rose, .... has an intricate structure, which is a polite way of saying that it’s a complete mess. Resisting the habit of starting at the end and flashing back to the beginning, it begins at the late middle, goes back to the beginning, comes back to the near-end, jumps around in the early and middle middle and then noodles around between a bunch of almost-ends and the really absolutely final end, with a quick, baffling detour into an earlier part of the early middle. Clear enough?"

I must say that I was a little surprised at the near complete eleimination from the film of Theo Sarapo, Piaf's last husband. he was decades younger than her but the relationship lasted quite a few years until her death. He gets a solitary mention. Those who absorb useless information or who may be curious to see the young Sarapo at the time he was married to Piaf can track him down by watching Franju's Judex in which he had quite a large role.

The Walker has a great subject, a gay guy who makes a living squiring women round the Washington society circles. Woody Harrelson's sassy southern boy is note perfect in his combination of malice, corrupt behaviour, contempt and care for his victims/asssociates. The film cools down into just another crime story in the American fashion with the inevitable deep dark secret at its heart but on the way it's very funny indeed as well as very smart. Its early mindset is so vicious that I got the impression, on later reflection, that it might have once tried to, or wanted to, say a lot more about the interwining of sex and politics and the hearts of darkness that live in the Bush administration but that's not for me to know and all you can judge is what's on the screen. The scandals that have recently emerged about hookers and hypocrisy may have come too late for the film and its writer/director to take the next step deeper into the underbelly of a society that reeks from the clash of politeness and surface civility with deeply inlaid hypocrisy and personal betrayal.


Matt Riviera said...

The biopic is hard beast to tame at the best of times. Often the filmmakers try to break the movie-of-the-week formula by not following chronology, but Dahan's erratic shifts reflect a true insecurity about his subject I think.

Sarapo's gone, but so in Piaf's involvement in the French resistance during WWII (which barely gets a mention)...

I would have liked the film to focus on a particular key moment in her life - her story can be deduced without extended flashbacks perhaps.

By the way, Marion Cotillard is not only a well known actress in France with over 30 features behind her, she starred in big budget Hollywood films such as Big Fish and A Good Year. This will be her star turn for foreign audiences though: it's the kind of transformative performance that attracts Oscar attention.

As for The Walker, I loved every minute of it. That it works as a political thriller (highly critical of the current administration), a comedy of manners and a love story is testament to Paul Schrader's unique talent. The American Gigolo 80's aesthetic threw me somewhat, but in a way it's all part of the fun...

Fantastic blog by the way: I hope there's more coming from SFF!

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