Thursday, September 4, 2008

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

Friday, September 5: Un homme et une femme / A Man and a Woman (1966) by Claude Lelouch – 125 mins – France, Drama/ Romance. In French with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 64 out of 100.

With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Aimée, Pierre Barouh, Valérie Lagrange, Simone Paris, Paul Le Person, Henri Chemin.

Jean-Louis Duroc and Anne Gauthier meet incidentally at the boarding school where they visit their children each weekend. He visits his son, she her daughter. She misses her train and he offers her a ride back to Paris in his car. Slowly and cautiously we learn about them as they learn about one another. We learn about their jobs, their former spouses, and other details of their lives that have the movie viewer hoping this man and woman can become a couple.”

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Review by Christopher Null,

French writer/director Claude Lelouch remains a prolific artist (he even made a 9/11 movie), but it's one of his first films, made almost 40 years ago, for which he remains best known.

A Man and a Woman was France's definitive love story for a decade, the Love Story of its generation and a thoroughly French example of its take on romance. Laconic, wandering, and bordering on hopeless, it's easy to see why the film has more fans among the heartbroken than the lovey-dovey.

Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant play the titular characters, both young widows with complicated lives: He's a race car driver, she's got kids. Okay, they're complicated for French lives, anyway.

What follows their chance meeting is a series of abortive dates, daydreams, and endless car races. Lelouch jumps between color and black & white willy-nilly. He flashes back, even to a musical number. In the end, he won a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

The story of Un homme et une femme is an endlessly fascinating one, made all the more interesting by Claude Lelouch's narrative choices. At numerous points, he eschews dialogue in favor of flashbacks, montages, music, and race commentary. This accomplishes several goals (in addition to making the film more financially feasible). It allows the audience to more easily project themselves into the characters, as an image of two people talking with music replacing the dialogue draws us into the interaction between the characters, rather than distracting us by what they're saying. We naturally assume that what they're saying to each other is similar to what we would say in that situation. As a result, we become more invested in the relationship. It also gives the film the feel of a fairy tale romance, thanks in large part to the enchanting score of Francis Lai and Baden Powell. Take, for example, the scene at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club where Jean-Louis receives the telegraph. Lelouch puts a camera on a balcony and films it in an uninterrupted long shot as Jean-Louis reads the message, excuses himself from the table, and leaves the ballroom. We hear none of this, but it's clear enough that's what he's doing. Most directors would have either cut to closer shots and given us the dialogue or eliminated the scene altogether, but neither choice would have been as effective. It's a vital part of Jean-Louis' character arc that he leave immediately, and the uninterrupted shots convey that perfectly, but it's also unnecessary that we hear what he says. In fact, it's better that we don't. Lelouch's choice is a perfect balance.

And then there’s the strange case of the different film stocks used in Un homme et une femme – the mixture of scenes shot in color with those shot in black and white. Much has been written about what Lelouch meant to convey with this device, whether the black and white serves as quotation marks or the color is meant to be a somewhat different version of reality (does one represent the present and the other the past? Is one or the other tied to a particular character's point of view?). Don't tie yourself in knots trying to figure it out. The answer is almost disappointingly simple, because his reasons were strictly mercenary: he'd intended to shoot the entire thing in black and white because it was significantly less expensive to do so, and the budget for Un homme et une femme was not large enough to film the entire thing in color. But then but the potentially lucrative American television market required color and an investor was willing to supply more money to the project if the film could play the American market. So, Lelouch struck a compromise and filmed his interiors in black and white, as planned, and used color for the exteriors. That's all there is to it. The compromise is a practical one that people have been reading into since the film was released, and may even have been a factor in Lelouch's Best Director nomination. The different film stocks themselves mean nothing, but once you get into the rhythm of the film's shifting back and forth, it becomes a comfortable and even engaging conceit. It'll surprise no one to hear that the mixture has influenced many a filmmaker since, but had the project been able to raise more funds, it wouldn't have even existed.

Friday, September 12: Trois Couleurs: Bleu / Three Colors: Blue (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 100 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Véry, Hélène Vincent, Philippe Volter, Claude Duneton, Hugues Quester, Emmanuelle Riva.

Three Colors: Blue is the first part of Kieslowski's trilogy on France's national motto: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Blue is the story of Julie who loses her husband, an acclaimed European composer, and her young daughter in a car accident. The film's theme of liberty is manifested in Julie's attempt to start a new life free of personal commitments, belongings, grief, and love. She intends to spiritually commit suicide by withdrawing from the world and live completely independently, anonymously and in solitude in the Parisian metropolis. Despite her intentions, people from her former and present life intrude with their own needs. However...”

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Friday, September 19: Trois Couleurs: Blanc / Three Colors: White (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 91 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr, Aleksander Bardini, Grzegorz Warchol.

This is the second of the "Three Colors" trilogy Red, White, and Blue: the colors symbolizing liberty, equality, and fraternity. White, therefore, was written around the destructive dynamics of a relationship based upon great inequality. Karol is a Polish hairdresser working in France. He has a beautiful wife, Dominique, whom he loves to obsession, and who is in the process of divorcing him for his inability to "consummate the marriage.” Karol loses all of his earthly possessions and is literally driven out of France by his estranged wife. Karol decides to fight back...”

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Friday, September 26: Trois Couleurs: Rouge / Three Colors: Red (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 99 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frédérique Feder, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Samuel Le Bihan, Marion Stalens.

Third and last part of Kieslowski's trilogy . . . Valentine is a young model living in Geneva. Because of a dog she ran over, she meets a retired judge who spies his neighbors' phone calls, not for money but to feed his cynicism…”

Alliance description

This is a major film event in Chiang Mai, and should merit your consideration. The three films that make up this trilogy are being shown on three successive Fridays at the Alliance Française this month, and three successive Saturdays at Film Space in December. (Film Space had originally scheduled them for September as well, but quickly moved them to December when I pointed out that the Alliance was showing the same three films.)

These are quite amazing films, and you owe it to yourself to begin your acquaintance with them. But you will want to return to them again and again to savor their richness, as their secrets are not discovered easily. The famous last five minutes of the first one, Blue, are so extraordinary that after several viewings the segment is only beginning to divulge its mysteries to me.

In Blue, you will be struck by the powerful performance of Juliette Binoche in what is basically a solo performance. It has been said that her face shows clearly what she is thinking all the time. Well, not all the time for me. Most of the time, yes, but at a couple of key points I was suddenly at a complete loss as to what was going on in her mind, and it was a puzzle that I needed to figure out.

Kieslowski obviously wants to key these three films and their themes in some way to the French flag and the French motto of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity: blue, white, and red are continually referred to in the film, as well as in the titles. At one point in the first film, we see the protagonist Julie carrying a box which, as a close-up shows, has prominently written across it the word "blanco", Spanish for white; in the next shot we are looking at her from behind, and she pauses in the street as a man in blue passes her on her left and a woman in red passes her on her right. This is a not-so-subtle reference to the structure of the Three Colors trilogy - blue, white, red, in that order, mirroring the French flag.

And then again, During one swimming scene in the blue pool, children in red and white bathing suits run out and jump in the water -- another reference to the trilogy (blue, white, and red).

And in the first film, Blue, there is blue all over the place; in addition to blue filters and blue lighting, any number of prominent objects are blue - a foil balloon, a tinted window, awnings, a folder, the walls of a room, coats, skirts, scarves, blouses, jeans, shirts, trash bags, crystals, a lollypop and its wrapper, binders, graffiti, a pool, a van, and a pen.

Blue, supposedly standing for Liberty. Does this help? Well, for sure, it can get you thinking, trying to make connections. You could say that this woman is on a campaign to be completely independent (at liberty, I suppose) with nothing to tie her down, and no alliances which might become entangling. She says at one point, “Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

Is this a cautionary tale? Liberty being taken to a ridiculous extreme? What precisely is the film trying to say? If one takes this as being an example of “liberty” then what about it’s unity with another part of the flag, the red, “fraternity” (or “brotherhood”)? This woman is about as opposite to “fraternal” as you can get! In fact, she’s basically an extremely unsympathetic and unpalatable character, cold, and selfish.

So the blue, white, and red of the French flag, and Liberté, égalité, fraternité, may seem like a help, our window to a grand scheme, but is it really? I rather think it only seems to be a help, on first glance, but really isn’t. If it’s purpose is just to get you to think about it, it certainly succeeds. Maybe something along the line of, “You can’t have all three!” Not at the same time.

Juliette Binoche, in what amounts to a one-woman show, turns in a mesmerizing and accomplished performance. She manages to bring an element of humanity and sympathy to a basically unsympathetic character – there is little in Julie, as written, for the audience to latch onto, but Ms. Binoche provides the emotional link to the story.

Blue is a powerful motion picture - both in terms of its dramatic impact and in its method of presentation, and it is an adventure to be prized highly.

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