At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
At Alliance Française on Friday, October 31: Les Soeurs fâchées / Me and My Sister (2004) by Alexandra Leclère – 93 mins – France, Comedy/ Drama. English subtitles.
With Catherine Frot, Isabelle Huppert, François Berléand.
Louise, younger sister, natural and straightforward, lives in province; Martine, older sister, beautiful and aloof, lives in the Parisian upper middle class. Louise has written a novel. On Monday she will go for an appointment with a publisher in Paris, which may change her life. She comes to live with Martine for three days. During three days, Louise and her obvious happiness exasperate Martine and set her life in glares...
– Alliance description
This is a repeat of the Alliance Française January 18 showing. I’ll repeat my comments:
It sounds unlikely, but in order to make her first film, screenwriter and director Alexandra Leclère approached Isabelle Huppert in the street while they were both collecting their children from school and give her a copy of her script for Les Soeurs Fâchées. Essentially a story of two sisters, one from the country with simpler attitudes who comes to stay for a short while with her sophisticated sister who lives in the big city – what sounds like a straightforward fluff comedy of manners actually has a darker, more bitter undercurrent that gives the film an unexpected weight.
As she has an interview with a publishing company for a book she has written, Louise (Catherine Frot) travels out from the provinces to stay with her Parisian sister, Martine (Isabelle Huppert) and her husband Pierre (François Berléand). The two sisters couldn’t be more different. Louise from the country is a bit kooky and eccentric, but gentle with people and open to continually developing and improving herself. Martine on the other hand, is tense caught up in her world of shopping, hairdressers and lunches with an exclusive set of friends – she’s also bitterly unhappy with her lifestyle and her marriage, both of which are stagnant. Louise is embarrassingly gauche in social situations, but she seems to enjoy herself more than her sister and her friends, who take part in them for all the wrong reasons – to be seen and feel included in an exclusive social set. Inevitably, there is a clash of two different worlds here, which is as broad as it sounds while being fairly amusing at the same time. But the film has a lot more going for it than just this Odd Couple-style goofing around, the film revealing a more serious side. Predictably it must be admitted, this arises out of Martine’s dissatisfaction with the direction her life has taken – married to a man she despises, mother to a child she has no interest in, living a life that is empty and superficial. What is surprising about this and much less predicable from the story’s initial set-up and premise, is just quite how dark and bitterly this side of the film is portrayed.
There are a number of reasons why this uneasy combination of comedy and brutality works. One is the strength of the characters and the unexpected complexity of what are mainly broad character types. Martine’s husband, it transpires, is cheating on her with her best friend – this is revealed early in the film so is not a spoiler as such – which again might not sound like a particularly complex or original plot point, but in actuality, the reasons for his infidelity are not so straightforward. He could just be a brute or he could have been pushed to those lengths by an extremely uptight and unaffectionate wife. Again not exactly original, but what is different is that the film doesn’t automatically lead the viewer to sympathize with one partner over another – the behavior of both is reprehensible and the film makes that point with no reservations. The other reason the film works so well is down to the cast. Huppert, needless to say, is perfect for playing such complex, cold, bitter, and repressed characters. This role is not much of a stretch for her compared to similar roles in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, François Ozon’s 8 Women, or Olivier Assayas’ Les Destinées Sentimentales, but at the same time the depths she can bring to such a broadly defined character are astonishing – emotional, expressive and explosive, never falling into old routines or mannerisms. With Catherine Frot there is a delightful charm. Again, it’s not a role that is particularly going to stretch her and she might not have the qualities for the more physical comedy, but she has a wonderful cartoon face and brings an honest charm to the character without overplaying the kookiness. And best of all, there is genuine chemistry between these two great actresses.
-- Noel Megahey, DVD Times
At Alliance Française on Friday, November 7: Mauvais Sang / Bad Blood / The Night Is Young (1986) by Léos Carax – 116 mins – France, Crime/ Romance/ Drama. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 67 out of 100.
With Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, Michel Piccoli, Hugo Pratt, Serge Reggiani, Hans Meyer.
The year of the Halley Comet. Two Rival gangs; one led by a mysterious black widow and the other led by Marc, Alex and Anna; want to get hold of an invention of a vaccine that can stop a threatening virus. In the meantime, a story of absolute love between Alex and Anna is flowering in a ghostly Paris…
– Alliance description
Christian Checa Bañuz, Senses of Cinema: Leos Carax has stated on many occasions that “sister” is the most beautiful word for him. Incestuous relationships are a very important theme . . . In every Carax' film there is a dysfunctional family structure. In Mauvais sang, for instance, Marc (Michel Piccoli) acts as the father, Hans as the mother and Anna and Alex as brother and sister – in the scenes where they play, like the one with the shaving foam, they truly act as if they were siblings. But Alex desires his sister, Anna, who is inevitably in love with their father, Marc.
The New York Times: The pictures are in charge in Léos Carax's "Bad Blood." Most of the scenes seem to have been improvised in the interests of a striking shot, and the characters are in thrall to the camera. In this, his second feature, Mr. Carax lives up to his billing as "the natural heir of Jean- Luc Godard," showing a taste for underground types and milieus, an inventive eye and a tolerance for tedium.
At Alliance Française on Friday, November 14: Diva (1981) by Jean-Jacques Beineix – 117 mins – France, Action/ Drama/ Mystery/ Romance/ Thriller/ Music. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 80 out of 100.
With Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Frédéric Andréi, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu.
Jules is a postman who’s mad about Opera. His is crazy about Cynthia Hawkins, a Diva who refuses to have any album of her own; so he tries to record her voice illegally but he is in trouble with pirate disc dealers…
– Alliance description