At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
The Alliance Française is currently featuring the work of Alain Resnais.
At Alliance Française on Friday, December 4: Mon oncle d'Amérique / My American Uncle (1980) by Alain Resnais – 125 mins – France, Comedy/ Drama/ Romance. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81 out of 100.
With Gérard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, Roger Pierre, Marie Dubois, Nelly Borgeaud, Pierre Arditi.
Three intersecting paths: a journalist, news editor for a radio station, a farmer’s son turned textile factory manager, and a working class girl drawn to the theatre and fashion … all under the scientific gaze of Professor Henri Laborit…
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Alain Resnais' Mon oncle d'Amérique may be the best all-around display of the director's unique narrative and photographic techniques. The film begins with still photographs appearing on the screen as a narrator gives a quick biography of each of the three characters in the movie: Jean, Janine, and René. They are presented first in their childhood: a picture of Jean collecting clams, a picture of Janine reciting poetry to her family, and a picture of René in his farm overalls. Then each character introduces him- or herself in young adulthood, and the film rolls as they take turns narrating their own biographies. From there, with frequent interruptions by Professor Henri Laborit, the psychiatrist who takes over as an external narrator, the film assumes the traditional third-person approach to its three subjects, following them as they marry and separate, have affairs, suffer, rejoice, have children, find success, fail miserably, and eventually meet each other. All the while, the psychiatrist-narrator adds fabulously absurd but simultaneously poignant existential explanations for why these characters do what they do. Mon oncle d'Amérique is a film in which everything has meaning. Every action, every word, each gesture, color, and feeling plays into the explanations of the psychiatrist. Thus, as the narrator explains the story, the same scenes roll several times, adding a touch of good-natured comedy to this sophisticated film.
Roger Ebert: Three children are born in France. One, Rene, is the son of struggling farmers. One, Janine, a daughter of proletarians. The third son, Jean, is born in a manor house to wealthy bourgeois. These children grow up, are educated, find occupations often against the will of their parents, and enter relationships. They don't much think of themselves as laboratory rats, but they might be surprised how consistently their behavior is consistent with the involuntary responses of a rat. This observation is not intended as an insult to them, or to the rat.
Alain Resnais' Mon oncle d'Amerique (1980) is one the New Wave pioneer's best films, a winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes. It is audacious. Beginning with big stars of the time (Gerald Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, Roger Pierre), he tells the life stories of these three in a way that promises to be traditional narrative.
Then he introduces a fourth figure. This is the much older Henri Laborit, a physician, philosopher, and expert on evolutionary psychology. Laborit differs from the others in that he isn't fictional. He plays himself, he speaks directly to the camera, he explains his theories about human behavior and how it's often illuminated by tests involving laboratory animals. He had considerable influence on American market research 50 years ago.
His involvement in the film becomes its most intriguing element, elevating melodrama to the level of rather disturbing insight. We humans are much concerned with whether or not we truly have free will. There are two popular theories: (a) everything we do is predestined, either by God or as a result of the causes and effects of the physical laws of the universe; (b) yes, we have free will, and can do as we choose, within the limits of practical possibility.
I have no idea what HenriLaborit's ideas about God are. I think he believes that our free will is more controlled than we think by instructions from the lower levels of our brain. We do our basic survival functioning at levels formed during the reptilian period, from which we all descend. Our biological behavior is often determined by the conditioning of our mammalian brains, which involve hunger, lust, courtship, territorial competition, and so on. Then humans and to a lesser degree species like chimpanzees and orangutans have a level involving more developed cerebral cortexes. This is where we do our conscious thinking: I choose to do this, but not that.
We think we choose. To some degree, we may be pre-inclined to choose, or even forced to choose. …
For the remainder of this fascinating review, click here.
At Alliance Française on Friday, December 11: On connaît la chanson / Same Old Song (1997) by Alain Resnais – 120 mins – France/ Switzerland/ UK, Comedy/ Drama/ Musical. English subtitles. Reviews: Generally favorable: 64 out of 100.
With Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, André Dussolier, Jean Pierre Bacri, Jane Birkin, Agnès Jaoui, Lambert Wilson, Jean Pierre Darroussi.
In Paris, six characters get caught up in a web of romantic and social confusion combined with mounting misunderstandings, which force them to face their own truth. And each of them expresses their emotions through songs old and new …
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Four years before Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge, Alain Resnais made this musical love story using contemporary pop songs. The songs are used in a style similar to Moulin Rouge, as they are the portal through which the innermost feelings of love are released. Characters lip-sync to popular tunes of the day to express their emotional states. Each character is also assigned a song that acts as an anthem for them in this clever musical comedy. The story involves a Parisian woman (Sabine Azema) desperately in search of a more spacious apartment. Her sister offers the assistant of her new lover, a real estate agent. Azema not only finds living space through the agency, but romance as well.
At Alliance Française on Friday, December 18: Cœurs / Private Fears in Public Places (2006) by Alain Resnais – 121 mins – France/ Italy, Drama/ Romance. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 77/72 out of 100.
With Pierre Arditi, Lambert Wilson, André Dussolier, Isabelle Carré, Sabine Azéma, Laura Morante, Bruno Podalydès.
In the swirling snow of the French National Library district in Paris, six characters strive to fill their empty lives. Two estate agents, a former soldier and his wife, a barman, a young woman and an old invalid try to escape the black cloud that threatens to descend...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Nominated for eight César awards in its native France, Private Fears In Public Places is an intelligent, adult look at loneliness in the twenty-first century. Directed by French master Alain Resnais, the film examines the interrelated lives of six main characters who are trying desperately but failing at making real, long-lasting connections. Charlotte (a bewitching Sabine Azéma) is a Bible-reading real estate agent who takes care of Lionel's (Pierre Arditi) vile, ailing father at night. Thierry (André Dussollier), a coworker of Charlotte's, is showing apartments to Nicole (Laura Morante) and Dan (Lambert Wilson), an engaged couple who can't agree on anything. And Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), who lives with Thierry, her older brother, is looking for love through the personal ads but instead keeps coming home alone. Based on the play by Alan Ayckbourn, Private Fears In Public Places is beautifully shot by Eric Gautier, particularly the scenes in the colorful bar where Lionel works and Dan drinks away his frustrations. Scenes are linked together by falling snow, adding a chilling cold to the pervasive loneliness. The acting is uniformly excellent, with especially good turns from Azéma, Arditi, and Morante, who won the Francesco Pasinetti Best Actress award at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, which also awarded octogenarian Resnais the Silver Lion as Best Director. Resnais eschews modern technology in this carefully stylized world; the characters don't spend their time endlessly on computers and cell phones, and Charlotte even gives Thierry a videotape to watch, one that has been taped over many times yet still retains some of its previous recordings, as if parts of the past can never be erased.
Consensus: The premise isn't anything new, but director Alain Resnais' attention to detail and smooth camerawork gives this movie a delicate edge.