Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Log 384: Superb French film really gets under the skin of its 17-year-old schoolgirl character, as she struggles into womanhood; and a loopy doc unworthy of any festival

I am lucky to live in Montreal directly upstairs from one of the best repertory cinemas in the city, the Cinema du Parc, which plays a role in most of the many film festivals held in Montreal. Recently it was part of  the large festival of Black Films, and currently it is one of  half a dozen venues for the 250 movies being screened by the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, now in its 42nd year. The Cinema  manages to keep up its own programmes, in which it offers many of the best current films, as well as producing retrospectives of classic films, such as the screening earlier in the year of all 44 of Woody Allen’s films, and the current revival of the best of Jacques Tati.
Yesterday I took in one of the Festival offerings, as well as the three-hour sensation, winner of the Palme d’or at the Cannes film festival this year, La vie d’Adele, alternatively called, in English, Blue is the Warmest Colour.
It is difficult not to feel obliged to write something about this latter film, not only because it features perhaps the most explicit  sequences of lesbian love-making  ever seen in a major motion picture, but because it is a movie, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, which succeeds in getting right under the skin of its heroine, a 17-year-old  high school girl, played with rivetting intensity byAdele Exarchopoulos, a 19-year-old actress on the way up in French cinema.
The movie opens with a group of schoolgirls hanging around gossiping  about boys, and the things that can happen between boys and girls. And --- though I have to confess a limited knowledge of this world --- these scenes seem so authentic as to be delightful to watch and listen to. Adele seems a normal girl, rather more shy than most of her friends, who find it difficult to convince her that a young Arabic-speaking man who is part of the student  group is hot for her.  The camera follows her through her first sexual experience with this young man, a budding actor, and through the breakup of their friendship, leaving her with the first tears rolling down her cheeks.
Pretty soon at a party she catches the eye of a woman with blue-tinted hair, a slightly older woman who turns out to be in her fourth year studying Fine Arts at the university. She is extraordinarily attractive, this woman, and when they get into a conversation one immediately begins to feel how strongly  Adele is drawn to her. When the woman turns up at her school on a later day, they get into conversation, and her obvious admiration for Adele  quickly turns into physical embraces, and eventually love-making. The actress playing this fascinating character is Lea Seydoux, a 28-year-old daughter of a family that, in real life, appears to own about half the French movie business, but the fact is, whatever influence she may have used to get this role, she carries it out with a panache that is quite astounding. From the first she exudes the sense that she is a predator, and yet not a dangerous one, a predator interested in her own pleasures, but willing to treat gently the younger woman who has fallen into her ambiance.
This is a remarkable performance by Lea Seydoux, a performacne so powerful that there is little doubt the movie gets its strength and truthfulness from her constant presence.  When, at about the midway point, she becomes less present, the movie seems also to dip into a more somnolent air.  
Adele, noticing her lover’s attraction to another woman, a heavily pregant one, permits herself a brief fling with a young man. She returns one day to Emma’s apartment to be confronted by a furious lover, accusing her of lying, of being a slut, a whore, telling her to get out, she never wants to see her again. Suddenly the lover has become a termagant, and this is one of the most ferociously effective rants I can remember seeing on the sreen in many years. The tears and entreaties of the abandoned girl do not move her. She slams the door on Adele’s face, shuts her out completely from her life, and the rest of the movie becomes almost anti-climactic as it follows Adele into the early days of a career as a teacher of young chidren.
The tedium of Adele’s life is relieved only once when Emma agrees to meet her for coffee: once again, Adele cannot disguise her continuing love, and is once again distressed to learn that, while maintaining a warm regard her, Emma says she no longer loves her --- she is with someone else now.
This is a remarkable tale drawn from a graphic novel --- which is the fancy name for a comic book these days --- and in its French name it seems to promise that the story will be continued in later films, this one having embraced only Chapters 1 and 2. 
It may be doubted whether these continuations will ever be achieved, because not long after the award of the Cannes prize, which went to Kechiche and his two main actresses, technicians who had worked on the film accused the director of harassment, unpaid work, and violations of  labour laws. And thereafter the two actresses also complained about the director’s behaviour during the shooting, describing the experience as “horrible”, and vowing never to work with him again.
As for the festival contribution to my day’s viewing, perhaps the less said the better. It was called CowJews and Indians, was made by an Americn Jew called Marc Halberstadt, whose idea was that he should demand restitution of the property seized from his family during the Nazi times in Germany. Then he had the thought that he himself was living on land that had been stolen from the Indians. So eventually he stitched together the idea that the Indians should try to get the Germans to pay them rent, thus cutting out the middle-man, namely, himself. This was a loopy idea, which resulted in his being thrown out of the premises he was claiming in Germany.
But then he had a further idea, that just as Europeans had violated Indians by sending them to the residential schools, to be made into copies of white men, so the Christians had made over the historical Jewish figure of Jesus into a white European image. He tried to get various German pastors to hang in their church a slightly comic Jewish-oriented portrait, and the end of it was that the Indians from Akwasasne and Lakota territory whom he had recruited in his campaign were sitting around discussing how they had been used by him for purposes which he had never really made clear to them.
A crazy project from the start, and hardly one that deserved inclusion in any festival.

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