ColCoa Roundup: ‘Augustine’ Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Audacious and complex in its depiction of a young woman suffering from hysteria in 1890s Paris, Alice Winocour’s debut feature showcases the impressive talents of acting veteran Vincent Lindon (A Few Hours of Spring) and compelling newcomer Soko (born Stéphanie Sokolinski) as the eponymous Augustine. Based on a real-life case, the film opens with French maid Augustine suffering an epileptic seizure right in the middle of working a lavish dinner party. Following this unseemly event, she is swiftly sent to Salpêtrière, an asylum where she encounters French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (Lindon), who is intrigued by her debilitating symptoms, which include oscillating paralysis of half her face as well as her limbs. Charcot, most prominently recognized as the teacher of William James and Sigmund Freud, takes her on as a patient, motivated more strongly by his ambition to introduce a breakthrough study in medicine than any altruism on his part. Continue reading “ColCoa Roundup: ‘Augustine’ Review” »

ColCoa Roundup: ‘Hold Back’ (Rengaine) Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Plot spoilers below

Opening at the Directors’ Fortnight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Rachid Djaïdani’s feature film Hold Back (Rengaine) exemplifies a new style of guerrilla filmmaking in France and is also a contender for my favorite film of ColCoa. Starring Sabrina Hamida and Stephane Soo Mongo as a couple whose families object to their engagement based on their divergent races and religions, this provocative film explores the prejudice and hostility between different immigrant groups in modern-day France.

While this subject matter might make the film sound self-righteous, it is far from it. In fact, Djaïdani, who worked as a novelist and a boxer before making his feature film debut, has managed to craft a social issue picture that retains its sense of humor. Much of this comedy comes in the shape of Dorcy (Soo Mongo), a struggling actor who answers ads in the paper for jobs ranging from the absurd to the disturbing. Djaïdani seems to take pleasure in satirizing the film world, using Dorcy’s string of auditions as fodder for a critique of eccentric directors who want their actors to literally suffer for their art. Shot over the course of nine years, the film finally came to fruition once acclaimed producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint (Cycling with Molieré, The Hedgehog, Caramel) lent her support to the project, allowing Djaïdani the opportunity to translate his vision to the screen. Continue reading “ColCoa Roundup: ‘Hold Back’ (Rengaine) Review” »

ColCoa Roundup: ‘Populaire’ Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Plot spoilers below

Catching a glimpse of a shiny typewriter in her father’s store window, young Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) hatches a plan to escape her provincial life and transform herself into an independent and intrepid modern woman in Populaire, Régis Roinsard’s highly stylized debut that tips its hat to the 1950s heyday of Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Embarking on a trip to Lisieux, Normandy, to interview for a secretarial position at Échard and Sons Insurance, Rose encounters glorified bachelor Louis Échard (played by dashing French actor Romain Duris), who takes pleasure in scoping out the comely applicant pool until Rose’s preternatural typing ability stops him in his tracks.

Clearly impressed, he offers her a job on the spot, although he soon discovers she makes a terrible secretary, often accidentally shredding documents and using his arm to take messages when pen and paper are scarce. Taking Rose aside, Louis confides that there is only one way for her to save her job. Indignant after mistakenly presuming that he’s trying to take advantage of her youth and naivety with an illicit ultimatum, Rose soon discovers that Louis merely intends to transform her into a champion speed typist. Continue reading “ColCoa Roundup: ‘Populaire’ Review” »

ColCoa Roundup: ‘Cycling with Molieré’ (Alceste a Bicyclette) Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Lambert Wilson and Fabrice Luchini star in Cycling with Molieré, a pithy comedy of manners about Gauthier Valence (Wilson), a charismatic TV star who travels to Île de Ré to convince self-imposed recluse and former friend Serge (Luchini) to come out of retirement for one last performance of Molieré’s The Misanthrope. While Serge’s stubbornness and reluctance is worn down, the two men’s bickering and bantering continues as they set up shop in Serge’s cluttered country home and proceed to try to best one another in their pursuit of the lead role of Alceste.

To the credit of director Philippe Le Guay, who also collaborated with Luchini in his last film, The Women on the 6th Floor, the dramatic read-throughs are some of the strongest and, surprisingly, most cinematic scenes in the film. Consequently, these scenes reveal the beautiful rhythm of Molieré’s work and also serve as clever commentary on the debate between faithfulness to the original material and freedom of interpretation as Serge comically lectures Gauthier for swallowing up his syllables. Continue reading “ColCoa Roundup: ‘Cycling with Molieré’ (Alceste a Bicyclette) Review” »

ColCoa Roundup: ‘A Few Hours of Spring’ (Quelques Heures de Printemps) Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Once Alain Évrard (Vincent Lindon), an unemployed, taciturn truck driver, is released from prison following a smuggling conviction, he strives for normalcy and traction in a world thrown out of joint. Settling in with his elderly and estranged mother, Yvette (the terrific Hélène Vincent), he soon becomes suffocated by her regimented lifestyle and constant nagging. Her immaculate housekeeping suggests order, belying decades of unearthed tension between mother and son and a protective veneer that’s slowly falling apart.

Admittedly, A Few Hours of Spring—the latest film from Stéphane Brizé (Not Here to Be Loved, Mademoiselle Chambon), which debuted at the Locarno Film Festival last year and made its U.S. premiere at ColCoa—is a study in patience. It’s more about loaded glances and pregnant pauses than it is about anything actually said between the pair. In fact, the film pivots not on the unwillingness to communicate after a traumatic series of events, but rather on the inability to do so. Brizé’s methodically paced drama intimates that the absent father was most likely physically and emotionally abusive to his family, and neither Yvette nor Alain has ever fully come to terms with this fact. Alain seeks solace in the arms of a woman he meets at a bowling alley (Emmanuelle Seigner, who recently starred in Polanski’s Venus in Fur at Cannes), but refuses to open up about his past imprisonment, which causes strife in their relationship. Continue reading “ColCoa Roundup: ‘A Few Hours of Spring’ (Quelques Heures de Printemps) Review” »

ColCoa Roundup: ‘The Attack’ (L’attentat) Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Contentious to its core, The Attack, the latest film from Ziad Doueiri (West of Beirut), centers on Amin Jaafari (Ali Sulman), a well-respected Palestinian doctor living in Tel Aviv. Based on the best-selling novel by Yasmina Khadra (the pen name of Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul), the film follows Amin as he uncovers a secret surrounding his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), in the aftermath of a suicide bombing that killed 17 people. In desperate search of answers, Amin travels to Palestine in hopes of shedding light on his marriage and coming to terms with Siham’s involvement in the bombing, but ultimately ends up negotiating his own identity and facing his complacency as both a husband and a physician. While Amin leads a peaceful, non-confrontational life in Israel, he can no longer ignore the ubiquitous anguish and simmering resentment once he returns to his homeland.

Why is this film, which premiered at Telluride last fall, raising so much suspicion and indignation worldwide? Ironically, it’s due not to fundamentalist proclivities, but for its endeavor at neutrality. Seeking to show both Israeli and Palestinian sides of the conflict, Doueiri has ignited a firestorm, with the Arab League asking all 22 nation-states to boycott the film. In light of the political controversy, the film’s financial backers in Qatar and Egypt have also insisted that their names be removed from the final credits. Continue reading “ColCoa Roundup: ‘The Attack’ (L’attentat) Review” »