Friday, June 19, 2009

Au Coeur du Mensonge

For those used to slick American fare, where the reasons are spicier and the drama is more vivid than life itself, Au Coeur du Mensonge (1999; US title: The Color of Lies) is not the film. The usual French cinema's habit of concentrating solely on human emotions and behavior is taken to the extreme in this touching film, on outside just a thriller mystery, but on inside anything but that, rather the story of deeply intertwined love of a couple for each other, played by Jacques Gamblin and Sandrine Bonnaire.

Bonnaire had earlier impressed me with her suppressed performance in the 1998 Jacques Rivette film Secret Défense; however this time she has little to do except looking the part. It's the lesser known Gamblin however who gives the film all its pain: playing the part of a tormented lover, a fine painter, a man who is intelligent and too sensitive, who knows what he can give to her and yet is acutely conscious of his physical shortcomings. The film is advertised to be dealing with the mystery of a minor's rape and thus a whodunnit; rather it is sharply focused upon the Bonnaire-Gamblin couple and betrayal in relationship. True love can make the other's crime its own, which is what the film so beautifully brings out. And even the guilt.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Au revoir, les enfants

One of the simplest films I've seen on the Holocaust, Louis Malle tackles the issue not on the war front or in a concentration camp, but at the personal level, more specifically the impact that a war and racism could have on children, one day to become adults. Malle brings his own story to the film, as Au revoir, les enfants (Goodbye, Children) so effectively and touchingly, without being dramatically sentimental, shows the children going out into the world, prematurely with dark stories, guilt on their soul, and living with fear; or children simply marching out to concentration camps with proud defiance, with fear of dying any moment.

It's a story of rivalry and friendship between two bright boys, out of the place in the ordinary bullies around. One, Julien Quentin, precocious, highly intelligent, and fiercely individualistic--and faithless though to be confirmed. The other, Jean Bonnet, talented in whatever he takes up, alone, and under a constant fear--and with bold defiant belief in his religion. The two are dreamers, preferring to do their own activities while even in a class, especially Quentin, and cut off from the rest of the students. Though Bonnet is more so because he's a newcomer and seems to lack the ability to mix up fast; Quentin because he is toss-the-hair, he is proud, and he can only really get attracted to talent higher than his or to genius. As he does to Bonnet. What starts out as a rivalry sensed, soon is in the vein of developing into fine friendship, but ends abruptly with the capture of one and the guilt of the other to regret for ever: if he wouldn't have turned, what would have happened?

The film's beauty lies in that it solely concentrates on the boys: the boarding and school run by the monastery. It doesn't give in to any sort of temptation to strike gold elsewhere. The sole 'outside' incident is the Vichy men's attempt to throw out an old Jewish man out of a posh restaurant: but it still serves as part of school life, since Quentin first knows the extent to which a man could be persecuted for religion. Soon, he is to know more, through searing experience that would maim him for life. And make him a better man. The film also brilliantly shows how difficult it is, how unfair it is to place a dreamer in a boarding school, in a hostel: how suffocating it could be for someone whose best company is his dreams and thoughts, and who is forced to live with fellow students of 'inferior grade'. Completely free of any dramatic intentions, the film is a story that occurred, that culminated in times where the Vichy regime itself was collaborating with the Germans, and French had to fight underground even against their own men. Soon Hitler was to fall, and sanity to return for a brief time: it's to the viewers to wonder what lessons they give to children to carry on in life. Bullying as power; squealing as life; and defying as death.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


A little too poker-facedly translated literally as The Lover in its UK release title, L'Amant shows the story of a weary love, transformed from a pick-up scene to something that leaves the lovers restless and in memories for all their lives. It's based on the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras, and is on her own life story, when she was 15 in the erstwhile Indo-China.

Set in colonial Vietnam, the film stands out for the way Asia is shown, and it's easy to feel Marguerite Duras' love for the region through the camera of Robert Fraisse (he would team up for several films with director Jean-Jacques Annaud, including the highly impressive 2001 film Enemy At The Gates). But apart from shots celebrating the tiredness of both the protagonists, the film meaninglessly meanders along self-pity to self-pity, from the lazy Chinaman Tony Leung Ka Fai to the French girl who loves easy sex, easy money, who hates poverty, Jane March. It would be easy to justify March's character by the destitute poverty in which her family lives as white outcastes amid colored people, for whom they don't feel any human bonds. By the loveless atmosphere of her dsyfunctional family and a stone-hearted mother. By her seeming full of life to burst but with no outlet on whom. It would be more difficult though to know why the director shows the virgin who wants to just flower open so tired, so like experienced and weary. In another way, it's an interesting study too: the descents plumbed in order to gain power, to feel power, especially when one is yet searching for it and does not know where it truly lies. The Chinaman's character doesn't help either: just a weak man who lusts and then being not able to get the object of his lust, self-pities, hardly someone to be able to make a viewer hold out.

The film suffers from underdeveloped characters, thrown in maybe to bewilder the viewer even more: it hardly seems a French film at all, in fact it would be easy to think this as a Merchant Ivory production. The one place where the film pulls of a clever trick is when the film begins: the film shows the girl on the ferry and adeptly, imperceptibly moves to something that happened in the recent time before now, and then moves again to the now, the girl on the ferry. To add to this is that the now itself is in the flashback narrated in the lovely voice of Jeanne Moreau, and it's almost Faulknerian, maybe accidentally by the director since he never repeats this.

I haven't read the novel, but I think the screenplay could've been radically different on the same story: in spite of good cast selection, a beautiful music score, and an Academy Award-nominated cinematography, the film fails since it is unable to stop wallowing in its guilt of overzeal to show sex as 'demi-god' and yet finally ending up showing it as a game where both players always try to lose. There is a large hint of what might be happening and impending; however, there is less of an immediate good plot or reason to make the film itself.