Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mystery, time travel and the wounds of terrorism

It appears my truncated schedule, due to unforeseen events, at this year’s Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF), which ends tonight, has been very heavily weighted towards the festival’s own major focus, in part, on French films. So, here are three more reviews focusing on the festival’s rich French offering, including those featuring some of France’s most famous stars. 

The Mystery of Henri Pick: Director Remi Bezancon’s takes on novelist David Foenkinos’s book is a delightful mystery. Unlike other mysteries, which can be heavy, this one leans to the light side. It also has an intellectual flourish and will surely appeal to anyone who loves books. A publisher (Daphne Despero) discovers an unpublished manuscript by a small-town restaurateur Henri Pick, someone whom his wife describes as never having read a book in his life. The book, a romantic story that plays on a theme from Pushkin, is published and becomes a sensation. However, a famous Parisian critic, played in all his snobbish glory by Fabrice Luchini, has his doubts about the author’s authenticity. Despite meeting opposition everywhere, he perseveres to determine if Pick really wrote the novel.

La Belle Epoque (Nicolas Bedos) is a witty somewhat bizarre film that plays with several themes: nostalgia, time travel and romance (it is French, after all). Victor (Daniel Auteuil) is a washed-up newspaper cartoonist (his newspaper went digital) and a Baby Boomer fossil, who eschews the modern online world and doesn’t own a cell phone. His wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) is the opposite – an aggressive adapter who belittles her husband for his dormant and slovenly ways. Their marriage reaches a breaking point. As it happens, there is a production company that caters to people who want to revisit the past. A despondent Victor decides to return to 1974 and a café where he first met Marianne. It’s the hirsute 70s alright, complete with strumming folk singers, vest sweaters and smoke-filled bars. The story is a trip down memory lane and a rather innovative one at that. The directing, with constant screen switches and a sort of film within a film as the production crew tries to stage personal historical events accurately, is amazing. Yes, it's a farce. But the scenes become repetitive and you wonder why anyone would want go to all this trouble to rekindle something in the past.

Amanda, directed by Mikhaël Hers, is a gentle, absorbing and very humane look at Parisian life in the aftermath of major terrorist events that have traumatized the French capital over the past few years. Interestingly, there seem few films that explore this aspect of human life given the kind of terrorism the world has experienced in recent times. David (rising star Vincent Lacoste) is a happy go lucky 24-year-old, and uncle to seven-year-old Amanda (Isaure Multrier). One day a tragedy strikes Amanda’s mother, Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb) and David is thrown into the role of Amanda’s guardian. It’s something David, who is barely getting his own life together, must quickly come to terms with. The subtle interplay between David and Amanda is realistic as each tries to adapt, sometimes uncomfortably, to this unforeseen relationship. The ending will leave a few tears running down your cheek.

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