Thursday, November 7, 2019

Three French films in one day

Following are reviews of some films at the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF), which continues until Nov. 10:

Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies 2 is a follow-up to his 2010 Little White Lies, which I understand was a major hit. Not having seen it I can’t compare. But the reason I signed up for this film was because I was expecting it to follow in the great tradition of French farces. All the elements are there – an ensemble cast, a sad sack lead (François Cluzet) about to turn – ugh! – 60, and ragtag friends who unknowingly descend on his vacation property. But Cluzet hardly cracks a smile, having suffered a major investment loss and wanting to get rid of his interlopers and sell his house as quickly as possible. The friends themselves have insufferable quirks, enough for virtually all of them to wind up on the couch. Marie’s (Marion Cotillard) short fuse is ignited constantly, numerous misunderstandings take place among the group of Big Chill-like characters, and two searing near tragedies occur. There are a few comic touches but not nearly enough to keep the film on its intended lighthearted footing.

Ira Sach’s Frankie is a character study and that’s all it is. The central character is Françoise Crémont – Frankie - a French star now on holiday in a breathtakingly beautiful Portuguese town. In this sense Frankie is a self-portrait of Huppert herself, perhaps France’s present day most famous actress, at rest after making a grueling film. For those who are used to seeing Huppert portrayed as a diabolical sociopath (Neil Jordan’s Greta, 2018) or in excruciating threatening circumstances (Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, 2016) this is not another of those films – hardly. Instead it’s a quiet but always interesting – if only because we’re always anticipating something significant to happen - mixing of vignettes, swirling around several characters over the course of their stay in this glorious tourist mecca. Irene (Marisa Tomei) and Gary (Greg Kinnear) ironically break up after a peak romantic moment. Frankie’s son Paul (Jérémie Renier) dearly wants to marry but can’t hold a girl friend. Sylvia and Ian (Vinette Robinson and Ariyon Bakare) can barely contain their rage for one another. Yet the serene Frankie walks, figuratively and literally, through it all.

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an historical drama about two women. A painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a young wealthy woman from Brittany who is about to be married off to an Italian grandee. Héloïse is depressed at the prospect and refuses to pose for the painting. It’s up to Marianne to grab fleeting looks at her subject, posing as a hired companion. She memorizes facial features and body mannerisms, surreptitiously creating her portrait in a private room in the large country estate. A stand-offish Héloïse at first is cool to Marianne but Marianne’s presence of character attracts an equally self-assured Héloïse. Strong acting by the two actors in a very nuanced film, with scenes looking like they’re literally out of an 18th century painting, no doubt were part of the reason the picture won the Queer Palm prize at Cannes.

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