Welcome to New York

 

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DIR: Abel Ferrara • WRI: Abel Ferrara, Christ Zois • PRO: Adam Folk • DOP: Ken Kelsch • ED: Anthony Redman • DES: Tommaso Ortino   CAST: Jacqueline Bisset, Gérard Depardieu, Drena De Niro

The most unusual thing about this film for me is the pre-credit scene, which seems to be designed so that we know for sure it is about Dominique Strauss-Kahne, the famous E.M.F. banker and potential president of France. Depardieu playing Depardieu at a press conference explains why he played the role we are about to see, in broken English he ends the interview by telling the reporters he ‘hates politic’. Ferrara’s camera sweeps back and forth from interviewers and interviewee, cut to credits and a song about America and we now have Depardieu, playing Deveraeaux, read Johnathan Strauss-Kahne, though we are explicitly told it is inspired by him and not actually him.  Strauss-Kahne himself seems to very much think it is a portrait of him and is suing Ferrara and company for their trouble.

Devereaux is a high-powered banker working for the World Bank and being groomed by his wife for the presidency of France. We do not learn this until later in the film but we know who he is not playing, i.e. Strauss-Kahne, so that information is in the head of anyone who knows the event and its ‘repercussions’.  As well as being powerful he is also a self proclaimed womaniser and sex addict. He is also very fond of paid-for sex, which we see in abundance over the first half hour of the film. This is followed by his sexual assault on a maid after he asks her does she realise who he is, and lunch with his daughter and her boyfriend where the conversation is lewd and invasive as he asks her boyfriend how the ‘fucking’ is going.  One trip to the airport, a call to the hotel to retrieve a forgotten Blackberry, and Devereaux is incarcerated and seeing another side of life he did not expect and also seemingly oblivious to having done anything wrong

Solid performances from Depardieu, Bissett et al does not save this film from being a by-the-numbers, cold-hearted story of the events. It fails to either say anything new or invest any real understanding of his character. Wealthy people getting away with doing terrible things seems to be the only solid truth on display.  Even the question of Devereaux’s own victimhood is up for grabs.

The maid’s story (quite purposefully) slips away and we are told the story of a man who has lost some of his glitter and ambitious dreams, thanks to his fornicating dark side. A late internal monologue from Devereaux as he looks up at the New York landscape from the luxurious home where he is under house arrest tries to invest some hackneyed notion of disillusionment on his part, brought on by ideology that has been destroyed by what he regards as the real truth when he began to work for the World Bank; to paraphrase, life is just shit, so why not be a dickhead.

Paul Farren

125 mins

Welcome to New York is released on 8th August 2014

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Mammuth

DIR/WRI: Gustave de Kervern, Benoît Delépine • PRO: Jean-Pierre Guérin, Véronique Marchat • DOP: Hugues Poulain • Ed: Stéphane Elmadjian • DES: Paul Chapelle • Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Yolande Moreau, Isabelle Adjani

Mammuth certainly provides plenty of laughs. Written and directed by Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine, the film tells the tale of the newly retired Mammuth (Gérard Depardieu) who sets off on a road trip on his motorcycle in search of the necessary paperwork from his previous jobs he’s had down the years in order to claim his pension. Along the way he experiences bizarre moments and encounters a strange collection of oddball characters, including a ghost from his past played by Isabelle Adjani.

Though somewhat losing its way toward the end, there’s easily enough comic moments throughout the film to make it worth recommending – and there really is nothing in the cinema at the moment quite like it. The humour is well observed and succeeds in marrying the painfully real with the surreal, as Mammuth’s post-retirement experiences erupt into moments of absurdity. There are certain scenes, such as the four men in the restaurant, which slowly build up titters in the audience but climax to a collective burst of laughter, coupled with prolonged moments of absurdist humour such as bizarre reunions with family members that end up in failed nostalgia-driven attempts at shared gratification – you’ll know when you see it.

The final part in which Mammuth ‘finds’ himself is a bit overdone but by that time the writers have done enough to forgive them their trespasses. Depardieu is in fine form here, although Yolande Moreau steals the film when she’s on screen in her hilarious role as his wife whose patience is constantly tested. Her determination to take vengeance on the person who has stolen her phone is a brilliant comic sequence.

All in all Mammuth is  a wonderfully weird experience.

 

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (seeIFCO websitefor details)
Mammuth is released on 3rd June 2011

Mammuth – Official Website

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IFI French Film Festival: Thursday

After the dark humour of Mammuth, which starred Gérard Depardieu as Serge, a retiree who takes to the road on his motorbike in search of the important paperwork – I proceed to enjoy the full IFI experience and get some delicious grub and their special French wine before the later screening. So by the time In The Beginning began at 8:15pm, I was both very full and quite sleepy. This did not last long, however… as I was snapped into awakeness by the high energy and engaging nature of the film.

The incredible plot of the film is actually based on true events; a loner conman, Paul, visits a small French town, which has gone into decline after construction stopped on a highway there a number of years ago. Paul, going under the name Phillip Miller, is mistaken for an official who’s restarting the project, and tries to scam the town’s people out of cash. However when he begins to get personally involved with the locals, especially Stéphane; the beautiful mayor, his plans change. Paul/Phillip goes to unbelievable lengths and manages to fake a company, employ the locals and even begin building the road – but things begin to fall apart when his past catches up with him.

This film is very well directed, shot and is dappled with a host of great actors. Leading with a deep and believable performance is François Cluzet, but also deserving a special mention is the quirky character of Monkia (Soko) and lovable skanger, Nicolas, as played by Vincent Rottiers. Even Gérard Depardieu pops up again, as he does in most French films, as the menacing gangster, Abel.

And here is where I present the compliment sandwich: Although the tension and plot builds effortlessly, the only fault with In The Beginning is its slow paced ending that doesn’t completely satisfy. This however is only a minor disappointment, as the script, story and characters are all so strong. I would go as far as saying that In The Beginning is one of the best films I’ve seen for quite a while, and to keep the vein of good conman flicks – you should Catch It When You Can!

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IFI French Film Festival: Friday

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Day 2 of the IFI French Film Festival began with the screening of Jean Becker’s My Afternoons with Margueritte (La tête en friche) – a slow-burning tale of friendship and family starring Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus. Depardieu plays Germain, a semi-literate 50-year-old, who lives in a caravan beside his ageing mother who is losing touch with reality. Germain is a figure of fun to his friends in the village and through a series of flashbacks we see what a difficult upbringing he’s had, being chastised by his mother and teachers throughout his youth.

Germain tends his garden and in the afternoon feeds the 19 pigeons he has befriended and named in his local park. It is here that he meets Margueritte, a 96-year-old who introduces him to books by reading aloud to him in the afternoon and encouraging him on his own journey. Their friendship blossoms as her love of literature and words feed his inquisitive mind, which has hitherto lacked stimulation and was never an object of interest. As Germain grows and his life is enriched, the film itself also extends beyond the early flashbacks of his childhood to reveal more about his family.

The two performances raise the film above being merely a sweet, simple story of friendship. Casadesus (a star of stage in France) is remarkable in her role and works with the script in a beautifully naturalistic fashion. Depardieu is in fine form here and harnesses his acting in a spot-on underperformed role that allows his vulnerable and sensitive side to shine through. Together they make the relationship come to life.

Unashamedly sentimental, My Afternoons with Margueritte is a charming affair with a mature script and a big heart.

The festival continued with an evening screening of Chicks (La vie au ranch) – the debut feature from Sophie Letourneur, which is a lively comedy focusing on the social lives of a group of female students. The screening was introduced by Michel Ciment, the famous film critic, who himself is the subject of the documentary Michel Ciment: The Art of Sharing Movies, which screens tomorrow and will be followed by a Q&A with Ciment.

Friday closed with Making Plans for Lena ( Non ma fille, tu n’iras pas danser), Christophe Honoré’s film written specifically for its lead actress Chiara Mastroianni, who plays Lena a mother of two dealing with the break-up of her marriage.

The film is set to screen again on Tuesday, 23rd November at 4.15 pm.

Click here for details of the festival’s programme of events.

Steven Galvin

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Mesrine Killer Instinct

DIR: Jean-François Richet • WRI: Abdel Raouf Dafri, Jean-François Richet • PRO: Thomas Langmann • DOP: Robert Gantz • ED: Hervé Schneid • DES: Emile Ghigo • CAST: Vincent Cassel, Cécile de France, Gérard Depardieu

The first instalment in a two-part cinematic interpretation of the life of infamous Public Enemy Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassell), opens with a warning. It asks the viewer to keep an open mind. Stating that no film can fully encompass the entirety of a human life and that there are multiple perspectives to each story, this message is compounded with a clever opening. Utilizing half-screen, dual-screen and finally multi-screen portrayals of an ageing Mesrine acting shiftily, each screen’s image differs slightly. Their point is made well, so I keep my snap judgements leashed.

Mind unbolted, I endeavour to stay objective. However, despite a hard term with the French army in the Algerian War, and some choice mistakes on his return, it becomes increasingly difficult to shake the feeling that Jacque Mesrine is anything other than an uncompromising villain. Whoops, seems like a judgement to me, better pry that mind open again.

There are glimmers of hope for the character throughout: the kindness shown to his favourite hooker and his favourite wife, his excitement over his firstborn child, his attempt to make an honest living. However, even when benefiting him with every doubt available, the impression that, rather than being forced to a live of crime, Mesrine chooses it willingly, is the one that imprints itself on the mind.

In one instance the protagonist/antagonist, evidently not best pleased that he was shot at while his daughter was present, has a good rant about rules, honour, principles, etc. For a man who has spent the past hour thieving and murdering, it’s a surprise he is familiar with the concepts. Still straining to keep that mind gaping though, we grant the man his love for his kids! They’re the reason he lives this awful life surely? He’s doing this for his kids! That’s admirable; maybe I have been wrong about Mesrine. Maybe… Well, wait a few minutes, then listen carefully for the slam of your own mind closing.

This is not to say the execution of the cinematic process by director Jean François Richet is without merit. Far from it. The script is agreeable, the clear and frequently inventive camerawork impressive, the soundtrack hits the mark and the pacing (for the most part) keeps up a respectable level of intrigue and excitement. Mesrine may be greedy, selfish and aggressive, but the car wreck of a life interests the viewer as much as a real one would. It’s hard to look away.

Additionally, there were admirable supporting characters in the form of his wife Sophia, his parents, and even to an extent his charming fellow gang member, Paul. However, these were minor parts and overshadowed by the constant presence of a perpetually detestable titular character.

The film takes a sudden change of pace in the last quarter, once Mesrine is imprisoned. Soon we are watching an ‘escape caper’, showcasing a (marginally) more likeable and determined Jacque Mesrine, though perhaps only because he has no one to kill or rob. How’s that for an open mind?!

The last act juggles genres such as psychological thriller, prison escape, and action film, having spent the initial acts preparing you for nothing of the sort. Additionally it gives unsatisfying accounts of the apparent jump in relevance of certain support characters. The viewer is left wondering just how Mesrine is suddenly so chummy with characters that were until this final act minor or even hostile. Perhaps it’s his people skills.

Films that end on cliff-hangers or are a part of a wider arc can be frustrating, considering they are not self-contained stories. Mesrine: Killer Instinct, however, does a decent job of rounding up the antics of Jacque Mesrine which earned him the notorious moniker ‘Public Enemy Number 1.’ And although the pacing of the final act is far more erratic and unclear compared to the smooth swelling at the beginning of the tale (it wouldn’t be a finale otherwise), the overall product is gritty, well realised, well acted, interesting and exciting.

The biggest drawback to this film, however, and no doubt a fatal drawback for a lot of viewers, is the absence of anyone to root for. I had a strong distain for Jacque Mesrine throughout and I tried damn hard to like this man. Considering he was the epicentre of the movie (and the next), Mesrine: Killer Instinct was not a film I enjoyed watching, for all its merits.

It is a powerful film, loaded with emotion. Just be warned: they taper towards the negative end of that spectrum.

Perhaps part two will be different. I’ll keep an open mind.

Jack McGlynn

Rating: TBC
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is released on 7th August 2009
Mesrine: Killer Instinct – Official Website

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