Grand Central

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DIR: Rebecca Zlotowski • WRI: Gaëlle Macé, Rebecca Zlotowski • PRO:Frederic Jouve •  DOP George Lechaptois • ED: Julien Lacheray • DES: Antoine Platteau • CAST:Tahar Rahim, Léa Seydoux, Olivier Gourmet

For some reason I always go into French films with high expectations, I don’t know if this is due to the fact that I’ve enjoyed most of the French films I’ve seen, or whether I’ve been programmed to view European cinema as somewhat more sophisticated and nuanced than your typical Hollywood fair. Either way I entered the screening of Grand Central with high expectations, with my hand at the ready to give myself a cultural pat on the back for enjoying the film, and enjoy the film I did.

Grand Central is the second feature film from the French writer director Rebecca Zlotowski, and the film follows Gary, a young man with an implied dark past who takes up a job at a nuclear power plant in Rhone, where it becomes evident that danger lurks at almost every turn. Gary was told by an employment officer at the start of the film that this was the only viable opportunity for him to gain employment.

He joins a crew there, who seem to have built up a very close bond, as they put their safety in each other’s hands on a daily basis. Living in a trailer park with his supervisor Giles and veteran Toni, he soon starts up a love affair with Toni’s fiancée Carole. This relationship leads Gary to put his life in danger by continuing to work at the plant despite the fact that he has tested positive for high radiation levels, meaning he is knowingly  putting his health at risk to continue the affair.

Despite being a French language film a lot of the actors will be familiar to mainstream moviegoers.  Toni is played by Denis Menochet, who many of you will recognise as the farmer from the mesmerising opening scene of Inglorious Bastards, while Lea Seydoux, who plays Carole, is an-up-and-coming star of international cinema with film credits like Robin Hood,  and Mission Impossible 4 already under her belt.

There are many things to like about the film, but there’s no doubt that Seydoux’s performance is what stands out the most. She perfectly captures a confused young woman, who loves two different men in two completely different ways, so much so that we never judge her for her infidelity, as we realise there is no clear cut resolution. I have no doubt that her deep, sad eyes will continue to be forceful cinematic weapons for years to come.

Other aspects of the film that stand out, are some beautifully shot scenes that capture Karole and Gary’s  romance blossoming in the fields and woods surrounding the trailer park, representing the naturalness of their relationship in contrast to her relationship with Toni, who is considerably older than her.

Unfortunately the script is clunky, and some of the dialogue and sequences tend to stretch the boundaries of belief, particularly in regard to the relationship between Karole and Toni. I also feel that the film misses a big opportunity to make more of the tension that arises from the dangerous working conditions in the Nuclear plant.

Despite these flaws, all in all the film is well worth watching, particularly if you, like me, love to like French Cinema.

Michael Rice

94 mins

Grand Central is released on 18th July 2014

 

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Cinema Review: The Past

 Film still from The Past by Asghar Farhadi                                           

DIR: Asghar Farhadi   WRI: Asghar Farhadi   PRO: Alexandre Mali- Guy, Alexa Rivero   DOP: Mahmoud Kalari   ED: Juliette Welfling  CAST:  Ali Mosaffa, Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet

 

Farhadi follows up his much-admired A Separation (2011) with another low-key family drama.  The film sees Farhadi working outside his native Iran for the first time. As the film begins Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to Paris so as to give his wife Marie (Bejo) a divorce. Ahmad soon finds out the reason for Marie’s eagerness to finalise the divorce is because she plans to marry Samir (Rahim), who now along with his son, lives with Marie and Ahmad’s step children. While this initially makes Ahmad uncomfortable, he foregoes his desire to stay in a hotel as opposed to Marie’s house so as to talk to Lucie- Marie’s troubled teenage daughter. Once Ahmad does talk to her it leads to a veritable Pandora’s box of secrets surrounding Samir and his comatose wife, who is being kept alive by life-support.

 

The film’s key theme is told to us through its title. The characters at the centre of the story are never able to move towards anything verging on a new beginning. Their lives are consistently affected by past events and revelations. Farhadi announces this theme visually early on by interrupting a conversation between Ahmad and Marie with a shot of the back window of the car they are travelling in. These types of visual cues consistently reappear in the film. There are numerous scenes in which characters literally are unable to move forward and get drawn back into an unresolved conversation or an unresolved encounter.

 

While on the surface, Farhadi’s approach, seems to be from the social realist school he shows a deft hand in portraying the social situations of the characters. Their relative poverty is visible but it is never overly dwelt upon allowing the viewer to ponder the implications of their social statuses on the events that unfold around them, as opposed to being overwhelmed by the grit of their situation. Farhadi ensures that his film never falls into dreaded kitchen sink territory by ensuring a focus on the human condition and by empathizing with his characters on a more universal level and also by the healthy dose of melodrama that is sprinkled into the unfolding revelations.

 

While Farhadi shows tact and imagination for much of the film, it is a shame then that there is something troubling about representation of gender in the piece. While Bejo, who won best actress at Cannes for this last year, is perfectly fine, her character feels thinly drawn compared with that of Ahmad and Samir. The same can also be said of Lucie and even more troublingly the revelations surrounding Samir’s comatose wife Celine suggest a view of women in which their problems inherently surround the men in their life. While Ahmad is given a certain complexity in references to why he left Marie because of depression, Celine’s problems seem to be down to a neuroses surrounding Samir.

 

This problematic representation of women and the character of Celine, in particular, are reinforced by a clumsy and overwrought ending.  There is also a feeling that despite displaying an astute eye and ear for much of the film, Farhadi, lacks the intellectual rigour of a Fassbinder or a Sirk in his attempts at making the mechanics of melodrama profound. For all this, though, the film remains worth seeing. Ultimately the film may fall short of its potential but it’s still a gripping, humane piece of work.

 

 

David Prendeville

130 mins

The Past is released on 28th March 2014

The Past – Official Website

 

 

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A Prophet

A Prophet
DIR: Jacques Audiard • WRI: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard • PRO: Lauranne Bourrachot, Martine Cassinelli, Marco Cherqui • DOP: Stéphane Fontaine • ED: Juliette Welfling • DES: Michel Barthélémy • CAST: Tahar Rahim , Adel Bencherif , Niels Arestrup, Gilles Cohen

One of the stand-out movies of the French Film Festival held in the IFI in November of last year, A Prophet has gone from strength to strength ever since, garnering prizes wherever it is screened, culminating in a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. In fact, one of the joys of A Prophet is how unassuming and slow-burning it can be – whilst simultaneously containing scenes of such magnified violence that the realism burns the retina.

Malik is a young man sent to prison for crime unknown, illiterate and bedraggled looking with the air of someone who has lived on the streets. He is of Arab descent – a distinguishing feature that we, in our world, might think we recognise, but one which has a greater and longer history of discrimination in France than we can understand. This distinction is marked as he enters a prison population divided by race: Muslims on one side of the yard, Corsicans on the other, and the rest of the inmates working in between. Malik, young and somewhat innocent, is chosen as dispensable by the Corsicans, who order him to kill one of his own or die. So begins Malik’s odyssey wherein he learns the rules of survival in prison; how to wear the mask of servitude while harbouring the aspirations of individuality.

Though this could easily have descended into standard incarceration fare, director Jacques Audiard maintains a slow and steady pace that mimics the banality and ennui of prison life – combining moments of the extreme with balancing visions of the everyday. Here, certainly, is the truth of prison life. Divided into acts, the movie plays like an intriguing classical narrative train riding a track of French New Wave: the lasting effect is one of disorder rather than order, and symbolic imagery tests the resilience of the audience at every turn.

Though A Prophet is subtitled, it is important to note Tahar Rahim’s amazing gift for languages throughout the movie – as Malik, he strays from French to Arabic to Corsican to French, never failing to engage and convince in every tongue. The story weaves in and out of his exploits, and never veers far from Malik, a character you cannot fail to like – or at least pity – despite his sometimes reprehensible behaviour. His conscious is constantly there in physical form for all the audience to see, and speaks for our reservations on his conduct. Rather than a slick Burt Lancaster or a suddenly-exceptional-at-violence Mel Gibson, A Prophet gives a much more realistic and associative view of what correctional facilities do to petty criminals when they enter. The end result is that they either sink or swim; and if they learn to swim, society best watch out!

A more engaging or realistic vision of a microcosm of French society has not been seen since La Haine – and similar too in its steady depiction of a discrimination that has become almost prosaic. Scattered with visions and prophecies, images and symbols A Prophet insists upon further thought, and even further viewing. Yet again France proves that the birthplace and eternal home of modern cinema is nowhere near the Hollywood Hills.

Sarah Griffin

(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

A Prophet is released 15th Jan 2010

A Prophet – Official Website

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A Prophet

A Prophet
DIR: Jacques Audiard • WRI: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard • PRO: Lauranne Bourrachot, Martine Cassinelli, Marco Cherqui • DOP: Stéphane Fontaine • ED: Juliette Welfling • DES: Michel Barthélémy • CAST: Tahar Rahim , Adel Bencherif , Niels Arestrup, Gilles Cohen

A Prophet is a good film. Unfortunately it falls short of its implied grandness due to missed opportunities and irregular pacing. The three acts can be labelled accordingly: Gripping, then Boring, then Interesting. And although A Prophet will win over some, it fails to convert the unbeliever. Or objective observer.

The first act is arresting and easily the film’s pinnacle. Honestly, nakedly addressing of the stark reality of prison life, young offender Malik’s (played by relative screen virgin Tahar Rahim) attempt to slit fellow inmate Ryad’s (Adel Bencherif) throat are deeply affecting. The first act, in chorus compels and disgusts the viewer.

The act closes ominously and the audience’s inability to confidently condemn or condone parallels Malik’s initial inability to sew a pair of jeans. It becomes obvious that the penal system does not help, but hinders. Sympathy abounds.

Sadly the following acts fail to live up to the standard set by the first. Combined with the fact that the middle could stand to lose twenty minutes of filler, and the proverbial disappearance of the initial, kinetic, ethical perspective, A Prophet quickly ascends into a more superficial, godless crime caper. The irony will not be lost on you.

The multi-lingual aspects of the film do, for the most part, bolster its authenticity. With Couiscan, French, English and Arabic (presumably) appearing, it almost comes as a surprise when no one starts speaking in tongues. The multitude of languages is an occasionally burden and differentiation between them becomes difficult. This is a minor complaint when compared to the realism it lends the project.

The Prophetic Visions, a tool that really should have set this film apart in its category, were left underplayed, unexplored and quickly lost their significance. Considering that the cast, particularly Malik himself, pays them little perceptible heed, the audience quickly follows suit.

This feels like the biggest missed opportunity within A Prophet, as they were visually provoking. Deceptively they fill the viewer with faith that their relevance will soon be revealed. Again, ironically this faith in A Prophet is misplaced.

So, is this the Messiah of crime films? Has director Jacques Audiard produced a divine working of religio-cultural portrayal and mood? Sadly, A Prophet, which at first seduces with its promising start, reveals itself to be little more than a false prophet.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

A Prophet is released 15th Jan 2010

A Prophet – Official Website

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