Le Testament d’Orphee 1961 ****


‘If you don’t like my film, I’m sorry’ Jean Cocteau announces with admirable candor at the end of Le Testament d’Orphee; if only all directors were so blunt. But then again, Jean Cocteau is hardly your average hack; the French poet and surrealist was one of the greatest artistic figures of the 20th century, with film only one of the media he conquered, and this 1961 semi-autobiographical fantasy is something of a curiosity. In today’s world, where sequels often appears decades later, Cocteau’s decision to revisit his 1950’s opus Orphee makes some sense, but it’s only one of a number of angles the artist is working here. Fans of the original were not wowed by Le Testament d’Orphee, but freed from the burden of expectation that goes with sequelitis, there’s a lot going on. Cocteau casts himself as a time-travelling courtier, zapping back and forward through his own life to invent cigarettes so that he can smoke them, and to identify who he really is. ‘I take off my body to reveal my soul’ says Cocteau, attempting to make peace with himself as an artist ‘Aren’t you a pheonixologist?’ he asks himself, hoping for some revival, but his distaste is revealed when he meets and avoids himself coming down a street; ‘I thought when I changed castles, I’d change ghosts’ he laments in a brilliant turn of phrase.  There’s a melange of fashionable names dragged into the phantasmagorical action, from Yul Brynner to Charles Aznavour, and even through subtitles, Cocteau’s knack with words is arresting; cinema, he imagines, is the art of bringing ‘dead acts to life’, and the whole process adds up to a ‘macabre masquerade’. This neglected film is a fitting tribute by a great artist to himself; there’s flashes of magic and genuine insight that make it well worth exhuming, particularly with the helpful mini-features that are included on this 2019 DVD re-release.



Let The Corpses Tan 2018

The opening credits of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s epic crime-opus give the game away; crediting a 1971 book by Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid as inspiration, it’s clear this is a trashy crime thriller in a manner of Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs. Always a striking presence, Elina Löwensohn plays Luce, the moll of a number of local gangsters in the sun-drenched region of Corsica. After an armoured-car heist, involving the shooting of several guards, the thieves repair back to Luce’s literal hole in the ground. The cops arrive, and after a shoot-out, a siege develops, with a fortune in gold awaiting anyone who can think their way out of the trap. Psychedelic visuals, extreme violence, more than a whiff of sexual excess; Let The Corpses Tan has it all, and even if the surfeit of style is overpowering at times, Let The Corpses Tan has a punk energy that enthrals for the most part.

The Dreamlife of Angels 1998 ***


Writer and director Erick Zonca’s French film is a frank and finally shocking drama about two girls in the town of Lille and their relationships with men. Élodie Bouchez plays Isa, a girl disappointed in love and life, who strikes up an alliance with Marie (Natacha Régnier), who lives in an apartment where all the inhabitants have died in a car accident. The two girls struggle to reconcile their desire for love with the differing attitudes of local men, and Isa’s discovery of a diary belonging to the accident’s sole survivor Sandrine opens up an inner world that leads to a casually depicted but truly tragic event. The Dreamlife of Angels is naturalistically acted and performed, but the low-key presentation only disguises Zonca’s determination to turn clichés inside out; there’s no miracles here, just bravery in the face of a world without pity or remorse.


The Widow of St Pierre 2002 ****


Another gem from writer and director Patrice Leconte, The Widow of St Pierre is a skilful melodrama which deals with the subject of the death penalty; set in Newfoundland in the mid 19th century, it features director Emir Kusturica as Ariel, a killer who is sentenced to death. The isolated community lacks a guillotine, and during the delay while one is sent from the mainland, Ariel wins over the hearts and minds of the locals, including Pauline (Juliette Binoche) and Jean (Daniel Auteuil). He appears to be rehabilitated; so does he still have to die? Based on a true story, this is a chilly but accomplished drama, with strong performances and one incredible sequence in which Ariel rescues the township from a runaway house.


Martyrs 2008 ***


Most horror films are for kids; the hokey characterisation and plotting is just for fun. Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film is anything fun, a brutal and at times near unwatchable drama of torture and degradation. What elevates it from the torture porn genre is the set-up; Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) has suffered a childhood torment, and enlists the help of Anna (Morjana Alaoui) for a revenge mission. They target a suburban house where a normal-looking family live. Anna begins to have her doubts about whether Lucie’s actions are justified, and when their home invasion begins, the girls get more than they bargained for. The first half of Martyrs is unbearably tense, and although the seconds half is more physically revolting, Laugier’s film has earned the right to go to such dark places. Human pain has rarely bee depicted in such detail; Martyrs is recommended for those seeking the extremes of horror cinema.

Ernest and Celestine 2012 ***


Arriving with little fanfare, this French animation won an Oscar nomination and plaudits for the charming, water-colour animation created by the GKIDS studio. Ernest is a bear who is demonised for his large and imposing shape, and he finds friendship with Celestine, an orphaned mouse who refuses to believe what she’s told about evil bears. Ernest refuses to make a dinner of Celestine,  and the two embark on a partnership that sees them marked down as criminals who can’t accept a bear/mouse relationship. Adapted from Gabrielle Vincent’s book, Ernest and Celestine is a lovely piece of hand-drawn work from directors Stéphane Aubier , Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, and this subtitled version is a pleasant diversion for kids of all ages.

Max Mon Amour 1986 ***


Working with Jean-Claude Carriere, the go-to provocateur for everyone from Luis Bunuel to Jonathan Glazer, Nagisa Oshima crafted this truly bizarre one-off drama. Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) is vexed when his wife Margaret (Charlotte Rampling) appears to have taken a new lover, but his nose is further out of joint when he discovers her new paramour is a chimp called Max. To make matters worse, this isn’t sex but love, Peter’s world crumbles as he realises that he’s been bested by an animal. Max Mon Amour sounds like a comedy, but it’s a deadly serious examination of modern morals and sexual jealousy, played with a straight-face and the serious intention which might be expected from the director of In the Realm of the Senses. Without any real graphic content, Max Mon Amour deconstructs the male psyche with broad, brutal strokes, and looks at a darker side of animalistic machismo than most directors would be prepared to explore.