Non-Fiction 2019 ****

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Olivier Assayas made something of a dent in public perception of mobile phones in Personal Shopper; technology has been something of a theme for the French film-maker, and having Kristen Stewart’s character menaced by an other-worldly spirit through a mobile phone raised a few questions; what kind of payment plan would a ghost use? Would an exorcism require a PAC code?

Fortunately, Assayas is not a character to get bogged down in such trivialities, and his latest, Non-Fiction, is a wonderfully intelligent look at the impact of the internet on the publishing industry. We begin with an author and a publisher sitting down for lunch in a fashionable bistro. The author wants to know if the publisher will schedule his new book; the publisher has other ideas. As played by Guillaume Canet (Alain, the publisher) and Vincent Macaigne (Leonard, the author), there’s a battle of wits going on that doesn’t end when the check comes. Alain is no fuddy-duddy when it comes to publishing, and sees how twitter, blogging and other modern forms of expression might free ideas and intellect. Leonard has been cannibalising his private life as material for his books, and when writing about a film featuring French creatives, it’s no big spoiler to reveal that both men are having affairs.

Which leads us to Juliette Binoche, who previously played a character very much like herself in Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, and portrays Selena, a sought-after actress who stars in a binge-watchable police mini-series. At one point, she discusses a potential audio-book with her husband, with one Juliette Binoche considered as a star-name to pull in the punters. Such playful touches are very much in tune with Non-Fiction’s mood, which enjoys the double-dealing and false-friendships of publishing for what they are, the product of ingenious minds not quite smart enough to beat the system.

Non-Fiction swims very much against the current when it comes to film-making; Assayas allows the audience to sit back and listen to the conversation, making up our own minds about the people involved. It’s this dinner-party chat that makes Non-Fiction such a pleasure to participate in. The performances are perfectly pitched, the story is relevant and original, and the whole package should be firmly recommended to discerning cineastes.

Non-Fiction opens in the UK on October 18th and can be streamed here

https://www.curzonhomecinema.com/film/watch-non-fiction-film

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Little Hands/ Les Petites Mains 2019 ****

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Another powder-keg element of 2019 has been the on-going unrest in France; the country associated with the idea of revolution seemed to be tearing itself apart in a series of riots and a growing awareness of social disparity. Writer/director Rémi Allier’ short film won a Cesar award in 2019, and capturing a mood before such fissures made headline news; nevertheless, Little Hands does an effective job of situating itself firmly in the hot-spot between the have’s and the have-not’s.

Specifically, it’s the story of an industrial dispute that goes out of hand; a chemical factory is being closed, and a desperate employee decides to escalate the struggle between workers and management. Bruno (Jan Hammenecker) impulsively grabs for the child of his boss, and takes little Leo (Émile Moulron) as hostage. As his phone rings, and the realisation of the hopelessness of his action hits him, Bruno finds an unexpected connection which motivates him to make a dramatic decision.

Little Hands is shot with a string sense of moment; we see things tightly from Leo’s point of view, the zip of Bruno’s jacket flailing as he runs with the child. And that tightness of angle is vital in understanding that Little Hands is not an irresponsible call to violence, as in film de jour Joker, but the opposite, a plea for understanding. How do we explain the extremity of our actions to young people, who don’t know or understand the sense of grievance that we carry? Little Hands is only 15 minutes long, but communicates a commendably to-the-point answer to the question.

Rémi Allier may only be a young film-maker, but there’s real skill and insight in this short; there’s a trailer below, and hopefully we’ll have a link to the whole film once the film’s race is run on the festival and awards circuit.

Zombi Child 2019 ****

 

If you’re only going to see one film about black magic in a girls’ school, then you’d probably be best to skip the Suspiria remake and head straight for Zombi Child, a remarkably poetic yet properly horrific film from Bertrand Borello, whose Nocturama has become a cult item; he’s likely to increase his considerable reputation with this hard-to-categorise, highly original film.

The presence of real-life historian Patrick Boucheron, seen delivering a lecture on French history and specifically on the meaning of the revolution, is an early tip-off that Zombi Child is not one for the casual viewer. The history lesson is at a posh girls school, where the pupils include Fanny (Louise Labeque), who strikes up a friendship with and Haitian refugee Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) over a mutual love of Stephen King’s writing. Mélissa has a story to tell, shared with the audience in a counter-narrative about the death of her uncle Clairvius (Mackenson Bijou) who died in Haiti circa 1962 only to be reanimated as a zombie. Mélissa has a certain discomfort mixed with respect in terms of her own family history, but Fanny is keen to explore, leading to a climax that revitalises familiar horror tropes due to the careful work that’s led to that point.

Jump-scares, cap-doffing, in-jokes and such conventional horror-movie moves are entirely absent here; Zombi Child plays so hard and straight with the material that it’ll work for the art-house crowd in particular. But there’s enough frisson in the activities of Fanny’s aunt Katy (Katiana Milfort) to draw a sophisticated crowd; the modish pop-culture references to Rhianna help keep Borello’s vision fresh.

The weight of the past, and of French colonialism in particular, loom large over Zombi Child, a horror film of rare intelligence and wit; the final scenes are frightening, but also satisfying, and the long wait for the pay-off is more than worthwhile. Screened at Cannes in 2019, it’s a smart pick-up for MUBI, who have this exculsively on their books from the 18th of Oct 2019.

https://mubi.com/films/zombi-child

The Shiny Shrimps 2019 ****

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The gay sports comedy has been a growing sub-genre since 2001’s The Iron Ladies; Cedric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare’s light-hearted French film does a nice job of providing feel-good fare while managing to get a few timely digs in. The Shiny Shrimps is the name of a gay men’s water-polo team who have aspirations to take part in the Gay Games in Croatia. They’re saddled with a swim-coach named Mathias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) who has been suspended by his governing body for homophobic remarks. The team, of course, resent his presence, and act up in the most provocative ways they can think of. But as the team leave France, Le Goff starts to get to know the men as people, and the common ground they finds brings friendship and achievement in equal measure. The Shiny Shrimps ends up landing somewhere between Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Full Monty, with stereotypical characters given endearing life in a tragi-comic setting. ‘ Trans is complicated’ “No it’s not’ “Yes it is’ runs a key argument as it transpires that the shrimps have some issues of their own; they’re fiercely anti-lesbian, and have an anti-trans prejudice that needs to be addressed too. But these issues are deftly integrated into a lively romp that’s as much about men performing Sabrina’s 1980 Euro-smash Summertime Love on an open-topped bus as it is about examining gay rights, although there are sharp inflections; when Le Groff asks why the men can use stigmatic language and not him, the answer is succinct; minority privilege. With a good emotional range and a heady mix of sports, song and drama, The Shiny Shrimps is a satisfying look at a group of spirited sports-men, and delves to some effect into what’s going on under the men’s Under Armour.

The Shiny Shrimps hit UK cinemas from Sept 6th 2019.

 

Le Testament d’Orphee 1961 ****

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‘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.

ON BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD in the UK – 5TH AUGUST 2019

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 ***

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh827AIMCVQ