Thursday, July 17, 2014

Two Fine French Flicks

Seeing two good French pictures within a few days' spread makes me realize how much I've missed seeing them. Saturday we went to the Eric Rohmer--A Summer's Tale--released in the U.S. finally 18 years after he made it. It suffered not at all from the wait, although Rohmer died, at 89, in the interim. It's a slight story about a slightly goofy guy who goes to the beach, hoping his travelling girlfriend will join him.

Meanwhile he encounters the still-charming Aurelia Langlet, who was Pauline in Pauline at the Beach, another Rohmer seaside feature, who is the improbable waitress at her aunt's restaurant for the summer, until she returns to working on her PhD in ethnology.  She intros him to yet another friend and suddenly he has to balance three relationships and begins to falsify just enough to keep all the balls in the air.

Eventually his girlfriend turns up and you can see how he is drawn to her even if she is unpredictable and sometimes downright mean to him.  The beach scenes at St Lunaire and Malo and other Breton spots are delightful and the whole story leaves you with a satisfying feeling.

Last night was a much more serious film, both at the wonderful Avalon in Chevy Chase, D.C., Diane Kurys' Pour Une Femme, or For a Woman. The Avalon's promo material emphasized that the picture had some relation to people having been in the Holocaust. This did not serve to attract me, but perhaps it does for some. Had they bothered to mention that it was a Diane Kurys film, that would have clinched it for me, though.

She has made several memorable films, one was One Sings, the Other Doesn't, and often she deals with her own life, which is all the more timely today as she frequently explores lives of Jews in France. This one is the story of a marriage--he saves her by getting her out of the French concentration camp with him and she marries him in return; alas, this is not necessarily the basis of a loving life together. Then some mysterious "relatives" appear with a totally different agenda from his somewhat contradictory goal of becoming a full-fledged member of the bourgeoisie, while maintaining full identification with the French Communists.

The picture explores how the couple cope with the challenges they face, through a long series of flashbacks told by their daughters.  Kurys always seems to identify with one of the daughters, as she did in one of her earliest films, Peppermint Soda. French pictures often deal with working class characters more meaningfully (when was the last American picture to deal with them at all?) as in the 2010 picture, Potiche, where Catherine De Neuve is the seemingly incapable wife who takes over a company and deals with Gerard Depardieu as the union leader with whom her husband had come to a standstill.

That picture also demonstrated how "aging" stars like those two could appear as leads though in their 60s--and even though a rather huge Depardieu didn't look as well as De Neuve, who was definitely une femme d'une certaine age. Lastly, these pictures actually treat Communism seriously, including making fun of the Party while appreciating its role in the French society of the postwar 1940s.

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