At some point
in the French movie Le Gout des Autres directed and starring
Agnes Jaoui, you come to realise that this is less a comedy of manners
more a social snapshot of ordinary society in France.
A crude businessman with too much money and no taste is woken up by
the sudden realisation that he loves this middle-aged actress appearing
in an historical drama he would normally pay good money not to see.
His wife is a snob and would-be interior decorator with absolute bad
taste and the meanest little dog in the world. The husband, played
with affinity by Jean- Pierre Bacristar is more than just awakened.
He looks about him and finds nothing he likes. His work bores him,
the new partner he has hired from Paris looks down on him, his wife
has lost interest in him, even his bodyguards are more interested
in the barmaid than him. His long suffering sister is tormented by
his wifes instance on subjecting her taste on her new apartment.
It seems no one is happy. The actress can only see 'boring businessman
and is complaining to everyone that she cannot find a man, yet cannot
see the one right in front of her face or notice he has shaved his
moustache for her.
This is about provincial France, provincial theatre, the feeling of
everything that is not Paris is no good. An eternal theme we can understand
well in the UK as London has the same effect. Even infidelity has
no joy as this is middle-aged lust and therefore fraught with disappointment.
Alongside this, the two bodyguards fret over girlfriends, alternately
screw the barmaid and as one laments his lost girl on an internship
in America, the other is bitter about how life turned out and naturally
the barmaid is attracted to the one who will do her most harm.
Life is prosperous in France now, businessmen worry about bodyguards
more than business.Affairs of the heart and lunch have
always been at the heart of French life, but Le Gout des Autres
hints at the vulnerability of this life, the ennui, the fragility
of life. Turning 40 and finding yourself with no one or with the wrong
partner is an obsession in France, if French cinema is to be believed.
A small but charming movie.
When the well publicised The Crimson Rivers hits the screens
it is refreshing to discover that we have an Ed Harris/ Matt Damon
cop movie without either star making an entrance. Some have compared
it to Se7en but it is neither as dark or sick.
Crimson Rivers is a stylish serial killer thriller
and although gruesome, the European setting makes it seem fresh
and exciting. Starring Jean Reno (Leon) Vincent Cassel (LAppartment)
Nadia Fares as Fanny Fereira and directed with some vigour by
Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) it is proof that European films can
fill cinemas and make compelling viewing. Set in the French Alps
it sets out a pretty familiar plot of intellectual arrogance,
inbreeding and remnant Nazi doctrine with a pretty ambitious killing
spree going on.
Of course you
could argue that it is strange that it all happens so quickly and
why didnt the killer start all this years ago... you may even
guess who the killer is, but it is an exciting, visually strong movie
and a fast moving one at that. Nadia Fares shows she can be dynamic
and more than hold her own against these two lively male stars.
Vincent Cassel, the young cop, is investigating a case of a grave
desecration. Jean Reno is an experienced, weary, serial killer investigator
sent from Paris to help the mountain police deal with a terrible motiveless
murder where the first body found is mutilated and then suspended
over a glacier. The two cops converge in their investigations and
discover they are on the same case. Of course they clash, they argue,
but they have to work together. We have seen this formula before,
but somehow there is chemistry here and the location in the French
Alps lend a sinister air.
This is the kind of film that used to be made in the seventies. They
usually starred Jean-Louis Trintignant with a paranoid plot or right
wing government conspiracies, great locations and terror. Z,
Le Secret, Un homme est mort, le train. Costa
Gravas with Z used to make the same kinds of films and they
travelled well, were intense and made sense in a world that was filled
with government inspired terrorism.
Kassovitz has realised that you dont need American locations
or stars. You can make damn fine European films and people will go
to them if they are exciting, compelling, have great soundtracks,
stylish acting and editing. His second film Le Haine was about
urban deprived French youth and, drugs. The bad influence of violent
American culture on immigrant kids and the like. A film about hate.
The Crimson River is sophisticated in a different way to Les
Gouts Des Autres, but they are like a balancing act, a wonderful
insight into two styles, both equally valid and both equally popular.
People like to claim that European cinema is dead, but right now,
this week in the UK, in addition to these two films playing in London
is Merci Pour Le Chocolat (Claud Chabrol back in his stylish
Hichcock style with a plot and location not dissimilar to The Crimson
Rivers) LAppartment, LAtalante (Vigos
masterpiece from 1934), La Captive, Chocolat,(a British made
film) Les Destinees Sentimentales, Les Enfants du Siecle, Harry,
Un Ami Qui Vous Veut Du Bien, Sous Le Sable, Tout Va Bien (Jean
luc Godard), Code Unknown. In France Crimson Rivers
sold 3 million tickets in the first three months.
OK, few of these films are playing in mainstream cinemas, but The
Crimson River is playing in the big screens in the UGC cinemas
all over London and Les Gouts des Autres is at all the art
houses. There is a new appetite for French film that will probably
reach a peak when the keenly awaited new film from Jeunot Le fabuleux
destin de Amelie Poulan arrives later this year. Right now his
new film Amelia is playing to capacity crowds in France and his is
enjoying the success he tasted with Delicatessen and City of Lost
Children. (Over 4 million tickets sold so far)
star of Jeunot's hit movie
The fact is there is a hunger for films that show Europe to ourselves.
In the UK, we find many who rail against the Euro and all things European,
but we ARE Europeans. We have fought wars with these people for thousands
of years and we are as much part of their psyche as ours and this
obsession with everything American is so over.
We need to embrace French, German, Italian and Spanish cinema just
like we used to in the sixties and seventies. Not only will our own
films get better for the exposure but perhaps one of the reasons so
many of them are so unbearable is that they are aping bad American
films and bad American dialogue. It is all very well complaining that
British films dont get a chance, they dont get distribution,
when they do, they turn out to be Goodbye Charlie Bright and
no more ambitious or better made than an average Eastenders episode,
set in similar depressing locations (OK South London instead of North
London). (We will reserve judgement on Mel Smiths new East End
gangster film starring Minnie Driver High Heels and Low Lifes
which has been awaiting release for six months)
in a Brit Film
Where are our witty State and Mains? Our eccentric but poetic
O Brother where art thous why do we not breed
actresses of the calibre of Juliette Binoche or Emmanuel Beart, why
cant we make a film as funny and stylish as Girl on the Bridge
or Le Cop. Why do we not use the fantastic locations and towns
available to us in Cornwall or the Lake District or the East Coast
Do we have no stories apart from council estates and East End gangsters?
Looking at the listing for the UK June 9th 15th I can find only Bridget
Jones (albeit a good and funny film) Charlie Bright, and
Very Annie Mary showing that are British. The
Mummy Returns is British made but financed from the States and
thats where the fantastic profits will go. Very Annie Mary
is a brave and funny film, poorly marketed which deserves distribution
all over the UK, but probably wont get it now. It has picked
up American distribution and one can only hope they give it the Miramax
treatment, as it deserves to be seen, deserves to find the kind of
audience that likes quirky genuine Welsh humour that tells us a lot
I started this by talking about French cinema that a year ago everyone
was saying was dead. Well it is not dead and it is still quite brilliant.
Cinema began in France and I hope it will continue to thrive there.
My advice to aspirant film-makers is to learn French, live there,
make friends there and think hard about the kind of movies Europe
should be making. We can make our own stars, we can make our own stories,
we do not need to look over our shoulders to America anymore and we
are more likely to have a success there if we relearn how to make
good films about ourselves over here.
© Sam North 2001