THE FRENCH THEY ARE A FUNNY RACE: Part Un, Movies at the Col-Coa Film Festival: Trapped, Not My Type and How I Came to Hate Math


trappedIn Trapped, the new minimalist thriller written by Vincent Crouzet, Jeremie Galan, Patrick Giminez, Yannick Saillet and directed by Saillet, a French patrol is ambushed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.   In the ensuing battle, all but two French soldiers are killed.
But upon investigating their ambushers, the two soldiers discover a truck piled high with blocks of heroin and a female hostage, a beautiful, blonde and blue eyed Aryan of course (as beautiful, blonde and blue eyed as Fay Wray in King Kong—well, I think she was blue eyed, I mean, King Kong was in B&W, so I guess, I can’t be sure…)
Anyway, one of the soldiers is killed, the other, our hapless hero Denis, steps on a land mine and can’t move or, well, boom goes the dynamite.

 

There is one great scene in Trapped. After standing on the mine for awhile, Denis suddenly sees a large group of women in blue burqas, burqas as blue as the sky, off in the distance.

 

They walk toward him, getting closer and closer, and then…

 

They walk right past him, ignoring his predicament, and calmly go to the truck and begin taking every single block of heroin and stashing them in saddles on their mules and then…

 

They walk on, as calmly as they arrived, leaving the soldier again to his own devices.

 

It’s a marvelous scene, dreamlike and serene, surrealistic and impressionistic. A powerful non-sequitur. Something out of Bunuel, perhaps, if I was pretentious enough to make such cinematic comparisons, but I’m not, so I won’t.

 

Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, the movie doesn’t really work all that well.   It’s not exactly boring, but it never really gets you on the edge of your seat either.

 

The story never made a lot of sense to me. It felt contrived and more than a bit over manipulated. I’m not really clear as to why a group of Taliban soldiers that are guarding a large shipment of heroin and a hostage would attack some French soldiers and risk calling attention to themselves and their forbidden cargo.

 

And as for that hostage, well, she simply has to be one of the most annoying characters in recent movie offerings. She has almost 24 hours to try and get out of her bonds, but does she try even once? No, all she does is lie there and cry and whimper and generally do nothing of any import.

 

In the end, the whole movie feels like one of those stories in which someone had an interesting idea, but then didn’t quite know what to do with it. The sad thing about it this time round is that it took four writers to not quite know what to do with it.

 

With Pascal Elbe as Denis. He’s perfectly fine. He has some through line about not being able to make a commitment to being there for his fellow soldiers, but it’s not really his fault he can’t quite pull it off. The whole thing feels more than a bit forced.

 

For a more successful movie on a similar subject, check out No Man’s Land, the 2001 Bosnian drama that won the Oscar for best foreign language film.

 

 

not-my-typeI have a prediction. In the true tradition of such movies as The Full Monty and Kinky Boots, I predict that it will not be long before Not My Type, the new dramatic rom com from writer and director Lucas Belvaux, will hit Broadway as a full blown musical.

 

I say this not just because there are already several built in musical numbers, since quite a few of the scenes take place at a club where karaoke is taken more than quite seriously, but also because it is one of those stories filled with people who just seem to want to burst out in song and start dancing down the middle of the street at the drop of a top hat.

 

Well, one definitely at least gets that sense when it comes to Jennifer, a hair stylist and life force who lives in Arras with her young son. Jennifer is up and bubbly and optimistic, yet manages to be so without making you want to suffocate her with a pillow. She’s into pop culture, novels that have bare chested men on the cover and television (she not only thinks that Jennifer Anniston is a great actress, she follows Anniston’s life as if she was a stalker, hence the reason Jennifer likes her name pronounced in the Western fashion).

 

One day, a handsome young man, Clement, comes into her shop for a boring trim. She tries to talk him into something more up to date, but no, he’s a bit of a fuddy duddy and just wants a little bit taken off the back and sides.

 

Actually, Clement is even fuddier and duddier than his choice in hair style would suggest. He’s also a philosophy professor who has been transferred to Arras from Paris for a year, a fate he considers worse than death (he even tells his superior that he’ll die if he’s made to move there—it’s the only time he shows any sort of real emotion).

 

And as a philosophy professor, he tends to find it difficult to become emotionally involved in any situation, but rather tends to find himself always objectifying everything, looking at it and analyzing it from a distance, even something as passionate as love.

 

In other words, Jennifer is a little bit Jacques Demy and Clement is a little bit Francois Truffaut.

 

Yet the two, in spite of their differences, start an affair. But then, eventually, and due to their differences, yadda, yadda, yadda…

 

Not My Type is not exactly what you expect upon going in, i.e., a piece of Gallic froth that is as light and inconsequential as a feather. It takes its topic of love a bit more seriously than you would think (leave it to the French and Woody Allen to take their rom coms with more than a bit of rom drams thrown in).

 

It’s also a tad slow to start, focused as the opening scenes are on “Mr. Excitement” himself, Clemont. But once it gets going, especially once Jennifer enters the picture, it grows on you with all the suspense of a Hitchcock film. It’s lovely and touching and often very funny in a dramatic sort of way. I’m not sure it says anything, but it’s so involving, I didn’t care.

 

The whole thing is held together with a wonderful performance by Emilie Dequenne as Jennifer. She first burst on the scene with a powerful performance in the Dardenne brothers’ first film, Rosetta, about a teenager desperate to find a job. For that she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

Now she’s a full blown woman with huge cheeks and a radiant smile. And when she sings, well, it stops your heart.

 

Loic Corbery as Clement has a more difficult task at hand, making a stoic stick in the mud interesting. He’s certainly handsome enough for the job (and only in France, one feels, would a philosopher be this good looking). And he does well enough with what he’s given to do. But damn, it’s a hard nut to crack. But he and Dequenne give good chemistry.

 

The movie is a bit longer than it needs to be. There comes a moment when you want to tell the characters to resolve the situation or get off the pot, yet the movie keeps on going.

 

But in the end, this is a feel good movie with a get out your handkerchief ending. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and leave the auditorium loving and hating amour at the same time.

 

But c’est la vie as they parlez vous.

 

 

how_i_came_to_hate_maths_-_h_-_2013How I Came to Hate Math is a documentary written by Amandine Escoffier and Olivier Peyon and directed by Peyon. It’s about, well, math (or maths, if you’re from the Commonwealth) and how the way it’s been taught in schools for the last fifty years has done nothing but made all those who had to take it detest it, to the detriment of mankind’s future.

 

Fair enough. And the movie does make a good point here and there, mainly in that the stultifying subject is taught as a bunch of formulae to be remembered for a test, rather than as logic, which is really what algebra, geometry, et al. is, when you come down to it. After all, the purpose of math is not to solve an equation, but to teach us how to reason.

 

But the movie is a bit ponderous and not particularly involving.

 

In fact, for a movie that purports to want us to fall in love with math, I came out of it never wanting to be in its presence ever again.

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