FRENCH 101: ENNUI BY ANY OTHER NAME: Moka and My Journey Through French Cinema

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In the new film Moka, a woman’s young boy dies in a hit and run. After much time has passed, the mother Diane grows frustrated at the police making no progress on finding the driver, so she hires a private investigator who, based on a tip as to the type of car involved, leads Diane to a family in a nearby town. She insinuates her way into their lives in an attempt to be sure they are the guilty party and once she is assured, she plans to seek revenge.
It sounds like the beginnings of a tense, riveting thriller. At least it has been advertised as so. However, in spite of the subject matter, the movie’s pacing is far below the speed limit and the tension is almost non-existent. It takes a rather long time for very little to happen and you tend to feel the minutes ticking by.


The oddest aspect of the story is that it was so easy for Diane to find the driver, one wonders why it was taking the police so long to find nothing. The implication, I think, is that the hit and run took place just over the French border in Switzerland, but the car came from France. I can’t argue with the reasoning here, it just doesn’t feel very satisfying.


Emmanuelle Devos plays Diane. She recently impressed audiences with the film Violette, playing Violette Leduc, a woman known for being extremely plain while being an extremely fine writer who had an intense relationship with Simone du Beauvoir. Here in Moka, she frowns a lot, but her character never becomes that interesting.


The most exciting performance is by French stalwart Nathalie Baye, one of the best Gallic exports there is. She plays a somewhat out of character for her beautician who knows how to stay just this side of being trashy. She has so much good will and energy, the story picks up whenever she is on screen.


The screenplay is by Antonio Martin and the director Frederic Mermoud.


In 1969, Claude Chabrol released the film This Man Must Die which had a very similar premise. I highly recommend it.


Bertrand Tavernier’s new documentary, My Journey Through French Cinema, arrived in Los Angeles with critical acclaim. It’s the famed filmmaker’s personal look at the French films that shaped him as a director, so one can understand the reception.


But though filled with a lot of information, I’m not quite convinced it came with an equal part of insight and in the end, Tavernier seems to be a much better director than narrator. For everything he reveals about France, his love of Jean Gabin and Eddie Constantine, his not so much love for Jean-Pierre Melville, the film never has that fire one wants from a movie about movies.


Once it is over, I certainly wanted to thank Tavernier for sharing, but I also kind of wanted to ask why he bothered.

So tell me what you think.

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