YOU WILL BE MY SON, THANKS FOR SHARING and A SINGLE SHOT



You Will Be My Son revolves around a father (played by The Prophet and The Beat that My Heart Skipped’s Niels Arestrup, France’s Edward G. Robinson) who owns a vineyard that has a history and reputation second to few, and his son (played by Lorant Deutsch) who the father doesn’t love because the son just doesn’t have it in him to be the face of the wine company.    At first, the movie feels as if it’s going to be one of those been there/done that father/son dysfunctional stories that always seem to have more meaning for the filmmakers than the audience (and often makes me run screaming from the theater).  Because of this, the first third is a little hard going.
But then Paul, the father, does something.  When the manager of the estate is given six months to live, Paul goes behind his back and tells the manager’s son, shoe fetishist Philippe (who works at Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard in the U.S.), and Philippe immediately flies back (about the only person who is perhaps portrayed here as meaner than Paul is Coppola himself whose winery won’t give Philippe time off to visit his dying father and fires him when he decides to go anyway—I’m not sure I really bought it, but it was kinda fun watching the French stick it to the U.S. in such a sneaky, underhanded way).  At this point, it becomes clear what the movie is going to be about (though it might help to know a little about French inheritance laws) and the nastiness begins, as does all the real enjoyment.
The screenplay by director Gilles Legrand (mainly known over here as a producer, including such films as Micmacs, The Widow of Saint-Pierre and  Ridicule), Laure Gasparotto and Delphine de Vigan could have used a touch more Douglas Sirk melodrama (it’s all a bit too subtle at times) and I’m not convinced that Deutsch was the best choice for the wimpy son (I mean, he’s such a drama queen one finally begins to sympathize with the father—that might have been the point, but Legrand doesn’t quite pull it off as far as I’m concerned).   But it’s set against some of the loveliest French countryside you’ll see in some time and Arestrup and Patrick (La lectrice) Chesnais (as the manager) are first rate.
Overall, a very neat, effective and perverse little family melodrama with quite a few twists and turns that is highly satisfactory.   See it with your first born.
Thanks For Sharing is a movie about sex addiction that only wants to cuddle.  I’m not sure I see the point.  It revolves around three men (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad) who are all in the same support group and whose stories unwind in just about the formulaic way you think they will.   Everyone is very sincere and works very hard and the three leads, along with the significant others in their lives (Gwyneth Paltrow, Pink and Joely Richardson), say their lines as if they were written by Oscar Wilde (it wasn’t—screenplay by director Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston—Blumberg also wrote that other Mark Ruffalo starrer, The Kids Are All Right—I’m not convinced this is a step forward).  But no matter how sincere everyone is, nothing can hide the fact that the whole thing is rather routine, bland and boring.  It’s the sort of movie about addiction that actually makes you want to go out and have a drink.
A Single Shot is one of those movies about someone finding either drugs or money and what happens as a result.  Movies like this (A Simple Plan, Shallow Grave) are usually described as movies that do absolutely nothing, but do it very, very well.  A Single Shot, unfortunately, with all its strengths, only manages to do it somewhat well. 
But those strengths are often quite remarkable.  Director David M. Rosenthal and writer Matthew F. Jones have created an incredibly convincing small town mountain world where everyone knows everybody.  The daily details of this minor municipality have an incredibly realistic feel to them.  And both Rosenthal and Jones create a strong mood of despair: it never seems to do anything but rain and no matter how much wide shot country is shown, it all feels very claustrophobic.  
The movie stars Sam Rockwell and he, along with the rest of the cast (William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, Ted Levine and Jason Isaacs), give remarkable performances.  Almost no one is recognizable behind their scruffy beards; weather beaten, lived in looks; and less than Walmart quality clothes.  And they all sport accents so convincing, there is many a time when you can’t understand a word they’re saying, which is too bad, because Jones has given all the characters often strikingly beautiful lines full of local color, equipped with full blooded colloquialisms and figures of speech. 
In the end, the story never really quite comes together in a satisfyingly dramatic whole.  Part of this may be because the set up and execution is pretty familiar with a plot that’s not particularly clever.  And it’s a little hard to empathize with Rockwell’s character, as well as he plays him, because he never seems to be as stupid as he acts with this new found money (it’s a bit difficult to believe he doesn’t know he won’t attract attention by suddenly flouting hundred dollar bills around).  And the menace to the characters involved often seems just a bit too vague; in fact, the middle section feels a little slow in going anywhere.
But one could do far, far worse.  One could go see Prisoners.

PART II: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, OUR CHILDREN and BARBARA


(continued from previous post)


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In the wonderful gangster film A Prophet, Niels Arestrup and Tahir Rahim played ersatz father and son.  In the Belgium film Our Children, the two are together again to play…ersatz father and son.  All right.  It may not have the same ring to it of Hepburn and Tracy, but the two are wonderful together and perhaps the main reason to see this domestic drama that, like Berberian…, starts out very intriguingly, but soon enough stops going anywhere and stagnates about half way through. 
The movie is really more about Murielle (played by Emilie Dequenne, the wonderful actress of The Girl on the Train and Rosetta), who marries Mounir (Rahim).  Mounir is Moroccan and was adopted by Andre (Arestrup) after Andre married Mounir’s older sister so she could get her papers.  However, Mounir is not marrying Murielle for citizenship; he truly does love her. 
But this is where things start taking an odd turn as it slowly becomes clear that, also like Berberian…,  something is off here.  First, Mounir asks Andre to come on their honeymoon.  At the wedding, Mounir’s younger brother suggests something’s going on between Mounir and Andre.  Murielle and Mounir live in Andre’s spacious apartment/doctor’s office and Andre pays all the bills while Mounir works as his receptionist.  When Murielle suggests that she and Mounir move to Morocco where the standard of living is cheaper, Andre says that if Mounir does, he will never have anything to do with him again.
But what exactly is going on behind all this in your face subtext?  One keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does.  So was there something really going on or are the writers (Thomas Bidegain, Joachim Lafosse, and Mattieu Reynaert) and the director (Lafosse again) just misleading us for some reason?  Well, Lafosse only knows and he ain’t telling.  And Murielle does the same thing, or actually doesn’t do the same thing, as Gilderoy in Berberian…: she never asks.  She never asks what most people would ask somewhere along the way: just why is Andre so generous and paying for everything and just what is he getting out of this odd situation?
As the story goes on and Murielle has four children, she becomes increasingly stressed out and depressed.  And then she does the unthinkable.  But why?  I really couldn’t tell you except that she was depressed, but I’m sorry, I just didn’t buy it.  And though I did empathize with Murielle and her situation, it’s almost impossible to pull off a Medea.  But at least Media had a clear and understandable motive—revenge.  Murielle reasons seem a bit too vague and confusing.  So, for me, it doesn’t really have the emotional impact the movie is aiming for.
Though I think Arestrop and Rahim give the best performances, it’s Dequenne who won at Cannes (in the Un Certain Regard section).  And maybe they’re right in a way.  Murielle’s character made no real sense to me and I felt there was no character for her to play, but in spite of this, she does succeed in giving a first rate performance—from my perspective a triumph of talent over substance.
Finally, Barbara is Christian (Yella and Jerichow) Petzold’s new directorial effort.  It stars his usual leading lady, Nina Hoss, both of whom are becoming two of Germany’s most exciting emerging talents.
The story takes place in 1980 East Germany, still under Communist rule.  Barbara is a doctor who has just been released from prison for some unspecified crime against the state.  She is sent to a small town where she is to perform her duties at a local hospital while being heavily watched by the authorities.  At the same time, she is planning to escape the country with the help of her West German lover, that is until her plans are complicated by her becoming emotionally involved in some local issues at her place of employment (don’t you hate when that happens?).
Barbara is quite effective in the first half.  There is a wonderful feel of time and place, the very atmosphere tinged with a feeling of despair and sadness best symbolized by her riding a bike past a lonely cross in the middle of nowhere while the strong wind bellows around her; even when she’s in open country and can see for miles, she’s still afraid that somehow, some way, someone is watching her.  The details of everyday life in East Germany are convincingly dramatized (having to be careful what you say and where you say it because you don’t know who will report you and who won’t).  And there are deeply moving scenes of a young pregnant woman being forced into a work camp (called a death camp by Barbara) and the unclear diagnosis of young man who has tried to commit suicide. 
Foss is excellent in the title roll, a character who has to be very careful about sharing her emotions.  As an actress, she has some of the same qualities of Greta Garbo, a haunting beauty who was also very reserved in her emotions so that when she laughed, as Barbara does occasionally, it lights up the scene.  But the writers, Harun Farocki and Petzold, do her a bit of a disservice.  As the movie goes on, it tends to lose its way mainly because Barabara is given two competing motivations for her actions, while also not given enough time or the structure to develop either one for their maximum emotional impact.  Instead, the closer one gets to the end, the more muddled everything becomes until the plot loses all forward momentum and the ending feels a bit too anticlimactic.

THE EVIL THAT MEN DO: Reviews of The White Ribbon and A Prophet


Near the end of The White Ribbon, the great Austrian director Michael (Code: Unknown, Cache) Haneke’s most recent film, a schoolteacher tells a group of children, “There’s something you’re not telling me”. As much as I admire Haneke, in the end I wanted to say the same thing to him. The film, I’m afraid, went over my head, and I felt as if there was something that Haneke just wasn’t letting me in on. It takes place just before the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of WWI. Over the course of a year, some odd things happen in a small German town. It begins when someone strings a wire across two trees so that it will trip a doctor returning home on his horse; serious injuries occur. Over the course of a year, a woman dies accidentally; the very young son of the local Baron is abducted and beaten; a baby almost dies because a window is left open; someone commits suicide; a retarded little boy is then abducted and tortured; etc., etc. You know there’s something wrong from the first moment when you see the children of the local pastor and they all look like the cold, blond children from Village of the Damned. The origin of the evil is unclear. On one side is the pastor who is severely strict with his children and sexually repressive; on the other is the Doctor, who though not portrayed as an atheist, does not seem to attend church—he sexually abuses his daughter and sexually humiliates his mistress. In spite of what seems like a lot of awful things happening, they happen over such a long course of time and sometimes seem to have no relation to each other, that I found little tension to the story. A narrator suggests that things are festering in the village and have been for some time; I’m glad he told me, because I don’t think I would have known otherwise. The plot ends without an explanation as to who did some of what happened; this would have been fine if that had been the intent of Haneke, to say that the origin of evil is something we don’t understand. But I’m not convinced that that’s what he was trying to say. It seems to come closer to an idea that sexual repression and sexual hypocrisy is what causes evil, but I have a hard time taking seriously the idea that just because someone is forbidden to masturbate, Europe goes to war. It does look great, though. The bleak and striking black and white photography, greatly celebrated, is by Christian Berger.


A Prophet, the thrilling new film from Jacques Audiard (who also gave us The Beat That My Heart Skipped), has been compared by some to the Godfather. I think a more apt comparison is to Scarface since A Prophet is the story of a teenager sent to an adult jail, a man of Muslim and Middle Eastern background, and then climbs the ranks of the Corsican Mob and becomes head honcho. It’s not a particularly happy movie. The lead character of Malik, in a magnificent performance by Tahar Rahim, has little control over his life once he enters this prison for six years. The Corsican mob, headed by Cesar (an equally compelling performance by Niels Arestrup), needs a Middle Eastern prisoner, a witness in a trial, killed, so he forces Malik to do it or die himself. After that, Malik becomes Cesar’s lapdog, but he slowly gets an education and because he can stride both sides of the narrow world due to his Muslim background and his connections to the Corsicans, he learns how to play one against the other until he betrays Cesar and takes over Rome (the scene of Malik’s final triumph over Cesar in the prison yard is a powerful moment). Malik’s journey is an exciting one. The screenplay, by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain form an original screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit, has a Shakespearian structure out of something like Richard III or King John and could almost be a how to manual for climbing the French Mafia ladder. One could question whether someone who can’t even read could suddenly have an epiphany and educate himself enough to do what Malik does here, but the story is too fascinating to make one care. The world the authors paint is bleak and the indictment of the French penal system is just as dark as Kafka’s. The prison is not run by the guards and warden, it’s run by the mob, and all programs set up to help reform the prisoners (like giving them a basic education or work leave) are just ways to help criminals become better at what they do (I don’t think we’re in Oz anymore, Dorothy). It’s a very nihilistic view of the world; evil runs everything, and if we are untouched by it, we are merely lucky. At the same time, there’s something a little contradictory here. If evil is so controlling, then it may be unclear how the head of the Corsican mob ended up in jail probably to die there.