A beguiling sugar candy tale of love and loss entirely sung and with a young Catherine Deneuve is a delightful confection of early 1960s French cinema.
Operatic romanticism as 16 year-old Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve – Indochine, Belle de jour) falls in love with car mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo – The English Patient, Rocco & His Brothers). But her mother (Anne Vernon – Bel ami, Il conte Max), the owner of the struggling umbrella shop, refuses to consider marriage – particularly as Guy has yet to complete his military service. When the young lovers are parted by his call up to serve in Algeria, mom uses the opportunity to introduce her now pregnant daughter to the wealthy yet kind-hearted diamond merchant, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel – Lola, Le trou).
Touching and ageless (directed by Jacques Demy – The Young Girls of Rochefort, Lola with a score by Michele LeGrande – Yentl, The Thomas Crown Affair), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a very French, very idiosyncratic musical that is both whimsical and charismatic.
Nominated for best foreign language film Oscar in 1965, nominated for 4 Oscars in 1966 including best original script and score. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival.
A Don Quixote of our time as the French workforce confront German ownership in a last ditch attempt to save their jobs and their town from an economic meltdown.
In spite of company promises, government subsidies and workers taking a reduction in pay, Perrin Industries decide to close the factory. Determined to fight the decision, led by divorcee Laurent Amédéo (Vincent Lindon – Titane, La haine), 1100 workers strike and occupy the premises. What follows is a claustrophobic confrontation of management versus workers, workers versus workers with voices from supportive and not so supportive politicians and journalists in an impasse that leads to a shocking conclusion.
Writer/director Stéphane Brizé (The Measure of a Man, Madamoiselle Chambon), working with an almost exclusively non-professional cast, allows the tense, raw narrative to slowly unfold as internal factionalism and market forces determine the outcome.
As war looms, the residents of Strasbourg on the French/German border are evacuated. Included are a large number of Jewish German orphans and a group of adult carers with Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Now You See Me), a wannabe actor, among them.
As Nazi Germany extends its control in France to include the so-called independent Vichy France, Jews are rounded up, an operation headed by the sadistic Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer – Army of the Dead, Valkyrie). Believed to be close enough to Switzerland, Mangel, his brother Alain (Félix Moati – The French Dispatch, Jour de gloire) and members of the French Resistance hike groups of children to safety across the Swiss border.
Thousands are saved over the course of the war. Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz (Hands of Stone, Secuestro express) Resistance is enthralling if functional and episodic with it’s emotional distance. Based on true events and the wartime exploits of international Mime artist, Marcel Marceau.
Two brothers deal with the aftermath of the Great War and the traumas they experienced.
1923 Nantes and Marcel (Grégory Gadebois – J’accuse, Angel & Tony) has not spoken a word since returning to his mother’s home. A deeply unsettled older brother, Georges (Romain Duris – The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Heartbreaker), having fled to French colonial Africa, unexpectedly returns in an attempt to find meaning to his life.
Directed by Emmanuel Courcol (The Big Hit), Ceasefire is an elegant unfolding of the two brothers’ lives as each look for closure. With the pre-war French way of life disrupted and permanently changed, both men struggle as they as support an ageing mother waiting for positive news of missing-in-action third son, Jean.
With its subtle commentary on war profiteering and colonialism, Ceasefire is gentle and nuanced – arguably a little too gentle and nuanced. Georges’ sojourn in Africa is too quickly passed over, the love affairs of the two brothers a little too restrained and polite. But beautifully shot and acted, Courcol’s debut feature remains meditative and thought-provoking.
Full of claustrophobic tension and suspense, The Wages of Fear is one of the finest anti-action movies ever made.
A squalid 1950s South American village where bored Europeans, travelling to the American-owned oil fields in the hope of fortune, kick their heels. An out-of-control fire in a remote mine needs an urgent delivery of nitroglycerin. The oil company offers to pay four men to deliver the supplies in two trucks – a dangerous journey across the desert and through mountain roads: one jolt could see the entire supply of the unstable chemical explode. In the race against time, a competitive streak evolves between the two teams as they confront vehicle malfunction, hairpin bends, rock falls – and each other.
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzet (Quai des Orfèvres, Les diaboliques), shot in an evocative black and white, and adapted from the novel by Georges Arnaud, The Wages of Fear is a tense thrill of a journey. The four, simply looking for the money to pay for an air ticket home, push themselves and their vehicles to the limit.
Winner of the 1953 Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Intense in its engagement, three men confront their pasts and the sexual abuse they experienced at the hands of priest, Le père Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley – The Phantom of Liberty, Love in the Afternoon).
Shocked to discover self-confessed paedophile Preynat continues to have contact with young boys, successful banker and family man Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud – Laurence Anyways, Time to Leave) looks to the Church to redress the situation. A slow reluctance by Le cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret – Marquis, Port au Prince), head of the Catholic Church in Lyon, results in a wider awareness of Church culpability.
Highlighting the varying effects of abuse on survivors and their families and directed by François Ozon (Frantz, In the House), By the Grace of God is based on true events. Led by a politicised François Debord (Denis Ménochet – Custody, Inglourious Basterds), Guérin and Emmanuel Thomassin (Swann Arlaud –Bloody Milk, Lazare) question authority, family – and faith.
An odd yet compelling sexually graphic tale, Strangers by the Lake explores isolation, loneliness and sense of other as Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps – Sorry Angel, A Kid) looks for love at a gay lakeside beach.
A sense of repetition is invoked as Franck arrives on a daily basis to the parking lot of the beach, encountering regulars and casuals. Swimming, sun baking and/or sex in the bushes is the order of the day as love and companionship is sought. When Franck spots the handsome and beefy Michel (Christophe Paou – Le chef, Synonyms), he becomes a target. But it’s all a little more complicated.
A psychological thriller mixed with intense calm as the sound of gently lapping waves results in a strangely claustrophobic unfolding, in spite of the film taking place exclusively at the lake and its open vistas. A meditation on the anonymity of casual sex and the disregard for personal safety when already living on the margins, director Alain Guiraudie’s (Nobody’s Hero, Staying Vertical) film is as intriguing as it is challenging.
Exploring similar territory to the later 2019 film, Les misérables and riots on the marginalised public housing estates on the outskirts of Paris, La haine follows three young male friends over a 24 hour period.
A strutting Vinz (Vincent Cassel – Black Swan, Mon roi) and best mate Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui – The Kite Runner, Wonder Woman) duck and weave around the estate, contributing to the destruction without being caught. Teaming up with local boxer Hubert (Hubert Koundé – The Constant Gardener, Die Farbe des Ozeans), the three journey through the power plays and harsh realities of the estate, with a little side trip to central Paris to collect money owed. The fact Vinz has in his possession the gun lost by a police officer in the riot adds to his sense of power.
Written and directed by 28 year-old Mathieu Kassovitz ( Les rivières pourpres, Gothika), La haine, shot in black and white, is a powerful statement of anger and frustration. A sense of hopelessness and powerlessnes pervades.
A gorgeously lyrical watercolour animation, The Swallows of Kabul is a tragic tale of the Taliban’s 1990s occupation of the Afghan capital and the impact on the everyday.
Highlighting the dire position of women, young married couple Mohsen and Zunaira try, covertly, to make the most of their limited opportunities in spite of the oppressive presence of the Taliban. Older couple Atiq (a hero from the war with Russia but now somewhat forgotten) and Mussarat are dealing with something much more immediate and life threatening as the lives of the two couples unexpectedly cross.
Beautiful and captivating, directors Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec have created a sensual but emotive narrative. It avoids the depiction of the horrors and callousness of realism: The Swallows of Kabul is a deeply humanist film and, even within the fluidity of watercolour animation, packs an emotional punch as a woman is stoned to death.
Intense drama as, heading for his sister’s home in Antibes in the south of France, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts – Bullhead, Red Sparrow) becomes involved in a relationship with a woman badly injured in a workplace accident.
With his young son in tow, Alain is unprepared for fatherhood, reliant upon his sister for support. Dead end jobs lead him to meeting Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard – La vie en rose, Annette) but a tragic accident leads to her losing both legs. Unexpectedly, Alain steps up and, through success as a bare-fist boxer, finds self-respect and hidden reserves to support Stéphanie.
Director Jacques Audiard (Dheepan, A Prophet) looks for tenderness in the angry depiction of sex and violence in his narrative. Schoenaerts with broken hands and spirit, and Cotillard without limbs are both powerful in a grim tale of love and redemption.