Cinemania, the festival of French-language films screened with English subtitles, runs from Nov. 4 to Nov. 22. Cinemania is happening entirely online, with each film being made available for a 48-hour period (and almost every film appears on the festival schedule twice).
It’s perhaps a strange time to be making movies about how cops are people, too, but it’s not like that particular narrative vein remained untapped before current tensions flared. It’s tempting to see Anne Fontaine’s Police as blatant copaganda, but the heavily-flawed film is perhaps better described as a clumsy defund-the-police screed — not that it does it any favours. I don’t think depicting the police as troubled humans with impossible jobs to do is automatically problematic, but the turgid melodramatics and absence of tension in Police do a bang-up job of making that the least of our worries.
Virginie (Virginie Efira), Erik (Grégory Gadebois) and Aristide (Omar Sy) are three Parisian beat cops who are tasked with taking a political prisoner (Payman Maadi) to the airport so he can be sent back to his home country, where he will almost undoubtedly be killed for his political beliefs. In spite of mounting personal problems (an unwanted pregnancy and failing marriage for Virginie, an even-more-failing-marriage for Erik and severe PTSD and anxiety for Aristide), the trio accepts — but the mounting guilt over sending someone to an almost-certain death starts to create unsurmountable tensions amongst the group.
If Police were exclusively a car-bound four-hander, it might have generated enough momentum to justify its constant stabs at dramatic irony and melodrama, but the “bring the prisoner to the airport” portion of Police is only the second half of what essentially comes across as a densely packed episode of 19-2. Fontaine uses a Rashomon-esque structure in the first half in which we see events from the perspective of every character, unveiling some level of insight on each character but also piling together three seasons’ worth of backstory in half an hour. The moral quandary that ostensibly centres the piece takes up precious little screen time and, while the film does bring up several interesting questions, it also seems fairly overwhelmed when the time comes to actually deal with them head-on. All four of the main actors do good work, but it gets lost in the shuffle. (Alex Rose)
Police is available for 48-streaming as of Sunday, Nov. 8.
In David Perrault’s L’état sauvage, a French family must escape their well-established Missouri home to return to Paris amidst the growing tensions of the American Civil War. The film has a much different take on the immigrant story than most American movies. The central family enjoys the richness of their American life but do not pledge loyalty to the state — be it the North or the South. Their attachment to the land is superficial, and while difficult to abandon, it is hardly sentimental when push comes to shove. The presence in their home of a paid black servant, Layla (Armelle Abibou), brings added tension. Layla has ingrained herself into the family, to the displeasure of some. Yet, it’s also worth noting that while an obvious counterpoint to the American slave-owners, the film’s treatment of race is woefully underdeveloped.
L’état sauvage plays on various Western stereotypes with some new twists thrown in; the film undeniably has potential. Yet, while the sprawling locations are gorgeous, it feels like the cast goes through the motions, play-acting rather than performing. The casting of French actors to play Americans makes this most obvious as their Southern accents continually break into Parisian inflections. Still, well beyond that, the film never digs below the surface so that we may learn or feel something more about any of the characters. It’s a missed opportunity to tell a different kind of Western that fails by playing things ruthlessly safe. (Justine Smith)
L’état sauvage is available for 48-hour streaming as of Friday, Nov. 6.
La face cachée du baklava
A family comedy told in broad strokes, La face cachée du baklava stars Claudia Ferri as Houwayda, a selfless Lebanese woman torn between her responsibility to others and a growing desire to pursue her dreams. Set just a few days before she and her husband (Jean-Nicolas Verreault) depart for France, Houwayda’s sister crashes into her home and life, demanding even more of Houwayda’s thinly spread attention. The film is structured around a countdown to the couple’s departure and the tensions that emerge as Houwayda increasingly yearns to stay in Montreal.
Written and directed by Maryanne Zéhil, La face cachée du baklava examines with humour the Lebanese immigrant experience in Quebec. The film leans heavily into comedy emerging from clashing values and personalities rather than creative set-ups. The film is light and not without intelligence and nuance, especially in how it handles cultural differences and assumptions. Overall, the film feels more like an episode of a sitcom, which is to say, the acting is big, the lighting bright and the atmosphere comforting. At the very least, you can imagine tuning in once a week to learn more about Houwayda’s life and her growing ambitions amidst the loving chaos of her family life. It’s less successful as a film but is nonetheless a painless and even pleasant experience. (JS)
La face cachée du baklava is available for 48-streaming as of Sunday, Nov. 8.
François Ozon bounces back from a string of uninspired formal exercises (Frantz, L’amant double) with Été 85, an ostensibly more personal film that nevertheless suffers from overreaching narrative flights of fancy. Félix Lefebvre plays Alexis, a young man living in a coastal resort town who isn’t quite sure what the next step in his life is going to be. Out boating in a friend’s boat, he gets caught in a storm that capsizes his boat — but he’s soon rescued by David (Benjamin Voisin), a slightly older and significantly more confident boy who also lives in town with his widowed mother (Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi). The two rapidly strike up a friendship that turns into a whirlwind romance, with Alexis coming to terms with his sexuality for the first time. Tempestuous and impulsive, David seduces Alexis quickly and completely — but Alexis, blinded by love, doesn’t necessarily see David for who he is and what he wants.
You can’t read what Été 85 is about and not think about Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name — the logline is the same, the setting is similarly idyllic and European, the music is similarly new wavey (though it’s the Cure and Rod Stewart here rather than the Psychedelic Furs and Sufjan Stevens), but, frankly, if this were a love story between a man and a woman, no one would draw the parallels as sharply. The fact is that Ozon is a pretty different filmmaker from Guadagnino — more tempered and even-keeled, drawn to an earthier and less performative visual style. He’s more French, in other words, and it suits this particular story of l’amour fou very well. It’s nostalgic without laying it on too thick, an extremely organic textural homage to a certain French cinema of the ’80s that’s convincing without being too cloying.
What’s less convincing is some of the narrative acrobatics that Ozon seems to deem necessary. There’s a wraparound contextualizing narrative featuring Melvil Poupaud as a high school professor who encourages Alexis to write all his feelings, which smacks of try-hard inspirational Hollywood cinema (think Finding Forrester) and a preposterous, inane crossdressing sequence that would be only barely convincing in a Porky’s sequel. To his defence, these aspects do separate Été 85 from Call Me By Your Name but they also cloud the waters of an otherwise genuinely touching and refreshingly simple love story. Granted, much of Été 85 is based on a British YA book from the ’80s that may well be where all of this nonsense stems from to begin with, but these particular decisions clash somewhat with a sweet, passionate, relatable love story. (AR)
Été 85 is available for 48-streaming as of Saturday, Nov. 7.
For more programming details and to rent films, please visit the Cinemania website.
For more film coverage, please visit the Film & TV section.