With Mona Achache’s recent The Hedgehog and now Jean Becker’s My Afternoons with Margueritte, French cinema seems to have a corner on unassuming but beautifully observed vignettes of human relations. At first glance My Afternoons with Margueritte can seem but a delightful amuse-bouche but peel away the surface and we find that the film is stuffed full of a number of social concerns, such as the nature of aging, friendship, parenting, childhood trauma, and self worth. Both Gérard Depardieu (as Germain Chazes) and the 95-year old Gisèle Casadesus (as Margueritte) are perfectly cast respectively as the bumbling, relatively illiterate village handyman, and the very literate, frail old spinster. Only the intrusion of Chazes’ implausibly younger and pretty girlfriend strikes a discordant note. Like the gentle kiss planted on the sleeping princess, Margueritte touches Germain’s soul and from that first tender meeting on a park bench we watch, during the course of this enchanting film, the flowering of belief in self worth and the awakening of a dormant intelligence within a thoroughly decent human being.
Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Swedish version portrayed more of the glowering sulkiness that one visualized for Lisbeth Salander than does Rooney Mara but otherwise this new American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattooo” is in it’s own way every bit as successful as the earlier Swedish adaptation of Larson’s book. Nor does this Hollywood remake pull any punches in the violent sex scenes which appropriately recall Larson’s original title, “Men who hate women”. However, good as Daniel Craig is, the difference between his more comfortable portrayal of Mikael Blomkvist and the less confident character created by Michael Nyqvist (2009), as well as slightly more plot detail, tilt the balance towards the the Swedish film. This film is not to be missed, though, if only for the wonderful graphics of the opening credits.
An appreciation of early film-making has resulted some notable new films. Following on ‘Hugo’, Martin Scorsese’s magical homage to Georges Melies, comes ‘The Artist’, Michel Hazanavicius’ engaging and loving rejuvenation of the black and white and silent film. Engrossing, witty (yes, a silent witty film!), warm-hearted, lyrical, deeply moving, and beautiful to look at, The Artist is a joy from begininng to end. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are utterly captivating as flawed hero and perky heroine and John Goodman steals every scene in which he appears. A brilliant conceit, flawlessly executed.
As Hazanavicius said, “It was important not think of [‘The Artist’] as an ‘old movie’. It’s now, it’s new. But you have the benefit of this neglected format which gives you some exciting options as a storyteller.”
There were four of us. I, the first, had read the book, seen the BBC television series, listened to the audio book, and heard the BBC radio series, so I already knew what was going on. The second said, “that was really complicated”. The third said, ” I didn’t understand any of it”. The fourth said, “That’s the most boring film I’ve ever seen.”
I understand the reactions. The film captured the mood of Le Carre’s novel, the photography was evocative, the editing well paced. Gary Oldman (Smiley), Benedict Cumberbatch (Guillam) and Tom Hardy (Ricky Tarr)were excellent but the identity and motivation of the rest of the characters were never satisfactorily established; nor were the elements of the plot. In the end, the sum of the film added up to no more than random scenes from the novel shuffled into an incoherent order, the victim of attempting to distill 400 pages of complex plotting, character development and social observation into 127 minutes.
From the lighthearted beginning through the Faustian contract with an alter ego Mephistopheles to a descent into a personal Hell, it is hard to believe that this brilliant work is the first time film by Joann Sfar. Those who carp that some of the details of of Gainsbourg’s life are incorrect are like those who would say that Bacon’s Screaming Pope is not and accurate portrait of the Pope and fail to appreciate an exceptional work of art.
I’m not sure what the best films that I saw during 2011 were, or even what best means in this context. But here is a list of the most memorable films that I saw during the year in the Cinema; films that I enjoyed above the norm and that stuck in my mind, films that stimulated questions and discussion, films that gave me the pleasure of watching artists at work, be they directors, actors, camera men, writers or musicians.
The criteria were that, irrespective of when they were issued, I saw the films during 2011 and they were films that I saw in a theater. The order in which they are listed is arbitary.
Le Quattro Volte
Of Gods and Men
The Tree of Life
The King’s Speech
The Mill and the Cross