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Maybe you recall the movie Before Sunrise and its follow-up, Before Sunset, or perhaps you’ve seen L’Auberge Espagnole along with it’s sequel, Russian Dolls. These aren’t new films. The earliest, Before Sunrise, was made in 1995 and the most recent, Russian Dolls, came out in 2005. They’re not deep, heavy-weight films. But they’re interesting movies with remarkably authentic, likeable characters and real conversations — a rarity in movies — and they offer us the special pleasure of seeing fictional people blunder and develop over time. Each of these films was an acclaimed critical success. If you haven’t seen them, you may have four movies to enjoy.
Before Sunrise and Before Sunset focus exclusively on two characters: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Cèline (French/American actress Julie Delpy.) In Before Sunrise, this pair of twenty-something travelers meet on a train and end up together in Vienna where they spend the night talking, getting to know the city and each other until they part at sunrise. That’s it, they talk and get to know each other and promise to meet again in six months. These are two very engaging and intelligent young people who are open to experience and who hook up the way young people do. That they are interested in each other’s ideas (Not exclusively, of course. This is an imitation of real life.) places this movie above just about every other twenty-something flick.
But Jesse and Cèline don’t get together six months later. The sequel, Before Sunset, was filmed nine years later, and the story takes place after the same lapse of time. Celine attends a book store reading by Jesse, now a successful novelist who is in Paris to promote his book. Jesse has a plane to catch and the couple have only “until sunset” to talk, to catch up on each other’s life. They’re the same talkative, engaging, interested and interesting people they were nine years earlier, but they’ve matured. Or, to put it another way, life has knocked them down a few times. Jesse is unhappily married and has a son he loves; Cèline, an environmental activist, is unsatisfyingly involved with a photojournalist. Happy marriages are not easy to come by, but maybe this thirty-something pair has a future. Or maybe not.
Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are narrow aperture films that focus wholly on two characters. Furthermore, Before Sunset plays out in real time, giving the viewer an even more closely framed cinematic experience. On the other hand, L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls are sprawling stories with a jumbled multitude of characters, and Russian Dolls spreads out geographically, too, taking place in Paris, London, St Petersburg and Moscow. (more…)
Not all nicely made movies are interesting — in fact, some are quite dull — and not all badly made movies deserve to be ignored. A badly made movie that you might want to look at came from France two years ago. It wasn’t widely viewed here. It’s Change of Plans (Le code a change), directed by Daniele Thompson, written by Christopher Thompson, who also acts in it, and Daniele Thompson.
The central event of the movie is a dinner party (yes, yes, this is French cinema) of ten friends and acquaintances, most of them in their forties, some in a profession, legal or medical. By and large, they’re an unhappy lot — this one is having an affair, that one is on the verge of leaving her husband, another hates her father, and one is close to burning out in his job, and so on. In fact, there are too many characters — too many for us to keep track of and too many for the director to dramatize in satisfying depth. Furthermore, we learn about the characters’ private lives by a series of intercut flashbacks, not all of them easy to follow. OK, the movie has problems.
Nonetheless, this is an interesting movie. The rather slapdash dinner party is completely believable, the dialog is good and the characters are engaging. We enjoy their company, despite their occasionally really bad behavior. This is, by the way, one of the few movies to show how cell phones have changed the rules when it comes to secret love notes. Because it’s an ensemble cast, and a good ensemble, no one stands out as a central figure, but Karen Viard (wonderfully energetic despite the apparently thickening body of an early forties woman) is the hostess, Marie-Laurence ‘ML’ Claverne, a lawyer, and is central to the movie in that way. Her character’s younger sister Juliette is played with irritable conviction by Marina Hands, and Emmanuelle Seigner does a good job as Sarah Mattei, a woman on the make. Pierre Arditi and Patrick Chesnais do a fine job and some nice comic turns as older men. But, in fact, the male roles tend to recede into the background, another weakness in this movie. And yet, and yet… It may be a movie you did well not to spend big bucks on at the local cinemaplex, but it’s worth watching on a rented DVD, and you get some good bonus features as well.