Friday, 6 March 2009

Two more from France

Well, my sampling the new CineMoi channel is turning out to produce its pleasant share of surprises, if not yet any really memorable outings. However I am fairly certain that it provides the opportunity to view a selection of flicks that would otherwise escape me. Here's a few words on two of the latest:

Riens du tout (1992): This is the debut film from director Cedric Klapisch and it is certainly an accomplished piece of work. For some reason the English translation of the title is "Little Nothings" which may or may not be relevant to the story about the numerous employees of a vast department store which faces closure in a year's time if the business can not be turned around. A new manager is brought in whose aim is to better employee relations and thus increase sales -- through such exercises as bungee-jumping and weekends at nudist camps -- and to make these anonymous clock-punchers into one big happy family. The large ensemble cast is made up of many familiar faces, if not familiar names, and we come to know and care for many of them during the film, especially a basically unemployable trouble-maker, a black cleaner (i.e. sanitation expert), and an unpaid student whose duties include performing costumed Greek dances and being the store's Santa Claus. The camera work as it sweeps about the store's expanse is also very professionally done. The film ends with a fine show of staff morale and togetherness, even 'though one knows that their jobs are no longer secure.

Un Secret (2007): I knew that this film starred dishy Cecile de France (who is actually Belgian) and flavour-of-the-year Mathieu Amalric, although I did not expect to see them as mother and son! The movie zips between action from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 80s with de France as the sexy mother in the early scenes (not that she ages much until the end of the film) and Almaric as the grown son in the late ones. I was surprised to find that this is actually a Holocaust-genre film, since the characters play French Jews who undergo various traumas during and after the war years. Unlike many films, the characters do not all suffer nobly and the secret of the title is that the young son's heritage is denied and hidden; it is only as a teenager that he learns about his father's first marriage (an impressive turn by Ludivine Sagnier) and the disappearance of the son that could make his father proud in a way that he never can. This destroys the fantasies he has nurtured about his parents' fairytale marriage and helps to explain his father's continued disappointment. The action moves rather haphazardly amongst the decades with not a little confusion at times, but director Claude Miller handles this adequately. The irony is that the arrogant father played by Patrick Bruel is more concerned in the final scenes about the death of his pet dog than he was about Sagnier and his supposedly beloved son.
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