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Venus In Fur Review


Extraordinary

Expert writing, directing and acting help this offbeat drama discover some powerful new themes in a novella that has been scandalising Western society since it was first published in 1870. The book's author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch even gave us the word "masochism". But this film by Roman Polanski and playwright David Ives digs far beneath the S&M to say some startling things about the male-female divide.

It's set in a theatre on a rainy day in Paris, where the actress Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives late in a disheveled state to audition for the play's writer-director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). But he's had a bad day, and immediately writes Vanda off. Eventually she wears him down, and the moment she starts reading his own words he's transfixed. She not only embodies the character, but she sparks something inside him that makes him question his own work. And as he runs the lines with her, she exerts an odd power over him that shifts in ways Thomas never sees coming.

Even with just two people on a stage, this movie is utterly riveting: funny, sexy, scary, surprising, intelligent and fiercely stylish. Polanski's direction is bold and playful, building a compelling rhythm that charges through 90 minutes of sometimes too-clever dialogue that keeps our minds spinning. And both Seigner and Amalric make the most of the script, packing every moment with insinuation and wit as they play with the ideas raised by the play within the film, which is about a dominatrix and her slave.

Continue reading: Venus In Fur Review

The Well-digger's Daughter Review


Excellent
For his directing debut, actor Auteuil remakes Marcel Pagnol's 1940 classic into a twisty, involving romance. It's thoroughly engaging all the way through, leaving us with a surge of emotion we rarely get at the cinema.

In rural pre-War France, Pascal is a widower (Auteuil) with six daughters. The oldest is 18-year-old Patricia (Berges-Frisbey), who's starting to notice boys.

She's reluctant about a plan to fix her up with Pascal's employee Felipe (Merad), and instead flirts shamelessly with Jacques (Duvauchelle), a dashing pilot who literally sweeps her off her feet. But her secret courtship with Jacques doesn't go as planned. Then war breaks out and both men are called to battle, leaving Patricia pregnant. And Jacques' parents (Azema and Darroussin) don't want to know.

Continue reading: The Well-digger's Daughter Review

The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Review


Excellent
Tightly wound and told without much fuss, this political thriller is captivating and often quite tense even though it doesn't seem to have much visual panache. But Polanski's fiendishly clever and extremely subtle touch is in every frame.

When a successful British ghost-writer (McGregor) is hired to clean up the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan), he can't quite believe the large paycheque heading his way. He soon relocates to an isolated island home in America to work with Lang, his wife (Williams) and assistant (Cattrall), but it quickly becomes clear that something fishy's going on here.

And maybe the scandalous news reports, about Lang's approval of torture in the War on Terror, are missing the real story.

Continue reading: The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Review

Chaos (2001) Review


Good
Coline Serreau's Chaos is never quite sure of what it wants to be. The story of a Parisian woman who becomes involved with a prostitute fleeing a gang of pimps, the film could easily be summarized as a cat-and-mouse thriller. On the other hand, it's also the comical story of the same woman's bumbling husband and son, who - once she takes off on the lam with her new hooker companion - can't perform even the simplest household tasks without female supervision. And yet, more than anything else, it's a social drama about seemingly powerless women fighting back against a male-dominated society that physically and psychologically beats them into submissive roles. Wildly careening between crime drama, French farce, and woman's picture, the film frequently seems to be on the verge of splitting at the seams. But even if Chaos is hampered by a desire to be all things to all people, Serreau's nimble touch bestows this schizophrenic genre pastiche with an infectiously zany verve.

Hélène's (Catherine Frot) loveless marriage to Paul (Vincent Lindon) comes to a head when, while returning home from an evening out on the town, a hysterical hooker (Rachida Brakni, in a mesmerizing debut performance) throws herself on the hood of their car while attempting to escape a trio of savage attackers. Instead of trying to save the woman, Paul instinctively locks the doors, thus allowing the men to finish dishing out their brutal beating. When the assailants are done, Paul - a paragon of twenty-first century male insensitivity - is more interested in cleaning his windshield of prostitute blood than tending to the savagely beaten girl lying next to his shiny new sedan.

Continue reading: Chaos (2001) Review

Intimate Strangers Review


Excellent
Seeking therapy is one thing; this is something else. What starts out as a therapy session gone wrong because of a mistaken door is really a study in purposeful cinematic misdirection to create a case of sexual intrigue capable of raising eyebrows in its country of origin. It's also the French answer to Steven Shainberg's 2002 adventure into obsession, Secretary.

William Faber (Fabrice Luchini) inherited his office and accounting practice in a staid Parisian building from his accountant father, carrying on a family occupation. Life for him is methodical, predictable, full of numbers -- which he enjoys enough to have made a career out of crunching them for a loyal clientele. Some people thrive on consistency and repetition.

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Dry Cleaning Review


OK
Two married French sticks-in-the-mud try to keep a dry cleaning business running while their lives degenerate into a boring daily grind. To spice things up, they decide to check out a brother-sister drag show, only to inexplicably get caught up in a kind of threesome with the male counterpart. Far less interesting than its subject matter would suggest, Dry Cleaning is scarcely more enthralling than its title. (Also of note: the subtitling is pathetic.)

Continue reading: Dry Cleaning Review

La Bûche Review


Weak
La Bûche would love to be Hannah and Her Soeurs, but this very French look at family dysfunction is stiflingly unfunny and not terribly original, either.

Focusing on three sisters who come together a few days before Christmas, their mother's second husband dies, leaving her a little befuddled for the holidays. The sisters proceed to organize a reunion of sorts with their father (mom's first husband), whereupon all manner of old history and secrets are dredged up.

Continue reading: La Bûche Review

Esther Kahn Review


OK
They say that even the most accomplished actor still has something to prove, that no matter how much adoration he might receive, there is always some sacrosanct person or place where the performer turns to face critical judgment. Esther Kahn, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, is the story of a young actress who battles those harsh demons in order to achieve a sense of accomplishment.

Raised in tenement housing in late-19th century London and forced to live the suppressed life of a sweatshop laborer in a Jewish slum, Esther Kahn (Summer Phoenix) uses the theater as an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. As a child, her brother and sisters find her awkward because of her abnormal silence and infatuation with the low-budget Yiddish performances put on by the local neighborhood troupes. As the family outcast, she internalizes all the loathing she receives from her mother (Frances Barber) and family, which leads to a desperate search for her place in the world.

Continue reading: Esther Kahn Review

Mulholland Drive Review


Good
[In the spirit of competition, we present a rare filmcritic.com double review on David Lynch's sure-to-be-controversial Mulholland Drive as well as a feature discussion about the film. For additional, alternate looks at films, check out our feature "Respectfully, Yours." -Ed.]

Christopher Null, not overly impressed

Continue reading: Mulholland Drive Review

Oliver Twist Review


Weak
At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has nothing to do with any sort of laziness or lack of literary enjoyment; this is simply my quota. When I do read, however, I tend to try to read what one would consider modern classics. On this reasoning, I've read a scant number of what most people consider "classic" novels. However, of the few I have read, one of them happens to be Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. So, I am coming into Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist locked and loaded with the book and David Lean's wonderful 1948 version on my mind.

Let's get the story out of the way for those few who haven't heard it. Sweet, young Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is cast out of his orphanage when he is picked to ask the cook for more porridge and is sent to work for a kind casket maker who is controlled by his wife. He escapes to London where he makes friends with a charming thief nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). As it happens, Dodger is part of a gang of thieving youths who work for the persuasive Fagin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a decrepit old man with too much hair and too few teeth. The storm really swells when Twist tries to go straight with a rich book collector named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) and gets on the bad side of a few of Fagin's friends and partners. The most nefarious of the partners is Billy Sykes (Jamie Foreman), a terribly mean thief who is followed around by an ugly dog named Bullseye. This all leads to a plot between Sykes and Fagin to kill poor little Oliver, but that proves to be pretty difficult.

Continue reading: Oliver Twist Review

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Alain Sarde Movies

Venus in Fur Movie Review

Venus in Fur Movie Review

Expert writing, directing and acting help this offbeat drama discover some powerful new themes in...

The Well-digger's Daughter Movie Review

The Well-digger's Daughter Movie Review

For his directing debut, actor Auteuil remakes Marcel Pagnol's 1940 classic into a twisty, involving...

The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Movie Review

The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Movie Review

Tightly wound and told without much fuss, this political thriller is captivating and often quite...

Intimate Strangers Movie Review

Intimate Strangers Movie Review

Seeking therapy is one thing; this is something else. What starts out as a therapy...

Oliver Twist (2005) Movie Review

Oliver Twist (2005) Movie Review

At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has...

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Intimate Strangers Movie Review

Intimate Strangers Movie Review

Seeking therapy is one thing; this is something else. What starts out as a therapy...

The Pianist Movie Review

The Pianist Movie Review

Roman Polanski is said to have turned down the opportunity to direct Schindler's List because...

Chaos Movie Review

Chaos Movie Review

Coline Serreau's Chaos is never quite sure of what it wants to be. The story...

Esther Kahn Movie Review

Esther Kahn Movie Review

They say that even the most accomplished actor still has something to prove, that no...

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