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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.

Continue reading: Intimate Strangers Review

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

Chaos 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 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

Alice Et Martin Review


Bad
Everything that's wrong with French cinema is on display in Alice et Martin, a daring title for a film that, when translated, means... Alice and Martin. Martin is a troubled young French man (Alexis Loret) who runs away from country home, steals fruit and eggs along the way, and ends up in Paris, where of course he instantly becomes a male model. Here he meets musician Alice (Juliette Binoche), and soon enough she's pregnant. Then he goes nuts.

I didn't understand any of this, and I don't expect anyone else to, either. That is, unless you have a psychic connection with the screenwriter. There are long shots of the countryside, slow-motion shots of waves, and an old man falling down the stairs. What does it all mean? Hell if I know. Something about love, obsession, relationships? I know a lot of crazy people, and none of them act like this.

Continue reading: Alice Et Martin 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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