Carole Scotta

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Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang Review


OK

Gifted filmmaker Cantet (The Class) packs this fascinating story with vivid characters, but fails to shape the narrative into something that holds our attention. This is precision filmmaking, expertly recreating a period to adapt Joyce Carol Oates' iconic novel, but the movie is so long and meandering that it never builds up any momentum at all.

It's set in 1955, when 14-year-old Legs (Adamson) teams up with her best pal Maddy (Coseni) to form a secret society called Foxfire with their friends Rita, Goldie and Lana (Bisson, Mazerolle and Moyles). Their plan is to stick up for each other in the face of male persecution, and their first act together is to humiliate a sexist teacher. From here they get bolder, attacking Maddy's abusive uncle and waging war on the school bullies. Then a run-in with the law leaves Legs locked up in a girls' home. When she gets out, she rents a farmhouse where they can live together, but the money runs short so they start indulging in petty crimes. Then they plan an audacious kidnapping.

Cantet stages all of this so adeptly that it feels like a true story, complete with random details about the situations and characters. And since these girls all come from broken homes and struggle against gender inequality, we root for them to succeed. To a point. It's one thing to corner a predatory man; it's another to prey on someone who is completely innocent. So when they do that, it's impossible to see them as anything other than criminals.

Continue reading: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang Review

The Woman in the Fifth Review


Good
This intriguing experiment in cinematic disorientation is so well-made that it can't help but pull us into its perplexing narrative. It's a little too vague to be satisfying, but it's thoroughly haunting.

One-time novelist Tom (Hawke) travels from America to Paris to reconnect with his ex-wife (Chuillot) and his 6-year-old daughter (Papillon), but is immediately confronted with a restraining order. He's also robbed of his luggage and left in a cafe on the edge of town, where the waitress (Kulig) and owner (Guesmi) offer him a room and a job as a night watchman. Then he meets the alluring Margit (Scott Thomas) at a literary party, and she begins to take his mind off his troubles.

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Coco Before Chanel Review


Good
This biopic kind of dwells on the misery in Coco Chanel's life, but it's a strong story of a woman who made her own way against all odds. And it's skilfully and beautifully filmed and acted.

After her mother died in 1895, Gabrielle Chanel (Cohen) moves into orphanage, where nuns teach her how to sew. As soon as she's 18 (now Tautou), she becomes a bar singer with her sister (Gillain) and is dubbed "Coco" after her signature song. Even now she's rebelling against the constricting clothes of the day, and when she becomes the mistress of the wealthy Etienne Balsan (Poelvoorde), she has clear ideas about her own life. What she doesn't expect is that she'll fall for his friend Boy Capel (Nivola).

Director-cowriter Fontaine tells this story like Chanel's fashion style: elegant and detailed, but without frills. The film takes us through these early years in a somewhat dispassionate way, only drawing emotion from Tautou's mesmerising performance. She conveys a sharp, opinionated intelligence even as Coco knows her place in society. And as she quietly evolves to the moment she becomes the Coco we remember, Tautou keeps the character consistently engaging without sacrificing any of her inner toughness.

Fontaine doesn't shrink from portraying this male-dominated society: men treated women like possessions. So Coco was a true revolutionary, going against the grain to become the first major female designer. Fontaine makes sure the period detail is sleek and gorgeously recreated, with actors who aren't afraid to show the dark sides of their characters. There are moments of levity, but powerful scenes between Tautou, Poelvoorde and Gillain reveal a shadowy complexity.

The problem is that the film feels a bit gloomy as a result; Coco seems melancholic even when she's smiling. And this carries through to the limited colour scheme, as well as Coco's simple clothing in a time when women wore outrageous frills. But watching closely, we can see Coco in control of her life, even though the men around her thought she was theirs. And into this world, Nivola's Boy is a breath of fresh air, a rare man who can see her for who she is. So where their story goes can't help but move us.

The Class Review


Excellent
Based on the French best-seller Entre le Murs, which literally translates into "Between the Walls," Laurent Cantet's The Class casts the author of that book, François Bégaudeau, in the role of himself as a real-life inner-city high school teacher embedded in the trenches of the war between classical education and the ever-changing face of modern culture. What initially bears the components of a typical retread of white-teacher-inspires-multi-ethnic-students melodrama turns out to be something much funnier than one might expect from the director of brooding dramas the likes of Time Out and Human Resources.

Cantet spent months auditing Bégaudeau's classes and ended-up casting many of the students as themselves in the film. Like many of its egregious American counterparts (Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers, to name a few), Cantet has outfitted Bégaudeau with a melting pot of cultural and racial variants to contend with, including a goth and a smart Asian kid. Unlike those films, however, there is no effort to pigeonhole these identities, nor is there any effort to sanctify François. Though it garners much of its action through simple debate, one of the film's central dramas concerns François accusing two of his students of "acting like skanks." The teacher never becomes characterized as sinner or saint, and it reveals a great deal of depth in Cantet's material.

Continue reading: The Class Review

Heading South Review


Excellent
Heading South is a sun-splashed trip to an unusual place -- Haiti -- and an unusual time -- the turbulent '70s, when the Duvalier dictatorship terrorized the country and drove it into the ruin in which it remains today.

But down at the beach, things are beautiful. The upscale resort at which most of the film takes place is popular with women of a certain age who come alone not just for the weather but for the attention of the local beach boys who wander around, strike up flirtations, and provide sexual favors in exchange for gifts.

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Les Sanguinaires Review


Weak
A group of slacker French people decide the upcoming millennium is going to be too plastic and annoying, so they head to a small island off the coast of the country. Soon they're annoying each other, and a donkey ends up dead. In 68 minutes, we're treated to a crude digest of L'Avventura as seen through the eyes of a bunch of hopeless Francs. Part of the "2000 Seen By" series of films about the eve of the millennium, none of which anyone seems to have seen.

Ma Vie en Rose Review


OK
Curious and uneven French melodrama, much better than it should be, about the world's youngest cross dresser: a seven year old boy who wants to be a girl. Uh, okay. Interesting tale about how society screws with the outcasts.

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The Pornographer Review


Good
An old adult filmmaker is out of money, so he comes out of retirement to shoot a couple more porno films. But in the '00s, he finds things aren't the same as they were back in his heyday. Stories and symbolism -- a love story!? -- are all out the window. Now it's all about the explicit sex, and the dirtier the better. Although Jacques (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is the director in name, he finds the younger crew around him controlling the set. He finishes the film depressed.

Bertrand Bonello's film isn't just a study of how porn has degenerated from adult-oriented love stories to rank perversion, it's also a film about how the movies themselves have changed, especially French cinema. No longer thoughtful spectacles, even Gallic films have succumbed to the need to shock and awe.

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They Came Back Review


OK
BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINS!

Er, JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBS!

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The Book of Life Review


Excellent
After six feature films shot with the same "too hip to smile" minimalist approach, critic's darling Hal Hartley really needed to shake things up. Shot on hand-held digital video as part of the France Collection 2000 series, The Book of Life is that project, a shaggy dog guffaw at the end of the millennium.

Miles away from what we critics enjoy referring to as "visually austere" (i.e., static shots with careful compositions), The Book of Life throws caution to the wind. Working with new cinematographer Jim Denault (Boys Don't Cry) instead of old standby Michael Spiller (Trust), Hartley spins and fusses in colorful blurred abstractions, creating a dreamy, impressionistic look with none of his trademark hard edges. Look, ma -- no hands!

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