Charles Berling

Charles Berling

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Summer Hours Review


Excellent
Summer Hours, the extraordinary new film by Olivier Assayas, opens on a group of kids, running and laughing around the front lawn of their grandmother's bucolic countryside manor. Their game is aimless, incorporating elements of tag and the use of a map drawn in invisible ink. Up at the house, three siblings, the parents of the brood, aimlessly wander around as the maid prepares a late lunch for them. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The silver-haired matriarch of this subdued clan -- the antithesis of the tribe of lunatics in A Christmas Tale -- is Hélène (Edith Scob), a one-time art-world staple. Her three children are just about as different as three siblings can be: There's flighty Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), a designer of sorts living in New York; young and ambitious Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), who works for Puma Sneakers in Peking; and nostalgic Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, an economist who doesn't believe in economics. Sentimentalist and stubborn nationalist that he is, Frédéric laughs his mother off when she tells him he will have to sell the house when she dies, insisting the house will stay in the family.

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The Man of My Life Review


OK
I'm an absolute sucker for movies about rich French people relaxing in country homes built of yellow stone somewhere on a hillside in Provence. A large outdoor dining table surrounded by mismatched chairs overlooks the valley. Sigh. You can almost smell the lavender.

That's where The Man of My Life starts out: with a big and boisterous extended family on one of those long vacations Europeans enjoy. The father/husband Frédéric (Bernard Campan) and his wife Frédérique (Léa Drucker) are in charge of the happy brood but find enough time to sneak off for sessions d'amour in the afternoon.

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Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train Review


Excellent
The family, friends and lovers all rush to make it to the train. We're thrown into a whirlwind of over a dozen characters all clamoring to get on board, and we soon learn that they are en route to the funeral of the mercurial painter, Jean-Baptiste. This man was a fixture in their lives - a hostile cad with a miserable sense of humor who kept them attached through sex, his vitality for life and encouragement to keep moving forward, whether he meant it or not.

In a boldly theatrical touch, Jean-Baptiste demanded that those gathering to pay their last respects must make a journey by train to his final resting place in Limoges, knowing full well that the damage he has done within their lives will come to a passionate, tumultuous head. As if to mock them, his body is being transported in a small white car driven on the road alongside the tracks.

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Dry Cleaning Review


Weak
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.)

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Les Destinées Review


Grim
Do you like plates? Like, really nice plates? Perhaps fine porcelain plates made in the 1900s-1920s in Limoges, France?

You better damn well like plates if you're going to suffer through the three hours of Les Destinées, an exhausting family drama about a porcelain empire and just as hard a flick as its subject matter.

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Demonlover Review


Grim
In the cutthroat world of pornographic Japanese animé, she who remains most ruthless wins. At least, that's about as much of an overriding theme as I could glean from Olivier Assayas' visually vivid but narratively scatterbrained Demonlover, a film that begins as a pseudo-thriller concerning espionage at a French conglomerate and ends as an indecipherable mish-mash of technological paranoia and fetishized sex and violence in the Videodrome (and, unfortunately, FearDotCom) mold.

Alternating between French and English, the film hinges on the duplicitous dealings of Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen), a merciless businesswoman who kicks things off by drugging a fellow employee in an effort to move up the corporate ladder. Now firmly ensconced as second in command at the Volf Group, Diane begins negotiations with animation giant TokyoAnimé, the world's largest and most successful producer of high quality sex cartoons. Diane is, in fact, a double agent working for rival firm Mangatronics, who - recognizing that a deal between Volf and TokyoAnimé would put them out of business - have hired her to sabotage the ongoing talks between the two companies. Unfortunately, despite a veneer of poker-faced iciness, someone is on to Diane's plans, and she suspects that either her antagonistic coworker Elise (Chloë Sevigny) or hunky negotiating partner Hervé (Charles Berling) is the villain attempting to blackmail her.

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Stardom Review


Grim
Nothing could better use a solid send-up than the beyond egomaniacal fashion model "industry," a self-obsessed, navel-gazing enterprise of nonsensical characters if ever there has been one. French Canadian director Denys Arcand (best known for Jesus of Montreal) has created some biting social commentaries in the past, but Stardom is far from a masterpiece.

Stardom tells the story of an unknown female hockey player named Tina (Jessica Paré) who finds celebrity in the modeling biz when a happenstance candid photo of her on the ice becomes all the rage. Soon enough she's an up-and-comer in Montreal, jetting off to Europe for photo shoots and parties, and indulging in the usual trappings of the supermodel race.

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A Matter Of Taste Review


Weak
A string of movies emerging from France, including With a Friend Like Harry, The School of Flesh, and The Taste of Others, represent the "new" type of French films that American distributors are looking for. Partially dark comedies, partially thrillers, they get packaged as contemporary French noir. They are also notorious for taking no risks and being barely skin deep with plot and character.

In A Matter of Taste, Frédéric Delamont (Bernard Giraudeau), an industrial tycoon apparently at a peak of his success, is obsessed with two things: food and himself. At a fancy restaurant, he meets a temporary waiter named Nicolas, an irreverent young man with the hands of a pianist and a charming, arrogant smile. To feed his self-indulgence, Frédéric hires Nicolas as a personal food taster. As we soon discover, he is plotting to get the waiter obsessed with the same culinary tastes Frédéric has, and, more importantly, to essentially make Nicolas a living replica of himself. Nicolas, played by Jean-Pierre Lorit, best known for his role as a young law student in Krzysztof Kieslowski's incredible Red, gives his character a touch of unruly enigma, but that is as far as he can go with the role.

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The Bridge Review


OK

Carole Bouquet is a cinematic treasure. A gold mine of authentic humanity and emotion, capable of playing a vast range of personalities, and more astonishingly -- yet accessibly -- beautiful at 42 than ever before, she is arguably the best film actress in France today.

So when she plays an adulteress in 1962 Normandy who has an affair with her husband's boss in "The Bridge," there is so very much more to the character than just her cheating heart.

Mina is a woman who is frustrated by the slow evaporation of magic in her marriage. She still loves George, her blue-collar lug of a husband (played by Bouquet's real-life mate Gerard Depardieu). But their relationship has gone from dizzy and passionate to comfortable and polite. In fact, she'd much prefer to lose herself in a record or a good book, or go to the movies -- where emotions are powerful and love is always ardent -- than spend a night with George.

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Demonlover Review


Terrible

"Demonlover" features a score by art-punk band Sonic Youth that really captures the essence of the film: It's deliberately abrasive, rapidly pulsing electronic black noise that is designed to put the viewer on edge but ultimately signifies nothing.

A discombobulated, pretentious, psycho-sexual excursion into the cold-blooded, under-the-table fringe of 21st century corporate intrigue, it's a self-important drama in which poisoning, kidnapping, breaking and entering, ransacking, blackmail and brainwashing are all in a day's work -- and all add up to an unimaginative, exploitive shock ending.

The concoction of French filmmaker Olivier Assayas ("Irma Vep"), "Demonlover" stars Connie Nielsen ("Gladiator," "One Hour Photo") as Diane, a second-tier envoy for a Paris-based conglomerate that is negotiating a production and distribution deal with a Japanese maker of animated porn.

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Stardom Review


Hmmm

The rise-and-fall of a fictional supermodel is the topic of "Stardom," an irritatingly over-conceptualized yet blandly under-realized documentary-style satire-drama.

Narrated to death by a parade of invariably obnoxious hairdressers, photographers, agents, talk show hosts and Much Music VJs (it takes place in Canada), it's the story of an 18-year-old knockout brunette (newcomer Jessica Paré) spotted by a sports photographer while playing hockey and rapidly whisked into a pampered, jet-setting lifestyle.

Half mocumentary and half an insincere, tisk-tisk condemnation of beauty as a commodity and a social currency, the picture is a ripe idea corrupted by its own self-satisfaction and made worthless by the fact that the girl at its axis is wildly uninteresting.

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Dry Cleaning Review


Grim
Sexual tension seeps from the sprockets ofevery frame of film in "Dry Cleaning," a French import abouta 40-something husband and wife on the verge of mutual midlife crises whoare seeking some way to revive and rivet their humdrum lives.

Their desires start out simply enough -- the wife (Miou-Miou,"The Eighth Day") just wants to take a little vacation -- butwith her workaholic husband pinching pennies, she starts locally by dragginghim someplace exotic they would never otherwise go, a local cabaret featuringcross-dressing, lip-syncing strippers.

But more deeply buried urges find their simple visit tosaid cabaret leading to a bizarre live-in relationship with one of theambiguously bisexual performers that upsets the balance of their marriageand begets melancholy, discontent, restrained jealousy, rage and eventuallytragedy.

The wife begins a boy toy affair with the supremely untalentedperformer (Stanislas Merhar) -- one of those fay, barely legal, heroinchic, Calvin Klein model types who just exudes sex. The husband (CharlesBerling, "Ridicule")tolerates her behavior -- which has inspired much tongue-wagging in theprovincial town where they run a dry cleaners -- in part because he lovesher deeply and is afraid she might chose the boy over him if he confrontedher, and in part because he's harboring (and trying to bury) an attractionto their guest himself.

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L'ennui Review


Grim

A "Lolita"-like story of a middle-aged man's sexual obsession with a 17-year-old girl, "L'Ennui" gets repetitive in a big hurry.

Charles Berling ("Ridicule," "Dry Cleaning") stars as Martin, a 40-ish philosophy teacher who drives himself to the brink of insanity trying to possess his indifferent young lover, Cecilia (Sophie Guillemin), who is so emotionally detached that she can't even explain why she sleeps with him. She just does -- about 20 times in the course of the movie, occasionally showing a glimmer of gratification, but more frequently moaning a little, kissing him on the cheek and saying goodbye.

Cecilia is a maddening enigma to Martin only because she's intellectually underdeveloped and can't express herself to his satisfaction. As he becomes overwhelmed by his desire, the movie falls into a looping pattern of sexual rendezvous mixed with scenes of Martin following Cecilia, Martin phoning Cecilia and Martin pulling his hair out over Celilia's nonchalant attitude toward their relationship -- and her affair with another man. She sees no conflict. Martin, of course, does.

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Charles Berling

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