Claude Berri

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Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

Manon of the Spring Review


Excellent
In the sequel to Jean de Florette, we find the tables turned on Ugolin and Papet as young Manon (now played by the lovely Emmanuelle Béart) has grown up, though she's slightly deranged and lives in the hills as a vagabond shepherdess. (Of course, she's a vagabond shepherdess that is very attentive to shaving her body hair and studiously applying makeup.)

Manon carries with her the knowledge that Ugolin and Papet indirectly killed her father by sealing off his spring, so when she discovers the mountainous source of the spring -- and the water for the nearby town -- she returns the favor in kind. Alas, poor Ugolin finds himself falling in love with the wispy wanderer, leaving him dying both from thirst and a broken heart.

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Tess Review


OK
Hunkering down with any movie adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel (Jude, The Claim) invariably means you're in for a long, depressing look at life. Tess stands as one of the longest and saddest of the lot -- this one offered up by Roman Polanski as one of a handful of adaptations of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, one of those famous high school assignments that you didn't get around to reading.

Tess Durbeyfield (Nastassja Kinski) is a naive English country girl sent to do good by her family. She's not two feet out of her cottage when she encounters the aristocratic Alec d'Urberville (Leigh Lawson). Legend has it the similarity in names is no coincidence -- the two families descended from the same royals centuries ago. Never mind the incest, though, here comes the lovin', and before you know it, Tess isn't just taking care of chickens at d'Urberville manor, she's pregnant to boot.

Continue reading: Tess Review

Manon of the Spring Review


Excellent
In the sequel to Jean de Florette, we find the tables turned on Ugolin and Papet as young Manon (now played by the lovely Emmanuelle Béart) has grown up, though she's slightly deranged and lives in the hills as a vagabond shepherdess. (Of course, she's a vagabond shepherdess that is very attentive to shaving her body hair and studiously applying makeup.)

Manon carries with her the knowledge that Ugolin and Papet indirectly killed her father by sealing off his spring, so when she discovers the mountainous source of the spring -- and the water for the nearby town -- she returns the favor in kind. Alas, poor Ugolin finds himself falling in love with the wispy wanderer, leaving him dying both from thirst and a broken heart.

Continue reading: Manon of the Spring Review

Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

My Wife Is an Actress Review


OK
Is it weird when reality and fictional cinema intersect? For example: Kidman and Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, Basinger and Baldwin in The Getaway, or The Blair Witch Project. Those movies are nothing compared to the abysmally titled My Wife Is an Actress, which totally blurs the line between what is real and what is not and crosses into a strange mélange of melodramatic kookiness and Method acting taken to the nth degree.

The movie is a personal exploration into the limitations and expectations of fidelity. The film is penned and directed by the notable French actor Yvan Attal (The Criminal), who is married to a famous French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (The Cement Garden), and both star in the film.

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Lucie Aubrac Review


Grim
Thought a WWII movie couldn't be dead boring? Think again. Lucie Aubrac is the story of the French resistance member of the same name, a woman whose entire job during the war apparently consisted of busting her husband out of jail after repeatedly being caught for stupid offenses against the Nazis. Carole Bouquet as Lucie spends most of her screen time staring defiantly into the camera whilst wearing a stupid hat. Filled with minutaie about resistence members, dates, codes, and more than a little melodrama. Blame the French. I know I do.

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Amen. Review


Terrible
In 1999, a well-regarded Catholic journalist published Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, in which he argued that the titular pontiff, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, had not only failed to speak out against Hitler but had actively ignored evidence of the Holocaust and cut self-serving deals with Berlin. The reaction of many Catholics around the world was, not surprisingly, vituperative and self-righteous anger. In 2002, when firebrand provocateur Costa-Gavras (Missing, Z) made the film Amen., based on a 1960s play which dealt with the same subject, it should have provoked a similar tidal wave of denial and fury - if only it had been a better movie.

Costa-Gavras's flimsy script presents a pair of opposites who must try and bring news of the Holocaust to the Pope, in order that he may publicly denounce it and rally Catholics, in Germany and around the world, against Hitler. Ulrich Tukur plays Kurt Gerstein, an SS officer in charge of delousing troops and decontaminating water. When he is assigned a new duty of overseeing the use of Zyklon B gas in concentration camps, the deeply Christian Gerstein - who until then had hidden behind the belief that he was only serving his country - is horrified and desperately tries to find somebody to hear his story. German after German turns a deaf ear to him, until he finds Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz), an idealistic Jesuit working in the Vatican's Berlin office. Confronted with the reality of genocide, Fontana makes for the Vatican, where he hopes to use his father's connections to win an audience with Pope Pius XII (Marcel Iures).

Continue reading: Amen. Review

Va Savoir Review


Weak
Only the French could make a romantic comedy that clocks in at more than 2 1/2 hours in length. And of course, it wouldn't have much of a plot, either. This wafer-thin production, reminiscent of a really long Oscar Wilde play, Starring Jeanne Balibar (the poor man's Audrey Tautou), the movie is a hodgepodge of love triangles and petty theft, some of which amuses, but not for long enough to keep this critic's interest over its full running time. A curiosity that's easily forgettable.

A Housekeeper Review


Terrible
I believe Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama was nothing more than real life with the boring bits cut out. The French film A Housekeeper decides to ignore this maxim, and the result is moody, contemplative, and massively boring. It's like watching home movies of a mid-life crisis, only with a musical score and better-looking people.

Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a Parisian in his forties who appears to have it all -- successful career, beautiful apartment, and the kind of weathered good looks that younger women find appealing from time to time. However, his life and his apartment are both in disarray. He's in the middle of a separation with his wife, which has probably led to indifference, loneliness, and the inability to run a vacuum or to mop a floor.

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Va Savoir (Who Knows?) Review


OK

Interlocking romantic misadventures beget both amusement and broken hearts in "Va Savior," a City of Lights charmer with a semi-serious edge and several superb performances.

Directed by Jaques Rivette ("The Gang of Four"), the film's affairs are set in motion by the arrival of an Italian theatre company in Paris to put on a production of Luigi Pirandello's "As You Desire Me" (which plays to half-full houses). The star of the show is 30-something Camille (Jeanne Balibar), a French actress who left Paris three years ago after a bad breakup with her pretentious professor boyfriend Pierre (Jaques Bonnaffe).

Since then, Camille has become half-heartedly involved with her director and co-star (Sergio Castellitto), a middle-aged litterateur, while Pierre has married a beautiful ballet teacher (Marianne Basler). But now in the same city again, they seem self-destructively unable to resist each other's gravity. Camille doesn't want Pierre back, but needing an ego boost, she wants to gauge his interest in her -- which quickly drives him to obsessive behavior.

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Claude Berri

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