Jean-pierre Cassel

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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
Bunuel's marvellously surreal satire pokes lacerating fun at the snobby, unflappable French middle class. Shot like a sitcom, it's a snappy look at the ridiculous inequity of Western society, peeling back the veneer of civilisation in a way that's even more timely now than it was in 1972.

Ambassador Acosta (Rey) and three friends (Frankenur, Seyrig and Ogier) arrive at a country house for dinner, but discover that they're a day early. And rescheduling the meal proves rather complicated, as the men are secretly involved in an illicit drug deal, and hosts Alice and Henri (Audran and Cassel) would rather sneak off for sex. The interruptions to their rescheduled meal become increasingly surreal, including a tea room that runs out of tea, a group of soldiers on manoeuvres and a gang of armed thugs.

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Army Of Shadows Review


Essential
It's hard to imagine a cinematic culture where a monumental achievement like Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film Army of Shadows would fall into obscurity, but then again we just recently got our eyes on Killer of Sheep. The reasons behind the withholding of Melville's unreleased French resistance epic are plentiful; they stretch from the arguable lack of commercial appeal of the film to its controversial, striking opening shot of German soldiers goosestepping down the Champs Elysees, two decades after they had actually commandeered the country. Whatever the reason, 2006 saw Rialto Distribution (which recently looked over the re-release of Alberto Lattuada's fearsome Mafioso) supervised the reappraisal of Shadows with the help of its ace cinematographer, Pierre Lhomme.

In the murky gloom of a makeshift work camp, soldiers drop off Gerbier (the immortal Lino Ventura) to be put eventually in front of the Nazi tribunal. The German occupancy of France has sent a few loyalists underground to join the resistance, calculating ways to lower the German numbers and quickly dispatching any members of the resistance that get loose-lipped. When he is brought before the Nazis, Gerbier orchestrates a breathless escape from their headquarters. From there, Melville's film becomes a stunning, globetrotting spy masterpiece, shifting from the windy desolation of north France to the burnt dystopia of Marseilles with a brief stint in London.

Continue reading: Army Of Shadows Review

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
From the moment his 16-minute Surrealist dirty bomb Un Chien andalou was dropped on an unsuspecting Paris in 1929 until the time of his death in Mexico in 1983, director Luis Buñuel patiently and gleefully held court as cinema's most steadfast, outspoken, and off-handedly inflammatory enemy of "polite" society. He built a career on his contempt for unexamined social mores and the gluttonous, self-righteous civic and religious leaders who perpetuated them, and he wasn't just fooling around. As a representative attack, consider this sequence from his 1930 feature L'Âge d'or: We're informed by intertitle that over the course of a long weekend in a locked mountain chateau, a group of depraved rapists and murderers have been having their way with a bevy of adolescent male and female virgins, whom they then torture and kill. The scene is based on the same Marquis de Sade material that served as the basis for Pier Paolo Pasolini's unconscionable Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, the difference being that here Buñuel has thoughtfully included Jesus Christ among the deviants. He is even seen to drag an injured, escaping girl off screen, the assumption being, when she doesn't return, that He has finished her off. Was Paris burning? No, but once word of L'Âge d'or got around, you may rest assured that some of her theaters were.

Buñuel's cheerful blasphemy was, as you can imagine, shocking, but his commitment to relaying narrative through free-associative, non-linear images - his commitment, that is, to the Surrealist creed that raged among Parisian artists - was seen by many to be as grave an affront. Audiences grew hostile, it seems, when, in Buñuel's films, livestock lounged about in the beds of debutantes or miffed gamekeepers shot and killed children to blow off steam. Buñuel, who was a Spaniard, suffered a more concrete hardship when Fascists took power in Madrid in 1938; he eventually settled in Mexico in 1946, returning to Spain in 1961 where General Franco banned his first new film, Viridiana, just as hurriedly as the jury at Cannes awarded it the Palme d'or. And so Buñuel relocated to France, now in his 60s, and at an age when most directors have retired or have long since begun recycling their own material, he entered one of the most fertile periods enjoyed by any filmmaker anywhere. There are masterpieces scattered among Buñuel's French films like confetti, but in his 1972 comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of cinema's most brilliant directors made the most brilliant film of his career.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

Vincent & Theo Review


Excellent
Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo is a brooding biopic on the symbiotic relationship of the van Gogh brothers. The director of M*A*S*H and The Player harmonizes well with Julian Mitchell's unobtrusive script, resulting in a poignant cinematic portrait of bursting color and sinking black.

Prelude: A noisy 1980s London auction for van Gogh's Sunflowers dissolves to a 1880s vagabond-ish Vincent (Tim Roth) and brother Theo (Paul Rhys). Multi-million-pound bids of a distant future echo as Vincent declares he's becoming a painter.

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Murder on the Orient Express Review


Excellent
Classic Agatha Christie becomes a near-classic motion picture, as a dozen major stars are trapped on a snowbound train with what appears to be a killer on the loose. It's up to an absurdly made-up Poirot (Albert Finney) to unmask the murderer of a millionaire in this rich whodunit. Beautifully made and full of good one-liners, Ingred Bergman inexplicably won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as a relatively forgettable "simple woman." Odd.

The Three Musketeers (1973) Review


Good
I saw the word "whimsical" used in one product description of this installment of The Three Musketeers, a faithful adaptation of the classic novel, and no word could better describe the film. It's a combination of belly laughs via non-stop sight gags, endless swashbuckling, and only a dab of plot, all of which serve to make this an engaging event movie that takes place in France instead of in space. Packed with classic actors (including Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, and Raquel Welch), this is a fun, nearly farcical adventure that's definitely worth a look.

Vincent & Theo Review


Excellent
Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo is a brooding biopic on the symbiotic relationship of the van Gogh brothers. The director of M*A*S*H and The Player harmonizes well with Julian Mitchell's unobtrusive script, resulting in a poignant cinematic portrait of bursting color and sinking black.

Prelude: A noisy 1980s London auction for van Gogh's Sunflowers dissolves to a 1880s vagabond-ish Vincent (Tim Roth) and brother Theo (Paul Rhys). Multi-million-pound bids of a distant future echo as Vincent declares he's becoming a painter.

Continue reading: Vincent & Theo Review

La Cérémonie Review


Excellent
Tireless French director Claude Chabrol returns to top form with the existential mind-scrambler La Cérémonie, a creepy and disturbing movie that gets under your skin from the very beginning. We know something bad is going to happen -- we just don't know what.

Sandrine Bonnaire (so memorable in East/West) plays a simple maid named Sophie -- so simple in fact that she doesn't know how to read. Hired on by an affluent family living in a large estate in a small town in the north of France, she proves herself an impeccable housekeeper. But when the man of the house calls home for her to fetch files off her desk or the matriarch hands her the shopping list, she invents excuses as to why they can't be done, all in an effort to hide her illiteracy.

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La Truite Review


Weak
There really are fish in La Truite ("the trout"): The film opens as Isabelle Huppert is bored silly squeezing semen out of a fish on the family trout farm. It's an allegory for her own mailaise, and within 20 minutes of screen time, she's abandoned her gay husband and is off to Tokyo with a wealthy businessman.

Ever the free spirit, Huppert's Frédérique has a vague Peter Pan syndrome crossed with exhibitionism. Since her youth (you can tell it's a flashback because she has really long hair), she's made a vow to always woo money out of men by playing neo-whore, but without having sex with them. Heading to Japan with a man (Daniel Olbrychski) she meets in a bowling alley (where else would she encounter him!?) is just this to the nth degree. There she encounters another man's wife (Jeanne Moreau), who tells her about satori, the "world of ecstasy."

Continue reading: La Truite Review

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
From the moment his 16-minute Surrealist dirty bomb Un Chien andalou was dropped on an unsuspecting Paris in 1929 until the time of his death in Mexico in 1983, director Luis Buñuel patiently and gleefully held court as cinema's most steadfast, outspoken, and off-handedly inflammatory enemy of "polite" society. He built a career on his contempt for unexamined social mores and the gluttonous, self-righteous civic and religious leaders who perpetuated them, and he wasn't just fooling around. As a representative attack, consider this sequence from his 1930 feature L'Âge d'or: We're informed by intertitle that over the course of a long weekend in a locked mountain chateau, a group of depraved rapists and murderers have been having their way with a bevy of adolescent male and female virgins, whom they then torture and kill. The scene is based on the same Marquis de Sade material that served as the basis for Pier Paolo Pasolini's unconscionable Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, the difference being that here Buñuel has thoughtfully included Jesus Christ among the deviants. He is even seen to drag an injured, escaping girl off screen, the assumption being, when she doesn't return, that He has finished her off. Was Paris burning? No, but once word of L'Âge d'or got around, you may rest assured that some of her theaters were.

Buñuel's cheerful blasphemy was, as you can imagine, shocking, but his commitment to relaying narrative through free-associative, non-linear images - his commitment, that is, to the Surrealist creed that raged among Parisian artists - was seen by many to be as grave an affront. Audiences grew hostile, it seems, when, in Buñuel's films, livestock lounged about in the beds of debutantes or miffed gamekeepers shot and killed children to blow off steam. Buñuel, who was a Spaniard, suffered a more concrete hardship when Fascists took power in Madrid in 1938; he eventually settled in Mexico in 1946, returning to Spain in 1961 where General Franco banned his first new film, Viridiana, just as hurriedly as the jury at Cannes awarded it the Palme d'or. And so Buñuel relocated to France, now in his 60s, and at an age when most directors have retired or have long since begun recycling their own material, he entered one of the most fertile periods enjoyed by any filmmaker anywhere. There are masterpieces scattered among Buñuel's French films like confetti, but in his 1972 comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of cinema's most brilliant directors made the most brilliant film of his career.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

Ready to Wear Review


Grim
Ready to Wear, a supposed send-up of the fashion world, is a big disappointment, this time from Robert Altman. I got the feeling that Altman didn't really have any idea what he wanted to say with this film (which he later conceded in a TV interview). Altman has to resort to slapstick and dog excrement to make the audience laugh, despite about a zillion big-name stars. Occasionally, people manage to shine despite the cheesy story, making it mildly entertaining.

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The Crimson Rivers Review


Good
Judging from comments strewn across the web, I'm not alone in my bafflement over The Crimson Rivers' subtext and meaning of its ending. It begins with two apparently disparate crimes, the neo-Nazi desecration of a dead girl's mausoleum and the discovery of a mutilated body on a mountaintop -- and the two crimes inexorably draw each other's investigators (Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel) together. But the cat-and-mouse game of Rivers quickly becomes so convoluted that I still don't quite know what to make of the mountaintop showdown at the end.

Still, this French thriller is so stylish it transcends its numerous problems. It has nail-biting suspense and some great performances. It's the kind of movie America remakes -- think George Clooney, Ben Affleck, and Catherine Zeta-Jones while you're watching -- but of course, Hollywood will screw up the ending even worse, I'm sure.

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The Ice Rink (La Patinoire) Review


OK

A lightly and fondly sarcastic, self-irreverent mockery of movie making, "The Ice Rink" ("La Patinoire") takes place behind the scenes on a location shoot for a inflated French art film trying to wrap production in time to qualify for the Venice Film Festival.

All we're told about the film-within-a-film is that it's a sports opus and romantic tragedy (!) about a hockey goalie and a beautiful girl who dies in his arms after being shot in the back while skating towards him in a ball gown (a scene that is shot over and over with a hairy-chested stunt man as her double).

"Sudden death (overtime) is a metaphor for Europe's predicament," insists the movie's frustrated director (Tom Novembre), who desperately holds his project together through a Murphy's Law deluge of semi-sophisticated slapstick disasters.

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The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivieres Pourpres) Review


Weak

If the play-by-their-own-rules cops in "The Crimson River" weren't speaking French and driving those little tin can police cars, it would be hard to distinguish this murder-mutilation psycho thriller from a Hollywood production starring, say, Morgan Freeman.

Taking atmospheric cues and unnecessarily lingering close-ups of corpses from American genre high-water marks like "Seven" and "Silence of the Lambs," writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz seems to be using the movie to angle for a Tinsel Town job offer. He shows off his action scene abilities with a seat-gripping car chase and a barely-in-context kickboxing fight. He sidesteps plot loopholes like a pro. He offers up comic relief sidekicks. But at the same time he spins a complex and exponentially tense mystery that inspires the audience to wrack its brain along with the heroes to put together the clues before the killer strikes again.

Said heroes are Jean Reno ("Ronin," "The Professional") and Vincent Cassel ("Elizabeth," "The Messenger"), a Paris detective and a local cop whose investigations collide in a string of gruesome murders dripping in symbolic suggestion and apparently connected to the private university in a quiet mountain town where the locals have become plagued by inexplicable birth defects.

Continue reading: The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivieres Pourpres) Review

Jean-pierre Cassel

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