Michel Piccoli

Michel Piccoli

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Holy Motors Review


Essential

Indescribably insane, this outrageously inventive French drama is so bracingly strange that we can't help but love every moment. It's certainly not like any movie you've ever seen before, and French director Carax packs it with so many offbeat touches - from wildly unexpected casting to witty movie references - that watching it is almost like a fever dream.

It's the story of Oscar (Lavant), who goes to work in a white stretch-limousine with his driver Celine (Scob). But the limo is actually his office, and his job entails dressing up in full make-up to play nine roles over the course of the day. These include a scabby homeless woman, a dying husband and a freaky green mischief-maker who invades a funeral and bites off people's fingers. But as the day progresses, Oscar begins to crack under the strain. Is it because of the job's huge emotional demands or because he's not living his own life?

The film is like a razor sharp satire of reality TV and social networking, as Carax cuts through the layers of artificiality of modern life. At the centre, these are all actors playing actors in a variety of scenarios. But who is watching? Some of these scenes are sexy and funny, while others are terrifying or darkly moving. But for all of the intensity of feeling, the situations are essentially shallow simply because they're not actually real. And Carax pushes each segment far beyond what we expect.

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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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Picture - Guest Cannes, France, Friday 13th May 2011

Guest and Michel Piccoli Friday 13th May 2011 2011 Cannes International Film Festival - Day 3 - Habemus Papam - Premiere Cannes, France

Picture - Michel Piccoli Cannes, France, Friday 13th May 2011

Michel Piccoli Friday 13th May 2011 2011 Cannes International Film Festival - Day 3 - Habemus Papam - Premiere Cannes, France

The Duchess of Langeais Review


Excellent
It's no mystery that men and women do unconscionable things in the name of love, but the way French-new-waver Jacques Rivette plays it in his adaptation of Balzac's Don't Touch the Axe, you would think it was an epidemic.

Titled The Duchess of Langeais, Rivette's Restoration anti-romance takes the structure of a courtship between General Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu), a celebrated war hero, and Antoinette (the astounding Jeanne Balibar), the titular married coquette, in the early 19th-century. At a ball in the upper echelons of French society, Antoinette becomes intrigued by the stoic Montriveau even before she meets him. Despite his lack of game, the general entices the married duchess with stories of his wartime campaigns. A student of Bonaparte, Montriveau becomes infatuated with Antoinette, who, in turn, begins to strategically toy with her soldier-in-waiting.

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May Fools Review


OK
Louis Malle's farce has a gaggle of Frenchies bickering over an inheritance, all while the 1968 student uprisings are occurring around the oblivious relatives. Occasionally random storytelling gets in the way of an otherwise light and fun film. And who doesn't love that Miou-Miou!?

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Dangerous Moves Review


Excellent
The title may sound like soft-core porn, but it's actually a Best Foreign Film Oscar winner that you've never heard of.

Never before seen in the US, this Swiss production concerns a championship chess match between Soviet master Liebskind (Michel Piccoli) and his former student, a defector named Fromm (Alexandre Arbatt). The underlying political intrigue -- which we expect -- is quite understated as the film focuses on the mind games between the two players. Sure, there's a political agenda, but the insight into how these players try to outfox each other between matches is priceless. They plan strategies, only to watch them come undone during the actual game. When we learn that Liebskind is dying, the game becomes a metaphor for not just east vs. west, but life vs. life.

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The Phantom of Liberty Review


OK
In 1972, when he was in his 80s, director Luis Buñuel released what is very likely his masterpiece, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. The film is a marvel for a lot of reasons, but one of its hallmarks is the constant digressions of its plot; it moves unexpectedly from dream sequence to reality in ever-deepening convolutions, as though Buñuel placed equal weight on our waking and irrational lives. In his next film, 1974's The Phantom of Liberty, he dispensed with plot, as it is traditionally understood, altogether. In this penultimate outing, Buñuel focuses on the role of chance in life, on the free-associative substance of dreams, and on the arbitrariness of social conventions, and he extends that focus to the film's structure itself.

The continuity of The Phantom of Liberty isn't entirely random; the plot moves from one character's set of circumstances to another's, taking the film with it and only rarely returning to previous narrative strands. (Richard Linklater's Slacker is an example of another film - perhaps the only other film - with a vaguely comparable structure.) The Phantom of Liberty begins with the execution of Spanish partisans by Napoleonic troops in Toledo in 1808, an incident memorialized in Goya's famous painting "Third of May." The film, in fact, opens with this image - and it recurs more dependably than any character does - the intended irony being that the partisans were fighting against the greater freedoms that the Napoleonic Code afforded, and thus against liberty. Among the French troops is a captain whom we follow into a cathedral; there he makes sexual advances on the statue of a certain Dona Elvira, whose body rests beneath the cathedral floor, until he is assaulted by the statue of her late husband, which kneels next to hers. To this point the film has been narrated, and here the scene shifts to a nanny in contemporary times who is reading the captain's tale out loud in a park. As she reads, the young girls in her charge are approached by a shifty man who offers to show the girls some photos, warning that no grown-ups are to see them. We then meet the father of one of the girls ("I'm sick of symmetry," he announces while handling a display box containing a giant spider); he and his wife are outraged when shown the photos, and later the man's sleep is haunted by a mailman, who delivers a letter to his bed, and what I took to be an ostrich sauntering casually through the room. The following day this man's doctor explains that he's not interested in his patients' dreams, but the man insists that he wasn't dreaming and offers the letter he received as proof.

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The Young Girls of Rochefort Review


Good
Director Jacques Demy said that The Young Girls of Rochefort's plot wasn't of much consequence, and he's right. This is a film about music and color, an impressive follow-up to the similar The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which also starred Catherine Deneuve as a starry-eyed French girl with love in her heart. In Rochefort she has a twin sister (Françoise Dorléac, who died in a car accident at the age of 25, before Rochefort was ever released in the United States); together they're after a pair of eligible young men of Rochefort, at least when they aren't working on their professions -- one's a dancer, one's a pianist and composer. But really they're both singers, as this musical lurches through one musical dance number after another -- for a movie with no important plot, why must it run beyond two full hours? Ultimately it's a tepid storyline that makes Rochefort pale in the face of Cherbourg, which pretty much had it all. (And damn if these girls don't wear way too much makeup!)

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I'm Going Home Review


Extraordinary
Released in 2002, at a time when its director was 92 years old, Manoel de Oliveira's I'm Coming Home is a masterpiece by a director whose previous works (and subsequent ones; he's made a couple films since, with another in production) can be hard to get your hands on outside of his home countries of Portugal and France. It's a shame; watching I'm Coming Home, you develop a pressing desire to sample more of de Oliveira's work. The Milestone DVD release of I'm Coming Home (with a useful commentary track by film historian Richard Peña and an interview with the director) is thus a cause for celebration all the more.

What emerges first watching I'm Coming Home is de Oliveira's extraordinary and serene cinematic style. The story is that of a successful and respected Parisian actor named Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli), a 76 year-old, who, in the film's opening scenes, loses his wife and daughter in an auto crash. We then take up with him a few months later as he goes about the day-to-day business of tending his orphaned grandson Serge and maintaining the routine he's reestablished in his life. When an American director (John Malkovich) casts Valence as the much, much younger Buck Mulligan in a film adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, the forced scrutiny of his age challenges Valence's emotional equilibrium and causes him to reevaluate his mortality and recent loss.

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Contempt Review


Excellent
Contempt (or Le Mépris, for you purists out there), directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963, is a superlative film about many things, including the making of a film, the break-up of a married couple, and the parallels between the contemporary New Wave world (of 1963) and the classical (Old Wave) world of Homer. The basic story, based on novel by Alberto Moravia, is this: Director Fritz Lang (playing himself) is in the process of directing a film version of Homer's Odyssey. Lang has already shot some scenes, but his boorish film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) is upset with the results so he has fired most of the crew and hired a playwright named Paul (Michel Piccoli) to do some rewrites. Paul arrives in Rome with his beautiful wife Camille (Brigette Bardot) and over the course of a couple of days - in which they travel to Capri - everything goes wrong for Paul, who loses Camille to Prokosch and who decides that rewriting the Odyssey is too big a task considering that his own life has taken a heartbreaking turn. Contempt, however, is not a movie about making a movie as much as it is a movie about a disintegrating relationship. The center piece scene is a 30 minute passive/aggressive marital fight between Paul and Camille that takes place in a small apartment. The scene is a very economical piece of filmmaking that unfolds in real time. On first viewing this scene can be maddening because it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and it's difficult to figure out what Camille and Paul are fighting about. Their grief seems to come from someplace else. And maybe there is a past we don't understand, but what Godard is presenting us with is a failed relationship in the modern world: One where gallantry, romanticism and, more importantly, communication have failed. On the surface the film also shows how difficult it is for an art house director to get a film made with a Hollywood film producer: especially if the film is based on such a classic as Homer's Odyssey. Jack Palance gives a very funny performance as the egomaniacal film producer who can only see profit in the venture. He also gets a few humorous lines: When Lang comments on a Greek story, Palance reaches into his coat pocket and says, "When I hear the word culture I get out my checkbook." There is an irony also to Palance's character because it was well known at the time that Godard was having trouble with the film's real producers: Carlo Ponti and Joseph Levine. They insisted that Godard include a nude scene with Bardot so he went back and shot a scene with color filters in which she talks to her husband in the nude. It's a much more intellectual scene than a sexy one and, if anything, it clearly shows that Godard won the battle on that issue. Unlike almost all of Godard's film in the 1960s, Contempt is much more heartfelt than intellectually removed or self reflexive. No doubt, some of this can be attributed to Godard's split from his then wife Anna Karina, which had to have some kind of personal affect on him. But part of the reason too is because of Georges Delerue's distinctively melancholic score, which consists of two mood-setting pieces that are shuffled and repeated seemingly at will about 20 times throughout the film. Still the film does have some self reflexive moments. In many instances Godard comments upon many things in literature from Dante to romantic poetry and films that have influenced him like Roberto Rossellini's Voyage in Italy and Howard Hawks' Hatari!,as well as nods to his own films. Best of all is the gorgeous color Francscope (similar to CinemaScope) cinematography done in anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio by the legendary D.P. Raoul Cotard and the slow burning pace, which is a desirable quality missing from cinema these days. The images are so seductive, in fact, that viewers may miss some of the complexity and issues about the classical versus the modern world. The Criterion Collection DVD is exemplary in all categories. There is an informative commentary track by film scholar Robert Stam and a second disc full of all kinds of goodies. The two best are a 53-minute conversation between Godard and Lang titled The Dinosaur and the Baby and a 10-minute interview with Godard in which he stands at a microphone with sunglasses on and tells an interviewer what he thinks of critics. There is also a short doc on the difficultly of dealing with Bardot's fame during the shoot, a short on Fritz Lang, and a recent interview with Raoul Coutard. There is also an enlightening five minute comparison between the inferior full-frame 1.33:1 transfer of the film (long available in video) versus the widescreen letterbox transfer, which mirror the director's true intentions. All in all this is a stunning DVD and is not-to-be-missed by any Godard fan; something we should all be by now.

Passion in the Desert Review


Good
Get this: French soldier, circa Napoleonic era, gets lost in the Egyptian desert, befriends (or falls in love with) a leopard, and goes primal. Less bizarre and less interesting than it sounds, Passion in the Desert (aka Simoom: A Passion in the Desert) is nonetheless a fairly compelling film thanks to Ben Daniels wild-eyed performance. Based on a novella by Balzac, which pretty much explains the whole thing.

La Belle Noiseuse Review


Good
Fine art's a funny thing that I barely pretend to understand. In this molasses-slow four-hour drama, Jacques Rivette proves that he's got an understanding of fine art, but a minimal one of the art of movies. Four hours of sketching, painting, and posing a naked Emmanuelle Béart has a certain summer-in-the-south-of-France charm to it, but that can't drag us through 240 full minutes. The story is threadbare: Old artist, young visitor, his girlfriend becomes the old artist's model -- and together they figure out that neither of them is really in charge of the artistic process. Lots of self-discovery and philosophizing along the way. Very French, and actually much more capable of being enjoyed at a setting of x2 speed on your DVD player.

The Game Is Over Review


Weak
Decades before "GAME OVER," there was The Game Is Over,

Jane Fonda strikes what often seems to be Barbarella redux, though that film was still two years away for her. This collaboration with then-husband Roger Vadim (in French) is very bad any way you look at it, although it does offer copious shots of Jane in various stages of undress (for about the first hour of the film, that's all there is, really) and a Graduate-esque ending that sort of makes the exercise worthwhile.

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