Expanded from Cyril Gely's stage play, this film remains finely focussed on a history-changing dialogue between two men on the day Paris changed hands from the Nazis to the Allies. The stakes are so high that the film can't help but be riveting to watch, even if the details of the real-life encounter have of course been fleshed out fictionally. Although some of the drama feels a bit underwhelming, the powerful performances make it remarkably involving.
In August 1944 Hitler levelled Warsaw in a fit of rage, then turns his sights to Paris, which is on the verge being reclaimed by the Allied forces. So he orders his commander there, General von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), to flatten the city and kill as many people as possible in retaliation for Allied attacks on Berlin. Choltitz dutifully lays explosive charges on the bridges and plots the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and Hitler's favourite landmark, the Opera. Then French-born Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier) turns up to offer an impassioned plea for the city. Choltitz says he's obeying orders, but Nordling begs him to consider the consequences for both mankind and his own future.
Obviously, Paris survived the war, and knowing the outcome of these intense negotiations eliminates much of the suspense, so the film's entertainment value is in the quality of the argument, which plays out in real time as these men manoeuvre to get the upper hand in the discussion. Again, this isn't much of a contest, as Nordling always has the moral authority, but Choltitz is caught in a nasty situation, wanting to do his duty even though he knows it's the wrong thing to do. Unfolding in real time, there are constant wrinkles along the way as we wait for the argument that sways everything. So it's a little disappointing that Gely and veteran director-cowriter Volker Schlondorff rely instead on some twists in the tale to spur things forward.
Continue reading: Diplomacy Review
One of the most unsettling movies of the year, this sharply made drama shifts inexorably from blissful romance to something darkly horrific. It's so understated that it might alienate audiences who want everything carefully explained to them. But the problem is that we understand far too well why the story goes where it goes, and that makes it even more haunting.
Based on a true story, the film opens with a brief glimpse of a terrible family tragedy before flashing back to happier times. Now living in Belgium, Moroccan-born Mounir (Rahim) has a whirlwind romance with Murielle (Dequenne). After they get married, they move in with Mounir's friend Andre (Arestrup), a doctor who married Mounir's sister (Raoui) so she could get a European visa. As Mounir and Murielle have four children in quick succession, she struggles with their domestic situation, longing for a family home of their own. She even offers to move to Morocco to live near Mounir's mother (Belal). But Andre seems to have some strange hold over Mounir.
As the years pass, Murielle's quiet desperation grows inexorably, although the film's audience seem to be the only ones who notice. Dequenne's performance is a masterful depiction of submerged emotion as she struggles to quietly cope with Andre's passive-aggression and Mounir's cultural machismo. So as the tension rises, we react like her, clinging to happier moments and possibilities rather than face up to the raw facts. This wouldn't work as well as it does without the superior work from Rahim and Arestrup, who previously starred together memorably in A Prophet. They cleverly refuse to let their characters drift into any sort of stereotype.
Continue reading: Our Children [A Perdre la Raison] Review
In early 1900s Devon, teenager Albert (Irvine) lives on a farm with his impulsive-drunk father Ted (Mullan) and his tough-minded mum Rose (Watson).
When Ted overpays for the wrong horse to work the fields, Albert adopts the horse, names him Joey and teaches him the ropes. But when war breaks out in Europe, Ted sells Joey to a cavalry captain (Hiddleston). At war, Joey changes hands between British and German officers, a young soldier (Kross) and a French farmer (Arestrup). Meanwhile, Albert joins the army, heading into the trenches to search for Joey.
Continue reading: War Horse Review
Julia (Scott Thomas) is an American journalist living in Paris with her husband Bertrand (Pierrot) and their teen daughter (Hin). As they remodel Bertrand's family flat in the Marais, Julia is working on a story for her magazine about Parisian families who in 1942 were deported to Nazi camps in the most hideous conditions. Then one story catches her eye because it is linked to the flat.
And she starts to dig around, talking to Bertrand's father (Duchaussoy) and grandmother (Casadesus) to get to the truth.
Continue reading: Sarah's Key [Elle S'appelait Sarah] Review
Paul (Duris) is a successful Paris lawyer living in suburban bliss with his wife Sarah (Fois) and two lively sons (Cacote and Antic). But just as his boss (Deneuve) offers him the chance of a lifetime, Sarah pulls the rug out by asking for a divorce. So Paul confronts the man (Ruf) he holds responsible, and this starts a dizzying journey as Paul makes a series of decisions that change his life completely. Along the way he meets a drunken newsman (Arestrup) and a sexy editor (Katic) who spark even more unexpected actions.
Continue reading: The Big Picture [L'Homme qui Voulait Vivre Sa Vie] Review
After spending his childhood in custody, 19-year-old Malik (Rahim) transfers to an adult prison. He soon has his gentle naivete knocked out of him by Cesar (Arestrup), leader of the fearsome Corsican gang that rules the roost. As an Arab, Malik is in something of a no-man's land, caught between the Corsicans and the Muslims. And he uses this wisely over the next few years, learning about economics with the help of his friend Reyeb (Yacoubi) and making dangerous links with the Muslims and gypsies to become a confident kingpin himself.
Continue reading: A Prophet [un Prophete] Review
The story tracks closely with the original: Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris) is a wayward twentysomething who, with partner Fabrice (Jonathan Zaccaï) is trying to make a name for himself by completing shady real estate deals half done with cash and half done with muscle. Thomas is the muscle. Meanwhile, his life is a shambles -- his ailing father (Niels Arestrup) can't get the Russian mafia to pay him the money he's owed, but he's marrying a "glorified prostitute" anyway. Fabrice, meanwhile, is cheating in his lovely wife (an unforgettable Aure Atika), and eventually Thomas fills in for him.
Continue reading: The Beat That My Heart Skipped Review
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