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A Promise Review


OK

When a French filmmaker travels to Belgium to film a German story in English, it's hardly surprising that the resulting movie feels somewhat awkward. Fortunately, the filmmaker in question is the detail-oriented Patrice Leconte (The Widow of Saint-Pierre), and he's working with a fine British cast that makes the most of even the stiffest dialogue. It may all feel rather superficial, but the plot is packed with surprising twists and some real emotion.

It's set in 1912 Germany, where young engineer Friedrich (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden) quickly impresses his sardonic boss Karl (Alan Rickman) at the steelworks, and is promoted to be his personal assistant. When Karl is bedridden with a heart problem, Friedrich moves from his squalid garret into Karl's elegant manor house, taking on extra responsibilities as a tutor for Karl's son. He also catches the eye of Karl's much younger wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall). Their attraction is clearly mutual, but both are naturally afraid to say anything about it. And when they finally do, it's just as Friedrich is about to head off to Mexico for a two-year assignment. So they vow to wait to act on their forbidden love until he gets back. Then the Great War breaks out, and their reunion is delayed, seemingly indefinitely.

Intriguingly, there's a sense that Karl invited Friedrich into his home as a replacement both at the factory and as Lotte's husband. This emerges mainly in subtext through Rickman's clever performance, which bristles with wit and emotional energy, effortlessly stealing the focus from the central romance. Madden is suitably likeable as Friedrich, although it's difficult to understand why he is so besotted with Lotte when he already has a devoted girlfriend (Shannon Tarbet) whose only flaw seems to be that she's a bit clingy. Meanwhile, Hall gives a terrific turn as a young woman whose stiff upper lift obscures a near-bursting passion, which she channels into haunting piano playing that echoes through the house, tormenting both Karl and Friedrich.

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NEDs Review


OK
While it's beautifully shot in period style and features terrific performances from the largely non-professional cast, this film struggles to get us involved simply because there isn't much we can grab hold of.

In 1972 Glasgow, young John (Forrest) is a bright spark who certainly will never become a "Non-Educated Delinquent". He lives on a rough estate, and as he heads for secondary school he begins to be targeted by the bullying local gang members. But he keeps his head down, hides behind the fierce reputation of his big brother (Szula) and excels at his studies. Then two years later, John (now McCarron) falls in with a group of thugs who offer him acceptance and camaraderie. Of course his studies start suffering as a result.

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The Next Three Days Review


Excellent
This faithful remake of Fred Cavaye's 2008 dramatic thriller Anything for Her (Pour Elle) is a deeply involving film that pulls us into its story and forces us to ask heavy moral questions. Although anyone who saw the original may wonder why they bothered to remake it.

John (Crowe) is a university literature professor who is struggling to cope with the fact that his wife Lara (Banks) has been imprisoned for murder.

Convinced of her innocence, he launches three years of appeals, all of which fail. Now at the end of his tether, he begins to hatch an unthinkable plan to reunite her with him and their 6-year-old son (Simpkins). After consulting an expert (Neeson), the question remains whether a mild-mannered schoolteacher can stage a daring prison break. And two cops (Hinds and Beghe) are closing in on him.

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Enter The Void Review


Good
Ambitious Argentine-French filmmaker Noe is back with another gimmick (see the reverse-order Irreversible): this epic-length odyssey is told completely through the eyes of its central character. It's a gruelling film, but is packed with moments of filmmaking genius.

Oscar (Brown) is a young Westerner living in a one-room flat in Tokyo, where his life is a blur of drug-taking. He's utterly devoted to his sister Linda (de la Huerta), who's also in Tokyo working as an erotic dancer. While on a risky drug deal with his friend Alex (Roy), Oscar meets Victor (Alexander) at the seedy club Void. But they're caught in a police raid, and Oscar is shot, travelling out of his body into the night. Perhaps he can still watch over Linda from beyond the grave.

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My Best Friend Review


Good
French writer/director Patrice Leconte specializes in odd couples, and My Best Friend is another enjoyable variation on the theme. Paris is a cold and miserable place for art and antiques dealer Francois (Daniel Auteuil), and it will take a new person in his life to deliver him from the emotional pain he doesn't even seem to realize he's suffering.

Francois is stunned to discover that he has no friends, not one. At a bustling restaurant dinner with many of his colleagues, the topic comes up, and each one of them makes it clear in no uncertain terms that while they may work with him, they don't like him and never have. Even his business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) feels that the only thing he really loves is a good deal on an antique. Nonsense, says Francois, I have lots of friends, don't I?

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5x2 Review


Good
François Ozon (Under the Sand, Swimming Pool) channels Ingmar Bergman rather than regular muses Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol for 5x2, the portrait of a disintegrating marriage that focuses on five key instances in the troubled couple's history. Ozon's tale is told in reverse chronologically, beginning with divorce proceedings and ending with a romantic first meeting, though unlike Gaspar Noé's similarly flip-flopped Irreversible, Ozon's narrative structure isn't simply a gimmick designed to gussy up otherwise straightforward material; rather, the upside-down construction strives to upend viewers' commonly held perceptions about the reasons why once-amorous relationships end in heartbreak. Assembled with more than a hint of repetition and, as a result, a frustrating lack of unexpected revelations, Ozon's latest peters out before its anticlimactic conclusion. Yet thanks to his sterling stars and a directorial attentiveness, the filmmaker crafts a mature portrait of a relationship's thorny complexity while coloring his domestic drama with an undercurrent of looming menace and bittersweet inevitability.

Ozon's story recounts the ill-fated union of Marion (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss), a wife and husband who, at film's start, are shown quietly finalizing their divorce in a drab office, their faces pained but stoic reflections of their relief, misery and nervousness over the end of their matrimony. Clearly indebted - in spirit if not in specifics - to Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage (including Gilles' beard, a nod to Erland Josephson's), 5x2 (before heading back in time) subsequently moves from this depressing administrative locale to a furtive, desperate motel reunion between the newly single Marion and Gilles where attempts to rekindle the sexual fire ends in physical and emotional abuse. This powerhouse confrontation finds Bruni Tedeschi and Freiss, their forlorn eyes captured in close-up, expressing without words the callous selfishness, lack of communication, and physical and emotional detachment that doomed their relationship. And the scene ignites the film with a promise of eye-opening bombshells to come about the couple's dissolution via the ensuing backwards procession through a dinner party with Gilles' brother and his lover, Gilles' injurious cowardice during the birth of his son, their drunken wedding night, and their first encounter on a tropical beach.

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Time to Leave Review


Excellent
Leave it to fascinating French writer/director François Ozon to take one of the most tired movie cliches of all time -- "I'm sorry, but you only have a few months to live." -- and turn into to a totally fresh look at what it truly means to live. Time to Leave shows how the final months of handsome 31-year-old gay fashion photographer Romain (Melvil Poupaud) turn out to be both the worst and the best of his life.

Handed his death sentence by his doctor, Romain chooses to let his cancer kill him rather than suffer through the indignities of debilitating treatment that even the doctor admits has only a five percent chance of working. But now what? Romain's first instinct is to push everyone away in order to protect them from the pain of watching him die. Always prickly with his family, who have struggled with his homosexuality, a family dinner he attends turns positively toxic when Romain insults his fragile mother (Marie Rivière) and father (Daniel Duval) and calls his sister (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) a bad mother. When his father drives him home, Romain asks him, "Do I frighten you?" Dad replies, "Yes, sometimes." Through all this, Romain has forgotten to tell them his big news.

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Sitcom Review


Weak
A tightly knit bourgeois French family flies apart in multiple spasms of insanity and sexual depravity in Sitcom, noted French director François Ozon's first full-length feature. The title indicates that all this is supposed to be funny, and it is at first, in a sort of Almodovarish way. But as the layers of weirdness pile on, any feeling of farce, which demands a light touch, is hopelessly weighed down. Blame it all on the white lab rat that dad brings home as a pet.

Father (François Marthouret), the doctor, and Mother (Évelyne Dandry), the nervous housewife, have raised two teens in their mansionette. Nicolas (Adrien de Van) is typically sullen and withdrawn, while Sophie (Marina de Van) is vivacious and enjoys a rollicking relationship with her boyfriend David (Stéphane Rideau). Both think the rat is cute. Mom, who hates the rat, hires a new spitfire of a housekeeper named Maria (Lucia Sanchez) and invites her and her African boyfriend Ebdu (Jules-Emmanuel Eyoum Deido) (whom Mom finds tres exotique in a slightly racist way) to a welcome dinner. It's at this dinner that Nicolas announces he's gay and storms upstairs. Ebdu volunteers to talk to the boy, but once he's in the bedroom, he takes sexual advantage.

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See the Sea Review


OK
Confirms everything you knew about how freaky and messed-up French people are. Story: Island-dwelling woman with little baby welcomes a drifter into her home while her husband is away. Drifter turns out to be psycho, as does mom. Despite a 52 minute running time, an awful lot of freakiness is traded back and forth before the ultimate, tragic ending. Very, very twisted.

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Criminal Lovers Review


Unbearable
She's a mouthy, demanding, bratty femme fatale who always wants her own way. Her cuckold is a slightly goofy young fellow who hangs on her every word and submissively goes along with whatever scheme she cooks up. These are our unsympathetic heroes in Francois Ozon's latest exercise in cinematic shock treatment, Criminal Lovers.

After a preliminary scene in bed where the girl, Alice (Natacha Regnier, unrecognizable from The Dreamlife of Angels), mouths off to the boy, Luc (Jeremie Renier), taking a photograph of his limp penis and threatening to mail it to his mother, they commit a violent crime. Without fully knowing their motive, our title characters meander into a high school shower and stab their jock classmate Said (Salim Kechiouche).

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8 Women Review


Grim
It's certainly admirable for a writer and/or director (in this case both) to take on a variety of genres. To pull off quirky comedy (Warm Drops on Burning Rocks) and then turn to a story of subtle human pain (Under the Sand) with as much exactness wins kudos in the Respect department. Some points for the ingenuity to weave in a handful of enthusiastic, never-used musical numbers need also be awarded. Working with deservedly reputable chameleons like Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert doesn't hurt any either. So why does 8 Women (not to be confused with 8 1/2 Women) fail to provide the simplest escapist entertainment?

Before pondering this, the question of whether or not a frivolous film is acceptable needs to be addressed. Mindless eye candy is redeemable when a) at least one character is fun to follow; b) some of the humor is fresh instead of feeling like a bunch of regurgitated stereotypes; c) not every single scene or line of dialogue is predictable, including the supposedly surprising conclusion.

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Under the Sand Review


Excellent
François Ozon has been busy the last couple of years dickering around with the crude sensationalism of Sitcom and Criminal Lovers, films that resemble biting the heads off chickens. This talented young auteur offers a welcome change of pace from this recent spate of puerile shock-value thrillers with the restrained, quietly haunting character study, Under the Sand. Ozon's latest feature returns to the quietly haunting rigor of his first international success, See the Sea: disturbing, minimalist, perceptive.

Much of the tension in Ozon's best work remains unspoken, or deliberately unexplained. In that spirit, he concocts a delicious mystery in the extended opening sequence as middle aged professor Marie Drillon (Charlotte Rampling, superb as ever) enjoys an annual summer vacation to the south of France with her husband of 25 years, Jean (giant teddy bear Bruno Cremer). They seem a happy couple, comfortable in their silences as they go about the routines of putting their chateau in order, cooking meals, sunbathing on the beach. Jean goes for a swim one day, but to Marie's shock, he never comes back.

Continue reading: Under the Sand Review

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