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White Bird in a Blizzard Review


Good

There's an unusual honesty to this film, which is an odyssey into the inner life of a teen girl. Gregg Araki has made a career out of understanding the often tortured inner workings of the adolescent mind, and this is one of his most beautifully crafted films yet, artfully circling around a central mystery while digging deeply into each of the characters. And while it seems a bit straightforward for an Araki movie, it's packed with his usual darker corners, especially in the surprising final act.

It's set in the autumn of 1988, when Kat (Shailene Woodley) feels her life fall apart. She's just 17, on the verge of womanhood when her mother (Eva Green) inexplicably vanishes, leaving her dad (Christopher Meloni) struggling to help her through puberty. Her best pals (Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe) are some help, but at the same time she begins to feel a growing distance from her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). Is all of this connected, or is this because of Phil's own family issues? As she plays through the various clues in her mind, the answers are also eluding the local tough-guy detective (Thomas Jane). A few years later, Kat returns home from her studies at Berkeley to visit her dad. And maybe this time she'll finally find out what happened.

The film is a beautiful depiction of the awkwardness of being a teenager, when everything seems wrong but feelings are so strong. Araki fills the screen with sumptuous imagery including dreamy sequences set in a snowy landscape where Kat mentally searches for her mother. And flashbacks offer more earthy glimpses into this difficult mother-daughter relationship, especially as Kat and her once-glamorous mother begin to shift in their roles. Clearly, Kat suspects that her mother ran away after seducing Phil, but the truth isn't quite this obvious.

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Picture - Pascal Caucheteux, Thomas Bidegain, Marion... , Monday 5th November 2012

Pascal Caucheteux, Thomas Bidegain, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jacques Audiard and Grauman's Chinese Theatre - Pascal Caucheteux, Thomas Bidegain, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts and Jacques Audiard Monday 5th November 2012 AFI Fest - 'Rust and Bone' - Gala Premiere at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre - Arrivals

Rust and Bone [De Rouille et d'Os] Review


Essential

Marion Cotillard delivers another raw, devastating performance in this beautifully made drama about two badly damaged people who adapt to a new life together. After 2009's award-winning A Prophet, director-cowriter Audiard delivers an equally complex but strikingly different film, centring on complex, conflicting emotions and characters who are so messy that they feel jarringly real.

It starts in Belgium, as Alain (Schoenaerts) takes his 5-year-old son Sam (Verdure) and moves to the French Riviera to live with his sister (Masiero) and her husband (Correia). With his burly physique, he easily finds work as a nightclub bouncer, and one night he meets the sexy Stephanie (Cotillard), who trains orcas at a local aquarium. Then she has a terrible accident at work that leaves her disabled, and their unlikely friendship begins to develop in unexpected ways. He seems uniquely able to see past her physical issues, while she begins to understand his deep desire to be a bare-knuckle fighter. But neither has the skills to help heal each others' emotional scars.

In more obvious filmmakers' hands, this would be a heartwarming tale of two lost souls falling in love and giving each other hope. But Audiard resists sentimentality at every turn, never giving into romantic cliches while packing the story with scenes that catch us off guard simply because they are so startlingly unlike normal movie plot points. Alain and Stephanie don't so much help each other as provide a safe space in which to recover. And along the way, Audiard explores them like rust and bone, broken down by years of decay and injury. But of course, bone sometimes heals to be stronger than it was before.

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Beloved Review


Weak
Adventurous French filmmaker Honore returns to the musical genre, but this film isn't as buoyant as the wonderful Les Chansons d'Amour (2007). No, this one is dark and rather grim. And it feels about an hour too long.

In 1964 Riems, Madeleine (Sagnier) accidentally begins moonlighting as a prostitute before falling in love with a client, the charming Czech doctor Jaromil (Bukvic). He whisks her off to Prague, until the Russian invasion of 1968 and Jaromil's infidelity drive her back to France with daughter Vera.

Madeleine remarries, but never loses her feelings for Jaromil. Even some 40 years later (now played by Deneuve and Forman), they're meeting in secret, while Vera (now Mastroianni) is struggling with the fact that she has fallen in love with the wrong man (Schneider).

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Of Gods and Men [Des Hommes et des Dieux] Review


Essential
With very little action, this film builds almost unbearable tension by carefully examining some moral questions in a precarious situation that's based on true events. And in the process, it becomes one of the most important films in recent memory.

Christian (Wilson) is the leader of a group of eight French monks living in a Catholic monastery in rural Algeria. Their only mission is to pray and serve the local people, and over the generations they have become an integral part of the community. When fundamentalist tensions spill into violence in the country around them, they have a difficult decision to make: abandon the people and flee home to France or stand up to the injustice. Opinions are split, but they opt to seek an answer together. And their decision could cost them their lives.

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White Material Review


Excellent
Claire Denis resolutely refuses to make simple movies, so this intense drama set during a civil war in central Africa feels somewhat elusive as it concentrates on emotions rather than plotting. But it's still riveting.

Maria (Huppert) is passionate about her family's coffee plantation, which she runs with her ex-husband Andre (Lambert) and her father-in-law (Subor). She's sure that a violent clash between the army and rebels will pass them by, so she works to make sure the harvest goes as planned. But Andre, now married to a local woman (Ado), is more realistic. And their late-teen son Manuel (Duvachelle) is struggling to find his identity. Meanwhile, an iconic rebel leader (De Bankole) has taken refuge in Maria's home.

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A Christmas Tale Review


Extraordinary
French director Arnaud Desplechin returns to the U.S. three years after his last domestically distributed picture, Kings & Queen, bearing a gift of another sort in A Christmas Tale. Seeing release approximately a month before the titular holiday, like some Black Friday extravaganza, Desplechin packs all manner of cinematic devices, narrative theatrics, and filmic vernacular into this work of unimaginable generosity.

Only a few days before the sugar plums and wassail are set on the table, Junon Vuillard (Catherine Deneuve), the grand matriarch of a family of lunatics, is diagnosed with a serious case of lymphoma, the same disease that already claimed her eldest son Joseph. The film opens with her husband Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) mourning over his son with a startlingly breezy candor. Employing shadow puppets, the lineage of the Vuillard family in its current incarnation is explained, leading to Ivan (Melvil Poupad), the youngest of Junon's children.

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Le Petit Lieutenant Review


Excellent
Is procedure really that boring? For ages now, the great detectives and police officers of film noirs and action flicks have dreaded the idea of pushing papers, running by procedure and the loathsome task known as a "desk job." But isn't there such a thing as payoff? Isn't there a deeper, resounding thrill in seeing a case from first report to the click of the handcuffs? If you asked most studio pictures, the answer would be a cumulative "nope," but director Xavier Beauvois seems to be in love with the notion.

Fresh out of police academy, Antoine (Jalil Lespert) has just signed up for assignment in Paris, leaving his wife in the suburbs. His excitement increases when he is introduced to his boss, Inspector Vaudieu (venerable Nathalie Baye), a legend who is returning to work after the death of her son and a long fight with alcoholism. The inspector takes Antoine and his supervisor Solo (Roschdy Zem) along to investigate a homicide, the murder of a bum that unravels into the hunt for two Russian thugs. Antoine gets paired with an older cop, Louis (a fantastic Antoine Chappey), and the inspector takes Solo as her partner as they both take statements, question witnesses, and slowly tiptoe towards the truth.

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Le Petit Lieutenant Review


Excellent
Is procedure really that boring? For ages now, the great detectives and police officers of film noirs and action flicks have dreaded the idea of pushing papers, running by procedure and the loathsome task known as a "desk job." But isn't there such a thing as payoff? Isn't there a deeper, resounding thrill in seeing a case from first report to the click of the handcuffs? If you asked most studio pictures, the answer would be a cumulative "nope," but director Xavier Beauvois seems to be in love with the notion.

Fresh out of police academy, Antoine (Jalil Lespert) has just signed up for assignment in Paris, leaving his wife in the suburbs. His excitement increases when he is introduced to his boss, Inspector Vaudieu (venerable Nathalie Baye), a legend who is returning to work after the death of her son and a long fight with alcoholism. The inspector takes Antoine and his supervisor Solo (Roschdy Zem) along to investigate a homicide, the murder of a bum that unravels into the hunt for two Russian thugs. Antoine gets paired with an older cop, Louis (a fantastic Antoine Chappey), and the inspector takes Solo as her partner as they both take statements, question witnesses, and slowly tiptoe towards the truth.

Continue reading: Le Petit Lieutenant Review

Kings & Queen Review


Extraordinary
Sometimes it's nice to be small. We can all suck up and lick our lips at multi-narrative wonders like Short Cuts, Magnolia, and Sunshine State, but there is something to be said for simplicity in story and complexity in character. Arnaud Desplechin's Kings & Queen has the grandeur of P.T. Anderson and Robert Altman, but has the loose charm and intoxicating spontaneity of Truffaut and Godard.

We start out looking at Nora (Emmanuelle Devos), being interviewed by someone. She talks about her OK life with nonchalance and a nervous smile. Her job as a gallery owner seems boring, but financially substantial enough to allow for her to go visit her cancer-ridden father (Maurice Garrel) and try to pawn off her 10-year-old child, Elias (Valentin Lelong), on Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), her second husband and Elias' main father figure besides Nora's own father.

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Skin of Man, Heart of Beast Review


Terrible
Upon departing the screening of Helene Angel's Skin of Man, Heart of Beast, I was left with a stupefying mental puzzle filled with jagged pieces of plot and dialogue that did not quite fit together in any coherent manner. While the film is linear in the traditional sense, free of time warps and flashbacks, the imagery and symbolism cause one to wonder about its underlying message. Is it a criticism of the brutal treatment of women in rural French society? Or is it a story of conquest about two innocent young girls able to overcome a sadly dysfunctional family situation? Because of the film's ambiguity, I'll discuss only those pieces of the puzzle that are concrete enough to judge and explain.

Serge Riaboukine and Barnard Blancan represent the titular "beasts." They are two brothers that not only appear strikingly beastly on the outside, but also have rapacious souls, which they nourish through the abuse of women. Riaboukine plays Franky, an alcoholic city cop who is forced to give up his badge after savagely beating a prostitute while in a drunken stupor. He retreats to the family farm with his mother (Maaike Jansen), teenage brother (Pascal Cervo), and two daughters. There he reunites with his boyhood community and is warmly welcomed by his family, friends, and not surprisingly, sleazy underworld connections. Ironically, he is gentle and loving around his two girls, especially the baby, five-year-old Aurelie (Cathy Hinderchild), whose character is meant to symbolize purity, as she exists in an overly optimistic world of fairies and fantasy. At night when he steps way from his family, however, Franky is a gluttonous savage of a man who parties, drinks, and womanizes with reckless abandon.

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The Beat That My Heart Skipped Review


Excellent
James Toback's Fingers is an odd film, but it's an even odder film to become fascinated with for nearly 30 years. French director Jacques Audiard (whose Read My Lips was an undersung gem) has remade Fingers, updated it for the zeros, and given it a Parisian bent... and the end result is just as compelling as Toback's original.

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.

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Assault On Precinct 13 (2005) Review


Grim
The trouble with big-budget remakes is that more often than not, the films being updated for modern audiences necessitate little improvement. Rather than resurrecting and reconfiguring interesting failures, studio executives and second-rate directors instead subscribe to a lame-brained formula in which highly regarded classics and quirky genre films made by esteemed filmmakers are stripped of their unique character and thematic underpinnings, given a coat of cinematographic flash, populated with pretty actors, and simplistically streamlined so that only the basic plot structure is retained. Respect for tradition be damned, these bastardized versions trample on their precursors' venerable legacies as they pitifully attempt to parlay their predecessor's name-brand cache into box-office glory.

Such is the sorry story of Assault on Precinct 13, a reimagining of John Carpenter's 1976 genre gem (which, in turn, was modeled after Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo) about cops and criminals trapped in an old police station who are forced to work together to fend off a horde of murderous invaders. Directed by Jean-François Richet, the new film holds to that fundamental premise, though it tweaks virtually every important aspect of Carpenter's thriller for maximum vapidity. Now set in snow-bound Detroit on New Year's Eve (rather than in arid California), Richet's Assault switches the skin color of its leads - the police sergeant (Ethan Hawke's Jake Roenick) is now white, while the head criminal (Laurence Fishburne's mythic Marion Bishop) is black - and abandons Carpenter's astute portrait of uneasy, ready-to-explode racial tensions. In this version, the cops are Caucasian (including Brian Dennehy's Irish racist, who tellingly refers to the inmates as "those people"), the bad guys are African-American and Hispanic, and any friction generated from such divisions is swept under the rug in favor of ratcheting up the ho-hum action.

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