Philippe Carcassonne

Philippe Carcassonne

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Coco Before Chanel Review


Good
This biopic kind of dwells on the misery in Coco Chanel's life, but it's a strong story of a woman who made her own way against all odds. And it's skilfully and beautifully filmed and acted.

After her mother died in 1895, Gabrielle Chanel (Cohen) moves into orphanage, where nuns teach her how to sew. As soon as she's 18 (now Tautou), she becomes a bar singer with her sister (Gillain) and is dubbed "Coco" after her signature song. Even now she's rebelling against the constricting clothes of the day, and when she becomes the mistress of the wealthy Etienne Balsan (Poelvoorde), she has clear ideas about her own life. What she doesn't expect is that she'll fall for his friend Boy Capel (Nivola).

Director-cowriter Fontaine tells this story like Chanel's fashion style: elegant and detailed, but without frills. The film takes us through these early years in a somewhat dispassionate way, only drawing emotion from Tautou's mesmerising performance. She conveys a sharp, opinionated intelligence even as Coco knows her place in society. And as she quietly evolves to the moment she becomes the Coco we remember, Tautou keeps the character consistently engaging without sacrificing any of her inner toughness.

Fontaine doesn't shrink from portraying this male-dominated society: men treated women like possessions. So Coco was a true revolutionary, going against the grain to become the first major female designer. Fontaine makes sure the period detail is sleek and gorgeously recreated, with actors who aren't afraid to show the dark sides of their characters. There are moments of levity, but powerful scenes between Tautou, Poelvoorde and Gillain reveal a shadowy complexity.

The problem is that the film feels a bit gloomy as a result; Coco seems melancholic even when she's smiling. And this carries through to the limited colour scheme, as well as Coco's simple clothing in a time when women wore outrageous frills. But watching closely, we can see Coco in control of her life, even though the men around her thought she was theirs. And into this world, Nivola's Boy is a breath of fresh air, a rare man who can see her for who she is. So where their story goes can't help but move us.

Beyond The Clouds Review


OK
Michelangelo Antonioni obsesses on the naked bodies of a good half-dozen Euro-stars in this wandering tour of western European sexual relations in various combinations. Based on a collection of his own short stories, Antonioni connects four such tales (infidelity, happenstance, old-fashioned horniness, etc.) with the narrative of a film director (John Malkovich) who's looking for a story to base his next movie on. We find we're lucky enough if we can just get one story out of this two-hour ordeal, which wanders aimlessly in art-house hell as often as it enchants.

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Dry Cleaning Review


Weak
Two married French sticks-in-the-mud try to keep a dry cleaning business running while their lives degenerate into a boring daily grind. To spice things up, they decide to check out a brother-sister drag show, only to inexplicably get caught up in a kind of threesome with the male counterpart. Far less interesting than its subject matter would suggest, Dry Cleaning is scarcely more enthralling than its title. (Also of note: the subtitling is pathetic.)

Continue reading: Dry Cleaning Review

Man on the Train Review


Excellent
We need a new name for the sort of genre that Man on the Train inhabits. On the surface, it's strictly a buddy movie: In a sleepy and provincial French town, a thief, Milan (Johnny Hallyday), meets a retired poetry teacher, Manesquier (Jean Rochefort). Milan's in town to take part in a bank robbery and Manesquier, who's fascinated by the rogue's life, eagerly invites Milan into his home. From there, we'd usually get some blather about loyalty and a hailstorm of bullets by the end. But Man on the Train is after something much more elegant and intimate. Capturing how two very different personalities weave together, it's a lovely essay on masculine friendship. It's a chick flick in a goatee, My Dinner With André wielding a switchblade.

Plot-wise, very little actually happens. Or, rather, small things pile up: As Milan takes up residence for a week in Mansquier's dowdy-yet-noble country house, the two share chit-chat about their pasts and their plans. But unlike My Dinner With André, the conversations have their feet on the ground and a sense of humor (Mansquier proudly notes that "not one pupil was molested in 30 years on the job" as a teacher). Milan plots out his Saturday heist with some hesitance, and we learn that Mansquier has his own anxieties to work through: He has a triple bypass planned for the same time as well. Students, relatives, and mistresses pass through the country house, and it slowly becomes clear that each man wants the other's life: Mansquier's house is the home Milan never had, and the rootless life of Milan is what Mansquier has always lusted for.

Continue reading: Man on the Train Review

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