Monday, October 31, 2011

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

By Moira Sullivan
  Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta)
The late French singer songwriter Serge Gainsbourg has received a renaissance of tributes in French culture since his death in 1991.  His life was cut short due to drug and alcohol addiction but that did not interfere with the love affair he had with the French people.The premise of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life seems to rest on his origins in a poor Jewish family in Nazi occupied Paris where his father forced him to play the piano.

Young Serge suffered from an inferiority complex and as the story goes he developed an alter ego that made him more dashing and debonair than he felt inside. He cannot be considered handsome but he had outstanding charisma and charm that endeared him to primarily women, but he also served as a hero to men because of that success. As far as I can see this is why he is deserving of the title of the film. 

Joann Sfar who made a graphic novel that concentrates on this alter ego directs the film. Obviously, this helped Serge survive who quickly became an accomplished songwriter and made several women famous with his lyrics such as Juliette Greco and Brigitte Bardot. 

The insertion of animation in the live action film from the graphic novel does not take the narrative to a higher level, but it does force us to take into account the fragility of Serge throughout the film. His arrogance and disregard for his wife Jane Birkin included a string of affairs and irresponsibility, such as allowing his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in a room with a loaded gun in his possession. It is also controversial that he made a duet with Charlotte that many consider disturbing entitled "Lemon Incest". The frequency of incidents with women that were not positive include raw remarks made on the air to Whitney Houston on French TV and the erotic lyrics he wrote for Bob Marley’s wife Rita that infuriated the Jamaican musician. 

When Serge was younger, his charm and bad boy image pushed him to fame but as his career imploded with scandals,his sex addiction became more obvious. There are many legends about Serge Gainsbourg that the film takes up and Joann Sfar keeps the story pitched at the musician’s luck with women, as do many biographical accounts. Ironically, the actress who plays Jane Birkin, British actress Lucy Gordon, committed suicide before the release of the film.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 10/26/11
Movie Magazine International

The Women on the 6th Floor

By Moira Sullivan
The Spanish maids : Carmen Maura, second from right and Natalia Verberke, far right
The Women on the 6th Floor (Les femmes du 6ème étage, France 2010) was part of this year’s out of competition selection at the Berlin Film Festival and opens in San Francisco this week. Directed by Philippe Le Guay, the film is partly autobiographical inspired by his family’s Spanish maid, Lourdes. In this film on the sixth floor of a stockbroker’s family house live several Spanish maids who serve affluent French households. The setting is Paris in 1982.
Jean-Louis Joubert played by Fabrice Luchini lives a predictable life with his wife Sandra (Sandrine Kiberlain) who has her toenails painted, her dresses fitted and enjoys tea with other French housewives. The maid of the family for 25 years quits but actually is just let go when Joubert’s mother dies, and a young Spanish woman is employed in the household to serve Mrs. Joubert. As might be expected Mr. Joubert is smitten by not only Maria but also all the Spanish maids upstairs. He seems to take a genuine interest in their livelihood, such as having their plumbing fixed, and drives them to mass in the countryside.
The film clearly stakes its claim in revealing the stuffiness of the French upper class and its bourgeois lifestyle. The Joubert kids go to boarding school and there seems little room for the passion of life. The Women on the 6th floor is clearly stereotypical where the Spanish women provide the spice to the French bland diet and for that reason the plot is something that must be endured. One wonders what the director’s real life experience was. 
Several powerful actresses make up the ensemble of Spanish maids:  Spanish actresses Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver), as Conception and Lola Duenas as Carmen and Argentinean actress Natalia Verbeke who plays Maria. The class differences between the servants and the owners are transparent, lacking any real subtleties in this commercial French narrative. Carmen sells papers for workers’ rights in the town square and has to educate Mr Joubert on the atrocities of Franco who murdered her two parents.   
Having one benevolent Frenchman cater to the Spanish women is the major superficiality of the film, especially since Mr. Joubert not only owns the home but also lays real claims to Maria. His sense of entitlement includes moving upstairs with all the maids when his marriage goes sour. It is fatiguing to see Fabrice Luchini once again as an aging middle age man falling for younger women. It is hard to imagine Maria with Mr. Joubert or as the center of attention with the enamored Spanish maids. Still the film had definite charm and nice touches which saves it from the script’s lack of ambition.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/26/11 Movie Magazine International

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Afternoons with Margueritte

By Moira Sullivan 
Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus

My Afternoons with Margueritte stars French actor Gérard Depardieu, who plays Germain Chazes, a man with a scarred childhood. Because of his weight problem, he has been teased and ridiculed all his life in the provincial French village where he was raised by a single mother. Despite these emotional setbacks he has a beautiful young girlfriend played by Sophie Guillemin – somewhat unrealistic because he is twice her age, yet twice his age is a kindly, elderly woman whom he truly enjoys conversations with – Margueritte, played by the 96 year old veteran French actress Gisèle Casadesus. Margueritte is a well-read scientist and she opens doors to this illiterate adult man who has been the butt of jokes all his life. He lives in a trailer in the garden behind the house where he grew up with his mother. The emphasis on the film is the friendship that develops between Germain and Margueritte -  not your usual on screen relationship, and for that reason the film has a warm feel.
The film flashbacks to painful experiences the young Germain endures by a snotty teacher, but there are also scenes of humiliation with his mother who also is vicious in her insults. But when she has a boyfriend who hits both her and Germain she is quick to set him straight to not hit her boy, and stabs the boyfriend’s thighs with a pitchfork, who goes limping away. Later Germain is able to make sense of his mean mother and learns to love her. But his biggest attachment is to Margueritte, who is going blind and is kept in an expensive nursing home by her relatives. The contact is mutual especially when tough decisions have to be made when Margueritte is moved to Belgium by her family.
The film is directed by veteran French director Jean Becker who is known for his handcrafted films with charm about memorable meetings in life, such as The Children of the Marshland  from 1994 set during WW1 where a young officer stumbles upon a cottage owned by a 92 year old man.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/21/11 Movie Magazine International