What a week for the French. Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, has made the Academy's Foreign Language Film shortlist and opens to raves today in the UK. André Téchiné's The Girl on the Train is opening in New York and domestic audiences seem to be embracing the Frenchest film of the bunch, Joann Sfar's Gainsbourg, une vie héroique.
"Václav Havel, who has seen a few cells in his time, once pointed out that while most rookie convicts expect boredom to be the predominant state during incarceration, the opposite in fact holds true." Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "Far from struggling to fill the days, one experiences exhaustion from negotiating the various codes and grudges upon which the social structure of prison is predicated. This fretful climate provides the backdrop for Jacques Audiard's supremely confident thriller A Prophet (Un prophète). Life inside for 19-year-old Malik el-Djebena (Tahar Rahim) kicks off with a good hiding and the theft of his trainers. Then it turns nasty."
"It comports itself like a modern classic from the very first frames, instantly hitting its massively confident stride," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "This is the work of the rarest kind of filmmaker, the kind who knows precisely what he is doing and where he is going. The film's every effect is entirely intentional."
More from Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), Wendy Ide (Times), Sarah Manvel (Critic's Notebook), James McNally, Anthony Quinn (Independent), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph) and David Thompson (Guardian). Earlier: Richard Porton (Cinema Scope) and Amy Taubin (Film Comment).
Interviews with Audiard: Kaleem Aftab (Independent), Jonathan Romney (Independent) and Jason Solomons (Observer). Interviews with Rahim: Kevin Maher (London Times) and Jason Solomons (Observer). Michael Guillen interviews Audiard, Rahim and co-writer Thomas Bidegain. Brandon Kim reviews Alexandre Desplat's score for IFC.
Update, 1/23: "A Prophet led France's Cesar Award nominations, taking an impressive 13 nods including best film, best director, and both best actor and most promising male newcomer nominations for the film's star Tahar Rahim," reports Peter Knegt, who has the full list of nominations at indieWIRE.
"Don't let the surface sensationalism of André Téchiné's latest chilled melodrama fool you," writes David Fear in Time Out New York: "Per its opening disclaimer, the movie is only 'inspired' by the true story of a 23-year-old Frenchwoman who was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack - only to later admit she'd lied about the whole thing."
"Mr Téchiné, whose earlier features include Les Voleurs, is more interested in the kind of off-the-beat details, the emotions and behaviors that other storytellers will omit," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mr Téchiné is also after something more elusive and ambitious in The Girl on the Train than one woman's pathetic lie. His larger concerns for the film are evident in the narrative's bifurcated structure. It's divided into two parts, circumstances and consequences, each with overlapping characters and similar themes."
"There are many quiet shocks in The Girl on the Train," writes Michael Koresky for indieWIRE, "but nothing surprises as much as this fine artist's continued generosity of spirit and constant sense of discovery, even in a film that questions many of the most cynical of human instincts."
More from Melissa Anderson (Artforum), Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club), James van Maanen, Bill Weber (Slant) and Armond White (New York Press). Joan Dupont profiles Catherine Deneuve for the NYT. Update, 1/23: More from the New Yorker's Richard Brody.
"In France, Serge Gainsbourg was - and is - a national hero," writes David Jenkins in Time Out London, "so any film about the singer, who died in 1991, must confront a huge weight of expectation. Luckily, [Gainsbourg, une vie héroique] sports a central turn that is likely to please fans and newcomers alike: in a performance of almost silent-era expressiveness, actor Eric Elmosnino skillfully balances the pungent sleaze and irresistible charm of the man who was born as Lucien Ginsburg and who blossomed into France's pug-faced doyen of slyly bawdy pop songs such as 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus' and 'Lemon Incest.'"
In Screen, Lisa Nesselson finds the film "splendidly cast and consistently engaging. Prolific cartoonist Sfar's first feature as writer/director skillfully melds Gainsbourg's uppity inner child, self-destructive behaviour and prodigious talent with a rousing approach to the societal weight of being - and looking - Jewish."
"Sfar's thesis is that it was the women in Gainsbourg's life that inspired him most and it's to them that Gainsbourg sings his songs, or occasionally those of Charles Aznavour. For the uninitiated it's a great introduction to his music," writes Kaleem Aftab. Also in the Independent, John Lichfield notes that the film "is, in its way, as poignant and painful as the singer's own life. One of its principal roles, that of Gainsbourg's British muse and third wife, Jane Birkin, is played, brilliantly, by a young British actress, Lucy Gordon, who committed suicide soon after the film was completed last year."
"Gordon, whose acting career had until then consisted of minor parts in films such as Spider-Man 3 and Cédric Klapisch's The Russian Dolls, was aware of the role's importance," reports Lizzy Davies in the Guardian. "Soon after being told she would be playing the most iconic English girl in popular French history, she plucked up the courage to visit Birkin. 'There was such honesty, such freshness in her face that I could not have been more flattered,' Birkin told Le Nouvel Observateur last week. 'She left as she had come. With great modesty. She had grace. When I heard of her death I couldn't believe it was true.'"
Updates, 1/23: For the NYT, Jody Rosen profiles Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Serge and Jane, of course, on the occasion of the release of her new album, IRM, "produced and largely written by Beck": "Like Julian Lennon, like Ziggy Marley, like Jakob Dylan, she is blessed and burdened with a name that not only defines an illustrious musical era but seems to sum up a national sensibility." But: "No one who hears the jaunty Gainsbourg-Beck duet 'Heaven Can Wait' can doubt that they are hearing a meeting of two formidable musical personalities - and evenly matched vocalists."
Meantime Charlotte Forever, a series of films screening on Tuesdays and the French Institute Alliance Français in New York, runs on through February.
"Though less mythologized - at least in the United States - than Woodstock or even Altamont, the 1970 Isle of Wight music festival deserves its own place in the musical and cultural narratives in which the former two events serve as a kind of shorthand," writes Matthew Cole in the L Magazine. "It was, according to most, an ambiguous success, the crowd descending into neither frenzy nor free love, the performances mostly good, occasionally disappointing, rarely epochal. Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight is best appreciated as an attempt to salvage one outstanding performance from those hazy recollections. Though numerous concert films have already emerged from the festival (Jimi Hendrix's Blue Wild Angel, Miles Davis's Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, and Jethro Tull's Nothing Is Easy among them), Cohen's set is particularly deserving of preservation for two reasons. First, it neatly encapsulates the drama of the festival, with Cohen waking at two in the morning to perform for a crowd that, following an incendiary performance by Hendrix, is at its most distressed, and appearing to tame it with his profoundly evocative mix of poetry and music. Second, the set, while not revolutionary in any musical sense, does show Cohen at an important stage in his career, fully stepping into his role as folkie-laureate for a generation steeped in disappointment."
More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Jay Ruttenberg (TONY), Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail) and James van Maanen. At the Cinema Village in New York. Flickhead reviews Tim Footman's Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah: A New Biography.
"The documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution is essentially a condensed, lightly airbrushed, skillfully assembled history of the civil rights movement, with musical interludes," writes Mike Hale in the NYT. "It's civil rights' greatest hits: Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham; 'Eyes on the Prize,' 'We Shall Not be Moved,' 'We Shall Overcome.' It's the kind of film that will have audiences clapping and singing along. And why not? The images and stories may be familiar, but it's history worth retelling." More from TONY's David Fear.
"Here's the most extraordinary thing about Extraordinary Measures: I sort of liked it." Slate's Dana Stevens: "Yes, the movie about Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser working together around the clock to discover a cure for Fraser's children's rare genetic disease. The movie with this poster. And this tag line: 'Don't hope for a miracle. Make one.' Though the believe-in-your-dreams story line comes straight from the Lifetime Channel stockpile, it gains emotional resonance from the fact that (in slightly less dramatic form) it really happened - the movie is based on a nonfiction book by Geeta Anand - and from the believably prickly relationship between the two charismatic leads. Fraser and Ford are both actors of limited range who can be extremely appealing in the right role, and here, they're both ideally cast: Fraser as the naive, doting, boundlessly optimistic suburban dad and Ford as the snarling, misanthropic, classic-rock-blasting scientist. Even given the foregone conclusion, can you honestly say you don't want to see these guys found a biotech startup together and save the sick kids against all odds?"
More from Matthew Connolly (Slant), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Tasha Robinson (AV Club) and AO Scott (NYT). Interviews with Harrison Ford: Tasha Robinson (AV Club) and Peter Sobczynski (Hollywood Bitchslap).
"Director Jon Amiel and screenwriter John Collee commence Creation with grand intentions, setting out to use a short span of Charles Darwin's life as a prism through which to consider the nature of nature," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Creation means to apply theories of adaptation on a personal level, but as it turns out, that's a far too narrow lens through which to view an intellectual giant."
More from Mark Asch (L), Ernest Hardy (Voice), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). For Filmmaker, Brandon Harris interviews Amiel. Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.
Simon Abrams in Slant: "Just as it's no mystery why
people parents would take their children to a film as obviously bland and insulting to their intelligence as Tooth Fairy (they think they want to see it; and really, need there be more of a mandate?), it's plain to see why 20th Century Fox dumped the film in January, a month that Hollywood studios use to bury their generic duds. Tooth Fairy is one in an ever-growing string of unmemorable children's vehicles Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has starred in since his delightfully schizophrenic performance in Richard Kelly's criminally underrated and delightfully unsound Southland Tales showed that he could manically over-emote and look good while doing it."
More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michael Phillips (Tribune), Tasha Robinson (AV Club) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Aaron Hillis in the Voice on The Paranoids: "Maybe it's appropriate that Argentinean writer-director Gabriel Medina's chokingly offbeat debut is as aimless and confused as its prototypical slacker-comedy hero, who seems to have wandered into a glum dramedy with a hazy noirish aesthetic." More from Simon Abrams (L), David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and James van Maanen.
"The social-networking site Gay.com presents a triple bill of same-sexer-themed movies." And in the Voice, Nick Pinkerton offers his quick takes in "descending order, from middling to empirically bad." They are - and the titles here will link you to individual reviews in the NYT - Watercolors, Misconceptions and Murder in Fashion.
"Brightly colored and dreadfully overacted, Nancy Kissam's Drool is the worst kind of gay cinema," warns Adam Keleman in Slant.
Andy Webster in the NYT on To Save a Life: "[F]orget the lame performances and arch, preachy sentiment; the movie's sham hip-hop and spurious alternative music alone should keep teenagers away. Thank goodness." More from Melissa Anderson (Voice) and Ian Buckwalter (NPR).
Anthology Film Archives introduces one of its features this week: "A truly startling 1960s exploitation flick, and a key film in the fascinating and tragic career of Sal Mineo, Who Killed Teddy Bear? is one of the stranger, sleazier movies ever to have emerged from the underbelly of American cinema." Melissa Anderson agrees that it's "a fascinating chronicle of Wagner-era Times Square" and interviews Elaine Stritch for the Voice.
Legion opens this weekend, too. Related online listening: IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss the cinematic siege.
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