Les petits mouchoirs – Review

Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies) 2010 

Directed by Guillaume Canet. Starring François CluzetMarion CotillardJean Dujardin

When watching Carnet’s third film, you’ll be excused from drawing some obvious comparisons with the 1983 hit classic the Big Chill:  not only the story of a group of friends gathering together for a holiday and ending up taking their skeletons out of the closets is a fairly familiar territory, but also the way the film itself is handled, with that mixture of comedy and drama and a constant (and most of the times fairly random) soundtrack of old American songs playing in the background.

The film starts off with a spectacular piece of cinematic bravura: a one take wonder which serves as an introduction for the rest of the film (though I must confess it’s so perfectly well choreographed that actually makes you expect the big surprise that’s about to come). Unfortunately this perfectly well-timed sequence is a rather isolated example in an otherwise indulgent and over-long film. In fact, after the striking beginning it takes at least a good 30 minutes before the actual holiday (and the real film) starts. Thinking back at it, with hindsight, it would have been quite easy to cut all that part out and set it all up just during the holiday. It would have also brought the film down in length from those 154 minutes. Yes, the accident sequence was very good, but did we really need to see it ?

But aside from few indulgences, once the film actually gets going it is a real delight. There are some individual very funny moments (the one where two friends get stranded on a boat gets my top marks…) and generally speaking the inter-relationship between all the various characters is beautifully portrayed and very well observed.

Of course, the whole things couldn’t be more French and, seen from the eyes of a foreigner, all the so-called clichés that you would expect from these sort of people seem to be there: from the hysterical dialogue, to the wine drinking, the talk about sex and to the fact that they could all end up in each other’s bed… and just when you think you’ve seen it all, a man shows up with a baguette under his arm (really!).

However none of that takes anything away from the genuinely affecting drama that unfolds under your eyes.

And just like in “the big chill”, underneath the surface and all the laughs, there’s an impending sense of nostalgia that permeates the atmosphere.

All the performances are top-notch; so much so that they make real even some of the most far-fetched situations. These could be friends who spent most of their life knowing each other.

François Cluzet, resembling more and more Dustin Hoffman, gets some of the best lines: his storyline about a man who’s just been told by his best friend that he’s in love with him, is probably the most original and definitely the most entertaining. Everything else is pretty standard for this sort of “re-union” films and yet perfectly enjoyable and very engaging.

But while some of the characters work better than others, sadly it’s the women that are most two-dimensional (with the single exception of Marion Cotillard) to the point that more than an hour into the film I was still not quite sure about how many where actually there.

The film runs slightly out of steam towards the final act where the dialogue becomes more forced and a certain tendency to give every character a cathartic moment starts to creep in.

The tearful drawn-out ending to the notes of Nina Simone’s version of “My Way”, however moving, was probably a step too far and where subtlety really went out of the window.

On the whole it felt like a very personal film made by a director who should have been kept more on a leash by a more watchful producer. There’s absolutely no excuse for a film of this kind to be so long!

And yet, despite all its weaknesses I’m still giving it a thumb up. Would I watch it again? Definitely not. But I certainly did enjoy it the first time around.

Barney’s Version – Review

Barney’s Version 

Directed by Richard J. Lewis. Starring Paul GiamattiMacha GrenonPaul GrossDustin HoffmanMinnie Driver.

This is a very unusual film which took me completely by surprise. About 1 hour into it I was actually ready to hate it. Then something must have happened about half way through because slowly (maybe too slowly) what was up until that point just an average comedy, turned into something quite different: a touching story, with a very powerful ending which I am sure will stay with me for quite a while.

Paul Giamatti is the real strength of “Barney’s Version”, a film which otherwise would have become a fairly forgettable ride. He somehow manages to turn the part of the obnoxious, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed, hypocrite and quite repellent television producer, Barney Panofsky, into a moving character right at the end, just when you’re ready to dismiss him. This is certainly one of the best performances of Giamatti’s career (and that says a lot, since he’s always been very good).

Having said this, 132 minutes spent in the company of someone like Barney who is so focused on himself, so smug would stretch anyone’s patience.

His actual character is virtually impossible to comprehend and in the end, despite being present for pretty much every single scene in the film,  he does remain a mystery (and i don’t mean it as a compliment). This is certainly not Giamatti’s fault but a combination of the script (adapted from a novel by the Canadian Mordecai Richler) and a bland direction (unsurprisingly Richard J. Lewis comes from TV from things like CSI, makes no attempt to bring any style or pace to the film).

The main problem, length aside, is that you never quite believe why so many attractive women could fall in love for the sweaty, drunken Barney. And yet, he does get married 3 times and has constant flings everywhere else too. At some point I even wondered whether Giamatti was really the best choice for this story (though he is so good that he almost gets away with it).

The whole first part of the film is probably the weakest. It is fairly episodic and tries too hard to be a comedy without being funny enough. There are too many subplots which feel too random and disjointed but also there are way too many supporting characters, most whom might have played better in the novel, but here they all feel too much like caricatures (the father in law, Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman among many), as the film barely scratches their surface.

Then, about 1 hour into the film, something quite big happens (I won’t tell you what it is, don’t worry) and from there onwards the film finally seemed to find its way and became more focused.

Rosamunda Pike enters the film  and the relationship between her and Giamatti takes the centre stage. I have  never been really crazy about Rosamunda Pyke, but in this film she’s really good and she definitely plays one of the her best part.

Slowly the film settles into what it really should have been from the beginning, a slightly more poignant and focused film about a guy feeling the weight of the guilt and regrets for the life he’s spent. The last act is heart-wrenching and probably the most original part of the film. Some people may find it a bit too heavy handled, especially since our emotional investment in the main character has been somewhat limited by his awful persona.

It really worked on me but I can see how somebody could argue it’s rather manipulative.

On a separate note, there some in-jokes cameo appearances by some of Canada’s most notable directors, for diehard movie geeks out there: these are mainly people who have worked for producer Robert Lantos (producer of Eastern Promises). Even David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan also turn up as directors of Barney’s TV show.

6.5/10

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