Cinefranco Film Festival 2004 - UPDATE #1
La Petite Lili
Directed by Claude Miller
La Petite Lili is purportedly based on Anton Chekov's play The Seagull, and if the film is any indication, it's a work that's lost all relevance in the 21st century. This plotless tale follows several characters as they talk and fight and then talk some more, with an emphasis on a pretentious director (played by Robinson Stévenin) and his girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier). Director Claude Miller clearly has a keen eye for impressive visuals (one of the opening scenes features an old man napping in a field as a cow wanders by), but the abstract nature of the many conversations makes it virtually impossible to become involved in any of this. In a lot of ways, the film is very similar to Denys Arcand's far superior The Decline of the American Empire; both movies contain discussions on a wide variety of topics, but the difference is that Arcand's film uses the dialogue to develop the characters into genuinely compelling figures. By the time La Petite Lili's credits roll, we haven't learned a single thing about these people. Ultimately, it's impossible not to wonder what the point of all this is. Having said that, the performances are surprisingly effective and go a long way towards keeping the film from sinking into all-out tedium.
Le ventre de Juliette
Directed by Martin Provost
Though the English translation of Le ventre de Juliette remains muddled (onscreen subtitles refer to it as Juliette's Baby, while the Cinefranco program guide says Song from Within), the film is actually a fairly simple story of a young woman named Juliette (Julie-Marie Parmentier) dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. The father (Stéphane Rideau) isn't interested, while her mother (Carmen Maura) is far from supportive. Juliette finds an unlikely ally in an older married man (Tom Novembre), a relationship that (not surprisingly) causes concern with her friends and family. Director (and co-screenwriter) Martin Provost does a fine job of establishing Juliette and her surroundings, but unnecessarily complicates things with needless subplots and supporting characters. The most obvious example of this is Juliette's mother, a figure that feels like she could only exist in a movie. Presumably meant to operate as comic relief, the character spends her time dwelling on her success as an actress as a kid - leading to pointless sequences in which she parades around dressed like her childhood alter ego. As a portrait of a young woman struggling to come to terms with the new direction her life is taking, Le ventre de Juliette works. But everything else serves only to pad the running time, which is a shame given how effective Parmentier is in the central role.
Son frère (His Brother)
Directed by Patrice Chéreau
Son frère is a sporadically effective look at two brothers, one of whom is dying. Thomas (Bruno Todeschini) is suffering from a mysterious blood disease which will inevitably claim his life, and makes the decision to reach out to his long-since estranged brother, Luc (Eric Caravaca). The majority of the film deals with their tentative attempts to get reacquainted while Thomas is treated within the walls of a sterile French hospital. It's in those sequences that the film works best, as director Patrice Chéreau imbues the story with little touches that feel authentic (ie the overly cheerful manner in which the various nurses present themselves). Along those same lines, there's an oddly compelling scene in which Thomas is shaved in preparation for surgery; it's easy to imagine most viewers losing patience after around five minutes of this, but Chéreau's unflinching style makes it impossible to look away. The problem with the film, then, is that it is - for the most part - not terribly interesting. Aside from an intriguing look at the daily minutia of a long-term hospital stay, there's not much here to hold our interest. It certainly doesn't help that the relationship between Luc and Thomas - the film's focus - just isn't all that intriguing, primarily because the film fails to provide an appropriately meaty backstory that would allow us to care (more time is spent on Luc's homosexuality, which pretty much says it all). Still, there are a number of brutally honest moments here (ie the sequence in which Luc and Thomas' father admits that he would've preferred Luc to have gotten the disease) and Chéreau should be commended for keeping the bleak tone consistent throughout.