Cinéfranco Film Festival 2008 - UPDATE #2
Le Mas des Alouettes (The Lark Farm)
Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
With its epic story of one family's efforts to stay alive during the notorious Armenian Genocide, Le Mas des Alouettes is clearly aiming for a Schindler's List/Hotel Rwanda sort of sensibility - yet the hopelessly broad and downright inept vibe with which directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have infused the proceedings ensures that the whole thing rarely rises above the level of a glorified soap opera. The film's distinct lack of authentic elements is exacerbated by the emphasis on increasingly melodramatic plot developments, with central character Nunik's (Paz Vega) risque romances with not one but two Turkish soldiers clearly the most apt example of this. Such lifeless shenanigans ultimately strip Le Mas des Alouettes of the emotional resonance one imagines it's meant to possess, which is admittedly no small feat given the intense nature of some of the third act's events (ie a sequence in which a mother is forced to murder her infant son). The competent yet expectedly overwrought performances are uniformly undermined by sporadically horrific instances of dubbing, and - despite the obvious good intentions of everyone involved - Le Mas des Alouettes finally reveals itself to be nothing less than a complete disaster on virtually every level.
Si le vent souleve les sables (Sounds of Sand)
Directed by Marion Hansel
Simple yet surprisingly affecting, Si le vent souleve les sables follows an impoverished African family as they're forced to flee their village after their water supply runs dry. The bulk of the movie follows the clan - which consists of Rahne (Isaka Sawadogo), Mouna (Carole Karemera), and their three children - as they attempt to safely cross the desert in search of fertile grounds, although - perhaps inevitably - the journey turns out to be fraught with complications and dangerous encounters. Filmmaker Marion Hansel has infused Si le vent souleve les sables with a deliberately-paced sensibility that proves an ideal match for the spare screenplay, and there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of the striking, downright indelible imagery with which Hansel has peppered the proceedings. And while the movie does boast a number of admittedly gripping sequences - ie Rahne sends one of his children into the middle of a live minefield - Si le vent souleve les sables is ultimately a touching drama revolving around the increasingly tender relationship between a father and his initially unwanted daughter (the unexpectedly superb performances only cement this vibe).
Un Secret (A Secret)
Directed by Claude Miller
Written and directed by Claude Miller, Un Secret follows Francois (played by Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubuis, and Matthew Amalric at varying ages) as he attempts to unlock the secrets within his family's mysterious past. The film transpires primarily in flashback as Francois learns of the tragedy that befell his father Maxime's (Patrick Bruel) first wife (Ludivine Sagnier) and son (Orlando Nicoletti), and also of the illicit manner by which Maxime inevitably hooked up with Francois' mother (Cecile De France). Miller offers up a time-shifting structure that can be quite difficult to follow at times, although - admittedly - there's little doubt that clarity does come with patience. The almost egregiously deliberate pace with which Miller has infused the production ultimately turns out to be far more problematic than one might initially have suspected, however, as the film's overtly languid third act essentially negates the effectiveness of everything that's come before it. The filmmaker's increasing reliance on melodramatic elements only exacerbates such matters, while the baffling, downright inexplicable choice made by Sagnier's character late in the movie illustrates the lack of depth within many of the story's periphery figures. Still, Un Secret - buoyed by the uniformly strong performances and handsome production values - generally comes off as a sporadically-engaging effort that's far from disastrous (it is, at the very least, a tremendous improvement over the director's last film, 2003's La Petite Lili).