Review: ‘The Last Duel’ (2021), starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck

October 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Adam Driver and Matt Damon in “The Last Duel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)

“The Last Duel” (2021)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Culture Representation: Taking place in France from the years 1377 to the late 1380s, the dramatic film “The Last Duel” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Two former friends, who fought battles together in the French military, face off in a violent duel after one of the men is accused of raping the other man’s wife.

Culture Audience: “The Last Duel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent medieval-era dramas where some of the acting and dialogue are too modern be considered authentic, and sadistic machismo is put on the highest pedestal.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)

When watching “The Last Duel,” it might be annoying or amusing to see Matt Damon in a mullet, as he fumbles attempts to be a medieval Frenchman, by having a modern British-American accent. Ultimately, the movie has nothing new or insightful to say about violent machismo. If you really need to see the same rape of a woman depicted twice in a movie, just for the sake of showing the rape from the perspectives of the rapist and the victim, then “The Last Duel” is your kind of movie.

Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Last Duel” is written by Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener. They adapted the movie’s screenplay from Eric Jager’s 2004 book of the same name. Scott, Damon, Affleck and Holofcener are among the producers of “The Last Duel” movie. All of them have considerable talent, but all of them have made much better movies than “The Last Duel.”

It’s worth noting that “The Last Duel” is the first movie screenplay that Damon and Affleck have written together since their Oscar-winning original screenplay for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” a better-quality film about masculine identity. (Damon and Affleck also co-starred in “Good Will Hunting.”) “The Last Duel” certainly has the top-notch production design and cinematography that viewers have come to expect when Scott does a period movie, but it’s no “Gladiator.” In addition, “The Last Duel” has too much subpar acting from Affleck and cringeworthy dialogue in several parts of the movie for “The Last Duel” to be an Oscar-caliber film.

People familiar with the medieval era already know it was a brutal and violent period in history, when women were treated as nothing more than property to be bought and sold for marriage, with husbands having the legal right to “own” their wives. All of that misogyny is accurately depicted in “The Last Duel.” The problem is that the movie has a tone of showing hatred and degradation of women with a little too much enthusiasm.

It’s as if the filmmakers felt that just by having the movie take place during this ancient era, it was enough of a reason to show this misogyny so gratuitously. Any attempt to show any female character with some kind of inner strength is rushed in the last third of the film. This half-hearted nod to female empowerment doesn’t come across as genuine but rather it seems manipulative. It’s the equivalent of filmmakers putting a little dab of cleaner on the avalanche of dirty, sexist muck that’s poured all over the film.

Based on true events, “The Last Duel” takes place in France (mostly in Paris) from 1377 to the late 1380s. But if you were to believe this movie, women couldn’t possibly be as smart or as powerful as men. It completely refuses to acknowledge that women had positions of power and minds of their own in France during the medieval era—most notably Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was a leader more than 200 years before this story takes place. “The Last Duel” is so insistent on shutting out any depictions of intelligent women in power (even if it’s power in their own households) that when Queen Isabeau (played by Serena Kennedy) appears in the movie, she doesn’t have any lines of dialogue and is just there as a spectator sitting next to her king husband (who does talk) during the jousting match that is the movie’s namesake.

“The Last Duel,” is told in three chapters, each from the perspective of the three people involved in a rape case that is the reason for this jousting duel:

  • Jean de Carrouges (played by Damon) is a domineering, middle-aged knight, who has fought many battles in the Crusades. He has the scars on his face and the rest of his body to prove it. Jean’s first wife and son died during the bubonic plague known as the Black Death. His second marriage is to a woman who is the story’s rape victim.
  • Jacques Le Gris (played by Adam Driver), a roguish playboy who’s about 10 years younger than Jean, has risen through the military ranks to become a captain. Jacques is a never-married bachelor who has never had a committed love relationship.
  • Marguerite de Carrouges (played by Jodie Comer), Jean’s second wife, is about 20 years younger than Jean. She comes from a well-to-do family that has fallen on hard times because her scandal-plagued father has been branded as a traitor. Marguerite accuses Jacques of raping her.

Each of the movie’s chapters is titled “Part One: The Truth According to Jean de Carrouges,” “Part Two: The Truth According to Jacque Le Gris” and “Part Three: The Truth According to Marguerite de Carrouges.” Unlike Showtime’s 2014-2019 drama series “The Affair,” “The Last Duel” doesn’t have wildly different memories of the same incidents from the three people involved in a love triangle. The memories and perspectives do have some differences, but they add up to a generally consistent overview of what life was like for the three people who are at the center of the rape case.

Someone who can influence the outcome of the rape case is the hard-partying Pierre d’Alençon (played by Affleck), who is the presiding judge and a close ally of Jacques. Pierre is also the much-older cousin of King Charles IV (played by Alex Lawther), who is portrayed as a brat in his 20s who doesn’t have the maturity to be an effective leader, but he’s tolerated by people around him because he inherited the title of king.

One of the biggest problems with “The Last Duel” is that it’s filled with modern lines of dialogue that sound like they’re straight out of a foul-mouthed movie written by Quentin Tarantino. Certain people, especially Pierre, like to say the words “fuck” or “fucking” a lot. That doesn’t mean that cursing didn’t exist in the medieval era, but the way the words are used in a contemporary-sounding dialogue context is just not accurate for those times.

And it doesn’t help that Affleck and Damon (who are both American) struggle with their fake European accents. Damon has entire scenes where he sounds American and British every time he talks. Driver (who is American) does a much better job at having a European-sounding accent, while Comer doesn’t have to pretend at all, since she’s British in real life.

For a movie that’s supposed to take place in France, it’s kind of pathetic that there are very few French people in “The Last Duel” cast, and none of these French actors has a large role in the film. (“The Last Duel” was actually filmed in Ireland.) This lack of significant French representation in the movie’s cast is an indication that “The Last Duel” director Scott (who is British) has an ethnic bias when it comes to who he wants in his movies. It’s also obvious that he didn’t care about having accurate language consistency for “The Last Duel” characters, since the stars of the movie sound British and American instead of French.

And in case anyone mistakenly thinks “The Last Duel” is a prestigious, Oscar-caliber film, think again. The movie goes into borderline softcore porn territory. Under Scott’s direction, “The Last Duel” seems enamored with showing in more than one tacky scene that Pierre and Jacques regularly participated in orgies together with willing women. One of the orgy scenes has a very “male gaze” to it, because it lingers on three women on a bed having sex with each other, while they wait for Pierre to join them. It’s such a predictable stereotype in these types of movie orgy scenes that same-sex hookups always comes from the women, not from the men.

Pierre is married with eight children, but he seems to think his family life just gets in the way of his sex parties. He even started to have an orgy in front of his pregnant wife Lady Marie Chamaillart (played by Zoé Bruneau), who seems to know what’s about to happen and quickly leaves the room. After having this orgy, Jacques asks Pierre if he wants to spend time with his wife. Pierre scoffs at the idea and says that Marie is “pregnant and hysterical. I’d rather take my chances with the wolves.”

This 152-minute movie plods along in showing Jean’s transactional marriage to Marguerite, whom he hopes will bear him a son so that he can have a male heir again. Jean drove a hard bargain for Marguerite’s dowry, by convincing Marguerite’s disgraced and financially desperate father Sir Robert de Thibouville (played by Nathaniel Parker) to give him a coveted strip of land as part of the deal. Sir Robert reluctantly agrees.

Jean is very patriotic and proud to serve in the military. Jacques becomes a close companion of his during their military battles, and Jean even saves Jacques’ life on one occasion. When Jean is not away from home for war duties, his occupation is being a landlord, but the Black Death caused many of his tenants to die, so he’s been struggling financially and is heavily in debt. Pierre later takes advantage of Jean’s financial woes when Pierre decides that Jean has become his enemy.

Marguerite handles the landlord transactions when Jean is away from home, and she finds out that he’s been an irresponsible business manager by not bothering to collect rent when he was supposed to do it. However, Marguerite is in the type of marriage where she can’t really speak up and point out these mistakes to Jean because his huge ego would just dismiss her concerns. She is constantly reminded by people in society that she should not speak up about problems that would be considered “embarrassing” or “disobedient” to her husband or other men.

Jacques and Marguerite meet at an outdoor party, where Jean introduces his new wife to his friend and tells Marguerite to give a friendly kiss to Jacques. Marguerite ends up kissing Jacques on the lips, and he looks at her in a way that shows it’s attraction at first sight, with that kiss causing some kind of spark in him. Marguerite admits to some of her female friends at the party that she thinks Jacques is handsome, but she doesn’t trust him because of his “bad boy” reputation.

Marguerite is well-read, while Jean is illiterate. In more than one scene in the film, Jacques and some other people express surprise that Jean allows Marguerite to read books. Jacques uses this information to his advantage when, shortly after he meets Marguerite, he flirts with her and tries to impress her with his knowledge of literature.

Later, it becomes clear that Jacques’ lust for Marguerite has turned into obsession, although he claims several times that he’s deeply in love with Marguerite and it’s the first time that he’s ever felt this way. It doesn’t justify him raping her. The movie leaves no ambiguity that this rape did occur.

Up until the rape (which is depicted in a disturbing way that might be too upsetting for sensitive viewers), “The Last Duel” becomes a soap opera filled with clichés that you might find in a cheap and tawdry romance novel. There’s the pretty housewife who’s lonely and bored because her husband is away from home a lot. And when he’s at home, their sex life is passionless and he doesn’t seem to care about what her needs are.

There’s the workaholic husband who’s so preoccupied with his work and self-image that he doesn’t see how unhappy his wife is. He thinks that all he needs to be a good husband is to be a good provider. He’s also annoyed with his wife because she hasn’t gotten pregnant as quickly as he wanted. After five years of marriage, she still hasn’t conceived a child.

There’s the tall, dark “bad boy” who’s just waiting for the right moment to “seduce” the lonely wife. The fact that the husband used to be the bad boy’s best friend makes the bad boy’s lust for the wife even more taboo. Driver is perfectly adequate in this villain role, but he’s limited by this two-dimensional character, and therefore it’s not an outstanding performance.

Also part of this parade of soap opera clichés is the bad boy’s “wingman”/sidekick, who gleefully helps with the scheming because he wants to cause some chaos too. In “The Last Duel,” the “wingman” character is named Adam Louvel (played by Adam Nagaitis), and he plays a pivotal role in Jacques’ planning of the rape. Just like Jacques, he’s a shallow character with no backstory.

The extra strip of land that Jean was promised as part of Marguerite’s dowry becomes the subject of a legal dispute when Jacques, in an effort to impress Pierre, seizes the land and hands it over to Pierre. It results in a messy lawsuit, with Jean suing Pierre and Jacques. Pierre grows increasingly alienated from and irritated with Jean because of this legal dispute. Meanwhile, Jacques tries to put the lawsuit behind him and makes the first move to repair his broken friendship with Jean.

However, any attempts for Jean and Jacques to become friends again get obliterated when the rape happens. “The Last Duel” gives harsh but realistic depictions of the victim blaming and victim shaming that rape survivors experience when they come forward and try to get justice for this crime. Complicating matters, Jacques admits that he had a sexual encounter with Marguerite, but he says it was consensual. He vehemently denies that it was rape. For many people who hear about Marguerite’s accusation, it’s a “he said/she said” situation.

The movie shows in chilling details how victim blaming/shaming reactions to a rape story are universal and timeless and don’t just come from men. Jean’s mother Nicole de Carrouges (played by Harriet Walter) believes Marguerite, but she scolds Marguerite for not keeping quiet about the rape. Meanwhile, Marguerite’s best friend Marie (played by Tallulah Haddon) doubts Marguerite’s accusation, because Marie thinks Marguerite was attracted to Jacques and that Marguerite might have done something to make Jacques think she was willing to have sex with him.

In her depiction of Marguerite, Comer gives an admirable performance of a woman who often has to suppress her emotions, out of fear of being labeled as a “hysterical” wife who might embarrass her husband. Through tearful eyes that still show steely determination, she achieves a balance of being emotionally vulnerable but mentally strong. Marguerite is going to need that inner strength when she gets an onslaught of criticism from many people because she went public with this accusation.

Marguerite tells Jean about the rape before they decide to go public with this accusation. Jean’s initial reaction isn’t to comfort Marguerite but to get angry that Jacques has betrayed him again. Jean eventually takes Marguerite’s side, but he’s motivated more by defending his own honor and reputation than defending Marguerite’s. Because it’s not spoiler information that “The Last Duel” is about Jean and Jacques’ jousting showdown about the rape, the movie just becomes scene after scene that builds up to this battle. Marguerite’s feelings and trauma get pushed to the side, while the movie ultimately gives more importance to the feuding between Jean and Jacques.

Although the movie shows Marguerite’s considerable bravery, it’s Jean who’s supposed to be the “hero” of the story for defending his wife. We know this because the viewer catharsis in the movie is supposed to come mainly from the jousting battle, which centers “The Last Duel” back on the men. The movie ends with scenes showing Marguerite, but make no mistake: “The Last Duel” is very much a movie about egotistical men and the violence they commit to get what they want.

20th Century Studios will release “The Last Duel” in U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Ma Belle, My Beauty,’ starring Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard and Sivan Noam Shimon

September 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lucien Guignard, Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” (Photo by Lauren Guiteras/Good Deed Entertainment)

“Ma Belle, My Beauty”

Directed by Marion Hill

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in an unnamed city in the south of France, the dramatic film “Ma Belle, My Beauty” features a nearly all-white cast (with one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An interracial musician couple (she’s African American, he’s a white Frenchman) try to navigate the changing dynamics in their marriage when a woman from their past polyamorous relationship shows up for a visit at the spouses’ home in France.

Culture Audience: “Ma Belle, My Beauty” will appeal mainly to people who like watching talkative romantic dramas about adult relationships that don’t fall into the typical romantic movie characteristics of heterosexual monogamy.

Sivan Noam Shimon, Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper and Lucien Guignard in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” (Photo by Lauren Guiteras/Good Deed Entertainment)

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” asks this intriguing question: “What happens when a husband and a wife, who are trying monogamy for the first time in their relationship, are visited by a woman who used to be in a polyamorous relationship with the spouses but dumped them?” Is three a crowd for the people who used to be in this polyamorous three-way relationship? “Ma Belle, My Beauty” doesn’t give easy answers on monogamy or polyamory, but viewers will be taken on an engaging and sometimes uneven ride where love partners have to decide if they’re going to be truthful about their boundaries and desires.

Written, directed and edited by Marion Hill, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where the movie won the Audience Award: Next prize. “Ma Belle, My Beauty” doesn’t tell a conventional love story that’s usually found in mainstream movies. Therefore, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, especially for viewers who prefer more formulaic fare. At the very least, this movie has some gorgeous cinematography of the south of France, where the movie takes place.

The story of the couple, whose marriage is tested by the arrival of their former polyamorous partner, takes a few twists and turns—some more predictable than others. For the most part, the movie has a natural flow in how it reveals the personalities and quirks of the main characters, who are all in their 30s. The person who’s the most complex is the woman who was at the center of this former polyamorous trio.

Bertie (played by Idella Johnson) is an American singer who’s in the same band as her French husband Fred Carnot (played by Lucien Guignard), a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar and trumpet. Bertie and Fred write songs together and tour with their band, which performs jazzy pop music. Bertie and Fred have been married for less than two years, and they moved to France around the same time that they became spouses.

Before they got married, Bertie and Fred lived in New Orleans, where they had a three-way relationship with a free-spirited American lesbian named Lane (played by Hannah Pepper), until Lane “ghosted” them and never explained why she cut herself off from Bertie and Fred. After Lane was no longer in their lives, Bertie and Fred got married to each other and moved to the south of France. Bertie doesn’t put a label on her sexuality, while Fred identifies as heterosexual.

The story comes out in bits and pieces of conversation, but the way this three-way relationship is described is that Bertie and Lane fell in love with each other around the same time that Bertie and Fred fell in love with each other. Instead of choosing one partner over the other, Bertie convinced both Fred and Lane to be in a simultaneous relationship with her. Fred and Lane were never sexually intimate, and they agreed to this arrangement because Fred and Lane genuinely liked each other as friends.

Things were going well in this three-way relationship, until Lane abruptly stopped communicating with Bertie and Fred, and Lane ignored Bertie and Fred’s attempts to contact her. Fred and Bertie haven’t seen or spoken to Lane in about two years. During the course of the movie, viewers see that this breakup deeply hurt and confused Bertie more than how it affected Fred. Bertie isn’t sure if she wants to forgive Lane or not, while Fred has already forgiven Lane.

Bertie’s breakup blues have apparently been affecting her relationship with Fred, who secretly contacts Lane and invites Lane to visit and stay with him and Bertie at their home in France. When Fred picks up Lane at the train station, she says to Fred with some trepidation about Bertie: “What if she doesn’t want to see me?” Fred answers, “She loves surprises.” Lane says, “She hates surprises.” Fred replies, “She’ll be fine.”

However, when Bertie sees Lane again for this surprise visit, Lane’s prediction turns out to be true: Bertie hates this surprise. And when Bertie finds out that Fred was the one who invited Lane to stay in their home without Bertie’s consent, Bertie gets angry at him, and it causes more tension in their marriage. Bertie doesn’t want to be rude, so she agrees to let Lane stay in their home, since Bertie knows this living arrangement will be temporary.

Apparently, Lane isn’t just flaky when it comes to her love relationships. She also doesn’t have a steady job or a career in anything. It’s mentioned a few times in the movie that Lane doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life (she’s tried many careers that didn’t work out), and her finances are too unstable for her to afford staying at a hotel. Lane says that her latest career endeavor is she’s thinking about doing massage therapy training in Barcelona.

Bertie is the type of person who doesn’t want Lane to know how much Lane’s breakup hurt her. However, the two women have unresolved feelings for each other. Eventually, Bertie asks Lane why Lane “ghosted” Bertie and Fred. But even before this heart-to-heart talk happens, there were problems in Bertie and Fred’s marriage. Bertie is becoming emotionally distant from Fred, and it’s affected their sex life.

That’s not the only tension in the household. There’s a lot of sexual tension between Bertie and Lane, who tries to kiss Bertie one day when Fred is out of the house and Bertie is playing the piano. Bertie rebuff’s Lane’s advances, but Lane doesn’t give up so easily.

The fractures in Bertie and Fred’s marriage deepen when Bertie announces that she doesn’t want to do a concert tour that has already been booked. Fred can’t understand why Bertie is being so difficult, but observant viewers can easily see that it has to do with Bertie’s lingering feelings for Lane. Meanwhile, in a slightly hilarious moment, Bertie and Fred’s housekeeper Marianne (played by Sarah Taupneau-Wilhelm) says that she’s a singer and offers to substitute for Bertie on the tour. Her offer is politely declined.

After Bertie rejected Lane’s sexual advances, Lane doesn’t waste time in finding a sex partner in France. At a house party thrown by one of Fred and Bertie’s friends, Lane makes eye contact with Noa (played by Sivan Noam Shimon), who is an athletic-looking Israeli army veteran. The two women flirt with each other and go for a drive in a borrowed two-seat red convertible that’s owned by one of people at the party.

Noa says that she has a girlfriend, who doesn’t mind if Noa sleeps with men, whom Noa calls “dildos with a pulse.” It’s implied that Noa’s girlfriend would have a problem with Noa sleeping with other women though. However, Noa and Lane aren’t going to let that get in the way of their immediate attraction to each other.

During Lane and Noa’s first private conversation together, Lane tells Noa about her history with Bertie and Fred. Lane admits that the three-way relationship could be challenging at times. Lane also says something that explains a lot of people’s actions before and during this story takes place. She mentions that in the three-way relationship, Bertie was the one who called the shots.

These issues of control and jealousy come out in different ways in this story. Lane and Noa predictably end up having sex soon after they meet. And the first time that Lane and Noa hook up with each other, it’s in the guest bedroom where Lane is staying at Bertie and Fred’s house. Bertie and Fred can hear Lane and Noa’s loud sexual activities. Bertie tries to not let it show that it bothers her, even though it’s obvious that it does.

Noa spends the night, and the next morning things are a little awkward at breakfast, even though Bertie tries to play it cool. Noa isn’t a one-night stand though. Lane and Noa continue to hang out together and sometimes go on double dates with Bertie and Fred. One day, when all four of them are at a swimming hole, Bertie and Lane have some alone time where Lane puts some sunscreen on Bertie. And then, Bertie makes this confession: “I miss having sex with women.”

Although the characters in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” are very open about their sexualities, the movie has a lot of nuanced dialogue. Fred and Bertie consider themselves to be a hipster couple with open-minded views of various sexualities, and they can candidly talk about sex. However, in their own marriage, they hit some roadblocks because they’re failing to communicate about emotional intimacy.

It’s open to interpretation if Lane is just using Noa to make Bertie jealous. Why did Lane agree to this visit? Does she want to rekindle a romance with Bertie? And is that a good idea when free-spirited Lane obviously resents Bertie’s need for control? As for Fred, he just wants Bertie to be happy, and he knows that Bertie was happy when Lane was in their lives. Fred tells Lane that he misses Lane being in their lives too.

There are no “heroes” or “villains” in “Ma Belle, My Beauty.” It’s a story of flawed people trying to find love and happiness in the best way that they can while staying true to themselves. Johnson’s portrayal of Bertie is what makes this movie worth watching (she’s also a very good singer) because Bertie isn’t so transparent about her emotions in the way that Fred and Lane are. Johnson is very skilled at using eye contact and body language to convey Bertie’s true feelings. The movie’s emotional tone is also enhanced by Mahmoud Chouki’s jazzy musical score.

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” makes some mention of Bertie being the only black person in the social circles that she now has in France. There are hints that she sometime wonders if she made the right decison to leave her family and friends behind in America to start a new life in France, where Fred already knows a lot of people. It’s this feeling of isolation that further fuels Bertie’s angst.

Pepper’s portrayal of impetuous Lane is that of someone who’s capable of real love but seems ambivalent about her own ability to commit to a long-term relationship. Lane shows signs of underlying insecurities that she’s not as accomplished in her life as her peers. As a coping mechanism, Lane just jumps around from job to job and relationship to relationship. As for Fred, he’s the least complicated character in this trio. And that might be a good thing for Guignard, because his acting skills just aren’t on the same convincing level as his co-stars.

Viewers will get the impression that Bertie is not used to being rejected, so she’s trying to heal her bruised ego without wanting to admit how wounded she really is. Bertie doesn’t want Lane to hurt her again, but Lane’s arrival reminds Bertie of all the good times they had together. Lane is unapologetic about wanting to have her sexual needs met, which is why she hooks up so quickly with Noa. But is Lane capable of making the kind of commitment that Bertie would want if their romance is rekindled?

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” is often visually stylish, but a little rough around the edges when it comes to the acting and story arc. That’s not to say that the movie needed a neat and tidy ending. However, there are some parts of the movie that tend to wander and drag out the question of “Will Bertie and Lane get back together or not?” It’s not quite a soap opera, but “Ma Belle, My Beauty” has enough messy relationship drama that viewers instinctively know that things won’t easily be resolved in the few weeks that this story takes place.

Good Deed Entertainment released “Ma Belle, My Beauty” in select U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘Deerskin,’ starring Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel

August 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jean Dujardin in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

“Deerskin”

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed locations in France, the dark comedy “Deerskin” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man who’s temporarily homeless buys a deerskin jacket and invents a filmmaker persona for himself, resulting in some bizarre and unexpected experiences.

Culture Audience: “Deerskin” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching quirky European movies that blur the lines between slapstick and satire.

Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

French writer/director Quentin Dupieux continues his brand of offbeat filmmaking with the dark comedy “Deerskin,” which is a biting social commentary on the extremes that some people will take in order to feel important. On another level, “Deerskin” is a portrait of a man driven insane by loneliness. The movie is also a depiction of how life-changing moments can happen at the most absurd and most unexpected times.

In “Deerskin,” the protagonist is Georges (played by Jean Dujardin, who won an Oscar for the 2011 silent film “The Artist”), a middle-aged man traveling alone by car. Viewers later find out that Georges is temporarily homeless because, at his unnamed wife’s request or demand, he has left home and she doesn’t want him to come back anytime soon. Georges’ wife is never shown on screen, although she is briefly heard on the phone when Georges calls her during his aimless road trip.

During their short conversation, Georges asks her if she wants to know where he is. She coldly says no and adds, “You don’t exist.” The movie never reveals what caused this marital breakdown. However, it soon becomes obvious that Georges feels very alone in this world. And that loneliness isn’t exactly helping his mental health.

In the very beginning of the movie, George stops to get gas and uses a public restroom. And it’s the first indication that he’s got some mental problems, because he takes off his jacket, stuffs it into the toilet, and then flushes the toilet. The jacket is too big to be flushed, so Georges leaves the restroom with water overflowing from the toilet.

Where is Georges going? He stops off at a stranger’s house because he’s there to answer an ad about an item for sale. The friendly elderly man who answers the door is named Mr. B (played by Albert Delpy), and he’s eager to show Georges the item that he wants to sell. It’s a brown, fringed deerskin jacket that Mr. B says he hasn’t worn for years, ever since it went out of style.

“Here’s the beast,” Mr. B. tells Georges, who immediately loves the jacket, even though it’s too small for him. Mr. B. mentions that everything about the jacket is still intact from when he first got it, except the jacket no longer has the “Made in Italy” tag. Georges pays €7,500 in cash to Mr. B for the jacket. And even though it’s €200 less than the asking price, Mr. B is happy with the sale.

And he does something unexpected: He gives Georges a digital video recorder as a bonus item in this sale. After Georges buys the jacket, he needs to find a place to stay since he’s no longer welcome in his home.

Georges checks into a small inn, where he tells the receptionist (played by Laurent Nicolas) that he plans to stay for one month. However, there’s a problem: Georges has some banking problems that won’t be cleared up until the next day, so he can’t pay by credit card. As a solution, the receptionist agrees to Georges offer to temporarily take Georges’ gold wedding band as a guarantee of payment.

When Georges gets settled into his room, he admires himself in his recently purchased deerskin jacket and remarks to himself that the deerskin jacket gives him “killer style,” which is a phrase that’s mentioned repeatedly throughout the movie. There’s a double meaning for this phrase as the story gets darker and weirder. Georges is so enamored with himself in this jacket that he wears it whenever when he’s out in public.

The jacket seems to have given Georges some newfound confidence. When he walks into the a nearly deserted bar that’s within walking distance of the inn, he sits by himself, but it doesn’t take long for him to strike up a conversation with the only other people in the bar: a bartender in her 20s named Denise (played by Adèle Haenel) and an unnamed middle-aged female customer (played by Marie Bunel), who is sitting near Denise at the counter.

Georges, who is several feet away at the same counter, asks the women if they’ve been admiring his jacket. They give him a puzzled look and say no. The female customer remarks to Georges that he’s obviously not a local. Georges admits he’s not from the area, but then lies and says that he’s a filmmaker and he’s in town because he’s directing a movie.

After Georges leaves the bar and is walking back to the inn, the female customer drives near him and asks him if he wants a ride. Georges politely declines and says that he’d rather walk. The woman then says that if he needs any “bitches for his porn movie,” she’d be willing to offer her services because she said she did some porn about 20 years ago. “I’m still hot, right?” she asks Georges.

Georges is slightly offended and asks her why she thinks that he’s a porn filmmaker. She replies that it’s because he doesn’t look like someone who directs “real movies.” The conversation gets a little heated, she calls him a “loser,” and then she drives off in a huff.

This encounter seems to have triggered something in Georges, because when he goes back to his room at the inn, he starts having an imaginary conversation with his deerskin jacket while it’s hanging in the room. Georges provides the voice of the jacket while he speaks out loud to it. He makes small talk with the jacket, such asking where the jacket is from, and the jacket “replies” that it’s from Italy. And Georges films this conversation.

Georges is about to fall on hard times. He finds out from his bank that his wife has frozen all of their joint bank account, so he can’t get access to any of his money. He ends up scrounging for food in garbage cans because he spent all of his cash on the deerskin jacket. And he begins to talk out loud to the jacket as if it’s a real person. The jacket “talks back” to Georges and has a persona of being a confident motivator for Georges.

In desperation, Georges goes back to the bar to see if he can find a way to scrounge up some money. Denise the bartender is working, and Georges starts talking to her again. He tells her about the insulting porn proposition that the customer gave him the previous night. Denise says that she’s not surprised because the customer, who’s a regular patron of the bar, is a prostitute.

Georges continues to pretend that he’s a filmmaker, and he gives a fake sob story about how he’s been cut off from funds because the producers he’s working with are stuck in Siberia. Denise mentions that she’s an aspiring film editor. She tells Georges that for fun, she once edited “Pulp Fiction” to make all the scenes go in chronological order. Georges shows his ignorance in modern technology when he marvels at how Denise could do that kind of editing, and she asks him (with a skeptical look on her face) if he’s ever heard of digital editing.

However, Georges needs money, so he concocts a story that he will hire Denise on the spot to edit his movie if she can give him some advance money to help finish the project. It’s an obvious scam, and Denise finds it hard to believe that Georges doesn’t want to see any of her editing work before hiring her. However, Denise is so eager to get work in the film industry that she doesn’t hesitate to withdraw cash from her bank account, and she gives the money to Georges.

There’s a limit to how much cash she can withdraw per day, but it’s eventually shown how that problem is dealt with in the story. The movie takes another bizarre turn when Georges is alone with his jacket in his room and a mutual confession comes out that changes Georges’ purpose in life. The jacket “confesses” that it wants to be the only jacket in the world, while George confesses that he wants to be the only person in the world who owns a jacket.

What follows is Georges’ insane quest to steal as many jackets as possible and film it all. Denise is given much this footage to edit, and she thinks Georges’ movie is some kind of mockumentary. His ways of stealing jackets become increasingly maniacal.

One of Georges’ schemes to steal jackets is by enticing people into auditions for his “movie” and telling them to bring all the jackets they own to the “audition.” Once these unsuspecting victims arrive for the “audition,” they’re told that they have to act out a scene where they throw their jackets into Georges’ car trunk while saying this line: “I swear never to wear a jacket as long as I live!”

Georges films them during this “audition” and then drives off with the jackets. If anyone gives chase or tries to object, he tells them that he has them on video saying that they never want to wear a jacket again. But then, things start to get really violent and ugly.

What does Denise think about all of these dirty deeds? She thinks it’s hilarious, and she encourages Georges to go to even more extremes. It’s revealed at the end of the movie how much Denise might or might not have been fooled by Georges’ lies.

In the meantime, in true Dupieux style, the movie has several comedic moments that are meant to make viewers feel uncomfortable. For example, there’s a scene where Georges has to retrieve his gold wedding band, and it involves him having to suck the ring off of the finger of a dead person. It’s actually a lot funnier to watch than how it might be described.

Throughout the course of the story, Georges gets more brown deerskin clothing items (such as a cowboy hat, boots, trousers and gloves) that all happen to match his beloved deerskin jacket. As he accumulates each of these deerskin clothing items, he becomes more emboldened to do the heinous acts that he ends up doing in order to steal more jackets. His obsession with stealing jackets coincides with his obsession to film himself during these thefts, as well as film his imaginary conversations with the jacket.

At just 77 minutes long, “Deerskin” is a brisky and eccentric romp taken to over-the-top levels that would wear very thin if this movie had been stretched to more than 90 minutes. It can be left up to interpretation how much the jacket influenced Georges in a supernatural way, or how much of his madness had already been brewing and Georges used the jacket as an excuse to act in the way that he does. “Deerskin” is best enjoyed by adventurous viewers who don’t mind comedies that don’t give characters much of a past because what these characters do in the present is enough to defy explanation.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Deerskin” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on May 1, 2020. The movie, which was released in several other countries in 2019, is also available on HBO and HBO Max.

Review: ‘Two of Us’ (2021), starring Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier

February 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa in “Two of Us” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Two Of Us”

Directed by Filippo Meneghetti

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in France, the dramatic film “Two of Us” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two elderly women who have been longtime secret lovers have different ideas on when to make their romance public, and then one of them has a stroke that takes the relationship in another direction.

Culture Audience: “Two of Us” will appeal primarily to people are interested in compelling dramas that deal with issues of LGBTQ people who are afraid to reveal their sexual identities and issues about health care for elderly people.

Léa Drucker and Martine Chevallier in “Two of Us” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

The French dramatic film “Two of Us” shines an emotionally powerful light on an issue that’s almost never covered in mainstream films: What happens when LGBTQ partners have a health crisis that needs caregiver aid, but one partner has no legal right to care for the other? The issue becomes more complicated when the couple’s romance has been kept a secret and the ailing partner wants to keep the relationship “in the closet.”

“Two of Us” is the first feature film from writer/director Filippo Meneghetti, who shows a knack for telling this story in an artful and respectful way. There are a few unexpected twists and turns in the movie, but it’s also a film that is entirely believable. Thanks to an intriguing screenplay and convincing performances from the cast members, “Two of Us” touches on universal themes about the freedom to love openly and how that freedom is often restricted by bigotry and fear. It’s no wonder that “Two of Us” was France’s entry for the 2021 Academy Awards.

“Two of Us” tells the story of retirees Nina Dorn (played by Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine Girard (played by Martine Chevallier), who live across the hall from each other in an apartment building in an unnamed city in France. To the people they know, Nina and Madeleine seem to be platonic neighbors. But in reality, Nina and Madeleine (whom Nina has affectionately nicknamed Mado) have been secret lovers for about 20 years.

Madeleine is a native of France, while Nina is originally from Germany. It’s revealed later in the story that Nina used to be a tour guide in various countries, and it’s implied that Nina met Madeleine this way. Madeleine is a widow whose husband has been dead for a few years, so Madeleine is now the only owner of her apartment.

It’s mentioned more than once in the film that Madeleine’s marriage was an unhappy one, and her late husband was abusive to her emotionally and possibly physically. But now that Madeleine’s husband is dead, she and Nina are free to have sleepovers at each other’s place. They have keys to each other’s apartment.

Nina is the one who usually goes to Madeleine’s apartment, where in one of the early scenes of the movie, they have a lovers’ tryst that shows their passion for each other hasn’t dwindled. In another scene, Madeleine and Nina slow dance closely to the love song “Chariot (Sul Mio Curro),” which is their favorite song as a couple. It’s a song that they like to play to get in a good mood.

Madeleine and her late husband have two children, who are now in their 30s: daughter Anne (played by Léa Drucker) and son Frédéric (played by Jérôme Varanfrain), who visit Madeleine on a regular basis. Anne has a son named Théo (played by Augustin Reynes), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. Madeleine is much closer to Anne than she is to Frédéric, who seems to resent Madeleine because he suspects that Madeleine was unfaithful in her marriage.

Anne is a stylist at a hair salon, and so she’s naturally her mother’s hair stylist too. When Ann does her mother’s hair, it’s their time to catch up on “girl talk.” Anne thinks that she and her mother have the type of relationship where they can tell each other anything. But it won’t be long before Anne finds out that there’s a lot she didn’t know about her mother.

In the beginning of “Two of Us,” Madeleine and Nina are blissfully happy but have reached a crossroads in their relationship. Nina has been bringing up the idea for them to move to Rome and get a place together. Madeleine is more cautious about that idea, but she has agreed to sell the apartment and to finally tell her family about the true nature of her relationship with Nina.

There is very little revealed about Nina’s background. She doesn’t mention having any family members or former lovers. It’s implied that Nina left everything behind in Germany to move to France. Nina is a lot more comfortable with the idea of living openly as a lesbian, but Madeleine is the one who’s resistant to “come out of the closet” because Madeleine is afraid that her children will be upset and reject her.

One day, Madeleine has a prospective buyer come over to look at the apartment. (Apparently, Madeleine is acting as her own real-estate agent, since no agent is seen or mentioned every time she discusses selling the apartment with anyone.) The prospective buyer is a professional-looking man in his 30s named Mr. Brémond (played by Hervé Sogne), who makes an offer of €250,000 to buy the apartment.

Nina plays the part of a nosy neighbor who invites herself over when Madeleine is showing the apartment to Mr. Brémond. Nina’s tells Mr. Brémond that she and Madeleine are friends and her apartment layout and size are identical to Madeleine’s apartment, so Nina says she’s curious about what a prospective buyer would think. Privately, Nina has told Madeleine that she’s saved up enough money for it to be realistic for them to move Rome. Nina’s dream is to live near the Tiber River.

While all of these plans are going on, Madeleine has a small birthday celebration in her home with just her children Anne and Frédéric and grandson Théo. It’s here that Madeleine plans to tell her family that she and Nina are lovers and that they plan to move to another country together. But Madeleine can’t bring herself to tell them. The celebration hits a sour note when the subject turns to Madeleine’s late husband, and Frédéric angrily tells Madeleine that she couldn’t wait until her husband died.

The next day, Nina asks Madeleine with anticipation how Madeleine’s family took the news. “They agreed,” Madeleine tells Nina. It’s a lie of course. And Nina inevitably finds out when she happens to see Mr. Brémond outside the apartment building, and he tells her that Madeleine changed her mind about selling the apartment.

Just at that moment, Madeleine is looking out her apartment window and sees Nina talking to Mr. Brémond. She quickly goes outside to try to diffuse the emotional explosion that’s about to happen. But it’s too late.

Nina furiously confronts Madeleine about her lies and says she can’t take hiding their relationship anymore. Nina then asks Mr. Brémond if he has a problem with two “old lesbians.” A flustered and embarrassed Mr. Brémond says no. Nina then rips into Madeleine some more and ends the argument by calling Madeleine “pathetic” before Nina storms off.

The next day, Nina is over at Madeleine’s place when she notices an unattended frying pan that’s lit on the stove. She senses that something is wrong and looks for Madeleine in the apartment. The next thing you know, an ambulance is called to take Madeleine to a hospital.

Nina and Anne go to the hospital, but since Nina isn’t considered a family member, she can only wait to find out what happened from Anne. In the waiting area, Anne tells Nina that Madeleine had a stroke and the prognosis isn’t good. Although Madeleine is in stable condition, the doctors say it’s unlikely that Madeleine will be able to speak again.

It’s devastating news. And Nina gets even more distraught when she finds out that Anne and Peter have hired a live-in caretaker named Muriel (played by Muriel Bénazéraf), who firmly declines Nina’s offers to help Muriel look after Madeleine. Muriel is also very strict about when Nina can come over to visit Madeleine, by limiting the visiting hours only to during the day. At this point, Muriel and Anne have no idea that Nina has a key to Madeleine’s apartment.

The first time that Nina tries to visit Madeleine when she comes from from the hospital, Muriel tells Nina to come back at 8:30 the next morning. Nina can’t wait that long though, so she sneaks into the apartment while Muriel is asleep. Nina rushes to Madeleine’s side and tells her that she’s sorry for the insulting argument that she had with Madeleine. Unfortunately, Madeleine stares ahead and gives no indication that she’s aware of what Nina is saying or even knows who Nina is.

The movie then shows a forlorn Nina sitting in her apartment the next morning and waiting for the clock to get to 8:30. Nina is careful about appearing too over-eager because Muriel and later Anne begin to show signs that they’re suspicious of Nina. They think it’s odd that Nina shows a little too much interest in being around Madeleine.

Now that Nina can no longer come and go whenever she wants into Madeleine’s apartment, Nina has to decide how she’s going to handle being able to see Madeleine on a daily basis. Nina’s comes up with two options in her plan: win over Muriel or try to get Muriel fired. In the limited time that Nina now spends with Madeleine, she notices that Madeleine seems to be aware of her presence and her physical abilities seem to improve.

Aside from the pressing matter of how much Madeleine can be rehabilitated, there’s the lingering question of how much longer Nina and Madeleine’s relationship can be kept a secret. Nina knows that Madeleine wasn’t ready to tell her family, but should Nina make the decision for her, now that Madeleine can’t speak? And would the family negatively react if they found out the truth?

Madeleine has her stroke about 25 minutes into this 95-minute film, so the rest of the movie really shifts to Nina’s perspective. Her turmoil is compounded by the fact that she has no one she can turn to for help, since Nina and Madeleine really kept their secret love affair only to themselves. It’s enough to drive anyone a little crazy. And there are some things that Nina does that indicate she might be slipping close to that edge.

“Two of Us” has a some melodrama, but not enough to take away from the emotional sincerity of the film. It’s a somber meditation that shows how homophobia can often affect LGBTQ partners from living openly and legally being able to take care of each other if someone in the relationship needs round-the-clock caregiving. From Nina’s perspective, her heartbreak also comes from wondering if the woman she loves is gone forever, because Madeleine can no longer speak and no longer has the personality she used to have.

Sukowa anchors the film with a quiet intensity that takes viewers through Nina’s emotional nightmare and increasing desperation. And although Chevallier’s Madeleine character is a stroke patient for most of the movie, she delivers an impressive performance where she must act primarily with her eyes when Madeleine becomes otherwise physically incapacitated. Before the stroke, Nina seemed to be more the more mysterious one in the relationship since her personal history is very vague. But by the end of the movie, Nina is the character that viewers will end up feeling like they know better, for obvious reasons.

“Two of Us” writer/director Meneghetti doesn’t make any preachy judgments on what happens in the movie. Anne and Nina end up clashing with each other over decisions on how to handle Madeleine’s rehabilitation, but the movie doesn’t try to be heavy-handed about who’s right and who’s wrong. People can see both sides of the argument and find reasons to see why each woman believes strongly that she knows what’s best for Madeleine. In its own heartbreaking way, “Two of Us” is an example of how true love can endure, but it’s better when that love can be expressed openly and honestly.

Magnolia Pictures released “Two of Us” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on February 5, 2021.

Review: ‘The Price of Desire,’ starring Orla Brady, Vincent Perez, Francesco Scianna and Alanis Morissette

June 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Francesco Scianna and Orla Brady in “The Price of Desire” (Photo by Julian Lennon)

“The Price of Desire”

Directed by Mary McGuckian

French and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in France from the 1920s to the 1970s, the drama “The Price of Desire” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: The film tells the story of Irish architect Eileen Gray and her conflicts over sexism and E-1027, a modernist villa that she designed in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who have an interest in the history of 20th century European modernist architecture.

Vincent Perez in “The Price of Desire” (Photo by Julian Lennon)

“The Price of Desire” sounds like it could be the name of a thriller about a crime of passion, but this slow-paced feature film (which is based on a true story) tells how Irish architect/interior designer Eileen Gray (who died in 1976, at the age of 98) was deprived of being credited for much of her work because of sexism in the industry. Written and directed by Mary McGuckian, “The Price of Desire” gets much of the production design correct,  but the movie’s turgid tempo might bore people who have absolutely no interest in the history of 20th century European architects.

A great deal of the movie’s cinematography from Stefan von Björn is over-filtered, giving it a dreamy look that movies often use for flashbacks or scenes where people are supposed to be experiencing a heavenly atmosphere. The story of “The Price of Desire” definitely takes place on Earth (France, to be more specific), but this lens filtering is at times distracting. And because Gray was known for her minimalist style, the costume design for the movie is a little too obvious about it, since almost everyone wears clothes in neutral colors, such as white, black, brown or gray.

“The Price of Desire” begins with the Christie’s auction in 2009 that famously sold Gray’s “Dragons” chair for €22 million, which set an auction record for a piece of 20th-century furniture. The movie then flashes back to an elderly and partially blind Eileen (played by Orla Brady) toward the end of her life in the mid-1970s. She is shown a photo of E-1027, a modernist villa that she designed and which was built from 1926 to 1929, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.

This photo triggers her memories of the story behind E-1027, which is considered her first major architectural work and is now a French national monument. And those memories lead to the movie flashing back to how she met the man who became her lover and who was the muse for E-1027.

Jean Badovici (played by Francesco Scianna) was a Frenchman of Romanian descent who was 15 years younger than Eileen. He met her in 1926 to interview her for L’Architecture Vivante magazine. It’s clear that Jean is immediately attracted to and in awe of Eileen, but she’s somewhat resistant to his obvious interest. When she asks him if he’s a writer or a journalist, he tells her that he’s neither because he’s really an architect.

Eileen is bisexual, so Jean tactfully tries to find out from Eileen how much of her sexual preferences lean toward men. (Near the beginning of the film, Alanis Morissette has a cameo as singer Marisa Damia, one of Eileen’s lovers whose affair with Eileen is over by the time Eileen meets Jean.) Because Eileen and Jean share a passion for architecture and have a growing attraction to each other, they inevitably become lovers, and they soon decide to become work collaborators too.

Eileen tells Jean that she’s not interested in getting married to anyone and that she needs freedom to create and think. Jean tells Eileen, “You’re frittering away your talent on furniture. You’re 46 years old.”

Jean suggests that they design a house together. They name the white modernist villa E-1027, after the initials of their first and last names and where those letters are ranked in the alphabet.  “E” standing for Eileen, “10” stands for the “J” in Jean, “2” stands for the “B” in Badovici and “7” stands for the “G” in Gray.

But there’s one big problem: Perhaps in a “love is blind” decision, Eileen paid for the villa to be built and she gave Jean the house’s deed/title. Jean also took credit for designing the villa, which Eileen didn’t mind too much at first when their relationship was going well. They were live-in partners and his career began to thrive because of his association with Eileen, who is shown in the movie as being the brains behind his designs. But then, Eileen caught Jean cheating on her, and they had a bitter breakup not long after the house was completed in 1929.

By the time the breakup happened, Jean had become a close friend Swiss-French architect/artist Le Corbusier (played by Vincent Perez), who had become a titan of the industry as one of the pioneers of modern architecture. Le Corbusier (whose real name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) has a sexist attitude toward women in architecture, so he and Eileen inevitably end up having conflicts with each other, even though she says in the movie she remains a “passionate admirer” of Le Corbusier.

Adding insult to injury, after Eileen moved out of E-1027, Le Corbusier painted the walls with several colorful murals, which clashed with the villa’s white palette and minimalist style. To many people, the murals could be considered graffiti. And where is Jean in all of this? He’s taken the breakup with Eileen very hard, so he’s become an alcoholic, and he lets the more powerful Le Corbusier take over the villa.

Although “The Price of Desire” is supposed to be about Eileen Gray, the movie dilutes her perspective by making the character of Le Corbusier speak directly to the audience and share his thoughts. It’s a somewhat odd and distracting choice that McGuckian makes in this film’s narrative.

In real life, Le Corbusier was falsely credited for many years with designing E-1027, until the truth was revealed. Maybe having Le Corbusier narrate the film’s story is McGuckian’s way of demonstrating that even in a movie about Gray, Le Corbusier is trying to dominate and steal her thunder. But viewers of “The Price of Desire” would have to know this part of architectural history to understand this metaphor.

There’s a scene in “The Price of Desire” where Le Corbusier sums up how different he is from Eileen, when he interrupts a scene to talk to the audience about her: “There is so much uncertainty about sex, unless it’s paid for. In art, I can see clearly. In love, not so well. To me, they were incompatible and confused. To [Eileen Gray], they seemed utterly and intrinsically infused.”

Adding to the over-filtered cinematography, “The Price of Desire” also presents much of the movie’s scenes as if the story were a visual romance novel. Many scenes are filmed with too many slow-motion shots, some of which are almost laughable. Even when Eileen is doing the dirty work of breaking ground for the villa, she’s wearing no protective gloves and she’s dressed as if she’s about to go have a picnic in the park.

The movie has depictions of several real-life notable people from the mid-20th century artistic culture. The supporting character who gets the most screen time is artist Fernand Leger (played by Dominique Pinon), who’s a mutual friend of Eileen, Jean and Le Corbusier. Most of Fernand’s scenes consist of him witnessing some of the conflicts between his friends and trying to stay neutral, although in one scene he whispers to Eileen that she deserves to be happy, after she’s disrespected by Jean.

“The Price of Desire” also features cameo portrayals of writer Marcel Proust (played by Arnaud Bronsart); writer/artist Jean Cocteau (played by Fabien Boitiere); and Gray’s lesbian friends Gertrude Stein (played by Sammy Leslie), writer Natalie Barney (played by Natasha Girardi) and art promoter/filmmaker/choreographer Gabrielle Bloch (played by Caitriona Balfe). And it wouldn’t be a movie about high-end art without at least one billionaire. In this case, Aristotle Onassis (played by David Herlihy) makes an appearance.

There’s also a brief depiction author/adventurer Bruce Chatwin (played by Martin Swahey), who visits Eileen in her home toward the end of her life. She just happens to have a photo of Patagonia on her wall, and she mentions that she’s never been there. She then says to Chatwin: “Why don’t you go there for me?” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

“The Price of Desire” is not a horrible film. It’s just not a very compelling one. The actors in the cast do a serviceable job, but much of the movie’s dialogue just isn’t good enough to elevate, no matter who is speaking the lines.

And worst of all, “The Price of Desire” makes the mistake of having Le Corbusier (who’s portrayed as a misogynistic blowhard) continually interrupt the story to talk directly to the audience. If the point of the movie was to give the proper respect to Gray because she experienced gender discrimination, that intention is ruined by diminishing her perspective and making the story’s narration come from the sexist egomaniac who tried to oppress her in real life.

Giant Pictures released “The Price of Desire” in North America on digital and VOD on June 2, 2020. The movie was already released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2016.

Review: ‘Shadows of Freedom,’ starring Robert Satloff, Robert Gildea, Jeannine Verdès-Leroux, Brian Lane Herder, Helen Fry and Christopher Kolakowski

May 1, 2020

by Carla Hay

U.S. troops with Algerians during World War II in “Shadows of Freedom” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Shadows of Freedom”

Directed by Amos Carlen and Aline Robichaud

Culture Representation: This documentary, which interviews an all-white group of history experts, examines the underreported World War II history of Jewish resistance fighters in Algeria who were influential in helping the Allied Forces build a military strategy to defeat the Nazi regime.

Culture Clash: The Jewish resistance fighters in Algiers had to battle with the Nazi-controlled Vichy government in France, while United States and the United Kingdom disagreed on which Nazi-occupied country to invade first.

Culture Audience: “Shadows of Freedom” will appeal primarily to people who want to learn more about World War II history that took place in North Africa.

José Aboulker in a 1972 TV interview (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Much has been written about and reported on Jewish resistance fighters in Europe during World War II, but most people aren’t aware (because it’s rarely taught in history classes) that Jewish resistance fighters in the North African country of Algeria played a crucial role in the Allied Forces winning the War. “Shadows of Freedom” (directed by Amos Carlen and Aline Robichaud) is a very traditionally made documentary that tells this underdog story through the use of archival footage, some animation and interviews with World War II history experts.

Narrated by Youssef Iraqi in an appropriately serious tone, “Shadows of Freedom” begins with a brief summary of the events that led up to World War II, such as Adolf Hitler-led Nazis invading several countries in Europe from 1938 to 1940. France became divided between two territories with two separate governments: the democracy government in the free territory and the Vichy government in the Nazi-controlled territory. Also at stake where the North African countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Algiers, the capital of Algeria, was the largest city in this African region.

It was in Algiers that the seeds of resistance were sown with a Jewish man who is widely considered the leader of the Jewish resistance movement in Algeria: José Aboulker, who came from a French immigrant family of left-wing intellectuals. José’s father Henri was a professor of medicine and an activist. José’s brothers Rafael and Stephan also were influential members of the Jewish resistance group in Algeria.

The talking heads who provide commentary in the documentary are Robert Sayloff, executive director of the Washington Institute of Near East policy; Oxford University professor Robert Gildea, author of “Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of French Resistance”; Jeannine Verdès-Leroux, a historian and José Aboulker biographer; Brian Lane Herder, author of “Operation Torch 1942: The Invasion of French North Africa”; World War II historian Helen Fry, author of “Churchill’s German Army”; and Christopher Kolakowski, director of the MacArthur Memorial Museum in Norfolk, Virginia.

José Aboulker, who was a 20-year-old medical student at the time he formed the resistance group, is described in the documentary as intelligent and well-connected. With the help of his brothers, José recruited members of the group under the guise of having health-club/gum gatherings, so as not to raise suspicions of the government. It was a clear ruse, since the meetings would serve twofold purpose of making plans and giving physical training to the resistance members, most of whom were young (18 to 40 years old) but with no military experience.

Other key members of the French resistance in Algiers were two members of the free French government: Henri D’Astier de la Vigerie (a soldier) and Colonel Germain Jousse. And although the majority of the resistance members were Jewish immigrants from France, many were also Jews born in Algeria and some were non-Jewish Algerians.

During the formation of the Jewish resistance in Algeria, there were also disagreements brewing between the United States and the United Kingdom on what military strategy to use to win World War II. The U.S. had resisted getting involved for years in fighting the Nazis, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941 was the catalyst for the U.S. to get involved in World War II as part of the Allied Forces with the United Kingdom.

The U.S. military wanted to invade an embattled France first to free it from the Vichy regime. However, the U.K. military thought a better strategy would be to defeat Germany in other Nazi-occupied countries first, starting with those in North Africa, and then working up to Europe. The U.K. strategy is the one that was taken, and it turned out to be the correct strategy, because it have the Allied troops the experience and the confidence needed by the time they got to Europe.

In order to free the countries in North Africa, the Allied Forces would have to battle the French/Vichy military controlling these countries. A relatively small group (about 388 people) of Jewish resistance fighters, led by José Aboulker, played a crucial role by taking over the city of Algiers on November 8, 1942. The resistance fighters took police officers and city officials into custody for about six hours, which was longer than the resistance movement had expected.

The resistance fighters’ takeover of Algiers cleared a path when the Allied troops entered Algeria and finished what the resistance fighters started in the famous Operation Torch siege, by defeating the Nazi-sympathetic governments in Algeria and in other parts of North Africa. Unfortunately, the resistance fighters in Algeria were later marginalized in the Darlan Deal, brokered by French admiral Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan after the Allied Forces’ defeat of North Africa. Many of the resistance fighters were imprisoned for their helpful actions during Operation Torch.

The documentary’s pundits say that this mistreatment of the resistance fighters is an embarrassing part of French history, and it’s one of the reasons why the resistance movement in Algeria is not widely taught in history classes. Likewise, Americans and Brits also downplayed or tried to erase the contributions of the resistance fighters in Algeria, because Americans and Brits had to fight against the French in Algeria, and it doesn’t fit the usual narrative that the French were allies to Americans and Brits during World War II.

At 65 minutes long, “Shadows of Freedom” is a completely efficient retelling of this underrated part of World War II history. The archival footage includes early 1970s TV interviews of José Aboulker; his cousin Bernard Karsenty, who was also part of the Jewish resistance in Algeria; and Marc Jacquet, who called D’Astier de la Vigerie “an archangel with a sword” and a “true leader.”

D’Astier de la Vigerie is credited with being influential in the Jewish resistance movement in Algeria, but the documentary also points out that although he was anti-Nazi, he also had right-leaning political views that favored the idea of France going back to being a monarchy instead of  democracy. Satloff (who is the most compelling and articulate pundit in the documentary) also mentions that José Aboulker, who died in 2009 at the age of 89, was also probably not given enough credit in historical accounts of Operation Torch because of José Aboulker’s unpopular political views later in life. José Aboulker advocated on behalf of Algerian Muslims, which was a controversial stance for a Jewish person.

The documentary’s illustrations/animation by Joseph Sherman adeptly complement the story that’s told in the movie. There is a small editing error toward the end when subtitles are absent for historian Verdès-Leroux, who speaks in French. However, “Shadows of Freedom” musical score by co-directed Carlen is on point, ranging from majestic to poignant. “Shadows of Freedom” is the type of documentary that can easily be shown in history classes as part of any curriculum about World War II. However, you don’t have to be a history buff to be inspired by the courage of ordinary people who made a positive difference in an extraordinary period of humankind.

Gravitas Ventures released “Shadows of Freedom” on digital and VOD on April 24, 2020.

Review: ‘Resistance,’ starring Jesse Eisenberg, Clémence Poésy, Matthias Schweighöfer and Ed Harris

March 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jesse Eisenberg in “Resistance” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Resistance” (2020)

Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz 

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in World War II-era France, “Resistance” has a predominantly white cast of characters in a dramatic film inspired by the true story of a young Marcel Marceau and his involvement in the French Resistance movement against the Nazis.

Culture Clash: Marcel, whose artistic dreams are discouraged by his skeptical father, is at first reluctant to join the French Resistance, but he and others in the Resistance end up risking their lives in their fight against the Nazi regime.

Culture Audience: “Resistance” will appeal mostly to people who have an interest in World War II stories or inspirational biographies told in a melodramatic way.

Clémence Poésy, Jesse Eisenberg and Bella Ramsey (second from right) in “Resistance” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

People who know about Marcel Marceau as one of the world’s most famous mime entertainers might or might know about his involvement in the French Resistance that saved thousands of Jewish people’s lives during the horrors of the World War II-era Holocaust. The emotionally riveting melodrama “Resistance” primarily tells the story of this part of Marceau’s life from 1938 to 1942 (when he was 25 to 29 years old), and his transformation from aspiring entertainer to war hero.

The movie (written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz) begins on November 9, 1935, in Nazi-controlled Munich, Germany. A Jewish mother and father (played by Aurélie Bancilhon and Edgar Ramírez) lovingly kiss their 14-year-old daughter before she goes to sleep for the night. But their lives are shattered when Nazis break into the home, kidnap the parents, and murder them in the street before the terrified daughter’s eyes. What happens to this girl is shown later in the story.

Meanwhile, the movie flashes forward to 1945 in Nuremberg, Germany, with U.S. General George Patton (played by Ed Harris) addressing a large group of American soldiers in a stadium. Patton says he’s going to tell them a story about “one of those unique human beings who makes your sacrifices and heroism completely worth it.”

It’s then that the story of Marceau begins in Strasbourg, France. It’s November 1938, when he was known by his birth name, Marcel Mangel. Marcel (played by Jesse Eisenberg) doing a mime impersonation of Charlie Chaplin on stage at a cabaret. No sooner does he get off the stage, he is pulled out into an alley by his disapproving father, Charles Mangel (played by Karl Markovics), an immigrant from Poland who thinks Marcel is wasting his time trying to be an artist. Charles wants Marcel to follow in his footsteps in the family’s butcher business, which Marcel does reluctantly as a “day job.”

Meanwhile, one of the butcher shop’s female customers has a daughter named Emma (played by Clémence Poésy), who Marcel asks about when she comes into the store. Marcel jokes that his father wants Marcel to marry Emma, but viewers can see from the Marcel’s demeanor when he sees Emma later that he doesn’t need any parental interference to be interested in her. They have the kind of back-and-forth “I’m trying to play it cool but deep down I’m attracted to you” banter that would-be couples have in movies when you know that there will be some romantic sparks between them later.

Emma and her sister Mila (played by Vica Kerekes) are part of the underground French Resistance movement that includes Marcel’s cousin Georges Loinger (played by Géza Röhrig), who was the head of the Jewish Boy Scouts during World War II. Georges, Emma, Mila and Marcel’s older brother Alain (Félix Moati) are all involved in helping rescue orphaned Jewish children and finding them a place to live.

Georges has asked Marcel to use his mime skills to entertain the children, but Marcell initially says no because he wants to use his free time to work on a play and his other artistic interest of painting. Marcel and Alain come from a  tight-knit Jewish family (their parents have a solid marriage), but Alain and Marcel have a strained relationship because Alain thinks that Marcel is too self-centered and arrogant.

And the movie shows that Alain is right. Even though Marcel is a mime on stage, he hates it when people call him “a clown.” As he tells his father haughtily, “I’m an actor!” Marcel also thinks that he’s too good to be a butcher and he’s destined for greatness as a famous and respected artist. No one can tell him otherwise.

But when a group of 123 orphans arrive in Strasbourg, and Marcel volunteers to borrow his father’s truck to transport them to an abandoned castle where the orphans will be staying, it sets in motion a life journey that at the time Marcel didn’t even know that he would be taking. In this group of orphans is a teenager named Elsbeth (played by Bella Ramsey), and she’s the same girl viewers saw in the beginning of the film. Elsbeth ends up bonding with Emma, who acts like a surrogate older sister to Elsbeth.

While at the castle, the frightened orphans are slowly put at ease by Marcel’s mime antics. It’s during these performances that Marcel realizes that he can use his art for something more important than his own career ambitions. However, Marcel still doesn’t want to give up his dreams of being an artist.

One day, while Charles watches his son Marcel working on a painting, he asks Marcel, “You dress like a clown. You paint a clown. Why do you do it?” Marcel replies, “Why do you go to the bathroom?” Charles answers, “Because my body gives me no choice.” Marcel tersely says before he walks out of the room, “There it is. That’s my answer.”

However, Marcel’s artistic dreams are put on hold when it becomes clear that the Nazis are getting closer to invading the region of France where he lives. Alain tells the others that they need to train the children to survive. And sure enough, the Nazis order the evacuation of the border towns in France. The Mangel family, like so many other Jewish families in the region, comply and think that they will eventually be allowed to go back to their homes. Tragically, they are mistaken.

It’s 1941. And while in France’s city of Limoges in Vichy, Marcel puts his  precise painting skills to good use and finds out he has a knack for forging passports, which he does for himself and several fellow Jewish refugees. It’s during this period of time that he changes his last name to Marceau, in order to hide his real Jewish surname.

Meanwhile, Marcel and Emma have gotten closer, while Alain and Mila have started their own romance. Along with Georges, they are all still heavily involved with helping orphans find a place to live. And it’s around this time that Alain and Marcel officially decide to join the Resistance. They tell their father, who is supportive.

As this is going on in France, viewers are then taken to Berlin, where Nazi lieutenant Klaus Barbie (played by Matthias Schweighöfer) is inflicting violence and terror on Jews and some of his fellow Nazis. (In one brutal scene, he viciously beats another Nazi in front of others because the man is gay.) The movie shows that this sadistic Nazi has a soft side when it comes to his family (he has a wife and baby daughter), which illustrates how several Nazis had the duality of being heartless murderers but also loving family men.

Before the end of the movie, Marcel and his group have a lot of harrowing, heartbreaking and life-threatening experiences. “Resistance” is not an easy film to watch if you’re extremely sensitive to seeing terrifying acts of murder and torture. It makes it all the more painful to watch because these are re-enactments of what millions of Jews and other people went through in real life.

And the movie also shows that the Nazis were not the only people to blame for the Holocaust. An untold number of non-Jewish people in Nazi-occupied countries betrayed their fellow Jewish citizens by giving up information about them for cash or other rewards. “Resistance” effectively shows how the culture of complicity allowed the Nazi reign of terror to thrive for as long as it did.

Although this is certainly an important story to be told, “Resistance” might have some people rolling their eyes at the melodramatic tactics used in telling the story. There’s a scene where one of the main characters goes missing and is found in a big city, just at the moment when this person is about to jump in front of train in a moment of suicidal despair and is rescued from committing that deadly act. This kind of too-good-to-be-true coincidence looks like it was fabricated just for the movie.

And in another part of the story that doesn’t make much sense, one of the characters is captured and tortured by a Nazi and then inexplicably allowed to leave. In reality, this person would’ve been killed, but it seems that this person’s life was spared in order to further the plot in another part of the movie. However, it’s one of the few parts of “Resistance” that doesn’t ring true. The rest of the film, which unabashedly tugs at people’s heartstrings, tells the story in a way that could have reasonably happened in real life.

“Resistance” director and Jonathan Jakubowicz and cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz imbue the film with a sense of urgency in the war scenes and a sense of dramedy in the more light-hearted scenes. There are many sweeping shots at 360-degree angles that give the viewers a head-spinning overview of what usually is a pivotal scene in the story. But even with these artsy camera tricks, the movie doesn’t trivialize the dark side of this story.

As Marcel, Eisenberg gives a compelling performance, even if his real-life American accent occasionally slips out in the dialogue. He convincingly portrays Marcel as someone who evolves from thinking that nothing is more important to him than his art to realizing that there are other ways that artists can make an important difference in the world without giving up their passion for art. (Eisenberg’s mother was a clown in real life, so doing the mime scenes must have had special meaning for him.) “Resistance” is undoubtedly a story about how someone can triumph over tragedy, but it’s also a reminder that the horrors of the Holocaust must never happen again.

IFC Films released “Resistance” on digital and VOD on March 27, 2020.

2020 Cannes Film Festival postponed due to coronavirus pandemic

March 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

 

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie at the world premiere of “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 21, 2019. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/REX/Shutterstock)

The 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, has been postponed until further notice. The event had been scheduled to take place May 12 to 23, 2020. The news should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows about the worldwide cancellations/postponements of events since the coronavirus outbreak was classified as a pandemic in March 2020. France is one of the countries that has been hardest hit, with movie theaters, restaurants and many other businesses ordered to be shut down.

Although a statement on the Cannes Film Festival website says that the event will hopefully be rescheduled for June or July 2020, those months seem very unrealistic, considering that it will take France several months to recover from the pandemic. Many other events around that world that are taking place in June and July 2020 are being postponed or cancelled.

A Cannes Film Festival press conference to announce the movies selected for the 2020 festival was scheduled to take place on April 16, 2020, but that press conference has also been postponed.

The Cannes Film Festival has long been considered the most prestigious film festival in the world. Many of the films that win prizes at Cannes go on to win or get nominated for Oscars. The South Korean film “Parasite,” directed by Bong Joo Ho, won the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize (the Palme d’Or) in 2019, and the movie went on to win four Oscars, including Best Picture.

Even with the prestige, the festival has been at the center of controversy in recent years. The controversies include the festival’s low percentage of films from female directors; a policy instituted in 2018 that bans people from taking selfies on the red carpet; and the festival’s refusal to allow films to compete unless they can be released theatrically in France at least three months before they’re available on home video or streaming services. This latter policy has resulted in Netflix no longer participating in the Cannes Film Festival, as of 2018. Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who has held the position since 2007, has gotten the majority of the criticism for these controversies.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee is serving as president of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival grand jury. It’s the first time a black person has been president of the jury. Lee’s movies “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) all had their world premieres at Cannes. “BlacKkKlansman” won the Grand Prix (second place) at Cannes in 2018. The movie went on to win an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, an award that was shared by Lee and his fellow “BlacKkKlansman” screenplay co-writers Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz and Charlie Wachtel.

In an interview with Variety, Lee commented on the 2020 Cannes Film Festival being postponed: “I agree 100% with Thierry and the Cannes Film Festival. The world has changed and it’s changing every day. People are dying and France’s president has said, several times—I’m paraphrasing—‘We are at war.’ We are in a war-like time.”

Lee continued, “The stuff that we love has to take a back seat: movies, TV, sports, the NBA is a global sport, baseball. So many things have been postponed, and I agree with this move.”

Click here for an updated list of other corona virus-related cancellations and postponements in the entertainment industry.

Review: ‘Zombi Child,’ starring Louise Labeque, Wislanda Louimat, Katiana Milfort, Mackenson Bijou

January 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Louise Labeque and Wislanda Louimat in "Zombi Child"
Louise Labeque and Wislanda Louimat in “Zombi Child” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Zombi Child”

Directed by Bertrand Bonello

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Set in modern-day France and 1962 Haiti, the horror film “Zombi Child” has a racially diverse cast of white and black actors who portray the upper-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: The movie shows what happens when the worlds of voodoo and zombies collide and span different generations.

Culture Audience: “Zombi Child” will appeal to people who like their horror films to be artsy and somewhat unpredictable.

Clockwise from lower left: Adilé David, Ninon François, Mathilde Riu, Louise Labeque and Wislanda Louimat in “Zombi Child” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

Most zombie stories take place in a post-apocalyptic setting where zombies have taken over the world, so it’s refreshing when a zombie story raises the possibility that zombies could be walking among us in the current world, and they don’t have the obvious appearance of rotting, flesh-eating corpses. The French-language horror film “Zombi Child” is a moody, atmospheric and occasionally disturbing zombie story with scares that are more psychological than bloody and gory.

“Zombi Child,” written and directed by Bertrand Bonello, takes place in two different countries in two different eras: contemporary France and 1962 Haiti. The movie starts out in a deceptively “normal” and “controlled” setting: a prestigious boarding school for teenage girls. Almost all of the students are white except for a new arrival named Mélissa (played by Wislanda Louimat), a Haitian orphan whose parents died in the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. Mélissa is currently living in France with her aunt Katy (played by Katiana Milfort). 

As a new student, Mélissa is treated like an outsider. She doesn’t seem to mind too much about being a loner at school, and her mysterious confidence intrigues a fellow classmate named Fanny (played by Louise Labeque), who leads a clique of popular girls at the school.

Inside and outside of classes, Mélissa and Fanny strike up a tentative acquaintance. Although Fanny might look like she’s in control of her life on the outside, on the inside, she’s experiencing a lot of turmoil. In voiceovers, we hear her talking to a boyfriend, whom she says she misses terribly and can’t wait to be in his arms again. Is she reading a letter? Is she thinking about the last time she talked to him? Or is she imagining a conversation that she’s having with him?

We find out later that the boyfriend’s name is Pablo and something has happened in his relationship with Fanny that has caused her a lot of despair, to the point where she’s ready to do something extreme. Meanwhile, Fanny hides her troubles away from the people she knows and acts as if nothing is wrong with her.

Fanny eventually decides to let Mélissa into her clique, which secretly meets at night to drink alcohol and gossip in one of the empty classrooms. One night, Mélissa joins them for one of their candlelit meetings, and Fanny tells her that she can officially join the group if Mélissa tells them a secret and if they like what Mélissa tells them.

Mélissa then reads them a poem-like statement called “Captain Zombi” about African-descended zombies taking back power from white oppressors. While the other girls go in another room to decide if Mélissa can join the group, she stays inside the room and listens to music. The girls come back in the room and tell her that she’s been accepted into the group.

Fanny wants to hear more about Mélissa and her family background, so Mélissa tells them about being an orphan. Mélissa also mentions that she lives with her aunt when she’s not at the boarding school. Mélissa says that her aunt is a mambo. Later, Fanny looks up “female mambo” on the Internet and sees that it means someone who practices voodoo.

Intrigued, Fanny finds Mélissa’s address and shows up unannounced at the house of Mélissa’s aunt. She tells the aunt that she knows Mélissa from school, and so the woman lets her in the house. It’s there that Fanny makes a very unusual request.

Meanwhile, there are mysterious flashbacks to Haiti in 1962, where we see a black man named Clairvius Narcisse (played by Mackenson Bijou), who’s been sent to work at a sugar plantation. He appears to be mute and acting like a zombie. Who this man is and what happened to him are revealed in the movie.

Meanwhile, Mélissa’s roommate tells Fanny that Mélissa has been making strange grunting noises at night, and she doesn’t know if she’s making the noises while awake or in some kind of trancelike state. Mélissa is also heard making the noises while she’s in other places on campus, so it’s established that she’s definitely making the noises while she’s awake.

“Zombi Child” is not going to satisfy zombie fans who are looking for scenes of people being chased by rabid zombies. (The actual horror scenes in the film aren’t until near the end.) The movie takes an approach that being in a zombie-like state is more of a demonic spiritual possession rather than a physical transformation where people turn into monster cannibals. “Zombi Child” is an artsy horror film, but underneath the surface is a nuanced commentary on social classes and what happens when people are complacent about wrongful oppression.

Film Movement released “Zombi Child” in select U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020. The movie was originally released in France in 2019.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Vas-y Coupe!’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jacques Selosse employees in "Vas-y Coupe!"
Jacques Selosse employees in “Vas-y Coupe!” (Photo courtesy of By the By Productions)

“Vas-y Coupe!”

Directed by Laura Naylor

French with subtitles

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.

UPDATE: “Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe!)” is the new title of the movie.

If you’ve ever wondered about some of the people behind the making of French champagne, you’ll get a look in “Vas-y Coupe!,” a candid but slow-paced peek into the crucial harvesting process. “Vas-y Coupe!” translates to “Go ahead, cut!” in English. This movie focuses on Jacques Selosse, a family-run vineyard in France’s Champagne region and what happens during harvest season. The documentary was inspired by director Laura Naylor’s real-life experiences harvesting grapes at the vineyard in 2016, about a year after she first discovered the vineyard through a sommelier friend.

Founded in the 1950s, Jacques Selosse is located in the small village of Avize, and much of the culture in the movie feels like a 1950s time warp. The roles of the men and women are, for the most part, sharply segregated by gender. Although there are a few harvesters who are female (and they’re briefly spotted on camera), the male harvesters and their male supervisors get most of the focus in this documentary. The women in the film are primarily shown in the kitchen and fulfilling the roles of cooks, food servers and maids. The women are preoccupied with preparing meals and trying on beauty products, while the men do the dirty work of picking and distilling the grapes. Even with the Selosse family that owns the vineyard, the men in the family are the ones who get to taste and evaluate the company’s product made from the harvested grapes.

In addition to the gender lines that are clearly defined, there are also class lines that are almost never crossed. The laborers know their place as servants, and there’s sometimes tension with the vineyard owners/supervisors over wage issues. The rough-and-tumble nature of this working-class crew sometimes leads to them clashing with each other, as minor squabbles are captured on camera. But if you’re looking for shocking, dramatic moments, you won’t find them here in this mostly quiet film. To its credit, what’s shown in this movie doesn’t look staged, like a reality show.

But to its detriment, the movie suffers from editing that shows too much repetition of mundane tasks. It’s not necessary for viewers to keep seeing similar scenes of the women in the kitchen discussing the meals they’re preparing, followed by scenes of the women serving the meals to the laborers gathered in the dining room area. In order for a documentary like this to stand out, there has to be at least one big, riveting personality to keep viewers interested, but the people in this movie are just too average to make this a compelling story. And unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down in so much “slice of life” footage that the end result is a documentary that is duller than it should be.

UPDATE: First Run Features has renamed the movie “Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe)” and will release the movie on digital and VOD on October 8, 2020.