DVD Review: 8 Femmes

“Un homme? Pourquoi un homme?”

Having recently seen Isabelle Huppert on stage and Fanny Ardant at a film festival, I was reminded that I hadn’t watched François Ozon’s 8 Femmes for some time and I took great pleasure in reacquainting myself with a film I love dearly. If I believed in guilty pleasures this would be up there but for me, there’s no guilt at all, purely pleasure. Adapted by Ozon from the play by Robert Thomas, 8 Femmes is a retro delight, a technicolour musical version of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery, beautifully spoofing the overblown Hollywood style.

It also boasts quite the roll-call of cross-generational French acting talent in the eight women it gathers in a snowbound country mansion to celebrate Christmas with the single man of the piece Marcel. There’s his wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), his mother-in-law Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), his sister-in-law Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), his daughters Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) and Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen), his sister Pierette (Franny Ardant) and his household staff Madame Chanel (Firmine Richard) and Louise (Emmanelle Béart).

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DVD Review: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)

“Tous ces gens qui chantent, moi, tu comprends, ça me fait mal.”

I will never truly understand why some people insist on hating musicals so, the rich diversity of the genre meaning there’s such range and to dismiss them all in the same breath feels lazy. But with that in mind as I sat down to rewatch Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, one does have to recognise that this most glorious of film musicals does take some getting used to. The entire film is sung as recitative, right down to the last piece of dialogue and though Michel Legrand’s score swells with such beautiful themes as ‘I Will Wait For You’, the near-operatic style is resolutely unforgiving.

But this total immersion is what makes the film work, the heightened colours of the costumes and set create a special visual language that nods to the world of Hollywood musicals but rather than the sometimes cloying saccharine of those films, here the flavour is more of a sherbet lemon – there’s sweetness in the romantic headiness of Geneviève and Guy’s teenage relationship but sourness too as things turn bittersweet, Demy doesn’t protect his characters from the harsh realities of life as pregnancy, debt, conscription and parental pressure come into play over naïve dreams of love. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)”

DVD Review: Persepolis

“Je me souviens à cette époque je menais une vie tranquille et sans histoire, une vie de petite fille.”

There’s something a little depressing in finding out that people were right all along – my natural (and completely irrational, I know that) antipathy towards animated films means that it takes a lot to get me to watch them and so this is actually the first time I have actually watched Persepolis, the Cannes Grand Jury prize winner from 2007. An English version has been made which replaces some of the actors but as I wanted to listen to Danielle Darrieux as Grandmother, I opted for the original French (with subtitles natch). 

France’s own Judi Dench and Finty Williams, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni star (and interestingly, both also appear in the English version) in this coming of age tale of a young Iranian woman, set against the overthrow of the Shah and the rise of Islamic fundamentalist rule. Mastroianni plays Marji, through whose eyes we see the whole thing – the optimism of change as revolution kicks in, the excitement of being involved in a family full of activists, the fear at the realisation of what has actually been implemented by the new regime.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Persepolis”

DVD Review: Dancer in the Dark

“I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen the dark
I’ve seen the brightness in one little spark”

Is there quite so uncompromising a director as Lars von Trier? Watching his films can sometimes feel punishing in its intensity, either exhilarating or exasperating depending on how you connect with the Dogme 95 manifesto that he co-founded. Strictly speaking, Dancer in the Dark doesn’t adhere closely to stipulated austerity of those rules but it is most definitely in the ballpark and as with so much of his work, it becomes near-unwatchable at the climax as it completely breaks your heart in the most brutal of ways.

With a tempestuous relationship with von Trier that has been well documented, Björk takes on the lead role of Selma, a Czech immigrant scraping by in a factory in Washington state, saving the pennies she earns for an operation for her son which will prevent a hereditary degenerative condition from robbing him of his sight. She is suffering in silence though, unable to tell people how blind she is becoming for fear of being sacked, and when a nefarious neighbour steals her money, he sets in chain a tragic sequence of events. Continue reading “DVD Review: Dancer in the Dark”