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March 20, 2017 | by  | in Film |
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2017 Alliance Française | French Film Festival

Things To Come (L’avenir) (2016)

Director — Mia Hansen-Løve

There is something incredible about European cinema in that, for some reason (I’m not an anthropologist, I don’t know what that reason is), it is more than willing to delve into the sadness and stress that occurs in everyday life.

In American cinema, conflict often arises from your usual Oscar-bait story tropes — drug addiction, death in the family, struggling to realise your dreams, etc. But many films coming from Europe (saying Europe sounds strange; mainly France and Germany) seem more willing to admit that to be emotional, and for conflict to arise both before and after that emotion, is simply what it means to be human. Because of this, stories of minimal magnitude can be made riveting by filmmakers and creators who take the basic struggles of life and make them cinematic.

There’s no sugar coating, but god the films are sweet anyway. Things To Come contains the basic theme of coming to terms with your own life, and moving forward with it. Isabelle Huppert, fresh off her much celebrated role of Elle (in the film Elle), plays Nathalie, whose life is not so much falling apart as merely changing for the worse. Jaded with the politics of her country and agitated by her eccentric and depressive mother she soldiers on, teaching philosophy at high school.

Her’s is truly a case of a role being as well written as it is performed. While in Hollywood every second scene would have had her bursting into tears and bemoaning the woes of life, Nathalie puts her head down and quietly deals with each scenario as it unfolds. That said, her moments of extraordinary charisma are absolute scene-stealers, and there’s a small dash of humour to take the edge off — mostly in the form of an obese cat.

It was a pleasure to watch this film unfold, particularly the contrast of the emotive youth in comparison to the intellectual adults. Elements of film rise and fall with subtlety, something which is echoed in the restrained, thoughtful, and beautiful directing and production.

 

Planetarium (2016)

Director — Rebecca Zlotowski

This one I enjoyed… less so. In a very stylised portrait of Parisian high society in the ‘30s, sisters Laura and Kate Barlow entertain crowds by contacting the spirit realm, and attract the attention of a very wealthy man who wants their gifts to come to life on celluloid.

This is a film about film, but also about a lot of other things. It’s about the relationship between the sisters, it’s about luxury, it’s about the past, and it’s a period piece. Sadly none of these elements are underpinned with an engaging story or interesting characters.

When it comes to the central roles (Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp being the sisters and Emmanuel Salinger being the man with the movie camera) it’s not a question of sympathy; it’s merely the fact that you never have any reason to invest in or be entertained by any of the characters’ motives. Salinger comes across well with a hesitant fervour in his search for the supernatural, but neither Portman nor Depp bring much of interest to the table, and the later verges on non-acting in some scenes.

The cinematography is undulating — sometimes beautiful but often over-lit and overly radiant; and the camera work is often close up and handheld in a way that feels constantly out of place. Before I could even think about the characters, I could barely process the choppy footage of simple social exchanges. To its credit, it is a film that tries to do its own thing, and the effort is very clear, but unfortunately it didn’t succeed. Potentially moving the focus away from the subject matter to its characters would have been to its benefit.

If there’s anything to be learnt from festival films it is that scenario and subject matter are of little importance relative to characters and the narrative, and Planetarium may have gotten a little too carried away with its own subject.

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