Monday, November 22, 2010

What I watched this week: Nov 13-21

Another slow week; next week will hopefully be better with time off for Thanksgiving. Still, November is light years ahead in terms of movie viewing compared to where I was two months ago.

Jeux d'enfants (Love Me if You Dare) (2003) dir. Yann Samuell:
I have no problem with films with a wicked sense of humor, but there has to be balance. There's a thin line between darkly funny and obnoxious and irritating, and this is a film that struggles to keep itself from straying into obnoxious territory. Julien and Sophie (real-life couple Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard) have been friends since they were children. And ever since they've been friends, their friendship has revolved around constantly playing pranks and constantly one-upping each other. Surprisingly, when the two stars finally take on the roles (roughly 20-30 minutes in), the pranks actually become more tolerable and seem to find the weird niche vibe that writer/director Yann Samuell was going for. Unfortunately, opening shot aside, the film gets off to a horrendous start. As children, the kids are almost insufferable, especially Julien. On numerous occasions I wanted to reach through the screen and slap them both. As it is, it makes the remainder of the film somewhat awkward to adjust to. Granted, it's good to see that the characters don't just continue their games without care (Sophie in particular grows tired of them), but even so, the damage has already been done. Samuell also has a tendency to thrown in kooky animated sequences that look like bits left on the cutting room floor from Amelie (and we'll get to Jean-Pierre Jeunet in a minute). That's not to say that there aren't things to like. A scene when Julien and Sophie see each other in a bar (after a significant time apart) is particularly effective, and in its own strange way the ending works perfectly on a thematic level. Canet and Cotillard are also very strong as well, better than the film around them by a considerable margin. It's nice to see Cotillard in a girlfriend in a role that doesn't relegate her to supporting/weak status (see: Public Enemies, Inception). Not exactly a bad film, but in a ways a bit too unpleasant for its own good, and difficult to strongly recommend.

Grade: B-

A Very Long Engagement (2004) dir. Jean Pierre Jeunet:

Three years before this film, Jeunet made another film called Amelie, and though this film shares that film's leading lady, the two couldn't be any more different. Amelie was a charming and quirky Gallic romance, whereas this film is a mostly somber affair about lost love amid the horror and aftermath of World War I. Mathilde (Audrey Tatou) and Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) were lovers shortly before the start of the war. Unfortunately, Manech has yet to return, and the war has long since been over. Desperate to find him, Mathilde sets out on a quest to find out where he is, starting by investigating a group of soldiers who Manech was last seen with. The journey leads her through any number of complications, the most formidable of all being Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard), the lover/whore of one of the men who has gone about killing the men responsible for the man's untimely death. For the most part, Jeunet leaves his slightly overbearing quirks behind, but unfortunately, perhaps in an attempt to lighten the mood, they still creep through. There are no weird animated sequences or hyper active montages, but there are smaller things, like Mathilde's aunt's obsession with her dog's flatulence, which seems like the sort of characterization that doesn't belong here (or anywhere, for that matter). Still, even with Jeunet's quirks, he does manage to make a solid transition into such heavy material, though at times the results border on plodding. All around, the performances are very strong, especially Tatou. Cotillard has moments too, though for the first half of the film her character is used more as an emblem; she's given two spectacularly designed (albeit simple) kill sequences and that's pretty much it until her big scene with Tatou. And though Jeunet doesn't shy away from the horror of war, there's a scene near the end that is equal parts horrifying and horribly contrived. Still, the visuals, art direction, costume design, and acting mostly make up for it. At the same time, one can't help but feel that the film would have benefitted from someone more committed to the overriding grimness of the story.

Grade: B

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