Back in February, I watched the Oscars right through, live from Hollywood. I even indulged in some of the red carpet fluffery. Of course, there were many cringeworthy moments, and much has been written about those, as well as about the heart-stopping cockup of the Best Film award announcement. However, I will say here, briefly, that I was upset that La La Land seemingly won, and, yes, I yelled my disgust at my TV screen. Then it quickly became apparent that ditzy Bonnie had announced the wrong winner, after a befuddled Clyde threw her under that proverbial bus…and the starstruck accountants were also thrown under the same Oscars bus. Suddenly the much more deserving film Moonlight was given the Oscar – bad timing, many red faces and much fluster, but a very good outcome ultimately.
Moonlight is a beautifully modulated film, heartbreakingly pitch perfect while La La Land is an overhyped, pretty average musical film, which also should not have won the Best Director award. That award should have gone to Barry Jenkins for Moonlight or Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By the Sea.
My second favourite film on the Oscars list, Manchester By the Sea, won the great writer-director Kenneth Lonergan a best screenplay award, and Casey Affleck gained the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. I was also barracking for Michelle Williams and the teenager Lucas Hedges as best supporting actors, but those awards went to other equally worthy stars. Indeed, I was thrilled that Mahershala Ali won for his amazing performance in Moonlight. Sometimes it is hard to separate the winner from the others – it is probably just as well that I don’t have a vote. Also I would have awarded Isabelle Huppert the Best Actress in a Leading Role award…sorry, Emma Stone.
I also think enough has been said about Casey Affleck’s sexual assault charges, as I prefer to focus on his extraordinary performance, separating the person and the art, and judging his oeuvre accordingly. I adopt the same approach for Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and many other great creative people, who would most probably not be good people to encounter in reality; I can still admire them as consummate artists in their fields.
Feasting on the French Film Festival
This is the first major National festival to come my way this year, a cornucopia of filmic delights. Some of the films on the massive list did not appeal to me, and of course, I simply couldn’t see several that I wished I had seen (a common issue with festivals, despite this one offering multiple repeat screenings). Hopefully some will have a general release – e.g. The Dardenne brothers’ new film, The Unknown Girl.
My francophile friend Barbarella and I chose several films to see together. We enjoyed the films and the discussions over a crisp rose afterwards.
Our suite of films was chosen according to the great actors, the awards won, the directors, good reviews – many ways of checking and crosschecking and hoping for the best. I always try to see at least one film with Daniel Auteuil in it every year. He is an extraordinary actor, and we found him in Kalinka. Based on a true story of one man’s thirty-year struggle to gain justice for his murdered daughter, Kalinka was both absorbing and gut-wrenching. The film did sag a little in the middle, but overall it was a good start to the Festival for us.
Another film we picked because it sounded intriguing was 150 Milligrams, also based on a true story.
This film was directed by a woman director Emannuelle Bercot, with a remarkable performance by the Danish star, Sidse Babett Knudsen, of Borgen fame. While it was a bit too long, we both liked this depiction of a valiant woman up against a rogue multinational drug company, as well as hardened medical establishment views about modes of research.
Another gripping film was the Cannes Grand Prix winner, It’s Only the End of the World, by the young, extraordinary Canadian director Xavier Dolan. This was a tense, claustrophobic film about a dysfunctional family set on one day, when the gay son comes home after 12 years away, to inform his family that he is dying.
I loved the closeups and the miscommunications, the subtle shifts and different perspectives of each family member, as hidden pain and resentment surface and explode. An added bonus was the casting. Again I always try to see a film – any film – with the fierce Vincent Cassel in it. In this film, the great Marion Cotillard played his self-deprecating wife to perfection. Who can ever forget Vincent in La Haine and Marion in Rust and Bone – amongst many other roles. This film was a meaty one to discuss with Barbarella afterwards, over tapas and more rose.
Another three films from the French film world
I also went with some other people to three very different films – The Innocents, Things to Come and Saint Amour. The first two were both directed by sterling women filmmakers – France has the highest proportion of women directors in the world. Directed by Anne Fontaine, The Innocents was a suspenseful, emotional film set in Poland in December 1945. The film concerns a capable, compassionate French nurse who tries to help a devastated group of cloistered Polish nuns cope with at least 7 of them giving birth, after having been raped by Russian soldiers 9 months earlier. Again, this film was based on a true story. Highly recommended.
Being a fan of Isabelle Huppert, I was pleased to be able to go with some dear friends to one of her latest films, Things to Come, directed by Mia Hansen-Love. Several of these friends also adore Isabelle.
We did enjoy this subtle film about a stoic philosophy teacher dealing with marital breakdown, the death of her mother, student protests, becoming a grandmother and other life issues. Again, highly recommended.
Last but not least, I should mention Saint Amour. This bizarre road movie/ comedy starring Gerard Depardieu (I am so over him) also featured the famous French writer, Michel Houellebecq, starring in a minor role. My friends are huge fans of Michel’s novels, and I also enjoy reading his work. For us, he was the big drawcard. Once we coped with seeing the gross Gerard yet again (at least he can act), the film was unexpectedly funny.
There was loud giggling and even some snorting going on throughout the film as it became more and more absurd. Only about six other people were in the cinema that night, apart from the guffawing five of us – just as well. Good film therapy for us all.
POSTSCRIPT – Looking back on the past months
Thanks to all those who wished me well after my last blog post in November.
Just to report here that I have survived the seemingly endless weeks of surgery and then radiotherapy. I am now on the mend, hoping to get my mojo back in the not too distant future. Unfortunately I have been suffering shingles as my immune system was compromised by the radiation, so that has also led me to be debilitated by further pain and discomfort.
Things are slowly improving, and hopefully by the time I hit Sydney for the Sydney Film Festival in June, I will be Phoenix Helen rising from the ashes of the creepy cancer and the shitty shingles.