Underrated Dramas: France

Introduction

Recently I decided to partake in another great theme going on at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The last list I did there was for the Underrated Comedies series. As I anticipated, there was far more competition among movies I like to make the dramas list than the comedies list. So much so that I decided to post ancillary lists here before the big list debuts there. I wasn’t able to get all the contenders onto these lists but I was able to feature the most competitive regions (foreign films were one of my main foci). This is my first list.

Underrated Dramas: France

One criteria that I tried to hold steadfastly to when creating the list submitted to Rupert Pupkin Speaks was that I wanted to avoid including “big directors.” Essentially, I wanted to try and find as obscured a film as possible that doesn’t deserve that fate. Hence, if a director is known the world over by his last name alone long after he has passed such title was usually omitted. One such director (François Truffaut) finds his way onto this list because of how staggeringly great I find one of his titles to be, how simultaneously like and unlike the rest of his works it is. Aside from that the rest of the list I think adheres fairly close to what I set out to do. There is one title that dabbles in myriad genre I feel and I’ll discuss it below.

La gloire de mon père/Le château de ma mère (My Father’s Glory/My Mother’s Castle) (1990)

My Mother's Castle (1990, Gaumont)

The way I figure it if you’re going to fudge selections, or it can be claimed that you are, you may as well start at the top. When I had these films listed I knew it’d be impossible to break them up. While you can watch one without the other, they are truly companion pieces. Here Yves Robert lovingly adapts the novels by Marcel Pagnol of simple childhood idyll in Provence roundabout the turn of the century. It’s not a wonder the series of novels is entitled “memories of childhood,” there is that reflective, glorified tinge to the most commonplace occurrence that makes the films radiate with warmth. With each title focusing more on one parent it really is impossible to pick one over the other for a list though I am inclined to say I like the former more. However, they ought to be viewed in the order listed above.

8 Femmes (8 Women) (2002)

8 Women (2002, Canal +)

Here’s another case where I can be said to be shoehorning a selection. Ultimately, these are some of the reasons these titles didn’t make the final list, but they are worthy of their attention here. It can be said that 8 Women plays in a number of genres: it’s unquestionably a musical, it’s also quite comedic, but there is a murder mystery aspect to much of it that brings skeletons out of everyone’s closet making it play out like a chamber drama in its straight moments. One way in which it qualifies as underrated is that while it certainly racked up many honors like 12 César nominations, it had no wins there; and while I lost my nomination records from 2003, I know it was much nominated there and only won one award (Best Song). It’s fairly different in some regards from Ozon’s other films, but in others quite similar, and definitely worth checking out.

Le Grand Chemin (The Grand Highway) (1987)

Le Grand Chemin (1987, Miramax)

As I have a tendency to do, some films will be references multiple times on this site. This is one of them. Having already written extensively, albeit in-depth, about this film in a series of posts (starting here); I’ll only add here, in very non-spoiler ways, that this film portrays three people in flux (a couple and a child), treats them with respect, as equal persons going through similar things at different stages of their life. This film also had the misfortune of being the subject of a watered-down American remake, which means the original deserves to have attention drawn to it.

La chambre verte (The Green Room) (1978)

The Green Room (1978, Les Films du Carrosse)

Here’s Truffaut’s selection on this list. I griped in the past about how this should be on DVD and was glad when it was, but I don’t necessarily think its profile has been elevated to where it should be. I’m rounding out my Truffaut filmography, but if you watch a few of his movies you very quickly get a sense for his milieu and his wheelhouse. That’s why it’s so brilliant to see him take an essentially Bergmanesque character who is preoccupied with death, portray him himself and also put his warm, humanist spin on it. For further thoughts you van visit the link above.

Mauvaises Frequentations (Bad Company )(1999)

Bad Company (1999, Pyramide)

If you become a fan of a particular foreign-bron actor, as I am of Robinson Stévenin, you may find their filmography sporadically available in the US. Every once in a while I’ve played catch up on his works. However, this film is much more than a personal showcase. It’s a disturbing and gritty tale of obsession, lust and greed that was one of the best films I saw in 2001, when it made its way here.

Thankful for World Cinema: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train, the latest film from French auteur André Téchiné perhaps most well known for his film Wild Reeds, examines the ramifications of the allegations by a girl who claims she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack. Note: this review may contain spoilers.

The film is interesting in how it structures itself. It sets itself up in two parts. Part one is called “Circumstances” and part two is called “Consequences.” As expected, they each examine both what lead to the attack and what happened afterwards as a result of it. Sectioned films are not uncommon and it would be an interesting case study for film students to show that you can build your story in a very rococo fashion, as Rohmer did at times did, and still make it intriguing.

The Consequences section is very focused and really only shows the impact on Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne) and her mother (Catherine Deneuve). There is an overheard media report and they receive a letter from the president, and an interview. However, you don’t really feel the frenzy as much as you might think because they go into hiding and then to an acquaintance’s country house. So there are both positives and negatives to the singular focus.

Unfortunately, this is one of those films whose logline tells you the midpoint of the story, as does the synopsis. So if you go in as a blank slate you’re fine, otherwise you’ll wait a bit.

A shortcoming of this film is that once the twist is unveiled it truly doesn’t attempt to examine Jeanne’s psyche and see why and for what cause she did what she did. It’s kind of like burying the lead, or as Ebert wrote in his opinion of Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (which I disagree with) that it missed the story. We see someone who did what they did, show no real remorse and then eventually confess, apologize and it’s over. What have we really learned? Not enough, if anything.

While the film struggles a bit with pace and scenes where our lead was just skating about could have been truncated if not excised completely there were some good things in the edit. Specifically, the film frequently fades to black putting a cap on a certain portion of the story and allowing you to reflect on it these were rather good more often than not. Towards the end it is not serving the story more often than not.

In the two young leads you get characters you just watch and don’t necessarily identify with that greatly, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it magnifies shortcomings in the execution of the tale. First, there is Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who makes a nuisance of himself until he wins over Jeanne, then falls into very shady business dealings and doesn’t inform her though he makes her an accomplice, then the character we have somewhat followed changes completely and in this regard the film leaves us as spectators and not participants, as opposed to the fades which do the opposite. This is a confused vision in this regard. It should be one or the other.

Catherine Deneuve in this film is just there again. It seems as if it’s been quite some time say since 8 Femmes since she’s been outstanding and not just part of the cast, however, hers, like many foreign filmographies is incomplete stateside.

The Girl on the Train is an interesting albeit flawed film that just missed the mark but still ultimately worth viewing and judging for yourself.

5/10