A series of dyspeptic commentaries devoted to this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center.
OSS 117 – Lost in Rio (OSS 177-Rio ne répond plus); Director Michel Hazanavicius 100m
Part of the nutso appeal of film festivals is that you can be pleasuring in an elegantly spun silk hanky like “Mademoiselle Chambon” one moment and have a cache of stolen auto parts like “OSS 117 – Lost in Rio” thrown at you the next. I’m not sure what rock I was hiding under when the first one (“OSS-117: Cairo –Nest of Vipers”) was released, but it was apparently enough of a hit to prompt twice the usual number of press types to storm the barricades for this strident valentine to the pop-arty Pleistocene age of spy thrillers. The gag is that secret agent Huaber Bonisseur de la Bath (aka OSS 117) is a pre-age-of-irony poster boy for the xenophobia, racism and sexism that informed the genre in the ‘60s. An equal opportunity offender, 117 tosses off anti-Semitic lines in front of his Massud colleagues and Nazi slurs in the lobby of the German Embassy. As 117, actor Jean Dujardin comes off as clueless as his character (“I had to forget the Sean Connery of the 50s,” he comments, anachronistically, in the press notes, “and look more towards a 60s Paul Newman”). For his part, director Michel Hazanavicius throws Newman’s Harper into the mix with Dean Martin’s Matt Helm, Belmondo’s “That Man From Rio” and the split-screen affectations of “The Thomas Crown Affiar,” and comes out with a fusion of Russ Meyer and “Get Smart” that falls flat as a crepe. The crashing silence that emanated from the crowd at the Walter Reade Theatre in the wake of 117’s intendedly uproarious faux pas was far more embarrassing than any of the blunders themselves. I got the joke after ten minutes. I fled after twenty.
Public screenings: Mar. 15, 1 PM and Mar. 16, 8:45 PM Walter Reade Theatre, Mar. 17, 7 PM, IFC Center. Director Michel Haznavicius and actor Jean Dujardin will attend all screenings.
The Thorn in the Heart (L’épine dans le Coeur); Director Michel Gondr8y.. 86 m.
Michel Gondry may be best known in these parts as the Oscar-winning co-writer (with Charlie Kaufman) of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” For my money, his epitaph will endure as The You Tube Guy Who Solved the Rubik’s Cube With His Feet. Gondry delves into a puzzle of a less gymnastic nature in his non-fictional “The Thorn in the Heart”: the mysterious love-hate tension that keep a mother and son tethered at the hip for life. The matriarch under Gondry’s microscope is his Aunt Suzette, a handsome, firm-jawed woman whose expansive glasses shield alert and self-reflecting eyes. Still vigorous in her (apparent) ‘70s, Suzette is never more at ease than when holding court before her extended family; at the outset, she is regaling (and sometimes fatiguing) three generations of Gondrys around the dinner table with a family anecdote that tickles her so to the bone, it is all she can do to push through her tears of laughter to reach the punch line. Flanking her to one side is Michel; to the other her middle-aged son Jean-Yves, a portrait of damaged goods with taut wrinkles, stringy flower-child hair and the resigned smile of someone who has spent too many years registering amusement at his mother’s stories. In between excursions to the many country schools where Suzette taught, the filmmaker picks away at his aunt and his oddly infantilized cousin by way of unraveling the layers of their thorny relationship. What emerges is a vaguely provocative if unremarkable history of a once-closeted homosexual youth stifled by small-town expectations and clinging parents (he was home-schooled by his mother, then turned over to his father to work at the family sawmill for ten years). Gondry pads their recollections with a plethora of home movie clips that don’t always serve his narrative and an overlay of angst-y songs by the group Spleen (evidence of his own years as a rock-band drummer and cobbler of Bjork videos). The film’s most poignant touch takes the form of chapter title cards utilizing an elaborate toy train set; the trains are later revealed to be the proud possession of Jean-Yves, who presumably turned to them as an escape hatch from his family on his road to a nervous breakdown. It’s moving at times, but the whole thing feels a bit like warmed-over “Tarnation,” and one can’t help but be a little suspicious of the filmmaker’s agenda: Why is he hanging his relatives’ soiled laundry out for public consumption.? What’s in it for him? When Suzette tells a curious neighbor that Michel is shooting a movie about all her old schools, one might be led to conclude either that she knows better and is colluding with her beloved nephew for vainglorious reasons, or else he is pulling the wool over auntie’s eyes to better finesse a documentarian’s favorite money shots: the tears, the revelations, the disorientation of being caught with one’s guard down. Whatever his motives, “The Thorn in the Heart” left me with an admiration for its resilient leading lady, whose fallibilities struck me as real and reasonable. The film obviously struck a nerve far beyond the borders of his film’s provincial French setting, if this Imdb user review from one Mehmet in Istanbul is any indication: We discover what kind of mean, stubborn, tough and at times ruthless woman his aunt is. I felt sorry for his son [sic] and it is obvious why he became homosexual. It is known that homosexuality in man is often caused by tough, neurotic, ruthless mothers raising sensitive sons. The movie is telling in that not every nice looking old lady is who she seems.
Public screenings: March 15, 6:15 Walter Reade Theatre, March 17, 9:30 PM IFC Center. “A conversation with Michel Gondry” to follow March 15 screening.Tags: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema