Here’s the thing – the first French movie I ever watched at TIFF was Brotherhood of the Wolf and for the entire movie I sat there with my mouth agape thinking that it was the coolest freaking thing I had ever seen. I left convinced that France was some kind of secret stronghold for movie awesomeness and vowed to continue to leverage my late-start French Immersion by choosing as many French movies as I could fit in the schedule. I remember wondering why our teachers only took us to see Jean de Florette and Manon des Source when there was kickassy goodness like this coming from France.
So fast forward to my next two festivals where I select a handful of French movies both years and they all manage to suck. Everything from the story, pacing, performances, even the sound in a couple were just really bad. The lighting was always very good – consistently flattering and appropriate to mood.
So I banned French films from my TIFF schedule going forward, with exceptions only for one Canadian IF it looked interesting, or France-French with Daniel Auteueil. I did get to enjoy beautiful gems like My Best Friend and C.R.A.Z.Y but most of the time if I saw that the primary language of the film was French I flipped the page and never looked back.
Gradually over the years French movies have wormed their way back into my schedule. This year I have three, the two I’ll talk about in this post, and L’amour fou later in the week.
First the good – Love Crime with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, directed by (sadly recently deceased) Alain Corneau. I saw Thomas in Partir last year, and I pretty much picked Love Crime because it was French – but with her in it. The story of the two leads battling it out for dominance in the workplace was paced well, and all of the supporting roles were well cast with good performances throughout the film. While I think we are supposed to empathize more with the up-and-comer Isabelle portrayed by the lovely Ludivine (at times she resembled Blake Lively a bit too much, especially with her hair down) I found myself perversely rooting for Christine the mentally abusive boss. But that’s probably a personal bit of baggage I was bringing in with me.
So heading into Our Day Will Come this afternoon I was cautiously optimistic even though my other festival friends kept giving me the WTF (what, THAT film?) face when I showed them my schedule. After all it had Vincent Cassel – he of the Brotherhood so how could I go wrong?
I was wrong. Others enjoyed it – the woman in front of me in the theatre seemed to really get it – however I did not. At all. What I learned today is that I need to go back to my default method of evaluation by looking for hints in the programme book (see the archives here, here, and here) for all movies, whether they are French or not. My challenge with the film wasn’t the violence, the seemingly gratuitous sex scene (actually watching M. Cassel roll around with a handful of half-clad nubile young things was pretty entertaining) or anything else – and once again the lighting work was competent. I just wasn’t able to connect with the story or the characters in the slightest. I found the direction a bit disjointed at times, but now knowing that Romain Gavras used to direct music videos I can understand the style – just not the movie.