Posts Tagged ‘Adele Exarchopoulos’

Death, entropy, and the speed of light: everything else is relative. I am aware this is a fairly philosophical note on which to open another entry on a theoretically amusing film review blog, but so it goes. I actually suspect it would amuse and satisfy the French hyphenate Quentin Dupieux (described by one critic as a ‘writer/director/composer/editor/cinematographer/auteur/weirdo’) to learn that one of his films sent my into a metaphysical spin quite so early on; he seems like that kind of person.

Dupieux, you may or may not recall, has previously shared with the world a couple of – for want of a better expression, and better expressions really are wanting in this case – horror pastiches: Rubber, the tale of a sentient telekinetic tyre on the rampage in the south-west USA, and Deerskin, in which a man possibly in the grip of a midlife crisis falls under the sway of a megalomaniac jacket. His 2020 film Mandibles is, by comparison, a much milder and gentler affair; it’s actually much more mainstream. Needless to say, if you compare it with virtually any other two films from the last few years, this is not the case: the film is still roaringly bonkers, it’s just that the tone of the thing is much more accessible.

Gregoire Ludig plays Manu, a dimwitted small-time crook for whom things are not going very successfully – as the film opens he is sleeping on the beach. It is a rather lovely beach in the south of France, to be sure, but even so. Nevertheless, things show signs of looking up a little bit when a more successful acquaintance offers him a job – couriering a box from one place to another, no questions asked (a bit like a cross between Frank Martin from The Transporter and Frank Gallagher from Shameless).

Manu takes the job and soon runs into his old friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais), who is equally morally-flexible and not appreciably brighter. However, things take an exceedingly odd turn when the car Manu steals to carry out his mission in turns out to have something in the boot (putting the goods in the boot is a stipulation of the job). This is not luggage, or junk, or a kidnapped daughter of a Chinese crime-boss, or anything else you might expect to find in the boot of a car in the south of France: it is a giant fly, which has somehow got itself wedged in there. When I say ‘giant’, I do not mean ‘unusually big for a fly’; I mean it is the size of a large dog. (The fly still turns out to be unfeasibly cute, somehow.)

Now you or I would probably run a mile or call someone properly equipped to deal with an insect of improbable size, but Manu and Jean-Gab display the genius of the somewhat thick by instantly recognising this as a money-spinning opportunity in a very effective disguise. They hit upon the plan of training the giant fly to steal things for them. This involves abandoning the job they have taken on and holing up somewhere; needless to say this does not go entirely to plan.

Now you may be thinking ‘Oh, no, not another film about two small-time crooks in the south of France trying to train a giant fly to nick stuff for them,’ and I understand why this might be the case. However, things take another unexpected turn when they run into Cecile (India Hair), a well-off woman who lives locally, who (completely erroneously) recognises Manu as Fred, her old boyfriend from school. She immediately invites the pair of them to stay at her house along with her and her friends. One of her friends is Agnes (Adele Exarchopoulos), who – due to brain damage received in a skiing accident – is normally incapable of speaking at any volume lower than a shout. With this lot all in the same villa together, what are the chances of something outrageous happening?

Very high, obviously. It’s all just as weird as it sounds – the tone is set by the complete lack of surprise the leading duo exhibit on seeing a fly the size of a bulldog – but the insect itself is somewhat less central to proceedings than you might expect: it’s a device to propel the plot along more than anything else. The uselessness of Jean-Gab and Manu are the source of much of the comedy (the actors are, I am given to understand, a successful comedy duo in France); the eccentricity of the various characters they run into only provide more opportunities for comic weirdness.

In the end, the meat of this film is basically a farce about a mistaken identity and two idiots trying to hide a giant fly from their hosts via increasingly unlikely means. All of the Dupieux movies that I’ve seen have been funny to some extent or other; this is much more straightforward as a comedy than them, and probably funnier as a result. It revels in just piling on the absurdities far beyond the point of credibility. There’s an extremely game, high-volume performance from Adele Exarchopoulos, whom I’d only previously seen in quite earnest dramas – it’s probably a bit iffy to do jokes about people with long-term cerebral injuries, but the character is handled relatively sympathetically and the actress, at least, does not appear to be attempting a caricature.

You might reasonably wonder what the hell all of this is in aid of – Rubber, after all, was to some extent about the deconstruction of genre conventions, while Deerskin concerned itself with the peculiar intricacies of the middle-aged male psyche. So what’s Mandibles about? Well, I’m not sure it’s actually about anything beyond assembling the most ridiculous plot it can manage – although I suppose it does have something to say about the value of friendship, for the bond between the two leads is palpable and endearing (thoughtless and amoral people though they are). It may also have something to say on the topic of inviting long-lost friends to stay as house-guests, especially when you haven’t actually seen them for decades. Whatever it’s about, if indeed it’s about anything at all, Mandibles is a good-looking and enjoyable film, though undoubtedly a very silly one.

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Ralph Fiennes’ latest film as a director is entitled The White Crow, and it is exactly the kind of film you would expect, given that Fiennes’ image is that of a Serious Creative Person. I think it is pretty much a given that no-one is likely to turn up to The White Crow expecting a semi-remake of The Crow, as this new film is much more about ballet dancing and international politics in the mid-20th century than vengeful undead Goths, but I suppose it is just about possible – the new movie is produced by Liam Neeson, who tends to specialise in violent revenge movies. (Neeson’s involvement is not being publicised, possibly because of his recent unfortunate comments.) Any misconceptions along these lines would likely be rapidly dispelled by a quick glance at the typical audience for a screening of The White Crow, which would likely consist of older, well-heeled folk: I’m trying hard not to use the expression ‘ballet snobs’, but…  

Actually, I’m going to succumb to my less-charitable impulses and say that ballet snobs are, at least in part, the target audience for The White Crow: now, I don’t mind that many cinemas have taken to showing other kinds of cultural events as a way of making ends meet – theatre, opera, ballet, art exhibitions – you have to do what you have to do. I’m fine about them making movies about what I suppose we must call high culture, too. But being a ballet lover does not exempt you from common courtesy.

What am I on about? Well, all right: I turned up very close to start time for an early-evening showing of The White Crow and found that most of the better seats had gone; there was a very healthy crowd. I ended up near the front next to a couple who, from the look of things, were not regular visitors of the cinema, based on the fact they reacted with surprise and delight to all the adverts and trailers I’ve already seen a dozen times this year. This was somewhat endearing, but their running commentary on the pre-film material was, not to put too fine a point on it, snotty and patronising.

The crisis point arrived when the actual film got under way and I was still aware of the drone of these people discussing the events on-screen in what you could charitably describe as a stage whisper. You know me: I’m a fairly easy-going person. But I have my limits and it had been a wearing week.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, trying to keep my voice down, and addressing the one next to me, ‘is he going to keep talking all the way through the film?’

Acute social awkwardness flashed across the woman’s face and she did not respond. I asked again, and this time she said something I couldn’t hear (for once) to her partner. Finally she turned to me.

‘Perhaps if you go one seat to the right and we go one seat to the left, it won’t be a problem,’ she said.

‘If you just keep quiet, that won’t be a problem either,’ I said, probably quite bluntly. They cleared off down the row, and eventually they did shut up, which must have been a relief to everyone around them. As I say: give me common courtesy over cultured erudition any day of the week.


Anyway, what of The White Crow itself? Well, the movie concerns itself with the early life of Rudolf Nureyev, who is still well-known as one of the greatest ballet dancers of the twentieth century (hence the fact that this film was able to secure financing). The actual telling of the tale is somewhat out of chronological order (the first scene depicts Nureyev’s mentor, played by Fiennes himself, being summoned to account for the dancer’s defection to the west, which occurs as the climax to the film), but it primarily covers two periods of Nureyev’s life: his initial training at a ballet institute in Leningrad, and the Kirov Ballet’s visit to Paris in 1961 (the trip that culminated in his claiming political asylum in France).

The central thesis of the film soon becomes quite apparent, as Nureyev (played by Oleg Ivenko) is depicted as a perennial outsider within the Soviet system of the period – talented, driven, with a self-belief that borders on arrogance. (The title of the film alludes to a Russian idiom used to describe misfits.) Naturally this leads to conflict with the authorities, especially when he is exposed to the bright lights and (supposedly) decadent culture of Paris…

I don’t know about you, but when I think of films about ballet I have a certain kind of expectation – they are going to be reserved, tasteful, comforting, polite – perhaps one of the reasons that Black Swan made such an impact was because it was a ballet movie that dared to be a bit more rock and roll. The White Crow is not another Black Swan; the whole thing is in meticulous good taste – I am aware it has drawn criticism for not really focusing on Nureyev’s homosexuality, being more concerned with his relationships with women – almost to the point where it becomes a bit stifling.

However, the film manages to stay vivid and very watchable; more than just watchable, in fact, for this is an engaging portrait of someone who was clearly exceptional. It doesn’t really attempt to explain where Nureyev’s extraordinary talent, self-belief and drive came from, but then that may not even be possible – it is the great good fortune of a tiny handful to be touched by divine madness in this way, and the greater good fortune of the rest of us to share the world with them.

Clearly the challenge for any film of this kind is how to put all the things that made its subject special up on the screen, although at least ballet is potentially cinematic in a way that writing, for example, isn’t. Oleg Ivenko has the unenviable task of dancing like the legend and, to my untrained eye at least, does a decent job of it – he may not quite be up to the standard of Nureyev, but he gets near enough. He’s also quite effective in the more dramatic scenes, acting in both English and Russian (I should have taken Olinka with me to this movie).

Ivenko is surrounded by a bunch of other very decent performances – Fiennes is good, if a touch mannered, as his ballet master (sadly, we never get to see his cabriole), while Chulpan Khamatova is his wife, Adele Exarchopoulos is Nureyev’s socialite girlfriend Clara Saint (the film-makers seems to be under the impression we should already know who she is), and Aleksey Morozov is his Soviet minder.

It has to be said that there is a slightly saggy section in the middle of this movie, where the various plotlines don’t seem to be going anywhere, but this is more than made up for by the sequence depicting Nureyev’s actual defection at a Paris airport. This is absolutely gripping stuff, and very interesting too: previously, I had no idea of how to go about defecting from the USSR to France, but now I feel I could make a pretty good job of it should circumstances make it necessary.   

There’s still an oddly muted, distant quality about much of The White Crow – no-one involved ever really seems to be surrendering fully to their emotions – but this is still a thoughtfully written and directed film that manages to be engaging even if you can’t tell an emboite from an echappe.

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You have to feel a bit sorry for the proprietors of Oxford’s premier art-house cinema, working hard to bring international movies to film-lovers in and around the city. I imagine that their hope with non-English language presentations is to lure in anyone from the same country as the film being shown, together with casual viewers who happen to be passing. And so it is quite simply the worst possible luck for their preview showing of Michael R Roskam’s Franco-Belgian thriller Racer and the Jailbird to coincide almost exactly with another, rather higher-profile Franco-Belgian get-together, of considerable local interest to boot. So it was that about three of us turned up to watch Roskam’s film while everyone else was glued to the football semi-final.

(I suppose one should be grateful the film was showing at all; the entire schedule in Screen One had been cancelled for the following evening so yet another venue could show the other semi-final match. And don’t get me started on the fact that the UK release of Ant-Man and the Wasp has been postponed until six weeks after its American debut, once again because of the bloomin’ World Cup.)

But hey ho. There we were for Racer and the Jailbird (a title which we will return to), which initially looks like it will be a familiar sort of tale in tone, if not in detail. It opens with a fragment from the youth of Gigi, a young man with a clearly troubled family background, before we meet him in adulthood. He has grown up to be that very capable Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, and has apparently become a charming and smooth businessman, even if exactly how he makes his money is a little unclear. He and his friends are visiting a racetrack when he makes the acquaintance of Bibi (Adele Exarchopoulos, probably best known for Blue is the Warmest Colour), a promising young racing driver.

Well, Gigi makes a move, rather directly, Bibi is not unwelcoming to his overtures; the film in general doesn’t hang about and cuts straight from them meeting for their first proper date to the pair of them in a fairly graphic delicto-type situation. They get to know each other as people, too: would you follow me anywhere, they ask each other, do you trust me? What’s your biggest secret, Bibi asks Gigi. I’m a gangster and rob banks for a living, ha ha, he replies.

But, of course, he’s not really joking, which sets up rest of the plot, one way or another. The lovers grow closer, and realise that something serious has begun between them. But Bibi is no fool and is aware that there are parts of Gigi’s life to which she is not privy; her father (Eric De Staercke) can tell Gigi is serious about his daughter, and gives his blessing provided he either comes clean or stops doing whatever it is that’s forcing him to lie. One last big job looms, after which they can be together…

So, yes, that title. In the original French this film is called Le Fidele, which basically translates as The Faithful – something which gives you a pretty good pointer as to the general tenor of the movie. But, for reasons which I cannot begin to fathom, for its English release it has been given (as noted) the title Racer and the Jailbird, which is a horrible, totally inappropriate name for this kind of film, sounding as it does like some kind of wacky, high-spirited comedy-thriller caper from the 1970s.

This is not a wacky, high-spirited comedy-thriller caper in a 70s kind of style. The first half of the film is admittedly a very slick and entertaining crime drama, in what seems to be a highly-commercial style intended to appeal to international audiences (I have heard it compared to Heat). I found myself idly wondering how long it would be before the inevitably inferior American remake came out, who would be cast in the two lead roles, and just how much they would tweak the story and style (the sex scenes in this film are just a tad more explicit than you tend to find in a mainstream American film, but hey, there are French people involved). In short: thoroughly enjoyed the first half.

But then the film undergoes an abrupt and profound volta, signified by the switch of main characters from Schoenaerts to Exarchopoulos, and a huge change in tone. This is much more the kind of thing you would expect to see in Franco-Belgian art-house releases, i.e., it all becomes a bit heavy and depressing. The list of tribulations visited upon Bibi and Gigi as they struggle to sustain their love is so comprehensive and extreme it might even move Job to complain providence was laying it on a bit thick. Melodrama beckons, and the film doesn’t really manage to resist its siren song.

This is a shame, not least because the second half of the film is really Adele Exarchopoulos’ opportunity to shine after playing what’s initially something of a supporting role. She’s still very good, but she has to contend with some rather suspect material in a way that Schoenaerts simply doesn’t in the first half. But the two actors are good together, have chemistry, and you do kind of want to see them end up with some kind of happiness, even if the film never quite hits you with the massive rush of emotion you get from a film like (to choose another Schoenaerts-starring romance) Rust and Bone. In the end what you get is a curious ending, rather carefully ambiguous while still definitely quite downbeat. And you come away feeling mildly disappointed, both by the lack of closure and the way in which all the promise of the first part of the film was left to fizzle away.

I find it hard to be really negative about Le Fidele (or, if you really insist, Racer and the Jailbird), simply because the first half is just so strong, and even the second half is lifted by the two lead performances. But the fact remains that this resembles a peculiar welded-together hybrid of two films with wildly different styles and sensibilities, one of them much more accomplished and rewarding than the other. Worth seeing, I think, but keep your expectations under control.

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