Blue Is the Warmest Color Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche Written by: Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix (screenplay), Julie Maroh (graphic novel) Starring: Adèle Exachopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche and Benjamin Siksou
A three-hour epic of writhing limbs and ferocious love, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without a doubt one of the most unforgettable and complicated movie-going experiences of year. The performances are so raw, the young actresses so vulnerable in their portrayal of this intense relationship, that it nearly transcends some of its director’s problematic depictions of them.
Abdellatif Kechiche’s film deeply impressed this year’s Steven Spielberg-led Cannes jury, taking home the Palme d’Or but also sparking intense debate. Julie Maroh, the writer of the graphic novel, said that while watching the sex scenes it became clear to her that there were no lesbians on the set. She connected the way Kechiche shot those scenes to a later conversation in the film, where a man at a dinner party discusses how sacred and mystical the female orgasm is.
Marion Cotillard wasn’t very famous when she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for her performance in La Vie en Rose, but after starring opposite Johnny Depp and appearing as a crucial character in a Christopher Nolan film, she began to be a recognizable face among the summer movie crowd even if they still couldn’t quite place her. Cotillard is one of the most technically proficient actresses working today, using her eyes to level the audience and bring them into the rapture of the fiction that she inhabits. Not since Catherine Deneuve has a French actress been accessible to American audiences at this level. Set to appear in a new thriller from Steven Soderbergh later this year as well as next year’s inevitably successful new Nolan Batman film, she most recently captured hearts and minds in Woody Allen’s excellent French-set comedy Midnight in Paris.
White Material Directed by: Claire Denis Written by: Claire Denis, Marie N’Diaye, & Lucie Borleteau (screenplay) Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, and William Nadylam
When viewed through an American lens, the new film by French director Claire Denis has an almost eerily identifiable allegory to our society. It follows Maria (Isabelle Huppert) as she tries to cling to her way of life as the French colonial society in Africa crumbles. The economy and the very fabric of society are tanking, and she and her family’s wealthy coffee plantation are at stake.
Maria is not solely sympathetic. Her stubbornness and white arrogance have led her to a place where she thrives while many around her are left to suffer in poverty and death. Denis gets this point across not just by putting Maria in the midst of this chaos, but by showing us first-hand the toll of poverty in the form of child soldiers.
Carlos Directed by: Olivier Assayas Written by: Olivier Assayas & Dan Franck (screenplay) Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Nora von Waldstätten, Alexander Scheer, and Ahmad Kaabour
Five-and-a-half hours in the shoes of a terrorist that most people have forgotten about isn’t somewhere most people would want to spend their time. Yet Carlos, the expansive epic from French director Olivier Assayas, moves through its unheard of length with enough energy to fuel five American action classics. That fuel isn’t powered by explosions and gunfire, but by the sheer intrigue of the story and the mythic figure being deconstructed at its center.
Carlos The Jackal, a native Venezuelan, began as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez before he decided to revolt against Israel as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). He moves from minor assassinations to bombings to bossing rather quickly.
One big surprise in Carlos is how the director shows us how many of these terrorist attacks were botched. It becomes clear early on, when the murders are up close and more complicated than a gunshot, that Assayas isn’t idolizing his criminal. Carlos may think he’s Scarface, clutching his testicles in front of a mirror after pulling off an attack, but his constant failures and the desperate way Edgar Ramirez portrays him show otherwise.
A Christmas Tale Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin Written by: Arnaud Desplechin & Emmanuel Bourdieu Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, and Jean-Paul Roussillon
The French movie character, with its wildly shifting eyes, deep self consciousness, and ever-looming misery, never ceases to be endlessly thought-provoking. Throw a bunch of these creatures together in the days preceding Christmas, and you’ve got the emotional bloodbath equivalent of Kill Bill.
A Christmas Tale is the typical American holiday drama done elegantly and boldly in the French fashion. It is a dysfunctional family coming together during the holiday, and yes, mother is dying of cancer. The movie succeeds because disease is a theme and not a plot point. Cancer of one form or another has eaten away at this family’s soul for years; Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is suffering from the same form of cancer that killed her four-year-old son decades ago.
Amélie Directed by: Jean Pierre-Jeunet Written by: Guillaume Laurant & Jean Pierre-Jeunet Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Serge Merlin, and Clotilde Mollet
Deep despair, insightful narcissism, impossibly cultured people- these are all things associated with French cinema. Though our overseas friends gave us the new wave, these things rode the surf as well. American cinema has tried since the birth of the French new wave to implement it as carelessly as such French staples as Breathless and The 400 Blows. What a strange, wonderful phenomenon it is that French filmmaker Jean Pierre-Jeunet turns French cinema on its head yet again with Amélie.
Amélie is as free-spirited, uplifting, and gracious as the protagonist its title speaks of (Audrey Tautou). Rarely does a movie tackle optimism as straightforwardly as this, and it’s something new for the often dark and brooding films associated with French cinema. During its more than two hour run time, Pierre-Jeunet’s film manages to make a mundane, normal life seem enthralling thanks to a hilarious, charming and original screenplay and some of the best visuals the cinema has ever seen.