By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
What Mouret and Rohmer make seem effortless, two other movies in the COLCOA lineup turn into heavily labored dross. Co-directors Bruno Dega and Jeanne Le Guillou’s Game of Four (Detrompez-Vous) is a stillborn bed-hopping romp about a gynecologist (Francois Cluzet) and a patient (Alice Taglioni) who discover their respective spouses (Mathilde Seigner and Roschdy Zem) are cheating on them with each other (oh, how novel) and set about enacting their revenge. Still, better it than Léa Fazer’s What If? (Notre Univers Impitoyable), which manages to do the Gwyneth Paltrow debacle Sliding Doors one worse in the Double Life of Veronique–for-dummies sweepstakes, here with the resourceful Taglioni wasted again as an upwardly mobile attorney whose life plays out along two planes of possibility. In one scenario, she gets promoted to partner at work; in the other, her boyfriend (Jocelyn Quivrin) gets the job instead. In both, success is equated with craven materialism and moral bankruptcy, and this odious battle of the sexes ends in a stalemate — especially for the audience.
In a reversal of the usual migration pattern, director Florent-Emilio Siri turned down additional Hollywood offers and returned to France after making his American debut with the underrated Bruce Willis thriller Hostage, and the decision has paid off handsomely. Where Hostage was a throwback to the unapologetically brutal film noir of Sam Fuller and André de Toth, Siri’s latest, the crackerjack Algerian war drama Intimate Enemies, recalls Fuller’s cut-and-run war pictures — movies like The Steel Helmet and Merrill’s Marauders, that put taut action scenes and masculine camaraderie ahead of ham-fisted politics. And yet, as the film’s idealistic French lieutenant (The Piano Teacher’s Benoit Magimel) attempts to flush a powerful FLN leader from his mountain hideout, the images of occupiers and insurgents battling against a rugged desert landscape take on an eerily familiar evening-news countenance.
Elsewhere in the COLCOA program, the actress Sandrine Bonnaire has made a heartfelt documentary, Her Name Is Sabine (Elle S’appelle Sabine), about the life of her autistic younger sister. In diarylike film and video footage shot by Bonnaire and other family members, we bear witness to Sabine’s gradual devolution from a precocious, pigtailed teenager with a gift for writing and music into a depressed, tantrum-prone woman of nearly 40, who has been misdiagnosed and institutionalized for much of her adult life. It’s tough going, but Bonnaire’s approach, both as a filmmaker and as a family member, is entirely unsentimental, never pushing us to see some nonexistent silver lining, never resorting to heart-tugging bathos. And so Her Name Is Sabine moves us all the more.
Finally, what to make of first-time writer-director Alfred Lot’s Melody’s Smile (improbably retitled from the French La Chambre des Morts), a sort of serial-killer smoothie that blends big chunks of The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter into its story of a Clarice-like detective (Mélanie Laurent) stalking a child-murderer who makes his victims up to look like a certain brand of toy doll? Things actually get much more complicated than that, but suffice it to say that this sometimes scary, astoundingly convoluted, often flat-out bonkers, but compulsively watchable, movie is easily the year’s best psycho-lesbian-taxidermy-kidnapping-homicide flick — and that’s got to count for something.
CITY OF LIGHTS, CITY OF ANGELS | Directors Guild of America | Mon.-Sun., April 14–20 | www.colcoa.com
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