F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 30, 2016)

30 06 2016

Mood IndigoMichel Gondry’s name is among the rarefied few that can serve as an indicator of sophisticated whimsy and off-center delights. Be that in his seriocomic collaboration with Charlie Kaufman with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or even working within the Hollywood machine to produce a film adaptation of “The Green Hornet,” he puts an indelible stamp on anything he touches.

Yet even though Gondry made a film that many experts consider among the best of the 21st century, his film “Mood Indigo” hit a bit of snag in the United States. Despite opening in the director’s native country in April 2013, the film took another 15 months to wash up ashore here. And when it did, courtesy of Drafthouse Films, roughly 35 minutes did not make the voyage over.

Normally, I would not complain about a movie getting shorter; many auteur-driven projects could use some fat-trimming. But I would (and likely will) sign up for more of “Mood Indigo.” The film is a playground for the imagination staged within the confines of a beautiful, touching love story. Think of this “F.I.L.M. of the Week” as what might spring from the meeting of the minds between Jacques Tati and the Pixar brain trust.

This is a world where the fancy-free Colin (Romain Duris) can occupy his time trying to make the perfect “pianocktail” – a drink made and refined by how finely he can play the tunes on a grandiose piano set. Where he can float over the city of Paris in a cloud-like Ferris Wheel booth with the girl that catches his eye, Chloé (fittingly played by Audrey Tautou of the charming “Amélie“). As their tragic love story progresses, Gondry never wastes a moment to take our breath away. Virtually every frame is packed with some kind of gadget, gizmo or trick that reminds us of the ingenuity behind the film. Perhaps others could have told this tale of star-crossed lovers, but I remain unconvinced that anyone could make it more of a marvel than Gondry.

REVIEW: The New Girlfriend

13 02 2016

The New GirlfriendAnyone familiar with the work of French writer/director Francois Ozon knows to expect a certain level of twisted characters and crazy plots in any of his films. The latest, “The New Girlfriend,” does not mark any kind of departure for him. Transvestism and transgender issues are the main eccentricity here, in ways both enlightening and tiresome.

Romain Duris’ title character, Virginia, was known to the world as David, husband to Laura and father Lucie. But when Laura dies young, it leaves one grieving spouse – not to mention a best friend, Anais Demoustier’s Claire, equally devastated. Each takes on the grief of Laura’s passing in their own way, though David’s is perhaps a little less conventional. He always had a taste for cross-dressing (even letting Laura know), and he uses his wife’s death to further explore a female alter ego to provide the now-missing maternal care. Claire stumbles into David in full Virginia guise quite by accident, and she fully welcomes and encourages him to explore these repressed personality elements in the wake of Laura’s passing.

Virginia quickly becomes more than just a surrogate mother for Lucy, developing into a woman in her own right – not to mention a good friend to Claire and her husband Gilles. The sexual confusion and gender-bending antics that result from embracing the Virginia persona are not exactly coherent treatises on trans issues, however. Such is not a requirement for Ozon, but his blasé attitude towards deeper consideration of self-identity makes “The New Girlfriend” feel a little too flippant in some key moments.

Ozon is at his best when the events on screen reflect how each character looks to fill the void left by Laura in their lives. Claire needs a best friend. David needs a parenting partner and a lover. Try as each person might, neither can quite function as a fulfilling facsimile. These moments of unexpected mourning amidst resuming normalcy provide “The New Girlfriend” with its real dramatic heft. B2halfstars