Beautiful Lies – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #5

Beautiful Lies

Beautiful Lies was the first Audrey Tautou film I saw in a cinema. Up until then I had only watched a variety of her features in my university’s lecture theatre and the series of bedrooms I have inhabited since that time. I can’t say whether or not the cinema enhanced my overall experience/opinion of this film or not as when I re-watched it for the purpose of this review I realized that the intimacy of the characters and plot (much like most of Tautou’s body of work) is just as striking in the comfort of my armchair as it is watching it on the big screen.

Whilst you would be correct in the assumption that Audrey Tautou plays the girl in and out of love in this dram-rom-com, she once again makes a departure from the stereotypical female lead, playing successful hairstylist/businesswoman, Émilie, a woman who is quite frankly unlikable for a good chunk of the film (in actions only; gosh, I’d never not like Audrey Tautou). Émilie is the kind of shirty woman who can bring her staff and customers to sobs in a heartbeat. She thinks she knows best and has no qualms about practicing this, which brings about many of the film’s more comedic and dramatic moments.

Jean (Sami Bouajila) is the handyman putting the final touches on Émilie’s salon. After developing a strong crush on Émilie he writes her an anonymous love letter which she, directly in front of him, shrugs off, crumples and deposits in the bin. Elsewhere, Émilie’s mother (Nathalie Baye) is falling ever deeper into a crazy depression after her husband left her for a young woman. The inspired romance of Jean’s letter strikes Émilie and she forwards it to her mother, subsequently struggling to keep up the ruse of an anonymous romance with inferior soliloquies. Numerous he-loves-her, she-loves-anonymous, he’s-with-her-but-now-she-loves-him twists and turns later and we’ve got a film packed with enough awkward romance and drama to remake Friends, but funnier, and French.

Writer/director, Pierre Salvadori and co-writer, Benoît Graffin once again (amongst others, they collaborated on Priceless, their first Tautou film) expertly craft a series of misunderstandings, romantic smackdowns and childish bickering without ever crossing the line into the melodramatic, making our investment into each and every romantic thread worth the meandering it takes to get to the pay-off. With colourful cinematography that is as lively as its clever script there is rarely a moment of down-time, and the human performances put in from all are exceptional. Like many French dramatic romantic comedies, this is not just sniffles and ice cream; there is so much more character and depth to every aspect of the world these people live in. Without intentionally being hyperbolic, where funny, dramatic romance is involved, it really doesn’t get much better than Beautiful Lies.

Pot Luck – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #4

PotLuck

L’Auberge espagnole, The Spanish Apartment, Pot Luck. Ms Tautou has a small part to play in this film but she is just one of many zesty flavours brought to the table in this buffet of youthful self-discovery and hopeful escapism.

Multi-lingual and multi-national, Pot Luck follows Xavier (Romain Duris) as he moves to Barcelona to study in the ERASMUS programme. Upon arrival he crosses paths with students and citizens from across the globe as they explore and share friendship, love and the cleaning rota.

Styled very bizarrely to begin with, Pot Luck buzzes around, flipping forwards and backwards in time, distracting us with add-ons to the screen, speeding up first person long-takes and narrating very morosely. It takes a while to get into before you realize that director Cédric Klapisch’s cinéma vérité-ish opening is simply getting us to realize how irritating Xavier’s restricted, pre-determined life is before he ups and leaves.

Anybody who has left for college, travelled the globe or simply shares a house with strangers will find something to love in Pot Luck. As a Northerner who lives in a house with a Ukrainian, a Londoner, a Swiss-Algerian, a Polish woman and an Irishman, I can honestly say that the film’s perpetual comedic bickering and cultural exploration feels very true to life, and its endless self-written-to-win debates would give Aaron Sorkin wet dreams.

Populated with not-sexy-not-ugly actors there are enough relationships and life lessons here to fuel a television series. Whilst the film’s over-arching heart and narrative lie in Xavier’s journey, the rich host of characters that pop up and dilemmas that occur are non-stop fun. Whether it’s Xavier’s realization that he’s fallen for a lesbian and a housewife whilst he still has the clingy Audrey Tautou back in France, or the housemates’ deliberation of how to best select a new housemate, the film’s simultaneously micro and grand scale dramas are  easy to watch and envy; it’s not hard to see why a second film was made and a third is on the way.

A film that lives up to its title, Pot Luck is a great mish-mash of different characters and outlooks on life and it encapsulates all that there is to being a hopeful young adult. Fueled by vivid colours, lively music and plenty of comedy and romance, it forces you to reassess your own life. Look at these guys, living the dream. It really makes you wish that you’d change something; that you’d make some spur of the moment decisions; that you’d give yourself a slap, get out of the house and off the compute…

He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #3

helovesmehelovesmenot

“We all dream of a great love affair. I just dream a little harder.”

As I cover Audrey Tautou’s body of work I am consciously learning as little as I possibly can about each film new to me so as to best surprise myself every time and gosh darn did that choice pay off with He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not. After watching only the trailer I had no idea of the things I would ultimately see and feel during the feature despite the fact that, ultimately, even by European film standards the overall plot is simple enough (woman fancies man who is married, he remains with his wife, she gets a bit clingy and mad). It is when the film’s meaty character and situational comedy/drama kick in that Laetitia Colombani’s feature debut wallops you right in the heart bone.

Audrey Tautou plays Angélique, a young, bouncy woman who has everything coming her way. Tautou’s smile reaches critical levels of cuteness as she skips and dances through winning a prestigious art scholarship, being given the opportunity to house-sit an insanely expensive home and the blossoming of love for the rugged Dr Loïc Le Garrec (Samuel Le Bihan). This is the happiest film ever… until it’s not. After Garrec makes it obvious that he wants to remain with his pregnant wife Angélique turns sour and becomes the definitive Overly Attached Girlfriend.

He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not - Audrey Tautou

Simply put, Angélique does some truly terrible things; things that will have you feeling a mix of excitement and horrified shock. Despite the carnage that Angélique proves she can produce the film’s exploration of her erotomania – calm down folks, there’s no lusty sex scenes – puts us firmly on her side, not that we’re not also on Dr Garrec’s side too, though. Thanks to the opening act’s aesthetic, which aims to be the most colourful and uplifting thing you will ever see, and Tautou’s deft ability to play such an empathetic victim, when the narrative inevitably turns against her we root for her unequivocally.

Whilst Tautou at first appears be playing another standard love interest this is arguably one of the best performances in her portfolio. For the most part she plays her character’s illness very straight which is often the cause of the mixed excitement and shock we feel throughout the film, but as the story develops further and things get a little more unhinged Tautou’s base Girl In Love act becomes something else completely. In fact, Tautou and Le Bihan are so individually captivating in their roles that you barely even notice that their shared screen-time is somewhat very petite.

Not to instate a bit of hyperbole, but He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not is perfect film-making. When excellent direction and cinematography come together with keen acting and a meticulously compassionate script you get this, a 96-minute comedy drama that makes you kick yourself for having not watched it earlier.

The Da Vinci Code – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #2

DaVinciCodeHeader

The Da Vinci Code was Audrey Tautou’s first Hollywood film, and she couldn’t have picked any better, really… until we actually saw the dratted thing. Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, a faithful adaption of an acclaimed book, upset religious folk worldwide and Tautou herself; on the face of it The Da Vinci Code should have been amazing, but it seems that when you combine all of those great things you get a film that is a mind-numbing snore-fest.

The film follows symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) as they talk their way through Europe and fool a host of goodies/baddies played by the likes of Ian McKellan, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno and a white-faced Paul Bettany who are all trying to uncover (or keep covered up!) the secret of the Holy Grail.

The largest pitfall with a film like The Da Vinci Code is that not only is there not a huge call for the genre (conspiracy-adventure?) but that the people that do want to watch it want something that won’t put them in a boredom coma. 146 minutes of revelation-revealing via talking just isn’t as fun as running and shouting and chasing. I’m not one to generally advocate dumbing down but National Treasure has 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and The Da Vinci Code only has 64%. Imagine that percentage if there’d been a little more action helping its stars and highbrow plot.

DaVinciCode

Obviously Hanks and Tautou are solid as always but their chemistry with one and other is destroyed by the film’s emotional emptiness and bland, shadow-filled styling. Not helping the situation is the film’s adherence to taking itself completely seriously. Like, more seriously than The Passion of the Christ. Not only does that suck all of the fun out of the story but it makes the lighter moments dumb and super dramatic moments laughable.

More than anything The Da Vinci Code feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe I’ll give the 174 minute extended cut a whirl just to make sure that it wasn’t a lack of runtime that broke the film. Regardless, simply because from the outlook The Da Vinci Code seemed to have made all of the right choices I shan’t let it besmirch the good names of Hanks, Tautou or Howard in my mind and neither should you. We’ll just have to live with the fact that when a book is adapted as faithfully as everyone always wants it to be it kind of sucks.

Venus Beauty Institute – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #1

VenusBeautyHeader

There aren’t many places better to start when reviewing a body of work than at the beginning, so here we are with Venus Beauty Institute Vénus Beauté (Institute)’, Audrey Tautou’s first feature film and winner of four César awards (including ‘Most Promising Actress’ for Tautou). Focusing on the loneliness of Parisian beautician Angèle (Nathalie Baye) Venus explores the fling life of a 40 year-old woman who refuses to believe in love.

Interestingly, considering the extent of man-talk that does go down, Venus Beauty does pass the Bechdel Test, but just barely, thanks to its Coronation Street-levels of salon babble that fill up the film’s non-plot essential scenes. You don’t, however, find yourself wanting to put a bullet in your head though because the quiet sadness of Angèle is far more appealing than the drama that occurs in Audrey’s hair salon.

The French Vera Farmiga, Nathalie Baye has just the right amount of modest beauty to casually approach another man every other night yet not come off as a bit of a tart. Rather, her monotonous life of making others beautiful whist she steadily grows older and more alone is really quite affecting and her life outside of work fulfils her desperate need for necessary change.

VenusBeauty

Tonie Marshall’s direction is extremely reserved, telling her story with ordinary set-up, angles and colour in order to make Angèle’s tale all the more dull (in a good way). As we occasionally pry into the more exciting lives of her co-workers, Sam (Mathilde Seigner), the quintessence of 90’s punk rocker, and the wide-eyed Marie (Audrey Tautou), we get insight into varying stages of happiness, with Tautou’s Marie the only character truly happy in this world as she falls for a widowed male client and gives us one of the raciest Disturbingly Old Man With Young Woman sex scenes ever. Whilst Tautou’s part is small it’s not hard to see why her adolescent, sheepish charm would go on to put her in the spotlight for years to come.

Venus Beauty, as the title may hint at, has a lot to say about love and attraction, and what draws us in is how ugly it can be. Not ugly in the sense of a Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler rom-com where it’s all melodrama and tears, but ugly in the sense of genuine unhappiness and a relatable conventionality.

Thanks to the film’s salon setting there are a whole  host of side characters that reappear between the heavier plot beats to either make our eyes pop (the patron who likes to come naked, bar a coat) or make us chuckle (the actress who turns up for treatment in a myriad of funny costumes). Venus Beauty is definitely for the sad-hearted who have a tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer. If you like French films that focus on the depressing love life of a mid-40s woman then this is certainly the film for you.

Kiki’s Delivery Service Hayao Miyazaki Retrospective #3

Kikis Delivery Service

Next up, for those of you who are watching these films in order, is Kiki and her black magic delivery service. In some ways this is the most ‘Western’ of the Miyazaki films so far, in that it is a story about witches and talking cats instead of tree spirits and planetary energy.

We are first introduced to Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) who is a young witch living with her family in a rural house. It is nearing her 13th birthday and she is excited about spending the traditional year away from home that witches undertake as a rite-of-passage. She hasn’t found her special skill yet but is eager to learn so leaves with her talking cat (an amazing Phil Hartman) to find herself in the local city, as is tradition.

Kikis Delivery Service 1

When she gets arrives she finds it hard to fit in and ends up making friends only through delivering something as a favour. This leads to her living with the pregnant baker Osono who allows her to set up a delivery service, which allows her to perfect her special witchcraft skill: flying a broom. She meets a young boy who is obsessed with flying and therefore finds her fascinating and develops a crush on her. She also meets a free-spirit painter named Ursula (Janeane Garofalo) who teaches her about painting and allows her to stay.

One night Kiki is delivering something to a rich spoilt girl and has to fly through the rain, which makes her ill. She then begins to lose her witch powers – referred to as “artist’s block” by Ursula. The rest of the film is about how she gets her powers back. The narrative is a classic teenage-girl coming-of-age story with plenty of puberty / teen angst / menstruation metaphors thrown in. The film also has some nice feminist-y moments, mostly involving Janeane Garofalo.

Kikis Delivery Service 2

The animation is amazing throughout the film (as usual) and although there are no bizarre creatures to marvel, Jiji the talking cat fulfills the Miyazaki obligatory cute thing quota. What I really like about this film though is the insight it gives into Japanese relations between generations. All of the Ghibli films have a lovely elderly character in, but this film seems to show the naturalness that Japanese people have in speaking across generations. I know that this is only a cartoon – but try to imagine the same story happening in a British or American narrative and it simply wouldn’t work.

My Neighbour Totoro Hayao Miyazaki Retrospective #2

My Neighbour Totoro

The second in the series of Miyazaki films is the strange and wonderful Totoro, which has incidentally just had a major cinema re-release. I have to admit upfront that this is one of my favourite of his films and one that I have seen before a few times – but it was good to revisit it with a more ‘critical’ eye. Although it has a slow start, it slowly captures you in and dazzles with its strange characters and ideas before ending with a poignant and warming ending. It is even in the top 250 of IMDB.

The plot begins with a family moving from the city into the countryside and exploring their new house and surrounding garden. The family is made up of the father Tatsuo, who is a professor, and the mother Yasuko, who is in hospital with tuberculosis – they have two girls named Satsuki and Mei. As the two girls explore the house they find that it is infested with dust creatures/spirits called susuwatari and later they find that the garden is host to King Totoro, a large fluffy cross between a rabbit and a sloth (I think anyway).

Totoro

The girls begin to get excited as they learn their mother is coming home, until one day they receive a phone call in which the hospital reveals that she has caught a cold and so must stay longer. The younger daughter Mei then decides to visit her in hospital and gets lost, which means that Satsuki must summon the help of Totoro in order to find her before she is lost in the dark. The final half hour of the film is actually quite tense, as any narrative is when a child goes missing, and even though it is obvious that there will be a happy ending it still mildly haunts me until it resolves.

The magic of this film (and the beginning of Ghibli’s worldwide success) is in the surrealism of the forest spirit characters. Totoro and his tiny cute friends are adorable (and usefully lend perfectly to fluffy merchandise) and the ‘cat bus’ is a genius invention. The film begins by aligning the audience with the curious imagination of the children as they explore the house, so that by the time we are introduced to the forest spirits they are just as exciting to the viewer as to the little girls. I utterly love this film and it has become my stress release film to cure a bad day. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not fall in love with Totoro and want to travel by the cat bus. Regardless of age or maturity level.

Catbus

Favourite scene? One word: umbrella. You’ll know what I mean when you get there…

Laputa: Castle in the Sky Hayao Miyazaki Retrospective #1

Laputa Castle in the Sky

Studio Ghibli has managed to carve a solid niche within a certain demographic of the young UK film audience. The films are clearly aimed at children and young teenagers but due to the beautiful animation, the surreal storylines and the general Japanese Orientalism, the films also have a huge following with half-baked uni students and baby boomer hippies.

Castle in the Sky, the first feature film from the company, has aged remarkably well considering it was released in 1986. The story begins with a mysterious girl named Sheeta being transported on a blimp by an unknown military group. The blimp is attacked by pirates so she jumps to earth and is caught by Pazu, a young boy in a mining town. It turns out that everyone is after her for her mysterious necklace, which legend has it leads the way to an enigmatic castle in the sky called Laputa.

The narrative contains elements and themes that foreshadow later films, such as the steam punk pirates (Howl’s Moving Castle) and the mysterious girl who needs saving by a local boy (Ponyo). The other important message of the film is the battle between nature and technology – this continues throughout the work of Miyazaki, and is evident in the fight between the great gardens of Laputa and the crystal technology used by the bad guy Muska.

Laputa

Japanimation has always confused me in a way as the drawings of people always look so western – they are always six-foot tall and blonde, yet produced and consumed in a country with a shorter population with dark hair. It is the surreal and inhuman characters that are the most memorable in Ghibli films. In Castle in the Sky it is the anthropomorphic robots that inhabit Laputa that are the most beautiful characters – I have to admit that I was really rooting for the mute, gigantic robots…

The final thing to say about the respect held for Ghibli films is the desperation by Hollywood stars to voice the US/UK dub versions. Laputa features Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Mark Hamill and Andy Dick – a ramshackle cast if ever there was one…

Hayao Miyazaki – Body of Work

Hayao Miyazaki

I must admit it; I’m a big fan of cartoons. As most people born in the ‘80s did, I went through many animated phases: Count Duckula / The Simpsons / Doug / Beavis & Butthead / Daria / Ren & Stimpy / Rocko’s Modern Life / Dexter’s Laboratory / Recess / South Park / Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends / Family Guy… We were all there. The only problem was that these never translated well onto the big screen. Only South Park Bigger, Longer & Uncut succeeded. The only good drawn-cartoon films were Disney classics from 70 odd years ago and watching them now is just a litany of racism, homophobia, and worryingly casual misogyny. So for interesting animations now we need to head abroad…

Hayao Miyazaki is the more internationally successful of the directors / writers / animators from Japan’s Studio Ghibli (fan site). The films he makes are undeniably ‘auteur’ films in the truest sense of the word as they all have recurring themes / recognisable aesthetics and are suitably bonkers. In order to enjoy them as a whole I am going to watch them chronologically and give some thoughts along the way. I may then go back and fill in the gaps from his associates, especially Isao Takahata.

I hope you enjoy the beauty and oddness of these films as much as I do…
Continue reading

Audrey Tautou – Body Of Work

As you may have gathered from my review of Delicacy, I love Audrey Tautou. I am a long-time defender of her career as she is often wrongfully labelled as a typecast actress. Sure, she has starred in more romantic comedies than you’ve had hot croissants (unless you aren’t a big eater of hot croissants, in which case I don’t care what you think) but that doesn’t mean she plays the same role over and over.

Realizing that I haven’t watched as many Audrey Tautou films as I thought I had (but enough to know that she is one diverse lady) and finally getting fed up of seeing “if you liked Amelie, you’ll love this!” on anything to do with a Tautou film, I have decided to join Mild Concern editor, Tim’s “Body Of Work” quests and review as many Tautou’s films as I can get my hands on.

Although my initial reasons for reviewing Tautou’s catalogue of work were a tad cynical – I mean, who dedicates potentially millions of hours of their time to reviewing, just to prove a point to no one? – the undertaking of this effort is still more an act of love than one of smarm and I look forward to all the varied and probably-gorgeous films ahead.

Sadly not all of Audrey Tautou’s work is available to us here in the UK (I love the lady, but not enough to pay premium for imported DVDs whilst I am on the breadline!) so below is the list of films I will be reviewing where and when I can courtesy of my own DVD collection, borrowing from others and Lovefilm:

     Venus Beauty | Vénus beauté (institut)

     Happenstance | Le Battement d’ailes du papillon

     Amélie | Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain

     God Is Great and I Am Not | Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite

     He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not | À la folie… pas du tout

     Pot Luck | L’Auberge espagnole

     Dirty Pretty Things

     A Very Long Engagement | Un long dimanche de fiançailles

     Russian Dolls – Pot Luck 2 | Les Poupées russes

     Hunting And Gathering | Ensemble, c’est tout (2006)

     The Da Vinci Code | Ron Howard’s Adventures Of Tom Hanks & Audrey Tautou

     Priceless | Hors de prix

     Coco Before Chanel |Coco avant Chanel

     Beautiful Lies | De vrais mensonges

     Delicacy | La délicatesse

    Thérèse D | Thérèse Desqueyroux

Finally, if you’re reading this Audrey, I look forward to a scented letter of appreciation for this endeavour and I await your invitation to a romantic evening together.