Films & Feni: The Divine Ms. Deneuve

Posted on December 1, 2008


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DEC 2, 2008 – IT JUST WASN’T TURNING OUT TO BE MY DAY. After repeated attempts to snag tickets to the hugely buzzed about Argentinian film, My Mother’s Tears, I threw my hands up and, after a muttered curse in the direction of smug ticket-holders that the film would turn out to be a dog, I settled for a German drama titled Autistic Disco. (The title, I admit, was the draw. How could anyone not want to see what this was about?) Imagine my delight, then, when the screening was preceded by a felicitation to – are you ready for this? – Catherine Deneuve. There she was, just seven rows of seats ahead, in the flesh, as softly beautiful as she ever was, and possibly will always be. In an instant, my vengeful spite for those who made it to My Mother’s Tears vanished, now replaced by pity beyond measure. Fate, thou truly art so kind.

But when we fly down stars of such stature, would it kill the organisers to do a bit of research before these presentation ceremonies? It wasn’t the dully bureaucratic shawl they draped on her creamy shoulders, made all the more enticing by a simple black dress with white polka dots. It wasn’t the ridiculous bouquet they thrust in her hands. It wasn’t even that they referred to her as “Mrs.” Deneuve. But couldn’t the message that was read out have contained some detail about the luminaries she’s worked with (I mean, we’re only talking names like Vadim, Demy, Truffaut, Polanski, Buñuel, von Trier, Téchiné), or what Deneuve represents in the continuum of “foreign cinema?” I’m not saying her ascent to the stage should have been accompanied by the famous theme to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – that would be asking for too much – but in a film festival, an international film festival, what’s the point in honouring someone if you can’t explain why they deserve that honour in the first place?

AFTER FIVE MINUTES OF STRICKEN GAZING AT DENEUVE, is it any surprise that Austistic Disco, directed by Hans Steinbichler, was something of an anticlimax? The film, which is the sort of mangy hybrid that would result if the brats of The Breakfast Club spent a night with Jeremiah Johnson, charts the rehabilitation of seven teenage dropouts who are deposited in a chillingly beautiful (and, needless, to say, icily remote) mountain farm. Will they rediscover their humanity in the face of such humbling natural beauty and grace, or will the isolation render them more isolated? Steinbichler fills his screen with possibly the most loving close-ups of the human face since Bergman (along with stunningly silent stretches equally reminiscent of the master), but the youngsters simply do not invite our empathy. As the battle for survival ratchets up in intensity – the kids on one side, their social workers on the other – you may begin to feel you don’t care who wins.

MAZIAR MIRI’S GRADUALLY IS QUITE POSSIBLY IRANIAN CINEMA’S answer to Frantic, except that all the action is internal. A lowly labourer returns home to Teheran, only to find his mentally-ill wife missing, and the discovery of a corpse soon after scotches our expectations that the film will have, at its close, a loving scene of reconciliation. But despite the mole on the chin, and despite the other corresponding physical features, is it really the wife’s corpse? Miri is after something very interesting here, namely the pull of personal affiliations versus the push of societal obligations, but he’s unable to fully reconcile the nail-biter aspects of his story with his larger concerns. The flashback, detailing how and why the wife went missing, is hardly helpful in filling the gaps – and without that, we’re left with one half of a great movie, an affecting little story of loss that loses it way by needlessly trying to be more.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign