Category: Comedies

Une belle fille comme moi (A Gorgeous Girl Like Me, France 1972)

François Truffaut was the subject of a major retrospective at BFI Southbank earlier this year and I’ve been trying to find time to return to a study of his films. I wonder what audiences in 2022 made of this film? It is seen by many of Truffaut’s fans as his misfire, leaving many wondering what he was up to. This is surprising, partly because the film presents many familiar Truffaut elements and connections with his other films. The most direct connection is to Truffaut’s early short feature Les Mistons (France 1957) which is included as a very welcome ‘extra’ on the Artificial Eye Region B Blu-ray for Une belle fille. I like Les mistons very much but it probably needs its own post. It features Bernadette Lafont (1938-2013) in her first film and the suggestion is that Une belle fille comme moi is Truffaut’s gift/hommage to the woman who became, in Dave Kehr’s words, “the nouvelle vague‘s most memorable embodiment of earthy sexuality”.

François Truffaut with Bernadette Lafont on set

The second connection is to Truffaut’s love of hard-boiled pulp fiction, published in French as Série noir novels and as part of American crime fiction more generally. There are four distinct Truffaut noirs/polars based on such novels: Tirez sur le pianiste (1960), La mariée était en noir (1968), La sirène du Mississipi (1969) and Vivement Dimanche! (1982). Une belle fille comme moi is perhaps related to Vivement Dimanche as a ‘comedy crime film’, but its plotting is more closely related to La mariée était en noir (which is not a comedy). The original novel which Truffaut and Jean-Loup Dabadie adapted was by Henry Farrell, whose writing career covered novels, screenplays and teleplays. He wrote the novel for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (US 1962) and the screenplays for the follow-ups, Hush . . . , Hush Sweet Charlotte (US 1964) and What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971). These were all ‘gothic horror’ crime stories. Une belle fille comme moi is something rather different. As a crime comedy it also uses elements of the musical and the farce.

Stanislas interviews Camille in prison

Camille Bliss (Lafont) is a prisoner at the start of the film, convicted of murder. She is interviewed by a young sociologist Stanislas Prévine (André Dussollier in his first film feature role) who is preparing a thesis on ‘criminal women’. Camille begins to tell her story through flashbacks and Stanislas soon finds himself in love with her despite the lurid story she tells. He’s convinced she is innocent. In the first flashback to her childhood we get an inkling of the kind of film we are going to see when little Camille is kicked by her drunken father across his farmyard and she literally flies through the air to land on top of a hay wagon. She spends her girlhood in a ‘Home for Observation of Juvenile Delinquents’. Her later escapades involve marriage and her initial escape from that into flings with various men. In all Camille hitches up with six men over the course of the narrative. Five of them are vanquished. The 5:1 ratio is a reminder of Les mistons (five young boys pursuing Bernadette Lafont) and La mariée était en noir with five men despatched by Jeanne Moreau. I won’t spoil the narrative though the film’s critics suggest that the ending is obvious from the start.

Camille after she has successfully seduced the ‘Exterminator Man’ played by Charles Denner

So what is the problem? Critics argue that Truffaut can’t handle a full-blown feature of broad comedy like this and that he made a mistake in making his lead such a trollop. Actually, quite a few call her a ‘slut’ or a ‘tart’ or worse. Some of them seem to suggest that Truffaut’s problems with sexuality lead him into a certain kind of sour prudery. I think that if you take only a casual glance at the film, it can in some instances seem a bit like a series of Benny Hill sketches with Camille in various stages of undress running from lecherous men over whom she eventually triumphs. But look more closely and think a bit more about the narrative and the performances and a different film emerges I think. At the centre of the film is Bernadette Lafont, let off the leash and given the chance to take control of the narrative, in fact she literally narrates her own (fictional) story. She had been a dancer and she commands the screen partly through the way she moves. In my ancient guide to the ‘400 key figures in French cinema’ by Marcel Martin (1971), her entry describes her as having a “gay but unsophisticated frankness”. That seems a good call. Camille is the simple country girl who realises that she can get whatever she wants by offering herself for sex which she clearly enjoys. She may appear to be exploited but in fact she remains in control. It was still unusual in 1972 for a narrative to feature a woman with this kind of narrative ‘agency’. Although Truffaut was adapting an American property, the film does have elements in common with Nelly Kaplan’s La fiancée du pirate (France 1969). This also featured Bernadette Lafont in the lead role as a young woman in rural France living in a marginalised family who eventually turns to prostitution as a way of gaining control over the locals who look down on her. Kaplan’s film (known in the US as Dirty Mary) became something of a feminist text in the UK in the early 1970s and was screened at various conferences (including at the NFT in April 1973) as well as in late night cinema shows. It’s also worth remembering that the early 1970s was a period when there were many European sexploitation films in UK cinemas (usually dubbed) as well as UK softcore productions, whereas in New York when Truffaut’s film opened it was competing with hardcore titles like Behind the Green Door (1972) with Marilyn Chambers and at another extreme one of Bergman’s most powerful films Cries and Whispers (Sweden 1972) which was nominated for five Oscars (and won one).

The young filmmaker who doesn’t want to show his rushes

In the circumstances it isn’t surprising that Truffaut’s film should be rejected by some of the most high profile critics. Jan Dawson suggests in Monthly Film Bulletin (May 1973) that despite using a familiar structure as seen in his other films, Truffaut fails because the “breathless quality that he seeks to impose on his heroine’s odyssey is more suggestive of exhaustion than effervescence”. By contrast Diana Holmes and Robert Ingram (1998) offer a detailed analytic reading which I find most helpful. They point out that the film’s aesthetic presents the scenes involving Stanislas in an almost realist mode, whereas those presenting Camille’s re-telling of her story are much more ‘anti realist’ – drawing on cartoons, slapstick and musical numbers. They suggest that Stanislas represents the familiar Truffaut figure of the patriarchy, the representative of rules and conformity trying to contain Camille’s energy in his book. The book is intended to be about ‘criminal women’ but it is the woman who is the protagonist and the one with whom a popular audience might identify. I think every scene in the film is carefully thought out and I don’t find the overall effect to be one of exhaustion. Every scene deals in some way with the same concerns found elsewhere in Truffaut’s work. To be fair to Dawson she does discuss what she sees as an effective sequence in which Stanislas and his young secretary are searching for some film footage of Camille which could be evidence to use in court. When they find it, they have to negotiate with a 9-year old boy who doesn’t want to show the footage to them because it is not yet edited, as clear a reference to the cinema obsessed young François as you could ask for. Other reviews spend time discussing Truffaut’s various hommages to Hitchcock, Hawks and Renoir but I don’t want to go there just at the moment.

Stanislas dictating his thesis typed up by his secretary Hélène (Anne Kreis) who tries to convince him that Camille is running rings round him

I surprised myself in enjoying Une belle fille comme moi more than I thought I would. At other times I have found Truffaut’s approach to his female characters to be a problem but his approach here is consistent and makes good use of his star. The film has an excellent score by Georges Delerue and the cinematography is by Pierre-William Glenn who also shot La nuit américaine (1972) and L’argent de poche (1976). It was filmed mostly around Béziers in the South of France. There is a mystery about the intended aspect ratio for the film. IMDb suggests 1.85:1 but this is clearly wrong. A contributor on DVD Beaver suggests that it was shot ‘Open Matte’ and that it was intended to be projected at 1.66:1. The Artificial Eye Blu-ray is presented as 1.33:1 and I can’t see how many of the scenes could be cropped for widescreen without destroying the compositions.

Reference

Holmes, Diana and Ingram, Robert (1998) François Truffaut, Manchester: Manchester University Press

¡Viva! 28 #6: Patrimonio nacional (National Heritage, Spain 1980)

The marqués is in the centre with his wife Eugenia on the wheelchair with the food tray.

One of the pleasures of ¡Viva! over the years has been the inclusion of archive prints which give UK festival audiences the chance to see significant Spanish titles and learn something of the history of Spanish cinema. This year’s offering was two films by Luis García Berlanga (1921-2010) whose career as a writer and director began in the late 1940s and ended with a short film in 2002. Berlanga was known for a series of comedies, at first together with Juan Antonio Bardem and later with the writer Rafael Azcona. Two of his films, Esa pareja feliz (The Happy Couple, 1953) and El verdugo (The Executioner, 1963) are discussed on this blog. The comedies take various approaches from satire through to comedy dramas. Patrimonio nacional is the second film in a trilogy of farces that Berlanga directed, starting with La escopeta nacional in 1978 and finishing with a sequel to Patrimonio nacional, titled Nacional III in 1982. Franco died in 1975 and Berlanga was one of the first directors to to create a commentary on the post-Franco period. Previously, his films had been constructed to appear as comedies about ‘ordinary people’ that might evade Francoist censorship. Now he focused on the aristocracy and how they might fare in newly democratic Spain.

The three films focus on the family of the ‘Marqués de Leguineche’ (Luis Escobar). The marqués has spent the Franco years in exile from the court on his farm 50 miles outside Madrid. Now he wishes to return with the re-establishment of the monarchy in the form of Juan Carlos during the ‘Period of Transition’. The marqués is faced with several problems. His wife Eugenia (Mary Santpere) has remained in the Madrid mansion throughout the Franco period with her faithful manservant Goyo (José Ruiz Lifante). She has allowed most of the great house to deteriorate and is not happy to see her returning husband. He is saddled with a useless son Segundo and his warring wife Chus. The fate of the Spanish aristocracy in the late 1970s was not dissimilar to that of the British aristos ten or twenty years earlier – there is no money to refurbish the house and no interest, or sympathy, from the general population which is attracted by the possibilities of capitalist expansion and consumerism as Spain opens up to the world.

The marqués and his son Segundo (with a soft-porn magazine). Goyo the servant (with the walkie-talkie for his mistress) is between them.

Besides the money needed to restore the great house, it transpires that neither the marqués or his wife have paid any taxes since 1931, when the Republic was first declared – obviously they wouldn’t pay to support the republic and they attempt excuses for the Francoists as well. The marqués is an old rogue and a wily operator who sets out to ‘incapacitate’ his wife – i.e. to have her declared insane. With her out of the way he can perhaps restore the house, while placating the Inland Revenue. He wants to be re-instated at court, but perhaps isn’t quite as obsessed with his status as his son. In everything he tries, however, the marqués is dragged back by his useless son who is a sex pest, mainly interested in trying to acquire his own aristocratic title which might improve his chances with young women. This is something of a scatter-gun approach to satire so we also get a comic priest and a succession of lawyers all with the same family name. Servants are also a target, typified by Goyo. The marqués also has a nephew, a rather glamorous playboy with a beautiful young wife. This nephew appears to be helpful but is also conniving to get the best outcome for himself from whatever the marqués salvages from the potential sale of the house and its treasures. Finally there are the bankers and politicians, who the marqués is informed have replaced the aristocracy in democratic Spain.

Berlanga stages the antics of the marqués and his entourage in long takes on a series of sets with multiple characters. The great house is actually Palacio de Linares in Madrid (according to IMDb). The cinematography by Carlos Suárez who was a regular collaborator with Berlanga at this time is impressive, as is the art design by Roman Arango and Pin Miralos.

I confess that for me this style of comedy has not aged well, especially in comparison with the work of Luis Buñuel, admittedly from the 1970s and mainly before Franco’s death. But it also looks laboured and lacking an edge compared to the early work of Pedro Almodóvar during 1980-1983. Perhaps the comedy just doesn’t travel or is it simply that I can’t identify with aristocratic families in any way? The film seems to have been popular in Spain. The second Berlanga film in the festival was La vaquilla (The heifer, Spain 1985), another comedy, this time set during the Civil War (a first) and focusing on hungry Republican troops who decide to steal a prize heifer from a village under Nationalist control during an annual religious festival. This also seems to have been a very popular film at the time, but I decided to give it a miss and focus on a contemporary film for my last screening. I didn’t really enjoy Patrimonio nacional but I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see it and to broaden my knowledge of Spanish cinema. The two archive prints were screened with thanks to the Instituto Cervantes.

¡Viva! 28 #4: La estrella roja (The Red Star, Argentina 2021)

Comedies represent a challenge for festivals such as ¡Viva!, since they often rely on audience knowledge of culture and especially language. Most problematic of all are ‘mockumentaries’, attempts to ‘play’ with the conventions of certain kinds of documentary practice. La estrella roja goes one step further, operating within the history and mythology of a specific Argentinian community and its involvement in major political events of the 20th century, still highly sensitive for some.

I’m not generally a fan of mockumentaries so I don’t want to pass judgement here. I’ll stick to a detached observation. In some ways this film might be seen as riffing on the recent cycle of documentary films about female figures seemingly not properly represented in histories. In such documentaries we expect newsreel footage, possibly home movies and interviews with relatives, friends and biographers who offer ‘witness statements’ about what they remember or what they have discovered through research. We may well have a ‘narrativised’ investigation by the documentarist so that we experience the thrill of finding the evidence and making the links.

Gabriel Lichtmann (left) meets an expert on British intelligence (in an Irish pub!) played by Rafael Spregelburd

The subject here is Laila Salama, a woman from the Jewish community in Argentina, who mysteriously disappeared in 1934 as a teenage girl during the Purim festival when she was expected to be crowned as the festival queen. Thereafter she became a spy, reporting on Nazi activity in Argentina and joining a British intelligence group. Active throughout the wartime period in Europe she is later said to have been involved in the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960, working with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. After that she disappears from view. But she has a place in Argentinian mythology with a tango and a song named after her – as ‘La estrella roja’.

Lichtmann visits other Jewish researchers and views slides of 1950s photos

All of the expected ingredients are here with the film’s director Gabriel Lichtmann played by the  actor Héctor Díaz. Most of the other characters are also played by actors, some of whom are well-known in Argentina. There is a strong narrative drive and a climactic moment to the research/investigation. The whole film lasts not much more than 70 minutes and a great deal of care has gone into the presentation. I was surprised by the statistics about the Jewish community in Argentina. There are currently around 300,000 in the Jewish diaspora  in Argentina and they must be the most likely audience for the film. Of course, the history of the Holocaust is a much more widely known and the filmmakers must hope this will encourage sales. The numbers were higher still during the 1940s (before migration to Israel) and there were also significant numbers in the wider German diaspora in Argentina who were Nazi sympathisers. The film also makes a link to Wakolda (Argentina 2013) a fiction film based on the activities of pro-Nazi Argentinians around 1960 when Eichmann was captured – its central character is a 12 year-old girl. I don’t know whether La estrella roja will prove controversial because of its take on the historical events but so far it seems to have been well-received. There is often said to be a distinctive style of Jewish humour and perhaps this film is an example of such humour? The film screenss again at HOME on Saturday 2nd April. It is accompanied by a complementary short film Los conspiradores (Spain 2021).

John Ford #9: When Willie Comes Marching Home (US 1950)

Bill Kluggs (Dan Dailey) with his parents and the ‘girl next door’, Marge (Colleen Townsend)

At first glance this feels like one of the strangest John Ford titles. There is no recognisable Ford stock company (apart from a brief appearance of Jack Pennick) and you have to dig quite deep to find any crew or creative inputs obviously linked to Ford. It’s a comedy and it includes some musical moments, two familiar Ford traits, and it is set in what seem at first familiar Fordian communities – a small town and then the US military (the Army Air Force). From that basis it is possible to move forward and make sense of the film. Why did Ford make the picture? The late 1940s and early 1950s were very stressful and difficult for John Ford. In industrial terms he was trying to stabilise the position of his production company with Merian C. Cooper, Argosy Pictures. A deal with RKO saw some success with the first two pictures of the Cavalry trilogy. But with Howard Hughes taking over the studio, Ford looked forward to a deal with Republic Pictures, the independent formed by takeovers of several ‘poverty row’ outfits by Herbert J. Yates in 1935. Republic’s most high profile pictures were low budget Westerns (including those of a young John Wayne). Ford’s time working with Yates would have its ups and downs but it did allow him to make The Quiet Man in Ireland in 1952.

In his personal life and his position as a leading member of the Screen Directors’ Guild, Ford was also struggling with how to react to the anti-communist witch hunt led by HUAC. Ward Bond and John Wayne were ‘commie hunters’ whereas Ford most of the time presented himself as a Democrat – at least before the 1960s. How Ford behaved in the late 1940s does not make much sense according to Joseph McBride’s 2001 book, but appears to have been largely self-serving and designed to keep himself free of any restrictions. McBride suggests that Ford was disturbed by a rumour that he was under investigation by the US Army and since he valued his military connections, he sought to distance himself from suggestions that he was anything but ‘patriotic’. When it became difficult to make the pictures he wanted to make Ford tended to look towards 20th Century Fox and Daryl F. Zanuck, even if he and Zanuck didn’t always get along. Perhaps this explains why Ford made a ‘military’ picture at Fox in 1950 and followed it with a documentary in Korea in 1951 and another odd wartime picture What Price Glory in 1952. He made two Westerns for Argosy and his biggest success The Quiet Man at Republic – all six films were released between 1950 and 1952, he was never a slacker!

The farewell at the station . . .

When Willie Comes Marching Home has a central character William ‘Bill’ Kluggs (Dan Dailey), a young man with some musical talent from a respectable lower middle-class family in the small town of Punxatawney, West Virginia. We meet him on a night in December 1941 playing with his band in a local drug store. He can scarcely believe it when his next door neighbour comes rushing in to tell him war with Japan has started. Bill is determined to be the first to enlist. He succeeds and is soon off for basic training. But several months later he is posted back to Punxatawney where a new airfield and base has been constructed. He’s embarrassed when the town throws a party to celebrate his return and to honour him as the first to sign up to fight. But it looks like Bill will never get to fight as a series of events conspire to keep him at the base. The townspeople don’t know why he hasn’t gone to the Pacific or to Europe and his local reputation takes a nosedive. Eventually, in June 1944, another chance event sees him sent to England in a new B17 bomber. This then turns into a crazy adventure in France which elevates him to an absurd heroic status, which the townspeople don’t really believe. What will they make of him when he gets home?

Bill is captured and interrogated by the Maquis. Corinne Calvet plays the maquisard who interviews him.

The film’s script was based on a real incident in the Pacific War involving Sy Gomberg, who started a Hollywood writing career on the basis of this original story (which gained an Oscar nomination). The film won the main prize at Locarno and it proved a modest box office winner with a $1.7 million gross (Ford’s Rio Grande, the third part of his cavalry trilogy, was released in the same year and made $2.25 million). Fox was the second most prolific studio in 1950 and the second biggest box office earner behind MGM in what was a declining market. When Willie Comes Marching Home was a satisfactory production for Fox, so why does it seem a strange Ford picture? First, it is short at just 85 minutes. It seems that a US DVD release includes outtakes that suggest that Fox cut out some of the musical numbers. It has been suggested that the film could have been a rare Ford musical. As it is, the film is mainly a broad comedy with Ford’s familiar comic vignettes extended across the film. Dan Dailey is the only ‘star’ in the film with character actor William Demarest (best known for his work with Preston Sturges) as Bill’s father. The two young female starlets Corinne Calvet (who was French and played a maquisard) and Colleen Townsend (as the ‘girl next door’) are both lively and effective in their roles. The film was photographed by Leo Tover who was an experienced DoP who had worked for Jean Renoir and William Wyler and the music was by Alfred Newman the eldest of the three Newman brothers and the most distinguished. The editor James B. Clark had edited Ford’s Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley (1941) – for which he was nominated. So Ford had talent at his disposal.

I think Dan Dailey is impressive in the film and I was surprised simply because I hadn’t seen his musical roles for MGM earlier in the 1940s. He is arguably too old: he was 34 when the film was released but is convincing as a younger man. He must have got on with Ford as he was cast in two further Ford army pictures in the 1950s. This does make me wonder, however, if audiences would have expected more musical numbers in this 1950 film and why Fox cut them out? The film looks good and sounds good, although there is a distinct difference between the musical numbers, the comedy sequences and the realist long shot compositions of some of the military sequences. Though the narrative takes Bill to Europe, action in France is represented by sequences shot in California.

Bill meets yet another officer who tells him he must stay in the US to train new recruits.

But what does it all mean? Ford was well known for his wartime work with the Field Photo Unit and with his documentary films about Pearl Harbour and The Battle of Midway (both of which won Oscars) among others. He was not averse to going straight to the top to get what he wanted for these films (he was after all the leading American film director and a senior officer in the Naval Reserve). But he was more interested in supporting the enlisted men, who he later helped through his foundation of what was popularly called the ‘Field Photo Farm’ which provided a refuge for the men he had worked with in the Unit. When Willie Comes Marching Home can be seen as remembering the men who didn’t necessarily fight overseas but who were serving soldiers, flyers and ship’s crew based in North America. The film can also be seen as a satire on the armed forces’ regulations and procedures. Much of the comedy is very broad but some of it works in different ways. As Tag Gallagher points out in his book on Ford, various comic routines are presented in a series of elements. One sees Kluggs approaching a succession of officers in an attempt to get a transfer onto active service overseas. The officer ranks he approaches increase in seniority each time but the result is always the same – a refusal but a promise to recommend Kluggs for a Good Conduct award. He is then promoted each time until he reaches Master Sergeant. Tallagher also usefully observes that the film resembles Ford’s silent and pre-war films with a large cast and often gags that could work without dialogue. Finally we can see the film as a commentary on the bland conservative nature of this small town Middle America (when its West Virginia location made me think of the Judge Priest films or The Prisoner of Shark Island). A Fordian sense of community rests on respect and honour and genuine communal feeling, not the ‘War Fever’ whipped up by propaganda..

I have actually seen the next military picture that Ford made in which Dailey stars alongside James Cagney in a remake of the Raoul Walsh 1926 picture What Price Glory set in France in 1918. Corinne Calvet is the French girl again and William Demarest also returns. I need to watch it again in light of When Willie Comes Marching Home.

Une vie démente (Madly in Life, Belgium 2020)

Alex and Néomie face one of many agencies concerned about Suzanne’s behaviour – but she’s busy eating sweets

Une vie démente is a francophone film and the first feature of a filmmaking couple, Raphaël Balboni and Ann Sirot based in Brussels. It follows several short films and contributions to portmanteau films. The film has an English language title which I don’t think is helpful. The Belgian title is more to the point – this is a film about understanding and learning to live with a form of dementia. It is promoted as a comedy-drama but I think that probably depends on the individual and what they have experienced  about dealing with dementia sufferers. It is, I think, an intelligent, human and very worthwhile film which uses elements of humour very well. I’m aware that there is a particularly Belgian form of humour and that may be evident here.

I’m certainly not an expert on dementia but I am very aware of it. One of the most important points to take on board is that there are all kinds of degenerative diseases which might grouped under a general heading of dementia, but they do manifest themselves in different ways. In this film a couple in their early thirties, Alex and Noémie, gradually come to realise that Alex’s mother Suzanne is beginning to act strangely. It’s only a short film (under 90 minutes) so the narrative progresses quite quickly and soon Suzanne is no longer capable of looking after herself and is becoming a possible danger to others. It is particularly unfortunate for the couple because they are hoping to start a family and caring for Suzanne raises questions about whether they should go ahead at this time.

Suzanne in her garden trying to understand the robot mower’s movements

The condition from which Suzanne suffers is named as ‘semantic dementia’ which refers to the inability to connect words to specific meanings. I don’t know if what we see is a realistic depiction of ‘SD’ but it is significant that Suzanne has been in charge of a gallery or at least putting on art exhibitions. She has a beautiful and spacious house and garden and a collection of valuable art objects. Alex works in a the same business and Noémie is a secondary school art teacher. The directors have chosen to incorporate ideas about art and design into the film’s mise en scène, creating some effects which are initially subtle and eventually quite startling and amusing. Suzanne doesn’t lose her interest in art and is particularly interested in a little girl, the daughter of one of Alex and Néomie’s friends who is clearly creative.

The film’s mise en scène echoes Suzanne’s fascination with art and gradually becomes more emphatic

Suzanne’s behaviour creates bizarre social situations which are the basis of several possibly comic moments. Interactions with various officials and agencies are presented in an original way so we only see Suzanne sitting alongside Alex and Néomie as questions are asked (see top image). These scenes too are handled in relation to ideas about colour and design. It is Alex as Suzanne’s closest kin who is the source of most of the film’s emotional heft. He has to learn how to communicate and adapt to his mother’s condition and I did find this moving. There is no cure for SD so the ultimate aim must be to find a way of dealing with the condition and how it impacts on everyone. I think the film’s ending is sad but also uplifting. The critical response and the small group of IMDb ‘users’ appear to agree. The film has won recognition and prizes at various film festivals. The performances by the four principals are very good: Jo Deseure is Suzanne, Jean Le Peltier is Alex and Lucie Debay is Néomie. Gilles Remiche is the carer, Kevin, a potentially difficult role that I think is well-written and performed. The film looks very good with ‘Scope photography by Jorge Piquer Rodríguez. Music is also important in the film, as it is in the lives of many dementia sufferers since enjoyment and recall of music are often retained when other facilities are lost.

Suzanne is a woman who has family and a generous life style when we first meet her. We aren’t shown all the procedures necessary to put her financial affairs into order after she has lost control or interest in her affairs, but she owns art objects that are valuable. Of course many dementia suffers don’t have both support and resources and to that extent the film presents an idealised perspective on what such a diagnosis might mean. Even so I think writer-directors Balboni and Sirot are to be congratulated on a début film that entertains while presenting an insight into a condition that will be something more and more of us will encounter. I don’t know whether the film has yet achieved a wider international distribution beyond the francophone world but I hope it does.

All Hands on Deck (À l’abordage, France 2020)

Often with film festivals I start a screening knowing little about the film – which has both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to managing expectations. This is especially true of My French Film Festival because I buy a ticket that covers most of the films (there are a couple which are not available in the UK). I started All Hands on Deck with no idea of what I might be watching. Halfway through I thought the film was OK but a bit underwhelming. The last part was better and in the end I was pleased to have seen it. To my surprise I then realised that the director Guillaume Brac is now quite well-known internationally and is being touted as an Eric Rohmer-like filmmaker for contemporary cinema. This film screened at Berlin in 2020 and was released in France in 2021 to acclaim and recognition as a successful comedy. I realised that I had looked briefly at the collection of Brac’s films currently on MUBI but had not bothered to investigate further. It turns out that this year there are several titles from My French Film Festival also on MUBI.

(from left) Chérif, Edouard and Félix

The English title of the film is not very helpful and the French title refers to ‘boarding’ which is ambiguous so I’ll need to outline the plot. Félix (Eric Nantchouang) and Chérif (Salif Cissé) are two young African-French men in Paris. Félix is a carer who we first meet visiting an elderly woman and then on a night out where he meets a young woman, Alma (Asma Messaoudene), at an open air dance by the Seine. He learns that she is about to go on her summer holiday, staying in a house with her family in rural France. (The house seems to be in Die in Drôme department in South East France.) On a whim, Félix decides to take a week off and surprise her with a visit. He persuades Chérif to join him and they sign up for a car share journey to a campsite close to Alma’s holiday home. The car’s driver, Edouard (Édouard Sulpice), is disappointed to discover they are not the young women he was expecting. Edouard is a young white guy and socially awkward. He and Félix do not get on but Chérif is a calming influence. I think that ‘boarding’ actually refers to the adventures that follow at the campsite, possibly as ‘boarders’ who are in different ways ‘house guests’.

Félix with Alma

The Rohmer tag makes sense in terms of the dialogue-driven interactions between the three young men and a handful of other young people on the campsite. As well as Alma we meet her older sister and a couple of young men who are working at the site. Chérif also meets someone and it is his relationship which perhaps is the most affecting. Edouard has a few setbacks but he begins to socialise and turns out to be someone who can ‘come out of himself’. The one thing that I did feel in the latter half of the film was that this was not a film that wanted to use the genre conventions of the French summer holiday comedy. Apart from one rather over-bearing character there are no real ‘bad guys’ in the film and this was refreshing – though I did find the occasional outbursts and then fulsome apologies a little annoying.

Chérif and Hélena (Ana Blagojevic) at the karaoke bar

Reading the film’s Press Pack (in a Google translation) I learned that the actors are all students at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique de Paris. Brac took up a commission to make a film with the students and he began with a workshop and a simple outline from which the students had to build a character. The final script was then written by Brac and his writing partner Catherine Paillé. The most interesting questions involved the two African-French students. They were clear that they didn’t want to appear in typical roles as guys from les banlieues in Paris and they didn’t want to be in a narrative which focused on their difference/identity. Brac says he understood this but also felt that it was unrealistic and unhelpful to try to ignore their identity, especially in a tourist area in rural France. He and the students agreed that identity issues and typical characters shouldn’t be the focus of the story. I think that the film does avoid this problem but that it is indeed impossible to ignore the fact that Félix and Chérif are recognisable characters, even if they don’t behave in stereotypical ways. Personally, I found Félix a slightly annoying character and Chérif someone I would like to have met on holiday and that’s probably a win for the presentation of the characters. I can see that I should have looked more carefully at the selection of Guillaume Brac’s films that are available on MUBI and I’ll try to watch some of the others. If you come across this film it’s definitely worth a look.