By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist November 15, 2010 at 11:30AM
Our last reviews from Montreal's Cinemania film festival. A great way to cap off the festival season as settle in for a few months of awards and await the buzz from Sundance.
After a lengthy run on the festival circuit we've finally caught up with the latest from genre hopping director François Ozon and it's another piece of big time entertainment in the vein of "8 Femmes."
Bright and brassy, "Potiche" is a 70s set comedy that doesn't spare on set design or going for broad easy gags (barely two minutes in, Ozon tries to wring laughs out of two rabbits fucking). The film centers around Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve) the trophy wife (hence the title) of umbrella factory owner Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini) who is suddenly thrust into power when her husband takes ill following a hostage crisis with striking workers. What develops is a comedy whose subject matter evokes "All In The Family" styled debates about righties, lefties and commies (though not as acerbic or witty) and a gradual message about female empowerment.
Also added to the overstuffed story are subplots about extramarital affairs, illegitimate children, marital discord and in the second half of the film, a political race. It's a familiar style of screwball comedy that goes for broke but never quite builds into a payoff of epic proportions that the premise seems to be headed in. A third reel rallying cry for women comes up a bit short and Ozon seems unsure at times if he's being sincere, mocking the movement or doing both, leading to some mixed messaging. But, the film played well with the audience we saw it with in an early and very packed Sunday morning screening, and while its sitcom styled comedy is hard to resist, the film's energy far outmatches the number of giggles by the halfway mark. But while "Potiche" eventually runs out of gas it's never on the shoulders of Catherine Deneuve who is a pure delight from start to finish and makes those 90 minutes a breeze. [C+]
"Hors La Loi" ("Outside The Law")
Our final film of the festival was one we missed at Cannes though its presence was certainly felt. Tackling the subject of Algerian independence, the film prompted demonstrations and enhanced security on the Croisette prior to its screening, and now that we've watched the film, it's once again a case where those concerned with the content of a film might do well to actually see it before getting their feathers in a ruffle.
While "Hors La Loi" does certainly tell the story of the Algerian war from their perspective, it's also highly critical of both sides. Written and directed by Rachid Bouchareb the film is both a chronicle of the struggle for Algerian independence while a criticism of the tactics used to gain that freedom and, on the French side, to try and suppress an uprising. It's definitely controversial fare, but it's also riveting filmmaking. The story follows three brothers -- Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) -- as they struggle with their identity and politics following WWII. Abdelkader is the true believer in the FLN (National Liberation Front), ascending to a leadership position, organizing comrades and giving out orders. Messaoud is just as faithful to the cause while Saïd is loyal to his brothers, but less so to revolutionary politics. Each of them eventually face the question of personal happiness over political gain and the cost of unwavering solidarity to their country. Muddying the moral waters, the French are no better, with the formation of the secretive arm of the police, The Red Hand, whose sole mission is strike back at the revolutionaries with tactics that don't seem to far removed from what the FLN is engaged in.
Of course, comparisons will be made to Gillo Pontecorvo's "The Battle Of Algiers" and Bouchareb's film is a worthy companion. The violence here is just as bracing and shocking; particular highlights go to a daring police station set shootout and a roadside ambush. Bouchareb's camera doesn't flinch nor does it glamorize -- deaths on both sides are ruthless, cold and faceless with the emotional gravity causing some people to flinch when the time arrives to kill or vomit when the deed is done. Certainly, Boucharab's film is highly political but it's deeply emotional as well, with the tale of these brothers playing out with a tragic, operatic flair. [B+]