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TIFF Brody French Cinema Day: 'Apres Mai.' 'Therese Desqueyroux,' 'A Few Hours of Spring'

by Meredith Brody
September 9, 2012 12:37 PM
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'Apres Mai'
'Apres Mai'

Feeling perky and well-rested as I settle in for the first of three French movies in a row: “Thérèse Desqueyroux,” the last movie by the gifted Claude Miller, based on a novel by Francois Mauriac that was previously filmed by Georges Franju. (Last week, in Telluride, I fell asleep counting Joan of Arcs – even Jane Wiedlin, in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” being greeted as “Miss of Arc!” Last night I counted Anna Kareninas: two Great Garbos, one Vivien Leigh, one Jacqueline Bisset, one Sophie Marceau, and one Keira Knightley. I now await yet another new version of “Cousin Bette.”)

This version stars an unusually dour and severe Audrey Tatou – I vainly expected a dewy and girlish transformation to occur after sexual awakening, but no: Tatou is going to look worse before Paris and freedom, not sex, puts some bloom back in those cheeks. She marries to combine adjacent pine forests, not for love, and capriciously decides to poison her husband after she sees him taking his own accidental, but slight, overdose of arsenic drops. The husband, sickened but not unto death, not only declines to prosecute but perjures himself in order to avoid scandal.

Recently beguiled by a second viewing of Miller’s 1976 “La meilleure facon de marcher" at Karlovy Vary, my desire to see more of Miller’s work is increased.

Afterwards a conventional, well-acted film, “A Few Hours of Spring,” starring Vincent Lindon as a man of few words who moves in with his ailing mother, Hélène Vincent, after being released from 18 months in prison, and discovers that his mother has arranged to end her life by assisted suicide.  The cynical part of my brain was amused by seeing Lindon, who lived with Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of Roman Polanski, incarnate grungy blue-collar types who meet at a bowling alley; the Francophile in me enjoyed watching Lindon, who gets a job sorting trash, snack on pâteé de campagne and good cheese; and the sentimental side of me got teary-eyed when it took imminent death to reconcile mother and son.

Audrey Tautou as 'Therese D.'
Audrey Tautou as 'Therese D.'

At Telluride, last weekend, I came upon the usually joyous Alice Waters weeping under a tree.  I knew that both her parents were dead, and I assumed she’d gotten terrible news about another family member or close friend. It turned out that she’d just seen Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” which had not moved me nearly as much (and I’d hoped it would). She told me both that this is why we need the power to end our own lives, and that she thought she was finished with seeing movies for the day – “One masterpiece is enough.” “A Few Hours of Spring” is not a masterpiece, but I found myself wanting to get a copy to Alice.

Afterwards I saw “Après Mai,” aka “Something in the Air,” Olivier Assayas’ somewhat autobiographical, charmingly kinetic memoir of the early 70s, when change was in the air and everything seemed possible, politically, artistically, romantically.  Political expediencies take a group of young French activists to Italy over the summer, where they form new alliances that take them from late adolescence into young adulthood. Lola Créton, who played Assayas’ real-life partner, Mia Hansen-Love, in her own autobiographical film, “Goodbye First Love,” appears here as the main character’s girlfriend, a neat trick of casting.

Afterwards I ran into Maureen O’Donnell, who’s completing her publicist duties on Laurent Cantet’s “Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang,” by ferrying around its many young actresses. I tell her that I found it more Joyce Carol Oates’ movie than Cantet’s, whose “Ressources humaines” and “L’Emploi du temps” I found considerably more interesting, and happily Maureen does not shoot me.


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