Tag Archives: Film

Poupoupidou

poupoupidou2011, Gérald Hustache-Mathieu

Light hearted and yet gripping, Poupoupidou puts a refreshing and darkly humorous spin on the classic ‘crime genre’. Not to be missed if you’re looking for an easy and enjoyable watch that will leave you with a smile on your face. 

poupoupidou3Set in the coldest town in France, Mouthe, writer David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve) has hit a dead end with inspiration. Struggling to come up with new ideas, he stumbles upon the story of the ‘suicide’ of glamorous cheese-model Candice Lecoeur (Sophie Quinton) who believed that she was a reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe.

After inquiring about her death numerous times, David Rousseau decides to take matters into his own hands accompanied by brigadier Bruno Leloup (Guillame Gouix), and after interviewing her various ex-lovers, her therapist, her hairdresser and her self-confessed stalker, he is brimming with enthusiasm for his next novel.nobody-else-but-you-poupoupidou-film-review

Of course, this storyline seems bland and run of the mill without the fantastic acting from Quinton throughout the film, who portrays a reincarnated Marilyn Monroe, hard-hitting scenes of domestic violence within Lecoeur’s family home where she wants to help her abusive ex-partner, her battle with her addiction to sleeping pills, her ghostlike appearances alongside David Rousseau where the boundaries between fiction and reality become blurred.

11402242-largeAlthough at some points it feels as if the script becomes a bit lazy, with Candice Lecoeur singing the president a very happy birthday à la Marilyn, 9/10 it dishes up some references that will make you smile to yourself as you get sucked into the American Nostalgia in the French town.

The performance from David Rousseau is worth making a point as well. Not your ‘traditional’ hero, he manages to portray the quirky ‘intellectual’ type well, keeping up his sly humour throughout and his irresistible charm that seems to be so alluring to the women he meets.

Poupoupidou has a certain tongue in cheek element to it, how this small-town woman embodies the spirit of Marilyn Monroe and the classic crime novel is brought to film, with ghostly references to Candice Lecoeur’s past life. However, Poupoupidou is not one to stick around in your mind long after you have watched it and is mostly a good film if you want to relax and watch something easy going.

6/10

le deuil- mourning

la présentatrice météo – weather-lady

un poignard – dagger

une tentative suicide – a suicide attempt

plaquer qqn – to dump somebody

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Populaire

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2012, Régis Roinsard

An adorable twist on the traditional Romantic Comedy featuring Romain Duris and Déborah François that will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat in suspense.

Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) is destined to live a dreary life in her hometown of Lisieux with her miserable widowed father (Frédéric Pierrot, whom you may recognise from thrilling TV series Les Revenants), that is until she attends a disastrous interview in Normandy to become a secretary, impressing the boss Louis Échard (Romain Duris) with her phenomenal typing skills. Although she makes a terrible secretary, competitive Louis dreams of honing Rose’s talent so that she can become a World Champion Typist, and the two embark on a romantic, unforgettable and adorable journey together. 

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Set in the late 50s, one would think that Populaire would be rife with sexism, and although Louis starts off by calling Rose mon chou (Pumpkin, or literally ‘my cabbage’) Rose gets back at him with quick, witty remarks that will leave a smile on your face. The chemistry between Rose and Louis is evident right from the start, with Louis seeing more in her than ‘just a pretty face’, the conversations between the characters are flirty, cheeky and heartwarming, with Rose putting Louis in his place more than the other way round. 

Moving her into his home in order to train her fiercely with an old typewriter and a stern attitude, we soon see Rose and Louis become closer and closer, with him feeling particularly embarrassed at the presence of Rose in his house, which she takes great delight in (a 1950s insurance salesman desperately trying to find a place to put a bra – God forbid he should ever come across one of those with a lady in the house), and the relationship between them growing from purely platonic to a flirty friendship. 

With a dramatic turn of events, Louis fears that he is becoming too close to Rose, and he casts her out of his house for the Christmas period whilst his family visit. Visiting his childhood friend, Marie Taylor (Bérénice Bejo), Rose and Marie crash the Christmas celebrations, with Rose declaring that she is Louis’ fiancée with things continue swimmingly as the couple seem to venture into the next stage of their relationship.  After winning a National Typist competition, it seems as if things take a sudden turn for the worse, with Louis realising that he can’t give Rose what she wants, that she’ll be travelling. Of course, it wouldn’t be a French film without Rose declaring her love for Louis in a Parisian street, only to be rejected.Image

Heartbroken, Rose leaps into the world of Typewriter fame, perhaps half-heartedly, heading to America in order to take part in a Typewriting Contest in which she hopes to become World Champion. Meanwhile, Louis’ life has taken a turn for the worse and both parties realise that deep down, they do indeed miss each other. Rose, swept off her feet by the maker of a typewriter named after her,  is charmed by the fame and admiration that she has earned but it’s just not the same without the man who set her on this path to begin with. 

ImageDuring the World Championships in America, Louis arrives to watch his beloved Rose compete against the previous champion, the American Susan Hunter who intimidates Rose over the keys with a cunning put-down. The tension of Rose and Susan’s showdown is unbelievable- you wouldn’t believe that typewriting can leave you in suspense, but you can’t help but admire Rose’s determination, hard-work and effort to get to where she is in the competition and you can’t help but rejoice at her victory over smarmy Susan. 

Of course, like most Romantic Comedies, the end is sealed with a movie star kiss. What Populaire has over many other Romantic Comedies is the charming simplicity, the uncomplicated love story, the absence of love triangles and the power lays mainly in the female protagonist’s hands. Although the absence of a complicated love story may appear boring, Populaire charms us with its vintage outfits, characters you just can’t help but like and big dreams of a small town girl. Populaire is a perfect feel-good film which won’t leave you clawing for stronger female lead characters. 

8/10

killjoy – le rabat-joie

shredder – la broyeuse de papier (in the film, but can also be called la déchiqueteuse)

Do I look nervous?! – J’ai l’air nerveux?! 

Ball bearings – les roulements à billes

Typewriter – la machine à écrire 

 

 
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La stratégie de la pousette

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2012, Clément Michel

A light hearted romantic comedy that will leave you wanting a sequel, La stratégie de la pousette tells the cute tale of a man trying to win back the love of his life.

ImageCommitaphobe Thomas Platz (Raphaël Personnaz) is devastated when, on the day of her birthday, his girlfriend Marie Deville (Charlotte Lebon) dumps him just outside of their apartment.

1 year later and Thomas catches a baby named Léo, falling from the floor above, as his mother (Camélia Jordana) faints. In hospital, she asks Thomas to take the baby and gives him the number of Léo’s father, who is partying in Amsterdam. What choice does Thomas have? He’s stuck playing dad for 5 days.Image

In these 5 days, we see him transform as a person, watching YouTube videos on how to change diapers and attending mother-baby classes; a business run by his ex, Marie. Upon seeing her once more, he falls hopelessly in love all over again, although she’s seeing someone else. Lying by telling her that he’s changed and that the baby is his, Thomas falls into the role of being a father whilst trying to juggle his new occupation with being a freelance illustrator.

Unknown-2With his best friend Paul ( played by Jérôme Commandeur), Thomas manages to attend classes and to fool the mothers and staff of bés Bonheurs into thinking that he is actually a father, due to Paul’s extensive supply of children’s toys from his job as a tennis coach and stroller lessons. Of course, Paul knows that Thomas is just using Léo to get back with Marie. Hilarity ensues as Thomas becomes tangled up in his own lies, including a recent divorcee on the hunt for a younger man who snaps Thomas up and won’t let him go, an eager kids-entertainer and a toy doll being flung across the room by a bored and hyperactive child.

Although not a work of art, if you’re looking for an easy romantic-comedy which will lift your spirits, La stratégie de la pousette is one not to be missed.

7/10

romper suit – une barboteuse

to nab – piquer

a lay (sexual) – un coup

stroller – la poussette

to suffocate – étouffer

pal – le pôte

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Angel – A

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2005, Directed by Luc Besson

Angel-A is a charming, feel-good storyline, filmed in black and white with some beautiful shots of Paris and a loveable protagonist. 

Parisian hustler Andre (Jamel Debbouze) is in trouble. Owing various people money, lying to himself and feeling generally down in the dumps, he attempts to jump off a bridge into the Seine, demanding to know why God doesn’t help him. Suddenly, appearing next to him is a beautiful blonde woman, about to plunge into the very same watery depths. Saving her life, Andre strikes up conversation with this mysterious woman – who is now known to be Angela (Rie Rasmussen). Unknown-1

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Swiftly realising that she’s an angel sent from above to help him with no recollection of her previous life, Andre embarks on a journey to change his life. However, Angela is not your typical angel: a chain-smoking, sexy woman who is not afraid to tell people what she wants (although she has to break some rules along the way). Fine dining, amazing hotels and a wonderful friendship that leaves him feeling fulfilled and worthy (which he never did before), Andre finds himself falling in love with her incredibly quickly, and in turn tries to help her.

Although I’d love to give this movie 10/10, it got a little strange at the end. When it’s time for Angela to leave, Andre gets pretty heavy handed and slightly violent, and yet still manages to win her heart after pulling on her until she falls into the Seine? I feel that the ending was pretty worrying. Why would Angela (who had beaten up a fair few men who dared hurt Andre) want to be with someone who grabbed her by the arm repeatedly after she told him to leave her alone and then pulled on her hair to bring her down to his height? The film lost a fair few points from me here.

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5/10

Coward – un/e lâche

A smoke (cigarette) – une clope

To wipe your slate clean – effacer l’ardoise

Crook – l’escroc

To enjoy sth. – profiter de qch.

To spoil, damage oneself – s’abîmer

To bark – aboyer

To catch up – rattraper

Oyster – un huitre

Fallen angel – un ange déchu

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Les Petits Mouchoirs

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Directed by Guillame Canet

Heartwarming and funny, Les Petits Mouchoirs manages to pack many story-lines into one film without overcrowding it.

Starting off the drama with Ludo (Jean Dujardin) involved in a serious accident, his friends (many of them whom are dating) decide that they must continue their annual holiday without him anyway and that if needs be, they can fly back in an instant to be with him.

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We meet a host of characters, from the adorable Marie (Marion Cotillard) and her best friend who can’t keep a girlfriend Eric (Gilles Lellouche), grumpy Max (François Cluzet) and his organic, health-crazy wife who’s trying to keep the group together Véro (Valérie Bonneton), lovesick Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) who’s still pining after ex Juliette (Anne Marivin), infatuated Vincent (Benoît Magimel) and heartbroken Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot).

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We initially are thrown into the first ‘issue’ among the group of friends – Vincent’s romantic feelings for Max, which causes a riff between the friends which will last the whole holiday. Especially causing problems with Vincent’s wife, Isabelle who longs to be touched. Throughout the film, we encounter Antoine’s problem with Juliette’s texts and why she won’t just settle for a clean break, Eric’s impossibility to settle down and commit to one girl with consequences, Marie who can’t bring herself to feel totally comfortable with any man, Max’s need for everything to be ‘just right’.

Les Petits Mouchoirs throws us into the circle of the friends and the paradise of their lives. We have our own opinions and own advice to give on their lives and dilemmas. I won’t give too much of the storyline away because it’s such a sweet film that half the fun of watching it is discovering how all their lives develop and come together to finish in one tear-jerking end.  

The realistic characters, subtle humour and sweet relationships make this film far from boring and more heartwarming which other films have failed to do in the past. The characters have real chemistry with one another on screen and blend together effortlessly.

Although my internet is playing up and not letting me use netflix and therefore I can’t hunt out some vocab for you, I leave you with this song which you will find a snippet played in the film. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQwsiIlIfH8

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8/10

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Dans La Maison

dans la maison

Director: François Ozon

Drawing us into a world full of danger through spying on our neighbours, Dans La Maison offers us the turbulent lives of the Artole family on a plate, learning a few lessons himself and also teaching others as well.

Given the task of writing about his weekend for his French Literature class, the insanely talented Claude Garcia (played by Ernst Umhauer) describes the home life of a fellow student: Rapha Junior (Bastien Ughetto) who he singles out during maths when he finds that Rapha is failing. Using his mathematics ability to tutor Rapha and pushed by his literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Claude delves further into the Artole’s life. Befriending the father, Rapha Senior (played by Denis Ménochet) and seducing his wife, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) are parts of his infiltration into the Artole household which he documents weekly and hands into his teachers.

Claude finds his way into the Artole's life

Claude finds his way into the Artole’s life

Although encouraging him to improve his writing ability, we see Germain become increasingly obsessed with the Artole household, pushing the boundaries further and further. He is controlled by his desire to read Claude’s writing, which is fueled by frequent visits. He subtly threatens Germain that he’ll stop writing if he can’t access the Artole household anymore. This means that he needs to access maths papers, in order to prove his ability as a maths tutor to Rapha’s parents.

Although initially it starts off as a childish obsession with Claude, wanting to know how the Artole’s live, what makes them tick, what living in a normal family is like Dans La Maison takes a sinister turn when Germain humiliates Rapha in front of the class. Suddenly, things become a little bit more real for Germain, he realises that it’s not just a faraway story, but real people with real lives that he’s pushing Claude to toy with. Frequently, he appears as an external being in the Artole household, suggesting how Claude could twist the writing, twist the plot.

Reading the essays to his wife Joanne who works at the local gallery (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), Germain and Joanne discuss the lives of the Artole family as if they were discussing a soap opera. Joanne has a more weary attitude claiming that Claude may indeed be teaching Germain a lesson.

Dans La Maison switches between the Artole household and the Germain household, drawing parallels between both worlds. We realise that we know so much about the Artole’s, a fair bit about the Germain’s but hardly anything about Claude’s own family. We are introduced to Claude as this shy individual with an ‘absent mother’, whereas Rapha is introduced to us as a family unit. The Germain’s and the Artole’s become worryingly close when invited to a gallery showing by Joanne, striking fear in Germain’s heart.

Spotting the Artole family at the gallery

Spotting the Artole family at the gallery

Still, getting darker, we see Claude invade the personal lives of older women – Esther and Germain’s wife Joanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) for example. What makes this film so clever is how Claude plays on the interest of other characters. Both women want more than just what they’ve got and so Claude eases his way into their lives, Germain is addicted to new information and gossip and so Claude traps him in a game in which he repeats A suivre…” and Rapha longs for something a little bit ‘different’ to his classmates.

I can’t talk to much without giving it away, but it is definitely worth a watch and you’ll enjoy it completely!

8/10

A suivre – to be continued

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La Naissance des Pieuvres

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Director: Céline Sciamma

Literally meaning ‘The Birth of Octopuses’, La Naissance des Pieuvres depicts a coming of age story set around three girls, brought together through synchronised swimming.

Marie, Anne and Florianne all share one passion: they love the swimming pool and are each incredibly different from one another. Flawless Florianne (Adèle Haenel)- the girl who’s the dream of many boys and men alike and hated by almost all of the other girls at the swimming pool, Marie who has been described as a tomboy but I think is just grumpy and rude (Pauline Acquart) and who is drawn to the swimming pool through her (slightly worrying) obsession with Florianne and Anne, the geeky and outspoken friend who I absolutely adore (Louise Blachère).

Marie and Florianne, after a day of Marie being Florianne's servant

Marie and Florianne, after a day of Marie being Florianne’s servant

New friends Florianne and Marie

New friends Florianne and Marie

Marie, infatuated with Florianne, starts to follow her (creepily) in order to get to the swimming pool, she watches Marie shower and frequently gets upset when Marie kisses a different boy, or goes off with one of them. Other girls say that Florianne is a slut and at one point, one girl calls her out on it, whilst Florianne is eating a banana. Kudos to Florianne, she turns round and verbally smacks that girl down. (This is possibly the best her character gets. Not that it’s any bad acting on Haenel’s part as I’ve seen her in L’Apollonide and she was fantastic in that, and here she plays the pompous, stereotypical ‘It’ girl effortlessly.)

Anyway, Marie and Florianne hit it off – though I’m not entirely sure how. For half of the film we’re convinced that Marie is being used as Florianne’s slave – doing her hair, walking with her to meet boys and generally running errands in order to be granted entrance to the swimming club and then suddenly after they talk about Florianne’s experiences with boys, they hit it off. Although slightly confusing, it may be a pointed reference to the confusing time that both girls are going through – discovering their sexuality through their friendship and how Marie feels rejected everytime Florianne kisses a boy or flirts.

Around the same time, Marie ditches Anne. Not enough is said about Anne. She is amazing. Though, unfortunately shes the ‘overweight’ character when in reality, I don’t really think she is overweight at all. The ‘overweight’ character in most films really gets on my nerves just because they’re usually seen as a joke, and I might write about it on my other blog (a feminist blog which you can find here.) Marie pretty much ditches Anne by calling her fat and childish. Nice. I guess in a way, this really does bring us back to reality. We’re so swept up in Marie and Florianne’s relationship (or at least we’re supposed to be) that we forget that they are 15 year old girls. This verbal slap from Marie shows us that yep, we’re definitely back in high school here.

Feeling sour about her relationship with Florianne, Marie takes out her frustration on Anne.

Feeling sour about her relationship with Florianne, Marie takes out her frustration on Anne.

Of course, the theme that runs through this is ‘coming of age’. Marie and Florianne discovering their sexualities and Anne stuck in a period between childishness (otherwise known as being carefree and awesome) and trying to be more grown up (perhaps being used by a man – we’re not really sure). We can all look at Marie, Florianne and Anne and recognise a little bit of ourselves and other people that we know in each of them.

I’m in 2 minds about La Naissance des Pieuvres because on one hand, I appreciate that people who are much more artistic than me will probably find it genuinely interesting and insightful and I suppose I can relate to it slightly (only very slightly: I’m being generous here), on the other hand I think it’s OTT, boring and I want to slap some sense into Marie so she stops being so horrible to Anne.

3/10

 

Vocabulary

la conasse – bitch (stupid, offensive)

me cache! – Cover me!

les conneries – stupid stuff (bullshit) – very familiar!

les rêveries – daydreams

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L’Apollonide

L’Apollonide-PosterDirector: Bertrand Bonello

Set on the brink of the 20th century, L’Apollonide (also known for its English title: ‘House of Tolerance’) is set in a Parisian brothel, where a group of women enjoy a seemingly luxurious lifestyle full of champagne, expensive clothing and earning money through sex. However, all is not well as Marie-France, the owner of the brothel played by Noémie Lvovsky, could lose the business which she has built up so carefully.

Treated like objects of desire by many of the men to come to visit, the ladies of L’Apollonide are anything but objects. They’re full of life. L’Apollonide does not act to document the harsh experiences of prostitutes in brothels in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, instead it serves to delve into the lives of a group of women who live in the brothels and the trials and tribulations that they experience.

Treated like objects: Men choose which girl they want to sleep with that evening

Treated like objects: Men choose which girl they want to sleep with that evening

To begin with, we’re introduced to Madeleine, originally nicknamed ‘La Juive’ (played by Alice Barnole) who is infatuated with her lover. She often dreamt of him proposing and paying her off her debt to Marie-France, so that she could live with him. However, she does state that she sometimes feel like he wants to hurt her. He ties her up and slashes her face with a knife – rendering her almost ‘useless’ in terms of prostitution and disfiguring her for life by giving her a sick grin, similar to that of The Joker from the Batman series. She becomes “La Femme Qui Rit” (The Woman Who Laughs). She becomes a servant, or maid, for the other girls initially but does in fact gain some independence by using her disfigurement as a sort of ‘freak show’.

Madeleine: Making the most of her facial disfigurement

Making the most of her facial disfigurement

We also meet Clotilde, or ‘Belle Cuisse’, (played by Céline Salette, who you may recognise from Les Revenants). Struggling with an opium addiction and feeling the strain of being one of the oldest in the house, she shows us the side of ‘losing your value’. She is pushed out by the young Pauline, who becomes “La Petite”, who attracts her lover. As well as feeling for the girls in terms of abuse and neglect, we also realise how dangerous it is for some of them to be in this line of work. “La Caca”, one of the girls catches syphilis and is therefore ‘dumped’ by her client – though he still pays for her lodging.

It is necessary to remember that Marie-France still looks after her girls, selling them off to other houses when her brothel goes under, to keep them off the streets. She cares for them and could be said to have a soft-hearted approach despite her cold exterior upon first meeting this character. She allows Madeleine to stay, despite her disfigurement, she takes on Pauline. She cares for each and every one of the girls.

The ‘sisterhood’ element of L’Apollonide is prominent – the girls show each other respect and stand up for one another, as well as laughing off their own experiences. We watch them dance together, hug, talk, laugh and not show any signs of ‘bitchiness’. There is no ‘competition’ element which is often refreshing in a film which depicts a group of many girls together.  In fact, right at the very end, we see the girls grieve for the death of another and also ‘take revenge’ on the man who hurt, all wearing make up resembling the scars on Madeleine’s face.

The ending of L’Apollonide shows Clotilde in present day Paris, still working as a prostitute but on the streets. It shows her grainy, grey, washed out and tired. Different from the luxurious lifestyle she experienced in the 20th century, perhaps demonstrating the endless cycle of prostitution in life today.

Overall, a fantastic and emotional watch, if not a little confusing at some parts. (Pay attention to names…they each have 2.)

9/10

Vocabulary:

La Juive – the Jewess

La cicactrice – the scar

 

 

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Polisse

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Director: Maïwenn

Polisse, (the name being a childish version of the word ‘Police’)  is not for the faint-hearted. Documentary-style Polisse tugs at the heartstrings and slaps us in the face with the harsh reality of life in the Juvenile Protection Unit of the Police Department in Paris.

Melissa (Maïwenn herself), a journalist who arrives to investigate the Juvenile Protection Unit falls for Fred (played by Joey Starr) – a sensitive yet quick-to-temper character, who already has a wife and daughter. Although this may seem like one of the simplest ‘forbidden’ love stories of all time, it is complicated by the interweaving relationships between the various members of staff. The stresses of their jobs affecting their relationships with both friends and partners.

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Talking to children about the abuse they’ve suffered is not an easy job, as the film covers.

The great thing about this film is that it’s jam-packed with emotion – believable emotion towards child-abuse. This, teamed with documentary-style footage, keeps a ‘realistic’ element to the whole film. For me, documentary is a very effective way of conveying drama in a workplace. For example, look at Entre les Murs (otherwise known as The Class); the documentary style keeps it from looking too clean and too perfect, it enables us to connect with the cast and understand the situations that they find themselves in. 

Although I can highly commend this film for not holding back on the details, I would not recommend it to everyone. For those of you who find scenes of child abuse or scenes of talking about child abuse disturbing, this film is not for you. Similarly, those who can’t deal the idea of abortion, you might want to skip one of the scenes. It has to be said, that this scene definitely made me shed a tear. It manages to be halfway between tender and clinical. The young girl who whispers “sorry” to her child, reflects on the sad necessity of abortion that is so debated today. The fact that the baby can be used as evidence against the young girl’s rapist is also a point worth making: it doesn’t ‘protect’ the audience, the way a more ‘classic’ film might do and it shocks you. You are seeing what the characters see everyday.

Not only is there a vast array of characters in the Juvenile Protection Unit, but there is also an array of characters among the victims and abusers alike. We see those who are greasy slimeballs, to those who don’t understand what has happened, to those who ‘just can’t help themselves’. You do not warm to all the police force – in fact you may find yourself siding with Iris (Marina Foïs) or Nadine (Karin Viard). 

Polisse is definitely worth a watch: it tackles modern issue which are much in debate today. For example, we witness Nora (played by Naidra Ayadi) tackling sexism in Islam and Fred undergoing the procedure of bathing his daughter, telling her that ‘daddies don’t go in the bath with daughters’. Polisse doesn’t just deal with the drama in the victim’s world as well, it’s necessary to understand that it deals with the victims in the police force – those who cannot deal with stress, those who lose the case for being too emotionally involved.

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“Where does it say [in the Qur’an] that women cannot work?”

Overall, Polisse is a little long and has a slightly bizarre ending but is well-constructed and elegantly done in terms of handling such delicate situations: it does not bombard you with sick images, nor does it drown you in morals. It hands situations to the audience and they can decide how they feel about them. Some may complain that it can come across boring or confusing in parts, which I would agree with. The ending left me racking my brains for what could have led to that outcome. For me, it almost felt as if the writers needed a definite ending and this was the way to go.

7/10

Vocabulary:

frotter – to rub 

tromper qqn – to cheat on somebody

 un fugueur, une fugueuse – a runaway (from home)

les vergetures – stretchmarks

un foyer – a home

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Elle s’appelait Sarah

sarahs key

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Based on the chilling novel by Tatiana de Rosnay which focuses on the 1942 Vel D’Hiv Round Up, Elle s’appelait Sarah manages to balance subtle horror with family ties.

Watching films about the Holocaust is usually a bad idea for me as I often end up as a blubbering mess by the end of it. However, Elle S’appelait Sarah (or Sarah’s Key) intrigued me: two stories of different lives weaving together – focused around one apartment.

Julia Jarmond (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), an American journalist living in Paris moves into the same apartment inhabited by the Starzynski family 60 years prior. Investigating the Vel d’Hiv round up of 1942, Jarmond discovers the story of Sarah who escaped the concentration camps in order to free her little brother from the cupboard she locked him when they were rounded up.

Michel and Sarah, rounded up 1942

Michel and Sarah, rounded up 1942

The beauty of Elle S’appelait Sarah lies in the delicacy in which it’s filmed. We do not see the majority of truly gruesome scenes: though it deals with death in a very matter of fact way. It also focuses on the kindness of strangers towards those in need. Sarah, teamed with her new friend Rachel, escape the camp thanks to one of the guards who helps them under the barbed wire, perhaps convinced by Sarah’s determination to free her brother from the closet. They come across an elderly couple who hide the two girls, until Rachel succumbs to her fever and dies shortly after being taken in. The elderly couple help Sarah find her way to Paris in order to save her brother.

Unlocking the cupboard

Unlocking the cupboard

We see how easily families can be torn apart in crisis. Not just literally as they were in the camps but also figuratively: Sarah’s parents – especially her father – chastise her for locking her brother in a cupboard in order to save him from the round up. Flashing forward 60 years and we see how the strain of what the apartment has become for Jarmond affects her relationship with her husband Bertrand Tezac (played by Frédéric Pierrot who you may also recognise as Jérôme from Les Revenants), whose family acquired the apartment shortly after the Starzynski’s were rounded up.

Delving through history, we skip through Sarah’s life as she grows up, trying to put the past behind her. The film, although focusing on guilt and shame, doesn’t feel heavy. We feel that eventually, Sarah is at peace and put to rest.

The acting is brilliant by all the cast: especially the younger actors. They manage to breathe life into an otherwise miserable and depressing time, keeping us hooked. Whilst our hearts are in our mouths, it’s the right level of nervousness, putting us in Sarah’s shoes as she desperately tries to save her younger brother.

The film is easy to follow though not for those who want to be fully immersed in a story: we are pulled from getting too attached to Sarah’s story as the film often flicks to Jarmond’s life. I would recommend it as an interesting and insightful watch, and is a relatively tame watch compared to films on the same subject such as The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. 

8/10

Vocabulary

les projecteurs (m) – searchlights

ombre – shade

fil de fer barbelé – barbed wire

les papiers d’identité – identity papers

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