LFF review: My Life as a Courgette

My Life as a Courgette (dir. Claude Barras, 2016) ★★★★

my-life-as-a-courgette

Orphanages conjure up images of the hard-knock life and servings of gruel. This tough, deeply moving, Céline Sciamma-penned, 66-minute stop-motion gem from France shows the flipside. Sure, harsh realities are inevitably encountered — sometimes in a more uncompromising fashion than you’ll ever see in what is ostensibly a children’s film — but Claude Barras’ feature-directing debut has heart enough.

Review continues at The Film Stage

Review: Grand Central

Grand Central

Grand Central (dir. Rebecca Zlotowski, 2013) 

The romance and the electrons are charged in this  French erotic thriller starring Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux as illicit lovers set in the shadow of a nuclear power plant.

Rahim is Gary, a working class nomad who finds a job decontaminating ageing cores at a rural power station. It’s better paid than normal, but that’s because of the danger of radioactive contamination, which reveals itself to be less a threat and more an everyday occurrence. He bonds with a local downtrodden traveller community with his boss, Toni (Denis Menochet), and Toni’s fiancée Karole, played by Seydoux, more guarded but just as sultry as she was in Blue is the Warmest Colour, which premiered in the same Cannes festival where Grand Central debuted.

In an effort to explain the effect of nuclear contamination, Karole plants a smacker on Gary, suggesting his weak-knees and dizziness is just what will happen after a radioactive dose. “You fail the dose”, she whispers, his heart beating faster and sweat on his brow. Of course, that’s not the last kiss between the two, as they embark on a romance prompted by elemental feelings – is the nuclear plant taking life of its own charging the atmosphere?

The strange beauty of their surroundings, and the menace that lies beneath, reminded me of the erotic drama Stranger by the Lake, released earlier this year. It doesn’t always work: the sex is perfunctory, and Rahim and Seydoux show only the bare bones of emotional attachment to each other, but director Zlotowski holds your gaze, revealing a strange and unfettered sophistication to this murky affair.

Altogether more successful are the scenes inside the station itself, and there’s real currency in that it’s filmed at an actual plant in Austria that was built but never operated. As if to emphasise, the scenes in Gary’s rural community outside are filmed in 35mm, while the inside the plant it’s crisper HD, all played to a eerie score by French electronic artist Rob that ratchets up the tension.In Gary’s plant, employees have to keep their radiation levels down in order not to be laid off. One manager warns, “You might lose your job, but you’ll keep your health,” but to Gary, desperate for work, fabricating his records comes instinctively. At one point he rescues Toni, now a romantic foil, in an accident at the plant, exposing himself to dangerous radiation levels in the process. But it’s as stupid as it is brave (“Why did you take your gloves off?” one colleague asks) as we come to understand these contracted workers haven’t nearly the training that this kind of work entails, hired instead as cheap, willing labour for a difficult task.

Zlotowski doesn’t go for a political theme – this is no China Syndrome – so her directorial command felt a little slack here, especially faced with France’s nuclear industry, which provides 80% of the country’s energy needs. Still, the shadow of the Fukushima disaster surely weighs heavily – as the levels go up, we’re heading for a meltdown, emotional and radioactive.

Reviewed for CineVue here

#Berlinale review: In the Courtyard

In the Courtyard (Dans La Cour) (dir. Pierre Salvadori) ★★★

Catherine Deneuve graces the Berlinale once more with Pierre Salvadori’s In the Courtyard, a delicate Parisian tragicomedy about a community in an upmarket Parisian apartment block. Dark and emotionally complex, it still offers moments of eccentric silliness. French TV comedian Gustave Kervern stars as Antoine, a grizzled, lonely drunkard who abruptly walks off stage at his band’s gig in the opening scene. In the meantime, he drinks high percentage beer and ogres around talking to himself, but after a trip to a job centre, Antoine somehow finds himself being interviewed for a concierge position.

For the rest of my review, click here.

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