Tag: elodie bouchez

The Imperialists Are Still Alive!

The Imperialists Are Still Alive! (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Somewhere deep inside “The Imperialists Are Still Alive!,” written and directed by Zeina Durra, is a well-meaning commentary about the effects of war on the lives of immigrants living in America. Instead, for the most part, it sandwiches emotions that should be taken seriously, like the fear of losing a loved one from bombings, kidnappings, and violence, between comedic, ironic, or satirical situations. While this bold approach might have worked with a profound screenplay as well as a confident and focused direction, it is clear that such is not the case here. What results is a mishmash of tone and techniques, often mistaking cinéma vérité for meandering bore.

Asya (Élodie Bouchez) is a conceptual artist whose father is Jordanian-Lebanese and mother is Bosnian-Palestinian. She is from Paris but she is connected to her cultures. When she meets Javier (José María de Tavira), a Mexican lawyer in the process of completing his Ph.D. in Medieval Law, while leaving a party, they do not exactly start on the same page but they end up sleeping on the same bed.

I did not know what to make of the romance. Bouchez and de Tavira look good together, but the romance shared between their characters does not go anywhere interesting. Perhaps this is because we never get the chance to get to know them as separate people. Aside from their ethnicities and what they do, not once do we get to experience the essence of their inner sanctums. While they walk around the streets of New York City, there is a lack of tension or danger—in their minds, with each other, and among the diverse people they encounter. It is never a good sign when you notice the characters’ wardrobes and start questioning how they manage to afford what they have on when it appears that they do not have stable jobs. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area but I imagine the living cost in NYC is not cheap.

There are a few scenes that are savagely funny, intentional or accidental. The one that easily comes to mind is an early scene that takes place in the women’s restroom. Tatiana (Karolina Muller) has locked herself in one of the stalls. She is crying and inconsolable because she has received news that a friend is taken into a rendition aircraft whilst on a commercial flight. While the girls console their friend, the camera cuts to a restroom attendant who seems to be on the verge of laughter.

That woman caught my attention because if I were in her shoes, I probably would have had the same reaction. I think that there is something funny, ludicrous about individuals who cannot get a grip on their emotions in a public place. If it really is that personal, at least find a secluded spot. Otherwise, it appears as though one is putting on a show.

When the material takes a jab on a sort of hipster lifestyle, it works. There is a sequence involving Asya’s group of friends, presumably rich or who have parents that are rich, visiting a bar that is highly exclusive—hidden at the back of a poorly-lit Chinese restaurant—only to take one drink and leave just as quickly. I found it amusing because the taxi ride to get there took a whole lot more time than the group spending time with their drinks. As one gets up to leave, the others follow like sheep. A “regular” person, like myself, would have said something like, “Why are we leaving already?”

But the movie is not a comedy. In a way, scenes that are supposed to be deadly serious, such as Asya being in a state of constant anxiety for not knowing if her brother is still alive, are cheapened because there is a lack of transition between comedy and drama. There should have been more telephone conversations between Asya and her brother. We do not see his face but we can image what is all around him. The other line tells a story with just sounds: explosions, trucks, and panic. It is stunning that we spend the entire film with Asya but, for the most part, it is a whole lot of nothing.

Full Speed

Full Speed (1998)
★★ / ★★★★

“À toute vitesse” (also known as “Full Speed”), directed by Gaël Morel (“Three Dancing Slaves”), had an interesting premise but the journey to the finish was too all over the place to earn a recommendation. Quentin (Pascal Cervo) decided to return to his hometown along with his girlfriend Julie (Élodie Bouchez) after his first book was published. He quickly reconnected with one of his best friends from childhood named Jimmy (Stéphane Rideau) but Julie was slowly falling for him. During a night at a club, Quentin spotted Samir (Mezziane Bardadi) and the two decided to be friends despite their awareness of the attraction that they had for each other. However, Quentin was still in the closet and tried to resist every move Samir made which sometimes ended up in violence. At first I thought I could relate with Quentin the most because he was sort of like a brooding artist as he tried to make a life for himself, while at the same time kept others at a distance by building a wall around his true self. I could relate to that because I felt like I was like that once upon a time. However, throughout the picture, I did not see any evolution in his character, no attempt from his angle to realize and change that he was hurting the three people who really cared for him. As arguably the lead character, I felt that he was very selfish with no redeeming qualities so I felt disconnected from him half-way through. Thankfully, what saved this film was the strained relationship between Julie and Jimmy. Even though they were very different, there shared a certain passion for each other that was sometimes very romantic. As for Samir’s obsession toward Quentin, I felt that it was too shallow to ultimately be believable. Samir talked as if he loved Quentin even though that longing was one-sided. To me, his obsession was purely for the sake of a physical relationship because he was lonely and was missing his boyfriend who passed away. I don’t think “Full Speed” was a bad film. It just did not completely work for me because the writing needed more focus and substance. I got a little tired watching the characters doing drugs, having sex, and engaging in meaningless conversations. The characters were in their 20s but they offered no insight that made me stop and think, “Hey, this is actually worth my time.”

Wild Reeds

Wild Reeds (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Wild Reeds,” directed by André Téchiné impressed me in every way. In under two hours, the film was able to efficiently describe the complexity of four characters in the middle of adolescence. While all of them attend the same boarding school, they cannot be any more different. François Forestier (Gaël Morel) realizes that he’s gay due to his attraction to Serge Bartolo (Stéphane Rideau), a working-class French-Italian whose brother died in a war. François’ worst enemy is himself: he doesn’t know what to do with his recent realization so he constantly tries to look for support because not even his closest friend Maïté Alvarez (Élodie Bouchez from “Alias”) can help him out due to her initial attraction to him. Even though François and Serge slept together once, Stéphane is not gay and this bothered François to his core. Things get even more complicated when Henri Mariani (Frédéric Gorny) comes into the picture; being a French-Algerian, his passion toward his support for France’ colonization of Algeria created tension among his teachers, classmates, and even himself. Being an outcast, François sees something in him, the two become friends, yet their relationship does not become predictable. All those elements made the story fascinating and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

This is no doubt a coming-of-age film but it’s more organic than American films of the same subgenre. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t watching a movie at all. It felt like a story that could’ve happened back in the 1960’s because of how affected the characters are by the war. Not one of them is not affected by the politics and it was interesting to explore their psychologies. Although I was particularly touched by François’ struggles when it comes to self-acceptance versus self-rejection (that mirror scene was both brilliant and heartbreaking), I was very interested in Maïté’s mother (Michèle Moretti), who happens to be the three boys’ teacher. She felt so guilty about not helping Serge’s brother evade the war, she pretty much went crazy after his death. That one scene when she was at the hospital was so haunting, it gave me serious goosebumps. Just one small scene of less than three minutes was enough to truly paint how tortured she was by her guilt so I was very impressed. Moreover, I was satisfied with how Téchiné divided the time between the four lead characters. When each of them was under the spotlight, we truly get to know why they ended up the way they were because they talk about their past and their current thoughts on the matter. Yet at the same time, it does not result to the usual melodrama where they cry so that the audiences will feel sorry for them. In fact, they do the opposite: they try to be so strong but an outsider can (or should be able to) tell that they’re on the verge of breaking down. I was highly impressed with the acting from the four leads because I felt like they had subtlety and they always had something going on behind their eyes. In a nutshell, these are the type of characters I’d like to be friends with because they do not thrive on superficiality.

“Wild Reeds” is truly one of the best coming-of-age films I’ve seen. The characters have a certain emotional intelligence that one rarely sees in such a subgenre, especially in American coming-of-age pictures. Being released in 1994, it goes to show that a thoughtful coming-of-age movie does not need to feature excesses of alcohol, sex and loud music. It sets up an argument that self-discovery can happen right in our own small towns with people who we care about, the books that we love rereading and the current politics that we hear in the radio. This is the kind of movie that I want to add to my collection because of its many underlying themes that require multiple viewings. In my opinion, both fans of character studies and cinéphiles should not miss this gem.