Tag: guillaume canet

Farewell


Farewell (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica), a member of the KGB who hopes to induce drastic changes in the U.S.S.R, is sent to meet with Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), a Frenchman living in Moscow with his family during the Cold War. Sergei has important information that he wishes to relay to the French government, but when he discovers that Pierre is just an engineer with no prior experience in espionage, he insists that further partnership is not a possibility. However, he realizes later that the engineer is the perfect liaison: no one will suspect him of being a spy.

Adapted from Sergei Kostine’s book, “L’affaire Farewell,” directed by Christian Carion, is a thriller that is downplayed for the most the part, turning part of its attention on the mechanics of passing on information: from an unofficial Russian spy who hopes that his action will make a better tomorrow for his son, French officials so willing to earn approval from higher-ups, to the Americans who wish acquire advantage over their rivals. What does not work is when the material focuses on Sergei and Pierre’s problems at home. The suspense is impeded by melodrama.

The picture surprised and tickled me in that information being transferred from one group to another does not involve plans of political assassination, which areas will be bombed and when, or who is hiding where. Instead, considered highly valuable are things like notes on space shuttles, blueprints of a plane, scientific research, and the like—intellectual pursuits, a competition of knowledge, rather than of killing.

Though the Cold War is now the past, it remains fascinating. If anything, the film reminded me why I was fascinated with this specific time in history when I learned about it in high school. Also, though it is very relevant today, it made me consider that maybe I am getting a little bit tired of watching movies about the war in the Middle East. About eight times out of ten, they are indiscernible: played for entertainment rather than attempting to make a genuine presentation of the elusive truth and the horrors of war.

Suspense is embedded in the small moments: being followed by members of the Soviet party in the subway, being stopped and asked for papers, and sneaking into an office to acquire crucial files. It is likely that many of us are unfamiliar with Sergei and Pierre’s real-life counterparts, their stories, so it is unpredictable. In addition, the picture establishes an atmosphere of paranoia that it feels like that the duo can be caught at any time. Maybe there is a reason why their accomplishments are not known universally.

I just did not care for Pierre and Sergei’s personal lives. Scenes involving who is cheating, which father feels like his son is drifting away, whose wife is upset when she discovers her husband’s extracurricular activities—these are executed with not enough urgency. As a result, shots that might work—a close up, for example, designed to highlight the fears and desperation of the men and as well as their wives—feel like they are ripped right out of daytime soaps. If the professional and the personal spheres had been given opposite tones, exploring them might have felt more natural. Instead, what we have is a picture that is an effective thriller but an ineffective drama.

Last Night


Last Night (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington), a married couple, attended a party but it didn’t go so well. When they got back to their apartment, because of a look Joanna caught across the room, she accused Michael of cheating with his beautiful co-worker named Laura (Eva Mendes). Michael insisted that absolutely nothing happened. The situation wasn’t alleviated by the fact that Michael had to leave on a business trip with Laura the next day. Meanwhile, Joanna bumped into Alex (Guillaume Canet), a former flame from two years ago when Joanna and Michael took a break from their relationship. “Last Night,” earnestly written and directed by Massy Tadjedin, could have been more involving if it had strived to make its protagonists less like caricatures and more like characters capable of defying our expectations. Joanna was written as nagging and paranoid while Michael was stoic and single-minded. We were supposed to relate to these characters but we were given too few reasons to do so. Joanna and Michael were each assigned a box and were not allowed to step out of it which made the experience lacking in flavor and color. One way or another we’ve felt some sort of physical attraction to another person despite being in a serious relationship. However, I found the whole charade both sexist and insulting. The impression I got was cheating equated to physical intimacy with another person. But we all know cheating isn’t just physical. In dramatic pictures, this film being a good example, it’s a problem when we are smarter than what we are watching because we end up feeling less involved or less connected to the characters who are supposedly going through a grueling trial. In any case, physical intimacy, not emotional entanglement, was at the material’s forefront because each scene thrived on questions like “Will she kiss him?” and “Will he have sex with her?” While such questions were legitimate, the physical aspect alone was only half of the equation. I wanted it to compel us to ask questions like what was going on in Joanna’s brain when Alex placed his hand so sensually on her leg, one of the many perfect opportunities for the the writer-director to playe with the film’s tone which was too dour, verging on soporific. When Alex invited Joanna to his room and revealed a second later that he was simply joking, I would have loved to have seen the disappointment in Joanna’s eyes when she learned that the possible attraction that she detected from him turned out to be false. Maybe she ought to have said a joke in return because in reality there are times when pain is nicely wrapped in jest. But the camera failed to make a personal connection with her reactions. We were left to observe at the distance. Furthermore, there was a lack of flow in cutting from one scene to another. Just when a scene reached a climax, the tension was disturbed because we were forced to look at another less interesting scene. Sometimes allowing the camera to linger, even if the conversation had gone stale, could highlight what was really going on underneath shaky formalities and confessions long overdue. “Last Night” felt superficial and at times sitcom-like in its view or treatment of infidelity. While beautifully shot, especially scenes that took place outside at night, its inside felt hollow.

Tell No One


Tell No One (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

I was really impressed with this French thriller because of how well-constructed the story was. In the first scene, the wife (Marie-Josée Croze) of Dr. Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) was murdered. Eight years later, he received a mysterious e-mail that suggested that she was alive. Questions then start popping up like hives and the film only gets better from there. Did the wife really die? Who was sending those strange e-mails? Who was really behind all the murder and deceit? There was no straight answer up until the very end so the audiences get a chance to play detective and get really involved with the plot. I liked the fact that when answers were being presented, they weren’t just done in a series of brief flashbacks like in mainstream American films. This movie really takes its time to explain what happened, why certain events happened, and how conclusions by different characters may get tangled up. There’s this constant theme of trying to stay one step ahead of another. This happens to the characters (especially Croze’s) and to the audiences (as we try to catch up and reevaluate the “truths” when each twist is revelead). Even though this is, without a doubt, a thriller motion picture, I found it interesting that there’s this gloom that pervaded the film. Moreover, even though the lead characters’ questions–one way or another–gets answered, the ultimatel message is what’s lost is lost; you can never go back to the way things were. The acting must be commended: François Berléand (as the detective), Kristin Scott Thomas (as Dr. Beck’s friend) and Nathalie Baye (as the thick-skinned lawyer). Each of them brought a certain edge and intelligence to their characters and it was fun to see how their dynamics with Croze change as the film progressed. Based on Harlan Coben’s novel, Guillaume Canet directed “Tell No One” with such focus and enthusiasm. That scene involving Croze running away from the police which involved a freeway is still so vivid in my mind. If one is looking for suspense that is astute and memorable (yet strangely touching), this is the one to see.