It’s Bastille Day! Of the three big-name French films opening today, we like "Time to Leave," are lukewarm on "Changing Times" and loathed "Gabrielle" when we saw it at the New York Film Festival last year. Also opening are William H. Macy-does-Mamet "Edmond," Edward Burns remaking (an apparently somewhat better version of) the same movie he always does in "The Groomsmen," and indie sex comedy "The OH in Ohio," with the unexpectedly high-end cast of Parker Posey, Paul Rudd and Marissa Cooper…er, Mischa Barton.
+ "Gabrielle": Everyone (except us) apparently loves Patrice ChÃ©reau‘s adaptation of Joseph Conrad novella "The Return" â€” even the New York Press‘ Armond White, who calls the film "a formalistic tour de force," but still manages to get his digs in at someone: "Measuring art by the intricacies of the cultural past is a more enlightened approach than the specious historicism of movies like ‘The Notorious Bettie Page’ and Hou Hsiao Hsien‘s ‘Three Times.’" (To be honest, we’re not sure what he means there â€” theories and explications would be appreciated.) At the Village Voice, Dennis Lim approaches the film from the angle of the original novella, and finds it "as compact and precise as the Conrad original, and a stunning reinvention of the period chamber drama." He, and others, calls out Chereau’s use of intertitles splashed across the screen at key moments: "a curious affectation that confers a spectral, antique quality on the proceedings but also has a perversely bracing, almost Pop Art effect."
Manohla Dargis, who calls "Gabrielle" "a film of eccentric beauty and wild feeling," notes of the actors "[Isabelle] Huppert, one of the screenâ€™s great criers (second only to Juliette Binoche), spends much of the film with a flush and damp face, suffering in sepulchral silence while [Pascal] Greggory brilliantly rages." Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir salutes Chereau’s filmmaking:
[H]e tries to stretch the cinematic medium to the breaking point. The film hopscotches between black-and-white and color sequences, without any obvious system. Patches of the film are silent, with huge, intrusive intertitles to convey information and even lines of dialogue. As ChÃ©reau admits, the editing deliberately violates the established grammar of cinema, so that the camera seems to skip around the couple’s opulent rooms, and we sometimes see events happen more than once from different points of view.
He does slip in, however: "But is it easy, or delightful, or fun? It is not."
And the indieWIRE/Reverse Shot group loves it.
+ "Time to Leave": "Curiously, the melodramatic elements of ‘Time to Leave’ â€” the moments of emotional display, the surges of music â€” help to insulate the film from sentimentality," writes A.O. Scott. He seems to like FranÃ§ois Ozon‘s film, while pointing out that it "explains very little, choosing instead to emphasize the essential paradox that an individualâ€™s life is never complete and always over too soon." Andrew O’Hehir is more explicit:
It’s a magnificent miniature, a supremely tender work that’s full of emotion and even sentimentality, but that never stoops to fulfill the audience’s wishes or tries to make Romain ([Melvil] Poupaud) any more likable on death’s door than he was before.
He also notes that "It’s good, at least in theory, to see the great Jeanne Moreau in an important cameo as Romain’s grandmother, although I’m sorry to say you may be shocked by her appearance." Well, she is way old. At New York, David Edelstein finds "thereâ€™s something distasteful about Ozonâ€™s unexamined solipsism," but muses that "The way in this film that tortured people dramatize their rage and longing via sex reminds you how much is missingâ€”a world of experienceâ€”in the American cinema."
At the Village Voice, Dennis Lim is a touch hostile: "’Time to Leave’ amounts simply to a semi-thoughtful disease-of-the-week weepie, admirable in its restraint but shying from the terror of the situation." He also complains that the film "winds up a tiresome affirmation of man’s biological duty to procreate; the position is simplistic verging on obnoxious, especially after 5×2’s attack on the hetero family model."
Much of the movieâ€™s charm lies in its sheer vitality. Mr. TÃ©chinÃ© loves people and life, and every scene is filled with light, music, activity and a sensuous appreciation of landscape.
Armond White similarly claims of TÃ©chinÃ© that "No current filmmaker is more deft and incisive."
To put it simply, "Changing Times" is an amazing film to look at: images keep moving and new characters keep appearing as relationships expand and complicate. TÃ©chinÃ©â€™s style recalls Altman but is resolutely unCassavetes â€” never pausing to outstare or contemplate â€” he keeps moving, furiously.
He also calls it "the film of the year." Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice would beg to disagree he writes that "TÃ©chinÃ© has always been an electric image maker, but his narratives are prone to diffusion or clichÃ©, and there may not be a single propulsively written story in his 30-year filmography." He finds that the film never pulls itself together, a grumble repeated by Andrew O’Hehir, who writes "[I]t’s kind of a mess. An agreeable, even lovable mess, but still a mess."