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last update 11.Aug.17
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After Love
3.5/5   L’Économie du Couple
dir Joachim Lafosse
scr Fanny Burdino, Mazarine Pingeot, Joachim Lafosse
prd Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon
with Berenice Bejo, Cedric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Margaux Soentjens, Jade Soentjens, Pascal Rogard, Philippe Jeusette, Annick Johnson, Francesco Italiano, Catherine Salee, Ariane Rousseau, Tibo Vandenborre
khan and bejo release Fr 10.Aug.16,
UK 28.Oct.16, US 9.Aug.17
16/France 1h40

london film fest
After Love Without a hint of sentimentality, filmmaker Joachim Lafosse precisely dissects a collapsing family. Subtle and honest, the film isn't easy to watch, but it's a striking exploration of how people protect themselves using bitterness and cruelty. Importantly, its most excruciating scenes never offer easy explanations or solutions. And the cast is impeccable.

As they divorce, Marie and Boris (Bejo and Kahn) continue living together to have a family life with their twin 8-year-old daughters (Margaux and Jade Soentjens). While they can barely stand to be near each other, Marie and Boris share tasks around the home, occasionally noticing the lingering embers of their affection. And probably without understanding what they're doing, the girls play their parents against each other. Worried about her granddaughters, Marie's mother (Keller) offers to have Boris move in with her while they fix their relationship. But Marie isn't having it.

Lafosse observes this clinically, carefully revealing perspectives through skilfully orchestrated long takes. This reveals layers of feeling and annoyance between people who are too familiar not to empathise with each other. They also know how to get under the skin with jabs and irritations, insisting that their arguments have nothing to do with their children. But the intensity of their screaming rows shows that the girls might be better if they split properly.

The actors are unnervingly raw. Bejo is pungent and unlikeable as Marie picks fights on all sides. Her facial expression rarely softens, sending visual daggers at everyone. So when a moment of emotion flickers in her eyes, it's genuinely powerful. Khan is more sympathetic as a man who loves his daughters (and probably still loves Marie) but is pushed over the brink as his ex-wife uses his low-paying job as a weapon against him then criticises and undermines his attempts to earn a living.

Of course, the argument is never that simplistic, and Marie demonstrates a depth of feeling along with her frustration that she simply can't love him anymore. The lack of a rational reason for all of this rage is a little irritating for the audience, although this forces us to engage with everything that happens, seeing it through our own filters while remembering that these two young girls are caught in the middle. All kinds of angles are explored in the script, from economic issues to trajectories of romance. But the overriding emotion is sadness.

12 themes, violence
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The Death of Louis XIV
4/5   La Mort de Louis XIV
dir Albert Serra
prd Thierry Lounas
scr Thierry Lounas, Albert Serra
with Jean-Pierre Leaud, Patrick d'Assumcao, Marc Susini, Jacques Henric, Bernard Belin, Irene Silvagni, Vicenc Altaio, Alain Lajoinie, Adrian Dunarintu, Francis Montaulard, Jacques Bontemps, Gabriel Wanner
release Fr 2.Nov.16,
US 31.Mar.17, UK 14.Jul.17
16/France 1h55

london film fest
The Death of Louis XIV The longest-reigning monarch in history, Louis XIV was France's king for 72 years until his death in 1715. Lavishly produced, this dark drama traces his final days by focussing on the faces of the characters, revealing their twisted inner thoughts. It's a murky, quiet, slow-moving film that mesmerises the audience through the sheer skill of the cast and director Albert Serra.

In the splendour of Versailles, Louis (Leaud) has been laid up by a pain in his leg, tended to by his doctor Fagon (d'Assumcao) and his valet Blouin (Susini). His courtiers hang on his every word, consulting him about various projects and crises. Reluctant to eat or rest properly, he is treated for his deteriorating leg while attempting to carry on his royal responsibilities. Fagon and Blouin whisper their concerns, clashing about their plan of action. There's also a priest (Henric), a surgeon (Belin) and others circling around, waiting for their moment to seize power.

Serra seems to light the sets with candles, cleverly adding a shadowy decay to the sumptuous sets and costumes, plus seriously epic wigs. Faces around Louis are plastered with fake smiles as they applaud his evey move, like taking a bite of food. Discussions are held in hushed voices, arguing about everything from acceptable medical practices and the king's diet to matters of the state. Everyone is so layered and honest that they bring surprising moments of emotion and intrigue.

Leaud's performance is magnificent, maned like a lion. But he reveals the man beneath the regalia: powerful but exhausted, aware that he's surrounded by sycophants who want everything from him. The performance is so towering that the supporting actors kind of blur into the shadows, even though each has a key role to play in the way events transpire. As the frazzled doctor, d'Assumcao has the strongest impact, fending off everyone's superstitious treatment options.

This tension between tradition and science is cleverly woven through conversations, reflecting the period and also adding ironic present-day resonance. Plus of course the metaphor of a man (or an empire) being poisoned by a gangrenous leg. Serra is clearly aiming for earthy realism and subtextual meaning, rather than entertainment value, so audiences need to be patient. The film is so exquisitely produced that it becomes oddly gripping for a two-hour movie about a man dying in his bed. And for those who stick with it, the ending is simply astonishing.

12 themes, grisliness

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3/5   La Mécanique de l’Ombre
dir Thomas Kruithof
scr Thomas Kruithof, Yann Gozlan
prd Thibault Gast, Matthias Weber
with Francois Cluzet, Denis Podalydes, Sami Bouajila, Simon Abkarian, Alba Rohrwacher, Philippe Resimont, Daniel Hanssens, Bruno Georis, Olivier Bony, Bernard Eylenbosch, Alexia Depicker, Nader Farman
cluzet release Fr 11.Jan.17,
UK 21.Jul.17
16/Belgium 1h28

london film fest
Scribe A twisty thriller with Hitchcockian overtones, this clever film throws an innocent man into a maze of intrigue and danger. With its knowingly old-school touches and present-day resonance, it feels like something that could easily happen. And watching the events unfold is seriously chilling even if the big finale gets a little too cerebral for its own good.

After suffering a breakdown and going through a 12-step programme for his alcohol abuse, lonely businessman Duval (Cluzet) is trying to put his life back together. His best job offer comes from the mysterious Clement (Podalydes), who wants him to transcribe audio recordings of phone conversations as part of a state surveillance system. But what Duval hears unsettles him, especially when colleague Gerfaut (Akbarian) gets him involved in some dicey after-hours activity. Then intelligence agent Labarthe (Bouajila) contacts Duval, asking him to spy on Clement. And Duval finds himself in way over his head.

Director-cowriter Kruithof gives the film a snaky pace, quietly twisting and turning through a series of enigmatic scenes. The flat in which Duval works feels like it's outside of time itself, with its vintage typewriter, cassette tapes and a prohibition on things like mobile phones. And everyone he meets is shifty, including the cops. A new layer of intrigue is added when he meets Sara (Rohrwacher): is she an addict in need of help, a plant from one of these shady factions or a plot device waiting to get kidnapped?

Cluzet gives a likeable turn as a haunted man trying to reboot his life in middle age, struggling against both economic realities and ageism. He just wants to get on with this job, but the nature of the work and the shifting morality begin to gnaw away at him. And he's certainly not as benign as he looks. The cast surrounding him are excellent at keeping their characters looking shifty.

While the people hold the interest, there are bigger themes that grab hold rather tenaciously. First is the setting amid a divisive election, eerily written and filmed long before the Trump or Le Pen campaigns, which are vividly foreshadowed. The darker political machinations also add a layer of chilling suspense that's tantalisingly out of view since Duval sees only pieces of the puzzle. Sometimes this offhanded approach is a little frustrating for the viewer, and the climactic revelation feels rather talky and abstract. But it's a vivid little thriller that's hard to shake.

15 themes, language, violence
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You Can’t Escape Lithuania
2.5/5   Nuo Lietuvos Nepabėgsi
dir-scr Romas Zabarauskas
prd John Flahive, Romas Zabarauskas
with Denisas Kolomyckis, Irina Lavrinovic, Adrian Escobar, Vaidas Baumila, Juste Arlauskaite-Jazzu, Petras Kuneika, Orijus Gasanovas, Solveiga Mykolaityte, Titas Motuzas, Justina Dirse, Dominykas Klajumas, Monika Biciunaite
escobar and kolomyckis
release Lit 18.Nov.16,
US/UK 10.Jul.17
16/Lithuania 1h21
You Can't Escape Lithuania Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas uses himself as the central character in this melodramatic thriller. It's a low-key, low-budget road movie that indulgently asks us to accept a plot that feels made up as he went along, never quite ringing true. At least the meta-story about a filmmaker trying to escape narrative strictures adds some zing.

Finding his latest film by promising naked photos to donors, Romas (Kolomyckis) is achieving fame at festivals but hasn't made any money. The star of his last movie, Indre (Lavrinovic), drops in for a visit while his beefy Mexican boyfriend Carlos (Escobar) is sleeping in the next room. With her hands covered in blood, Indre spins a story about returning from Russia to demand her fair inheritance from her mother, accidentally killing her in the process. Romas offers to help her get out of the country, but Carlos doesn't want to be involved.

Without a common language between them, what follows is a very frustrating drive for Carlos, who has no idea what Romas and Indre are talking about. And they rarely stop talking. Romas says he just has to help his friend, but his behaviour seems erratic. The textures of the relationships are believable but vague. Interludes include impromptu filmmaking, a spot of skinny dipping, inexplicable violence and a sudden stop to take in a beautiful landscape. Then Romas remembers that there happens to be a family cabin nearby.

The filmmaking has a crisp, intriguing style, although a corny electronic score continually undermines any real tension. The understated writing and direction build a sense of mystery, but Zabarauskas struggles to dig very deeply into the characters or situations. Bizarre swirling interludes overstate a random theme about desire and the search for meaning in life. But the main problem is that the premise makes no sense: Indre is simply running, ignoring the fact that she's too well-known to have any sort of a life unless she faces the music.

Acting from the three leads is solid if underpowered, so the shifting dynamic between them is rather implausible, as are some of their pointed conversations. Zabarauskas relies heavily on rambling dialog to express any big ideas, then cuts timidly from anything spicy. There are some very clever touches along the way, including skilful camerawork and witty touches, like the way everyone refers to him as "gay filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas" or that Indre tells him, "Romas, you have no talent!"

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall