Highlighting complex human relationships and family ties, the 24th French Film Festival was held last July 17-20, 2019 at Cinematheque Centre Davao. A roster of eight out of 15 films graced Davao’s prime venue for movie buffs. Not to mention, the said film festival has been praised worldwide for proudly brandishing some of the best contemporary French masterpieces. We selected Lidia Terki’s ‘Paris La Blanche’ and Rachel Lang’s ‘Baden Baden’ to assess this claim.
Paris La Blanche
Paris La Blanche is a sentimental, yet sluggishly paced 2017 French drama film about a desperate woman searching tirelessly for a long-lost husband who has shrouded himself in the gloomy streets of Paris.
The film first raises it curtains on a worrisome Algerian wife, Rekia (Tassadit Mandi), seated next to her children around a dining table. Her children are cautiously warning her not to find her husband, Nour (Zahir Bouzerar). It is made apparent that Nour has long immigrated and disappeared in France for several years. Steadfast with her resolve that she could reunite with her husband in Paris, Rekia leaves the rocky, rural landscape of her village and sets sail to a bustling, foreign city. She is unaware of the confounding path set upon her as she meets several complications along the way.
With a straightforward message, Paris La Blanche simply conveys how some immigrants are unwilling to return to their families out of fear of being rejected. The concept sounds simple enough, but it is often executed in a dull, unexciting matter that would leave audiences checking their watches from time-to-time.
What must be the most appealing factor in the film is its cinematography. The use of panoramic shots is apparent especially during the first half of the movie where the lively city of Algiers and the aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean Sea are greatly showcased for their splendor. This is later juxtaposed with several scenes shot in the greyish-blue streets and apartments of a busy Paris to really drive home the point that Rekia is thrown into a whole new world beyond her village in Algeria. With some beautifully-shot scenes on display, the film is at least pleasing to watch at a visual standpoint.
Where the film truly stumbles is in its screenplay, written by Colo Tavernier, which is often unmoving. It usually fails to elicit any emotions, with the exception of Rekia’s desperate acts to find Nour or their short-lived joyous date around Paris. In those rare instances, the audience gets to enjoy fleeting moments of a slumbering story moving its gears. One-dimensional side characters also populate the film ranging from a weary restaurant waitress to a kind-hearted male stranger on a street. Coincidentally, they all happen to be immigrants like Nour. Although they all become useful stepping stones for Rekia to get from one point to another in her exhausting journey, they ultimately contribute nothing to the value of the story.
On the brighter side of things, the film has meaningful topicalities on migration and the significance of family to a person. This focus on valuing family relationships is best exemplified by Rekia who remains to be the sole emotional hook in the film. Despite failing to persuade an apprehensive Nour to come home with her back to Algeria, Rekia explicitly says that she will never stop until she will succeed. It is at that point that the film has truly reached its zenith, but it unfortunately ends abruptly, leaving the audience to speculate whether Rekia is successful in her future endeavors to bring her immigrant husband back.
Paris La Blanche is by no means an insubstantial film; however, it suffers so much for being uninventive with its execution and for simply functioning as a risk-averse contemporary drama. It could have made a greater impact if it was taken to a different direction.
Following last month’s “Quick Change”, this review on “Paris La Blanche” is my second film to have been featured in Cinematheque Davao. In attendance were mostly college students, a handful of professionals, and two senior ladies. It is worthy to note that some of these viewers may have had a higher opinion of the film than me, for they had shortly applauded at the movie’s end.
Note: This review contains spoilers.
“Funny parts were funny, boring parts were boring.” This was my off-the-cuff reply when a colleague asked my thoughts on “Baden Baden”, Rachel Lang’s 2016 debut feature, to the laughter of my confused superior.
I stand by what I said. With a good soundtrack, the dramedy film has moments of hilarity and hints of realism but it was overshadowed by other bland and stale elements.
The story follows Ana (Salomé Richard) in her mid-20s figuring out life. She looks like Dakota Johnson in a pixie cut. She gets yelled at by her boss, gets angry, sings and literally drives the frustration away and shortly after, gets ticketed. She makes new friends, rekindles past romance, and meets potential lovers. She also bonds with her parents, occasionally.
In what could apparently be considered the film’s conflict, Ana’s softspoken and witty grandmother (Claude Gensac) was kept for hospital treatment after she slipped, which prompted Ana to remake her bathroom. She seeks help from Grégoire (Lazare Gousseau), an awkward store assistant who develops a crush on her. In a humorous scene, they both grunt and hump and yank the bathtub out of the tiles the camera made them look like they’re clumsily copulating.
Dramatic bits involve conversations between Ana and her family. These chats, even with the guys she encounters, hinted an underlying conflict—that she is lost, so to speak. Like light seedheads moving through the blows of the wind, Ana navigates her pathless journey through the people in her life. In the end, we are left to judge her situation.
The film, however, as a whole looks like a failed attempt on the slice of life genre. Its lack of structure and ambiguous dreams scenes worked against it. Rather than mirror its familiar earthly mundanity, the film might probably remind someone of life’s confusingness and tediousness.
The aforesaid dream-like imagery involves (presumably) Ana wandering in the misty woods naked. It perhaps reflects how she is both free and lost at the same time. But the scene’s insertion was ambitious enough that didn’t quite fit the film’s groundedness. Maybe I just didn’t get it, being the guy who enjoyed only the amusing parts. But if that’s true I shouldn’t be the one to blame for I tried my best and I tried hard to get it—and in experiencing films of this kind, one should not.