Thursday, April 12, 2007

Movie Watch! - X2000 and Strayed

A few more movies watched, several more hours killed!

1) X2000 (1994-1998) - This collection of short films from French writer/director François Ozon is certainly, well, I don't really know how to describe it. The first short film, Truth or Dare (Action vérité), will surely be a disturbing four minutes to uninitiated American audiences. Little Death (La Petite mort) is intriguing enough, following a gay photographer's relationship with his dying father. Bedtime Stories (Scènes de lit) is a collection of seven short scenes, each with a pair of French folk about to engage in sexual encounters. No scene is longer than a few minutes, and each tells a humorous or chilling or telling side of how sex changes relationships. Particularly of note is the scene Les Puceaux, which stars a young Jérémie Elkaïm in one of his first roles. This was probably the role that got him the lead in Presque rien. The last short film, X2000, is a typically confusing, inexplicable French art film, showing three nude couples in Paris on January 1, 2000. It was sparse in dialogue, loaded with symbolism, and chockful of nudity (including a bit of incest). Lovely. All in all, it was a mildly engaging 65 minutes. 5/10

2) Strayed (Les Égarés) (2003) - The story starts out in 1940 France, following the mass exodus of Paris after the fear of German bombing strikes. On the trail, in their car with all their belongings, a mother and her two children look for new hope somewhere south. But after a German plane shoots down some of the other travelers along the trail, a devilishly handsome, extremely mysterious young man comes and whisks the family of three into the forest. The family eventually follow the young man into a gorgeous abandoned house in the middle of the most dreamlike pastoral settings I've ever seen. The scenery is dense and lush, almost absurd in its idyllic beauty. It felt like something out of a Jeunet film. But anyways, the film centers on how this 17 year-old stranger fits into this broken, tired family in a house that none of them owns. Mother Odile, played by the exceedingly pretty and talented Emmanuelle Béart, is a former teacher who now tries to run the house in a compulsive fashion, cleaning and cooking to forget her missing soldier husband, unable to sleep except for in the middle on the day during her baths, rifling through every drawer in the house to learn more about the fleeing owners. Her precocious 4 year-old daughter Cathy at first seems oblivious to the situation, but seems to develop a sense of what her new life will be like as the story develops. Thirteen year-old Philippe (played by Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet in his first film role) tries to remain more logical and emotionally strong than his mother, working hard to keep a sense of clarity amongst all the changes in his family's life. He gradually reveals himself to be susceptible to the loneliness of the isolation - hiding out from society certainly takes its toll on a young adolescent - but his attempts to befriend the stranger fail when he vows to maintain allegiance to his mother. And, of course, the beautiful stranger. Oh, the beautiful stranger! Played by the beautiful Gaspard Ulliel, he tells the family his name is Yvan, but nobody really knows for sure. He refuses to let anybody too deep into his world, embarrassed by his illiteracy and striving to remain his anonymity. There's no difference between his lies and his truths, they come streaming out without any indication one way or the other. During the day, he sets traps for rabbits or fish, while during the night he scavenges the dead for anything he can use, from grenades to newspapers. He's an enigma in a world too troubled to pay attention. Odile wants Yvan to be a part of her family, thinking he can fill the role of a friend, older brother, or maybe even husband. The dynamics between Odile, Yvan, Philippe, and Cathy are striking in their intimacy. They want to be a normal family when nothing about their circumstances would suggest that such a thing is possible. Ultimately, I left the film feeling very taken by the characters. I wanted them to continue. I wanted the story to last forever. But of course that doesn't make sense. I don't know. I really liked the film. 8.5/10

If you want to dial into the invariably hopeless mood that French films seem to take on, take this quote proclaimed by Franz near the end of Band of Outsiders:

"Isn't it strange how people never form a whole?...They never come together. They remain separate. Each goes his own way, distrustful and tragic. Even when they're together, in big buildings, or in the street."

Oddly enough, it seems like the most memorable part of the whole film isn't the existential tragedy ultimately posed to the viewer. It is the hapless trio's spritely effervescence that was summed up by their sprint through the Louvre, later referenced by Bertolucci in The Dreamers. That's probably a good thing. Who wants to remember how nothing ever seems worthwhile?

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