LES SAUVAGES – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writer: Sabri Louatah (novels & screenplay); Rebecca Zlotowski, Benjamin Charbit, David Elkim
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Amira Casar, Marina Foïs, Dali Benssalah, Sofiane Zermani, Souheila Yacoub, Shaïn Boumedine, Kadri Islands, Carima Amarouche, Lyna Khoudri, Farida Rahouadj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opened: September 19, 2019 on Canal. Available on Topic September 17, 2020′



If you’re an American watching the French TV episodes of “Les Sauvages,” you’d swear that the project was inspired by the election of Barak Obama, who apparently came out of nowhere during his first term in the US Senate to become President—twice. Could America have become post-racial? Not when you find out that the non-Hispanic white vote each time was under 40%, which means that he could not have been chosen without a turnout from the so-called minority population. Even more surprising, when his term was up, a person who has always been a household name, Donald J. Trump, perhaps the least qualified major candidate ever, defeated one of the most qualified people. What happened? The money is on the idea of blowback: deeply offended that a Black man took the highest office in the land, the American (white) public turned toward a person who from the beginning sent out racial dog whistles.

In the TV episodes of “Les sauvages,” the blowback worked in a reverse way, as France, a nation in crisis with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen polling second in a national election, changed course. Remember that “Les Sauvages” is fiction, but Sabri Louiatah, from whose novel the TV episodes have adapted and programmed via the direction of Rebecca Zlotowski (whose “Grand Central” deals with the discovery of radioactive contamination), could become real. In politics, anything can happen.

“Les Sauvages” studies two families, the Chaouch people consisting of Idder Chaouch and his daughter Jasmine; and the Nerrouch family, led by Fouad Nerrouche who is Jasmine’s boyfriend, and Nazir, a militant Muslim, hated by his brother Faouad.

The kicker here is that Idder Chaouch (Roschdy Zem) has been elected by the French people to the presidency with a solid 53.1% majority. The other 46.9% are not happy, yet they have little idea what policies he will follow under than the usual boilerplate, unifying the people. He’s a Muslim originally from Algeria, the first chap from the Mahgreb to ascend to the highest office, and what makes his majority vote particularly difficult to understand is that not all the Algerian-French want him. His Muslim enemies consider him a sellout for playing the game in a colonialist country that fought a vicious war against the independence drive in French Algeria.

The central event that drives most of the series is the attempted assassination of the new president-elect just after the election, given him not even a chance to prove or embarrass himself in office. The shooter is known. He is the eighteen-year-old Krim Benaïm, a gifted musician who is trying out for the conservatory. His motivation is unclear as he is silent under police interrogation. The theory is that he did not operate alone but was manipulated by Nazir Nerrouche (Sofiane Zermani), a militant Algerian then in jail who hated by the pro-French population, especially by his brother Fouad Nerrouche (Dali Benssalah), who is engaged to the president-elect’s daughter and adviser, Jasmine (Souheila Yacoub).

In episode one, the series’ most ambitious, we get to know the characters, the interlocking relationships, and get a closeup view of a wedding, which involves a highly spirited group of Algerian-French, the women showing their excitement in the Arab way by ululating, called zaghrouta. We learn that Idder Chaouch’s wife Daria (Amira Casar) is a musician and orchestra conductor who down to the last minute is not certain she wants to be First Lady, even to the extent of crumpling the ballot and tossing it. We are introduced to Marion, in charge of the candidate’s personal safety, burdened with guilt at her inability to stop the attack.

As the fast-moving episodes move on, each lasting from 50 to 60 minutes, we get a look at the police examinations, the rivalry within the ethnic Algerian families, all to the end of guessing what might happen if such events were to occur in the near future. The editing is rapid, shifting scenes, some last just seconds. The episodes are, in part breathtaking, the acting authentic. Filmed in Paris and Saint Étienne, France.

In French with English subtitles.

Episodes can be streamed at one-year-old Topic, a service of First Look Media, via Topic.com and Topic’s channels on Amazon Prime Video channels, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

50-60 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B


A CHEF’S VOYAGE – movie review

First Run Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rémi Anfosso, Jason Matzner
Cast: David Kinch, Jean-André Charial, Glenn Viel, Alain Soliveres, Gérald Passédat, Koji Yokoyama, Courtney Weyl, Chkristine Muhklke, Jenny Yun, Mitch Lienhard, Jim Rollston, Julie Strangier, Grant Waller, Jean-Benoit Hughes, Eloi Dürrbach, Renata Ameni, Kristopher Lord
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/21/20
Opens: September 18, 2020


There are some things I didn’t know before seeing “A Chef’s Voyage.” For example, did you know that the word “restaurant” derives from “restore” or “refresh?” Do you feel either restored or refreshed when you finish a Happy Meal at Mickey D’s? Oh, the banality of that corporation’s food—though they should be praised for giving their customers affordable meals. One wonders whether people even think of what they’re eating since Big Mac, medium fries and a Coke are indulged in so frequently that you can’t blame customers for spending more time texting their Facebook friends even when seated with a real live pal who gets ignored. But enough snobbery.

A Chef's Voyage - A Chef's Voyage $4.99 - SOMM TV

Now David Kinch, the star of this documentary, knows how to refresh and restore his customers and his staff alike, though his cuisine is likely more expensive than a Happy Meal. The red-haired, blued-eyed, scruffy-bearded owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, California since 2002 also wrote a 328 page cookbook “Manresa: An Edible Reflection” together with Christine Muhlke, but Kinch did not get a coveted third Michelin star by reading someone else’s cookbooks. Though the movie does not bring out his training, he started at New York’s “The Quilted Giraffe” and worked his way up, cooking even at a place in Fukuoka, Japan, learning from the great chefs of Europe like Dieter Müller.

What we do know about David is that he’s quite a personable fellow, speaking to his movie audience with humility, intent on telling us that to get those Michelin stars he needed not only to know how to use ingredients but also to motivate his staff since, “Who wants to train new people every year?” And his staff seems to love him especially since he took this contingent of people in their mid-twenties to France, presumably paying their fare, but that’s not clear. As the group plans the trip—some of whom had never traveled outside the country—they wondered what they should carry and even whether the airport officials would seize the sauce which took five days to prepare, but David assured them to be minimalist: underwear and abalone.

He was invited by top chefs in Marseilles, Paris, and a village Les Baux in Provence to show what he’s got, that perhaps even Californians can teach the great French a thing or two. So, with his own crew, he would get up a seven in the morning to start preparations which, in Marseilles, could mean catching fish which must be used on that same day. As the French restaurateurs look on, he and his young staff would prepare food California style for the customers, whom we never see.

The areas are striking, beckoning us not only to salivate on the food but to walk about picturesque Marseilles whose chefs use olive oil but never butter or cream, the medieval-looking village of Les Baux in Provence, and also Paris, whose chefs make omelets like David with both oil and butter. The owner of the Marseilles establishment emphasizes the need for a staff to respect one another, and allow each person to adapt an identity—a personal style like a film director.

The most savory dish to me is the combination of duck, lobster, clams and mussels which, if soup is added, would be a nifty bouillabaisse.

The film has value to us in the audience less from the food—which may be awesome but you can’t taste it from your movie seat especially if you’re indulging in popcorn. More from watching and listening to David dressed in a sweatshirt with the word “bread,” talk about his experiences, how he grew into loving food, how he worked his way to that coveted Michelin third star, and how, when all is said and done, he can be perfectly happy making an omelet—with oil and butter.

90 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B


SYBIL – movie review

Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justine Triet
Screenwriter: Arthur Harari, David H. Pickering, Justine Triet
Cast: Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Gaspard Ulliel, Sandra Hüller, Laure Calamy, Niels Schneider
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/11/20
Opens: September 11, 2020


There are reasons that people choose the professions that they do. If you needed glasses at age five, you learn about eyesight and become an optometrist. If your life was saved by a surgeon, you think of going to medical school. If you love films, you want to promote them and you become a publicist. If you hate films, you become a critic. So what makes people want to be psychotherapists? Going by the presumptions shown here, you’ve had problems since childhood. The result? You deal with other people’s issues, and by lying on the couch yourself, you learn about your own. This appears to sum up the principal character in Justine Triet’s “Sibyl,” by a director whose “Sur Place” (2007) tries to analyze the student protests in France a year earlier.

Still of Virginie Efira in Sibyl (2019)

In this case the title character Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a young psychoanalyst, peels off many of her patients in order to find time to devote to writing novels. How to overcome potential writers’ block? Her choice is to use her patients’ narration of problems in the proposed book, and for that she centers her novel on Margot Vasilis (Adèle Exarchopoulos) because of Margot’s intensity. Tearful to a fault as well as conflicted about (it seems) everything, Margot is pregnant by accident, wants an abortion because she needs to work full time in her profession as an actress, schedules the abortion, then cancels, schedules it again, cancels again. Igor (Gaspart Ulliel), the father, is the lead performer in a love story directed by Mika (Sandra Hüller), alias “the bitch,” as some of her stars justly call her.

While Sibyl secretly records Margot’s rants, she brings up memories of Gabriel (Niels Schneider), a previous boyfriend, since isn’t that the kind of thing that shrinks do when they’re bored silly by their patients’ jibber-jabber? You wonder, sometimes, why Sibyl is willing to give up a good part of her income in paring down her patient load to write, when she is advised that in our current age of distraction, writers “have little influence.” With the extra time, she agrees to follow Margot to her romantic film location, since after all, Margot asked her to go and what psychoanalyst would refuse such a reasonable request from a patient?

Mixed in are two occasions of Sybil getting hand jobs from two guys, and one intense scene that finds her on the carpet with a lover getting it on. The film is marred in a few ways. One is that the scenes are constantly changing abruptly when Sibyl’s imagination takes hold. A more straightforward chronological approach might have worked better. On the streamed version that I saw, much of the dialogue was badly dubbed to the extent that words would come out though a character’s lips are no longer moving. Still, Sibyl is an interesting character, one who wants to break free of the daily chatter of her patients—including her youngest client with whom she plays Monopoly as a way to get him to talk more of his hangups—to live more dangerously, including drinking to excess.  In French, Russian and English with English subtitles.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – C+


THE TWO OF US – movie review

TWO OF US (Deux)
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Filippo Meneghetti
Screenwriter: Filippo Meneghetti, Malysone Bovorasmy, additional writing by Florence Vignon
Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker Muriel Benazeraf, Jérôme Varanfrain, Herve Sogne
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/19/20
Opens: July 10,  2020

Deux (2019)

A nine-year-old boy learns all about sex in his hygiene class at P.S. 103 augmented by discreet animated visuals that show him how it’s done. “EEEEEUUUU Gross,” he shouts, “My mom and dad would never do that!” Now imagine that a woman in her forties is about to discover that her mother, now in her seventies, is “doing it.” She realizes that granny must have done something or mom would not be here, but “at age seventy? And what? Wait a sec. With another woman!” Still this is France, not Saudi Arabia, so many middle-aged moms will come around. After all, Professor Henry Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) suggested, “The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.”

Joshing aside, “Two of Us” is a remarkably well-acted, exquisitely photographed chamber piece featuring two stellar performers who act out a scenario that must have jogged the imagination of so many of us, meaning: do people in their seventies have sex lives? And more specifically, do lesbians in their seventies have sex lives? If so, are their sons and daughters aware of this? (Yes Virginia, some lesbians have children of their own through marriage or less perilous means.) In this case Madeleine or Mado (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa) have been lovers for decades. Living next door to each other in a town in the South of France, they have to sneak into each other’s apartment because theirs is a romance that not all French people can understand, least of all Madeleine’s mother Anne (Léa Drucker) and Anne’s brother Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain).

It may be hard to believe in these times, when most of the West—certainly France—has come to accept lesbianism, but sneak around they will, and their almost daily pas de deux gives this slice of life a comic touch. Filippo Meneghetti, who directs and co-wrote “Deux” as his first narrative feature scores big, and will hopefully evoke a deep emotional impact from his theater audience. The story begins simply, becoming more complex when the two principals realize that deux en compagnie de trois est une foule.

German expatriate Nina is next-door neighbor to Madeleine. They should have been able to be roommates but Madeleine, at any rate, fears the opprobrium of her daughter Anne. They plan to spend the rest of their lives in Rome but Madeleine gets cold feet and backs out of selling. Madeleine determines to come out of the closet with her daughter and son who are sure that their father was adored by her.

Their secret is complicated by Madeleine’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf) who believes that her job is being taken over by Nina, and senses the secret that Madeleine has kept from her son and daughter. At long last Anne and Frédéric are on to Madeleine, are understandably shocked, though the single moment when Anne discovers her mother’s secret is both amusing and melodramatic.

No scenes are wasted in a pas de deux that could easily fit on your TV or on an off-Broadway stage. The storytelling is crisp, to the point and forms a terrific palette for a dance that to my memory is thoroughly original.

95 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

SYNONYMS – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nadav Lapid
Screenwriter: Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid
Cast: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevilotte
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/5/19
Opens: October 25, 2019

Synonyms Large Poster

Thomas Wolfe said you Can’t Go Home Again, in fact that is the title of a novel published in 1940. The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill which was actually Asheville, North Carolina. The book is a national success but the residents of the town had been unhappy with what they view as Webber’s distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats. Nadav Lapid, a brilliant director whose “The Kindergarten Teacher” tells of a New York teacher who becomes obsessed with a five-year-old’s gift for poetry, now takes tackles a film thematically alike Wolfe’s novel, about a 20-something who not only can’t go home again: he does not want to. You can’t blame some critics who, like the writer for “The Jerusalem Post,” in effect blames director Lapid for washing Israel’s dirty laundry in public in a similar way that Thomas Wolfe disturbed his townspeople.

“Synonyms” is a bold, original, impressive movie that has critics divided though it took top prize at the Berlin Film Festival this year. That’s not surprising. The best movies are strong enough to divide audiences, since unlike pics that are febrile, that do not hurt anybody’s feelings, controversial ones may have some people hating while picking up other people’s praise.

As for the fellow who has no intention of ever going back to his homeland, Yoav (Tom Mercier) left Israel after fulfilling his military duties, traveled to France without a shekel in his pocket, and refuses to speak Hebrew. He pores over grammar books, walking the streets around the Seine mumbling words together with their synonyms, takes a demanding and exciting citizenship class where he is required to sing the second stanza of the Marseilles, and even when visited by his father who is worried that his son is not eating and is living in a shoebox refuses to respond to the older man in Hebrew.

But he is not at all out of luck. In the film’s opening he visits a strangely vacant Left Bank apartment, wakes up nude (full frontal nudity: beware), discovers that someone has stolen his backpack with all his clothes and wakes up in the home of Émile (Quentin Dolmarie) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). Émile finds Yoav an impressive young man, given that Yoav is filled with stories about his life in Israel, making analogies to the Greek legends about Homer’s Hector, represented as the ideal warrior. By contrast Émile responds that his own life is boring, that he has no stories to pay his new guest back. For her part Caroline (Louise Chevillotte), an oboist with the local symphony orchestra, is likewise fascinated by the immigrant, not surprising since he has sworn off Hebrew, knows the complete French national anthem, and is more Gallic than the typical person born in France and knowing no other tribe.

Despite his reverse nationalism, Yoav appears qualified only to be a security guard at the Israeli consulate, where one officer goads him into a fight as though training him for the Israeli Defense Forces. Yoav is slim, yet seems rock hard from his army training and is occasionally interested in starting a fight—particularly with a member of Caroline’s orchestra who chastises him for rudeness.

Émile soon sense that Caroline is more interested in Yoav than in him, no considering that Caroline and Yoav fell into each other’s arms—Caroline muttering that she “always knew that we would sleep together.” Perhaps the most emotional scene occurs when Yoav, determined to flee the militaristic country of his birth, becomes enrapt hearing a classmate in his French class sing the first stanza of the Marseilles, following up with the next which speaks of the “purity of the French blood” and the needs to spill the blood of the enemy.

All this makes “Synonyms” as arresting a film that you’ll see this year, perhaps later competing against great movies like the South Korean “Parasite” for Best Foreign Picture. Note especially the great performance coming from Tom Mercier in his early career, a likely candidate for those organizations like NY Film Critics Online which give awards for Best Actor.

123 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – B
Overall – A-

CLIMAX – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gaspar Noë
Screenwriter: Gaspar Noë
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 2/13/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

Climax Movie Poster

When the most mature person in an ensemble of some fifteen adults is a 7-year-old kid, you know that you’re in for a cynical view of civilization. And cynical this is, as you might expect from writer-director Gaspar Noë, whose “Love” deals with an American in Paris with an unstable girlfriend who invites a pretty neighbor into their bed. Now he pulls out all the stops in a movie that could be called for want of a more specific title than this, “Lord of the Flies 2: Fifteen Years Later.” Except that the adults are the ones who need chaperoning while the young lad, Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant), the only sober fellow on the screen, gets locked in a room, unable to rescue the adults who are out of control.

Some of the film is fantastic. A later segment, though, is a downer that goes on for too long, some dancers becoming violent, others declaring their love. Opening on a scene in the snow, a look at a woman stretching all body parts therein, Benoît Debie, who is behind the lens somewhere in France listens in. The dancers, all in their twenties, gush about their profession, one saying that dance is everything and that she has no idea what she would do if she were not favored by Terpsichore.

The action takes place in the mid-nineties, far enough past the lifetime of Tchaikovsky who, if he is listening from the grave which accommodated him at age 53, might actually approve. He would realize that Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, however many times they are repeated (that’s what classics are), would give way to body work that would express their own time.

The racially diverse cast put on quite a show, with enough energy to light up a small town that would otherwise be too dependent on coal. And there’s lots and lots of foot work, arm work, and chit-chats about dick work. Characters during a break discuss how many women they’ve balled, whom they would like to ball, and who would be most responsive to their infinite charm.

As for the music, the techno is terrific, with a drumbeat that would drive the mice and bugs screaming from your apartment. The cast rivets. However, Noë should have quit while he was ahead. The word from Cannes is the audience thought that when the movie went on for less than an hour, they figured that it was over. Not so. Someone laced the sangria with LSD, and the results are not pretty. Nobody becomes enlightened. Sorry, Timothy Leary, your theory of the benefits of the hallucinatory drug does not stand up. As the drugged dancers bounce around, this time in slower motion than when they were sober, violence erupts. The young folks are not at all happy that someone dropped the drug into the punch. Accusations are made. Did the guy who does not drink do it? How about the woman who says that she is pregnant and therefore cannot touch the stuff? More flirtations take place, including Valentine-type “you are everything to me” line, while almost everyone is in pain.

At one time we human beings are in paradise. We were chased out, and while we have our moments of bliss, we are a fallen people. This does not mean that we are bound to be intensely involved in the overlong period when the thin veneer of civilization falls away. Given the excitement of the first half, you would do well to see this film.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B



Bleecker Street and 30 West
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Screenwriter: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 8/1/18
Opens: September 21, 2018

Colette Movie Poster

If you think that Paris has always been a sophisticated city with a reputation for progressivism, think again. Though Renoir’s paintings were accepted by Parisians, the impressionist painter had to bear with years of bad reviews. And in 1913, when Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was first performed on the Paris stage, there were outright riots as the audience had never heard tones such as those played by the mournful bassoon, the dissonance that has become the watchword of contemporary music, or the knock-kneed women that appeared on the stage when the overture was completed. The public, in fact, had been prepared with choice vegetables, looking for a fight, people who, if they were an elite attending a concert, could be mistaken for some of the deplorables that Hillary cited in her campaign.

But, you say, Paris is still the city of love! Yes, except that while women could be accepted as companions for men three times their age, not so long ago, homosexuality could not. In one of the melodramatic incidents in a movie that moves along smoothly without Hollywood-style mayhem, the crowd became antagonistic only when two women kiss each other on stage. Director Wash Westmoreland, whose “Still Alice” investigates problems when a linguistics professor and family have their bond tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, now finds the title character’s bond with her husband tested as well. There’s plenty of conflict in his “Colette,” a biopic of one of France’s great novelists, who during most of her career suffered the indignity of ghost-writing salacious novels for her husband Willy (Dominic West), the much older husband who notes that a woman simply could not be published in Europe in the early twentieth century. Like the couple in Björn Runge’s “The Wife,” dealing with a talented woman whose books were published under the name of her husband, “Colette” demonstrates yet another way that today’s #MeToo feminism is the happy background for writers and directors who try to compensate for society’s prejudice against creative females.

“Colette” could probably do just fine with any reputable star in the lead role, but Keira Knightley’s awards-worthy performance allows the film to soar both emotionally and intellectually. Though some will grouse that a French woman is the subject of a movie produced in the UK with British actors, you would do well to overlook that and enjoy the delightful unfolding of a career centered on a woman who could have spent her life in obscurity had she not decided to break away from her husband and knock out novels with her own name.

The film opens in 1893 when Colette (Keira Knightley), a country girl from Burgundy, is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a fake novelist who runs a stable of ghost writers and is now to include his beautiful wife among the serfs. One may wonder how Colette put up with the womanizer who even at age 46 had women in the early twenties throwing themselves at him. Noting that his wife, who in at least one instance is locked up in a room with the demand that she spend four hours writing before being freed, emerges with pages showing considerable spice. Willy sees a way out of his perpetual poverty brought about by gambling, dining and whoring. After the repo guys take away his furniture, he is saved financially when Colette” Claudine at School” becomes a best seller.

Colette turns out to be bisexual, carrying on an affair with an American from Louisiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), using her experiences as juice for future novels. The most interesting attraction is between Colette and Missy (Denise Gough), a woman who resembles Ellen De Generis with her suit, close hair style, and masculine carriage.

As with blockbuster thrillers, the women come out on top, so to speak, Colette gets revenge, divorcing her miserable husband, and goes on to write thirty novels. The picture, scripted by the director, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is constructed in a conventional manner (unusual, perhaps, considering the sexual progressivism of the theme) and is not only a great story but highlights a marvelous Keira Knightley as a turn-of-20th-century feminist.

Unrated. 111 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

ISMAEL’S GHOSTS – movie review

ISMAËL’S GHOSTS (Les fantômes d’ Ismaël)

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Screenwriter:  Arnaud Desplechin
Cast:  Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/17/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

You’re in luck if you take in the director’s cut of “Ismaël’s Ghosts” because the writer-director will keep you and others of your sophistication engrossed for most of its 135 minutes.  Call is episodic, name it a magnum opus, label it anything you want, but if you want to find the meaning of life, you’ll gain a few steps toward answering the most basic of all questions by seeing many of life’s aspects unfold.  This is because Desplechin, in his ninth fiction feature, paints a broad canvas tapping your funny bone, evoking some tears, wondering whether he has packed so much material in this that it comes across as a summation of maybe every type of situation you may find yourself in.  This director’s cut is not the 120 minutes’ version that played in Cannes, but akin to the cut that was shown here in New York at the annual film festival at Lincoln Center.

This is not to say that among life’s experiences many in the audience will  ever see a ghost, though truth to tell Carlotta Bloom (Marion Cotillard), missing from France for 20 years, had long been certified dead.  Because of that long absence, which Ms Cotillard discusses in the film’s juiciest monologue, her great love and partner Ismaël Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric) is free to look elsewhere for female companionship.  Meanwhile the titular character’s mentor Henri Bloom (László Szabó), a filmmaker who has taught his protégé everything he knows, now depends on Ismaël to relieve his loneliness and his slide into depression.

The film is chaotic.  Stories within stories, genres within genres, countries appearing and changing like a global kaleidoscope from France to the Czech Republic and even Tajikistan open up as though Ismaël is taking a survey of writing and direction from the 83-year-old Henri.  He is busy on a script, throwing in some melodrama about his brother Ivan, a diplomat hired by the French ministry because of his non-traditional education.  At the same he is enjoying his affair with the lovely Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but begins losing his sanity when Carlotta returns (or does she?), thereby setting up a romantic triangle which, instead of pleasing Ismaël, who considered himself too old for romantic nonsense, goes off the wall.  In a similar action, his father-in-law Henri, taking a flight to Tel Aviv to receive an award, goes ballistic on the plane when told by the flight crew that he may not open a bottle of his own spirits.

The chaos turns to order eventually when the wrinkled plots and subplots are ironed out

It might be difficult to find a trio more capable of these bold dynamics as Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourgh.  Amalric in particular has been a favorite of Desplechin—well known among cinephiles here for such contributions as
the popular “A Christmas Tale” about a woman whose need for a bone marrow transplant brings a feuding family together, and “My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument,” focusing on a young man with a dual conflict of whether to change girlfriends of whether he really wants to become a professor.  The struggle of this fellow in “My Sex Life” seems ridiculously easy to solve when compared to those of the men and women in this latest feature, bringing together a potpourri of people who can afford to have all the anxieties of modern civilization.a Their woes do not amount to a hill of beans when compared to the problems of Syrian refugees—who presumably have other things to worry about than which men and women to embrace and which to reject.

Unrated.  135 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall –  B+

BACK TO BURGUNDY – movie reveiw

BACK TO BURGUNDY (Ce qui nous lie)

Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Cédric Klapisch
Screenwriter:  Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena
Cast:  Po Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 314/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

I don’t “get” wine.  I wish I could because wine raises HDL, the good cholesterol.  Beer does that as well, but I don’t “get” beer either.  In a blindfold test, I would take Welch’s Grape Juice over a $1,560 bottle of 1986 Chateau LaFite Rothschild, notwithstanding the latter’s  deep color, medium body, a graceful, harmonious texture, superb length and its penetrating fragrance of cedar, chestnuts, minerals, and rich fruit. So wine provides a good living for many who cultivate it, as we see from “Back to Burgundy,” but money isn’t everything.  Relationships: that’s the key to the good life. And that appears the overriding theme of “Ce qui nous lie,” the original French title which means roughly “What Moves Him.”

Director Cédric Klapisch may be best known to cinephiles for “L’auberge espagnole, which thrusts a young, innocent economics student into Barcelona ostensibly to brush up his Spanish but serves as an initiation to life as he mixes with a diverse array of foreign students.  “Back to Burgundy” has a large cast serving as a background to development, folks who go to a vineyard around Burgundy to pick grapes during the harvest and who in one scene have one the most spirited parties recorded in the cinema—calling out “wine, wine, wine!” while banging on the table.

You can’t go home again might have been in the co-writer-director’s mind when he focuses primarily on a mid-thirties man, Jean (Pio Marmaï), who left the vast vineyard for Australia, marrying one Alicia (María Valverde) there,leaving behind an aggrieved couple of siblings: his sister Juliette (Ana Girardot) and his brother Jérémie (François Civil).  Jérémie and Juliette are particularly angry that the wanderer left them behind to care for the land and, later, for their sick father.  They cannot understand why he did not return to Burgundy for their mother’s funeral (he has a valid reason) and, as in many families with some dysfunction, he does not believe his father cared much for him.  When the native returns, bearing news of his changed status from the antipodes, he is met at first with hostility, giving him the job of reconnecting with brother and sister after a decade way.

The complexity of relationships finds twenty-something Jérémie living away from home with a successful winemaker who may remind you of Trump, as Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) wants to buy some of the land to build an airport, a spa, and general tourist facilities.  When the three heirs to the land receive a sizable inheritance tax bill, they ponder whether to sell all for $6 million or sell parts to raise the money they need.  This runs counter to tradition: you don’t give up property that has been in the family for decades.

The cinematography is a strong point, some of the scene captured with a drone.  This is a story that leans toward epic complexities but embracing easy-to-define ups and downs of the three siblings.  Typical American moviegoers, however, as opposed to critics and highbrows, might prefer the more informal inputs and recognizable characters from a movie like Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” as those characters are on merely a trip through California wine country without all the complications of ironing out the wrinkles of a partnership when the decision to sell needs the unanimous votes of the three owners.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting –  B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+