IN HARMONY – movie review

IN HARMONY (En équilibre)

Icarus Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Denis Dercourt
Screenwriter: Denis Dercourt. Book by Bernard Sachsé.
Cast: Albert Dupontel, Cécile De France, Marie Bäumer, Patrick Mille, Antonin Gabrielli, Carole Franck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/14/18
Opened: July 13, 2018 in an Icarus DVD

En équilibre Movie Poster

There are some things you’ll come away with whether or not you like the story as a whole. One is that beautiful women should never put their hair up in buns. Another is that you should not trust insurance companies, evil capitalists that they are. A third is that if you don’t feel that Liszt, in his Etude No. 12, expresses emotions that you and I are unable to put into words, you have no soul. Ultimately, “In Harmony” enjoys terrific performances from its two leads and though it deals with the truth story of a stunt rider paralyzed when he falls from a horse, it does not have the saccharine development you might expect if there were a Hollywood remake.

This makes for a welcome move by Icarus Films in making the movie available to us in the States via a DVD, a story that is warm, humorous, believable and romantic. The two leads are Albert Dupontel in the role of Marc Guermont and Belgian-born Cécile de France as Florence Kernel. Denis Dercourt wrote and directs in a film that is in his métier, as he is known for “The Page Turner,” about a young woman pianist who applies to a conservatory but is distracted and fails the exam. His “In Harmony” is likewise about a pianist, Florence Kernel, who used to practice for eight hours a day but for some reason gave up her studies and settled for being an insurance adjuster. Through her association with Marc, absorbing his dedication to dust himself off after he is paralyzed and ride again, she rethinks her life and real love for the piano and cannot help actually wishing to be fired from the company for which she works.

The story opens with pressure that Florence puts on Marc to sign a protocol for an insurance settlement, offering 250 euros, which he considers insufficient to last for a lifetime. He is advised later by an advocate, Carole Franck, to hold out and to take his chances in court for the one million euros he probably deserves, yet he wonders how he can survive even now without even the funds to continue paying for modifications on his farmhouse. Meanwhile, Florence is not the hardheaded person anyone would take her for given a hairdo that makes her look almost androgynous. Advised by an employee in the insurance company to be seductive, she puts down her blond hair, and wouldn’t you know: she develops romantic urges herself for her client!

This is based on the real life story of Bernard Sachsé whose book, Sur mes quatre jambes: Le livre qui a inspiré le film En équilibre (On My Four Legs: The Life that Inspired the Film In Harmony), available at Amazon. You can read the book in French and imagine the two characters but you can hardly do better in bringing the characters to life than Cécile de France and Albert Dupontel, the latter doing all his own stunt work. The horse named Othello is sadly uncredited in the cast but does quite a job at advanced tricks. Othello is trained by Marc and kept comfortable and happy by Marc’s helper Antoine (Antonin Gabrielli).

The film opened in France in April 2015 and in the U.S. in April 2016 but somehow passed under the radar with just a few reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s hope Icarus’ DVD will revive interest in a clear, unsentimental look at one person’s adjustment to tragedy and another’s renascence of interest in the piano.

Unrated. 90 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

BREATHE – movie review



Bleecker Street/Participant Media
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten,
Grade: B
Director:  Andy Serkis
Written by: William Nicholson
Cast:  Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 10/4/17
Opens: October 13, 2017
Breathe Movie Poster
The tsunami of self-help books churned out annually usually have nothing new to say, assuming you have read a few and absorb the key theme: that experiences make people happier than things.  But recently, there was a new insight that may be difficult to believe.  The suggestion is that severally handicapped people are suicidal at first, since after all, who wants to spend a good part of life blind, paralyzed, or without movement in more than one limb?  But then, according to the happiness authors, the handicapped people not only accept their disabilities, but because of how they now value life, they may be happier than ever.  Think about that when you see in veteran actor Andy Serkis’s freshman contribution as director with “Breathe.”  The movie will probably be criticized for some sloppy sentimentality, the Hallmark critique that you can attach to many a poignant tale.  But there is enough solid emotional content aside from the three-hanky output to merit a watch for all but the most unemotional folks.

Screenwriter William Nicholson could no doubt pen some Hallmark cards on the side. His emotional script, one that brings to the audience not only tears but also precious insights into the world of the severely disabled.  His focus on a severe form of polio, the disease that affected Franklyn D. Roosevelt which cost him the use of his legs, is worse in the case of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield).  Robin is totally paralyzed and has the use of only face and voice, wholly dependent on others especially his wife Diana (Claire Foy), and is blessed by a coterie of good friends and doctors who help him get over his initial depression.  The result: he lives far more than the few months that the physicians would allot.  The only movie figure whose disability was worse that Robin’s was Jean-Do, played by Mathieu Amalric in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a man whose massive stroke leaves him with the ability to move only his left eye.  There’s always someone who is worse off that you and I.

Robin Cavendish was an actual person (see the Wikipedia article), a British subject who in 1958 came down suddenly with polio, a disease which announced its morbid presence as Robin loses a tennis match with a friend for the first time.  (By the way, wasn’t the Salk vaccine first used five years earlier?) By the next day or two, he cannot move his legs, his arms, and would be unable to breathe lest he be attached to a respirator—a life-saving but ghastly tube which, if removed, or if the electric power were to shut down for just two minutes would leave him dead. Were it not for his wife Diana, he might have succumbed to terminal depression. Though Diana is advised by her mother that to stay with her husband would deny her a good life, she soldiers on, taking care of the poor man, getting him out of the hospital despite the pleas of the grumpy administrator. Given his friendship with roommate Paddy (David Wilmot) who bets five pounds that Robin would not survive the year, he is almost sorry to depart.

Ultimately this may be a story of how Robin helped to invent a chair, respirator on the bottom, to allow him to sit up and travel, but it’s mostly about his joyful relationship with his wife Diana, that rare person who would not only refuse to abandon her man to live live live! but who sincerely believes that Robin gave her “a good life” for a quarter century.

If your tears have not started flowing, Serkis makes sure to keep Bing Crosby’s crooning of Cole Porter’s song “True Love” in the soundtrack.

Rated PG-13.  117 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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