Deception - Arnaud Desplechin
Tackling on Philip Roth's autofiction, Arnaud Desplechin's Deception showcases Léa Seydoux's talent and charisma once again. They collaborated in his last effort, Oh, Mercy, in which she played a poor working class girl mired in crime.
Here Seydoux plays a sophisticated Londonite whose unhappy marriage drives her into the arms of Philip Roth (Denis Podalydès), a London-based American writer, also stuck in loveless marriage. In his London flat, they talk and make love. He jots down his thoughts about her in his trusty notebook for keepsake.
They break up many times yet have a strong hold on each other and can't let it go completely. His wife suspects and accuses him of having an affair and he defends himself by saying that Seydoux's character is just that, a character, a manifestation of a writer's imagination run amok.
As usual for a Desplechin film, Deception is wordy and performance driven. And despite the setting and the characters' nationalities, with the usual neurosis and everything, Deception is decidedly and predictably Desplechin and very French.
Hold Me Tight - Mathieu Amalric
I've said many times that Mathieu Amalric is not only a great actor but a great director as well. Yet again, he proves it with Serre moi fort/Hold Me Tight.
It starts out with Clarisse (Vicky Krieps) sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, driving away in an old car, leaving behind her loving family -- Marc, her hunky husband, and two adorable children, Lucie and Paul. She tells herself that after a while they will not miss her. She is never coming back and they will have to accept the fact. But why is she running away? What is she running from?
Then the film becomes something else entirely. Krieps gives a gut-wrenching performance in a film about grieving and letting go that is portent, as well as more heartfelt than any other film I've seen in a long time. Constantly going back and forth with her and her family, feeling the absence of one another, yet articulating the connection in a very ingenious way, Amalric makes perhaps his most heartfelt film as a writer/director.
Guermantes - Christophe Honoré
The planned stage play of Guermantes, based on Proust's third volume of In Search of Lost Time (an appropriate title for our pandemic times), is getting canceled, because of Covid. Director Christophe Honoré and a large cast of mostly theater actors, who's been rehearsing the play together for months, are devastated by the news. So they have two choices: stop the project, admit the defeat and go home, or continue to rehearse without a guarantee that the show will ever be staged in the future. After much debate, they continue their rehearsal.
So starts this delightful, communal film of actors and a novice theater director rehearsing Proust's labyrinthine texts while making the Théâtre Marigny and its lovely garden their home: sleeping, eating, singing together and making the best out of the worldwide pandemic.
Unlike the play they are enacting, which lacks many of the characters' back story, due to it being a single chapter in a seven-volume book, Honoré explores many of the actors' backstories and their lives, making the film much more than a mere documented rehearsal. It's obviously scripted, cinematically playful, and shot beautifully on film, by frequent collaborator Rémy Chevrin. A delightful salvo of a film that shows the power and resiliency of art in the pandemic era.
Paris, 13th District - Jacques Audiard
Les Olympiads, the high-rise residential buildings named after the cities that have hosted the Olympics over the years, is a middle-income housing project built in the 70s, located in ethnically diverse 13th District in Paris. Audiard, known for his well-crafted thrillers and highly emotive characters, tries his hands at a modern romance film with his sleek, staccato style, shot on beautiful black and white.
Webcams, dating apps and decidedly young, attractive actors give Paris, 13th District a fresh, vibrant look at the lives of young, ethnically diverse Parisians of today.
The breakthrough performance here is definitely Lucie Zhang as Emilie, of Taiwanese descent, a millennial looking for love while living in her grandma's apartment in Chinatown, located in the 13th District. Zhang's uninhibited performance is contrasted by Noémie Merlant (Portrait of the Lady on Fire) as Nora, a 30-something Bourdeaux transplant running away from the grip of her husband to find herself in the city.
Their lives cross paths with handsome Camille, played by Makita Samba, a public school teacher whose self-assured but arrogant demeanor both attracts and repels women. Co-written by Céline Sciamma, Paris, 13th District weaves a seductive, fresh tale of modern romance.