Execrable: Tip Top

Tip Top (2013)
Directed by Serge Bozon
Written by James Tucker, Axelle Ropert, Serge Bozon, Odile Barski
Produced by Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Philippe Martin, Nicolas Steil. David Thion
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain, Francois Damiens, Karole Rocher, Saïda Bekkouche, Allain Naron, Aymen Saïdi, Elie Lison, Francois Négret, Samy Naceri, Youssef Tiberkanine, Brahim Waabach, Patrick Pais, Jean-Marc Hermance

  • Who murdered a police department’s informant in a suburb of one among several Villenueves?
  • Why are the fetishistic detectives (Huppert, Kiberlain) assigned by their internal affairs division to investigate his murder so trifling, insecure and verbosely incapable?
  • Why is the inspector (Damiens) to whom the slain snitch reported such a unsightly, equally insufferable jerkoff?
  • Why are his informants noticeable numbskulls?
  • Is sadomasochistic foreplay between Huppert’s busybody and her husband (Naceri) actually intended to amuse or arouse?
  • Might anyone have bothered to previse Bozon’s sister and DP Céline that she wouldn’t be lensing her drab, often blued photography in 2002?
  • Has anyone mentioned to Bozon that his simplistic script and style result in preciously stagy enactments of twee drollery and buffoonery that aren’t remotely laughable?
  • Likewise, how are the only tolerable actors (Rocher, Lison, Naron) of his ostensive comedy foils who’ve nearly nothing of interest to do?
  • Why is this transposition of a British novel so preoccupied with France’s Algerian diaspora and Algeria’s civil unrest when Bozon has nothing funny or perceptive to relate concerning either?
  • Can Huppert salvage but one of his scenes?
  • Why is one of France’s finest actresses periodically lapping up drops of poorly-rendered CG blood running from the bridge to the tip of her nose?
  • Conversely, why is gaunt, gangling, gawky, graceless Kiberlain still a leading lady?
  • Could Bozon possibly decelerate his picture’s plodding pace, so that it resembles Godfrey Reggio’s pompous pap?
  • Does its anticlimax signify anything?
  • Is this what now passes for Gallic humor?

The only truthful answer to these and all other queries pertaining to Bozon’s wantonly unfunny, unsexy, uninteresting, garrulous, cutesy crime comedy is: French cinema is now nearly as dumb, ugly, and self-congratulatory as Hollywood, and witless actors of the Fifth Republic occasionally make valueless movies, too.

Palatable: Valley of Love

Valley of Love (2015)
Written and directed by Guillaume Nicloux
Produced by Catalina Restrepo, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Genevieve Lemal, Patrick Batteux
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Dan Warner, Aurélia Thiérrée
Is it truly a revenant’s invitation, or a posthumous ruse to reunion? Two aging cinematic stars (Huppert, Depardieu) meet in Death Valley for a week to visit landmarks selectively scheduled for them in letters by their alienated son, posted proximal to his suicide eight months prior, which beseech their visitation for the promise of his own. Ailing under the western territory’s oppressive ardor, they reminisce and wrangle through grievous stages with themselves, each other, her belief, his incredulity, and auspices that they can’t easily interpret. Chilly Huppert and lumbering Depardieu perfectly play themselves as well as any characters, without a false note or needless motion in Nicloux’s affecting and oracular fiction. No mere vehicle for its weathered leads, it delivers their fish out of continental waters to a transcendental confrontation that validates the endurance of filial love. Charles Ives’s classic The Unanswered Question emphasizes its plural portentous profundities.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Loulou.

Favorites: La Cérémonie

La Cérémonie (1995)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Ruth Rendell, Claude Chabrol, Caroline Eliacheff
Produced by Marin Karmitz, Christoph Holch, Ira von Gienanth
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Virginie Ledoyen, Valentin Merlet
Over shared secrets, scuttlebutt and dudgeon, an industrious and taciturn housemaid (Bonnaire) and pertly obtrusive postmistress (Huppert) bond at the convergence of their scandalous lives shortly after the former’s hired by a gallerist (Bisset) at her husband’s (Cassel) Lucullan rural estate. Under the clerk’s impertinent influence, her only friend’s limited occupational relations deteriorate with a swell of recusancy until jaundice peaks to a bloody fever pitch. His distinctly Marxist merger of the Papin sisters’ notorious murders and Rendell’s popular novel A Judgement in Stone bespeaks Chabrol’s inspiration via Sartre’s politicized interpretation of the former, but this is no cheap or simple dogmatic allegory: notwithstanding their unintentional condescension, his wealthy victims are as bountiful as beautiful, erudite and evenhanded, while the unhinged yet animate antagonists of the underclass reject responsibility with contumelious abandon. Instead, Chabrol imputes detriment to division of class; despite all her employers’ best intentions, Bonnaire’s peripheral domestic is an isolate at a social margin, while Huppert’s dominant intimate is as much a creation of neglect as of madness. Not since his derided, deliberately desipient Tiger series had Chabrol’s style so plangently echoed Hitchcock’s, and never ere so elegantly: players step to close-ups, conspiratorial zooms emphasize unabashed confessions and confrontations, interstitial shots are framed in residential and vehicular interiors, pans repeat subsequent to dissolves and overhead shots rotate in ascent. Sparing, subtle foreboding’s manifest in verbal suggestions, creepy little surprises and the direful strings of a fine score penned by Chabrol’s son and preferred composer, Matthieu. As fans and others familiar would expect, the leads are sublime for their elan; without a word, relinquishing her vanity and nearly uglified by gauntness and a heinous, proletarian haircut, the usually beautiful Bonnaire evinces heart-rending frustration with tearful contortion and gall by glares, a fitting foil for jabbering Huppert as an impenetrably unrepentant accomplice in a part that any lesser actress would likely overplay. Neither might a false note be heard from their co-stars — Bisset’s infallible even under the baton of hopeless hacks, but her painstaking presence and nuanced delivery couldn’t feel more natural. At an age when he’d all but abandoned ideology, Chabrol concocted to almost universal acclaim a work of sneeringly sophisticated agitprop and blackest humor that may be enjoyed as an acute crime drama, but whose implications publicize the concerning conspicuity of servitude, humiliation ensuing crippling ignorance, and consequences of indigence. Worse, his perverse pair personify every sick or uncultivated little girl permitted to grow into a mundane monster.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Rope.

Sublime: Loulou

Loulou (1980)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Arlette Langmann, Maurice Pialat
Produced by Yves Gasser, Klaus Hellwig, Yves Peyrot
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Guy Marchand, Humbert Balsan, Gérald Garnier, Frédérique Cerbonnet, Christian Boucher, Bernard Tronczak, Jacqueline Dufranne
To a scruffy, eleemosynary loafer (Depardieu) for whom a secretary’s (Huppert) left her stodgily responsible employer (Marchand) of three secure years, she’s as much the amatorious world as he’s to her, but while true love’s the bond begirting them, their temerariousness redounds to misery. Pialat’s and Langmann’s sweethearts are so incandescently alive, endowed with their own pique and adoration, and perfectly, plausibly played by Huppert and Depardieu, as reliant as their characters on charms of nice gestures. Not so penetrating as but more autobiographic than their chef-d’oeuvre À nos amours, this precursory picture finds Pialat and Langmann as astutely aware of relational oddity, philia presented as an unfortunate catalyst for associative anguish, and in its transition subject not to clean abruption so much as dretching decrement in rebound and tragic error.
Recommended for a double feature paired with À nos amours.

Palatable: Abuse of Weakness

Abuse of Weakness (2013)
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit, Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski, Nicolas Steil, Gilles Waterkeyn
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Kool Shen, Laurence Ursino, Christophe Sermet
Compulsion trumps cognizance when a veteran director (Huppert) incapacitated by ictus relinquishes a small fortune intended to fund her forthcoming production to an infamous grifter (Shen) who she’s cast in a bloody lead role in exchange for his repellent consort. Breillat’s bamboozlement by celebrity swindler Christophe Rocancourt enkindled first her roman a clef afore this adaptation in abidance of her entrenched autobiographical proclivities, and seems as much an explication as a depiction of her muddled credulity whilst disabled. Once again, she’s exploited her recherche knack for casting an experienced, masterly histrion opposite a talented amateur as leads to tremendous eclat: Huppert perfectly realizes the throes of cerebrovascular and epileptic seizure (and all their debilitating attendant symptoms) with no less conviction than Breillat’s caustic humor in barbed chaff with Shen’s loathsome, calculatedly prickly fraud, whose noxious taste and apparently fatuous comportment serve to brace the dissemblance of his practiced guile. Huppert’s as identifiable as any of the anterior actresses Breillat’s selected to play her similitudes (Alexandra, Laffin, Parillaud, et al.) but her co-star’s portrayal courts condign calumniation: nobody could reasonably confound glib, handsome Rocancourt with the comparatively crude confidence man personated by pug-ugly Shen. If it isn’t an entirely satisfactory revenge, Breillat’s still devised graphically penetrative pictures of her maladies, the oddly platonic infatuation by which she was mulcted, and the maladjusted victim complicit in her own ruination.