Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2015 1:05 am 
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Inheritance ronde

This enjoyable whirlwind is Rappeneau's first directorial effort since his 2003 Bon Voyage (with Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu); he penned the script of Zazie dans le Métro. He directed the 1990 Cyrano, starring Depardieu, which he co-wrote with Jean-Claude Carrière, with whom he has shared scripting duties before and since. This one has the participation of Matthieu Amalric and André Dusollier, and in his Variety review at its Toronto debut Peter Debruge, linking its plotline quite justifiably with Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours (though the mood and genre of the two films are totally different) says it's the director's most personal film to date. Imagine that. And yet it's nutty, slightly campy fun.

Like one of the characters in Assayas' film, Jérôme Varenne (Amalric) is a banking cosmopolite with Asian connections who has renounced any inheritance of his family's chateau (a much more substantial manse than the one in Summer Hours). But when he stops over in Paris with Chinese girlfriend/collaborator Chen-Lin (Gemma Chan) en route to a big deal in London, he learns of some doings he can't approve of.

Jérôme isn't any too friendly with his brother, Jean-Michel (Guillaume de Tonquedec), and they're literally at each other's throats at the end of a dinner chez maman Suzanne (Nicole Garcia). Poor Chin-Lin, who can't understand French, has no idea what's up, but Jérôme leaves her at the hotel in Paris, and lets her go on to London, while he rushes to the hometown. He has learned the chateau is about to be sold and torn up for for a real estate development in the thriving Loire Valley town of Ambray. Mayor Pierre Cotteret (Dusollier) is sitting on the deal, and there is a missing document.

Rappeneau is referring to something that happened to his own family home, Debruge explains, but this plot is complicated by a tough, social climbing old buddy Grégoire (Gilles Lellouche), whose current girlfriend Louise (Young and Beautiful stunner Marine Vacth, now 24) turns out to be the daughter of Jérôme and Jean-Michel's dad by his mistress, Florence (Karin Viard). And Florence is around. It also turns out that the mayor's secretary Fabienne (Claude Perron) used to be madly in love with Jérôme, and Pierre Cotteret has always been nuts about Suzanne. The pouty, free-spirited (and ethereally lovely) Louise keeps hurting herself and laying about in attractive stages of undress, and she and Jérôme start getting drawn to each other, while later on, after the London deal has crumbled for poor Chin-Lin, Chin-Lin and a handsome Chinese Pianist are drawn to each other. Ooh la la!

Rappeneau shows a mixture of humor and mastery in the way he stages a wonderfully chaotic yet smoothly rhythmic sequence where everybody is running around at a festival concert with the Chinese pianist is playing a Beethoven concerto, and Chin-Lin, who has come to town to find out what kept Jérôme from negotiating a deal he'd worked on for two years and met the pianist at the train station, is the only member of the cast sitting still in the audience, entranced by the handsome pianist. It's at this point that the film justifies the French adverts touting it as a "choral" work. This is music, and everybody plays his or her operatic part, and it all comes right in the end when a certain missing letter is found, Suzanne realizes that her husband's mistress Florence had "class" and the old fashioned snobbish values and traditions of France and of aristocratic "belles familles" are vindicated. The chateau is saved, and daddy Doctor Varenne (Noël Hamann), who reappears from the dead to Jérôme more than once, turns out to be one of those men who loved his mistress more than his wife. Which, this being Rappeneau's dream France, is fine with everybody. Nostalgia, sadness, fantasy, and humor make a confection that is irresistibly silly and fun and well put together.

Belles familles/Families, 113 mins., debuted internationally at Toronto Sept. 2015, opening in French theaters 14 Oct. Allocine press rating a mediocre 3.3. Screened for this review 29 Oct. at UGC Danton, Paris.

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