Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 06, 2018 11:29 am 
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Cinema and romance on the Norman coast with a light gay touch

My LIfe with James Dean is a charming French gay film about love and cinema whose central figure is an attractive young director, Géraud Champreux (actor and birdsong immitaer Johnny Rasse). Géraud - not Gérard; people keep getting it wrong - goes to the Norman coast for a series of showings of his eponymous new film in Calais and several other coastal towns. Not many show up, as is not surprising given the provincial settings and the movie theme, which Variety describes as "a frank Jean Genet-ish LGBT tale of carnal passion" - and Géraud seems all at sea anyway. But he's ready to go with the flow, and things happen.

At the first showing, in a cinema attached to a casino, only one person shows up. But the cute, young, very tall projectionist, Balthazar (Mickaël Pelissier), falls for him and wants to make him his first gay experience.

Géraud has left his laptop at home and a kid has stolen his cellphone on the train. He borrows phones and calls the star of his film, Ludwig (Tancredi Volpert), leaving messages in which he promises he's looking for a salle de musculation (a workout room) "to maintain that body you like." Géraud (that is Johnny Rasse) is indeed attractively muscular in his thin, open-collared shirts; his expression is abstracted, a little sad, perhaps missing Ludwig, whose interest in him may have faded.

Ludwig, at least, is not there. But he does eventually show up, to the disappointment of Balthazar. The sponsor of the first screening, Sylvia van den Rood (Nathalie Richard), wholly misses the screening, because her lover, a married woman, has broken up with her and she is a mess. At the Hotel de Calais, where Géraud is put up by Silvia, the perpetual clerk is Gladys (Juliette Damiens). Is she in love with Géraud? No, there is someone else; but she has memorized Chekhov's Seagull - which seems not inappropriate - and wants to be cast in Géraud's next film.

Géraud gets a cahier in a bookstore, and, freed no doubt by the lack of computers or cellphones, and, while among people, starts jotting notes in it for his next film, whose title becomes The Maharajah and the Seagulls. It's a Bollywood-Normandy production of which we see the title song in the closing credits.

No scenes in Choisy's film seem more typical than those where all the main characters are following each other, one after the other, around the town streets, compelled by romantic confusion. They create intertwining intrigues and infatuations, led by Balthazar. Him, Géraud gently rebuffs, saying he is "a child." But when he takes off his clothes, he is not. We meet Géraud's mother, and Balthazar's father. Later some of the principals run off in a van, hiding a handsome, dark young fugitive.

The thing Choisy's good hearted, airy, film has and never loses is the essential quality Calvino defined, leggerezza in Italian - lightness. Something of that comes from being made away from the responsibility and pretension of Paris, France's cultural and cinematic capital whose weight of tradition and responsibility to be sophisticated and elegant could weigh on a cinéast whose material is as evanescent as this. Choisy

Born in 1959, Dominique Choisy has worked as an editor for French television, in addition to teaching at the Université d’Amiens in the north of France. After helming a number of short films, Choisy directed his first feature, Modern Comforts in 2000. Also starring Nathalie Richard, Modern Comforts won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Mar del Plata Film Festival. He returned to the director’s chair in 2011 with Les fraises des bois. My Life with James Dean is his third feature.

My LIfe with James Dean/Me vie avec James Dean, 108 mins., debuted in Paris at the Cheries-Cheris Film Festival (MK2 Beaubourg) and continued at Montreal, Brussels, Toulouse, Tours, and Lyon. It was shown at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris and was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Theatrical releases in France and Germany are scheduled.

Showing at the same same time in Boston (Cambridge) at the Wicked Queen Festival Apr. 6, 7:30 pm at the Brattle Theater.
SFIFF showings:
Thurs. Apr. 5 - 8:30 Roxie Theater
Fri. apr. 6 - 3 pm Creativity Theater
Sun. Apr. 8 - 8:30 pm Vitoria Theater


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