Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:12 pm 
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Lonely guy

The French director Guillaume Brac has yet to make a film over an hour long, but his World Without Women (54mins.) was shown in French cinemas in February 2012 proceeded by a 24-minute film called Stranded/Le Naufragé, stretching the total presentation to 83 minutes; they were shown together in San Francisco too. Both feature the same actor, Vincent Macaigne, as the same character, Sylvain, and he's the lynchpin each time of little tales about the love-lorn, being himself a Lonely Guy. Stranded was shot in 2009, "within the same community as A World Without Women, to which it is a prologue." This location is a town in Picardy, Northern France, along the coast. With both films Brac has a touch that's both delicate and assured.

Stranded focuses on Luc (Julien Lucas, who played Antoine, the rich boy in Garrel's Regular Lovers), a sturdy and serious cyclist who has ridden all the way from Paris intending to take the train back that evening, but he can't make it to the station on time because he's gotten three flats. Sylvain gives him a ride and he winds up spending the night at his rather shabby house, despite having taken a room at a small hotel. Early on tere's a priceless scene at a bar with locals joking around, but this is just a prelude to more intimate conversations. Luc and Syulvain strike up an instant rapport and unexpectedly share some very private feelings: Sylvain's loneliness, Luc's disappointment with his relationship. They just seem to blurt things out. At the end of the film Luc's girlfriend has come for him and he stands next to her in the morning looking out to sea, quietly weeping. Sylvain may just be a facilitator, but he's an important and unusually interesting one.

As Louna comments on Un Blog du Cinéma, A World Without Woman blends a dash of Jacques Tati and a soupçon of Éric Rohmer, and, one might add, touches of less distinctive French beach movies, and yet the effect is fresh and in the moment. In this longer film the town's "vacation" possiblity is awakened. While Stranded takes place in the winter, this is the summer's final gasp, the end of August, and a pretty young mother and her equally pretty daughter come, belatedly, to rent rooms in a house overlooking the sea from Sylvain. But he doesn't just bring the keys. The bitter-sweet feel of a rustic summer beach (in this case full of pebbles) is palpable. "Well anyway it's better than Corsica," says Patricia (Laure Calamy) to her daughter Juliette (Constance Rousseau of Mia Hansen-Løve's All is Forgiven), as she looks out the window. On the beach, Patricia's surrounded by four aggressive young cruisers, and this establishes that she's attractive, that she likes to flirt, and that Patricia is an unwilling observer. Sylvain appears, and becomes a shy protector.

Sylvain is big and fleshy, balding in back, hair too long, touchingly insecure, worried about all his flaws, with a sweet smile, infintely polite, skirting the edge magnificently as Macaigne plays him between charmer and schlub, like a recessive version of Gérard Depardieu. Patricia and Juliette play charades with him, Patricia drinking too much wine. Patricia has scenes with Sylvain and the gendarme, Gilles (Laurent Papot), who lacks Sylvain's sensitivity but is macho, slim, muscular, in short a presentable average guy -- everything Sylvain is not. Brac's strategy is to set up simple contrasts and a superficially familiar setting and moment to play out a series of otherwise qutie specific, original scenes, whose freshness is always assured (in case you might not otherwise notice) by the peculiar presence of Vincent Macaigne's Sylvain. He's one of a kind, and it's understandable that Brac would build two films around him this character and this actor.

A World Without Women (filmed in 2011) did very well with French critics when it was released in France in February 2012 (Allociné press rating: 3.8), notably with raves from two of the most sophisticated and serious French film publicaitons, Cahierrs du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles. There is of course the criticism that Brac, a La Fémis graduate in production who up to now has been in secondary directorial spots, has not come up with anything really new here, merely approached familiar ground in a fresh way. But the freshness is there, and his use of local non-pros adds nicely to the flavor. (Macaigne, who has 16 acting credits, recently directed his own less widely seen but even better reviewed very improvisational 40-minute film, Ce qu'il restera de nous/"What Will Remain of Us," also with Laure Calamy, with an Allociné critical rating: 4.7.)

Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series, October 2012.

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