Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2018 8:50 pm 
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A meditative, playful vehicle for Jean-Pierre Léaud and a group of children

A vehicle for Jean-Pierre Léaud, about the making of a film, or two films within the film. The star must leave the shoot when it is delayed and seeks to visit an early greatest love, and is visited by her ghost, or imagines he is talking to her. At an old building where he goes to find her, he is found by a group of children who are making a film of their own. They run around, and when they enter an old room they have found as a set, they are startled to find "Jean" (Léaud). They are frightened at first, but then Jean enters into a friendly and lighthearted relationship with them, and participates in their film, which turns into a rough, simply conceived French vesion of "Ghostbusters." Then he returns to the film he is acting in, where he has a very brief scene in which he dies.

In the course of this, Jean confronts his past a bit, and has some conversations with Julie (Pauline Étienne), his girlfriend who died young.

The scenario seems confused on this point, because first Jean seems not to know that Julie is dead, and died very young, then knows that it may have been suicide, and that it was by a lake he take the children to. There is a lion, and several renditions by Léaud of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The reference is to death, and he repeatedly says that age 70 to 80 is a key time because it is the period when one faces death. He repeatedly tells his director of the film he is to be in that he cannot play his own death.

Perhaps one cannot play one's own death, but one can play a man dying. And these disclaimers are partly humorous reference to Léaud's recent performance of a nearly two-hour-long on-screen death scene as the star of Albert Serra's critically celebrated film, The Death of Louis XIV. Anther humorous thing is the children have not heard of him, though he is a kind of ultimate icon of French Cinema, and when they ask him if he really is an actor, he says he didn't make many films, but they were nice ones. He has 96 credits. That's not "not many" films.

This is a workshopped film, involving the children. The children interact and play, and pretend to be making a film, and this film captures them on the run, and is an edited version of their many interactions. There are charming moments with the children; also a brief focus on a subplot of one of them, a redheaded boy called Jules (an excellent Jules Langlade), who is struggling a bit with his mother over her new boyfriend, who can't replace his father who died in a car crash when he was seven. But all this, despite its occasional charm, only dilutes the story of Jean confronting death and the spectre of his lost love.

There are also some good moments with Léaud, when he springs to life. He seems to be often dormant - this is why he was perfect to play the semi-moribund Louis XIV, but when he is on, he is really on.

However, this film sags and sways and repeats itself. It's a mixture of retro French style and hagiography. One is expected to find it interesting just because it has Léaud in it, more or less playing himself. As an object there is a certain fascination in him. He has lived so much of his life on screen. He is still sprightly but also bloated and not of a very healthy appearance; his unusual hair, still flowing, straight and luxuriant, only partly gray, around the aging face, a young-old man of 72, who for those who remember has the young Antoine Doinel somewhere inside.

Thi Lion Sleeps Tonight/Le lion est mort ce soir, 104 mins., debuted at
Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival; also Busan and Taipei. It opened Jan. 2018 in France and Japan. Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, New York, March 2018.
Showtimes March 9 4:00 PM
March 15 9:15 PM

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