Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2019 8:28 pm 
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Tough little meuf

Raising Colors is a beautifully produced, atmospheric and well cast film, even if it's finally not altogether satisfying. The subject is a highly educated young woman who challenges herself (and provides us with entertainment) by joining the French Navy. Laure (Diane Rouxel) is twenty-two and comes from a liberal Paris family and has a Masters from the Sorbonne in both Russian and English. Lacking other job prospects, and perhaps to be provocative to her family, she takes the offer of a military job. Little Laure thus displeases the big lady in the family in more ways than one, her famous actress mother (Josiane Balasko) - though mom comes around later when Laure has become a green beret.

Raising Colors affords Diane Rouxel the opportunity to shine. She previously played a struggling juvenile delinquent's girlfriend in Emmanuel Bercot's powerful 2015 film Standing Tall/ La Tête haute (Rendez-Vous 2016). But she was understandably a bit overshadowed there by two powerhouse actors, Catherine Deneuve, as the understanding Juge d'Instruction, and the soon-to-be César-winning "Jeune Espoir Masculin" eighteen-year-old prodigy, Rod Paradot, as her boyfriend. Here the story is all about Laure, her adoption of military discipline, her growing dedication to the Navy corps, and her fascination with her superior officer, played by Lambert Wilson of Beauvois' Of Gods and Men (NYFF 2010), the Matrix sequels, and many other films.

When Laure goes off to serve as a kind of secretary and information officer to the Director of Studies in the Naval Fusiliers, in a room facing Lambert Wilson, there is an excitement about it that makes one want to watch on. But it seems a bit of a leap. Why is she suddenly in a uniform, without our seeing her getting any military training? Did I miss something? But there are other omissions - not much back story about her, or her severe, upright new boss. They call the latter, Commandant Rivière, "le redoutable," or the formidable one, as she learns from her charming fellow trainee, Enseigne de vaisseau Loïc Dumont (Corentin Fila, the breakout star of Téchiné's recent success, Being Seven, a big boy now, this vibrant actor is ready for his own lead role).

Dumont and Laure become friendly right away and he calls her "meuf," slang for girl, subtitled with a logical neutrality here as "dude." Their uncomplicated ease together is explained soon: he's gay. Later, from the chief training officer Albertini (Claire Denis regular Alex Descas), Laure learns (in an anecdote of excessive frankness from an officer to a trainee) he, Albertini, at least calls Rivière "Le Moine," the Monk.

As a citizen critic on IMDb for this film comments from experience as himself a one-time French naval trainee, "the Ecole Navale in Lanveoc always feels too big for the little humans living in it." We feel that. And it's enhanced by repeated scenes of a parade ground by the water where the colors are raised from high above, dwarfing the figures there even more. Scenes at a parade ground where trainees are forced to drop and do forty pushups are a commonplace of such films as this, but as Boyd van Hoeij points out, this film puts its own somewhat dry art house spin on the "G.I. Jane" theme. The scenes here toy with ideas from countless military training films, no doubt including the one with Demi Moore; but toy is the operative word.

The usual story of this kind, for instance - van Hoeij makes the point - would have had Lambert Wilson's part "either been the impossibly demanding boss who is the obstacle that needs to be overcome or the love interest who makes her work impossible." But while Rivière gives off an air of severity, and he and Laure are obviously fascinated with each other, these are just teases. She has a boyfriend, Philippe (Jonathan Couzinie), back home, but may have lost interest in him (as well as in menstruating, which she tries to stop), and she has a sexual interlude with a random young colleague (Igor Kovalsky). But the writing doesn't develop Laure's sexual interests.

Laure does very little actual work at her secretarial job, before she suddenly and inexplicably enters combat training, taking time off from her secretarial duties - which weren't very heavy anyway: there is much more fussing over what uniform she will wear and how she will address her boss and salute him. The filmmakers seem to forget at times that military life is not all about style. Laure does a report, and then Rivière has her translate it into English (later, her Russian is much more severely tested). The real challenge comes when, like her pal Enseigne Dumont, Laure develops a desire to train for the commandos.

The IMDb critic-French naval training vet also commented he "thought a bit less of the commando training part that was a far cry from the very tough reality of it." He points out that "whatever your position is in the navy you will always spend a bit of time on the ships," but in this film that, which"could have added another dimension," "is not the case." No boats in this naval training.

Rivière refuses to allow Laure (actually known in the corps as "La Missy") to enter this training, but she manages to bypass him. There are some tough moments in the training, when she crawls on a rope over a pond and falls, climbing up a heavy rope, and jumping up and over a high barrier. Later an exercise with weapons and a Russian seems expressly invented to challenge her. She seems to have a great deal of difficulty but, the point is, she never gives up. And when her fascinating boss Rivière is no longer a factor, she moves on toward self-realization, with a feminist slant, because girls ("les meufs") aren't usually green berets.

What Fillières succeeds best in conveying in this film aren't the military details at all, but, aided by Rouxel with her limpid, vibrant purity and determination, is her character's fascination with the military life and her temporary idol, "le redoutable" AKA "le Moine," Commandant Rivière. And her purity of dedication. Not only can her commandant be called "The Monk." She seems a bit of a secular nun herself.

Raising Colors/Volontaire, 101 mins., opened in French theaters Jun. 2018; the AlloCiné press rating of 2.7 shows critics were not too impressed in general, though some were positive and many were impressed by the two leads. An IMDb User compared it favorably with [I]G.I. Jane. Screened for this review as part of the 2019 UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, 28 Feb. - 10 Mar. 2019.

Rendez-Vous showtimes:
[B]Friday, March 1, 4:00pm

Sunday, March 3, 5:45pm (Q&A with Hélène Fillières)[/B]

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