My Best Friend
My Best Friend (Mon Meilleur Ami) 2006, PG-13
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet
Writers: Olivia Dazat, Patrice Leconte, Jerome Tonnerre
Director: Patrice Leconte
Distributor: Wild Bunch
Availability: Amazon streaming
The French are known for being frank, or just saying what they think. Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is sitting at a restaurant table with some acquaintances, which includes his antiques business partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet), when he suddenly gets blasted with a strong shot of reality.
Francois had just told everyone, with a smirk on his face, that there were just a handful of people at the funeral he just attended. Their unified response: "That's more than you would get. No one would come to your funeral because you have no friends." Shocked, Francois hems and haws, but cannot name a best friend. "Okay," Catherine says. "Let's make a bet. If you cannot introduce us to your best friend in ten days, that vase you just bought is mine (cost them $200,000)." He agrees because what else could he do? Admit he has no friends. No way.
Thus, the race begins. Francois attends seminars on how to make friends. He boldly asks people in restaurants and on the street, if they look like friends, how they did it. He tracks down an old grade school chum--who's not so chummy and has a different recollection of their relationship. Finally, he notices that his taxi driver, Bruno (Dany Boon), is very friendly with everyone and appears to have mastered the art of friendship building. Previously, Francois only thought Bruno was a bore because he was constantly talking about trivia facts. Now, for a price, he asks Bruno to mentor him.
Slowly, Francois and Bruno become friends, if just by virtue of spending so much time together. He meets Bruno's parents and learns of a deep hurt in Bruno's life when Bruno is out of the room.
Is Francois just using Bruno to win his bet? Or, has he really learned how to be a friend?
This is one of those rare, well-written comedies that offers more than just a few silly laughs. Friends are precious, indeed, and blessed is the person who has one or two really good ones.
"Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).
*A few things you should know about the film: There is some language, though not enough to ruin it for me. One f-bomb. Catherine also confesses she is a lesbian and there is a scene when she is talking on the phone with Francois sitting on her bed and her partner is seen lying down under the covers next to her.
The Well-Digger's Daughter
The Well-Digger's Daughter (2011) NR (probably would be PG-13 for adult themes)
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Kad Merad, Nicolas Duvauchette
Writers: Marcel Pagnol, (book, screenplay of 1940 film of same name), Daniel Auteuil (screenplay)
Director: Daniel Auteuil
This directorial debut of the famous French actor, Daniel Auteuil, who also stars in the movie, is almost flawless in my opinion. The acting is tremendous, the story redemptive, and the cinematography is beautiful. Based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol of the same name, the story is largely about a lower class well-digger, Pascal Amoretti, who is a widower with six daughters, and how he deals with an unexpected event.
The secondary story focus is on his favorite daughter and the oldest, Patricia, who was raised by Pascal's sister in Paris but came back to help her father with her sisters after her mother died. She is refined and innocent and he sees her as an angel until she becomes pregnant by a French Air Force pilot who seduces her, and then leaves suddenly when he is called away during WW I, before he even knows he's a father.
In disgrace and disappointment Amoretti sends her away to live with another relative. It breaks his heart but he sees this as his only alternative. The scene where Patricia tells her father of her pregnancy is both sad and courageous on Patricia's part knowing how her father saw her as the perfect child. Pascal's younger friend, Felipe Rambert (played well by Kad Merad), a humble and good man, brings another dynamic to the plot as someone hoping to rectify the situation as a would-be suitor of Patricia. What makes this difficult is Patricia's sister is in love with him.
Pascal is portrayed as a character of high integrity and confronts the parents of the father of his daughter's child to inform them of what happened. They are merchants from a higher class, which makes for an emotional exchange. The film is refreshing in the sense that the setting is a time and culture where abortion was not a common-place convenience and holding out-of-wedlock fathers accountable for their actions was the right of all parents found in such trying circumstances.
This is a high quality drama that is artistically done with delightful dialogue and an awesome look at France's lovely southern landscape with a pertinent message for today. There is no nudity and the sex scene is very discreet. As a drama, I think it is one of the best French movies I've ever seen.
"The rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are" (Proverbs 28:11).
The African Doctor
The African Doctor (2016) PG
(the literal translation from the French is "Welcome to Marly-Gomont")
Starring: Marc Zinga, Aissa Maiga, Medina Diarra, Bayron Lebli
Writers: Benoit Graffin, Julien Rambaldi, Kamini Zantoko
Director: Julien Rambaldi
DIstributor: Mars Distributors
When Seyolo Zantoko from Zaire (or Congo today) completed his medical studies in France in 1975, he decided to accept a post in Marly--Gomont, a small village in this country, rather than take a cushy job with his country's dictator back in his homeland. Little did he know, however, what awaited he and his family (his wife, Anne, and their son and daughter--Kamini and Sivi) in a little town that had never seen a black man, much less a whole family of Africans.
This movie, based on a true story and partly written by the son, Kamini Zantoko, starts off with comic effect as Seyolo communicates his good fortune to his wife, still in Zaire, who misunderstands him to mean that they will be near Paris. Her joy is short-lived, however, when they arrive in the rain to a muddy, rural town, and her husband does not have any patients. He tries to break through at the village pub but discovers he cannot hold his liquor as well as the locals. His children also find their fellow students less than welcoming.
In many ways, their challenges in the movie are not unlike those familiar to many cross-cultural missionaries today trying to break into that culture. I worked as a Christian worker in France for almost ten years and I definitely felt at times like I was from another planet in the small towns where we lived, much like the Zantokos. I admire this family's perseverance and their courage to slug it out emotionally to try to win the hearts of the people.
There are many funny scenes. Probably the most amusing is when the Zantokos friends and relatives from Zaire come to celebrate Christmas. They all go to the Catholic mass in town and Seyolo is trying hard to keep a low profile, just trying to blend in with the quiet, somber ceremony, when all of a sudden one of the African women breaks out in a soulful rendition of a Christmas carol and all the Africans join in, to his horror. One older French lady is thrilled, however, by the performance and claps heartily while the rest stare in shocked silence.
This movie has a lot of humor but carries a strong message against prejudice, racism, and judging people by their appearance. Good film. Worth watching.
"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God..." (John 1:10-12).
Frantz (2016, 2017 USA) PG-13
Starring: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stotzner, Marie Gruber
Writers: Francois Ozon with Philippe Piazzo
Director: Francois Ozon
Distributor: Music Box Films (USA, 2017)
Subtitles in English (French film)
At the beginning of this excellently made arts film, a melancholy young woman, Anna, is seen carrying flowers to the grave of her fiancé, Frantz, who was a German soldier killed at the end of WW I. Surprisingly, she sees that someone else has left flowers before her. Soon she discovers that the mysterious person is a young French man, Adrien Rivoire, who she assumes was a friend of Frantz’s from before the war.
Anna invites him home, where she lives with Frantz’s parents who treat her like a daughter. At first, Doctor Hans Hoffmeister, wants nothing to do with him saying: “All the French killed my son.” Later, however, as Adrien talks about his friendship with Frantz to Anna and his wife, the doctor warms up to him and looks forward to his visits. Adrien also is professional violinist and, at their urging, plays for them on Frantz’s old violin, but he is too overwhelmed with thoughts of Frantz to complete the piece.
Meanwhile, Anna is slowly becoming attached to this sensitive man who also loved Frantz and even consents to attend a ball with him. One evening, however, Adrien does not show up for dinner. Anna goes to look for him and finds him at Frantz’s grave where he finally shares the real reason he’s come to Germany. The rest of the movie pivots on this revelation.
The film captures well the sentiments after the war in both France and Germany and the beautiful black and white cinematography effectively transports the viewer back to that earlier era. The acting is top-notch and the intricate plot keeps you guessing what is going to happen next. It also addresses such profound topics as forgiveness, the questionable bravado of older men sending their young men to die in war, and the ethics of lying to people to keep them from getting hurt.
On the spiritual side, there is a scene where Anna goes to confession in a Catholic Church.
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
*The only thing I found inappropriate was when Adrien asks Anna if she wants to swim with him in her underclothes. She declines. Anna also stays at a hotel in Paris where there are prostitutes, but nothing is really seen.
William Kelly's War
William Kelly's War (2014) PG-13*
Starring: Josh Davis, Tony Bonner
Writers: Geoff Davis, Mat Davis, Josh Davis
Director: Geoff Davis
Distributor: Multicom Entertainment Group
*I gave it a U.S. PG-13 rating because of violence
This is one of those films I saw listed on Netflix that looked interesting. For the most part I found it engaging and well-done for a B war movie. Based loosely on a real character from Australian history, William Kelly, it shows Kelly's early talent in marksmanship, his close-knit family, and his eventual enlistment into the Australian army to fight in WW I in which he displays his unusual shooting skills.
The plot thickens, however, when Kelly returns home and finds out that a greedy farmer and his men have killed his father (played by Tony Bonner, the actor from The Man From Snowy River) and kidnapped his sister. He and his brother must then discover who did these awful deeds and hunt them down.
The positive elements include strong family bonds, good action, no sex scenes, little swearing, and a good story. One thing I didn't like was his tolerance of his con artist friend duping fellow soldiers out of their money by telling outrageous stories like: "Do you see this egg here? It is probably the last egg available in France, but I'll sell it to you for... ."
The movie also shows that some Australians opposed Australia's entrance into WW I.
In terms of spiritual elements, there are not many. God is not mentioned but a mother does tell a religious man that she doesn't pray anymore after her son died in the war.
A good independent movie, not great (see Saints and Soldiers for one I thought was exceptional). It was Interesting to see a film from another country and see their unique perspectives on historical events.
Journey to Greenland
Journey to Greenland (2016)
Starring: Thomas Scimeca, Thomas Blanchard, Francois Chattot
Writer: Sebatien Betbeter
Director: Sebatien Betbeter
Distributor: UFO Distribution
This French film is an engaging slice-of-life comedy about two Parisian, parka-wearing, never-wash-their-hair, struggling actors, both named Thomas, who go to a small Inuit village in Greenland to visit one of their fathers. At first, they are a bit intimidated by the community’s isolation and primitive conditions (Nathan, the father, for example, has to go fetch water for the house and someone else comes to take out the human waste) but they quickly plug into the village’s activities such as cheering Nate on as he competes in the local dog sled race, seal hunting with the stoic Inuit “great hunter,” eating strange food, and jamming with some amateur musicians.
And, like any cross-cultural travelers, they must learn to communicate with people who do not know their language and adapt to their new environment. For example, they happen to be visiting when this part of Greenland has daylight 24/7. They muse on why the villagers don’t simply get shutters to make it easier to sleep. One thinks the dad does not do that because he is a foreigner and it would make him stand out as being different. In other words, they reason, to blend into another culture you sometimes have to sacrifice your comfort to fit in. There are some amusing scenes where the Thomases imagine the natives are saying one thing when, in fact, they are saying the exact opposite. One such scene involves a native girl named Nukannguaq that one of them has taken a shine to.
There are also flashbacks to their lives in Paris. One is when the two men meet at an improvisation class. The teacher calls them up in front of the class to improvise a scene between two brothers. One has just gotten home and has seen his brother kissing the girl he likes at school. During their improvised scene, however, they do not speak about the incident at school but random things. This annoys the teacher. One Thomas explains why they did not just come out with it: “It is very difficult to talk to family members about matters of the heart.” The teacher challenges that idea. He then asks her bluntly, “Do you have brothers or sisters?” She says no and they are both convinced that she does not know what she is talking about and leave the classroom together, thus bonding their friendship.
What is refreshing about this movie is slowly getting to know the main characters through their candid conversations and being exposed to life in a starkly beautiful country few would want to visit. I appreciated their lack of condescension toward their hosts and their humility to try to get to know the people and their culture. I think Nakannguaq summed it up best when she bolted out of her house to say goodbye to them at the end: “I am glad to have met you. You’re nice boys.”
As the credits rolled at the end, I was surprised to be subtly moved by what I had just seen and, like the Inuit girl, glad I had spent some time with two amiable young men from France.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Colossians 3:12).
Loving Vincent (2017) PG-13
Starring: (voices) Robert Gulaczyk, Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Helen McCrory
Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welshman
Writers: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welshman, Jacek Dehnel
Distributor: Altitude Film Distribution
Fine arts fans rejoice! For the first time in cinematic history, a fully oil-painted animated feature-length movie now exists. Filming live actors performing the movie and then painting each frame using 125 classically trained painters from 20 countries recreating Vincent van Gogh's artistic style, Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welshman have created a truly unique film. To top it off, they even use the characters from Van Gogh's most famous paintings to tell the story.
The plot line is relatively simple. Postmaster Joseph Roulin, a friend of the artist, commissions his adult son, Armand, to deliver Van Gogh's last letter to the deceased man's brother, Theo. While in the little French village where the artist died, Armand becomes intrigued with Van Gogh's last days and begins a personal investigation into his apparent suicide. He speaks with the medical doctor who examined Van Gogh's body. The doctor makes some interesting points--the first one being: "If he really wanted to kill himself he would have shot himself in the head." The second point was the bullet's positioning and angle in the body. It came from a distance away from the body, he claims, which would make it impossible for the artist to do it himself.
Another doctor who befriended Van Gogh disagrees with this assessment and says matter-of-factly: "Remember, this same man tore off his ear to give it to a prostitute so he does not do what other people do." Although the movie does not come up with definite conclusions, it does sow doubt into some widely accepted notions.
Visually, this movie is a marvel to behold. You may even want to add another category to the Academy Awards: Best Animated Actor.
As a viewer, you can't help but feel compassion for this sensitive and tortured soul and a renewed appreciation for his artistic genius. You may also have a thought that...maybe, just maybe...he wasn't so crazy after all.
"Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:3).