May 3, 2012 6:03 pm

Løve story with a touch of Rohmer

This week’s films reviewed: ‘Goodbye First Love’, ‘Le Quai des Brumes’, ‘Angel and Tony’, ‘Monsieur Lazhar’, ‘Safe’ and ‘American Reunion’

Goodbye First Love is romantic history as told by the one left behind. It starts off as the tale of Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), a pair of teens in late-1990s Paris, until Sullivan decides to go travelling in South America. In skipping town, he sacrifices not just the beautiful, delicate Camille but the right to have his story told.

It’s a good decision on the part of the writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve: Camille’s is the story worth telling. While Sullivan – who defines himself in terms of freedom and possibility – is off scratching his itchy feet, Camille – who defined herself in terms of her love for Sullivan – struggles to find hers. We follow her through various night-jobs and haircuts, and a wide range of weather conditions. Eventually she trains as an architect, finding herself drawn to Le Corbusier, but proves too romantic to put his principles into practice (“What you’ve imagined is a monastery”).

Hansen-Løve, in telling the story of her own adolescence or something like it, has a remarkable expressive resource in the actress Lola Créton, who appeared in Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard in 2009, but is called upon here to evoke that sense of churning uncertainty, and that response of determined striving, more typically associated with Eric Rohmer. Créton has the doe-like Rohmer face, and Hansen-Løve has the cool Rohmer touch – the one that lends grandeur to tales of middle-class Parisian heartache.

4 stars


The director Marcel Carné made a film straight after 1938’s Le Quai des BrumesHôtel du Nord, the same year – that makes the former look poky and dull, but Hôtel du Nord, by failing to star Jean Gabin, isn’t eligible for the British Film Institute’s Gabin season. Le Quai des Brumes is eligible, and is being given an extended reissue off the back of it. In the film, Gabin plays a deserter from the colonial army who arrives in Le Havre and within hours has irritated a gangster and fallen in love with a local girl.

François Truffaut complained that the psychological realism of the 1940s and 1950s was neither real nor psychological, and a similar charge might be levelled at the earlier “poetic realism” of which Carné and his screenwriter Jacques Prévert were the main practitioners. On this occasion the results are frustrating, though Michel Simon is wonderfully vulnerable as the shopkeeper Zabel, who complains about the injustice of loving like Romeo but looking like Bluebeard.

3 stars


For Tony in Angel & Tony, that inclination and that disadvantage prove altogether more compatible. It’s a screwball comedy played straight and with the gender dynamics inverted. The presentation of the characters is pleasingly counterintuitive: Grégory Gadebois, with his bowling-ball head and sausage-meat hands, plays Tony as responsible, tolerant, kind, whereas the casually glamorous Clotilde Hesme comes across as tough, remote and cold. Tony may be the fisherman, but it’s Angel who swears like one. We don’t find out what made her this way (or why she isn’t allowed to see her son). But we don’t need to know what happened in her old life, only to care how things work out in her new one. The details of Normandy fishing life are rendered with surprising care.

3 stars


The protagonist of Monsieur Lazhar emigrates from one former French colony (Algeria) to another (Quebec) in search of happiness. He applies for a middle-school teaching job suddenly vacant after a suicide, without mentioning all the skeletons in his closet. The skeletons aren’t his fault, but they may nevertheless be his undoing. In the meantime, he gets on famously with the children in his charge.

The film invites comparison with Laurent Cantet’s 2008 film The Class, which makes it look tame by comparison, but also Dead Poets Society, which makes it look tough. The director Philippe Falardeau recognises the conflicting possibilities of the set-up, encouraging the actor Mohammed Fellag to be Chaplinesque, even Mr Bean-ish, in some of his movements, but he also shows genuine, not just cursory, interest in darker subject matter, both political and personal.

3 stars


Having somehow missed all three instalments of The Transporter and both instalments of Crank, not to mention Blitz, The Mechanic, and The Expendables, I continue to associate Jason Statham with his work for Guy Ritchie, a collaboration that could be used in business schools to demonstrate the concept of diminishing marginal returns (Lock, Stock, Snatch, Revolver). Statham’s career as an action star, now a decade old, appears to have a better chance of longevity, if the crisp, frill-free, unembarrassable Safe is anything to go by.

It’s the latest addition to the subgenre of The Child Who Knew Too Much (Mercury Rising, Leon), with Statham as a down-and-out ex-cop who becomes involved, through no-one’s fault but his own, in keeping a young Chinese girl safe (hence the title) from people planning to torture her to obtain the code to a safe (ditto). Statham is about as convincing at playing an American in the film as Philadelphia is at playing New York, but in a film whose pleasures are mostly confined to the sound of guns being assembled at speed and bad dialogue being delivered with glee, polish is beside the point.

3 stars


I confess, with only a little pride, a far greater degree of familiarity with the films in the American Pie series, of which American Reunion is the fourth. (That’s if you exclude, as you should, the spin-offs Band Camp, The Naked Mile, Beta House, and The Book of Love). The new film, written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, follows the other sequels in misreading the appeal of the first American Pie (1999) – its allegiance was more to Diner than Porky’s. An acute sense of nostalgia was generated without recourse to a period setting, and the characters were distinctly drawn. This time – which should be the last time – the old bittersweet tone is gone, replaced by the sickly sweet and the downright tasteless.

2 stars

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