Feeling perky and well-rested as I settle in for the first of three French movies in a row: “Thérèse Desqueyroux,” the last movie by the gifted Claude Miller, based on a novel by Francois Mauriac that was previously filmed by Georges Franju. (Last week, in Telluride, I fell asleep counting Joan of Arcs – even Jane Wiedlin, in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” being greeted as “Miss of Arc!” Last night I counted Anna Kareninas: two Great Garbos, one Vivien Leigh, one Jacqueline Bisset, one Sophie Marceau, and one Keira Knightley. I now await yet another new version of “Cousin Bette.”)
This version stars an unusually dour and severe Audrey Tatou – I vainly expected a dewy and girlish transformation to occur after sexual awakening, but no: Tatou is going to look worse before Paris and freedom, not sex, puts some bloom back in those cheeks. She marries to combine adjacent pine forests, not for love, and capriciously decides to poison her husband after she sees him taking his own accidental, but slight, overdose of arsenic drops. The husband, sickened but not unto death, not only declines to prosecute but perjures himself in order to avoid scandal.
Recently beguiled by a second viewing of Miller’s 1976 “La meilleure facon de marcher” at Karlovy Vary, my desire to see more of Miller’s work is increased.
Afterwards a conventional, well-acted film, “A Few Hours of Spring,” starring Vincent Lindon as a man of few words who moves in with his ailing mother, Hélène Vincent, after being released from 18 months in prison, and discovers that his mother has arranged to end her life by assisted suicide. The cynical part of my brain was amused by seeing Lindon, who lived with Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of Roman Polanski, incarnate grungy blue-collar types who meet at a bowling alley; the Francophile in me enjoyed watching Lindon, who gets a job sorting trash, snack on pâteé de campagne and good cheese; and the sentimental side of me got teary-eyed when it took imminent death to reconcile mother and son.
At Telluride, last weekend, I came upon the usually joyous Alice Waters weeping under a tree. I knew that both her parents were dead, and I assumed she’d gotten terrible news about another family member or close friend. It turned out that she’d just seen Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” which had not moved me nearly as much (and I’d hoped it would). She told me both that this is why we need the power to end our own lives, and that she thought she was finished with seeing movies for the day – “One masterpiece is enough.” “A Few Hours of Spring” is not a masterpiece, but I found myself wanting to get a copy to Alice.
Afterwards I saw “Après Mai,” aka “Something in the Air,” Olivier Assayas’ somewhat autobiographical, charmingly kinetic memoir of the early 70s, when change was in the air and everything seemed possible, politically, artistically, romantically. Political expediencies take a group of young French activists to Italy over the summer, where they form new alliances that take them from late adolescence into young adulthood. Lola Créton, who played Assayas’ real-life partner, Mia Hansen-Love, in her own autobiographical film, “Goodbye First Love,” appears here as the main character’s girlfriend, a neat trick of casting.
Afterwards I ran into Maureen O’Donnell, who’s completing her publicist duties on Laurent Cantet’s “Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang,” by ferrying around its many young actresses. I tell her that I found it more Joyce Carol Oates’ movie than Cantet’s, whose “Ressources humaines” and “L’Emploi du temps” I found considerably more interesting, and happily Maureen does not shoot me.
Mika Kaurismaki’s “Road North,” a well-intentioned, jovial little comedy in which a feckless ex-bank-robber/small-time crook improves his piano virtuoso son’s life by taking him on a road trip and introducing him to his half-sister, his heretofore unknown real mother, and effecting a family reconciliation before departing in melodramatic fashion, keeps me off the streets before it’s time to get in line at Roy Thomson Hall for the Gala presentation of Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s contemporary adaptation of “What Maisie Knew,” one of my favorite Henry James novels – hell, one of my favorite novels, full stop.
I often want to kill people inside Toronto’s theaters, as they text and check messages with abandon, but I enjoy them on line, as we discuss what we’ve seen and hope to see. I strike up a wary instant friendship with a young man who’s working on a project at WNET in NY that sounds “Baraka” or “Samsara”-like, and I have his card to prove it, as I know many people who would like — no, love — to provide him with footage. I also enjoy the constant fashion show parading by on King Street: it’s a sultry night, and quite the leg show.
Inside, for their $43.25, the rushees are given the worst remaining seats and miss the stage introductions of cast and crew, as the film starts within seconds of our group sitting down. I find that “What Maisie Knew” translates quite nicely from the turn of the 19th century to the dawn of the 21st, although tiny and fragile Onata Aprile seems less knowing than my remembered Maisie, more acted-upon than acting.
As I trudge homeward from the subway, I spy a sleek fat rat racing past the Canadian Yacht Club into some shrubbery. He seems as unthreatening as the lightly-clad college kids partying on the streets.