Pras On World Films: THE DAY I SAW YOUR HEART (“Et Soudain, Tout Le Monde Me Manque” / FRANCE)

The Day I Saw Your Heart” (2011 release from France) is the most recent (July, 2012) release in the monthly Film Movement series of foreign and indie films.The original title of this movie is “Et Soudain, Tout Le Monde Me Manque” (which translates as “And Suddenly, I Miss Everyone”).

Fathers and sons are an age old subject for filmmakers (and even a standby for at least a few filmmakers), and although there are less films about women than men, mothers and sons and mothers and daughters are also pretty common (even if too many of the latter are banal comedies rather than serious dramas). THE DAY I SAW YOUR HEART from director / writer Jennifer Devoldère, is the rarest breed: a father and daughter drama told primarily from the perspective of the daughter. It’s a fascinatingly complex portrait of family dysfunction, poor communication, and the complicated emotions underneath it all. The film follows the delightful Justine Dhrey and her interactions with her family and new flame. The focal point of the story is her relationship with her father Eli Dhrey  which is a bittersweet one riddled with misunderstandings and failed communication.

Michel Blanc stars as Eli, who recently remarried and is expecting a baby with his new (and much younger) wife. He is a many-times married businessman (a wonderful character who’s fussy and eccentric and gets into trouble wherever he goes). His daughter Justine (Melanie Laurent, (Melanie Laurant from Inglorious Basterds, Beginners) is an X-ray technician and would-be artist, currently living with her half-sister Dom (Florence Loiret Caille) and her husband Bertrand (Sébastien Castro). Eli traveled for work while Justine was little, he wrote postcards during this time, yet she never forgave him for the neglect and he for reasons never understood sent the postcards or told Justine about them. The way that Eli finds a connection to Justine is through her ex boyfriends who he awkwardly at first, befriends and then at times hires to work for him. Justine for most of the film is unaware of this, she believes her father to be critical of her when she drew and failed to defend her, when she was bullied as a child. Justine, meanwhile finds him baffling and frustrating — and infuriating in his propensity for making friends with all her ex-boyfriends.

Justine is fickle when it comes to romance — many remark about the five boyfriends she’s gone through just in the last year –but things start looking up when she meets a shoe salesman named Sami (Guillaume Gouix). The only problem left in her life is that of her father, Eli (Michel Blanc), who she fights with constantly. Justine feels emotionally abandoned by Eli, who frequently criticized her as a child; It is through Justine’s job as a mammogram technician that she finds her creative outlet using the equipment after hours to take pictures and make what is referred to as x-ray art. This is introduced to us as her romance with Sami (Guillaume Gouix) develops. The interest that they show towards each other is ideally how all romances should begin, including the song that plays as it happens. Though it is abruptly cut off when her father attempts to form a relationship with Sami of his own accord. Eli  simply doesn’t know how to articulate his love for Justine, reserving his passion for golf for people like Atom and praise for Justine’s art for her sister’s ears. “Whenever I’m away, I find I miss them,” he tells Atom, as if such an experience were mysterious and strange.

Eli has another grown daughter, Dom(inique), who is looking to adopt a baby with her husband. After many failed attempts for Dom to get pregnant, and her father’s own success at conceiving another child, convince Dom and Bertrand to adopt.

Eli, who has just married a much younger woman and his third wife, Suzanne (Claude Perron), and the fact they’re expecting a child, frustrates Eli, who knows his relationship with his existing daughters is far from great. Dom and Ju are also appalled that their dad is to become a father again, given the terrible job he did with them. As the family begins to grow, it’s during Suzanne’s pregnancy that her and Justine are able to build a relationship where before there was avoidance. It is not clear why the family as a whole treats Justine as a child, which is eventually done thoughtlessly. It’s when Eli & Suzanne announce that they are pregnant does it challenge Justine’s place as the baby of the family and unbeknownst to her the special place she has in her father’s heart. Possibly as a way to maintain Justine’s place Eli suggests to Suzanne the idea of having an abortion. Her reaction and what she does to him when she hears this is hilarious. Throughout the something’s Eli says or does have you question his character, but eventually see that he is trying though not always done the best way.

In order to work on his connection with Justine, he also decides to become friends with her previous boyfriend, Atom (Manu Payet)…without telling Justine. It is during a golf outing with Atom that Eli and Atom discuss where the responsibility for a parent child relationship lies. Atom believes that it is up to his own father to show interest in his efforts to become a comedian. Eli disagrees believing it to be up to the child, to take the first step.

Shortly after, Eli learns about Justine’s x-ray art he approaches her to be one of her models, she at first refuses. Up to this point has taken pictures of almost everything. At times it is quite amusing as she takes items out of her sister, Dom (Florence Loiret Caille) and brother in law, Bertrand’s (Sébastien Castro) home without their knowledge.

As Eli’s meddling in Justine’s relationships come to a head and Justine moves into the home stretch of her art project. But not everything is what it appears to be, and as the movie progresses we see signs of change in both Eli and Ju. Eli learns he needs to have an operation for his heart, and he opts not to tell Justine about it because he feels she’s stressed enough — a quiet, fatherly move that tears at Justine when she finds out but seems so innocuous and random in the moment.

It seems as if there are only so many routes for The Day I Saw Your Heart to take that would keep the film on the same tonal track, but Devoldère takes a rougher road less traveled, and comes out the other side with a uniquely satisfying ending. Unlike American romantic comedies, the failure of Justine and Eli to communicate is simple and personal. Wisely, Devoldère puts Justine and Eli together for some scenes at the beginning where their relationship is not the focus: the announcement of Suzanne’s pregnancy, a tense lunch a few days later, then separates them, allowing them to fill in the blanks of their trouble relationship by talking to other people (Justine to Sami, Eli to Atom), allowing the audience to sympathize equally with both of them.  Devoldère also artfully illustrates the functional communication between Justine and Dom in a sweet scene where Dom has learned she can’t have children, and Justine begins listing all the powerful people in history who were adopted. Chemistry between Sami and Justine is handled with an equally delicate touch — it’s a sweet, casual connection, not a passionate love affair, and yet somehow that makes their connection even more potent. Laurent, carrying the movie, is bright and charming, giving the movie an effervescence that proves crucial. The charms of the film are reserved, but the film has a sweet, authentic humanity from strong writing and an engaging lead performance, lifting it above most of its competitors.

Legendary French actor Michel Blanc brings Eli as if he was born to play this role, but Melanie Laurent as his daughter Ju is the true break-out star of this movie. Also noteworthy is the soundtrack of the movie, with great songs placements from Ben Kweller, Regina Spektor and Nina Simone, among others.

Laurent has an interesting screen quality, sensitive and yet with an occasional edge of impassiveness, an unwillingness to engage in comforting niceties. Writer-director Jennifer Devoldere created the role with Laurent in mind and makes use of that special quality, particularly in a scene in which she looks at her father’s X-ray and detects what could be a serious health problem. She cares, but there’s nothing sentimental about her. The portrait of a contemporary Jewish family in Paris is rounded out by Florence Loiret Caille, who plays Laurent’s sister.


DIRECTED BY  Jennifer Devoldère

PRODUCER   Farid Lahouassa, Aïssa Djabri

SCRENPLAY   Jennifer Devoldère

CAMERA   Laurent Tangy

CAST   Mélanie Laurent, Michel Blanc, Géraldine Nakache, Florence Loiret-Caille, Claude Perron, Guillaume Gouix, Sébastien Castro, Manu Payet, Jean-Yves Roan, Romain Levy, Alexandre Steiger, Daniel Cohen, Luce Mouchel

MUSIC Nathan Johnson

SOUND Jérôme Wiciak

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Pras on World Films: THE WAY

The title of “The Way” refers to the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, the 1,000-year old route from France to northern Spain that thousands of peregrinos, or pilgrims, walk each year, ending at the site where the remains of Saint James are reportedly buried.

The WayWriter-director Emilio Estevez follows four pilgrims, including dad Martin Sheen, in search of emotional meaning on El Camino de Santiago. The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father  Martin Sheen in one of Sheen’s best performances, depicts a spiritual journey.

Sheen plays Tom Avery, a California ophthalmologist and also a widower long  estranged from his only son, Daniel (Estevez), a wanderer Tom rejects for his  lack of focus. When Tom learns that Daniel has died in a storm in the French  Pyrenees, he leaves immediately to collect the body. Instead, he collects the  truth about who his son was. Daniel had just started a pilgrimage along  the Camino de Santiago, an 800-mile trek from the Pyrenees to the Cathedral  of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the burial place of St. James. But as we  learn, the journey can be motivated by reasons outside a search for God. Even as  Tom stops along the way to spread the ashes of his son (played Estevez in  flashbacks), he is stubborn non-believer.  Armed with his son’s backpack and guidebook, Tom navigates the 800 km pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees, to Santiago de Compostela in the north west of Spain, but soon discovers that he will not be alone on this journey. While walking The Camino, Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, all broken and looking for greater meaning in their lives: a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen) a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irish writer (James Nesbitt) who is suffering from a bout of “writer’s block.” From the hardship experienced along “The Way” this unlikely quartet of misfits create an everlasting bond and Tom begins to learn what it means to be a citizen of the world again, and discovers the difference between “The life we live and the life we choose”. THE WAY was filmed entirely in Spain and France along the actual Camino de Santiago.

Mr. Sheen plays an ophthalmologist named Tom, whose only son, Daniel (Mr. Estevez), dies in severe weather in the Pyrenees while trying to walk the Way of St. James (also known as the Camino de Santiago), a pilgrimage of hundreds of miles that ends in northwest Spain at a cathedral where the Apostle James is said to be buried. Tom goes to retrieve his son’s body and ends up walking the pilgrimage himself, scattering Daniel’s ashes along the way.

The Way is a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges we face while navigating this ever changing and complicated world. Martin Sheen plays Tom, an irascible American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. Rather than return home, Tom decides embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn’t plan on, is the profound impact the journey will have on him and his “California Bubble Life”. Inexperienced as a trekker, Tom soon discovers that he will not be alone on this journey.

The gentle drama offers an intriguing look at the contemporary version of an ancient ritual, and is anchored by the on-screen work of the writer-director’s father, Martin Sheen. At its best, “The Way” addresses the matter of privilege; among its most compelling scenes is a healthy argument about what it means to be a “true pilgrim” in the 21st century. The film is really a gift from this son to his father. Sheen, gradually  revealing a man painfully getting reacquainted with long buried feelings, who  gives the film its bruised heart. This is not an “inspirational film” in the usual, syrupy sense; none of these people are overtly finding God on this trek. The beauty of the movie, in fact, is that Mr. Estevez does not make explicit what any of them find, beyond friendship. He lets these four fine actors convey that true personal transformations are not announced with fanfare, but happen internally.   Martin Sheen gives a lovely performance as the no-nonsense doctor, and he gets wonderful support from actors playing fellow travelers who befriend Tom: Yorick van Wageningen as a verbose Dutchman, Deborah Kara Unger as an acid-tongued woman trying to quit smoking, and James Nesbitt as an Irishman with writer’s block. Yorick van Wageningen is the most convincing of the trio, playing gluttonous, gregarious and kind “Joost from Amsterdam,” as he usually introduces himself. James Nesbitt’s “Jack from Ireland,” a blocked travel writer, enters the story like a mad poet, in a bit of actorly overkill set in a scarecrow-friendly field. And as Sarah, the world’s only angry Canadian, Deborah Kara Unger portrays a character whose pain-beneath-the-swagger is evident but who’s never entirely persuasive.

Emilio Estevez is both writer and director of this film, and also turns up in a small role, but he gives the spotlight to his father, who makes quite a lot out of a low-key story that could easily have degenerated into mush.

THE WAY        Written and directed by Emilio Estevez; director of photography, Juanmi Azpiroz; edited by Raúl Dávalos; music by Tyler Bates; art direction by Víctor Molero; costumes by Tatiana Hernández; produced by Mr. Estevez and David Alexanian; released by Producers Distribution Agency and Arc Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Emilio Estevez (Daniel), Martin Sheen (Tom), Deborah Kara Unger (Sarah), Yorick van Wageningen (Joost) and James Nesbitt (Jack).

Pras On WorldFilms: HABEMUS PAPAM (“We Have A Pope”)

HABEMUS PAPAM” — Latin for “We Have a Pope,” the expression with which the election of a pontiff is announced — is a surprisingly gentle comedy about a cardinal (played by 85-year-old French actor Michel Piccoli) who suffers an attack of stage fright when he is chosen as the next pontiff. 

The film is an examination of the holiest of holy cows, the papacy.  Moretti’s conception of the Holy Father is a man weighed down by the immensity of his burden, who must reconcile human fears with spiritual responsibilities, and who is drawn equally to the life of the world and the life of the mind.

The film begins in the opulent quarters of the cardinals’ conclave as they gather and vote in secret for the one in their midst who will be the next Pope. We follow the 108 cardinals gathered together as they enter the papal conclave to make the vote.

As they gather round to cast their votes, we hear their inner thoughts and one thing becomes clear: none of them want the job. It’s a huge job, and a tremendous responsibility and as most are elderly and comfortable with their routines in their respective parts of the world, not many are eager to find their life uprooted. The first round of votes seem to point to Gregoire (who the media believes is the frontrunner) getting elected but in a final vote, the tide shifts totally and to the unknown Melville.  He is rightly stunned. As his colleagues surround him, he officially accepts the position. Officials hurry to present him to the crowd and just as the moment arrives, the new Pope exclaims in anguish and runs back into the nooks and crannies of the Vatican. Unable not only to face the throng waiting to see their new Pontiff, Melville himself is unconvinced that God has given him the tools and faculties he needs to do the job. He’s simply not ready.

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Panic-stricken, he flees the Vatican to wander the streets of Rome, where he meets shop-girls, bakers, cafe workers and a band of Chekhov-spouting actors. But desperate times call for desperate measures and a psychoanalyst (Played by Moretti, taking a role in his own film) is brought into the Vatican to try and counsel the reluctant pontiff. The key word here is try. Unfortunately, he can’t be left alone with the Pope to truly talk out their problems. Psychology is seen as being counter to the teachings of the church (a subconscious and a soul can’t coexist, it seems) and it doesn’t matter anyway as he is constantly surrounded by the other cardinals, their first and only meeting is superficial and not very helpful. Asking why he was even bothered to be called up, he is simply told that he was considered “the best” in his field. So, what do they do? They seek out the second best, who just happens to be Moretti’s wife.

Back at the Vatican, the Pope’s runaway is kept secret. Charged with damage control is the Vatican’s PR maven (Jerzy Stuhr). He arranges for a Swiss Guard (Gianluca Gobbi) to occupy the Pope’s room and open and close the curtains as if he were there. As the Pope still hasn’t been seen by the public and due to the sensitive nature of what is going on, Moretti is remanded to the Vatican grounds to hang with the cardinals until everything is sorted out. Then, in secret, the Pope is taken into town to see the second best psychoanalyst. This session is much more successful mostly because the Pope can talk a bit more freely (but still can’t reveal who he is). But getting what he can off his chest does wonders and he leave the analyst’s office, decides to take a brief walk and uses the opportunity to shake the security detail on him and escape into the streets.

Some of the film’s more humorous moments come from the absurdity of the charade staged to convince the cardinals, and everyone else, that the Pope is recovering in his filmjournal/photos/stylus/1325248-We_Have_Pope_Md.jpgapartments, saying his prayers, and empty trays of food are brought forth to prove that his appetite is vigorous. Meanwhile, the cloistered psychoanalyst draws closer to the cardinals, playing cards with them, discussing faith and eventually, he forms teams and organizes a volleyball tournament under the guise that the Pope could use the show of strength from his cardinals (though one suspects that boredom is quickly settling in for the civilian doctor, who would like to leave). And while all this is happening, the Pope is among the citizens who have no idea who he is, as he tries to work out if actually being the Pontiff is something he wants, or is capable of doing, and though unspoken, he wonders if turning to faith for his whole life has fulfilled him. Having disclosed his interest in the theatre (Melville studied acting but failed auditions), the Pope also tags along with a traveling troupe staying in his hotel and gets to show off some Chekhov dialogue. He even buys a box seat at a performance, but a gaggle of cardinals are also in attendance and complicate matters.

Probably the most controversial film screening at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, thanks to the usually virulent reaction that anything that is even remotely anti-religion tends to get these days, Habemus Papam is director Nanni Moretti‘s latest irony-laced film, which takes a stab at the institution of the Vatican. “ This isn’t new territory for Moretti, who follows up 1984′s religious satire The Mass is Ended, with this look at the Vatican’s attempt to elect a new Pope, which remarkably is also the Italian director’s sixth film in Competition at Cannes over the years.

Moretti’s premise is enticing, almost brilliant. One pope dies, and the conclave to elect his successor settles on Cardinal Melville, played with perfect mournful sensitivity by 85-year-old Michel Piccoli.  Moretti pulls off a tremendous opening set-piece, in which the assembled cardinals cast their votes for one of their number, each and every one praying they don’t get the nod, aware of the crushing effect that the pontificate would have on their lives. It’s at the very moment when the cry of “habemus papam” – “we have a pope” – goes up that Melville’s self-doubt surges out of control; in a great howl of fear, he refuses to step out onto the balcony, and throws the papal selection process into limbo.

We are all set for a King’s-Speech style encounter between a great man and his teacher, whose relationship will define the other and provide both with an emotional journey. But Moretti has his pope suddenly scoot off into the big city, there to wander through the quotidian realities in a long dark night of the soul, in which he must wrestle with his doubts alone. Analyst Moretti is left behind in the Vatican, there to play cards with the cardinals and arrange the aforementioned volleyball tournament. With the two men apart, the film starts to meander, hopping between scenes with no particular connection, and thereby losing much of its narrative focus.  That’s not to say much of what remains isn’t valuable and funny. Moretti is a loose and entertaining presence as he tries to keep order in the cloisters, and Piccoli is always thoughtful and humane as his troubled soul pushes him from bakery to theatre to hotel. There’s something of Christ among the people about him, especially in one particularly moving scene when he rehearses his doubts aloud on a crowded bus.

Moretti deserves respect for not simply taking a hatchet to the papal office; it’s an easy target in the aftermath of the abuse scandals and most directors would be unable to resist. HABEMUS PAPAM wants to emphasise the human consequences of a great religious office, and in that it succeeds.

Margherita Buy Actress Margherita Buy attends the "Habemus Papam" premiere at the Palais des Festivals during the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2011 in Cannes, France.

“Habemus Papam” ends with a speech, but it’s not the rousing, crowd-pleasing, tear-jerking, let’s-go-get-em stuff of “The King’s Speech.” Instead, it’s bracing, honest and even a little shocking and it ends the film on a question, but not for the audience. The question is pointed directly at the church that more or less asks if total devotion to God is worth abandoning other more Earthly passions for and if so, if that trade-off is even right or fair. The keystroke to the success of Moretti’s film is that the thematic push-and-pull rides under the surface of what is a very often funny film. The laughs are frequent, but never mean.

Nanni MORETTIMoretti isn’t interested in condemning the church, or judging the choices of his characters in the past, but only asks if now, those decisions were fruitful. “Habemus Papam” succeeds where “The King’s Speech” didn’t, because the stakes are much more personal and real, and when the film ends, Moretti realizes that one speech is only just the beginning of a life unraveled that is slowly coming back together.

CREDITS

  • Nanni MORETTI – Director
  • Nanni MORETTI – Screenplay
  • Francesco PICCOLO – Screenplay
  • Federica PONTREMOLI – Screenplay
  • Alessandro PESCI – Cinematography
  • Esmeralda CALABRIA – Film Editor
  • Alessandro ZANON – Sound

CAST

  • Michel PICCOLI
  • Nanni MORETTI
  • Jerzy STUHR
  • Renato SCARPA
  • Franco GRAZIOSI
  • Margherita BUY
  • Dario CANTARELLI

Cannes 2011: Habemus Papam