“In the Courtyard”: Parisian apartment for rent, oddball preferred

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Pierre Salvadori makes the sort of light French comedies that you enjoy and then can’t remember if you ever saw or not. I had to check my review database to see if I had seen “Priceless,” with Audrey Tautou as a golddigger who falls for a bartender (I hadn’t), or “Apres Vous,” in which Daniel Auteuil plays a restaurant manager who tries to help out a sad sack (I had. I think.)

So it is with “In the Courtyard,” his pleasant and bittersweet new film starring the great Catherine Deneuve, which didn’t get much of a release at all in the United States and is now available on DVD from Cohen Media. I enjoyed it, and I probably won’t ever think of it again five minutes from when I finish this review.

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“3 Hearts”: An old fashioned soap opera in new French clothes

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Advice to romantic couples: I know it seems romantic and exciting to pull a “Before Sunrise” and agree to meet that new flame at a prearranged time and place, but play it safe and exchange numbers. Get their email address. Share Google Calendars.

Otherwise it can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and confusion, and romantic melodrama in the case of “3 Hearts,” the well-acted but overwrought French film by director Benoit Jacquot (“Farewell My Queen”). The film, now out on Blu-ray from Cohen Media, throws a mountain of complications (some self-inflicted) between its couple, and amps up the stakes with enough ominous music and narration to make us wonder not only if they’ll stay together, but if they’ll survive. It’s like a soap opera as directed by Christopher Nolan.

Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Marc (Benoit Poolevorde) have both missed their train back to Paris. Meeting in a cafe, they end up walking and talking around town till dawn. It’s a strong scene, both actors suggesting the nervous thrill of making a connection when they least expect it to happen.

They make a plan to meet back in Paris, but are thwarted by circumstances. Plus, Sylvie is unhappily married, and decides to go with her husband to his new job in Minneapolis, which is depicted in the film as a sort of frozen purgatory. (Guys, it’s a really nice city!) Unsure what went wrong, Marc moves on, eventually starting a gentle courtship of one of his clients, Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni). They get married.

And it turns out Sophie is Sylvie’s sister.

For the first hour of “3 Hearts,” Marc is unaware of the connection, but we are, and Jacquot builds tension as he just misses seeing evidence here and there. In the second hour, Sylvie comes back to France, and the suspense comes from wondering whether Sophie will find out, and what Marc and Sylvie will do.

Jacquot squeezes every drop of melodrama out of his preposterous story, shooting “3 Hearts” as if it were a thriller, full of meaningful glances and sudden stings of music, the nervous Marc seeming less like the fulcrum of a love triangle than a guilty man trapped in a film noir.

The overhyped tone feels at odds with the relatively grounded performances, especially Gainsbourg as the cool but soulful Sylvie, and Mastroianni as the kind, devoted Sophie. The great Catherine Deneuve is also in there as their mother, but is given surprisingly little to do. I think we could have become invested in their stories without the histrionics.

 

 

DVD review: “Tristana”

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“Tristana” is relatively mellow Luis Bunuel, which means that there’s only one shot of a severed head swinging as the clapper to a church bell. And it’s pretty clearly identified as a dream sequence.

Otherwise, it’s hard to recognize the 1970 film, on the surface, as the work of the surrealist Spanish director known for “Le Chien Andalou,” or even the button-pushing sexual politics of “Belle du Jour.” In fact, I had to stick with “Tristana” (now out in a lovely new Blu-ray edition from the Cohen Media Group) about halfway through before I started feeling Bunuel’s presence.

Otherwise, the classical “Tristana” plays like a 19th-century novel, with Catherine Deneuve (returning despite her misgivings over how Bunuel treated her in “Belle du Jour,” according to the commentary track), playing the title character. When her mother dies, Tristana is taken in by a local benefactor, Don Lope (Fernando Rey), who barely hides his lecherous intentions behind a veneer of arrogant propriety. Tristana chafes under his rule, even has a dalliance with a local artist (Franco Nero), but eventually succumbs to his advances.

What makes this different than every other story of a wronged ingenue is what happens after. Don Lope grows older, softer, lonelier, and becomes less controlling and more kindly towards Tristana. But she, older and more cynical, reacts to his newfound tenderness with seething rage. How dare he now become a human being? The upper hand has shifted, as “Tristana” moves towards its inevitable unhappy climax.

I liked “Tristana” quite a bit less than “Belle du Jour’ — I get that Bunuel’s game is to lull us into thinking the relationship is going one way, then suddenly changing course. But it’s a little dry until that change in direction, when Deneuve is finally able to offer a little more depth to her character. Rey is a delight all throughout, however, with Bunuel making merciless fun of a self-proclaimed “man of the people” who lets a thief get away because he’s a member of the proletariat, but is too pampered to actually work himself.

In addition to the commentary track with Deneuve and critic Kent Jones, the Blu-ray includes an alternate ending, a 30-minute featurette, and a 20-page booklet including Deneuve’s personal diary during the making of the film.