Year in Review

December 22, 2009By Nick HammondWhat's New Potpourri
year in review, je l’aimais

Daniel Auteuil proved his acting skills once again in the film Je l’Aimais.

On the movie front, 2009 has been a good year. Martin Provost’s biopic Séraphine won many of the French Oscars (the Césars), including best film and

year in review, je l’aimais

Daniel Auteuil proved his acting skills once again in the film Je l’Aimais.

On the movie front, 2009 has been a good year. Martin Provost’s biopic Séraphine won many of the French Oscars (the Césars), including best film and best actress. Yolande Moreau in particular was richly deserving of her award for her portrayal of the gifted but mentally unstable painter known as Séraphine of Senlis.

A film that has already received many prizes and which must be a favorite for the 2010 Césars (and possibly the Oscars) is Jacques Audiard’s gritty drama about prison life, Un Prophète. Tahir Rahim’s debut performance as a young man who gains an education behind bars is remarkable, even though this much-lauded film itself seemed to me to have overly inflated pretentions about itself, a problem that I (but not many others) have found in other Audiard movies.

Rahim’s performance is just one of many strong male leads in French movies this year. I loved the subtlety of Vincent Lindon in Welcome (my favorite of the French films I saw this year) as a swimming coach training a young Kurdish refugee who wants to swim the English Channel to join his girlfriend in England; and Daniel Auteuil reminded us what a great actor he is in Je l’Aimais.

Other films I enjoyed this year were the uneven but amusingly self-mocking Bal des Actrices, and Pour Elle, which was that rare thing, a thriller that was genuinely thrilling.

The biggest turkey? Without a doubt, Journée de la Jupe: wildly improbable, with Isabelle Adjani on embarrassingly bad form.

The operatic year at the Opéra National de Paris was remarkable for the resurrection of previously neglected works. While Szymanowski’s luscious King Roger was performed in a ludicrously inappropriate production, Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt was shown to its best advantage in a richly intelligent staging.

Berg’s grimly dark opera Wozzeck returned to the Bastille opera house and somehow seemed less ridiculous with its setting in a sports complex than the first time I saw this production. The Opéra de Paris also put on a beautifully staged and solidly sung version of Puccini’s classic La Bohème toward the end of the year.

Of the books I reviewed this year, Sacha Sperling’s Mes Illusions Donnent sur la Cour showed great literary promise, while Lucy Wadham’s The Secret Life of France offered an enigmatic but illuminating account of life in modern France.

Nick Hammond

Reader (and contributor) David Platzer writes: “I found La Journée de la Jupe stark and despairing, like almost all contemporary cinema, no matter what the origin, but the friend who lent me the DVD and said I must watch it is a teacher in a collège in Montreuil. She told me the film reflects accurately the atmosphere in many schools these days! The school where she teaches is an exception, she said, but her daughter, in her first year of teaching, has been thrown into the deep end at a school in another part of Montreuil and is having a rough time. Perhaps aspiring teachers should have commando training.
“I rarely go to the cinema or watch films except at the behest of the others, as in the case cited above, but I did like
La Joueuse, a rare exception to the prevailing nihilism, with Sandrine Bonnaire as a hotel chambermaid who discovers a passion for chess and transform her life, and Kevin Kline, speaking with a heavily accented French, as the mysterious figure who becomes her mentor.
“I haven’t read enough of the year’s publications to say for certain which is the best – Marie Ndiaye’s Goncourt-winning
Trois Femmes Puissantes, which I haven’t read, must certainly be among the year’s best, as is Yannick Haenel’s Jan Karski, which I have and much admired, as I do everything Haenel writes. My favorite this year was Philippe Sollers’s Les Voyageurs du Temps, which I read twice in 2009 and will read again very soon. Add to that Cécile Guilbert’s brilliant collection of essays, Sans Entraves et sans Temps Mort, and Prélude à la Délivrance by Haenel again, this time jointly with his co-editor of the revue Ligne de Risque, François Meyronnis. These books are worth having in one’s sack as one traverses the tunnel of the current Dark Age. I can’t leave out Claude Lanzmann’s magisterial Le Lièvre de Patagonie and Pierre Assouline’s Les Invités either. And several new Pléiades that are musts: Lautréaumont, Elizabethan Dramatists, Confucianist Philosophers, the third volume of Le Livre du Graal, Céline’s Letters and the new Pléiade Rimbaud.”

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