Redoutable (Le Redoutable, France-Myanmar, 2017)

A wife’s revenge or Godard unmasked?

I’ve found it increasingly difficult to watch Jean-Luc Godard’s recent films but am not sure whether that’s a comment upon me or Godard. Others seems to like them but maybe the fans haven’t moved on; from what I can tell Godard hasn’t moved much in recent years but it must be incredibly difficult to recapture what was seen as youthful brilliance during his heyday of the French ‘new wave’. Director Michel Hazanavicius’ script is based on Anne Wiazemsky’s memoir Un an après, which was about her marriage to Godard in the late ’60s (though they didn’t divorce until 1979 they had been separated for nine years) and so the film shouldn’t be taken as a straight rendition of what happened; however, I was fairly convinced.

In the film Godard himself (played brilliantly by Louis Garrel) says he’s finished at 37 years old and there is a sense that he was out of his time. His brilliant debut À bout de souffle was made in his 30th year, not quite in the ‘hot fire’ of youth, and when May ’68 erupted he was nearly 40. The film portrays him as trying to keep up with the youthful rebellion but not belonging despite the reverence with which he is held by the youngsters. Incidentally the May ’68 demos are brilliantly staged in the film.

Godard’s films steadily moved away from commercial cinema, not that he started in its midst anyway, and by the start of Redoutable he’d just made La Chinoise (1967) which didn’t hit the zeitgeist though the follow-up, Week End (France-Italy, 1967) did; the latter doesn’t get a mention as the film covers only a few weeks in May including the abandoned Cannes film festival. He’s seen meeting Jean-Pierre Gorin with whom he formed the Dziga Vertov group; they went on to make the excellent Tout va bien (1972, France-Italy) with Jane Fonda and Yves Montand. One film of Godard’s from the era I’d like to see again is Le gai savoir (France-Germany, 1969) which I remembered enjoying in the halcyon days of the UK’s Channel 4, in the 1980s, when they screened truly alternative texts.

Hazanavicius uses a Woody Allen gag when a fan asks Godard when he’s going to make funny films again (as against the serious political stuff) and though Godard didn’t make straight comedies (or straight anything) there was a lightness of touch to many of his earlier films and Redoutable takes its cue from that. One scene, in particular, is hilarious when Godard and his confederates had managed to get Cannes cancelled the General Strike means there’s no transport back to Paris other than a packed car in which he can’t help but be his argumentative self; its superbly staged and performed.

There are more gags in the Godardian touches such as the use of intertitles and the self-reflexive scene were Godard and Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin) discuss having actors perform nude gratuitously in film: of course, they are naked. In fact Martin is often naked in the film though it’s a stretch to suggest that Hazanavicius is satirising the misogynist tone of many of Godard’s films. The portrayal of Godard does show him to be an entitled male even though he is one who understands his entitlement he can’t resist using it. At the end of Agnès Varda’s documentary Faces Places a planned reunion with Godard fails to happen because he isn’t home showing him to be mean spirited.

I particularly liked Christian Marti’s set design that emphasises red, white and blue, colours that often featured in the director’s films. I think those who know Godard will enjoy the film more than those who don’t but there’s enough for the non-aficionado too. Any Godard fans want to have a go at the question, ‘Redoutable is the best film featuring the name Jean-Luc Godard for many, many years’. Discuss?

 

Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur, France-Belgium, 2017)

On the pull

A middle-aged woman, newly divorced, looking for a ‘second-time around’ romance from a female perspective; what’s not to like? Scripted by Christine Angot and Clair Denis (the latter directing), Let the Sunshine In could have been entitled ‘all men are arseholes’ except that would have pandered to the belief, held by some, that feminists are man-haters. Rather, with the exception of one (Marc played by Alex Dacas), the men are represented as self-centred egoists which is far from an unusual combination. As Xavier Beauvois’ Vincent says, “I’ve just got back from Brazil and fancied shagging you.”

At the centre of the film is Juliette Binoche’s Isabelle who is somewhat a victim of her completely human urges. The script is superbly written, often the conversations consist of fragmentary sentences the gaps of which are easy to fill in. All the time I felt like shouting at Isabelle to ‘leave him!’; ‘him’ being whichever man she was hoping to form a liaison with. Part of the difficulty of the film is that it is difficult to believe that men could be so stupid in the presence of such a sexy and talented (she’s an artist) woman but I guess that’s the point. Binoche may be the ‘sex siren’ of the moment for middle aged men who don’t covet young flesh.

The ending, which I won’t give away, is quite brilliant. Two stars of French cinema, Gerard Depardieu and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, suddenly make an appearance; the latter momentarily. The former plays a ‘fortune teller’ and Depardieu’s performance is quite sensational and you suddenly realise the undercurrent of what he’s saying. Indeed, much of the film is funny but the laugh appears after the event (well, it did for me) as it takes a while for the subtext of what’s just be said to sink in.

Isabelle is certainly not perfect as she repeats mistakes and acts against her better judgment; again a very human thing to do. That said, the milieux is specifically French where the bourgeois-intelligensia have an over-exaggerated opinion of themselves and the whole film can be seen as a send up of these people and a strand of French cinema that celebrates their lives. Denis, however, isn’t being vindictive, the fun she pokes is gentle except for one scene when Isabelle loses it with a pretentious land owner.

Apparently the film was made quickly when a project fell through and is loosely based on Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse.

 

La prisonnière (aka Woman in Chains, France-Italy, 1968)

Breaking the bourgeoisie

This was writer-director Georges-Henri Clouzot’s last film (and the final of three being screened on MUBI) and it is an interesting expression of the ’60s Pop Art zeitgeist intermingled with ‘daring’ challenges to bourgeois sensibilities. The film’s sexual politics would take some unravelling as the ‘sexual liberation’ of the time was male friendly and any film that is about exploiting the female body needs careful consideration: is it merely titillating or is it representing misogyny critically?

Elizabeth Wiener plays Josée, a sort of hip ‘belle de jour’; Luis Buñuel’s 1967 film of that name had portrayed a bored bourgeois housewife moonlighting as a prostitute. Josée isn’t bored, she’s working as an editor on a film about domestic abuse, and her partner, Gilbert (Bernard Fresson), is a Pop Artist hustling for recognition. Laurent Terzieff plays Stan (short for Stanislas) who exhibits modern art and has a fetish for bondage photography featuring naked women. Josée finds herself strangely attracted, and appalled, to the idea of being photographed in submissive and sexual positions.

Another film lurking just behind the frame is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (UK, 1960); truly one of the most disturbing films ever made. Fetishistic close-ups of Stan’s lens reminded me of Powell’s classic, though in La prisonnière the ‘perversion’ is benign. Wiener is quite brilliant at conveying how conflicted she feels about wanting to submit when she sees herself as a modern, emancipated woman. It is a key contradiction that any feminist can feel: knowing that equality is key to self-realisation but harbouring potentially reactionary ideas at the same time. Although the film investigates this to an extent it’s probably something that cannot be wholly reconciled so any failure to elaborate a resolution is understandable.

By the time we get to the end the script (in collaboration with Monique Lange and Marcel Moussy) the film seems to have given up trying to resolve the tensions but it does finish with an incredible nightmare sequence into which Clouzot seems to have dropped every avant garde film technique he could. It’s a strange climax to the film; usually the tension that such sequences engender require many more minutes of narrative to ground: it offers more questions that answers.Tthe film is worth seeing just for this phantasmagoric sequence alone though this is not to say, by any means, the rest of the film is worthless. Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (UK-Italy, 1966) is another point of reference, particularly through the representation of popular culture. It’s admirable that Clouzot, in his 60th year, was trying to connect to the zeitgeist.

In the UK, at least, the film was released as Woman in Chains, possibly so that it wouldn’t be confused with the TV series The Prisoner (UK, 1967-8) though more likely because it offered the promise of eroticism that certain ‘smutty’ cinemas traded upon at the time.

Quai des orfèvres (France, 1947)

Unusually obvious lesbian character for the time

As Jeremy Carr’s excellent article suggests: “Quai des Orfèvres is an appeasing palate cleanser, an amusing diversion, still within the confines of social realism but generally free from a climate of widely-ravaged despair.” The despair refers to the world of Le corbeau (Clouzot’s previous film) and post-war France. Despite this characters are often wrapped in coats even when they are inside and although it is generally light-hearted there is much heartache as go-getting, in the world of Music Hall, Jenny (Suzy Delair) worries husband Maurice (Bernard Blier) about her fidelity. Their friend Dora (Simone Renant) looks over the couple benignly but obviously holds a flame for Jenny; as she says, ‘I am a woman of strange loves’. The machinations of the plot lead to murder and then Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) arrives on the scene along with the police procedural genre.

As in Le courbet there is much comic dialogue; I particularly like the Inspector’s: “If you were murdered then you would be pleased the cops were around.” There is also Hitchcockian humour such as when he lights his pipe with vital evidence and the band rehearse vibrant gipsy music in the background as Jenny and Maurice argue. During the 1950s Clouzot and Hitchcock were rivals for the sobriquet ‘master of suspense’ and the latter made Vertigo, based on a French novel, as a counterblast to the former’s Les diaboliques (1955).

Clouzot wrote the Quai des Orfèvres, based on Stanislas-André Steeman’s novel, with Jean Ferry but gets sole credit for dialogue which is often in excess of narrative requirements. It’s not only often funny but elaborates on character; we learn that Antoine has a mixed race child he fathered when in the Foreign Legion and for whom he is the sole carer. There a few touching scenes between the two, touching because it is unusual to see a male single-parent in such a loving relationship. The fact that the child is ‘black’ shows Clouzot’s progressiveness as does the sympathetic portrayal of Dora; an antidote to his working for the Nazis (see Le corbeau)? I wondered, on the basis of Le corbeau, whether he might be a misanthrope: the answer’s clearly ‘no’ in this film.

Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue works in a similar way, though he was inspired by French New films such as Shoot the Pianist (Tirez sur le pianiste, 1960), however he doesn’t know when to stop and his witty dialogue (for me) palls quickly.

Clouzot won Best Director honours at the 1947 Venice Film Festival and he shows himself as a skilful manipulator of large to small groups of people. He choreographs their movements beautifully, reminding me of Jean Renoir; praise doesn’t get any higher.

Apparently the iconoclasts of Cahiers du cinema didn’t like his films, which is surprising given he wrote as well as directed. I can’t judge on what I’ve seen whether he qualifies as an auteur or not, however the dialogue, at least, is distinctive and there is certainly a Gothic undertone to his mise en scene. Maybe as the Cahiers critics were railing against French cinema there was no room for Clouzot in the polemic? Or maybe his association with the Nazis was the issue. The title, by the way, refers to the address of the main police station in Paris though that doesn’t sum up what the film is about.

Le corbeau (France, 1943)

Poison pen

Writer-director Henri-Georges Clouzot is probably best known for Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur, 1953) and Les diaboliques (1957, both France); Le corbeau was his second feature made for the Nazi-controlled Continental Films; the first was The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (L’Assassin habite… au 21, 1942). For understandable reasons, now and at the time, that can be enough to write the film, and the director, off as morally culpable.  Le corbeau was deemed to be ‘anti-French’ and he was banned for life from making films until it was rescinded in 1947. History has been kinder to the film, particularly as the Nazis hated it too.

The raven of the title is an anonymous ‘poison pen’ letter writer terrorising a small French town that could be anywhere at anytime; the titles at the start suggest such universality. Pierre Fresnay plays the unlikeable protagonist Doctor Germain who is the main focus of letter writer’s bile; the letters suggest that he is adulterous and an abortionist. In part, the film is a thriller (who is writing the letters?) but it also a melodrama of small-town hypocrisies not unlike some of Douglas Sirk’s ’50s Hollywood films. It is the latter that invoked the wrath of the Nazis.

Vichy France ‘thrived’ on ‘collaboration’, no matter what the myth of the Resistance says, and Clouzot nails the narrow-minded, vindictiveness of those who pass on malicious gossip and shows its damaging consequences. Of course, the occupying Nazis thrived on informing. In one brilliant scene, an accused nun runs through deserted streets with the howls of a baying mob on the soundtrack. She reaches her home to find it vandalised and the mob materialise outside her window.

The local government officials get it in the neck too. One council member insists that they must be seen to be doing something; reminding me of the UK government’s response to Covid-19: much hot air and nowhere near enough action. I haven’t seen enough of Clouzet’s films to judge whether he was a misanthropist but it is difficult to find a pleasant character in the film. The local peasants-workers are marginalised and so are spared his satirical swipes; the bourgeoisie are skewered, which is apparently typical of his films.

In one scene the Doctor discusses the moral issues of the events with the cynical, and funny, psychiatrist Vorzet (Pierre Larquay). As they discuss good and evil, light and dark, a light bulb swings next to a globe no doubt suggesting the universality of human vindictiveness. I’m not sure I buy into that, the current crisis has shown much empathy and kindness (and more than enough of the opposite including informing on neighbours), but it works very well in the context of the film.

Cynical view?

Le corbeau is the first of a Clouzot triple bill on MUBI; I’m looking forward to the others.

 

Frantz (France-Germany, 2016)

Good lies?

As writer (with Philippe Piazzo) and director François Ozon says in an interview, although the film was made before the UK’s Brexit vote and Trump’s election the film’s message became even more timely in the light of these nationalist calamities. It’s set in Germany, just after World War I, Anna (the magnificent Paula Beer) mourns her fiancé, Frantz, and is puzzled to see a Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney), also attending the deceased’s grave. Unsurprisingly the presence of a representative of the victorious French in a small town causes friction and the early part of the narrative is driven by the mystery of Adrien’s motives.

It’s difficult to write much without giving away why Adrien is in the town and wishes to engage with Frantz’s family, suffice to say that the melodrama investigates nationalism. In one of two key scenes the old men in the town sing ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’; later in the film this is paralleled in Paris with ‘La Marseilles’ sung also by the fathers who sent their sons to a pointless war. Ozon brilliantly links the patriotic anthems to the level if the individual which the rousing songs try to erase. Incidentally these were the songs sung as a dual between the ‘Free French’ and Nazis in Rick’s cafe in Casablanca (US, 1942).

As the image above shows, much of the film is in black and white. Modern lenses, and digital cameras, give the image a pin-point clarity that doesn’t work for me in monochrome cinematography. This is probably because I associate black and white with old movies and the clarity offered by modern lenses means the image doesn’t look like an old movie. So I’m caught between two perceptions and feel alienated from the image. However, in the few moments of happiness in the film the monochrome is transformed into colour that looks absolutely beautiful.

As is often the case in melodrama, an object serves as an emblem and here Manet’s lesser known painting ‘The Suicide’ serves. Its meaning, in the context of the film, is not revealed until the final shot and it is revelatory.

This is the first time the prolific Ozon has impressed me. I’ve found his other films (I’ve only seen four others so I’m not judging him in his entirety) over preoccupied with bourgeois concerns but here he’s made an essential anti-war message from the perspective of those left behind. It was based on Maurice Rostand’s 1920s play which was adapted as Broken Lullaby (US, 1932), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, France, 2019)

The silenced speaking

I was relieved to get to see this the day before the cinemas closed. The buzz has been about for months and the film exceeded my expectation. It has been a brilliant year in the cinema so far (well, that may be the end of it) with Little WomenWeathering With You, So Long, My Son, ParasiteBacurau and Lillian all fabulous cinematic experiences; Portrait of a Lady on Fire tops them all.

Unusually, the Anglophone distributors’ title is better than the original because ‘lady’, rather than ‘girl/woman’, suggests the film is about social class as well as gender. It also references Henry James’ novel, adapted by Jane Campion (UK-US, 1996) as her follow up to her feminist classic The Piano (New Zealand-Australia-France, 1993). We’re straight into Piano territory at the start of writer-director Céline Sciamma’s new film; she won ‘best screenplay at Cannes’. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives at an island on the Breton coast and is dropped off on her own on the beach. Unlike Ada in The Piano, Marianne’s art is her painting, which she has to jump into the sea to save. She’s been hired by La Comtesse (Valeria Golino) to paint her daughter in order to guarantee a marriage to a wealthy Milanese ‘gentleman’. The daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel, also in Sciamma’s Water Lilies) – surely named for the 12th century proto-feminist nun – refuses to be painted; she’s been hauled out of a nunnery after her sister’s suicide. Presumably her sister killed herself to avoid the fate awaiting Héloïse. Marianne has to pretend to be Héloïse’s companion and paint her at night.

What follows is a patient development of their relationship and, to an extent, with the maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami – seen in School’s Out). There’s too much going on in the film to delve deeply into it after just one viewing. Sciamma (whose Water Lilies (Naissance des pieuvres, France, 2007) and Girlhood I quite liked; the latter received ‘rave’ reviews) allows her camera to be still, allowing the superb actors to take the weight of the narrative; the production design, by Thomas Grézaud, and Clare Mathon’s (of Atlantics) cinematography are fabulous. This stillness evokes portraiture which, of course, is one of the themes of the film: the representation of a person and, more specifically, a woman. The ‘female gaze’, men are virtually absent, is paramount in the film and Sciamma’s ‘queer eye’ offers a different way of eroticising the female body (though in a Guardian interview she says they didn’t get it in France). The key to understanding representation is knowing ‘who is speaking’ and here the voice, Sciamma’s obviously but also the characters’, is indisputably female. In contrast Blue is the Warmest Colour reveals itself as male fantasy. The film also manages to deal with the erasure of women artists from art history: it is a very rich text indeed!

Some of the specifically female things we don’t usually get to see in cinema are shown: period pains and abortion. Sophie has the latter and Héloïse demands Marianne look; in effect chiding the spectator at the same time because ‘not looking’ is an attractive option. Unusually for melodrama Sciamma ‘dials down’ the emotion in much of the film, the characters are virtually taciturn, but in this scene a baby plays with Sophie’s face during the operation to emotionally devastating affect. The repressed emotions serve to heighten the moments when the ‘dam breaks’, including one of the most emotionally draining final shots I’ve ever seen.

Sciamma’s use of music is fascinating as I didn’t notice any non-diegetic (on the soundtrack) music, though two composers are credited. Early in the film Marianne tries to play the storm sequence from Summer (Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons) on a clavichord (I think); the payoff for this is in the aforementioned last shot. The other music is an apparent folk song (actually created by Sciamma) of the local female peasantry at a bonfire. The modernity of the chants suddenly breaks the diegesis (narrative world) of the 18th century as timeless sexual attraction between the protagonists is at last acknowledged by them.

I’ve already praised Mathon’s cinematography: she makes some of the scenes look like paintings and one where the lady, Héloïse, is doing the food prep whilst the maid embroiders is a startling utopian image. The utopian possibility is explained by the isolated setting on an island and many scenes on the beach, which is a liminal space where change is possible.

Portrait of a Lady is a truly great film and is available online at Curzon Home Cinema.

Addenum

In April the film showed up on MUBI so I watched again to realise, in the above, I’d neglected to mention the way the film deals with love. Sciamma investigates this through different interpretations of the Orpheus myth. Of course the initial red-hot desire that can exist at the start of a relationship can never last and must change into something else for love to be sustained so is Orpheus, when he turns to look at Eurydice as she returns to the Underworld, thinking of his memory of his love? Does Eurydice insist that her husband look to ensure their memory of love isn’t tainted by a return to life?

I thought the film even better on a second viewing and noticed more the brilliant costume designs by Dorothée Guiraud. Obviously the big-screen experience was better but the only time ‘home viewing’ failed to (nearly) match the intensity of the cinema was on the soundtrack in the two great musical moments mentioned above.

Crack 6T (Ma 6-T va crack-er, France, 1997)

Revolutionary ‘La Haine’

This was my final film in the Myfrenchfilmfestival festival and an outlier as it isn’t contemporary. Its subject matter, however, remains vital: young peope living in poverty in the banlieues of Paris. Co-writer (with Arco Descat C. who also starred) and director Jean-François Richet’s film came out two year’s after the seminal La Haine (France), which is about to be re-released, and is even more incendiary. At La Haine‘s Cannes screening the police turned their backs on the filmmakers in protest, however Richet’s call to arms is more direct: the film’s bookended by a young woman (not a character) seen above toting firearms with calls for revolution on the soundtrack. As both films show, such a conclusion is entirely reasonable as the underclass are downtrodden by society and kept in their (shitty) place by the police.

I haven’t found much written about the film but as most of the actors are playing characters with the same names as themselves, and the film is their only credit, they are non-professionals and the narrative is wrenched from the streets with an authenticity that’s matched by the handheld camera (cinematography by Valérie Le Gurun) and editing (Richet). Some of the cast are professionals: the schoolteacher, for instance, whose difficulty in dealing with delinquents is superbly realised, is played by Joanna Pavlis.

While the film doesn’t aspire to the mythological heights of La Haine it is, in some ways, more effective than its feted ‘brother’. The charisma of Vincent Cassel, for instance, roots the earlier film in fiction whereas Crack 6T has a more documentary feel. The latter film, by the way, is better at representing women who are mostly absent in both films. In a scene where one of the protagonists tries to chat up a friend from school she determinedly rejects him by pointing out that he has nothing to offer her because of his ‘gangsta’ lifestyle; she knows that simply ‘not fancying’ him would not be enough to stop him bothering her.

Hip hop music is important and the ‘girl with a gun’ framing shots are a music video ‘call to arms’. Richet went on to do the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (France-US, 2005) and the two Mesrine films (L’instinct de mort and L’ennemi public n°1, France-Canada-Italy, 2008).

Most of the films I saw in the festival were enjoyable; the winner of the Jury Award was School’s Out (which I had already seen) but I thought Escape from Raqqa was the best on show though I wouldn’t argue with the Audience and International Press awards to The Swallows of KabulMeteorites got a Special Mention, no doubt for Zéa Duprez’s sensational performance.

Meteorites (Les météorites, France, 2018)

Defying inertia

Zéa Duprez, who plays the protagonist Nina, is what makes this film, Romain Laguna’s directorial feature debut, worth seeing. Laguna’s co-credited for the screenplay with Salavatore Lista (and two other ‘collaborators’), and marshals a cast of non professionals brilliantly. However, whilst it’s not quite a ‘by-the-numbers’ ‘summer of love’ ‘coming of age’ story, it knowingly veers close to it. The symbolism of the meteorite, that only Nina seems to have noticed landed in the nearby mountains at the start of the film, is a little heavy handed but Duprez’s performance is anything but.

Nina is a bored 16-year-old falling for a young Muslim lad, Morad (Billal Agab), who we suspect is a ‘player’. The Muslim angle is both significant and irrelevant as religion isn’t important but the portrayal of the ‘everydayness’ of characters of that faith is rare enough to be significant. Morad’s sister, Djamilla (Oumaima Lyamouri), in particular, comes over as typical teen girl and she wears a hijab. The film knowingly plays with the genre by following a conventional narrative trajectory but then veering away from what appears to an inevitable consequence of actions. However, for me, it doesn’t quite veer far enough from convention to be a vital view.

Duprez hasn’t appeared in any other films since and reminded me of Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank (Netherlands-UK, 2009), written and directed by Andrea Arnold, both of whom were probably playing ‘themselves’ to some extent. What’s refreshing, about both films, is the female perspective as well as avoiding any sense of victimhood.

Cinematographer Aurelien Marra captures the slightly austere beauty of the Herault and Aude districts, near Bezier. The humdrum lives of the protagonists in the midst of the landscape is a striking contrast. Inevitably, if you’re brought up in an area then you don’t notice where you are. The film got a ‘Special Mention – International Press Jury’ award as part of the Myfrenchfilmfestival, it’s not clear what that means but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t connected to Duprez’s performance.

To the Ends of the World (Les confins du monde, France, 2018)

Retuning from the end of the world

Overall this in a impressive Vietnam film all the better for offering a French perspective albeit one infected by Orientalism that, you’d hope, would be critiqued in the 21st century. It was shown at the Cannes Director’s Fortnight suggesting artistic worth and writers Jérôme Beaujour and Guillaume Nicloux (who also directed) have produced a thoughtful consideration of the ‘hell on Earth’ the French occupation caused post-World War II.

Apparently the lead actor, Gaspard Ulliel, is the ‘face’ of the perfume Bleu de Chanel; it’s interesting that the role he plays here couldn’t be further from such frippery. We meet his Robert Tassen digging himself out of a pile of dismembered corpses and he remains traumatised throughout the film. If being embedded in fragments of bodies wasn’t enough, his brother and his sister-in-law were amongst the victims so he spends the film seeking revenge against the North Vietnamese ‘general’ (I can’t remember the actual rank) responsible. The man clearly needs to be sent home for treatment but he refuses.

He seeks solace in drink and then is enraptured by mysterious prostitute Maï (Lang Khê Tran) which is where the Oriental cliche appears. To be fair there is a little more to her character than a cipher; we do get a sense that though she cares for Robert she knows that the reality of her situation means affection is meaningless. Throughout we do not have any sense of what the Vietnamese thought about the colonial power and the civil war; they seem mostly to be shown as an untrustworthy bunch. In this it was bit like watching a film from the 1970s, such as The Deer Hunter (US, 1978). Incidentally both the violence and sex scenes are explicit and I would have expected it to have been certified an 18 if it had been released in the UK (erect penises feature). However, the Myfrenchfilmfestival suggests 16+, which shows the difference between French and UK regulation, and I have no problem with that. I do wonder, though, at the suggestion 13+ on Amazon Prime.

Ulliel is excellent as the morally emptied soldier and I enjoyed Gérard Depardieu’s ex-pat who occasionally rumbles into the soldier’s life to offer advice. I’m not sure what his character, Saintonge, represents; the first part of his name suggests ‘holy’ but I didn’t get that. I also didn’t understand why one character had to ‘come out’ as gay just before dying.