The Witnesses (2007) Poster

(2007)

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8/10
very French-and very good
Flowergirl_10625 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is about Manu, a young gay man, who moves to Paris. There he meets Adrien, an older man, also gay. Adrien is in love with Manu, who isn't interested in more than friendship. Adrien is also a good friend of a young woman, Sarah, who's just had a baby, and her husband, Mehdi. Sarah and Mehdi have an open relationship and are allowed to have affairs with others. Mehdi starts an affair with Manu.

Like many other French movies, this one is told by a character, in voice-over; Sarah, who is writing Manu's life story. The story is about love in different ways, about being happy with who you are, and about the destroying struggle against AIDS.

It is set in the 80's, when the world first heard about the disease. Nobody knew what it was. It's beautifully shown how these characters deal with it when AIDS hits them and the people they love. The movie's never really sad, because the director doesn't have the typical long, sad scenes with slow music and lots of tears; just like life, the movie keeps going.

What also moved me in particular is the character of Julie, Manu's sister, played by Julie Depardieu. She doesn't have anyone in the world; no friends, no lover, just nobody, bu she manages life and isn't depressed about it; she's doing what she wants and loves, and that's enough for her. This movie tries to go against common belief in more than one way; you have the woman who doesn't have friends, but is still very happy, you have the woman who doesn't love her baby,... All these things aren't accepted by the public, but I think it's good to show that it can be different.

Les Témoins isn't widely marketed, but is certainly worth watching, if you want to see how a not-hollywoodfilm, and a slow, human film can be great. André Techiné also may not ring any bells, but anyone who is interested in French film-making has to see something by him. I certainly recommend it.
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7/10
way above Philadelphia
gsygsy22 October 2007
A somewhat schematic script - you can almost see the boxes being ticked as each issue is dealt with - does not ultimately detract from a fine achievement. The story surrounds the succumbing to HIV-AIDS by a life-loving young man at the time when the world was taken by surprise by the ferocity of the hitherto-unknown virus. The various reactions - bewilderment, fear, panic, hatred, self-loathing, guilt, determination, courage, loss, grief and, of course, love - are all charted in the five central characters.

There can be little argument, I'd have thought, concerning the excellence of Michel Blanc's performance; nor of the puzzling awfulness of Lorenzo Balducci's - whyever was this Italian actor cast as an American who had been brought up in Australia?

Julie Depardieu's character is the least developed of the central quintet but nevertheless the actress manages, as ever, to make a fully-rounded contribution.

Emanuelle Beart's striking features and dynamic screen presence make it difficult to assess her as an actress. In the end she didn't convince me she was any kind of writer, but she was entirely convincing as a mother with ambivalence to her baby. The scene where her character talks to her own mother (the late Maia Simon, in a brief but noteworthy final performance) about the difficulties surrounding her own birth is one of the most tender in the film.

Johan Libéreau is touching as the doomed Manu, fleshing out what seems to me to be a somewhat idealised character - unreflective but sensitive, foolhardy yet vulnerable.

But the film ultimately belongs to Sami Bouajila as the policeman who finds himself in the most unexpected of relationships. It's by far the most complex role and also, perhaps for that very reason, the most believable. Bouajila embraces the contradictions, possibly realising, as Heath Ledger proved so memorably in Brokeback Mountain, that struggles with sexuality can produce compelling drama.

Les Temoins is well edited, photographed and, on the whole, well directed. The influence of Truffaut's Jules Et Jim is all-pervading, but it's none the worse for that. The film's biggest advantage is that it tackles its subject in an entirely unsentimental way: the same script made in Hollywood would undoubtedly turn into something unspeakably gooey - the memory of Philadelphia, with which it could all too easily be compared, makes me shudder. Les Temoins is way, way above that.
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7/10
Pushed some buttons for me
trpuk196829 January 2008
I agree with some of these comments. By 1984 I thought we were more familiar with AIDS...maybe 82 is the year this should be set. My main gripe was the unconvincing make up Manu wears, and the way he doesn't lose weight. What was so shocking and devastating for those of us growing up with the onset of AIDS was running into people who were gorgeous, fit young and beautiful. Next time you saw them their faces were blemished, their bodies wasted, emaciated, skeletal like. I recall bareley recognising a young lad who'd once been a fixture on the scene. So the scenes where Manu is nursed through the terminal stages were less than convincing and left me somewhat unmoved. Otherwise its worth seeing and its sex positive, uplifting, life affirming attitude is a welcome riposte to Hollywoods schlocky treatment of the subject.
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8/10
The plague as just part of the merry-go-round
Chris Knipp3 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
André Téchiné's new movie about criss-crossing relationships marked by the AIDS crisis begins when Adrien (Michel Blanc), a respectable gay doctor, picks up a young, eager and definitely gay country boy from the mountains in a Parisian cruising area. Adrien just wants to protect young Manu (Johan Libéreau); there's no sex; but he takes the boy everywhere and falls madly in love with him. Whatever shenanigans Manu is up to, he's sweet to Adrien. A narcissist, he loves the attention. He doesn't get that from Julie, (Julie Depardieu), the opera singer sister he shares a cheap hotel room with. Adrien's idyll ends when Manu gets a job in a remote camping ground and starts an affair with a bisexual vice cop of Arab extraction named Mehdi (Sami Bouajila). It's a small world, because not only have Manu and Mehdi met through Mehdi's well-heeled wife, Sarah (a friend of Adrien's); Mehdi also minds the seedy area where Manu lives with Julie and consorts with the local whores. Sarah and Mehdi have an open marriage. They also have a baby she doesn't much care for and she is getting tired of writing children's books and wants to write a regular novel. After saving Manu from drowning gives Mehdi a raging hard-on and they begin having daily sex, this becomes something far too important to tell Sarah about.

All this is moved forward with a Nouvelle Vague-style retrospective voice-over spoken by Sarah, and this is Part One, entitled "Summer 1984: Happy Days." The happy days are not to last. The AIDS crisis is about to happen and Manu is going to be one of its early victims. The idea that this is a collective tragedy worthy of opera is underlined by Julie's singing and operatic background themes, not to mention the swirling merry-go-round of interactive relationships.

Many of these ingredients are familiar to Téchiné fans. The young gay boy from the mountains who goes wild in Paris has close parallels with the young Pierre (played by an actor named Manu, Manuel Blanc) in the 1991 J'embrasse pas (I Don't Kiss), who likewise comes from the mountains, winds up in a promiscuous gay life as a hustler, and initially finds an older gay protector at a Parisian cruising area (and this film also has Béart in the cast). I Don't Kiss focuses mainly on Pierre, but in it many paths cross. A love triangle and bisexuality are central to the 1994 Wild Reeds (Les roseaux sauvages), another period film, though it's set in the Sixties. Criss-crossing, bisexuality, and a brother-sister combination are found in Les Voleurs (Thieves, 1996). These are all fine, fascinating films. The Witnesses partakes of the same complexity. There is something radical about Téchiné's ability to avoid a central action or central character, yet keep things interesting--even more interesting because of the unpredictability of the interactions and an openness toward behavior the straight world tends to see as forbidden or transgressive.

Les Voleurs is complicated in this way, but it's anchored in a powerful sense of family and place, and made exciting by the fact that one main character is a representative of the law and several others he's personally involved with are, as the title implies, criminals. Wild Reeds is a kind of triple coming of age film, and has simplicity and focus through a tranquil provincial setting and the relatively simple life of the three youths, with the Algerian war a vague but powerful magnetic force in the background. It's more sympathetic toward the gay boy and his sensitive "girlfriend" than toward the bisexual youth who breaks his heart, but the latter's dark appeal is unmistakable. Téchiné's mastery of the odd and unexpected relationship is never more evident than in the intense, transitory union between a wild, mysterious boy called Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel) and a Parisian mother fleeing WWII bombs in the country (Béart again) whom he rescues in Strayed (Les Égarés)--a story of intense freshness marked by Téchiné's great sense of landscape and ability to blend sweeping, evocative tracking shots and vivid close-ups. The look of The Witnesses isn't as beautiful and consistent, but there are many nice little visual details. The faces will stay with you: Mehdi's hyperactive eyes, muscular brow, and disturbed jaw, Adrien's intelligent, bourgeois solidity, his pale shaved dome, has stylish round glasses; Sarah's distracted gaze and scruffy bleached hair; Manu's wild eagerness and frequent smiles, then his skin ravaged by lesions. Also memorable visually are Manu's little light-footed leaps over barriers and onto branches, which Adrien observes admiringly but does not try to follow.

It's disconcerting to discover that Manu isn't central to The Witnesses because when AIDS takes him away, life goes on. Adrien has become part of the teams of French doctors frantically seeking to manage the disease. This is Part Two: "The War" (against AIDS). Mehdi is terrified that he is infected, but when he learns that he isn't, his life can resume in new but not altogether different directions. Sarah, against his wishes, brings Manu's story into her adult novel. The couple makes love again, but Mehdi also begins taking Julie up in the little airplanes that were part of his courtship of Manu and she begins to replace Manu in his affections. There's a slight danger that The Witnesses will seem like a Telenovela. Manu's story ends, he drops out of the series, and a new sequence begins. The coda entitled "Summer Returns" is both premature and excessive. The film feels a bit as if it's gone on too long and doesn't really know how to end. But the point is still a valid one, at least for the cross section of society, young and old, sophisticated and naïve, creative and blocked, rich and poor, integrated into the ingenious and characteristically Téchiné-esquire story. La vie continue. The witnesses survive.
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10/10
Love and Passion in the 1980s: Enter the Spectre
gradyharp28 June 2008
Les Témoins (The Witnesses) is another fine artwork by French director André Téchiné that continues to examine relationships in times of stress and through areas of rough travel. As written by Téchiné, Laurent Guyot, and Viviane Zingg this film is a love story and a social commentary on life in 1984 when AIDS raised its ugly head and disrupted lives, hopes and relationships. What could have been a heavy-handed woeful tale is instead a story about ordinary people and how the spectre of the then 'new disease' affected a small group of friends. In the intimacy of the story there is an opportunity to reflect and to see more clearly the atmosphere of that time in history.

Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) is a writer of children's books married to Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a member of the Paris police force vice squad. They have an open marriage and have just given birth to a baby boy - a factor that disrupts their separate lives while conflicting their married life. Sarah has a physician friend Adrien (Michel Blanc, so memorable in his role in 'Monsieur Hire') who is gay, and while he is older, he still longs for the company of young men. Adrien meets the young catering student Manu (Johan Libéreau), a lad whose sexual appetite is satisfied by trysts in parks, back rooms of bars, etc. Manu and his opera singer sister Julie (Julie Depardieu) live modestly in a sleazy hotel cum brothel that is under surveillance by Mehdi. Adrien and Manu strike up a friendship and are invited to join Sarah and Mehdi to Sarah's mother's cabin by the sea and while there a relationship between Manu and Mehdi begins, one that will become an affair in secret.

A strange disease comes to public attention and it is Adrien who is in charge of the investigation of the disease now called AIDS. Though Adrien's ties with Manu have become platonic while Manu see Mehdi daily, Adrien is the first to notice lesions on Manu, lesions that are the hallmark of AIDS. How this discovery affects the lives of each of the characters we have met (the 'witnesses' to a very important time in our history) serves as the crux of the story - part tragedy and part a torch of resilience the weaves the story to a close in an honest, touching but never maudlin manner.

The acting is consistently excellent, the sort of ensemble acting that keeps the focus on the message of the film rather than on individual attention to characters. The movie is beautifully photographed by Julien Hirsch and the musical score by Philippe Sarde wisely blends excerpts from Vivaldi and Mozart with original music that recalls the 1980s. This is yet another triumph for André Téchiné - a film that deserves the widest possible audience. Grady Harp
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10/10
Sexy. Sad. True. Perfect.
olearytko5 August 2008
This script is perfection. The directing is awesome. The actors are---every single one---sexy. The plot is surprising. The climax is heartbreaking. The depth of these stories is revelatory. The dialogue is witty. The characters are cherishable. The editing is astonishing. In summation, this brilliant film is revealing, true, brutal, funny. Sexy are the actors. Sad is the plot. True is the reflection of these lives in these times. Sexy are the actors. Sad is the story. True is the movie. Perfection is the movie. Bravo to all.

I don't get this minimum of 1,000 words. I loved this movie. I will say it again and again.

And it's sexy.
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6/10
A good film but a little weak
johno-2118 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I recently saw this at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This is the story of Maunu (Johan Libéreau), a young gay man from the country who is past high school but is not attending a university and instead arrives at his sister Julie's (Julie Depardieu) in Paris who is a struggling but talented opera singer and living in a dilapidated hotel where only hookers live. Cruising the city parks, Manhu befriends an older gay doctor Adrien (Michel Blanc) and develops a platonic relationship with him although Adrien is enamored with Manu. Adrien is best friends with Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) who is a struggling writer and a new mother. Sarah's husband is Medhi (Sami Bouajila) who is a vice cop and the principal parent of their child who Sarah prefers to ignore and doesn't even want to be a mother. Mehi and Manu begin a surprising and unlikely relationship. This is a good movie but seems kind of sliced together in it's storyline. One good character is the streetwalker Sandra (Constance Pollé) who seems like is going to be a central character but then disappears from the film. Manu who has a wealthy benefactor in Adrien impossibly wears the same clothes throughout the film. Medhi and Manu and Medhi and Sarah have absolutely no on screen chemistry. AIDS is treated in 1984 as being so new that no one except the doctor Adrien has ever heard of it before and it's brand new on all the television newscasts yet AIDS was at that new phenomenon point in 1982 not 1984. The relationships between Manu and Adrien, Manu and Medhi, Manu and Julie are never properly developed because there is too much going on in this film. We never really understand how Adrien and Sarah became lifelong friends and it doesn't seem like they really care for each other anyway. Satah and Manu never have any kind of established friendship. Veteran filmmaker, director, writer André Téchiné directs and co-wrote the screenplay with Laurent Guyot and Viviane Zingg. Nice cinematography from Julien Hirsh. Michel Blanc is the commanding acting presence in this film. I would give this a 6.5 out of 10.
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7/10
Casting agents in effect
vitachiel25 August 2007
Overall, this movie was OK. The male lead actors all were very good and believable in their parts. The homosexuality was presented in a natural, matter-of-fact manner, instead of pedantic or problematic. The way the start of the aids era was captured was disturbing, but it seemed very realistic. There were some things in this movie that annoyed me however. First of all, the female characters. Depardieu is your typical withdrawn, a-sexual, artistic, female French cinema archetype. I can live with that though. Far more irritating was the presence of Beart, who was totally miscast. What is a blown-up plastic Barbie doll doing in a movie that is situated in the early eighties, when plastic surgery was not even properly born yet?? Her acting is (partly due to her renovated face) very flat and expressionless and it would have been better if she had been altogether left out. An other revealing mistake is the American guy/gay, who shows up in the last part of the movie; quite confusing when a character who is so proud of his multi-lingual talents has such a strong foreign accent when he speaks his mother tongue...
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9/10
Sensitive and Gripping
maddindon25 January 2009
My experience of films with a male gay theme is very limited having only seen Hollywood's most recent output before Les Temoins. It is a film that I found both refreshing and pleasantly surprising in the way in which it approaches and represents a physical gay relationship. Sex is shown to be sensitive and loving. It shows such a versatile tenderness from both parties and Sami Bouajila's performance as the character of Mehdi evokes such genuine feelings that I was moved to tears. In addition to this, I found Les Temoins an extremely beautiful film to watch visually, its very blue and yellow colour-scape providing a serene backdrop for the action. For someone looking for a much gentler yet highly gripping tale of gay love this is a film I would highly recommend.
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2/10
Painful, slow, boring
soie19 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
There is much potential for this to be made into a great film with flashes of brilliant ideas - a young homosexual who sells himself for sex lives with his budding opera singer of a sister; yet this relationship is barely touched upon, and her character barely developed. A Muslim cop married to an atheist writer who struggles with maternity; a lonely and ageing doctor who watches his would-be lover contract HIV.

This film is a perfect example of how to write a bad screenplay -- every scene in which there is dialogue is an argument. The characters are haphazardly portrayed, and whole chunks of storytelling are left up to our imagination. Our homosexual protagonist seems to travel through wormholes between Paris and south of France, as he is poor, and we never see him drive, fly, or take the train. Seaons come and go faster than the characters and relationships develop. We are given glimpses into a female writer's life, yet the reason why she is a writer is of little to no importance to the story, and there is only a suggestion of what she writes.

The dreary, stilted arguments, where the script leaves no subtext or nuance for the actors to work with make soap operas seem high brow.
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7/10
Interesting story, well directed and with good acting.
johannes2000-130 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sorry, but I don't join all the praise that is given here. I really enjoyed this movie and acknowledge the gripping premise, and the good acting and direction. But I didn't like the script very much. All characters seemed a bit bland and there was little connection between any of them, even the supposed lovers like Manu and Adrien or Mehdi and Sarah. In fact, it seemed to me as if everyone was very much focusing on themselves and I couldn't find any sympathetic character among all of them. Take Manu's sister Julie, who even at the day of the funeral of her brother seemed to care more for her cherished role in an opera; or Adrien, who loses himself in his role of potential savior of the AIDS-epidemic; or Mehdi, who was more involved with fear for his own health, and who switches shamelessly between Manu, Sarah and in the end even Manu's sister, while in the meantime relentlessly executing a witch-hunt on brothels and prostitutes, even if this means hurting innocent people like Julie. Or Sarah, who sees her baby not as a responsibility but as a burden.

Sure enough, Manu's character is endearing: young and careless and on top of everything in the beginning, but in his (extremely improbable) affair with Medhi he doesn't hesitate a minute to sack Adrien in a very harsh way.

The whole AIDS-related section with Adrien (who at the start of the movie impressed me as a low-key local physician) suddenly becoming a professor and a national AIDS-expert, and all the lecture-like information on the disease, struck me as a bit patronizing and undermined the dramatic storyline. Furthermore the movie seems like 20 minutes too long, the part after Manu's death doesn't fit in at all. Are we to think, in witnessing in the final scene yet another peaceful picnic at the river, that everything is as it was before? The new boyfriend for Adrien is as improbable as the coupling of Manu and Medhi (even Adrien seems to think that). And why this complicated nationality-issue, whatever language he spoke it never did come out as genuine. And as someone already commented on this site: did Manu really have only one shirt and one pair of trousers?!?

On the other hand I have to praise Sami Bouajila and young Johan Libéreau, they did an excellent job and carried the whole movie. And for some reason I really liked the photography, it has this French quality of balancing between the intimate and the claustrophobic and makes French movies often feel like your stepping into someone's private home. And most important of all: Téchiné succeeds in avoiding all larmoyancy: it's as if the fast pace of the movie tries to keep up with the lively spirit of Manu, the story waltzes around the rocks of melodrama and as such it resembles Real Life itself: in spite of everything the band has to play on.
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8/10
Love in the Time of AIDS
Buddy-5130 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Witnesses" is a provocative and moving French drama set in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

It's 1983, and a young gay man by the name of Manu (Johan Libereau) has come to Paris, where his sister (Julie Depardieu), an aspiring opera singer, lives. Almost immediately, Manu enters into a platonic relationship with Adrien (Michel Blanc), a middle-aged doctor who falls in love with Manu despite the fact that the young man sees Adrien as just a pal. Meanwhile, Adrien introduces Manu to a longtime friend, Sarah (Emmanuelle Beart), a writer of children's books, and Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), her husband who works as a vice cop in the city. Eventually, Manu taps into Mehdi's latent attraction to men and the two strike up a tentative, secret relationship. But before long a mysterious and deadly disease has arrived on the scene, changing the lives of these characters - and of countless others in the world - in ways they could never possibly have imagined.

Even though "The Witnesses" deals with a very grim and serious subject, its primary focus always rests on the characters and the complex relationships that define them. Written by Andre Techine, Laurent Guyot and Viviane Zingg and directed by Techine, "The Witnesses" draws us into the lives of these people precisely because it refuses to make an undue fuss over them and how they choose to live their lives. In fact, much of the narrative feels spontaneous and unformed, almost as if the writers were making it up as they go along. The result is that the incidents don't feel contrived or forced, and we are never tempted to question their credibility. In fact, the filmmakers often seem to go out of their way to avoid doing the obvious, often building up to scenes (a dying man's trip to his sister's opera performance, a final meeting between estranged lovers, a maudlin, drawn-out death scene) that never end up taking place - just as in real life.

The characters, moreover, are richly drawn, with each emerging as a nicely balanced combination of weaknesses and strengths. Manu, for example, is basically a happy-go-lucky kid who's just beginning to find his way in life and who demonstrates that he has a tremendous capacity for joie de vive and emotional tenderness - even if his youth and inexperience occasionally lead him to hurt others in ways that he doesn't yet fully comprehend. It becomes doubly tragic, then, when the fates demand such a harsh, unforgiving punishment from him. Sarah is a recent mother who admits quite frankly that she appears not to have much of a maternal instinct, looking upon her newborn more as a hindrance than as a blessing. Her husband, Mehdi, is a mass of contradictions as he tries to come to terms with his bisexuality, falling further in love with Manu, even while raiding dens of iniquity in his on-duty hours. Finally, Adrien is the lonely older man whose wisdom born of experience ultimately gives strength and guidance to others.

The performances are uniformly excellent throughout, and Techine's direction can be either down-to-earth or lyrical depending on which of those two seemingly contradictory tones a particular scene calls for.

"The Witnesses" is a sad movie but not a depressing one, for its canny recognition that humans have an endless capacity for regeneration and hope even in the face of unimaginable suffering carries us beyond the tragic nature of its subject matter.
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5/10
Sluggish Drama of Early AIDS.
rmax3048236 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
For almost an hour this French story of love and its dynamics slogs along painfully, its object obscured. A policeman of Islamic descent has married a young woman partly for her money. She doesn't care. He's a sexual dynamo. She doesn't even care that he sees other women -- or a man, for that matter.

The other man is an innocent-looking young gay guy who is having an affair with a gay doctor, interrupted now by the attentions of the police officer.

Everyone goes around shrugging shoulders and gesticulating except the doctor who is fiercely jealous and has lost his young lover. It's all rather comme ci, comme ca, until finally a brief announcement is seen on TV that a mysterious disease is spreading among the gay community.

The young man has it, the others don't. The whole business is treated without melodrama and without any overt attempts to engage the viewer emotionally, except insofar as we are saddened by the illness of the innocent young man and we share the anxiety of those who have made love with him. Amor vincit omnia, and then you roll over and go to sleep.

I found the sexual juggling a little boring. I didn't really care much who wound up with whom. And the way AIDS was treated was something of a disappointment. Neither moral nor medical questions were raised. It was as if something had intruded into a couple of love affairs and the consequences, though tragic, were also a damned nuisance.

The photography is crisp and evocative, the direction efficient, the budget modest. If this doesn't achieve all it seems to have set out for, I still wish there were more efforts made along these lines. My God, what an improvement it is over another Batman movie!

I wish the characters had been made more engaging. As it is, I wound up feeling as if I were watching them through the wrong end of a telescope.
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8/10
Came, check; Saw, check; Conquered?
writers_reign28 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I can't say I'm wild about Andre Techine or the kind of films he chooses to write and/or direct and this is just about the best film of his I've seen very possibly because of the standout performance of Michel Blanc who dominates the film. Techine cast Manu Beart in Les Egares and once again he and/or she herself play down her chocolate-box loveliness in favor of ordinariness and once again she turns in a great performance. To be fair it's something of a triumph for ensemble acting with everyone pulling his weight with special mention for Julie Depardieu who manages to oxygenate a pretty thankless role. This is one I'll buy on DVD which is more than I can say of Les Egares.
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Ash sea
Vincentiu31 December 2010
As an ash sea. Love and errors, ivory towers and theoretically escapes. Social chains and sandy expectations. A young man - axis of small society. A sentimental adventure, the sick and the good ways. A french novel about values and sentimental windows. Scarfs of past and future as Persian carpet. Emmanuelle Beart in skin of reed-character. A film about AIDS and decisions. About search of life sense and answers behind the words. Death as scrub. And the sound of things who makes measure of feelings. Fresco of a world, it is interesting for the art of director and for interesting cast. And, more that, for the final taste. For the traces of its parts - mirrors in fact.
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