France and Switzerland

In the first week of this mint new year the Blue Room visited the above two nations courtesy of the silver screens at the State. In ‘Youth’ and ‘The Bélier Family’, 2016 took off to a rip-roaring start with this pair of diverse movies. They both entranced – they were mutually of the highest order.

Two old friends, chewing the fat whilst having a soak in the spa’s pool, are rudely – or perhaps not so rudely – interrupted from their musings on the state of the world and their respective bladders by something that leaves them open mouthed. In fact it completely takes their minds off the issues involved in taking a regular piss at their age. Dipping her toe in before joining them is the recently crowned Miss International (Madalina Diana Ghenea). They are gobsmacked. She isn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. One remarks to the other that what they are viewing is probably the last idyll of their lives.
This was only one of the memorable moments in a film overloaded with stunningly beautiful – and at times startlingly whimsical – imagery. A few years ago Paolo Sorrento delivered something just as wondrous with his hugely successful ‘The Great Beauty’. This English language offering is perhaps more accessible than its predecessor, but also maybe the lesser, just, for it. Both engorge our senses.

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‘Youth’ is set in a rejuvenation centre for the rich and famous in the shadow of the Swiss Alps. Michael Caine is one of the old fellows being pampered and pummelled to within an inch of himself there, as well as being granted the sublime vision of that very generous and sultry young lady. He is also being pestered by an emissary from no less than the Queen to come out of retirement and provide her birthday pressie to her hubby. You see MC plays Fred Ballinger, a noted composer/conductor whom Her Majesty desperately wants to conduct, for her prince, some of his famous ‘Simple Songs’.

Michael Caine is not only a British national treasure, he’s a global one. He’s appeared in around 115 features and shows no sign of slowing down. I remember first seeing him in something called ‘Zulu’ (1964). But the movie that initially made this scribe sit up and take notice was the ‘Ipcress File’, his take on James Bond in the form of Harry Palmer There were several sequels. Of course his signature outing from this early period was 1966’s ‘Alfie’. It was remarkable for its time and his cockney lead protagonist is an indelible memento of a decade when a bright new Britain emerged from the dowdy shadows of the war-worn fifties.

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Caine’s character has no desire to return to the stage, irrespective of who is requesting it happens. He’s lost a bit of life-interest since his wife’s departure from the world, despite the best efforts of his daughter/secretary (Rachel Weisz) to gee him up. She’s wedded to the wastrel son of his mate (Harvey Keitel). The hedonistic offspring is busy breaking up the marriage by flinging with pop-star Paloma Faith, playing herself. The two ageing buddies, through talk and surreal dreams, spend their days revisiting a time when they were in their pomp. Keitel’s Mick Boyle, a director, still reckons he is back there, busily writing his swansong which he trusts will mark the pinnacle of a long career. Enter a very revealing Jane Fonda to stymie this particular flight of fancy. Paul Dano is superb in his role as an actor about to play a great dictator. We are also delighted with visions of Caine conducting a field of cows, diners who refuse to utter a word to each other and the glorious Sumi Jo, also stupendously playing herself, in the closing scene of this fabulous cinema attraction. Described as a ‘…poignant story of friendship, family, love and loss, and yearning to make sense of it’, this took my breath away from the get-go. The Blue Room loved this ‘…swooningly beautiful dramatic comedy.’

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As it did the French offering. Television talent quests are an ubiquitous staple these days. ‘(Insert country) Got Talent’, ‘The X-Factor’ and ‘The Voice’ are franchises that occasionally can deliver more than mediocrity – cite Jessica Mauboy here, Susan Boyle in the UK and Katy Perry Stateside. As terrific as these ladies may be, none have stolen away my heart in the same way as a semi-finalist from the French version of ‘The Voice’, Louane Emera. She turned heads in her country’s break-out movie of ’15, ‘The Bélier Family’, winning for herself a César Award in the process. She ‘…shines with the intensity of a thousand suns…’ in her role as Paula, a sixteen year old struggling with an infatuation for the new kid on the block at school and the late arrival of her periods. Compounding those adversities is the fact that she is the mouthpiece for her family as her parents and brother are aurally challenged. Then her music teacher (Eric Elmosnino) discovers she can sing. Boy, can she sing! His aspirations for her throw the family dynamic completely out of kilter. Karin Viard over-acts for all she is worth as the overtly ditsy mother, as well as one having to contend with the increasing spread of a vaginal infection as the movie proceeds. The audience will respond in the positive to her despite all this, as it will for a father, François Damiens, who, despite his handicap, gets it into his head that he would be ideal as their community’s next mayor. He gives a terrific performance and is responsible for much of this gem’s poignancy – which it dishes out in spades. It is a tad slow, in the beginning, to pick up speed, but once it does, it would give even the most flinty-hearted viewer a cause to reach for something to dry tear duct secretions. The French-speaking world loved it and I have no doubt it will make an impact on the art house circuit here. Its finale is pure Hollywood, but oh so life affirming – and ‘hearing’ a concert from the perspective of a deaf person was a master-stroke by director Eric Lartigau. This film lifts the spirits and I left the State in a state of almost blissfulness.

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So there we have it – one movie featuring an old hand who has been giving his innumerable fans pleasure for decades – whilst the other gives us a luminous new star who lights up the screen and will hopefully give pleasure for decades to come.

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Trailer for ‘Youth’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T7CM4di_0c

Trailer for ”The Bélier Family’ =  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9p0qnj4OC4

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