The December Lull

The big guns are coming. They had been held back until Boxing Day and are now almost ready to burst out into the megaplexes down to the art houses all over. Myself, I’m looking forward to ‘Colette’, ‘Vice’, Cold War’ and ‘The Favoutite’ in particular. Let’s trust 2019 is a great year for the movies (just like this past one). Still, there were films of merit to be had pre-Christmas, in December. I moseyed off to the State to see a couple.

Now, unlike ‘Juliet Naked’, be warned that ‘Normandy Nude’ does incorporate actors naked, as we clearly see in the opening scene. But it is sparse, fleeting and benign – think a slightly more explicit version of ‘Calendar Girls’ and you get the picture. Its major attraction is the presence of Francois Cluzet, star of ‘The Intouchables’ and the perfectly realised ‘The Country Doctor’. In the hands of the director of ‘The Women on the 6th Floor’ (Phillipe Guay) the combination should be a real winner. Whilst ‘Normandy Nude’ doesn’t reach the heights of that esteemed trio, it is still quite a blissful way to spend time in front of the big screen for lovers of Frenchiness.

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Cluzet plays Mayor Bulbuzard, the political head of a struggling French rural community trying to come up with ways of attracting the attention of big city types to the woes of the countryside. As luck would have it, renowned American photographer Newman (Toby Jones), a specialist in mass naked shootings a la Spencer Tunnick, is just passing through. In doing so he spies a field he considers just perfect for one of his nude extravaganzas, so he and the mayor conspire to make it happen. That will certainly gain the tiny burb’s plight some publicity, but if only he can convince all his fellow townspeople to shed their clothing in unison for the cause.

Not all are liberal enough to meet the challenge – how’s he to convince them? Adding another impediment to the disrobing is that the exact ownership of said verdant field is in dispute.

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Of course we would expect all the problems to be resolved and Newman to be clicking away at a largish amount of exposed flesh, but it’s not quite as Hollywood as that. It is Tinsel Town, though, in the number of rustic stereotypes it delivers, but there is a warmth to ‘NN’ that counters that. It doesn’t set the film world on fire for any reason – but I still found it most engaging.

As is ‘Puzzle’. Now my son Richard, when it comes to the business of piecing together complicated jigsaw puzzles, is a whizz. But he’s got nothing on Kelly Macdonald’s Agnes. In the appropriately titled ‘Puzzle’, she discovers she is a super-whizz.

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Ms Macdonald’s career hasn’t exactly set the film world on fire either, but she’s a solid enough thesp as many of us who viewed her performance across a number of seasons of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ can attest to. She’s perfect for the understated role here. This is a slow burn of a movie, so if you’re after something that goes at the speed of the digital age, this is not for you. Still, it’s not without its nuanced joys, such as the role performed by Irrfan Khan as a rich emigre and Agnes’ eventual partner in speed jigsawing competitions. Will he become her preferred bed partner as well; preferred to stolid mechanic hubby Robert (David Denman)?

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Now sadly, because I was perhaps not paying close enough attention in the opening stanzas of the movie, I did miss the significance of it’s concluding scene. But in response to the question as to whether the humble jigsaw puzzle can change one’s life for the better, at least we receive an answer to that. How? Well, you’ll just have to spend some time in the slow lane and see it.

Trailer for ‘Normandy Nude’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RBABb3oFzc

Trailer for Puzzle = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl_SoMNi0rw

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