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High expectations for French release of Les Arcs award-winner Bang Gang

The crew of Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), four-time award winner at Les Arcs Film Festival, December 2015
The crew of Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), four-time award winner at Les Arcs Film Festival, December 2015 Romuauld Maginot

Le Bang Gang (une histoire d'amour moderne) was among a selection of 2015’s films from across Europe which landed up a mountain at Les Arcs Film Festival in December. Most of the works had their French premiere at the event. Some of them are rare finds in the fast-multiplying film scene. 


Husson's first feature film nabbed four awards including the 10-member high-school jury, beating its nine fellow competitors.

Based on a true and unusual story, the telling of Le Bang Gang nevertheless lacks originality. It strongly recalls the works of Eric Rohmer or François Truffaut. Lars von Triers' Dogma has also left a visible mark on the director.

Husson boldly broaches common issues for late teens such as independence, making choices and sexuality, and gets the best out of her young cast (Marilyn Lima, Daisy Booth, Lorenzo Lefebvre, Finnegan Oldfield and Fred Hotier), whether they are playing with sex, drugs or suffering from unrequited love and hormone surges.

The film was acclaimed at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and will debut in France on 13 January.

Sparrows, directed by Runar Runarsson, won the top Crystal Arrow prize at Les Arcs. It is about 16-year-old Ari (Oscar Arti Fjalarsson, best actor), who flies from his mother’s nest in Reykjavik to his father’s anything-but-nest in the wild west of Iceland.
Ari has two choices. He can scream down the phone at his mother several thousand miles away, or fill his lungs otherwise, spread his wings, become his own person and build new relationships.

Of course, it’s not easy and amateur Fjalarsson (who’s now attending acting school) communicates sensitively the difficulties of adolescence. The well-paced and delicate film Sparrows is an all-round seamless treat for the eye, the ear and the heart.

Manal Issa, playing Lina in Peur de Rien (Parisienne), won the best actress award. Danielle Arbid, co-founder of the film festival Born in Beirut, directs Issa as a Lebanese student fending for herself in Paris in the 1990s where all is not black and white. French star Dominique Blanc plays the poetical and witty Paris University art history professor.

The film follows the magnetic and resilient Lina through testing situations. She effortlessly attracts a businessman, young people on the political far-right and the cool left, and the prof, as well as an uncle-by-marriage. Her aim is to complete her studies. With a plot that is as linear as railway tracks, and short on surprises, Parisienne’s actors are happily engaging. The film’s virtue is in the message Arbid wants to send to France and the Middle East as she observes them growing apart. She says she wants to “show people in the East that France is a beautiful country, and people in France that foreigners aren’t all that bad either”.

With its Irish director Lenny Abramson and with Canadian co-production, Room, like several films selected at Les Arcs, arrived via the Toronto film festival. The title of the film intrigues, as does the first half of the film where five-year-old Jack, played by eight year-old wunderkind-actor Jacob Tremblay, lives with his wan young mother (Brie Larson). Their living space is small but brimming with imagination in terms of action and camera. However, the second part of the film is flat and sad, redeemed only partially by the act that leads to the end which it would be a shame to reveal. Room won the audience prize at Les Arcs.

11 Minutes, Jerzy Skolimowski’s latest film, is compelling and intriguing. Even if glass shattering in slow-motion is nothing new, it’s effective here. Each character is flawed and exaggerated. 11 Minutes is an edgy film in the sense that the situations and most of the characters are unsettled, uncomfortable, not where they should be. The soundtrack often booms and disturbs, deeply, but is part of the plot.

A thousand possibilities offer themselves to the audience which either has to tune in or switch off to avoid overload. One off-beat scene or dialogue follows another in a dislocated way, like tiles in a kaleidoscope. It is a film where life on a string has to be taken seriously, but not before it comes close to humour, although nothing is quite funny enough to spark a hearty laugh. The dual ending of 11 Minutes serves as a reminder that cinema is art and that films can be philosophical in content as well as in form.

Made in Greece, bathed in the light and reflections of the Aegean Sea, Chevalier is rich in human nature, behaviour and relationships as seen through the eyes of director Athina Rachel Tsangari.

She says she is an observer first and foremost, and in this film Tsangari takes a close look through the male prism. On a luxury yacht, six men of various ages, occupations and ties among each other set out for a bit of fishing and diving. Instead they decide to put each other to the test. It’s not the Olympics, but they take their sometimes cute, sometimes wild challenges seriously.

Tsangari indeed makes keen observations. The film rises to its own challenge of shooting in tight corners. It’s also hilarious at times (written by Eftimis Filippou of The Lobster plus impros during rehearsals). Thanks to the actors, Yorgos Kentros, Panos Korinos, Vangelis Mourikis, Papadimitriou Makis and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, the lack of women in front of the camera is not felt. The presence of the one behind the camera is appreciated. Chevalier won the top prize at the BFI London Film Festival.

The Ardennes, one of those multi-border regions in Europe, is the title of Belgian director Robin Pront’s first feature film of fraternal love-hatred-betrayal. The eccentric Jan Bijvoet has a character role, but the main action revolves around a love triangle between two brothers in their twenties and a young woman (Veerle Batens). The baddie, Kenny, is played by Kevin Janssens.

The repented brother who’s hitched up with his girlfriend, Sylvie, is played by The Ardennes’ scriptwriter Jeroen Perceval (Bullhead). He and Pront succeed in creating some incongruous, slightly whacky characters and details. As an observation of society, Pront hits the target. However, The Ardennes could be bolder. Tiny hints of dark and tongue-in-cheek humour a la Tarantino and plenty of action with rapid scenery changes bear along a story that is largely predictable. Shot in semi-darkness, or grey fluorescent lustre, this play on the cold and dampness of the Ardennes environment comes across as a nice attempt as a Belgian Beer Western.

Matthias Schoenaerts scores bigtime in A Bigger Splash, a remake of a French film called La Piscine (1969, by Jacques Deray with Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Jane Birkin and Maurice Ronay) showing how the other half live in a sink-or-swim world. Schoenaerts plays the attentive and emotionally fragile lover of Tilda Swinton whose over-the-hill popstar character’s name (Marianne) is dropped so many times by her former lover and trouble-maker, Ralph Fiennes (Harry), that it crashes.

Swinton had been the subject of one of Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s documentaries called Love Factory, in 2002. In this feature, he lines her up with Dakota Johnson. A Bigger Splash is high in colour and personalities, swanning around in paradise locations bathed in lots of sun and deep colour.

Swinton has an amazing wardrobe, and no voice. The film is loud throughout, in all senses.

Couple in a Hole (Sauvages, in French) is a thought-provoking and improbable film d’auteur which pushes the limits of human grief and loss to animal despair. Kate Dickie plays Karen who eats maggots in her underground home, brought to her by her adoring husband John, played by Paul Higgins. Director Tom Geens is a London-based Belgian director who sets his film in the French Pyrenees mountains on the Franco-Spanish border. His film carefully peels off the layers of the story, so little by little, as John picks up emotional strength, and Karen, physical strength, we begin to understand why they are in this situation.

Some inconsistencies betray this interesting film on human needs, and potentially monstrous yet human behaviour. The blow from the sad, painful or ugly parts of this film is softened by Dickie and Higgins’ performances, the magnificent greenery and the compositions of some beautiful shots.

Family Film is an auteur film directed and written by a young Slovenian-born director Olmo Omerzu. It’s his first feature film and is set in the Czech Republic. As the school principal points out in the film when the 15-year-old protagonist skips class, it’s quite astounding that his parents leave him and his older sister to fend for themselves while they go off on a sailing adventure on the other side of the world.

Skype is limited when it comes to being in loco parentis. The kids take advantage of their freedom of course, but in a way that is as bland as the urban-chic decor. The most gripping thing about this film is not who has slept with whom, or if the children will ever see their parents again, but if the family pet dog, Otto, will survive after paddling to a desert island and suffering all kinds of inclement weather.

“I’m all for new ways of approaching filmmaking," says Frederic Boyer, the artistic director who selects the 120 films at the seven-year-old Les Arcs film festival in December. "Right now, it’s interesting to see people trying new formats, longer or shorter films. I think that video clips can be very creative. New technologies are good also, but what you absolutely must have are visionary film directors.”

No prize is awarded as yet to video clips at Les Arcs, but the winning short film prize awarded by a dedicated short-film jury under French actor/director Louis-Do Lencquesaing came from Turkey. Sali (Tuesday) is 12 minutes long and made by Ziya Demirel.

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