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Friday, Dec. 26, 2008

'Paris'/'Funny Games'

Pretty portrait; screen horror


Director Cedric Klapisch's breakthrough film was 1996's "Chacun Cherche Son Chat" ("When The Cat's Away"), a documentary-like trifle about a lost cat that nevertheless seemed to say something essential about life in the anonymity of a big city. Klapisch set his film in Paris' 11th arrondisement, and he filmed it with the affection of someone who knew its streets intimately. His was a Paris that seemed alive, vibrant and real, not some bogus movie backdrop.

Paris Rating: (4 out of 5)
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MOVIES
City charms: Juliette Binoche in a scene from "Paris" © CE QUI ME MEUT - STUDIO CANAL - STUDIO CANAL IMAGE - FRANCE2 CINEMA

Director: Cedric Klapisch
Running time: 129 minutes
Language: French
Now showing (Dec. 26, 2008)
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Some movies are set in cities, whereas others are about them, and Klapisch's latest, "Paris," falls into the latter category.

Clearly inspired by the ensemble films of Robert Altman ("Nashville" in particular), Klapisch seeks to draw a portrait of today's Paris by skipping along a loosely connected plot that draws in about a dozen characters ranging from a fishmonger to a fashionista, an ingenue to an immigrant.

Klapisch was an early supporter of actor (and heartthrob) Romain Duris in his film "Le Peril Jeune" (1994), and they continue their collaboration here. Duris centers the film, playing a Moulin Rouge dancer named Pierre who suddenly learns that he has a serious heart condition, possibly fatal, and must stop working while awaiting a transplant. He shuts himself in his apartment and from his veranda watches life pass by in the streets below. (There's some suggestion that the rest of the film consists of him imagining the lives of those he watches.)

Pierre also spies on a beautiful girl, Laetitia (Melanie Laurent), living across from him; she is having an affair with her much older professor (Fabrice Luchini), who's going through a midlife crisis and bickering with his happily married brother (Francois Cluzet). Pierre's sister (Juliette Binoche) moves in, and she flirts with a stall holder at the local market (Albert Dupontel), whose ex-wife . . . well, you get the idea.

He has a light touch, and he's as deft with comedy as he is with tragedy, so the film is able to smile at life's vicissitudes. There may be too many strands to the plot — a few are left dangling — and unlike tight focus of "When The Cat's Away" on a single neighborhood, the camera takes in the Sorbonne, the catacombs, Le Jardin du Palais Royal, and the Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre.

Some have accused Klapisch of capitalizing on Paris' tourist imagery, but it's more likely he's contrasting these small, often desperate lives in the streets with these grand monuments of Paris. Does a city consist of its people, or its places?

"Funny Games" is German director Michael Haneke's shot-for-shot English language remake of his 1997 film of the same name, which begs the question: Why? If the first time was pointless, the second's insulting. This is being marketed as a "family-in-peril" thriller a la "Cape Fear" or "Straw Dogs," but don't let the trailer fool you. "Funny Games" is a rather didactic piece of film-as- punishment by Haneke (perhaps art-cinema's most overrated director), designed to repel the viewer.

Funny Games Rating: (1 out of 5)
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MOVIES
Serial sickos: Naomi Watts challenges Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet in `Funny Games." © 2007 CELLULOID DREAMS PRODUCTIONS - HALCYON PICTURES - TARTAN FILMS

Director: Michael Haneke
Running time: 111 minutes
Language: English
Now showing (Dec. 26, 2008)
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Haneke made the original "Funny Games" in response to the rise of brutal film sadism — Quentin Tarantino, in particular — and the way we consume cruelty passively and routinely as entertainment. I agree with Haneke with regard to the nihilistic consumption of "cool" violence; I hated "Kill Bill" for that reason . . . but I hated this film even more.

Haneke's story has two serial-killer youths — played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet — invade a suburban home and terrorize the family living there (Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, and Devon Gearheart) in a nasty ordeal that just goes on and on. The violence is kept just off-screen, but the aftereffects and anguish are front and center. When a small child gets his brains blown out in front of his parents, the temptation to walk out the exit will seem irresistable.

Haneke once said that the people who leave the cinema don't need this film, and the people who stay, do. But there are two problems, the more notable being that Haneke apparently has no idea how people actually view a suspense movie. Haneke has Pitt's character directly address the audience with a smirk, as if we were sitting there with the killers, enjoying their sadism. But in a movie of this sort (again, "Cape Fear"), the audience's sympathies lie with the victims, with the breathless possibility of escape or of turning the tables. People view these to enjoy the fright, not to get their rocks off to cruelty, which is what Haneke seems to think.

Of course, the sicko audience is out there, as the success of the torture-porn genre ("Hostel," etc.) has demonstrated, but the idea that they'll go see an art- house flick by a German director which refuses to show the mayhem on-screen is ridiculous. So the director ends up pissing off people who agree with him and failing to reach those who don't. In a word: failure.


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