The 1988 film is enshrouded by a classical music score that inspires a sense of danger and wonder. A woman's hand holds a letter with 18th century styled writing. The laced arm of a noble rises from underneath bountiful and silky bed covers, to reach for a handkerchief from a waiting tray as another servant brings forth a steaming hot drink. A hoop skirt is put into place. And so commences the toilette for two nobles, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil. Perfumes, corsets, wigs, shoes, powder, among other details must be founded upon and strictly adhered to.
The innocent Cecile de Volanges and her watchful hen of a mother are at a visit to the Marquise. The budding daughter has recently come from a convent where she lived and was educated. A servant enters with a note upon a tray. It is to announce the arrival of Valmont. Madame de Volanges warns Cecile, who is dressed in white, while she and the Marquise sit as the daughter stands in a near servant like pose, that Valmont does not open his mouth unless he first calculates the damage he may do and all of this is part of a conspicuous charm.
Cecile inquires as to why he is then received. Her mother comments that everyone receives him. Valmont enters with the strolling grace of a cat only to bow and give a calculated smile.
The costumes are sublime though the jewelry looks as if it could be fake. And the puns begin as soon as sex enters the air which is immediately. Valmont stands next to Cecile and leans so that he is in direct lines eye with her breasts. Madame de Volanges states it is best that they leave and Cecile remarks, "I'm used to being in bed by nine at the convent."
"So, I should hope," the experienced Valmont replies. The Marquise rings a bell for a servant to see to their exit. And once the two are alone, the plotting begins. Both are hardened ends to the same crooked stick. The Marquise asks Valmont if he wonders why he was summoned there that evening. He replies that he hoped it would be for the pleasure of his company.
She says she needs something from him. And that is to seduce Cecile as the girl's future husband is the Marquise's old lover who left her for Valmont's fat mistress. But Valmont does not wish to ruin Cecile's life as he had other prey in mind. Madame de Tourvel is married and virtuous. Why not take her for a spin?
The Marquise lectures Valmont on how ridiculous it is to seduce a man's wife as there is little gain in a win and much humiliation in a loss. He argues that doing so is better than seducing a virgin who is bound to be curious as any one of a dozen men could manage it and he has his reputation to think of. Marquise allows him the benefit of a night with her if, he carries out plans and makes the evidence clear in writing.
Both ideas end up blossoming into a wicked flower. Servants are blackmailed into stealing letters, footmen are hired to follow on supposed hunts. When Madame de Tourvel flees the home of Rosemond, Valmont's aunt, he has a servant follow her and demands to know where she goes, what she eats and if she sleeps.
The film is the prude version of the novel as in the original the first to deflower Cecile is the Marquise herself. The nobles really were hippies as they made love with absolute freedom, seemed to have no financial restraints much less worries and they lived in a dorm type of lifestyle.
But there is a catch to it all which is where the title comes from. The cinematic version alludes to protection during sex, but no one suffers physically, except Cecile becomes pregnant and has a miscarriage and Madame de Tourvel quietly dies of a broken heart. In the novel it is alluded to that the Vicomte was a ground zero for an STD, perhaps syphilis. The reality of the original writing was that the Madame passed away a raving lunatic who could not seem to quench her thirst. The Marquise also became quite ill with a rash and was deformed by small pox.
Both forms of the story reveal how much games can ruin people's lives permanently. The Vicomte succumbs to Chevalier Danceny, a music instructor who is the lover of both Cecile and the Marquise, in a duel. Though there was a single victor the men did agree upon one thing: what they did was not to protect Cecile in any particular fashion. And in challenging Valmont to a duel and winning, the Chevalier gained control of all the poisonous letters of the Marquise that were soon to circulate about Paris.
By Sarah Bahl
By Sandrine Bonnaire (2007) gives a multi-tiered view of mental differences and how some of those who need special care are treated by the medical system, their peers, family and caregivers. Sabine, is the protagonist, a woman who was found to be different from her siblings and in need of particular care at a young age. Sabine is autistic and as a 38 year old large figured adult, she sits on a couch of a special home where her head hangs to the side and her mouth stays open with a drool. She is asked by a caretaker if she would like to see the animals. She answers yes but asks that if she sees the animals will it mean she can't go gardening as well. It's a surprisingly well thought out response given her overall expression.
Sabine enters a barn with a caretaker, pets a horse and feeds the animals as instructed. She drools fairly constantly and repeatedly asks to take a break. She is fatigued easily and seems fragile.
The scene flips to Sandrine dancing with her sister, many years before. They both look to be in their early twenties. Sabine gazes at the camera, with one eye squinting. She can dance, read and write. She's also barely recognizable as a very thin, pretty girl in a patterned sweater awkwardly and adorably dancing with her father and sister. She was enrolled at school with her siblings, but the tormenting by her peers caused her to self mutilate and within three months she was out of school. She stayed at home with her mother until she was twenty seven.
During those years with her family she was both creative and productive. She would make dolls, knit sweaters for the whole family, study English and Geography in her room for hours with books she bought with her own allowance money. Sandrine bought her a piano and with private instruction she was quickly playing advanced compositions by Schubert and Bach. She even composed her own piece, The Path of France
The scenes change to Sabine in the garden and not so much gardening as lying down with her back on the grass and her eyes closed, her arms to the side and her legs straight out in front of her. Sabine does not want to move and once propped up by a good natured caretaker lies down again. She seems genuinely exhausted and all her movements are exceedingly sluggish.
Somehow she makes it into the house as they are having lunch as a group. Sabine after a couple of forkfuls of food lets out a high pitched screech, twice. She wants to eat with Sandrine but can't as the latter is filming.
The difference in Sabine's appearance came after her stay in a hospital when she began to spit and hit her mother. She gained sixty pounds in a few years, began to drool and despite large quantities of oral medication she still hits and spits at times. Sandrine expresses shock at the difference the stay in the hospital had on Sabine. The filmmaker also, by way of theme, questions the efficacy of the medications on the patients. Does it really help them lead more fulfilled lives or does it just make them more ill by depleting the natural intelligence and slowing down the patient? Would Sabine have become worse on her own, with or without medicines?
These are questions that are left to the viewer to ponder, as there seems no perfect answer but the feeling that there must be a better way. It also makes one wonder, what of the patients whose families cannot afford such high end care as those in the film receive? Her name is Sabine connotes more from French as "Call Her Sabine." She is a person, a sibling and a friend.
By Sarah Bahl
This 2010 French film starring Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier; begins with a cheesy 1970s jingle as Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) jogs in the morning light by beautiful lakeside scenery with her hair in curlers and covered with a net. Suzanne is the spoiled and self defacing housewife of industrialist, Robert Pujol who owns an umbrella factory he received through her dowry. The movie is first set on Suzanne's birthday which is like any other day for her as she goes for her morning jog in her bright red 70s running suit, blows kisses to doves, writes poems about squirrels and nags her husband to take his medicinal drops.
They have breakfast together and Robert, instead of remembering her birthday, reminds his wife her place is not in the kitchen, as she has given the servants the week off. Suzanne wonders out loud to him where her place is. Robert tells her they both must not forget she is Mrs. Pujol, as if she has no thoughts for herself and her thoughts are the same as his. And she says she tells herself everyday, "Je suis Madame Pujol, Je suis Madame Pujol" - yet she doesn't know what her place within that role is.
After Robert leaves for work but not before complaining about his workers, Suzanne realizes he forgot his drops and she calls the Pujol- Michonneu factory to have her husband's office wife, Nadege who is the company's top secretary, make sure he takes them. Their brief talk is hilariously awkward. Nadege is upset to find via Suzanne that Robert has been to Badaboum with a so called German buyer and she tells him to get it from his whores at the club. He whines that the place is closed on Thursdays.
Joelle, the Pujol's grown daughter, comes to visit Suzanne who is making a bed and fluffing pillows. In honor of Suzanne's birthday Joelle picks a rose from her parents' garden and gives it to her mother. Joelle shares news with Suzanne, who is shocked and saddened to hear Joelle might be divorcing; as her husband, Jean-Charles is always traveling, is not spending time with their boys, and Joelle is afraid he is having affairs.
Suzanne encourages her daughter to stay with her husband as sparks may fly again, Joelle's response is, or not, as she cruelly points out Suzanne and Robert sleep in separate bedrooms. Suzanne says sex is not everything and Joelle says, at her age perhaps!
Joelle tells her mother, she does not want to be like her; an overly accepting potiche (pretty vase on a shelf). Joelle continues that she thinks her mother is a doormat and women don't have to put up with men's whims in such a manner anymore, it is the late 1970s after all.
Robert arrives home to take his drops as he was too busy at Badaboum the night before to take them. His daughter reminds him of his wife's birthday and he is surprised, says he is busy and tells Suzanne to buy whatever she likes. She meekly thanks him. After Joelle leaves, Robert takes his drops but spits them up when his wife says their son, Laurent, is considering marrying Floriane Marquiset. Robert shouts that Floriane is no better than a prostitute, and Suzanne calmly replies that he is being a snob, he doesn't even know Floriane, that her father owns a patisserie and Floriane is accomplished and highly proficient at the piano.
Robert does not care about any of this and says Suzanne has no right to an opinion. That she is a spoiled little woman who should be happy with kitchen appliances. Then the phone rings and it is someone to inform Robert all of his workers have gone on strike. He leaves after pondering out loud the cost of the strike to himself and an announcement that he will show all the workers his fists. Suzanne contemplates the strike and then writes a poem about a rose.
Suzanne's relationship with Laurent is much more relaxed. She encourages him to study art as he doesn't like political science. He is gentle and conversational. She asks him to tell her about Floriane and then mentions while peeling a carrot how it is too bad Mrs. Marquiset died by electrocution from a hairdryer.
Later that evening the family is gathered together, Joelle with her two boys, Suzanne and Laurent, as the adults smoke, eat well coiffed appetizers and drink bubbly alcohol. Robert is not there as Suzanne comments that her husband's whereabouts have become more and more mysterious.
The doorbell rings and everyone assumes it is Robert, "J'arrive Papa, J'arrive," says Joelle as she dashes to the door with a cigarette held between her manicured fingers. "Nadege, what are you here for?" Nadege tells her it is urgent and Joelle gestures to an absolutely gorgeous and cultured looking family room. Nadege tells them that yes, it involves Robert and that he has been taken hostage by the workers.
Laurent leaves to settle the dispute in a humane manner, but comes back disheveled and with torn clothes as his father attacked him along with giving his son some words of choice. The family is unsure of what to do next, but Suzanne decides to go to the city's mayor, who happens to be her old lover and ask him to intervene in order to quell the worker's rage so her husband may be released. Maurice Babin, otherwise known as Monsieur Deputy Mayor is a man of the people and is in complete contrast to the Pujol's and their lifestyle. Suzanne is also the one who blew him off after their affair and she was married to Robert at the time, but she plays her cards right, Maurice forgives all of this and agrees to intervene.
The next morning Robert is at home in bed, with a doctor giving him orders to come to the hospital for tests as he is run down from daily work. Nadege is also still there having breakfast with Joelle and Laurent. She suggests she make a bullion for Robert and Joelle just looks stunned as Laurent politely and awkwardly says, pourquoi pas?; then Nadege dashes about to make her healing broth as if she has been waiting to do so her whole life.
Suzanne also, at her husband's request takes over the factory. Robert is too ill and high strung to continue with the work, especially considering the dour climate of the working landscape. She does an excellent job and the employees really like her. Both her son and daughter also serve at the factory under their mother's leadership and it becomes a successful family operation. Though, when Robert comes back from a refreshing cruise in better color and overall health, he wants to take the factory back from Suzanne. He lets her know this at the Pujol-Michonneau home office, after he gives her a lovely gold bracelet in the presence of Nadege. He gives the secretary a present too, of Turkish candies that can be bought at any given international airport. The same as giving one's lover the gift of a wrapped Toblerone in front of one's spouse.
Suzanne puts up a fight for control over the factory. She tells her husband he can now be like a lion on a plain, doing nothing all day, but golf and fish. Suzanne does not win her battle for the factory, due to internal family politics, but she does even better for herself in the end, as all the politics Suzanne has up her sleeve come into full force.
With Potiche the main perspective of satire is based on how unpure yet sociable humanity really is. Perhaps it is best not to generalize but it seems that in American films, affairs are heartbreaking and treated as scandalous. In French cinema, the affair itself, is not of consideration as much as how far the film may go in originality to mock such a cliche. It is odd that Joelle, should resemble Maurice Babin in looks. And as the story progresses it becomes increasingly apparent that Suzanne is not so meek and naive as she would seem but is simply a more mature version of Robert. The two understand each other in a way no one else could ever know either of them. They remain together based on this bond alone it seems.
By Sarah C. Bahl
Is about how the pain of both life and death is made easier to digest in the form of stories. The scene begins at a snow covered funeral where an elderly man gives a eulogy to an imaginary group of mourners.
In 1965 Abel and Junon had Joseph, the first born. They also had a little girl, and when Joseph was in kindergarten he developed Burkitt's Lymphoma. The tragedy is not told directly with the watched brutality of a child's illness but in the form of gentle puppets. Neither the daughter nor the parents were compatible with Joseph. In desperation the couple conceives a third child, Henri, but his placenta was also not a match. Joseph died 18 months after the birth of Henri, to make Elizabeth the eldest of what was to be eventually two brothers. The memory of Joseph fades.
Years later, when Junon is elderly, yet no less beautiful, she gathers a tray of tea and sweets together in a homey, upper middle class house. But while carrying the tray she drops it to the ground, and the world blurs. She sinks to the floor.
The scene changes to Elizabeth speaking to a specialist about the family problems and her own sense of herself to be cold and empty. Elizabeth is a playwright, and her brother, Henri bought her the theater for her to perform her works and they were successful. But, Henri did not pay for the theater in direct right and was greatly in debt.
The family members; Elizabeth, Abel and Henri stand in court and Abel agrees to pay Henri's debt. But Elizabeth says she will pay the full sum as long as Henri is banished. The judge finds the agreement to be as tastelessly cold as it is over personal for a courtroom, but since the debt needs to be paid, Elizabeth's terms are accepted. Though Henri is banished, it is not because Elizabeth's life is perfect. Her only child, a son has schizophrenia, an essentially incurable disease.
Junon comes back from her doctor's appointment to tell Abel, between puffs of elegant cigarette, that she has cancer, though it is curable with a bone marrow transplant, but the transplant could cause a reaction whereby the body basically freaks out at the unknown marrow and starts attacking itself.
In the end, it is the inutile Henri who is the match for Junon as well as Elizabeth's son. Junon chooses Henri and the family is brought together for a functionally dysfunctional Christmas, with lots of wine, a children's play and a renegade trip to Midnight Mass.
By Sarah Bahl
Mozart’s Sister (2010) is a deeply intriguing film regarding the raped promise of Maria Anna Mozart, who was as talented as her brother, Wolfgang Mozart, in her abilities to both play and compose music; but was disallowed to act on her abilities for her own self, due to her gender. The film begins with the family on their way to visit with French nobility in order to exhibit Mozart and his sister, nicknamed Nannerl.
The film is not all dark, as there is constant revelation of everyday happenstance from scene to scene. For instance, the carriage wheel breaks while they travel and this causes the family to seek temporary shelter at a nunnery, before they reach their final destination at a court. While the father is deciding on travel plans he stares at a map with spectacles on, a moment such as any family on a modern car trip may relate to, and both son and daughter begin to giggle viciously at him for appearing so dorky. The father takes the spectacles off and admits retreat at his own childrens' humor.
Though the mood changes, as soon as Nannerl begins to play her violin for entertainment and comfort during the long trip, as part of a never ending series of trips. The father, Leopold, quickly puts an end to her talents with abrupt anger and sharp words. This early series of scenes sets the stage for the film: it is a mix of psychological intrigue as to what causes people to end their own childrens’ talents combined with everyday life that carries on with humor and sensibility regardless of any overriding darkness. It is all the more interesting due to the details of French court life during the era (1700s).
Nannerl and her brother are friends to a certain extent despite her father’s overt favoritism toward the brother. Mozart is coldly aloof to Nannerl’s difficulties in establishing herself as a singular person, independent of the tight and controlling cohesive unit the father maintains. To Mozart, it appears it is a man's world, and his sister's feelings matter little anyway.
The mother is entirely aware of Nannerl’s true talents as is the father. This is revealed in a scene whereby the father goes through Nannerl’s notes and the mother, Anna Maria, asks Leopold, if Nannerl at least has talent. The father replies, “Did you ever doubt it?” The parents know they are crushing their daughter’s genius sensibilities but have accepted it as their rightful way as parents. Nannerl is allowed outlets for creative display, but what becomes of it, the reader has to view the film to know.
By Sarah Bahl