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November 22, 2005

French Twists

Melo
Alain Resnais - 1986
MK2 PAL Region 2 DVD

Les Kidnappeurs/The Kidnappers
Graham Guit - 1998
Warner Brothers (France) PAL Region 2 DVD

Ever since I started really taking film seriously, I have consistently been puzzled by the abitrariness regarding the distribution of foreign films in the United States. The more I learned about different filmmakers, the more I learned of filmmakers or films that I couldn't see because they had no U.S. distributor. My assumption that certain filmmakers automatically would get shown because of their reputation proved false, even when I should have known better, when films by Fellini, or films with American stars failed even to get picked up by the smaller distributors. Even with the advent of DVDs and tape, there is no consistency. While I have seen some films that either did not get U.S. distribution, or were shown briefly in certain cities, other films remain unavailable. In the case of a foreign film being available on DVD, even if one has a region free DVD player, one still has to either purchase the film or, if available, rent a copy. While some rental companies are filling the gap with non-U.S. DVDs, the selection is often limited.

I was glad to see at least one newer film by Alain Resnais, even if the film proved to be a dissapointment. For U.S. audiences, Resnais would seem to have dropped off the map after Mon Oncle d'Amerique. I could understand why Melo wasn't picked up for showing in the U.S. The film is essentially a filmed play. Resnais' familiar themes of love, trust, betrayal and memory are there. The sets are gorgeous, and one can't fault the actors who have been part of Resnais' repertory company - Fanny Ardant, Sabine Azema, Andre Dussollier and Pierre Arditi. The wife of a musician has an affair with the musician's friend, a celebrated concert violinist in Paris, 1926. Resnais reminds us that the film is adapted from a play by beginning three sections with a shot of a red screen. There are films with people sitting around talking that hold your attention, as well as effectively filmed theater. As much as I recognize the formal qualities of Melo, I found myself impatient for the film to end. Even the DVDs trailer for I Want to Go Home, written by Jules Feiffer provided more pleasure.

I wasn't familiar with Graham Guit when I picked The Kidnappers for my rental list. I have been a fan of Elodie Bouchez since seeing The Dreamlife of Angels and wanted to see other films with her. I did see part of Pact of Silence on cable, but it was on at a too late hour for serious viewing. I would have thought, now that I've seen it, that even one of the smaller distributors would have envisioned a market for The Kidnappers.

The screenplay is credited to Guit and Eric Neve. The story and characters seem very influenced by Elmore Leonard. For anyone reading this who is not familiar with Leonard, many of his novels involve small time criminals who are either incompetent, or incompetent and psychotic. In this film, Bouchez and three young men attempt to steal money from some Lithuanian gangsters on behalf of a French mob boss. Of course the carefully planned heist goes wrong at every step. The gang of four snatch a package in a safe and the unlucky man who appears at the wrong place at the wrong time. The milieu even resembles Leonard's with sunny Cannes and Nice in place of Miami and Key West. For me, this is a film that could easily be appreciated by those who like Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Soderbergh's Out of Sight, as well as the darker films of the Coens.

Guit discusses some of the acting inpirations here.

Posted by peter at November 22, 2005 11:25 AM