AFI Fest 2014: Réalité and Alléluia

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I’m not sure why every screening at the AFI’s annual Fest isn’t packed, regardless of the day or time. It’s FREE. F.R.E.E. I have a ticket to see Sophia freakin’ Loren honored at a screening of Marriage Italian Style (1964, Vittorio de Sica). Technically, it’s a voucher, and I have to pick up a ticket and start standing in line early enough, but whatever. It is free. AND THERE ARE STILL VOUCHERS AVAILABLE. What is wrong with people? You can take a drink into the shows at the Chinese cineplex (which is most of the screenings), and the Fest is a great for spotting celebrities. What’s not to love?

Rubbery Réalité

Réalité Quentin Dupieux film

My first film this year was Quentin Dupieux’s new film “Réalité.” Dupieux is indie-famous for his film “Rubber” (2010), about a murderous rubber car tire, which, admit it, is the greatest premise you’ve heard in a long time. AFI are fans of Dupieux, and his film “Wrong” played at the Fest in 2012. “Réalité” is cut from the same cloth as those films–it’s got the same unsettling combination of real humor and surrealism. “Real humor” because often films that are surreal fail embarrassingly at incorporating humor. David Lynch is the master of brilliantly combining humor and surrealism. Needless to say, most people aren’t David Lynch. (And YAY for new “Twin Peaks” episodes in 2016!!)

There is a fantastic bit at the beginning of “Réatlié” that felt like a Jacques Tati gag. An aspiring director, Jason (Alain Chabat), is pitching his film to a producer, Bob (Jonathan Lambert). Bob asks Jason to describe his film, but before Jason can get a word out, Bob insists that he have a cigar. Jason doesn’t want a cigar. Bob offers him a cigarillo. No, thank you. Not to worry—for non-smokers, Bob has regular cigarettes. (It’s like Dean Martin as an alcoholic on the wagon in Rio Bravo just sticking to beer.) Bob insists that Jason have a cigarette.

Not wanting to offend the producer, Jason relents. Within four seconds, the producer has snatched the cigarette out of Jason’s mouth, complaining that Jason is such a poor smoker, it’s no fun to watch him. Pointing out that the air is stale, Bob then suggests they go out on the balcony for Jason to pitch his idea. Every time Jason is about to start pitching his film, Bob interrupts. It is both very French (both actors are French) and very funny.

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“I’m your pusher man.”

Groan for an Oscar

The movie involves several intertwined plots that may actually all be the same plot. Characters wake up from dreams that involve other characters that had appeared to be part of a sub-plot. Eventually Jason begins encountering another version of himself as he goes about trying to fulfill the producer’s one condition for signing a contract. Jason’s film is about murderous television sets (sound familiar?) that make people stupid the more television they watch. (“So it’s sci-fi,” says Bob.)

Soon, the homicidal televisions start killing people with “waves.” People are in agonizing pain, they bleed from every conceivable orifice, and then they die. Everybody on the planet. The End.

Bob’s only condition for producing this masterpiece is that Jason find the perfect groan of agony for these stupid human victims. “I want an Oscar for that groan, Jason!” he says with not a trace of irony. (Jason later has a dream of receiving an award for the best groan, but he can’t go up to get it because he’s stuck to his seat.) In an attempt to help Jason relax so that he can find the perfect groan, he and his unsympathetic psychoanalyst wife go to see a movie.

Playing at the theater is a movie called Waves, and of course, it is his movie. He stands up in front of the screen and tries to convince the audience that they need to stop watching the film because it doesn’t exist yet. And that the groans will be better when he’s finished. His wife is mortified. I didn’t think of it at the time, but it all sounds very Woody Allen.

More Zog, Less Navel-Gazing

Is “Réalité” a good film? Absolutely, and I enjoyed it. But it’s a style of film—I don’t think it’s quite a genre—that I don’t love. Maybe the color and the violence of a Lynch film make the Möbius-strip-like quality of the narratives more palatable. Maybe I got impatient because it was a film about making films and involved too much navel-gazing.

I liked a lot of things about the film, including John Glover (“Smallville”), of all people, who plays an ex-documentary filmmaker named Zog working on a new film for Bob (starring a girl named Reality). There was something kind about his character, his insistence that Bob be patient while watching the rushes. So much of the film’s humor depends on cruelty towards the characters, I wish there had been a little more of him.

Sociopaths: A Love Story

Alléluia a film by Fabrice Du WelzI hung around for the midnight movie, Alléluia, a thriller directed by Fabrice Du Welz, starring Laurent Lucas and Lola Dueñas (an Almodóvar regular), and shot in 16mm. It’s based on the same story, the Martha Beck-Ray Fernandez murders, as the pulpy The Honeymoon Killers (1969).

Alléluia was riveting in a demanding sort of way—so much so that the film sometimes felt like mostly a tight close-up on Dueñas’s Gloria, sometimes just her eyes. (Though there was of course less of that than it seemed like there was.)

Crazy Love

That demanding intimacy was perfectly apt—Gloria is willing to overlook a lot in a fella, including that he seduces, cons, and abandons her. But, when Michel (Lucas) sleeps with other women in order to con them, while Gloria lurks about posing as his sister, she loses whatever is left of her mind. Almost immediately after meeting Michel, she drops her daughter with a neighbor, and she and Michel set about fleecing lonely women.

Unfortunately, Gloria can’t stomach the part of the con that involves Michel’s infidelity. She is crazily possessive from the moment he seduces her. The morning after, he cons her out of some cash. In a brilliant moment, once she is out of his line of sight, she runs breathlessly up and down stairs to get it for him, then stops before he can see or hear her to catch her breath.

Handing him the money, she smiles, saying, “If you don’t help the people you love, you don’t really love them.” This is exactly the response that Michel’s manipulation is intended to elicit, but when he doesn’t call, she tracks him down. Michel confesses who he really is (not a shoe salesman, as it turns out) and she seems to accept him as he is. It is their mutual acceptance that seems to doom them. And, of course, the women Gloria will later slaughter.

afi fest 2014 alleluiaA Sociopath’s Pop Culture

Michel is a Humphrey Bogart fan. He has film posters; he takes Gloria to see The African Queen (1951)a film about another pair of misfit lovers. I’m hoping the über-creepy scene of Michel and Gloria laughing at the film, intercut with Katharine Hepburn and Bogart laughing at Bogart’s hippopotamus imitation hasn’t ruined The African Queen for me.

Michel also reads crime fiction—Simenon’s Maigret stories. We know serious trouble is brewing when Michel and Gloria set their sights on a beautiful widow who also reads Simenon, and has a daughter almost the same age as Gloria’s. The assistant programmer who introduced the film pointed out that Lucas is reminiscent of Klaus Kinski—”but handsomer,” she was quick to add. There is definitely something around the mouth. It’s the Kinski-esque shiftiness—you never knew when he would just go off—that makes Michel seem simultaneously insincere and vulnerable.

Both the leads are tremendous. Gloria at first elicits our sympathy. She seems naive…and then absolutely terrifying. Michel is at first appalling and then sympathetic (though not redeemed, not by a long shot). He has a wonderful speech on his first date with Gloria about being able to tell what sort of person one is based on their choice of footwear. He’s got Gloria’s style pegged, and we don’t know if he’s been stalking her or if he really does understand her in some way.

It’s an impressive narrative/directorial feat, making those two sociopaths sympathetic, and making their relationship so compelling, while still maintaining a moral center. We’re not allowed to excuse any of the pair’s crimes simply because they’ve found each other. I’m interested in seeing Du Welz’s first movie; Calvaire (2004) is a horror film, and given Alléluia, I’m looking forward to being horrified.

 

All in all, not a bad first day. Up next: Philippe Lacôte’s feature debut, Run, and another midnight screening, this time A Hard Day, a crime thriller directed by Kim Seong-hun.

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