A French Affair By Julio Feo Zarandieta
A well-established film director, Anne Fontaine, and a young filmmaker, Stéphane Brizé, did an excellent job of representing French cinema in the official competition of the 53rd edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival. They produced two quality films whose common denominator was a penchant for intimate human drama, stellar performances, and the skilful directing of actors as they construct their characters. In His Hands (Entre ses mains), Anne Fontaine’s seventh film, and Not Here to Be Loved (Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé), directed by Stéphane Brizé, both speak to us of feelings, human relationships, and families, but each through a very different story.
Anne Fontaine, award-winner many times over, (1993 Jean Vigo Prize for Love Affairs Usually End Badly (Les histoires d’amour finissent mal… en général), Best Screenplay at Venice for Dry Cleaning (Nettoyage à sec), Cesar for Best Actor Michel Bouquet in My Father and I (Comment j’ai tué mon père), is now back with In His Hands. The story explores the relationship between a bored woman and a strangely seductive veterinarian for whom she feels an ambiguous attraction and fascination. Conceived as an intimate thriller, the film is told from the point of view of the two protagonists, brilliantly played by Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde and French actress Isabelle Carré.
While Anne Fontaine’s film is an adaptation of the Dominique Barbéris’ novel Les kangourous, Stéphane Brizé’s work is based on an original screenplay which revolves around relationships between parents and their children, and between couples. The intimate story is also supported by the strength of its leading actors: Anne Consigny, Patrick Chesnais and Georges Wilson. A story of frustration, loneliness and hope, a story of love whose underlying thread is a mutual attraction surrounded by the sensuality of tango, music and dance.
The character played by Patrick Chesnais is a kind of anti-hero, a court clerk frustrated with his job, his family, and his love life, a man whose pathetic life is reminiscent of a Georges Simenon novel. Patrick Chesnais plays a sad, taciturn, grey, introverted man, not unlike Monsieur Hire, who with the eye of a voyeur indiscreetly looks through the window at the tango classes in the building next door. Anne Consigny does a brilliant job in immediately making us believe in the attraction she feels toward the two characters. Veteran actor Georges Wilson gives a superb performance in the role of a sickly, authoritarian and grumpy father, angry with everything and everyone.
It’s a shame that the International Jury did not select any of these actors for awards, since all of them deserved to be on the list of prize winners. The two French films in competition were praised by reviewers and audiences alike in San Sebastian, and although they were left out of the awards, they do demonstrate the energy and drive of French cinema today. Also represented in the festival’s parallel sections, this energy could be seen in such excellent films as Holy Lola by Bertrand Tavernier, Burnt Out (Sauf le respect que je vous dois) by Fabienne Godet, Heading South (Vers le sud) by Laurent Cantet, and Hell (L’enfer) by Danis Tanovic, as well as some fifteen co-productions with different countries from Europe to Latin America.