FIDELIO, ALICE’S ODYSSEY

AliceAloneAfter years as an apprentice, Alice finally has a chance to prove herself as a mechanic. But can she succeed as the only woman working on an all male crew?

Directed by Lucie Borleteau. Screenplay by Borleteau in collaboration with Clara Bourreau. (JLH: 4.5/5)

Rendez Vous with French Cinema (NYC 2015)

“Alice” (Ariane Labed) has devoted most of her young life to learning the technical ins & out of maritime engineering. Now age 30, she finally has the opportunity she has worked for: a mechanic on a freighter has died, and Alice has been called up to replace him.

Regardless of what initially motivated Alice to take on this demanding profession, she has no doubts about her ability to succeed–not just professionally but also personally. And so she says goodbye to her boyfriend “Felix” (Anders Danielsen Lie) in Marseille and boards the Fidelio. The old freighter has a new second mechanic.

Lucie Borleteau (collaborating with co-writer Clara Bourreau) has made a striking first feature about the struggle of a woman to succeed in an all male world. Fidelio, Alice’s Odyssey is simultaneously totally specific (capturing the rhythms of the long days and night spent at sea punctuated by brief visits to ports-of-call), yet easily generalized to other Road Warrior professions. (I was a consultant for almost 20 years, so I can validate many of their observations from my own experience.)

Ariane Labed is excellent as “Alice.” Her physical confidence is immediately evident from the way she swims and hoists herself up a ladder. This Alice is no frills; she wears grease on her face more easily than conventional make-up. And when she does dress up, it’s more for effect than personal satisfaction.

But it’s a lonely life.

Alice knows when to act like she’s just another one of “the guys,” but she has also developed an intuitive sense of how far she can intrude on the all-male domains aboard ship. In one striking sequence, Alice is on a gangway walking past various rooms. In one room, some of the guys are watching porn. In another room, some of the guys are singing karaoke. The interiors glow with the warmth of their camaraderie, but Alice is on the outside looking in. Should she decide to enter either room, no one will force her out, but she’s had enough experience by this point to know her presence will be felt as intrusive. AliceForFB

After endless days on the high seas, with stops in places like Bamako (Senegal) and Gdansk (Poland), Alice’s odyssey on the Fidelio is over. In between assignments, most of the men go home to their families, but the in between is more complicated for Alice too. She has demonstrated that she can prove herself on the high seas, but the price is high.

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Top Photo: Ariane Labed as “Alice,” alone in her berth.

Middle Photo: Alice on deck with one of her crew mates.

Bottom Photo: Alice in the engine room, master of her craft.

Photo Credits: Pyramide International/UniFrance

Q: Does Fidelio, Alice’s Odyssey pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes, but just barely.

During the stop in Bamako, some of the bar girls help Alice primp. The surprise in this scene is how easy-going she is with them, even thought there are no real conversations per se.

The explanation for her behavior comes later, when Alice takes Felix to visit her parents. It turns out Alice has three sisters. She relates to her sisters just as easily as she relates to the bar girls. She doesn’t turn away from them, act aloof, or resist their chatter in anyway. But even when Alice is with them, it is clear that she is never one of them.

FINAL POINT: Fidelio, Alice’s Odyssey has a realistically international cast. Although the Captain (Melvil Poupaud) is French and each of the Chief Engineers appears to be French too, the rest of her shipmates come from a variety of countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. This is a perceptive touch. The implicit hierarchy on board helps make some specific plot twists more believable than they might otherwise be.

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PARTY GIRL

Rendez Vous with French Cinema (NYC 2015)

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DREAMCATCHER

Opens Friday in NYC. Review coming soon…

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EVA

Opens Friday in NYC. Review coming soon…

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TREADING WATER

_DouglasSmith-TW#2Review of Treading Water by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

“We all have our little quirks,” declares therapist “Catherine,” (Carrie-Anne Moss) “some are physical, some are psychological. And it is those quirks that make us unique.” Sweet comedy/drama Treading Water tells a classic love story with a modern day twist. Devoid of feuding families or bookstore meet-cutes, this sincere film by writer/director Analeine Cal y Mayor and Javier Gullón centers on the young life of “Mica,” (Douglas Smith) aka “the boy who smells like fish.” (BKP: 4/5)

Since birth, Mica has dealt with being an isolated outcast due to his fish-like stench. Soap does not work. Talcum powder does not work. And even though car fresheners do not work, Mica hangs the cardboard pine tree on his neck anyway. Reeling from his isolated life, Mica drops out of school and socializes only with his therapist and tourists walking around his house-turned-museum, a shrine to Mexican idol “Guillermo Garibai” (Gonzalo Vega). Every room in the house is dedicated to the singer, without any semblance of his own family’s history. Mica’s only comforting outlet is the swimming pool, where he reunites with his bubbly childhood crush “Laura” (Zoe Kravitz). The two engage in cute banter and charming flirtations between freestyle swimming races. But as their connection deepens, their personal insecurities rise to the surface.

The odd script is surprisingly humorous and genuine, with Mica and Laura’s story feeling organic and earned. Although the characters have their respective issues, they are not bogged down with massive amounts of angst or darkness. The lighter tone makes for an easy, fun watch. The chemistry between Smith and Kravitz is a highlight, with both actors giving strong, subtle performances.

Unlike many young love stories, this film is not entirely predictable or overtly sappy. It is very much a character study of a young man feeling like an abandoned outcast. Although viewers watching will most likely not share Mica’s fish-smell disease, it is an ultimately relatable film. Like his therapist says, everybody has quirks. But whether they smell like fish or are ashamed of their background, there is always somewhere they belong. They just have to find their own swimming pool.

_Zoe & Douglas-TW#4

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (2/21/15)

Top Photo: Douglas Smith as “Mica”

Bottom Photo: Douglas Smith as “Mica” and Zoe Kravitz as “Laura”

Q: Does Treading Water pass the Bechdel Test?

No. The story is mostly centered on Mica finding his place in the world.

Not to say the character of Laura is a typical female character – she is not. She initiates their relationship at the pool and does not care that he smells different. She is independent, hardworking, and has a sense of humor – refreshing characteristics for a female role. Same goes for Catherine, the therapist. But as for the Bechdel Test, it does not pass. There is an indication that Laura had a close relationship with her grandmother, but the audience never sees it.

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WALTER

Opens Friday in NYC. Review coming soon…

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STUBBORN

VincentCropLovesick Frenchman arrives in NYC. Is he pursuing a real woman or his own version of the American dream? Irritating, exhausting, & poignantly metaphysical.

Directed by Armel Hostiou who co-wrote screenplay with Léa Inès Cohen and Vincent Macaigne. (JLH: 4/5)

Rendez Vous with French Cinema (NYC 2015)

“Vincent” (Vincent Macaigne) loves “Barbara” (Kate Moran), but Barbara doesn’t love Vincent. Sure she spent some time with him in Paris and they had a fling, but now Barbara has returned to New York with every intention of getting on with her life. Why won’t Vincent understand? Why won’t Vincent let go?

Vincent won’t let go. He has followed Barbara to New York with no plan except to win her back. But the more she pushes him away, the more he clings. Refusing to be discouraged, Vincent wanders around New York thinking up new ways to convince her.

Watching Vincent pursue Barbara is irritating… and then exhausting… and then metaphysical. Although he may never realize it himself, Vincent’s quest becomes increasingly abstract as Barbara-the-Person transforms before our eyes into Barbara as the embodiment of Vincent’s American Dream. RocCenterCrop

As director Armel Hostiou and co-writer Léa Inès Cohen follow their actor around the city, they not only film the scenes they have crafted for him but they also record his actual encounters. This works because Vincent Macaigne is intensely charismatic and people are clearly drawn to him. The sad face atop his stocky body resembles Charlie Chaplin so much that by the end I almost expected to see him do the Oceana Roll Dance from The Gold Rush!

Sometimes, stuck in the dark, I envy the people who can just get up and leave. Then I see a film like Stubborn (also known by its French title Une Histoire Américaine) and I remember why I don’t. It’s not just that staying until the final credits roll is part of my job. Staying is also an act of faith, a hope–albeit typically futile–that the filmmakers are going somewhere worth going.

In this case, the journey is its own reward. Days later, I still find myself thinking about Vincent and wondering how he is. He has become so real to me that I half expect to find him standing next to me on the subway platform. Bravo!

ConeyIslandCrop

Top Photo: Vincent Macaigne, who stars as the hapless “Vincent,” is a sad sack comedian with the soulful eyes of a 21st Century Charlie Chaplin.

Middle Photo (Rockefeller Center): Vincent watches the skaters, poignantly alone in a world that seems to have no place for him.

Bottom Photo (Coney Island): Vincent meets a Danish woman named “Sofie” (Sofie Rimestad) and they pal around for a bit. If only Vincent weren’t so obsessed with Barbara–Barbara with her long hair and long legs and very American accent–then perhaps he would see the same sweet girl we see.

The fact that Vincent can’t see Sofie–or won’t see Sofie–becomes metaphorical. It’s not just that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” How many of us are also so absorbed in our own stories that have no interest in the stories of others? How many of us are also so focused on the future that we fail to appreciate what is in the here and now?

Photo Credits: Bocalupo Films/UniFrance

Q: Does Stubborn pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

Barbara and Sofie, the two primary female characters in Stubborn, never talk to each other, or to any other women on screen. In act three, Vincent’s sister “Louise” (Audrey Bastien) arrives in NYC hoping to convince Vincent to return to Paris with her, but she doesn’t talk to Barbara, Sofie, or any other female characters either.

However, Vincent is definitely at the center of Stubborn, so even if any of these characters did speak with one other, it’s for sure they would be speaking about him!

CharlieChaplin

Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush (1925)

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BREATHE

New film directed by Melanie Laurent (& co-written with Julie Lambroschini). Seen at NYC’s 2015 Rendez Vous with French Cinema. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Full review coming soon…

BeachCrop

Photo Credits: Jérôme Plon

Q: Does Breathe pass the Bechdel Test?

Absolutely!

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The Longevity of Mae Whitman: International Women’s Day

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 8.03.09 PMBy Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

After venturing out to see The Duff for the second time, I have come to the realization that actress Mae Whitman has been a permanent fixture in the background of my 22-year-old life. As this week marks International Women’s Day, Whitman should be recognized for her outstanding acting in both television and film – and the characters she has chosen to portray for the past two decades.

At a very early age, I coveted my VHS-taped copy of One Fine Day and sympathized with poor, little bespectacled Bernice in Hope Floats. I’d occasionally notice her when I’d sneak downstairs to catch a rerun of Friends or a glimpse of Chicago Hope. As years would pass, I’d glance up from my pile of high school homework and she’d be there again, only this time as crocked-back Heather Douglas on Grey’s Anatomy. Or I would go to the movies with friends and she’d be the rebellious teenage daughter in Nights in Rodanthe.

hopefloatsI wouldn’t take notice of her strong, subtle talent until she landed the role of Amber Holt on NBC’s drama Parenthood, making its series debut in Spring 2010. Her performance of a girl trying to find her way never won her an Emmy or a Golden Globe, but instead won her the hearts of loyal fans for six wonderful years. Unlike the vast majority of young female characters (in both television and film), Amber was never defined by her boyfriend. Rather, Whitman brought Amber to life with an unwavering ability to make her relatable, funny, raw, and gut-wrenchingly real. The character didn’t save lives or solve cases or defeat zombies, but exemplified an everyday girl, a decent person. Whitman took the audience along for Amber’s ride, making every viewer cry on cue as Craig T. Nelson warns, “You do not have permission to mess with my dreams.”

Shortly after Parenthood ended its six-year run in January 2015, Whitman took to the big screen, starring opposite Robbie Amell in The Duff. Once again, the character represents a confident, empowering girl who fails to fit a high school stereotype. Whether the characters she plays battle physical hurdles or emotional struggles, the realism she brings to each role has made her a successful actress for the past 20 years. There’s no doubt more people will take notice for the next 20. As I walked out of The Duff, again, the music blared “All I wanna be, yeah all I ever wanna be, is somebody to you …” In my own life, Mae Whitman has succeeded in doing just that.

TheDuff1

© Brigid K. Presecky (3/9/15)

Top Photo: Mae Whitman as “Amber” and Craig T. Nelson as “Zeek” in Parenthood (Photo Credit: NBC Universal)

Middle Photo: Sandra Bullock as “Birdee” and Mae Whitman as “Bernice” in Hope Floats

Bottom Photo: Robbie Amell as “Wesley” and Mae Whitman as “Bianca” in The Duff (Photo Credit: Guy D’Alema/CBS Films).

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‘Fifty Shades’ Passes $500 Million Mark

HelplessBy Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

As Fifty Shades of Grey passes the $500,000 mark at the box office, audiences continue to flood the theaters despite the 25% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Why? For many, curiosity is key and the wonder of how such a steamy, erotic book could possibly be displayed on the big screen. Viewers compare and contrast the plot lines that the filmmakers decided to keep or leave to the imagination.

A big part of the phenomenon, however, seems to go beyond the Christian Grey/Anastasia Steele romance plot. Many people simply want to be “in the know,” or conversely, they have the newly coined term “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out).

Much like the bizarre “white-and-gold” versus “black-and-blue” dress debate, Fifty Shades of Grey is a part of today’s conversation cycle. In an era when media outlets focus specifically on their niche audiences, people are connecting with the increasing rare, universal entertainment. Women have ventured out in groups to enjoy an outing together, caring less about the film itself, and more about taking a night off (forget about the weekly stresses and the dreary winter weather).

After interviewing three different women from three different demographics, they all shared a similar story: they went with friends, they discussed the book, and they had an enjoyable time (whether they liked the film or not). They either got swept up in the on screen fantasy, or they laughed together in mockery.

The underlying factor? The success of Fifty Shades of Grey is based in commonality, a conversation most people can take part in together. It brings back the workplace “water cooler” where people share their thoughts and opinions on primetime television. Mediocre or not, the EL James books and resulting film adaptation have gotten people to look up from their smart phones and enjoy a glimmer of sociability.

Click HERE for our reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey from across the generations…

Hopeless

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