Monday, January 3, 2011

très bien

There was no culturally dorkier time in America during my life than the 80's. Graduating high school in 1979, I believed the culture had bottomed out with the disco era. I felt confident that in the 80's, the pendulum would swing back to hip, and all would be righteous and cool like a blaxploitation flick starring Pam Grier. Pondering the decade after graduation, I would be in full agreement with Marissa Ribisi's character Cynthia in Dazed and Confused, and nearly echoed her dialogue years before she said: "Maybe the 80s will be like radical or something. I figure we'll be in our 20s and it can't get worse."  Bzzzzzt, wrong again, it got worse, especially in American, especially in film. 

The French, being ever the contrarians, got real cool, at least cinematically, and started a second mini-new wave of chic, stylish Cinéma du look movies that put our 80's cinema to shame both aesthetically and coolness-wise. With directors like Beineix, Besson and Carax they were stylistically kicking American cooky-cutter, big budget movies all over the multiplex. If there were any cooler American movies in the 80's than Diva, Betty Blue, Boy Meets Girl and Subway, I must have missed them.

 And there is another strong entry, that despite recognition at Caan, gets overlooked when discussing this period in film…
Invitation au voyage  (1982) 

Synopsis: A young man and his pop star, twin sister travel around France together in the early 80's.

Despite its pedigree, this is a very accessible road picture that has a pretty straightforward subtext about obsessive love and loneliness. That's not to say it isn't strange, atmospheric and distinctly French. Director Peter Del Monte does a fine job at creating an otherworldly feel with the film's look and music, as the main character Lucien drifts around France meeting a variety of people along the way. There's an odd, deserted quality to most of the sets which reinforces the general sense of loneliness that permeates the film. Cinematographer Bruno Nuytten, who has done work on such films as Manon of the Spring, Jean de Florette, Possession and the infamous Zoo Zero does another exceptional job on the photography in this film. The music, which also helps greatly in setting the tone, is a combination of synth, orchestral strings and straight up pop/rock. It sounds like a discordant mix of styles, but it really works well, especially the haunting string piece by Gabriel Yared, and the Nina Scott song Don't Follow Me, that are played repeatedly in the latter half of the film. 

The story itself is edited out of sequence so the viewer finds out backstory as the road trip progresses. This makes the somewhat leisurely pace of the film easier to take and also saves the dramatic punch for after the characters have been established. Laurent Malet plays the sad and enigmatic Lucien whom the film is centered around. Corinne Reynaud, in her only film role to date, plays his twin, the successful, up and coming pop star, Nina Scott. Her character looks more than a little like Martha Davis of the Motels and even sounds like her a bit. Other actors of note are Aurore Clement as a stranded, love-lorn motorist, Raymond Bussieres as an old man stowaway with solid musical taste, and the great Mario Adorf, in a very subdued performance, as a Turkish sailor named Timour. None of the characters overstay their welcome and many of them, although not quirky, come with light, comic qualities.

I don't know if anyone has ever included Del Monte in with the Cinéma du look crowd, but his film definitely fits in as a successful exercise in style. However, it also has substance to it, unlike Besson's Subway for example, which is nothing but style and quirky characters. There are some shocking aspects to the film, which are mostly downplayed, and you may never want to drink milk again, but for fans of French cinema especially during this period of the 80's, this is one solid, cool film that will haunt long after viewing.

Score 8/10

Very cool - This movie

Not so much - Unavailable on DVD

WTF! - Drinking bath milk - blech!

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