by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
Summer is the traditional time at movie multiplexes for blockbuster films from the Hollywood studios that tend to focus more on explosions and special effects than effective storylines. While there is no denying the box office clout of such films as TRANSFORMERS, TERMINATOR SALVATION and WOLVERINE, there are some less deafening art films that are also being released on American screens. Call it counter-programming, a strategy of offering a breather from the summer staples, that is proving to be an effective marketing ploy. Films that appeal to adults and to sophisticated tastes in the heart of summer.....who knew?
This week alone two French films have opened to rapturous reviews. THE BEACHES OF AGNES, an impressionistic documentary essay film by Nouvelle Vague favorite Agnes Varda, has captured the imagination of the arthouse crowd and is proving to be a summer sleeper hit.
THE GIRL FROM MONACO, a splashy romancier by Anne Fontaine, provides the requisite helping of sex, seduction and romantic settings that appeal to the Francophile crowd.
These two new entries come on the heels of several other French films that have remained remarkably popular in the light of so much Hollywood competition. One of the big hits of the summer season has been the film SUMMER HOURS by Olivier Assayas. The film opened back in May and continues a remarkable run that has yielded almost $2 million at the American box office. SERAPHINE, the celebrated biopic of outsider artist Seraphine Louis directed by Martin Provost, has also been a strong contender this season, as it expands its run outside of the traditional centers of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago to become a modest but well esteemed arthouse hit.
Other European titles filling the void include CHERI, the Stephen Frears-Christopher Hampton adaptation of twin novels by French writer Colette that explores the fevered relationship between an aging courtesan (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her immature younger lover (Rupert Friend) in fin-de-siecle Paris; DEAD SNOW, a Norwegian horror satire by Tommy Wirkola populated by Nazi zombies (!!!) who terrorize a small town; LAILA'S BIRTHDAY, a Dutch/Palestine co-production by director Rashid Masharawi about the strange and disorienting everyday life for Palestinians in the Israel-occupied West Bank; MOON, a sci-fi meditation on loneliness and futuristic alienation by UK director Duncan Jones; and QUIET CHAOS, a slice-of-life Italian drama starring Nanni Moretti and directed by Antonello Grimaldi.
Add to this the retrospective of the existential films of Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center (and scheduled to do a national tour) and one finds that amdist the cyborgs and superheros, that summer movie-going (of a more discriminate palette) has its own pleasures.