Friday, July 14, 2006

Les temps qui changent (Changing Times) - Movie Review

Les temps qui changent 2004

If there’s one aspect of moviegoing we despise, it’s sitting around waiting for wonderful foreign flicks to cross the pond and land upon our cinematic shores. Seriously, kids. We’ve been awaiting the latest entry by the very talented André Téchiné for years! Almost. Released in Europe in late 2004, “Les temps qui changent” finally arrived with some wonderful performances, his typically sardonic viewpoint of love and the test of time and a dash of political intrigue.

For those of you unfamiliar with Téchiné’s work, you are in for a treat. Never one to shy away from complex plots and interwoven storylines, his films can often come across like a really good book unraveling beautifully before your eyes. Two of our favorites from his great body of work are “Ma saison préférée” featuring terrific work by Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil as siblings on a voyage of mutual self discovery and the brilliant “Les Roseaux Sauvages” which managed to explore teenage angst, budding sexuality and the Franco / Algerian war with equal vigor.

With “Les temps qui changent”, Téchiné is back amidst the lovelorn framed against the backdrop of politics. The man himself, Gérard Depardieu stars as Antoine Lavau, an onsite engineer who ostensibly travels to Tangiers to oversee a new multi media center, but is really there in order to track down the love of his life, Cécile, played by the legendary Catherine Deneuve. They were once young and gay and in love – some thirty years prior. The complications that arise in his quest to rekindle their love play out against the racial and religious tensions of the setting. And if it weren’t for the steady hand of André Téchiné, the film might collapse under the weight of its myriad subplots. Fortunately, the film works on the talent and charms of the two lead actors and the polished skills of the director.

Catherine Deneuve is one of the few bona fide cinematic legends who continually lands plum roles due to her still iconic beauty and immeasurable talent. The former slip of a girl who beguiled the world from her cinematic breakthrough in the magical masterpiece “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” through a string of international successes has lost none of her ability to entrance audiences. Here she portrays a radio host on a local station whose voice positively entrances Gérard as he lays awake listening to his one true love. The main obstacle to any reunion between the pair is that surprise of surprises, she has indeed moved on since their tumultuous relationship ended. Married to a younger Moroccan doctor who wiles away the hours bathing in their pool, Cécile is also hosting the return of her son who has brought his live in girlfriend and her young child back to Tangiers for a prolonged visit.

The son, Sami, played quite nicely by Malik Zidi cares deeply for his galpal, Nadia and her son, Saïd. He also cares a great deal about a certain young man named Bilal whose physical beauty inspires all night fuck sessions. Who can blame him?

Nadia is more than a tad nervy returning to Tangiers. It turns out her twin sister, Aïcha is a devote Muslim, barely getting by who is forced to work at a local McDonald’s. Oh, the ignominy. The lovely young actress, Lubna Azabal portrays both sisters with little more than a head scarf to differentiate them. She pulls off the double billing by playing each honestly and confirms our suspicion that is she is a talented young lass. A suspicion first glimpsed last year in her supporting turn in the very fine “Paradise Now”, Palestine’s first Oscar nominated feature film that dealt beautifully with the humanity behind terrorism.

The “meet horrible” that ensues out of Antoine attempting to reconnect with Cécile is near classic slapstick that can only be pulled off by an actor of Depardieu’s talent. After forcing his way back into her life, Cécile begins to question her life and the many complications that have grown out of her choices. And ultimately that is what “Les temps qui changent” is about.

By weaving together the tales of lost love, unrequited passions and changing attitudes, André Téchiné manages to build a storyline that is never less than entertaining and frequently quite engrossing. The only problem lies in the “mini-series” like complications that ensue that frequently threaten to derail the narrative. Every character certainly has a distinct personality and neurosis of their own to overcome, and it might be a bit too much to ask for us to understand them all.

But ultimately, we think it was the wiser choice to fully flesh out one of the characters lives, namely Cécile. She is the most fully developed of all the characters involved. Her seemingly brusque manner, her desire to be adored and her regret for past mistakes might have off putting in the hands of a less capable actress. Deneuve hits all the right marks, never letting us believe she is less than genuine in her passions. There is a wonderful scene between Deneuve and her husband, wherein secrets are laid out on the table without pyrotechnics – but devastating in their honesty. Fortunately for the viewer, the film is filled with such moments of clarity amidst the clutter.

Depardieu is to be commended for handling the bumbling, love struck Antoine so deftly. But what else would we expect from the most celebrated French actor of his generation? He is of course capable of much stronger and fiery work, but here he borders on the comical relief. Never pushing too far as to be grotesque, the characters honest belief in true love pushes him to acts of insolence and comic daring. It is to the credit of Gérard Depardieu that we ultimately find his Antoine to be endearing and genuine as opposed to stalkerish and frightening. We couldn’t help but admire the actor’s skill in bridging the two.

What makes this film work is partially the very essence of cinematic magic. For if we have learned one thing over the years, it is the power and control that great stars can exude over their audience. Deneuve and Depardieu, in their seventh onscreen pairing are a joy to watch. Bringing with them their years of experience, they sell the lost love storyline and are able to overcome the less than believable ending which seems to border on a fairy tale. But respect must be paid to the great André Téchiné, who manages to ground the ridiculous qualities of the plot in a realistic fashion. We are drawn into the many lives depicted and their varied mini-dramas, largely due to his skillful direction. Bravo, André! And as ever, Bravo to Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu! Bless you all!

Directed by André Téchiné
Written by André Téchiné, Laurent Guyot & Pascal Bonitzer

Catherine Deneuve as Cécile
Gérard Depardieu as Antoine Lavau
Gilbert Melki as Natan
Malik Zidi as Sami
Lubna Azabal as Nadia / Aïcha
Tanya Lopert as Rachel Meyer
Nabila Baraka as Nabila
Idir Elomri as Saïd
Nadem Rachati as Bilal

Cinematography by Julien Hirsch
Film Editing by Martine Giordano
Original Music by Juliette Garrigues
Production Desgin by Zé Branco
Costume Design by Christian Gasc & Catherine Leterrier


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