Saturday, August 1, 2009

Christophe Honoré and His Destructive Direction

I've tried to like Christophe Honoré's films--really, I have. His New Wave sensibilities seem to be right up this Truffaut and Godard fanboy's alley, but nothing I've seen of his has convinced me that he is in the same league with those heavy hitters. First was Ma Mère, that horribly pretentious, "sexually liberating" Bertolucci rip-off which is so mind-numbingly stupid and confusing it's still probably one of the ten worst films I've ever seen. Love Songs was considerably better (then again, anything short of a remake of The Bucket List would have been in comparison) but I wasn't as enamored with it as many other bloggers I read were. The musical scenes were nicely done and stuck with the low key nature of the film, but the way Honoré reduces the actors performance to a mere showcasing of random emotions, selected on whim to suit the needs of the scene rather than the development of the character drove me up a wall.

And now we come to Dans Paris. I saw a trailer for it awhile ago and thought it looked like fun, so I decided to give it a whirl, hoping in vein that this would be the movie where I finally "got" what people see in him. And...well, I'm still waiting for that movie. It's not that Dans Paris is an atrocity on the level of Ma Mè, it's rather that it failed to reach even the mediocre heights of Love Songs that most disappointed me. And, once again, it's in Honoré's direction where the film became a massive disappointment. He uses many of the techniques pioneered by the New Wave greats, but he fails to understand and utilize them appropriately. The beginning, for example, serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story and one of the major missteps in the film. Paul (Romain Duris) has moved away from his family in the city to live in the country with his girlfriend Alice (Alice Butaud), a relationship which has begun to dissolve rapidly. But instead of selecting a logical way to represent this, Honoré goes off the deep end and keeps cutting from the couple getting along, to them getting in an argument, to them having sex in the most random way possible. I honestly couldn't keep track of what was going on and, during the happy parts, Paul had gotten a new girlfriend. There's one scene in particular that is clearly an homage to the bedroom scene in Breathless where Belmondo and Seberg just kinda sit around and talk about random things for 20 minutes that simply doesn't work because of how erratic it all is. Paul and Anna go through all the highs and lows I mentioned earlier, with all the "boring" in-between parts edited out so that all we see are these highs and lows (angry, sad, happy, etc.). Why it works for Godard and not Honoré is that Godard was careful never to cut too much away. Belmondo and Seberg may have gone through the highs and lows, but he was careful to build up to them, not simply going for broke just to get it out of the way.

Can I just talk about how ridiculously stupid that ending is for a minute? I understand the point of Anna's character and how she's the only one Paul opens up to about his sister, but why on earth does she stay in the apartment all night? You would think that after being completely ditched by a guy you would be so humiliated that you would just leave right away and not stay the whole night, even after the guy comes home and would rather talk with this brother when he knows you're there. It may make sense in Honoré World, but, in reality, it's completely aggravating and plain dumb.

The fact that Honoré manages to get top-name French talent to appear in his films, including his muse Louis Garrel who has appeared in Honoré's last four films, continues to astound me. In the case of Dans Paris, the characters are strongly written and the actors are more than up to the challenge, but Honoré undermines them every step of the way. It's like someone offering a chocolate-lover an enormous piece of triple layer, triple chocolate cake and then informing you immediately afterwards that you are going to go on a three-mile run. It's simply not fair to offer something so tantalizing to any actor and then pull the rug out on them like that. I still have another Honoré film to see--La Belle Personne, simply waiting for English subtitles to appear online--so I'm sincerely hoping that that one doesn't descend to the idiocy that is Dans Paris (and Honoré learns to loosen up a bit). C


Jose said...

Oh G-d yes! This movie was so awful. I rented it with two girlfriends who have a thing for Garrel and Duris. They both were begging me to stop the DVD about twenty minutes into the film. Honoré should dedicate more time finding his own voice, instead of rehashing nouvelle vague techniques that sadly can't help hide his lack of substance.

Vera said...

I'd comment on the end of the film but I can't because I fell asleep. Even Louis Garrel being all bouncy and adorable couldn't get me to care about this movie. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Love Songs, maybe just because the ending was so swoonily romantic, but it kept me pretty involved thoughout the whole thing, which is more than I can say for Dans Paris.

Glenn said...

Dans Paris features an excellent performance by Romain Duris, however. You're right though it was sort of weak.