French Tech

French Tech is a comedy set in the gig economy. Three middle-aged single parents have to stick together in the 24/7 availability world of bullshit work.

Alexandre is a stay-at-home father whose submariner wife wants a separation after he had an affair with the woman at the unemployment office where he picks up his dole money. Desperate to prove to himself to her, and having to survive without her paycheck, he goes back out into a labour market he barely understands. He blags a job at a start-up where both the job and the business remains unclear to him. It’s one of those actualising integrated solution optimization horseshitathons. Everyone’s sitting around in deckchairs or yoga balls, wearing tshirts that say Be Kind or Total Wellbeing, while no one has sick pay or paid holiday leave.

He is helped by single father Arcimboldo, whose income is patched together from a thousand different app gigs. He Ubers, upcycles shit on ebay, collects and charges courier drones, and is a stand-in for folk who want to attend protests (but maybe don’t want to have their head caved in by the cops). Together they juggle childcare responsibilities as Arci explains some of the more basic jargon to Alex.

Alexandre’s work contact is Severine, a frazzled but efficient businesswoman, who understands and negotiates the bullshit soup that is her job but hates every minute of it. Alexandre finds her intimidating, but Arci takes a liking to her. She eventually reveals she is also struggling with the same issues as the others.

The film is about how the shine of technology and the Orwellian use of bullshit language have obscured the fact that labour rights have slid back to Victorian times. In a world where we are all constantly working, there seem to be no employers. In one scene, Alex’s Uber driver almost falls asleep at the wheel, apologising that he’s been driving for 14 hours. “They don’t let you take a break?” he asks him. “I’m my own boss,” the driver retorts.

For me personally, I almost couldn’t find this funny, because it’s so accurate. A joke’s sweet spot is to be somewhat true and somewhat an exaggeration, otherwise it’s just a statement of fact or it doesn’t make sense. French Tech falls too much towards the statement of fact end of the spectrum for me. I know too many people working 2 and 3 jobs – I’ve been someone working 2 and 3 jobs – and watching this, I wasn’t so much laughing as going, “Yup. That’s what it’s like.” As traditional employment gives way more and more to the gig economy, this dystopian hellscape is going to become our standard reality.

Favourite part of this was the banjo version of Daft Punk’s Da Funk.

The Speech

Adrien is asked to give a speech at his sister’s wedding while sat round family dinner, which sends him spiralling back through his love-life in a state of existential dread. Narrated directly to camera by the main character, The Speech has the theatrical feel of a one-man play. He introduces characters by their foibles, mutes their conversation, or pauses the action. The scenery falls away or slides in as he moves from scene to scene in his memory.

In the repressed and ritualistic family dinner with his parents and sister, Adrien silently broods on the recent break in his relationship with his girlfriend, Sonia. In a family where everyone plays their parts, and the conversation is as predictable as it is repetitive, Adrien quietly cracks up over a text he sent after a month of ‘space’. To add to his stress level, his future brother-in-law asks him to give a speech at the wedding. Playing out every possible outcome, and tracing back the causes of its inevitable disaster, The Speech paints a comical portrait of a family of characters, helmed by a protagonist that is self-obsessed, neurotic, and identifiable.

Catalan Film Festival over

Well, in classic style, I got sick on the last day of the film festival and couldn’t watch all the stuff I was planning to catch up on last minute. Still, despite what seems to be becoming an end-of-festival tradition, I think I got a lot watched, and it was all really interesting. From more experimental stuff to relationship dramas, there was quite a range of films. Will definitely check out again next year.

10, 000 km

10,000km is the story of Alex and Sergi who embark on a year-long long distance relationship between Barcelona and Los Angeles. Alex gets the chance at a residency in LA which would be huge for her photography career. They stay in touch online but the distance proves a challenge.

From the first I wanna say that for me, distance isn’t so much this couple’s problem as it is Sergi’s ego. Alex gets the email that she has this brilliant opportunity, advancing her career and following her passion, and Sergi’s reaction is to sulk. He was quite happy when their plan was for Alex to be pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen. The idea she might want anything other than that, or that their relationship might be about more than just giving him the life he wants, feels like a personal attack for him. He huffs and pouts and threatens to storm out until she agrees not to go.

The only hope for the character is, that he feels so ashamed of behaving like a spoilt manchild, that he relents and encourages her to go in the end. Alex spends so much time placating him, reassuring him that this will only be for a year, and she won’t let her life’s dreams get in the way of his rescheduled baby timeline, that they never have a real, open conversation about what they want for their lives, and what they’re willing to sacrifice.

There are so many conversations in this film, but such meagre communication. I guess that’s the whole point. They can Skype each other from across the world, but they can’t make themselves understood by the person they love. Sergi sees Alex’s success as a betrayal, especially when he is less so. As her project comes into focus, he becomes more and more aimless and lost.

The wide open goal is, why doesn’t he go to Los Angeles with her? Yeah, his English is limited, but it’s not like they don’t speak Spanish there. Also he could learn. Alex is British and she’s managing to get by in his language, living in his city, why is it too much to ask the same of him? Also, he’s a teacher, a job you can literally do in any corner of the world. Why would you not just go with her?

He hits the nail on the head when she asks him to do just that, and he says, “What? And be a house-husband?” It’s his own macho bullshit that is getting in the way of his happiness. What he asks of her, he would never do himself. He would never make the same sacrifices. And it’s to his own detriment, coz otherwise this could have been 2 hours of him getting laid in sunny LA.

Still, he is a really interesting character, watching him indulge and then resist his flaws by turns. He’s sympathetic despite his toxic masculinity because he does try, and because he does suffer, and he does feel shame at his own acts of self-sabotage.

He’s played by delightfully scrummy David Verdaguer, who is in The Days To Come, which is also about a year in which a relationship is put through the wringer. He’s just excellent, managing to hold these two-person character studies with almost no external characters impinging on this tight binary orbit.

The lassie he plays against, Natalie Tena, is also great. I spent the longest time looking at her face, like, I know you, I’ve seen you somewhere. Unable to place her, I finally Googled it after the film. She’s fucking Osha in Game of Thrones. How did I not see that?

Anyway, great film. Tense, wrenching, emotional drama.

The Days To Come

The Days To Come follows the pregnancy of Virginia, and its impact on her relationship with her partner Luis.

Vir gets accidentally knocked up, and her and Luis have to sit down and decide what to do about it. Despite it not being maybe the ideal time, they are in a loving relationship and decide to bring the pregnancy to term. But will the stresses of money, employment, major life changes, major body changes, and societal expectation prove too much for them as a couple? Is this all a terrible idea?

Gotta say, I know that this is a very touching, moving depiction of the maternal and paternal emotional journey, but every moment of this just confirmed I will never have kids. IT’S NOT NATURAL. The film shows explicitly a vaginal and caearean birth. Boke, boke, boke, boke, boke. People crawling out from inside you, falling out your hole or through wounds in your abdomen. Eeeh, it gives me a feeling like spiders in your ears.

I find it funny that Vir’s attitude is one of imposter syndrome, like she’s only a pretend adult and this decision is too adult for her. She compares herself to her parents, who are real adults, while she at their age, barely has her shit together. Didn’t really identify, my parents always seemed like they were just doing the best they could with what they had, it never seemed that “together”. Vir’s attitude makes it clear there are advantages to that, as it disabuses you of the notion that there’s some magic moment at which you are ‘ready’ to have a kid.

Both Vir and Luis worry constantly about whether they will be able to be parents. If they will be careful enough, knowledgeable enough, financially stable enough, cohesive in their relationship enough. While their worries are understandable, I wanted to just shake them and say, “The only thing you need to be a parent is the commitment to doing it”. You will never be able to predict what comes tomorrow, or protect your kid from the world, or be some infallible being. You will fuck up and you will fail. The thing that makes you a parent is you keep at it, til your last breath.

Anyways, really engrossing character study of two people going through a major life change and trying to hold their relationship together.

If you like this…

Vivre Sa Vie

There is something a bit contrary in me that whenever I hear something described as a classic, I am immediately skeptical I will like it. Maybe it’s the years in school being scolded with the most tedious tomes as examples. But with Vivre Sa Vie, I was dead wrong. They say it is a perfect film, and I have no arguments. Almost unearthly beautiful, and a joy to watch.

Nana is 22 and leaves her husband and son to pursue her dream of being a movie actress. A bit self-involved, but she is awfully young. She feels she needs to give it a shot.

Because this is a black-and-white French film, she inevitably becomes a prostitute. Unable to make ends meet working in a record store, she gets lifted by the polis for trying to filch 1000 francs off a woman. With nae cash and a criminal record, she ends up staying in a neighbourhood with day hookers. There she picks up the local trade, and is in the swing of things in no time.

An aside that isn’t strictly about reviewing the movie, but it must have been gui colder in those days. All the lassies are in cardigans and wool skirts. No a body stocking between them.

One of the nicer things about Vivre Sa Vie is that it doesn’t deny Nana agency, or say that because she has wound up in sex work after the loss of her dream, she views herself as in any way a victim. Nana remains who she has been, someone sensitive to beauty and art, with a questioning, dreaming mind. She is friendly with other working girls and kind. She kinda sleepwalks into becoming a full-time hooker, not really knowing at what point she let go of ever becoming an actress. She is content merely to be making ends meet, and after her first john, she seems nonplussed by her work. She doesn’t seem to be looking to a future, seeing her work more as a means allowing her to live her life, not thinking beyond the horizon.

While Nana seems insulated by the worse elements of the sex trade, the men in the film are under no illusions what game they are playing. Her pimp insults her, instructs her to refuse no one, takes her earnings, and is indifferent to her emotional life.

The ending is abrupt and brutal. Nana’s idea of her life and that of the men around her intersect. In a way, it is good that it is so brief, as it allows the focus to remain of Nana as the main actor in her life, and her character to be centre of the tale.

Really excellent film. All the hype is justified.

Armugan

Armugan is, as the subtitle suggests, an end-of-life doula, ushering the dying on their final journey. Learning from him is his apprentice Anchel.

This film has stunning cinematography. It is used to convey the awe with which Armugan regards life, from the fantastic vistas down to the smallest detail.

There is no dialogue for a large part of the film’s opening, and then it is sparse and whispered. Shot in black and white, it is textbook arthouse moves. Whether for you this creates atmosphere or makes you lose patience, I imagine will differ from viewer to viewer.

Armugan helps comfort the dying and ease their passing with Anchel’s help, until one night a desperate mother comes to their door asking for help with her terminally ill and suffering son. Armugan and Anchel are divided on how to proceed.

I’ll be honest, I kinda lost my patience with this. I didn’t feel it had anything interesting to say on the subject of death, certainly nothing that warranted its expansive silences and emptiness. It pays for all its flaws with gorgeous cinematography, but excelling in that one regard couldn’t quite distract me from the aimlessness I felt the film had.

Beautiful to look at, but thin on everything else.

If you like this…

My Father’s Stories

My Father’s Stories is about Emile’s childhood growing up with his manic depressive, paranoid delusional father. Set in the 60s in France, the breakaway of Algeria triggers an obsession in his father that becomes dangerous.

The film starts as kind of kiddie caper, as the pair of them play at spies for the anti-independence resistance, but quickly becomes a lot darker. Benoit Poelvoorde expertly plays the terrifyingly manic father, Andre, whose paranoia results in increasingly violent behaviour towards his wife and son. Emile’s journey goes from the youthful adventures of a father and son to the bitter realisation that his own actions and impacts on others have been warped by his father’s madness.

Emile’s mother tries to hold it together, protecting her son as much as she can, and keeping a lid on her husband’s violent extremes. Somewhere in there is the man she married and she still has loyalty to him.

Also, this is the 60s, so really, what can she do? This is before the public had any ready awareness of mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. It’s before there were ready pharmaceutical treatments. You were either normal and in society, or mad and in the loony bin. There was no sense of a continuum of mental health through mild, moderate, and severe symptoms.

Also, divorce was still rare in the 60s, as was awareness of domestic abuse or child abuse. Women’s refuges were only just being set up. For the kind of intermittent erratic violence that goes on in Emile’s home, most women would be expected to put up with it. So they were really on their own.

When Emile recruits a schoolfriend into his father’s imaginary resistance cell, the threads start to unravel. To prove the reality of his claims, Emile uses deceit and lies, realising in doing so how easily someone can be manipulated into believing something based on fabricated proof.

The whole way through the film, there’s just a little knot of dread of how this will all pan out. The relatively light beginning, where you hope that this will simply fade into Emile’s memory of childhood, gives way to multiple serious consequences that can’t help but impact the lives of the characters. You can only pray the bumpy landing back down to reality will leave everyone intact.

My Father’s Stories is a family drama about just what extremes can be hidden in plain sight.

Sisters

Sisters is a story about Zorah, who writes a play about her horrorshow of a childhood, to the dismay of the rest of her family. She claims it is an act of catharsis, but there is so much unresolved anger, it could as equally be an act of revenge.

Sisters is about inherited national trauma. The Algerian struggle for independence from France looms large in the lives of all the characters, being the genesis of all their torment. This is an intergenerational trauma, that you can see in the film being passed down from mother to daughter.

Their mother fought as a maqui in the Algerian War of Independence. Upon capture by the French, she was brutalised. Female fighters were raped, tortured and shot. Their father was in the Algerian forces that liberated the holding camp she was in, and they met and fell in love. As horrific as the violence was, for them this was still a hopeful period, fighting together, devoted to their cause and each other.

Eventually, out of necessity, they escaped to France, and made contact with the Algerian resistance there. Unfortunately their father was betrayed by his contact there. It was unclear to me if it was a literal brother or simply a brother-in-arms, but the treachery was real. Their father ended up imprisoned for 4 years.

During this period a darkness entered him, and he emerged a much more violent man. It’s like he’d lost everything. Algeria was independent, but it was not the Algeria he had fought for. He seems disillusioned with the outcome of his sacrifices, and bitter about his betrayal to the enemy. What’s worse is he is now stuck in fucking France. To compensate, he turns his home into Algerian soil, and himself into its dictator. There, everything will be as it should. He runs drills with his daughters, getting them to salute and sing the Algerian national anthem. He is determined they will not grow up to be French.

Naturally, this is impossible and only results in increasingly violent acts of domestic abuse towards them and their mother. Their mother tries to protect them, and then eventually says she will divorce him. His reaction is to hold a gun to her head in front of her daughters.

They do finally escape him, and their mother divorces him, but he abducts the two youngest kids, Norah and her brother Redah. Norah is about 6 at the time, and Redah is an infant, barely walking on his own. He takes them both back to Algeria.

Their mother absolutely loses her mind with grief, and Zorah has to step up as the eldest to reunite the family. They get a court to recognise the abduction, but it counts for nothing in Algeria, where men have complete authority over their children. Their mother attempts suicide, and is only saved because she is found by her daughter, who calls for help and tries to stem her bleeding.

A rescue attempt is made to try and get Norah and Redah back, with Zorah being sent in her mother’s place to retrieve them. However they are caught, and Zorah is only able to save Norah, leaving Redah behind.

This is all told in flashback and in scenes of Zorah’s play. Now as a 40-year-old adult, she is trying to exorcise these demons. But knowing that this will go down like a lead balloon, she has kept the fact from everyone at home. Only her daughter knows, as she has been cast as Zorah’s mother in the play.

The wound that this whole nightmare has inflicted on them is still unhealed to this day. Redah is missing, not dead, so can never be mourned, so his mother can never find peace. Her responsibility for him ends with her dying breath, and she has not given up the hope he will be found and restored to her.

“You failed,” she tells Zorah. Zorah listens placidly as she has clearly heard it a hundred times. She doesn’t argue because she doesn’t disagree. As the eldest she was as good as a parent, and when faced with her Sophie’s Choice moment of saving Norah or going back for Redah and risking them all being caught, she as good as abandoned her little brother.

As a result of this, you get the feeling Zorah has kinda abdicated her position as eldest child. Because it is the middle sister, Djamila, who acts most like the eldest sister. She’s fiercely loyal to their mother, and a high achiever. She is the chair of the local council, and pristinely put together. She feels like she’s holding it together while Zorah daydreams in her theatre, and Norah is off being a fuck-up.

Norah struggles to hold down a job or keep an apartment, she frequently lashes out, as a ball of barely contained rage. Her mental health has been impacted badly by all of this, and she blames everyone else, including their mother, for the warzone of a childhood she was given.

Norah is particularly angry at Zorah when she finds out about the play. Zorah has used performance to get distance from the pain of these events, but Norah does not have that. She tells her frankly that she doesn’t want a piece of entertainment made out of the thing that destroyed her.

About halfway through the film, they get word that their father has had a stroke. Their mother begs them to go to his bedside and ask him, as his children, where he has hidden their brother. He might want to clear his conscience in his final days.

The three sisters have to face the prospect of traveling to the land which saw so much of their childhood strife, and confront the one person who terrifies them most in the world. By turns they come together for support, and fall apart to tear at each other in anger and pain.

Allegorical for the tumultuous life of Algeria, the family’s violent and conflicted character casts a long shadow into the present. The constant tension between their status as both French and Algerian, when that has been a national battlefield, recurs again and again.

It is also a female viewpoint of war. Their mother fought for Algeria’s independence, only to have no right to her own children in it. She endures the brutality of the French in war, only to endure the brutality of her husband in her home. For women, the war never ends. There is no ceasefire. And revolutions that bring about new worlds are much like the old ones for them.

Sisters is an interesting film. A bit wooly and oddly-paced in parts, it is nonetheless compelling in its story and the portraits of its characters.