Saint Laurent | Three hearts
Berlin in February. Cannes in March. Venice and Toronto in September. Then and there, the agenda of the modern cinema is formed; its crucial trends become clear; viewers’ demands and critics’ favours are shaped for the coming year. Our program includes four timeliest films of the current season that survived the trial of these leading world festivals: Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, Benoît Jacquot’s Three Hearts, François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend.
The Cannes jury didn’t find any awards for Bonello’s brilliant film structured at odds with the traditional cinema logic. This is not important. The cast itself (Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, Helmut Berger) turns the film into a modern phenomenon that happily combines qualities of mass cinema with those of «high-brow» films.The same fate befell another Cannes competition film — Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, no less unique in terms of casting. Here Juliette Binoche competes on-screen with the new-generation Aerican stars Kristen Stewart and Chloë Moretz.
Benoît Jacquot’s Three Hearts came to St. Petersburg right from the Venetian Mostra. It features the wonderful trio: Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Chiara Mastroianni.The same goes for François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend: down from Toronto film festival — and straight to the Media Forum.We are glad that the Media Forum will see the Russian premieres of these films — films that found a new way of looking at age-old themes: three of them are trying to solve the mystery of the creative process, and all four are about strange things in love that actually make love what it is.
Alexander Mamontov, president of Festival of Festivals in St. Petersburg
Maria (Juliette Binoche) became a star at the age of 18 after her performance in Maloja Snake where she played an ambitious actress named Sigrid who charms Helena, the theatre’s leading star, and then drives her to suicide and takes her place. Twenty years later, when her fame is at its peak and her marriage is a complete failure, a young trendy director proposes her to take the role of Helena, while Sigrid is played by Jo-Ann (Grace Moretz), a Hollywood starlet with a scandalous reputation. For Maria, it’s a sign of fate and she regards Jo-Ann as an embodiment of all the sins of her turbulent youth.
Thirty years ago, Olivier Assayas wrote a screenplay for André Téchiné’s Rendez-Vous (1985), where the 20-year-old Binoche portrayed a provincial girl Nina who was building her career in a theatre and receiving her sentimental education in Paris. Having promised to write a screenplay just for Binoche, Assayas again throws her heroine into the world of theatre and backstage, where all the relationships are ambiguous and double-edged because such is the nature of the actor’s profession. The film — or, rather, the play its characters are engaged in — resonates with Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950). Not only because it also tells us about a young star’s shameless and merciless way up the ladder, but because both films show that the nature of the atrical success has always been shameless and merciless.
Assayas, who used to be one of the leading critics in the legendary Cahiers du Ñinema, knows the history of cinema far too well: as a filmmaker, he can be a strict classicist, a cyberpunk, New Wave successor. Now, following in the footsteps of the great Mankiewicz, Sacha Guitry and John Cassavetes, he joins in the eternal dispute about the actor’s art and the actor’s doom.
Claire is suffering from a severe depression after the death of her best friend: they had been inseparable since their childhood. They even got married at the same time. Now the heartbroken widowed husband proposes an unexpected way to escape their devastating condition together. That’s how the young woman learns his secret.
François Ozon based his screenplay on a short story by British writer Ruth Rendell, a living classic of crime fiction. Her books have been adapted for the screen by Pedro Almadovar (Live Flesh), Claude Miller (Betty Fisher and Other Stories), Claude Chabrol (La Cérémonie, The Bridesmaid). A similarly named collection of short stories by Rendell, containing this reserved gloomy story about sexual games and sexual transgression, won an Edgar Award in 1984.
François Ozon is the «golden boy» of the French cinema; his very first feature-length Sitcom — a merciless parody on suburban sitcoms —g ranted him the status of an iconic director. Playing with genre, intonation, and emotion, he has always managed to surprise his viewers with every new film. The only constant motif is that of a house containing quite a few skeletons in its cupboards — and his preoccupation with all things artificial. In The New Girlfriend, he combines the poetics of noir he’s so fond of with one of his previously explored themes — an encounter with unexpected death — and a peculiar, vague sexuality.
The New Girlfriend world premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2014.
The film stretches from 1967 to 1977, the golden decade of Yves Saint Laurent fashion house. This is not so much a portrait of the great couturier (Ulliel) who headed Dior at the age of 21, as a portrait of a whole era of immeasurable hedonism. The great protests and the great bloodsheds of the decade only intensify the thirst to live each eluding moment as beautifully as possible. However, the designer meets his intoxicating success with despair. Saint Laurent seeks inspiration and answers to the eternal questions at bohemian parties, in Marrakech, in drugs, in Andy Warhol’s paintings, and in Marcel Proust’s books. His is the fear of all artists: «I don’t want to be in useums — I want to be alive».
All Bonello’s films, even when their characters are shooting porn or working in a brothel, explore the misfortune of creative soul in the wayward world where an artist has to be a freak. Bonello has his background in classical music, and his Saint Laurent is basically a dance film filled with the music of the passing age. There was a reason for Saint Laurent to see in himself a character of his favourite Proust, who is indisputably close to Bonello himself. House of Tolerance (2011) was a farewell to the nineteenth century; The Pornographer (2001) was a requiem for the sexual revolution of the 60s — and in Saint Laurent, the broken 70s fall to dust.
Bonello split the role of Saint Laurent between two actors, and this is symbolic. In the final scenes, the action is shifted to 1989, and the aged designer is portrayed by famous Helmut Berger, Luchino Visconti’s lucky charm. A splinter of the era of Big Cinema, he is lying in bed watching The Damned on TV, where his younger self is playing the infernal Martin von Essenbeck.
According to Bonello, he was interested not so much in the French side of Saint Laurent’s personality, as in the Visconti-esque one. The reason in obvious: Visconti was a man of a gone era, and he was uncomfortable in the twentieth century.
Director: Benoît Jacquot
Producers: Alice Girard, Edouard Weil, Christoph Friedel
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Benoît Poelvoorde, Caroline Piette
After missing a train back to Paris, Mark (Poelvoorde) is whiling the night away in a provincial town. That’s where he meets Sylvie (Gainsbourg). They wander the streets until morning and talk about everything on earth but themselves, enjoying a rare harmony. In the morning, Mark boards the first train and arranges to meet Sylvie in Paris in a couple of days. They don’t know anything about each other, but it’s not a game. Sylvie comes to the meeting but Mark doesn’t. However, he is looking for her and meets another woman, Sofie (Mastroianni), not knowing that she, in fact, is Sylvie’s sister.
The plot of Three Íearts may seem too deliberate and improbable, but it’s a conscious move by Jacquot: it’s not a simple melodrama, it’s the French version of it. Jacquot is a keen specialist in the nuance-loving culture of the 18th century, and his best films are set in that century. That’s why it’s not surprising that he and his permanent co-author Boivent manage to keep the main twist of the story unknown to the protagonists for so long.
The main treasure of this 2014 Venice Film Festival participant is its cast. The role of the Sylvie and Sofie’s mother has been entrusted to Catherine Deneuve. There is a certain symbolism to it as this actress personifies the soul and the tradition of French cinema. Showing the subtlety of the actors’ performance is the main concern of cinematographer Julien Hirsch: the close-ups record all the changes in the emotional state of the characters. Meanwhile, Bruno Coulais’s soundtrack complements the visual work by adding nuance to the plot devoted to the birth and metamorphoses of love.