After the amazing Little Men, the featherweight drama of Frankie must count as a disappointment from Ira Sachs. Hearing about it, you’d think… But what’s not to like! The story is set in Sintra, Portugal, one of those magical, picture-postcard places with a fountain that young women drank from in the hope of finding a good husband. There’s the ever-reliable narrative bedrock of family dysfunction, with a touch of terminal illness. Plus, there’s Isabelle Huppert in the titular role, who opens the movie by taking her swimsuit top off at the pool of a resort and diving in. Her disapproving step-granddaughter (it’s a complicated family tree) says there are other people around, some of them with cameras. Frankie says she doesn’t care. “I am very photogenic.” This kind of confidence is perhaps second nature to a famous actress. I’m not talking about Huppert. I’m talking about Frankie, who has had a major movie career. Talk about picking the right person for the part.
Frankie has surrounded herself with her family – and the screenplay keeps switching between the various characters, who interact in small groups. Some scenes work beautifully, like the one where Frankie very politely (but icily) snubs a to-be filmmaker (Greg Kinnear) who offers her a part. Another beauty is the scene where Frankie’s son (Jérémie Renier) confesses to something that makes the dynamics in this family so… strange. But most of the movie finds itself stranded in a nowhere-land. Sachs is a master of the miniature – the small reveal, the small gesture, the small epiphany. But good direction can only take you so far without an interesting script. I wondered what Sachs found so appealing about this bunch that he felt their stories needed to be told. Despite the tranquil grace in the final stretch, I found myself nodding along when Frankie’s step-daughter says, “It’s impossible to pretend we are enjoying this trip.”
The Invisible Life Of Eurídice Gusmão, directed by Karim Aïnouz and set in Rio de Janeiro, is a novelistic melodrama that follows two sisters – Guida (Julia Stockler) and Eurídice (Carol Duarte) – over decades, from the 1950s onwards. The sisters are separated and each one ends up with one half of a pair of earrings. Call it the Brazilian equivalent of the family lockets in our cinema. There are letters, too. But the similarity ends there. This is a film that understands the audience’s need for happy endings. It also understands that life can be cruel. Guida wants love. The piano-playing Eurídice wants to train at a conservatory. Most of all, they want to be back with each other. Invisible Life is beautifully made – you watch it as much for the deeply felt drama as the faded pop-neon colours and the melancholic mood that envelops the happenings like a thick layer of humidity. The highlight is a scene by an aquarium, where the sisters are almost reunited. Amidst all the high-voltage drama, the fish swim by calmly. Life, truly, can be cruel.
We say movies “take us back in time”. We say they “transport us to another world”. Nicolas Bedos literalises these notions in La belle époque, which casts Daniel Auteuil as Victor, a political cartoonist who cannot bear the amenities of the modern world. His wife (Marianne, played by Fanny Ardant) is the opposite. She wears a VR headset in bed, calming herself with sounds and visuals of the ocean. She’s tired of Victor. They’ve grown apart, and she’s having an affair. When she throws him out of their apartment, he recalls a company called Time Travelers, which takes you to a time and place of your choice. This is not sci-fi. If there’s a time machine, it’s the mind. Time Travelers constructs a huge set to replicate the era of your choice, and you have to imagine that you are indeed where you wanted to be.
Nicolas Bedos’s La belle époque casts Daniel Auteuil as Victor, a political cartoonist who cannot bear the amenities of the modern world.
In other words, it’s like losing yourself in a movie. Victor is the audience substitute. Antoine (Guillaume Canet), the man behind the scenes, is the “director”, conjuring up a production Victor can immerse himself in. Victor opts to go back to the 1970s, when he first met Marianne. (Dora Tillier plays the “heroine”, the actor hired to play the younger Marianne.) What if we could go back in time and re-meet the person we fell for? Would that change our feelings towards the person they have changed into, over the years? What if life could be stage-managed, with rose petals falling on demand during a romantic moment? The film doesn’t delve into these Charlie Kaufman-esque what-ifs. It’s content to remain a charming comedy, which is not so bad at all. There are worse things than an undemanding entertainer during a very demanding film festival.