Sacramento Mini French Film Fest preview (November 14, 2015)

imagesMustang (2015; Dir.: Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

GRADE: B

Welcome to New York (2015; Dir.: Abel Ferrara)

GRADE: B+

By Daniel Barnes

*Both films screen this Saturday at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento as part of the 2nd Sacramento Mini Fall French Film Fest.

First-timer Deniz Gamze Ergüven directs this passionate drama about five feisty Turkish sisters who rebel against their strict seaside family, and find that their freedoms wane as their bodies mature.  After getting let out of school for the summer, the energetic girls frolic in the surf with some local boys, a harmless act that scandalizes their relatives into overreaction.  Their handsy adoptive uncle barricades the estate against the threat of boys, turning the entire home into “a wife factory,” and initiates a spirit-deadening, re-educative onslaught of cooking lessons and baggy, colorless clothes.  The long-haired girls fight back, growing reckless and self-destructive in their rebellion, but increasingly find that submission and suicide are their only escapes.  Ergüven imbues Mustang with the infectious spirit of youth and the casual assurance of a seasoned veteran, and the cinematography by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok is frequently stunning, finding a handheld sweet spot between the raw and the lyrical.  Although set and shot in Turkey, France submitted Mustang for Best Foreign Film Oscar consideration, passing over Cannes award winners Dheepan and The Measure of a Man.  Mustang certainly possesses crossover appeal (comparisons to The Virgin Suicides are unavoidable), even if the wild-horses-can’t-be-broken conceit is just a little too obvious, and the ending just a little too easy.images2

Less ingratiating and more challenging, with an even slighter connection to French cinema is New York director Abel Ferrara’s upper-class evisceration Welcome to New York.  The story is loosely based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel rape case, with a fearless Gerard Depardieu playing a Strauss-Kahn analogue named Devereaux, and giving his most intense and exposed (both figuratively, and in a horrifying turn, literally) performance in decades.  Ferrara harbors no doubts that Devereaux/Strauss-Kahn raped a maid in his posh hotel room, if only because men of his stature can only regard people as possessions, be they servants or sex workers.  That lack of doubt inspired the film’s producers to re-cut the film against Ferrara’s wishes, and to date this bastardized version stands as the only “official release.”  I would have preferred to watch Ferrara’s intended cut, but you can only review the film you see, and the film I saw was pretty damn good.  The intensity lags after an excellent first hour, where we see Devereaux dehumanize everyone in his path before eventually experiencing a process of dehumanization all his own, and an overacting Jacqueline Bisset gets too much screen time as Devereaux’s neurotic wife.  Still, the contrast between Ferrara’s seething hot rage and the cold, clean gloom of his images remains compelling throughout.