Friday 4 February 2022

Tralala (Jean-Marie Larrieu / Arnaud Larrieu, 2021)

Tralala marks the fifth collaboration between Mathieu Amalric and the Larrieu brothers, and it is now almost twenty years since their first film together, the medium-length A Real Man.  Amalric is one of several performers favoured by the Larrieus, with the likes of Karin Viard, Sergi Lopez and Maïwenn all making multiple appearances for the brothers, although it is only the last of this trio who appears alongside Amalric in Tralala .  The most recent Larrieus film to feature Amalric (or Maïwenn, for that matter) was 2013's Love is the Perfect Crime, which may just be the brothers' best work.  Between that film and Tralala, the duo directed 21 Nights with Pattie, a tonally uncertain yet largely enjoyable work that featured a strong leading performance by the excellent Isabelle Carré, an actress who, despite appearing to be a good fit for the Larrieus' sensibilities, has yet to make another film with the brothers. 

In addition to his glittering career as an actor and his status as the go-to guy for both Arnaud Desplechin and the Larrieus, Mathieu Amalric has carved out a formidable reputation on the other side of the camera—his most recent directorial effort, Hold Me Tight, can be currently seen alongside Tralala at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (Amalric also participated in one of the festival's Big Talks).  As the title character in Tralala, Amalric gives the sort of performance familiar to his devotees, with the raffish charm he exudes going a long way towards carrying a story that is sometimes rather thin, yet never anything less than entertaining.  Amalric is backed by a fine supporting cast: in addition to the aforementioned Maïwenn, Tralala features enjoyable turns from Josiane Balasko, Denis Lavant, Jalil Lespert and Galatéa Bellugi; although a relative unknown among the starry, experienced cast, Bellugi manages to quietly steal almost every scene she's in.      

Amalric's Tralala is a penniless busker who lives in a tiny city apartment that has no basic amenities; what's worse, the building stands on the brink of demolition, and Tralala needs to have a serious think about his options, such as they are.  After a day of busking in the city centre, Tralala encounters an attractive young woman (Bellugi), and the two go for a drink at a bar; the woman goes to pay the tab but doesn't come back, and the waiter returns to hand Tralala the not inconsiderable change.  Greatly intrigued by this mysterious stranger, Tralala has few clues about who she is, although a lighter she's left behind seems to be a souvenir from Lourdes.  Tralala uses the money he's just acquired to make his way to the city of miracles, where he attempts to track down the young woman; after a fruitless, exhausting first day in which he loses his guitar (thanks to Lavant's aggressive fellow busker, who doesn't take kindly to others working his patch), Tralala finds refuge in a flophouse owned by Lili (Balasko), who mistakes Tralala for Pat, her musician son who left Lourdes many years ago and hasn't been heard from since.    

As a man with little to lose, Tralala decides to go along with this, and from this point on he steps into Pat's shoes.  While Lili is adamant that this is her son, others are less than convinced, and in this sense the film recalls the basic conceit of the otherwise completely different Titane.  Still, Tralala does his best to make a go of it as an ersatz Pat, although this means negotiating tricky encounters with his subject's old flames Jeannie (Mélanie Thierry) and Barbara (Maïwenn), the latter of whom has a very close connection to the person who lured Tralala to Lourdes.  As the enquiries made by Tralala regarding the young woman have largely been met with hostility, this only serves to deepen the mystery surrounding this ethereal character, the memory of whom continues to haunt Tralala even as he's busy juggling the various components of his complex new identity.  Amalric, that most dependable of screen presences, always does enough to keep the sheer preposterousness of the scenario at bay, even if this diverting confection does not represent the Larrieu brothers at their very best.  But as with its title character, Tralala nonetheless possesses a ramshackle charm.     

Darren Arnold

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Lucie Loses Her Horse (Claude Schmitz, 2021)

At the beginning of Claude Schmitz's beguiling debut feature, which is currently screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, more than half of the film's original French title—Lucie perd son cheval—fades away, leaving the name "Perceval" on the screen.  This neat touch is much more than a gimmick, though, as Schmitz's film strongly recalls Éric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois, along with the work of a clutch of other French masters; beyond its debt to Rohmer's singular take on the Arthurian legend, traces of Lucie Loses Her Horse's DNA can be found in the likes of Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac and Bruno Dumont's Joan of Arc.  But perhaps more than any of these fine influences, Lucie Loses Her Horse owes a great deal to the work of Jacques Rivette, a director who frequently incorporated the world of theatre into his films.   

Like Dumont, Rivette took a tilt at the Joan of Arc story, and while his two-part epic Joan the Maid's influence can be seen in Schmitz's film, it is actually Rivette's more overtly theatre-centric works such as L'Amour fou and Va savoir that inform Lucie Loses Her Horse's exploration of the slippery relationship between theatre and cinema.  Even the title of Schmitz's film is positively Rivettian, although if you waited around three hours to see Celine and Julie Go Boating's title characters finally jump in a vessel and take to the water, rest assured that Lucie (Lucie Debay, terrific) and her equine companion are parted in the early stages of Schmitz's sly, playful work.  Upon losing her not so trusty steed, Lucie—kitted out in a fine suit of armour—promptly begins searching for the animal, in the process encountering two other female knights (Hélène Bressiant, Judith Williquet), both of whom have also managed to become separated from their horses.  To lose one horse may be regarded as a misfortune, etc... actually, that quote doesn't quite fit this scenario—but hopefully you get the idea.

This medieval-themed episode comes wedged between two very different sequences: in the prior one, we witness Lucie the actress saying goodbye to her young daughter (Nao Wielemans-Debay) before she heads off to work; in the second, Lucie and the other two horseless knights—who, as it turns out, are fellow actresses—wake up in a theatre in which they're playing in a production of Shakespeare's King Lear.  In case you don't count this as sufficiently meta, consider that Lucie's child is played by Lucie Debay's real-life daughter (Debay's partner is musician Antoine Wielemans, of Belgian indie act Girls in Hawaii), and also that Lucie Loses Her Horse morphed out of one of Schmitz's theatrical productions, Un Royaume, whose performances were truncated on account of the coronavirus pandemic.  That one of the film's production companies is Le Théâtre de Liège, who staged the play on which the film is partly based, demonstrates how blurred the lines have become between the two works (and, by extension, the two media).

Before we get to thinking of where the MacGuffin that is Lucie's horse may have wandered off to, is it at all possible to establish which if any of these incarnations is the real Lucie?  Is all the knights and horses stuff part of a fugue state, or simply another performance by the actresses?  And does it really matter?  Much of the film focuses on the increasingly chaotic backstage drama that unfolds at the theatre, most of which is fairly inconsequential yet oddly compelling.  What we have here is essentially a shaggy dog story, one which remains completely absorbing should you allow yourself to go along with the joke.  With Lucie Loses Her Horse, Claude Schmitz has planted one foot firmly in cinema and the other in theatre, resulting in both a deeply strange hybrid work and an alluring twilight world; it's a film as mischievous as it is haunting, and one strongly suspects that the late M. Rivette—Saturday past marked the sixth anniversary of his death—would have greatly enjoyed this unique meditation on theatre and cinema.  

Darren Arnold

Images: IFFR