Portraits Chinois (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Well, it's something different. Let me be honest and admit that I picked it up only because it is unrated and stars Helena Bonham Carter and Romane Bohringer, and because one review says that it includes nudity. All of those things were accurate. Unfortunately, in my haste, I missed a couple of essential points:
First, the movie is entirely in French. Like a dummy, I had no idea that Bonham Carter was bilingual.

Second, the nudity comes from a complete unknown, and she is the least attractive woman in the cast


Bonham Carter appears in a t-shirt with no bra. The real nudity comes from a topless scene with Emmanuelle Escourrou.
As for the movie itself, it captures the essence of what seems to be in every French movie. That love is always worth pursuing, and never worth achieving. People dance toward each other all the time. When they are not dancing, they are making moves that will allow future dances, if the opportunity ever comes and the situation dictates it. Once they find partners, they become restless, impatient with each other, and start looking for someone different.

This is official French movie premise #2. Official French movie premise #1 is the remembrance of lost love. Lost loves have the advantage of never having reached the final stage when the lovers are bored with each other, so it always seems that by losing them we lost our one chance for happiness.

If you take a course in Writing French Films, here is an intro you can use:

An old man sits in a cafe, staring down the boulevard, an unfiltered cigarette dangling from his lips, as the camera profiles him from the neck up. It's raining and visibility is limited. He sees a woman in the streets; she seems to look right at him and recognize him, but then she ducks into an alley. He runs out of the cafe, looks down the alley. No one. He returns to the cafe, rain pouring down his face, mixing with his tears. He looks out again, and this time it is the same street, but sunny. He sees the same woman in the same place. This time she waves to him, and approaches. The camera angle switches back to his profile, and we see that it is the same man, thirty years younger.

Because it seems that the point of all French movies is this: you want what you don't have or can't have or never had. Either in the past or the present. Once you get it, you are bored with it. Usually it's love that you want, but it could be anything.

Maybe you need some music to make it seem more real. Click here.

Oh, yeah, let me get back to this movie. It is trapped somewhere without a constant voice. At first it seems to make all of the characters objects of ridicule. It tunes in on their thoughts, which are just as banal as their words. Things like "I just love being famous. I love when people ask what I had for breakfast"

Well, it kinda discarded that harsh satire and became kind of a French version of "Friends", where we get to know and sympathize with the characters, and they become intertwined with one another in one of those French Sexual Rondelays where a loves b, b loves c, and so on back to a.

And then it shifted again and became a soap opera, when they all reach inside themselves for real feelings, and admit that some of their sexual dalliances were hurtful or foolish.

So is it any good? I don't know. I really started out hating it. The great weakness in making fun of the idle, banal, and shallow, is that the way to do it is to exaggerate those qualities. In so doing, a filmmaker walks a fine line between being banal and parodying banal, and I'm not sure this director is really skilled enough to walk that line accurately, or if I'm skilled enough to interpret it accurately in a foreign language which I don't understand.

And I hated the fact that it's a short film which starts right out by throwing more characters at you than War and Peace, so I didn't get to know any of them well enough to enjoy their stories, and I was trying to figure who was who.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • No features at all except chapter selection. Irritatingly, you can't even turn off the sub-titles.

  • A dark print, too dark, but I don't know if this is a problem with the DVD. It's probably in the original.

And the lighting is both too dark and too harsh, which always irritates me in European movies because this is not a difficult thing to learn. They should require an entrance exam before allowing anyone to make a film. Pass the technical boards first, and then we'll let you create "art". Just about every other profession has a minimum competency exam. They won't let a doctor operate if he doesn't know where the liver is. They won't let a lawyer defend someone if he doesn't know the law or the proper court etiquette. But they will let people make films before they learn how to light a scene.

But, in the end, in the soap opera stage, as they narrowed the focus down to about six characters, I got suckered in to see how their lives would end up. And I never touched the fast forward, so I guess it was a pretty decent flick after all.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Berardinelli gave it 2.5/4. I read through the other reviews, and the general consensus seems to be slightly better than that. Boxoff.com ("an unheralded gem") and salon.com ("smart, delightful ensemble comedy") really praised it. My opinion is that have overpraised it.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6, but this is based on only 73 votes.

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