How French comedy of manners ‘Call My Agent’ became an American sensation

That feeling when you have eaten all the candy in the house and you look on the doorstep to find that someone has sent you a 1-pound box of assorted nuts and chews is pretty much how I felt learning that a fourth season of “Call My Agent” had landed on Netflix.

The series, called “Dix Pour Cent” (“Ten Percent”) in its native France, first came to my attention a couple of summers ago, by word of mouth, when the first two seasons were available. It was quickly clear that this was a series that had my name on it, handwritten and bordered in gold, presented on a dish made of silver. Set in a Paris-based talent agency, it is salted, after the manner of “The Larry Sanders Show,” with real French screen stars, including Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jean Reno (and in the latest season, American Sigourney Weaver) playing ironic versions of themselves, and shot in real Paris locations. And though it is obviously not completely original — it’s a workplace comedy in more than one television tradition — it’s also different in the way that one language is different from another even when a sentence says the same thing. Continue reading “How French comedy of manners ‘Call My Agent’ became an American sensation”

Call My Agent: the French comedy gem A-listers are desperate to star in

The sharp, hilarious look at the hell of being an agent already features everyone from Juliette Binoche to Isabelle Huppert sending themselves up. Now, Hollywood has come knocking

The pilot opens with an unannounced arrival (of ingénue Camille, aggro agent Mathias’s hidden daughter) and an untimely death (of founder Samuel Kerr, who swallows a wasp while on holiday in Brazil). Mathias and his colleagues, Andréa, Gabriel and Arlette, are thrown into a frenetic power struggle both among themselves and in the wider film industry. Stars threaten to leave ASK, Kerr’s widow and heir threatens to shut up shop, and private passions, usually held at bay, threaten to derail everything.

If the show’s premise is somewhat predictable, its handling of fame is altogether less so. Each episode features a titular guest star – BéatriceDalle, Cécile de France, Guy Marchand – but rather than being written as the focal point, the big name is instead that day’s worry to assuage, the problem to be fixed. Call My Agent does that rare thing that interviews often fail to achieve, and makes these people, who live decidedly abnormal lives, very normal.

There are administratively challenged actors who need help answering emails and vetting nannies, and matrimonially challenged stars who want help finding a date. There’s the actor who can’t drive, the actor who can’t swim and the actor who suddenly can’t act. There’s one who, as Andrea puts it, is “doing a Day Lewis”, and can’t stop acting, unable to come out of a very intense Revenant-style survival role. He ends up being dropped from his subsequent gig as a clean-shaven banker when he literally attacks the producer’s dog, with his teeth.

However, instead of ramping up the self-deprecation implicit in these big-screen stereotypes as Extras did, or as you can imagine a W1A-style British remake might, the talent here is treated with tenderness, and not a small amount of poetry. And by ‘talent’ I mean not just the people (actors and directors) but the artform itself: the show is an ode to cinema. It is French, after all.

Continue reading “Call My Agent: the French comedy gem A-listers are desperate to star in”

Trailer: “Non-Fiction” with Juliette Binoche

Alain and Léonard, a writer and a publisher, are overwhelmed by the new practices of the publishing world. Deaf to the desires of their wives, they struggle to find their place in a society whose code they can no longer crack.

Director Olivier Assayas
Starring Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Nora Hamzawi

 Non-Fiction isn’t a surrender, nor is it a call to arms. It’s an anxious — but strangely calming! — reminder that change is the only true constant, and that steering the current is a lot easier than fighting it. Nobody does that better than Assayas, even when it looks like he’s not even trying. – Indie Wire

Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2018 preview: Juliette Binoche and 80 new features

The year begins in earnest at UniFrance’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Julliet Binoche

Veteran director Jean Becker’s First World War drama The Red Collar opens UniFrance’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris this month (January 18-22). It is a choice that breaks with the event’s spotlight on mainstream comedies and romances in recent years.

The film sees Nicolas Duvauchelle star as a decorated army officer who falls from grace after he desecrates his medals in a protest against the absurdity of war; Francois Cluzet plays the judge who is charged with interrogating the young man.

It is the 15th feature from 84-year-old Becker, following a pair of mainstream dramas, Welcome Aboard(2012) and Get Well Soon (2014), and The Red Collar’s release in 2018 coincides with the centenary of the end of the First World War. “The film belongs to a type of classic French cinema that distributors love,” comments UniFrance managing director Isabelle Giordano.

UniFrance celebrates the 20th edition of Paris Rendez-vous this year. Deputy managing director Gilles Renouard recalls how the event was created by late producer and UniFrance chief Daniel Toscan du Plantier from the ashes of Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in the French Alps.

“When the festival stopped in 1994, he started inviting European distributors to watch French films there instead,” he recounts. “This took place for a few years. Then it was decided the screenings should move to Paris and the Rendez-vous was born in 1999.”

In that inaugural year, 60 European distributors were invited for a programme of 20 screenings in Elysées Biarritz, a restored Art Deco cinema off the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Around 15 sales companies took part, and a press junket aimed at international film journalists also kicked off the same year.

Two decades later, the meeting — now located in the swanky InterContinental Paris-Le Grand hotel and nearby Gaumont Opéra cinema on the edge of the Grands Boulevards shopping and entertainment district — is billed as the biggest market for French cinema out- side of Cannes’ Marché du Film. More than 40 international sales companies, representing 169 features and 500 buyers — hailing mainly from Europe but also the US, Asia and Latin America — will participate in the market this year, while 120 journalists have been invited to the press junket.

Rendez-vous now kicks off the market and festival calendar for many distributors, ahead of Rotterdam, Sundance and Berlin, who come not just to screen finished features but also to sniff out titles that will be ready for Cannes.

Cinema award

Beyond the market and press junket, UniFrance will honour Juliette Binoche with its annual French Cinema Award, in recognition of a cinema professional who has raised the profile of French film around the world. Past recipients include Isabelle Huppert and Luc Besson.

“It’s a particularly high-profile time for Juliette Binoche internationally, thanks in part to Claire Denis’ Let The Sunshine In, which played festivals all over the world, and this looks set to continue into 2018,” says Giordano, noting the actress’s upcoming performances in Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s Vision and Denis’ sci-fi tale High Life.

In other events, UniFrance will hold its annual presentation of preliminary international box-office figures for French cinema in 2017 as well as launch the eighth edition of its online French-language film festival MyFrenchFilmFestival, which drew 7 million spectators worldwide last year. Ten features, including Guillaume Canet’s midlife-crisis comedy Rock ’n Roll, late-developer comedy-drama Willy The 1st by twin brothers Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, and Cannes Critics’ Week title Ava, will compete in the main competition. Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino presides over a prestigious jury comprising Julia Ducournau, Nabil Ayouch, Brillante Mendoza and Kim Chapiron.

UniFrance will also mark Rendez-vous’ 20th edition with a party on January 20, putting the spotlight on the work of innovative French institutions and companies such as Gobelins animation school in Paris and videogame company Ubisoft, as well as the country’s burgeoning virtual-reality scene. “Rather than looking at the past, we want to look to the future and spotlight the best of French innovation,” comments Giordano.

Screening highlights

Jean Becker’s The Red Collar is one of 80 new French features due to screen over the course of Rendez-vous’ five-day meeting, with two-thirds of the titles making their market premieres. As per recent tradition, the line-up features a number of comedie including Dany Boon’s La Ch’tite Famille in which the actor-director star plays a top architect moving in elite Paris circles whose working class northern French roots are exposed when his scrap-dealer family turns up unannounced at a retrospective of his work. The feature plays on the distinctive Ch’tis dialect and culture of Boon’s home region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais in northern France that he first explored in his 2008 breakthrough hit Welcome To The Sticks, which drew more than 20 million spectators and remains the second most successful theatrical release in France after TitanicLa Ch’tite Famille is sold by Pathé International.

Other comedies include Philippe Le Guay’s Normandie Nue, co-starring Francois Cluzet as a village mayor opposite UK actor Toby Jones as a famous photographer who wants to capture the small rural community in a nude shoot; SND is handling sales.

Normandie nue

Studiocanal will unveil Laurent Tirard’s period comedy-drama Le Retour Du Héros, while TF1 Studio will screen Momo, in which Catherine Frot and Christian Clavier play a childless couple whose life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a deaf and dumb man claiming to be their son. Gaumont will present Anne Le Ny’s family-inheritance caper Family Business (La Monnaie De Leur Piece).

Beyond comedy, Elle Driver will present Cain and Abel-inspired thriller Carnivores, the feature co-directorial debuts of Belgian actor brothers Jérémie and Yannick Renier. The film stars Leïla Bekhti as a struggling actress who covets the life of her more successful younger sister. Playtime (formerly Films Distribution) will screen Erick Zonca’s Black Tide starring Vincent Cassel as a jaded detective assigned to the case of a missing teenager mixed up in drug trafficking, opposite Romain Duris as a former tutor of the boy who joins the search.

In other drama highlights, Memento Films International will market premiere Xavier Giannoli’s The Apparition, starring Vincent Lindon as an investigative journalist reporting on mysterious religious events in a small French village, while Alma Cinema will screen a new promo reel for Guillaume Nicloux’s Indochina War drama To The Ends Of The Earth, starring Gaspard Ulliel and Gerard Depardieu.

The world of tomorrow according to Juliette Binoche, Guillame Canet and Vincent Macaigne

Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet et Vincent Macaigne, les acteurs de Doubles vies d’Olivier Assayas, nous racontent ce qu’ils attendent de demain.

What are the double lives of Olivier Assayas’ new film? Most of his characters lead double lives. Because the life of the bourgeois often resembles caricature to bourgeois theater, their double lives are at first conjugal: Alain (Guillaume Canet) cheats his wife Selena (Juliette Binoche) with a young collaborator of his publishing house ; and Selena misleads Alain with one of his best friends, Leonard (Vincent Macaigne). The friendly lives are also double: Alain is the friend of Leonard, but also his publisher, and their friendship does not prevent the first to release the second when the potential of his new novel leaves him skeptical. Double games, double stakes …

Double lives travels with a lot of verve on the tracks of satirical marivaudage and the chronicle as amused and inspired by the mores of a social environment and an era. But the title of the film is itself double. The true object of investigation of Doubles lives , it is first of all what which doubles the life, the duplicate, deploys it in a more virtual space than current. This power of duplication is the great digital switch of the world that affects our lives in their smallest ramifications, revolutionizes the world of work, transforms relations between people. Double livesinspected with great precision and irony – but also with tenderness and delicacy of human understanding – the way everyone negotiates with the principle of transformation of the world, alternates between resistance and adaptation. To begin an issue mainly dedicated to the coming year, we wanted to bring together the three main performers of the beautiful film by Olivier Assayas to project further and ask them the question posed by the film: what are the reasons to fear or hope in the world that is coming?

Is technological progress a source of worry or excitement for you?

Guillaume Canet – On these questions, I feel pretty close to my character in Doubles Lives. I want to welcome progress with a lot of curiosity and yet it mixes a little skepticism. I want to live in my time, but I sometimes freak out at the implications in creating this digital revolution. The way art is consumed, that is to say as a content, delivered at home, among many others, interferes with the way it is conceived. It affects thought at work in every creation. To satisfy these new modes of consumption, there is an injunction to make simpler, shorter. Here, for example, I finish the postproduction of my new film, and the mixer explains to me, about a replica which I wanted it to be really whispered, that it will go to the trap with the compressed sound smartphones. What are we doing ? Do we consider it or not?

Vincent Macaigne – I think that in terms of VOD, you would have to invent media where the films disintegrate as you see them … (laughs). No, but I’m not kidding! On streaming sites, I myself watch bits of movies, which do not really exist as works, and from which I take fragments. When the ritual of the hall jumps, bending to the rhythm of the one who thought the work becomes something more restrictive. And yet, for me it really is what defines the aesthetic experience: to bend to the rhythm of another. Basically, I find it odd that the viewer has control of the progress of the work. It creates a somewhat strange spectator grammar. But yet, I do it. For example, I watch some series focusing only on one character. All the related intrigues, I pass them in fast forward, and I stop only when my character comes back (laughs) .

Continue at LesInRocks

‘Let The Sunshine In’: A Soulful French Comedy Of Carnality

[ NPR ] Let the Sunshine In is the poorly translated title (more on that later) of the new film by French director Claire Denis. It opens with a scene that has launched many a tale of female romantic travail.

Isabelle, a Parisian painter played with characteristic heart and soul by Juliette Binoche, lies beneath her lover, waiting for him to achieve climax and to stop asking her, for heaven’s sake, if she’s there yet. With his own mission accomplished the lover, an oafish banker played to the nasty hilt by filmmaker Xavier Beauvois, wants to know if Isabelle has enjoyed more efficient orgasms with other men. She slaps his face and turns her back, then agrees to meet the oaf that weekend.


Needless to say he doesn’t show, and that will prove true of several other unsatisfactory, mostly married men who, one way or another, can’t or won’t give Isabelle the enduring love she seeks, yet won’t let her be either. A self-absorbed actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) insists he’s leaving his wife but, having allowed Isabelle to inveigle him into staying the night, wallows in morning-after regret. There’s pain aplenty here, but though the movie runs up and down the mood register from hilarity to saxophone-fueled sadness to despair and back up to hard-won irony, the tone is never mawkish or self-pitying. If anything Denis, who co-wrote the wittily cascading — and, from time to time, coruscating — dialogue with the novelist Christine Angot, has cooked up a fresh sub-genre: the looking-for-love comedy procedural.

In another kind of movie Isabelle would bravely soldier on through cad after cad until Mr. Sensitively Woke makes his grand entrance and pouf! fin. Not here: Let the Sunshine In is the sum of its moments, of Isabelle’s inner and outer processing of her predicament with only hope to buoy her flagging spirits.

What energizes the movie and makes it delightful is that the guys are not all jerks, and that Isabelle is no picnic herself. Her needy insecurity renders her vulnerable and all too easily unsettled by facile judgments from others, which among other fruitful inquiries treats us to a very funny exchange with the great Josiane Balasko, who plays Isabelle’s powerhouse gallerist.

Teasing genre is not new for the bracingly innovative Denis, who has dabbled in horror (Trouble Every Day), though she’s famous for her political dramas (Beau Travail, White Material) set in Africa where she spent her childhood. Her next film, starring Robert Pattinson, will be set in space.

For a film that’s clearly meant to be experimental and fragmentary — it was worked up between other projects from Angot and Denis’s own histories, with the late French cultural theorist Roland Barthes poking his head in from a great distance — Let the Sunshine In moves between dialogue and carnal interludes with rhythmic fluidity. The mostly nocturnal settings and sumptuous black and red palette intensify Binoche’s soulful sensuality. Her eyes are black orbs of infinite depth, and she wears so many leather jackets and thigh-high boots that the filmmakers might be hearing from PETA, but those clothes exert a magical, if temporary hold on the men who love and leave her. “Take care of me a little bit,” she beseeches a man who manifestly takes care of nobody but himself.

What redeems Isabelle even as it gets her into hot water is her devastating candor with everyone, from the banker who envies her boho lifestyle yet constantly puts her down, to the stranger (Paul Blain) from the wrong side of the tracks who dances her into quiet ecstasy, to the cab driver about whose happiness she inquires at the end of a day that leaves her emotionally drained. She’s frank about herself too: Even her former husband (Laurent Grevill), with whom she has a child, gets roundly scolded when he makes a wrong move in bed. If Denis sometimes skates close to making a virtue of Isabelle’s honesty, it’s refreshing to hear such straight talk from a woman on screen.

Still, something has moved in Isabelle. Enter Gerard Depardieu, speaking words of wisdom and beauty. It’s not what you think, but his lovely speech about her predicament clues both Isabelle and us into acceptance of life’s enduring ambiguities. And then, he reminds her, there’s her work. Has Isabelle learned at last to let the sunshine in? According to the film’s French title, Un Beau Soleil Interieur (A Beautiful Sun Inside), which was inexplicably inverted for its stateside release, it was there in her heart all along.