Jan 28 2010

Hollywood Reporter Review: Réfractaire

Published by at 01:20 under Articles,Festival

SOURCE: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com – Sheri Linden
Draft Dodgers — Film Review

Bottom Line: A World War II coming-of-age tale that veers between melodramatic contrivances and muscular storytelling.
PALM SPRINGS — The youth of Nazi-annexed Luxembourg had a choice, “Draft Dodgers” shows: conscription in the German army and likely death on the Russian front or the death-in-life of hiding in the country’s iron mines for months on end. Focusing on one young man’s brutal wartime awakening, Luxembourg’s foreign-language Oscar entry is by turns melodramatic and muscular.

Producer Nicolas Steil makes his directing debut with the well-researched World War II drama, co-written with Jean-Louis Schlesser. The English-language title of “Refractaire” — which bowed stateside at the Palm Springs festival — doesn’t quite match the nuance of the original. And the film itself sometimes forsakes subtlety for overwrought flourishes. But at its best, “Draft Dodgers” offers fine period detail and makes powerful use of actual locations, from the mines themselves to the banal basement stairs that the occupiers turned into a tool of torture.

Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet stars as Francois, an unlikely member of one of the subterranean communities of deserters. Neither a communist nor the son of dissidents, he’s the privileged child of an engineer who was well-known for collaborating with the Germans. After his father’s retaliatory murder and his mother’s steady fade into insanity — one of the film’s clumsiest elements — Francois leaves the German-run university, where lectures center on the difference between Aryans and subhumans, and makes his way underground, with the help of the Resistance.

In his three-piece suit and polished shoes, Francois is an almost comical addition to the group, which is run by the wiry Pierrot (Michel Voita) and at first glance threatens to turn into a collection of character types. But broad strokes notwithstanding, the film is less interested in obvious personality clashes and class distinctions than in the ways Francois breaks out of his protective cocoon and into the world of moral complexity — a world powerfully represented by the dank, impenetrable darkness of the mine.

Eventually becoming a courier for the Resistance, the collaborator’s son finds a convenient hiding place in the arms of a collaborator’s wife, Malou (Marianne Basler). The affair with an older woman is nothing if not a cliche of coming-of-age dramas, and the film doesn’t entirely avoid a familiar touch of the mawkish. What deepens the lonely Malou’s character is her clear understanding of what the Nazi Party represents to her weak, disappointed husband.

The film’s strength is its understanding of the degrees of resistance and collaboration. At the other end of the spectrum are patches of stilted dialogue — especially in Francois’ family backstory — and plaintive music to drive home points. Performances are a mixed bag; among the standouts are Thierry van Werveke as Malou’s husband, Carlo Brandt as trigger-happy dissident Jacques and Guillaume Gouix as the rough-hewn Rene, who above-ground was Francois’ rival for the affections of a girl. Leprince-Ringuet is not the most compelling of protagonists, but he convinces as an untested boy getting a devastating crash course in adulthood.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

Production: Iris Prods. and CAB Prods
Cast: Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Marianne Basler, Carlo Brandt, Michel Voïta, Thierry Van Werveke, Charles Muller, Guillaume Gouix
Director: Nicolas Steil
Screenwriters: Jean-Louis Schlesser, Nicolas Steil
Producers: Nicolas Steil, Gerard Ruey
Director of photography: Denis Jutzeler
Production designer: Christina Schaffer
Music: Andre Mergenthaler, Michel Wintsch
Costume designer: Uli Simon
Editor: Lorédana Cristelli
No rating, 101 minutes

Palm Springs FilmFestival: 8 Films on World War II and 2 on China

What do 8 films on World War II — all submitted for Academy Award consideration for Best Foreign Language Film by their originating countries — have in common with two Chinese Films, City of Life and Death (Nanking Nanking) a 9th film about World War II andQuick Quick Slow?

1. They are all part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (White RibbonWinter in WartimeBroken PromiseBa’ariaMax ManusProtektorDraft DodgersReverse – except for Ba’aria)

2. All the films are state financed.

3. All are male centric (except for Reverse).

3. All (perhaps not the romantic comedy Quick Quick Slow) reflect the realization that war is not a black and white issue but involves many shades of good and bad, personal decisions as well as national decisions, all are male centric, and all call for re-examination today as ultimate tools to destruction of all mankind in the face of current conflicts still occurring around the world.

The contradiction of this desire for peaceful resolution which would result in greater liberty for all segments of a society is given substance by the Chinese decision to pull their films from Palm Springs because Palm Springs insists on showing the Tibetan documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, about the Dalai Lama and protests over Tibet’s status vis a vis China. Obviously we’re not waging a war over this here in the U.S. but just as obviously, it is apparent that the words and sentiments being expressed by the films are the idealistic reexamination of the past and not the Real Politik of the present.

Parenthetically a further contradiction: Nanking, Nanking is also dislked by many of the Chinese for the supposedly sympathetic portrait of some Japanese colonial miltary officers during that infamous WW 2 massacre of thousands of innocent Chinese civilians by the Japanese Army.

My interview here in Palm Springs with Nicolas Steil, the president and CEO of Iris Productions in Luxembourg shed an interesting light on the universal need to give voice to one’s thinking. After his career in journalism in print and producing TV news, in 1986 Steil was one of 5 who decided to start a film industry in Luxembourg from scratch. Today it has all of 600 industryites (US has about 10,000) in a country with a population of 500,000. They produce 25 coproductions a year with France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the UK. They have 20 active directors, no film school. During the war years his film Draft Dodgers depicts, the Germans took over Luxembourg quite quickly and the young men were forced to serve in their army or flee. Steil, who has produced numerous works and directed docs, news and much live theater chose this story as his debut fiction feature, taking 5 years to write and raise financing. He chose it because of the urgency of not repeating such war elsewhere, as a way to use in schools, especially after September 11, to create a political conscience about engagement and the necessity of engaging on different levels and for many complicated reasons.

A nation such as Luxembourg, but probably not just Luxembourg, was comprised of 4% collaborators and 4% resistors during the war years. The rest of the population just waited…It is likely that after September 11 until today 4% of the US population is vociferously jingoistic, 4% is determined to resist the racist and jingoistic factions and the rest just waits…hoping the world will be alright in the end.

To be a part of the Palm Springs Festival, resisting — as did theMelbourne Film Festival — the demands of the Chinese State to pull films expressing undesirable points of view, as Toronto Film Festival did and Edinburgh did not — resisting demands of individuals not wanting the Israeli point of view to be visible, to be part of the international film community actively engaging in this dialogue of unity vs. exclusion puts us personally into that 4% segment of resistance which is exactly the reason most of us entered the world of independent film to begin with. I am proud to stand with Darry McDonald and the rest of the Palm Springs International Film Festival for the freedom of expression in this country and to resist the dictates of any country or individual to determine which film should or should not be played.

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SOURCE: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com – Sheri Linden
Draft Dodgers — Film Review

Bottom Line: A World War II coming-of-age tale that veers between melodramatic contrivances and muscular storytelling.
PALM SPRINGS — The youth of Nazi-annexed Luxembourg had a choice, “Draft Dodgers” shows: conscription in the German army and likely death on the Russian front or the death-in-life of hiding in the country’s iron mines for months on end. Focusing on one young man’s brutal wartime awakening, Luxembourg’s foreign-language Oscar entry is by turns melodramatic and muscular.

Producer Nicolas Steil makes his directing debut with the well-researched World War II drama, co-written with Jean-Louis Schlesser. The English-language title of “Refractaire” — which bowed stateside at the Palm Springs festival — doesn’t quite match the nuance of the original. And the film itself sometimes forsakes subtlety for overwrought flourishes. But at its best, “Draft Dodgers” offers fine period detail and makes powerful use of actual locations, from the mines themselves to the banal basement stairs that the occupiers turned into a tool of torture.

Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet stars as Francois, an unlikely member of one of the subterranean communities of deserters. Neither a communist nor the son of dissidents, he’s the privileged child of an engineer who was well-known for collaborating with the Germans. After his father’s retaliatory murder and his mother’s steady fade into insanity — one of the film’s clumsiest elements — Francois leaves the German-run university, where lectures center on the difference between Aryans and subhumans, and makes his way underground, with the help of the Resistance.

In his three-piece suit and polished shoes, Francois is an almost comical addition to the group, which is run by the wiry Pierrot (Michel Voita) and at first glance threatens to turn into a collection of character types. But broad strokes notwithstanding, the film is less interested in obvious personality clashes and class distinctions than in the ways Francois breaks out of his protective cocoon and into the world of moral complexity — a world powerfully represented by the dank, impenetrable darkness of the mine.

Eventually becoming a courier for the Resistance, the collaborator’s son finds a convenient hiding place in the arms of a collaborator’s wife, Malou (Marianne Basler). The affair with an older woman is nothing if not a cliche of coming-of-age dramas, and the film doesn’t entirely avoid a familiar touch of the mawkish. What deepens the lonely Malou’s character is her clear understanding of what the Nazi Party represents to her weak, disappointed husband.

The film’s strength is its understanding of the degrees of resistance and collaboration. At the other end of the spectrum are patches of stilted dialogue — especially in Francois’ family backstory — and plaintive music to drive home points. Performances are a mixed bag; among the standouts are Thierry van Werveke as Malou’s husband, Carlo Brandt as trigger-happy dissident Jacques and Guillaume Gouix as the rough-hewn Rene, who above-ground was Francois’ rival for the affections of a girl. Leprince-Ringuet is not the most compelling of protagonists, but he convinces as an untested boy getting a devastating crash course in adulthood.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

Production: Iris Prods. and CAB Prods
Cast: Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Marianne Basler, Carlo Brandt, Michel Voïta, Thierry Van Werveke, Charles Muller, Guillaume Gouix
Director: Nicolas Steil
Screenwriters: Jean-Louis Schlesser, Nicolas Steil
Producers: Nicolas Steil, Gerard Ruey
Director of photography: Denis Jutzeler
Production designer: Christina Schaffer
Music: Andre Mergenthaler, Michel Wintsch
Costume designer: Uli Simon
Editor: Lorédana Cristelli
No rating, 101 minutes

Palm Springs FilmFestival: 8 Films on World War II and 2 on China

What do 8 films on World War II — all submitted for Academy Award consideration for Best Foreign Language Film by their originating countries — have in common with two Chinese Films, City of Life and Death (Nanking Nanking) a 9th film about World War II andQuick Quick Slow?

1. They are all part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (White RibbonWinter in WartimeBroken PromiseBa’ariaMax ManusProtektorDraft DodgersReverse – except for Ba’aria)

2. All the films are state financed.

3. All are male centric (except for Reverse).

3. All (perhaps not the romantic comedy Quick Quick Slow) reflect the realization that war is not a black and white issue but involves many shades of good and bad, personal decisions as well as national decisions, all are male centric, and all call for re-examination today as ultimate tools to destruction of all mankind in the face of current conflicts still occurring around the world.

The contradiction of this desire for peaceful resolution which would result in greater liberty for all segments of a society is given substance by the Chinese decision to pull their films from Palm Springs because Palm Springs insists on showing the Tibetan documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, about the Dalai Lama and protests over Tibet’s status vis a vis China. Obviously we’re not waging a war over this here in the U.S. but just as obviously, it is apparent that the words and sentiments being expressed by the films are the idealistic reexamination of the past and not the Real Politik of the present.

Parenthetically a further contradiction: Nanking, Nanking is also dislked by many of the Chinese for the supposedly sympathetic portrait of some Japanese colonial miltary officers during that infamous WW 2 massacre of thousands of innocent Chinese civilians by the Japanese Army.

My interview here in Palm Springs with Nicolas Steil, the president and CEO of Iris Productions in Luxembourg shed an interesting light on the universal need to give voice to one’s thinking. After his career in journalism in print and producing TV news, in 1986 Steil was one of 5 who decided to start a film industry in Luxembourg from scratch. Today it has all of 600 industryites (US has about 10,000) in a country with a population of 500,000. They produce 25 coproductions a year with France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the UK. They have 20 active directors, no film school. During the war years his film Draft Dodgers depicts, the Germans took over Luxembourg quite quickly and the young men were forced to serve in their army or flee. Steil, who has produced numerous works and directed docs, news and much live theater chose this story as his debut fiction feature, taking 5 years to write and raise financing. He chose it because of the urgency of not repeating such war elsewhere, as a way to use in schools, especially after September 11, to create a political conscience about engagement and the necessity of engaging on different levels and for many complicated reasons.

A nation such as Luxembourg, but probably not just Luxembourg, was comprised of 4% collaborators and 4% resistors during the war years. The rest of the population just waited…It is likely that after September 11 until today 4% of the US population is vociferously jingoistic, 4% is determined to resist the racist and jingoistic factions and the rest just waits…hoping the world will be alright in the end.

To be a part of the Palm Springs Festival, resisting — as did theMelbourne Film Festival — the demands of the Chinese State to pull films expressing undesirable points of view, as Toronto Film Festival did and Edinburgh did not — resisting demands of individuals not wanting the Israeli point of view to be visible, to be part of the international film community actively engaging in this dialogue of unity vs. exclusion puts us personally into that 4% segment of resistance which is exactly the reason most of us entered the world of independent film to begin with. I am proud to stand with Darry McDonald and the rest of the Palm Springs International Film Festival for the freedom of expression in this country and to resist the dictates of any country or individual to determine which film should or should not be played.

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