One of the things I like best about the Academy Awards has nothing to do with discovering which blockbuster will win Best Picture. I find the actual award ceremony, where glamorous celebrities parade to center stage to deliver their well-rehearsed speeches, only mildly entertaining. Rather, the thing I appreciate most is checking out the nominated shorts, international films, and documentaries in the weeks leading up to the main event.
This year’s Academy Awards airs on Sunday, April 25. Below, you’ll find my take on 5 streamable films that have ties to a francophone country. These productions demonstrate the breadth and strength of the global filmmaking industry. My personal favorite is from Tunisia, The Man Who Sold His Skin.
This post provides links to each trailer as well as the complete film. You still have time to watch before the winners are announced!
Documentary Short Film
Colette tells the story of 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine, one of the last surviving members of the French Resistance. Colette’s older brother, Jean-Pierre, was captured by the Germans and died in a Nazi concentration camp. After the war, Colette wanted to put the past behind her and she vowed never to travel to Germany. In the film, that attitude changes after a young history student, Lucie, asks Colette if she will accompany her on a visit to the camp where Jean-Pierre’s life came to an end.
The documentary follows their trip to a forced labor camp near Nordhausen, Germany. Their trajectory opens deep wounds but Colette’s fondness for Lucie propels her onward until they reach the very site where Jean-Pierre probably took his last breath. It’s an incredibly touching film. Lucie’s sweetness lies in stark contrast to Colette’s bristling exterior. Yet, their inexplicable connection gives them both the strength to complete what proves to be a cathartic journey.
You can stream the 25-minute film for free on YouTube.
Two of Us
France’s Official Oscar Entry for Best International Feature Film
Two of Us is a romantic drama about an older lesbian couple, Mado and Nina, that have secretly been in love with each other for decades. Now, wishing to live out their senior years together in Rome, Mado must reveal their relationship to her grown children. Their plans are turned upside down, however, after Mado suffers a stroke. The distraught Nina is pushed aside by Mado’s children and a cranky caregiver who rush to Mado’s side to help her regain her health.
There were parts of this film that drew me in, but overall, I found many aspects of the storyline to be cliché and less than believable. For starters, Mado’s children have met Nina but they know her only as their mother’s neighbor who lives in an apartment across the hall. Over the years, Mado, who is now in her late 60s, hasn’t managed to tell her kids that Nina is more than a casual acquaintance. Now, she’s expected to announce that they’re moving to Rome to live together as lovers? It seems like a stretch that Mado hasn’t even let her children know about this close and important friendship.
I also thought the director implanted too many well-worn scenes into the action. More than once, Nina snuck into the ailing Mado’s apartment only to be nearly discovered by her adversaries. Each time, she hovers nervously in the foreground of the camera shot, as first Mado’s children and later the caregiver wander in the background and come precariously close to discovering her.
On the positive side. The acting is excellent and I’m all for films that star atypical protagonists. Certain elements of the story are unique. However, overall Two of Us just didn’t quite cut it for me.
Shortlist for Best Animated Short Film
I usually make a point of watching all of the nominated animated short films. I’m in awe of the innovativeness and design skills of many of the artists that work on such productions. Genius Loci, by French director, Adrien Mérigeau, is a beautiful study of art in motion.
After watching the Genius Loci, I had my own theory regarding what the film was about. Then I watched an interview with Mérigeau and learned that the entire premise was completely lost on me. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
You can stream the 16-minute film for free on Vimeo.
Shortlist for Best Live Action Short Film
Stories about immigrants are popular right now and one might argue that they’re important. I imagine this is why The Van, starring French actor Phénix Brossard, made it onto the shortlist for Best Live Action Short Film. However, this is exactly the kind of film that I was complaining about to fellow blogger, Infidel753, earlier this week. Rather than enlightening the viewer, it seems hell-bent on delivering an upsetting story that plumbs the depths of man’s basest instincts.
The Van tells the story of a young man desperate to leave Albania and settle in the United Kingdom. His father has no interest in abandoning his current life but the young man insists that they both leave the country with the aid of human smugglers. The only way to gain enough money for the voyage, however, involves entering into hand-to-hand fights that take place in the back of a delivery van. The van drives through city streets while the two combatants beat each other to a pulp. The vehicle will only stop to declare and pay off a winner after one of the fighters is no longer conscious.
Do stories like this take place? Perhaps, but only on the far fringes of human experience. I’m all for knowing about unpleasant happenings in the world but I found nothing in The Van worth recommending. That said, if you’re intrigued, you can stream the 15-minute film on Amazon.
The Man Who Sold His Skin
Best International Feature Film
Unlike The Van, The Man Who Sold His Skin is an immigration story worthy of acclaim. Tunisian director, Kaouther Ben Hania, brings us a dark and satirical look at what it means to be “born on the wrong side of the world.” The movie is loosely based on an actual event when Belgian artist, Wim Delvoye, tattooed a man’s back and then sold it as art. In The Man Who Sold His Skin, however, the living canvas belongs to a Syrian refugee named, Sam Ali, who is desperately trying to get to Belgium.
Sam’s former fiancé, Abeer has been married off to a diplomat who is stationed in Brussels and Sam hopes that he and Abeer can somehow be reunited. A chance encounter with a wildly successful Belgian-American artist, named Jeffery, presents Sam with a unique opportunity. If he agrees to let the artist tattoo his back, he can accompany Jeffery to Belgium where he will be placed on display for the world to ogle.
The way is paved for numerous scenes of exploitation and objectification. Is Sam being used when he himself feels he’s shrewdly taking advantage of a lucrative opportunity? This movie is never dull and the soundtrack is brilliant. The twists and turns that accumulate at the end are pure gold. As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan. Of all the films I’ve reviewed, I’ve saved the best for last.
You can currently stream The Man Who Sold His Skin on Amazon.