Le Master? C’est Jacques Audiard

I’ve been watching some fantastic French cinema recently and the master director out there is Jacques Audiard.

The best movie I’ve seen recently has been The Beat That My Heart Skipped by the master French film-maker Jacques Audiard. A little late in the day I know, as it was made in 2005 but better late than never.

Read My LipsI’ve actually been a fan of Audiard’s work since being blown away in 2001 by Read My Lips – the dazzlingly brilliant drama with Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel that followed the totally original, quirky and erotic relationship between Devos’ partially deaf secretary Carla and Cassel’s ex-convict bad boy Paul, who she’s hired as a trainee at the property development company where she works. As he’s completely unskilled and fresh out of prison, her bosses aren’t best pleased but for Carla, who’s always been the most loyal and hardworking of employees, it’s like a lightning bolt to shock her out of her rather mundane life.

Their tentative, burgeoning friendship is beautifully played – Carla growing in confidence from her time with Paul, a confidence she possibly has never had – is transfixing to watch and the film showed a director who had a really original talent.

The Beat That My Heart SkippedAudiard repeated this deft touch with The Beat That My Heart Skipped where the son who’s involved in his father’s violent rent business, eventually develops a touching, protective relationship with his piano teacher, leading to a brilliant twist (I felt) at the end of the film. Only someone like Audiard could pair violence with artistic expression so effectively.

Romain Duris as the son Thomas, is one of French cinema’s new leading actors and he showed beautifully the conflict of a young man stuck in a present that he was finding increasingly difficult to exist in, with thoughts of a past that could lead – if he had the courage – to a different, glittering future.

A ProphetBut his finest accomplishment to date has been his 2009 film A Prophet – a thrilling, gut wrenching, edge of your seat character study / thriller that shows what can happen to someone when they are thrust into a world of which they have no knowledge but through their wits, learn to survive in. This is a prison story at the other end of the Shawshank spectrum.

What a masterly performance from Niels Arustrup as the kingpin and what a find Audiard made with Tahar Rahim, whose stellar lead performance was probably the best of that year. Watching Rahim’s face, just after he’s arrived in jail, as he’s attacked by some fellow inmates to steal his trainers, was heartbreaking and prepared you that the journey you were about go on with him, was going to be a tough rites of passage into a new life.

Intimate relationships, inner emotional struggles, choices that can define a person from that moment on – all themes in his work that are examined with a brilliantly visceral and sensitive and unflinching eye. As you read quite often, how is it the French have that touch with a story or a character that can turn what seems a straightforward, or maybe even cliched story into a piece of work that’s stylish, visually exciting and emotionally resonant?

What’s more, when you then have stories like these – a little off centre, not the norm, or pushing the boundaries – what a feast can be presented before your eyes. They’re something, that’s for sure. And Jacques Audiard is one of their best film-makers and someone whose work is constantly surprising in scope, tone and vision.

More please, monsieur.

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