Last night I went to see French film ‘The Day I Saw Your Heart‘, part of the UK Jewish Film Festival at the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, North London. This was billed as a ‘comic melodrama’.
The film is about that staple of so many successful dramatic stories – the dysfunctional family – and is admirably character-driven. In fact the two lead characters – father and daughter – are wonderfully memorable, rich characterisations.
This is essentially the story of a difficult father – \ daughter relationship. The father is 60, divorced and remarried to a younger woman (40-ish). The catalyst for the story is a dinner at which the father reveals to his 2 grown-up daughters that his new wife is pregnant – he is expecting his third daughter at the age of 60 – a half-sibling to his two daughters (both early 30’s).
Predictably this news does not go down well with his two grown-up daughters. Daughter 2 has been trying with her husband for years to conceive and they are now trying to adopt – understandably she sees the cruel irony of her fecund father’s ability to have a new child at age 60.
Daughter 1 – the lead character – is demonstrably furious – always jealous of her father’s affections and going through the fallout of the break-up from her latest of many ex-boyfriends, she is emotionally raw and responds with hurt and anger.
The film then covers the 9 months of the father’s new wife’s pregnancy, focusing on the terrible relationship between father and daughter no.1, JUSTINE.
This awkward relationship is made worse by the daughter’s discovery of her father’s habit of befriending – even employing – many of her ex-boyfriends. When the father attempts to befriend the new love of her life, he freaks the boy out; and the new boyfriend ends up splitting up with Justine.
The film ends with the father’s death in what should have been a routine cardiac procedure (lots of excellent comedy generated by the Jewish father’s kosher anxiety about having his heart valve replaced by a pig’s valve), the new wife giving birth to the father’s new child; and the father’s funeral where Justine is amazed to be reunited with most of her ex-boyfriends.
You’ll notice that there is an element of the SPOILER about this plot summary – and if you’ve been reading my blogs for a long time, you’ll know this is something I normally have very strong feelings about (yes, Philip French).
But I do this advisedly – this wonderful film, ridiculously, has no UK distributor. Your only other chance to see it in the UK is at the Cornerhouse Manchester next Tuesday Nov 13th.
This lack of a UK distribution deal is something it has in common with many of the best films I’ve seen at the London Film Festival over the last few years – and this is a real shame.
It reinforced for me how culturally insular we are in the UK in many ways – and this from someone who lives in London.
The best 2 films I’ve seen in the past few months have been French – this film and the wonderful ‘Dans La Maison‘.
The general quality of mainstream Hollywood films is questionable and getting more so by the year! I went to last night’s film with my 18 year old son – he thought it was incomparably better than the last two films he’d seen (‘Taken 2’ and ‘Skyfall’).
These fantastically well-written, original French films also reminded me how, in the cinema, we see everything through the prism of Hollywood values.
One of the interesting things SIMON BEAUFOY talked about at the London Screenwriters festival was how mid-range budget films are being squeezed out – most films are either mega-budget or micro-budget. The intelligent, low-concept £4m or £5m film is increasingly hard to get funding for.
An element these two French films had in common was a sub-plot poking fun at modern abstract art – both these sub-plots were narratively and thematically connected to the main plot in a way that reflected the brilliance of both these screenplays.
But this nod to abstract art felt uniquely French – I just couldn’t imagine this sort of thing in the equivalent US or even UK films – which reminded me of the cultural (and imaginative) richness of so many films from outside the Hollywood system, and of Hollywood’s cultural imperialism.
Without wishing to come on all Francophile here, when was the last time I saw a modern French play in London? (OK Yasmin Reza is the exception that proves the rule!) or read a modern (translated) French novel?
The big exception to this isolation is the current vogue for Scandanavian novels, films and TV series – so many of them are so good! Just think of the riches from around the rest of the world we must be missing as we troop wearily out of ‘Taken 2’, ‘Paranormal Activity 4’, Looper…and don’t even get me started on Star Wars – more Star Wars films from Disney!
What this film (THE DAY I SAW YOUR HEART) also did was act as a bit of a wake-up call after the 10 or so Channel 4 course script entries I read yesterday.
These scripts I read yesterday were, almost without exception, depressing. Too many of them were about miserable people leading miserable lives without hope.
I have read too many scripts whose sub-text seemed to be that there is integrity in misery. But we all need HOPE – whether it is in life or fiction!
Even the most downbeat recent British movies – I’m thinking TYRANNOSAUR or Samantha Morton’s THE UNLOVED – had such strong strains of humanity and hope – they were ultimately inspiring.
One of the things I feel that should be too obvious to say to writers but that writers occasionally need reminding of is – don’t forget to BE ENTERTAINING!
THE DAY I SAW YOUR HEART had a few laugh-out-loud moments – but better than that – I watched the whole film with a stupid grin on my face – because it had charm and humanity. And what a relief it was after the joylessness of some of the scripts I’ve read recently.
This film also made me think about the importance of the one sentence pitch (logline?) – in this case in marketing the film to an audience but, more practically for writers, in selling your idea to a producer at the outset.
I chose this film as the one film I wanted to see out of the 84 page UK Jewish Film Festival brochure. The line that sold it to me?
‘A slick seriocomedy about a dysfunctional family.‘
That – and the title – just sounded like a film I wanted to see – and I was right.
Until next week,
May your lives and scripts be full of hope and happiness!
November 9th 2012