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Month: May 2016

A l’intérieur (Inside – 2007)

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The Boy is Mine

Biblically simple, Inside has only five short expository scenes before The Woman is unleashed to attack The Mother, in a way Jean Eustache had never dreamed of – or have nightmares about when writing La Maman et la Putain. The Mother had a car accident in which she loses her husband, but the baby she’s pregnant with is fine, confirms her obstetrician; she meets an ominous nurse, then her estranged mother on the hospital parking lot. Her boss confirms she’s a a great photographer. Fast forward to almost delivery time, in a suburban home incongruously bearing a 666 address – no French house has such a number, but it displays some ambition from the film makers to transcend their national market. And so they do, in the best French horror movie of its decade.

These initial scenes establish that Alysson Paradis (Vanessa’s younger sister) is unable to act; fortunately what will be required of her in the rest of the movie is to scream, to crawl and be terrorised by The Woman, quite splendidly played by Beatrice Dalle, tapping deep into her inner witch. The Woman wants The Mother’s baby, see, and nothing will stop her to rip it off her womb. There goes a tightly paced, gory thriller not quite any other.

Inside, as its title indicates, is claustrophobic to the point of slapstick. The Mother hardly leaves the bathroom she has found refuge in, mostly being successful in keeping the Woman, well, outside. Various intruders unwillingly come to her rescue – her boss, her mother, a police team featuring a petty thief they have previously arrested – that The Woman dispatches by way of a firearm, a knife, a knitting needle or her weapon of choice, scissors. Big ones. Not that she doesn’t go through hell herself in the process.

The Mother is a survivor because she carries life; The Woman has nothing to lose she hadn’t already. Both will inflict pain on the other, until the brilliant – and utterly logic, for once – finale, playing like an atrocious fairy tale. Inside is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, to quote Mary Shelley about Lord Byron. It’s definitely no date movie, or if it is, one of you puppies is definitely sick. Highly recommended.

IMDB page

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Urban Monthy Colombia: Cartagena


Cartagena de Indias, as it is traditionally called, is a hot (in all senses) mix of beautiful colonial architecture, warm and unobstrusive people and shops of all trades, as it has always been a seaside villegiature of choice for the well off locals – and since its historical center is on the UNESCO list, visitors from across the world.

Here one can stay in a profusion of heritage buildings converted to hotels, some modest and some luxurious, eat great food and shop for the most modest of goods or high end designers, including an impressive array of Colombian ones.

But it’s the intense street life which makes one happy to visit Cartagena and impatient to return there. Day or night, the tiny streets are bustling with people chatting, selling stuff, partying in bars or just living their everyday life. The place is full of energy, and this is good energy. Do not miss it!

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Mortelle Randonnée (Deadly Circuit – 1983)

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Capital in Czechoslovakia, four letters.

The closest you can get to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in French is by watching Mortelle Randonnée. It’s a haunted classic a stellar noir and a fatherhood fable rolled into one. You thought you got that one right, Hollywood? Let’s take a trip down memory lane, thirty three years ago.

The movie is Shakespearian but mundane. It includes the best giallo murder not filmed by Argento. It does not end well. It is devastating, devastatingly so.

The original material is a pulp novel by Marc Boehm, titled The Ice Maiden. Hollywood remade it with Ashley Judd and Ewan McGregor as The Eye of the Beholder (1999, obviously losing the paternal dimension. The movie is about what you see and what to refuse to see; what you chose to see instead. Scopophilia and fantasy, spectacle and dream.

Main character The Eye (Michel Serrault, formidable), is tasked by his bitchy boss, the fantastically named Mme Schmidt-Boulanger (Genevieve Page, a monument to French diction) to follow and report on the heir of a Belgian shoe-making dynasty. He soon discovers said heir has been victim of a praying mantis (Isabelle Adjani), whose neuroses reflect his: she’s lost her father and him his daughter. Only at the end of the movie those two will come across and both will die, one symbolically. A feel-good movie it is not, even though it ends on a soothing note.

The Eye is jaded by a job too easy for his capacities. One look, just one look, case closed. But the Ice Maiden proves to be a tough nut to crack, leading him off track, across Europe and within himself. His opening monologue is anything but a conventional voice-over. It deceptively sets The Eye as a man in need. He’s not. It’s all crosswords for him, enigmas piled on riddles. He’s looking for meaning. He won’t find any, or only of the darkest kind. A quantum of solace, too.

It starts in Paris by a carousel and drifts from there, under the pretense of PI work. If you speak French, the movie is delectable from start to finish : it was the last one to benefit from the work of dialog-writer Michel Audiard, father of director Jacques Audiard and author of some of the most cultish sentences in French cinema. It’s the French version of screwball comedy, both elegantly written and playfully delivered. Actors here do not miss a syllable or a comma for effect. It’s clockwork, respectfully served by director Claude Miller.

The Virgo, symbol of the sweetness of things is revealed as a Capricorn, symbol of winter. In the novel horoscopes played an important role and so do they in the movie. Lucie (the light), as she is first introduced, bumping on The Eye by a carrousel, has no plan. She is adrift, as he is. The eye has to travel, so he will follow her, fuming but enthralled.

She fucks men and kill them singing La Paloma (the dove), another virginal deceit from a witch. There is a lot of blood on the first murder scene. The Eye decides to let it slide and they embark on a not-so-merry-go-round. She’s now Eve, another maiden. She reaches the peak of her trade: “A mink! Emeralds! What a nice companion you are!” she enthused before killing a second guy she was engaged under a third name. She’s a child, she has no ethics or guilt. She’s a go-getter, whatever it takes.

Guilt is on The Eye’s side after he kills a blind man (ha!), the Ice Maiden’s true love (Sami Frey, dashing). It’s a sacrifice he will regret to exert and try to cope with, to no avail. It’s a zero sum game, a lost-lost. But still they go, relentlessly, from a daylight version of Malcom McLaren’s Madam Butterfly video set in Baden Baden to Rome, where the sacrifice takes place.

The way it spirals downward from there is too painful to tell. A very dark comedy, Mortelle Randonnée is as venomously funny as it is tragic. It leaves a strong, bitter after-taste. One has watched this movie repeatedly and can’t get tired of it. It’s a tantalising object, much too dark to be watched but through the looking glass, and it’s impossible to forget. Impossible to un-see.

IMDB page

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Hotel Ananda, Cartagena

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For your ears only

Very well situated in a quiet street of Cartagena’s colonial heart, the Ananda hotel has it all: a patio with tall palm trees, a small pool with jacuzzi, spacious rooms, terraces and a rooftop jacuzzi/lounge area allowing smoking. And the reputed Carmen restaurant, “one of the very best in Colombia”, underlined the concierge in Bogota.

Problem is, the Ananda hotel does not own the Carmen restaurant, from what one understood from a rather vague explanation. It’s more like they opened the hotel around the restaurant, so you are staying in a hotel, but you follow the restaurant schedule. Early start to set up the kitchen and prepare breakfast, musical ambiance by 11am, lunch clatter, music steadily uptempo during the afternoon – of course there is a bar, and a rather good one at that – diner clatter, cleaning of the kitchen, the works. Except they are a revolving team and you are on your own.

By all means book a room on the 3rd and last floor. The view from up there is nice and you will escape most of the mayhem. Avoid like the plague the first floor, where you will be either next to the restaurant or a very loud jacuzzi.

A reliable interlocutor is Sebastian at Front Desk, who by himself saved one’s stay but could not do much about Carmen. Muchas gracias, Sebastian. Or about their unimaginative breakfast, same everyday, with hardly the level of quality you would expect from an acclaimed restaurant. A most curious case of commensalism, really. If the restaurant was not considered that good (and one has reservations, see below) the hotel would be twice better…

Ananda Cartagena Website

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The Bone Collector (1999)

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Stranger Things Have Happened

Does one remember the naughties, when serial killers walk the Earth, before being wiped out by the triple meteor of vampires/super heroes/zombies? Well, they were quite the shit, that lot, after Seven and The Silence of the Lambs or, should one respect chronology, Manhunter blossomed onscreen. It quickly went downhill after those three, spawning absurdities like 10+ seasons of Criminal Minds and basically most of the thriller genre clichés. Still, some of their strange fruits were brought quite near to ripeness, including this one.

Considering, as it is a rule here, that everyone reading this blog have seen it or might experience a pleasant surprise either enjoying or deriding the movie, one will not recap much of the action (this is reserved for very, very bad oldies). Just know that Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington, good as good can be even though, or because, he’s basically a talking head) a quadriplegic forensic expert, teams with rookie Amelia Dinghy (Angelina Jolie, better at expressing rebellion than emotion at that early stage of her career) to solve a puzzle created by the titular vicious killer, even though no one calls him such during the movie and he’s not really collecting bones. Oh well.

Queen Latifah does a terrific job at incarnating beloved nurse Thelma. Watch her doing nothing but receiving information but oh so well. Lord, the woman is gifted. She swallows the scenes she has nothing to do into, only acting normal and empathetic. If a movie has to be judged by the characters it creates, her performance only is worth your time. She meets a gruesome and undignified end, though, considering she’s black and stuff. Fat, one thinks is the word. One has a secret version of the movie in which the villain is killed when Thelma saves the day, and one thinks it’s a better version because it would spare us a corny ending which does all it can to ruin everything that preceded it. And that’s too bad, because what preceded is far from bad.

Incongruously enshrined in a majestic Craig Armstrong score, The Bone Collector is visually fluid, courtesy of Phillip Noyce, its director. Grue, more left to the imagination than depicted, is vague but merciless. The wagon loses its wheels around the 1:30 mark, because time is not kind to technology and/or twist endings, and there is this embarrassing Christmas finale that no serial killer movie of one’s knowledge has ever attempted, and never will again, one hopes. No one wants a thriller to end like The Cosby Show, with a tie in lieu of a sweater.

As  usual, if one takes the killer’s point of view and rewinds, it’s all smoke and mirrors and the writing does not hold water. But still, the thing is quite good for 90mn, and that is more that one can say of most movies of the same vein. And casting a quadriplegic black hero  with a great black nurse in the same movie is no small achievement. Think talent, no quotas. Feels good.

IMDB page


Restaurant Carmen, Cartagena, Colombia

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Death by Lemongrass

L’amour est comme la citronnelle

Quiconque prétend la cuisiner

Doit se méfier de son appel

Car il convient de le refuser…

Considering the bar had a mean cucumber martini (Hendrick’s gin, of course) and that the first lunch, waiting for one’s room, resulted in the best ceviche of one’s life, temptation was strong to go for the full Carmen experience, a 7 dish degustation menu with wine pairing. One should have remembered Se7en, our topic of the week: gluttony is a deadly sin.

Only too late one realised the person to have recommended the restaurant as “one of the very best in Colombia” was of half-Thai origin. Here it was, looming on one: death by lemongrass. Let’s refere it as “IT” from now on.

As early as the amuse-bouche, an octopus croquette’s aioli was loaded with IT. Little need one guessed that the seed being planted, IT would play under the radar for a while… The first starter, an overcooked shrimp, was accompanied with an improbable alliance of truffle, squid ink and melted camembert. There is definitely something interesting to be done with squid ink and truffle and that is NOT melting camembert on it. Also, it was presented in an eggshell, for some reason. Trompe-l’oeil?

Second starter was an octopus/white fish/shrimp ceviche, with coco tiger milk and wakame. What’s tiger’s milk? Coco milk infused with… IT (and other spices but they bow to IT). So far it was pleasantly exotic. The sugar-an-spice pairing with lambrusco was inspired.

Followed a good crab cake paired with a Chilean Chardonnay, the claws being added for effect and not very rich in flavour. A surprisingly successful tangerine vinaigrette helped with that: that was the best dish of the lot. One should have stopped there. IT was ready to attack.

There was some clams with a lobster sauce (IT took the furtive form of an espuma) totally occulted by other ingredients and too much salt. Argentinian Sauvignon was… duh. There was a revisited Pad Thai mixing prawns, shrimps, soba (ouch!) cold peach, some very bitter algae and once again too much salt – the chef has a real problem with seasoning. And Pad Thai of course means… all together now… IT! LOADS OF IT!

It was that time of a degustation meal you start dreading the next course because it will be worse than the previous. Why was the chef stuttering on IT, with for sole result a succession of identical dishes? One braced oneself.

After a red snapper, paired with a Chilean Merlot, was served with sweet potato, pineapple and banana, a welcome oasis of sweetness in another unsurprisingly over-salted dish, there was a gap. Quite a long one. One was praying for something sweet, anything really. Even a strawberry fountain would have done.

Then fuck, a duck! That was the other good dish of the meal actually, paired with the mandatory Malbec and presented with a blackberry glaze and a foie gras/truffle something. Incongruously, some salad was ruining the plate dressing but IT shone by its absence. Then another gap, even longer. One started building stupid structure balancing tableware. That is never a good sign.

At last dessert arrived, and of course IT was there, laughing, vanquishing one’s appetite, numbing one’s soul: « LEMONGRAAAAAAASS!!!! », one screamed, planting a trembling fork in what revealed itself as guava sherbet under a camembert mousse in tiger’s milk…

Carmen Cartagena Website

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