Saturday 20 January 2018

Feminists on the front line in France

* Summertime (16, 105mins), 4 Stars
* Mom and Me (PG, 77mins), 3 Stars
* Men & Chicken (15A, 104mins), 3 Stars

Romance: Cecile de France stars in 'Summertime'.
Romance: Cecile de France stars in 'Summertime'.

Feminism is such a debased word these days that men who want to curry favour use it to describe themselves. Once upon a time it actually meant something, and in Catherine Corsini's Summertime we meet two women who battled on equality's front line.

French rock singer Izia Higelin is Delphine, a strong and capable farmer's daughter who comes to Paris in 1971 to study and is drawn to a group of radical feminists who meet at her university. Delphine is a lesbian and becomes smitten with one of the leaders, a blonde firebrand called Carole (Cecile de France).

Carole has a boyfriend and initially resists Delphine's shy advances, but eventually she succumbs. When Delphine's father has a debilitating stroke, she's forced to return home to run the family farm. And when Carole follows her she quickly discovers that ideas about equality and sexual liberation have no currency in the countryside.

Ms Corsini's story is brought stirringly to life by fine performances from Izia Higelin, Cecile de France and Noemie Lvovsky, who plays Delphine's mother. I could have done with a bit more politics and a bit less breathless sisterly romance, but Summertime does succeed in immersing you in its heady historical setting.

Irish documentary-maker Ken Wardrop charmed everyone with his 2010 feature debut 'His & Hers', a moving and funny film which used straight-to-camera interviews to chart the love lives of midlands women young and old. What was most remarkable about it was the knack Mr Wardrop had for putting strangers at their ease and encouraging them to spill the beans.

Of course in America that kind of persuasiveness isn't necessary because everyone yearns to tell you their life story, as we quickly discover in Mom and Me.

Wardrop's low-key documentary was filmed in and around Oklahoma City, a no-nonsense Midwestern burg that reckons it's "the manliest city in the US". But instead of macho men we find teary, emotional chaps who are hopelessly devoted to their mammies.

Those men come from all walks of life: there's a mournful convict who knows he should have listened to his mom; a disabled teenage boy whose no-nonsense mother has helped make his life rich and meaningful; and a rueful Native American man who lives for his daily chess games with his frail, 80-something mother.

These and other stories are given universality by Wardrop's sensitive editing and the comments of an Oklahoma talk show host called Joe Cristiano, whose rueful musings form a framing device for this slight but likeable film.

Odd is the word that best sums up Men & Chicken, a diverting but ultimately unhinged Danish drama starring Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik as two rather eccentric brothers. Gabriel (Dencik) is a skittish philosophy professor who dry-wretches at the drop of a hat, while Elias (Mikkelsen) masturbates compulsively and doesn't seem too bright. On his deathbed, their father breaks the news that they were adopted, and that their biological dad was a famous scientist who lived on a remote island called Ork.

When the brothers travel there, they find a ramshackle house populated by three dishevelled, childish men who turn out to be their half-brothers. And as they dig deeper, Elias and Gabriel unearth evidence of extraordinary experiments with terrifying implications for them.

Men & Chicken starts out winningly, charged with a vulgar slapstick energy that's exemplified by Mr Mikkelsen's hilarious turn as a kind of x-rated village idiot. But midway through, the comedy fizzles out in favour of Cronenberg-like horror, an odd mix that doesn't quite work.

Irish Independent

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