Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Lucile Hadzihalilovic, France, 2004 (9.5*)
This is an amazing, mesmerizing, hypnotic film, with some of the most beautiful images in cinema. Newcomer Lucile Hadzilalilovic has adapted a novella by Frank Wedekind (I believe it's translation from the French is "The Physical Education of Young Girls"), and has created a coming-of-age story in a myserious world all it's own.

Zoé Auclair plays a new arrival, Iris, at a secluded school for orphan girls hidden in a deep forest park, isolated from the outside world. The other girls welcome her, and reassure her with their calm, protective aura of self-reliance. She is most comforted by the oldest girl in her house, Bianca, played by the beautiful Bérangère Haubruge, who becomes like a big sister. In fact, all the girls are beautiful in their own way; you get the idea that maybe they've been selected for that reason.

It appears that the girls' schooling consists primarily of dance, and Oscar®-winning best actress Marion Cotillard plays the ballet instructor in one of her early supporting roles. Hélène de Fougerolles plays the only other instructor that both the girls and Cotillard seem to have interaction with, as the children are usually left on their own with the eldest (young teens) taking charge; they seem to respect the rules and maintain a self-disciplined civility.

However, there are mysteries - Bianca goes off to a mysterious location nightly, and says it's a secret she can't mention. A certainly elderly woman simply called the headmistress shows up once a year and selects one girl to take away. The entire park is surrounded by a giant stone wall, in effect making the school a type of prison. Rumors abound; one is that if you try to escape, you'll never be let outside again, and that's why Cotillard and Fougerolles teach there.

There are numerous literate metaphors used here. The film starts with water bubbling, and it is constantly in use throughout the film - the girls swim in a pond, there's a major rainstorm, a rowboat, also a bath. In literature, water can be for cleansing, baptism, or represent the troubles of the material world, such as floods, rough waters, raging rivers. The girls are often shown caterpillers, butterflies, and even dance a ballet as butterflies - the tranformation from girl to woman is an obvious metaphor, but it's done with artistic grace if not subtlety.

This is a very sensual film, the images are accompanied by touch, sound, even smell, and the audience is thereby immersed in the film more than just cerebrally. This is an amazingly poetic and beautiful piece of filmmaking, captivating the viewer by its own private world like few in cinema history .

Winner of 8 film awards, most for film or director at film festivals, but one for it's beautiful cinematography. If the Oscars® really represented the best films, this would have had 6-8 nominations, it's easily a better, more artistic dance film and woman's film than Black Swan. It's amazing that Hadzihalilovic hasn't directed any films since this one in 2004.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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