I’ve been having a bit of an Arthouse Film Moment and have seen some great films recently, with my two viewing buddies: Tristan and Anthea (two films with each of them, so far). I’ve never been a big arty film fan in the past, but I’ve seen four fab films in three weeks and now I’m on a bit of a roll. And I might also be the new president of the Auckland division of the Gérard Depardieu fan club, as he’s starred in all but one of the films.

1. Mammuth

Anthea and I saw this film at the Rialto cinema in Newmarket. It’s about Serge, a recently retired man who needs to revisit several of his past employers and collect crucial paperwork to complete his pension application. He does so by travelling around on his old motorbike and combining his paperwork collection with a mild existential crisis, reflection on past grief, a few days with a spaced out hippy of a niece and a few run-ins with unnecessarily unhelpful thugs and bureaucrats. Typical of a French film, the action is interspersed with a few scenes that make you raise your eyebrows and mouth ‘WTF?’ to your viewing companion. Anthea and I both enjoyed it very much – most of it was hilarious – but the experience was made even better for me when, while waiting for Anthea to use the loo after the film, I overheard two daft women complaining about having watched the entire film by mistake. The relevant cinema suite had been showing the name of a different film on the LCD outside, so we’d checked with a staff member before going in and were reassured that this particular suite was indeed showing Mammuth and that the display was wrong. These two women wanted to see the film that was wrongly listed (I think it was Bridesmaids – it was certainly an English language film), but rather than leaving the room and finding the right film when Gérard Depardieu came on screen and all the French weirdness kicked off, they sat through the whole thing and then complained. Loons.

2. My Afternoons with Margueritte

Tristan and I saw this sweet film at our local arthouse cinema, a few days after I’d seen Mammuth. Gérard Depardieu plays Germain, a virtually illiterate man who is the butt of his friends’ jokes and who has been bullied and mistreated by his mother for his entire life. But he’s a nice guy, which explains how he’s managed to get a relationship going with a very pretty and kind bus driver. Anyway, the story is about Germain meeting Margueritte, a vivacious old lady who shares with him her love of literature and encourages him to develop an appreciation for books himself. As his world is expanded through literature, the changes wrought upon Germain challenge his friends’ perception of him and his own sense of himself – he starts to realise that he is capable of dictating the terms of his own life. It’s a really lovely film.

3. Potiche

This film was flipping hilarious. Anthea and I saw it on Friday and I chortled my way through most of it. It’s based on a successful play and the staging of it makes this plain: lots of set pieces and some fabulously funny song and dance parts (and I wouldn’t usually like this kind of thing in a film). Catherine Deneuve plays Suzanne, a 1970s trophy wife – the ‘potiche’ of the title – who ends up stepping in to run her family’s umbrella factory when her horrible dickhead of a husband has a heart attack. My man Gérard Depardieu is Maurice, the local mayor and MP, a noted communist, and old flame of Suzanne. All sorts of high-jinks ensue and the film is such a treat: shot is trippy, vivid colours and with all the brilliant 1970s fashion and hairstyles that make this era so groovy.

4. The Company Men

After three French language films in a row, I went to a English-speaking film today and enjoying being able to blink occasionally without running the risk of missing some crucial part of the plot. This film was really good and managed to present people who may not ordinarily attract much compassion – highly paid executives who have been laid off in a ‘downsizing’ round – in a sympathetic and realistic way. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper play three managers from the same corporation, all affected by lay-offs in different ways. The film explores how individuals deal with this kind of adversity and I think that it has a good message, despite the relative nature of the characters’ problems (they’re not exactly asking for food parcels). Kevin Costner plays the blue-collar brother-in-law of Bobby, Affleck’s character, and reinforces the idea that family is all we have when it all hits the fan. And man, Ben Affleck has grown up as a talented actor! I have loved him in many films and he does a great job here.

So there you are: four good films. I’d recommend all of them.

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