Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wild Reeds and Drug Mules

Last night GH and I watched Wild Reeds (1994), directed by André Téchiné. As an imdb reviewer observes, the film’s slight looseness does not matter in what is essentially, and beautifully, an insightful depiction of French coming-of-age in the time of the Algerian war. The title comes from the La Fontaine fable about the oak and the reed.

François Forestier (Gaël Morel), the model student who discovers he is gay, is the reed. He bends in the wind between the oaks: his Communist girlfriend Maïté Alvarez (Élodie Bouchez), his crush Henri Mariani (Frédéric Gorny), a pied-noir, an Algerian-born Frenchman, and his seducer Serge Bartolo (Stéphane Rideau) who lost his older brother to the war.

Politically uncommitted, sexually undecided, emotionally yearning, François is instrumental in bringing together his friends in the last extended scene of the movie. Swimming in the river or making love on its bank, the teenagers put down for an afternoon their burdens of loss and commitment, and relate to each other as bending reeds.

Maria Full of Grace (2004) was another movie on my Netflix queue for a while. I finally watched it last Friday. First-time director Joseph Marston made the movie after hearing her story from a neighbor in Brooklyn. Shot in documentary style, the film made astonishing use of its low budget. Sharp script (also written by Marston), convincing acting, unfussy cinematography.

Headstrong María Álvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno), fired from her job of stripping roses of thorns, made pregnant by a boyfriend that she does not love and refuses to marry, decides to work as a drug mule, entering the USA with sixty-two pellets of cocaine in her stomach. After escaping the dealers, María wanders in a Queens neighborhood that I recognize. I think of Jackson Heights as a place for great Indian food. Gripping stories like María’s walk around in it too.

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