Beautiful Lies and Anima Mundi review

Director Pierre Salvadori draws on traditional farce in his new film, in cinemas now, starring Audrey Tautou.
Beautiful Lies
I wouldn’t call director Pierre Salvadori a misanthrope, but he could be a cynic. In the offbeat romantic comedies Après Vous and Priceless, he deliberately undermined attractive characters by highlighting their less than attractive behaviour, leaving us uneasily ambiguous toward them. His view of humanity, then, seems jaundiced, because the romcom conventions of empathy and happy-ever-after resolution don’t seem to be what he’s after.
Instead, having distanced us emotionally, he directs our attention to the actors negotiating these tonal changes, and the comedy of the plot complications. And as obvious as the latter are, they do make for amusing distraction. His latest work, Beautiful Lies, is no exception. With Priceless co-writer Benoît Graffin, and its star, Audrey Tautou, he returns to what looks like the south of France – not that film’s flash Côte d’Azur hotels and their perma-tanned guests, but the warm colours and sun-drenched lanes frequented by locals. Tautou is Emilie (sic), the part-owner of a beauty salon, and, as the opening sequence shows, volatile. Yet, she enchants the new odd-job man, Jean (Samie Bouajila), who writes her an anonymous, eloquent love letter.
The letter ends up in the rubbish, but not for long. On impulse, Emilie copies it and sends it to her mother (Nathalie Baye), who’s been mired in depression since her husband left her for a younger woman. It does the trick, but then of course another letter is required, and thus begins the web of deception. And tangled it gets.
Traditional farce has been drawn on here, with coincidences and misunderstandings ramping up the complications and pressuring the characters into revealing their darker sides. As in farce, these characters aren’t explored psychologically or given much of a backstory, but enough intriguing characteristics are implied to make them more than mere types.

What’s interesting to observe is how these actors handle their transformations from nice to nasty. Tautou and Baye – who, incidentally, have worked together before in a beauty salon troubles-with-men chick flick, 1999’s Vénus Beauté Institut – have it relatively easy. Tautou uses and plays off the volatility we’ve seen, and Baye’s change is brief but credible. It’s Bouajila who has to make the biggest leap. While unfamiliar to us here, he has been acting since the early 90s, and even though his character switch from shy and gentle to something much harder is only just believable, he’s entirely convincing in both states. Clearly a versatile actor with that rare quality of being able to play both romantic interest and villain.
As with Salvadori’s previous films, this feels longer than it needs to be, and less substantial than it wants to be. But misanthrope or not, he can still entertain us with our capacity to behave badly.
BEAUTIFUL LIES, directed by Pierre Salvadori. Cinemas and times here.
Anima Mundi
In examining the world from a Gaian perspective, Anima Mundi (“the soul of the world”) risks being seen only by the converted, but with oil spills in the news, its timing may win it a few more. This Australian documentary takes time to settle into, with talking heads firing information and a seeming hotchpotch of imagery, and it may need more than one viewing to make its points stick. Nevertheless, it pulls together energy, economics, climate, population and ecology in a way that does start to make sense. Importantly, it goes on to suggest feasible ways of redressing the problems.  Even the imagery turns out not to be as random as it first seems.
The bias in the choice of interviewees – they include Noam Chomsky and various spokespeople for environmental causes – is deliberate, because, as one says, “Gaia’s a dirty word in science.” There’s probably too much emphasis on the US as villain in the archival footage – clearly it’s not alone – but overall the tone is calm, not emotive; explanatory, not proselytising. And the soundtrack’s good.
At the end, a speaker acknowledges that getting across this point of view is a big ask, but “if you make a good enough film, who knows?”  Indeed. Anima Mundi may not sweep the world as a piece of cinema, but it’s another brick in the wall of awareness.

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