Mini Reviews #5: La Famille Belier and The Guest

La Famille Belier (2014)

The Belier Family follows Paula Belier, the sixteen year old daughter who happens to be the only hearing member of the Belier family. Acting as the family’s interpreter for both their work and home life, Paula has become an indispensable member of the unit. But their lives get a little bit shaken when a music teacher discovers that Paula is a gifted singer, and encourages her to audition for a singing contest in Paris and perhaps secure herself a college degree in the process. Can the Belier family make it without Paula? Can Paula have the courage to take flight and leave her family behind?

I don’t really see a lot of foreign films in general, and French films in particular. It’s not because I don’t like them, it’s just that they’re not as obtainable from where I’m from. And you know, they get swamped by all the American films on my watch list. Anyway enough excuses, the good news is last year I managed to see two French films and fall in love with Isabelle Huppert. Mia Hansen-Love’s Things To Come (2016), and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016)  were among my top 2016 films. So this year, I thought I’d go and make an effort to see more French (or foreign) films. La Famille Belier came to my attention when Lily watched it during the 20th French Film Fest back in 2015. Took me two years to get to it, I know. Anyway back to La Famille Belier. It is far from perfect but it is one of those movies where you kind of gloss over the issues because it will Care-Bear Stare you with charm and warmth. The scene where the parents and brother attend Paula’s first concert was a standout because of the brilliant idea to have all audio cut off, so just like the Belier family, we get to feel what it’s like to not be able to hear your child sing, and to merely rely on the reactions of the rest of the concert goers in attendance. And to have the father ask Paula for a private encore and placing his hand on Paula’s throat because feeling the vocal chord vibrations is as close as he can get to listening was an absolute soul crusher. But the movie has the tendency to feel like an over-the-top sitcom, with exaggerated acting or gags that run till overkill, so much so that the intimacy gets lost. But like I said, it is hard not to like this movie, thanks largely to Louane Emera. And  just like her character, she is as indispensable and crucial to this movie as Paula is to the Belier family. Hers is an honest and unaffected performance that truly makes this film shine. And she has the voice of an angel to boot.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Guest (2014)

The Guest follows a soldier named David Collins who, fresh from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, unexpectedly shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, introducing himself as the best friend of their son and fallen U.S. soldier, Caleb. Mrs. Peterson, in the throes of grieving the loss of Caleb, welcomes David into their home. Mr. Peterson and Luke (the younger brother) quickly falls into the spell that David seems to be adept at casting. He acts as the father’s drinking buddy and the son’s big brother of sorts. But daughter Anna begins to have suspicions when the death toll in their town starts to rise. And maybe, just maybe, David Collins is not who he says he is.

Because after seeing Beauty and the Beast (2017) I wanted more of Dan Stevens’ piercing baby blues, hence The Guest. And the movie does give us a lot of steely stares and heart melting gazes…and we get to see more than his eyes here too…wink wink. Anyhu, back to The Guest, this movie is not really one specific genre, it’s a thriller, horror, action and comedy movie in one. It’s crazy, I know. But Adam Wingard manages to skillfully mash all these genres up into a slick looking movie. It ends up having a nostalgic, old 80s movie feel too, which I love. But this whole film won’t work had it not been for Dan Stevens. Who knew he had this kind of character in his range. No discernible trace of his British sensibilities here. He truly transformed into David Collins, a former soldier who worms his way into the family of his best friend and fellow soldier Caleb. He manages to be all endearing, polite and warm, but at the same time, you can feel that there is something very shady and sinister underneath his Southern charm. The movie though suffers from third act problems. The funhouse chase scene borders on ridiculous. And it almost killed the movie. Almost but not quite. Because as far as genre movies go, The Guest will still do you proud. Not enough to become a cult film, but yeah go see it for a new brand of Dan Stevens outside of his Downton Abbey mold.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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