Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
Helené (Sandrine Bonnaire) knocked once, not hearing a response she opened the door with her key. Then she heard their voices in the terrace. “Go ahead” (in English motioned for Helené to go in) they were an American couple who seemed to be lost in each other. As a chamber maid she fixed the bed and tried not to pay attention. A slight breeze blows the thin curtain into the room. Helené felt like she was invading their space, their time together. And yet all they were doing was playing chess. They were both middle aged and still so attractive especially the woman (Jennifer Beals). She was in her nighties, vibrant, smiling and seductive without making any effort to do so. For some reason Helené could not take her eyes away from them.
They’d share knowing smiles. The woman calls out check mate as their hands clasp. Lover’s language needs no words. The camera shoots through the soft thin curtain creating a haze, softening the harsh sunlight. Their affection seemed to make them youthful in Helené’s eyes. She unintentionally peers into other people’s lives and sees what she wants in her own: intimacy, warmth, joy.
The film is entitled “Jouese” (Queen to Play) and is part of the Sandrine Bonnaire retrospective of the French film Festival from June 8-19, 2011 at the Shang Cineplex in Shang Rila Plaza. The opening film is “Le Marquis” (The Marquis) a French produced film shot in Manila and Cebu. The Marquis is directed by Dominique Farrugia and executive produced by Louis Paul Heusaff. His daughter is the famous actress Solenn Heusaff. The closing film for the fest is “The Tree of Life” with Brad Pitt on the 19th. Aureus Solito, Henry Burgos and Raya Martin are the featured director’s on June 12 as a Tribute to Phil. cinema. All of the films have a free entrance on a first com first served basis.
“Queen to Play” is only the latest film for Sandrinne Bonnaire one of the most respected and celebrated French actresses. At age 16 she won a Cesár Most Promising Actress in her debut role in “A Nos Amours” (To Our Loves) and a second one for “Sans Toi Ni Loi” (Vagabond). Perhaps her most important achievement is not as an actress but as director for the documentary about her autistic sister entitled “Elle s’ appelle Sabine” (Her Name is Sabine). The docu won the International Film Critics Federation Prize at Cannes and the Prix France Culture Cinéma in 2008. The Filipino public is gifted with the free screenings of all three films which will be included in the retrospective of her work.
Two Hollywood A-list actors join her in this film, Jennifer Beals and Kevin Kline. Beals is more known these days in the Phil. via “The Chicago Code” in Jack TV. Her role couldn’t be anymore different, in the hit series she’s a tough cop. “Jouese” is able to show her sexy, seductive side that she was initially known for in the film “Flashdance” about the same time Bonnaire became popular in 1983. For Kevin Kline this is the third time he has portrayed a French man, first was “French Kiss” with Meg Ryan (1995) and “Pink Panther” with Steve Martin (2006).
Although Beals’ role may have been limited, that particular scene in the beginning triggered a powerful obsession for Helené. She was a chamber maid who led a relatively idyllic life on Corsica. There could not be a more picturesque part of France than the sunny island. The powder blue sky could only be rivaled with the deeper blue waters of the ocean, which dropped off rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. The green hills, forests, grasslands were the perfect landscape as Helené rode her old rickety bike through country roads. The economy made it difficult for her husband Ange (Francis Renaud) to earn money in the shipyard. Her love for her daughter Lisa (Alexandra Gentil) motivated her to earn by taking in more house keeping clients apart from the inn.
Immediately after watching the American lovers that morning, she runs to her husband working in the shipyard. Ange was surprised with her visit and thought that there was an emergency. He pulled away from her as she started to kiss and hold him not wanting to show such a public display of affection. That was when she started to transfer her need for love to the game that the lovers on the terrace played: chess.
Kevin Kline’s Dr. Kroger is a mean spirited recluse that Helené cleans for. That same day she walks in to his house hearing muffled voices of laughter and even sex coming from his bed room. Kroger hardly remembers Helené’s name and doesn’t notice her when she’s around. Helené later on seeks his help in learning the finer points of chess. By learning the game she grows and discovers a different side of herself.
The French Film Festival is part of Franco Phil, the 2011 French cultural season in the Philippines. Franco Phil is organized by the Embassy of France to the Philippines and the Alliance française de Manille, together with Institut Francais, the Shangri-La Plaza and Shang Cineplex, UP Film Institute, with the support of Total, Air France KLM, L’Oréal Philippines, VEOLIA Water, Axantis Productions, Inc, Marithé François Girbaud, Daniel Hechter, Le Cellier, Bizu, and Pioneer Films, as well as official media partners Manila Bulletin, Sense & Style, Net 25, TALKtv, DZRJ and Spot.ph.