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Ponette (1996)

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I recently noticed (M)Leary viewed this movie. I saw this many years ago and believe it is quite possibly the best movie I have ever seen dealing with the death of a loved one. Specifically, the quiet agony a child endures at the loss of their parents; one parent to death and the other to the overwhelming emotion of grief.

Being the father of a 9 1/2 month old little boy I have had the pleasure of watching him grow and develop a relationship with his mom. Watching this bond grow has given me a different sense of the emotional turmoil a child would go through at this loss. The tie a child has with their mother is moving, beyond amazement!!

Victoire Thivisol provides a stirring performance as 4-year-old Ponette. If any child actor ever deserved an Academy Award it would be her in this role. She carries the film beautifully.

The Cinematographer provides visuals to express Ponette's loss, loneliness and adjustment perfectly. Gorgeously lit with a soft focus.

Interested in hearing other thoughts.


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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This film easily made my top-ten list for 1997. I actually wrote a double-review of this film and M. Night Shyamalan's much inferior Wide Awake for ChristianWeek back then because both films were about children looking for God after the death of a loved one, but at the last minute, the studio put off the release of Wide Awake until some time in 1998, so I reviewed only Ponette for the other Christian paper that I write for.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Peter - I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw that you replied wink.gif

You're review is right one the mark. I am glad to see it in your top 10 for 1997. I currently have it in my top 10. A film everyone should see.


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Ponette is the collusion of everything good about French cinema since the 60's. It uses children as a picture of ourselves and how we choose to deal with things, and casts the perfect child actors that literally flower under expert, sensitive direction. (Truffaut). It has an intelligent and gripping dialogical atmosphere (Rohmer). It sweeps us along through intensely personal chamber sequences in which we watch our central character going about their daily life as a reflection of recent environmental changes(Ozon, Chabrol). It has an explicit use of sound as a means of texturing scenes differently (Godard, Resnais).

I could go on and on. But put simply Ponette is an ideal French film, and should stand beside The Dreamlife of Angels as two "must-sees" of the last decade. Watch both of those, and you have pretty much seen everything good about French film since Renoir.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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(M)Leary wrote:

: Ponette is the collusion of everything good about French cinema since the 60's.

Fascinating analysis, (M)Leary.

: But put simply Ponette is an ideal French film, and should stand beside

: The Dreamlife of Angels as two "must-sees" of the last decade.

And just as Ponette made my top-ten list for 1997, The Dreamlife of Angels was my favorite film of 1999. Two superlative films, definitely.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I could go on and on. But put simply Ponette is an ideal French film, and should stand beside The Dreamlife of Angels as two "must-sees" of the last decade. Watch both of those, and you have pretty much seen everything good about French film since Renoir.

Outstanding analysis.

The Dreamlife of angels was my fave pic for my April first-time viewings this year, and Ponette is #1 in my Netflix queue.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Leary, I want a hardbound, autographed copy of your book the day it gets back from the printer.

And let me join the chorus of praise for Ponette... one of the most beautiful films I've seen. While the conclusion doesn't quite sustain the power that has been built and sustained for most of its running time, I would be hard pressed to think of a better way to end it. And Thivisol (who, by the way, grew up to be Binoche's daughter in Chocolat) is astonishing. I wouldn't know how to to describe or explain what she accomplishes.

Reminds me somewhat of the performance of the blind boy in Majid Majidi's <i>The Color of Paradise</i>.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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There were many things i loved about Ponette in my first viewing tonight. The children and their absolutely brilliant acting, the innocence with which they touched and interacted with each other, the kisses, the tenderness... the close-up camera shots that rarely departed from the kids themselves, barely even showing any background, projecting the theme of a universe that only spins around a child's world and showing us that they know nothing outside of their own creation. I also loved the theological themes that kept emerging in the quest for Ponette to come to terms with the death of her mother, how the kids would confuse and intermingle all sorts of religious concepts in the process of trying to either help her along or frustrate her even further. That in itself showed me that we adults are more like little kids than we think, which is great if you understand the words of Jesus when he says that we must have childlike faith in order to come to Him... the only problem with childlike faith, as displayed so perfectly in Ponette is that you can be told anything and you'll believe it.

I absolutely loved the cinematography in the scenes where Ponette is at first in the car with her dad, who is struggling with trying to understand all of this himself, and then outside the car when he finally explains everything to her. The shots from the backseat are so claustrophobic, as if in the relationship between this dad and daughter the camera can't come up for air. Later when she is trying to slide down the windshield and he is spitting an oath into her hand, his words "Your mother is dead," weigh like a stone in her heart. This young actress, who was six at the time of Ponette's release, has the perfect inflection and aptitude to drive the point home. In simple terms, she was amazing. How did this director pull this out of her, and all the other kids as well?? Her part here reminded me of Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes, but in terms of actual looks and mannerisms she was SO Lynne Ramsay Jr! The beauty of a film like Ratcatcher, at least in its acting capabilities, was multiplied tenfold here.

As in Ratcatcher, the playground which fills up with garbage bags and represents all of the mediocrity and guilt of the people who parent these kids, here in Ponette we have a playground that represents a sort of religious indoctrination. When Ponette meets Ada she is taken thru a series of levels to become a child of God. Jump a certain way, do this, do that -- and then you will be a child of God and then God will talk to you. Complete legalism represented here, folks. And later the playground also turns into a place of guilt and condemnation when Ponette is told that "you killed your mother... when someone's mother dies it's because her kid was mean... It serves you right that she's dead." The heaping on of the weights we carry, the salt in all of our wounds has not been represented so well as in this scene.

But it's not without redemption, and in one way or another Ponette finds grace at the end of the film. Like Tykwer's Heaven, the ending is left open to different interpretations. Perhaps we should have an interpretive thread to see what everyone thinks. But also like Tykwer's film, the camera pans upward at the end, this time in a reversal of Heaven -- it's not so much that the sky has been watching us, but now it's that we are looking up for the answers.

Who can piece together all of the pain of the death of a loved one? And who can understand all of the different things people believe about it? Ponette is perfect in that is demonstrates the many ways that we allow our ideals to become convoluted and we allow are heads to become confused. It shows us this thru the perfection of a child, struggling to understand the adult world of death, but not wanting to grow up and comprehend it all too fast.

Thanks, for the rental Asher. It only took you about -- what, a year? and then a thread?? -- to finally get me to see it.

Magnificent.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I think this is a new record in efficiency for Netflix: They have actually reported Ponette returned to them by me before I even received the movie!

Yes! They sent it out on Wednesday, with a target due date of Saturday. Really I would ordinarily get it on Thursday or Friday. But instead, on Friday I got an email saying "We've received 'Ponette'! Rate it now!"

With efficiency like that, no wonder they had such a great third quarter!


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I absolutely loved the cinematography in the scenes where Ponette is at first in the car with her dad, who is struggling with trying to understand all of this himself, and then outside the car when he finally explains everything to her.

Good insights here. I do value the ability of French directors to step back from their stories and let them unfold. They have they knack for finding scripts that are larger than themselves, so all they can do in directing is a sort of concerted gesture every now and then. Kind of like batting a tetherball as it swings around to keep it in flight. They don't have the need to "tell" us the story through the visual micro-management of every scene.

But at the same time these scripts are never larger than life. Sean Penn recently said: "Good films are able to create poetry without creating worlds that we cannot touch." In a film like Ponette there is a specific rendering of a common reality that doesn't try to describe anything that stands outside of it, but simply tries to capture the reality itself unquestioned and unembellished. Fleeting as it is Ponette is nothing more than an extended moment, the line of a poem about death, or something along those lines.

i]Ratcatcher, the playground which fills up with garbage bags and represents all of the mediocrity and guilt of the people who parent these kids, here in Ponette we have a playground that represents a sort of religious indoctrination.

Great connection there Stef. This is a great example of what leads to the typical "French ending" (as opposed to the Hollywood ending) that leaves a bad taste in people's mouth. Most notably, the suprising ending of The 400 Blows, the non-ending of Last Year at Marienbad, or even the cyclical/gently cynical closure of Dreamlife of Angels. The story itself is all about something inside of its characters, something transcendent in the case of little Ponette, but always something that is open to suggestion and experience because it is explicitly human. How do you resolve a "story" like this? The same way such things are resolved in life, with a brief flicker of understanding, a quiet gesture that only those intimately involved with the emotional arc of the story pick up, or some sort of iconic personal image. Tykwer's ending of Heaven (though not French) is a great example of this. He recognizes that though the themes he is dealing with are transcendent, he is dealing with them in terms of film. Thus he leaves us with what film has to offer: an image. An image that in some way carries away with it the meaning of the film.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Don't tell him, (m). He's clearly put off by how intelligent i sound there.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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(M)Leary wrote:

: Thus he leaves us with what film has to offer: an image. An image that in

: some way carries away with it the meaning of the film.

Oh, well put.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Okay, I finally got this one back in my Netflix queue and just finished watching it.

Just a devastating film. Crushing, agonizing, all because it's so completely true to life... at least, until it isn't.

I am of course hung up on the end, and am not sure I buy the logic of Peter's review that the director is trying to confound all answers to Ponette's crisis, including so-called realists. Even granted the veridicality of Ponette's experience, I doubt if many realists would feel confounded -- they would simply feel, as Peter mentions in the previous paragraph, that after 85 minutes of honest exploration the director has simply tacked on a dishonest and sentimental ending.

But are we quite certain of the veridicality of Ponette's experience? I for one find that I prefer the ending if it's happening in Ponette's imagination, and I'm not at all convinced we're meant to believe otherwise.

Other thoughts?


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Hope this isn't redundant, though that's entirely possible since I've skipped reading any of this thread so as not to spoil the film, which I intend to watch. But in the likely event that nobody's posted this, here's Kathleen Norris's contribution to the IMAGE Journal edition that was dedicated to film (#20). "IMAGE asked a variety of writers, filmmakers and screenwriters to discuss the film(s) that most powerfully influenced their spiritual lives."

KATHLEEN NORRIS

In recent years PONETTE, a Frence film about a four-year-old girl struggling to come to terms with her mother's death, struck me as startlingly honest, in that her father and her maternal aunt, who is deeply religous, feel pressed to say all sorts of things to the child about life and death and God. To Ponette their words are both reassuring and hurtful, helpful and confusing. Other children try to make sense of matters in their own puffed-up but hopelessly incompetent language. (One scene, in which a girl confidently expounds on the difference between Catholics and Arabs, is a comic delight). The effect of the movie was to make me ponder the fallibility of all our language about religion, and to be thankful for the grace that can allow this child to make her own peace with God, and with the memory of her mother.

(She also mentions OLD YELLER, THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS, THE SILENCE and THE DEAD.)


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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SDG wrote:

: I for one find that I prefer the ending if it's happening in Ponette's imagination,

: and I'm not at all convinced we're meant to believe otherwise.

Even though she comes back wearing the sweater her mother gave her?


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Peter T Chattaway wrote:

: I for one find that I prefer the ending if it's happening in Ponette's imagination,

: and I'm not at all convinced we're meant to believe otherwise.

Even though she comes back wearing the sweater her mother gave her?

She might have had it in her backpack.

The larger point, though, is that while I don't find the ending very redemptive either way, I find it even less so if I think of Ponette's experience as real.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Another film I caught up on for the 100 list. I'd heard people mention it here and elsewhere, but it's not currently available at Netflix (apparently it was once, judging by the thread), so I didn't know how I'd get to see it. But this afternoon, I found it on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekHiMIH98vE. The quality is what you'd expect from YouTube, but it's better than nothing. A lot better, in this case.

As other people have mentioned (7 years ago), the girl's performance is amazing. It's the best child performance I've ever seen. The other child actors were great, too; Thivisol definitely carries the movie, but she has help. I also agree with what Stef said about the questions of the children mirroring the questions I still have as a sort-of grown up.

A few posters here mentioned Heaven in the thread, so I'll point out that even though it wasn't a French film, it was written by Kieslowski and Piesiewicz, who worked a lot in French cinema, even though they were Polish themselves.


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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I gave it a five when I saw it last week in the vote. It doesn't change the fact that I still need to see it again.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Finally saw this recently, and even watching it on Youtube it is stunning, absorbing, and heartbreaking. There's so much I can't put into words, but I don't think I've ever seen a film that better captures the mindset of a child in dealing with the most difficult circumstances, even if it doesn't always make the most sense to me as an adult. I think this is the film's brilliance. I see the ending as consistent to the process, a kind of divine grace at work.

Edited by Crow

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Ponette is now streaming from Netflix.

Thanks a lot guys, I don't remember hearing any warnings from anyone how much of a wreck you're going to be after you're finally finished watching this one for the first time.

So, anyone who hasn't seen it yet, be warned. Also, see it now while you still have the chance.

I personally found nothing that objectionable to the ending. In fact, it sort of reminded me of Danny Boyle's Millions. How old is this actress during the film - four? And looks like her character, Ponette, is supposed to be four years old as well. I actually believe God really makes allowances for children that young at times, and it's not necessarily against what Christianity teaches to think that some young children are granted to see otherworldly things of God that us grown-ups aren't (think Wings of Desire). Tremendous stuff. Now I'm going to make some friends and family watch this, without warning them of the consequences, just because sometimes I'm a mean person myself.

Edited by Persiflage

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In fact, it sort of reminded me of Danny Boyle's Millions. How old is this actress during the film - four? And looks like her character, Ponette, is supposed to be four years old as well.


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Boy, this really is Ordet for children, isn't it? And I mean that as a great compliment.

I like this idea, but do you mean this is a film that would be good for showing to children? Has anyone shown this film to their kids?

Out of the entire Top 100 list, this is the film most likely to dissolve your friends and family members into tears. After my own first viewing, I have been able to show this film twice (once to family, once to friends). Both times, they all cried and later demanded that I warn them in advance next time I'm going to make them sit through anything this heart-wrenching ever again. My dad, who is usually pretty stoic during tearjerkers, finally lost it during Ponette's middle-of-the-night prayer.

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the film most likely to dissolve your friends and family members into tears

Have you seen Make Way for Tomorrow yet?

I do see some parallels between Ordet and Ponette in that they're both extended conversations about different--and sometimes competing--conceptions of faith. And they both end in miracles, of course.

A few days ago, a friend who recently became a father for the first time mentioned on Facebook that he was becoming annoyed by the well-intentioned people who assumed that the birth of his daughter had helped him overcome the recent loss of his brother. I told him I'd had similar experiences lately, and we ended up having a good conversation about "closure" and about the comforting stories we tell each other in order to give meaning to our tragedies. I thought of that conversation often while watching Ponette and actually found myself sympathizing with this little girl. Everyone makes every effort to help her make sense of her mother's death, but their explanations necessarily contradict each other and they seem to be more for the teller's benefit than for Ponette's.

I hope I don't drift into heresy here, but I think of faith, in general, as a kind of wish-fulfillment. It's a way of assigning a nice, clean narrative to our lives: I was born into a fallen world, I suffer through the toils of human history as written by God, but it's a story of redemption and will have a happy ending. That makes it so much easier for us to deliver platitudes when we're touched by horrific, senseless tragedy: "We can't understand God's perfect plan." "Your loved one is in a better place." "See? You may have suffered in the past, but look at this new joy in your life. Everything worked out for the best!"

I love that Ponette and Ordet both give lie to some of those platitudes--"but I loved her body, too" Mikkel says, in what is maybe the most devastating line I've ever heard spoken in a film--while also reaffirming and revealing the transcendent. I have to admit that when it comes to the ultimate questions of faith, I feel more like Ponette than the more learned and churched adults in Ordet. I'm overwhelmed at times by the senseless misery in this world, and the explanations I've been given don't seem to make a hell of a lot of sense, but I keep trying to pray anyway, and I keep putting my faith in things eternal, hopeful that my wishes will be fulfilled.

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