Two New Pictures: A French Bagatelle and an Old School Western

At the Movies

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(From left) The cast of “The Rose Maker”: Marie Petiot, Catherine Frot, Fatsah Bouyahmed and Manel Foulgoc. Photo: Music Box Films

“The Rose Maker”

Arriving just in time for spring comes a new French crowd-pleaser, all about roses ‒ and the people who love and grow them. Timely, too, because “The Rose Maker” (“La Fine Fleur”) is a sweet, deadpan comedy offering a delicate distraction from our current and caustic political and international environment. Its star is a paragon of French stage and screen, Catherine Frot, last seen in the US in a wonderful French paraphrase of the life of the deluded singer Florence Foster Jenkins. (The film, now in area cinemas, is rated PG-13 and runs 95 minutes.) 

The story is simple. Frot plays Eve Vernet, dedicated but smalltime rose breeder, who has inherited a beautiful but modest nursery which is no longer  economically viable. The highpoint of her year is an annual rose competition outside Paris, where she regularly places second to the Lamarzelle company, a corporate outfit that cares more about mass rose production than individual rose quality. To invigorate her output and save the farm, her loyal long-time assistant Vera (Olivia Cote) hires three released prisoners to learn the trade and do the scutwork. The new workers are a mixed trio: Wazir (Fatsah Bouyahmed), the oldest, a complainer desperate for a “permanent contract,” Nadege (Marie Petiot), a painfully bashful young woman, and Fred (Manel Foulgoc), an ex-felon who turns out to be a natural cultivator. 

As the newcomers blend into the work under Eve’s tough but tender guidance, the Vernet team purloins two special roses from the Lamarzelle complex in hopes of producing a new hybrid which will jumpstart their business for the next season and get even with the company, headed by Lamarzelle himself (Vincent Dedienne), that wants to buy Eve out. 

They do everything they can to produce this unique hybrid, only to have their transplants fail, both in strength and fragrance (a hailstorm doesn’t help). Eve is distraught and looks to sell her operation, yet a horticultural miracle arrives when the unassuming Nadege discovers, in the nick of time, a pot of overlooked practice roses that will give Vernet Flowers a new lease on life. 

The small cast does a fine job of realizing their characters, with Fred leading the league as a rough-hewn tough who wakes up to smell the flowers, led by his nose (pardon me) for the blossoms. An actress now in her 60s, Frot (who has made 100 films in the last 50 years) is a great choice for Eve, a rose-obsessive who lives on the edge of her passion but comes through in the end. 

As a film about roses, the production stands out for its vivid rows of colors and sun-draped flower fields, shot by Guillame Deffontaines ‒ a balm for the eyes, especially in luxurious close-ups. “The Rose Maker” is hardly a movie to startle or move one, and there is little risk in its outcome, but it is sweet and charming, making it, as the French say, a lovely bagatelle. 

Brian Presley, as officer Calgrove (center), flanked by two members of his rescue team, stars and directs “Hostile Territory.” Photo: Saban Films

“Hostile Territory”

“Hostile Territory” returns to an old trope of American westerns, that of the trek or the search, here depicted with tension and grit. It tells the story of a family torn apart by war which struggles to reunite through a perilous landscape. It incorporates familiar elements of the genre: battles with hostile Indians in tough terrain while Indian-style pipe music quavers on the soundtrack. (Rated R for serious violence, the film runs 153 minutes and opened in theaters April 22; it will be available later in the month on VOD.)  

“Hostile Territory” is set in the aftermath of the Civil War. Returning home after having been a POW, former Union soldier Jack Calgrove (Brian Presley) learns too late that his wife has died and his three children, presumed orphans, have been shipped on an “orphan train” to a new life farther west. Crushed, Jack searches for his children. Unfortunately, the train is heading deeper into dangerous country where it will cross old enemy lines. Calgrove and another former soldier are joined in their search by a troop of Native American sharpshooters and a freed slave. 

Meanwhile, Calgrove’s oldest son, Phil (Cooper North), must act as head of the family, which picks up other orphans and exiles on the way, whom Phil is asked to adopt. Once in Indian country, the train is attacked by Cheyenne marauders and a gunfight ensues, during which one of the Calgroves is killed and the family must regroup. Jack, on the orphans’ trail, comes upon the aftermath of the slaughter which helps identify their direction. 

The orphan convoy then moves through wintry country, harsh and unforgiving but also beautifully photographed in Colorado locations by veteran cinematographer Mark David. Its rugged but poetic look is reminiscent of earlier Western dramas, such as the classic “The Searchers,” as well as more recent pictures like “Mustang,” “The Rider,” and especially “Hostiles” (2017; directed by Scott Cooper and starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike). 

Eventually, the orphans shift their contingent to two wagons, where they are even more vulnerable to attack. When another tribe threatens them, Jack, his band and his family finally intercepts them and confronts them in a bloody clash. 

Be aware that the frontier battles are rough and bloody affairs, earning a hard R rating. For me, they are also unnecessarily prolonged and, as in so many American Westerns, implausible in that the antagonists are able to subdue each other with a single fatal blow or shot. It makes for a facile finish to what has been mostly a hardbitten saga of the West.

“Hostile Territory” appears to be a very personal project for actor Brian Presley, a Texan who has been performing since the late 1990s. This is his second feature film as a director, and he serves as writer and lead actor also. He even finds work for his daughter, Emma, who plays his youngest daughter in the picture, the intrepid Lizzy. 

Presley may not offer much originality in his adventure but pushes the right buttons for many who value the genre.

Hill resident Mike Canning has written on movies for the Hill Rag since 1993 and is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association. He is the author of “Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, DC.” His reviews and writings on film can be found online at www.mikesflix.com.