View Full Version : Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center 2012

Chris Knipp
02-08-2012, 06:15 PM

Rendez-Vous with French
Cinema 2012

To provide feedback to reviews and get day-to-day updates on screenings go to the Rendez-Vous Forums thread HERE. (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3230-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012)

Links to the reviews:

17 Girls (Muriel, Delphhine Coulin 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27448#post27448)
18 Years Old and Rising (Fréderic Louf 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27431#post27431)
38 Witnesses (Lucas Belvaux 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27437#post27437)
Americano (Mathieu Demy 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27394#post27394)
Delicacy (David and Stéphane Foekinos 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27433#post27433)
Farewell, My Queen (Benoît Jacquot 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27445#post27445)
Free Men (Ismaël Faroukhi 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27393#post27393)
Gang Story, A (Olivier Marchal 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27487#post27487)
Guilty (Vincent Garenq 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27612#post27612)
Headwinds (Jalil Lespert 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27417#post27417)
Last Screening (Laurent Achard 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27439#post27439)
Louise Wimmer (Cyril Mennegun 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27474#post27474)
Low Life (Nicolas Klotz 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27469#post27469)
Moon Child (Delphine Gleize 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27429#post27429)
Painting, The (Jean-Pierre Laguionie 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27403#post27403)
Paris by Night (Philippe Lefebvre 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27420#post27420)
Pater (Alain Cavalier 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27466#post27466)
Screen Illusion, The (Mathieu Amalric 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27386#post27386)
Smuggler's Songs (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27383#post27383)
Snows of Kilimanjaro (Robert Guédiguian 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27399#post27399)
Unforgivable (André Téchiné 2011) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27451#post27451)
Well-Digger's Daughter, The (Daniel Auteuil 2012) (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27392#post27392)

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011 at Lincoln Center: Press screening schedule
(WRT=Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, IFC=IFC Center, Sixth Ave. @ 3rd St.)

The press screenings schedule was announced Feb. 8, 2012 and is as foillows:

Monday, February 13

Tuesday, February 14
9AM – SMUGGLER’S SONG (97 min) - WRT

Wednesday, February 15
1PM – FREE MEN (99 min) - WRT
3PM – AMERICANO (105 min) - WRT

Thursday, February 16

Friday, February 17
10AM - THE PAINTING (76 min) - IFC

Monday, February 20

Tuesday, February 21
10:45AM – DELICACY (108 min) - WRT

Wednesday, February 22
9AM - 38 WITNESSES (104 min) – WRT
11AM – 18 YEARS OLD AND RISING (96 min) – WRT

Thursday, February 23
9AM - FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (100 min) – WRT
11AM – 17 GIRLS (90 min) - WRT

Friday, February 24
10AM – UNFORGIVABLE (113 min)– WRT

Monday, February 27
10AM – PATER (105 min) - IFC

Tuesday, February 28
9:30AM – LOW LIFE (120 min) – IFC

Chris Knipp
02-14-2012, 04:51 PM


Mid-eighteenth-century followers of the French Robin Hood

Smugglers' Songs/Les chants de Madrin, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche's fourth film, is an atmospheric and musical evocation of the pre-revolutionary spirit of mid-eighteenth-century France and of the period outlaw hero and French Robin Hood Louis Madrin. Madrin defied the fermiers généraux, the rapacious tax collectors for the King who had grown immensely rich and were widely hated for the way they were exploiting the whole country. He stole and sold goods cheap in illegal markets. His brutal torture and execution made him a national revolutionary martyr.

The film joins a band of Madrin followers after their hero's death. Zaïmeche himself plays Bélissard, the de-facto "chef" of this band though he says there is no "chef." We first meet a handsome young deserter who has been shot by the military who wanders across a field and collapses. Bélissard rescues him and later recruits him after shooting and killing three soldiers who come to get the young man. Then the scene shifts and we join an anti-establishment aristocrat, the Marquis de Levezin (a fine Jacques Nolot) who had become close to Madrin and is now engaged in writing his biography. The Marquis gives a ride in his carriage to an itinerant book peddler or colporteur (Christian Milia-Darmezin). This man is well acquainted with the Madrin contraband markets, and through him the Marquis finds his way to the friends of his hero.

The smugglers carry on Madrin's spirit, defying and fighting off the tax collectors' army, selling contraband. They collect songs in honor of their hero and get them published and distributed to the public (sometimes along with the 1001 Nights, in its unexpurgated form). Their spirited and well-armed band sets up temporary markets on the edges of villages. There they hastily sell tobacco, silk, and precious objects to willing buyers as well as books, including works by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, and the Marquis travels with them The colporteur joins up too, selling books and transporting the song collection. He gets captured and imprisoned and nearly despairs, but is rescued in a bold attack by Bĺissard and his band.

The anti-establishment tone is set in the opening scene. It's pretty clear who the good guys and the bad guys are. Bias aside, Smugglers' Songs is atmospheric and pleasant, far from the usual costume drama and, in its ideological bent, a little like Rossellini. The focus is on lifestyle and spirit rather than an action-picture story line. The cinematography by Irina Lubtchansky brings out the nice costumes by Christiane Vervandier and the natural landscape; no set design needed, since nearly all scenes are set outdoors. Several sequences are beautifully shot entirely in silhouette, an effect that suggests events being transformed into legend in the eyes of the beholder. There is impressive musketry and handsome horseflesh and the regular musical interludes (arranged by Valentin Clastrier) make use of violin, flute, and a curious cranked instrument. It's all about the atmosphere and the camaraderie, despite some violent episodes when the military step in and must be repelled.

There's a notable sequence that further emphases the legend-making enterprise when Bélissard meets with anti-establishment printer Jean-Luc Cynan (Jean-Luc Nancy) to get the pro-Mandrin songs editioned and this also turns into a little lesson in period typesetting and papermaking: the wooden pulp-working machine in particularly is a marvel to behold in operation. There is a sophisticated sense of period here, but those hoping for the excitement of an action film may become uneasy at this point. Zaïmeche is in no hurry. One has the distinct impression that the filmmakers were having fun. There is much laughter on screen.

The spirit of Madrin hovers over events, and the climax shows the band and a group of pretty women indoors for once while the Marquis delivers the words of the famous "Complainte de Madrin." Set to music from an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau, the "Complainte" casts Madrin as a national hero, looking out on all of France as his unjust end approaches. In it, Madrin speaks of his robbery and selling and capture and execution and ends with the plaintive, elegiac lines, "Compagnons de misère/Allez dire à ma mère/Qu'elle ne m'reverra plus/J' suis un enfant, vous m'entendez,/Qu'elle ne m'reverra plus/J'suis un enfant perdu.""Companions of misery/Go tell my mother/That she will see me no more/I'm a child, you hear me,/That she won't see any more/I am a lost child." More than a dozen interpretations of this very famous song (including a period one from Le Chat Noir and a moving rendition by Yves Montand) will be found here. (http://www.mandrin.org/la-complainte-de-mandrin.html)

Smugglers' Songs exudes a gentle French "after May" spirit here of 1968 -- the year in fact that Zaïmeche was brought from his native Algeria to France, at the age of two. "Revolt meets poetry," one French review summarizes; "an alliance between a quasi-insurrectional theme and a very sweet tone," says another. There are killings and three armed encounters (which the Mandrin-followers win against the army of the King and the tax collectors) but a gentle, humanistic sprit reigns: there is a lot of hugging and pauses to play music and hints that these men living off the land are eco-warriors who've gone green long before the creation of the Sierra Club.

This film won the Jean Vigo Prize, an award that itself tends to favor eccentric and revolutionary work. A similar recent winner was Serge Bozon's La France (http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1034), an even more eccentric and less strictly historical film, also full of musical pauses, also set outdoors, about a World War I band of deserters and a woman posing as a man hunting for her soldier husband. Les Chants de Mandrin may be less appealing to avant-gardists but it is more accessible and pleasant. It debuted at the Locarno festival August 11, 2011 and entered French theaters January 25, 2012, receiving generally favorably reviews (Allociné 3.6).

Smuggler's Songs is part of the joint UniFrance-Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, March 1-11, 2012. The film was shown to press and industry at the Walter Reade Theater, where it was screened for this review. Public screenings:

*Wed., March 7, 9:30pm – IFC; *Thurs., March 8, 6:15pm – WRT; Fri., March 9, 1:30pm - WRT
*In person: Rabah Ameur-Zaïméche

Chris Knipp
02-14-2012, 09:39 PM


Youthful Corneille as a cool crime drama, for television

Amalric's Screen Illusion/L'illusion comique is a shortened modern dress for-TV adaptation of the play written in 1636 by the French playwright Pierre Corneille. It's the third in a series commissioned by the Comédie Française using only their actors doing plays they've been performing on stage, made away from the theater in an original format in only twelve days, and requiring that for the revised text words may be cut, but not altered or added to. The previous two adaptations were by Claude Mouriras, and by the team of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau.

L'illusion comique uses a play-within-a play structure with an interestingly modern and Nabokovian twist: one man actually watches a play, deluded into thinking it is a privileged version of the real. L’Illusion comique runs through a gamut of genres that sound like Polonius speaking of the players: pastoral followed by comedy with a farcical character at the center, followed by tragicomedy – it’s a dramatic tour de force in which Corneille, still early in his career at 28 and just starting to become famous, shows himself to be already at the top of his theatrical game. Or so Wikipedia says. It's a youthful work. But it's notably adventurous and ahead of its time and surreal, and that makes it good material for a modern transformation. And perhaps safer for Amalric, not to be risking accusations of mangling an absolute top classic, even if it's by one of France's greatest playwrights.

This is a seventeenth-century play in alexandrine couplets. That has not changed in the least, though the actors, who are trained to perform the lines on stage, deliver them with maximum fluency, and adapt to the modern settings and reinterpretations like the consummate pros that they are. The visuals are consistently and realistically modernized -- set in the present time and mostly based in the posh Hotel du Louvre, with farcical scenes in the rooms, and other action at a parking garage, a shootout happening on the roof, and a nightclub confrontation when reality finally replaces illusion. But the language remains the same as it was.

To begin with Pridamant (Alain Lenglet) has lost track of his son Clindor (Loic Corbery) for a decade and desperately misses him and (in the original) enlists a magician Alcandre (Herve Pierre), to help him see where his son is and what he is doing. The magician in this version is replaced by a concierge/security guard/detective at the hotel, and the magic visions are replaced by a battery of security camera screens and cassettes that Alcandre shows to Pridamant. The important thing is that Amalric finds something cinematic -- and perhaps also telivisory, as an equivalent, particularly, with the security cameras and screens. But I honestly did not on one viewing know the play well enough or follow this filmed-for-TV version with sufficient understanding to appreciate the transformation. It seemed a little like slight of hand to me, a series of assumptions we agree to go along with that may not in the end be all that convincing. How stupid or gullible is this Pridamant? We do not, of course, watch everything on CCTV monitors. We get a glance at one, or at a playback, and then we shift to the actors in the rooms, and have to pretend Pridamant is, what? still watching the monitor? Amalric expects us to take big leaps here, and it's all just as artificial as alexandrines or as a 17th-century play performed in 17th-century costume.

Clindor is working for a video game exec Matamore (Denis Podalydès), the man behind "Modern Warfare 2." In the original Matamore is a boastful military officer. Matamore claims to adore Isabelle (Suliane Brahim), but her father Géronte (Jean-Baptiste Malartre) plans for her to marry Adraste (Adrien Gamba-Gontard). Meanwhile Cindor and Isabelle are in love with each other. But another woman, Lyse (Julie Sicard), is opposed to this relationship because she is in love with Clidor too and wants him for herself.

Clindor is attracted to one woman but desirous of the other because she has the wealth and the power he wants. And he flirts with additional ladies. And other people are plotting whom he should be hitched to. The play is more complicated in the original than this simplified version: Amalric has cut out subplots. The main lines are easier to follow on screen thus simplified, but at times a scene seems to lack a proper introduction. And it can be hard to follow the basic action as well. I felt as I do at the opera, which is to say out of my element.

Nonetheless one can see Corneille himself as the magician; and Amalric as a meta-magician in transforming the play into a still more stylized modern version that reinvents something quintessentially theatrical into something set out in a realistic modern world. And in turn the actors, who were peroming the play in its more traditional mise-en-scène on stage every day at night while shooting the film version during the day, perform prodigies of imagination and energy and collaboration of their own. In an interview on stage at Rotterdam Almalric described the cast as his collaborators.

A Screen Daily article (http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/latest-reviews/-the-screen-illusion/5023101.article) suggests comparing this reworking of Corneille to Michael Almereyda’s 2000 "slacker" Hamlet . Yes, but we know Hamlet and we don't know this play. As English speaking viewers we are lost.

We could compare Ralph Fiennes' current filmed updated Serbian Coriolanus, which is so realistic and gritty (it took more than 12 days and a lot of explosions, more I think that were necessary) with its tattooed serbian hunks, and Fiennes' performance is so in-your-face, you forget, at key moments anyway, that you're listening to Shakespearean English, or cease to care. Not sure that happens with Corneille's 17th-century French here, but it might happen for French viewers and not for us.

Amalric is a supremely intelligent and thoughtful actor and director, but his directorial projects have not been as good as his acting, so far. His On Tour/Tournée (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3054-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2011&p=26067#post26067) (SFIFF 2011,done only a little before this project) was ecstatically received in France, but seemed contrived to me, and Screen Illusion seems another fascinating idea that unfortunately fails to engage us as fully as it engaged Amalric. But my respect for Amalric remains enormous.

L'Illusion comique AKA The Screen Illusion, was screened for this review at a press and industry showing at the Walter Reade Theater of Lincoln Center. The film, only 77 minutes, made for French public television, will be included in the 2012 joint UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center presentation, The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Today. The public screening schedule will be as follows:

*Sun., March 4, 6:15pm – WRT; *Sun., March 4, 9pm – BAM; *Mon., March 5, 8pm – IFC; *Tues., March 6, 4pm - WRT
*In person: Mathieu Amalric

Chris Knipp
02-15-2012, 08:43 PM


Auteuil brings back Pagnol

Old fashioned, arguably retro values dominate Auteuil's Pagnol remake The Well-Digger's Daughter/La Fille du puisatier, a story of bad fortune reversed and meanness turned into decency. Nothing earth-shaking here, but the kind of movie that leaves mainstream audiences feeling good. There is an affirmation of simple country values and a look at the issues of class and illegitimacy and the vicissitudes of war. This version adheres closely enough to the 1940 original, but despite the well-digger and his assistant's preserving their heavy Provençal accents, otherwise the film is less naturalistic and more mainstream than the original, also glossier and better looking, with higher production values. Do we need this done over again? Somebody obviously thought so.

Auteuil's return to Pagnol material marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of his debut in the two-film Pagnol novel adaptation of Jean de Fleurette and Manon of the Source (directed by Claude Berri), a French series hugely successful with US art house audiences. This time it's the now 62-year-old actor's show: he stars, wrote the adaptation of the original film, and directed. And he has made the well-digger Pascal Amoretti's character even stronger -- and more intensely conflicted -- than the blocky, gruff figure embodied the first time by Raimu.

The story's pretty simple. Amoretti calls his titular 18-year-old daughter Patricia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) back from being educated by nuns in Paris to take care of his five other younger daughters in Provence. Her good looks and manners and proper French much attract Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the putatively dashing pilot son of M. Mazel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), the rich local owner of a hardware store. A couple of dates and rides on a motorcycle get Patricia pregnant. She has fallen for Jacques, but the war's breaking out and Jacques is off to the front, and so is Pascal's simple, good-humored assistant Félipe (Kad Merad), who wanted to marry Patricia before this happened. Mazel senior and his ditzy, hysterical wife (comedic vet Sabine Azéma) are not friendly when Pascal comes with all his daughters to inform them of Patricia's condition and the fact that their son is responsible. Then Jacques is shot down and they are devastated. And things change, and change again.

Darroussin adds an authentic severity to his part; Azéma and Merad are a little too light and comedic, and Azéma really overdoes it. The formerly bad-boy Duvauchelle is a bit too low-key: he's more slinky and creepy than really dashing here, alas. Bergès-Frisbey has a delicacy and sensitivity that are good for the role of Patricia, but she's also a bit bland. In truth though the story line is so simple, involving, and well worked out than no one actor, or character, is crucial. Auteuil does not hesitate to make his role and performance even more central, creating a Pascal more solid and intense than Raimu's 1940 version. Auteuil's Pascal is violent and almost cruel with Patricia when he thinks he must abandon her cause, and melting and sweet when he has a change of heart . His big encounters with M. and Mme. Mazel are peculiarly emotional and dramatic. He winds up being the most interesting actor to watch, but he keeps the cast and the tone nicely balanced (with the slight exception, again, of Azéma).

As is usual with Pagnol, the south of France material is warm and humanistic, and is a time capsule, a portrait of cultural values much changed since. With its bell-ringing musical background, the London Symphony strings coming in at appropriate touching moments and the super-happy ending, this is a movie that offers little for sophisticates. But its still a good story well told and like those earlier movies it's likely to delight the segment of the art house audience that is looking for charm rather than edginess. Those who can't wait for the film's summer 2012 US release can watch it during the Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series. And the producers were so pleased with Auteuil's handling of this Pagnol outing, they hired him to do the earlier Pagnol film trilogy, Marius, Fanny and César, which will come out later this year.

This film opened in Paris to generally good reviews, which approved Auteuil's directorial debut and were justifiably impressed by his own strong performance. Knowledgeable observers however still consider the Pagnol originals, overall, superior. And there is no denying, and some French critics affirmed, that this is very far from being a fresh and exciting new work or approach.

La Fille du puisatier will be released by Kino Lorber in the US in the summer of 2012. It is also part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series for 2012 and was screened for press and industry, when it was observed for this review. The series runs at several venues in New York City from March 1-11. Public screenings for this film are:

*Thurs., March 8, 8pm – IFC; *Sun., March 11, 3:45pm – WRT
*In person: Jean-Pierre Darroussin

Chris Knipp
02-15-2012, 10:58 PM


Muslims and resistance in German-occupied Paris

The young star of Audiard's amazing 2009 A Prophet/Un prophète is back in the 2011 Free Men/Les Hommes libres, a film about a young Algerian in Paris in 1942 inspired to join the resistance by his friendship with a Jewish man. In 2009 Tahar Rahim won Best Actor at the French Césars; A Prophet won the Grand Prix at Cannes. Free Men again gives the young Rahim the central role. This is two or three films. Again, it sets up Rahim as a young man being formed into something stronger. Come from Algeria to work in a factory, his Younes got TB and recovered but lost his job. As a black marketer getting by, he's caught in a raid and recruited at police headquarters where it's believed the muslims are issuing false documents.

But this is also indirectly a biopic about Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit (played by the venerable and monumental Michael Lonsdale of Beauvois' Of Gods and Men and many other great films), founder and rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, who aided the anti-Nazi resistance. It's the story of the resistance, of which Younes becomes more and more a part. The friendship that leads him to want to help protect Jewis is with Salime, a superb Algerian singer and musician, reputedly the best in Europe, who turns out to be Jewish. While Jews and Arab Muslims are seen as at each other's throats, it is interesting to learn that their twin outsider status made them allies in Paris under the Vichy government.

Des hommes libres is also a celebration of the marvelous Arab music of the period, and its musical interludes are the highlights of the film and symbolize music's power to transform and unify and transmit culture, even under the most repressive conditions of German occupation.

And Les hommes libres' undercurrent is the birthing of the Algerian independent movement, which all the Algerian political activists in Paris at this time are aware of and involved in, and which gains great impetus by the Liberation, which made the Algerians see allies in the Americans and their own liberation from French colonial oppression in the liberation of the French from Nazi occupation.

The essentiality of Free Men is that it represents an unrecognized story of a role played during the war by maghrebins, North African Arabs, in the attempt to save Jews from Nazi extermination. It's another story that needed to be told and it's an interesting one. After all, France has the biggest muslim population of any country in Europe. They matter. And the Algerians' relationship with the French is a complex one.

Tahar Rahim again has the role of a tabula rasa, a young man of little personality or character who is changed by strong events as he was changed by prison in A Prophet and by his association with the Corsican capo played by the great Niels Arestrup in Audiard's film. Little by little Younes, who spends more and more time at the mosque to satisfy his Vicny police handlers gives up trading on the black market. He does it for profit, and then begins to care.

The singing of the charismatic, popular and blue-eyed Salime Halali delights Younes. He also is attracted to Warba Shlimane alias Leila (Lubna Azabal of Incendies), who turns out to be a communist activist in hiding, and he saves a couple of Jewish children turned over to him where he lives. The Grand Mosque Rector is increasingly menaced by the Nazi officer Major von Ratibor (Christopher Buchholz), whom he wards off with deftness and aplomb.

Free Men is an interesting picture of historical events, but its meandering structure is in search of driving central action or more intense development on the part of Younes, a composite character created to pull together all the action of muslim resistance volunteers gathered around the other specific historical figures. It's going to be hard for Tahar Rahim to get another role as strong as the one he played in A Prophet -- unless he can work with Audiard again or someone of his caliber. Israeli-Arab actor Mahmoud Shalaby, who plays Salime, seems promising. Unfortunately the writing falls short. Two many paths in too many directions.

Too bad, because this is a worthy subject and Free Men has its own unique atmosphere of an unseen world inside occupied Paris. The film sings literally and figuratively during the passages of live musical performance. When an actor playing great Egyptian singer-songwriter Mohamed Abdel Wahab (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GiYnzIEKKM), thin and in dark glasses, appears performing with Salime at a cafe, it recreates a magic moment for fans of modern Arabic music.

Les Hommes libres opened in Paris September 28, 2011 to fairly good reviews (Allociné 3.0) that recognized an honest effort, but some spoke of "missed opportunity" and a plot and a too diffuse plot. It's a "modest recreation" -- perhaps too modest. But this is not a dead end for Rahim, who has been in Kevin Macdonald's The Eagle; will be in Lou Ye's Love and Bruises; and in another shot during the Turnisian revolution. He describes himself in an Inrocks interview: "I continue to grow. I'm finding a focus for my anxiety."

Free Men was observed at a press and industry screening for this review in preparation for the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the joint festival of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance, March 1-11, 2012. Public screenings:

Fri., March 2, 1pm – WRT; *Sat., March 3, 9:15pm – WRT; *Sun., March 4, 4pm - IFC
*In person: Ismael Ferroukhi and Tahar Rahim

Chris Knipp
02-16-2012, 07:52 AM


A man seeks his lost youth in America

This directorial debut (in which he is the protagonist) is by the son of two French cinematic icons, Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda, and it contains elements of both of them, a documentary quality from his mother and a romantic idealism from his father. The mysterious woman Martin (Demy) stalks in a Tijuana dive has the name of Jacques Demy's glamorous object of desire played by Anouk Aimée, Lola. Martin's girlfriend in Paris is played by Jacques' muse Catherine Deneuve's daughter, Chaira Mastroianni. Martin's exploration of his childhood is illlustrated with actual clips of Documenteur, a film by Varda showing her with a childhood Mathieu. And with these credentials, this film was well received by French critics and richly resonant for French audiences. But it may seem pretty sketchy and unsatisfactory to American audiences. Selma Hayek adds sexiness as Lola, and Geraldine Chaplin plays a family friend. Images are shot in a grainy, hot-colored 16mm, and music is supplied by Georges Delarue. The mixture of elements here is both haunting and disappointing. The film was acquired at Toronto for US distribution by MPI.

As Americano begins Martin learns that his mother has died in Venice, California. A dual US-French citizen who now sells real estate in Paris with a not very committed relationship with his girlfriend, he decides to go back and sell his mother's place and clear up her things, arranging for her body to be sent back to France for burial. He harbors lingering resentments against her out of a sense of abandonment. She had a nervous breakdown when he was of eight, when his father (director, actor, screenwriter Jean-Pierre Mocky) left her and took the boy to live permanently in France. Martin arrives in L.A. and is met by the annoying Linda (Chaplin), a friend of his mother who insists she was a joyful person and not the depressive Martin has always imagined. Throwing things out, Martin finds an old photograph that shows him as a child with a Mexican girl he used to play with. A returned letter from his mother indicates this Lola was the one his mother wanted to leave her place to and an American lawyer has told him a deceased person's inheritance wishes should be met. He then grabs Linda's red Mustang convertible and goes hunting for Lola.

The rest of the film is a sequence of vicissitudes in which a dogged Martin pursues the actual (or is she?) Lola, whom he played with as a child twenty-five years ago, and mentally explores his lost early childhood. She denies the past and he is repeatedly rebuffed by a heavy called Luis (Carlos Bardem), who beats him up. A boy who has directed Martin to the club called Americano where Lola is a pole dancer does not prevent Linda's red Mustang from being stolen, and with it Martin's money and passport. He is not in very good shape. He keeps calling Claire (Mastroianni) from pay phones, which she finds odd: he has never been that loyal and their relationship had reached an impasse.

This film in retrospect has, certainly, many suggestive elements, but it didn't work very well in the actual unreeling. The various elements do not hang together well enough and the protagonist is hard to get a grip on. As the glamorous, sexy, but scarred Mexican babe, Selma Hayek has a certain attraction, but the flashbacks are arbitrary; events including a snowy burial in France seem unrelated, Geraldine Chaplin (perhaps happily) forgotten, Chiara Mastroianni just an occasional flicker at the end of a phone line. It is difficult to make a story out of a void, and Demy's Martin has been estranged from his mother for much of his life (though his dual background has left him bilingual).

The film debuted at Toronto in September 2011, and opened in Paris November 30 to generally favorable reviews, though one French critic remarked that nothing is more frustrating than a road movie that leaves the viewer on the road. The iconic elements that go into the film as well as the sun-drenched American images of Venice, California and Tijuana may resonate with any audience looking more for atmosphere than structure.

Americano is a part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, March 1-11, 2012, staged by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance. Public screening schedule:

*Sat., March 3, 6:30pm – WRT; *Sun., March 4, 6:45pm – IFC; *Tues., March 6, 7:30pm - BAM
*In person: Mathieu Demy

Chris Knipp
02-16-2012, 04:41 PM


Tell what you know: Marseille, early-retired dock workers, and the social contract

This is a film in which French Armenian filmmaker Robert Guédigian does what he does best: a warmly humanistic film about socio-economic issues. If the Dardenne brothers always made films using a cast of old friends and family and set them in the same warm Mediterranean setting, you'd get the Guédigian of The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

It's all a little too good to be true, but the filmmaker's working methods are so smooth and his regular cast members, many his friends, are so adept and so appealing the messages go down easy and warm the heart. The basic one: people's actions are explainable by social and economic causes and not due to moral or personality defects.

Michel and Marie-Claire (Jean-Pierre Daroussin and Ariane Ascaride) are "middle-class, but not completely," they agree. They live on the cusp between complacency and anger so they can see the possibility of either mood. They can sit on their balcony enjoying the sun in the late afternoon and they own the place where they live. But they know how hard it was to get there. Marie-Claire gave up nursing school years ago and takes care of an old lady and Jean was forced into early retirement from his dock worker job. A union rep himself, he conduced a drawing to lay a group of people off and put his own name in the box.

A big joyous party takes place to sweeten the pill Jean has chosen to swallow. It's so naturally and wonderfully staged (packed with the director's regulars and friends) that you wish you could be there. Present are Jean's coworkers and some of those laid off, Jean and Marie-Claire get a present: a box of cash, and tickets for a two-weak trip to Kenya. Also Jean's best buddy since childhood Raoul (Gérard Meylan) gives him a comic book he used to own that disappeared, the first one he every bought. The couple start getting ready for the trip. Jean, unwilling to learn the "colonial" language, English, starts studying Swahili.

Not long afterwards Jean, Marie-Claire, Raoul, and his wife Denise (Marilyne Canto) are having an evening of cards when a couple of young masked men break in with pistols, tie them up, and take the money from the party as well as the tickets and their credit cards. One of them goes off with the comic book. Denise is very traumatized. Jean gets knocked over and his shoulder gets injured.

One of the bad guys turns out to be one of the laid off guys. The way all this is resolved has policier elements, and also some intense speeches that explain opposing points of view. Because the filmmaker's working methods are so smooth and natural, it all goes down easy. Having recently seen only Guédiguian's noirish thriller Lady Jane (SFIFF 2008 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?2265-San-Francisco-International-Film-Festival-2008&postid=19990#post19990)) and his WWII historical film about foreigners involved in the French resistance, The Army of Crime (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?2792-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-2010-at-Loncoln-Center&p=24007#post24007), which like this employs Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, and it's been quite a while since I saw his social portrait The Town Is Quiet (2000), I was not really aware of how winning the director is when working in every sense on his home turf. (But from French reviews, even they had tended to take him for granted and forget how "essential" he is.) There is a great deal of warmth here, a great many home truths, plenty to think about. It's almost as if Brecht were a real charmer, and his characters turned to you and gave you little lectures, but totally in character, as if they were not theatrical devices but real people really talking to you.

Christophe (Leprince-Ringuet) has two little brothers. Eventually Marie-Claire tracks down their mother, and she explains vociferously why she's left them in the 22-year-old now out-of-work Christophe's care. In a word: men. Nobody is wrong here. Even the police commissioner (played by the interesting Robinson Stévenin) who helps Jean with his problem is basically nice. As mentioned it's a little too good to be true; but it's not too good to be both enjoyable and instructive, dulce et utile. This is an unusually a fine piece of committed cinema. Because the points made are straightforward and clear does not meant they aren't true. Probably the best made and most valuable film in the 2012 Rendez-Vous press screenings so far.

Les Neiges de Kilimanjaro debuted at Cannes May 2011, and opened in Paris November 16, when it was enthusiastically received by the capital's generally left-leaning critics (Allociné 4.1).

This film is included in the joint UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center presentation series from March 1-11. Public screening schedule:

*Tues., March 6, 7:45pm – IFC; Thurs., March 8, 1:30pm – WRT; *Sat., March 10, 9pm – WRT
*In person: Jean-Pierre Darroussin.

Chris Knipp
02-17-2012, 05:22 PM


A hierarchy of creation leads to a painting revolt

From veteran French animator Jean-François Laguionie (of A Monkey's Tale; Gwen, the Book of Sand; and other films) comes The Painting/Le Tableau, a lush 76-minute animated feature focused on figures in a painting. The artist has left some of them unfinished, abandoning the canvas for years. And in the interlude a caste system has developed. The Toupins or "all painted" people lord it over the Pafinis, the "not finished," excluding them from the chateau. As for the Rofs, the merely "sketched" -- lines without color who have trouble finishing their sentences -- these the "all painted" ones treat as worthless and try to destroy. And so there is a hierarchy of creation in which some believe themselves more favored and use an aesthetic basis for their exclusionary policies. Yet what did the artist intend? Is he finished? Or will he return? These ideas form the basis for a somewhat meandering philosophical tale. They are so suggestive and the images so beautiful perhaps it's inevitable the results fall a bit short of our expectations. We can also perhaps forgive the story for wandering away from its main themes at times in search of pure adventure or visual stimulation.

Eventually we follow a few main characters on a journey that leads outside their canvas and into other ones, beyond to the dingy studio, and finally outside in what we might call the “real world,” where the most adventurous Pasfini finds the now venerable white-bearded painter. As we might have expected, in old age he has turned to simple landscapes en plein air, because it's "less difficult." It seems from a tour of the studio that he became Picasso, and then Miro or Mondrian, and now he is late Braque.

There are the inevitable amants maudits, the star-crossed lovers. Ramo, a Toupin youth in love with a Pasfinie girl, rejects the discriminatory system and wants to lead a revolt. Driven out of the chateau, he and Plume (a Rof) and Lola, a bold and confident Pasfinie, go in search of the artist. They explore the over-lush garden outside and brave the menacing forest and then, if they can escape the limits of the canvas itself, who knows? They may find find the artist and persuade him to finish his work. But before that they enter, half by accident, the worlds of several other paintings.

The theme offers the opportunity for play with styles and color. In a sense that's what it's all about. For some of us Rofs like "Plume" who are only a few lines may be more appealing and suggestive than the conventionally painted, old-style Toupins.

In the studio the explorers meet a large and langorous nude, once the artist's mistress. They also make their risky way into a painting of Venice; one of them unwittingly takes a gondola ride with Death. It looks great fun to be in Venice at festival time but they learn that celebrating every day is a drag. At sunset there are dozens of artists, and they find out what they can do: become artists and finish themselves! They get bags of paint, and returning to the colony of unfinished people. At first it's a great mess, but when they develop some skill and enter the chateau in multicolored finery their originality makes the snobbish Toupin people terribly jealous.

And then there is the inevitable twist: the worlds within worlds. The artist Lola finds is real (he's not animated), but the field they're in has a big frame around it. Who painted you? asks Lola.

The Painting received César nominations and critical raves (Allociné 4.1) but was less of a winner at the French box office. It was seen at the Annecy Festival and opened in Paris cinemas November 23, 2011. It is included in the joint March 1-11, 2011 UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, and was watched at a presss screening for the series for this review. It is presented in collaboration with the New York International Children's Film Festival. Public screenings will be:

Sat., March 3, 1:15pm – EBM; *Sun., March 4, 11am - IFC
*In person: Jean-François Laguionie



Chris Knipp
02-18-2012, 09:19 PM


Trouble resolved in Brittany

Jalil Lespert is the star of two of my favorite contemporary French films, Laurent Cantet's 1999 labor union drama Human Resources and Xavier Beauvois' emotional 2005 policier, Le petit Lieutenant. He's a powerful actor. A 36,he's already establishing himself as a director. This is his second performance in that other role.

In this quietly tumultuous little film, Paul Anderen (Benoît Magimel), a writer, fights with his doctor wife (Audrey Tautou), insisting that she take care of the house as well as her hospital duties so he can write, but she's fed up and voilà! she disappears without a trace -- leaving him with two adorable and vulnerable little kids. His life shattered, after a year of hoping in vain that his wife will be found, forced to go back to zero, Paul retreats from Paris to his childhood home in Saint-Malo, in Brittany, where his older brother Alex (Antoine Duléry) sets him up with a place to live and work as a driving instructor. Then he screws one of his first students, the pretty, flirty young Justine (Marie-Ange Casta). And he takes in a jobless, homeless man (Ramzy Bedia) who steals his kid from school. The cops and the mother (Lubna Azabal of Incendies) are not too pleased. This is not so good because when hiw wife first disappeared, he was a suspect. He also befriends a man who's lost his job and license for running over a kid on a bike at night (Bouli Lanners). Paul must deal with the passive-aggressive officiousness of the local police chief (Isabelle Carré).

Des vents contraires, the bestselling novel this is based on by Olivier Adam (who collaborated with Lespert, Marion Laine and Marie-Pierre Huster on the screenplay), clearly chooses to throw the works at its sensitive yet durable protagonist and Magimel has to be a kind of damper: he absorbs, and the noise stops till something new comes along to challenge him. Clément and Manon (Hugo Fernandes and Cassiopé Mayance), the two kids, fare surprisingly well. One of the story's points seems to be that the French social safety net is too intrusive at times and the police investigations, school administrators, and therapists ought to mind their own business.

An older woman comes along to learn to drive, an admirer of Paul's books (Aurore Clément), who gives him her big house at a very reasonable rent. There is resolution, and life begins again.

The criticism is that this is a TV movie, a very good one, but a TV movie. Magimel is soulful and appealing; you may wish you had his rueful smile, his quiet intensity. At 38, he has already had a formidable career, winning the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his work with Isabelle Huppert in Haneke's Le Pianiste at 27 and a regular for the late Claude Chabrol. Nice restrained music here by David François Moreau (with a minute of wild rap by DJ Pone), and creditable lensing by Josée Deshaies. I like the way Lespert varies his tone. This is not all gray as some seem to think.

Headwinds/Des vents contraires, with its wintry gray Breton setting, opened appropriately in Paris in mid-December 2011, to generally favorable reviews (Allociné 3.1). There were a few dissenters: Cahiers du Cinéma found it taking shelter "under a gray smile," too cowardly "to work with fire and ice." Lespert may still be a better actor than director, but he knows how to find the best actors and work with them. The scenes with children are natural and sometimes fun. Headwinds opened in UK cinemas Februarly 17, 2011. The film is included in the March 1-11, 2012 Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance collaboration, the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Public screening schedule:

Tues., March 6, 6pm – IFC; Thurs., March 8, 4pm – WRT; Fri., March 9, 6:15pm - WRT

Tues., March 6, 6pm – IFC; Thurs., March 8, 4pm – WRT; Fri., March 9, 6:15pm - WRT

Chris Knipp
02-20-2012, 10:59 AM


Weiss of Vice

Roschdy Zem plays Commandant Simon Weiss, pronounced "Vice," and he works for the Paris police vice squad. For this evening's tour of duty he is joined by a new policewoman signed up for the evening to be his driver in a posh Peugeot as he makes the rounds of clubs and checks up on various contacts. Is he an honest cop? In this particular department isn't that an oxymoron? Weiss clearly is a fair dealer, but that's another story. Does he apply the law, or simply the highest standard of the Parisian gangster code? We watch Paris by Night for Zem's suave, austere performance. We wish the screenplay didn't wind up with a surprise ending that leaves us flat.

Philippe Lefebvre is reportedly the maker of two creditable thrillers during the Eighties (Le Transfuge and Le Juge). After twenty years working in TV, he has returned to the big screen with a creditable, if slightly disappointing, noir about a solitary Paris vice squad cop (played by French veteran Zem) and his driver for the evening, Laurence Deray (Sara Forestier of last year's The Names of Love (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3126-THE-NAMES-OF-LOVE-%28Michel-Leclerc-2010%29&highlight=names+love)). The French title is Une nuit, "A Night," and this is a movie that scrupulously observes the unities and noir's preference for darkness. The black is lightened, however, by the use of digital cameras. These enable filmmakers to work inexpensively (no elaborate lighting setups) and seamlessly (no pauses to reload cameras). They also give the kind of glittering look we see in Michael Mann's gangster movies (notably in Collateral, mentioned as a model by the filmmakers, and Public Enemies). The Paris press has favorably spoken of the result as in the spirit of noir classics by Jean-Pierre Melville, this film being perhaps comparable to Alain Delon in Melville's Un flic/A Cop. But Un flic is not the best of what Delon and Melville did together.

This Michael Mann-style digital noir gives us glitter. We can see everything. The digital camera opens up the shadows, and that's remarkable. But it lessens the mystery. And it robs us of those velvety blacks. This isn't black and white. There is a lot of brown. There is realism of factual detail too, so we're told: police insiders were extensively consulted. But that is a mixed blessing. Where is the myth? Where is the magic?

The action takes us with seeming randomness from one night spot to another as Weiss doles out addresses to Deray, and a kind of plot emerges, or a laundry list of complicated involvements and events. In the course of a night's work, Weiss smashes up a bar; force-feeds a dealer heroin (not to mention a transvestite's poodle, which inadvertently OD's); sends Jerôme (Baptiste Amann), son of Weiss' longtime friend Tony Garcia (Samuel Le Bihan) to his mother for protection after getting him off coke-dealing charges. In several meetings, one presided over by the excellent Richard Bohringer (Gorodish in the 1981 classic Diva), he negotiates the opening of a new nightclub, which is in violation of various codes, with leading underworld figures. There is a lot of fuss over Tony Garcia's lawyer, Paul Gorsky (Gégory Fitoussi), who has screwed his friend in more ways than one. But I give away too much. Except that none of it matters quite enough, because it's in the nature of the screenplay that these events are a series of tableaux. What counts are the personalities, and so the highlights are only two: the scene between Garcia and Weiss early in the morning, when Weiss drinks too much Scotch and home truths are exchanged; and the meeting between Weiss and his driver in the light of day. It is nice to see Zem and Forestier sitting in a police office talking it all over. "I am not dangerous," Weiss says. "My job is." Indeed. One can't imagine a scene -- or two protagonists -- of such simple elegance in an American cop flick. But one longs for something more tragic and vital.

Zem's craggy, stoical mug -- he could be a taller, slimmer, Arab version of Jean Gabin -- is well suited to cop flicks and he has been in many. He has a toughness and elegance that suits him to a kind of passing on of the mantle -- but who could assume the mantle of the young Delon, or of Melville in his prime?

Paris by Night/Une nuit opened in Paris cinemas January 4, 2012, and got very good reviews (Allociné 3.8), though it seems to have been passed over by some of the more cinephile publications. The Mann-ish night images are a pleasure; so are the performances; the classic fatalism is gone, though fans of French film noir are welcome to come and look for it. This may not be one of the great ones, but it's still a good watch.

This is included in the March 1-11 joint Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance presentation of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Public screenings schedule for Paris by Night in two New York locations during the Rendez-Vous:

Mon., March 5, 4pm & 8:30pm – WRT; Tues., March 6, 10:10pm - IFC

Chris Knipp
02-21-2012, 02:00 PM


A patient and his doctor who must part

Moonchild/La permission de minuit is a medical tale that avoids the usual dangers of such tales even as it risks being stereotyped anyway. This is one of a number of stories (there was a film in 1988 in which Brad Pitt was the victim) about someone with the rare genetic disorder of xeroderma pigmentosum (XP). It occurs in only one in a quarter million in the US; more in Europe; six times that in Japan. In XP the body's ability to deal with the effects of ultraviolet rays is severely disabled. Fewer than 40% with the condition live beyond the age of 40; many get severe cancers before they're 20. Delphine Gleize's film handles this subject with delicacy and tact. Finally her subject is only partly the disease and more particularly the adolescent patient, his faithful longtime doctor, who goes through a big transition in his career, and the fraught relations between the doctor and the boy.

Here the patient with XP is is a 13-year-old called Romain (newcomer Quentin Chalal), who is "cool" (by his own declaration), energetic and tousel-haired. Romain likes girls and rugby and surfs in the moonlight, and, of course, since it's safe for him at night, he can go to parties. But he can't play night rugby with his pals because the playing field has UV lights. And he must be constantly checked, use a UV-reader to monitor the light safety even of indoor spaces, and wears a hood and mask and gloves when he goes out in the daytime.

Romain clearly wants to live life to the fullest he can. He wants pals, he wants parties, he wants a girlfriend, and he wants to make love, and he gets all that. but aside from his banishment from the light, he is otherwise isolated. His father split when he was diagnosed as a small child, and David (Vincent Lindon), his doctor, has taken on the role. They are very close. Perhaps Romain is the most important relationship in David's life. David is a bit of a workaholic, sometimes not very present for his wife (Caroline Proust).

With his stylishly wild mop of long hair and his springy athleticism Challal radiates a naturalness and spirit that save Romain from ever seeming the least pathetic, though he's allowed the occasional moment of fatalism about his condition. Lindon is as soulful and solid as usual. But David doesn't handle everything so well. He's been offered a significant post in his specialty with WHO in Belgium that he applied for twelve years ago, and he's leaving, but he doesn't know how to tell Romain about this. When the boy gets the news indirectly from his mother after an outing with David he becomes furious. He turns against David. The moment of cowardice is an excuse for lashing out at all he's angry about, both his condition and his sense of abandonment.

The new doctor replacing David is Carlotta (Emmanuelle Devos), whom Romain willingly switches to, partly to hurt David. The relationship between David and Carlotta itself is fraught. David isn't really ready to go, and he takes it out on Carlotta.

Lindon is always a pleasure to watch, and there is some similarity to his role in Philippe Lioret's Welcome here: again he's a middle-aged man in crisis guiding a youth through worse. Devos too is always fascinating and complex, and her Carlotta shows class and grace in handling David's clumsy turning over of the reins. The last third of the film is dedicated to smoothing things out. Ultimately it's all about moving on.

La Permission de minuit was released March 2, 2011 in France and received generally good reviews for its taste and good acting (Allociné 3.4), but with some dissenters among the more hip who thought this a conventional bore, a TV movie; Les Inrockuptibles and Cahiers du Cinéma were particularly cruel. This is unfair: Delphine Gleize studiously avoids pathos and melodrama. But her studiousness may call too much attention to itself. An incurable medical condition is an elephant that will dominate any cinematic room.

Included in the UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center joint March 1-11, 2012 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series. The public screening is:

*Sat., March 3, 2012, 9:30pm
*In person: Vincent Lindon

Chris Knipp
02-21-2012, 06:44 PM


Class comedy

Frédéric Louf's smart political comedy about the Upper Bourgeoisie in the time of Mitterand skewers both snobby rich kids and the working class boy who sets out to enjoy them and then falls for a self-centered girl. The laughs are physical as well as witty and dominated by the Comédie Française's skinny, nimble, talented youngest member Pierre Niney as Primo Bramsi, a supposed school failure with dash who despises his provincial florist father and neglects to pay the rent on his tiny Parisian chambre de bonne -- but keeps bouncing back and surprises his prof by passing his bac.

Primo isn't political. He's a free-wheeling, picaresque character, almost a Felix Krull, who will say anything to get ahead. Watching him improvise is a giddy pleasure. Coming back to Paris after a short, disastrous visit to his parents, he crashes a party given by some snobby rich Parisian kids and though his shoes fall apart, the girls fall for him. He falls hopelessly for the insufferably self-centered Gabrielle (Lou de Laâge), though it's the quirky Delphone (Audrey Bastien) who may want him the most. Gabrielle does invite Primo to summer with her and her family in Saint-Tropez, but she quickly disinvites him when he gets beaten up by some right wing toughs and the bruises on his face make him look like a raccoon. Appearances are everything for these silly young snobs.

Louf, who co-wrote (with Régis Jaulin) and directed this debut romantic farce, heightens the sociopolitical emphasis by setting its events in 1981 when the socialist François Mitterand is just getting elected President, beginning a 13-year period when the communists were invited into the government and the right wing was in a continual state of alarm and outrage. Primo's pal at his building is a young Arab with natural leftist leadings called Malik (Ali Marhyar) who has told him to vote for Mitterand, but that never happens, though Primo's friendship with Malik survives his flirtations with the pampered rich.

After being banished by Gabrielle, Primo is invited back by Gabrielle's rich boyfriend to a wine party for which Primo blows all his rent money, 1800 francs, for a bottle that will impress her friends -- he gets a 1961 Chateau La Conseillante, which is worth $2,700 today. But when Malik is shocked at this waste Primo opens the bottle and drinks it with Malik up on the roof, later refilling the bottle with 10-franc plonk from the supermarket to take to the party. The rich boys know it's not La Conseillante because Malik threw away the cork, but are fooled into thinking it's good stuff.

Part of the fun of 18 Years Old and Rising is the way Primo keeps getting away with everything: it's a celebration of the durability and sociopolitical flexibility of youth, and Neney (who has a droll cameo in Guédiguian's new film, also in the Rendez-Vous, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3239-Rendez-Vous-with-French-Cinema-at-Lincoln-Center-2012&p=27399#post27399)), seems made of shape-holding rubber. His character jumps into fistfights at a moment's notice and often threatens to jump out of windows, which he occasionally makes good on. He accordingly spends much screen time all bruised or limping. But the real victims are the rich kids whose received prejudices are continually skewered. Miriaculously and rather inexplicably, Primo passes his bac and his philosophy prof stands him to a bottle of good champagne. Both of the rich girls still seem to like him, his Arab friend doesn't hate him and the rich boys keep looking sillier and sillier. If you're leanings are anti-youth or pro-money, none of this is going to taste very sweet.

The combination of politics, history, and romantic comedy is reminiscent of last year's French US art house hit, Michel Leclerc's The Names of Love (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?3126-THE-NAMES-OF-LOVE-%28Michel-Leclerc-2010%29&highlight=names+love), which substitutes for the victorious Mitterand the defeated Lionel Jospin and is set twenty years later and whose nimble comic is a female one, Sara Forestier. Leclerc's film is more layered, but Louf's is purer, simpler fun. Premiere compares Niney to Louis Garrel, and he does resemble Garrel's more madcap, crazy side, only skinnier. Niney was nominated for the Jeune Espoir Masculin (Most Promising Male Actor) award at the 2012 Césars for this performance.

Suiting its wild summer mood, J'aime regarder les filles opened in Paris July 20, 2011 to fair reviews (Allociné 2.9): some didn't get the joke. The film has also aired at several festivals, including Toronto in September 2011.

The French title is taken from Patrick Coutin's 1981 hit. The film is included in the March 1-11, 2012 joint UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Public screenings will be:

Mon., March 5, 6pm – IFC; *Sat., March 10, 3:45pm - WRT
*In person: Frédéric Louf

Chris Knipp
02-21-2012, 08:52 PM


A widow's quirky romance

Audrey Tautou stars in this melodrama-as-rom-com about a recent widow who gets involved with a seemingly inappropriate coworker. The screenplay slowly introduces this situation through a host of drawn out and calculated set-up scenes. The point is to dispose of the husband so the bereaved wife can fall into her confused affair. Delicacy seems to mean taking a very long time to get where a classic comedy would take us in a jiffy. Perhaps something has been lost in the translation by these first-timer brothers of David's bestselling novel. Anyway for some reason it's necessary to have a full-fledged meet-cute with soon-to-be-gone hubby François (Pio Marmai) and Nathalie (Tautou) -- it involves his voiceover and her choice of apricot juice at a café. Then he proposes -- using a key ring as a pledge. Then there has to be a wedding in the snow captured in a whirling dolly shot. The cute voiceovers continue with a (mercifully) quick scene showing the pair, legally a couple now, in bed. No baby yet, they decide -- that would doubtless hamper the widow's romance, though the decision to delay children unwittingly underlines the fact that Tautou is not so young as she used to be. It's over a decade since her success in Amélie. Hasn't her ticket on the ingénue train expired by now?

Finally François goes out for a jog. At last! He's going to get killed. Only not quite. First there must be a pointless hospital sequence. But now last he's out of the way and the story can begin.

Nathalie puts her life back together, only just: her job interview with the Swedish-based company she's going to work for involves a pointlessly predatory boss, Charles. He's played by the usually sultry and mysterious Bruno Todeschini, miscast here as a blatant bore. He will persist in pursuing Nathalie despite her declared lack of interest, and will tell another coworker that she's a real Yoko Ono, capable of breaking up the world's biggest rock group. This is the movie's concept, which it attempts to foist upon us. The action does not bear this out. No one is interested in Nathalie, except Charles, and maybe, a shlubby Swedish guy. Several years inexplicably pass, and Nathalie inexplicably grabs the Swedish guy, Markus. He is played by the excellent François Damiens, the first cast member allowed to introduce a little nuance. Markus is an oddball, because he's not handsome or pretty like Nathalie, François and Charles, and he's weird, because he's Swedish.

No worries, because Markus speaks perfect French, not surprising since Damiens (recently seen in Heartbreaker, with Romain Duris) is Belgian. Nathalie gives Markus a French kiss, and then the confusion can begin.

But what is the confusion? It seems to be general, but so unfocused it's hard to care about it. Nathalie tells Markus she was thinking of something else, and has no idea why she kissed him. Nonetheless they start dating. He thinks he may be falling in love with her, or will soon because it's Paris and the Eiffel Tower is right behind them flashing those sparkly lights at night, another one of the movie's predictable, manipulative scenes. But he's also not sure he's in love with her and thinks maybe he shouldn't be. She isn't in love with him. But they go on dating. Charles finds out, and tries to intrude. Is that, and his drunken evening with Markus, supposed to be funny? This is really hard to say.

Delicacy/La Délicatesse -- or its story -- may deserve credit for attempting to be different, and even for suggesting romance need not be with a handsome, prepossessing guy (Markus does however repeatedly show that he has a good sense of humor). This is a good role for François Daniens (how, though, can we imagine him to be Swedish?); but one actor worth watching in a film is not quite enough. One must still make allowances (though the film's look is quite classic and glossy) for these first-timer Foenkinos brothers' making some missteps in telling their already successful story. There are blatantly derivative moments, including a bereaved street song for Nathalie that's a tepid echo of Honoré's Love Songs. But this still seems a film that's often tedious and inexplicable. From the start it indulges in button-pushing, it pushes its quirkiness too hard (nothing "delicate" about either of these), and it has a shaky sense of pace. It seems the filmmakers were not sure enough of themselves. None of this seems to get in the way of popular box office success, necessarily. La Délicatesse has been well received in France -- it opened there just before Christmas 2011 -- though the critics did not love it very much (Allociné 2.5 indicates mediocre reviews).

Delicacy is the closing night film for the March 1-11, 2012 joint UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Two screenings at that time:

*Sun., March 11, 6pm & 9pm - WRT
*In person: David & Stéphane Foenkinos and Audrey Tautou

A UK release is scheduled for April 12, 2012.

Chris Knipp
02-22-2012, 03:24 PM


Bad witnesses

Lucas Belvaux's Rapt, starring Yvan Attal, considered the moral ironies in a rich executive's kidnapping when his bad prior behavior emerges. In 38 Witnesses/38 Témoins the Belgian-born director known for his brilliant multi-genre Rashomon-style Trilogy tackles another moral issue. He adapts a novel by Didier Decoin, Est-ce ainsi que les femmes meurent ? ("Is This How Women Die?") based on the 1964 Kitty Genovese case of the woman in Queens whose rape and murder 38 witnesses were aware of but never called to report. The setting has been moved to Le Havre -- not the quaint, humanistic version given us in Aki Kaurasmäki's recent film, but anything but. Belvaux's filmmaking here is severely elegant, with some small sense of imploding Greek tragedy in it. And yet it's hard to care, and some of the emotion seems pushed. This Le Havre is gray and off-putting in harbor, building, and street, the objective correlative of soullessness and a frozen moral sense. While Rapt was an intense thriller, 38 Witnesses (again starring Attal) is rather static, a long wait to find out that people didn't do anything, which we already knew. It's a grim, depressed film, impressive but without emotional impact. Belvaux has a great command of style, but one begins to see a cool indifference in his work.

Belvaux's digital widescreen images of cold-colored harbor industrial spaces and big cargo ships and a pilot boat roaring through a wintry sea are grand and terrifying and beautiful. They made me think of the much more layered and complex Adieu by Arnaud des Pallières, which also deals with moral responsibility (it combines the issues of Rapt and this and much more). Belvaux's shipping images, which show the power of the sea and of freight vessels, exude a sense of helplessness, especially through the effective use of sound design, which makes water and engines oppress us and seem alive -- more alive than any of the people in the film.

Pierre (Attal) is a harbor pilot, and he works at night; he lives in a spacious flat, gray like everything else, with big windows. It overlooks the place where a girl was brutally murdered. Her screams rang out. One man heard them and yelled; he is the only one at first who admits to police that he saw. Pierre's fiancee Louise (Sophie Quinton) works in shipping too, but she returns from a trip to China at the end of the fatal night.

The local journalist exploring the case, Sylvie Loriot (Nicole Garcia, as good as she can be in a conventional role) comes to question people, but at first only Louise will talk to her. Louise assumes Pierre didn't hear the violence, as he at first claims. But he has a doomed, grim look. He predicts the end of their relationship. It's all over before it's begun.

Everything in the film goes like this. It's all a foregone conclusion. What are we here for? To have the witnesses' cowardice and lying revealed. But we already know about them. To brood over the wrongness of it all.

On another night the increasingly desperate, guilt-ridden Pierre (who does he think he is, the murderer?) delivers a painfully overwrought, though whispered, soliloquy as he sits near the sleeping Louise that in effect finishes off the film by removing whatever element of naturalism or dramatic truth it might have contained. It may have seemed necessary to explicate his sense of guilt at having heard everything and gotten up and looked and then still done nothing, but the whispered speech exemplifies 38 Witnesses' art-film lack of realism and ordinary detail. Everything is grandly, coldly staged; nothing is naturalistic and specific. Is this what Belvaux has always done? The cold relentlessness worked splendidly in Rapt, but here, it's the kiss of death, because we need to see little people feeling guilty and responsible. Instead we get a grandiose sense of doom.

Louise is sleeping but "hears" the soliloquy and thinks it's a dream, but Pierre confesses it's true. His next step is to go to the police. The commissioner's first choice is not to do anything because there are too many guilty people to prosecute. But then an uneasy cop (François Feroleto) tells Sylvie and she writes the silent witness story. This forces the cops to go back to the people in the building, who admit they had lied when they said they heard nothing. The cops stage a "recreation" of the crime and the witnessing of it and then Louise, who had pledged to stay by Pierre, announces that she is leaving him.

Belvaux is at the top of his game, but in things that don't matter. A frantic drive around the port by Louise looking for Pierre is superfluous, but has terrific rhythm and visual style. A man alwyas staring at Pierre from a balcony across the street is silly but elegantly shot. But these are pointless gestures, and the essential is missing. A curious casualty of the storytelling is the police procedural aspect, which is barely touched on -- except for the few final minutes, which are terrifying and yet somehow seem thrown away, almost an afterthought, an obligatory gesture and nothing ore, however well done.

The stars of 38 Witnesses, despite the well-meaning efforts of Nicole Garcia and Yvan Attal, are the great container ships and the dockyard cranes and the big apartment buildings with their disquieting spaces and sounds, the digital cameras with their excellent lenses manned by dp Pierric Gantelmi d'Ille, and the mikes manned by Henri Morelle that have caught the sounds of the sea and engines and cries of the victim and someone reenacting her final ordeal.

38 Témoins will be released in France March 14, 2012. It debuted at Rotterdam, where it was the opening night film, and was screened for this review at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in preparation for the UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, where it will be shown to the public three times at two locations, the IFC Center and the Walter Reade Theater:

Fri., March 2, 7pm – IFC; Sat., March 10, 6:15pm – WRT; Sun., March 11, 1:30pm – WRT

Chris Knipp
02-22-2012, 05:28 PM


Auteurist slasher film

In Laurent Achard's third feature, Sylvain (the sweaty, haunted-looking and quick-to-tear-up Pascal Cervo) runs a small provincial French rep cinema and lives in the basement, a hiding place for piles of cinephile mementos that once belonged to his mother. In his spare time he murders women and cuts off their ears, complete with earring, to adorn old star photos tacked on his walls. But maybe this should not be taken to literally. As Variety critic Leslie Felperin comments, Dernière séance "plays like a private joke best shared among movie buffs." The real aim is not to tell a horror story so much as to riff off of Peeping Tom, Psycho, and various other cult films, to create a strange amalgam of art film and sleazy slasher flick. "Cinema Paradiso meets Psycho" is the rather random series blurb phrase. One may be reminded of other films about movie houses, such as Jacques Nolot's gritty and personal Porn Theater or Federico Veiroj's gentle, humanistic A Useful Life, in which the cinema is also threatened with closing. Last Screening is a perfect effort for late night hipsters, but mainstream art house clients will be horrified if they wander in. In France it appealed most to the critics for the cinephile mags, Cahiers du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles. The latter saw it as a blend of Argento and Bresson.

Sylvain's Empire Cinema is about to be closed down. The owner, who redid it in 1978, is going to turn it into a shop and Sylvain has to move out. The implication is that this crisis causes Sylvain to go off the deep end and begin his series of murders, losing all ability to distinguish between reality and the films he loves, and entering into his own B-horror sequence. Meanwhile he avoids harsh reality by continuing to show one film a day, running the projector, selling the tickets, and cleaning the seats afterward and letting in a handful of loyal customers such as Monsieur Paul (Noël Simsolo and a woman playing the lead role in Racine's Phèdre, Manon (Charlotte Van Kemmel), who has a romantic interest in him. In his free time he roams around killing young women. Sometimes older ones, like the female cabbie he encounters at a kind of karaoke theater, played by Brigitte Sy, former lover of Philippe Garrel and mother of Louis Garrel. She drives Sylvain out to the suburbs to the house where he grew up. Then he offs her.

Before this Sylvain, who usually dons a hooded coat for his exploits, offs a drum majorette practicing in a stadium and various others. Overwrought flashbacks show young Sylvain (Austin Morel) and his brutal mother (Karole Rocher), who's harshly running him through some memorized lines for what may be an audition. "Mamon dearest" (to use Felperin's line) evidently is the cause of both Sylvain's hatred of women and his obsession with classic female stars. One of Sylvain's victims finally gets the better of him and as he dies of stab wounds, he staggers through the projection room and manages to watch the last scenes of Jean Renoir's French Cancan, the film he's most recently been screening for customers for six euros.

The Last Screening debuted at Locarno (August 2011) and played at London and other film festivals, including Rotterdam (January 2012). It opened in Paris cinemas December 7, 2011 to rather mediocre reviews (Allociné 2.8) overall; but many critics acknowledged that Achard has a distinctive style and that his blend of auteurist/cinephile and horror themes is unique and "bears fruit." The film is included in the UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center March 1-11, 2012 series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, and was watched for this review at a press screening at Lincoln Center. Public screenings at the Rendez-Vous will be:

*Tues., March 6, 8:30pm – WRT; *Thurs., March 8, 6pm – IFC; *Sat., March 10, 1:30pm – WRT
*In person: Laurent Achard, Pascal Cervo and producer Sylvie Pialat

Chris Knipp
02-23-2012, 07:08 PM


The French Revolution from an odd angle

History books often ring false because they're narrated from an omniscient point of view that favors great men and power. Farewell, My Queen/Les Adieux à la reine, a 2002 Prix Fémina-award-winning novel by Chantal Thomas adapted by Benoît Jacquot, seeks to describe Versailles at the precise moment of the storming of the Bastille and the chaotic days thereafter (July 14-17, 1789) from the viewpoint of a very minor insider -- the "reader" for Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) lives in a humble room at Versailles; her only possession of value is a nice clock. Ironically, Seydoux herself is a real film princess, being granddaughter and niece of the combined ruling Gaument-Pathé cinema families. Sidonie is nobody, but due to her job she regularly spends time alone with the Queen of France, whom she idolizes and is dedicated to serving. By being situated on the edge of great events instead of staring at them head-on we are enabled to view a key moment of French history from a new angle. The advantage is that the picture provided feels more authentic. And like Sofia Coppola, Jacquot had the privilege of shooting actually at Versailes: the glittering hallways and gilded and chandeliered rooms enfilade are the real stars of the show.

The disadvantage of Thomas' narrator is that she's limited and unreliable: she's blinded by her super-loyalty and her minor role in the court provides only fleeting views of main events. But Jacquot, whose filmography is uneven, nonetheless scores a relative success here by handling the material simply. He relies on a sure-fire mix of candlelight and gowns, wise old men and beautiful young women. He even throws in one sexy young man, a fake Italian called Paolo (Vladimir Consigny) who mans a gondola and sings in Italian but is really a French nobody, like Sidonie, whom he meets and makes a play for. They are all ready to get it on in a hallway, but it's a sign of how chaotic and frightening events have become that even that quick youthful coupling is interrupted.

Sidonie enjoys the friendship of a denizen of the royal records, Jacob Nicolas Moreau (Michel Robin), an historian and ardent royalist (though we aren't told that). She takes directions from Madame Campan (Noémie Lvovsky), first lady of the bedchamber (who wrote memoirs of Marie Antoinette, though that's not mentioned either). Jacquot's film is a succession of swift scenes in which moments of chaos and growing terror at court alternate with the routine frivolities. Rome is burning, the court is fleeing -- and the faithful few are sewing. Sidonie and her colleague Honorine (Julie-Marie Parmentier) continue to work on an embroidery of a dahlia to delight the Queen. Marie Antoinette (author Thomas perhaps riffing here off the many libels cooked up against the Queen later as pretexts for her execution) nurtures a virtually open lesbian attraction for the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The Duchess, in her special green silk gown symbolizing hope, envy, and a dozen other things, is far more interesting to the Queen than the plump, pasty-faced Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois), and, unfortunately for Sidonie, eclipses her in the Queen's affections as well.

The best scenes are the ones in the dark corridors behind the halls and mirrors and great rooms enfillade where aristocrats and servants, increasingly confused about who is which, hover clutching candles and trading rumors of who has fled and who has been offed by the revolutionaries.

Approaching the events crabwise captures the curious mixture of order and disorder that doubtless indeed prevailed. Rumor is how people know what is going on. The physical "pamphlet" listing 200-odd aristocrats who must be beheaded is read by an aristocrat (Jacques Nolot) in the chaotic jumbled corridor amid the flickering candlelight. Madame Campan says this must be kept secret. It's later given to Marie Antoinette and she throws it into the fire. She decides to flee to Metz (and gives orders for items to bring including a coffee pot, teapot, and chocolatière), but the King's decision to remain at Versailles and go to Paris alone frustrates that hope. Several scenes not involving Sidonie are still from her POV: we see Marie Antoinette and the Duchess de Polignac alone together because Sidonie is spying through a doorway. Anyway this is a film of atmosphere and suggestive glimpses rather than action. The point is that the rulers, used to trivial pursuits, have no real idea how to act in the crisis. Threatened with beheading, the Queen burns love letters and gathers her jewels. Sidonie's world is crumbling but she still focuses all her efforts on gaining more favor with her mistress. The story dutifully provides a kind of surprise ending for Sidonie that does not end her indirect link with the higher-ups.

The film maintains well its sense of disorder and panic -- the latter unnecessarily underlined with constant tremulous mood music. One would need a novel or a mini-series to convey fully the complexities of mind and personality behind this young woman narrator, who like all the rest is only glimpsed but clearly is as smart and well-read and crafty as she is loyal. The end result of the focus on a zigzag of fleeting moments is that the viewer is intrigued but not much moved.

Benoît Jacquot's Farewell, My Queen/Les adieux à la reine, a French-Spanish coproduction, was the opening night film at Berlin 2011. It opens in French cinemas March 21, 2012, and was watched for this review at a press screening for the March 1-11, 2012 UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Public screeings of the film at the Rendez-Vous at the Walter Reade Theater (WRT) at Lincoln Center and the IFC Center in lower Manhattan:

*Fri., March 2, 6:30pm – WRT; *Sat., March 3, 1:30pm – WRT; *Sat., March 3, 7pm – IFC; *Sun., March 4, 6pm – BAM
*In person: Benoît Jacquot

Chris Knipp
02-23-2012, 10:24 PM


Teen baby club in a French coastal town

From the sister team of Muriel and Delphine Coulin comes this first feature set in their home town of Lorient in Brittany based on a 2008 American news story about 17 girls at a Gloucester, Massachusetts high school who allegedly made a pact to get pregnant and raise their children together. The reporter who wrote the original story later made a documentary (http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/healthquest/real-truth-about-gloucester-18s-pregnancy-pact) revealing there in fact was never any "pregnancy pact" among girls at the school. There were simply 18 unwed girls no older than 16 who got pregnant at Gloucester High that year -- an only slightly higher number than usual. The French film has been well received both for its cautionary social message and its warm performances and several memorable scenes. With its pretty jeunes filles en fleur and its luminous pastels by skilled dp Jean-Louis Vialard (who has worked with Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Christophe Honoré) strongly reminiscent of Joel Meyerowitz's photography classic, Cape Light, this is a film that's easy on the eyes. It seems unfortunate that a film aiming to bring home truths to the French audience is based on a false premise, is thin on background about the girls and lacks follow-up on what happens after the babies are born. Could they not have begun by getting the details right? But whether myth or reality, 17 filles is watchable and thought-provoking.

The town of Lorient has in common with Gloucester being a one-time port that is economically depressed, and teen pregnancies tend to be high among the poor. Another common feature is a lack of realism among pregnant teens about what child rearing will be like. That was true at Gloucester High and it's true among the girls of Lorient. The lycée girls see no future for themselves as adults in their town, and banding together in the intense friendship of teenage girls, they imagine a utopian commune in which they will raise their kids together, free of annoying adult pressure. 17 filles makes clear that this does not happen, though apart from the mishaps that occur to several of the girls, what does happen is not detailed.

In contemporary society poor girls can make their social errors with the firm illusion that they're exercising free will in so doing. And in 17 Girls its Camille (Louise Griberg of The Class), the prettiest, most clearly Alpha female of the lycée girls, who first proudly announces to her best mates up on the dunes that she's pregnant. She's the trend-setter. When the rejected girl Florence ((Roxanne Duran) claims she's pregnant too, her declaration gets her membership in Camille's five-girl inner circle. Getting pregnant becomes a gesture of defiance and a symbol of belonging to the in-group. The willingness of teenagers to self-sacrifice in order to belong has never been better dramatized.

There are funny scenes, like when a group of girls, once the project to get collectively enceinte has been agreed to, shock a clerk when they buy a large number of pregnancy tests at a pharmacy. As the school nurse, the ubiquitous Noémie Lvovsky (the madam in House of Tolerance and also in Guilty and Farewell, My Queen in 2012's Rendez-Vous) adds a note of bemusement and. . . tolerance. A gathering of school officials debate what the sudden rash of pregnancies means. When confronted by irate parents, who blame the school, the principal (Carlo Brandt) simply insists neither he nor the llycée is responsible.

Meanwhile the individual dramas play out. At a summer dance, girls determine to make boys get them pregnant. Given that the girls in the cast are all pretty, it's not surprising they succeed, except for one who later offers a boy 20, 30, then goes up to 50 euros for him to impregnate her. Camille's single mom (Florence Thomassin) is extremely angry. So are other parents who run a café. There are some good scenes between Camille and her brother, who has become a soldier in Afghanistan. The relationship between Camille and her brother is the only male-female relationship of any depth. Camille has an on-and-off boyfriend who proves loyal at the end, but otherwise no boys are present for the pregnant girls, one of the odd and implausible aspects of the film.

17 Girls was included in the Critics Fortnight at Cannes and received high marks from Paris critics when it entered cinemas December 14, 2011 (an excellent Allociné 3.8 rating). Reservations about the accuracy of the story can't detract from the fact that this is, as the French reviews nearly all say, a first film that is a warm and sunny and justifiably troubling "success." This might be contrasted however with the more probing exploration of teeange girls found in the films of Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy).

Delphine Coulin is also a novelist and her sister Muriel is a documentary filmmaker.

The film is included in the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center March 1-11, 2012 series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Public screening schedule:

*Fri., March 2, 9:15pm – WRT; *Sat., March 3, 9:30pm – IFC; *Sun., March 4, 1pm - WRT
*In person: Delphine and Muriel Coulin

Chris Knipp
02-24-2012, 10:14 PM


Téchiné, a bit off form

Unforgivable is adapted from a novel by Philppe Dijan (whose 37°2 le matin was the basis for Beineix's Betty Blue). In this new source Téchiné finds favorite themes: family tensions, amorous transgressions, personal doubts. He assembles an interesting cast including André Dussollier, Carole Bouquet, Adriana Asti. They deliver fresh, energetic performances, and are joined by young hopefuls like Mélanie Thierry and Mauro Conte, who also show how good Téchiné is with actors. The underlying theme from the novel by Dijan, something about a writer who gets blocked when he's in love, along with other implausible plot elements, doesn't go down nearly as well as the performances. This is recognizably personal work. But Unforgivable doesn't sing and excite us like the great Téchiné films of the Eighties and Nineties. The themes don't cohere and the action seems artificial.

What's wrong to begin with, is Venice, the setting, which requires people who alternately speak French and Italian, but don't seem particularly wedded to the locale. Though it's nice that this Téchiné Venice stays away from tourist traps and is not a cliché, it's a pity that it is not also in some way more atmospheric, mysterious, magical, or even ugly. And no amount of motorboats or instructions on tailing somebody along the canals can change that.

Venice may have a lot of real estate agents, but a French one, called Judith (Carole Bouquet), is a stretch. Likewise her being approached by a French mystery story writer, Francis (André Dussollier) who has come to write a book. This was not the setting of the novel (which was the Basque coast), and feels like Woody Allen coming to a new location to liven up his filmmaking routine. Dussollier takes a house out on Sant'Erasmo island, on condition that Judith moves in with him. That's even more of a stretch; the suggestion gives her a nosebleed. But a year and a half later they are married and living there together. Only it turns out Francis is happy now, and when he's happy he can't write. So: writer's block. Francis' daughter Alice (Thierry), an aspiring actress who's married with a child, comes to visit, and then disappears. Francis engages a semi-retired female detective, Anna Maria (Asti), an old flame of Judith's, it seems, who goes off to Paris, to trail Alice. She turns out to be perfectly happy, if irresponsible, having an affair with a shady young Venetian, Alvise (Andrea Pergolesi), the son of an impoverished countess (Sandra Toffolatti). Alvise is a small time drug dealer, as, it turns out, is Anna Maria's son Jérémie (Mauro Conte; his father was French, you see), but Alvise is an "aristo," which Jérémie definitely isn't.

Francis now becomes suspicious that Judith is having an affair and hires Jérémie, just back from jail on drug charges, to follow her. Jérémie doesn't want to and isn't trained to but can't say no because he needs the money. Judith is soon onto Jérémie. They connect and have a brief affair. But Jérémie is also depressive, and, for obscure reasons (homosexual panic?), a gay basher. Despite the moment on the grass with Judith, he does not want sex with men or women, and even dislikes touching people. Francis for a while becomes involved with Jérémie and helps, even saves him. This might be the most important moment of the film, but it happens and is over a little too quickly.

The blocked Francis is always spying on and examining things, looking through binoculars, a magnifying glass, taking photos of everything, like a tourist; he says it helps him in his writing (what writing?). He's trying to get to the bottom of something, evidently, but there's no there there. And there's something pretty nasty that happens with a dog. Anna Maria, an alcoholic and chain smoker, returns to Venice, diagnosed in Paris as terminally ill.

Working with screenwriter Mehdi Ben Attia, who collaborated on Far, Téchiné has modified the novel's first-person narration to present events from multiple viewpoints as in The Witnesses and Changing Times. This definitely makes the film more Téchiné-like, but the tangled strands don't cohere as they might. This could be for several reasons: the corny writer-in-love-and-unable-to-write theme; Francis' inexplicable jealousy; the fact that the two young Italian men Jérémie and Alvise, are shadowy as well as shady figures whose torments or delights never seem to matter. It's hard to think of any really crucial moment, and the pivotal relationship between Francis and Judith, which is arbitrarily set up and keeps being interrupted, lacks emotional resonance. The turning point is the novel Francis writes when his writing block lifts. Due to his jealousy he and Judith have been estranged, but when the book is done, Francis goes to her and she seems welcoming. This is not an emotional shift that feels convincing.

It's nice that this film has at the center a romance of older people. Judith is well into her fifties and Francis well into his sixties. But his sudden, offhand proposal and later marriage and subsequent jealousy and estrangement, followed by reunion after a book's done, all seem like literary gimmicks. The plot line of Unforgivable doesn't, finally, convince.

And in this context Carole Bouquet and André Dussollier, consummate pros though they may be, turn out to be a chilly combination. One longs for Catherine Deneuve, or the great cast Téćhiné assembled for The Witnesses, or Magimel or Binoche, or Amalric, or Auteuil, or the young hotties in Wild Reeds, Élodie Bouchez, Gaël Morel, Stéphane Rideau -- all those wonderful characters, interesting actors, people we could care about.

At his best Téchiné has woven complex plots whose interrelations one deeply pondered and wanted to understand, as in Wild Reeds or Les Voleurs, or explored an individual story that seemed to matter, as in I Don't Kiss, or followed multiple stories that are part of the same important historical moment, as in The Witnesses. Here it is difficult to see what the different story lines have to do with each other or why they matter. There's a Téchiné feel, but not a Téchiné importance. And the reason all this ultimately disappoints so much is that Téchiné has, in the past, made films that really did matter. But this can't be totally dismissed because Téchiné's misfires provide worthwhile commentary on his successes.

André Téchiné's Inpardonnables debuted at Cannes and opened in Paris August 17, 2011, receiving not very enthusiastic reviews (Allociné 2.6). Critics saw the film as long, repetitious, and running breathlessly along too many narrative paths (I'm paraphrasing Cahiers). It has been picked up for US distribution by Strand Releasing. The film is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema March 1-11, 2012 (a joint enterprise of UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center), slated for the following screenings:

*Wed., March 7, 2012, 6:30pm – IFC; *Fri., March 9, 8:45pm – WRT
*In person: Carole Bouquet

Chris Knipp
02-27-2012, 07:07 PM


Politics is a game at which we all lose

Cavalier is something of a French provocateur (if a discreet one: but his Le Filmeur annoyed and won a special prize at Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2005) and his Pater was deemed one of the most surprising French entries at last year's Cannes Festival. It's political; it's conceptual. It's witty; for some it's provocative, for others terminally annoying. It's seen by some French observers as a reply to Xavier Durringer's film The Conquest (La Conquête), a French Masterpiece Theater-like rendering of the story of Sarkozy's rise to power. Or it might be a more whimsical version of Pierre Schoeller's L'Exercise de l'État, a fairly realistic and suitably intense film focused on the travails of a new and overtaxed French government minister.

For a year the two were filmed: the filmmaker and the actor; the President and his Prime Minister; Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon. In each of these three roles, personal, professional, and metaphorical, the two men interact and improvise on camera in a fiction they invent together. This is Pater. Cavalier doesn't enter like Durringer or Schoeller into the elaborate make-believe of a pseudo-historical contemporary film. Alain Cavalier and his partner Vincent Lindon take on a different game -- one that's more childish and yet both more serious and funnier. Let's play, Cavalier proposes, that I'm President of the Republic and that I name you my Prime Minister.

They take on two topics: the span between minimum and maximum salaries in a company, and electoral politics. Conversations go back and forth. And, by the way, all this takes place at a nice country house, in the study, dining room, and kitchen. When the film begins, Cavalier is spooning out truffles and other delicacies, including tuna, from jars to plates. It's a picnic, and a sybaritic one! There are others who gather around. The team to make a film doubles nicely for the assistants and security people surrounding heads of state. There is some talk about security, but Lindon soliloquizes that Cavalier's fuss over bullet-proof glass at the new residence is really just a way of showing him, Lindon, that he's going to be displeased with him, his Prime Minister. They also talk about ties to wear, and suits, and visit Lindon's museum-like dressing room.

Electoral politics comes later, and it will turn out that Cavalier apparently has lost, before he has even served, and has to let Lindon go. Or run again. And for the election results are substituted a set of 100 euros worth of lottery cards. Cavalier, that is, the President, says he lost because he lacked the energy to go to enough cities. In other words, in shorthand, political campaigning, from the study.

For salary discrepancies, the President favors a factor of 1 to 12. The highest paid cannot make more than twelve times the salary of the lowest paid. The Prime Minister favors a factor of 1 to 10. The President concludes that the head of a corporation can make as much as, and no more than, the President of the Republic. This debate goes back and forth (sometimes with others present) and stands for the highest discussions of policy in a government.

At one point Prime Minister Lindon appears at the Presidency of the Republic and is shown a compromising photo of his political adversary. Should he use it or not? He analyzes the ethics of the situation, if he does, or if he doesn't. Again: a game, and a set of strict rules and consequences. Which you cannot escape, and which you cannot, strictly speaking, win.

In the film, private area and public debate merge. While communication is the law in ministerial cabinets, Pater reminds us that politics is both intimacy and conviction. And asks simple questions: What is the relationship between two politicians? And between a director and actor? And between two friends? Pater's constant deliberate (and natural) confusion of roles makes it challenging and amusing to watch -- although, for those who like a clear set of rules, it may be simply frustrating and confusing. And they should go and watch The Conquest or L'Exercise de l'État, which are worth watching, but do not provide the kind of intellectual satisfaction Cavalier offers.

It's difficult to convey a sense of Pater without seeing Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon. And there are moments when they tell very personal things about themselves: Cavalier's lack of familiarity with cell phones and computers; Lindon's quarrel with his landlord, whose inherited wealth and complacent favoring of power infuriate him. Cavalier's mild, distinguished appearance, snowy white hair, dark but unpretentious suits; Lindon's tics, his unruly hair, his "terrifyingly sympathetic" presence, his robust physique, the intensity and surprising clarity and elegance of his speech. The accomplishment of this film is the way it conveys the two men so vividly simply as men before the camera, without destroying the illusion or illusions that are created of heads of state and politics. It's a brilliant touch the way a film crew stands in for the entourage of heads of state; the way the making of a film thus becomes the making of politics.

If you want to understand the Alain Cavalier of Pater, imagine the Lars von Trier of The Boss of It All or The Five Obstructions in a good suit eating potted truffles. Combining him with Vincent Lindon is like mixing the most theoretical and cooly provocative of filmmakers with the most soulful and morally responsible of actors. Pater was seen as one of the most bizarre of films at Cannes and also received nine nominations and a 17-minute standing ovation and this ovation was seconded by the Paris critics when the film opened there in June 2011.

The French critics loveed this film but I warn you, it is more French and more political than an American audience can easily handle. The Variety critic described it as, "The epitome of an in-joke, best appreciated by director Alain Cavalier and his slender cast. " But Le Nouvel Observateur wrote - brilliantly I think -- that "Pater is akin to a class in film taught by a master who pretends to believe you know as much as he, lets you play with the illusion that in his place you'd do as well; thus you feel the film is as much yours as his, as theirs." In other words, Cavalier makes it look very simple what he does, but what is behind the film is shrewd and ingenious. Variety saw it as sloppy and wrote a hasty, dismissive review. Tastes across the pond do radically differ quite often, but this is, clearly, not mainstream stuff and the French public was not as enthusiastic as the press.

Debuted in competition at Cannes, 2011, Pater/Our Father opened in Paris June 22, 2011, with rave reviews (Allociné 4.3) from all the best sources. It is included in the March 1-11, 2012 joint UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, and was screened for the press for this review. Public screenings will be four times at three locations: the Walter Reade Theater, IFC Center, and BAMcinematek in Brooklyn:

Fri., March 2, 3:45pm – WRT; *Fri., March 2, 9:15pm – IFC; *Sat., March 3, 6:30pm – BAM; *Sun., March 4, 3:30pm - WRT
*In person: Vincent Lindon

When he made Pater, as he tells Cavalier on camera, Lindon was working in another film: Moon Child, or La Permission de minuit, about a boy with XP, a genetic disorder. This film is also included in the Rendez-Vous.

(Parts of this review are adapted from a Cannes posting (http://www.allocine.fr/article/fichearticle_gen_carticle=18604251.html) about the film on Allociné entitled, "Cannes 2011: We have seen Pater!".

Chris Knipp
02-28-2012, 11:33 PM


Moody romantics and doomed illegals in Lyons

Nicolas Klotz and and his partner and co-writer Elizabeth Perceval's previous film Heartbeat Detecter/La question humaine (2007; Rendez-Vous 2008 (http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.php?2211-Rendez-vous-With-French-Cinema-2008&p=19405#post19405)) featured Mathieu Amalric and Michael Lonsdale as an investigator and the CEO of a sinister corporation with a hidden Nazi past. It was a complex and interesting film, enjoyably mysterious, finally disturbing and powerful. Their new film, Low Life, with its earnest, good looking young people, is charming and fun; surely one isn't supposed to take its broody romantics seriously at the beginning? The film seeks to focus on the sufferings of illegal residents in France. But it remains primarily a pretty and artificial film, and its attractive poses of brooding romanticism tend to overwhelm its sociopolitical focus.

Low Life wavors somewhat confusingly between bourgeois would-be revolutionaries and illegal foreigners in Lyon, with its Afghan poet in love with a local girl and its scattering of young Africans who attempt to put curses on their expulsion documents and their bureaucratic enemies, a device that backfires. The girl, Carmen Alvarez (Camille Rutherford) switches from the immature poseur Charles (Luc Chessel), who at first seems as though he will be the main, if ironic, character, to the foreign poet, Hussein (Arash Naimian), whom she meets when students clash with police in an effort to save Africans in a squat. It would be so much simpler, Hussain says, if he were Egyptian, but he's Afghan -- and a scrawny, by all indications brilliant young student of French literature with thick lips and and a nice smile. He and Carmen soon become inseparable, and Charles cedes the field, though remaining in reserve.

With its doomed, proto-revolutionary poet-lovers (some of whom wish their street demos would be livened up by bombs), this new Klotz film is rather like a 21st-century version of Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers. There is the same darkly happy dance scene (and lengthy partying), the same doomed poet lover, the same scenes of street fighting and moody, poetic youths. In fact an earlier poster gives the title as Les amants, The Lovers, suggesting a direct influence, but a different mixture.

Indeed too much of a mixture. This film isn't rooted like Garrel's is a revolutionary historical moment (1968). Its narrative threads do not cohere as well as Garrel's, or stand up to the level of Klotz's previous film. I would have been happy with the pretentious and naive young French people -- with the juvenile, preposterous, but irresistible Charles, spouting poetic revolutionary phrases and declaring undying love in good French accents while showing off their long hair and good cheekbones. But once the bourgeois dropout kids come into contact with the young illegals their posturing begins to seem irrelevant. Unfortunately they never leave the scene. (Charles may also be a reference to Bresson's doomed protagonist in Le diable probablement.)

The Afghan poet lover Hussein has had a document issued ordering him to leave the country and after three years has been denied asylum. He and Carmen remain together and he goes into hiding in the house. Together at times he and Carmen go into a torpid semi-narcoleptic state together, a condition they call "low life."

Charles still comes and goes, having given up all projects other than Carmen, contemptuous of his father but willing to share a good bottle with him when opportunity arises. Charles's pretentious and naive romanticism remains absurd but somehow charming, as when he lies in a pond as if to drown himself, but is only posing. Apparently to console Charles for being dumped by Carmen, there is a passage of flamenco singing and dancing. There was something like this in Heartbeat Detector too (in that case Portuguese fados) but there it heightens the tension. Here it just seems a bit off-key. The Africans paint their faces and enact a voodoo rite, but while they show the desperation of illegals at another level, there's a dangerous feeling that they are being exploited for visual effect.

Klotz-Perceval do not weld together separate elements the way they did in Heartbeat Detector, where everything is unified by the interaction between contemporary malaise and the corporation's sordid emerging Nazi past. The only thing that holds together Low Life is youthful romanticism and a strong visual sense. No matter whom we're looking at the young people all look good, and some of the shots of interiors by Hélène Louvart using only a Canon 1D DSLR look quite handsome. There is also a good sound track of studio and mixed music and voice by Ulysse Klotz and Romain Turzi. The middle-aged Klotz and Perceval capture the naivety and pretension of the young almost too vividly. It would be fine if all this were tongue-in-cheek, except that the students' early-on revolutionary clash with the police seems only make-believe.

It is hard to link jingoistic French cops with Nazis, as Carmen tries to do, and hard to make the theme of this film as powerful as the theme of Klotz's last one, especially when some of his moony youths are so silly at times. Given the harsh theme of the undocumented, there is too much posing and not enough reality.

Low Life debuted at Locarno, and also was shown at Toronto in 2011. It goes into theatrical release in France April 4, 2012. It is also a part of the March 1-11, 2012 joint UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, in connection with which it was screened for this review. Three public screenings will be given during the Rendez-Vous at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center:

*Sun., March 4, 8:30pm – WRT; *Mon., March 5, 10:05pm – IFC; Wed., March 7, 2pm - WRT
*In person: Nicolas Klotz

Chris Knipp
03-01-2012, 03:30 PM


Long slow round of days

Cyril Mennegun's 80-minute writer-director debut feature Louise Wimmer is an "unapologetic work of social realism" focused on the daily life of a hotel chambermaid and housecleaner (Corinne Masiero) now approaching fifty who has wound up living out of her car. Her whole life is devoted to trying to put together the money to get an apartment, and start anew. The film is composed of many very short scenes that put together a cumulative picture of how she spends her days, how her existence is continually being eaten away despite her patient and persistent efforts. No compelling, precipitous narrative here à la Dardennes. The emphasis is on a convincing performance by Masiero and an authentic feel to the settings, people, and action. And the sequence of scenes provides a kind of gradual revelation of hints about how Louise got here and what her story is and where it is going. Within the limited range where Mennegun chooses to work, his accomplishment is impeccable. And this is by no means a simplistically downbeat miserablist piece of work. Louise has good things in her life and she is not giving up.

This was screened as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (a March 1-11, 2012 joint presentation of UniFrance and The Film Society of Lincoln Center). The film will be shown to the public at the IFC Center and the Walter Reade Theater:

Sat., March 3, 3pm – IFC; Mon., March 5, 2pm – WRT; Tues., March 6, 6:15pm - WRT

Chris Knipp
03-03-2012, 09:11 PM


Vicissitudes of the gangster code

There are still a few more films in the 2012 Rendez-Vous series not included in the press screenings. This one, which swings back and forth between the Seventies and more recent times, is a bracingly violent and complicated gangster movie based on a memoir. Olivier Marchal, whose sixth feature this is, is a former policeman. Within its limits this is extremely well done. The French make their own kind of crime movies, and if Guillaume Canet's Tell No One and Jacque Audiard's The Prophet are any example, they do it better than Hollywood nowadays. This one has touches from The Godfather -- it's trendy opening titles don't conceal the fact that it owes debts to the past -- but it's rooted in Mediterranean omertà. It fundamentally concerns two childhood pals, bound by a gypsy bond of masculine friendship. They're Momon Vidal and Serge Suttel (played as fifty-somethings respectively by Gérard Lanvin and Tshéky Karyo) who are jailed together for their first crime, stealing a case of cherries, when in their teens and then get put away later for longer stretches due to an informer who is never identified. Starting out, they work for gangsters around Lyons -- the French title of the film is Les Lyonnais -- and then risk the anger of the big boys to start a gang of their own.

In the present, less faded-out scenes, Serge has been caught after many crimes and much hiding and Momon is called upon to get him out, but he has a younger, more unscrupulous crew do the job, a choice he later regrets. All this is mixed with flashbacks to the history of Serge and Momon's friendship and joint lives of crime, so both tales slowly advance simultaneously. Both are very violent. Marchal has a way with cars and automatic weapons of any period and the violent scenes are beautifully if sometimes shockingly or numbingly staged. Given its basic theme of gang loyalty, the film is needlessly complicated. If it were a little simpler and less elaborate technically and had less loud racy music it might have more lasting emotion. But it's still a good watch for fans of French gangster movies and tells an agreeably tangled tale of criminal loyalty and betrayals.

The Variety reviewer Boyd von Hoeij points out (http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946788/)that the film's violent crime scenes which he (a little unfairly) calls "mayhem-chic montage sequences" are all set in the past, with the exception of the jail break for Serge with Momon absent. Hoeij feels that since the "more contemplative moments" belong to Gérard Lanvin (whose gnarly wrecked good looks provide a glamorous screen to flash back disillusion) and the film contains separate narratives that don't quite "coalesce." It looks as if Marchal had a lot of fun shooting the Seventies young-men gangster sequences and makes them go on too long, or not long enough since they have too little dialogue or distinct plot.

Les Lyonnais is very conventional but it has the power to entertain. Banking on this working in American art houses, Harvey Weinstein has thought fit to pick it up and release it in the US (at a date not yet announced). It got a mixed reception from French critics when it opened in Paris November 30, 2011, with an Allociné rating of 2.8, showing a few enthusiastic reviews but a number of ones with reservations. It's been compared to the much more elaborate gangster biopic Mesrine , but that fared much better with critics. Its narratives of different periods were more fully developed, and rather than focusing on nostalgia for a dying gangster code, it concentrated on rich historical detail, though still offering plenty of violence and excitement. But that was two features: Marchal's film comes in a tidy 75-minute package.

Presented as a part of the UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center March 1-11, 2012 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Scheduled at IFC Center and Walter Reade Theater for:

Sat., March 3, 4:45pm – IFC; Thurs., March 8, 8:45pm – WRT; Fri., March 9, 4pm - WRT

Chris Knipp
03-18-2012, 08:52 PM


Opening night film : UNTOUCHABLE by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. March 1.a
A true story of two men who should never have met - a quadriplegic aristocrat who was injured in a paragliding accident and a young man from the projects. Jay Weissberg of Variety describes this as "cringe-worthy" for its "Uncle Tom racism." More likely it's just cliched and saccharine, which UniFrance and the Rendez-Vous unfortunately have a weakness for, and would provide on opening night. It has been box office gold in Franc. Allociné rating 3.7.

Closing night film : DELICACY by Stéphane and David Foenkino. March 11.
A French woman mourning over the death of her husband three years prior is courted by a Swedish co-worker. Audrey Tatous: need I say more? More clichéd sugar, evidently less well executed, since the Allociné rating was a measly 2.5.

SUMMING UP THE RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA OF 2012. ("Best and worst" may be a misnomer.)

The Rendez-Vous is a representative series that shows the quality and variety of French filmmaking. It would be nice but unusual if it included the best French film of the year but also unlikely to include the worst. The opening and closing films are usually the series' most glitzily mainstream. Much else is more sophisticated.

A favorite of mine was first-time director Fred Louf's 18 Years Old and Rising, a witty and fun period coming-of-ager satirizing bourgeois fat-cats and starring Pierre Niney, the youngest member of the Comédie Française, who is fabulously nimble and funny. This film is something Americans don't know very well how to do: smart, sexy political comedy (compare The Names of Love).

I was struck by the warmth and fluency of Robert Guédiguian's left-oriented family story that talks about the working class and its responsibility to the have-nots, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. This is the first time I've seen him fully on his own turf and it was impressive. Very enjoyable to see his regular team of actors working so well together.

I must admit to thoroughly enjoying Daniel Auteuil's remake of Pagnol's 1940 The Well-Digger's Daughter. It's such a humane and satisfying world, and Auteuil's chops are certainly up, in a directorial debut he wrote and starred in. The French critics were not very excited. They've been there too many times before. For me it was satisfying to find Auteuil in a Pagnol movie that didn't bore me. All this stuff is tremendously retro: but why not go back and look at it?

A surprise and a place where I seemed on another wavelength from the rest of the mostly American press audience at the Rendez-Vous IFC screening was my enjoyment of Alain Cavalier's conceptual piece about French politics, Pater, which may succeed better through the sympathetic presence of Vincent Lindon. His warmth (not to mention his tremendous authority and credibility as an actor) balances out the dry rather smug manner of Monsieur Cavalier, who however is to thank for the structure and many of the ideas.

The press screenings put on by Lincoln Center for this series didn't include everything this year and the most notable omission was Untouchable, which is the opening night film and a huge blockbuster in France. In his NYTimes' intro piece for this year's Rendez-Vous, Stephen Holden calls this "a crass escapist comedy that feels like a Gallic throwback to an ’80s Eddie Murphy movie." But it would be good to see what's box office gold in France now. The Artist received six Césars the other day, echoing the Oscars and other prior American and English awards for this safe, nostalgic, and French-free film, but they gave the Best Actor César to Omar Sy, the black star of Untouchable, rewarding popularity. Untouchable has been picked up by Harvey Weinstein (who scored with The King's Speech and The Artist , and for him perhaps this is another promising import). Americans will get to see Untouchable in theaters starting May 25th.

Holden joined the early American band wagon condemning Untouchable. He is right to harp on this inclusion, to make clear the Rendez-Vous is not by any means an elite cream-of-the-crop festival like the Lincoln Center's fall New York Film Festival. Holden particularly liked Benoît Jacquot's off-center film about Marie Antoinette, Farewell, My Queen, which indeed is different and nice, and Léa Seydoux seductive and offbeat, but the film not so very memorable, I think. Holden thought the teen pregnancy piece, 17 Girls "feels really contemporary." Yes, feels. But it'd be better if it were not inaccurate and so light. Jean-François Laguionie’s The Painting animation is indeed "witty" and rather touching; I liked it. I liked almost everything! The world is full of nice animations. Holden expressed some "disappointments." Yes, one cann find those, I suppose (but I said I liked almost everything). He was disappointed in the Audry Tatou vehicle Delicacy. Yes, it's a kitsch pseudo-American mess; but why was he expecting anything? (It is the closing night film -- often a warning). Holden was disappointed in Belvaux's 28 Witnesses -- because it's cold and gray and Belvaux made the riveting Rapt. Yes, we all were.

Frankly a low point was Mathieu Demy's clumsy Americano, which the French press gave a free ride to (their picture of America is different from ours). Amalric's modern dress Corneille The Last Screening was a bit disappointing, too hard to follow and -- dare one say it? -- unnecessary. I wanted to love Low Life, but it seems self-indulgent.

Others films that were good if not extraordinary are the grim but true Guilty (whose star Phiippe Torreton got a César nomination); the film about a special friendship, Moon Child; the solid policier, Paris by Night (with Roschdy Zem); the slightly pale (but about a good topic) Free Men, with Tahar Rahim (who I hope can live up to the extraordinary beginning Audiard gave him in The Prophet). Headwinds, Magimel directed by Lespert, was creditable.

But there don't seem to have been as much in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema to set my heart on fire this year. I don't think there was anything as exciting as Rapt or In the Beginning in 2010, 35 Shots of Rum, Mesrine (both parts) or Séraphine in 2009; Lovesongs, Heartbeat Detector or All Is Forgiven in 2008; Flanders or La Vie en Rose or The Singer or Tell No One in 2007; The Little Lieutenant in 2006.

It says something that one of the most striking new French films I've seen in the past few weeks was Mathieu Kassovitz's Rebellion/L'ordre et la morale. It is very accomplished technically and approaches a complex modern subject on many levels. And it wasn't in the Rendez-Vous series at all. It was in Film Comment Selects, which also included a new film by Chantal Ackerman (which I missed). Likewise Pierre Schöller's exciting political film The Minister, a powerful film -- not in the Rendez-Vous but coming up in New Directors/New Films, the next series at Lincoln Center (jointly run with MoMA).

New Directors/New Films, the Lincoln Center film series coming up after the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, will include several French films: Djinn Carrénard's Donoma, Pierre Schoeller's The Minister/L'Exercise de l'État (which I've already reviewed), Roschdy Zem's Omar Killed Me, and Antoine Delesvaux's animation from Joanne Sfar, The Rabbi's Cat. New Directors/New Films 41 runs from March 21-April 1, 2012, but I will be commenting on the films earlier during the Mar. 5-21 press screening period.

Note that I watched some of the eclectic, unclassifiable Feb. 17-Mar. 1, 2012 Film Comment Selects series: Alexandr Sokurov's Faust, James Franco's My Own Private River (all except the Franco part), Hirakazu Koreeda's I Wish, and the aforementioned Kassevitz's Rebellion.

The 2012 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema begins at IFC Center, NYC March 2.

Chris Knipp
03-27-2012, 07:06 PM


Intense victim-based docudrama of a judicial nightmare

The first sixteen minutes of this film, Guilty/Presumé coupable ("Presumed Guilty"), alone are devastating. It is hard for anything afterward to live up to them. Philippe Torreton is nominated for the César for Best Actor for his performance as Alain Marécaux, a hard-working bailiff, who with his wife and a dozen other people was the victim in 2001 of one of the worst judicial errors in modern France. They were accused completely falsely of being members of a ring of pedophiles guilty of horrific crimes. The judicial and police system is singularly brutal here. What we see in thos opening minutes is Alain and his family having their house invaded in the early morning, being rapidly and brutally taken away by smirking cops, handcuffed, interrogated, threatened, and treated as a sick maniac. It turns out this is the now notorious Outreau affair, and 17 were accused, of whom only four, who were those who accued the others, were ever proven guilty. A overview of the events of the case will be found on French Wikipedia (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affaire_d'Outreau). It took five years for this to be concluded, and some, including Marécaux, spent most of this time in prison. He lost everything, including his job, his family, and his reputation. He attempted suicide several times and went on a hunger strike.

Unfortunately this precipitous opening is a hint of the whole approach, which is too direct and humorless. A bit of detachment is needed to make anything more than mere pseudo-documentary out of the story. The constant in-your-face hand-held focus on Torreton emphasizes his anguish and suffering and the injustice of the whole affair, but limits the picture given of what is a complex social, political, and legal matter. We get that Maréceaux knew nothing about all this and was innocent and that this was a nightmare for him. But how did all this come about? What are the forces behind the miscarriage of justice? What happened to the principle of presumed innocence? Who stands to gain? Choosing to focus unwaveringly on the judicial victim proved to be a tactical error.

We are left to draw our own conclusions. Some of them are obvious. The public loses its perspective completely in the case of sex crimes, particularly of a pedophile nature. False allegations of pedophile rings also came up repeatedly in the US as well. These may be the witch trials of modern times. But Garenq's film sheds little light on this process. The kind of ambiguity we find in Capturing the Friedman's is missing, and instead of being troubled and stimulated, the viewer feels bludgeoned over the head repeatedly for 102 minutes. Material that should be the cause of reflection is not. Due to the drawn-out nature of the judicial nightmare, datelines might have helped. What is made clear in the final court proceedings is that the young investigating judge (juge d'instruction) responsible for all this suffering does get exposed, even though his superiors defend him. Years later Marécaux is able to resume his duties as bailiff, finally exonerated.

In order to manifest his character's physical and psychological suffering in prison, Torreton, an experienced stage actor with many roles for the Comédie Française and other companies to his credit, lost over fifty pounds. His performance is a dedicated one otherwise as well, and it is for this that one watches Guilty. Torreton excels at showing the humiliation, anger, depression and gradual degeneration of this humble servant of the law as he suffers the effect of his unjust incarceration. We must bear in mind that in this he stands for the many, because there were 17 accused.

What this account shows is that as in American cases, children are coerced by suggestive questions to make false statements and a collection of rumors and accusations builds up. The involvement of Maréch aux's own son recalls the Friedman case.

Guilty opened in Paris September 7, 2011 and received generally favorable reviews from the more mainstream publications. Others expressed the same reservations I have, but all note Torreton's dedicated performance. It was also shown at Toronto, London, and Montreal. The film is part of the joint Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema of March 1-11, 2012, and public screenings are as follows:

Mon., March 5, 6:15pm – WRT; Tues., March 6, 1:30pm – WRT; Thurs., March 8, 10:25pm – IFC