Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Season of New French Films

New French Films
BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

November 11-15, 2009

Every November, The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) presents a series, modestly titled New French Films, that gives New York film lovers their first chance to see a quintet of the latest features from France.

A scene from Grown Ups

This year’s selections are highlighted by the new film by Francois Ozon, best known for the creepy Swimming Pool and whose Angel had its local premiere at BAM in this series two years ago. But the best film among the five chosen is Alain Cavalier’s Irene. Although his 1986 film Therese, a quietly poetic biography about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is among the true masterpieces of the past quarter-century, Cavalier’s name registers nary a blip on anybody’s radar nowadays (with the partial exception of a recent re-release of his debut, Le Combat dans l’île), so seeing Irene—an achingly emotional tribute to his late wife, actress Irene Tunc, who died in a car accident in 1972—is a rare privilege.

None of the other films is up to Cavalier’s level, but Grown Ups, Anne Novion’s modest character study, shows a level of maturity for a first-time feature director. When a middle-aged divorcee takes his 17-year-old daughter on her first trip to Sweden, their rental house is occupied by two women, a tense arrangement which Novion smartly uses to transform all of her characters, creating an original coming-of-age film across three generations even as it concentrates on the teen, wonderfully played by Anaïs Demoustier.

For those who like spotting French actors and actresses, Park Benches, by actor-director Bruno Podalydes, is a “Where’s Waldo”-type diversion. In his sprawling canvas (86 speaking roles!) of various relationships in the thriving city of Versailles, Podalydes is just one of dozens of stars who barely make an impression: in 110 minutes of soap opera-ish antics, we move among so many people and places that no one and no plot line register. As minor compensation, there are the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Pierre Arditti and Denis Podalydes (Bruno’s brother).

The series’ biggest disappointment is Please Please Me! by actor-writer-director Emmanuel Mouret, who doesn’t deserve the “French Woody Allen” appellation he has gotten. Mouret deadpannedly plays goofballs who somehow attract all sorts of attractive women (here it’s Judith Godrèche, Déborah François, Frédérique Bel), but with no screen presence, he further drains his already arid and unoriginal concepts of any comedic life. At least his last mess, Shall We Kiss?, was brightened by the presence of Virginie Ledoyen. And, apropos the English title, there’s not even a Beatles song to pep things up.

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