Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2011


Fabrice Luchini and Natalia Verbeke in Service Entrance

Rendez-vous with French Cinema
March 3-13, 2011

Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue
BAMCinematek, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
Paris Theater, 4 West 58th Street

Now in its 16th season, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Rendez-vous with French Cinema is among the most eagerly awaited (and best attended) of all its offerings at the Walter Reade Theater. This year, the lineup is essentially the same as earlier years: a mixture of veteran directors and newcomers, starring a mixture of veteran star and newcomers. The 22 features comprise new works from established masters like Bertrand Tavernier, Catherine Breillat and the late Alain Corneau; other veterans of earlier editions of Rendez-vous like Benoit Jacquot and François Ozon; and less familiar directors whom we should keep looking out for in upcoming series like Antony Cordier, Martin Provost and René Féret.

Several of this year’s entries already have distributors, so they will be showing in New York sooner or later. Ozon’s Potiche (Trophy Wife), the opening-night film, which stars ageless Catherine Deneuve and the always amusing Fabrice Luchini in a bumpy if entertaining 1970s parody, opens on March 25. Alain Corneau’s final film, a low-key office thriller with a riveting Kristin Scott-Thomas, Love Crime, opens in the spring. Catherine Breillat’s latest provocation, her distinctly feminist take on the fable Sleeping Beauty, opens in July. And Mozart’s Sister, an intriguing music drama by director René Féret, opens in the summer.

Then there’s the latest by director Bertrand Tavernier, The Princess of Montpensier, which will open on April 8. Beautifully photographed by Bruno de Keyzer and directed by Tavernier with an eye toward day-to-day living four centuries ago instead of Big Moments, this intelligent and impeccably designed adaptation of Madame de La Fayette’s eponymous short story is anything but a drab costume drama but a lively and ultimately touching tragic romance.

Of the films that might not be seen after the series, Anthony Cordier’s steamy Happy Few, a typically French take on swapping couples, might not have the most plausible storyline or believable characters, but crackling dialogue and four physically attractive and emotionally engaging performers (Elodie Bouchez, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marina Fois and Roschdy Zem) more than compensate. Similarly, the gifted and appealing Anaïs Demoustier provides the spark in Isabelle Czajka’s too familiar Living on Love Alone as an aimless young woman whose amorous adventures lead to one she’d sooner forget.

In The Long Falling, director Martin Provost perceptively shows the strained relationship between a long-suffering wife and her gay son when she visits him after her husband’s unexpected death. Angelo Clanci’s Top Floor, Left Wing is a rather desperate attempt to wring simultaneous laughs and pointed commentary out of a hostage situation in a suburban apartment complex.

If there’s an MVP in this year’s series, it’s Fabrice Luchini, one of the most ubiquitous and remarkably proficient French screen presences today. He’s already shown himself a deft master of comedy, drama and even tragedy; in the two new films he’s in, he’s asked to carry their considerable comic loads. In Potiche, he steals every scene from the likes of Deneuve, Judith Godreche and Gerard Depardieu, while in Service Entrance, a frivolous and far-fetched farce from Philippe Le Guay, he makes us believe that a respectable middle-aged stockbroker would fall head over heels for his lovely Spanish maid (the delectable Natalia Verbeke) right under the not-so-watchful eye of his usually preoccupied wife (Sandrine Kiberlain).

Although he’s asked to do foolish things both comic and melodramatic, Luchini never falters, making Service Entrance far funnier (and even romantic) than it has any right to be.

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