Friday, March 2, 2012

The French Are Coming (Again)

Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2012
March 1-11, 2012
Film Society of Lincoln Center, 165 West 65th Street, New York, NY
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY
BAMCinematek, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

Since 1996, Rendez-vous with French Cinema has introduced New Yorkers to the newest and--sometimes, as last year with Bertrand Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier--best films from France. Even though the 2012 edition is no different (25 new features and a handful of shorts are scheduled during its run at the Film Society, IFC Center and BAM), there’s a bonus: a sidebar of classic and contemporary films that, like the recent Film Comment Selects series, gives Rendez-vous greater breadth.

Rendez-vous + includes Claude Miller’s 1981 policier Garde a Vue and a pair of documentaries about artists Piet Mondrian and Frieda Kahlo. A “60 Years of Postif” tribute (BAM) includes Moon Child (above), Delphine Gleize’s powerful film about a young boy whose rare condition prevents him from being subjected to daylight; when his long-faithful doctor takes a new position and must leave, their close relationship is threatened. Quentin Challal is superb as the child, and Vincent Lindon gives another unaffected portrayal as his doctor.

The series’ first Centerpiece couldn’t be a better choice: Children of Paradise (above), Marcel Carne’s classic 1942 romantic epic takes a leisurely 190 minutes to tell its fantastic story of a celebrated mime falling in love with a less-than-respected actress in 1830s Paris. Blessed with Jacques Prevert’s marvelously poetic script and unmatched performances by Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty as the lovers, Carne’s masterpiece marries the best of both the stage and the screen. The March 7 Walter Reade Theater screening precedes a Film Forum run and the inevitable Criterion Blu-ray release, but is preferable to both.

The films in Rendez-vous’ main section include returning directors Benoit Jacquot (Farewell, My Queen), Andre Techine (Unforgivable), Lucas Belveaux (38 Witnesses), Robert Guediguian (The Snows of Kilimanjaro) and Alain Cavalier, the eclectic and experimental filmmaker whose Pater stars Vincent Lindon and himself as two men who may or may not be playing the parts of French president and one of his trusted ministers. Despite the obvious glee they have improvising their dialogue, the movie ends as a shaggy-politician story without any discernible point--or point of view.

Actors turned directors include Daniel Auteil (The Well-Digger’s Daughter), Mathieu Amalric (The Screen Illusion, a forgettable updating of a 17th century Corneille play, whose rhymed verse is totally alien to the movie’s 21st century denizens) and Mathieu Demy (whose Americano is a self-indulgent and sentimental drama with Demy an unappealing protagonist who takes it upon himself to rescue a stripper--the game Salma Hayek--he knew as a child from the hell she’s currently in).

Strong acting distinguishes other entries. Frederic Louf’s 18 Years Old and Rising showcases superb performances by unknowns like Pierre Niney (a member of the venerable Comedie Francais), Audrey Bastien and Lou de Laage in its intelligent look at teens on the cusp of adulthood, with the background of Francois Mitterand’s 1981 presidential election.

In Headwinds, Benoit Magimel persuasively plays an author and father of two young sons trying to handle his wife’s sudden disappearance. Jalil Lespert’s psychologically astute study of dealling--or not dealing--with grief features Audrey Tautou in a small role as Magimel’s wife. Tautou is the star of Delicacy (above), a similarly strange tale of grief that shows what happens after a young woman’s soul mate--and, briefly, husband--dies: will she close herself off or rebuild her life? Despite Tautou’s heartbreakingly lovely presence, David and Stephane Foenkinos’s flimsy film immediately fades from memory.

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