Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2014 Preview

The 19th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance Films' celebrated annual showcase of the best in contemporary French film, hits screens at The Film Society, the IFC Center and BAMcinématek in New York, March 6 - 16.
It consists of 24 feature films making their New York, United States or North American premieres. The lineup includes new works from established masters like Bertrand Tavernier, Agnès Jaoui, François Ozon, and Jacques Doillon; critics' favorites Serge Bozon, Michel Gondry, and the Larrieu brothers. Alongside these known names are the key figures of what has been called France's next New Wave: a whole raft of emerging talents, including first- and second-time directors Ruben Alves, Sébastien Betbeder, Guillaume Brac, Thierry de Peretti, Katell Quillévéré, Axelle Ropert, Justine Triet, and Rebecca Zlotowski. And as the original New Wave was very much a boys' club, it's worth noting that nearly half the films in this year's selection were directed by women.

The series opens with Emanuelle Bercot's On My Way with venerable Catherine Deneuve and closes with Bertrand Tavernier's In the Loop style comedy, The French Minister. For tickets and more info, please visit FSLC's website.

Click through the gallery below to read more about some of the titles I had a privilege to have a sneak peek at.

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Just as sprawling as their last effort Happy End, the Larrieu brothers, Anaud and Jean- Marie, concoct yet another thoroughly absorbing but ultimately unsatisfying film. This time, it's set in beautiful Swiss Alps with Mathieu Amalric as Marc, a lit professor at the architecturally stunning snow swept college. Marc lives with his sister Marianne, with whom he has a complicated relationship. There are pretty young coeds everywhere at his disposal. Things get a little hairy when one of his pupils he had a thing with, disappears. Soon the missing girl's hot young stepmom Anna (Maïwann) comes snooping around. It's love at first sight for Marc. Apparently she feels the same way too. Situations are slowly getting worse for Marc though. He has episodes of sleepwalking and blackouts and aggressively pursued by yet another hot coed (played by one of the rising stars of French cinema, Sara Forestier), who threatens to make his life difficult if she doesn't get what she wants.

Love is the Perfect Crime is a funny film, but the Larrieus keep the mood of the film very ominous from the get-go. It doesn't quite work as a Hichcockian psychological thriller nor as Antonioni-esque environmental subjectivity themed movie. But Amalric is, as always, endlessly watchable and make your time worthwhile and the view of the snow-capped Alps is spectacular.

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Absolutely amazing. Love Battles doesn't have any lofty goal of bearing one's soul through acting or anything. But it's definitely not some skin-deep psycho-sexual drama. What I know of Doillon's films is that he gets unbelievable performances out of his actors. Two main actors Sara Forestier and James James Thiérrée, give all with incredible ferocity in physically demanding roles. Forestier plays a young woman whose father just passed away. She is battling with her siblings for inheritance. All she wants is a worthless old piano. She has some serious daddy issues. She visits her older neighbor (Thiérrée) to inform her father's death. She has a certain respect for this neighbor because he once refused her advances. She regards him as an equal and worthy opponent. Under the pretense of finding out why he didn't take advantage of her when he had a chance, she provokes him to a physical fight. He, taking the bait this time, assumes the role of an instructor for rough-housing sessions. They jab at each other sharply: her accusing him of too much self-esteem and him insinuating that deep down, she is not fighting him but her daddy.

These extremely physical brawls go on forever, leaving them with bruises and scratches (real ones). She wonders if she is falling in love.

Without any pretense of the usual psycho-sexual, destructive movie relationship, the couple engage in these loaded, violent encounters day after day. The attraction and sexual tension are palpable between them.

Doillon achieves something truly remarkable here with the help of fearless performers, especially from pint-sized Forestier who is a force of nature. Definitely an early contender for my favorite film of the year.

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An emotionally unstable deadbeat dad (comedian Vincent Macaigne of Rendez-vous with Deja Vu)visits his toddlers unannounced. The kids' mom (Laetitia Dosch), fearing for their safety, takes the kids to work which is crowded Paris street because she is a TV reporter. It happens to be the day of the French Presidential Election of 2012. Newcomer Justine Triet uses the chaotic street in real time as a backdrop for a domestic squabble comedy. It's pure genius to use a real life event to your advantage for your no budget indie film. The trouble is, she stretches that thin premise way too long. It all goes downhill right after the election celebration is over. The result is increasingly unfunny and uncomfortable acting exercise for young French comedians.

IF YOU DONT I WILL - Fillières
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Sophie Fillières's If You Don't I Will is perhaps the best written comedy about an adult relationship I've seen in a long while. Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) and Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) are middle-age couple who's been together a long time. They've reached a stage where one another's mannerisms and incongruities seized to be adorable. They are not bitter yet, but don't have the hearts for asking each other if they still love one another. Things change when Pomme decides to stay in the forest after a squabble during their semi-obligatory nature hike. Pierre goes home and resumes with his life. It's been a week and Pomme is surviving alone in the forest, making fire and talking to woodland critters.

Devos is fantastic in portraying a middle-age klutz with all her insecurities and quirky qualities. Amalric, as Pomme's scruffy, antisocial husband, just shows why he is one of my favorite actors.

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A love triangle set under the shadow of nuclear reactors. Love is a disaster waiting to happen! Get it?! Grand Central concerns Gary (Tahar Rahim of Un prophet), a young underskilled worker being trained to work at a nuclear power plant. Gilles (Olivier Gourmet), the foreman of the plant workers takes Gary and some other youngsters under his wing. There is a mini, working class sub-society happening near the plant comprised of daisy duke and tank top wearing girls and manly men who can't have babies because of radiation. The film shows the safety protocols workers go through in painstaking details. It's a very dangerous job. But life continues and Gary falls for the older co-worker's girl (Léa Seydoux).

Rebecca Zlotowski (whose debut, Belle Epine again, with Seydoux also played here at Rendez Vous, couple years ago) is a confident director who knows how to put things together effectively, but tends to favor melodrama over social context. With the attractive leads she affectingly paints the picture of live-by-day lifestyle of these working class characters.

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