Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sneak Preview: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2017

In its 22nd edition, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at FSLC remains to be one of the main attractions for cinephiles in a crowded New York Spring film event season.

This year's lineup features 23 films from established filmmakers and newcomers alike, including - François Ozon, Bertrand Bonello, Bruno Dumont, Rebecca Zlotowski, Jérome Salle, Chrstophe Honoré, and the list goes on.

In conjunction with Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, FIAF presents Agnès Varda: Life as Art, taking place February 28–March 21.

A special exhibition imported from the esteemed photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles will be on view in the Walter Reade Theater’s Furman Gallery throughout the festival, displaying newly discovered color photos from behind the scenes of Fellini’s black-and-white masterpiece 8 1/2, shot by the late Paul Ronald and accompanied by recollections from the film’s co-star Anouk Aimée.

And, for the first time, a Film Comment magazine presentation within Rendez-Vous with French Cinema: Julia Ducournau’s cannibal thriller Raw which titillated audiences at Toronto and Cannes.

The series runs March 1 - 12. Visit FSLC website for tickets and more info. And here are my samplings this year:

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Frantz is as usual for Ozon, a seductive concoction. Disguised as period costumes and sumptuous monochrome cinematography that bursts in to color in pivotal moments, but the film hold some sinister undertones of lost innocence and pain/joy of growing up.

Paula Beer, a young German actress is marvelous here to carry the whole movie on her shoulder. It's perfectly normal to see the film from a female perspective in Ozon's films, and obviously he flirts with sexual attraction and sensuality (albeit very subtly). But Anna being a German lost in unforgiving world of its enemy gives another layer.

Ozon, the master of a twisty narrative, packs much more interesting development in store in the second half- part detective story, part romance and part reflecting the current climate of the rise of nationalism where the relationship between two old neighbors - France and Germany and Europe as a whole is being tested. One of his very best films in years.

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Because of subway delays Chataigne (French comedian Vincent Macaigne), a thirty-something portly intern of Ministry of Standards, is assigned to French colonial Guiana to report on the progress of an absurd public works project titled Gui-snow, the first ski resort which will be built in the jungle of the tropical country. With a resilient tax agent mistaking him for tax evader and nothing really to live for, Chataigne head for Guiana with a second grade computer and a thick red French standard guide book. In Guiana, because he doesn't have a license, he is assigned a driver named Tarzan (Vimala Pons), another intern from the Ministry of Versailles, seeing over the completion of French style garden. With humidity, mud, millions of manacing insects, allegators, monkeys and other jungle elements hostile to humans, the duo soon gets lost in the jungle. They have to survive by their wits.

It's another madcap comedy by Antonin Peretjatko and starring Pons, a circus trained actress who worked with Peretjatko and Macaigne in The Daughter of 14th of July. Taking a jab at absurd notion of taming the jungle and the first world arrogance, Struggle for Life thrives on slapstick comedy and racy humor a la Woody Allen's Bananas and largely rides on the charm of Pons who dons hot pants with cigarette forever dangling from her pouty mouth. Macaigne is a very lucky man to be paired up with Pons and spend entire film with her in the jungle alone. Oh, Mathieu Amalric shows up as a swinging bureaucrat in charge of Project Gui-snow in Guiana.

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One year artist residency in an ancient villa in sunny Medici is the setting for a delicious daydream that involves a budding writer Camille (Clotilde Hesme) and a photographer Axéle (Jenna Thiam).

There are illicit affairs, artistic jealousy, moving statues and ghosts. Camile's older and more successful writer husband (Tchkéy Karyo) tags along for the trip with their young daughter. But soon she finds his presence overbearing. Axéle's affair with a married man doesn't lead her anywhere and she soon has an artistic identity crisis.

Daydreams has self-reflexiveness of Philippe Garrel (director Caroline Deruas' older, more established husband) and Ozon's playfulness. It's a very accomplished debut of a talented writer/filmmaker. Daydreams also allots ample screen time for Hesme's big green eyes in series of close ups. Great.

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A young blonde boy, Simon, wakes. He kisses his girlfriend who's still in bed, sneaks out of the window to join his buddies to go surfing. It's winter. The whole beginning sequence of Katell Quillévéré's Heal the Living has a fluidity and detached youthful spirituality of Gus Van Sant movie.

It's an organ transplant weepee - 'An accident cuts a young man's life short and gives another a second chance in life' story. We've seen this before, many times. What elevates this lifetime movie of the week premise is its ensemble cast which includes Emmanuelle Seigner, Kool Shen, Tahar Rahim and Alice de Lencquesaing.

Through Simon, we see the glimpse of other's lives - both professional or private in equal measure. It's the space between the brain and the heart- which makes us human that Quillévéré explores. It would've definitely turned out corny in less assured hands. It's remarkable that Quillévéré, with just 2 other films under her belt achieves something so graceful and thoughtful.

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Sophie (Caroline Grant), a mischievous young girl leads a normal bourgeois life in a chateau with a beautiful but sickly mom (Golshifteh Farahani). Sophie's antics could be sometimes too much for her mom and friends who could tolerate her as girl with the too much imagination and energy. But her journey to the new world (America) ends in tragedy and leaves her orphaned. She now comes back to the country under the care of strict, unloving stepmother Mme. Fichini. She rejoins with her best pals and their kind hearted mother Mme. de Fleurville (Anaïs Demoustier).

After sexually charged interpretation of Greek mythology, Metamophorses in 2014, Honoré returns with unabashedly unadulterated kid's movie, Sophie's Misfortune, based on a beloved 19th century children's story by Countess of Segur. He gets mindbogglingly true to life performances by youngsters. It reminded me of Jacques Doillon's Ponet. Great use of seamless animation too to portray kid's imagination running amok. I didn't expect this from Honoré and it's a nice surprise.

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