Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Preview: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2023

Showcasing the best of contemporary French films, this year's Rendez-Vous with French cinema features 21 features from old masters to newcomers, including new films by Philippe and Louis Garrel, Arnaud Desplechin, Dominik Moll, Patricia Mazuy and Léa Mysius. Though I feel like I say this every year, about this ultimate festival for Francophiles, but this year's offerings are possibly the strongest in terms of quality and cinematic audacity, in years. Guest attendees include Virginie Efira, Louis Garrel, Christophe Honoré, Alice Winocour, Patricia Mazuy, Melvil Paupoud and more.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is presented by Unifrance and Film at Lincoln Center and runs 3/2-3/12 @filmlinc

Here are 5 films I was privileged to sample for the festival:

Brother and Sister - Desplechin Sister and Brother Arnaud Desplechin, one of the most literary minded film directors of our time, comes with Brother and Sister, a family drama rich with beautifully written characters. It stars Marion Cortillard and Melvin Poupaud as Alice and Louis, as estranged siblings coming to terms with their differences after fatal car accident involving their elderly parents. It starts out with a flashback at the wake of Louis and Faunia (Golshifteh Faranahi)'s young son where Alice and her husband are turned away at the doorstep by angry Louis. The film goes back and forth, peppered with flashbacks, giving the fraught sibling relationship its necessary contexts. It turns out that Alice, now a famous stage actress resented her younger brother's success as a writer. After many years of books by Louis writing about their thinly veiled relationship, they are not in speaking terms.

Things get very awkward while both parents are hospitalized because the siblings tiptoe around their visits, trying not to cross paths, while their partners, other siblings and friends encourage and discourage their possible encounters. Both Cortillard and Poupaud are marvelous as they act out the beautifully written script by Desplechin. It's the most emotionally resonant Desplechin film in years.

The Night of the 12th - Moll Screen Shot 2023-02-24 at 8.56.05 AM Gilles Marchant and Dominik Moll, the writer-director team known for tight Hichcockian psychological thrillers over the years, come with The Night of the 12th. It's a policier in the same vein as Memories of Murder and Zodiac. In a picturesque small alpine village near Grenoble on the night of October 12, a young woman is torched to death with a gasoline fluid and a lighter. It devastates the whole town and stumps its police department, headed by young captain Vivés (Bastien Bouillon) with lack of concrete leads. Moll deftly examines inherent sexism rampant in French society and generational differences in approaching romance and relationship. With its economical storytelling and sharply drawn characters, The Night of the 12th is an immensely watchable crime film.

The Five Devils - Mysius Five Devils - Still 2 Léa Mysius's follow up of her stunning debut Ava, is a time traveling queer love story starring Adèle Exachopoulos. The title refers to a small town overlooking the rugged mountain peaks in the southeast region of France. Exachopoulos plays Joanne, a swim teacher at a local pool living a mundane life with Jimmy, her firefighter husband and their adorable daughter Vicky.

Vicky, bullied constantly for her big afro, lives in her own world mostly and has a keen sense of smell of all things. She collects objects in jars to preserve their smells and has visions of the past. Things get shaken up when Julia, Jimmy's sister and Joanne's former flame returns to town. The Five Devils turns into a poignant story about prejudices and acceptance with black girl magic elements.

Winter Boy - Honoré Winter Boy Winter Boy tells a story of Lucas, a 17 year old gay high school student trying to come to terms with the sudden death of his father (played briefly by director Christophe Honoré) which might have been suicide. After the funeral, he tags along with his older brother Quentin (Vincent Lacoste) who is a burgeoning artist in Paris for a week. There, Lucas experiments with anonymous sexual encounters. He also falls for Lilo (Erwan Kepoa Falé), Quentin's roommate. Quentin gets furious when he finds out his sexual shenanigans and sends him home. Lucas then cuts his wrists while with his concerned mother, played by Juliette Binoche, and ends up in a rehab.

The film is set up like a confessional, with both Lucas and later mom talking to a dead father, as they try to deal with grief and absence of a loved one. Like many Honoré films, Winter Boy is a beautifully drawn, melancholic film dealing with truthful emotions when life hits you like waves. The living can't stay mad at the dead. We have a living to do, even with a hole in our heart.

Saturn Bowling - Mazuy Screen Shot 2023-02-26 at 7.09.11 PM Shocking in its depiction of violence against women, Patricia Mazuy's serial killer noir is extremely disturbing and uncompromising as it examines the origin of violence in our patriarchal society. Half-brothers Guilaume and Armand reunites after their father dies. Guillaume is a cop and just inherited a bowling alley from his dad. The bowling alley is a hub of his dad's big game hunter friends who want to keep things as it is. Guillaume doesn't want to deal with the business, so he offers Armand to run the place. Armand reluctantly accepts.

But it turns out Armand is a violent serial killer who preys on young women who frequents the bowling alley. He uses his dad's pad to have sex and kill them there. Bodies mount and unsuspecting Guillaume gets frustrated with the investigation. To complicate things, his love interest is an animal rights activist who doesn't see things eye-to-eye with the big game hunting crowds. With its deliberate pacing, simmering nighttime photography and daring perspective shifts, the film has a peculiar way to get under your skin while condemning male tendency or desire to kill. Making a point in a most brutal and succinct manner, Saturn Bowling is one of the most daring and unflinching film I've seen in a long while.

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