Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FSLC's Rendez-vous with French Cinema -- selling fast, get' em while you can

Tickets have been on sale for only one week, and already many of the films in the upcoming Rendez-vous with French Cinema series sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UNIFRANCE are unavailable. This does not mean that a later set of tickets will not be released for purchase, though you can't always count on this. A number of seats will become available to some of those people waiting on the stand-by line, pre-performance, but as this line is often long, it's a risk. Print press will probably not cover this popular festival until next week, and by then few tickets will remain. Having just seen the entire series at press screenings, here's a quick run-down of the movies and what to expect. Longer reviews will appear for each film in the days to come. For now, consider this your heads-up:

Opening Night: PARIS 36 (originally titled FAUBOURG 36)
I predict this crowd-pleasing, tear-jerking, music-loving bundle of cinematic joy will be a big arthouse/foreign film hit. If you can't get a $20 opening night ticket (FSLC members pay $15), don't despair. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing it in the US.

35 SHOTS OF RUM Claire Denis is usually a hot ticket, and as this is one of her better films of late, get one now or be disappointed. The cinematography by the great Agnès Godard (Golden Door) is special indeed. No distributor yet!

THE APPRENTICE A sweet, true "take" regarding life on a small French farm. A very good movie, though probably not a sellout, but since there's no US distributor attached, a ticket might be advisable....

THE BEACHES OF AGNES Agnès Varda, still one of the New Wave greats, retains a large fan base, and this utterly charming, funny and moving self-documentary is a gem. Expect difficulty ticket-wise. But Cinema Guild has picked it up for distribution, so there's hope for seeing it later.

BELLAMY Chabrol, Depardieu, Marie Bunuel and Clovis Cornillac should mean good business. No distributor yet, and truthfully, though not a bad film, it is also not one of Chabrol's better endeavors.

CHANGE OF PLANS Danièle Thompson (Avenue Montaigne, La Bûche, Jet Lag) does wonderful ensemble dram-coms, and this is yet another, though more melancholy than her previous. Probably a hard ticket but, as yet, no US distributor.

EDEN IS WEST Costa-Gavras, here working in a mode different from anything else he's done. This ocean/road movie about an illegal immigrant in western Europe stars Riccardo Scamarcio, the hottie from My Brother Is an Only Child. A lot of fun and a lot of sadness, but the fun wins out, barely. The Costa-Gavras name may sell this one out, though no US distributor has come aboard just yet.

THE GIRL FROM MONACO Anne Fontaine's mainstream bid succeeds -- but in a very odd fashion. Wonderful performances from Fabrice Luchini, Roschdy Zem and Louise Bourgoin -- plus you get Stephane Audran and the Riviera. Priceless was a foreign language hit last year, so the location and the stars may help do the same for this one. Either way, Magnolia Pictures has it for US distribution.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN André Téchiné does not spell out his themes or connections, so you have to work to piece them together. It’s usually worthwhile, however, and this film is no exception: class, prejudice, attraction, guilt and more rear their heads. With French greats Catherine Deneuve and Michel Blanc and lesser-known but also great Émilie Dequenne. No US distributor yet.

THE JOY OF SINGING Not a doc, this weird little trifle is a mystery thriller/comedy-cum-music/sexual romp with beaucoup full frontal and a very hot young actor, Julien Baumgartner, to provide it. Jeanne Balibar is as delightful as you've ever seen her --which is saying a lot -- and the rest of the cast is quite game. Once word gets out, this movie should sell, even though, stylistically, it could be a lot better. No US distributor yet: Where are you Strand, Wolfe or TLA?

MESRINE, Parts One and Two (each sold separately). One of the two major contenders for the year's César awards, this cliché-ridden gangster opus is the major disappointment of the festival. It will probably pack 'em in, however, because violence (offered by a starry cast) -- particularly when you can hang it from the coattails of a real-life guy -- sells well. See for yourself, and if you miss it here, a company called Senator Entertainment has picked it up for US Distribution.

THE OTHER ONE A very French take on Fatal Attraction, in which the loony gal philosophizes in addition to wreaking a little havoc. Dominique Blanc is wonderful in the lead role; she goes a long way toward making the movie worth seeing. Seats will probably be available for this one, which has no US distribution so far.

STELLA One of the best films I've seen to take on the adolescent girl from both an inside and outside view. The film rings true from every angle, including its marvelously recreated 1970s time frame and the lead performance by Léora Barbara is simply wonderful. No US distribution yet; surely someone will step forward...?

SERAPHINE The other movie honored with a pack of César nominations deserves everyone of 'em, especially for Yolande Moreau in the title role: I can't remember seeing a more committed, dedicated performance. This one's the must-see of the fest. Thankfully, Music Box Films has grabbed it for U.S. distribution.

VERSAILLES Watching the splendid work of Guillaume Depardieu in this strange and lovely movie will make you miss the recently deceased actor tenfold. (He's also in Stella, but this one marks his major appearance at this fest.) The film offers a surprising look at the have-nots of France and features another remarkable performance from a child actor, Max Baissette de Malglaive. No US distribution yet.

VILLA AMALIA Another must-see, especially for Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Jacquot fans, with the director firmly back into his "substance" rather than his "throw-away" mode. Gorgeous in so many ways, the movie tracks the seismic change that takes place in the character played by Ms Huppert when she confronts something rather unpleasant. Distributor wanted, big-time.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MYSELF Félicité Wouassi won best actress at last year's Toronto fest, and you'll know why when you see her in this black (in so many ways) comedy. Quite a change of pace and style for director François Dupeyron, this one's a treat I think you'll want to see. Claude Rich co-stars. No distribution yet, but the movie is so entertaining and full of life, surely this will be remedied.

(The program of TOUT COURT: New French shorts did not get a press screening, so I'll have to see that one during the fest itself.)

More, and in more detail on each film, to come...

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