Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rendez-vous with French Cinema, 2011 edition, opens -- at four venues!

Catherine Deneuve (above, left), Fabrice Luchini and 1970s style 
vie for attention in François Ozon's new comedy Potiche
the opening night attraction at this year's Rendez-vous.

Here it comes again: one of cinema’s prime times of the year, when Francophiles gather at the Walter Reade Theater, the IFC Center, a few times at Brooklyn’s BAMcinématek, and on opening night at Manhattan’s fabled Paris Theater to partake of some of the best French films of the last twelve-or-so months. The event is titled Rendez-vous with French Cinema, and this year’s roster shapes up certainly as good as those of past years. Which says quite a lot.

As some of these films will be opening commercially in the weeks and months to come (for instance, Mozart's Sister, shown above), for now I will simply give you a long paragraph about each, with enough information, I hope, to intrigue you into looking further. Or, in a few cases, not. I’ll have more to say about the movies individually, when (and if) they open in some commercial fashion: theaters, VOD, streaming, DVD. Meanwhile, here they are in alphabetical order.

(Note: links to each film are for the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater venue. Information and tickets for the IFC Center and BAMcinématek screenings must be purchased via those venues, the links for which are just above. Or go to the special Unifrance Rendezvous site here, click on FILMS, and then on the specific film you want in order to learn more or book seats.)

directed/co-adapted (with Laurent de Bartillat) by Eric Lartigau
from the novel by Douglas Kennedy

Eric Lartigau, who a few years ago gave us the splendid family comedy about scents and sense, Prête-moi ta main (I Do, as the English title has it), here tries his hand at classy but florid melodrama. And comes up with a film that's, um… classy but florid. The always sexy and believable Man of the Moment (French version) Romain Duris stars as the “artist who has sold his soul to materialist values.” He’s surrounded by some of the best talent France offers – Catherine Deneuve, Marina Foïs, Niels Arestrup – and Lartigau pumps a hard dose of reality into his early scenes of French family life so that we’re quite caught up in things. Then the big moment happens, and oddly enough, we become less engaged, even as the movie takes off into something of a thriller, as our not-quite-hero tries to secure his new life. There is a Versailles-size hole in the center of all this, however, that only very deliberately shut eyes could forgive: a man who wants to keep his identity secret refuses to allow photos to be taken of himself, yet doesn’t think to use a pseudonym when he gets a major art exhibition? I couldn’t close my eyes tight enough, and so around the 2/3rds mark, the movie sank to earth for me like a balloon suddenly helium-free. And I felt particularly sorry because there is so much here that's so good, for Lartigau knows his way around cinematography, performance, pacing and design. The Big Picture (which has been more interestingly titled The Man Who Would Live His Life in the original French) screens Fri. March 4, 1pm at the Walter Reade; Sat. March 5, 3:45pm at IFC; and Sun. March 6, 6:15pm at the Walter Reade. Eric Lartigau will attend all screenings.

co-written (with Julien Boivent) and directed by Benoît Jacquot
with chronicles provided by Marcela Iacub

This may be my favorite of all the films by Benoît Jacquot, a director about whose work I've run hot and cold over the years, due to what I perceive as his sometimes careless, almost tossed-off movies (Adolphe and The Untouchable, to name a couple). But after last year's strange and magical Villa Amalia, and now Deep in the Woods (Au fond des bois), I'm back in Benoît's corner. His newest again stars his sometimes muse Isild Le Besco, and she seems as mysterious and beautiful as ever. More so, in fact, as she and her co-star, the marvellous and equally strange Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (whom I did not even recognize -- until I checked the IMDB -- as the lead in one of my favorite "youth" films, Alexis Dos Santos' Glue). What a pair these two actors make and how well they play off each other in this tale of crazy love in the titular woods of southern France in the 1800s. The '"love" here is more than simply obsessive, I think: It's truly strange and different from much that you'll have encountered in movies to date. And Jacquot's theme of the tension between polite society and the need to be our primitive, animal self has seldom been expressed more eloquently. Or surprisingly. The film is transgressive but via characters that lift it into something genuinely mysterious, beyond any simple explanation. With Le Besco as the blond, unattainable virgin who, when she capitulates, does so in spades, and Biscayart as the wild child/man of near-primal grime (and grace), the attraction and tension between these two becomes a kind of mating dance that climaxes in a sex scene that reminded me of one from The Howling, of all things. Yet everything here works toward enfolding us in the lives of these two until we accept all that they do, including the equally strange and unexplainable (via our normal "common sense") finale that, on a primal and psychological level, seems absolutely perfect.  The French countryside, the breathtaking cinematography (by Julien Hirsch), the quiet, refined (well, repressed) life the Le Besco character leads at home with her doctor-father, it's all captured with truth, beauty and a welcome lack of over-exposition. Deep in the Woods plays Friday March 4 at 7pm at the IFC; and at the Walter Reade on Sat., March 5, at 6:15 and Monday, March 7, at 3:45, with filmmaker Jacquot in attendance at all screenings.

co-written (with Gaëlle Macé) and directed by Brigitte Sy

Obsessive love via a woman who seems to have very little understanding of herself, let alone those around her, is the subject -- though I am not sure it's the one the movie-maker intended -- of Free Hands (Les mains libres), the first full-length film from actress-turned-filmmaker Brigitte Sy. In it, Ms Sy tell the story, evidently based on fact, of a woman filmmaker, Barbara, a documentarian who films in prison, working with the inmates and getting them to tell their stories as a kind of therapy. One of these men she falls in love with, and he with her, and from there they start breaking one rule after another until...  The lead actress is Ronit Elkabetz, a current stalwart of French cinema who's never less than fine; her beau is played by Carlo Brandt and her best friend by another actress/filmmaker Noémie Lvovsky (Les Sentiments). They're all good, but the film itself, while daringly nonjudgmental, seems also a bit wacko. Barbara clearly has a thing for drug-users, moving from one sleaze-bag we see her with early on to another, this time in prison, and she has a young child whose well-being seems to take second place to her grand affair. And when it all unravels, she's far too naively surprised. Working up much sympathy for this women grows harder as the film progresses. Perhaps the French enjoy this sort of transgressive behavior from their heroines more than do we, but by the time -- the end credits -- that we learn to whom the film is dedicated and what happened to him, all bets are off. Call this piece of l'amour fou, l'amour phooey.  Free Hands screens Wed., March 9 at 3:45 and 8:45 at the Walter Reade and Thurs., March 10 at 9:30pm at IFC.

a documentary written and directed by Claude Lelouch

How much do you love the movies of Claude Lelouch? For many of us, I think, Lelouch has been and up and down affair: some of his films we delight in, some not so much. And that is likely to be the feeling that accompanies you while watching this exceedingly interesting documentary, as one of France's master filmmakers discusses his life in cinema, from (as the title has it) one film to another. He explains what worked, what didn't and why -- at least so far as he's concerned.  His musings are often quite amusing and also make a good deal of sense, psychologically and otherwise, but what pleases most is revisiting all those old Lelouch movies again, and seeing so many of your favorites performers strut their stuff. The film ends with a cavalcade of faces that belong to some of the greatest French film actors, from Michèle Morgan to Jean-Claude Brialy, Françoise Fabian, Charles Denner, Anouk Aimée,  Jean-Louis Trintignant, Fanny Ardant and so many more -- all of whom have worked for this master of unusual love stories. For this stream of stars alone, you might want to take in the documentary. Lelouch fans, in any case, will scoop it up. From One Film to Another plays Sat., March 5 at the Walter Reade at 3:30 and again Sunday, March 6, at IFC at 11 am.  Both screenings will be followed by a personal appearance from M. Lelouch.

written and directed by Romain Goupil

This engaging work is from an actor/
writer/director, Romain Goupil, who is new to Trust
Movies but who has been concer-ned for nearly 30 years -- since his first film, the documentary Mourir à 30 ans -- with the attempt to create a more just society. He has now turned his attention to the immigrant question, bringing us a film, Hands Up (Les mains en l'air), done in documen-tary style that, at first glance, looks suspiciously like science-fiction. His movie begins with the typical talking head you'd find in a documentary, a woman who appears to be around 60, explaining, "I was 10 years old in 2009." What? Yes: We're in the late 2060s and she is reminiscing about her life as a Chechen illegal immigrant in Paris, struggling, along with several of her school chums, to find a way to stay in France.  "School is no place to solve the illegal alien issue," notes one character, but why not?  It works here, as the kids we meet -- hardly sweet little angels -- band together under the helpful wing of French super-mom (a very good Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and then, when one family is suddenly deported, hatch a scheme to fool the authorities and live on their own.  What could easily become icky and super-sweet stays grounded due to the intelligent sounding of various views on immigrants (mom's right-wing brother is given a nice turn by Hippolyte Girardot), proving, as if we didn't know, that there are few easy answers where this subject is concerned. At the close of the film, we return to the older version of our young Chechen and learn that, even when we win, we can lose. Hands Up screens Tuesday, March 8, at 6pm at IFC; and at the Walter Reade Theater Friday, March 11, at 2pm and Sunday, March 13, at 6:45.

co-written (with Julie Peyr) and directed by Antony Cordier

Speaking of l'amour fou (see Free Hands and Deep in the Woods above), here's another transgressive movie that goes places few films have managed and does so in a manner that is more than a little believable. In fact, it's fully understandable -- given the characters we meet and the four very hot actors who play them. A few years back the team of Cordier & Peyr gave us the teen-age transgression movie, Cold Showers, about three close friends who end up having a sexual encounter that at least one of them, post-sex, can't work his way around. That very interesting and well-acted movie seems to have paved the way for another more mature (in both attitude and age of characters) exploration of an unusual sexual coupling --  Happy Few -- in which two couples manage to switch partners, while continuing to have enjoyable sex with their original spouses. Cordier's movie is titillating, all right -- the sex scenes are about as hot as you could want, short of outright hardcore, while one nude scene featuring bags of flour is probably classic -- and a good portion of that titillation comes from the fact that what's going on is so transgressive of society's supposed "norm." But because the characters are relatively full-bodied and the actors who essay them -- Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Élodie Bouchez and Roschdy Zem -- are so good at merging reality with personality, what we get seems quite truthful -- and not a little disturbing. When I was a younger man, I used to long for a film that would show us that these unusual relationships could work. Older now, I realize that I will probably never see this because, being human, with all the hypocrisy and denial that the condition seems to require, our ability to manage even a twosome is incredibly difficult to pull off over a lifetime. So threesomes, foursomes? Give it up, folk. Despite their seeming penchant for the transgressive, Cordier & Peyr may be among the most bizarrely traditional of movie-makers.  In both their full length features so far, they've proven how difficult straying from the anointed path can be. Happy Few screens Sunday, March 6 at 6:50 at BAM; Tuesday, March 8, at 9:40 at IFC; and at the Walter Reade Theater Friday, March 11, at 6:15 & Sunday, March 13 at 2.

written and directed by Audrey Estrougo

Three years ago at Rendez-vous, a first-time filmmaker named Audrey Estrougo knocked the socks off some of us with her gritty movie Ain't Scared, which plopped us, via little ceremony but lots of naked truth, into the lives of the teenage residents of a certain banlieue outside Paris. Estrougo's back this year with a very different kind of movie: a musical about immigration -- which is probably the most resonant theme at this year's Rendez-vous (with l'amour fou a close second). Titled Toi, moi, les autres in its original French, this has now been shortened for English-language audiences to simply Leila -- the name of both the lead actress (Leïla Bekhti) and the character she plays. Two-and-one-half years ago, TrustMovies had a short interview with the filmmaker, in which she talked about her upcoming musical (you can read that interview here), and so he was primed and pretty excited to see the finished results. They're disappointing. We're back again with the Montagues and the Capulets, but with decidedly "class" and "ethnic" differences between them: The Montagues are monied but the Capulet ain't, plus they're immigrants. There is nothing wrong with using cliché; it's unavoidable in a romance like this one. But if you're doing a musical, then your choreography ought to be more than cliché, and generally speaking, it is not.  There's a cute scene with a hospital gurney and nurses on roller skates and a brief Bollywood moment; otherwise all is standard, and the songs chosen for use are generally middling, with two or three exceptions. The story itself is one long cliché, from cute-meet to falling-in-love, perceived betrayal to feel-good finale. Of the half-dozen "immigrant"-related films on display this year, this one is by far the weakest. It does, however, have its compensations. Ms Bekhti, of the recent success All That Glitters, is always a pleasure to view. And though that fine French-Canadian actor Marc-André Grondin was to have played the male lead but evidently didn't manage it (he may have opted for doing Bus Palladium instead), relative newcomer Benjamin Siksou makes a perfectly respectable replacement: cute, sexy and fast on his feet and with his brain. The supporting cast is well-chosen, too, even if each has little to do but the expected. Leila plays at IFC on Tuesday March 8, at 7:50; and at the Walter Reade on Wed, March 9, at 1:30 and Thurs, March 10, at 6:15.

written and directed  by Isabelle Czajka

A model of integrity in terms of what a successful slice-of-life movie can be, Isabelle Czajka's new film LIVING ON LOVE ALONE (D'amour et d'eau fraîche) slips us into the life of its protagonist, Julie, as she looks for, gets, works at and then loses her first job as a young adult in Paris. She is the sun around which satellites such as her parents, brother, nephew, sister-in-law, bosses and finally a boyfriend circle. We see them all and learn a surprising amount about them, given their lesser status. Of Julie, we seem to know everything -- a major accomplishment so far as are concerned the filmmaker (who smartly eschews exposition, preferring to show rather than tell), together with her bright young star Anaïs Demoustier (from Sois sage, Grown-upsDonne-moi le main and Time of The Wolf). Ms.Demoustier is among the finest young actresses in France, as the above films make clear. She is always honest, moment to moment, and though her appearance stays pretty much the same, her characterization is quite different from one film to the next. This young woman is amply partnered by a fellow new to me, the very sexy and charming Pio Marmaï, who brings a graceful, playful demeanor to his role of the glamorous but dangerous boyfriend. The filmmaker's take on the workplace, family, attraction and sex is alert and encompassing. Nothing rings false, and for a nice change, she insists that, during sex scenes, the men as well as the woman go full frontal. For us older folk, the film harks back to some of those silly exploitation movies of the 50s that showed us "youth gone wrong" in the most ridiculous, sensationalized manner. Ms Czajka's  is a cautionary tale that gets everything right and overdoes nothing. To my knowledge, Living on Love Alone has no distributor as yet, so I would suggest getting to it ASAP. I can't begin to tell you of all the wonderful Rendez-vous films over the past years that played in New York for a couple of screenings -- never to be seen again. Let this one not be relegated to that fate. It will play at the IFC on Wed., March 9 at 7:50; and at the Walter Reade on Thurs., March 10, at 4 and Sat., March 12, at 6:15.

adapted and directed by Martin Provost
with a screenplay by Marc Abdelbour
from the novel by Keith Ridgway

Two years ago writer/
director Martin Provost and his exception-ally talented star Yolande Moreau gave us one of the most believ-able and gripping films about an artist, Seraphine. The pair are back this year with one of the oddest and quietest "murder mysteries" you'll probably encounter: The Long Falling (Ou va la nuit) That's because, although a murder does take place, it turns out, in certain important ways, to be the least of things. A fractured family, with its attendant lack of communication or understanding and the guilt that builds from this, together with the way in which human beings use each other to their own ends, provides the real subject matter. Add to all that an exploration of the meaning of justice, and you'll have some sense of what kind of movie this is. Provost tackles things both head-on and obliquely. We expect certain things of a movie when murder rears its head, but instead of feeding us the usual, the filmmaker and his actress (Ms Moreau is every bit a real movie star, as compulsively watchable, if not as chic or svelte, as that other Moreau we know) force us to look at things from several different angles and character viewpoints before we sort it all out. Anger in the film builds slowly and then explodes, both prior to the murder and later, from less likely sources. Provost guides all this quite well, leaving us to mull over life in a fashion much closer to the real thing than movies usually get.  The fine cast includes Pierre Moure, as the family's son, and the striking Edith Scob (Assayas' matriarch in Summer Hours) as a perhaps too-helpful landlady. The Long Falling screens Sat., March 5, at 1pm at the Walter Reade; Sunday, March 6, at 9pm at IFC; and Mon, March 7, at 9:15 and the Walter Reade.

co-written (with Nathalie Carter) and directed by Alain Corneau

The corporation as psychotic personality has been picked over by documentaries and narrative films aplenty in the past few years, and god knows this corporate status deserves its lickings (particularly since our own Supreme Court has now gifted the corporation with a status higher than that of America's individuals: Where are those lame-brained tea-party protests when they're actually needed?). To the film canon that points up the corporation's flaws, we can now add Love Crime, the new -- and sadly the last -- film from a fine French director Alain Corneau*, who gave us the disparate delights of Fear and Trembling, All the Mornings of the World, and Fort Saganne. The film is also a somewhat clever murder mystery that features crack performances from its two leadings ladies and a couple of other excellent ones from its subsidiary males. Kristin Scott Thomas plays the woman at the top of the French subsidiary of a huge multinational and Ludivine Sagnier is her unusual assistant, a young woman happy to give her boss all the credit, even when the ideas are her own. (The guys are represented by Patrick Mille, who plays the source of both business and pleasure for Scott Thomas, and Guillaume Marquet, a business associate of Sagnier who would like to become something more.) Performances are so good, and the plot is so interesting for awhile that we're hooked. Then, after the moment of truth as it were -- somewhat more than halfway into the film -- exactly what we expect to happen keeps happening, over and over until the finale. For those who enjoy a good mystery, this is very frustrating. Intelligent viewers like to have their movies keep ahead of them, rather than a mile behind.  There is a bit of a surprise waiting at the end, but this is far too little too late. Still, the leading ladies (and their gentlemen)  make this one worthwhile. Love Crime, to be released via Sundance Selects, plays Sat, March 5, at 9:30pm at IFC and Sunday, March 6, at 9pm at the Walter Reade -- with Ms Sangier in attendance at both screenings.

*Note: Rendez-vous is also presenting the seldom-seen (Netflix doesn't even have it!) Alain Corneau film Série noire, at the Walter Reade on Tues., March 8 at 8:30. Ludivine Sagnier will introduce the movie. You can also catch this 1979 film at IFC on Sat., March 5, at 10:50 am.

co-written (with Mariette Désert) and directed by Katell Quillévéré

Most years Rendez-vous comes up with one (or more) fine coming-of-age films, and Love Like Poison (interesting title you'll mull over, post-viewing) fills the bill this time. The tale that Ms Quillévéré has to tell is really not all that different from many others: all is, as so often, in the telling. The filmmaker, whose first full-length movie this is, uses relatively short yet highly detailed scenes to ground us and fill out her main character, the teen-age Anna (played in striking, full-bodied fashion by newcomer Clara Augarde). Anna is having to separate from her best friend for awhile (there just a hint of possible lesbian attraction here), as well as having to come to terms with the attentions of a local boy (another fine, utterly specific debut performance from Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil). At the same time, Anna has to cope with the sudden split of her mom and dad, a loving grandfather on his last legs, and her upcoming communion (from a priest with perhaps too much attachment to mom). The filmmaker weaves all this together extremely well, never over-explaining anything, and her ensemble of actors -- which includes Lio, Stefano Cassetti, Michel Galabru and Thierry Neuvic -- is first-rate. Love Like Poison plays Wed. March 9, 9:40pm at IFC; and at the Walter Reade on Fri. March 11, 9pm and Sat. March 12, at 2pm.

written and directed by René Féret

So where have you been all our movie-going life, M. Féret? As Mozart's Sister is the gentleman's 15th film, he's clearly been here, doing his own thing and going his own way since -- according to the IMDB -- his first film in 1975, writing and directing (and often producing, too). His new movie, already picked-up for U.S. distribution by Music Box Films, will probably start a small stampede toward his older work. Meanwhile see this one, which tells the tale of a very young composer (how young, we don't exactly know, as his dad lies about the kid's age to make him seem even more of a genius), as the Mozart family -- Wolfie, sis, dad and mom -- travel Europe to try to make money and waves. The movie posits that perhaps sister Nannerl possessed a certain genius, too -- though because she was female, few would ever see it nor would she be allowed to develop it.  Excelling on the violin, she is not allowed to play because "this is not an instrument for a woman." The film is resolutely feminist but never blows its whistle too heavily. No need: All is built into the times (the mid-1700s). As it travels, the family must take refuge in a convent where, it turns out, some lesser lights of the royal family (girls, doncha know) now reside, and Nannerl (played by the director's daughter, Marie Féret, who makes a very good case for nepotism) becomes fast friends with one of them. This leads to the family's trip to Versailles, meeting royalty, playing for them and all that follows. Féret develops the strands of his story quite well, enveloping us in the characters of the four family members, plus Victoire (lovely newcomer Adèle Leprêtre) and the complicated Dauphin (a splendid performance from Clovis Fouin), and in the politics and mores of the time. I can't vouch for you, but for me the film's climax and high point came well before its finish: when Nannerl leads the small orchestra and plays solo violin in her own composition. As the music -- a brilliant job by Mare-Jeanne Séréro of composing original music that adheres to its period and to Mozart -- rises and swells, it seems as though everything good is actually possible in this wretched world of ours, and that any of us might be capable of it. Mozart's Sister screens Friday, March 4, at 3:30 at the Walter Reade, Saturday, March 5, at 1pm at IFC; and Monday,March 7, at 6:15 at the Walter Reade.  The filmmaker will appear in person at the March 4 and 5th screenings.

written and directed by Francois Ozon

What fun! Here’s Ozon in perhaps his lightest, fluffiest mood since he began pointing a camera. (And he’s a lot more grown-up now than in those days when he wanted to shock us with Sitcom.) Here also is Catherine Deneuve in as good a role – full, rich, one in which she truly “stars” -- as that icon of French cinema has had in several years (certainly since A Christmas Tale). Maybe best of all, here are the 70s, French-style, with all the fab fashions and furnishings that we’ve come to love/hate. Did I mention Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche and Jérémie Renier? Yes -- and each is terrific. Comedy, romance, women’s lib, even the emerging rustle of gay lib. So what if it’s a bit predictable and sags in the center. It’s mostly delightful. Simply for its opening ode to Walt Disney (?!) I would and will watch it again. Snapped up by Music Box Films for U.S. distribution, Potiche is the opening night attraction at Rendez-vous and will screen Thurs, March 3, 7pm at the Paris Theatre; Fri. March 4, 7pm at BAM; and Sat. March 5, 7pm at IFC, -- with Ozon and Ms Godrèche attending all screenings.

co-written (with François-Olivier Rousseau and Jean Cosmos)
and directed by Bertrand Tavernier
adapted from a story by Madame de La Fayette

I'd see any movie by Tavernier, usually more than once, and this is no exception, though my immediate reaction is to rank it in the lower sector of his films rather than the higher (Captain Conan, Ça commence aujourd'hui, Safe Conduct). This may be due to my being very tired when I saw it (a four-film day, of which it was the third). A historical pageant of love and betrayal during the 16th century religious wars in France, the movie is gorgeous to view and offers some riveting battle scenes, both large and intimate. The filmmaker has assembled a fine cast, all of whom handle period chores with flair and command. The lovely Mélanie Thierry (on poster, center) plays the title princess, an intelligent young woman struggling with love, morals and the politics of the day. She's surrounded, as you can see by the poster, with many admirers: Lambert Wilson (at far left, her "tutor"), Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet (center left, her husband), Raphaël Personnaz (semi-sleazy royalty, center, right) and the love of her life (Gaspard Ulliel, right). Though the princess is the title character, it's her tutor who's the moral and emotional center of the film, and Wilson is terrific, as usual: brave, grave and gorgeous, intelligent and caring. Unfortunately, we're badgered continually with the would-be love affairs of our princess, and for all the fine acting, sets, costumes, cinematography and editing on display, these grow somewhat tedious before the film's 2 hours and 20 minutes are up. The Princess of Montpensier plays Friday, March 4th at 6pm at the Walter Reade; Saturday, March 5, at 7pm at BAM; Sunday, March 6, at 6pm at IFC (Tavernier and/or Ulliel will appear at all above screenings); and Monday, March 7, again at the Walter Reade.

written and directed by Valérie Donzelli

One of the major delights of this year's Rendez-vous is the new comedy THE QUEEN OF HEARTS (La reine des pommes) from Valérie Donzelli that tackles -- surprise -- love! This subject, for which the French have been best-known for centuries and which Ms Donzelli gives a delicious, deadpan and dear new spin, has resulted in more exceptional French romantic comedies than I can even remember, to which we can now add this one.  In the pre-credit opening sequence we see what love can do for one when it's going right, and post-credit, what happens when it goes wrong. Complete with musical numbers (full of clever, funny lyrics -- some of which are unprintable here) and memorable characters (a very odd friend with a very odd eye, played by an equally memorable newcomer  Béatrice De Staël), the movie skips along beautifully, without ever spinning its wheels. Donzelli has a lot to say about how and why we fall in love -- and with whom: "You want to be loved as if you were poor!" she tells her most materially-advantaged suitor. If nothing else (but there's so much else), she has given her lead actor Jérémie Elkaïm the role of a lifetime -- which he seizes with aplomb, passion, restraint, nastiness, intelligence, charm and, oh, such variety. The Queen of Hearts plays Wed. March 9, 6pm at IFC; and at the Walter Reade on Fri., March 11, 4:15pm and Sun., March 13, 4:30pm.

co-written (with Jérôme Tonnerre)
and directed by Philippe Le Guay

If there's one film in this year's series that will leave most mainstream/
art-house audiences a few inches off the ground, overflowing with pleasure and good feelings, it's the new "period" comedy Service Entrance (Les femmes du sixieme etage) about -- whoa -- immigration again. The filmmaker is Philippe Le Guay, who, a few years back, was at Rendez-vous with The Cost Of Living. In his new film, the time and place is Paris during the 1960s when high society evidently took a shine to hiring Spanish maids who were happy enough to find work outside their then repressive and Franco-fied country. Within the first couple of scenes, Madame (Sandrine Kiberlain) and Monsieur (Fabrice Luchini) have lost their French maid of decades and must find someone new. They do (the lovely Natalia Verbeke), and complications ensue. What makes this film so special is that the complications are never quite what you'll expect. The film takes small twists and turns that leave you charmed, moved and delighted. Instead of going for the obvious, Tonnerre and Le Guay go for the off-kilter and dear. And the performances -- particualry that of M. Luchini -- are beyond compare. This actor, it seems, can do simply everything. He's a nasty businessman in the Rendez-vous opener Potiche, and over the last couple of years he's been an hilariously smitten professor in Paris and a crack lawyer in The Girl from Monaco. Here he unveils layers of kindness, dignity and decency the likes of which we haven't seen since, I don't know, the 30s maybe? The various maids are played by some of Spain's crema -- Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas, to name but two. Le Guay gives the film a glossy, old-fashioned look -- together with very few locations (most of it takes place inside a apartment building in a single large apartment and a few smaller ones upstairs) --  which made me think it derived from a stage play. But no, evidently it's an original. And quite an original. As I say, if you don't float out of the theater after seeing this one, there's no hope for you.  Service Entrance screens at the Walter Reade on Tues., March 8, at 3:45 and Wed., March 9, at 6; at IFC it plays Thurs., March 10, at 7.  No distributor has yet stepped forth to grab this one, but surely some smart one will -- and soon. The imminent success of this movie is as close to a sure-thing as I can imagine.

written and directed by Catherine Breillat
adapted from the Charles Perrault story

And you thought the princess just pricked her finger and went to sleep?  No, we're in Breillat territory, a la last year's Bluebeard, and so, yes, she does get "pricked." But what an event-filled and fanciful tale this of-late more quietly transgressive French filmmaker has given us! From the start eschewing the use of heavy duty special effects, Breillat simply has the princess' mom unable to see the evil or good fairies that curse and then (sort of) lift same from her newborn daughter. (The good fairies' bickering in this scene proves a surprise delight.) Using a mix of periods in the costumes, as well a blend of fantasy and reality, the filmmaker also negotiates a sweet combination of poetry and naturalism in the dialog, as she explores the ways in which this primal tale continues to impact women (and men). Or maybe it's all about how we continue to play the roles in which history, psychology and DNA have cast us. If  Breillat's allusions are sometime illusive, all the better: Who wants to be whacked atop the head with insistent "meaning." Overall, The Sleeping Beauty truly is enchanting and -- oh, yes -- sexual. And dark, though there's light at the end of the tunnel. Made for French television, it pretty much nails the differences between Europe's and America's sophistication levels where entertainment and age-appropriate viewing is concerned. If you can't get to Rendez-vousStrand Releasing has picked the film up for distribution this summer, so we'll all have the opportunity to see it within a season or two. At the Water Reade, The Seeping Beauty screens Fri., March 4, at 9:15 and again Tues., March 8, at 1:30; it's at IFC on Sun., March 6, at 1.

a documentary written and directed by Coline Serreau

Coline Serreau had had one of the more varied careers of any female French filmmaker, coming at the job via acting, as have so many French woman in this profession. As a writer and director, her oevure is extremely diverse: documentaries (both her first and her most recent movie), rom-coms (with a difference: Porquois pas!), rather standard, TV-level sitcoms (the original Three Men and Baby) and one of the best French melodrama in decades, Chaos (she was even supposed to direct the American remake of this one, starring Meryl Streep!). She's back at Rendez-vous with her newest documentary Think Global, Act Rural (Solutions locales pour un désordre global), for which the press was treated to a screening without credits, neither at the beginning nor the end.  No matter: The interviews Ms Serreau has compiled and edited should quickly grab and hold you, for they are about what is happening today, worldwide, in the "big" business of agriculture.  While we've seen a number of docs on organic farming and the food industry (Fresh, Food Inc. and Food Beware, to name a few), Serreau's offers further information and a more international viewpoint.  She interviews people around the world and gives a history of what she terms (and perhaps Europe does, to) the "Green Revolution." Except in her definition, green means money/big business and is exactly what has been so destructive to farming worldwide.  While I wish the English subtitles had also identified the speakers and where they were from, what they say has been well-subtitled and is very much worth hearing/reading. Along the way we learn how vital cow dung is to the soil; watch as some very interesting homemade fertilizer is created from that dung, milk, clarified butter and urine; learn of Proctor & Gambles' attempts at creating featherless chickens and square eggs (they stack so much better!), hear a U.S. Senator opine that if you control food then you control the population, and see some of the most encouraging examples of organic farming on a relatively large scale that I have so far witnessed. Capitalism takes another strong punch in the gut with this movie, and while we expect this, still, the devil is in the details -- and those offered by Serreau are pretty damn damning. Think Global, Act Rural screens at IFC on Friday, March 4, at 9:30pm and at the Walter Reade on Sunday, March 6 at 3:15.

written and directed by Angelo Cianci

It was an odd, but quite bracing, experience to see Angelo's Cianci's new Top Floor, Left Wing (Dernier étage, gauche, gauche) so soon after viewing Pascal Elbé's Turk's Head during the recent MyFrenchFilm
Festival.com. Both films deal with roughly the same type of characters (mostly immigrants), location (the banlieues) and situation (escalating violence and its subsequent problems).  But while Elbe's film is stark melodrama, Cianci's (his first full-length) is a comedy. And it's one that's funny, surprisingly real and full of delicious ironies. A process server on his way to evict a tenant manages instead, by a set of interesting coincidences, to end up as a hostage of a Muslim family with some big-time father/son issues. This is one of those films about which you don't want to talk much, for fear of giving away too many good things. Among those good things are the performances by the three leads: Hippolyte Girardot (on the poster, above, as the process server), Mohamed Fellag (as the father with some secrets) and Aymen Saïdi (as the conflicted, confused son). Each does a terrific job, alternately annoying us and then bringing us back on board. There's so much going on here, both literally (this is quite the event-prone movie, with plots and sub-plots galore) and metaphorically, and to the credit of writer/director Cianci (whose first full-length film this is), he manages to lays things out then tie them up with great skill. There's a scene of tossing furnishings and furniture out the windows of the project that goes on a tad too long, but otherwise, he's nailed it. His last image -- speaking volumes without saying a word -- is at once funny, sad, moving and pointed. Top Foor, Left Wing screens at IFC on Monday, March 7, at 9:30; see it at the Walter Reade Theater on Thursday,. March 10, at 1:30pm or Saturday, March 12, at 8:45.

directed by Claude Lelouch, with story by Lelouch
and screenplay by Pierre Uytterhoeven

He's finally done it, Claude Lelouch. He's made that love story -- the same one he always makes but with different characters, locations, details -- and made it right. As close to perfect as I suspect he, or really most anyone else, could manage. And he's kept it to a 120-minute time frame (those two hours go by fast), unlike a few of his other love stories: Live for Life (130 minutes), And Now My Love (150 minutes), Bolero (180 minutes!). Those were all good films, but they had their longueurs. With this latest -- What Love May Bring (Ces amours-la) -- not only has he got the running time right (with nothing wasted) but just about everything else, too. The story spans generations and wars, parents and children, loves and losses, murder and even the Holocaust. Regarding the latter and World War II, in whose film but Lelouch's would you find this bit of dialog? A lovely young French woman asks her paramour, a German officer, "Who will win the war?" His answer: "Love, as usual." Yes, I guffawed, even as I was savoring every  minute of this movie, which, though it is by miles the filmmaker's ripest, may also be his best. The friend with whom I saw the film, shook his head dazedly after the end credits, smiled and pronounced, "It's a terrible movie. But he makes everything work." As for the cast, Lelouch has given the starring role to that splendid actress Audrey Dana, whom he used so well in his last lark Roman de Gare. Ms Dana owns the role and runs with it like crazy, making every moment real and right. In support are stalwarts such as Dominique Pinon (also from Roman de Gare), Samuel Labarthe, and even Anouk Aimée. I can't wait to see this one again, but as of now I don't believe it has U.S. distribution. Surely some distributor is, as I write this, stepping up to the plate? What Love May Bring is why most of the world goes to the movies, and it's wrapped in a package as sumptuous as you could want. The film plays Saturday, March 5, at 9pm at the Walter Reade and Sunday, March 6, at 3:15 at IFC.  M. Lelouch will be present at both screenings.

Remember: You can check out the entire Rendez-vous With French Cinema program here. Then click on the individual film for more information or to book tickets.

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