Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rendez-vous: A program of French shorts

Unavailble for press screenings (and with no photos to make this blog look pretty), the FSLC's program TOUT COURT: NEW FRENCH SHORTS played yesterday, and will screen again tomorrow (the last day of Rendez-vous with French Cinema) at the Walter Reade Theater on Sunday, March 15, at 3:15pm. Tickets are available. Running just 90 minutes and including six short features (one of them animated), the collection proves properly varied and very worth seeing, particularly for aficionados of short subjects and/or things French.

The 17-minute Baby (Bébé) by and starring Clément Michel as a fellow about to "enjoy" fatherhood led off the program with charm and laughs, as new dad, new mom, dad's own mother and his clueless best friend do a little roundelay on the discovery of pregnancy, getting ready for the birth, and parenting the newborn. If there's nothing terribly new here, all of what we see is cute, clever -- and short enough not to wear out its welcome.

Clara Elalouf's New Skin (Peau neuve) with almost no dialog (and no subtitles, in any case) simply tracks the traffic in a French public bath and shows us a sample of life -- mostly immigrant -- that we're not used to seeing on these shores. Ms. Elalouf's camera is gentle and probing but never invasive and her film is quietly memorable.

The second-class status of French Arabs is given a smart pummeling in Bruno Danan's Good Night Malik (Bonne nuit Malik), a 15-minute film in which actor Zakariya Gouram give a wonderful performance as the man in charge of everything from his younger sibling to the doorway of a private club in which his job is to keep out Arabs. Class, economics, self-image and more are examined in this 15-minute film that could easily be expanded to vital and encompassing full-length.

The Garrel family (Philippe, Louis, etc.) has a new filmmaker aboard -- Caroline Deruas-Garrel -- whose The Fire, The Blood, The Stars (Le feu, le sang, les étoiles) escaped me somewhat, so if I ever get the chance to see it again, I will. A young girl, her mother and her grandfather are the three characters here who talk of fire, blood and stars, protest, revolution, things temporal and perhaps spiritual. The visuals and words make an alluring package, but I admit I did not always follow this one fully.

In My Little Brother from the Moon (Mon petit frère est de la lune) by Frédéric Philibert, a young girl tells us about her little brother, whom we get to know a bit better by the end of this intriguing animated short. It provides a different way to approach a subject often handled in films of late but not in the same manner as here, which is circumspect and subtle because, although the viewpoint is that of another small child, the viewer finishes the film with plenty of understanding and food for thought.

The most impressive of the lot was saved for last: My Name Is Dominic (Tous les enfants s’appellent Dominique) by Nicolas Silhol. The English title is a muffed translation of "All Kids Are Called Dominic," which makes its point much better than does the generic "My Name is Dominic." Sihol, who was present, along with his lead actress, explained post-screening that his film came about because of a new program in French schools that hopes to provide early identification of children who might grow into delinquents. In showing a single mother, her son, a school psychologist and various events that could be interpreted in differing ways, the 20-minute movie offers a disturbing look at the possibilities inherent in a program such as this. The writer/director doesn't push us but simply observes smartly and lets us make up our own mind. We are not able to (which is, I think, the filmmaker's point), and so neither should be the schools. Sihol works in a near-documentary/cinema verité style, drawing excellent performances from all, easily bringing viewers into his story and leaving us adrift in the middle of things, wondering what we should think and how we should feel about all this. Several different films could easily be made from what we see here. It's a good bet we'll be hearing and seeing more about and from M. Sihol.

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