Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The FSLC/Unifrance Rendez-vous: French shorts prove long on entertainment

One film program in this year's FSLC/Unifrance Rendez-vous With French Cinema not screened for the press was that featuring seven shorts from French filmmakers from 2009. The 105-minute session proved more than worth a visit during its first public screening held yesterday. There is one more chance to see (or miss) these shorts that are, with a single exception, terrifically entertaining pieces ranging in length from 6 minutes 26 minutes; in style and form from animation or the surreal to some gorgeous black-and-white cinematography; and in subject from immigration to romance (sophisticated or down-'n-dirty), Corsica in wartime, and life and death.

First on the program is an original and delightful kind of animated homage to Jean-Paul Belmondo entitled ALLONS-Y! ALONZO! by Camille Moulin-Dupré, in which the aged actor and his little white dog, while out for a walk, become involved in the bizarre doings of some of the many characters Belmondo has been involved with throughout his career--from Jean Seberg's in Breathless onwards. This eight minutes is such silly, frantic good-humored and -natured fun that it would make the entire program worthwhile (were it not, otherwise -- which it definitely is). Bonus: We also get glimpses of an animated Alain Delon, Lino Ventura (above) and others.

Next up is a very bizarre search for love called THE GIRLS (Les Filles) from actress (and now writer/director) Anna Mouglalis. This 15-minute film begins with split focus: a man on a train (Samuel Benchetrit) and a young woman being readied for an evening out (Marta Corton-Vinals) and is rather daring in its own way. Both these characters end up in a "bar" in which hardcore porno films are being projected on TV screens throughout and sex roles appear to be somewhat reversed. The men on hand try to connect with a group of young women -- randy, slutty, mouthy -- who give the guys not an ounce of respect. Yet those hardcore images, explicit as anything you've seen (you can probably figure out what's happening on the TV screen pictured above), instead of becoming important, quickly recede from prominence, as the new man in town and the young woman try to connect. It ain't easy, as you'll see. But it fascinates.

Immigration gets another work-out in the third film, L’AIDE AU RETOUR by Mohammed Latrèche, in which husband (Goran Kostic) and wife (Mila Savic), emigrants from the former Yugoslavia, try to study and help each other learn what they must to be approved for French legality, as their children play and fight in the next room. Later, at the immigration offices they are offered a proposal that seems both shocking and nastily appealing. In 18 minutes, the filmmaker shows us a side of the immigration situation that I had not previously seen. Clearly, there's a full-length feature birthing in this short.

Less is considerably more in the absolute gem of this shorts series, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Toute Ma Vie) by Pierre Ferrière, during which -- in just under six minutes -- a beautiful woman (Caterina Murino) is stopped in the street by a man who appears to know her, though she cannot recognize him. They talk and question, bringing up the past and piecing it together. This little movie puts to shame several on a similar theme I've seen over the decades. (I would love to mention their titles, but that would spoil things.) Toward the end, the filmmaker offers a single, effective special effect. I wager, however, that it will be the final expression on the face of leading man (Vincent Desagnat) that is likely to haunt your dreams for years to come.  This one's brilliant -- and all the more effective because of its very brief length.

The longest film in the series -- LES GRANDES FORÊTS (The Great Forests)-- is also its least effective. Lasting 26 minutes, it covers a lot of territory in terms of flashbacks-and-forths and makes use of excellent cinematography, editing, sound, music and performances. But the story that filmmaker Frédéric Guélaff tells seems awfully slight, given the time it takes to unfurl it. Either that, or we just don't know enough about the two characters on view to empathize fully. More details about this pair might help. The filmic vocabulary is certainly all there; ditto the performances from Adèle Haenel and Christophe Reymond. Now we just need a better story.

Story is front, center and most welcome in L'OCCUPANT (The Occupier) by Gabriel Le Bomin.  We're in WWII Corsica, where the Italian are the bad guys but our young schoolboy hero has found one who maybe is not so bad. Filmed in gorgeous, shimmery black-and-white, this (evidently based-on-truth) tale of patriotism, revenge and trade-offs is done in shorthand form but could easily be opened up for full-length duty.  The cast performs admirably, and if there is one major logic lapse (the kid would go alone on his final errand?), this could easily be corrected on a larger canvas. 

The final offering is also a big winner: ONE LAST CIGARETTE (Une Dernière Cigarette) by Géraldine Maillet. French romantic comedies are a staple around the world, and Ms Maillet adds her own twists and turns, lights and darks to this variation in which two couples, dining in a neightborhood Italian restaurant, mix it up in interesting, funny ways. The cast is both heavy-duty and first-rate: Julie Gayet (above, who also appears in this festvial's Eight Times Up), Stéphane Freiss, Audrey Marnay and François Bégaudeau. Each moment in this 19-minute movie is packed with expression, attitude, incident and fun. Ms Gayet, with whom TrustMovies had a fabulously fun and interesting interview* this morning, says that a full-length feature will soon be made from this short. I think we can expect appropriately good things from the expanded version.

These french short films will see only one more screening -- Thursday, March 18, at 6:30pm -- at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.  Catch them if you can.

*I'll hope to have the interview posted eventually, probably around the time of the next Julie Gayet film we see released here in the U.S.

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