Sunday, October 2, 2011

FIAF dedicates October CinemaTuesdays to visionary cinematographer Agnès Godard -- who'll appear in-person for a post-film Q&A

TM isn't absolutely certain of this, but he doesn't recall another set of CinemaTuesdays (those mardis devoted each month by the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) to fine French films) dedicated to a cinematographer -- in this case the amazing Agnès Godard. (At least, not over the past three years, during which this blog has existed.) If this is indeed some kind of "first," it's a welcome one, for Ms Godard, shown above and below, has given us a raft of wonderfully photographed films, each one quite different from the other, even when, as is so often the case, she is working for a single filmmaker -- say, Claire Denis -- who is not in the habit of repeating herself.

Out of the 41 films on which Ms Godard has served as cinematographer, you'd be hard put to pick a single one that wasn't up-to-snuff visually -- or, more likely, memorable. I wish this little mini-retrospecitive had included the likes of Backstage (shown below) or her latest endeavor, The Long Falling, the new film from Seraphine writer/
director Martin Provost, that I hope will get some sort of U.S. theatrical release soon. Still, despite our fondest hopes, a month can only hold four or five Tuesdays, and so we must content ourselves with what is available here. (As it is, FIAF is squeezing six movies into four Tuesdays.)

As a bonus for Godard-ophiles, the cinematographer will make a personal appearance on Tuesday, October 11, the evening of the showing of what is perhaps her most famous work, Claire Denis' Beau Travail (below). This program, in fact, curated by the inexhaustible Marie Losier, is titled The Beau Travail of Agnès Godard. Following the 7pm screening will be a Q&A with Godard and filmmaker/critic/writer Kent Jones.

All screenings, October 4, 11, 18 and 25, will take place at FIAF's Florence Gould Hall in Manhattan. Information on each of the six films can be found further below, while that on procuring tickets and directions to the hall itself can be found at the end of this post.

According to FIAF's press information, after studying journalism for several years, Ms Godard switched to filmmaking and graduated from La Fémis, France’s preeminent film school. She began her career as an assistant camera operator on films by Wim Wenders, Joseph Losey, Peter Greenaway, and Alain Resnais. She worked as a camera operator on Claire Denis’ lauded debut feature Chocolat (above, from 1988), and has been Denis’ regular cinematographer since 1990, when the two worked together on a documentary about nouvelle vague filmmaker Jacques Rivette. Two of their collaborations are featured in the retrospective, which surveys twenty years of Godard’s career.

Speaking about her work, Godard told The Village Voice, “I don’t like feeling like a voyeur. The most inexhaustible landscapes for me remain faces and bodies: I like to look at people, to look at them in order to love them. It’s like dancing with someone, except with a camera you don’t touch them. I just want to tell them that I’d like to put my hand on them.” (The photo above is from Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum; the one below is from Catherine Corsini's Leaving.)

Agnѐs Godard won a César and a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography for her work on Beau Travail. The New York Times has described her cinematography as “exquisite and expressive,” “a spellbinding visual beauty that reminds you of the transporting power of pure cinema.”

Program for 
The Beau Travail of Agnès Godard

Golden Door (Nuovomondo)
Tuesday, October 4 at 12:30, 4 & 7:30pm
by Emanuele Crialese, 2006. Color. 118 min.
With Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vincenzo Amato, Aurora Quattrocchi, Francesco Casisa
In Italian, English, and French with English subtitles

For TM's money one of the most beautiful films ever made, Golden Door is a must-see, and particularly for the chance to see on it on the big screen. In it, Ms Godard achieves the kind of subtle "special effects" that are actualy rather staggering. The movie is about immigration to the U.S. but it handles this subject in a manner unlike almost any other film I can think of. In its glorious merging of content and style, Golden Door comes across as just about perfect. (My original review of the film for GreenCine appears here.)

I Can't Sleep (J’ai pas sommeil)
Tuesday, October 11 at 12:30 & 4pm
by Claire Denis, 1994. Color. 110 min.
With Yekaterina Golubeva, Richard Courcet, Vincent Dupont, Laurent Grévill

Godard’s debut collaboration with Denis is a potent realization of the real-life couple who murdered more than twenty women in 1980s Paris. As filtered through the impressions of a young Lithuanian (Golubeva), the killings form a shocking introduction to the normally revered city. Denis’ trademark languid style and pacing flourish throughout.

In TM's view this is one of Denis' strongest and most shocking films in its juxtaposition of horror and everyday life. It goes deeper than the mere "banality of evil" into a place that questions our very humanity and comes up with no easy answers.

“Directed by the idiosyncratic, intelligent, strong-willed Claire Denis…it calmly lures viewers into an ordinary world where the sinister and the benign wear the same face…With its slow, undramatic treatment of a subject usually made explosive, sensational and easy, it is a strong addition to [Denis’] underrated career.”—The New York Times

Meet the Director of Cinematography: Agnès Godard,
following the screening of Beau travail
Tuesday, October 11 at 7pm
by Claire Denis, 1999. Color. 92 min.
With Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin, Richard Courcet

Many would call Beau Travail Denis’ masterpiece, thanks in no small part to Godard’s hypnotic depiction of Djibouti, which won her a César for Best Cinematography. As a Foreign Legionnaire (Levant) reflects on his career, the commander he devoted himself to, and the fractious, jealous relationship he developed with a young soldier, that continue to pierce his memory.

This is nowhere near TM's favorite Denis film nor, he thinks, does it reflect Godard's best work. It's content hardly merits its running time, and it struck me as more than a little obvious on all fronts. But since everyone and his uncle seems to love the film, I guess you should see it, if you have not already done so.

“Claire Denis’ finest film to date…The visually spellbinding movie depicts their rigorous drills and rituals as ecstatic rites of purification and the embodiment of an impenetrable masculine mystique…Not to be missed.” —The New York Times

“…Beau Travail might be their most spectacular accomplishment, a model of symbiosis between director and cinematographer.”—The Village Voice

Tuesday, October 18 at 12:30, 4 & 7:30pm
by Ursula Meier, 2008. Color. 97 min.
with Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Adélaïde Leroux, Madeleine Budd

An interesting film on every level, this one also shows Godard in her subtle but surprising mode. A peaceful, remote way of life is interrupted when a family’s property is encroached upon by the construction of a nearby highway. The intrusion of industry upends their tranquility, and each person’s limits are pushed beyond their breaking points. Intensely emotional performances by Huppert and Gourmet anchor the film.

“Both the natural-sounding dialogue and Agnѐs Godard’s camerawork seem to generate from the characters organically, which keeps them fully human.”—The New York Times

“Confident, appealingly bizarre…working with all-star DP Agnès Godard, Meier effectively communicates the sense of upended privacy.”—The Village Voice

Jacquot de Nantes
Tuesday, October 25 at 12:30 & 4pm
by Agnès Varda, 1991. Color and B&W. 118 min.
with Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier, Brigitte De Villepoix

Varda’s elegiac, intensely personal tribute to her husband (and legendary director) Jacques Demy—made just one year after his passing—simply could not have been made by anyone else. Combining home footage from his youth with clips from his films, Jacquot de Nantes is as uncategorizable as it is moving.

“Extremely evocative…an engrossing, moving tribute.”—Time Out Film Guide

The Dreamlife of Angels (La vie rêvée des Anges)
Tuesday, October 25 at 7:30pm
by Erick Zonca, 1998. Color. 113 min.
with Élodie Bouchez, Natacha Régnier, Grégoire Colin, Patrick Mercado

Winner of three César awards and the Best Actress award at Cannes (shared by Bouchez and Régnier), Dreamlife is an affecting portrait of two young working class women struggling to find meaning in life. A surprising kinship evolves as they explore the hardship, buoyancy, and determination that has brought them to this turning point.

“This impassioned first feature by Erick Zonca reveals a soulful, moving vision of our shared responsibility for one another's lives…as raw and immediate as it is heartfelt.”—The New York Times

About FIAF

FIAF's mission is to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures. FIAF seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression.

FIAF would like to extend a special thanks to Agnès Godard, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and NYU’s Maison Française.

CinémaTuesdays is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.

Directions & Tickets
FIAF's Florence Gould Hall is located at 55 East 59th Street
(between Park and Madison Avenues)

$10; $7 students; Free for FIAF Members ($2 in advance)

Tickets: | 800 982 2787

Information: | 212 355 6160

Subway - 4, 5, 6, N, R and Q to 59th Street & Lexington Avenue;

F to 63rd Street & Lexington Avenue; E to 53rd Street & 5th Avenue

Bus - M1, M2, M3, M4, Q31 to 59th Street; M5 to 58th Street

All photos are from the films themselves, 
except for that of Ms Godard at top, 
which comes courtesy of
and just below the top, in the lavendar sweater, 
which is by Nelly Florès.

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