Friday, May 25, 2012

Fifth annual FILMS ON THE GREEN festival spotlights free French films in NYC's parks

It's back -- and better than ever. This summer's edition of the annual FILMS ON THE GREEN festival, organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, begins next Friday, June 1. For the fifth consecutive year, Films on the Green will present French films in New York City parks in June and July, as well as a special screening at Columbia University in September. The 2012 Films on the Green Festival will feature 8 free French screenings all adapted from French and American Literature. Through an array of different cinematic genres – thriller, comedy, drama, romance and musical -- the 2012 line-up includes films adapted from a wide range of literary styles, from fairy tale (“Donkey Skin”) to poetry (“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”) and graphic novel (“Persepolis”) – and highlights how great French directors like François Truffaut, Jacques Demy or Costa-Gavras have adapted certain works of literature to film.

The series begins on Friday June 1st in Central Park with the screening of the comedy, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies directed by the 2012 Oscar-winner (for The Artist) Michel Hazanavicius and featuring the two stars of that film: Bérénice Bejo (above, left) and additional Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin (above, right), who here plays a would-be James Bond who unfortunately possesses only a shred of the brain-power (but ten times the pomposity) of 007. Based on the series of novels “OSS 117” by French writer Jean Bruce (said to be the inspiration for the character of the famous Mr. Bond), the film provides an example of a literary (it's a bit of a stretch to call it that) adaptation from novel to screen.

The real highlight of this year's series, however, is the following week's film, to be shown in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, on Friday June 8th: The Snows of Kilimanjaro by one of the worlds most progressive filmmakers, Robert Guédiguan. Despite the film's title, forget Hemingway; this one's adapted from the Victor Hugo poem, “How Good are the Poor,” and it is a gem of movie-making. First shown in NYC last March, as part of the annual Rendez-vous with French Cinema series (my earlier review is here), the film ought have been immediately snapped up for U.S. release. Alas, no such luck, so if you want to see a remarkable movie about such important themes as family, love, employment, crime, justice, and what we owe our fellow man, this open air screening may be your only opportunity. Don't miss it. (The rest of this year's crop of films are easily available via DVD in the USA; this one, made just last year, is not.)

Friday June 15th will see the screening, also in Washington Square Park, of the famous family-movie, War of the Buttons (the 1961 version by Yves Robert), which was the first of four film adaptations of Louis Pergaud’s novel -- two of which arrived almost simultaneously last year in France, where they both did well at the box-office.

Screenings in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village will feature the dark thriller The Axe by acclaimed director Costa-Gavras, adapted from the bestselling novel by one of America's favorite authors, the late Donald Westlake, on Friday, June 22nd. This nifty little thriller with black comedic over- and under-tones tackles the western world's current employment crisis in a most intriguing fashion.

Also showing in Tompkins Square Park on Friday, June 29, will be one of Jacques Demy's most precious (in both senses of the word) films, the classic musical Donkey Skin based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale on Friday 28th. Next to Demy's one-of-a-kind musical The Young Girls of Rochefort, I think this is my favorite of all his work. It's enchanting, colorful and delightfully irreverent  -- oh, those horses! -- in a manner that nearly no one has managed before or since.

The festival continues in Riverside Park – Pier I, Upper West Side, on Friday July 6th with one of the great thrillers of our new millennium: Tell No One directed by Guillaume Canet from the novel starring François Cluzet (above, left), also known for his lead role in this year’s hit, Intouchables, makes a terrific everyman searching for his dead wife -- who's suddenly sending him emails.

Friday, July 13th, will serve up -- no, not a horror movie, although you could look it that way -- the black-and-white (with a bit of red now and then, and lots of luscious grays) animated film Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, which tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran and Austria. Tackling everything from fundamentalism to feminism to immigration, the movie is a surprisingly rich and thoughtful coming-of-age story.

The series will conclude on Thursday September 6th on the campus of Columbia University with an iconic film of La Nouvelle Vague, Jules and Jim by François Truffaut, presented in partnership with the Maison Française of Columbia University. If you've never seen this one, or haven't for a few years (or decades), now's your op.

All film screenings are held at dusk, and the films are in French with English subtitles, and are screened free of charge. A full film description is available by clicking on each film's title, above.

The youngest of the city's outdoor film festivals, Films on the Green is already a much-loved event of New York summers and is made possible with the cooperation of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Last year the festival reached over 3,000 viewers and, with the support of its official sponsors, Air France, BNP Paribas and TV5 Monde, the 2012 series has expanded to feature eight classic or contemporary French films in five different locations. DJs from New York University’s radio, WNYU 89.1 FM, will spin tunes before screenings.

Here's the FILMS ON THE GREEN schedule at a glance:

All screenings are held at dusk

June 1 - 8:30pm OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, Central Park – Cedar Hill (79th St. & 5th Ave.)

June 8 - 8:30pm The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Washington Square Park

June 15 - 8:30pm War of the Buttons, Washington Square Park

June 22 - 8:30pm The Axe, Tompkins Square Park

June 29 - 8:30pm Donkey Skin, Tompkins Square Park
            (that's Catherine Deneuve, in the photo above)

July 6 - 8:30pm Tell No One, Riverside Park – Pier I (at 70th St)

July 13 - 8:30pm Persepolis, Riverside Park – Pier I (at 70th St)

September 6- 7:30pm Jules and Jim, Columbia University – Low Library Steps

For more information about Films on the Green, simply click here.

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