Saturday, June 4, 2016

BURNING BRIGHT: On June 7, FIAF's CinéSalon begins a fine series by new French filmmakers

For eight consecutive Tuesdays, beginning June 7 and ending on July 26, CinéSalon -- which I think one might call the "cinema arm" of FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) -- will be showing an exciting new series that ought to appeal to French film buffs, perhaps in particular the younger set, by introducing them and us to a new generation of French filmmakers. Entitled Burning Bright, the series features nine relatively new films made in 2013, 2014 and 2015, one of which -- The Cowboys -- will be released in theaters later this month by Cohen Media Group (so this FIAF screening is a kind of "advance look" opportunity for aficionados).

You can view the entire series here and then click on each of the films that interest you. TrustMovies has managed to view only three of the films at this point in time, of which two are definitely worth a look. The series opens this coming Tuesday, June 7, with screenings of THIS SUMMER FEELING (Ce sentiment de l'été), a really lovely, quietly alive movie about what an unexpected and untimely death does to a close-knit family and their friends. What surprises most about this film is how buoyant it remains, despite its seemingly grim subject.

What makes the movie, directed and co-written (with Mariette Désert) by Mikhaël Hers, so interesting and unusual is how -- despite its melancholy nature due to the attempt of the characters to somehow recover from this signature event -- it is still consistently full of life and energy. This is because M. Hers seems to prize honest behavior above all else, and so we watch these characters simply "behave" in the world. And because the filmmaker has chosen his times, places and people so smartly and well, even given that the movie is rather low on "events," it still holds attention.

Those "places" mentioned above includes Berlin, Paris and New York, and this, too, adds luster and variety to our viewing. The characters are played with easy-going, near-improvisational reality by the entire cast, with the excellent Anders Danielsen Lie (two photos up) and Judith Chemla (above) in the leading roles, as, respectively, the deceased's boyfriend and sister. In supporting roles (in the New York City segments), excellent work is done by our own Josh Safdie and Marin Ireland.  With its running time of 103 minutes, the movie still manages to move along in sprightly fashion. It's a thoughtful, quiet film that I suspect you'll remember fondly. Click here for more information and ticket procurement.

Next week, on June 14, a film from one of France's most interesting women writer/directors will be shown: Axelle Ropert's follow-up to her marvellous family drama, The Family Wolberg, the equally unusual and cliché-defying Miss and the Doctors (Tirez la langue, mademoiselle). Another of Ropert's movies that goes in odd directions and offers an unusual but not at all unbelievable look at human beings trying to somehow "work things out," the film gives us a look at a mother trying to raise her diabetic daughter, as the pair becomes involved with two brothers, each a doctor and each equally smitten with this beautiful mom.

It would be easy to call Ms Ropert feminist due to her thoughtful and far- reaching look into the female psyche, but that word doesn't begin to describe the filmmaker's unusual rapport with and understanding of all her characters. What happens in the movie is unexpected and will not satisfy those looking for cheap emotion and easy closure. But it will make you stop and consider.

The cast is top-notch, with the always gorgeous and intuitive actress Louise Bourgoin (two photos above) in the role of the mother, and two equally smart and unusual choices -- Laurent Stocker (above, left, of Chic!) and filmmaker/actor Cédric Kahn (above, right) -- playing the doctor brothers. Neither of Ms Ropert's films seem to be available any longer in this country for purchase or rental. A shame -- which makes this FIAF screening all the more precious. Click here to view screening times.

The continuing war in Afghanistan conflated with the supernatural (or in this case maybe religion) would not seem to make particularly engaging films -- if the two examples I've seen constitute reliable evidence. First we got Daniel Myrick's The Objective (back in 2009), and now we have NEITHER HEAVEN NOR EARTH (Ni le ciel ni la terre), which, if nothing else, at least has a more interesting cast than the earlier film. Directed by and with a screenplay from Clément Cogitore, this hugely slow-moving movie gives us the almost-always-good Jérémie Renier as the commander of a small group of men trying to hold down their position on a hilltop while winning the hearts and minds of the local villagers. They are not, it would seem, doing well at either job.

I have never seen M. Renier, above, give a bad performance; he usually rivets. Here, however, he and the rest of cast come close to putting us to sleep, as the very dawdling story very slowly unfolds. The commander's men are disappearing, two or one at a time, and nothing accounts for this. The single example we are made privy to would seem to involve something magical, and one of the local kids insists to the soldiers that this is the "place of Allah," and that if you sleep lying down, you'll be "taken."

Turns out that the local Taliban crew are missing men in their own camp, and our boys must join with them to find the missing men. The movie does not work on any level-- not as thriller, not as war film, not as a supernatural tale, and especially not as philosophy-cum-religious tract. You could say that the film is trying to prove the existence of god. Good luck with that. At the very least, you'd need to be alert and awake to take a crack at this. M Gogitore seem to be of the moviemaking mind-set that less is more. And though there is somewhat of a surprise in the manner in which the movie resolves itself, I'd call the whole thing too little too late. Neither Heaven nor Earth is neither fish nor fowl. But I wish the filmmaker better luck next time. You can click here to learn more about the movie, along with its FIAF screening times. (We've just learned that this film will be getting a theatrical release in New York City, opening on August 5th at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.)

I'll hope to see more in this CineSalon series if time permits (especially the movie entitled Vincent, above, which is said to resemble what a super-hero film might look like if directed by Eric Rohmer). If I can manage more viewings, you'll find the results here, if and when I add them to the end of this post. Meanwhile, you can view the listing for the entire nine-film series here, and then click on the whichever films you want to learn more about.  As always, these films are free to FIAF members. For information about FIAF membership, click here.

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