17 March, 2010

New York's Love Affair With French Cinema

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

New Yorkers are in love again, l'amour fou as they say, with French cinema. Not only has the film "Un Prophete" emerged as one of the big international hits of the year (a much deserved Oscar nominee that should have won the prize) but the current program of new Gallic titles that is the 15th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema offers francophiles (count me in) some boundless treats.

The Rendez-Vous, a favorite New York rite of spring, is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and French publicity organization Unifrance on three of New York's most prestigious arthouse screens....the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center, the IFC Center in the Village and the BAM Rose Theater in Brooklyn. The series, which began last week and runs through March 21 will present more than a dozen New York premieres including new films from such celebrated film auteurs as Christophe Honoré, François Ozon, Michel Gondry, Claude Miller and Christian Carion.

Festivities began last Thursday with the premiere of Christian Carion’s “Farewell”, which stars Emir Kusturica and Guillaume Canet in a compelling true story of a KGB colonel who gives top-secret documents to a French businessman working in Russia, helping to hasten the end of the Cold War. Other highlights of the festival have included “A Conversation with with Michel Gondry,” in which the director (whose new film “The Thorn in the Heart” screens as part of the festival) discussed his career and upcoming release, “The Green Hornet”. A rare treat is the program “New Films by…the Lumière Brothers!” which presents newly restored films by early-cinema pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumière, les grand-peres of silent cinema.

Francois Ozon, who is remarkably prolific and has a huge following in New York's cinephile circles, is back with "Hideaway" (Le refuge), an intense character drama about a hardened ex-junkie who is visited by the brother of her late boyfriend while recovering at a beachside retreat. Veteran director Claude Miller revisits his earlier themes in "I’m Happy that My Mother is Alive" (Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante), a comedy drama based on a true story about a man who becomes obsessed with tracking down his birth mother, until he actually finds her.

Some of France's top actors are featured in the series. Francois Cluzet gives a riveting performance as a small-time conman who convinces an economically depressed town that he has come to resurrect a long-dormant highway construction project in "In The Beginning" (A l’origine) by Xavier Giannoli. Chiara Mastroianni stars as a woman recently liberated from her job and husband who heads home to Brittany for the holidays to find some kind of inner happiness in "Making Plans for Lena" (Non ma fille tu n’iras pas danser) by Christophe Honoré. Yvon Attal, one of France's busiest actors, is featured in two films: "Rapt" by Lucas Belvaux, in which he plays a millionaire businessman and playboy who is kidnapped and held for ransom, and in "Regrets" (Les Regrets) by Cédric Kahn, where he is a married Paris architect who returns to his rural hometown to visit his dying mother and rekindles his relationship with a former high-school girlfriend. Veteran actor Michel Piccoli stars as a grandfather and former Resistance fighter who lives with his tomboyish granddaughter in "Restless" (Le bel age) by Laurent Perreau.

Other well received films in the series have included "8 Times Up" (Huit Fois Debout) by Xabi Molia, about a woman (Julie Gayet), struggling to make ends meet, sets up a makeshift camp in the forest in a seriocomic investigation of the pressures of modern society; "French Kissers" (Les Beaux Gosses), a hilarious and touching coming-of-age comedy that follows two geeky Brittany teens as they discover the messiness of first love; and "The Army of Crime" (L’armée du crime), a taut, revealing thriller about the beginnings of the French Resistance.

Aside from the early Lumiere films, the series also is featuring the very rare revival of American-born ex-pat director Jules Dassin's rarely seen "The Law" (La Loi), a 1959 romantic melodrama set in a seaside Italian village and starring such mid-century superstars as Yves Montand, Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri and Pierre Brasseur. In other words, something for every discerning pallette......a French repas with delicate delights and stirring sauces. For French film buffs and distributors looking for a fine film to pick up, this year's Festival offers a multitude of cinema baguettes.

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