French Filmmakers Head to NY for their Annual “Rendez-Vous”
by Brian Brooks
The cinema from one of America’s oldest allies — France — will once again take the spotlight during the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2004 at the Walter Reade Theater in New York March 12-21. This year’s line up includes 15 films, with nine titles screening as U.S. premieres in addition to six New York premieres. In addition to the screening series, the French Institute Alliance Française will also host a ceremony in honor of Nathalie Baye (“Flower of Evil”) with a retrospective tribute. Baye stars in the U.S. premiere of Noemie Lvovsky‘s “Les Sentiments” (Feelings), which will screen during the 10-day event. Also being honored is director Jean-Paul Rappeneau (“Bon Voyage”). Both Rappeneau and Baye will attend their tributes on March 11 and March 19 respectively. Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Unifrance, and the French Film Office/Unifrance USA, along with the French Cultural Services.
The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2004 line up (information provided by
“Nathalie” (U.S. premiere)
Anne Fontaine, 2003; 100m
In “Nathalie,” her finest film to date, Anne Fontaine (“Dry Cleaning,” R-V 1998) uses three of France’s greatest actors — Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, and Gérard Depardieu — to tell an unsettling but deeply moving story about trust and jealousy. Happily married, Bernard and Catherine are a middle-aged couple, financially secure and surrounded by loving friends and family. One day, she hears a message on his cell phone and becomes convinced that he’s having an affair — and begins to plan her revenge. To prove her husband’s infidelity, she hires a beautiful prostitute, Nathalie, to seduce him. Life at home continues as it was, as Catherine meets with Nathalie to get progress reports on her plan; gradually, the relationship between the two women begins to deepen, as Catherine is both shocked by and drawn to Nathalie’s world. Anne Fontaine makes films in which her characters stand precariously on an emotional high wire — without any nets to cushion their inevitable fall. A selection of the 2003 Toronto Film Festival.
“Monsieur N.” (U.S. premiere)
Antoine de Caunes, France/UK, 2003; 127m
After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoléon Bonaparte was exiled to the south Atlantic island of St. Helena, where he died a few years later. Or did he…? Using a combination of historical record and creative speculation, Antoine de Caunes has created a fascinating portrait of the Emperor’s exile. Telling his story through a British lieutenant assigned to watch over Napoléon, De Caunes depicts the sordid antics of the inner circle of French Army officers who followed the emperor (beautifully played by Philippe Torreton), into exile — their petty jealousies, scheming, and attempts to gain personal advantage (and profit) by proximity to the great man. The cold war of nerves between the prisoner and his jailer, an officious British military governor (Richard E. Grant), is also shown, but what lends “Monsieur N.” its power is the implication that Napoléon escaped St. Helena so cleverly that his escape has remained undiscovered to this day. A selection of the 2003 Berlin Film Festival. Nominated for Césars for Best Music, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Art Direction. An Empire Pictures release.
“Hanging Offense”/“Cette femme-là” (U.S.
Guillaume Nicloux, 2003; 100m
Michèle Varin is a police captain working in Fontainebleau, right outside Paris. A relatively peaceful place, but an unsolved murder there years ago continues to haunt her. Without warning, circumstances of the murder come back to her, even taking over her dreams. She begins to feel linked to the murder in some terrifying, indefinable way. An actor and director known for her comedy work, Josiane Balasko here gives her greatest performance. She captures both her character’s no-nonsense professionalism and the growing terror that she may be losing her mind. Exquisitely shot by Pierre-William Glenn — lovely wooded landscapes have rarely looked more eerie — “Hanging Offense” confirms the great promise shown by director Guillaume Nicloux in “Le Poulpe” (R-V 1999). Nominated for the César for Best Actress, Josiane Balasko.
Siegfried, 2003; 115m
Pulsing with a raw ferocious energy, “Sansa” almost feels as if it were being beamed live right onto the screen. Roschdy Zem plays the title character, a figure always on the lookout for new encounters and new adventures. A longtime collaborator of the director, Zem exudes physical grace and confidence before the camera and his dialogue always feels fresh and improvised on the spot. Emma Suarez, Silke, and Valentina Cervi are among the people Sansa will meet during his odyssey, yet clearly his most important encounter is with the musician Click, played by the violinist and composer Ivry Gitlis. It is Click who most causes Sansa to stop for a while and think about where he might actually be going. Gitlis worked with director Siegfried on the score, a deft combination of classical and contemporary styles that mirrors the film’s updating of the picaresque hero. A selection of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival‘s Directors’ Fortnight and the 2003 Toronto Film Festival.
“After You”/“Après Vous” (U.S. premiere)
Pierre Salvadori, 2003; 110m
Maitre d’ of a Parisian restaurant, Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) leads a carefree, uneventful life. One evening on his way home, he stops a stranger, Louis (José Garcia), from committing suicide. Louis is furious — he had everything planned and now he’s still alive. For his part, Antoine feels guilty for having interfered, so he decides to help Louis. Within a few weeks, Louis has a new job, a new life, and a new friend in Antoine. But he can’t forget Blanche, the love of his life and the woman who drove him to suicide. Antoine sets out to find Blanche, and in fact does find her only, well, she is really rather stunning. A dream pairing of two of France’s top comic actors, Auteuil and Garcia, “After You” is a hilarious look at the rituals of male bonding in extreme circumstances. Sandrine Kiberlain admirably fills out this comic ménage à trois. Nominated for the César for Best Actor, Daniel Auteuil.
“A Sight for Sore Eyes”/“Inquiétudes” (U.S.
Gilles Bourdos, 2004; 137m
At the age of seven, Elise witnessed her mother’s brutal murder; at that same age, Bruno was being raised in a violent, dysfunctional home on the outskirts of the city. Years later, they’re adults, functioning reasonably well but nursing these tremendous hurts. A chance meeting brings them together and after that there’s no turning back. Each wants the other to help create some kind of ideal world in which the past can be forgotten — but how high a price are they willing to pay for that fantasy to be made real? Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Ruth Rendell — whose work has already been adapted for the screen by Pedro Almodóvar (“Live Flesh”) and Claude Chabrol (“La Cérémonie”) — “A Sight for Sore Eyes” keeps viewers off balance; when they think they’ve figured out where the film is going, it veers into new territory.
Merzak Allouache, 2003; 90m
“Chouchou” begins as its title character arrives in Paris and tries to pass himself off as a Chilean exile fleeing the dictatorship. The ruse doesn’t work, but Chouchou gets taken in by a parish priest. Chouchou tracks down a nephew living in Paris — only now he’s Vanessa, performing nightly at the Cabaret Apocalypse. Vanessa’s new world is one that Chouchou already knows quite well himself. A good-natured, sharply observed comedy that delights in pointing out the contradictions, misperceptions, and hypocrisies of daily life, “Chouchou” began as a performance piece by actor Gad Elmaleh, who had been discovered in director Merzak Allouache‘s “Salut Cousin!”; together the two adapted the piece for the cinema, and the result is one of France’s biggest box-office hits of 2003. Nominated for the César for Best Actor, Gad Elmaleh.
“She’s One of Us”/“Elle est des nôtres” (U.S.
Siegrid Alnoy, 2003; 100m
A strikingly original work, Siegrid Alnoy‘s debut feature is the story of Christine, an average 30-something woman. She works as a temp while looking for a more stable job, occasionally visits her parents, and is learning to drive. Yet there is always something off about Christine: she always seems to arrive in the middle of a conversation, starts off for one location and winds up elsewhere. Despite the film’s title, Christine always seems out of place. The world and her perception of it grow increasingly apart, until in one explosive moment all the tension and fury that’s been building streams out. Alnoy employs a deliberately jagged style, with sound at times slightly mismatching the image or characters appearing in odd places. In one extraordinary touch, Christine is interrogated by two policemen who ask the same questions simultaneously — leading us to wonder how close Christine’s experience of the world is to the truth. A selection of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight.
“Who Killed Bambi?”/“Qui a tué Bambi?”
Gilles Marchand, 2003; 126m
Co-screenwriter on “Human Resources” and “With a Friend Like Harry,” Gilles Marchand makes an impressive directorial debut with this haunting thriller. Isabelle (newcomer Sophie Quinton) is a student nurse in the surgical unit of a large hospital. Leaving work one evening, she runs into handsome Doctor Philipp (Laurent Lucas); her feet give way and she finds herself nearly passed out on the floor. An accident, perhaps, or a sign of something more serious. Dr. Philipp insists on examining her and Isabelle (nicknamed “Bambi” because, like the Disney creature, she has trouble standing) at first doesn’t mind the extra attention. Yet soon she begins to suspect that there’s another side to Dr. Philipp’s practice. Exquisitely photographed and designed, the film effectively contrasts the sterile clinical settings with a dark dread below the surface. As she begins her investigation into the hidden corners of this world, more and more is revealed about Isabelle herself, challenging us to alter our own perceptions of her even as some of her suspicions and fears seemingly prove correct. Caméra d’Or winner at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and a selection of 2003 Toronto Film Festival. Nominated for the César for Best Promising Actress, Sophie Quinton.
“Grande Ecole” (U.S. premiere)
Robert Salis, 2004; 110m
France’s “grandes écoles” are its elite educational institutions; drawing students largely from privileged backgrounds, they train the leaders of tomorrow. Adapted from the stage play by Jean-Marie Besset, Robert Salis‘s “Grande Ecole” follows a group of incoming students as they settle into what they hope will be promising futures, but the educations they receive are at least as much “sentimental” as formal. Both hetero and homosexual attractions abound, as do the resulting emotional confrontations and power games; the film has an extraordinary sensuality, and the physical encounters between its characters are as frank as they are moving. Rather than ignore or hide the work’s theatrical origins, Salis — who consulted with the playwright — foregrounds a certain theatricality, especially in the dialogue, which often has the feel of classical French theater. Apt comparisons between “Grande Ecole” and the work of Fassbinder will surely be made. Director Salis, known primarily as a documentary filmmaker, has directed one of the year’s most provocative films.
“Time of the Wolf”/“Le temps du loup”
Michael Haneke, 2003; 115m
Michael Haneke‘s “Time of the Wolf” takes place in the wake of an unspecified catastrophe. From there, Haneke does something that no other filmmaker has attempted — he shows us, in stark and precise detail, the rigorous logic of survival. How do people who’ve been thrown together by circumstance live under the same roof? How do you keep a light source going when all you have are a lighter and a stack of hay? How do you behave when you meet the man who killed your husband? The overwhelming dominance of the material world is forceful in and of itself — there are scenes that take place in the darkest, blackest night ever seen in movies — but a brilliant cast, led by Isabelle Huppert and including Patrice Chéreau and Olivier Gourmet, gives the film a powerfully human dimension. “Time of the Wolf” is a movie of uncommon, hard-working intelligence. An Official Selection of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and the 2003 Toronto Film Festival. A Palm Pictures release.
“Feelings”/”Les Sentiments” (U.S. premiere)
Noémie Lvovsky, 2003; 94m
“Noémie Lvovsky‘s new film is arresting, charming and brash, unafraid to try new things. On the surface, its plot is fairly conventional: two newlyweds, deeply in love, move to the country so that the husband can take over the practice of a retiring doctor. The young couple (Melvil Poupaud and Isabelle Carré) sets up house adjacent to the home of the retiree and his wife (Jean-Pierre Bacri and Nathalie Baye). While the women bond, the older man shows the newcomer around and introduces him to his patients. But Lvovsky takes a bold step that turns Feelings into something far more ambitious: she introduces a Greek chorus, which throughout the film sings pertinent songs, with lyrics that Lvovsky wrote, set to music by Jeff Cohen and Philippe Roueche. As in Greek theater, this chorus provides a commentary on the action in which the mortals are engaged; its detached, third-person perspective adds a fascinating dimension to a time-honored plot of amorous intrigue and betrayal. The events unfold so that two and two make four — but not necessarily in the original configuration.” — Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival 2003. A selection of the 2003 Venice Film Festival. Winner of the Prix Louis Delluc. Nominated for Césars for Best Film, Best Actor, Jean-Pierre Bacri; and for Best Actress, Nathalie Baye and Isabelle Carré.
“The Cost of Living”/“Le Coût de la Vie”
Philippe Le Guay, 2003; 110m
Director Philippe Le Guay made a powerful impression at Rendez-Vous 2001 with “Three By Eight”/“Trois Huit,” his searing look at male hazing. He returns to the festival with a lively comedy that’s equally insightful. The “Cost of Living” is about money — who has it, how they want to spend it, how they plan to keep it or get rid of it. With an excellent cast featuring Fabrice Luchini, Vincent Lindon, Isild Le Besco, and Claude Rich, Le Guay weaves together five stories all happening over a few days in Lyon. An industrialist decides to sell off his factories, even though it will put a community out of work; a young heiress wants to be sure she’s loved for herself and not her money; a skinflint devises strange ways to avoid paying bills. According to the director, “One might say that money is like a litmus test. It can reveal our secret fears and desires, as well as bring out the violence that each of us contains within ourselves.” A selection of the 2003 Montreal Film Festival. Nominated for the César for Best Supporting Actress, Géraldine Pailhas.
“Not on the Lips”/“Pas sur la bouche” (U.S. premiere)
Alain Resnais, 2003; 115m
We’re honored to present the U.S. premiere of Alain Resnais‘s new film as part of this year’s Rendez-Vous. One of cinema’s most creative directors, Resnais has focused much of his work over the past twenty years (since Mélo) on the relationship between film and theater; here, he continues his research with a delightful adaptation of a 1925 French operetta by André Barde and Maurice Yvain. Gilberte (Sabine Azéma) lives a comfortable, contented life in her plush Parisian apartment with her industrialist husband, Georges (Pierre Arditi). Unknown to Georges, Gilberte had in fact been married once before: while traveling in the U.S., she had a whirlwind romance and marriage to an American, Eric Thompson, but they split up within days and the marriage was never recognized by the French consul. Only Gilberte’s unmarried sister, Arlette (Isabelle Nanty), knows the truth. Then one day, Georges comes home and announces he’s about to strike a deal with a fabulously wealthy American named Eric Thompson (Lambert Wilson), who’s on his way to Paris. Resnais and his remarkable cast (which includes Audrey Tautou and Jalil Lespert) capture with razor-sharp accuracy the rhythms, gestures, takes, and double-takes of the piece; the songs blend brilliantly with the action, and even during the wildest moments the film never loses sight of the emotional issues at stake. Nominated for Césars for Best French Film; Best Director, Alain Resnais; Best Supporting Actor, Darry Cowl; Best Supporting Actress, Isabelle Nanty; Best Music; Best Art Direction; Best Sound; Best Editing; and Best Costume Design.
Bruno Dumont, 2003; 119m
“Bruno Dumont has quickly risen to the top ranks of international filmmakers on the basis of two stark and striking films, ‘La Vie de Jésus’ and ‘L’Humanité.’ For ‘Twentynine Palms,’ his remarkable third feature, Dumont has followed a number of illustrious European predecessors into the desert landscapes of America to produce a film of extraordinary power and great beauty… David is a relaxed, nonchalant American, while his traveling companion Katia is prone to sudden bouts of depression and erratic behaviour. Neither speaks the other’s language — David speaks English and Katia, an Eastern European, speaks only French — so they communicate through sexual encounters, thus managing to transcend the dysfunction that becomes a regular part of their daily exchanges… The film is steeped in the primal: whimpers, groans, cries, and panting abound throughout the soundtrack; sand, rock, highway, sky and water dominate the visuals. These elements make Dumont’s emotional exploration of sex, the couple’s relationship, language and communication all the more complex and suggestive.” — Piers Handling, 2003 Toronto Film Festival. A selection of 2003 Venice Film Festival. A Wellspring release.