For the twenty-second year in a row, The Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance have lined up a sparkling slate for their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema screening series, which aims to showcase “the variety and vitality of contemporary French filmmaking.” This year’s programming, including the selected films, panels, and events, includes a special focus on the myriad of ways that French culture influences the arts in America, and vice-versa.
The lineup features 23 diverse films, comprised of highlights from international festivals and works by both established favorites and talented newcomers. The series runs from March 1 – 12.
Ahead, check out the 6 titles and events we are most excited to check out at this year’s screening series.
Screwball comedy master Ernst Lubitsch took a rare stab at straight drama with 1932’s “Broken Lullaby,” the tense story of a soldier who attempts to make amends with the family of a man he killed in World War I. Preeminent French director François Ozon also wanders into unconventional territory with “Frantz,” his astonishingly beautiful and inquisitive remake of Lubitsch’s film. This is more than your average retread: Set in the small German mountain town of Quedlingburg, the mostly black-and-white “Frantz” takes place in 1919, where a young woman named Anna (stellar newcomer Paula Beer) quietly mourns her late fiancé of the title, who died on the battlefield. Holed up with his equally downtrodden parents (Ernst Stotzner and Marie Gruber), Paula spends most of her time fending off advances from another local man and visiting Frantz’s grave site.
It’s here that she comes across the mysterious Adrien (Pierre Niney, “Yves Saint Laurent”), who claims to be Frantz’s longtime friend from Paris, even though neither Anna or Frantz’s parents have heard of him. Initially dubious of Adrien — and of the French in general — Frantz’s relatives eventually accept Adrien as the only living connection to the late young man and develop a relationship forged in their mutual bereavement. Ozon may lack the so-called Lubitsch touch, but “Frantz” is a reminder that the French auteur has a firm one of his own. –Eric Kohn
Dirst-time director Julia Ducournau wild first feature follows a young student (Garance Marillier) who discovers some uncomfortable truths about herself (and the world) when she heads off to vet school (kind of the perfect setting for a body horror film). Marillier’s Justine is a dedicated vegetarian, so when she’s forced to endure a revolting hazing ritual (one that involves lots of blood and raw liver), she’s shocked to discover just how much she endures the taste of flesh. As Justine’s hunger for consuming meat grows, so does her desire to experience the pleasures of the flesh in different ways. Suffice to say, “Raw” is a visceral, challenging and often just plain jaw-dropping feature. -Kate Erbland
Across his seven feature films, French director Bruno Dumont has always regarded French society with a fair amount of skepticism. Jumping to the outrageous extremes for his eighth feature “Slack Bay,” he gives it the middle finger. A radical shift in tone from the director’s usual patient style, the new movie plays like a madcap, surrealist remix of Dumont’s own “Li’l Quinquin,” which also revolves around a pair of oddball detectives exploring possible crimes in a seaside community. But whereas “Li’l Quinquin” was a disquieting and at times suspenseful drama, “Slack Bay” takes a familiar form of bourgeoisie satire and turns it up to the max, resulting in a fun, if familiar, rebellious gesture.
At the center of its early 20th century setting are two families: High on the hill lies the Van Peteghems’ mansion, where the eccentric relatives waste away their days in luxury. Down below, the Bruforts, a group of ragged fishermen, roam the beach nabbing mussels and helping affluent visitors cross the bay — and sometimes knocking them unconscious, taking them home and eating their flesh raw. Their cannabalism, revealed early on as a casual punchline, marks only one of several loopy ingredients in the “Slack Bay” universe, where residents frequently fall down for no apparent reason, and sometimes float away. It’s a reality defined by madness and steadily coming apart at the seams. Read our full review here. -EK
Director Bertrand Bonello (“Saint Laurent”) captures a group of young Parisian planning terror attacks throughout the city, but doesn’t try to explain their reasoning, nor does he fixate on their ideology or ethnic background (the gang of kids appear to be a mix of Arab and white Europeans). While the story asks the audience to fill in gaps, the filmmaking and cinematography are cool, sleek and observational. The result, according to IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “is a portrait of radical violence that has almost no resemblance to terrorism as we know it, and yet sometimes feels all more accurate because of that.” The films was warmly received coming out of TIFF this fall. Having already been released in Europe, it made the Top 20 (#13) on Sight & Sound’s 2016 critics’ poll, while here in the States Film Comment declared it one of “Best Undistributed Films” of the year. -Chris O’Falt
Inexplicably not called “Django Restrained,” this biopic of jazz legend Django Reinhardt begins in the summer of 1943, when gypsies were being hunted for sport and Reinhardt — a Belgian-born Romani who could flick a guitar with the devil’s precision — was only spared because the Nazis thought they could tell him what to perform. Played to perfection by Reda Ketab, the mustached savant slips through the war with the swagger of a genius and the chaos of an Emir Kusturica film. “This isn’t my war,” he snaps at someone when they try to caution him against taking Hitler’s money, knowing that his talent makes himself and his loved ones temporarily untouchable. Of course, when the bombs start to fall overhead, Reinhardt, his wife, and their pet monkey have to run for their lives just like everybody else. Directed by Etienne Comar, who wrote “Of Gods and Men,” this jaunty historical drama soon begins to sublimate resistance through art, through identity, and through acts of non-compliance so natural that the man committing them isn’t even fully aware that the instrument in his hands is a machine that kills fascists. -David Ehrlich
“Agnes Varda: Life As Art”
Visionary filmmaker Agnès Varda has been making visual art for the last ten years, often combining video and photography to bring her still fresh perspective to new heights. Frequently called the grandmother of French New Wave, Varda’s more recent work will be shown in New York for the first time alongside three rarely-screened films: from her ouvre: “Daguerréotypes” (1975), “Jacquot de Nantes” (1991), and her late husband Jacques Demy’s debut film “Lola” (1961), featuring an original song by Varda. The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) and Rendezvous With French Cinema co-sponsor the series, which brings Varda to New York for a series of talks. The exhibition of Varda’s video installations, photography, and sculpture can be found at Blum and Poe gallery throughout the month. -Jude Dry