Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 8:05 am 
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Opening night film : UNTOUCHABLE by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. March 1.a
A true story of two men who should never have met - a quadriplegic aristocrat who was injured in a paragliding accident and a young man from the projects. Jay Weissberg of Variety describes this as "cringe-worthy" for its "Uncle Tom racism." More likely it's just cliched and saccharine, which UniFrance and the Rendez-Vous unfortunately have a weakness for, and would provide on opening night. It has been box office gold in Franc. Allociné rating 3.7.
NOT SHOWN TO US
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OPENING NIGHT FILM

Closing night film : DELICACY by Stéphane and David Foenkino. March 11.
A French woman mourning over the death of her husband three years prior is courted by a Swedish co-worker. Audrey Tatous: need I say more? More clichéd sugar, evidently less well executed, since the Allociné rating was a measly 2.5.
NOT LIKED
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CLOSING NIGHT FILM

SUMMING UP THE RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA OF 2012. ("Best and worst" may be a misnomer.)

The Rendez-Vous is a representative series that shows the quality and variety of French filmmaking. It would be nice but unusual if it included the best French film of the year but also unlikely to include the worst. The opening and closing films are usually the series' most glitzily mainstream. Much else is more sophisticated.

A favorite of mine was first-time director Fred Louf's 18 Years Old and Rising, a witty and fun period coming-of-ager satirizing bourgeois fat-cats and starring Pierre Niney, the youngest member of the Comédie Française, who is fabulously nimble and funny. This film is something Americans don't know very well how to do: smart, sexy political comedy (compare The Names of Love).

I was struck by the warmth and fluency of Robert Guédiguian's left-oriented family story that talks about the working class and its responsibility to the have-nots, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. This is the first time I've seen him fully on his own turf and it was impressive. Very enjoyable to see his regular team of actors working so well together.

I must admit to thoroughly enjoying Daniel Auteuil's remake of Pagnol's 1940 The Well-Digger's Daughter. It's such a humane and satisfying world, and Auteuil's chops are certainly up, in a directorial debut he wrote and starred in. The French critics were not very excited. They've been there too many times before. For me it was satisfying to find Auteuil in a Pagnol movie that didn't bore me. All this stuff is tremendously retro: but why not go back and look at it?

A surprise and a place where I seemed on another wavelength from the rest of the mostly American press audience at the Rendez-Vous IFC screening was my enjoyment of Alain Cavalier's conceptual piece about French politics, Pater, which may succeed better through the sympathetic presence of Vincent Lindon. His warmth (not to mention his tremendous authority and credibility as an actor) balances out the dry rather smug manner of Monsieur Cavalier, who however is to thank for the structure and many of the ideas.

The press screenings put on by Lincoln Center for this series didn't include everything this year and the most notable omission was Untouchable, which is the opening night film and a huge blockbuster in France. In his NYTimes' intro piece for this year's Rendez-Vous, Stephen Holden calls this "a crass escapist comedy that feels like a Gallic throwback to an ’80s Eddie Murphy movie." But it would be good to see what's box office gold in France now. The Artist received six Césars the other day, echoing the Oscars and other prior American and English awards for this safe, nostalgic, and French-free film, but they gave the Best Actor César to Omar Sy, the black star of Untouchable, rewarding popularity. Untouchable has been picked up by Harvey Weinstein (who scored with The King's Speech and The Artist , and for him perhaps this is another promising import). Americans will get to see Untouchable in theaters starting May 25th.

Holden joined the early American band wagon condemning Untouchable. He is right to harp on this inclusion, to make clear the Rendez-Vous is not by any means an elite cream-of-the-crop festival like the Lincoln Center's fall New York Film Festival. Holden particularly liked Benoît Jacquot's off-center film about Marie Antoinette, Farewell, My Queen, which indeed is different and nice, and Léa Seydoux seductive and offbeat, but the film not so very memorable, I think. Holden thought the teen pregnancy piece, 17 Girls "feels really contemporary." Yes, feels. But it'd be better if it were not inaccurate and so light. Jean-François Laguionie’s The Painting animation is indeed "witty" and rather touching; I liked it. I liked almost everything! The world is full of nice animations. Holden expressed some "disappointments." Yes, one cann find those, I suppose (but I said I liked almost everything). He was disappointed in the Audry Tatou vehicle Delicacy. Yes, it's a kitsch pseudo-American mess; but why was he expecting anything? (It is the closing night film -- often a warning). Holden was disappointed in Belvaux's 28 Witnesses -- because it's cold and gray and Belvaux made the riveting Rapt. Yes, we all were.

Frankly a low point was Mathieu Demy's clumsy Americano, which the French press gave a free ride to (their picture of America is different from ours). Amalric's modern dress Corneille The Last Screening was a bit disappointing, too hard to follow and -- dare one say it? -- unnecessary. I wanted to love Low Life, but it seems self-indulgent.

Others films that were good if not extraordinary are the grim but true Guilty (whose star Phiippe Torreton got a César nomination); the film about a special friendship, Moon Child; the solid policier, Paris by Night (with Roschdy Zem); the slightly pale (but about a good topic) Free Men, with Tahar Rahim (who I hope can live up to the extraordinary beginning Audiard gave him in The Prophet). Headwinds, Magimel directed by Lespert, was creditable.

But there don't seem to have been as much in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema to set my heart on fire this year. I don't think there was anything as exciting as Rapt or In the Beginning in 2010, 35 Shots of Rum, Mesrine (both parts) or Séraphine in 2009; Lovesongs, Heartbeat Detector or All Is Forgiven in 2008; Flanders or La Vie en Rose or The Singer or Tell No One in 2007; The Little Lieutenant in 2006.

It says something that one of the most striking new French films I've seen in the past few weeks was Mathieu Kassovitz's Rebellion/L'ordre et la morale. It is very accomplished technically and approaches a complex modern subject on many levels. And it wasn't in the Rendez-Vous series at all. It was in Film Comment Selects, which also included a new film by Chantal Ackerman (which I missed). Likewise Pierre Schöller's exciting political film The Minister, a powerful film -- not in the Rendez-Vous but coming up in New Directors/New Films, the next series at Lincoln Center (jointly run with MoMA).

New Directors/New Films, the Lincoln Center film series coming up after the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, will include several French films: Djinn Carrénard's Donoma, Pierre Schoeller's The Minister/L'Exercise de l'État (which I've already reviewed), Roschdy Zem's Omar Killed Me, and Antoine Delesvaux's animation from Joanne Sfar, The Rabbi's Cat. New Directors/New Films 41 runs from March 21-April 1, 2012, but I will be commenting on the films earlier during the Mar. 5-21 press screening period.

Note that I watched some of the eclectic, unclassifiable Feb. 17-Mar. 1, 2012 Film Comment Selects series: Alexandr Sokurov's Faust, James Franco's My Own Private River (all except the Franco part), Hirakazu Koreeda's I Wish, and the aforementioned Kassevitz's Rebellion.

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The 2012 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema begins at IFC Center,
NYC March 2.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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