Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 8:13 am 
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THE RENDEZ-VOUS: AN INTRODUCTION

Its sponsors call this 11-year-old Lincoln Center series “America’s leading showcase for new French films.” This year it offers fifteen released in France in 2005 or 2006. Richard Peña (Lincoln Center Film Society Director) thinks French cinema has never been in better shape – particularly in size of production and overseas audience. A certain documentary about large black and white birds topped $75 million at the US box office, and five other French movies had an average take of a million dollars in the US last year. Producing 200 films a year, France can compete in big budget, fast actioners as well as the talky, sensitive (or dark) films more often associated with their national film style.

More significant than such bare figures are three facts. First, French filmmaking has stayed small and independent -- dominated not by big companies like Hollywood but by small ones producing only two or three films a year. Related to this there’s a belief in France that anyone there who has a film to make should be able to do so.

Second, the government has been generous in its sponsorship of cinema in France as it is of the arts generally.

Third, France is a passionately film-loving nation, peopled not just with movie-goers but folks who’d as soon argue Godard or Audiard (or Nicolas Ray or Sam Fuller or Jerry Lewis or even Sidney Pollack) as watch a ball game. Perhaps it’s this national cinephilia that drives all the rest and makes French movies as vibrant as ever when the film industries of other western nations have faded and people have turned more often to Africa, Iran, China, and Latin America for exciting filmmaking.

France has some amazingly good film actors, and particularly viable and important female ones. The generally high IQ-level of the filmmaking tends to select for actors who do complex, subtle work. Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang directly alludes to François Trufaut, and Korea’s (Chicago-educated) Hong Sang-soo evokes Jean-Luc Godard -- just a couple examples of how French film still spurs people in many other countries to make movies. You could say French cinema is a beacon that the Rendez-
Vous freshly redirects our way. The series ranges from glossy comedy through social commentary to updated noir, but such a description misleads because the French have shown an increasing skill at genre-bending and –blending these days. Look at two of the best from last year: Caché (in French and with noted French actors, if by an Austrian director), a social commentary, a family drama, and a thriller; The Beat My Heart Skipped/De battre mon coeur s’est arrêé, a noir, a family drama, and an artistic coming-of-ager. To work on all these levels so well comes from being in a place where you can think outside the box.

(The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2006 ran from March 10 to 19, 2006.)

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


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