French cinema prepares to seduce US audiences online
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For US film buffs curious about French cinema beyond buzzed-about works like "Blue is the Warmest Colour", help is on the way.
The fourth edition of myFrenchFilmFestival, an online event showcasing French movies that, for the most part, have yet to secure state-side distribution, will be available to US Internet users for one month starting January 17.
A reasonably priced 22-dollar fee offers access to 10 English-subtitled feature-length films, as well as 10 shorts, made by directors belonging to what the festival is touting as “a new generation of French filmmakers”.
Though the ideal format for movie viewing of any kind remains the big screen, myFrenchFilmFestival is a worthwhile endeavour – if not necessarily for the quality of its selections, then for the accurate snapshot it offers of contemporary French film.
After all, French cinema, in France at least, doesn’t begin and end with the heavyweights – Kechiche, Ozon, Carax, Resnais, Denis, Audiard, Téchiné and a few others -- frequently picked for the “big 3” European film festivals (Cannes, Venice and Berlin). There are also scores of younger, less tested directors who benefit from a much debated system that generously subsidises France’s filmmakers. The result is a glut of weekly French releases that tend to range from poor to pretty good, often hovering somewhere between so-so and “so what?”.
A medical mystery, a fizzy detective tale and an ode to Godard
At least one of the selections in this year’s edition of myFrenchFilmFestival is a slight cut above that: “Augustine”, Alice Winokur’s atmospheric, strongly acted drama about 19th century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon) and the complicated relationship he forges with a patient suffering from “hysteria” (played by French pop star Soko). It is, unsurprisingly, the only film in the line-up to have had a run – albeit a limited one – in US movie theatres.
Both coolly detached and powered by an unsettling erotic charge, “Augustine” finds its tonal opposite in one of the more purely entertaining selections, “Pauline Détective”. A delectably silly slice of escapism from Marc Fitoussi, this comedy about a Parisian magazine editor who takes it upon herself to investigate a series of murders on the Italian seaside is essentially a vehicle for its very funny leading lady, Sandrine Kiberlain (who will grace some US screens later this year playing a different kind of French heroine, Simone de Beauvoir, in Martin Provost’s “Violette”).
Some of the films picked for this year’s myFrenchFilmFestival come with impressive pedigrees. Don’t be fooled. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing’s “In a Rush” and Sandrine Bonnaire’s “Maddened by His Absence” screened in the prestigious Critics’ Week sidebar at Cannes in 2012, but work through well-worn themes of modern French cinema – adultery, grief, the chain-smoking, champagne-swilling Parisian bourgeoisie – with scant attention to form or narrative nuance. These mopey, navel-gazing melodramas are precisely the kind of films French directors should refrain from making.
Another movie that garnered positive buzz at Cannes (in the Directors’ Fortnight category), is Antonin Peretjako’s “The Rendez-Vous of Déjà-Vu”, a dizzily paced comic romp that grows increasingly exhausting the more it tries to replicate the energy of director Jean-Luc Godard’s anarchic road movies. One “Pierrot le Fou” was enough, thanks.
Reflecting France’s diversity
Much more pleasing is a lower-key selection, François Pirot’s “Mobile Home”, in which two twentysomethings (the well-matched Arthur Dupont and Guillaume Gouix) rebel against the creeping pressures of adulthood by hitting the road in a camper van. Nothing revolutionary transpires, but Pirot observes his pair of lost souls with tenderness and humour, and the film resonates as a portrait of old friends whose experiment in male bonding gradually makes them realise how much they’ve drifted apart. (Skip the other bromance picked for this year’s slate, Edouard Deluc’s stale, cliché-ridden “Welcome to Argentina”).
For animation fans, there’s Jean-Christophe Dessaint’s lovely “The Day of the Crows”, which tells a surprisingly complex story revolving around a child raised in the woods by a glowering, unloving giant of a father. Chief among the pleasures afforded by the film is the warm simplicity of the hand-drawn images, a rarity in this era of sophisticated computer animation.
Those who complain, rightly, that French cinema too infrequently reflects France’s ethnic and cultural diversity may be interested by Samuel Collardey’s “Little Lion” and Namir Abdel Messeeh”s “The Virgin, the Copts and Me”. The former is a by-the-numbers, mildly absorbing sports drama, in which a football prodigy from a village in Senegal struggles to achieve his dream of going pro in France. The latter is a charming, if meandering documentary that finds the Egyptian-born, Paris-raised director heading to Egypt to investigate reported appearances of the Virgin Mary. While he’s at it, he explores, in fits and starts, the relationship between the country’s Christian and Muslim communities, his own family history and the nature of the filmmaking process itself.
MyFrenchFilmFestival is organised by UniFrance Films, a group that works with the French Ministry of Culture to promote French cinema abroad.
The festival will be accessible in the US on myFrenchFilmFestival.com, iTunes and TV5 Monde’s Cinema on Demand.