French in a Flash

Okay, never let it be said that I am not a man of my word. (The word is 'eat.') Here is a quick-and-dirty guide to the Rendezvous with French Cinema, excluding the films I've already reviewed in Jewish Week.

For many years, as I believe I've said before, this was one of my favorite film events on the calendar. Lately, I've fallen out of love with it; the Film Comment Selects, ND/NF, Tribeca and other events have siphoned off a lot of the best films, and the remainder have frequently been either uninspired attempts to imitate American trends or second-rate work from directors who ought to know better. This year was, regrettably, no exception. The Claude Miller, A Secret, was by far the best of the films I saw; frankly, nothing else came close. At any rate, here's the remainder, standing on one foot.

Shall We Kiss? The Miller film was the best of the series, but this sprightly romantic comedy by Emmanuel Mouret was my favorite. The plot is simple but the presentation is complicated, an intricate series of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. Gabriel (Michael Cohen) and Emilie (Julie Gayet) meet by chance and become friendly one evening. He is somewhat taken aback when she refuses a seemingly innocent kiss. She explains by recounting the story of her friends, Judith (Virginie Ledoyen, more luminous than ever), her husband Eric (Stefano Accorsi) and her oldest friend Nicolas (Mouret). It seems that another seemingly innocent kiss between Judith and Nicolas led to awful complications . . . . Mouret seems set on being another claimant to the title of "the Gallic Woody Allen," but he mugs a lot less and is not nearly as solipsistic as Allen or, say, the insufferable Yvan Attal. This is a film with considerable charm, thanks to a witty script by Mouret and delicious performances by all. A very pleasant surprise.

Those Who Remain. The great thing about programs like this is the opportunity to sample unknown filmmakers. I don't really need anyone to tell me I should take a look at a new film by Claude Miller -- I know that. But I went into this film by Anne Le Ny with a clean screen. Her acting credits are considerable, but I didn't recognize her name and this is her first film as a director. The story is deceptively simple. Bertand (Vincent Lindon) and Lorraine (Emmanuelle Devos) meet while visiting their significant others in the hospital. Each partner has a fairly pernicious form of cancer. Although they are radically dissimilar in temperament -- he is a rather buttoned-down academic, she is a flaky graphic designer -- they bond gradually over their shared misery. Eventually, they end up in bed together, against their better judgment. When their partners die, things begin to fall apart. Le Ny handles the situation with considerable aplomb and a much-needed dose of humor, although the film is, finally, quite somber. It's nice to see Lindon and Devos together again -- his depressed-beagle face works nicely in tandem with her wry moue. An intelligent piece of filmmaking and one that makes me curious to see what Le Ny will do next.

All Is Forgiven. Another first feature, by Mia Hansen-Love, this time with even less information to go on. Pierre Blain (who looks a lot like his late father, Gerard) is a ne'er-do-well with multiple substance abuse problems. He spends his time playing at being a writer and scoring drugs in Vienna, his wife's hometown. They move back to Paris where she (Marie-Christine Friedrich) hopes he will get himself together. He doesn't, and she walks out, taking their daughter with her. Jump ahead 11 years and the daughter Pamela (Constance Rousseau) is a troubled teen, living with her mother. She discovers that her long-lost father is living nearby and seeks him out with predictably painful results for all. Hansen-Love has seen plenty of Cassavettes and learned her lessons well. The film is artfully crafted and thoughtful, but there is something hollow at the center that I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps it's simply that the script sidesteps major confrontations so that we never get the long-awaited resolution to any situation.

Love Songs and The Feelings Factory. It's a fast downhill slide after that. Love Songs by Christophe Honore (Dans Paris) is a strained and irritating farrago that purports to be a musical about love and lust in contemporary Paris. It is designed as a showcase for the rather cliched maunderings of songwriter Alex Beaupain, who makes one yearn for the cotton-candy artifice of Michel Legrand who is, at least, an honest hack. The revolving-beds plot would take a more appealing cast than Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier, Clotilde Hesme and Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet to work. The Feelings Factory, a second feature by Jean-Marc Moutout is a relentlessly unpleasant film aobut a real estate lawyer (Else Zylberstein) who tries speed-dating in a desperate attempt to ease her loneliness. She ends up with a remarkably unpalatable mate, which is no less than she and the film deserve. If Moutout had any sense of irony, this might have been an amusing film about the traps life sets for the terminally solipsistic. Instead, it is merely a reminder of all those cliches about mad, romantic Parisians. Feh.

The Rendezvous with French Cinema finished up its schedule last night. (Good one, George.) However, several of the films have distributors, most notably A Secret, and I should be both surprised and disappointed if Shall We Kiss? doesn't turn up in theaters sometime in the near future.

And now, on to New Directors/New Films. Big sigh.