sábado, 1 de marzo de 2008
The Eiffel Tower Is Always Ready for Its Close-Up
The Eiffel Tower Is Always Ready for Its Close-Up
Cécile De France and Patrick Bruel in "A Secret," one of the films showing in the 2008 installment of Rendez-Vous With French Cinema. More Photos >
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By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: February 29, 2008
Paris in the springtime, Paris in the fall. Paris when it drizzles and when it sizzles, and of course Paris in April. In the words of Cole Porter, “Until you’ve lived a lot, and loved a lot, and lost a lot, you don’t know Paree.”
A French Rendez-Vous People busily living, loving and losing amid the exhilaration and frustrations of life in Porter’s “timeless town” animate Cédric Klapisch’s panoramic “Paris,” a highlight among the 15 films in the 13th annual Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2008 series. Screenings begin on Friday at the Walter Reade Theater and at the IFC Center.
“Paris,” in which the City of Light is a more palpable presence than the characters whose lives casually intersect, may not be the most artistically substantial film in the series — that distinction belongs to Claude Miller’s post-Holocaust drama, “A Secret” (“Un Secret”) — but it is the most purely entertaining. Above all, “Paris,” in which the monuments are spread out before you like a sumptuous outdoor banquet, evokes the city as a robust social organism.
The realization by Pierre (Romain Duris), a chorus boy with heart disease, that Paris and its delights will outlive him — that, as Porter wrote, the city “will still be laughing after ev’ry one of us disappears” — is the most poignant note struck in the movie. While awaiting a heart transplant, he observes the city around him bursting with carefree exuberance, as if everyone on the streets believed life was limitless. In the weeks before his surgery, he moves in with his sister Élise (Juliette Binoche), a kindhearted social worker, and her three children and, despite himself, experiences some fleeting moments of joy.
Mr. Duris is a wonderful actor, but he is so trim and fit that the sight of him gasping for breath as he climbs stairs doesn’t jibe. No matter. Like Mr. Klapisch’s earlier movies “Russian Dolls” and “L’Auberge Espagnole,” which each starred Mr. Duris, “Paris” has a light-handed view of life and death. In Mr. Klapisch’s films vitality decisively trumps morbidity.
Beyond its entertainment value, “Paris” embodies the centrality of the city to French cinema. It has been the setting for so many of the series’s films, including this year’s, that it is impossible to imagine Rendez-Vous, or French cinema in general, existing without it.
Neither London nor Rome exerts the same mythic force in British or Italian cinema. In the United States, where New York and Los Angeles divide the spoils, Woody Allen’s New York commanded some of the same mystique for a time. (A comically depicted May-November romance between a professor and a student in “Paris” suggests a conscious homage to “Manhattan.”) But Mr. Allen’s portraits of New York have been limited mostly to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Mr. Klapisch’s view of Paris is more free-ranging and democratic.
One place the film’s vision of Paris doesn’t encompass is the city’s outlying areas, where severe riots have broken out in recent years. The only film to go there, the 23-year-old director Audrey Estrougo’s “Ain’t Scared” (“Regarde-Moi”), is set in a housing project seething with ethnic tension. Here the boredom and rage of impoverished teenagers has created a youth culture so mired in hopelessness that aspirations to a better life elsewhere, or even to find love inside this toxic environment, are treated as weaknesses to be viciously crushed.
The movie views the same events through the eyes of a group of boys and then a group of girls. The language spoken is the same profane, dehumanizing argot heard in American cities. Your heart goes out to these young people forced to suppress any tender feelings in a culture of toughness and negativity.
The biggest difference between there and here, of course, is the lack of guns. Yet there is still violence. In the ugliest scene the girl who has the best chance of escaping is attacked, beaten up and possibly raped with a stick by a gang of jealous female peers.
“Paris” has two main rivals for most entertaining movie in this year’s series. One, Claude Lelouch’s lavishly appointed thriller “Roman de Gare,” examines the relationship between a haughty, best-selling author (Fanny Ardant) and her ghostwriter (Dominique Pinon), who may or may not be a serial killer. In the delightfully tricky plot, a young woman he meets by chance asks him to impersonate the fiancé with whom she has just broken up and accompany her when she visits her family. The story of their visit becomes the plot for the author’s new novel. Gorgeous mountain scenery, sinister high jinks aboard a fancy yacht and the chansons of Gilbert Bécaud make “Roman de Gare” a sensuous Gallic romp with a 1960s feel.
The other candidate, “Fear(s) of the Dark”/“Peur(s) du Noir”, stitches black-and-white animated horror and fantasy shorts by six graphic artists — Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire — into a sophisticated showcase of contemporary animation. The best short, by Mr. Burns, is a science-fiction nightmare of erotic slavery, with elements of “Alien” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.”
Three films in this year’s Rendez-Vous — one almost great (“A Secret”); one profound but laboriously drawn-out (Nicolas Klotz’s “Heartbeat Detector”/“La Question Humaine”); and one pretentious and impenetrable (Sophie Marceau’s detective story “Trivial”/“La Disparue de Deauville”) — examine how events 50 or more years ago shaped the present. The first two feature Mathieu Amalric, the star of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
The complex flashback structure of “A Secret” explores how Jewish identity and the legacy of survivors’ guilt affect a beautiful, athletic Jewish couple (Patrick Bruel and Cécile de France) idolized by their frail, shy son, who is baptized as a Christian and whom Mr. Amalric plays as a grown-up. A mysterious toy in the attic offers a clue to his father’s life during the French occupation, when he had another family. The elegiac tone of this rueful romantic tragedy adapted from a novel by Philippe Grimbert recalls “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.”
In the more intellectually provocative “Heartbeat Detector” Mr. Amalric plays the director of human resources at the French branch of a giant petrochemical company. When the corporation’s assistant director pressures him secretly to investigate the mental health of its melancholy director, who weeps at the music of Schubert, he uncovers the company’s connections to Nazi war crimes. Gradually he realizes that his survival-of-the-fittest policies in evaluating and motivating employees resemble the Nazis’ ruthless sorting of Jews in concentration camps. He comes to understand how the corporation, in metaphorical ways, resembles a concentration camp.
Two films, “The Feelings Factory” (“La Fabrique des Sentiments”) by Jean-Marc Moutout, and “Let’s Dance!” (“Faut que ça Danse!) by Noémie Lvovksy, don’t have the same historical resonance but feature characters confronting modern social pressures who resist instant categorization based on sex and age.
In “The Feelings Factory” a successful, sexually freewheeling lawyer in her mid-30s (Elsa Zylberstein) who wants children tries speed-dating. The hero of “Let’s Dance!” is a healthy, vigorous Holocaust survivor (Jean-Pierre Marielle), pushing 80, who begins a complicated relationship with a much younger woman (Sabine Azema). But he neglects to tell her that he has a wife (Bulle Ogier), hospitalized for dementia, from whom he has been separated for 20 years.
Illness also haunts Mia Hansen-Love’s “All Is Forgiven” (“Tout Est Pardonné”), the touching story of the dissolving marriage of a young, heroin-addicted French writer (Paul Blain) and his Austrian wife (Marie-Christine Friedrich). Jumping ahead 11 years after the marriage ends, the movie observes the rapprochement of their daughter (Constance Rousseau), now a teenager, with her father.
Among the movies that might be described as Gallic pas de deux, “Those Who Remain” (“Ceux Qui Restent”), Anne Le Ny’s debut as writer and director, is the most satisfying. This exquisitely observed psychological drama reunites Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos, who starred as a married couple in “La Moustache,” a surreal high point of the 2006 Rendez-Vous series.
Set mostly in a hospital where their partners, whom we never see, are being treated for cancer, the film captures the deepening connection between two desperately anxious people: a stoic, emotionally guarded high school German teacher (Mr. Lindon) and a voluble graphic artist (Ms. Devos) who spills out her feelings.
In Eric Guirado’s modest but well-made “Grocer’s Son” (“Le Fils de l’Épicier”), a sullen young man reluctantly returns to the country from Paris to operate his family’s mobile grocery store after his father suffers a heart attack. Joining him on his rounds is a Parisian friend and student (Clotilde Hesme) who may or may not remain with him.
The most wrenching film in the Rendez-Vous series, the actress Sandrine Bonnaire’s “Her Name Is Sabine” (“Elle S’Appelle Sabine”), isn’t fictional. Ms. Bonnaire’s documentary about her younger sister’s struggle with autism incorporates 25 years of home movies. The sadness of Sabine’s decline from a young woman with sparkling eyes into an anxious, fearful middle age (she was 38 when the movie was completed) is mitigated by the film’s portrait of a sisterhood that flourishes in spite of every obstacle.
The sweetest movies are two sexy, quintessentially French delicacies. In Christophe Honoré’s dizzy musical comedy, “Love Songs” (“Les Chansons d’Amour”), the blissful ménage à trois of a young man and two women is shattered when one of the women suddenly dies. Pointedly bisexual on both sides, the musical has scenes of Louis Garrel (from “The Dreamers” and “Regular Lovers”) smooching with a handsome male student who ardently pursues him.
In Emmanuel Mouret’s “Shall We Kiss?” (“Un Baiser S’Il Vous Plait”), a meditation on the perils of infidelity, two mutually attracted strangers (Michael Cohen and Julie Gayet) who meet by chance in a provincial city spend an evening debating whether or not to share a kiss before one of them returns to Paris. You might call it Eric Rohmer lite.
A Gallic film series that didn’t include at least one scrumptious bonbon would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower.
Rendez-Vous With French Cinema runs through March 9 at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, Lincoln Center, (212) 875-5600, filmlinc.com; and the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 924-7771, ifccenter.com.