This year's installment of the Rendezvous with French Cinema series, The 19th edition -- presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance Films -- annually showcases a slice of contemporary French film of the previous year.
Running from March 6th through the 16th, 2014, this festival features several interesting new works at three venues: The Film Society, the IFC Center and BAMcinématek.
In François Ozon's Young & Beautiful, a gorgeous 17-year-old — Marine Vacth, in a striking, quasi-Bressonian performance — decides to become a call-girl. The director's films are consistently stylistically accomplished and this is no exception — his handling of camera-movement, camera-placement, composition for the frame, and editing are remarkable.
Ozon, working from his own screenplay, achieves some unexpected pathos and his refusal to explain his protagonist is admirable, although I would have appreciated greater artistic ambition here, as I would regarding the director's other films.
The digital image in Young & Beautiful is mostly handsome although some sensuality is attenuated in scenes with bright light. The sphinx-like Charlotte Rampling has a memorable cameo and the great French actress, Nathalie Richard, is featured in a small role. A final bonus is the expressive use of several Françoise Hardy songs on the film’s soundtrack, each one marking a passage of time.
In Jacques Doillon’s Love Battles, from the director’s own screenplay, a young woman engages in a series of erotic and romantic confrontations with a man whom she has fixated upon. Doillon is faithful to his austere conception and risks tedium in the pursuit of artistic honesty and refusal to charm but this certainly has many of the impressive qualities that distinguish the director’s original body of work.
The intertwining of aggression and hostility with vulnerability and tenderness is remarkable here and the female lead, Sara Forestier, gives an especially compelling performance. The film is shot in a relatively loose style, with a lot of handheld shots, generating an unusual intimacy. The use of a digital format, however, proves to be a serious liability as the copious bright sunshine in the film washes out the image due to the narrow range of contrast.
Agnès Jaoui's entertaining Under the Rainbow is about, among other things, a romance between a music student and the daughter of an industrialist, interspersed with fairy-tale elements. Working with her regular writing partner, Jean-Pierre Bacri — who brilliantly co-stars with Jaoui here — the filmmaker has constructed an clever screenplay with excellent dialogue. The mise-en-scène, however, is undisciplined, lacking the elegance of an earlier feature like Look at Me. This weakness is further compounded by the inadequacies of the digital format.
Serge Bozon's eccentric Tip Top follows the investigation by two Internal Affairs operatives into the murder of an immigrant Algerian informant. The unusual tone here is engaging and it’s pleasurably disorienting effect is enhanced by delightful, comic performances by Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Kiberlain, in the lead roles. The director's style is formally controlled and characterized by abundant visual wit although the formal splendors are hampered by the deficiencies of the digital format. (The intriguing Bozon was the subject of a Film Society retrospective a few years ago.)
Bertrand Tavernier's Quai d'Orsay observes the circus-like atmosphere in which a newly hired young speechwriter attempts to please his employer, a Minister of foreign affairs. Thierry Lhermitte gives a bravura performance as the manic politician but Niels Arestrup as the chief deputy is even more impressive.
Quai d'Orsay is not without interest but does not rise to the level of the director's best films, such as Coup de Torchon or Captain Conan. The absorbing classicism that opens the film settles into a somewhat routine conventionality for most its length. Here, again, the reliance on a digital format lamentably diminishes the visual texture.
For more information go to: www.filmlinc.com/films/series/rendez-vous-with-french-cinema-2014
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