It’s that time of year again for the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance (February 28-March 10). A select group of those being screened was shown to the press in advance, and among those I found some that were excellent.
My favorite is “Mademoiselle de Jonquières,” a sophisticated drama based on Denis Diderot’s “Jacques the Fatalist” and impeccably directed by Emmanuel Mouret. The film stars the wonderful Cécile de France as the widowed Madame de La Pomeraye, who prides herself on not being swept away by seductive men with less than honorable intentions.
Along comes Edouard Baer as the Marquis, known for his winning the hearts of women and then dropping them. Madame and the Marquis become just friends, but slowly and surely he ingratiates himself while cautiously keeping any distance from romance. Madame takes his behavior as an indication that he is really a sincere fellow, at least as far as his relationship with her is concerned. Of course, she falls for him, but soon there are signs of his being away too long, and when she tests him by telling him that she has lost her passion for him, this leads him, now feeling free, to make a similar confession with regard to her.
Now Madame plots an intricate course of pure vengeance. She sets him up with a plan she makes with a needy mother and a daughter who worked at a brothel. The daughter poses as a religious novice too committed to God to have a relationship with a man. As you can imagine, the Marquis becomes obsessed with the desire to have her.
How all of this is carried to the extreme in Madame’s ultra-devious plotting makes for some very entertaining viewing as one follows the scheme step by step. The dialogue is extremely witty, the acting excellent. What will happen in the relationships? There is a scene with the look that Cecile de France manages to give her character at the ending that reveals so much.
The tone of the film is just right throughout, and those who enjoy sophistication in movie-going should have a good time at this film that deserves a commercial showing in art theaters here.
My second favorite is “Amanda,” directed by Mikhaël Hers. The film involves a close and supportive brother and sister relationship, with the sister raising a seven-year-old daughter on her own. Vincent Lacoste plays David, who is young and trying to get his life together. Ophélia Kolb plays the sister, who is full of spirit and a very warm person.
Life is suddenly torn asunder when the sister is one of those killed in a terrorist attack in a park where she is picnicking. A young woman, played by Stacy Martin, a pianist with whom David is in a tentative relationship, has had her hand severely injured in the attack, rending her unable to pursue her piano playing.
What is David to do? He is not only faced with telling Amanda what happened to her mother, but he is faced with the decision of whether to place Amanda elsewhere or try to raise her while sorting out his own life.
What makes this film work especially well in addition to the relationship forged between David and Amanda is the performance of Isaure Multrier as Amanda. Her face was made for the camera, and she is a stunningly impressive in the role. One feels for her every step of the way, from the emotional shock of losing her mother to her emerging anger and rebellion, and then to steps toward her having to accept what happened and move on. This heartfelt drama makes one stop and think about the fate of so many victims and families who have had lives shattered by terrorism.
Another film to be recommended is “Invisibles,” directed by Louis-Julien Petit, which is important, emotional and also entertaining in examining the lot of homeless women in the face of bureaucracy and insensitivity.
Women with a conscience and a sense of dedication are running a shelter for the homeless in need of food and a place to stay. The operation is illegal but the do-gooders are determined to not only keep helping in the face of a decreed shutdown. They insist on continuing their efforts to train the women to be able to get jobs.
An excellent collection of cast members play all of the diverse characters, from the homeless to their would-be rescuers. We get to know their strengths and quirks and root for success in aiding the victims of society. The film’s viewpoint can have the effect of insisting on our taking a look at the homeless around us, and wondering about the back stories of such persons whom we pass on our streets.
Obviously the programmers thought highly of “The Trouble with You,” directed by Pierre Savadori, because they chose it for opening night. I find it pretty silly and far-fetched. Adèle Haenel plays Yvonne, who reads bedtime stories about her late husband to their child glorifying his exploits as a police investigator. Flashbacks keep showing wham bam action sequences in which, in comic book style, Vincent Elbaz as the husband and father dispatches his criminal adversaries.
But what happens when Yvonne, herself a cop, discovers from a colleague that her husband, instead of being a hero lionized by a statue in a public square, was a crooked guy involved in robbery kickbacks? She is especially distraught that an innocent man is imprisoned as a result of trumped up charges, and sets out to make things right. Add romantic complications.
The film’s method is broad comedy, but it becomes more frenetic and outrageous than funny, and thus leaves the impression of people working extra hard to breathe life into material that was flimsy to begin with.
A better film is “Maya,” directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, which focuses on French war reporter Gabriel, played by Roman Kolinka, when he is released after having spent time after being taken as a hostage while covering fighting in Syria. He has clearly been deeply shaken by his hostage experience and what he went through, and he needs to find ways to get back to normal.
What promises to be about what can happen to hostages who gain freedom eventually turns into a less interesting love story. Gabriel, who spent his childhood in Goa, travels there, where he is attracted to the young Maya (Aarshi Banerjee), the daughter of his godfather. He is not seeking a relationship but Maya, who had been going to school in London, finds him attractive as older and worldly.
A relationship develops between them, but Gabriel has journalism and his profession as a war correspondent deeply ingrained in him and in the process of healing he still finds himself longing to get back to covering battlefronts. Director Hansen-Løve adds spice to the film by providing us with intriguing India settings. But the film’s veer toward romance undercuts what might have been a more meaningful story.
“School’s Out,” directed by Sébastien Marnier, addresses the need to save the environment, but its plot is most peculiar. It starts with the early suicide of a teacher, and then proceeds to dramatize students who needle a new substitute teacher, Pierre Hoffman, played by Laurent Lafitte, upset by the challenge from the youths.
They prove to be an unruly and defiant lot with a penchant for what seems to be bullying a lad and other displays of violent behavior. They are engaged in secret activities, and Hoffman begins to try to track what they are doing after class. It turns out that they are poised to take guerilla action against industrial pollution.
That’s a neat idea, but where the film falls down is in making the youths a sort of obnoxious cult instead of just committed commandos. Why must they be such weirdos?
What are we to make of “Paul Sanchez Is Back!”, directed by Patricia Mazuy? Sanchez, a murderer on the loose who disappeared ten years ago in confounding the police, has been legendary in a local area. Suddenly a man appears, sending messages that he is Paul Sanchez. There are doubts.
Young, inexperienced cop Marion, played Zita Hanrot, is intrigued and wants to find out if the rumor is true. Of course, we meet the man claiming to be Sanchez, and a complex plot is set in motion, involving intrigue, danger, confrontations, doubts, violence—you name it—as Marion goes her merry way, manipulating older cops into following her theories and course of action.
What is the truth? Is he really Sanchez, or some guy who has a motive for wanting people to think he is Sanchez? How much you to enjoy the film will depend largely on how much of the plot and events you are willing to swallow.
The Rendez-Vous series includes many other films and various talks and events, all adding up to the opportunity to learn what’s happening in the world of French cinema. At the Walter Reade Theater (unless otherwise noted), 165 West 65th Street. For further information and tickets: filmlinc.org. Reviewed March 2, 2019.