An annual pleasure is dipping into some of the latest examples of French Cinema in the Rendez-Vous series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance films. This year’s event (March 6-15, 2015) marked the 20th anniversary of the series, and as usual, there were some outstanding films and some that one could do without.
A highlight, for example, was “In the Name of My Daughter” (“L’Homme qu’on aimait trop”) directed by André Téchiné and based on a real-like mystery case that has gripped France. It stars Catherine Deneuve in a strong role of Renée, who is fighting to hold on to the Nice casino that she owns in the face of a mobster’s desire to take it over. Her daughter, Agnès Le Roux, played convincingly by Adèle Haenel, is is a divorcee who falls in love with a lawyer, Maurice Agnelet, well-acted by Guillaume Canet, who works for her mother and is depicted as sleazily manipulating her.
When Agnès disappears and Maurice has made off for Panama with her money that he has stolen, Renèe becomes convinced that Agnès has been murdered by Maurice. The film follows her years-long commitment to prove her belief and get justice for her daughter, which results in a court battle against Maurice. To this day Agnès has never been found, alive or dead.
“In the Name of My Daughter” is rich in atmosphere of the French Riviera, packed with dramatics and bristling with excellent performances all around, including an especially memorable one by Deneuve, who makes the most of a demanding role. The film is due for a release by the Cohen Media Group.
Another favorite of mine was “Hippocrates: Diary of a French Docgtor” (“Hippocrate”), directed by Thomas Lilti. The film invites us inside a hospital in Paris, where ethical questions arise in an atmosphere of errors and cover-ups. It is a frenzied scene in which interns work long, demanding hours and get blamed when anything goes wrong. The film’s director also happens to be a doctor.
Vincent Lacoste plays Benjamin, who is a beginner and the son of an important doctor at the hospital. A patient dies as a result of Benjamin’s error. There is a cover-up, challenged by the patient’s widow. A key character is Abdel, portrayed by Reda Kateb, who is an immigrant, and although a seasoned doctor, he must work as an intern because of his immigrant status. Abdel, at first trying to stay out of the fray, takes a moral stand when the crunch comes.
A climax occurs when interns band together to protest their being overworked, the cover-up that has ensued and against blame being unfairly applied. The film is packed with atmosphere at the hospital, in this case specifically a Parisian one, but by implication an over-burdened hospital that could also be paralleled elsewhere.
“Wild Life” (“Vie sauvage”), directed by Cédric Kahn, is reportedly inspired by a true story and concerns a very personal custody battle between a couple, with the man kidnapping their two sons and the grief-stricken woman spending years to track them down.
Carole and Philippe, played by Céline Sallette and Mathieu Kassovitz, at first are harmonious in their hatred of the typical consumer society and they take to a nomadic life in their trailer. They assume the names of Nora and Paco, and have two boys together. But there comes a point when Carole tires of this lifestyle and bolts.
She has custody of the boys, with their dad getting visiting rights. However, Philippe frenetically hates the abandonment of the lifestyle for his sons and on an arranged visit kidnaps them. The film follows his secretive moving about in his kind of life in which he believes, and what happens to the boys as they grow up in the environment thrust upon them. Meanwhile, their mother tries everything possible to locate them and renew her parental relationship.
The film is tense and dramatic, with an examination of competing values and parental rights, a father with an anti-society fixation and an attempt to freeze the mother of their sons out of their lives.
“In the Courtyard” (Dans la cour”), nicely directed by Pierre Salvadori, is a charming and very human, sometimes amusing drama starring Catherine Deneuve in yet another striking performance. Deneuve, long an icon of cinema, French or otherwise, plays Mathilde, who once was a social worker, but now living in a comfortable, upscale apartment building with her husband, Serge, persuasively played by Féodor Atkine.
Antoine (Gustave Kervem) is an out-of-work musician in need of a job. When he seeks a caretaker position in Mathilde’s building, she goes to bat for him and gets her husband to hire him. Antoine is hardly qualified for the job, but he gets into it as he goes along, and best of all, he develops a friendship with Mathilde.
Meanwhile, Mathilde is little by little losing her bearings, and she becomes increasingly dependent on Antoine. Deneuve is superb in the role, and what develops is a film that is sometimes droll, sometimes poignant, with the director making the most of the opportunity to explore the characters. The film is also due for release by the Cohen Media Group.
The Cohen Media Group is very much taken with acquiring French movies these days, as is the case with “Three Hearts” (“3 Coeurs”), which was showcased in the honored position as the opening night film in this Rendez-Vous series and has already been released. See Search and click on Film to locate my review of “Three Hearts” posted on March 13, 2015. Or simply go to Film, click on and find the review in the scroll.
“Party Girl,” direction shared by Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis, concerns bar woman, Angélique, played by Angélique Litzenburger, who is a hostess in her sixties still trading her companionship for drinks and tips at a bar, over in Lorraine. One quickly gets sympathy for her. (The actress is the mother of co-director Theis.)
The possibility of changing her life comes when one of her customers, Michel, affectingly played by Joseph Bour, wants to marry her. The idea is tempting. For one thing, it would help her reunite with her daughter, now 16, whom she had placed in foster care. She also has three other children from different relationships.
Angélique agrees, and the film builds toward the marriage. But she insists that she doesn’t want to have sex until they are wed, a strange situation, given her lifestyle. But Michel, good-hearted and loving, goes along with this. But on their wedding night, `after a moving ceremony and celebration, it becomes apparent that she doesn’t love him and treats him horribly. At that point it becomes difficult to like her, as her cruelty toward a very decent guy makes the film hard to believe as well. However, there is plenty of local atmosphere and the performances are good.
“The Connection” (“La French”), directed by Cédric Jimenez, stems from the same criminal operation that gave rise to “The French Connection” of William Friedkin. This time the action is primarily in Marseilles and environs. Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) is excellent as Pierre Michel, a Marseilles magistrate who is hell-bent on breaking the mob, especially the drug-dealing power, Gaetanp Zampa, portrayed by Gille Lellouche.
This is a dangerous operation, and corruption among the authorities abounds. Dujardin is a handsome, charismatic actor, and when exposed down to the waist, his muscular upper body gets a good display. Michel is married and a father, but his home life is strained by his obsessive dedication to his mission.
“The Connection” is action-packed, with convincing cast members and plenty of well-photographed sequences. But I found one serious credibility issue. Would Michel, given his tangle with vicious mobsters, ride his motorcycle alone along the route to his home?
The worst film of those I saw was “Métamorphoses,” an ultra-pretentious bore directed by Christophe Honoré. He attempts a riff on tales from Ovid, this time set in present-day France. Sébastian Hirel plays Jupiter, who runs off with Amira Akilii as young Europa, and as the film progresses, various mythical figures appear.
The cinematography is the best part of the film, in which human beings are turned into animals and the director makes attempts at eroticism. But one’s patience is so sorely tried that the supposedly erotic scenes come across as boring as most of the rest. Reviewed March 14, 2015.