A look at what’s cooking in French Cinema is always interesting, and the opportunity arises each year with the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema Series, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance. The time has arrived again (March 1-12) and out of those I sampled, I find a number of the entries in this year’s batch worth attention.
The most important is “Frantz,” François Ozon’s film based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 “Broken Lullaby.” Set in a German town, a mystery occurs when a Frenchman visits the symbolic grave of a German soldier killed in World War I. He was Frantz, the fiancé of Anna (Paula Beer), who is still grieving about her loss.
She becomes curious and meets the visitor, Adrien (Pierre Niney), who recounts a friendship with Frantz prior to the war. The story grows more complicated, as Adrien meets Frantz’s parents and romantic impulses spring between him and Anna. Of coruse, we suspect that all is not as it seems.
The film is engrossing, but a rather fanciful ending doesn’t seem convincing. Yet on balance “Frantz” impresses and belongs to the category of anti-war films that portray soldiers as victims no matter which side they are fighting on.
“The Odyssey,” directed by Jérôme Salle, is an enjoyable film about the renowned undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, well-played by Lambert Wilson. The film examines Cousteau’s professional and personal life with emphasis on the problematical relationship with his son, Philippe (Pierre Niney). Audrey Tautou plays the elder Cousteau’s wife Simone, who, to her neglect, must endure her husband’s overriding concentration on his exploits.
A vivid plus is the abundance of underwater shots of sea life. There is also the emphasis on Cousteau’s growing commitment to saving the environment from desecration, a passion that develops within him and builds his resulting activism for that cause.
There has been much attention in France to “Nocturama,” Bertrand Bonello’s fim about a group of young terrorists who blow up buildings in Paris. The first half of the film is suspenseful as we follow the secret movements and meetings carried out to make the coordinated destruction happen. But then instead of scattering to safety, the perpetrators inexplicably gather in a department store after closing.
They party in the store while awaiting a certain morning assault by the police. There doesn’t seem to be any philosophical motivation for the terrorists, who just seem to be out to make trouble or prove that they can. Holing up in the department store seems thoroughly dopy, as it can mean certain death, although when it comes right down to the cops killing the terrorists one by one, it is apparent that they really want to live.
“Django,” directed by Étienne Comar, is a compelling drama about famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, impressively played by Reda Kateb. The film concentrates on Reinhardt’s opposition to the Nazi persecution of his Romani people during World War II. Cécile de France has a colorful role as his friend and muse, a woman who fights the Nazis into whose confidence she has worked her way.
Reinhardt’s music becomes a major part of the film, as one would expect, but in that realm there are also revelations that his talent went beyond his playing and encompasses his skill as an orchestra leader as well.
It is always interesting to watch Marion Cotillard, even in the odd film “From the Land of the Moon,” directed by Nicole Garcia. Cotillard plays Gabrielle, who is in an unhappy marriage and is psychologically disturbed. When she goes to a rest home in Switzerland she falls for a fatally ill soldier.
The twist at the end seems more like a joke played on the audience than a logical outcome, and is likely to leave one more annoyed than enlightened. It spoils a potentially effective drama and Cotillard’s impassioned performance goes for naught.
If you enjoy intense medical dramas, “Heal the Living,” directed by Katell Quillévéré, may be for you. A young man is left brain dead after a car accident and his grieving parents must decide whether to allow an organ transplant for someone badly in need of a heart.
The film proceeds to take us into the process of arranging for transplants, involving both the donor and the needy recipient. We go right into the operating room to follow the surgical details. This is only for those who have the stomach for such a film, but for those who do, this is a rewarding experience that is both dramatic and educational.
There are many other films to explore in this jam-packed series. At the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, unless otherwise noted. Details at filmlinc.org. Reviewed March 5, 2017.