About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
March 2007
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema - 2/28 to 3/11

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema - 2/28 to 3/11

An overview/review by Blackfilm.com’s Special Correspondent

Leslie (Hoban) Blake


The power of music informs several of the French films in the 12th Annual Rendez Vous Festival presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance USA (Feb. 28 to Mar. 11) at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and Walter Reade Theater and at the IFC Center.

The Opening Night film, “La Vie En Rose/La Mome” (Piaf), is a better than average bio-pic of the famed little French sparrow’s life and early death. Marion Cotillard, a powerful actress, doesn’t so much portray as channel the beloved French musical icon. Opening in Berlin and France almost simultaneously with Lincoln Center, Cotillard has already blown away International critics with her fiercely savage incarnation of the fabulous ‘monstre sacree.’ Piaf literally rose from the gutter, unschooled and for the most part uncivilized and director Olivier Dahan’s warts and all story is no santitized biography.

One of Cotillard’s myriad co-stars is the redoubtable Gerard Depardieu who appears as Louis Leplee, the cabaret impresario who saved her from the streets but not from herself. The film jumps back and forth as memories of her childhood deprivation - abandoned by her mother, raised in whorehouses by her grandmother and singing in the streets with her circus performer father – mingle with the heights of her International fame. Piaf adored Billie Holiday and her story reminds us of Holiday as well as Judy Garland - their great talents, their many loves, their amazing appetites for booze and pills and their early demise.

Only 47 when she died in 1963, the hard living, hard loving Piaf looked 70, and Dahan spares the audience nothing as he mesmerizes us with the highs and lows of her tragic life and glittering career. American audiences can judge for themselves when “La Vie En Rose” opens here in June.

Depardieu also stars in Xavier (“Eager Bodies”) Giannoli’s “The Singer” (“Quand J’etais Chanteur”), a slender story made believable by the consummate skills of the 59 year old French Brando. Huge in talent as well as size, Depardieu as Alain Moreau, a French dance hall singer (think Vegas Lounge but not headliner), manages to convince us that indeed a much younger (30) woman could not only be attracted to, but perhaps even fall in love with him. Moreau has no illusions about his looks or talent and Depardieu is fearless in creating a complete portrait of a bloated, but charming has-been.

Moreau knows he’s over the hill just as he knows his audience is the middle-aged (and older) women who remember him from his days with a band in the ‘60’s. He has an ex-wife who doubles as his manager, hair-dresser (he needs those blonde streaks to hide the grey) and sometime-bedmate as his life goes on…until he meets Marion (Cecile de France/”Avenue de Montaigne”). What might have been a just a bleak look in on the world of dance halls and high school reunion tours, becomes sweetly romantic thanks to Depardieu’s quietly impressive performance – and he even does his own singing! (Pas mal by the way.) A remake is a possibility if only James Gandolfini can sing…but there are already hints of Broadway Danny Rose’s Lou Canola in Depardieu’s performance.

“La Tourneuse de Pages”/”The Page Turner” also uses music – classical this time - to set its stage. A young girl (Deborah Francois) loses her chance for a musical career and goes into law instead. This allows her a unique opportunity for revenge on Catherine Frot, a concert pianist whom she blames for her own ruined chances. This film will be released in New York on March 23rd.

Depardieu was the co-star of several Francis Veber comedies later remade as American films, including “Les Comperes”/ “Father’s Day” and “Les Fugitifs/”The Fugitives.” He also co-starred with Daniel Auteuil in “The Closet” and now Auteuil reteams with Veber for the Closing Night film, “The Valet” (“Le Doublure”). This time around, Francois Pignon, Veber’s signature schlemiel character (played by Auteuil in their previous outing together) is played by Gad Elmaleh – an Auteuil in training perhaps? A rich and powerful married man (Auteuil) must hide the fact that a gorgeous model is his mistress. Enter the schlemiel, hired to pretend the model is his live-in girlfriend and well, only semi- hilarious, predictable things ensue. No American remake of “The Valet” seems indicated or necessary.

But “Dans Paris” already feels like an American film, conjuring up all our indies about family dysfunction. Young Paul (Romain Duris) breaks up with his girlfriend which sends him into a deep depression. So he goes to stay with his divorced father (the veteran Guy Marchand) in his Parisian apartment also shared by Paul’s adorable younger brother Jonathan (the adorable Louis Garrel). This film balances Paul’s depression with a charming homage to the early films of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut as Jonathan careens about Paris picking up every girl he sees. Marchand is truly memorable as the father desperate to re-connect with his troubled older son.

Troubled sons and daughters exist everywhere it seems and no one plays confused and disturbed better than the beauteous Isild Le Besco, working once again with director Benoit Jacquot, the man in both her reel and real lives (“Sade”/”A Toute de Suite”). In “L’Intouchable”/”The Untouchable,” Le Besco plays a young actress who learns that her father may have been a man her mother met in India and she sets off on a search that takes us into the same confusing unknown territory she experiences.

Youth also figures in several of the Rendez-Vous series’ films – both troubled and un-. “Meutrieres”/”Murderers” presents two 19 year old girls who escape from an asylum into a world of petty crime and hustling; “Chacun Sa Nuit”/”One to Another” (based on a true incident) features four boys and a girl who become involved both emotionally and sexually and “Je Vais Bien Ne T’en Fais Pas”/”Don’t Worry I’m Fine” is a psychological tale of a lost twin and (again) depression. Younger children fare a bit better in “La Faute a Fidel”/”Blame it on Fidel” and “Il Sera Une Fois”/”Countdown.”

Moving back to more adult themes, in “L’homme de sa Vie”/”The Man of My Life” the presence of a handsome and charming gay neighbor causes a married man to re-evaluate his own life-style. And there’s a romantic comedy (already a big hit in France), “Prete Moi Ta Main”/”I Do,” starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, France’s answer to Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock. At 43, Luis (Alain Chabat) is both successful and still unmarried. To satisfy his mother and his gaggle of sisters, he finally hires Gainsbourg to pretend to be his girlfriend. (Actually this one may have already been several American comedies.)

There always seems to be at least one really difficult film, usually from director Bruno Dumont (“La Vie de Jésus”/ “L’Humanité”). This year, it’s Dumont’s “Flanders,” about the nature of war and the way men and women behave during wartime. It is, as always with Dumont, a nasty business with lots of rape and pillage - which pretty much sums up the topics of all his films.




Terms of Use | Privacy Policy