New York Rendez-Vous With French Cinema early bird highlights

Montparnasse Bienvenüe, Barbara, A Paris Education and Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The many layers of feeling captured in Mathieu Amalric's Barbara is cinema at its best
The many layers of feeling captured in Mathieu Amalric's Barbara is cinema at its best Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

New York's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema opens with Mathieu Amalric's spellbinding Barbara, starring César Best Actress winner Jeanne Balibar. They will present the film on March 8. Bruno Dumont, Vincent Macaigne, Xavier Beauvois, Marine Francen, Emmanuel Finkiel, Léonor Serraille with Julie Roué, Rachid Hami, Jean-Paul Civeyrac, Laurent Cantet, Gilles Bourdos with Richard Bausch, Xavier Legrand, Raymond Depardon with Claudine Nougaret, Tonie Marshall, and Eugène Green are also are expected to attend.

Civeyrac's A Paris Education (Mes provincials), starring Andranic Manet; Serraille's Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune femme) with Laetitia Dosch; Dumont's Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Jeannette, l'enfance de Jeanne d’Arc), and Barbara - are four of the early bird highlights.

Mathieu Amalric also can be seen during the festival in Noémie Lvovsky's Tomorrow and Thereafter (Demain et tous les autres jours) and starting on March 23 in the US in Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael’s Ghosts: Director’s Cut with Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, László Szabó, Alba Rohrwacher, and Hippolyte Girardot.

The most fruitful way to approach the films in this year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by uniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is with a degree of abandonment. Don't resist the baffling, extraordinary ways of storytelling and you shall be rewarded with a completely new set of questions you never thought to ask.

Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune Femme)
Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune Femme)

Montparnasse Bienvenüe (Jeune Femme)

Léonor Serraille's portrait of a young woman at a crossroads, begins right at the moment the heroine Paula's (Laetitia Dosch) ten-year relationship ends after she and her photographer boyfriend Joachim (Grégoire Monsaingeon) return to Paris. He threw her out, she is freaking out. Dosch gives a tremendous performance of someone trying to gain footing in surroundings that mostly couldn't care less what happens to her. She "lost contact" with her parents, we learn, and the cat she carries around with her belongs to her ex. With no contacts, no actual friends, no job, and a sketchy education where is she to go? This is treated as the existential question it is, instead of a sugar-coated movie version. A maid's room, awful job interviews, selling lingerie at a shopping mall, swallowed pride, old faux friends and new real ones, plus freshly discovered virtues all yield a sense of truthfulness. No wonder Douglas Sirk's Imitation Of Life is shown on TV in one scene here.

Public screenings: Friday, March 9, 9:30pm (Q&A with Léonor Serraille & Julie Roué) - Monday, March 12, 1:15pm

Barbara
Barbara

Barbara

Sheets of reality and calendar years merge into a forceful Once Upon a Time that unites the enchanted, be it in Paris or New York or Göttingen in Mathieu Amalric's ravishing Barbara. Already the opening credits lead us into its dream logic of substitutions and doublings. The melding of Bs and little As in the names Barbara and Balibar, as in Jeanne Balibar, who stars as Brigitte who plays real-life singer Barbara in the film within the film. It's easy to say that our identity is fluid. And not so easy at all to make you feel the powers of the performative as she does. She is fantastic as she slips in and out of a closet full of identities. The director teams up once again with cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne and editor François Gédigier, both of whom he worked with on The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue), to enter the nebulous terrain of an audio-visual memoir that blurs the record to reveal the truth. When the big As for Amalric appear - he also plays the director of said film - the self-reflexive commentary on a filmmaker's vanity signals things to come. This portrait of a woman, becomes one of cinema itself in its most hallucinogenic incarnation.

Public screenings: Thursday, March 8, 6:30pm and 9:00pm (Introductions by Mathieu Amalric and Jeanne Balibar)

A Paris Education (Mes Provincials)
A Paris Education (Mes Provincials)

A Paris Education (Mes Provinciales)

Etienne (Andranic Manet) moves from his hometown of Lyon to go to film school in Paris. He says goodbye to his girlfriend with a copy of Wuthering Heights and a promise of love. His encounters in the big city, a rotation of roommates of which beautiful, political Anabelle (Sophie Verbeeck) leaves the greatest impact and new friends at school, among them Jean-Noel (Gonzague Van Bervesseles) change his outlook on life. Super serious discussions about what films are worth making and Etienne's admiration for his classmate Mathias (Corentin Fila) make him almost completely overlook that he knows nearly nothing about his opinionated friend who always wears the same clothes. When was the last time Novalis (writer of the early Romantic movement and champion of the blue flower) was quoted in a film? Black and white and, like my other three highlight selections, with one all-encompassing main character in the centre (this one male), Jean Paul Civeyrac's film illuminates the sundry elements of what actually constitutes education.

Public screenings: Monday, March 12, 3:30pm - Saturday, March 17, 6:00pm (Q&A with Jean-Paul Civeyrac)

Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc (Jeannette, L'Enfance De Jeanne D’Arc)
Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc (Jeannette, L'Enfance De Jeanne D’Arc)

Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Jeannette, l'enfance de Jeanne d’Arc)

Jeannette takes us to the seaside in the middle of the summer. The year is 1425 and the Hundred Years' War is tearing France apart. Not that we see any battles on screen in Bruno Dumont's sublime, unique musical which is faithful to the text of poet/philosopher Charles Péguy on the childhood of the young Joan of Arc. The landscape is perfect and the sheep haven't changed much in almost six centuries. Their meehs punctuate the thoroughly 21st century music that is sung live by the stone-faced performers. Once you accept Dumont's wild setup and his unorthodox approach, the fun can begin. How do we really imagine the life of saints? What were children like in the 15th century? Eternal greatness encounters sacrifice and the film dares to musically tackle questions of complicity in evil. "You cannot love them, love them anyway," is the maxim. As one character in the director's previous film Slack Bay phrased it so eloquently, "We know what to do but we do not do." Jeannette does do.

Public screenings: Friday, March 9, 6:30pm (Q&A with Bruno Dumont) - Thursday, March 13, 4:15pm

The uniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center's 23rd edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, runs from March 8 through March 18. Screenings will take place at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

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