Dream logic

New York Rendez-Vous films Who You Think I Am, Spellbound, On A Magical Night and Deerskin

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Christophe Honoré’s On A Magical Night (Chambre 212), starring Chiara Mastroianni, Benjamin Biolay and Vincent Lacoste, traces memories with flesh and blood in light in the footsteps of Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman
Christophe Honoré’s On A Magical Night (Chambre 212), starring Chiara Mastroianni, Benjamin Biolay and Vincent Lacoste, traces memories with flesh and blood in light in the footsteps of Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Dream logic pervades many of the films selected in this year’s New York UniFrance and Film at Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, including Pascal Bonitzer’s Spellbound (Les Envoûtés), based on Henry James’s ghost story The Way It Came, starring Sara Giraudeau, Anabel Lopez and Nicolas Duvauchelle; Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin (Le Daim) with Adèle Haenel (César nominated for Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire) opposite Jean Dujardin (César nominated Roman Polanski’s An Officer And A Spy); Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez), adapted from Camille Laurens’s book, with Juliette Binoche, François Civil (Antonin Baudry’s César nominated The Wolf's Call) and Nicole Garcia, and Christophe Honoré’s On A Magical Night (Chambre 212).

Nicole Garcia stars with Juliette Binoche and François Civil in Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez)
Nicole Garcia stars with Juliette Binoche and François Civil in Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Opening the festival on March 5 is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (La Vérité), starring Catherine Deneuve (also in Cédric Kahn’s Happy Birthday - Fête De Famille), Juliette Binoche, and Ethan Hawke (who is Nikola Tesla opposite Kyle MacLachlan’s Thomas Edison in Michael Almereyda’s upcoming Tesla).

Cinema has always been the realm of the dead coming alive in an eternal return. Like specters films haunt us and teach us of the past, remind us of the present, and - at their best - guide us into the future.

More than once while watching this lineup was I reminded of an essay by the Spanish writer Javier Marías, on the wonderful Joseph L Mankiewicz film The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, where an alive widow played by Gene Tierney falls for the dead sea captain played by Rex Harrison. Marías points out two fundamental elements of the 1947 movie: “The natural acceptance of the dead as an active presence and the potency of inanimate objects and their capacity to choose the living and people in general, and not just, as is commonly believed, the other way round.”

Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez)
Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez)

Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez)

Juliette Binoche as Claire in Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez), produces a younger phantom of herself, all by herself online, to start a virtually doomed relationship with her ex-boyfriend’s pal Alex (François Civil), resulting in far-reaching consequences for all concerned. Nicole Garcia - a brilliant stand-in for us - plays Claire’s new therapist, who listens attentively. She seems incredulous, amused and bewildered where technology has brought us in the pursuit of an identity. At the same time, how different is an online charade and impersonation in the name of love really from a Cyrano? And is there actually “no greater rival than one who doesn’t exist?”

U.S. Premiere, Friday, March 6, 6:00pm (Q&A with Safy Nebbou and Juliette Binoche) - Monday, March 9, 2:00pm

Spellbound (Les Envoûtés)
Spellbound (Les Envoûtés)

Spellbound (Les Envoûtés)

Pascal Bonitzer’s Spellbound (Les Envoûtés) brings the Henry James ghost story The Way it Came to life. A reclusive artist (Nicolas Duvauchelle) insists on having been visited by his parent, right when she died, and so does the friend (Anabel Lopez) of the journalist (Sara Giraudeau) who is going to write about the apparitions in a magazine article. Jealousy and obsession can be eerier than the supernatural. The Paris Métro station La Fourche starts the film and functions quite literally as a crossroads. Is there room for Jamesian wraiths in a bustling life of laundromats and deadlines, speedy trains and cars and casual tattoos? “It’s like reading a novel with me as the hero,” the artist compliments the journalist and takes her to his home in the mountains near Biarritz, where the clouds clash and the waterfall is on a timetable.

North American Premiere, Sunday, March 8, 4:00pm (Q&A with Pascal Bonitzer) - Friday, March 13, 9:15pm

On A Magical Night (Chambre 212)
On A Magical Night (Chambre 212)

On A Magical Night (Chambre 212)

A man (Benjamin Biolay) encounters his younger self (Vincent Lacoste) showing up in the hotel across the street from his apartment, conjured by his cheating wife (Chiara Mastroianni). Christophe Honoré’s On a Magical Night (Chambre 212), in the footsteps of Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman, traces memories with flesh and blood in light. An imagined child with the piano teacher is sent back to the before-life, as alternative versions unfold, and lovers pile on the bed. The name Esdrubal Electorat can be reason enough for an affaire. This is a movie where characters look for a Henry James (he is in the air) novel and find De Maupassant instead and where a T-shirt the colour of egg yolk is the clearest sign that two men are the same person. The song “Never, never will I marry” floats through the air in this tale of a marriage that lasted a quarter of a century. “The past arouses confidence in love,” says one voice but even a bar named Rosebud cannot heal all wounds.

New York Premiere, Friday, March 6, 8:45pm (Q&A with Chiara Mastroianni) - Monday, March 9, 4:15pm

Deerskin (Le Daim)
Deerskin (Le Daim)

Deerskin (Le Daim)

A fringed Western blouson made from deerskin voices the desire to become the only jacket in the world (and that includes competition from puffer coats to corduroy blazers). Its smitten new owner (Jean Dujardin) takes on the increasingly bloody challenge (as he is the human reason behind the sartorial megalomania) with the help of a small-town bartender/film editor (Adèle Haenel) in Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin (Le Daim). You can feel the damp cold of the mountain village and the pale, sickly Teorema colours (Pasolini was all about the pants in this film, so no worries), are as much of the late Sixties, early Seventies palette as they resemble the washed-out sentiments of the protagonist. Many a man in folklore tradition had been transformed into a deer. Rarely does the hunted turn into the hunter in such fashion. The way Dujardin demands money from Haenel’s character and how she responds deserve an entire movie on its own.

New York Premiere, Sunday, March 8, 9:15pm - Saturday, March 14, 9:00pm

Greenwich Entertainment is releasing Deerskin (Le Daim) in the US on March 20.

The Truth (La Vérité) is scheduled to open in the UK on March 20 and IFC Films will release the film in the US on March 20.

Cohen Media is releasing Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez) in the US on August 8.

The 25th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, organised by Film at Lincoln Center’s Florence Almozini with UniFrance, will run from March 5 through March 15 at the Walter Reade Theater in New York.

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