[Rendez-vous with French Cinema]

I had excellent taste — or excellent luck — this month at SIFF’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema. They selected eight features from the Lincoln Center showcase, I made it to four of them, and I enjoyed them all, despite the middling IMDb ratings. Hooray!

* The series opened with The Screen Illusion, a film directed for television by my beloved Mathieu Amalric. It’s an adaptation of the 1639 Pierre Corneille play, which is actually a meta play. In the original text, a father is told he can see the actions of his missing son through a magical device. In the film, he watches his son as recorded on hotel security footage.

It reminded me of the National Theatre’s recent Hamlet, where the characters were always surrounded by castle security. It’s interesting to me that these plays, centuries old, can so easily be updated to a world of constant surveillance. The walls always have had ears!

The update totally works, & is a lot of fun all the way through. I particularly appreciated the skill of the translator; I’ve never studied Cornielle, but the language of the subtitles felt appropriately stylized.

* Moon Child is a drama about the relationship between a young teen with XP and the doctor who has cared for him. Excellent performances from both the kid (dealing with puberty when his life expectancy is barely into his 20s) & the doctor (who has been appointed to a new position & can’t figure out how to break the news to his patient.)

* Last Screening was described as a cross between Psycho & Cinema Paradiso, & that is exactly what it was. If I were going to remake it for the English speaking audience, I would cast a young Don McKellar in the lead, as the cinema manager slash serial killer. Very spare & static, some parts almost a desaturated Almodovar, to great creepy effect.

* Last in the series was 17 Girls, which reminded me quite a bit of Sofia Coppola’s work, particularly The Virgin Suicides. Inspired by an incident in 2008 when the pregnancy rate in particular school quadrupled & a pregnancy pact among the girls was rumored, this film moved the story from a fishing town in Massachusetts to the coast of France.

The location was an obvious change given the filmmakers, but it really makes it a completely different story to remove it from the particular American debate on sexuality, sex education, abortion, etc. (It was particularly striking in an early scene where teachers complained that they couldn’t force the girls to have abortions!)

However, that transatlantic shift left space to focus on the mysterious motivations of the girls, room for their own contemplation, and the tension of their relationships (largely to each other; in spite of the many pregnancies male characters have very little weight.)

(Side note: according to the SIFF website 3 of the 4 films I saw were meant to be broadcast with filmmaker Q&As which had been recorded at the Lincoln Center screenings. However, no Q&As were shown and no explanation was given. Not a big deal, but it was curious.)