(photo credit: Courtesy)
At one time, audiences looked to French films for originality and artistry. But as the techniques and styles pioneered by the French New Wave in the early to mid-Sixties became part of mainstream cinema, French films have become known for a different set of pleasures: strong storytelling, meticulously crafted and designed costumes and sets, accomplished acting, and star-studded casts, often featuring legendary beauties such as Catherine Deneuve. Moments of French Cinema, the fourth annual French Film Festival in Israel, has these pleasures front and center in the films it is bringing to Israel.
The festival will play in the cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Rosh Pina and Sderot, as well as in auditoriums in such cities as Ra'anana, Netanya, Ashdod and Hadera. It opens on April 30 in Jerusalem and a few days later at most of the other cities and runs for several weeks.
The festival opens with Moliere, directed by Laurent Tirard. Tirard, who directed Mensonges et Trahisons et plus si affinities which played here a couple of years ago, tells the story of Moliere's life as if it played out like one of his plays. It's not a conventional biopic at all, but an affectionate look at a time in Moliere's life when he was still an unknown young actor who revered tragedy, and how his stay at a country estate and his infatuation with the wife (Laura Morante) of the estate's owner (a very funny Fabrice Luchini) changed the direction of his life by putting him on the path to write and perform original, satirical comedy. It stars Romain Duris, the young heartthrob who played the gangster/musician in last year's The Beat My Heart Skipped, but he's almost unrecognizable here in a shaggy beard. Edouard Baer, who played the struggling writer in Mensonges co-stars as a slimy aristocrat. Ludivine Sagnier, who wore much less in her role as a publisher's daughter in Swimming Pool, plays an arrogant young widow.
The festival this year will feature a poll by Israeli directors of the best French film ever, and that film will be shown as part of the festival. In past years, festival guests have included the megastar Gerard Depardieu. This year's guest list has yet to be released.
Films in this year's festival include the latest film by Audrey Tautou (The Da Vinci Code), Hors de Prix, Pierre Salvadori's look at a gold-digging young woman who mistakenly woos a quiet bartender.
The best-known director to have a film in this festival is Andre Techine (The Wild Reeds, Alice and Martin). His latest, The Witnesses, tells the story of a group of young Parisians coping with AIDS in 1984. It stars Emmanuelle Beart and Julie Depardieau.
Melanie Laurent won the Cesar (the French Oscar) for Most Promising Actress for her performance in Philippe Lioret's Je Vais Bien, about a young woman who becomes depressed when her brother runs away from home.
Variety called the star-studded Le Heros de la Famille an "over-the-top guilty pleasure." It features Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Lanvin, Emmanuelle Beart (again), Miou-Miou, Claude Brasseur, and Michael Cohen in a film about how the death of a Nice cabaret owner brings sparks unexpected friendships among several of the mourners.
Gerald Hustache-Mathieu's Avril tells the story of a novice in a convent (Sophie Quinton), who was left there as a baby and raised by the nuns. When she is about to take her vows, Avril learns from a sympathetic older nun (another performance by the veteran star Miou-Miou), that she has a brother who is alive and she goes in search of him.
Jean-Claude Brisseau's Les Anges Exterminateurs looks at a director holding auditions for an erotic film. It stars Frederic van den Driessche, Maroussia Dubreuil and Lise Bellynck. Brisseau himself was found guilty not long ago of sexually harassing actresses on his previous film, Choses Secretes.
Born in Mauritania and raised in Mali, director Abderrahmane Sissako has won prizes all over the world for his films and will serve this year on the jury at Cannes. His latest film, Bamako, is set in Mali and juxtaposes the story of a nightclub singer's failing marriage with legal proceedings against the World Bank and the IMF, whom some of Mali's citizens blame for Africa's woes.
Another co-production, this one from Moroccan director/actor Faouzi Bensaidi, WWW: What a Wonderful World (not to be confused with a similarly titled Israeli film), is about a Casablanca gangster who falls in love with a traffic cop.
Costa Gavras co-wrote the story for Laurent Herbiet's debut film, Mon Colonel. It tells the story of a brutal French colonel in Algeria during the French-Algerian War, played by Olivier Gourmet (the Dardenne brothers' The Son), and a young lieutenant who witnesses his vicious tactics. Famed singer/actor Charles Aznavour has a small role.
The off-beat Congorama by Philippe Falardeau, tells the story of a disillusioned Belgian inventor who has always thought he was the son of a celebrated writer. When he discovers he is adopted, he journeys to Quebec to meet his birth family and, along the way, takes a road trip in a hybrid car. It also stars Olivier Gourmet, veteran French star Jean-Pierre Cassel (The Three Muskateers) and Paul Ahmarani.
Mon Frere Se Marie by Jean-Stephane Bron, is another tale of adoption and dislocation. It's about a Vietnamese child, one of the boat people, who was adopted by a Swiss family. He has stayed in contact by mail with his biological family and when he decides to marry, his birth mother takes the opportunity to visit. But his adopted family is not as idyllic as he has always portrayed them in his correspondence and this sets the stage for a bittersweet comedy.
In Dans Paris, Romain Duris, who also stars in Moliere, plays a young man devastated by a recent break-up, who moves back in with his father (Guy Marchand) and becomes closer to his brother. His mother is played by Marie-France Pisier, the former French starlet who was once set to be the Next Big Thing in Hollywood and starred in The Other Side of Midnight (1977).
There will also be several documentaries shown, including India Syndrome about the attraction Westerners feel for India, and a film about the French soccer star Zinedine Zidane.
Although some of these films will open in Israel commercially, it is unlikely that all of them will, so it's well worth making a trip to the festival to see any movie that interests you.