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"Festivals like this one help spread the influence of French cinema outside France," says Olivier Tournaud, the attach for audio-visual projects in the cultural section of the French Embassy in Israel, speaking about the Moments of French Cinema Festival.
Tournaud, in collaboration with Eden Films and the country's cinematheques, has put together an impressive program for the third French film festival here. It opened last night at cinematheques around the country and will run until May 14 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and May 20 at the cinematheques in Jerusalem, Haifa, Sderot and Rosh Pina. In addition, it will run May 8 to 11 at the Culture Hall in Netanya, a city without a cinematheque but with a large French-speaking population.
This is not only a festival for francophiles, Tournaud stresses, but for "anyone who loves good movies." All the films will have English subtitles, and Tournaud is proud to announce that about 90% will also have Hebrew translations, making the festival more accessible than it's ever been to the Israeli public.
Several guests will also bring a certain excitement to the festival. Among them will be veteran actor Claude Brasseur, who has appeared in over 125 movies, including the Jean-Luc Godard classic Band of Outsiders (Band a Parte) and Francois Truffaut's Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me. He is from a distinguished family of actors, and his father, Pierre Brasseur, starred in Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis. Brasseur is one of the stars of the opening attraction at the festival, Daniele Thompson's Musical Chairs, which features Cecile De France in a comedy about a young waitress in Paris who gets involved with some theater people. It also stars Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Laura Morante and Dani, the Seventies star who appeared in Truffaut's Day for Night. American director/actor Sydney Pollack has a small role as well. The film's producers are billing it as a comedy that will appeal to audiences worldwide, along the lines of Amelie. It will open throughout Israel on May 11.
Other guests include Julie Depardieu, who appears in two films in this year's festival, The Passenger and You and Me. Depardieu is the daughter of actor Gerard Depardieu, who visited Israel for the French Film Festival last year.
Jean-Marc Vallee, the director of the Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y. (cover), a quirky coming-of-age drama, will be here for the festival, along with his young star, Marc-Andre Grondin. C.R.A.Z.Y. has been a huge hit at festivals around the world and will be opening in Israel later this month.
At the heart of the festival are 14 recent films from France. "We've been more selective this year," explains Tournaud. "We've chosen fewer films than in recent years, but the ones we have are very strong."
Among the highlights of this year's lineup are the most recent works by three distinguished French directors: Francois Ozon, Philippe de Broca and Anne Fontaine. Ozon is best known for Swimming Pool, starring Charlotte Rampling, and 8 Women, with Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve. He will be represented this year by Le Temps Qui Reste, starring Melvil Poupaud as a fashion photographer with terminal cancer. The film also stars Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Daniel Duval.
Philippe de Broca, the late director best known for King of Hearts, the classic about mental patients taking over their asylum, made Viper in the Fist just before he died in 2004. It's the story of a family torn apart when two brothers, who have been cared for in France by their paternal grandmother, suddenly have to cope with their angry, resentful mother when she and their father return from Vietnam, where they have been working.
Entre les Mains, Anne Fontaine's latest film, will also screen as part of the festival. Fontaine directed the hit film Dry Cleaning, the story of a couple whose routine is permanently disrupted when a bisexual drifter comes to live with them. Entre les Mains stars Isabelle Carre as a na ve young woman who becomes attracted to a dashing stranger (Benoit Poelvoorde), who may or may not be a serial killer.
In addition to the program of recent French films, the festival highlights films from countries in the French-speaking world such as Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and Algeria.
Another component of the festival is a program of animated films in French, as well as short films by students from a French film school and those at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem.
"One special program this year is the competition for the greatest French film of all time," says Tournau. Twenty-one Israeli film critics voted, and the winner, Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game, will be shown in the festival. "I was surprised; I thought it would be a more recent film, maybe something by Truffaut or Godard," he says. "It just shows what a great classic Rules is," he says of the 1939 movie that starred Renoir himself along with such actors as Nora Gregor, Marcel Dalio, Paulette Dubost and Gaston Modot in the story of a weekend party at a wealthy family's house on the eve of World War II.
Tournaud emphasizes that the festival is a vehicle to help bring French cinema more recognition worldwide.
"This is a great era in French film, and we hope there will be more collaboration between Israel and France in the future, with more French films being shown here and more coproductions."