French Rendez-Vous: 4

“Paris By Night” (“Une Nuit”) is a promising English title for a French film noir following police and criminals after dark. Director Philippe Lefebvre maintains a vivid atmosphere from location filming. One of his co-writers is Philippe Isard who for over fifteen years was the cop in charge of the “cabarets” of the “Brigade Mondaine”, what the police call the late-night establishments of Paris.                                                                              

Roschdy Zem in “Paris By Night”

Roschdy Zem (“Outside the Law”) gives a forceful performance as Simon Weiss, police head of the “Brigade Mondaine.” With steely determination, he fights to maintain control as he makes his nightly rounds that include s/m and gambling clubs. With increasing anxiety, he believes he is being set up and tries to hide evidence of payoffs. Zem’s imposing presence adds intensity to the conventional turns of the plot.

“Headwinds” (”Des Vents Contraires”) is another good cinematic showcase, for Benoit Magimel (“The Piano Teacher”). Magimel plays Paul, in conflict with his wife Sarah (Audrey Tautou, “Amelie”), a doctor, over his inability to finish his novel. When Sarah disappears, Paul, with two young children, is shattered. No longer a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, he moves his children to his home town near the windy coasts of Brittany. Some immature choices complicate his attempt to build a new life.               

Benoit Magimel (right) in “Headwinds”

Two films stood out among the films I saw at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. “Guilty“ (“Presume Coupable”) is based on true experiences accurately described as “living a nightmare”. In 2001, Alain Marecaux and his wife were arrested after false accusations of pedophilia. Marecaux had never met some of the children he was alleged to have abused. Judicial corruption sent Marecaux to prison. Director Vincent Garenq collaborated with Marecaux on the screenplay, adding to the film’s realism and insight.

Philippe Torreton gives a remarkable performance as Marecaux, masterfully showing incomprehension turning into anguish and desolation. In spite of no evidence against Marecaux, only allegations, he receives a prison sentence. Marecaux’s happy family life falls apart. Director Vincent Garenq maintains the emotional power of his film by keeping the focus on the prisoner, keeping the audience in the dark (like the lead character) about what is occurring outside the cell. Torreton loses weight as Marecaux takes desperate measures to prove his innocence, putting his health at risk.

Philippe Torreton (far left) in “Guilty”

Robert Guediguian has made several films centered on the working class of Marseilles, with the same group of actors. His latest is the superb “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (“Les Nieges du Kilimandjaro”). Guediguian directed and co-wrote this film, inspired by the Victor Hugo poem “How Good are the Poor”.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is a dock workers union leader who allows himself to be among those considered for employment downsizing. Michel’s name is among those drawn for unemployment. Michel and his devoted wife Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) receive payment from their children for an eagerly anticipated retirement trip to visit Mt.Kilimanjaro.

Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Ariane Ascaride in “Kilimanjaro”

Michel, Marie-Claire and family members are violently tied up and robbed. They are shocked to discover that the robbery was arranged by Christophe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), a young co-worker of Michel’s laid off with him. Christophe accuses Michel of living off the union. Guediguian describes Michel and Marie-Claire as being both literally and morally beaten by the unthinkable – that they would be attacked by one of their own.  

The film becomes very compelling as Michel and Marie-Claire reconsider their past beliefs and how they should move forward, particularly when they find out that Christophe, arrested for their robbery, is taking care of his two young brothers, abandoned by their parents. The sensitive screenplay has several well-developed characters. The acting ensemble is impressive. Darroussin, Ascaride, and Gerard Meylan, portraying a close friend and co-worker of Michel, have appeared in several of Guediguian’s films and have a marvelous chemistry together.

Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet (being dragged away) in “Kilimanjaro”

Darroussin, who was in New York for Rendez-Vous, said that he accepted the part of Michel without reading the script, but with a handshake with Guediguian. He said that Guediguian’s screenplays are never very finished before shooting starts. On set, the screenplay is adjusted and reworked, but less and less now.

Darroussin said his “Kilimanjaro” reflects Guediguian’s belief that society divides people who should be close because they desire what they don’t have. The true adversaries are not designated. He added that there is a drift away from the idea of common struggle, as living in a culture of individual development prevents an understanding of solidarity.