French Rendez-Vous 2019: “Lady J”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival at Lincoln Center in New York City screened a diverse variety of recent French films. The selections covered contemporary issues like terrorism, PTSD, unemployment and opioids.

The Rendez-Vous opened with “The Trouble with You” (“En Liberte!”), another clever, very well acted comedy from Pierre Salvadori with well written, very different characters. Yvonne (Adele Haenel), a police inspector, discovers that her late husband, also on the force, sent an innocent man (Pio Marmai) to prison. The prison sentence has turned the man violent. After his release Yvonne follows him, hoping to prevent further trouble for him with the law, leading to very humorous complications. Audrey Tautou plays the former prisoner’s partner.

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Adele Haenel and Pio Marmai in “The Trouble with You”

“Girls of the Sun” intensely depicts an all-female group of resistance fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. In “Maya” director Mia Hansen-Love sensitively follows a traumatized war journalist (Roman Kolinka) who travels to India for a change in routine and bonds with his godfather’s alienated daughter (Aaarshi Banerjee).

“Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain”) was an audience favorite, a very funny comedy with a top cast about an unemployed man (Mathieu Almaric, “Ismael’s Ghosts”) who joins a male synchronized swimming team and bonds with the other members (including Guillaume Canet and Jean-Hugues Anglade).

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“Sink or Swim”

The very poignant “Amanda” was a stand-out selection. A young man (Vincent Lacoste) starting to figure out his life in contemporary Paris is forced by a tragedy to become a potential guardian for his 7-year-old niece.

Future blogs will discuss these films and others in more detail.

My favorite of the 15 films I saw, “Mademoiselle de Joncquieres” (“Lady J”), is now showing on Netflix and is loosely based on an 18th century book by Denis Diderot. “Lady J”, written by its director Emmanuel Mouret, is full of sharp, witty dialog that helps make the film supremely entertaining.

The widowed Madame de La Pommeraye (Cecile de France, “The Kid with a Bike”) jokes with Marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer) about his libertine past, saying a large list of aristocratic women is “a small sample of your collection”.

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Cecile de France and Edouard Baer in “Lady J”

Believing he has changed, Madame falls under the charms of the Marquis and they become involved, staying in her chateau. After making trips to Paris, The Marquis admits his is ready to move on. Madame concocts a plan of revenge involving a mother and daughter (Natalia Dontcheva and Alice Isaaz) with aristocratic pedigree, but with a hidden past.

Led by Cecile de France, the cast has a genuine flair for the clever, as well as the more serious dialog. De France is also superb in showing how her character hides the pain and vulnerability caused by her deep feeling for the Marquis. She confides her true self only to her friend (Laure Calamy). Madame’s intricate scheme for vengeance keeps the film absorbing, providing surprises for all the characters. Her anger is mixed with a sense of justice at the treatment of women by men.

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Cecile de France in “Lady J”

The film is well-paced by director Emmanuel Mouret. The stylish costumes and elaborate settings add to the sense of aristocratic excess. The outdoor cinematography is particularly notable.

Director Emmanuel Mouret was at the Rendez-Vous in New York City. He said that the film “Lady J” asks “What is Love?”

He wanted a “different feel” from this adaptation which “comes from a playful novel” that “makes you think while having fun”. He described the story as “Fantastic …  devilish”. He spoke of working with the “sophisticated French text” having “dialog and psychology from before the French Revolution.”

He spent a lot of time in casting which certainly paid off. Of his actors, he said that Edouard Baer speaks like his character. Cecile de France didn’t come to his mind at first for the leading role. After her first reading his changed his mind as she “invested herself” in her part.

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Emmanuel Mouret at Rendez_Vous

He compared his film with “Dangerous Liaisons” which was based on another 18-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. He said that the “common points” were “the manipulator/man seduces women”, but that unlike “Liaisons”, in “Lady J”, the “seducer is sincere, not manipulated”, the libertine has “real convictions”. He believes that Denis Diderot is “less cynical” than de Laclos.

Mouret said his film shows that “Often failures mean happiness”. He said, ”When writing, I feel I am the Marquis”. He added that because he was “injured by love, I do have empathy for the Marquis.” For him. It was “exciting” to make his first film with costumes. He wanted to “show the period as a new period”. He didn’t want the film to look old.

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