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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French Rendez-Vous 2014: Michel Gondry and “Mood Indigo”

Besides Catherine Deneuve, other sold-out events at the recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City were appearances of Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) who discussed his latest “Mood Indigo” (“L’écume des jours”) which he directed and co-wrote. Before the film Gondry said the film is “based on an iconic French novel [“Foam of the Daze” by Boris Vian] I grew up reading”.

Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, and Omar Sy in “Mood Indigo”

Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, and Omar Sy in “Mood Indigo”

Romain Duris (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”) plays Colin, a rich bachelor who has invented a “pianococktail”, a piano that makes drinks to the music played, one of the many imaginative sequences in “Mood Indigo”. Colin meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou, “Amélie”) at a party and they fall blissfully in love.

Throughout the film, the prodigious imagination of Michel Gondry, whose career began with music videos and commercials, has provided many ingenious images, particularly effective in showing the euphoria of the romance between Colin and Chloé. A particularly clever scene shows them sitting on a moving cloud.

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in “Mood Indigo”

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in “Mood Indigo”

Duris and Tautou, who costarred in a film trilogy that began with “”L’auberge Espagnole”, have a good on-screen chemistry. The talented cast includes Omar Sy (“The Intouchables”) as Colin’s chef and Gad Elmaleh (the detective in “Midnight in Paris”) as his friend. Gondry plays a doctor.

The film darkens with melancholy when Chloé becomes ill after a water lily grows in her lung. While the film has a thin plot, Gondry’s visual creativity and the charm of the cast keep it engaging.

After the screening, Gondry said the book on which his “Mood Indigo” is based, which he read 40 years ago when a teenager, “reads closely to the movie” and is on the “edge of surrealism.” He added that while making the film, “memories came back to me.”

Michel Gondry at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Michel Gondry at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Gondrey said that his star Audrey Tautou is a “unique personality”, both “strong and fragile.”

He said that while directing, it is “difficult to focus on everything at same time” and that he brings his own “feelings and concerns” to the film. Gondry described himself as “not too anal with blocking.”

In “Mood Indigo”, Gondry said he wanted to create a world which is “not too nostalgic”, where “everything is possible.” He added that the film’s source novel is “equally visual.”

French Rendez-Vous 2013: Audrey Tautou as Therese Desqueyroux

Audrey Tautou was in New York City for the the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema with her latest film “Therese Desqueyroux”, based on the classic novel by Francois Mauriac published in 1927. This was also the final film directed by the late Claude Miller (“Garde a Vue”, “A Secret”) who co-wrote the screenplay. A 1962 film version starring Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”) was also shown at Rendez-Vous.

Before the screening, Annie Miller, widow and producing partner of Claude, said that for her husband, Audrey Tautou was a Stradivarius. He had other projects in mind for her.

Audrey Tautou as Therese Desqueyroux

Audrey Tautou as Therese Desqueyroux

Therese (Tautou) believes that her head is “too full of ideas”, which scares her. She marries Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lellouche) from another landowning family, hoping to “calm” herself. When her friend and sister-in-law confides to Therese about a secret romantic passion, Therese realizes how unfulfilled her own life has become. She plans an escape by secretly increasing the dosage of her husband’s medicine.

Audrey Tautou as Therese Desqueyroux

Audrey Tautou as Therese Desqueyroux

Therese is quite unlike the happy and optimistic characters Tautou played in films like “Amelie”. Tautou gives a strong performance, conveying Therese’s emotional conflicts, her awakening fervor, and chilly determination for revenge. Tautou gives Therese more depth than in her previous film characterizations.

As director, Claude Miller effectively builds tension in a stifling period setting. The film is absorbing. Therese’s actions have unexpected consequences. She finds that no matter what happens, her husband’s wealthy family is determined to keep up appearances.

Audrey Tautou in New York

Audrey Tautou in New York

At the screening, Tautou said that Therese Desqueyroux is the “most challenging part” she has played. She said that her character’s attempt to gain freedom is universal. She described Therese as an “anarchist of feeling”.

Audrey Tautou in New York

Audrey Tautou in New York

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.