French Rendez-Vous 2017: “Heal the Living”

The recent Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series again brought a wide range of French films to Lincoln Center in New York City. For extra insight, filmmakers appeared to discuss their work. The series opened with “Django”, a well-acted but rather conventional film about gypsy jazz musician Django Reinhardt and his conflicts with the Nazis.

Reda Kateb as “Django”

The finest films included “From the Land of the Moon” with a superb performance by Marion Cotillard as woman with a romantic obsession, “150 Milligrams”, a fascinating film based on true incidents about a female doctor fighting a large pharmaceutical corporation because of a defective drug, and “The Dancer”, a biography of Loi Fuller who left the American West to become the toast of La Belle Epoque Paris.

Other films ranged from young terrorists in Paris (“Nocturama”), Natalie Portman as part of a touring spiritualism act (“Planetarium”), and a bizarre comedy about attempts to import a French ski resort to the South American jungle (“Struggle for Life”).

Gabin Verdet in “Heal the Living”

“Heal the Living” begins as a teenage Simon (Gabin Verdet) leaves to join his friends on a surfing expedition. Director Katell Quillévéré has shot visually stunning scenes of the young men surfing, capturing their euphoria on the waves. Simon is seriously injured in an accident and the film becomes an emotionally powerful study of unexpected connections that can result from a tragedy.

Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen in “Heal the Living”

The screenplay, co-written by Quillévéré, sensitively depicts the variety of characters joined by Simon’s accident. The film is extremely moving due to uniformly strong performances, particularly from Emmanuelle Seigner (“Venus in Fur”), devastating as the injured man’s anguished mother. There are other compelling portraits by Anne Dorval as a musician with a degenerative disease and Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet”) as a compassionate medical professional working with transplants.

Flashbacks show Simon’s exuberant high spirits, emphasizing his loss.

Quillévéré builds acute tension in showing the steps leading to a heat transplant, climaxing with an unflinching view of the surgery.

Future posts will cover more Rendez-Vous films.

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French Rendez-Vous 2013: “In the House”

The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City screened “In the House”, one of the year’s most intriguing films. Director Francois Ozon (“Potiche”) also wrote the screenplay, inspired by a Spanish play “The Boy in the Last Row”.

In a pilot school in which students wear uniforms, writing instructor Germain (Fabrice Luchini, “Potiche”) compares the students to a “barbarian invasion” into his classroom. He finds an exception in Claude (Ernst Umhauer). After reading Claude’s class assignments Germain believes Claude has a gift for writing.

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and the family (Denis Menochet, (Emmanuelle Seigner,  Bastien Ughetto)

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and the family (Denis Menochet, Emmanuelle Seigner, Bastien Ughetto)

With an alcoholic father, Claude’s tells of his attempt to insinuate himself into a “typical” French family by befriending and tutoring a classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Claude becomes attracted to Rapha’s mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), describing her “singular scent of a middle class woman”.

Believing Claude is a rare talent, Germain, whose own published book was a failure, wants to encourage his student’s writing. Germain is willing to break serious rules at school to continue Claude’s schemes to get even closer to Rapha’s family.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain confides his interest in Claude’s writing to his increasingly bemused wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, “The English Patient”). Luchini and Scott Thomas have an easy rapport. Jeanne has her own problems as she is trying to keep an avant-garde art gallery from closing.

Fiction and reality begin to merge as Germain and Claude’s plans start to unravel. Music similar to the scores of Hitchcock films emphasizes the tension. Ozon said that he made reference to a theatrical device used by Ingmar Bergman in “Wild Strawberries” and often by Woody Allen to have Germain make concrete intrusions into Claude’s fiction.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer)

Imaginatively constructed, “In the House” is riveting. Ozon’s screenplay skillfully delineates a variety of characters taken into directions they do not expect. As in his earlier films like “Under the Sand” and “8 Women”, director Ozon is proficient at building strong performances from his actors. Luchini is particularly impressive as Germain moves from confidence to loss of control.

Francois Ozon at the Rendez-Vous

Francois Ozon at the Rendez-Vous

After the screening, Franciois Ozon described the familiar-looking suburban setting of Rapha’s family as a result of the “invasion of America” into French life. He called his film “cynical and ironic” and set off by Claude’s “looking for his place” and the evolution of his vision.

Ozon said his influences on the film were the unlikely combination of Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Woody Allen. He said he didn’t think of Hitchcock for the final scene even though audience members were reminded of one of Hitchcock’s most famous films.