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Growing Pains and Shrinking Fortunes

The year 2000 edition of the Walter Reade's annual French series spans the generations--from portraits of girlhood by the young directors Noémie Lvovsky, Helene Angel, and Emmanuelle Bercot to a ''Viagra comedy'' by Claude Berri. As usual, the series includes several brilliant films that probably won't get a U.S. commercial release. --Amy Taubin

Ma Petite Entreprise (My Little Business) A cinema of crisis has risen from the ashes of the current French economy, producing comedies about unemployment, graft, and ordinary people just managing to get by. In Ma Petite Entreprise, Yvan (gritty heartthrob Vincent Lindon) watches his family's woodworking business burn up in a fire that threatens it with bankruptcy. Pierre Jolivet's fast-paced, down-to-earth, and warmly funny crowd pleaser finds common citizens turning to crime in order to set things right. March 10 and 11 (Leslie Camhi)

Haut les Coeurs! (Chin Up!) One of the highlights of this year's festival, Sólveig Anspach's medical drama is not for the squeamish. The talented Karen Viard draws upon considerable reserves of pluckiness in her role as a pregnant woman undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The complex emotional landscape of illness, as relations shift between the woman, her boyfriend, and the child they're awaiting, makes for a film that is subtle, vital, and deeply compelling. March 11 and 12 (LC)

French dressing: Azema and Béart in La Bûche
photo courtesy of The Film Society of Lincoln Center
French dressing: Azema and Béart in La Bûche

Details

Rendez-Vous With French Cinema Today
At the Walter Reade Theater
March 10 through 19

La Bûche Best known as a screenwriter for Patrice Chéreau and others, Danièle Thompson debuts as a director with a comedy about an extended half-Jewish family suffering through the countdown to Christmas in Paris. By turns mordant and riotous, the film unwraps familial complications, disproving the cliché that adultery is what holds French marriages together. Sabine Azema, Emmanuelle Béart, and Charlotte Gainsbourg are stunning as three sisters whose love lives are less than they deserve, and Christopher Thompson, the director's son and cowriter, suggests heartthrob potential as the mysterious neighbor to whom they are attracted. March 11 and 12 (AT)

Peut-être (Perhaps) Cédric Klapisch (When the Cat's Away) breaks with the intimate urban comedies that made his reputation with this wildly imaginative science-fiction feature. It's New Year's Eve 1999. Twenty-four-year-old Arthur (Romain Duris) is at a party with his girlfriend (Geraldine Pailhas); she wants a baby, he does not. He goes to the bathroom and ends up in the Paris of the future--a desert souk, where a gray-haired Jean-Paul Belmondo claims to be his son. The spectacular sets and hilarious sight gags more than offset a certain emotional flimsiness. March 12 and 18 (LC)

La Vie Ne Me Fait Pas Peur (I'm Not Afraid of Life) Noémie Lvovsky follows four schoolmates as they negotiate the passage from childhood to late adolescence. Filmed over several years so that the quartet of actresses could grow up along with their characters, the film is rich in incidents and emotional ups and downs. Without glamorizing her characters, Lvovsky exposes the explosive anger and confused sexual desire of teenage girls. March 12 and 14 (AT)

Pas de Scandale (Keep It Quiet) Following a wave of real-life corruption scandals, this sleek, sardonic farce focuses on a CEO (Fabrice Lucchini) who emerges from prison to find his icily perfect wife (Isabelle Huppert) and TV-celebrity brother (Vincent Lindon) preoccupied with keeping up appearances. Suggesting a reverse Teorema, his newfound sanctity and simplicity rock their haut bourgeois universe. Veteran director Benoit Jacquot stumbles occasionally, but he's a master at manipulating the sinister codes of French high society. March 15 and 18 (LC)

La Puce and Les Vacances (Holidays) Emmanuelle Bercot's two short films both star Isild Le Besco, a young actress whose shifting emotions--between diffidence and hysteria--are the mark of teenage girlhood. In Les Vacances, a single mother desperately attempts to put together a few hundred bucks so that her daughter doesn't have to spend the summer in the city. La Puce details a sexual encounter between a 14-year-old girl and a much older man. That the extended bedroom scene seems accurate enough (particularly in terms of the girl's ambivalence) doesn't make it any less prurient. March 15 and 19 (AT)

Peau d'Homme, Coeur de Bête (Skin of Man, Heart of Beast) A five-year-old girl and her adolescent sister are marked for life by a horrific summer spent in the company of their long-suffering granny, their alcoholic father, and their psychotic uncle. Helene Angel's disturbing depiction of French machismo won the grand prize at Locarno. Populated by cops, former legionnaires, petty gangsters, and outright lunatics, it differs from run-of-the-mill miserablism because of its female point of view. March 15 and 18 (AT)

Le Vent de la Nuit (Night Wind) Philippe Garrel has made many films about depression and loss, but never one as restrained and flat-out beautiful as this. A callow young man (Xavier Beauvois) abandons his anxious middle-aged lover (Catherine Deneuve) to drive around Europe in a red Porsche with a famous architect and veteran of 1968 (Daniel Duval). John Cale's melancholy score adds immeasurably to the sense of incurable alienation. March 16 and 18 (AT)

C'est Quoi la Vie? (What's Life?) Mad cow disease and clinical depression figure prominently in François Dupeyron's beautifully photographed portrait of rural French society, though they do little to spoil the film's deep romanticism. Nicolas (Eric Caravaca) is reluctant to assume the burden of running his family's failing farm. Then disaster strikes, sending him back to his roots in remote pastoral experience. Isabelle Renaud, as the ex-opera singer he falls for, seems overly idealized, but Dupeyron's combination of crudeness and tenderness is winning. March 16, 17, and 19 (LC)

 
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