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French Shorts Fall Short

Program of French tales broad but not deep

Seven short films ranging from 1999 to the present, "L'origine de la tendresse" and Other Tales is the eighth annual ad hoc compendium from the World According to Shorts, a nonprofit distributor under the wing of New Yorker Films whose worthy goal is to open up the market for foreign shorts by packaging them in feature-length blocks. Good intentions aside, this installment doesn't work.

These seven technically skilled films run the gamut from animated documentary to live- action narrative. The titular centerpiece, 1999's L'origine de la tendresse, is Alain-Paul Mallard's pretty, vacant portrait of vacant life. Elise (Isabelle Nanty, sporting the freakiest deep-seated eye sockets this side of anime) is a museum guard with no attachments—and that's pretty much it. She almost participates in a chain letter, is treated brusquely by a fuck-buddy, reads while not really caring if people touch the statues. Nicely framed and observed, there's no center here—no moment of change or self-realization, and no real reason to care otherwise.

Everything else in the lineup is either cute and small or would-be momentous. From the latter category, the best is probably Olivier Bourbeillon's The Last Day, a portrait of the last active day of a smithy plant in Brest—once a key cog in the military machine, now reduced to three workers. Bourbeillon is a copy-cat documentarian; he favors neat tricks stolen (and cheapened in the theft) from Errol Morris, like having the interviewees stare into the camera while their proper interview plays in voice-over. The plant doused in golden hues, the short is a curious dose of nostalgia for the Industrial Revolution. File it under the "Steampunk" movement (which doesn't actually exist).

Less convincing is Jeanne Paturle and Cecile Rousset's One Voice, One Vote, which pits two interviews from just before France's 2007 elections—one from a committed activist, the other from an indifferent onlooker—dialectically and animates them lackadaisically (tangled strings for differences of opinion and so on). Entirely risible, Felipe Canales's My Mother, Story of an Immigration gives the director's Algerian mother the Joy Luck Club treatment, with deadly narration over unremarkable photos in a rote tale of assimilation, cultural reconciliation, etc. The frothy segments go down easier. Guillaume Martinez's Pen-Pusher is a subway meet-cute, notable mostly for bringing frantic digital filmmaking to the staples of romantic comedy: It's foreplay and not much more. Alice Winocour's Kitchen, about a neglected wife trying to make dinner, is the most accomplished of the bunch. It may not erase memories of Annie Hall, but it's the second-funniest use of lobsters I've seen.

 
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