BAMcinématek’s mini-round-up of new French films divides neatly into two themes: the messy love lives of writers and the plight of wayward women. In the former category, Tonie Marshall’s Nearest to Heaven features Catherine Deneuve as an art historian who clings to an obsessive love through repeated viewings of Leo McCarey’s 1957 weepie An Affair to Remember. Traveling to New York to do research for a monograph—and, like Deborah Kerr, hoping to find love at the top of the Empire State Building—she is assisted by William Hurt, whose gnomic statements on romance predictably win her over (in the most mortifying scene, he sings “Love the One You’re With” to a baffled Deneuve). Brief disquisitions on love also figure prominently in Pascal Bonitzer’s Minor Cuts. Philandering Communist journalist Daniel Auteuil, having botched things up with his wife (Emmanuelle Devos, given far too little screen time) and idolizing lover (Ludivine Sagnier), hopes to woo inscrutable Kristin Scott Thomas. Although less starry-eyed than Marshall’s film, Minor Cuts aims for sex farce but is burdened by humorlessness.
Far more compelling are the studies of female willfulness and rage in Christophe Blanc’s A Big Girl Like You and Bénédicte Liénard’s directorial debut, A Piece of Sky. Mercedes Cecchetto, Blanc’s titular grande fille, leaves her stifling vocational school and family behind to reinvent herself in Paris. The film’s intermittent histrionics notwithstanding, Cecchetto proves herself worthy of the teenage heroines in Catherine Breillat’s work. The series’ most memorable performance comes from Séverine Caneele in Sky—her sophomore acting effort after her equally astonishing turn in Bruno Dumont’s Humanité (1999). As a union worker imprisoned for an unspecified act of violence, Caneele balances ferocious, voluble indignation with silent, overwhelming despair.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 23, 2003