A child-munching ogre and his vegetarian wife; a blue-jeaned chevalier and his loyal lion; a lupine maestro and the angelic soprano whom he gleefully torments. The wondrously weird creatures who inhabit the films of French director Eugéne Green don’t hail from earth as we know it. They’re the haloed offspring of two distinct but overlapping realms, the tangibly modern and the deliciously sublime.
With three features and a short film, Green has staked out a small but fertile cinematic fiefdom where the spirits of Bresson and Ozu mingle with the eclectic likes of Monteverdi, the New Testament, and the Gap. Candlelit time warps through European art culture, Green’s movies are peopled with astonishingly fine-boned model-actors whose ghostly incantations evoke nothing less than eternity personified. In the rapturously beautiful Le Pont des Arts (getting a one-week run at Anthology), a quartet of young discontents searches for love and transcendence in 1980s Paris. Sarah (luminous Natacha Régnier) finds little joy in her relationship with Manuel (Alexis Loret) and even less so in her baroque-ensemble singing gig. Across the city, moody Pascal (Adrien Michaux) sputters in his studies and breaks up with his
petite amie (Camille Carraz), a humorless nerdette who chooses cold Heidegger over bedtime cuddling.
Le Pont des Arts arranges its sad souls in fugue-like pursuit of each other. Green (who toiled for 25 years in baroque theater) immortalizes his cast in beatific poses, as if they were the stained-glass reproductions of themselves. Flesh and essence merge mellifluously, especially in the movie’s central scene, when Sarah performs Monteverdi’s “Lamento della Ninfa” for her snarling conductor (Denis Podalydés), a fey villain so abusive to his leading lady that he’s known only as the Unnamable. Supernaturally poised, Régnier practically burnishes the screen with her innate phosphorescence.
A defiantly eccentric filmmaker, Green dares to unify the absurd and the tragic, the ancient and the contemporary, the living and the dead. Concluding on the titular Seine bridge, Le Pont des Arts shines a humanist search beam across space-time, illuminating the visible and invisible alike.
Though light to the touch, Green’s films are never just artsy soufflé. His 2003 Cannes hit Le Monde Vivant (also getting a week-long run) is a deceptively slight fable that gathers existential muscle mass through rigorous interrogations of death, the afterlife, and the French parole—the spoken word.
In an enchanted forest where knights wear premium denim, where a lion is played by a golden retriever, and where a “Lacanian witch” holds powerful sway, a vicious ogre is terrorizing the citizens and kidnapping cute French kids for his dietary delight. Battling him are runaway teen Nicolas (Michaux) and his friend the Lion Knight (Loret), both of whom are aided by the ogre’s saintly wife (Christelle Prot). As in all of Green’s movies, actors enunciate in protracted rhythms; each syllable assumes an otherworldly intricacy. (Green often records voiceovers in caves to capture the actors’ vocal interiority, an effect best realized in his debut, Night After Night, and short The Word for Fire, which are also screening.)
The word is truth and truth is life. Le Monde Vivant ends with a resurrection, prompting Nicolas to ask, “Is it a miracle?” Perhaps it’s closer to a secular manifestation of the divine. For the lapsed or jaded cinephile, Green’s films are enough to awaken a similar calling to believe once again.