The least predictable and most interesting of younger French directors, Arnaud Desplechin may also be the most film-intoxicated. Desplechin’s movies are remarkably generous; his interviews give evidence of considerable enthusiasm, for the process even more than the history of cinema. While shooting his last feature, the emotional roller coaster that is Kings and Queen (2004), he had a François Truffaut maxim pinned to the wall: “Every minute, four ideas.”
The two-weekend retro “Arnaud Desplechin in Focus” pairs four of Des-plechin’s movies with the classics he loves. Nothing compares to his Esther Kahn, starring Summer Phoenix as an aspiring diva. Premiered at Cannes in 1999, this English-language period piece was hailed by a few French cineastes and derided as a disaster by nearly everyone else. A true experimental film, it advances a daringly preposterous thesis: Acting cannot be acted. For reasons that aren’t apparent to me, Desplechin has chosen to complement its Saturday screening with an early Ingmar Bergman, the 1950 Summer Interlude, in which a ballerina recalls a youthful affair.
Sunday’s show matches Desplechin’s neo-new-wave career-maker My Sex Life . . . or How I Got Into an Argument (1996) with Truffaut’s nearly as convoluted Two English Girls (1971). The second weekend Desplechin and Cahiers du Cinéma editor Jean-Michel Frodon will be on hand to introduce the riotous Kings and Queen, which is bracketed with John Cassavetes’s equally convulsive Faces (1968). The series concludes with Desplechin’s debut feature, the quasi-thriller La Sentinelle (1992). In the most inspired pairing, Desplechin is showing his uncharacteristically allegorical genre film with an imported 35mm print of Alain Resnais’s most literal-minded—and hence craziest—time-travel odyssey, Je t’aime, Je t’aime (1968). October 7 through 14, Museum of the Moving Image.
Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov made his first movie in 1930 and was stationed in Los Angeles during World War II as the Soviet ambassador to Hollywood, but he only became a truly international figure when his revelatory World War II drama The Cranes Are Flying won the top prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival and, something of a cultural Sputnik, was the first post-Stalin Soviet film to circle the globe. “One Crane does not make a summer,” Time sniffed, but Kalatozov and his brilliant cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky followed up in 1959 with the equally convulsive Letter That Was Never Sent, in which a team of geologists battle nature in the Siberian wilderness. Both features are screening throughout the mini-tribute, The Emotional Camera: Mikhail Kalatozov. I Am Cuba, the almost hallucinatory tribute to tropical revolution that flopped in 1964 but has since become Kalatozov’s best-known movie, screens twice. His last film, The Red Tent (1969), a Soviet-Italian co-production starring Sean Connery as arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, gets a rare screening, introduced by Elliott Stein. October 3 through 14, BAMcinématek .