Beginning on February 29 and running for 10 days, the annual “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema” (co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance USA) has, for the last 13 years, offered a welcome cinematic winterlude, a sort of amuse-bouche for the filmic February blahs. Screening at the Walter Reade and IFC theaters, the series’ 15 films will be given either their U.S. or world premiere. The title of the mini-festival is no tease: If you thought Sarkozy marrying and promptly impregnating his supermodel/songstress lover was a thick slice of drama à la Française, the country’s directors—never known to fall short in that category—have outdone not only their leader but themselves.
Claude Lelouch’s Roman de Gare is a fittingly flashy launch for opening night; the Oscar-winning director (Women and Men) will be on hand to introduce his 49th film, and perhaps to field a few of the questions that his tense, cheeky thriller raises with a grin. Having abandoned the American title (Crossed Tracks) it was sporting when it showed out of competition at Cannes last spring, Roman de Gare will open in New York on April 25. Its close psychological portents contrasted with glamorous, sea-swept settings, however, are better suited to the late-winter darkness.
Puggish Frenchman Dominique Pinon (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) stars as Pierre Laclos, the sharpest angle in a shape-shifting character triangle; Pierre may or may not be a serial killer recently escaped from a Parisian prison, known as “the Magician” for his use of card tricks in luring victims. Pierre runs into Huguette (Audrey Dane), a bubbleheaded hair stylist who has just been abandoned by her fiancé, and joins her on a trip to her family’s home, where she introduces him as her husband-to-be. Muse emeritus Fanny Ardant completes the trio as Judith Ralitzer, a pulpy, popular crime novelist on the hunt for lurid inspiration, who may or may not be mining the writings of the Magician for her books. Intersections abound in this gorgeously shot (by Gerard DeBattista, on HD transferred to 35mm) 104-minute film rife with jumps and jerks around in time for maximum head-trippage.
Opposite the elder statesman on the spectrum comes the debut by 23-year-old director Audrey Estrougo: Ain’t Scared is the story of les cites, the name given to a Parisian housing project. Exploring a day in the life of a group of young people living there, Estrougo creates a microcosm of France’s racial tensions. A more conventional portrait of the city is found in Paris, Cédric Klapisch’s interwoven character drama starring Romain Duris as a heart-transplant patient and Juliette Binoche as his estranged sister. Mathieu Almaric, star of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, has two films in the series: He portrays a big-business psychologist in Heartbeat Detector, and a neglected son whose discovery of his family’s WWII history sets him free in A Secret. Christophe Honoré’s Love Songs, a musical starring Ludivine Sagnier and Chiara Mastroianni, has been dividing and conquering audiences along the festival circuit. Along with the animated spook-out Fear(s) of the Dark and the intimate autism documentary Her Name Is Sabine, it’s the most offbeat offering in a decidedly—and happily—traditional series.