‘New French Films’ at BAM Not Unmissable


This year, BAM’s annual pentad from France features a filmmaker with shingles, Swedish rock, a stubborn zipper, Catherine Deneuve buying a cabinet, and a flying baby. Two titles have U.S. distribution (IFC Films bought Park Benches and François Ozon’s Ricky, the winged-infant movie, which opens next month); none can be considered unmissable.

The group of five’s most seasoned director, Alain Cavalier, turns the camera on himself (specifically, his gout-plagued foot and the vesicular eruptions on his shoulder) and his notes from 1970 and 1971 in the documentary Irène, which premiered at Cannes. Examining the pages of his diaries with the fervor of a Talmudic scholar, Cavalier desperately seeks meaning in the last tumultuous years of his marriage to actress Irène Tunc, who died in a car accident in January 1972. As an emotional exegete, Cavalier is both too self-pitying and remote, more in love with his own penmanship than with the woman whose memory supposedly still haunts him.

Irène‘s death trip stands in marked contrast to the frequently insufferable jokes and slapstick of Bruno Podalydès’s Park Benches and Emmanuel Mouret’s Please, Please Me! The former, the final installment in the director’s trilogy on Versailles, drives home the point that those who live in wealthy suburbs are lonely, too, by manically assembling a zillion fleeting speaking parts and cameos (several from A Christmas Tale vets): Mathieu Amalric sporting a slicked-over side-part, Deneuve flustered in a hardware store, Emmanuelle Devos and Chiara Mastroianni reprimanding their potty-mouthed children. Writer-director-star Mouret (whose Shall We Kiss? was released in March) steps out on his nurse girlfriend—who ambivalently encourages him—with the president’s daughter, setting in motion a series of wardrobe malfunctions and boudoir laffs.

Teens and tots fare better. Anne Novion’s solid debut feature, Grown-Ups, follows a fusspot father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his meek 17-year-old daughter (Anaïs Demoustier) on summer vacation in Sweden; heavy-handed coming-of-age bromides are swept aside for a lighter but still acute look at maturing no matter how old you are. And though Ozon’s fractured-family magical realism, based on Rose Tremain’s story “Moth,” never lifts off as successfully as its aloft cherub (whose new appendages first resemble something found in a package of Perdue), Ricky, which bowed at the Berlin Film Festival in February, can best be appreciated as Balloon Boy avant la lettre.