It’s the way of the world that actors capable of the smallest, most intimate gestures are also sometimes cast as Bond villains: Elfin wonder-actor Mathieu Amalric may be best known to American moviegoers as the wily, menacing Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace. But even Amalric fans who have loved his performances in the films of the marvelous French director Arnaud Desplechin (like Kings & Queen, in which he plays a troubled but extraordinarily worldly-wise violist), and who have seen the latest of his directorial turns, the chilly Georges Simenon noir The Blue Room (in which he also stars), may not know that he was a director even before he was an actor. Now audiences in New York can get a sense of this prolific actor-writer-director’s gifts as Anthology Film Archives, in partnership with the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), presents a mini-festival of Amalric treasures.
“Mathieu Amalric: Renaissance Man,” through November 8, focuses on the feature films Amalric has directed, rarely screened in the United States. (Amalric will appear at Anthology in person on October 30 and 31 and at FIAF, where several of his films will be screened through mid-December, on November 3. Also at FIAF, Amalric will appear in the U.S. premiere of Stéphanie Cléau’s play Fight or Flight, November 4 and 5.) In addition to The Blue Room (November 6 and 8), standouts include the 2010 On Tour (October 30, November 5), which earned Amalric the director’s prize at Cannes that year, and which has never been released in the United States. Amalric stars as a semi-sleazy — but mostly just lost — promoter who brings a troupe of American burlesque performers to France. (Linda Marraccini, a/k/a Dirty Martini, plays one of them.) The women believe they’ve lucked into a glamorous tour, only to find that Amalric’s Joachim has booked them into the lowliest spots. Their disappointment, and their bristling annoyance with Joachim, ultimately transmutes into grudging affection. The picture is bawdy and salacious in places, as you’d expect. But what gets you in the end, thanks to Amalric’s silky-oily performance and surefooted direction, is its wistful tenderness.
That same quality also abounds in Amalric’s first feature, the 1997 Eat Your Soup (October 31 and November 4), a wry comedy with an undercurrent of tragedy — or perhaps it’s the other way around — about a man (Jean-Yves Dubois) who returns home to deal with a family tragedy, only to find his self-absorbed mother, played by veteran Italian actress Adriana Asti, almost literally buried in books. In a 2008 interview with the Telegraph, Amalric detailed some of the semiautobiographical elements of the film: His own brother had committed suicide at age twenty. He also recalled that after his parents divorced, “I entered my parents’ room and saw that my mother had replaced my father with books on the bed.” Those are the kinds of crazy details you couldn’t make up, and Eat Your Soup renders them in ways that are witty and heartrending at once. When Jean-Luc Godard saw the film, he declared it the best he’d seen in years. If you dare to compare notes with the formidable maestro, this is your chance.
‘Mathieu Amalric: Renaissance Man’
Through November 8, Anthology Film Archives
November 3 through December 15, French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)