Author Archives: french

Kung-Fu Master


SYNOPSIS
In her deeply felt, lovely 1988 film Kung Fu Master, New Wave maverick Agnès Varda flips the traditional Lolita scenario to tell the story of a divorced woman’s affair with her teenage daughter’s fourteen year-old classmate Julien. Rather than a tale of forbidden love, this is a tremendously sensitive look at two people in transition, shifting into maturity or hoping to escape it. At once a tender fantasy—the lovers spend one happy season on a deserted island in the English Channel—and a clear-sighted portrayal of the loneliness of a middle-aged woman, Kung Fu Master takes an innocent approach to its provocative subject matter, but does not blunder into naiveté: Varda does not condone the relationship so much as recognize the sweetness that comes before gender roles calcify. While Varda’s photographer’s eye and inventive editing are at their best here, this lighthearted evocation of love and loss is also one of her most immediate, simple films. Based on a story by lead actress Jane Birkin, whose wispy voice and watery eyes have rarely been so poignant as in this portrait of a woman adrift, Kung Fu Master also features Varda’s son Mathieu Demy as Julien and Birkin’s daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in one of her first film roles, giving the film a homebrewed charm.

DIRECTOR
Agnès Varda

SCREENPLAY
Agnès Varda

CAST
Jane Birkin
Mathieu Demy
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Lou Doillon

DETAILS
French, English
80 min.
France, 1987
Blu-ray, DCP

DISTRIBUTOR
Cinelicious Pics

PRICE RANGE
$350

Du rififi chez les hommes / Rififi

SYNOPSIS
Along with Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi and the films of Jean-Pierre Melville, Jules Dassin’s 1955 classic Rififi is one of the uncontested peaks of hardboiled French noir. It begins when Tony, an aging gangster fresh out of jail, agrees to pull a final big heist with his protégé Jo and the Italian specialists Mario and Cesare. The heist goes off without a hitch, but sets off an ugly gang war with Tony’s rival Pierre Grutter. Like the best noir films, Rififi transcends the coded world of the professional gangster to become an existential tragedy about love, loyalty, and the inexorable passage of time. Shot in black and white on the grimy streets of fifties Paris, the film oozes character and slangy authenticity and is full of unforgettable set pieces like a song and dance show in a louche nightclub, a practically wordless jewelry heist, and Tony’s quasi-expressionistic last drive through Paris with a bullet in his gut and a restless child in the passenger seat of his convertible. Rififi is also notable for its subtle reflection on gender roles: while the women initially appear to be accessories at best and betrayers at worst, they are eventually revealed to be the film’s moral core and the antidote to the deceptive masculine allure of the underworld.

DIRECTOR
Jules Dassin

SCREENPLAY
Jules Dassin, René Wheeler, Auguste le Breton

CAST
Jean Servais
Carl Möhner
Robert Manuel
Jules Dassin

DETAILS
French
118 min.
France, 1955
Blu-Ray, DVD

DISTRIBUTOR
Rialto Pictures

PRICE RANGE
$350 Blu-ray and DVD
$450 DCP

Chocolat


SYNOPSIS
With the release of her beautiful debut feature Chocolat in 1988, director Claire Denis appeared as a fully-formed, major talent who used stunningly composed wide shots, associative sequences of images, and an offbeat eye for detail to evoke the complex moods of Africa in the last decade of French colonial rule. Based on the director’s own childhood as the daughter of a French administrator in Africa, Chocolat is seen through the eyes of a French district officer’s little girl in a remote part of Cameroon. When a French plane crash-lands nearby, the district officer takes in its passengers, a group of colonial administrators and entrepreneurs who soon bring to light the many tensions underlying the family’s apparently sleepy existence, not least of which is the subtly conveyed but deeply sensual attraction between the mistress of the house and the handsome black houseboy Protée. While the film is as hushed and languid as the plains surrounding the district office, it is full of searing portraits of colonial life, with characters who appear for a single scene but whose memory hovers over the entire film like the implicit promise of the change to come. Shot entirely on location, Chocolat established Claire Denis as one of the least didactic yet most revealing chroniclers of the European presence on the continent, a reputation that would be confirmed by her later films Beau Travail and White Material.

DIRECTOR
Claire Denis

SCREENPLAY
Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau

CAST
François Cluzet
Isaach de Bankolé
Giulia Boschi

DETAILS
French
105 min.
France, 1988
35mm

DISTRIBUTOR
The Film Desk

PRICE RANGE
$400

L’armée des ombres / Army of Shadows


SYNOPSIS
In Army of Shadows (1969), Jean-Pierre Melville, master of the French noir, takes the atmospheric style and cool efficiency of his gangster classics Le Doulos and Le Samouraï and applies them to the French Resistance, following Resistance leader Philippe Gerbier (in a powerfully understated performance by the legendary Lino Ventura) as he escapes from the Gestapo and sets about rebuilding his network. As ever, the director excels at generating tension by quietly drawing out scenes, dwelling on the grim expectation in his characters’ faces rather than their actions and focusing on the moral impact of violence rather than its execution. The film’s distinctive blue-hued photography matches its sorrowful mood: it is as much a film about solitude, silence, and secrecy as about heroism, loyalty, and daring escapes. Here, the knowledge that the characters are loosely based on real Resistance figures makes for a unique blend of horror and excitement. But perhaps the greatest achievement of Army of Shadows is that it transcends its historical setting to provide a definitive portrait of twentieth-century man staring into the metaphysical abyss, only ever one step away from absurdity. As such, it is one of the most striking cinematic illustrations of the French Resistance as Existentialism’s moral litmus test.

DIRECTOR
Jean-Pierre Melville

SCREENPLAY
Jean-Pierre Melville

CAST
Lino Ventura
Simone Signoret
Paul Meurisse
Jean-Pierre Cassel

DETAILS
French
145 min.
France, 1969
Blu-ray, DCP, DVD

DISTRIBUTOR
Rialto Pictures

PRICE RANGE
$350 Blu-ray and DVD
$450 DCP

Valley of Love


SYNOPSIS
Thirty-five years after playing a bourgeois woman and her thug lover in Maurice Pialat’s classic Loulou, Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu are finally reunited in Guillaume Nicloux’s deeply original Valley of Love. Here, France’s two leading stars play Gérard and Isabelle, a divorced couple of famous actors who meet in Death Valley after receiving a letter from their dead son, a recent suicide, promising that he will reappear in the desert at a specific time and place. While Nicloux, one of French cinema’s masters of the unexpected (his previous feature was The Kidnapping of Michel Houllebecq, with the controversial writer playing himself in a fictional story), fills Valley of Love with discordant visions worthy of David Lynch and wry observations of the inevitable culture clash between French and American guests in a odforsaken motel, the heart of the movie is simply the aura of its two stars and the collective memory they embody. Watching Isabelle Huppert’s marvelously nuanced expressions and Gérard Depardieu’s monumental presence—it is fair to say that he upstages the desert—the viewer is confronted with a wordless meditation on the passage of time and the extent to which moviegoers’ lives are enmeshed with those of the people on the screen. Drawing not only on its own gripping story but on the history in its actors’ faces, Valley of Love reaches an emotional fever pitch in the heart of the desert.

DIRECTOR
Guillaume Nicloux

SCREENPLAY
Guillaume Nicloux
David H. Pickering (translation)

CAST
Gérard Depardieu
Isabelle Huppert

DETAILS
French
91 min.
Belgium, France, 2015
Blu-ray, DCP

DISTRIBUTOR
Strand Releasing

PRICE RANGE
$250 for Blu-ray
$350 for DCP

Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse / My Golden Days


SYNOPSIS
With My Golden Days, Arnaud Desplechin reinterprets the couple at the heart of My Sex Life, the 1996 feature that established him early and definitively as one of the reigning auteurs of our era. A prequel, a sequel, and an utterly satisfying work in its own right, My Golden Days is told in flashback by the great Mathieu Amalric, who returns to the role of Paul Dedalus to recount three defining phases of his youth: a prepubescent escape from home to go live with a lesbian great-aunt, a school trip to the Soviet Union during which he sneaks off to give his passport to a dissident, and the passionate up-and-down relationship with Esther that will see him through his years as an anthropology student in Paris. As ever with Desplechin, the narrative has the discursive depth of a modernist novel and the emotional immediacy of a Technicolor film. One of the film’s chief pleasures is seeing Desplechin extend his study of family bonds and romantic partnerships to teenagers for the first time, ushering a wildly talented new group of actors onto the screen. Quentin Dolmaire is as eccentric as his predecessor Amalric, but brings a touching earthy quality to the teenage Paul Dedalus. As for newcomer Lou Roy-Lecollinet, she turns Esther into one of the great mystery women of cinema, holding the camera’s gaze with an entrancing blend of vulnerability and self-possession.

DIRECTOR
Arnaud Desplechin

SCREENPLAY
Arnaud Desplechin, Julie Peyr

CAST
Mathieu Amalric
Quentin Dolmaire
Lou Roy-Lecollinet

DETAILS
French
120 min.
France, 2015
Blu-ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Magnolia Pictures

PRICE RANGE
$350

La Sapienza


SYNOPSIS
La Sapienza is the magnificent culmination of the work of one of today’s most idiosyncratic, fascinating directors, the American-born but profoundly French Eugène Green. In La Sapienza, Green, an expert in baroque theater, sends a tired middle-aged French couple on a pilgrimage to the baroque marvels of the Swiss canton of Ticino. Here, the architect and his wife befriend a young brother and sister and take them under their wing. The architect invites the young man to Rome to discover his predecessor Borromini’s masterpiece: the Church of St. Yves at La Sapienza. By contrasting the elevating beauty of the baroque with grisly contemporary architecture and finding echoes of global conflict in the most placid corners of Switzerland, Green paints a dispiriting picture of the modern world. Yet his treatment of the brother and sister Goffredo and Lavinia clearly signal that he has every hope for the next generation. In La Sapienza, the past is a source of inspiration, the present is dismaying, and the future is wide open. As luminously spiritual as it can be scathingly funny about contemporary mores, La Sapienza is lucid about our challenges but deliriously ecstatic about the possibility for beauty and love.

DIRECTOR
Eugène Green

SCREENPLAY
Eugène Green

CAST
Fabrizio Rongione
Christelle Prot Landman
Ludovico Succio
Arianna Nastro

DETAILS
French, Italian
100 min.
France, Italy, 2014
Blu-ray, DCP

DISTRIBUTOR
Kino Lorber

PRICE RANGE
From $350 for Blu-Ray and DVD
From $400 for DCP
Depending on the size of the venue

Saint Laurent

SYNOPSIS
With this lushly executed, unorthodox biopic of superstar couturier Yves Saint Laurent, French director Bertrand Bonello has established himself as one of the leading auteurs of our time. Focusing on the “dark years” from 1967 to 1976, when Saint Laurent was at the peak of his powers but growing increasingly isolated through his manic work habits and equally obsessive hedonistic pursuits, becoming estranged from his lover and business manager Pierre Bergé due to a drug-fuelled affair with a notorious Paris dandy, Bonello creates an impressively layered portrait that never succumbs to the reductive formulas often found in film treatments of creative geniuses. Part of the secret lies in the way that Bonello remains allusive with his elusive subject, accumulating fragments rather than pursuing plot points. Indeed, some of the film’s most memorable episodes, such as Saint Laurent teaching an insecure client to see herself in a new light or encountering his legendary muse Betty Cattroux in a sumptuous, wordless Paris nightclub scene, feel like routine moments—which only happen to belong to the routine of an extraordinary being. Bonello’s strength lies not only in revealing the nuances of a legendarily remote character, but in capturing the electricity of his subject’s milieu with astute blue chip casting, moody scoring, and sensual camera movement. The ambition here is nothing short of operatic; it is no coincidence or hyperbole if one leaves the theater thinking of Visconti or The Godfather trilogy.

DIRECTOR
Bertrand Bonello

SCREENPLAY
Bertrand Bonello, Thomas Bidegain

CAST
Gaspard Ulliel
Jérémie Renier
Louis Garrel
Léa Seydoux
Amira Casar
Aymeline Valade

DETAILS
French
150 min.
France, 2014
35mm, DVD

DISTRIBUTOR
Sony Pictures Classics

PRICE RANGE
$300 (+ purchase of the DVD)

Réalité / Reality


SYNOPSIS
Combine David Lynch’s head-scratching wildness and Charlie Kaufman’s hilarious worst-case scenarios, throw in a pinch of Luis Buñuel’s wicked irreverence and a streak of cruel French humor, and you won’t quite have Quentin Dupieux’s Reality, but you’ll be a little closer to understanding how far outside convention this delightfully fearless, mind-bending comedy dwells. In Reality, a French filmmaker in California finds a movie-house that is already screening the film he is in the process of writing, a little girl tries to watch a big blue videotape she found inside a hog’s stomach, and a cooking show host endangers his livelihood by constantly scratching at a full-body rash that no one else can see. By making his characters intersect in the realm of the impossible, Dupieux masterfully collapses the distance between dream and reality and returns to film’s primal role in the collective unconscious. Working in a sui generis genre that can both stand up to psychoanalytic exegesis and provide riotous late-night viewing, Dupieux has established himself as one of the last mad scientists of French cinema. While he is currently seen as little more than a cult outsider, it is only a matter of time before he is recognized as one of the great originals of our age.

DIRECTOR
Quentin Dupieux

SCREENPLAY
Quentin Dupieux

CAST
Alain Chabat
Jonathan Lambert
Elodie Bouchez
Jon Heder

DETAILS
French, English
95 min.
France, 2014
Blu-ray, DCP, DVD

DISTRIBUTOR
IFC Films

PRICE RANGE
$375-$500

Qu’Allah bénisse la France! / May Allah Bless France!


SYNOPSIS
May Allah Bless France! is the invigorating first feature by acclaimed French
rapper and novelist Abd Al Malik, a coming-of-age story and redemption
tale based on the writer-director’s own youth in the beleaguered projects
of Strasbourg. The film follows the struggles of Régis, a budding rapper
who relies on petty crime to fund his passion for music. But as his fellow
musicians get lured into drug dealing, teenage Régis finds salvation in the
classics of French literature and his conversion to Sufi Islam. While Abd Al
Malik’s edifying hymn to education and tolerance is first and foremost a boldly
idealistic statement, it is also a profoundly satisfying cinematic experience,
shot in high-contrast black and white and full of powerful stylistic devices
that break with convention to heighten the impact of everyday violence and
injustice. Fluidly adapting his talents as a storyteller to the screen, Abd Al
Malik revisits the “banlieue film”—the sub genre of films dealing with restless
youth in France’s tough suburbs, launched by Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine
in 1995—not only to give an insider’s update, but to break with the genre’s
suffocating pessimism. In these challenging times for France, and particularly
for French Muslims, this intelligent and accessible call for a potential way
forward is nothing short of essential viewing.

DIRECTOR
Abd Al Malik

SCREENPLAY
Abd Al Malik

CAST
Marc Zinga
Sabrina Ouazani
Larouci Didi

DETAILS
French, Arabic, Lingala
96 min.
France, 2015
Blu-ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Strand Releasing

PRICE RANGE
$250