Author Archives: french


For anyone who has ever received an e-mail sent from an unknown
African correspondent promising love or riches, this fly-on-the-wall
documentary about young internet scammers in Abidjan is as enlightening
as it is provocative. The film follows Rolex the Portuguese,
an ambitious smooth talker who has recently returned to his home
in Ivory Coast after trying and failing to strike it rich in neighboring
Burkina Faso. Rolex and his buddies spend their days huddled around
laptop screens, trying to lure European women into online relationships
in hopes of scamming them out of their money. Director Joël
Akafou follows these young men from the stripped-down rooms where
they operate their scams to their family homes and the nightclubs of
Abidjan, creating a fascinating portrait of a resourceful and scrappy,
fun-loving and money-mad set of young Ivorians. But his film also
raises thorny questions about the European colonial legacy and the
moral compass of a young generation with few opportunities: while
Rolex and his friends justify their scams as a way of collecting on the
European debt to former colonies, their elders encourage them to
find salvation in religion. In true direct cinema style, Akafou delivers
no judgment, relying instead on the immediacy of his filmmaking to
create a tension between empathy and aversion.

Joël Akafou

French & Dyula
54 min. (26 min. per episode)
France, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, 2017
DVD, HD mp4, Blu-Ray

Torch Films



Cold Water is Olivier Assayas’s unforgettable contribution to Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge, an epochal series of films commissioned by French public television in 1994. Filmmakers were asked to make films about teenage characters in the era of their own adolescence, giving the overall series the feel of an informal history of French youth from the sixties to the nineties. Yet the most remarkable aspect  of the series was the intimate nature of the individual contributions. This is certainly true of Assayas’s starkly beautiful tale of a couple of young lovers in the sleepy suburbs of Paris in 1972, possibly his most personal film and certainly one of his best. Gilles and Christine are both troublemakers, shoplifting records and defying authority figures, but only Christine is genuinely on the edge: after her father has her institutionalized, she escapes, finds Gilles at a party in an abandoned mansion, and asks him to run away with her. Driven by a magnetic performance by the young Virginie Ledoyen and the music of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin, Cold Water captures the nihilistic feeling of post-68 youth while subtly contrasting teenage pranks and real despair.

Olivier Assayas

Olivier Assayas

Virginie Ledoyen
Cyprien Fouquet

95 min.
France, 1994
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Janus Films



New Wave master Jacques Rivette’s second feature begins with a
succinct explanation of the film’s historical context: based on a novel
by the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot, which was itself
inspired by real characters, The Nun is set in 1760, at a time when
French convents were used by the aristocracy to hide away unmarried
or otherwise inconvenient young women. Abbeys were bought and
sold by the rich, church superiors were all-powerful, and the monastic
environment was frequently anything but pious. The Nun tracks the
downfall of Suzanne Simonin, a young woman forced into the convent
by her insolvent aristocratic family. While Suzanne feels no calling to
take holy vows, she is a devout being who resists the fanaticism she
discovers in the convent. Faced with gas-lighting and persecution,
Suzanne manages to be transferred to another convent, only to be
exposed to the lust of a mother superior who has lost sight of her own
vows. While in some ways Rivette’s closest brush with conventional
storytelling, The Nun reaches a terrifying level of intensity through
the rigorous depiction of confined spaces, the jarring mix of atonal
and religious music, and the searing performance of Anna Karina as
Suzanne Simonin.

Jacques Rivette

Jean Gruault
Jacques Rivette

Anna Karina
Liselotte Pulver
Micheline Presle
Francisco Rabal

140 min.
France, 1966
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Rialto Pictures

$350 DVD/Blu-Ray
$450 DCP


The Owl’s Legacy is master film essayist Chris Marker’s wildly
digressive, constantly entertaining meditation on Ancient Greece’s
impact on modern thinking and European identity. For two years
in the late 1980s, Marker traveled the world filming conversations
with a variety of scholars, philosophers, and artists (and one cruiseship
operator) and edited them into 13 thematic episodes, each
loosely guided by a word inherited from the Greek, including such
unavoidable terms as “democracy,” “tragedy,” and “philosophy,” as
well as more unexpected entries like “amnesia” and “misogyny.”
The resulting series of films function both as an extraordinary
introduction to the philosophical and political foundations of Ancient
Greece and as a primer in creative, associative thinking, roaming
wide to bring in Simone Weil and Noh theater, the causes of World
War II and—of course—the nature of film-going. In many ways, the
series also presages the age we now inhabit: comparing Athenian
and contemporary democracy, the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis
concludes that the “representation” most of us settle for is closer to
“electoral oligarchy” than the hard work of participatory democracy in
Athens, while in the last episode George Steiner rages at humankind’s
environmental recklessness.

Chris Marker

Chris Marker

Theo Angelopoulos, Linos
Benakis, Laurence Brauberger,
Cornelius Castoriadis,
Arielle Dombasie, Kostas
Georgousopoulos, Mark
Griffith, Angelique Ionatos,
Michel Jobert, Elia Kazan,
Oswyn Murray, Michel Serres,
Guilia Sissa, George Steiner,
Vassilis Vassilikos, Jean-Pierre
Vernant, John Winkler,
Iannis Xenakis

French, Greek, English; with
English subtitles
340 min. (26 min. per episode)
France, Greece, US release:
2018; copyright: 1989

Icarus Films

$200 for 4 episodes, $450 for
entire series (13 episodes)


Diane Kurys’s autobiographical first film about the 1963-64 school
year in the lives of two teenage sisters in Paris has reached a hallowed
place in French culture: the film’s infectious mixture of nostalgia and
rebellion led to an unexpected box office success upon its release in
1977 and has ensured its continued relevance to subsequent generations.
In describing the rocky relationship between fifteen-year-old
Frédérique and thirteen-year-old Anne, the daughters of a divorced
Jewish shopkeeper, Diane Kurys pays meticulous attention to detail,
stringing together a series of delicate vignettes that have the flavor of
lived experience. While Anne is a dreamy troublemaker, still somewhere
between childhood and her body’s rapidly approaching maturity,
Frédérique is discovering boys and politics in the heated context of
Algerian independence. Set in an all-girls school and an exclusively
female household, Peppermint Soda is squarely focused on the female
experience. Its story is clearly anchored in its time—a radio announcement
brings news of the assassination of John F. Kennedy—but its
reach is universal, speaking to every woman who ever worried about
when she would finally get her period and to the men who wonder
what it’s like for a girl.

Diane Kurys

Diane Kurys

Eléonore Klarwein
Odile Michel
Anouk Ferjac

Drama, Comedy
French with English
101 min.
France, 1977
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Cohen Film Collection/
Cohen Media Group



Jean Vigo’s anarchic outlook and spirit of poetic experimentation make
this timeless evocation of the mischief and rebellion of childhood one
of the essential classics of French cinema, a reference claimed by
each successive generation of young filmmakers. Beautifully served
by a new restoration, this tale of a student revolt in a boarding school
outside Paris leaps off the screen like it was the work of a passionate
new director of the 21st century rather than a long-dead genius who
bridged the gap between silent and sound film. In Zero for Conduct,
Vigo forsakes “realism” to allow us to see like a child, with a gaze full
of wonder and invention: cruel instructors are grotesque creatures,
drawings come alive on the page, mirrors deform and augment reality,
and slow motion fixes a moment in eternal memory. Yet beneath this
enchanting playfulness is a totally lifelike combination of rage and tenderness
that perfectly captures the vibrant, sometimes painfully acute
experience of childhood. This program also features Vigo’s first film
À propos de Nice, a study of social inequality in Nice, shot on location
in 1930, and his short Taris, a wonderful portrait of French Olympic
swimmer Jean Taris, notable for its technically innovative underwater
photography and use of slow motion.

Jean Vigo

Jean Vigo

À propos de Nice (N/A); Taris
(Jean Taris); Zéro de conduite
(Jean Dasté, Robert Le
Flon, Blanchar, Delphin)

À propos de Nice – 1930 (23 min.)
Taris – 1931 (10 min.)
Zéro de conduite – 1933 (44 min.)
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Janus Films



L’Atalante is one of the foundation stones of French cinema, regularly
cited among the top ten films ever made and a source of inspiration
for directors ranging from François Truffaut to Leos Carax. Unlike
most love stories, Jean Vigo’s only feature-length film begins with a
wedding rather than concludes with one, as small-town girl Juliette
marries skipper Jean and embarks on the river barge “L’Atalante” with
her new husband, his first mate Père Jules, a cabin boy, and a host
of unruly cats. The slim narrative focuses on the early exuberance of
married life and the first trials as routine settles in, but the lasting
power of L’Atalante is in Vigo’s sensual way of rendering his actors’
faces, his poetic images of life on and along the Seine, a gently digressive
narrative attuned both to the comedic and dreamlike aspects
of daily living, and the combination of gruffness and tenderness that
make Michel Simon’s irrepressible performance as Père Jules one of
the greatest in screen history. Working against the clock as he was dying
of tuberculosis, the 29-year-old Vigo achieved a radically original,
ebullient celebration of life, the source of iconic images such as the
bride and groom at the prow of the ship as it slips through the dusk.

Jean Vigo

Jean Vigo
Albert Riéra

Jean Dasté
Dita Parlo
Michel Simon

89 min.
France, 1934
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Janus Films



After her parents die in an automobile accident, Thérèse, a young
woman on the verge of taking her vows, reluctantly leaves the convent
to return to Cannes and look after her teenage sister Irène. Unfortunately,
the two sisters are on a collision course with Max, a hustler and
compulsive womanizer played by matinee idol Philippe Lemaire as a
smalltime Don Juan apparently devoid of values but irresistible to all
who encounter him. Often overlooked, the third feature by Jean-Pierre
Melville, director of enduring classics such as The Samurai and Army
of Shadows, is in many ways an outlier: a melodrama with a focus on
female characters in a filmography known for its hard-boiled depictions
of taciturn gangsters and resistance fighters. Yet Melville’s trademark
moody atmosphere and pitch-black view of human relations lift
When You Read This Letter from melodrama to tragedy, creating a
gritty picture of life on the Riviera far removed from the glamor of film
festivals and private beaches. While often seen as a curio in Melville’s
body of work, When You Read This Letter’s unique tone, deft mise-enscène,
and strikingly candid presentation of a male predator ensure
that it is a film to be rediscovered.

Jean-Pierre Melville

Jacques Deval

Juliette Gréco
Philippe Lemaire
Yvonne Sanson
Irene Galter

104 min.
France, Italy, 1953
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Rialto Pictures

$350 DVD/Blu-Ray
$450 DCP


This unjustly overlooked entry in Alain Resnais’s filmography is both
an illuminatingly accurate representation of a dark pass in French
history and the kind of formally adventurous movie one might expect
from the director of Hiroshima Mon Amour. The film deals with the
months leading up to the death of the financier and embezzler Alexandre
Stavisky on January 8, 1934, the mysterious circumstances of
which led to riots and the fall of France’s radical leftist government.
Resnais places Stavisky’s increasingly brazen schemes and eventual
downfall in parallel with Leon Trotsky’s exile in France, creating a
chilling picture of a tipping point in European history when utopian
socialist hopes gave way to fascism and idealism succumbed to cynicism.
Yet the film is also a deeply engrossing psychological portrait of
a Gatsby-like character obsessed with death but otherwise convinced
the world will bend to his will. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Stavisky
with impervious charm, gliding through five-star hotels and resort
towns while Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler prepare to terrorize Europe.
Yet for all its disturbingly timely analysis of the machinations of power,
Stavisky is a sumptuous cinematic experience, beautifully photographed
by Resnais’s faithful director of photography Sacha Vierny and
scored by Stephen Sondheim.

Alain Resnais

Jorge Semprún

Jean-Paul Belmondo
François Périer
Anny Duperey
Charles Boyer

Drama, Biography
French, English
120 min.
France, Italy, 1974
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Rialto Pictures

$350 DVD/Blu-Ray
$450 DCP


One of the most influential films in the history of French cinema, Le
Corbeau describes the breakdown of civic order in a small provincial
town when a rash of poison pen letters spreads suspicion among
the local citizens: adultery, theft, even murder—there is no limit to
the allegations set forth in the anonymous letters signed with the
mysterious image of a crow. Many of the accusations focus on Doctor
Rémy Germain, a recent arrival who is known to help women facing
unwanted pregnancies, but who is probably not alone in having a
secret or two. Made under the German Occupation, Le Corbeau was
a tremendous public success upon its release but its coal-black
depiction of French life—and its not-so-subtle reference to the culture
of denunciation under the Nazis—proved highly controversial after the
Liberation. Clouzot was initially given a lifetime ban from filmmaking;
it took several years for him to be reinstated and for Le Corbeau to
be recognized as a masterpiece of mise-en-scène, mood, and moral
complexity. In France, it remains the go-to reference whenever the
veil is lifted on some ugliness simmering beneath the surface of an
apparently tranquil community.

Henri-Georges Clouzot

Henri-Georges Clouzot
Louis Chavance

Pierre Fresnay
Ginette Leclerc
Micheline Francey

Drama, Thriller
92 min.
France, 1943
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

Rialto Pictures

$350 DVD/Blu-Ray
$450 DCP