One of the luxuries of living in New York City is having direct access to some of the greatest culture in the world. Starting this weekend, for instance, we can see 21 of the most impressive films coming out of France today at Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, an annual series curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance film promotions. Now in its 21st year, the festival includes a wide range of genres, all showcasing the renowned creativity French cinema has to offer, as well as in-person appearances from such prominent actors and directors as Isabelle Huppert, Julie Delpy and Diane Kruger.
“Reflective of the turbulence in France in the last year, these artists have expressed their emotions, doubts and fears in their films,” said UniFrance’s executive director, Isabelle Giordano. “This is why I am so proud to bring to New York audiences the best of French cinema. The rising and established talents behind the 21 selected films combine high artistic ambition with a strong political commitment. Voices of directors like Alice Winocour, Nabil Ayouch, Emmanuelle Bercot, Philippe Faucon are worth being listened to as they say a lot about the chaos of our world today.”
This collection of movies has racked up 34 César Award nominations, including best actor and actress nods for Gérard Depardieu and Huppert for Valley of Love (pictured above), the festival’s opening-night selection. Rendez-Vous With French Cinema is also showing eight films directed by women, a record for the series. By contrast, only two female filmmakers were nominated for last week’s Academy Awards—and one of those was Deniz Gamze Ergüven, the French director of Mustang, recognized in the best foreign-language film category.
Tickets are on sale now for all screenings, but before you buy, check out our roundup below of the movies we’re most excited about, along with synopses provided by the festival.
Valley of Love, Guillaume Nicloux (dir.), 92 mins.
“Guillaume Nicloux’s sui generis, elegiac road movie puts a meta twist on a familiar setup: Titans Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert star as famous French actors Gérard and Isabelle, a long-divorced couple whose son Michael has committed suicide six months prior to their Californian rendezvous in Death Valley, occasioned by an enigmatic letter from Michael that seems to have been written some time after his death. The letter asks them to visit a series of sites in the area; at the end of this tour, Michael claims he will appear before them. What follows is an utterly singular trip of a film, by turns melancholic and funny, self-reflexive and surreal.”
A Decent Man / Je ne suis pas un salaud, Emmanuel Finkiel (dir.), 111 mins. U.S. premiere
“‘I am not a bastard!’ The literal French translation of the title of Emmanuel Finkiel’s taut, intelligent morality play captures its tone perhaps better than its American name. In the film’s first act, Eddy (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is in a position of strength. Having just been injured in a mugging, he’s earned the sympathy and attention of his estranged family and gotten back on his feet. The same cannot be said for Ahmed (Driss Ramdi), whose life starts falling apart after he’s wrongly accused of the crime. When the case against Ahmed starts to unravel, Eddy has to go back on the defensive.”
Disorder, Alice Winocour (dir.), 101 mins.
“Alice Winocour’s follow-up to Augustine (Rendez-Vous 2013)—her study of the 19th-century neurologist Jean-Marie Charcot’s fraught relationship with one of his hysteria patients—is another finely tuned drama of unstable intimacy and mental imbalance. Having just returned from Afghanistan, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) suffers from night terrors, pummeling headaches and bouts of paranoia. To distract himself, he gets a job working security at the extravagant château of a Lebanese financier, whose beautiful wife (Diane Kruger) he’s soon hired to protect after the husband goes away on business. Disorder evolves from an exercise in nervous, slow-burn suspense into a tense domestic thriller.”
The Great Game / Le grand jeu, Nicolas Pariser (dir.), 100 mins. U.S. premiere
“Pierre (Melvil Poupaud), a onetime darling novelist disgusted with the publishing world, lets a duplicitous government insider (André Dussollier) tempt him into ghostwriting a manifesto designed to transform the landscape of French public opinion—a shift with risky consequences for the activist (Clémence Poésy) with whom he soon becomes involved. Nicolas Pariser’s debut feature is an elegant political thriller that makes much use of its stellar cast, particularly with the brittle, uneasy rapport between Poupaud—the soulful young man at the center of Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale and Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways—and Dussollier, a resourceful and protean actor who commits to his character’s malevolence with relish.”
Lolo, Julie Delpy (dir.), 99 mins. U.S. premiere
“Writer, director, actor, composer: Julie Delpy is one of current French cinema’s great renaissance talents. In her new movie, a four-string black comedy that develops on the thinking at work in her recent 2 Days in New York, a world-weary fashionista (Delpy) finds her happy new relationship with a divorced, slightly unpolished computer programmer (Dany Boon) threatened by the machinations of her wheeling, malevolent son (Vincent Lacoste). Delpy is a filmmaker with a wise, prickly comic sensibility, and her movies often slide—like screwball comedies—from cerebral verbal banter to outright farce. Lolo is no exception, although it’s also her darkest, riskiest and most startling movie to date.”
My King / Mon roi, Maïwenn (dir.), 128 mins. U.S. premiere
“Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot, in a performance that won her the best actress award at Cannes) and Georgio (Vincent Cassel) are an odd match—or so Tony’s brother Solal (Louis Garrel) thinks when she tells him that they’re falling quickly, recklessly in love. Actor-director Maïwenn’s fourth feature captures the couple’s tempestuous 10-year relationship in retrospect as a string of flash points, eruptions, betrayals, tender reconciliations and life-altering decisions. At the center of My King’s wide, expansive frames are Bercot and Cassel for nearly every second of its run time, and the movie stakes itself on their harrowingly committed, nerve-fraying performances. Maïwenn’s formidable new film is one of French cinema’s most memorable recent amour fous.”
Rendez-Vous With French Cinema runs from March 3 to 13 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. All films are in French with English subtitles.
Photos courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center