Rendezvous with French Cinema Today

Note : all of the below were seen at The Walter Reade Theater. Also, I'd like to apologize beforehand for the hideous pun below. (Those of you who have seen the film in question will know; those of you who haven't -- don't ask.)

Marius et Jeanette - A-
Viewed March 14.

Marred by sloppy direction, Marius et Jeanette is one of those "little French movies" bursting with such humane goodwill toward its characters that one has to be a complete cynic not to enjoy it. Depicting a low-key middle-aged working-class romance amidst a small group of neighbors in a Marseilles working-class community, it has several fine performances (Ariane Astignade won the Cesar for her work here) and a relaxed, easy-going air. It's a fantasy, but a highly amusing one.

U.S. Distribution : New Yorker. Set for release sometime in April.

What's So Funny About Me? - B
Viewed March 15.

Highly enjoyable mock-cinema-verite look at a day in the life of a successful French comic as he returns to his old hometown. It's anchored by a great performance by Jackie Berroyer as Pierre Yves, a man whose self-doubting comic persona masks an even more insecure personality. Fascinating throughout (and the climactic scene is as neat an encapsulation of the old saw about "comedy = tragedy + distance" as you'll ever see), but ultimately it seems .. incomplete, somehow. (It doesn't help that what little I saw of Pierre's act over the opening and closing credits didn't strike me as particularly funny .. maybe it's a Gallic thing.)

U.S. Distribution : New Yorkers will be lucky if it swings through the Anthology Film Archives in the next 12 months.

The Bet - C
Viewed March 15.

An above-average French comedy by two-thirds of the French comic group "The Unknowns". Above-average in this case meaning that some of it is actually amusing. The plot, such as it is, involves two brothers-in-law (who naturally despise each other) who make a bet to quit smoking - which serves as the springboard for a set of comic sketches. Harmless and forgettable fluff, about as interesting as something like Bananas. (Note: the above only applies to people who are not fans of Woody's early, "funny" movies.)

U.S. Distribution : Chances for release - somewhere between zilch and nada. And since it's essentially a sketch comedy, I don't see much chance of a U.S. remake.

Genealogies of a Crime - D
Viewed March 15.

I couldn't even begin to describe the plot of this wretched and monumentally boring piece of intellectual claptrap which manages to waste the talents of a whole lot of really good French actors (Catherine Denueve, Michel Piccoli, and My Sex Life's Mattheiu Almaric among them), as I pretty much mentally checked out of the theater about 30 minutes in. This was my first exposure to the work of Raul Ruiz, and if the rest of his work is like this, my last. If you don't mind a film having no other aim than to show how clever its director is, go right ahead and enjoy. For everyone else (like me) who desire little things like plot, character, humor, or even just sheer visual bravado (Peter Greenaway's saving grace)- a definite must-skip.

U.S. Distribution :Strand will bore the rest of the nation starting March 27.

Seventh Heaven - B
Viewed March 21.

Young wife Mathilde (Sandrine Kimberlaine) is a sexually repressed kleptomaniac. She meets up with a mysterious hypnotist. Therapy ensues. She loses her compulsions and experiences orgasm for the first time. Her husband Nico is perplexed. Who is this woman now living in his house? He begins to search for answers.

Benoit Jacquot's examination of a marriage and of how little we can know of someone we love is a fine and intriguing piece of work. I particularly enjoyed the midfilm transition from Mathilde to Nico -- Jacquot does it so naturally that you've barely realized it happened. It also is a sly dig at the Gallic obsession with psychotherapy -- Nico reaches his film-end realizations despite attempting psychotherapy, and the hypnotist Mathilde sees is (apparently) a fiction of her mind. It, however, ends too soon -- I would have extended the tenous reconnection Nico and Mathilde make over the closing credits.

U.S. Distribution : Zeitgeist is handling this, time frame sometime during the summer.

Dry Cleaning - A-
Viewed March 21.

The last (and best) film I saw during the series, Dry Cleaning concerns a couple (Charles Berling and Miou-Miou) running a laundry operation in Belfort who go to a nightclub and become fascinated with The Queens of the Night. The rest of the plot is best left unsaid, but the result is ambiguous, edgy, ironic, unpredictable, and the best film I've seen so far this year.

U.S. Distribution : Strand has it slated for a Septemberish release date. Go and see it.