Providence French Film Festival 2018

An annual event since 1998, the Providence French Film Festival takes place Saturday, February 24, through Saturday, March 3, with all screenings at the Cable Car Cinema. Although the event is presented by Brown University, the films are not academically oriented and are open to the public.

Richard Blakely, director of the festival, said he is especially proud that, with the exception of one classic film from the 1930s, all of the films came out within the last year and a half, “which is quite rare for a festival of this size.” Each selected film, chosen from a list about 300 possibilities, is shown twice.

“There’s a lot of student involvement. Students will many times introduce the films, people who are studying film as undergraduate or graduate students who are interested in French,” including undergraduates majoring in French and graduate students in the Department of Modern Culture and Media with an interest in film but also in English and literature, Blakely said.

Highlights

Blakely’s top recommendation is Visages villages (“Faces Places”), co-directed by Agnès Varda and JR. Blakely said Varda “was a key member of the French New Wave in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a great director of mostly documentaries but also some very interesting feature films, and she’s still going” at age 89. “She teamed up with a well known photographer and went around France interviewing and taking pictures of people, and putting the pictures up on barn doors and things like that. It’s just a lovely movie, it’s just great.” Varda’s collaborator is an anonymous guerrilla artist known only as “JR” who calls himself a “photograffeur,” which is a French pun implying photography as graffiti. He only appears wearing a fedora and dark sunglasses to hide his identity; he won the TED prize for best presentation in 2011.

The film won the L’Œil d’or (“Golden Eye”) for best documentary at Cannes and has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. For the Oscar class photo, Varda playfully sent a cardboard cutout of herself, although she said she plans to attend the award ceremony in person. In an homage to fellow French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, now 87, Varda recreates the famous scene in his 1964 film Bande à part where characters run through the great hall of the Louvre museum at top speed, except Varda does it with JR pushing her wheelchair. (Another well known scene in Bande à part, where the characters do a strange dance, is the inspiration for the line in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Say, do any of you guys know how to Madison?”)

Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, by director Jean Renoir

Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, by director Jean Renoir

“An all-time favorite of mine is Le Crime de Monsieur Lange [The Crime of Monsieur Lange’]. This is a movie that was made in 1936 by Jean Renoir [1874-1979], who was the son of the famous painter [Auguste Renoir 1841-1919],” Blakely said about the classic. “This is a film that I’m extremely fond of. Actually, it is the film that got me interested in film. I was a graduate student in Santa Barbara, and a friend of mine who was the chair of the philosophy department was writing a book on Renoir and going down to visit him in Beverly Hills every weekend to interview him, and he showed me and a couple of friends this movie and I thought ‘Wow, what a fantastic film.’ I was teaching French to university students and I thought, looking at that film, a really great way to teach students French and about French culture would be this particular film and a lot of others… Since my friend was in contact with Renoir, I wrote a note saying what we were doing and he wrote back this really very kind letter saying how moved he was to know that this film that was made in the ‘30s was being used to teach French culture to American students” in 1970. Renoir’s film, Blakely said, anticipated by years the deep focus techniques associated in English-language cinema with Citizen Kane in 1941, but used it “in, I think, a much more effective manner, and also camera movement. It’s just breathtaking what he does and it was not recognized.”

Géraldine Pailhas, who came to the festival in 2016, is the second lead in the historical fiction film, set in 1852, Le Semeur (“The Sower”) directed by Marine Francen. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, came to power in the 1848 revolution as president of the Second Republic but would have been term-limited and therefore overthrew his own government in a coup and declared himself emperor in the manner of his uncle. By 1852, so many men were conscripted into military service that the mountain village in the film is populated only by women, who take an oath amongst themselves that, if a man arrives, they will all share him.

In Happy End, Austrian director Michael Haneke reunites stars from his acclaimed Amour, Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, who are easily the most recognizable names at the festival. Trintignant has been active since the 1950s in such landmark films as And God Created Woman by Roger Vadim, Z by Costa Gavras, and Three Colors: Red by Krzysztof Kieślowski. Huppert has appeared in many films over a long career, notably winning Best Actress at Cannes for Haneke’s The Piano Teacher in 2001.

Le Grand méchant renard et autres contes (“The Big Bad Fox and Other Stories”) was directed by Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert. “We like to have one film for kids… but also of course it’s a fun animated film for adults as well –” even for children too young to read English subtitles, Blakely said. “This is a film that really is sort of self-explanatory and the dialogue is quite clear even if you don’t speak French, so it’s a good introduction for children to French.” He expects a large contingent from the French American School who “have always been good supporters of the festival.”

Raoul Peck, known for the acclaimed 2016 English-language documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based upon the unfinished Remember This House by James Baldwin) that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, directed festival film Le Jeune Karl Marx (“The Young Karl Marx”), about the meeting and subsequent collaboration between the 26-year-old Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1840s Paris.

Petit paysan (“Little Peasant” or “Bloody Milk”) by Hubert Charuel is about “a guy with a herd of cows he is wondering what to do with because one of them has been tested for disease that is going to spread to the whole herd,” Blakely said. Fearful that the government will order all of his cows slaughtered, he tries to cover up the infection. The original French title, Petit paysan, has a mildly derogatory connotation lost in translation, comparable to the English “hillbilly.”

“One I think would be very interesting for students especially is called Speak Up, [A Voix haute”] which means ‘In a Loud Voice’ is the title in French which is much better than Speak Up,” Blakely said. Directed by Stéphane de Freitas and Ladj Ly, “One of the universities in France which is known for its heavy immigrant population, so it is germane to things going on in this country right now, but in France they’re much more welcome than they are in the current climate in the US, and this is a contest every year to win the prize for eloquence… so these kids who grew up speaking another language come to France at some point in their youth and they’re accepted into this university and meet other students in this contest” whose first language is not French.

Sage-femme (“Wise Woman”) or “The Midwife”) directed by Martin Provost features Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot. “Those two together in the same film, it’s quite something,” Blakely said.

Montparnasse Bienvenüe (“Montparnasse Welcome”) or, originally, Jeune femme (“Young woman”), is about a woman who arrives in Paris with no money and a very fluffy cat, by Léonore Serraile who is “a new director. I think it’s the first film that she’s made, and we almost got her to come but she wasn’t able to make it, but the film is very promising and should be fun,” Blakely said.

L’Autre côté de novembre (“The Other Side of November”) directed by Maryanne Zéhil is a Canadian film that Blakely thinks American audiences would be unlikely to see other than at the festival. It is about two women in their fifties, one in Quebec and the other in Lebanon, who begin to have either a strangely similar — or parallel memories of — a particular night.

Also unlikely to be seen by Americans outside of the festival, Blakely said, is Douze jours (“Twelve Days”), “by this great documentary maker, Raymond Depardon.” In France, twelve days is the time limit a person believed to be mentally ill can be confined involuntarily without a hearing before a judge. “Another thing that makes this festival unique is it does show films that just would never run commercially in this country at all, and that’s an extremely important and interesting film that probably is not going to be picked up” for distribution here.

“All of these films earned acclaim throughout France when they came out, and many of them are being shown in this country for the first time,” Blakely said. He believes the American premieres include Tout nous sépare (“All That Divides Us”) by Thierry Klifa, Le Semeur (“The Sower”) by Marine Francen, and Petit paysan (“Little Peasant” or “Bloody Milk”) by Hubert Charuel.

Sponsors listed on the festival website are the Department of French Studies and the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, and the Sevaux Family Film and Lecture Endowment; contributors listed are Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and the City of Providence and the Rhode Island School of Design. Providence French Film Festival: brown.edu/campus-life/events/french-film-festival. Film descriptions (English): brown.edu/campus-life/events/french-film-festival/film-descriptions Facebook: facebook.com/providencefrenchfilmfestival; Cable Car Cinema, 204 S Main St, PVD. Telephone: 401-272-3970 Web: cablecarcinema.com

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