From art & existential films to rock ‘n’ roll to lesbian vampires, Brown U continues bold programming
As it enters its 19th year, Providence’s French Film Festival brings a greater variety of French-Language films to Rhode Island for local audiences.
“We try to get films that can’t be seen here, but we’re also lucky to have such a diversity of genres and tones this year. In past years, we’ve often had a theme – but this year, it wasn’t really appropriate. We have a rock film, science fiction, animated films, fashion films, gangster films – genres French films are not typically known for,” says Shoggy Waryn, Artistic Director of the Festival and a Senior Lecturer in Brown’s Department of French Studies.
In the US, “French Film” has become almost synonymous with “Art Film,” Waryn says. “Internationally, there’s a reputation for being either artsy fartsy or cutesy wootsy – either a silly crowd pleaser or obscure, existential work.” In France, however, there’s more diversity.
“Those are the films that can most easily find international distribution, so they are the ones we are most likely to see in US theatres,” Waryn says. “But there were over 180 films produced in France last year, and more French-language films from Toronto.”
They represent French and Canadian cultural perspectives, but “there is a lot more variety, and much more mainstream sensibility to many of these films – they’re not the international blockbusters of Hollywood, but some have done very well in theatrical release in Europe.”
This year also features Blu-Ray projection and five films that will be shown from 35mm prints.
“35 mm is especially difficult – both to find with subtitles, and to get shipped from Europe and back, so we’re excited about these prints,” Waryn says.
The festival began as a cooperative effort at Brown University between the French Studies and Film / Modern Culture and Media Studies Departments, but over the years it has developed strong followings both with local sponsors, and with Rhode Island francophiles and cinephiles – a significant part of the audience has no direct relationship with the University, and last year 12 of the screenings attracted enough viewers to sell out.
Highlights from this year’s festival include the opening film, which will be shown at the Granof Center on Brown’s Campus. Bus Palladium, the directorial debut of Brown Alumnus Christopher Thompson, an established French actor and writer, is named after a famous Paris nightclub and explores the glory days of the 1980’s French Rock scene, following the rise and explosion of a band named Lust. The filmmaker has taken a detour from pre-production on his next film to visit Providence and speak at the film’s talk back, after the screening on February 22. “Convincing him to come was easy,” Waryn says. “Getting it scheduled – that was not so easy.”
The screening will start at 7pm, and is free and open to the public.
In its regular screenings at the Cable Car Cinema, the festival will also feature two films by graphic novelist Pascal Rabaté, Ni à vendre, ni à louer (Holidays by the sea), and Les petits ruisseaux (Wandering Streams), adaptations of his printed works. Also of note, Une vie qui commence (A life begins), an experimental film from Quebec, where the main character occupies almost every frame of the film.
“We can’t hear his thoughts,” Waryn says. “But the effect definitely brings us inside his head, inside his life.”
There’s Film Socialism, a Godard film “collage” about the future of Europe and the disintegration of traditional values. And Mammouth, a brutish film about a retiring slaughterhouse worker, played by award-winning actor Gérard Dépardieu, who takes a motorcycle trip that’s both cross-country and into his past.
“It’s done with handheld and low-budget film technology, but it’s the actor’s strongest performance in years,” Waryn says.
In what may be the festival’s first apocalyptic selection, Les derniers jours du monde (Happy ends), is a romance set right before the end of the world.
“It’s the end of everything,” Waryn says. “If you’re French, what do you do? You make love, of course!”
Another first is that the festival will present one film at the Cable Car and the Granof Center, at the same time.
Les Frisson des Vampires, also known as The Shiver of the Vampires or Vampiros Lesbos, will start at 9pm at the Cable Car and 10pm at the Granof Center on Friday, Feb 24. Presented in cooperation with the Arkham Film Society, this ’70’s cult film classic features a striking and sometimes eerily repetitive soundtrack, whimsical metaphysical musings, very unusual camera work, and a visual style that shows equal love for the distinctive, disturbed architecture of its dilapidated medieval castle setting and for its titular bevy of vampiric lesbian lovelies.
The festival opens on February 22nd and concludes on March 4th. Remember that a number of screenings have been known to sell out, so if you’re buying tickets at the door, try to arrive early.
Bus Palladium, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – The film depicts the euphoric highs and nauseating lows of musical stardom. Childhood friends Lucas, Manu, Philip, Jacob and Mario are all trying to make it big in the music industry. They seem unstoppable, with talent and ambition, sincere dreams of musical glory, and a very catchy band name: Lust. Speaking of which, enter Laura, an up-and-coming rock icon who seduces the young friends with her alternative sounds and her all-too-familiar feminine wiles. Runs – Wednesday February 22nd, 7:00 p.m. (The Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, 154 Angell Street, Providence)/ Sunday Feburary26, 12:00 noon
Tomboy, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Tomboy sees Sciamma further exploring and meditating upon the culture and sexual politics of youth. While adapting to a new neighborhood, 10 year-old Laure is mistaken for a boy and chooses to sustain that “switch.” Runs – Thursday February 23, 6:30 p.m. / Sunday February 26 4:30 p.m.
Les derniers jours du monde, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – What would you do if you knew the world was coming to an end and there was not a thing you could do to stop it? The Larrieu Brothers attempt to find closure for the end of the universe in their latest film, which provides a fresh spin on the age-old question of imminent apocalypse. The film mixes genres, imagining the apocalypse as part sci-fi thriller, part romantic comedy, and with a splash of surrealism à la Luis Buñuel. Bathtub salesman, Robinson, is our unlikely protagonist. Robinson sees the end of the world as a timely opportunity for romance. After abandoning his wife and daughter for Laetitia, Robinson resolves to chase after his new lover, countering the end of times with an impossible quest for romantic fulfillment. With a hazy narrative structure that mimes the logic of a dream sequence, we follow Robinson from Taiwan to Canada and from France to Spain, alternating between images from his immodest past and his catastrophic present. Runs – Thursday February 23, 9:00 p.m./ Friday March 2, 9:00 p.m.
Les petits ruisseaux, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Emile is a retired widower whose safe and uneventful existence is enlivened by his friendship with fishing companion Edmond. This peaceful life is shattered when Edmond reveals his secret life just before dying, leaving Emile suddenly aware that life is short and he’s not living his to the fullest. The film has a great cast, including a rare appearance by Bulle Ogier. Runs – Friday Feburary 24, 4:00 p.m. / Sunday March 4, 12 noon
Sans queue, ni tête, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Jeanne Labrune, a past Festival guest, continues her sophisticated seriocomic study of the battle of the sexes. Utilizing the talents of the great Isabelle Huppert as high-class prostitute Alice who is introduced to Xavier a psychotherapist by a mutual friend. Both in some form of “mid-life crisis” bond in what cannot be simplified as a “therapist-patient” or “prosititute-client” relationship. Labrune is savvy enough to refrain from any easy categorization and we the audience benefit. Runs – Friday February 24, 6:30 p.m./ Monday February 27, 6:30 p.m.
Incendies, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Canadian twins, Jeanne and Simon, are left two envelopes in their mother’s will asking them to find a brother and father they never knew existed. Journeying from Canada to Lebanon, the twins experience the twists and turns of their mother’s mysterious past, revealing emotionally charged and gut wrenching truths that are deeply rooted in Lebanon’s tumultuous history. Individual memories and national histories intersect in this adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s hit play,a moving story that brings the extremism and violence of today’s world to a starkly personal level. Runs – Friday February 24, 9 p.m. / Monday February 27, 9 p.m.
Le frisson des vampires, The Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, 154 Angell Street, Providence – Newlyweds Isa and Antoine travel to visit Isa’s distant family in their rural castle to celebrate their honeymoon, only to discover that the family is not what they expected. Not to mention that the family and their servants have less than the best of intentions for the couple. Frisson is one of Jean Rollins most beloved films, featuring his unique approach to exploration of the themes of love, life, sex, death, and vampirism, borrowing stylistically from surrealism and psychedelia. Presented by The Arkham Film Society and Kino Lorber and the Providence French Film Festiva in a newly restored copy. This film is R rated. Runs – Friday February 24, 10: p.m.
Ni à vendre, ni à louer, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – The influence of Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is evident as the film follows a motley group of tourists and locals making the traditional French pilgrimage to the seaside. The ensemble cast works seamlessly as they bounce and bop around golfing, sunbathing, bed-hopping, attending a funeral, and a nudist camp. Rabaté impressively straddles the line between out-and-out farce and scathing critique. Runs – Saturday February 25, 12 noon/ Tuesday February 28 6:30 p.m.
Le vendeur, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Calling to mind the seminal 1960s documentary Salesman by the Maysles Brothers, first-time director Pilote has fashioned a tough, uneasy narrative about a car salesman. Gilbert Sicotte stands out as the aging old-school salesman who, through a combination of failing to adjust his methods and the economy’s harm to his town, faces a bleak new world. Runs – Saturday February 25, 2:00 p.m. / Thursday March 1, 9:00 p.m.
Le jour d’avant, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Loïc Prigent explores the world of high fashion by looking at great designers under the greatest amount of stress: the countdown to their latest fashion show. At times hilarious, at times extremely candid, these portraits give us exclusive access to the world of the high fashion industry that is unexpected as they highlight the amount of work and passion that animates the staff involved in the shows. The personality of the head designers, Gaultier and Lagerfeld, come in sharp focus under the lens of the camera and nothing is held back. In French and English. Runs – Saturday February 25, 4:00 p.m./ Sunday March 4, 4:30 p.m.
Mammuth, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – The venerable Gerard Depardieu takes center stage as Serge, a retiring slaughterhouse worker who may lose out on his pension due to bureaucratic errors and omissions. Serge takes action by returning to the village of his youth in search of missing employment documents. The return renews and recalls old friendships, old regrets, and one tragedy. Director Kerven is wise enough to let the cameras run on Depardieu as his under-rated acting comes through. Runs – Saturday February 25, 6:30 p.m./ Tuesday February 28, 9:00 p.m.
Les femmes du 6ème étage, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Paris, 1962. Jean-Louis Jouvert, a wealthy stockbrocker lives astaid bourgeois existence with his perfectly-presentable socialitewife. But when the family’s maid abandons them, into the residence comes Maria: young, hardworking, and – quelle horreur – Spanish! Remarkably, it doesn’t take long for the building to become enchanted by the new arrival; Maria rallies the friendship of the other servants on the sixth floor (Almodóvar’s favourite señoritas, Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas) and soon, the balance of the household ruptures into wild, cross-cultural chaos… Luchini and Kiberlain are terrific as the austere couple brought to life and then – potentially – breaking point. Still, the show arguably belongs to the lively ladies upstairs,including beautiful breakout star Verbeke. Runs – Saturday February 25, 9:00 p.m./ Thursday, March 1 6:30 p.m.
La fée, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – La fée follows an old school approach to light-hearted comic scenarios; a series of slapstick episodes recall the silent film era. Dom works the night shift in a small hotel near Le Havre. One night Fiona arrives with no luggage and no shoes. She tells Dom she is a fairy and grants him three wishes. Fiona makes two wishes come true then mysteriously disappears. Dom, who by then has fallen in love with Fiona, searches for her everywhere. Runs – Sunday February 26, 2:15 p.m. /Friday March 2, 4:00 p.m.
La mémoire dans la chair, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Spain 1975: after a fifteen-year exile, Thomas returns home. He is there to bury his father, a Republican fighter who was jailed by Franco’s regime and had just died without regaining his freedom. The story of Thomas is the story of a man alone, back in his home country which he now barely knows. Nevertheless, ancient hates and grudges live on. Runs – Sunday February 26, 6:30 p.m. / Sunday March 4, 2:15 p.m.
Hors-la-loi, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – The French occupation separates three Algerian brothers: one joins the French Army in Indochina, one becomes a leader of the Algerian Independence Movement, and the third opts for debauchery in the shady clubs and boxing halls of Pigalle. The film strings us along through the many twists of fate that we hope will reunite the brothers. Director Rachid Bouchareb effectively steers us away from easy answers, with each possible resolution always leading to thornier complications. This is a film that lingers long after the screening, interweaving family stories with traumatic colonial histories. Runs – Sunday February 26, 9:00 p.m. / Saturday March 3rd, 9:00 p.m.
Film socialism, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – The film has three settings: a yacht populated by upper class whites, a small film crew readying a documentary on a self-employed French family, and a frenetic trip through Western European colonies. There are multiple conversations spoken in multiple languages, including some form of Navajo. And there are multiple media formats with jarring shifts from high to low quality. It all works to give a sometimes illuminating, sometimes obvious, and sometimes maddening meditation on freedom, liberty, and the unintended consequences of one nation’s “benevolence” to another. Runs – Wednesday February 29, 6:30 p.m. /Sunday March 3rd, 4:00 p.m.
Magic Lantern: French avant-garde shorts, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Though created by independent artists with distinct orientations, all of these works emerge from a cinematic encounter with the substances once held to comprise the fundamental components of the natural world: earth, water, air, & fire. What happens when this classical subject is engaged through a distinctly modern medium like cinema? While certain of these artists utilize film to rediscover, harness, or communicate the import attributed to the elements by ancient thought, others offer more timely variations on this theme, refracting it through the lens of contemporary aesthetic developments, modern philosophy, or current political and cultural realities. Runs – Wednesday February 29, 9:00 p.m.
Une vie qui commence, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Une vie qui commence opens with a life ending. The peaceful, safe existence of an early 1960s upper-class Quebec suburb family is shattered with the father’s (a doctor) death from overdose of a prescription med. Director Michel Monty then shapes the narrative into a meditation upon the family’s bereavement – particularly the oldest son, Étienne. How will Etienne work through the esteem he had for the father along with a torrent of memories? Runs – Thursday March 1, 4:30 p.m./ Saturday March 3,6:30 p.m.
Les mains en l’air, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – A curious mix of serious issues, humor, and suspenseful cat-and-mouse told from the point of view of 10 year-old Milana. Milana and her mother are Chechen exiles living illegally in France. Milana bands together some of her classmates and neighborhood kids to prevent deportation. Runs – Friday March 2nd, 2:00 p.m. / Saturday March 3rd, 2:00 p.m.
le gamin au vélo, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Set in Belgium, the story centers on eleven-year-old Cyril whose father has abandoned him at a state-run youth farm. Cyril searches everywhere for his father, unhindered by the fact that his father hocked Cyril’s beloved bicycle just before disappearing. Cyril will do anything, even resorting to armed robbery, in his quest to reconnect with his only family. Runs – Friday March 2, 6:30 p.m. / Sunday March 4, 9:00 p.m.
Les émotifs anonyms, Cable Car Cinema, 204 south main street, providence. – Jean-René, the timid owner of a failing chocolate factory, hires Angélique, a talented but equally timid chocolate maker. While working together at the chocolate shop and trying to overcome their timidity, the two fall madly in love. With the future of the chocolate business hanging in the balance, both Jean-René and Angélique must struggle to overcome their self-effacing tendencies in order to confess their amorous feelings and save their business. Runs – Saturday March 3, 12 noon / Sunday March 4, 6:30 p.m.