It’s not mysterious to me how French women stay thin (they don’t overeat or eat junk) but what is fascinating (and not so readily explained) is why so many French women, particularly in comparison to their American counterparts, have been able to direct films, ranging from entertainments to serious arthouse. Equally intriguing is how French actresses survive and thrive in leading roles after the age of 30, 40–sometimes even after 70. And when a woman “of a certain age” is the main character in a film, there’s no emphasis that this is an older woman’s story, it’s just her story at her stage of life, as it would be if she were 20.
Ten of the 24 features (New York, United States or North American premieres) comprising the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance Films’ 19th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema were directed by women.
The series includes established masters (Agnès Jaoui, Bertrand Tavernier, François Ozon), actors who have become auteurs (Emmanuelle Bercot, Nicole Garcia) and upstarts, dubbed by the critics as France’s next New Wave (Katell Quillévéré, Rebecca Zlotowski, Guillaume Brac, Thierry de Peretti, Serge Bozon). And well-known, favorite actors (Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Devos, Romain Duris) are joined by rising stars (Vincent Macaigne, François Damiens and Sara Forestier).
Opening the festival, ”On My Way,” directed by Emmanulle Bercot (who co-wrote “Polisse” with Maïwenn) and starring Catherine Deneuve (to paraphrase Ellen at the Oscars, “someone for whom no introduction is necessary”) is a perfect kind of French film, a romance, in the broadest sense–with life, family, partners, landscape, adventure. Deneuve is amazing, of course, and so too is young actor Nemo Schiffman playing Charly, the grandson she barely knows. The scenes at the lake hotel with Deneuve, “Mademoiselle Bretagne 1969,” joining the other regions’ beauty queens from her year, are fascinating (and must have been fun to cast), offering glimpses into the women’s varied lives. And Charly’s paternal grandfather’s house and garden is the kind of place (only seen in French films) that makes me want to move.
Agnès Jaoui’s ”Under the Rainbow,” is très charmant, in the style created by her and her frequent co-writer/co-star Jean-Pierre Bacri (in France the duo is known as JaouiBacri and sometimes I bring them up just because I like how it feels to say it). ”Under the Rainbow” would never work as an American film–it would devolve into corn and sentimentality–but Jaoui effortlessly pulls off her mash-up of daily life and a fairy tale, managing two generations of confused characters and even gets away with naming her sort of villain (heartbreaker, at least), Monsieur Wolfe.
“Cineast(e)s: Women Filmmakers,” a documentary by actress Julie Gayet and Mathieu Busson, engages a roster of 20 directrices (unlike in English, the word director is not gender-neutral) and divides the conversation into sections: directing, writing, actresses, genre, running a crew, mothers, equality. Although there are notable omissions (most prominently Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat and Agnès Jaoui), Gayet (often on-camera) interviews women of different generations (Agnès Varda, Tonie Marshall, Nicole Garcia, Pascale Ferran, Yolande Moreau, Julie Delpy, Mia Hansen-Løve, Rebecca Zlotowski). Asked about being the grandmother, a pioneer, Varda offers the most fascinating information in the film, naming the true forerunner, Alice Guy-Blaché, who started her career as a secretary to Léon Gaumont in 1894, made her first film in 1896, a one-minute short, and subsequently directed, produced and/or wrote more than 700 films.
In celebration of International Women’s Day (something I’m really ambivalent about–as Mia Hansen-Løve comments in Gayet and Busson’s doc, “You don’t say of a man, that’s a man’s film. You just say it’s a film.”), March 8, “Cineast(e)s” will screen at 7:00 pm at French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF). A panel discussion, moderated by Isabelle Giordano, Executive Director of UniFrance Films, will follow. Julie Gayet and Rendez-Vous 2014 directors Axelle Ropert, Justine Triet, Rebecca Zlotowski and Katell Quillévéré will participate, joined by American directors Ry Russo-Young, Stacey Passon and Deborah Kampmeier.
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema runs from Thursday, March 6 through Sunday, March 16, with screenings at four venues, Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater, the IFC Center, BAMcinématek and the Paris Theater.
“On My Way” will be released in theaters on Friday, March 14.
Grid, top row, left to right: François Ozon, Agnès Varda, Agnès Jaoui; middle row, left to right: Emmanuelle Devos, Julie Bertuccelli, Isabelle Huppert; bottom row, left to right: Nicole Garcia, Bertrand Tavernier, Romain Duris. All images © Robin Holland.