Heralding les printemps, The Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance’s 21st edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is steeped in the complexities of France, with films from established auteurs (Jaques Audiard, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Julie Delpy, Philippe Faucon), rising directors (Alice Winocur, Emmanuelle Bercot) and upstarts (Rudi Rosenberg, Eva Husson and actor Louis Garrel, with his first directorial effort).
I’ve always fallen for France–the food, the language (with subtitles), the clothes, the cities, the countryside, Citroëns. And the variety of films–drama, romance, comedy, noir, thriller, political. And that women directors have less of a struggle than their American counterparts (eight of this year’s 21 films were made by women). And that women have ongoing acting careers, continuing to star in films decades after Americans have been sidelined, playing age appropriate counterparts to their male costars.
In the opening night film, Guillaume Nicloux’s moving “Valley of Love” two of France’s greatest actors (Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu) play hybrids of self/character. A long-divorced couple, they’ve arrived at a resort in Death Valley, each summoned by a mysterious letter from their son, who had committed suicide in San Francisco six months earlier, in which he promises to appear to them somewhere in the vast emptiness and vast beauty of the desert.
“Fatima,” directed by Philippe Faucon (2016 César winner for best film) is a thoughtful examination (reminiscent of the Dardennes Brothers’ films) of the life of a North African immigrant, a middle-aged single mother (Soria Zeroual), working an a cleaner/janitor, struggling to understand both her new country and her two teenage daughters. Souad, in revolt, is embarrassed by her. Nesrine, calmer and closer to her mother, is starting medical school and has limited time for family. Toward its conclusion, the low-key film, centered in Fatima’s small but demanding world, delivers an unexpected emotional punch (and I was surprised to react with tears), when she reads an exquisite part of her Arabic journal to her compassionate doctor, explaining how many people’s lives are made possible by “some Fatima,” hard working but marginalized, third-world women.
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema runs from Thursday, March 3 through Sunday, March 13, with all screenings at Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater. Isabelle Huppert and Guillaume Nicloux will introduce “Valley of Love” on opening night at 6:00 pm. Huppert will discuss her legendary career in a free talk in the amphitheater in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Friday, March 4 at 5:00 pm.
“Valley of Love” will open at Film Society on Friday, March 25.
“Fatima” will have a national theatrical release and be available on VOD and home media later this year.
Photos in panel above, clockwise from top left: Finnegan Oldfield, Jacques Audiard, Pierre Étaix, Vincent Cassel, Maïwenn, Isabelle Huppert. All images © Robin Holland.