By William Wolf

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA 2013  Send This Review to a Friend

It was refreshing to discover several favorites in the lineup of the 2013 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance Films (February 28-March 10, 2013). One of those I most enjoyed, for example, was “You Will be My Son.”

Written and directed by Gilles Legrand and due to be released by the Cohen Media Group, “You Will Be My Son” is filled with the atmosphere of being set at a Bordeaux region vineyard. Dramatically, it explores a tense father-son relationship, with a wry, startling final twist. Wine lovers will enjoy the film for the locations alone.

Niels Arestrup plays Paul Marseul, who dislikes his son Martin (Loran Deutch), who works for him and would expect to inherit the wine-making business from his very successful father. But the long time estate manager (Patrick Chesnais) is seriously ill and when his son Philip (Nicolas Bridet), a California winemaker, arrives, Paul takes a liking to him and veers increasingly toward handing him the business instead of to his son. The battle lines are drawn and the drama gets increasingly tense.

The acting is first-rate all around, and the film draws one into it steadily, especially in the way it blends scenes illuminating aspects of the wine business with the personal stories.

“Renoir” is also a very special film set on the French Riviera in 1915 and giving a portrait of the elderly master painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, sensitively played by Michel Bouquet, who is struggling to work despite his crippling arthritis. He is heartened by the posing of his beautiful young model Dédé, portrayed by the ravishingly beautiful Christa Théret.

When Renoir’s son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), who has been wounded in World War I, returns to convalesce, he becomes smitten with the model, much to the anger of his father. Thus the focus shifts to a father son relationship, which is handled beautifully by the writer-director Gilles Bourdos. The film is shot visually in a way reminiscent of the texture of films of Jean Renour, and what we get in effect is the passing of the torch of artistry from the painter father to the eventual filmmaker son Jean. This is a film filled with lovely, captivating moments. It is a Samuel Goldwyn Films release.

“In the House,” another Cohen Media Group release, is a further worthy addition to the series. Written and directed by François Ozon, this sly film concerns the relationship between a high school teacher Germain, played with customary effectiveness by Fabrice Luchini, and a 16-year-old student Claude (Ernst Umhauer), who shows promise of being able to write well and under the teacher’s encouragement writes of his experiences.

Claude insinuates himself into the household of another student, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), and at first welcomed, becomes a nuisance as he abuses the hospitality and more and more takes advantage of the situation. For one thing, he becomes attracted to Rapha’s mother, played by Emmanuelle Seigner. Claude’s written work is a mix of fiction and fact reflecting his bizarre experiences. The teacher makes a serious ethical mistake, and one wonders if a teacher in such circumstances would really do what he does in the film. The act will later have dire results. Adding to the fine casting is that of Kristin Scott-Thomas as the teacher’s wife.

Any film in which the great French actress Jeanne Moreau appears comes high on my list of what to see. In “A Lady in Paris,” directed by Ilmar Raag, Moreau plays Frida ,an elderly woman from Estonia who has made a life in Paris and has lived it up with various lovers. But now she needs assistance and Laine Magi as Anne, also from Estonia, is hired as her helper. But Frida is bitchy and impossible with her demands and attitude.

A twist in the film is the role of Patrick Pineau as an ex-lover of Frida who, although their romance has long since past, cares for Frida and looks after her well-being even though he resents the task. Moreau is terrific as Frida, a role that gives her a chance to establish a fascinating character. She also is able, despite the outward bluster, to convey a sense of the woman she once was. The portraits of her assistant and the former lover also come through solidly.

“Augustine,” to be released by Music Box Films and directed by Alice Winocour, is based on a real case story dating to the 19th century and concerning a famous French neurologist, under whom Freud studied. The concern here is with the relationship between Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and Augustine, his teenage patient. It also concerns the popular diagnosis of hysteria applied to women at the time.

Augustine, played by Soko, who works as a kitchen maid, suffers from seizures, At the psychiatric hospital to which she has been sent, Dr. Charcot, played by the excellent Vincent Lindon, notices the physical pleasure she gets from one of her seizures, which results in partial paralysis. The doctor is fascinated by the sexual connection. In the course of his fund-raising efforts for his work, he callously uses Augustine as his example before groups of doctors to demonstrate what happens to her under hypnosis.

The patient, kept in the dark about how the doctor intends to cure her, becomes enamored of the doctor and he, while attempting to keep his distance, cannot help but be intrigued by her. The film is impressive in the way it carries us along in its grasp, including by the various experimentations and results. A climactic ending, perhaps inevitable given the circumstances, is likely to arouse controversy and discussion, making the film especially provocative in terms of its doctor-patient relationship and ethical considerations.

In addition to offering various other new films which I did not sample, the series included some important retrospective choices, notably the showing of the Jean Renoir classics “The Rules of the Game,” “Boudu Saved from Drowning,” and “The River.” Reviewed March 19, 2013.


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