A Castle in Italy
A Castle in Italy

By Mark James. 

Celebrating its sixth year of bringing some of the best contemporary French film to the Bay Area, this year’s French Cinema Now lineup features the latest from famous directors along with some fine examples of the new — succinctly capturing a snap shot of the year’s most revered and buzz-worthy francophone offerings.
Highlights from this year’s festival include:

2 Autumns, 3 Winters (Directed by Sébastien Betbeder): As advertised, the opening night film is set between two autumns and three winters, a period during which the lives of Amélie, Arman and Benjamin intermingle and are filled with meetings, accidents, love stories and memories. Playfully told despite the serious nature of some of its plot twists, 2-3 overlays indie charm atop the vagaries of life in this worthy successor to Betbeder’s critically acclaimed Nights With Theodore.

A Castle in Italy (Directed by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi): Criticized at Cannes for focusing on the crises of bourgeoisie life, this poignant and beautiful film by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi mines the director’s own life to tell the story of an actress tiring of her profession and longing for motherhood. When she meets Nathan, played by her real life partner Louis Garrel, Nathan pursues her but has no interest in fathering her child. Unapologetic in focusing on the rich and famous, Bruni-Tedeschi brings refreshing nuance and humor as well as a much-needed female perspective to the festival.

Michael Kohlhaas (Directed by Arnaud des Pallières): In the 16th century in the Cévennes, a horse dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas leads a happy and prosperous family life. When a lord treats him unjustly, this pious, upstanding man raises an army and puts the country to fire and sword in order to have his rights restored.

Stranger by the Lake
Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake (Directed by Alain Guiraudie): Set at a picturesque French lake where men cruise one another for hook-ups, Guiraudie’s film offers a meditation on the complexity of sexuality. When our lead Franck witnesses a man he follows obsessively commit a heinous crime, he throws himself at him–the criminal apparently inciting the carnal. This cerebral drama tackles the weighty interplay of erotic desire versus intellectual engagement, and shines a light on a self-secluding sub-community of people drawn to the power of a most unlikely form of acceptance: one that is a psychic balm in ironic contrast with so much of their mundane outer world.

House of Radio (Directed by Nicolas Philibert): A delightful look at public radio, French style. While the auditory may not seem like a visually compelling project, in the hands of master documentarian Nicolas Philibert, the bustling offices of Radio France reveal that this “blind medium” has the power to transport us around the globe. On-air personalities revel themselves and the news, quiz shows, live musical performances and sports reporting that make up the programming give us a beautifully observed and pleasurable view of a public institution and beloved media.

Bastards (Directed by Claire Denis): Claire Denis’ latest is a treacherous web of power, greed and sex, highlighted by Agnès Godard’s masterful cinematography (shooting in digital). For reasons at first mysterious, a sea captain named Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) arrives in Paris and rents an empty apartment. Living directly downstairs are business tycoon Edouard Laporte (Denis regular Michel Subor) and his mistress Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), both of whose lives will intersect with Marco’s in dark and devastating ways.

All screenings take place at Landmark’s Clay Theater. For more information visit sffs.org.

Mark James lives in San Francisco and is a frequent contributor to Film International.

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