The San Francisco Film Society, in association with the French-American Cultural Society, the French Consulate of San Francisco and Unifrance USA, presents French Cinema Now, Thursday, October 28 – Wednesday, November 3, at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema, One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level. The weeklong annual festival brings the most significant new work from one of the world’s most renowned filmmaking countries to discerning Bay Area audiences. FCN covers a broad spectrum of subject matter and genres, builds a comprehensive picture of the current moment in French cinema and delivers some of the country’s most vital filmmakers in person to San Francisco audiences.
“French films play to packed houses at the San Francisco International Film Festival, demonstrating both the wide range of quality work that deserves to be seen by local audiences and the size of the Francophile population in the Bay Area,” said Rachel Rosen, Film Society director of programming. “It’s a wonder that a French film festival wasn’t launched here years ago. This year’s FCN selection showcases the broad-ranging thematic concerns and cinematic styles of directors working today from acknowledged master Bertrand Tavernier to first-time helmer Katell Quillévéré, who debuted at this year’s Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes.”
The visceral and cerebral extremes of Gallic cinema in French Cinema Now provide a snapshot of this moment in French filmmaking, culture and society, from Alain Cavalier’s intimate, small-scale memoir Irène to Tavernier’s sweeping historical drama The Princess of Montpensier. New and established talents share the acting spotlight from newcomer Clara Augarde, playing a confused teenager in Love Like Poison, to Guillaume Depardieu, in one of his final performances in Sarah Leonor’s A Real Life, to Juliette Binoche, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her wonderful portrayal of an antique shop owner in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy.
For complete program information, visit sffs.org/Screenings-and-Events
Thursday, October 28 – Opening Night
6:45 pm Copacabana
Director in person
Marc Fitoussi (France 2010)
Showing off her comic skills as a bohemian mother, Isabelle Huppert reaffirms her status as one of cinema’s most indispensable actresses. She plays the flighty, strong-willed Elizabeth, who lives with her more conservative daughter Esmeralda in northern France. Following her exclusion from Esmeralda’s upcoming wedding, Elizabeth decamps for the Belgian coast to demonstrate her capacity for a “normal” life. Her gregarious nature attracts a host of colorful personalities who bring even greater dimension to Marc Fitoussi’s charming and honest script. Adding additional cinephiliac frisson to the scenario is the fact that Lolita Chammah, who plays Esmeralda, is Huppert’s real-life daughter. Written by Marc Fitoussi. Photographed by Hélène Louvart. With Isabelle Huppert, Aure Atika, Lolita Chammah, Jurgen Delnaet, Chantal Banlier. 107 min, Kinology.
9:00 pm Opening Night reception with complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres at Bubble Lounge, 714 Montgomery Street (at Broadway).
9:30 pm Rapt
Lucas Belvaux (France 2009)
With his newest work, director Lucas Belvaux continues his usage of the thriller genre to explore issues of class and society. Based on the real-life 1978 kidnapping of wealthy playboy Edouard-Jean Empain, Rapt stars Yvan Attal as Stanislas Graff, a wildly successful but arrogant CEO whose brutal captors demand a €50 million ransom for his safe return. As investigators delve deeper into the case and uncover Graff’s various debts and indiscretions, his family and business partners become increasingly scandalized, ultimately deciding not to pay the ransom. Attal’s mesmerizing performance catapults his character through a series of wrenching emotional and physical shifts and is supported by stellar work from Anne Consigny and Claire Denis regular Alex Descas. Dynamic and thought-provoking, Rapt offers genre entertainment with brains and style. Written by Lucas Belvaux. Photographed by Pierre Milon. With Yvan Attal, Anne Consigny, André Marcon, Françoise Fabian. 125 min, Films Distribution.
Friday, October 29
5:00 pm Irène
Alain Cavalier (France 2009)
Alain Cavalier’s moving, intimate film is resolutely small-scale, recorded by the director himself using a small digital camera. With a diarist’s sensibility, he revisits the components, both ecstatic and painful, of his first marriage, a relationship abruptly ended by his wife’s fatal car accident in 1972. Evoking her memory through a plethora of channels, the filmmaker delineates their life together, touchingly parsing his deep love for his troubled wife. In addition to his very personal and idiosyncratic dive into the past — making “a whole film on a person vanished,” as he puts it — Cavalier explores his present-day circumstances and limitations brought on by age and illness, including gout and an escalator accident. Steering clearly away from pity or hagiography toward its subjects, Irène is a sublime cinematic essay on memory and marriage. Photographed by Alain Cavalier. 85 min, Pyramide International.
7:00 pm Love Like Poison
Katell Quillévéré (Un poison violent, France 2010)
A young girl’s confirmation provides the staging ground for issues of faith and sexuality in this assured debut feature. Anna lives in the Breton countryside with her devout mother and three grandparents, one of whom is bedridden. Adults offer contradictory words of advice to the confused teenager, whose life is further complicated by her burgeoning relationship with a neighborhood boy. As Anna pinballs uneasily among her complex circumstances, the film demonstrates the challenges of life at all ages, particularly heightened in adolescence. Augmented by a haunting score, lush outdoor locations and memorable performances, Love Like Poison attains a rapturous tone that makes it one of the more remarkable coming-of-age tales of recent years. Written by Mariette Désert, Katell Quillévéré. Photographed by Tom Harari. With Clara Augarde, Lio, Michel Galabru, Stefano Cassetti, Thierry Neuvic. 92 min, Films Distribution.
9:30 pm Copacabana see 10/28
Saturday, October 30
1:45 pm Irène see 10/29
3:45 pm Sisters
Éléonore Faucher (Gamines, France 2009)
Based on Sylvie Testud’s autobiographical novel, this elegiac film tells the story of three sisters and their longing for their absent father. Growing up in 1970s Lyon with their Italian mother, the siblings overhear discussions about and find pictures of this mysterious parent, but are kept away from him. Rumors of bad behavior dog his reputation, but the Mercier girls still obsess and muse about his interests and appearance, especially pale, freckled middle-child Sibylle who is constantly referred to as her dad’s spitting image. Telescoping the action between two pivotal time periods — a summer in early adolescence and 30 years later when the girls are young adults (with Testud playing her alter ego Sibylle) — writer/director Éléonore Faucher (Sequins, SFIFF 2005) depicts a warm yet unsentimental portrait of a closely knit clan who nevertheless remain mysterious to each other and sometimes to themselves. Written by Éléonore Faucher. Photographed by Pierre Cottereau. With Amira Casar, Sylvie Testud, Jean-Pierre Martins, Marc Barbé, Lubna Azabal. 107 min, TF1 International.
6:30 pm The Princess of Montpensier
Bertrand Tavernier (La Princesse de Montpensier, France 2010)
Celebrated filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier’s latest is a sweeping drama of love and conflict set in the 16th century during France’s Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants. In a calculated strategic move by her father, Marie de Mézières, who has sworn young love to the dashing duc de Guise, is given in marriage to the prince of Montpensier, who rides off into battle soon after the wedding. The duc d’Anjou, heir to the throne, and the comte de Chabannes, a Prostestant deserter who is left to tutor Marie while her husband is away, are also drawn into the orbit of Marie’s magnetic beauty and intelligence. With realistic battle scenes and a handsome cast, Tavernier’s take on the costume romance is a bracingly original exploration of historical intrigue. Written by Jean Cosmos, François-Olivier Rousseau, Bertrand Tavernier. Photographed by Bruno de Keyzer. With Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, Gaspard Ulliel. 139 min, IFC Films.
9:30 pm A Real Life U.S. Premiere
Director in person
Sarah Leonor (Au voleur, France 2009)
In one of his final film roles, Guillaume Depardieu brings all of his scruffy charm to the character of Bruno, a small-time criminal living among a group of motley thieves. He encounters Isabelle (Florence Loiret-Caille), a German teacher, just after she’s been hit by a car. They meet again and become lovers. As the cops close in on Bruno, the couple takes to the woods and the film shifts from small-town portrait to romantic-pastoral idyll; a tricky gambit that writer/director Sarah Leonor pulls off with aplomb. The stark visual contrast between these environments is heightened by Leonor’s technical prowess, and the puzzle of which setting is better — more “real” — is one of many tantalizing questions posed by this assured and visually compelling work. Written by Sarah Leonor, Emmanuelle Jacob. Photographed by Laurent Desmet. With Guillaume Depardieu, Florence Loiret-Caille. 96 min, EastWest Film Distribution.
Sunday, October 31
1:30 pm Two in the Wave
Emmanuel Laurent (Deux de la vague, France 2009)
In 1959, Cannes screens The 400 Blows; in 1960, Breathless is released. The French New Wave is born and cinema is forever changed. With witty narration and in-depth knowledge of its subject, this informative and entertaining documentary examines the early careers of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Film critic and former Cahiers du Cinema editor Antoine de Baecque’s script highlights the filmmakers’ different biographical backgrounds, their close and often volatile friendship and the peaks and valleys of their respective careers. Access to rare photos, interviews and film excerpts increases the impact of Emmanuel Laurent’s captivating documentary. Actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, who worked frequently with both directors, also looms large in the tale and serves as the beloved child of two warring, impassioned parents. Written by Antoine de Baecque. Photographed by Etienne de Grammont, Nicholas de Pencier. With Isild Le Besco. 93 min, Kino Lorber.
3:45 pm The Princess of Montpensier see 10/30
6:45 pm Sisters see 10/30
9:15 pm Love Like Poison see 10/29
Monday, November 1
6:30 pm Hidden Diary
Julie Lopes-Curval (Mères et filles, France 2009)
Past secrets irrevocably impact present relationships in this moving and graceful drama. Audrey returns to France to visit her aging parents at a critical juncture in her life. Her fraught relationship with her mother (Catherine Deneuve at her chilly best) forces her to move into the abandoned house of her grandfather. There, she discovers a book of recipes and journal entries written by her grandmother, notes that reflect the circumscribed life of a married woman in a small town during the 1950s. As Audrey delves deeper, she comes to understand her grandmother’s predicament, her mother’s resentment and her own life choices. With terrific performances and a keen eye for detail, the film uncovers the layers of its conflicted female protagonists with an increasing emotional resonance. Written by Julie Lopes-Curval, Sophie Hiet. Photographed by Philippe Guilbert. With Catherine Deneuve, Marina Hands, Marie-Josée Croze, Michel Duchaussoy. In English and French with subtitles. 105 min, BAC Films.
9:15 pm Rapt see 10/28
Tuesday, November 2
6:30 pm A Real Life see 10/30
9:15 pm Hidden Diary see 11/1
Wednesday, November 3 – Closing Night
7:00 pm Certified Copy
Abbas Kiarostami (Copie conforme, France 2010)
Playing with representations of authenticity and facsimile, master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami creates this gorgeous puzzle about a man and a woman’s travels through Tuscany. He is a British writer named James Miller, in Italy to promote his new book, and she has appointed herself as his tour guide. Miller’s essay — and this film — proposes that a copy has an inherent value that is separate from the original work. The two characters discuss this thesis along with related matters concerning art, nature and marriage, with issues of communication and language differences occupying the background. Kiarostami even playfully mimics himself during the couple’s long journey, using the windshield’s reflections of sun-burnished Tuscan buildings to refract the pair’s conversation. As the unnamed woman, Juliette Binoche’s wonderfully humane approach complements the film’s more formal pursuits and deservedly garnered the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her efforts. Written by Abbas Kiarostami. Photographed by Luca Bigazzi. With Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière. In English, and French and Italian with subtitles, 106 min, IFC Films.
9:00 pm Closing Night reception with complimentary wine and appetizers at L’Olivier, 465 Davis Court (between Jackson and Washington).
9:15 pm Certified Copy