Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Centre’s annual celebration of French cinema, kicked off tonight with a screening of Guillaume Nicloux’s Cannes Competition title Valley of Love. Running from March 3 to 13, the festival gives viewers a sneak peek at this year’s most exciting French titles. It’s a particularly strong year for films directed by women and films charting the changes in French culture due to the influx of immigrants, largely from Northern Africa.
Having just scored several Cesar awards, including Best Picture — beating out major auteurs like Arnaud Desplechin and Jacques Audiard — Fatima arrives at the festival with an impressive pedigree. It premiered at last year’s Director’s Fortnight to critical acclaim but little buzz, but it’s a smart, touching, and taut film worth seeking out. Set in Lyon, Fatima is about a Moroccan immigrant who has yet to learn the language and her two French-raised daughters, each coping with adapting to French culture in their own way. It’s at once heartbreaking, modern, and uplifting, as the women support each other and find their way despite enormous challenges.
Fatima is in good company when it comes to stories about France’s relationship with immigration. Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner Dheepan is about a makeshift Sri Lankan family surviving their move to France. Louis Garrel’s directorial debut, Two Friends, which premiered at last year’s Cannes Critics’ Week, follows a foreign-born woman who gets caught in a love triangle between two friends. Meanwhile, Parisienne, directed by Danielle Arbid, follows a Lebanese woman Lina (the radiant Manal Issa) who moves to Paris for university as she struggles to fit in with an often xenophobic foreign culture.
Of the twenty films screening at the festival, eight are directed by women. The biggest crowd pleaser among them is easily Julie Delpy’s hilarious Lolo, a romantic farce about a middle-aged woman whose attempts at romance keep getting jeopardized by her psychotically attached son. But my favourite is probably Alice Winocour’s psychological thriller Disorder. It features a strong, central performance from Matthias Schoenaerts and a terrific sound mix that gets us inside his character’s head-space. The festival also offers an early sneak peek at Catherine Corsini’s Summertime, which has U.S. distribution but no set release date.
Although I found Maiwenn’s Mon Roi trying for its insistence on idolizing the titular narcissist, played brilliantly if creepily by Vincent Cassell, Emmanuelle Bercot’s Cannes-winning performance is a sight to behold. Louis Garrel also appears in a supporting role as Bercot’s brother, and he’s never been more charming. Bercot’s most recent directorial effort, Standing Tall, also screens at the festival before its April release. It was the opening night film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and is one of my most anticipated films at this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.