The 2021 Rendez-vous with French Cinema features some of the best films of the year, as well as highlights like Should the Wind Drop, Mandibles, and Faithful.
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Film at Lincoln Centre’s annual Rendezvous with French cinema kicked off last week, and continues through to next weekend with virtual screenings available across the US. The fest features two of the best films of the year — My Donkey, My Lover and I and Slalom — plus a handful of good to great films, many of which feature some of our favourite actors.
Last year’s edition featured Proxima, the best film of 2020, while the 2019 edition featured highlights such as Quentin Dupieux’s Keep an Eye Out (now in virtual cinemas), the Vincent Lacoste-starrer The Freshman, and the Adèle Haenel comedy The Trouble with You.
Here’s a look at some of this year’s festival highlights.
In the past year, France seems to finally be starting to reckon with some of the more shameful chapters of its history. Among 2020’s Cannes selections were a film about the legacies of the Algerian war (Des hommes) and the animated film Josep about life for Spanish Civil War refugees inside the French concentration camps.
Faithful, meanwhile, tells the story of a white Algerian native who was an activist on behalf of the Muslim population in the time leading up to the Algerian War. Faithful has less impressive laurels, despite being much more watchable than Des hommes, but is mainly worth watching for the lead performances from Vincent Lacoste — who gave one of our favourite performances of 2020 in Amanda, which screened at Rendez-vous in 2019 — as the activist and Vicky Krieps as his wife. The film comes dangerously close to being the story of a white saviour, by telling the story of Algerian oppression through the eyes of a white man who felt for their plight. That said, it is a useful window into the horrifying conditions and the police state the French government imposed.
Should the Wind Drop
Is a film even French if Grégoire Colin doesn’t show up? This year, so far, he’s had small supporting turns in both Camille and A Simple Passion, in which his one scene steals the film. In Nora Martirosyan’s Cannes-labeled feature debut, Should the Wind Drop, Colin plays a foreign engineer sent to Nagorno Karabakh to assess whether the airport there is fit to be opened. Should the Wind Drop is a quiet film with a subdued central performance, in which Colin wanders the town, learns about the area and its international disputes, and becomes invested in helping the town succeed with its airport. But just as he learns that looking at Google Maps for the borders is a fool’s errand, he will soon learn that he, too, may be on a fool’s errand, as well.
The modernist bird-like design of the airport is in sharp contrast to the beautiful, almost rural surroundings, a symbol of the future that still seems so far away. Martirosyan is interested in the architecture and the places that make up the world, starting the film with the long scenic drive that Colin makes en route to the airport, from the other side of the country.
From our review: “Charlène Favier’s Cannes-labelled directorial debut, Slalom, is a tense pas-de-deux between a 15-year-old professional skiing star, Lyz (Noée Abita), and her coach, Fred (Jérémie Renier). Like Una, the film is a complex exploration of the dynamics of an abusive relationship between a man in power and a child in his charge. Though it deals with sexual abuse, the film is most interested in Lyz’s perspective, avoiding judgement or sensationalism, while making Fred human if reprehensible.
Effectively abandoned by her mother, who has accepted a job in another city, Lyz begins training at a school designed for professional skiers under Fred’s guidance. Living alone in her apartment, and without any real support network at her new school, Lyz initially struggles with Fred’s gruff manner. But when she starts succeeding on the slopes, he warms up to her, giving her special attention, training, and encouragement…” Read the rest of the review
My Donkey, My Lover, and I
From our review: “We first meet Antoinette (Laure Calamy) in her classroom, where she has her elementary school students, counting, heads down on their desks, while she changes into a silver dress at the back of the class. It’s for a class concert where she starts belting out a tune with such fervor that she starts to eclipse her dressed-in-black students as the centre of attention. It’s also the first sign that Antoinette falls somewhere on the bananas scale from zero to Sibyl (who, of course, is 100% bananas), and that the film is going to be a gentle comedy slightly at the expense of Antoinette’s shenanigans….” Read the rest of the review.
Quentin Dupieux’s follow-up to last year’s Deerskin reunites him with Keep an Eye Out star Grégoire Ludig for this bizarre, silly, and gentle comedy about a pair of screw-up friends who discover a giant fly and decide to train it to do their bidding in hopes of becoming rich. Manu (Ludig) is homeless, and Jean-Gab (David Marsais) lives with his mother, when the friends team up for a shady-sounding delivery job that Manu has secured, which requires a car. When the only car he could find with an unlocked door is beaten-up Mercedes, he grabs it, but finds the fly in the trunk — a trunk they need to be empty for the delivery.
Jean-Gab suggests that they drop the job, and instead, train the fly. This leads them through a series of ridiculous shenanigans, from stealing a camper, to a fancy meal leading to a large fire, to a chance encounter with a rich woman who mistakes Manu for a high school friend. Manu and Jean-Gab are happy to go with the flow, even as they get into scrapes and meet people even more clueless than they are. It’s all very amusing if not laugh-out-loud funny, but the ending of Mandibles is fantastic. The fly is also adorably designed to range from looking both cute and like a terror, which makes Jean-Gab’s increasing attachment to it (he names it Dominique) both sweet and amusing. At just seventy one minutes, Mandibles is a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon.
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