An Eclectic Send-Off to Summer
Contemporary French film the focus of new Essential Cinema series
Quelle surprise: The country that produced Madame Bovary and Thérèse Raquin continues to usher adulterers into its pantheon of unforgettable characters. But don't look for breast-beating or arsenic-swilling in Mademoiselle Chambon, the 2009 melodrama that opens the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema overview of recent French cinema: A moving study of duty, self-denial, and the spark great art can light in a man, Mademoiselle Chambon sources great strength from its unwavering restraint.
That film has a provincial setting shared by The Grocer's Son, which follows a city dweller's reluctant return home to tend to a familial village shop while his father recuperates in the hospital. But the series' final three films shift the lens back to city life. Rome's ancient architecture provides the backdrop for A Burning Hot Summer, about the crumbling marriage of an actress (played by Monica Bellucci) and a painter (played by director Philippe Garrel's regular leading man, son Louis). The Father of My Children charts the sad slope toward bankruptcy of an overextended Parisian film producer and devoted family man; it was inspired by the real-life French film industry figure Humbert Balsan, who worked with Claire Denis, Lars von Trier, and Merchant-Ivory, among others (don't Google his name if you don't want to know how the second half of this sharply bifurcated film plays out). Series capper (and Fantastic Fest 2011 favorite) Sleepless Night is set in Paris, too, though you'd hardly know it: After a shoot-out in broad daylight, most of the film plays out in a darkened, sweaty, and sprawling nightclub bedeviled with an Escher-like layout. A kicky action-thriller with an arthouse brood, Sleepless Night is the perfect way to say goodbye to summer's bombast and hello to fall's more high-minded fare.
Essential Cinema: La fin de l'été: Recent French Cinema
Series runs Tuesday nights at 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, except for The Father of My Children, which screens at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. See www.austinfilm.org for ticket info.
Sept. 4: Mademoiselle Chambon (D: Stéphane Brizé, 2009)
Sept. 11: The Grocer's Son (D: Eric Guirado, 2007)
Sept. 11: A Burning Hot Summer (D: Philippe Garrel, 2011)
Sept. 25: The Father of My Children (D: Mia Hansen-Løve, 2009)
Oct. 2: Sleepless Night (D: Frédéric Jardin, 2011).