New French Cinema Week Displays a Nation’s Artistic Resilience
Vive la nouvelle France at AFS Cinema
As the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris burned, it seemed the heart of France was on fire. Yet France is a resilient nation, encompassing a spectrum of voices in philanthropy, art, and, of course, cinema.
Now in its fifth year of showcasing the latest in French cinema, the curators of the Premiers Plans Festival d'Angers have brought the latest dispatches from the forefront of their yearly fest to Austin for four days of eight feature films, an animated shorts program, with the requisite filmmakers in attendance for over half of them, and of course, parties.
The main entrée here is the films curated by Angers' festival programmers, and overseen by the wonderfully beleaguered staff of the Austin Film Society. As someone who has followed this series from its inception, this year's lineup is one of the strongest I've ever seen. So there would be the zombie film (The Night Eats the World), which in typical Gallic fashion recontextualizes that genre to its essence of existential dread. There are the hard-hitting social realist dramas (Paper Flags, Return to Bollène), that take a trite theme and create something wonderful and new.
But I will draw your attention to a couple of films that are fascinating examinations of contemporary French culture. The Competition, co-presented by Alliance Francaise Austin Ciné-Club, is an endlessly fascinating observational documentary following the admissions process for students attempting to study in La Fémis (Fondation Européenne pour les Métiers de l'Image et du Son) – the most elite film school in France. And it is bonkers. There are actually no classes, as students, if accepted, are paired with working filmmakers and that becomes their education. The admissions process itself is outsourced to various creatives to ensure an egalitarian and unconventional way of making sure students from all backgrounds have a shot at making it. The film's fly-on-the-wall approach at first seems to distance the events, but the cumulative effect of this grueling process becomes a microcosm of bureaucracy meeting creativity as only the French can convey.
Austin's sister city, Angers is located in the Loire Valley in western France, and La Cuisine des Justes delicately maps the ways and means in which the local food comes from farm to table. Starting with a chef at a local restaurant that just happens to have a Michelin star or two, the film highlights various characters, such as the winekeeper and the fisherman. La Cuisine's pièce de résistance is a third-act dinner where all the participants come together for a meal made from all the elements depicted in the film. A metaphor to be sure, but one that encompasses the spirit of any creative endeavor, be it a film or a well-cooked meal. New French Cinema Week offers so many distinct and individual pleasures, you'll be swooning for weeks afterward.
New French Cinema Week
April 18-21, AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35. Tickets, series passes, and info at www.austinfilm.org/series/new-french-cinema-week-2019.
Paper Flags (2018) D: Nathan Ambrosioni. (NR, 102 min., subtitled) Two estranged siblings reconnect after one of them is released from prison in Ambrosioni's debut feature, which makes its Texas premiere this evening and kicks off AFS's New French Cinema Week. Ambrosioni will be in attendance. Thursday (4/18), 7:30pm.
"Braguino" (2017) D: Clément Cogitore. (NR, 49 min., subtitled) This short doc examines the taut relationship between two feuding families living deep in the Siberian forest. Director Clément Cogitore will be in attendance, and there will be a live set by DJ Japanster in the lobby following the screening. Friday, 6:30pm.
The Night Eats the World (2018) D: Dominique Rocher. (NR, 93 min., subtitled) After waking up in an apartment after a party, Sam (Danielsen Lie) discovers Paris has been overrun by zombies and he is one of the lone survivors. Director Dominique Rocher in attendance. Friday, 9:30pm.
Return to Bollène (2018) D: Saïd Hamich. (NR, 109 min., subtitled) Director Saïd Hamich will be in attendance at this screening of his film about a young man and his fiancée returning to his hometown Bollène in the south of France, only to find a vastly changed city and a complex relationship with his family. Saturday, 1pm.
La Cuisine des Justes (2018) D: Emmanuel Morice and Nicolas Thomä. (NR, subtitled) This doc explores the unique cuisine and wine of France's Loire Valley. Co-director Emmanuel Morice will discuss his work following the people behind Loire Valley's dynamic food and wine culture. Saturday, 4pm.
Neither Heaven nor Earth (2015) D: Clément Cogitore. (NR, 100 min., subtitled) Director Clément Cogitore presents his 2015 feature debut following a French captain whose troops begin mysteriously disappearing in the Afghan wilderness during the invasion of Afghanistan. Saturday, 8:30pm.
The Competition (2016) D: Claire Simon. (NR, 121 min., subtitled) This doc takes viewers inside the college admissions process at La Fémis, France's premier film school. Sunday, 1:30pm.
Sofia (2018) D: Meryem Benm'Barek-Aloïsi. (NR, 80 min., subtitled) Winner of "Best Screenplay" at Cannes in 2018's Un Certain Regard competition, this drama follows Sofia (Maha Alemi), a single young woman who gives birth in modern-day Morocco, where sexual relations outside marriage are punishable by law. Sunday, 6:15pm.