CINEFRANCO a festival of International Francophone Cinema, opens Friday (April 1) and runs to April 10 at the Royal Cinema (608 College). Various times. $10, stu/srs $7. All films subtitled in English. 416-967-1528, www.cinefranco.com. Rating: NNNNN
LA PREMIERE FOIS QUE J'AI EU 20 ANS (THE FIRST TIME I WAS 20) (Lorraine Lévy, France). 95 minutes. Subtitled. Sunday (April 10), 3 pm. Rating: NNNN
This would be just another outsider-makes-good tale if it weren't for the complete awesomeness of its heroine. Imagine Janeane Garofalo as a French 16-year-old in the 60s and you've got a pretty good picture of Hannah. She's (Marilou Berry) a Jewish teen and gifted double bass player who commits the sins of being a girl and wanting to join her school's jazz band. The boys won't accept her, and her family doesn't understand her, but she outsmarts them all.
"For my family, for women's liberationo and for the band's sequinned jacket," she prays before her audition. When she meets a boy she likes, it's: "I hope he's not right-wing or for the death penalty." The costumes are candy-coloured, and the music swings. I can't wait for the sequel set 10 years later about Hannah as a smash on the jazz circuit.
L'autre (THE Missing Half) (Benoît Mariage, France/Belgium/Switzerland). 71 minutes. Subtitled. Monday (April 4), 10:10 pm. Rating: NNNN
Empathy is a desired quality in a mate and a movie audience, yet we will settle for sympathy. That director Benoît Mariage is able to make us feel both is a tribute to his gift for subtle film-making. We long to console a husband (standout Philippe Grand'Henry ) who must accept his wife's decision to abort one of the twins she's carrying, yet we feel her anguish too. Her friendship with a mentally challenged blind boy imposes yet more ethical brain-benders on the couple, forcing viewers to re-examine the movie's title for deeper meaning.
Dreamy, yet uncomfortably real.
LE BALLON D'OR (THE GOLDEN BALL)
(Cheik Doukouré, Guinea). 90 minutes. Subtitled. Monday (April 4), noon. Rating: NNN
The Golden Ball is the World Cup trophy coveted by all soccer players, but particularly by Bandian, a young football prodigy from a tiny village in Guinea who dreams of playing for Africa in the international tournament. Played with impish brio by Aboubacar Sidiki Soumah , Bandian embodies the split between tradition and modernity, relying on his wits and talent - as well as a good bit of luck - to take him where ancient rituals will not.
Besides great music, gorgeous scenery and lots of scenes of "the beautiful game," The Golden Ball offers a close-up look at the hardships of African life and the temptations - with strings - offered by the West.
LES NUITS DE MONTREAL (JACK PARADISE)
(Gilles Noël, Canada). 90 minutes. Subtitled. Sunday (April 10), 7 pm. Rating: NNN
The real-life story of Bob Langlois, a white francophone bandleader from Montreal, is the inspiration for this biopic. Told in flashback, it traces the life of Jack Paradise (played with doleful intensity by Roy Dupuis ) from busing tables to eventual leadership of a black/white, American/francophone band fronted by his muse, the Ella Fitzgerald sound-alike Curly ( Dawn Tyler Watson ). The picture switches from colour stock to blue-tinted black-and-white to set different moods, and accurately traces the evolution of jazz from its roots to the more improvisational style of the 60s.
Too bad the story that links the fabulous music is all too familiar. It starts to drag once you figure out it's not going anywhere new.
Jawhara, FILLE DE PRISON
(Saâd Chraïbi, Morocco). 97 minutes. Subtitled. Saturday (April 9), 10 am. Ratiing: NN
Looking to get perspective on your own life troubles? This is the movie for you. Imagine women's jails with sadistic female guards, and male prisons that make the women's look like Disneyland. The horror never lets up while little Jawhara (jail girl) watches her devoted mom suffer through six years' incarceration for acting in a political play. I applaud director Saâd Chraïbi 's effort to examine women's pain and to chronicle Morocco's darker history, but despite using a cartoon to parody the apathetic court system, he seems more intent on revelling in all the cruelty: endless looks at an old man pulling out his own tooth, and enough flogging to get whiplash.
A great reel for Gibson's next project.