CINEFRANCO: 11TH ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF INTERNATIONAL FRANCOPHONE CINEMA at the Royal, from Friday (March 28) to April 6. 416-967-1528. Rating: NNNN
The problem with the French-language films that make it to the Toronto Film Festival every September is that there aren’t enough of them.
This isn’t a shot at TIFF’s programmers, who seem caught in the untenable position of having to find a mixture of crowd-pleasing costume dramas – the kind of picture corporate sponsors expect to see when they throw down a couple of hundred bucks for their night out – and work by established masters like Rivette, Resnais and occasionally Godard. When a genuinely challenging film like Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell And The Butterfly sneaks in, there’s usually a studio behind it, building an Oscar campaign.
But what about everything else? What about the conventional commercial stuff, or the smaller, trickier movies that don’t have the juice to attract the attention of our understandably inundated programmers?
Je vous présente Cinéfranco.
Returning to the Royal for its 11th year of showcasing international French-language cinema, Cinéfranco provides Toronto audiences with an opportunity to catch up on what the rest of the world has been watching.
The temptation is always there to find a theme in the selections. After watching about a dozen of this year’s titles, all I’ve come up with is “Boy, French people are fucked up everywhere.”
Not all of them, mind you. But a preponderance.
In Montreal, for example, François Delisle’s You (Friday, March 28, 7 pm; Rating: NNNN) follows a woman who destroys her marriage and career in pursuit of a passionate affair. It’ll be divisive as hell – some people are going to despise writer-director Delisle’s refusal to offer any insights into his central character beyond those suggested by Anne-Marie Cadieux’s stripped-down performance – but I think it’s a daring, powerful choice.
Things aren’t much better in Paris, where Michel Spinosa’s Anna M. (April 4, 10 pm; Rating: NNNN) casts Isabelle Carré, a Gallic Amy Adams, as a young woman who becomes obsessed with the unassuming doctor (Gilbert Melki) who tends to her leg after a botched suicide attempt. It’s Fatal Attraction without the man’s complicity or the convenient wronged-woman psychology: Carré’s character is batshit insane from the (literal) jump, fixing on Melki like a succubus, and Spinosa’s script finds disturbing angles to note the way she plays on bystanders’ chauvinism, feminism and political correctness to get what she wants. It’s a searing performance in a terrifying film.
It’s the man who wears the crazy pants (or does he?) in Franz Josef Holzer’s The Gap (April 6, 3:30 pm; Rating: NN), about a Swiss surgeon (Michel Voïta) who becomes convinced that his wife (Monica Budde) has been replaced by an impostor. It’s the weakest of the three, starting off very well but running out of ideas maybe two-thirds of the way through, circling around its forced Cronenbergian conclusion a lot longer than necessary.
On the other hand, deep psychotic breaks may be an entirely rational response to the world. Consider Emmanuelle Cuau’s Very Well, Thank You (April 5, 11 am; Rating: NNNN), which casts Anna M.’s Melki as a Paris accountant whose flinty response to authority figures – Metro security guards, gendarmes, doctors – lands him in a psychiatric hospital while his baffled wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) tries to save him from the system. Sharp satire of institutional apathy or gripping study of a man who doesn’t even know he’s disintegrating? Can’t it be both?
Utterly conventional, but no less pleasurable for it, is Claude Berri’s Hunting And Gathering (April 5, 8 pm; Rating: NNNN), a contemporary trifle that follows three attractive young Parisians – played by Audrey Tautou, Guillaume Canet and Laurent Stocker – around the city as they grapple with illness, unemployment and family concerns. There are no real surprises, but no condescension either, and everything clicks into place with a satisfying snap.
People have been talking up Issa Serge Coelo’s DP75 – Tartina City (April 6, 1 pm; Rating: NN), a Chad/France/Morocco co-production about a journalist jailed by his country’s military dictatorship, but I have to admit it left me cold. Stiffly acted and amateurishly produced, it feels like a movie that’s being hailed because it’s arrived at a convenient political moment, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (screening in Cinéfranco’s youth program at the Bloor Cinema, April 3, noon), rather than for any specific artistic accomplishment.
Patrick Bruel and Cécile De France share A Secret in fest’s gussied-up gala closer.
The closing-night gala film, Claude Miller’s A Secret (April 6, 8 pm; Rating: NNN), about a Jewish boy in 1955 Paris who stumbles across a long-buried family secret, uses an elaborate flashback structure to gussy up a very familiar tale. Fortunately, Miller has packed it with strong French actors: the period sequences feature the likes of Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu and Cécile de France, and Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) plays the lad as an adult.
Now, this is the kind of movie I’d have expected to see as a TIFF gala – well-meaning, proficiently produced and kind of inert.