FREE RADICALS: Serge Bozon and the New French Cinema at Lincoln Center
Fifty years after Jean-Luc Godard, Serge Bozon and the “young turks” of Cahiers du cinéma resolved that the best way to criticize movies was to make their own films. The result was the creation of another exciting “new wave” of critic-filmmakers, hailing from the iconoclastic film magazine La lettre du cinéma(1997-2005), boldly storming the gates of the French film establishment.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center brings writer, director, actor and DJ, Serge Bozon to New York to present this first major North American survey of films by the Lettre du cinéma circle as well as to curate and present a series of screenings of rarities (along with Anthology Film Archives) that have influenced his work. Also introducing and discussing their films will be his fellow filmmakers, Jean-Charles Fitoussi and Aurélia Georges. And if that weren’t enough, Bozon will also put his DJ skills on display, spinning in the Freida and Roy Furman Gallery after the evening’s screenings conclude on Friday (April 15) and Sunday (April 17).
Film Society of Lincoln Center will also join forces with Anthology Film Archives to present a special panel discussion moderated by FSLC Associate Programming Director Scott Foundas with Bozon, Fitoussi and Georges at Columbia University Maison Française on Friday, April 15.
Made in a collective spirit, using many of the same actors and crew, these literate, deeply romantic, formally inventive works introduce a group of prodigious young, movie-mad talents who are sure to be crucial to the future of French cinema. And for the first time, you can see the films and the filmmakers of the new French cinema for yourself at the Walter Reade Theater.
FILMS, DESCRIPTIONS AND SCHEDULE
THE ADOLESCENT (L’adolescent) (2001) 75min
Director: Pierre Léon
The old Russian soul of the Lettre du cinéma gang, Moscow-born Pierre Léon ingeniously condenses and updates Dostoevsky’s novel about a 19-year-old intellectual reconnecting with his estranged family in his impressive debut feature. After six years in a Swiss boarding school, Pierre (Nikos Maurice) returns to Paris. His mother, a pianist, is seriously ill and jealously guarded by the family. Pierre’s father, a famous conductor, is conspicuously uncomfortable with his son, who soon realizes that strange conspiracies are taking shape around him. Pierre tries to escape by entering a theater school, but this does not prevent him from seeking to settle old scores with his father, at any cost. Never distributed in France despite numerous festival appearances, THE ADOLESCENT effortlessly brings Dostoevsky’s story into the 21st century without sacrificing any of its elemental power.
THE ADOLESCENT screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 16 at 1:00PM.
THE DAYS I DON’T EXIST (Les Jours où je n’existe pas) (2002) 114min
Director: Jean-Charles Fitoussi
Antoine Martin, a seemingly ordinary Parisian man, lives with an unusual condition: he only exists every other day, disappearing into thin air at the stroke of midnight and materializing again 24 hours later. So, for Antoine, the present is particularly precious, all the more so when he falls in love with the beautiful Clémentine. But can a man who doesn’t fully exist ever find true happiness? Loosely adapted from a Marcel Aymé short story that was itself inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne diary entry, director Jean-Charles Fitoussi’s poetic sci-fi romance is one of the most original and memorable debut features of recent years.
THE DAYS I DON’T EXIST screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 14 at 6:00PM (including post-screening Q&A with Fitoussi) and April 15 at 3:30PM.
FANTÔMES (2001) 95min
Director: Jean-Paul Civeyrac
Subtitled “Tales of Love for Our Time,” FANTÔMES is a new kind of ghost story, set in a millennial world where the dead seem to freely intermingle with the living. After breaking up with his girlfriend, acting student Antoine (MODS star Guillaume Verdier) goes to stay with his bon vivant cousin (Bozon) in Paris, where, in addition to a rash of strange disappearances, there are nightly visitations by the spirits of departed loved ones. Soon the line blurs between the real and the imaginary, this world and the next, in this hypnotic, ethereally beautiful early feature by Jean-Paul Civeyrac (Through the Forest, 2005 New York Film Festival).
FANTÔMES screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 13 at 8:15PM and April 14 at 1:45PM.
I DID NOT DIE (Je ne suis pas morte) (2008) 190min
Director: Jean-Charles Fitoussi
Fitoussi follows up THE DAYS I DON’T EXIST with this wildly ambitious triptych, which uses the Frankenstein legend as the starting point for a contemplation of the possibility (or lack thereof) of true love. Created by scientist “William Stein,” beautiful Alix comes into being at the age of 27 and sets off in pursuit of the only thing she is supposed to be unable to experience: love. Moving from one partner to the next, she meets Raphaël, a small-time pimp who promises her a great deal more than love. From there it’s on to equally transformative encounters Frédéric, still not over his break-up with his wife, and Hélène, a young girl caring for her comatose mother. And that is but the tip of Fitoussi’s sprawling and ever more intriguing romantic epic.
I DID NOT DIE screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 17 at 5:00PM (including post-screening Q&A with Fitoussi).
LA FRANCE (2007) 102min
Director: Serge Bozon
In the fall of 1917, as World War I rages, a lovelorn soldier’s wife (the excellent Sylvie Testud) disguises herself as a man and sets off for the front in search of her missing husband. Along the way, she meets up with a company of soldiers under the command of a gruff lieutenant (Pascal Greggory), who reluctantly allows Camille to join their ranks. From time to time, these surprisingly sensitive, introspective men break out an assortment of homemade instruments and perform original songs written for the film by Benjamin Esdraffo and the artist known as Fugu, styled after the American “sunshine pop” of The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas. Winner of France’s prestigious Prix Jean Vigo (presented annually to a young filmmaker of exceptional promise), Bozon’s unclassifiable hybrid of war movie and movie musical is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
LA FRANCE screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 13 at 6:00PM.
THE IDIOT (L’idiot) (2008) 61min
Director: Pierre Léon
Léon returns to Dostoevsky to film an episode from The Idiot, starring Jeanne Balibar as the femme fatale Nastassia Philippovna, who finds herself juggling the affections of four men over the course of a single evening. One is her benefactor, the bourgeois Totsky (film historian Bernard Eisenschitz). Another is the opportunistic Ganya (Serge Bozon), whom Totsky has promised 75,000 rubles if he will marry Nastassia. Enter Rogozhin, who offers Nastassia 100,000 rubles for her hand. And of course, the “idiot,” Prince Myshkin, who loves Nastassia madly and vows to “save” her. Shot in elegant black-and-white with a peerless cast, The Idiot distills the power of Dostoevsky’s great novel into a singular hour of cinema.
MYSTIFICATION OU L’HISTOIR DES PORTRAITS (2003) 56min
Director: Sandrine Rinaldi
A regular contributor to La lettre du cinéma under her nom de plume, Camille Nevers, Sandrine Rinaldi makes her directorial debut with this fanciful adaptation of an unpublished Diderot text. Before he marries his current girlfriend, eccentric speech therapist Richard (Serge Bozon) asks his friend Raphael (MODS star Laurent Lacotte) to help him destroy photos kept by his ex-girlfriend, Mademoiselle Dornet, as a record of their relationship. Raphael in turn enlists an actor (Laurent Le Doyen) to pose as a Turkish doctor and convince Dornet that she must rid herself of the photos in order to cure her depression.
THE IDIOT and MYSTIFICATION OU L’HISTOIR DES PORTRAITS will screen at the Walter Reade Theater on April 14 at 3:30PM and April 18 at 8:45PM.
L’IMPRÉSARIO (2011) 45min
Director: Serge Bozon
In the fall of 2010, Bozon and co-conspirator Pascale Bodet commandeered the first floor of Paris’s famed Centre Pompidou for 10 days of screenings, lectures and performances that amounted to a counter-canonical history of French cinema. During the ensuing merriment (entitled Beaubourg, la dernière Major!) audience members were invited to observe the daily making of this film, directed by Bozon and written by Axelle Ropert, about an inexperienced young journalist (Laure Marsac) sent to the Pompidou to interview a maverick artistic impresario (Thomas Chabrol). The result is an unexpected love story that is also a record of this landmark exhibition, featuring cameos by Raul Ruiz, Paul Vecchiali, Luc Moullet and more!
CLARISSE’S NECK (Le Cou de Clarisse) (2003) 40min
Director: Benjamin Esdraffo
Bozon’s assistant director Benjamin Esdraffo makes an accomplished directorial debut with the delightful comedy about a studious hotel clerk (Axelle Ropert), her moody, marriage-obsessed boyfriend (Bozon) and the mysterious “writer-astronomer” whose arrival at the hotel forever alters their fate.
L’IMPRESARIO and CLARISSE’S NECK will screen at the Walter Reade Theater on April 16 at 5:00PM.
MAN’S GENTLE LOVE (Le Doux amour des homes) (2002) 80min
Director: Jean-Paul Civeyrac
Inspired by the life and work of Belle époque writer Jean de Tinan, this haunting melodrama from Jean-Paul Civeyrac (FANTÔMES) centers on Raoul (Renaud Bécard), a womanizing poet who finds himself falling for Jeanne (remarkable newcomer Claire Perot), an impetuous junkie. For a moment, they stumble upon something like bliss, even as they both sense its impermanence—except in the immortal phrases of Raoul’s poetry. Shot in gorgeous widescreen by Céline Bozon and featuring Serge Bozon as Raoul’s decadent friend Maxime, MAN’S GENTLE LOVE affirms Civeyrac as the new French cinema’s king of rapturously brooding romanticism.
MAN’S GENTLE LOVE screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 14 at 8:45PM and April 18 at 4:00PM.
MODS (2002) 59min
Director: Serge Bozon
When college ladies man Edouard (Guillaume Verdier) falls into a catatonic state following a breakup, his two soldier brothers (played by Bozon and Laurent Lacotte) arrive to nurse his recovery. Periodically, everyone breaks into stylized dance numbers set to the music of garage rock maestros Phil and the Frantics, The Seeds, and many more. Bozon’s dazzlingly original and assured second feature feels in many ways like a dress rehearsal for LA FRANCE with its playful spin on the eternal themes of love, valor and compassion.
ÉTOILE VIOLETTE (2005) 45min
Director: Axelle Ropert
Seeking erudition, a lonely tailor (Bozon) enrolls in a night-school literature course on “the solitude of Jean-Jacques Rousseau” and soon finds himself communing with the spirit of the great Enlightenment thinker himself (memorably incarnated by FISTS IN THE POCKET star Lou Castel). LA FRANCE and MODS screenwriter Ropert’s directorial debut is an enormously charming modern fable, backed up by a terrific folk music soundtrack featuring Shirley Collins, Jackson C. Frank and Devendra Banhart.
MODS and ÉTOILE VIOLETTE will screen at the Walter Reade Theater on April 15 at 6:00PM (including a post-screening Q&A with Bozon) and April 18 at 2:00PM.
THE WALKING MAN (L’homme qui marche) (2007) 82min
Director: Aurélia Georges
Inspired by the life of Russian-Jewish painter and author Vladimir Slepian, director Aurélia Georges’ striking debut feature chronicles two decades in the life of an émigré artist who becomes the toast of Parisian literary circles after publishing a text, Fils de chien, about a man’s transformation into a dog. Flush with success, he inexplicably sells his apartment and moves into a hotel, then spends the next two decades struggling to publish again, traversing the streets of a changing Paris alone but for the occasional kindness of strangers. Rooted in a spellbinding performance by Spanish actor, César Sarachu, THE WALKING MAN is a mysterious, unforgettable film about the passage of time, the challenge of art, and unwavering devotion to one’s own principles.
THE WALKING MAN screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 18 at 6:00PM (including a post-screening Q&A with Georges).
THE WOLBERG FAMILY (La Famille Wolberg) (2009) 82min
Director: Axelle Ropert
LA FRANCE screenwriter Ropert’s superb debut feature is a seriocomic family drama centered around Simon Wolberg (François Damiens), the proud Jewish mayor of a small provincial town in northern France. Equally comfortable expounding on the American soul to a group of schoolkids as he is with the minutiae of city government, Wolberg’s public face hides some disturbing private troubles: at home he’s increasingly estranged from his wife, and his two teenage children don’t get him—nor he they. As the emotional fault lines that surround the good mayor begin to split apart around the time of his daughter’s 18th birthday, Simon must struggle to hold his family together. The wonderful ensemble cast includes a scene-stealing Bozon as Wolberg’s brother-in-law and constant headache.
THE WOLBERG FAMILY screens at the Walter Reade Theater on April 15 at 1:30PM and April 17 at 9:00PM.
THE CINEMA ACCORDING TO SERGE BOZON
Continuing in the spirit of Bozon’s 2010 Centre Pompidou exhibition, we have invited the filmmaker to present a handful of unheralded, rarely screened treasures that have inspired and influenced his work, with a particular emphasis on American Westerns and films produced by the maverick French auteur Paul Vecchiali under the aegis of his company Les Films Diagonale. Presented in collaboration with Anthology Film Archives. All screenings introduced by Serge Bozon.
CANYON PASSAGE (1946) 92min
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Haunting and sometimes shocking, Tourneur’s first color Western is a lyrical and unusual film starring Dana Andrews as a man torn. His loyalty to his troubled, compulsive-gambler best friend is further tested when he falls for the friend’s fiancée, the sexy and world-weary Susan Hayward. Tourneur’s storytelling is so fluid that it’s dizzy, in this film set under the dappled light of Oregon forests, and anchored by terrific songs from Hoagy Carmichael.For more information, visit anthologyfilmarchives.org.
CANYON PASSAGE screens at Anthology Film Archives on Saturday, April 16 at 7:00PM (including post-screening Q&A with Bozon).
FEMMES FEMMES (1974) 115min
Director: Paul Vecchiali
The best film of the best decade of French cinema (the Seventies). Vecchiali would object, because he’s thechampion of the French cinema of the Thirties and just published an exhaustive and very personal book (2000 pages!) about it. Pasolini loved Femmes femmes so much that he asked the two actresses (Sonia Savange and Hélène Surgère) to re-play a scene in Salò. As a producer, Vecchiali also discovered Jean-Claude Biette, Marie-Claude Treilhou, Jean-Claude Guiguet, Jacques Davila, et al. We defended all these underestimated directors in the Lettre du Cinéma. If we’re making movies now, it’s—one way or the other—thanks to Paul Vecchiali. —Serge Bozon
FEMMES FEMMES screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Friday, April 15 at 8:30PM.
ROUGE-GORGE (1985) 95min
Director: Pierre Zucca
In the daily newspaper Libération, Louis Skorecki wrote this about the “reedy perfection” of ROUGE-GORGE: “Basically, Zucca is a sort of French Tourneur. The more he blends into the landscape, the higher his ambitions. He created a kind of philosophy equivalent to that of Hollywood B movies, a mannerist manner for making himself anonymous while inventing unusual poses, somewhere between salon literature and precious painting. A maniac for detail and for true declamation, he sought to bring together his characters’ art of lying with that of his actors, halfway between the scansions of Michel Bouquet and those of Fabrice Luchini, his two favorite performers, who superbly define his cheerful territory. He still walks there in a dream, volatile scholar of a chamber cinema that repeats endlessly, like the scratched record of a much-loved singer.” Perhaps I did MODS just because of this last sentence. —Serge Bozon
ROUGE-GORGE screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Saturday, April 16 at 2:45PM.
SIMONE BARBES OR VIRTUES (Simone Barbès ou la vertu) (1980) 77min
Director: Marie-Claude Treilhou
Skorecki, again: “In this sumptuous film, there are as many stories as there are characters, mismatched characters who carry around the pieces of their past in imaginary backpacks. So many memories evoked without artifice, without flashbacks, without confessions. We divine them frontally, in a glance, a smile, a faltering voice, an interior stammer. SIMONE BARBES OR VIRTUE proves that we can reconcile “le fantastique social” (or poetic realism, if you prefer) with the formal daring of the New Wave.” Like Wakamatsu’s UNITED RED ARMY, Treilhou’s first movie is constructed in three parts. Each part takes place in a single set: a porn theater, a nightclub, a car. In the last part, Michel Delahaye does with his moustache what François Léotard does with his scar in ROUGE-GORGE. Some things just disappear like that. Secret imposture or blessed humiliation? Anyway, like the Blossoms used to sing, “that’s when the tears start.”—Serge Bozon
SIMON BARBES OR VIRTUES screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Sunday, April 17 at 1:00PM.
TENNESSEE’S PARTNER (1955) 87min
Director: Allan Dwan
Produced by Benedict Bogeaus, this kooky, color RKO western features John Payne as “Tennessee” and Ronald Reagan as his partner “Cowpoke,” in what Peter Bogdanovich has declared Reagan’s most likable performance. The partners swap partners, as Tennessee becomes interested in Cowpoke’s betrothed, a gold-digger named Goldie. Marking one of the high points in Dwan’s astoundingly productive career, Tennessee’s Partner is a film that Raul Ruiz too claims as a favorite. For more information, visit anthologyfilmarchives.org.
TENNESSEE’S PARTNER screens at Anthology Film Archives on Saturday, April 16 at 5:00PM.
LE THÈÂTRE DES MATIÈRES (1977) 81min
Director: Jean-Claude Biette
One night of loneliness and battering, the meeting of Jean Rouch and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. An esoteric movie, not because of the presence of any symbols and visual metaphor, contrary to horrible movies like The Seventh Seal or The Beekeeper of Angelopoulos, but because of its construction, ample and secret. No, just by its construction, as simple and solid as that of Advise and Consent but with the insouciance of the New Wave and the sense of darkness of a Tourneur. —Serge Bozon
LE THÈÂTRE DES MATIÈRES screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Sunday, April 17 at 2:45PM.
SPECIAL PANEL PRESENTATION!
PANEL DISCUSSION: SERGE BOZON AND THE NEW FRENCH CINEMA
What makes a “new wave”? In this wide-ranging conversation, Bozon and fellow Lettre du cinéma alumni Jean-Charles Fitoussi (The Days I Don’t Exist) and Aurélia Georges (The Walking Man) will discuss their work, their influences, and the relationship between film making and film criticism, in conversation with Film Society Associate Program Director Scott Foundas, critic/programmer Miriam Bale, and Columbia University French Department Chair Phil Watts. For more information, visit maisonfrancaise.org
The Panel Discussion: Serge Bozon and the New French Cinema will take place at Columbia University East Gallery, Buell Hall on Friday, April 15 at 4:00PM.