Classic French Film Festival
Fifth Annual Classic French Film Festival
When: June 13-16, 20-23, and 27-30
Where: Winifred Moore Auditorium, Webster University’s Webster Hall, 470 E. Lockwood Ave.
How much: $12 general admission, $10 for students and Cinema St. Louis members, free for Webster U. students
The Fifth Annual Classic French Film Festival celebrates St. Louis’ Gallic heritage and France’s cinematic legacy.
The fest is annually highlighted by significant feature restorations. This year’s restored films include Julien Duvivier’s “The Ladies’ Paradise,” Claude Lelouch’s “A Man and a Woman,” Pierre Etaix’s “Yoyo” and “The Great Love” (plus two shorts), and Claude Sautet’s “Max and the Junkmen.”
The festival again explores France’s major contributions to the silent era and pairs the works with live music: The new-music ensemble Hearding Cats Collective performs with a selection of five avant-garde shorts, and the Poor People of Paris accompany “The Ladies’ Paradise.”
Four programs feature newly struck 35mm prints: the restorations of “A Man and a Woman” and “Max and the Junkmen,” Jacque Rivette’s “Le Pont du Nord” (available in the U.S. for the first time), and Jean-Luc Godard’s “The Little Soldier.” Another three films will also be presented in 35mm: Max Ophuls’ “The Earrings of Madame de …” and Francois Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H.” and “Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me.”
The fest is rounded out by Raymond Bernard’s epic “Les Misérables” and Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Leon Morin, Priest.”
Every program features introductions and discussions by film scholars and critics. Those discussions will place the works in the contexts of both film and French history and provide close analyses of thematic content.
The films span the decades from the 1920s through the 1970s (with a particular focus on filmmakers from the highly influential New Wave), offering a comprehensive overview of French cinema. A pair of films – “A Man and a Woman” and “Leon Morin, Priest” – celebrate Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, the stars of “Amour,” the recent Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film. And we’re pleased to present a selection of little-seen comedic masterpieces, all recently restored, by writer-director-star Pierre Etaix.
Two of the featured works are adapted from major literary sources: “Les Misérables” from Victor Hugo and “The Ladies’ Paradise” from Emile Zola; in addition, “The Story of Adele H.” is based on the true story of one of Hugo’s daughters. And the program of avant-garde shorts features films by the visual-arts and literary luminaries Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Germaine Dulac, and Jean Epstein.
The Ladies’ Paradise
Julien Duvivier’s final silent film is a modern retelling of Emile Zola’s panoramic chronicle of mid-19th-century Parisian society, centering on a small fabric shop struggling to survive in the shadow of a luxury department store. With expressionistic shades of Erich von Stroheim and G.W. Pabst, the film captures the rhythms of urban life and creates a stinging portrait of capitalist ruthlessness, class tensions, and sexual competition. Scott Foundas in the Village Voice calls the film “an orgy of pure cinema, from its opening train shot to its climactic visual effect of a magically converted storefront. Filming on the teeming streets of Paris in and around the Galeries Lafayette, Duvivier pulls out every trick in the book – elaborate crane and tracking shots; massive crowd scenes; surreal, constructivist montages – for this alternately sincere and cynical hymn to capitalist endeavor.” Elsie Parker and the Poor People of Paris, who specialize in French popular music and jazz, provide accompaniment.
A Man and a Woman
Starring Anouk Aimée and “Amour’s” Jean-Louis Trintignant, Claude Lelouch’s much-loved “A Man and a Woman” chronicles the budding relationship between a young widow and widower who meet by chance at their children's boarding school – a romance complicated by the memories of their deceased spouses. The film – which Pauline Kael declared “probably the most efficacious make-out movie of the swinging ’60s” – is notable for its lush photography and memorable musical score by Francis Lai. “A Man and a Woman” won the Palme d’Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival and Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. On its release, the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther called the film “a beautiful and sometimes breath-taking exposition of visual imagery intended to excite the emotions.” Lelouch supervised this new restoration, which screens from an archival 35mm print. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Max and the Junkmen
Never before released in U.S. theaters, Claude Sautet’s elegant and sophisticated crime drama stars the great Michel Piccoli (“Belle de jour”) as a Paris detective who poses as a wealthy banker to lure a petty crook and his gang into committing a bank robbery ... so that he can then catch them red-handed. But there’s one thing the detective doesn’t plan for: falling in love with his intended victim’s beautiful moll (Romy Schneider). Time Out New York writes: “A gleefully seedy study of lowlifes on both sides of the law, Claude Sautet’s bitter 1971 policier is all the more remarkable for having been overlooked on this side of the Atlantic: Its dark themes and murky morality fit perfectly with the antiheroic themes that were revolutionizing Hollywood at that time.” And the LA Times’ Kenneth Turan declares: “Because Sautet was a filmmaker who was drawn to complex psychological situations, ‘Max and the Junkmen’ is no ordinary crime film. It's also a finely drawn character study that is fascinated by the nuances of personal behavior and, in Michel Piccoli and Schneider, it had the actors to bring it to life.”
French Avant-Garde Silent Shorts
This program of five key Dadaist/surrealist shorts includes work by a dazzling array of the early-20th-century’s most important visual-arts and literary figures. The featured films are “Ballet Mécanique” (Fernand Léger, 1924, 11 min.), “The Seashell and the Clergyman/La coquille et le clergyman” (Germaine Dulac, 1926, 31 min.), “Anémic Cinéma” (Marcel Duchamp, 1926, 6 min.), “Leave Me Alone/Emak-Bakia” (Man Ray, 1926, 16 min.), and “The Three-Sided Mirror/La glace à trois faces” (Jean Epstein, 1927, 41 min.). Providing the live accompaniment is the Hearding Cat Artists Collective, whose musicians include past and present members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The program features Mike Murphy on analog synthesizer, Kevin Harris on analog synthesizer, Rich O’Donnell on seesaw percussion and digital synth, Tim Myers on trombone, and Asako Kuboki on violin.
A disciple of Jacques Tati (with whom he worked) and the great silent comedians – Paris Match called him “the French Buster Keaton” – Pierre Etaix is receiving a belated and deserved celebration with the restoration of all of his virtually unseen comic masterpieces. This elaborately conceived and brilliantly mounted comedy is Etaix’s most beloved movie and his personal favorite. Beginning as a clever homage to silent film, complete with intertitles, “Yoyo” blossoms into a poignant family saga (in which Etaix plays both a father and his grown son) and a celebration of the circus Etaix adored. Chock-full of nimble sight gags and ingenious sound effects, “Yoyo” is very sweet, a little bit melancholy, and wholly imaginative. Also on the bill is “Le Cinematagraphe,” a short in which a simple afternoon at the movies becomes a consumer-culture assault; the film is a section of Etaix’s omnibus feature, “As Long As You’re Healthy.”
A simple afternoon at the movies becomes a consumer-culture assault; the film is a section of Etaix’s omnibus feature, “As Long As You’re Healthy.”
The Little Soldier
During the never-mentioned French-Algerian war, French deserter turned Geneva photographer Bruno (Michel Subor) agrees to a shoot with a model (Anna Karina in her film debut). But his pals at the “information” bureau have a little political assassination lined up for him – or is it is a test to see if he’s a double agent? And is the model mixed up with the FLN (Algerian liberationists) herself? One of Jean-Luc Godard’s starkest and most serious works, shot in infinite tones of gray via available light by the great Raoul Coutard, the film features hair-raising torture sequences (including water-boarding). “The Little Soldier” was banned in France for three years for its graphic nature and explosive political overtones. Scott Foundas writes in the Village Voice: “In the film’s centerpiece, Bruno photographs Karina’s Veronica in her apartment as they discuss love, death, and war – a dazzling sequence, at once interrogation and seduction, during which Subor utters that eternal Godard maxim, ‘Cinema is truth 24 times per second.’”
Hailed by film critics around the world as the greatest screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s mammoth 19th-century novel, Raymond Bernard’s dazzling, nearly five-hour “Les Misérables” is a breathtaking tour de force, unfolding with the depth and detail of its source. Featuring stunning art direction and cinematography and unforgettable performances by the exquisite Harry Baur (who died tragically during World War II) as Jean Valjean and the legendary Charles Vanel as Inspector Javert, “Les Misérables” is one of the triumphs of French filmmaking. “This is very likely the best adaptation of Hugo’s novel, and certainly the best I know,” says Dave Kehr in the New York Times. “That’s partly because Mr. Bernard avoids any trace of the literary; this is a film that vigorously expresses itself through performance and visual style.” Asserting that the film is “in a class by itself,” Leonard Maltin in Indiewire writes, “If you have never experienced this milestone in French filmmaking, I urge you to do so.”
Le Pont du Nord
One of Jacques Rivette's most mysterious and mesmerizing films, “Le Pont du Nord” stars Bulle Ogier and her daughter Pascale (who died two years later at the age of 25) in an enigmatic thriller with many similarities to Rivette's classic “Céline and Julie Go Boating.” Bulle plays a claustrophobic just released from prison who joins up with the leather-jacketed Pascale, a glum young woman who likes to knife the eyes out of billboard faces and who might be the older woman's angel-protector or her devious nemesis. Equipped with a map of Paris from a stolen briefcase, the duo chase and are chased through the city's parks and monuments on a scary treasure hunt involving secret surveillance, duplicity, and plenty of Rivettian paranoia. “Jacques Rivette had his great period in the 1970s,” writes J. Hoberman at Artinfo, “and ‘Le Pont du Nord’ extends the territory Rivette mapped out in ‘Out 1,’ ‘Céline and Julie Go Boating,’ and the rarely screened Duelle.’ Like those, ‘Le Pont du Nord’ uses plein air Paris as the backdrop for a playful, never explained conspiratorial narrative and, in this case, a literal game board (something like Chutes and Ladders) replete with clues and mazes.”
The Great Love
Despite having a loving and patient wife at home, a good-natured suit-and-tie man, played by writer-director Pierre Etaix, finds himself hopelessly attracted to his gorgeous new secretary in this gently satirical tale of temptation. From this simple, standard premise, Etaix weaves a constantly surprising web of complexly conceived jokes. In its takedown of the bourgeoisie, “Le grand amour” is reminiscent of the work of Luis Buñuel, and it’s in fact co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière, who collaborated frequently with both Etaix and Buñuel. The NY Times’ Manohla Dargis writes: “The film has a directness and comic purity that a child would enjoy, with double takes, physical bits of business and slapstick that show Mr. Etaix’s debt to great clowns of silent cinema like Buster Keaton. Sprinkled throughout, though, are involved passages that spin gloriously, surrealistically, off the narrative rails.” Also on the bill is the Oscar-winning short “Happy Anniversary,” about a husband’s constantly thwarted efforts to run anniversary-related errands before a celebratory dinner with his wife.
A husband’s efforts to run anniversary-related errands before a celebratory dinner with his wife are constantly thwarted.
The Earrings of Madame de …
French master Max Ophuls’ most cherished work, “The Earrings of Madame de …” is an emotionally profound, cinematographically adventurous tale of false opulence and tragic romance. When the aristocratic woman known only as Madame de (the extraordinary Danielle Darrieux) sells her earrings, unbeknownst to her husband (Charles Boyer), in order to pay personal debts, she sets off a chain reaction, the financial and carnal consequences of which can only end in despair. Ophuls adapts Louise de Vilmorin’s incisive fin de siècle novel with virtuosic camerawork so elegant and precise it’s been called the equal to that of Orson Welles. Andrew Sarris declared it the greatest film of all time, and Dave Kehr echoes his praise: “Should the day ever come when movies are granted the same respect as the other arts, ‘The Earrings of Madame de …’ will instantly be recognized as one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands.” Pauline Kael summed up her view of the film in a single word: “Perfection.”
Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me
Based on a novel by American writer Henry Farrell, Francois Truffaut’s “Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me” cross-breeds a crime thriller with a screwball comedy. A sociology student (Andre Dussollier) writing his thesis on criminal women interviews a beautiful inmate named Camille (Bernadette Lafont of “The Mother and the Whore”) who has been jailed for murder. While listening to Camille recount her story, he finds himself deeply smitten and becomes dedicated to proving her innocence – but is she worthy of his adoration and trust? Placing the film among Truffaut’s best, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody writes: “‘Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me’ is a strange and sometimes slapsticky comedy based on the themes of ‘The 400 Blows,’ such as the wildness of an abused child and the therapeutic interventions that result – and into which Truffaut packs many of his most anarchic and heterodox reflections. (It’s also a masterwork of transformative cinematic references.)”
The Story of Adele H.
In Francois Truffaut’s dark historical drama – set in the 1860s – Adèle Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the daughter of writer Victor Hugo, develops an obsessive and unrequited love for Pinson, a British military officer (Bruce Robinson). Based on Adèle Hugo’s diaries, the film chronicles her pursuit of Pinson from Guernsey to Halifax to Barbados. Adjani’s intense performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby writes: “‘The Story of Adèle H.’ is not a psychiatric case history, though all the facts seem to be there if one wants to accept it as such. Rather it’s a poet's appreciation of the terrifying depth of Adèle's feelings. … The film makes us see both the madness and the grandeur of the passion. It’s this ability to allow us to see a subject from several different angles simultaneously that often proves most unsettling in a Truffaut film. Toughness and compassion get all mixed up.”
Léon Morin, Priest
Jean-Paul Belmondo (“Breathless”) delivers a subtly sensual performance in the hot-under-the-collar titular priest. The French superstar plays a devoted man of the cloth who is desired by all the women of a small village in Nazi-occupied France. He finds himself most drawn to a sexually frustrated widow – played by “Amour’s” Emmanuelle Riva – a religious skeptic whose relationship with her confessor turns into a confrontation with both God and her own repressed desire. A triumph of mood, setting, and innuendo, the film is an irreverent pleasure from Jean-Pierre Melville (“Bob le flambeur,” “Les enfants terribles”), one of French cinema’s towering virtuosos. Calling the film “miraculous cinema, even for heretics,” Time Out London describes “Léon Morin” as “Melville’s extraordinary excursion into Bressonian territory” and writes: “With perfect formal control and an extreme emotional intensity, he forges links between the disparate themes of the Occupation, profane love, and spiritual quest.”