France ruled the film world in 2013, producing some of the most critically acclaimed and controversial titles. La Vie D’Adele took home the Palme D’Or and has since been subject to intense debate around the ethics of the film’s production and its depiction of sexuality. Among the other highlights was Alain Guirandie’s L’Inconnu du lac, a frighteningly tense and beautiful film about a gay cruising spot haunted by murder. Even Godard produced a film, a 3-D short about cinema and truth in 3x3D, alongside Peter Greenaway and Portuguese filmmaker Edgar Pera. This is just the tip of the iceberg as filmmakers like Claire Denis, Michel Gondry, Roman Polanski, and Phillipe Garrel also released new French-produced films in 2013.
Looking forward, though it may seem unlikely that France will repeat its 2013 effort, there are many great French films on the horizon for 2014. The new year promises new efforts from filmmakers who changed the face of Western cinema with the French New Wave over 50 years ago, as well as offering new efforts from established younger filmmakers who will also be releasing new films that will hopefully insight discussion among critics and audiences alike.
Though not his first film, Bernardo Bonello found international success with his 2011 film, L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la Maison Close), a post-modern period piece about the life in a French brothel at the turn of the century. The film was scintillating, utilizing subjective narrative structure, powerful integration of contemporary music, and offering an incredibly intimate insight into the lives of “enclosed” women. One of the film’s greatest strengths was its costume design, which lent period romance while also posing questions about woman’s role within society. The fascination and obsession with fashion and design reveals a uniquely feminine world, the interior space, and the under-appreciated art of fashion – a category too often brushed aside due to unfounded prejudices. The film’s wide array of material textures and movements lend itself well to Bonello’s newest project, a biopic of the legendary fashion designer Yves St. Laurent, collaborating with an illustrious cast including Lea Seydoux, Louis Garell, and the always unpredictable Gaspard Ulliel in the lead role. Taking into account Bonello’s previous work, this film will likely subvert the trappings of traditional biographical filmmaking and offer a sumptuous interpretation of one of the 20th century’s most enduring artists, who had a surprisingly large impact on cinema. (If you have any doubt on Saint-Laurent’s importance in the film world, try re-imagining Catherine Deneuve’s career with an entirely different wardrobe. Where would Belle de Jour be without Yves Saint-Laurent’s sexually expressive outfits blending military motifs with schoolgirl chic?) Here’s hoping Bonello can bring back to the screen the same energy he did with L’Apollonide and establish himself as one of the major cinematic players in French cinema. Bonello has his work cut out for him, as his movie will be competing with another film about the designer being directed by Jalil Lespert entitled Yves Saint-Laurent.
Though his most recent film, Farewell my Queen, received attention and success, Jacquot’s name remains relatively unknown outside of France. His work is often centered around the lives of women and offers restrained perspective on the interior life of his characters. Writing about Farewell my Queen in 2012, New York Times critic Kristin Hohenadel interviews one of the film’s stars, Lea Seydoux, who describes Jacquot’s temperament and attitude, which is reflected on the screen: “Benoît is a bit like a woman in his desire to be swept off his feet. He’s pretty feminine himself, and he’s attracted to women and obsessed with femininity, and I think the mystery of women is all-encompassing for him. The way he films an actress is his way of making love to her.” Trois Coeurs is a story of impossible love and the tribulations of destiny. It brings together an incredible cast of French actresses, including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chiara Mastroinanni, and Catherine Deneuve. In some ways, the film seems to be a slight departure for Jacquot – though hardly unfamiliar to women and characters of all ages — he admitted to being most fascinated with women of youth, on the brink of adulthood. This film skews obviously older, dealing with realities and experiences that put a different angle on love and passion. Though it has no official release date, it might not be too optimistic to expect to see the film in the Cannes line-up in May.
P’Tit Quinqin (TV series)
In the spirit of the Cahiers du Cinema, who now consistently list TV series in their year-end best film lists, we’re breaking the rules and adding a TV series on this list. In 2013, an article here discussed the challenges and potential for international cinema as helmed by great auteurs and actors, hoping for a future in which great television is shared in a similar way as we share great movies today. The impetus for those thoughts was due to the announcement of a TV series that would be helmed by auteur and occasional provocateur Bruno Dumont. Dumont has never been a stranger to either controversy or re-invention, and his career is constantly evolving and transforming to address new fascinations and obsessions. It should be no surprise that he would set his sights on the new possibilities and challenges offered by television. For now, the series is set to be a 4-hour police procedural that will air on Arte in France. It is unclear as to the scope of the show, or if it is meant to be a serial format where we can come to expect new episodes from one year to the next. As TV continues to usurp our attention and challenge the supremacy of cinema, the potential success of this series will hopefully motivate further filmmakers to take a stab at the small screen.
Aimer, Boire et Chanter
An essential figure in the French New Wave movement, Alain Resnais is 91 years old and Aimer, Boire et Chanter is his newest film. Though Resnais began his career as one of the most dense and cryptic of the French New Wave filmmakers with works like Hiroshima, mon amour, L’Année dernière à Marienbad, and Providence, his most recent works have been comedies. In no way does that undermine their craft or depth, as they often push narrative and aesthetic boundaries in ways few of his contemporaries dare. Resnais’ fascination with the internal structure of narrative, memory and time have lent to his lighter pictures a sense of spontaneity and nonsense that elevate the simplest stories to the realm of philosophy. Slated for a March 2014 release in France, this film is about friends who discover they only have a few months to live and the repercussions of that discovery. The film brings together Resnais with Sabine Azema, his wife since 1998, who has been a long-term collaborator with him and in recent years has become the central figure in many of his films.
Je suis femme
Though not among the most consistent auteurs of contemporary French cinema, even at his worst, Francois Ozon never fails to bring something new to the table. His 2013 film, Jeune et Jolie, was released to little fanfare and was largely underseen in the critical community. Though the reception was generally warm, the film failed to capture the imaginations of wide groups, though many critics admired the film’s structure which broke down the story of a young woman’s sexual awakening through the four seasons. However, just a year before that in 2012 with Dans la maison, Ozon made a film that won over the hearts and minds of a large part of the critical community, finding itself on many year-end lists. At this stage, little is known about the story or themes of Je suis femme aside from the fact that it is apparently about cross-dressing. Though through the title one can easily extrapolate that the film will likely be dealing with issues of sexuality and gender, that is pretty much on par with nearly every film Ozon has ever done. The anticipation of this film rests heavily on the shoulders of Ozon’s better works and with the promise that even a bad Ozon film is worth seeing.
Adieu au langage
Jean-Luc Godard’s career since the mid-1970s is strongly reminiscent of Lou Reed’s career post-Transformer. For some reason, fans could not seem to accept that an artist is allowed to transform and to grow; sometimes, that involves creating works that are challenging – even unlikable. In comparison to his early and popular works, Godard’s newest films are less defined by the mechanization of plot as much as the tools he uses and the themes he explores. His embrace of digital and his use of 3D both suggest a new way of seeing, as he literally redefines over 100 years of cinema with a new eye. Was Film Socialisme a Man with a Movie Camera for the 21st century, a new collection of screens, and mediums we use to capture the world around us? How has the idea of the Kino-eye transformed in the past 75 years? Adieu an langage (or translated, A Farewell to Language) suggests a new evolution in our fundamental understanding of what cinema is. The film’s trailer suggests a collection of vignettes and observations on this new way of thinking, all through the gauge of different digital devises. Though it is unlikely this film will swell with the vigor of Godard’s beloved early work, perhaps it is time that we stop drawing the line between art and entertainment, and embrace the pleasures of being challenged and confronted with new and sometimes difficult ideas.
— Justine Smith