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Unmitigated Gaul

Rogues and rebels in the Boston French Film Festival
By PETER KEOUGH  |  July 5, 2010

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AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN: Jacques Rivette can’t get enough of prosceniums and curtains and the interrelationship of art and theater and real life.

The Boston French Film Festival | Museum of Fine Arts: July 8-25
The French pride themselves on their revolutionary spirit, no less in film than in politics. No wonder, then, that two self-proclaimed iconoclasts, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, established the now half-century-old New Wave with two films about social delinquents, The 400 Blows (1959) and Breathless (1960). They set a precedent of transgression that subsequent auteurs have striven to follow. As indicated by some of the films (24 new ones in all) in this year's Boston French Film Festival, their rebelliousness and nonconformity still reign today — in content, if not so much in style.

Godard and Truffaut themselves make an appearance in the festival, as the subjects of Emmanuel Laurent's documentary TWO IN A WAVE (2009; July 16 at 6 pm + July 17 at 1:30 pm). Laurent uses mostly conventional methods — film clips, archival interviews, a long-winded voiceover narrative — to tell the story of how these two "young Turk" critics from Cahiers du cinéma rejected what they regarded as stuffy old-school filmmaking and set about to reinvent cinema by making their own films. Perhaps inspired by their example, Laurent tries to jazz up his own stuffy film by inserting shots of hot young actress Isild Le Besco as she wordlessly ponders over old Cahiers issues, newspaper clippings, vintage photos, and ticket stubs — all of it symbolizing, I suppose, how the new generation learns from the old. Or maybe it's a parody of a film essay by Godard.

Regardless of its lapses, Laurent's documentary is a reminder that at one time cinéastes could put together a formidable street demonstration, as Godard and Truffaut and their buddies did in 1968 to protest the firing of Henri Langlois as head of the Cinématheque Française. This protest preceded by weeks the ill-fated revolutionary May demonstrations that would radicalize Godard and apoliticize Truffaut and end their friendship forever.

Two other now-octogenarian New Wavers who keep cropping up in Laurent's movie also have new films to offer. Claude Chabrol's BELLAMY (2009; July 16 at 8 pm), doubtless a Hitchcockian detective story and the director's first collaboration with Gérard Depardieu, was not available for screening. But I did get to see the elusive Jacques Rivette's AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (2009; July 18 at 5:30 pm + July 22 at 3:30 pm). The mountain of the title, the Pic Saint-Loup in Southern France, is a forbidding monolith hovering over the destiny of Kate (Jane Birkin), a woman with a past who when her auto breaks down on the roadway is rescued by suavely goofy Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto), a mysterious, raffish Italian in a sports car. Kate is part of a rather miserable itinerant circus that is setting up nearby, and Vittorio takes an inexplicable interest. He is especially attracted to the troupe's Beckett-like clown act, which involves broken plates and bad dialogue, and in which he ultimately participates.

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