Claire Denis in 35 SHOTS OF RUM (2009; July 12 at 3:30 pm, July 16 at 5:30 pm) also takes it for granted that her characters are immigrants and doesn't turn her film into a political discussion. Alex Descas is laconic and majestic as a West Indian facing retirement from his long career as a Paris Métro driver. Should his beautiful daughter, Joséphine (Mati Diop), look after him, or is it time for her to start out on her own life, perhaps with the boy across the hall? Understated, beautifully acted, and with an exacting soundtrack, 35 Shots of Rum aspires to the grace of an Ozu film.
SPY(IES) Nicolas Saada, on the other hand, offers bracing Hitchcockian romance and intrigue.
Philippe Lioret's WELCOME (2009; July 26 at 3:15 + 5:10 pm) takes a tougher stand on the issues without surrendering dramatic integrity. Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a 17-year-old Kurdish refugee, has already trekked on foot from Iraq to Calais to be reunited with his true love in London. But to make it to England, he'll have to take swimming lessons from Simon (Vincent Landon), who's getting divorced from his activist wife (Audrey Dana). "He's walked 4000 kilometers and is going to swim the Channel to reach her," laments Simon to his ex, "and I wouldn't even cross the street for you." The performances and Lioret's low-key direction make all this not just plausible but poignant.
|The Boston French Film Festival | Museum of Fine Arts: July 9-26|
In Rithy Panh's THE SEA WALL (2008; July 19 at 5 pm, July 24 at 3 pm), an adaptation of a Marguerite Duras novel, the French themselves are the unwanted foreign intruders. We're in 1930s colonial Cambodia, and yet another troubled matriarch (Isabelle Huppert, sullen again) is having a bad day: the sea has flooded her rice field, her teenage son and daughter are getting restive, and the corrupt land office wants to take over her plot and sell it to a Chinese millionaire. So she panders off the daughter to the rich Chinese guy and attempts to build the title barricade. At times this seems a remake of Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1992 adaptation of Duras's The Lover. At others it merely enjoys its own gorgeous cinematography.
So much for the plight of the immigrant. Education has also been on the minds of the French — or at least, the issue earned them an Academy Award nomination for Laurent Cantet's The Class. None of the festival films on the subject, however, could be called topical. Sylvie Verheyde's memoiristic STELLA (2008; July 19 at 2:30 pm) takes place in the '70s as the title girl (Léora Barbara), the daughter of brawling tavern keepers, tries to turn her snooty new school to her advantage. Like the heroine, the film is rough but resourceful.
Although Christophe Honoré's THE BEAUTIFUL PERSON (2008; July 12 at 8 pm, July 17 at 6 pm) takes place in the present day, it loosely adapts Madame de Lafayette's 17th-century novel The Princess of Clèves. Here another newcomer to school, Junie (Léa Seydoux), finds a Dangerous Liaisons minefield of sexual predation and deceit. Louis Garrel as a smarmy teacher combines a little Jean-Pierre Léaud with Hugh Grant to bring a tragi-comic grace to the proceedings.
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