2015 French Film Festival
2015 French Film Festival Featured Films
La Grande Illusion / Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir)
Feb. 5, 8pm
Set during World War I, this masterwork by Jean Renoir, once hailed by Orson Welles as the “greatest of all directors,” was shot just three years before the beginning of World War II. Renoir, who himself had flown reconnaissance missions during WWI, examines the relationships that form among a group of French officers held in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Within this detention center, class, religious, and national divisions increasingly cease to matter: An indestructible fraternity forms among the Breton working-class Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin, a Renoir regular); the aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), never without his white gloves; and the Jewish Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio). Even the man responsible for their imprisonment, the German Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), invites Maréchal and de Boeldieu to lunch. As the film historian Peter Cowie once astutely noted, “Grand Illusion escapes the confines of the war movie genre. Scarcely a gun is fired in anger. The trenches are nowhere in sight. Yet through some alchemy, Renoir imbues the film with his passionate belief in man’s humanity to man. . . . The accident of war brings out the fundamentally decent nature of people who in peacetime would be unbending strangers to one another.”
Augustine (Alice Winocour) Feb. 11, 8pm
Alice Winocour’s assured first feature explores the real-life doctor-patient relationship between the nineteenth-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon) and the illiterate 19-year-old housemaid of the title (played by Soko, best known as a pop singer). After an inexplicable seizure renders half her face paralyzed, Augustine is sent to Charcot’s clinic in Paris, where he has established himself as one of the foremost authorities on “hysteria.” Revered by all, the solemn doctor (who would later be one of Sigmund Freud’s teachers) selects Augustine to be one of the prized patients—under hypnosis, and often naked—used in his weekly demonstrations to other physicians about the possible biological causes of this exclusively female mental disorder. As Charcot continues his work with Augustine, he crosses several ethical lines—a violation that makes her aware of her own ability to fight back. Thanks to Lindon’s and Soko’s intensely committed performances, and to Winocour’s intelligent, non-didactic presentation of the era and its long-outmoded, exploitative practices, Augustine offers viewers an intimate look at the shifting balance between power and vulnerability.
Le Dernier des Injustes / The Last of the Unjust (Claude Lanzmann)
Feb. 16, 8pm
Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary, Shoah—the most monumental record about the Holocaust ever produced—is, above all, an act of bearing witness. In researching his epic work, Lanzmann spent many hours in 1975 in Rome interviewing Benjamin Murmelstein, who was at the time the only surviving president of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt death camp during World War II. These conversations never made it into Shoah but they are here presented with current-day footage of Lanzmann, now in his late eighties, as he walks through Theresienstadt (and other sites of Nazi atrocity) and explains the particular horrors of what happened there. The ghetto, roughly 40 miles outside Prague, served not only as a transit point for Jews before they were shipped to extermination camps but also as a “model Jewish settlement,” a propaganda ploy to convince international organizations that Nazis were treating Jews fairly. Murmelstein is asked by Lanzmann to address, among many other accusations, the charge that he was a Nazi collaborator. His answers are eloquent but evasive; Murmelstein beguiles the director by describing himself as a “marionette that had to pull its own strings.” In this essential document about reckoning with the past, Lanzmann shows that some contradictions are impossible to explain away.
GrisGris (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
Feb. 19, 8pm
Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who was born in Chad in 1961 but has lived in France since 1982, has returned to his native country time and again to tell indelible stories played out against the near-constant civil war and economic hardship that have racked this former French colony for decades. His latest film blazingly opens at a disco in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, where Souleymane (Souleymane Deme)—nicknamed “Grigris”—dazzles the crowd with his spectacular dance moves. His adoring fans don’t seem to mind this lithe man’s paralyzed leg, particularly Mimi (Anais Monory), a prostitute who recognizes a kindred soul in this exuberant but marginalized dancer: Grigris’s physical disability has made him all but a pariah outside the world of nightclubs, relegated to only the most menial jobs. In an act of desperation, Grigris, who has vowed to pay his gravely ill stepfather’s exorbitant hospital bill, joins an illegal gas-smuggling operation, setting off a chain of events that lead him to escape the city, with Mimi in tow, in fear for his life. Finding shelter in a rural village, these two outcasts are soon astonished to discover how far their hosts will go to protect them.
Le Sommeil d’or / Golden Slumbers (Davy Chou)
Feb. 25, 8pm
An elegiac film structured around absence, Davy Chou’s documentary commemorates the glory years of Cambodian cinema, spanning roughly 1960 until 1975. During this decade and a half, some 400 movies were made, almost all of them destroyed by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which also killed or forced into exile several prominent actors and directors. Chou, himself the grandson of Vann Chan, one of the most notable producers during Cambodian cinema’s heyday, speaks with filmmakers and performers who survived this brutal era, including Dy Saveth, a screen legend who starred in almost 100 films—and who now works as a dance instructor. With precious little extant footage from this time to include in his project, Chou instead asks his interviewees, whether those who worked in the industry or cinephiles, to recall in detail movies last seen four or five decades ago, thus bringing to life works that have long since been erased. These profoundly affecting remembrances of plots, actors’ faces, and movie houses register as nothing less than a vital act of recuperation in a nation riven by unfathomable loss and barbarity.
Festival organized by Cara Bailey, Alexandra Cherry, Jacqueline Lopez and Farrah Mahroug.
Advisers: Sylvie Blum, Alioune Sow.
Sponsored by the France Florida Research Institute and Tournées Festival
With the support of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures