This includes the late Claude Miller’s final film, Therese Desqueyroux, with Audrey Tautou, and the macabre animated film The Suicide Shop about grim store owners who traffic in bullets, poison, and strong rope (pre-noosed) yet are thrown off their game with the birth of an unyieldingly happy son.
Among the titles screened in advance is Persecution, with French acting heavyweights Romain Duris (The Beat My Heart Skipped) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia) as a couple whose class differences cause riffs that their fondness for each other can’t bridge. Duris plays a home renovator juggling two competing projects and unwelcome romantic overtures from an older man who lives across the street from one of his jobs. Gainsbourg is a workaholic who, when she’s not out of town, struggles to fit her boyfriend into her schedule. When they’re together, they seem well-matched yet both harbor resentments about their respective degrees of commitment. Director Patrice Chereau treats the story with an eerie sense of pacing and tension, offering hints that there’s something more than discontent in the air.
La Richesse Du Loup (Rich is the Wolf) concerns a woman whose husband has suddenly vanished, leaving behind crates of video tapes he’s recorded over the preceding seven years. She’s willful about viewing as many as she can in order to cull clues that may explain why he left and where he’s gone. While she explains his brutal childhood, we see footage from that time (him as a young boy on a bike and a teenager at wrestling practice) and all the years since. In later tapes, he's often seen working, whether laboring in a brickyard, chopping down trees, or butchering a hog. There are many quiet shots of insects on the move. As if he’s not opaque enough, director Damien Odoul keeps his face hidden until a crucial bit of information is unearthed. It seems the missing spouse had leanings toward pyromania and mental illness, facts that do little to lessen his spouse's unease.
The one documentary among the bunch is a treasure. The career of documentarian Raymond Depardon is traced by his long-time sound engineer Claudine Nougaret in two ways: with chronological clips from his vast, historically-rich catalog of films juxtaposed with present-day footage of his travels across France with a large camera on a tripod where he patiently takes person-less, car-less shots of shops, bistros, and street corners.
As calming and lovely as his current photographs are, it’s in the documentary form where Depardon has made an impact and an important historical record. As an ambitious 20-year-old in 1962, he began shooting movies that were formless yet jazzy, capturing people on the streets of a vibrant, buzzing, black-and-white Paris. The next year, he found his métier in various parts of the world where unrest was chafing its citizenry: the Venezuelan civil war of 1963; the Central African Republic in ‘66, just as Bokassa was forming a dictatorship; the West Bank in ’67; Biafra in ’68; and Prague in ’69 as the Russian tanks rolled into town. The depth and breadth of his career are payed loving homage here with an intense and breathless punch.
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, March 1-10, Tivoli Cinemas, 4050 Pennsylvania in Westport, Kansas City, MO, 816-561-5222. Watch trailers online here.