Holiday burnouts at a loss for New Year's resolutions might want to put the Alliance Francaise's Tuesday night French Film Club series on their short-list. January's fest, "Musique!," opens on the 5th with Francesco Rosi's well-regarded Carmen (1984). This version of the durable property (it's appeared in every form from short story to porn flick) is both opera and anti-opera in Rosi's hands -- the singing is intact (and wonderful), but the setting is outdoors, far from the usual cramped confines of the stage. This gives heft to some of the story's grittier moments, like the opening bloody bullfight. Farinelli (1995), playing Jan. 12, is based on the stormy life of a genuine 18th-century eunuch -- I mean, castrato -- whose glorious voice the film augments with bizarre synthetic effects. When not singing or composing or enchanting all of Europe (they remain popular figures there today), Farinelli and his too-close brother Riccardo take turns screwing every woman in sight, with one starting the job and the other finishing it. This movie, drenched in a kind of decorous decay, is like a coffee-table version of a bodice-ripper, and offers loads of laughs on that level.
The ever-welcome Gerard Depardieu stars as tormented Baroque cellist Marais in the 1992 Tous les Matins du Monde (Jan. 19) looking for all the world like a bloated, rouged-up Elvis impersonator. But the connection is spurious. This is in fact a strong, serious study of artistic crisis in the 17th-century music world. Watch for Guillaume Depardieu playing the young Marais. Wrapping up the month is Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1981 classic Diva (Jan. 26). Among the attractions of this stylish thriller are an ingeniously Hitchcockian plot that intertwines opera with a drug-and-prostitution ring, an unlikely romance between an 18-year-old postman and the "aging" (32!) diva of the title, and a brilliantly kinetic chase scene in and out of the Paris Metro. Diva, while no masterpiece, is unique in satisfying fans of both haute musique and mayhem. Opera completists will find it a must, if only for Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez's gorgeous rendition of an aria from Catalani's rarely revived opera La Wally. And for those who just can't stand opera, or castrati, or tortured Baroque cellists, there's always February, when the Alliance starts its "Action!" series. All screenings are Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. at the Alliance Francaise, 1345 Bush (at Larkin), S.F. Admission is $5; call 775-7755.
-- Gary Morris