If the selection of films at this year's festival is any indication, French cinema is as vital, sophisticated, and quirky as ever. In terms of subject matter and style, these films run the gamut from lightweight trifles to intense explorations of adult relationships. Ballerina, Jean Benoît-Lévy's long-lost classic, takes us beyond the ethereal facade of the Paris dance world; Civilized People, a French-Lebanese production, surveys the less than civil living conditions endured by the people of war-torn Beirut; Skin of Man, Heart of Beast fuses the ominous with elements of farce; while the pathos and loopy humor of Who Plucks the Moon?, a film about a single, widowed father trying to raise his two girls, make this offering something of an acquired taste.
The Color of Lies, from prolific master filmmaker Claude Chabrol, is set in a sleepy French coastal town recently stunned by the rape and murder of a schoolgirl. When an emotionally unstable artist is suspected of the crime, his marriage is jeopardized. His restless wife (Sandrine Bonnaire), though devoted to him, becomes intrigued with a pompous celebrity journalist -- the most dreadful kind -- who writes for both right- and left-wing publications and moonlights as a gossip columnist. "I'm like the world itself," he pontificates. "Explosive, combustible, submersible." So is it any wonder he, too, turns up dead? Chabrol is less concerned with whodunit than with the mystery of human nature and with the fragile ties and sinister motives that bind people together. An air of foreboding and desperation permeates the atmosphere like the fog that hovers on the coastline, and Chabrol's noted skill with actors is evident, especially when it comes to the mutable Bonnaire (La Cérémonie), who can appear homely one moment and radiantly sensual the next.
La Dilettante is a character study directed with a deft touch by Pascal Thomas -- and it's a gem. Pierrette (Catherine Frot) flees her bourgeoisie existence in Switzerland for the cosmopolitan milieu of Paris, a city that puts her in close proximity to the grown children she proceeds to take advantage of and exasperate. Not averse to luxury, especially when it's provided at other people's expense, Pierrette is the eternal uninvited guest, the kind of person who has a special talent for compromising and exploiting anyone for her own pleasure. She's an infuriating nightmare of a mother who disdains her daughter's desire to become an Egyptologist -- after seducing the daughter's wealthy boyfriend -- then prods her to pursue a lofty career as a TV weathercaster. "The less enthusiastic that you are, the more interested you must appear," she counsels. "Be jolly in almost every circumstance. But you can purse your lips a little to announce an avalanche." Vain, tactless, impulsive, and above all a survivor, Pierrette is chutzpah in high heels.
Ballerina: Saturday, April 22, 3 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Civilized People: Friday, April 21, 9:30 p.m., PFA; Saturday, April 22, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Skin of Man, Heart of Beast: Friday, April 28, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 4, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Who Plucks the Moon?: Sunday, April 23, 6 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 25, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki
The Color of Lies: Saturday, April 22, 10:15 p.m., Castro; Saturday, April 29, 4:30 p.m., Rafael
La Dilettante: Saturday, April 22, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 23, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 24, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki