Liberté

"I like purity --" says Anne Parillaud in Catherine Breillat's Sex Is Comedy, "of the dunghill kind." Parillaud, who plays a filmmaker trying to extract a believable sex scene from actors who dislike each other, is a stand-in for the director of Romance and Fat Girl, the latter's making evidently re-created here. Between this movie and The Good Old Naughty Days, a compilation of French porn from the silent era (which played last week), the French works being screened at this year's festival may seem to be living up to a dated notion of Gallic decadence, but a closer look reveals an intelligence sorely lacking in Hollywood's poor excuses for sex comedies. Breillat's piece, for starters, is centered around a focused, articulate artist, one not driven by neuroses like the filmmaker heroes of Fellini's 8 1/2, or Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore, but rather thoughtful (if harassed), like Truffaut in Day for Night. (Except that Truffaut didn't have to deal with a star whose penis is 30 degrees off plumb!)

For irrational passion few films exceed Christopher Ruggia's The Devils, a drama about two runaway children working their way across the countryside in search of an imagined home. The feral girl can assemble, in a few minutes, a mosaic of this home from fragments of broken pottery and glass, and claws anyone who touches her. Her brother is her battered ambassador to the outside world, but is not without his own demons. The best efforts of compassionate rationalism don't seem to reach them in this unique version of l'amour fou.

One festival highlight is a program of 10 French-language films released over the past year, curated by Michel Ciment, the editor of France's "other" film magazine, Positif(the one that isn't Cahiers du Cinema). These include the latest by veterans Michel Deville (Almost Peaceful, about postwar returnees from the death camps) and Patrice Chéreau (His Brother, about a dying man), and a debut by an actress starring herself, Marina de Van's In My Skin, about a self-mutilator. Danièle Thompson's Jet Lag is a comedy starring audience favorites Jean Reno and Juliette Binoche as a makeup artist and frozen foods entrepreneur, respectively, stuck in a strike-bound airport.

Other festival entries include Otar Iosseliani's Monday Morning, a lovely film by an emigrant from ex-Soviet Georgia that nevertheless seems to have French village life down pat. Indeed, in several works, including both L'auberge espagnole (post-adolescent hijinks in Barcelona) and My Voice (a musical comedy from Guinea-Bissau with a half-hour timeout in Paris), we can see just how far French cinema and its influence extend beyond the borders of France -- all the way to San Francisco.

Sex Is Comedy: Sunday, April 27, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Tuesday, April 29, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

The Devils: Wednesday, April 23, 8:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 25, 3 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Almost Peaceful: Thursday, April 24, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

His Brother: Wednesday, April 23, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

In My Skin: Wednesday, April 23, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 24, 10 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Jet Lag: Friday, April 25, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 30, 9:30 p.m., CinéArts

Monday Morning: Thursday, April 24, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 26, 2:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, May 1, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

L'auberge espagnole: Tuesday, April 29, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

My Voice: Wednesday, April 23, 6:45 p.m., Castro; Thursday, April 24, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki

 
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