“French Cinema Now”: They Invented Profundity After All

French Cinema Now “French Cinema Now” sounds so geographically and temporally specific as to be almost restrictive, but what's always refreshing about this annual staple of the San Francisco Film Society's fall calendar, now in its sixth iteration, is its unexpected breadth. This year the four-day festival sources its essential cinematic ingredients to France, of course, but also Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, and North America. All of the films were made within the last couple of years, yet in terms of setting they reach as far back as the Middle Ages. But perhaps most important is how they cover even the most familiar ground in unfamiliar ways. Take Franco-Swedish director Anna Novion's Rendezvous in Kiruna, a soul-searching road movie about a middle-aged Parisian architect who drives to Sweden to identify the body of a son he never met. Along the way he encounters a Swedish hitchhiker, some aggressive bikers, a retired but determined police inspector, and a moose. Were this an American film, these turns would be played for yuks or for artily restrained yet inevitably belabored indie angst. Here, though, a certain unselfconscious nonchalance rules. Apparently it's pervasive: See also the bourgeois-people problems of A Castle In Italy; the gay cruising scene in Stranger by the Lake; the wistful and whimsical amorous ennui among thirtysomething Parisian art students in 2 Autumns, 3 Winters, this festival's opening night film. In these films and others, an appealingly Gallic je ne sais quoi prevails, and nothing ever goes quite the way you'd expect.

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