The 15th Annual Festival of Films in French at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Feb. 3-12, celebrates the diversity and global reach of French-language cinema. All films are in French and other languages with English subtitles, and are shown in the UWM Union Theatre, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. All films are free and open to the public.
The festival’s 14 films, most of them Milwaukee premieres, take audiences to Quebec, Burkina Faso, Corsica, the French provinces, Paris, Moscow and more. The festival opens with an espionage thriller, “L’affaire Farewell,” and ends with a beautiful animated thriller set on the rooftops of Paris, “Une vie de chat,” screened in Milwaukee for the first time in its original version.
The festival lineup highlights strong films by four women filmmakers, Caroline Bottaro, Mia Hansen-Love, Coline Serreau and Roselyn Bosch. The filmmakers explore class differences, family drama, the environment and revisit tragic events in history.
There is plenty of comedy as well. Ricardo Trogi’s “1981,” about the growing pains of tweens in Quebec; Dao Abdoulaye’s “Une femme pas comme les autres,” turning the tables on polygamy; New Wave master Alain Renais’ latest film, the surreal romantic comedy “Les Herbes folles;” and François Ozon’s 1977-set “Potiche,” starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.
As a double feature, Ozon’s 2010 comedy is paired with the first film that Deneuve and Depardieu made together, in 1980 – François Truffaut’s somber “Le Dernier metro,” set in Paris during the German occupation.
Racial hatred in France during World War II is explored further in two other films based on historical documents, “La Rafle,” the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of Jews in Paris in 1942, and “Les amants de l’ombre,” prohibited love between African-American GIs and French women during the Liberation of France.
The festival continues its tradition of silent films with live musical accompaniment with Louis Delluc’s memorable experiment in impressionist cinema, “La femme de nulle part.” Made in 1922, it has never before been shown in the U.S.
Carion’s nail-biting espionage drama is based on little-known true events from the early 1980s that helped bring down the Soviet Union. The two leads are played by prominent European filmmakers. Emir Kusturica is Sergei Grigoriev, a KGB colonel disillusioned with Communism under Brezhnev; he leaks highly classified documents to a French spy, Pierre (actor-director Guillaume Canet). This top-secret information makes its way to the head of French intelligence, the director of the CIA (William Casey), played by Willem Dafoe, and President Reagan. Presented as part of The Tournées Festival. Milwaukee premiere. Co-sponsored by CIE.[Top of Page]
This cheeky, coming-of-age comedy tells the story of 11-year-old Ricardo, who, in 1981, struggles to fit in at his new school. With a flare for inventiveness and a desperate desire to impress his richer classmates, Ricardo weaves a web of untruths, which he must carefully maintain to keep up appearances for his new friends. Viewers will easily identify with the nostalgia that tinges director Ricardo Trogi’s autobiographic recollections of his “tween” years. Presented with the support of the Québec Government Office in Chicago. Milwaukee premiere.[Top of Page]
This charming first film by writer-director Caroline Bottaro stars the peerless Sandrine Bonnaire as Hélène, a dutiful, middle-aged wife and hard-working maid at an exclusive resort in Corsica who becomes obsessed after she watches a couple play chess while she cleans their room. Transfixed, Hélène teaches herself to play, beseeching the reclusive American intellectual (Kevin Kline), whose house she cleans, to be her chess partner. Presented as part of The Tournées Festival. Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies. Milwaukee premiere.[Top of Page]
Saturday, Feb. 4, 9 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m.
“LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN)”
Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 110 min., 35mm, 2009
Only 30 years old, the prodigiously talented writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s second film is a wrenching look at a troubled, charismatic patriarch. Inspired by the life and death of French film producer Humbert Balsan, her graceful movie follows the chaotic daily routine of Grégoire Canvel, whose production company is near bankruptcy. Trying to hide his burdens from his wife and three daughters, Gregoire finally feels he has no choice but to commit suicide. “The Father of My Children” is as precisely detailed in its depiction of the stress and bureaucracy of how movies get made as it is of the emotional fallout of incomprehensible loss. Presented as part of The Tournées Festival. Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies. Milwaukee premiere.[Top of Page]
Sunday, Feb. 5, 3 p.m.; Saturday Feb. 11, 7 p.m.
“UNE FEMME PAS COMME LES AUTRES (AN UNCOMMON WOMAN)”
Abdoulaye Dao, Burkina Faso, 101 min., DVD, 2009
To rein in her philandering husband, Mina, CEO of a large company in Ouagadougou, decides to take a second husband, in a comic reversal of polygamy. Based on his conversations with wives involved in polygamist relationships, Abdoulaye Dao illustrates, to very funny effect, the daily life of two persons – in this case two men – who share a spouse. This story of jealousy, infidelity, romance and revenge was a great success in its native Burkina Faso and is cast with some of the best actors of Burkinabe cinema. Co-sponsored by the Department of Africology and Women’s Studies. Milwaukee premiere.[Top of Page]
Monday, Feb. 6, 7 p.m.
“LES AMANTS DE L’OMBRE (PROHIBITED LOVE)”
Philippe Niang, France, 90 min., DVD, 2009
This surprising téléfilm production presents little-known historical facts associated with the presence of African American GIs in France during WWII, on the eve of the Liberation. Senegalese-French director Niang explores the issue of love and racism. Louise, a young nurse whose husband is being held prisoner in Germany, falls in love with Gary, a Black GI. Blanche, her teenage sister-in-law, has an affair with a German. Their brutal punishment for daring to engage in “prohibited” love exposes racism in both France and the U.S. Shown in conjunction with Union Sociocultural Programming’s African American Film Series. Co-sponsored by the Department of Africology. Milwaukee premiere.[Top of Page]
Tuesday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m. – Silent Film Night
“LA FEMME DE NULLE PART (THE WOMAN FROM NOWHERE)”
Louis Delluc, France, Silent with musical accompaniment, 61 min., 1922
“LA FIÈVRE (FEVER),” 1920, 43 min.
Like his fiery study of a popular milieu in “La Fièvre,” Delluc’s early masterpiece of impressionist cinema, “La Femme de Nulle Part,” is almost impossible to see outside of rare archival projections in Paris. Shot in natural settings, and stripped of all that is not cinema, Delluc’s psychological drama featuring symbolist muse Eve Francis is an experiment in “direct style.” A fascinating study in the relationship between past and present, memory, dream and reality, this revolutionary film would be a source of inspiration for successive filmmakers, from François Truffaut to Alain Resnais. This exceptional screening was graciously permitted by the filmmaker’s nephew Gilles Delluc and is presented in collaboration with the CIE Global Cinema Conference and Film Series (April 27-28). Co-sponsored by Film and Media Studies, Film Department and Department of Art History. U.S. premiere.[Top of Page]
Wednesday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m.
“SOLUTIONS LOCALES POUR UN DÉSORDRE GLOBAL (THINK GLOBAL, ACT RURAL)”
Coline Serreau, France, 113 min., video, 2010
This new documentary from longtime activist-filmmaker Serreau travels from France to India, Brazil, Switzerland and the Ukraine to interview people who are fighting both the ecological and political damages caused by corporatized food production and distribution. Emphasizing self-sufficiency based on small, local facilities, freedom from chemical fertilizers and a sustainable and ecologically sound method of agriculture, these individuals and such groups as Brazil’s Landless Movement and France’s Seed Bank offer inspiring examples of how we can take back the right to feed ourselves. Shown in conjunction with Union Programming’s Share the Earth Environmental Film Series. Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies.[Top of Page]
Thursday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. – Classic French Cinema Night
“LA MARIEE ETAIT EN NOIR (THE BRIDE WORE BLACK)”
François Truffaut, France, 107 min., 35mm, 1968
Jeanne Moreau is a widow whose husband was shot and killed as they stood on the church steps together, moments after they exchanged their vows. It was an accident — or was it? She channels her grief into hatred for her husband’s murderers, tracking down to seduce and then dispose of the five men who were responsible — or were they? An obsessive tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, Moreau plays the ultimate femme fatale heroine in this knife-twisting tale of murderous revenge and unexpected romance.[Top of Page]
This surreal romantic comedy from French master Resnais presents its characters’ frequent daydreams in an intoxicating color palette of yellows, reds and blues. Resnais, a youthful 86 at the time of the film’s triumphant premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, follows the flights of fancy of Georges, a man in his mid-60s who has become obsessed with a woman whose wallet he found. His crush, Marguerite, is a dentist with a shock of frizzy red hair who has an all-consuming passion of her own: flying airplanes. These bizarre characters remind us that we all crave adventure at some point in our lives – much in the same way that Resnais never lets us forget the transporting power of cinema. Presented as part of The Tournées Festival.[Top of Page]
The thrillingly incongruous image of Catherine Deneuve in curlers and a cherry-red jogging suit is just one of the many delights in François Ozon’s 1977-set comedy. Deneuve’s Suzanne Pujol is the “trophy wife” of the philandering, tyrannical, umbrella-factory owner Robert (Fabrice Luchini). When his striking workers take Robert hostage, Suzanne steps in, wins over the workers, and rekindles a romance with a Communist ex-lover and union liaison, Babin, played with lumbering grace by Gérard Depardieu. While keeping everything light and frothy, Ozon has also laced “Potiche” with persistent references to issues of gender and economic equality, and winks at the changing role of women in politics in recent years. Presented as part of The Tournées Festival.[Top of Page]
The first time Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu were together in a film – a drama set in German-occupied Paris in World War II about a Jewish theater director forced to go into hiding, his Gentile wife and his lead actor, who struggle to keep the company going. Recipient of nine Cesars, including best film, best actor (Depardieu), best actress (Deneuve), best director (Truffaut). Best Foreign Film nomination, Academy Awards and Golden Globes.[Top of Page]
Based on years of research with Holocaust expert Serge Klarsfeld, writer/director Bosch gives epic scale to the true story of 11-year-old Joseph Weismann, one of 4,000 children taken with their parents in la rafle du Vel’d’Hiv, the mass round-up of Jews in the Paris Vélodrome d’Hiver by French police in July 1942, working at the bidding of the Nazi occupiers. The film follows the Weismanns and the Zyglers as they are transported to the huge cycling arena along with 13,000 others. The distinguished cast includes Mélanie Laurent as the Christian nurse working with the Jewish doctor, played by Jean Reno, trying to help the crowd; Sylvie Testud as Bella Zygler; and Gad Elmaleh as Schmuel Weismann. Co-sponsored by Jewish Studies.[Top of Page]
The original French version of this beautifully animated film, a thrilling mystery lead by a cat named Dino which unfurls on the rooftops of Paris over the course of one adventurous evening. By day, Dino is a common house cat, companion to Zoe, who hasn’t uttered a word since her father’s recent murder. After dark, Dino scales the rooftops of Paris as the skillful accomplice to Nico, a big-hearted burglar. Will Zoe be able to speak again? Will her father’s murderer be found? “A Cat In Paris” will enchant fans of felines, animation, mystery and adventure, young and old. Co-sponsored by SWAAF.[Top of Page]
The festival is held in memory of Dr. Sheldon Stone and made possible with the generous support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the French Ministry of Culture, the Florence Gould Foundation, the Grand Marnier Foundation, highbrow entertainment for the Tournées Festival films, the Québec Government Office in Chicago and Dr. Richard Stone. UWM co-sponsors include Union Programming, Union Sociocultural Programming, Center for International Education, Jewish Studies, Women’s Studies, Cinema and Media Studies, Film Department, Department of Africology, Department of French, Italian and Comparative Literature and MA in Language, Literature and Translation (MALLT). Community co-sponsorship from SWAAF (Southeast Wisconsin Academic Alliance in French) and the Alliance Française of Milwaukee.