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This article was published 7/3/2019 (357 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The fifth annual Alliance Française film fest runs this week at Cinematheque, and the nine French-language films (with English subtitles) cover everything from a male midlife crisis solved by synchronized swimming (Sink or Swim, or Le grand bain) to jazzy space documentaries (16 levers de soleil).
There are features from current French cinema, along with some older works, including one of Eric Rohmer’s elegant, insightful seasonal tales (Conte d’ete) and Jean-Pierre Melville’s existential gangster pic Le Samourai. Here are a few highlights:
In Amanda (Thursday, March 7, 7 p.m.), David (Vincent Lacoste) is a 24-year-old millennial in Paris, working in the gig economy and just beginning a tentative romance, when he is suddenly called on to care for his seven-year-old niece, Amanda (Isaure Multrier).
This kind of set-up often gets played for sentimental life lessons in Hollywood, but director Mikhael Hers explores David and Amanda’s situation with delicacy and poignance. Set against visions of city life both lyrical and sombre, this nicely observed and beautifully acted film is about resilience in the face of loss, at the personal and social level.
In Non-Fiction (Doubles Vies) (Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m.), a deceptively loose ensemble drama from Olivier Assayas, Guillaume Canet is a slick editor trying to propel his venerable Paris publishing house into the digital age, while his actor wife (Juliette Binoche) worries she is wasting herself in a popular television series.
Vincent Macaigne is a scruffy writer — he writes "worst-sellers," he jokes, "feel-bad books" — who is beset by online controversies over his autobiographical fiction. His pragmatic girlfriend (Nora Hamzawi) is assistant to a progressive politician with an eye for internet photo ops.
Assayas follows this quartet and their friends, an intersecting group of bourgeois and bohemian intellectuals, as they hold dinner parties, meet at cafes, smoke, drink and have affairs. His look at the characters’ shifting emotional and sexual relationships is cynical but tender, and the performances have a lovely lived-in realism.
With references running from the Frankfurt School to Taylor Swift, the characters spend a lot of time debating whether the internet is leading us to complete democratization or total monetization, freeing us up or dumbing us down. This is a sneaky film of ideas, as Assayas manages to be very talky without ever becoming arid.
Keep an Eye Out (Au Poste!) (Saturday, March 9, 9 p.m.) starts with a man wearing nothing but black socks, black shoes and a Speedo as he conducts an outdoor orchestra — and it just gets weirder from there.
This crazy little chamber piece seems to centre on a banal interrogation between a bored cop (Benoît Poelvoorde) and a nervous suspect (Grégoire Ludig), but it soon reveals itself as a deadpan office comedy, a satire of bureaucracy, a disquisition on the lure of narrative and — ultimately — an investigation into the nature of reality itself.
Super-stylized and darkly absurd, the story becomes increasingly unmoored as fact and fiction, past and future start to melt and meld together. Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux seems to be riffing on the True Detective notion that time is a flat circle, but thankfully, Keep an Eye Out never takes itself too seriously. Clocking in at a brisk and breezy 73 minutes, it’s goofy, smart, and consistently unpredictable.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.