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The New Orleans French Film Festival

Will Coviello on Beloved, Farewell, My Queen and the rest of the French fest


French Film Festival
  • Milos Forman, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni star in Beloved.

Even though Catherine Deneuve is her mother in real life and in the film, Chiara Mastroianni gets an awkward surprise and cringes when she walks in on her naked mother and naked Milos Forman, as her father, using her apartment for a romantic rendezvous in Beloved, one of the highlights of the New Orleans French Film Festival (Aug. 10-16).

  Beloved (Les Bien-Aimes) was the closing night film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and it's a mature and entertaining story about a mother's and daughter's various relationships over time. The French Film Festival lineup includes several recent French dramas as well as the crime thriller Sleepless Night and the 1957 American classic Funny Face. All films are subtitled in English except Funny Face.

  Beloved is a story of unconventional relationships and imbalance, as all the couples have one partner more smitten than the other. It begins in Paris in 1964 as the young, alluring and free-spirited Madeleine stumbles almost innocently into prostitution as a side job to pay for the stylish clothes she covets. She falls for Jaromil, a Czech doctor who sought her services, and reluctantly she follows him to Prague, where they have a daughter. When Soviet tanks roll into Czechoslovakia a few years later, Madeleine and her daughter flee back to France.

  The film then makes several jumps in time and we see Madeleine and Jaromil at different junctures, including in their later years, played by Deneuve and Forman. In Paris in the late 1970s, Madeleine remarries, but Jaromil shows up and they realize there is still love between them. The film again skips ahead and the 30-something Vera (Mastroianni) has a boyfriend (Louis Garrel) but falls for an American. All of the relationships are altered by life-changing events, like the Soviet invasion that compelled Madeleine to part with Jaromil. They cope with change as the initial attractions that brought the couples together fade, and they find new lovers while holding on to past feelings. There are several songs sung by main characters. The film is entertaining and funny, especially in the opening scenes' shoe fetishism and some of the trysts. But it also is somber about coping with a partner who doesn't share or reciprocate intense feelings. Director Christophe Honore strikes a good balance and allows the film to segue from titillating scenes of carefree indulgence to mature framing of longing and loss. (Beloved shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Wednesday, Aug. 15.)

  Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux a la Reine) deals with a more frightful kind of loss. Benoit Jacquot's period drama imagines the creeping panic at Versailles in the chambers of Marie Antoinette and her many servants as the French revolutionaries storm the Bastille and circulate a pamphlet of the 286 heads they want to claim at the guillotine. Based on the novel by Chantal Thomas, the story focuses on Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux), who attends to the extremely demanding and fickle queen (Diane Kruger). Marie Antoinette is alternately benignly self-absorbed and ruthless and arrogant. Sidonie is a mysterious character caught up in the calculations the servants make about whether to hang on to the coattails of a flailing monarchy or flee to the ranks of the proletariat. But no one is forced to face as hard a proposition as Sidonie. The revolution looming at the gates keeps it tense, and the perversity of the queen under pressure is wickedly compelling. (Farewell, My Queen shows at 1 p.m. Saturday and noon Monday.)

  Other festival films this week include A Burning Hot Summer (Un Ete Erulant), which seems mistitled. Like Beloved (which also features Garrel), it is about relationships that lose their passion, but here it happens in the span of a summer. A small group of stylish and pretty friends, including both talented and untalented aspiring painters and actors, spend the summer together in Rome, and they variously fall in and out of love. They seem more concerned with their prevailing feelings of disappointment and abandonment and the film staggers into melodrama. (A Burning Hot Summer shows at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.) Other films include Delicacy (La Delicatesse), a romantic comedy about an improbable couple, the 1945 French classic Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradise) and a remake of Marcel Pagnol's The Well-Digger's Daughter (La Fille du Puisatier).

  The festival also usually includes a classic American film. The 1957 musical Funny Face stars Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, and much of it is set in the fashion world of Paris. (Funny Face shows at 10 a.m. Sunday and Wednesday, Aug. 12 and 15.)

  The festival is presented by the New Orleans Film Society and the Consulate General of France in New Orleans. When the festival began 15 years ago, the consulate was able to screen showcases of French films not distributed in the United States. As distribution has changed, the film society now curates films in the festival. The festival also includes classic films, offering audiences the chance to see them on a big screen.

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