original idea was to present a selection of French short films with prestigious
festival credentials as warm up for the My French Film Festival. However, the
mood is sure to drastically different from what anyone would have anticipated
when UniFrance presents the third annual New French Shorts showcase at the IFC Center.
the world reels from the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, cineastes can take particularly comfort from Amélie
Harrault’s Kiki of Montparnasse (trailer here), because it
represents everything we love about French culture and everything the Islamist
killers would hate. Chronicling the life of a cultured and independent woman,
it is elegant, artistic, and a bit racy. Alice Prin (a.k.a. Kiki) rose from humble
beginnings to find fame as an artist’s model, torch singer, actress, and
memoirist in the Parisian artists’ community of Montparnasse. It would be
impossible to make a boring film about “the Queen of Montparnasse,” but
Harrault’s short film is particularly inspired, altering the look of the
animation to reflect the style of each successive artist Prin encounters,
including Mondigliani and Man Ray.
story is not all champagne and caviar, but it portrays Paris as we always want
to think of the city. Bandine Lenoir’s The
America of Womankind also offer a bit of sauciness (and Antoine Sahler’s fusiony
trumpet gives the closing credits a nice kick), but it is more of a sketch than
a narrative. While a teenaged girl and her boyfriend make the beast with two
backs, her mother, grandmother, and aunts debate whether they interrupt them or
embrace their sex-positive attitude. It is somewhat amusing but
two of the programmed films explore the grittier side of contemporary France.
Clément Tréhin-Lalanne’s Aïssa is the
lesser of the two, serving more as a statement than a film. A young Congolese
immigrant is seeking amnesty protection, claiming to be a distressed minor.
However, a coldly bureaucratic medical examination may very well disprove her
claim. Essentially, Aïssa is a one
note film, but the vulnerability of Manda Touré’s performance is still
impressive. It is also notable how the television-like aspect ratio gives it
the feel of Super-8 micro docs.
Marin’s The Runaway addresses similar
themes, but it is a fully developed narrative. Lakdar is a tough talking social
worker, but he really cares about his charges, even the self-destructive ones
like Sabrina. Though his efforts, she has landed a service industry trainee
position, which might convince the court to sentence her to probation rather
than a prison stretch, if she presents herself in a thoughtful, contrite
manner. Alas, that might be too much to ask. Unfortunately, she might drag down
Lakdar with her, as well.
Lakdar, Adel Bencherif is absolutely terrific delivering a tragic, street level
performance akin to what you might see in early Scorsese. Runaway is hardly a lecturing multicultural guilt trip either, emphasizing
the flawed reality of human nature. Like Sabrine, an inmate in a Washington
state women’s prison is a difficult case to help in Laure de
Clermont-Tornerre’s Rabbit. She had
committed to care for a dwarf rabbit as part of a counseling program designing
to develop responsibility, but she might sabotage herself instead. Frankly, Rabbit is a perfectly presentable film,
but the stakes and intensity cannot compare to Runaway.
Chinese filmmaker Hu Wei’s docu-essay Butter
Lamp might sound conspicuously out of place, but visually, it is unusually
distinctive, so why not stretch the selection parameters? As an itinerant
photographer and his assistant snap portraits of hardscrabble Tibetan families
in front of anachronistic fake backdrops, Hu offers a shrewd commentary on the
conflict between traditional Tibetan culture and globalization. Deceptively
simple, it is actually quite cleverly executed (NYFF review here).
Montparnasse, The Runaway, and Butter Lamp are
all excellent short films, under any circumstances. Of course, next week’s
UniFrance showcase will be an opportunity to see them, as well as a time to
express solidarity with the admirably iconoclastic Charlie Hebdo. Also recommended on strictly cinematic terms, the
2015 New French Shorts program screens this Wednesday (1/14) at the IFC Center.
Labels: Alice Prin, French Cinema, Short Films