The San Francisco Film Society steps up to a radically reduced reality of foreign film distribution by programming a number of focused mini-fests, including Hong Kong Cinema, Taiwan Film Days, and the upcoming New Italian Cinema. While contemplating the ten-film line-up of French Cinema Now, I asked myself how many French films I’d seen in the past year locally, in general release, outside of film festivals.
Practically none – most notably, Andre Techine’s 2011 “Unforgivable,” starring Andre Dussolier and Carole Bouquet, set in Venice, which played a couple of weeks at a Landmark Theater in Berkeley. At the moment there are no French films in general release in the Bay Area (“The Intouchables,” which premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in the spring, can be found at a few far-flung second-run houses), so the fifth SFFS annual program offered not only a welcome opportunity for the Francophile cinephile – the Francophone fest offers films from Switzerland and Belgium as well as France -- but an essential one.
And it seemed, despite formidable opposition from the S.F. Giants playing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, that the audiences were larger than last year. Opening night featured new Executive Director of the Film Society Ted Hope catching the audience up on the score. “Camille Rewinds,” fresh from the 50th New York Film Festival, starred and directed by the popular French actress Noémie Lvovsky, took a middle-aged woman in the midst of a painful divorce magically back to her Eighties years, “Peggy Sue Got Married” fashion, when she tries to avoid marrying her high school classmate. Lvovsky, who went to film school intending to become a director and made shorts before getting sidetracked into acting by requests from colleagues, said, “I’m not an actor, but it’s something that I do.” The film was inspired by “some questions I’ve been asking myself for a very long time – does time change us into someone else, or is there a part that does not get altered by time?” And she rehearsed a lot with the three younger actresses (“not as young as they played – one was 24, the rest 30”): “we tried to form a group…we danced together – the effect of moving, sweating, acting ridiculous, falling down, that helped to form the group, created a bond.”
The global economic problem was reflected in almost all the lineup, including the powerful closing night film “Sister,” by Ursula Meier (the official Swiss submission for the 2012 Academy Awards and Berlin Silver Bear winner), starring Léa Seydoux (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”) as the older sibling of a 12-year-old boy (Kacey Mottet Klein, who debuted in Meier’s 2008 “Home,” and subsequently starred as the young Serge Gainsbourg in “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life”) who steals ski equipment from a fancy mountain resort and sells it at the base of the mountain to support them. After the film, Meier rejected the notion that her film reflects social realism (as with Belgian directors the Dardennes), saying that the film was intended to be “more like a fable, or a Grimm’s fairy tale – like ‘Hansel and Gretel’, unstuck from reality. No police, no social workers.”