France has persisted as one of the cinema’s global superpowers from the very beginning, when Auguste and Louis Lumière became the first filmmakers to project their films to a large audience. In the decades to follow, France became an innovator in experimental cinema and in approaches to staging in-depth. After World War II, French cine-club culture created the conditions for a new international art cinema, and starting around 1959, France helped invent the modern cinema with its legendary New Wave. In more recent years, France’s cinematic influence has spread through production funds that have supported new art films in every corner of the globe, while the country remains the world’s number two motion picture exporter, ranking only behind the United States. France is to the global art cinema what Hollywood is to popular film art—it’s not the only source for its signature style of filmmaking, but it certainly is the most internationally prominent.
As an art-house (i.e. art cinema) venue, OKCMOA’s Noble Theater has long relied on France’s abundant supply of new and classic films to program thought-provoking work across twelve months of screenings—along with our annual French Film Week showcase each July. With our Virtual Cinema continuing until we can safely return to the theater, French Film Week has come a bit early this year—thanks to the eternal surplus of original and interesting filmmaking coming from the European country. This week’s lineup features three new theatrical titles: Yves Saint Laurent documentary Celebration; standout horror-comedy Deerskin; and Someone, Somewhere, a bittersweet Parisian “almost-romance” from the director and stars of past French Film Week favorite, Back to Burgundy. Museum Films is also proud to bring back Raoul Ruiz’s masterful, fin-de-siècle Time Regained (1999), the cinema’s definitive adaptation of the writings of Marcel Proust.
Clocking in at a lean seventy-seven minutes, Deerskin, the unhinged latest from French cult-film wunderkind, Quentin Dupieux (Rubber) is a slyly self-reflexive and defiantly quirky satire of underground filmmaking, fragile middle-aged masculinity and the desire for fame. Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin—the charismatic star of French art-house blockbuster The Artist (2011)—plays Georges, an aimless recent divorcee who finds a renewed sense of identity and purpose when he buys a preposterously expensive deerskin jacket and a digital video camera, installs himself in a sleepy alpine hotel, and re-invents himself as an independent filmmaker. Abandoning his old life for a more leather-centric persona, Georges, perpetually sporting his new “killer” style, falls under the sinister spell of the jacket and dedicates his life to a bizarre personal quest. Celebrated Actress Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) brings compelling, off-beat energy to the role of Denise, a bartender and aspiring filmmaker who becomes Georges’ enthusiastic collaborator/accomplice. Lensed in a washed-out sepia palate that evokes 1970s exploitation films, this surprise hit of the Cannes Film Festival’s eclectic Director’s Fortnight section sees the world through suede-colored glasses.
Another style-focused entry in OKCMOA’s French Film Week lineup, Olivier Meyrou’s Celebration is an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Yves Saint Laurent’s final collection before his retirement in 2002. Originally presented in the Panorama section of the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, Celebration was blocked from wider distribution for over a decade by Saint Laurent’s business and romantic partner Pierre Bergé, who viewed the documentary as too revealing to be screened during his lifetime. Before his death in 2017, Bergé had a change of heart, paving the way for a re-edited version of Meryou’s original documentary to be released to critical acclaim in 2018.
Celebration‘s dramatic arc is structured around the singular interplay between Saint Laurent, the physically fragile yet creatively vital artist, and Bergé, the grounded impresario orchestrating events from the shadows. (Their creative and personal dynamic is said to have informed the characters of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Cyril (Lesley Manville) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated fashion-world drama Phantom Thread.) Shooting in an unadorned observational style over the course of three years, Meryou strikingly juxtaposes black-and-white and color cinematography to highlight the duality he saw at the core of Yves Saint Laurent’s persona. As he notes in his director’s statement:
“Trying to film Yves Saint Laurent was much like trying to film two different characters at the same time. On the one hand, there is the historic figure, on the other, a man in physical decline, still relentlessly at work. I needed a visual texture to mirror this situation. I then had the idea of alternating the use of black and white and color film. Black and white to evoke the figure who had already made his place in history, and color to create a feeling of proximity and empathy with the fragile yet vibrant man he was at the time we were shooting the documentary.”
An unvarnished and ultimately elegiac portrait of the last of France’s golden-age haute-couture designers, Celebration is a fascinating cinematic rediscovery and a moving exploration of the relationship between man and myth.
More on Virtual French Film Week
WATCH “Someone Somewhere (Deux Moi) trailer,” Cedric Klapisch
Of course, this spring’s selection of new French cinema barely scratches the surface of the dynamic national cinema that celebrated its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary last month. With that in mind, here are ten additional recommendations of OKCMOA premieres from the past five years:
- My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin, 2015)
- The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra, 2016; available on Kanopy)
- Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
- Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016)
- Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
- Milla (Valérie Massadian, 2017; available on Kanopy)
- Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (Bruno Dumont, 2018; available on Kanopy)
- High Life (Claire Denis, 2018; available on Kanopy)
- The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2018; available on Kanopy)
- Synonyms (Nadav Lapid, 2019)
More on recent French cinema:
WATCH: “ECAL Instagram Live Masterclass: Jean-Luc Godard”