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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2023

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2023
Through March 12, 2023
Film at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
Of the 21 films in this year’s annual slate of new French films—I managed to catch a baker’s dozen—several were nominated for the Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars), and at last weekend’s ceremony a couple features actually won some of the biggest prizes. Here are reviews of 10 Rendez-Vous selections.
Revoir Paris
Revoir Paris (Music Box Films; opens June 23), Alice Winocour’s latest psychological study of individuals under duress, alternates between perceptive and cursory as it follows Mia, a Russian translator who survives a horrific mass shooting in a  Parisian café and tries to deal with its disastrous emotional and physical aftermath. As Mia, Virginie Efira won the best actress Cesar for her devastating performance, which goes a long way toward making the film seem more penetrating than it is. 
Other People's Children
Efira performs a similar miracle in Other People’s Children (Music Box Films, opens April 21) as Rachel, a schoolteacher without her own children who loves her boyfriend Ali’s young daughter Leila as if she was her own—until his ex-wife initiates a reunion that might squeeze Rachel out of their lives altogether. Rebecca Zlotowski’s delicate writing and directing provide Efira with an another showcase for her emotionally shattering acting; ideally, she should have won the Cesar for both of her draining portrayals.
The Night of the 12th
The big Cesar winner, The Night of the 12th, Dominick Moll’s absorbing police procedural, captured six awards, including best film, director and screenplay. Beginning as an investigation into a young woman who is gruesomely burned to death after leaving a friend’s house one night, it soon morphs into something completely different—the case is never solved but Moll damningly shows how misogyny permeates every facet of French society; even the magistrate who takes over the case after several years (played the excellent and long-missed Anouk Grinberg) cannot force the issue to her eternal regret.
Brother and Sister
After his disappointing last feature, Deception—a wan Philip Roth adaptation wasting both Denis Podalydès and Léa Seydoux—director Arnaud Despleschin returns with a much more characteristic drama, Brother and Sister, with Melvil Poupaud and Juliette Binoche as siblings who fell out years ago and who must try to navigate the broken shards of their dead relationship after their parents are in a horrible car accident. Despleschin dives headlong into these characters’ careening emotions with his usual encompassing sympathy and occasional bemusement, complemented by the harrowingly real performances by Poupaud and Binoche.
Smoking Causes Coughing
Quentin Dupieux is a taste I’ve never acquired, but his latest, Smoking Causes Coughing (Magnolia Pictures, opens March 31), while as absurd as his other forays into weird horror and silly genre-bashing, wears its absurdism far more entertainingly than his earlier forays into goofy nastiness. A quintet of superheroes must attend a retreat to fix their bad group dynamic, which leads to a series of moronic campfire tales that Dupieux chronicles with off-kilter amusement. Of course, having a great cast—Adèle Exarchopoulos, Vincent Lacoste, Gilles Lellouche, and especially Anaïs Demoustier—doesn’t hurt.
Diary of a Fleeting Affair
Another director whose reputation is vastly overinflated is Emmanuel Mouret, whose Diary of a Fleeting Affair is a third-rate romantic comedy aspiring to be second-rate. Two people meet and decide to be friends with benefits: until she finds love with another woman and he—already married, with children—can’t handle it. It all comes off as rather regressive and tired, something that even Woody Allen (whom Mouret desperately wants to be) would leave in a bottom drawer. Vincent Macaigne and Sandrine Kiberlain, able actors both, have never been more irritating.
The Origin of Evil
In Sébastien Marnier’s The Origin of Evil, a working-class ex-con, Stéphane, introduces herself to Serge, a wealthy patriarch, as his long-lost daughter—they tentatively bond but his wife and grown children suspect her motives because they don’t want to give up the gravy train. Maurnier’s solid direction makes his film nastily enjoyable, but even Laure Calamy’s persuasive and sympathetic Stéphane is unable to keep it from being familiar and predictable.
The Green Perfume
Similarly, Nicolas Pariser’s The Green Perfume starts out slyly when actor Martin begins investigating the mysterious death of a colleague who collapses onstage during a performance. But as he gets into the weeds—helped by Claire, an implausibly energetic author who drops everything to join him—the film starts spinning its wheels for the rest of its running time. Vincent Lacoste and Sandrine Kiberlain keep our interest as long as they can, but even they eventually lose out.
Forever Young
Forever Young is Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s autobiographical drama about her memories of being in the class of the iconoclastic director and acting teacher Patrice Chéreau—who made a provocative Wagner Ring cycle and films like Queen Margot—in all its emotional exhaustion and ultimately artistic triumph. With a magnetic Nadia Tereszkiewicz as Tedeschi’s stand-in, who goes from wide-eyed naiveté to bruised but resourceful actress, Forever Young is as alternately brilliant and exasperating as the celebrated Chéreau, played smartly by Louis Garrel, was.
Winter Boy
Finally, Christoph Honoré’s messy Winter Boy, which was also based on his own experience, features a sensitive Paul Kircher as a teenager grasping at dealing with his father’s death that may not have been an accident. Although Honoré is unable to completely avoid sentimentality, the scenes between Kircher and an equally compelling Juliette Binoche are vividly authentic.

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