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"Spellbound" & the Legacy of French Cinema at Lincoln Center


This year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, presented by Film at Lincoln Center from March 5th through the 15th, seems once again of especially limited interest, with few works being shown by directors of truly international stature.
Of special note, however, will be Happy Birthday [Fête de famille], with a cast led by Catherine Deneuve and screening on the 12th and 15th, the new film by the unsung Cedric Kahn, who memorably directed the extraordinary L’Ennui from 1998, adapted from Alberto Moravia’s amazing novel and starring the remarkable Charles Berling. Cinephiles will be excited too by a free talk, presented by HBO on March 8th at 3pm at the Amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, with Serge Toubiana, former editor of Cahiers du Cinèma, on the subject of his new book, L’amie américaine, Helen Scott, who is most remembered for serving as a translator for François Truffaut in his celebrated and historic interviews with Alfred Hitchcock. The scheduled panel discussion moderated by Annette Insdorf commands attention also for featuring critic and author Molly Haskell and the unusually fine director and screenwriter, Robert Benton, in an uncommon public appearance.
Not to be missed either is the North American premiere of Spellbound [Les envoûtés], the latest effort by Pascal Bonitzer, whose achievements include that of an actor, film critic, film theorist, screenwriter, and sometime director. He has been one of the most significant scenarists of recent decades, writing scripts for, among others, Raúl Ruiz, André Téchiné, Barbet Schroeder, Jacques Rivette, Chantal Akerman, Otar Ioseliani, and Xavier Beauvois. Fortunately, his estimable body of work as a director has been included in Rendez-vous with French Cinema numerous times, giving New Yorkers a welcome opportunity to appreciate a set of films that have not received commercial distribution in the United States.
Spellbound, adapted from the Henry James short story, “The Way It Came,” but set in contemporary France, might be described as the eccentric story of a romance between a mousy magazine writer, beautifully portrayed by Sara Giraudeau, and a reclusive painter, the latter convincingly played by the handsome and under-appreciated Nicolas Duvauchelle, who has been in films by Claire Denis, Erick Zonca, Benoît Jacquot, Alain Corneau, Téchiné, Alain Resnais, and Emmanuel Finkiel, among others. One striking aspect of the narrative is that it is a recent contribution to the fantastic genre famously and brilliantly expounded by the late Tzvetan Todorov, the important structuralist critic and theorist.
Characteristically engaging and unexpectedly moving, this is formally less interesting than the director’s other features, employing a less expressive, more functional style. Bonitzer’s use of non-diegetic classical music is powerful, however, including the Jean Sibelius tone-poem, The Swan of Tuonela, and the Sarabande by Georg Friedrich Händel that is unforgettably a part of the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful Barry Lyndon from 1975. The filmmaker is ably assisted, too, by an excellent cast including Josiane Balasko and the gorgeous Anabel Lopez.
Spellbound screens at the Walter Reade Theater on March 8th at 4pm and on the 13th at 9:15pm.

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