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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


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New York: Focus on French Cinema 2016

The festival was held at the Alliance Francaise in New York and most productions were also shown at the Alliance Francaise in Greenwich which organized the festival and a selection at its counterpart in Stamford. Focus on French Cinema presented 23 current outstanding French language films from France , Canada, and 10 co-productions including partners in Qatar, Lebanon, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Turkey, Morocco, the Czech Republic , and Luxembourg.  A welcome bonus was the inclusion of Daniel Vigne’s 1982 film THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE starring Nathalie Baye who also had the lead in THE ASSISTANT which closed the festival. THE ASSISTANT was co-presented with the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) at FIAF's Florence Gould Hall, the venue for all festival features shown in New York City.  Only two films without French production participation were shown.  The firms selected had been nominated for 64 awards including the Oscars with most receiving awards, undoubtedly a reason for the high quality of the festival.  The program included presentations by several actors, directors and experts. The 2016 edition expanded to focus on international co-productions in which France was a leading partner and two entries demonstrating the growing film-television link and Lebanon’s co-production abilities.  It showcased with the International Organization of La Francophonie at the United Nations the documentary TOMORROW which focused on practical solutions to current global challenges as they were discovered by the filmmakers Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent in ten countries.  This film received three international awards and is considered one of the most successful French documentaries with more than 800,000 spectators in France to date, facilitated by a crowdfunding campaign.  The program combined U.S. premieres and newly released films for an audience which exceeded over 6,000 during its run from April 1-5.  Established in 2005 when only about 800 people attended, it has grown steadily. A similar long lasting festival, Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, was successfully held in early March 2016 for eleven days by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  It is noteworthy that Focus on French Cinema has an audience which is 75% American and 25% French, as distinct from other festivals like the New York Indian or Polish film festivals where most of the audience come from the respective ethnic backgrounds. French films appeal to a larger public, though as with all foreign language films the commercial success of French films in theatrical distribution is rather limited. The argument certainly can be made that French film festivals convey an important message about French culture to a segment of the opinion making public, thus warranting corporate and public support from France. The selection of the 2016 edition was certainly impressive. Among the films which appealed most to me were

THE ASSISTANT (La Volonte), Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri, France, 2015  

This outstanding black thriller holds your attention to the last minute. The film reveals the precisely enacted story of Marie-France, a woman driven by maternal rage, with a carefully planned strategy to revenge the death of her son. As Nathalie Baye put it, her approach to playing the woman embraced “underacting” and she carefully maintained the distance between the role and her acting impulse. On their way to the hospital with his wife in labor Thomas kills a young man, the son of Marie-France, with his car. Nine years later Thomas, who is raising his son Leo and had separated from his wife, hires Marie-France as his assistant.  She virtually takes over first his professional work and then his private life. He has no clue who she really is. In a carefully laid out plan she becomes close to his son, embracing him as a substitute for her dead son. She seduces Leo’s grandfather, the father of Thomas, and marries him after a brief period. When Marie-France begins to feel her relationship with Leo threatened by Leo’s Mother she proceeds to kill her. Leo leaves for his grandfather’s home where Marie-France in turn kills Leo’s dog for the same reason. Thomas has no clue about what is happening but Leo is suspicious that Marie-France is a killer.  In a fit of rage she kills Thomas’ father and prepares a poisoned meal for Thomas while he is looking for Leo. More bloodshed follows. Thomas discovers among Leo’s things a locket which he realizes he had seen before. He saw it next to the victim of his car accident and discerns   who  Marie-France  really is and confronts her.  A violent struggle ensues and a severely wounded Marie France kidnaps Leo and leaves the house with him. After a wild drive she stops the car and dies bleeding after a night beside Leo.  

FATIMA, Philippe Faucon, France, Canada, 2015

Fatima is a single immigrant mother that barely speaks French, invisible in the society she lives in. She supports her two teenage daughters with work as a cleaning woman. They pressure her to adapt to a modern culture whose customs and morals are still foreign to her, despite the decades she has spent in France. One of her daughters, a medical student, tries to overcome the tremendous pressures her studies funded by the minimal income of her mother. Fatima’s other daughter engages is in constant revolt against Fatima because the traditions her mother embraces are totally alien to her.  The film provides extraordinary insights into older immigrants’ lasting isolation from mainstream culture, intergenerational family issues, and the conflicts between the behavior of young people and the community they live in.  There is also a clear demonstration of the distrust and latent antagonism and prevalent racism of Fatima’s employers. After falling down the stairs Fatima’s problems worsen, yet the sympathy of a doctor speaking her language helps to overcome the pressure. In a diary read by her daughter she eloquently records her experiences in her native language. As distinct from many other films on the immigrant experience, Fatima reconciles with her daughters, the younger getting closer to her and the older becomes a successful student.

STANDING TALL, (La Tete Haute), Emmanuelle Bercot, France, 2015   

In this feature opening the Cannes film fest last year Catherine Deneuve as the judge and Rod Paradot as the delinquent teenager Malony provide a memorable performance. It is a study of the trajectory of a teenager who comes from a dysfunctional family, is raised by a mentally unstable mother and is prone to crime, stealing cars and violent offenses. He appears to be doomed but the judge and a caring social worker remain supportive while other adults seem to have nothing but scorn for him.  Malony is a troubled hot headed victim of circumstances he had no control over. Yet the patience of the judge and the social worker and the pregnancy of his girlfriend are decisive factors in his change. No one absolves him of his crimes but he still comes around. He tries to force her into an abortion but changes his mind at the very last minute, the moment of his conversion. Rod Paradot received two well deserved awards for his first acting delivery.
The ambience of the festival and the quality of the films ensure my return next year.

 

Claus Mueller   filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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