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Arnaud Desplechin wil open French Cinema Now in SF

The San Francisco Film Society, in association with the French-American Cultural Society, the French Consulate of San Francisco and Unifrance USA, presents French Cinema Now (October 8 - 12, Landmark's Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore at Clay), an inaugural festival dedicated to celebrating the best in contemporary French cinema. The latest expansion in the Film Society's year-round programming, this new addition to the fall schedule focuses on bringing the most significant new work from one of the world's most renown filmmaking countries to discerning Bay Area audiences.

"We are very excited to be adding French Cinema Now to our annual fall calendar," said Linda Blackaby, Film Society director of programming. "Every year at the San Francisco International Film Festival the French films are received with great audience interest and enthusiasm; clearly Bay Area audiences have a great appetite for French cinema. FCN opens and closes with two key and much celebrated French films of 2008 -- A Christmas Tale and The Class -- which frame a diverse selection of French cinema, including its biggest box-office hit ever, an equestrian documentary and a scintillating murder mystery. We expect attendees to leave well sated but still wanting more."

Covering a broad spectrum of subject matter and genres, the films in this series -- ranging from a rowdy rural comedy to an intricate equine nonfiction feature to a tense science-fiction thriller -- build a comprehensive picture of the current moment in French cinema. A brief retrospective of the career of celebrated auteur Arnaud Desplechin and a New Wave classic round out the series with some important historical perspective. This thematically rich programming is bookended by what are arguably the two most important French films of 2008: Desplechin's A Christmas Tale (with the filmmaker in attendance) and the winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Laurent Cantet's The Class.

Opening Night
Wednesday, October 8

6:30 pm A Christmas Tale Une conte de Noël
Arnaud Desplechin in person
dir. Arnaud Desplechin
One of the most celebrated of contemporary French directors, Arnaud Desplechin (In the Company of Men, SFIFF 2004; Kings and Queen, SFIFF 2005) returns with another glorious family drama. In this Cannes award winner, Desplechin tells the story of a family Christmas get-together, bringing to it a dizzying but delicious complexity. Emotionally resonant and wickedly funny, the film stars Catherine Deneuve as the cool matriarch of a fascinatingly dysfunctional family and Desplechin regular Mathieu Amalric as her estranged, unstable son. French cinema luminaries Chiara Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Devos and Hippolyte Girardot round out the expert ensemble cast. With the breadth of an epic novel and the wit of classic comedy, Desplechin proves once again that he is one of the most ambitious filmmakers of his time. Written by Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu. Photographed by Eric Gautier. With Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Roussillon. (152 min, IFC Films. A Christmas Tale is scheduled to open in the Bay Area on November 21)

9:00 pm Opening Night Reception LOCATION TBD

Thursday, October 9

6:45 pm Welcome to the Sticks Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis
dir. Dany Boon
This little charmer came out of nowhere this year to become the most successful French film of all time. Post office manager Philippe longs for a transfer to the sunny, sophisticated south of France. But when his attempt to cheat his way into a transfer backfires, he is sent instead to the northern province of Nord-Pas de Calais, which for most of the French might as well be a frozen version of hell. Directed and cowritten by two-time acting César nominee Dany Boon, who also stars (and is himself a proud Ch'ti), the film is a warm and uproarious send-up of regional prejudices and an embrace of inclusiveness that travels marvelously well to our side of the Atlantic. Written by Dany Boon, Alexandre Charlot, Franck Magnier. Photographed by Pierre Aïm. With Kad Merad, Dany Boon, Zoé Félix, Lorenzo Ausilia-Foret (106 min.)

9:15 pm Actresses Actrices
dir. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
A tour de force for director/cowriter/star Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and winner of the Special Jury Prize in Cannes's Un Certain Regard, Actresses is a pointed and poignant portrait of a middle-aged woman who is artistically successful but generally unhappy. About to celebrate her 40th birthday, Marcelline (Bruni Tedeschi) is rehearsing a production of Turgenev's A Month in the Country while in great personal turmoil. She prays for love and a child while attempting to deal with a meddlesome mother, an autocratic director, a sexy young costar and the reoccurring manifestation of the character she is playing who keeps popping up to offer advice. The veteran of over 60 films over two decades, Bruni Tedeschi has made one of the more indelible and engaging portraits of a woman engaged in this unique, and often envied, career. Written by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Noémi Lvovsky, Agnès de Sacy. Photographed by Jeanne Lapoirie. With Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Mathieu Amalric, Noémie Lvovsky (107 min. IFC Films).

Friday, October 10

5:15 pm Life of the Dead La vie des morts
dir. Arnauld Desplechin
In his first film, little-seen in the U.S., Arnaud Desplechin begins his revelatory investigation into the web of relationships that comprise the modern family. Here, the MacGillis clan convenes after the suicide attempt of an adoptive brother. As the younger folks flirt, fight and fret, the parents worry that they have failed miserably in their jobs. As with all Desplechin films, though, there is great humor and warmth amid the grim themes. Pot is smoked, practical jokes are played and the potential for new life plays against the possibility of imminent death. Prefiguring the wider-ranging familial representations of A Christmas Tale and Kings and Queen, Life of the Dead distills this remarkable filmmaker's interests and passions into a concise and perfectly configured scenario. Written by Arnaud Desplechin. Photographed by Eric Gautier. With Thibault de Montalembert, Suzel Goffre, André Cellier, Elisabeth Maby, Suzanne Waters (54 min. Motion Media).

6:45 pm Alibi Le grand alibi Special Preview Presentation
dir. Pascal Bonitzer
When Senator Henri Page invites a few wealthy friends to his mansion for a hunting party, his prized gun collection finds an unfortunate human target. This is an Agatha Christie adaptation after all, and when one of the guests turns up dead poolside, the webs of sexual intrigue and romantic jilting are so tangled that everyone has a motive. Pascal Bonitzer writes and directs this crisply paced and witty whodunit. Miou-Miou and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi head a talented ensemble cast that includes Mathieu Demy in a terrific turn as an alcoholic novelist prone to inopportune blackouts. The film's pleasures are many, but chief among them is watching this group of actors at work in Christie's world of devious socialites, where solving the mystery is only half the fun. Written by Jérôme Beaujour, Pascal Bonitzer. Photographed by Marie Spencer. With Pierre Arditi, Miou-Miou, Lambert Wilson, Anne Consigny, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (93 min. UGC International).

9:15 pm Lads and Jockeys Lads et jockeys
dir. Benjamin Marquet
Benjamin Marquet's first feature-length documentary takes us into the world of jockey apprenticeship where young teens adopt a grueling training regimen in hopes of landing an elusive career: riding at professional horse races. Every day they grudgingly wake at dawn and half-asleep hold onto the reins for dear life as their horses gallop around the track. Despite the accelerated pace of their coming of age, Marquet reminds us persistently that these are teenagers, for whom flirtations and cell phones can take priority over their dreams of donning the silks of horseracing. Marquet frames his subjects with affecting close-ups that allow empathy for both the lads and their strict mentors. This unique film builds to a moving and suspenseful conclusion, when one of the three boys gets the call to ride in his first professional race. Photographed by Sébastien Buchmann, Laurent Chalet, Benjamin Marquet (90 min. Les Films du Losange).

Saturday, October 11

12:30 pm My Sex Life . . . or How I Got into an Argument Ma vie sexuelle
dir. Arnaud Desplechin
Arnaud Desplechin perfectly captures the heady milieu of graduate school -- sex, rivalry, parties, term papers, rambling conversations -- in this keenly funny and exceedingly intelligent film about Paul, a 29-year-old assistant professor of philosophy. Played by a youthful Mathieu Amalric, Paul is that recognizable soul who overthinks everything and whose disappointments loom much larger than his successes. Using an omniscient narrator to provide acute psychological details on the various characters, Desplechin and his cowriter Emmanuel Bourdieu fully examine the neuroses and odd attachments of Paul and his circle of friends. Featuring other then-unknowns such as Emmanuelle Devos, Jeanne Balibar and Marion Cotillard, My Sex Life . . . is an epic look at people on the edge of adulthood but scared to death of the potential abysses lying below. Written by Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu. Photographed by Stéphane Fontaine, Eric Gautier. With Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Marion Cotillard, Jeanne Balibar (178 min. Zeitgeist Films).

4:15 pm Lads and Jockeys see Oct. 10

7:00 pm Six in Paris Paris vu par
By 1965 the French New Wave -- though no longer exactly new -- was still fresh, experimental and oh-so-in-love with Paris. In the delightful portmanteau film Six in Paris a sextet of directors sends us cinematic postcards all set in neighborhoods of their own choosing (though not all of these postcards are of the "wish you were here" variety). Six in Paris represents the crème de la crème of the French New Wave: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Rouch, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer, along with the lesser known Jean Douchet (better known as a writer at Cahiers du Cinema) and Jean-Daniel Pollet. The stories are all wonderful in themselves, but just as delightful is the glorious time-capsule aspect of the film: Paris streets abuzz with Citroëns and scooters, bustling cafés and chic fashions. Written by Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Rouch, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jean Douchet, Jean-Daniel Pollet. Photographed by Nestor Almendros, Albert Maysles, Étienne Becker, Alain Levent, Jean Rabier. With Stéphane Audran, Claude Chabrol, Barbet Schroeder, Claude Melkin, Micheline Dax (95 min. New Yorker Films)

9:15 pm Alibi see Oct. 10

11:59 pm Eden Log
dir. Franck Vestiel
Out of a primordial pond crawls a somewhat human form, grunting and moaning as he slithers and climbs upward toward some mysterious destination. This bestial figure comes from mysterious origins but is driven to escape the devastated multilevel labyrinth he is trapped within. Battling corporate shock troops, mutant creatures and half-mad survivors on his way to the surface, he pieces together the story of the apocalypse in which he too has played a part. Refreshingly complex, vividly unsettling and artfully shot in a palette of greens, blues and grays, Franck Vestiel's sci-fi feature blends the cyberpunk flair of Tetsuo with the eco-horror concerns of films like Soylent Green and The Last Winter and the existential predicament of Tarkovsky's Stalker. Written by Pierre Bordage, Franck Vestiel. Photographed by Thierry Pouget. With Clovis Cornillac, Vimala Pons, Zohar Wexler (98 min. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. Eden Log is scheduled for a San Francisco theatrical opening in Spring 2009). Presented in association with Landmark's Clay Theatre's Late Night Picture Show.

Closing Night
Sunday, October 12

1:15 pm Welcome to the Sticks see Oct. 9

3:45 pm Actresses see Oct. 9

6:15 pm The Class Entre les murs
dir. Laurent Cantet
Laurent Cantet's new film, The Class, provides a bracing corrective to the standard classroom drama, taking the viewer into a lively school set in the tough, multiethnic Paris neighborhood of the 20th arrondissement for a full school year. Working mostly with nonprofessional actors, Cantet (Time Out, SFIFF 2002) and collaborator/lead actor
François Bégaudeau workshopped the drama over the course of a year. Much of the dialogue and situations in The Class come directly from this lengthy creative process, creating an astonishingly rich slice of life. Unanimously voted the Palme d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival -- the first French film to win the award in over 20 years -- The Class is "utterly engrossing from start to finish," says Geoff Andrew of Time Out London. Written by Laurent Cantet, François Bégaudeau, Robin Campillo. Photographed by Pierre Milon, Catherine Pujol, Georgi Lazarevski. With
François Bégaudeau, Franck Keita, Rachel Régulier, Wei Huang. (128 min, Sony Pictures Classics. The Class is scheduled to open in the Bay Area in November 2008)

9:00 pm Closing Night Reception at Elite Café, 2040 Fillmore Street

9:30 pm Six in Paris see Oct. 11

Box office information: $12.50 general/$10.00 Film Society members/$11.00 seniors, students and persons with disabilities; Opening or Closing Night Film & Reception -- $35.00 general/$25.00 members; Opening or Closing Night film only -- $15.00 general/$12.00 members; and CineVoucher 8-Pack -- $92.00 general/$72.00 members. Box office opens September 10 for members and September 16 for the general public: online at, by calling 925.866.9559 or by faxing 925.866.9597.

French Cinema Now is sponsored by the French American Cultural Society, the French Consulate of San Francisco, Unifrance USA, Crystal Geyser, Bank of the West and TV5 Monde and presented with support from William R. Hearst III; media partners San Francisco Bay Guardian, France Today, France-Amérique; and venue sponsor Landmark Theatres. Support for Closing Night reception provided by the Elite Café.

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