MONMOUTH – Western Oregon University will host a series of French films over the course of four weeks, as part of the annual Tournées Festival. Each film is free and open to the public, and will be shown at 7 p.m. in room 211 of the Instructional Technology Center, with the exception of the Nov. 17 film, which will be shown in room 103 of the Natural Science Building.
“Entre les murs” (Oct. 27)
The winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes was Laurent Cantet’s unsparing, unsentimental film about a teacher and his students at a diverse Parisian junior high school. In an unusual example of art imitating life, the film was based on the best-selling book by real-life teacher François Bégaudeau, who also wrote the screenplay and stars in the movie as himself. Working with a cast of non-professional actors, Cantet filmed his “class” for over a year; the result is a hybrid documentary/narrative work that is wholly convincing. The class is alive with spirited performances; viewers are also treated to a privileged perspective on discussions between teachers and parents, as well as among the teachers in their private meetings and amongst themselves. The class raises deep, disturbing questions about the motives and prospects of its characters. As François attempts to teach the French language to his multi-ethnic students, many of whom hail from former colonized countries, he offers both the opportunity and the threat of modern cultural assimilation. No one is above reproach in this difficult and important new film, which is sure to spark spirited and thoughtful debate among viewers in post-film discussions.
“Eldorado” (Nov. 3)
When gruff, unsuspecting Belgian car dealer Yvan comes back from work one evening, his home has been ransacked and a series of clues indicate that the burglar is still on the premises. Yvan lumbers through the rooms of his house armed only with a flimsy hockey stick, seeking the intruder’s whereabouts. Where could someone stay to be out of sight? How about under the bed! Yvan waits until late into the night to flush his mysterious visitor out of hiding, eventually dozing off in his watchman’s chair. Eldorado’s suspenseful, absurdist plot thickens when Yvan finally catches his nemesis in a hilarious confrontation and meets Elie, the skittish young heroin addict who has tried to rob him. The two form an unlikely duo and set out together in Yvan’s vintage Chevrolet to bring Elie back to his parents, encountering an outlandish cast of characters over the course of their road trip. Beautifully photographed by Jean-Paul de Zaetijd, the film makes excellent use of wide vistas, subtle colors and strong visual compositions. Eldorado was written and directed with intelligence and a wonderfully modern, absurdist sense of humor by its star actor.
“Les plages d’Agnes” (Nov. 10)
On the eve of her 80th birthday, Agnès Varda, often referred to as “the godmother of the French New Wave,” decided to make the autobiographical The Beaches of Agnes, guiding us through her extraordinary 55-year career and poignantly reminiscing about her husband, the filmmaker Jacques Demy (best known for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), who died of AIDS in 1990—information that Varda makes public here for the first time. Raising two children—costume designer Rosalie Varda and actor Mathieu Demy—and making some of France’s greatest movies from the 1960s, Varda and Demy traveled the world but appeared to have been most at home in the septième art. Or, as Varda puts it: “Cinema—I feel like I’ve always lived in it.” As Varda explains how a relatively shy, awkward young woman from Brussels first taught herself how to be a photographer and then a filmmaker, we marvel at her drive, determination, and endless curiosity about the world. Richly illustrating her documentary with clips from her (and Demy’s) films, Varda remains a constant, lively presence (much as she did in her documentary, The Gleaners and I), remarking of her on-screen persona, “I’m playing the role of a little old lady, plump and talkative.”
“Peu(s) du noir” (Nov. 17, in room 103 of the Natural Science Building)
Six leading graphic artists and cartoonists turn their personal terrors into reality in this nightmarish animated anthology. Stylistically connected, the stark black-and-white imagery adds a layer of the surreal to the already disturbing subject matter. As reality crosses over into the unknown, these six interlocking stories bring to life fears of the dark, injections, pursuit and more. One by one, a noble man unleashes his angry dogs on peasants and city-dwellers; a young Japanese girl suffers from the cruelty of her peers and deals with her own demons; a young student quickly moves in with an overbearing girlfriend who ultimately uses his body as a breeding ground for strange creatures; a man enters a dark and empty house to escape a snow storm… Narrated by well-known French comedians, these stories raise goosebumps that only recede when Nicole Garcia tells a much more light-hearted story in a humorous and harried voice.
“La graine et le mulet” (Nov. 24)
This stunning film takes place in the Southern French city of Sète where Slimane, the patriarch of a large and vivacious North African family, is an elderly dockworker. When his job of many years is suddenly no longer secure, he decides to restore an old boat in the harbor, and turn it into a floating couscous restaurant. It’s a wildly ambitious project, and the increasingly ailing Slimane will need the help of all of his family members in order to pull it off—from his ex-wife and their children, many who have families of their own, to his longtime lover and her quietly charismatic, determined daughter, Rym. But even if their conflicts can be patched together in time, will this immigrant family’s energy and verve be enough to overturn the will of the powerful white townspeople who hold the bureaucratic keys needed to make Slimane’s dream a reality? Writer and director Abdel Kechiche is a master at communicating the finest aspects of his colorful brood of characters. Vibrant cinematography and dynamic editing make this personal story all the more engrossing; each individual character is amazingly distinct, while their interpersonal dynamics are rendered with startling clarity and familiarity.
This series is sponsored locally by the Western Oregon University Film Studies program. The festival is made possible with the support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the French Ministry of Culture (CNC). The Tournées Festival was conceived to encourage schools to begin their own self-sustaining French film festivals. Since its inception, the program has partnered with hundreds of universities and made it possible for more than 300,000 students to discover French-language films. The Tournées Festival distributes approximately $180,000 in grants annually. For more information about the festival and its films, visit http://www.facecouncil.org/tournees/index.html.
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Shaun Huston, film studies and geography professor