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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  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.


Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

From March 1-12 the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance presented the 22nd edition of this annual French Cinema film festival showcasing 23 films including new film makers and established ones exploring a broad spectrum of themes. Among special topics covered by panels and events were interaction and mutual influence of the French and American culture.  As in past editions the Rendezvous with French Cinema included many films that revived motivations for the French equivalent of the Oscars, the Cesar Award. Special events featured Agnes Varda, a free screening of an episode of the French series Call my Agent, a panel, on film as a political factor and seminar on French  film musicians and composers.


This annual fest was co-presented by the Film Society and UniFrance and supported by various French governmental ministries, Renault Nissan, TV5 Monde, the ENGINE Foundation, and other agencies. The sample of films discussed below indicate that contemporary French cinema is innovative and thought provoking, fostering a reflexive view of contemporary society and its issues.


Slack Bay , Bruno Dumont,  2016      

Slack Bay stands out as a semi-surreal depiction of the social class conflict early last century as exemplified by the comedic and awkward encounter of a bourgeois extended family and locals in a small seaside village.  In this period piece the family spends summers in their sea side home with locals providing services.  The members of the bourgeois clan are immured in their clothing and speech patterns, hardly able to engage in meaningful communication with each other, seemingly suffering from mental handicaps. This defect may be prompted by the apparent intermarriages of family members. The cast plays out the family roles in a most convincing fashion. Their counterpart is a local family carrying the well clad bourgeoisie over shallow waters when a boat is not available. The workers and their four children are not as typified as the summer visitors. They wear disheveled clothing all the time and their behavior seems natural, lacking the cardboard appearance of the summer guests.  As a brief scene in the beginning of the story reveals, the children of the workers family enjoy devouring human flesh, prepared by their mother. This food preference is tied to the mysterious disappearance of tourists from that area. The poor capture the rich and kill them for their meal times, a fate that is waiting for members of the visiting family. Among the overdrawn figures are the family members, and a bumbling obscenely obese police chief who cannot stand up without falling Slack Bay celebrates the absurd and is thoroughly enjoyable.


Raw, Julia Durcournau, 2016   

Whereas Dumont’s film is a parody of manners, Raw does not permit for rumor and comedy. Like Slack Bay though, the film is also captivating. Set across a week in contemporary society it focuses on two you women. As a sixteen year old brilliant student Justine has been admitted to a veterinary college where her parents also got their degrees. She joins there her sister Alexia who is an advanced student. During the first week of classes students engage in the traditional ritual of hazing newcomers through established pranks, degradation rituals, orgiastic parties, and submission to the commands of older students.  Justine expected only to study and is totally unprepared for the hazing. Her sister Alexia refuses to help her, supporting and embracing the forced hazing which includes eating raw meat, an abhorrent act for the vegetarian Justine.  Having digested a rabbit’s raw kidney Justine seems to begin changing. When Alexia tries to remove Justine’s pubic hair as part of the hazing she accidentally cuts her own finger off and faints. Following an impulse Justine licks the blood and enjoys eating morsels of the finger’s meat. From this point on she develops a craving for human flesh. Alexia causes a car accident to provide Justine with a body to eat, but Justine refuses.  By now she has realized that that Alexia has a cannibalistic craving.   Justine’s friend Adrien stays over with whom she had her first sexual encounter. Justine discovers in the morning hours that he is dead and much of his leg has been cannibalized. Alexia has blood all over her and Justine cleans her up. Alexia is jailed and after Justine and her father visit her they have dinner. Her father reveals the bite-marks on his chest left behind by his wife when they were young.. Raw is a superb film where all the edits and verbal exchanges have a function. Nothing is superfluous. Ducournau has ensured that all supportive elements have the desired impact; the score, the makeup; scene locations, color coordination, and special effects to mention but some. The film brings the best of independent film making.


Heal the Living  (France Belgium, 2016) 

Co-written and directed by the seasoned Katell Quillevere Heal the Living differs sharply from the surreal parody of manner of Slack Bay and the fate shaping cannibalism in Raw. It explores in two narrative components a heart transplant from a braindead teenager, Simon victim of a car accident, to a middle aged musician suffering from a degenerative heart disease while taking care of her two teenage children. Heal the Living is based on Maylis De Kerangal‘s well-received novel and its screenplay was co-written by Quillevere. The director chose an outstanding cast of actors which in turn delivered a sterling ensemble performance. The film has an outstanding score produced with the help of Alexandre Desplat and equally compelling cinematography by Tom Harari. In the earlier portions of the film Quillevere the characters of Simon, his friends, and his mother who lives separated from his father. Quillevere adopts in the latter portion a more pragmatic and seemingly detached approach in her meticulous recording of the stages of the heart transplant procedures. The presentation of the large medical staff and transport of the heart is clinical and the depiction of the reaction of the teenager’s parents and the musician’s family and close friend to the risks of the transplant somehow detached. The film avoids a melodramatic tone and succeeds instead in making the audience aware of the complexity of the themes presented by the director in her semi-documentary approach.


Claus Mueller 



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