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The Robin Menken Reviews

Robin A Menken is a regular contributor


Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film at Lincoln Center, 2024


Posted By Robin MEnken

Unifrance and Film at Lincoln Center announce the lineup for the 29th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

From February 29 through March 10, this hotly attended   annual festival showcases the creativity, breadth and versatility of contemporary French cinema.

The 2024 Opening Night selection is Thomas Cailley’s French box office hit The Animal Kingdom, recently nominated for 12 César Awards, including Best Director and Best Film.

Cailley, who most recently won Best Director at the 29th Lumière Awards, envisions a mysterious infection that selectively mutates the bodies of ordinary people into animal hybrids at unpredictable speeds in a darkly imaginative exploration of a human ecosystem undergoing inexplicable—but potentially liberating—transformation.

“It is a great honor to open this year’s edition with the French critical and box-office hit ‘The Animal Kingdom’ with director Thomas Cailley in attendance,” said Daniela Elstner, executive director of Unifrance.

Elstner continued, “A mix of new and established filmmakers together with the stellar presence of actress Marion Cotillard indeed make for a rich 29th edition of this year’s Rendez-Vous With French Cinema…From a line-up of 21 feature films, more than half are directed by women and eight were made by first time filmmakers. We are pleased to welcome them all to New York during these ten days.”

In addition to “The Animal Kingdom,” this year’s slate of films includes Pascal Bonitzer’s “Auction,” Robin Campillo’s “Red Island,” Marie Amachoukeli’s “Àma Gloria,” Michel Gondry’s “The Book of Solutions,” Vanessa Filho’s “Consent” and Ladj Ly’s “Les Indésirables,” among several other titles across a myriad of genres.

Two documentaries that will screen are the Cesar-nominated “On the Adamant,” directed by Nicholas Philibert, and “Little Girl Blue,” directed by Mona Achache and starring Marion Cotillard. Achache’s film is a story that “blurs the line between truth and fiction to produce a work as fittingly unsettling and unforgettable as her subject — her own mother.” Both Achache and Cotillard will be present in person at the festival.

Among the other talent attending the festival in person are Marie Amachoukeli (Dir: “Àma Gloria”), Nathan Ambrosioni (Dir: "Toni"), Pascal Bonitzer (Dir:“Auction,”), Robin Campillo (Dir:“Red Island,”), Jean-Pierre Daroussin (Actor:"Marguerite’s Theorem"), Delphine Deloget (Dir:"All To Play For"), Valérie Donzelli, (Dir: "Just the Two of Us"), Nora El Hourch (Dir:"Sisterhood"), Vanessa Filho (Dir:“Consent”), Iris Kaltenbäck (Dir:"The Rapture"), Héléna Klotz (Dir: "Spirit of Ecstasy"), Erwan Le Duc (Dir: "No Love Lost"), Thomas Lilti (Dir: "A Real Job"), Ladj Ly (Dir:“Les Indésirables,”), Victoria Musiedlak (Dir: "First Case"),  Anna Novion (Dir: "Marguerite’s Theorem"), Nicolas Philibert (Dir:“On the Adamant”), Ramata-Toulaye Sy (Dir: "Banel & Adama"), and Maud Wyler (Actress: "No Love Lost").

Tickets for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema are on sale at

Some festival highlights include:

Writer-director Mona Achache’s searing drama-documentary hybrid “Little Girl Blue” studies multi -generational dysfunction between three generations of women in her family: starting with her writer/publisher grandmother Monique Lange, her mother troubled Carole Achache (a suicide) and herself.

It’s as raw as a autopsy.

Narrator Achache, “playing” herself throughout
casts Marion Cotillard to play her abused, troubled mother Carole.

A trove of documents, books, photos, letters and journals is the bedrock of the script.

It’s a meta film about process: Mona’s process of discovery and Actress Cotillard meticulous transformations and rehearsal preparing to play Carole.

Mona sifts through the documentation, transforming the apartment set into a massive collage: stalactites of papers hang overhead. The walls start to close in. next door walls of books remind us that Monique Lange's rare life as a writer and editor at Gallimard came before her family.

Perhaps that's not fair to say, Moniques was passionately enmeshed with daughter Carole but her masochistic relationship with gay writer Juan Goytisolo (Carole's father) and one of her writers Jean Genet lured her to the dark side. Carole paid the price for Monique's slavish relationships with Goytisolo and Genet.  

Egged on by Monique's poor judgement, young, ambitious Carole, whose life was also spend around the likes of Violette Leduc, Marguerite Duras, Dyonis Mascolo, began to compete with Monique for Genets attention. Genet trangresses, abusing Carole, leading to her spate of prostitution in New York.
Slipped into Carole's morose skin Cotilliard interviews family friends, looking for intimate insights- including Nikos Papatakis (director, actor, screenwriter);
Daniel Cordier (French Resistance fighter, historian art dealer): Florence Malraux (actress, assistant director, wife Alan Resnais"); and radio journalist Kathleen Evin,

Though not mentioned in the film Monique, who took over the translation section at Gallimard controlled the French rights to friend William Faulkner's work. Beside her many autobiographical novels she wrote film scripts: Roberto Rossellini's Vanina Vanini, Henri- Georges Clouzot's La Prisonniere, Vittorio de Seta's L'invitata and Joseph Losey's La Truite. She wrote biographies of Piaf and Cocteau: Jean Cocteau, prince sans royaume (1989) and Histoire de Piaf (1988).

Monique's family included Marcel Proust (a cousin) philosophers Henri Bergson and Emmanuel Berl, and her father Robert Lange the brilliant journalist.
Her last book, Les Cahiers dechires ("Torn Notebooks") in 1994, details his sad battle with mental disease.
Towards the end, the famous globe trotting journalist endlessly mused "I'm the one man on earth who met both Clemenceau and Chou En-Lai."

Marie Amachoukeli’s exquisite "Àma Gloria" is a portrait of a nanny-housekeeper and the needy, trusting little girl she loves and cares for.

Six-year-old Cléo (played in a remarkable layered performance by new-comer Louise Mauroy-Panzani)
lives with her doting widowed dad (Arnaud Rebotini), sustained by her loving Cape Verdean nanny Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego). Cléo depends on Gloria’s love. It’s palpable. Gloria raised her since infancy. She's her 'daughter'.

Extreme closeups establish their small circle of intimacy. Bathing her, making up stories, feeding her, investing in the winsome motherless girl with buoyant playfulness, all this is reflected in Cléo's drawings. ADD

Gloria is Cléo’s replacement mother, the beloved engine of their little family. The center of her world.

They each pay a price for this love. Gloria’s left her two children in Cape Verde to be raised by her mother.

Gloria receives a terrible call. Her mother has passed away. Suddenly she must go home, handle the funeral and raise her own children.

"I'll see you again? "Cléo wonders. "When will you be back?" "I won't be back this time," Gloria explains

To comfort desperate Cléo, Gloria invites her to spend summer vacation in Cape Verde. Cléo’s father, who works long hours, eventually agrees.

Their family fractured by Gloria’s economically driven migration to France, Gloria’s children are uneasy welcoming a mother they don’t know. Their “mother” just died.

They have to work their way through their resentments as they develop relationships with long absent Gloria,
as Gloria has to work her way back into her own family: and her culture

Locals deride Glorias 'Frenchiness' and remind her she knows nothing about life in Cape Verde

At the airport, Gloria and Cléo’s reunion is joyous. Cléo, tries to make sense of what she sees, "Your place is tiny", she says. "It's tiny but it my house," explains Gloria

Cléo works at figuring out where she stands with Gloria’s kids. She’s brought gifts. Pregnant Fernanda (Abnara Gomes Varela) thanks her for a necklace. Resentful César (Fredy Gomes Tavares) ignores her and the gift.

All the themes of family loss, colonial migration, class and racial inequity, play out in Cléo’s performance. We feel everything as she does. She’s more than transparent. It’s hard to watch her little face figure it all out.

She’s been abandoned (twice). She’s too young to understand the world doesn’t revolve around her. Regaining Gloria, even momentarily, means everything to her. She’s jealous of Fernanda, César and the coming baby, anyone who takes Gloria’s affection away from her. Unable to express all this, she begins acting out, Fighting for her love, eventually frightening Gloria

Gloria is suffering, balancing her Paris 'daughter' and her own kids. Cléo’s naked dependency and anger reminds her of what her children had to face when she left, six years ago.

Cinematographer Inès Tabarin captures the sunny  deceptive easy going Island life. Lyrical, child like animation sequences (Marie Lyet, Pierre-Emmanuel Lyet) create emotional interstitials.

Marie Amachoukeli-Barsac and Pauline Guéna's script is a marvel of nuance and feeling. It shows compassion for everyone.

The film's journey is that of severing bonds. Forced by circumstance Cléo must grow up enough to live without Gloria and Gloria must replace a simpler love with burdened relationships. A MUST SEE

in ”The Temple Woods Gang" (Le Gang des Bois du Temple), Franco-Algerian Director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche ("Story of Judas" , "Bled Number One" and "South Terminal") re-envisions the heist movie as a noir drained of all expressionist drama and stylized violence.

The heist was Inspired by a real incident. In 2014, Eight masked gunmen driving in two BMWs ambushed a Saudi royal's convoy leaving Four Seasons Hotel George V, getting away with a Mercedes Viano and 250,000 euros.

With telling detail, we meet the band of would be thieves, neighbors in housing project Bois du Temple,  north of Paris in Clichy-sous-Bois.

Ameur-Zaïmeche cast a mix of pro and non pro actors and allows improvisations. Family sequences introduces us to the characters, who despite their crime, we root for throughout.  

Pro thief Bébé (Philippe Petit) and a team  of five pals Mouss (Kenji Meunier), Tonton (Salim Ameur-Zaïmeche,) Melka (Kamel Mezdour), Nass (Nassim Zazoui) and  DAri (Rida Meszdour) plot to rob the SUV of Saudi prince (Mohamed Aroussi). Mouss, who works at a luxury car rental service, coordinates.

Also living in Bois du Temple is Monsieur Pons (Régis Larcoche) and his mother. The film starts with the death of Monsieur Pons's mother.

The pals commiserate with Monsieur Pons.  He's a neighborhood favorite, his mother made them crepes.

Pons, a former army sniper, spends his days in the local cafe handicapping the horses.

The well co-ordinated highway tunnel ambush goes off well.  No-one is hurt and two men, the driver and the Prince's aide de camp (Lucius Barre-famed International film publicist) are left handcuffed in the tunnel as the gang drive off with a stolen car and a briefcase full of money, jewels, watches and classified documents.

The Prince and his "attendant" discuss eliminating the gang with the same calm, educated tones as they discuss art. They have no congress with the Plebs.
Eradication has as much import as hiring a pest control service.
Like highway men attacking Royal envoys,
the gang whoops it up, celebrating it's successful adventure, unaware that the Prince's high powered connections are all ready zoning in on them to exact a swift revenge. A ace investigator the Prince, has used before, (Slimane Dazi) has them in his sights.  

Sweet respites from impending doom include a scene where Bébé reads bedtime stories to his children. Doting
Bébé shared childraising with concerned Linda.

Ameur-Zaïmeche's violence is matter of fact,  banal, without the flash of cinematic tropes.

The drama is enlivened by two lengthy mysterious musical scenes. A woman (Annkrist) intones a ancient sounding mournful lament during the funeral service for Monsieur Pons mama. Her elegy haunts all the action to come.  Later Monsieur Pons trails the Prince and his attendant to an Arabic club, where the prince strip off his Mufti and performs an ecstatic dance to Oriental glam, Raï star Sofiane Sadi.

However unlikely, the minimalist ending, seem correct, just, satisfying.

Nathan Ambrosioni’s “Toni” “(AKA “Toni En Famille”
is a comic look at single parenthood.

Widowed Toni (Camille Cottin), a largely forgotten one-name 90’s pop star, is bringing up five children in Nice.

Forty-something Toni sings at night clubs to put food on the table.  She still gets royalties for her Naughties hit which sometimes plays on the radio. When it does her delighted kids join proudly performing the family anthem.

One of her lowest moments is appearing at a Karaoke party to join in singing her only hit.

TV producers stalk her to appear on a where Are The Now segment. Dodging the intrusive reporters, she's appalled to discover her mother sent them. "It's your last chance for a comeback", her mother explains, still trying to run Toni's life.

Her two eldest are  about to leave for college (la FAC)

Exhausted from referring between her five kids, Toni wanders into an office offering Skills Assessment and ponders going back to school to finish her education.

Talented dancer Mathilde (Léa Lopez) is joining a dance company in Hungary (room and board and a small salary.) Toni urges her to apply for college as a backup. Reluctantly Mathilde applies to the local University of Nice Sophia Antipoli.

Marcus (Thomas Gioria), who's a aggressive vlogger/influencer, is entering University of Lyon. High schooler Camille (Louise Labèque) is always the last kid to pile into their car, forced to sit in "the trunk".  Youngest  middle schoolers Olivia (Juliane Lepoureau) and moody Timothée (Oscar Pauleau) are always scrapping at school. Timothée, embarrassed to be seen with clingy Olivia pushes her down at school.

Her kids want her personal time, but with five and job, it's impossible to give quality time. Sitting together, munching delivery Pizza, laughing at the TV in a darkened room is as close as she comes. Toni is called in.

In one scene blogger Marcel explains to his phone cam that he's going to film his family's reaction when he  surprises them by "coming out". "I'm Gay" he proudly proclaims. "Pass the Tabouleh" someone says. His big reveal is a dud, everyone's already figured it out.

When Camille mutters "Me too" and surprises the whole family with "I'm a lesbian" It's official, forcing Marcel to label the show-"How my family ruined my coming out."

Simmering with unexpressed rage Timothée either overdoses or passes out drunk. Rushed to the hospital he's put back into therapy, as he was after his father died.

Toni realizes her TV obsessed mom (Catherine Mouchet) pushed her into the Pop world, entering her in the TV contest which changed her life before she could figure out what HER life was. She's been living her Mom's version of her life. No longer.

In an antic scene, Toni secretly visits her old prof to get her school records, hiding from her kids enrolled at the same school.

Deciding to apply, Toni tells her family, hoping they will proudly encourage her. Like divorcée Cary Scott's (Jane Wyman) kids in Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows", Toni's kids are offended. Mathilde worries they'll both be enrolled at Nice Sophia Antipoli. Others worry if "they" can afford it".

Toni just sucks it up. In her initial appointment for funding, after an emotional confession about her Pop Star diverted life, the counselor tries to divert Toni to a less specialized two year program to become a healthcare assistant. Toni refuses.

Informing her that most applicants her age do not graduate, the University offers her a special, longer course, Toni accepts. In an a endearing scene Marcel calls her on her first day. She's still in the car, He asks her to describe her Back To School outfit. "Ditch the jacket", he advises. "Now get out of the car and don't think".

In Erwan Le Duc’s “No Love Lost,” teen agers Etienne (Argentine actor Nahuel Pérez-Biscayart-‘BPM”) and Valerie (Mercedes Dassy) fall in love at a street protest. A wild love montage follows, including escaping the police in a stolen motorboat.

Pérez-Biscayart’s winsome, daffy performance as perpetual optimist and father- mother Etienne is the glue of the film.  

Valerie gets pregnant. With the blessings of Etienne's family they live together. Soon after Rosa is born Valerie takes off, never to return. Doting Etienne raises Rosa in an upbeat inseparable father-daughter relationship. No room for anyone else. Unconditional love.

“Did you love Mom?“ asks 10 year-old Rosa. “Absence isn’t a feeling. You can’t love someone absent.”
Rosa promise to stay with him forever.

17 years later. Etienne, Rosa and Etienne’s girlfriend Hélène (Maud Wyler) live together. Rosa (Céleste Brunnquell) paints. Her canvases fill the house.

She has a courtly romance with her highschool boyfriend Youssef (Mohammed Louridi), bundling in bed together without sex. Youssef, a budding writer hangs with them, hoping to adopt their family story for his writing. Their tragedy fuels his epic poem, three years into the making.
“I’m loved, That’s my problem. Only sorrow builds character.”Youssef pontificates.

When Rosa's accepted on a course at the Beaux-Arts de Metz art school, far from their home, cautious Etienne meets her professors so they can contact him if anything goes worng, then times the road trip from their home to the campus.

He’s not the only one worrying about breaking the father daughter bond. “Helene, Why do you love my father?“ Rosa asks. “I like damaged men.” “Just establish you’ll take good care of him.” “You’re giving him to me?” “Just a loan.”

Etienne decides to sell the family house. Rosa says she’ll stay, so he doesn’t sell.  He won’t allow it

Etienne coaches the local soccer team. Soccer players climb out of car, about twenty from a small sedan. It’s a gag from old cartoons, copied by Jerry Lewis in "The Bellhop".

Then the city decides to plant trees on his soccer pitch. The smarmy Mayor (Noémie Lvovsky) drops the bomb.
"We’ll build a forest. Apparently we have a planet to save. It’s the times.”
Rosa informs him about “her first time”, since “You like to be informed.” Etienne blanches. Worse he sees Valerie on TV, a surfing report on the world highest wave in Nazare, Portugal.  

He’s stunned. He starts flashbacking.  On the day Valerie left, wearing baby Rosa across his chest in a baby carrier  Etienne presents his paper “Football coach’s License: he who loses wins”, bouncing her as he presents his dissertation.

Etienne goes to Rosa’s school and proposes they go to Nazare to meet her mom Valerie.

Aggravated loyal Rosa lets him have it, “You’re pitiful, I say it because I’M here. Since when did we need her? I’m eighteen. You can stop protecting me and revel in your drama. Cry in my strong arms."

"When did you find her desertion heroic, and mistake her selfish cowardice for freedom?“

Etienne tumbles down a steep staircase, flees his hospital bed and heads off for Nazare, followed by Rosa.
The three meet on a coastal road, no explanation. Rosa and Valerie stare at each other, across a country road, frozen.  Etienne leaves, blithe, liberated.

Le Duc's previous films are "Perdrix" (AKA The Bare Neccesity 2019) and Le soldat vierge (AKA The Virgin Soldier 2016).



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