I'm barely able to savor my bowl of coffee and croissant before needing to move on to the next festival in San Francisco's daunting October calendar, but didn't want to say adieu to the inaugural French Cinema Now series without summarizing that—due to popular response—the series has officially established itself as an annual event in the Bay Area's cinematic landscape. Kudos to the San Francisco Film Society and particularly to SFFS programmer Linda Blackaby for the program's successful launch.
In his introductory remarks to FCN's closing night presentation of Laurent Cantet's The Class (Entre les murs), SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat admitted that this year's festival was "under significant constraints" about when SFFS could accomplish the festival "and, as a result, we managed to conflict with about everything you could think of: The New York Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival, Fleet Week air show and the Jewish holidays. Next year we'll do our best to miss at least three out of the four of those events." Further, he promised that next year's edition would expand to a week's worth of French cinema.
With his characteristic humorous intelligence, Leggat commented that the closing night film, Entre les murs or The Class by Laurent Cantet unanimously won the Palme d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, "which makes it—essentially—the best film in the world. Not to raise your expectations or anything of that nature." Proudly, he advised that—as is frequently done by SFFS—the film was shared earlier in the festival with a packed house of Bay Area students who loved the film.
As stated in the program notes: "The Class provides a bracingly cliché-free corrective to the standard classroom drama, taking the viewer into a lively classroom 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 realism."
Astonishing, indeed. The Class grippingly portrays the hazardous symbiosis of the educational system, both for students and teachers alike and—as far as I'm concerned—is a shoe-in for an Oscar win in this season's foreign language category. Filmmaking just doesn't come much better than this.
In closing, the Special Preview Presentation of Pascal Bonitzer's Alibi (Le grand alibi, 2008), a gallicized Agatha Christie whodunit with the proverbial smoking gun—make that two smoking guns—offered the pleasure of watching French cinema's mastery of the acting ensemble, who by festival's end were becoming familiar friends. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's Actresses (Actrices, 2007), winner of the Special Jury Prize in Cannes' Un Certain Regard, is an accomplished meta-narrative about the pitfalls of performativity. A successful actress (Tedeschi) loses a life of marriage and motherhood to the unrelenting demands of the stage—not altogether a new theme—but skillfully crosspointed by the envious presence of a colleague who has lost her dreams of the stage due to the demands of marriage and motherhood. Life's true script is left open to question as even the reoccurring manifestation of the character Tedeschi is struggling to enact keeps popping up to offer advice not only on how to play the role, but how to live her life. This is a tour de force accomplishment for director/cowriter/actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi who—with self-deprecating wit—maneuvers the sticky wickets of this challenging game of croquet. There is a scene on the bus between Tedeschi and young love interest Louis Garrel that is luminously beautiful for having lost its bearings as to what is staged and what is real. Finally, Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, 2008)—the most successful French film of all time—was jush plain shilly.
Cross-published on Twitch.