French Film’s Crème De La Crème

Asingle film can be appreciated on its own terms, but a wide selection of films gives a more thorough cross-sectional grasp on a particular milieu – French films from the past year, for instance. To sate our fascination with all things France, along comes the Cinematheque Francaise Film Festival. All eight films intrigue with their own special je ne sais quoi.

In the House teeters on the lighter side of the film noir spectrum. This latest inspiration from Francois Ozon finds a gifted, albeit troubled, high school student turning in assignments that detail his voyeuristic observations of one of his classmates. Some initial dissuasion by his teacher quickly turns to compulsive obsession, as the student inserts himself into his unwitting subject’s household life and details his exploits for his teacher. Lines between truth and fiction disintegrate as teacher and student conspire and manipulate plot and conflict to outrageous ends.


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In the House

Relations between mentor and protege also spin out of control in the generational drama You Will Be My Son. There’s nothing the ambitious son of a wealthy vineyard owner can do to stake his place in the family business and claim his father’s respect. Instead, the proud patriarch lavishes his attention and invests his estate’s future in the son of his right-hand man, to the consternation of all involved. Bitter grapes lead to a drastic denouement.

Family dissent also is at the heart of Therese, but where the prior film dealt with robust wine operations, this period drama is a lesson in frigidity. Based on Francois Mauriac’s classic 1927 novel, the inimitable Audrey Tautou marries an affable gentleman, but for myriad subtle reasons she stages a mind-boggling, even to her, passive-aggressive rebellion against the familial institution. Her frustration has to do with the confines of tradition and provinciality that leave an intelligent woman with no passionate outlet.

A Lady in Paris is quite a different take on tenuous relationships. Descriptions like “dazzling performances” and “heartwarming” would be apt, yet they ring too sappy for the legendary Jeanne Moreau’s curmudgeonly portrayal of a wealthy old woman. We learn surprising things about her as she rages against – and humiliates – the meek Estonian woman who has been hired as her caregiver. In the end, A Lady in Paris is a celebration of the fierce need for human connection as the characters struggle to overstep the walls society builds against unconventional individuals and those we each build to protect ourselves from society’s judgment.

The most lighthearted flick of the bunch, Paris, Manhattan follows a woman whose inner conflicts present themselves in the form of communion with a giant poster of Woody Allen. She has a quirky Jewish family to contend with, including a dad who’s made a mission of getting her hitched, and a genial new male friend, with whom she keeps finding herself in haywire situations.

If you missed the opening night feature, Renoir, not to worry, it plays at Kahala beginning May 10. This study on Renoir is as cinematographically attractive as would be expected when portraying one of the world’s most glorified painters. However, the movie is as much about Renoir Jr., who would later become one of France’s most notable film directors, as his celebrated dad. The film is a visually poetic contemplation, where beauty, youth and vivacity contrast with war, decay and disfigurement. At the foreground, Papa’s latest muse, a gorgeous redhead, often languishing nude, quickens the veins of both men.

Also playing at the fest are two films from years past that integrate nicely into the lineup. The first is François Truffaut’s masterpiece Jules and Jim (1962), which introduced the world to now-megastar Jeanne Moreau – navigating a love triangle – 50 years before her starring role in A Lady in Paris. Second is French Cancan (1954), a work about backstage drama at the Moulin Rouge by famed movie director and subject of Renoir, Jean Renoir, son of the art maestro.

the TICKET stub

When: Through May 17
Where: Doris Duke Theatre (901 Kinau St.)
Cost: $10 per regular festival screening
More Info: 532-3033,

Photos courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art Doris Duke Theatre