FILM 1: Farewell My Queen/Les adieux à la reine
4pm, Chafee 271
Running time: 100’
Benoît Jacquot’s nimble, lush adaptation of Chantal Thomas’s 2003 novel about the chaos at Versailles on the eve of the 1789 revolution is told not through the vantage point of the monarchs but through the eyes of Sidonie, the besotted reader to Marie Antoinette. Compressed to four tumultuous days (July 14–17) and taking place almost entirely within the actual royal palace, Farewell, My Queen tracks its protagonist relentlessly. The camera is often positioned just a few inches behind Sidonie as she scrambles down corridors, sometimes tripping, as she tries to make sense of the rumors she hears among other courtiers and rushes to read a few pages of Rousseau to Her Majesty. “Your love of the queen makes you blind to her caprice,” one of Louis XVI’s historians tells Sidonie—and the pleasure of Jacquot’s film is in watching various strains of discreet yet heated, deluded passionate attachment performed. Itchy Sidonie may thrill, however demurely, to the queen’s applying rosewood water to her mosquito bites, but she will seethe in silent jealousy as she watches, unnoticed, Marie Antoinette interlace fingers with and coo over her most prized pet, Gabrielle de Polignac—who makes la reine lose her mind before she loses her head.
FILM 2: School of Babel/La cour de Babel
3pm, Fogarty 214
Running time: 89’
School of Babel follows a year in a Paris schoolroom for children who have recently immigrated to France. Using a surprisingly intimate fly-on-the-wall style, Julie Bertucelli’s documentary gives us unforgettable glimpses into the lives of tweens and teens from Mauritania, Serbia, Venezuela, Romania, Senegal, Libya, Ireland, Brazil, and China, children who have come to France for reasons ranging from studying violin at the Paris conservatory to escaping genital excision. The film’s triumph is in its remarkably succinct manner of creating complex portraits of the children and capturing the diversity of their experience. While School of Babelis full of incidental insights into French immigration policy and various headline-grabbing sociopolitical situations, the focus remains squarely in the classroom and on the children as individuals wrestling with a new language and a new culture (their heroic teacher primarily remains an off-screen presence). The film builds to a powerful climax when it comes time for the children to tearfully say goodbye to each other and their teacher; while their sadness is heartbreaking, it is also an uplifting sign that shared experience trumps cultural difference. In an age of resurgent uneasiness with all that is foreign, School of Babel is a powerful antidote to fear and suspicion and an inspiring source of hope for France and the world.
FILM 3: Mustang
4pm, Chafee 271
Running time: 94’
Some have called Mustang the “Turkish Virgin Suicides.” While Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s extraordinary debut has striking thematic similarities to Sofia Coppola’s film, its spirit of revolt is all its own. Ergüven goes beyond evoking the mystery and marvels of the world of adolescent girls to decry the denial of women’s rights the world over. Mustang begins at the point when the childhoods of five orphaned sisters in the Turkish countryside come to an abrupt end: when their grandmother and uncle learn they have been seen splashing around in the sea with boys, they lock them up inside the house. From there, things only get worse: medical virginity checks, arranged marriages, suicide… But the film holds our interest and carries our hope through the unrelenting rebellion of the youngest sister, Lale, who will not accept to be deprived of attending her favorite soccer team’s game, just as she will not stand to watch yet another sister be forced into a stranger’s arms. Lale’s long-planned escape from oppression and the sisters’ unbreakable bonds and explosive liveliness in the face of a repressive society are the giddy counterbalances to a sobering account of a state of affairs that holds true for millions of young women. As such, Mustang, a French co-production and nominee for the 2015 Academy Award for best foreign film, is not only a profoundly enjoyable viewing experience, but an essential one.
FILM 4: Chicken with Plums/Poulet aux prunes
3pm, Fogarty 214
Running time: 93’
As they did with Persepolis (2007), co-directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud once again magically translate a graphic novel by the former to the big screen. Unlike Persepolis, which was entirely animated, Chicken with Plums, set in Tehran in 1958, is mostly live action. But the flesh-and-blood actors—including a heartbreaking Mathieu Amalric as Nasser-Ali Khan, a gifted violinist so miserable that he wills himself to die—appear before wondrously hyper-stylized sets, a mise-en-scène that imbues Chicken with Plums with the power of a parable. As Nasser-Ali takes to his bed, where he plans to expire, the film recalls the source of his sorrow, stretching all the way back to his childhood. The talented musician’s unhappy marriage to schoolteacher Faringuisse is recounted, as well as his distant relationship to his two young children (whose own fates are presented in droll flash-forward). Soon the real reason for Nasser-Ali’s anguish becomes clear: the rupture of his first—and only—great love affair, with a beautiful woman called Irâne. Her name assumes subtle allegorical significance in this deeply melancholic film, suggesting that she represents not only a lost love but a country misled.
FILM 5: Far from Men/Loin des hommes
4pm, Chafee 271
Running time: 101’
Algeria, 1954. The War of Independence is rumbling into being. In a remote one room schoolhouse in the Atlas Mountains, Daru (Viggo Mortensen), the son of Spanish settlers, teaches Algerian children French. One day, local French police officers appear with Mohamed (Reda Kateb), an Algerian accused of murder, and charge Daru with escorting him to trial in the closest city while they continue to fight the growing insurrection. David Oelhoffen’s film starts off as an archetypal Western—two men thrown against each other as they traverse a barren landscape—but when Daru and Mohamed find themselves stuck between French troops and the rebel army, it turns into a gripping meditation on the fate of individuals tossed to and fro by sociopolitical forces beyond their control. Freely adapted from Albert Camus’s short story The Guest (from the collection Exile and the Kingdom), Far from Men has the classic sheen of the films of Hollywood’s Golden Age: big moral questions projected onto vast landscapes, steely performances from its two stars, and, most importantly, a universality grounded in the specific. While Far from Men is essential viewing for its insight into a conflict whose effects continue to be felt, it is first and foremost a universal story of civilians faced with the absurdity of war.
FILM 6: Chocolat
3pm, Fogarty 214
Running time: 105’
With the release of her beautiful debut feature Chocolat in 1988, director Claire Denis appeared as a fully-formed, major talent who used stunningly composed wide shots, associative sequences of images, and an offbeat eye for detail to evoke the complex moods of Africa in the last decade of French colonial rule. Based on the director’s own childhood as the daughter of a French administrator in Africa, Chocolat is seen through the eyes of a French district officer’s little girl in a remote part of Cameroon. When a French plane crash-lands nearby, the district officer takes in its passengers, a group of colonial administrators and entrepreneurs who soon bring to light the many tensions underlying the family’s apparently sleepy existence, not least of which is the subtly conveyed but deeply sensual attraction between the mistress of the house and the handsome black houseboy, Protée. While the film is as hushed and languid as the plains surrounding the district office, it is full of searing portraits of colonial life, with characters who appear for a single scene but whose memory hovers over the entire film like the implicit promise of the change to come. Shot entirely on location, Chocolat established Claire Denis as one of the least didactic yet most revealing chroniclers of the European presence on the continent, a reputation that would be confirmed by her later films Beau Travail and White Material.