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What to see at Lincoln Center's 'Rendez-Vous with French Cinema'

Make sure you see the terrorist saga "Nocturama," the best film of 2017 so far.
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    Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in Francois Ozon's "Frantz"

    |Music Box Films

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    "In Bed with Victoria"

    |Ecce Films

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    "In the Forest of Siberia"

    |Angle Pictures

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    One of our chilling terrorists in "Nocturama"

    |Grasshopper Films

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    Agathe Bonnitzer and Isabelle Huppert in "Right Here, Right Now"

"Rendez-Vous with French Cinema"
Mar. 2 through Mar. 12
Film Society of Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center and Unifrance’s annual deep-dive into contemporary French cinema is a little edgier than usual. Granted, that’s thanks to one film: “Nocturama,” about terrorists taking over Paris. It’s the most thrilling movie of the year so far, and it sits alongside the usual “Rendez-Vous” fare: the latest from masters like Francois Ozon (“Frantz”), Bruno Dumont (“Slack Bay”) and Nicole Garcia (“From the Land to the Moon”), with appearances from gods like Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, Marion Cotillard.

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Here are five we can recommend:

‘Frantz’
“Swimming Pool”’s Francois Ozon used to be the badboy of French cinema, but in his 40s he’s settled into a comfortable groove. Like “Young & Beautiful” and “The New Girlfriend,” “Frantz” tackles a tricky subject with grace and quiet complexity. A young, earnest Frenchman (“Yves Saint Laurent”’s Pierre Niney) worms his way into the life of a German couple, claiming to have been friends with their son, who was killed in World War I. As his visits increase, it becomes clear he’s not being entirely honest. Shot in inky digital black-and-white (with the occasional transcendent color interlude), it’s a serene melodrama that touches on nationalism, self-delusion and the (occasional) importance of lies. It falls apart in the end, as Ozons sometimes do, but as usual the middle section is tops. Thurs., Mar. 2, 9:15 p.m. and Sat., Mar. 11, 1 p.m. (Matt Prigge)

‘In Bed with Victoria’
The title suggests a frothy sex farce, but Victoria (Virginie Efira) is actually quite lousy in bed, often talking too much about her messy life. She’s a successful lawyer going through a bad patch: She gets suspended while defending her friend Vincent (Melvil Poupaud), sues her ex-husband David (Laurent Poitrenaux) and can’t see that her former client, Samuel (Vincent Lacoste), desires her. Victoria may be her own worst enemy, but Efira shines in this droll rom-com that features more smiles than laughs as Victoria gets her groove back, and finds her happy place. Sat., Mar. 4 at 9:30 p.m. and Sun., Mar. 12 at 3:30 p.m. (Gary M. Kramer)

‘In the Forest of Siberia’
French urbanite Teddy (Raphael Personnaz) chucks it all away and buys a cabin on Lake Baikal to live freely and in solitude. He’s ready for a simple existence, but he comes unprepared for the freezing wind, cold and storms. He doesn’t even know how to hunt. Director/co-writer Safy Nebbou makes the harsh conditions palpable, and the film features gorgeous cinematography, especially when Teddy skates along the frozen lake. A potentially interesting subplot has Teddy befriending Aleksi (Evgeniy Sidikhin), a fugitive. But despite Personnaz’s remarkable performance, “In the Forest of Siberia” is never more than a fitfully engaging true-life survival tale. Sun., Mar. 5 at 1:00 p.m. and Fri., Mar. 9 at 4:00 p.m. (G.M.K)

‘Nocturama’
Bertrand Bonello’s Parisian terrorist saga was booted from last year’s Cannes lineup for reasons we probably don’t need to explain. But it’s no political tract or a “movie for our times.” It’s a thrilling opaque portrait that grows more mysterious as it goes on. We learn precious little about why its gang of insurrectionists — young, mixed, closer to a Baader-Meinhof than today’s radicals — have set bombs all over the city. The first half follows their setup; once the city has been rocked, they hole up in a cavernous department store, awaiting their fate. In both sections we luxuriate in their world, hanging with guerillas more prone to rock out to Blondie or Willow Smith than to hold court on society’s ills. Bonello is arguably France’s most exciting working filmmaker, and his films (“House of Pleasure,” “Saint Laurent”) defy easy explanations. He seems to work instinctually, and his every instinct is like lightning hitting a bottle. Sat., Mar. 4, 6:15 p.m. and Sun., Mar. 5, 9 p.m. (M.P.)

‘Right Here, Right Now’
Note: Isabelle Huppert only has a supporting role in this amusingly knotty French business dramedy, but it’s one of those (like “Things to Come”) that allows the legend to be more than an ice queen. Huppert gets to cry, gets to smolder, gets to play someone you’d want to hang with for a change. Her character is buried in a character-packed dramedy centered on Nora (Agathe Bonnitzer), a young professional as scarily focused as she is ambitious. When she learns her father (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is old college associates with her boss (Lambert Wilson), her straight-arrow life starts to unwind. A regular collaborator with the late Jacques Rivette, writer/director Pascal Bonnitzer knows his way around ensemble casts, though his latest is tight and crisp where Rivette’s were loose and sprawling. Fri., Mar. 10, 9:30 p.m., Sun., Mar. 12, 5:45 p.m. (M.P.)

"Rendez-Vous with French Cinema" runs from Thurs., Mar. 2 through Sun., Mar. 12 at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. For showtimes and tickets, visit their site.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge and Gary M. Krammer @garymkramer

 

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