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[whitespace] Gallic Treats

Palo Alto Film Festival turns the spotlight on the French

By Richard von Busack

WHAT HAPPENED to French movies? In France, the American blockbuster rules as it does here. It was dismaying on my last visit, 10 years ago, to see huge posters all over the Metro for Allo Mama, C'est Moi Encore (Look Who's Talking, Too). The commercial triumph of Luc Besson's junk-food sensibility and the American audience's declining ability to read subtitles have eliminated most French and French-language films from local theaters. The first-annual Palo Alto French Film Festival proposes to fill the gap.

Opening night (Oct. 22) features (1998), a Quebecois comedy/drama about the Canadian national emergency in 1970 when the separatist FLQ kidnapped the minister of labor. Director Robert LePage contrasts the claustrophobic terror of the underground plotters with the in-color adventures of a disoriented actress. Sophie (Anne-Marie Cadieux) has discovered that she's pregnant and doesn't know who the father is. Sophie's life becomes a farce, like the inferior Feydeau play in which she's acting. Worse, she gets caught up with a married-and-hating-it diplomat and his snobbish shrew of a wife.

Apparently, director LePage means to liken the scariness of the Canadian emergency to both Japanese Noh tragedy and slapstick farce. It doesn't all add up. However, the scenes of Sophie's nigh-breakdown recall the adventures of Pedro Almodovar's gorgeous emotional wrecks. The film works because of Cadieux, a strapping woman with a strong jaw like Vanessa Redgrave's.

On Saturday (Oct. 23), the festival will present three films. Chief! (10:30am), from the Francophonic nation of Cameroon, focuses on the dedication of a monument to King Kamga Joseph II, grand-uncle of the film's director, Jean-Marie Teno, who takes the occasion to study the troubles of Africa in the hands of one-man rulers. Streetheart (12:30pm) stars Cadieux again as the remote sister of a woman who combats her loneliness by befriending strangers on the streets of Montreal. To Have (or Not) (3:30pm) is Laetitia Masson's story of the romance of an unemployed cannery girl (Sandrine Kimberlain) and a hotel night porter (Arnaud Giovanietti) on the coast of Normandy.

Sunday's series includes The Other Shore (2pm) and the filmed-in-Africa Port Djema (4:15pm); Giles Mimouni's The Apartment (7pm) has the most general appeal of the day's films. It's an homage to Vertigo (and others). A striving Parisian yuppie is reminded, on the eve of his marriage, of the woman who could have changed his life. The woman vanished without a trace years before and now apparently has rematerialized. When the man tracks his lost love through Paris, she turns out to be a different woman, an enigmatic girl played by the sultry Romaine Bohringer.

The Palo Alto French Film Festival runs Oct. 22-24 in Palo Alto at Spangenberg Theater, Gunn High School, 740 Arastadero Rd. Tickets are available at www.pafff.org or 650.404.2211. Some films contain nudity, and children under 17 will not be admitted without an adult.

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From the October 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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