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    From Pas sur la Bouche in Rendezvous with French Cinema
    From "Pas sur la Bouche"

    Eet eez to laugh!

    Three comedies are highlights of the Rendezvous with French Cinema festival, including one starring Audrey Tautou and another with Daniel Auteuil.


    One can only wonder which 15 recent films might be chosen for a group showcase of contemporary American cinema in Paris. Based on the impressions created by this year's annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, "the French, they are still a funny race," to paraphrase the naughty poem. As usual, this petit French Film Festival offers a plethora of cinematic joys and discoveries amidst its coterie, as well as a few winners of the "what the hell were they thinking?" award.

    Includes individual films: "Pas sur la Bouche" (Not on the Lips); "Le Co˛t de la Vie" (The Cost of Living); "Apr¸s Vous" (After You)
    In French with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Rendezvous with French Cinema 2004
  • Grande Ecole
  • Twentynine Palms
  • The Time of the Wolf
  • Who Killed Bambi?
  • "Pas sur la Bouche" ("Not on the Lips!") is definitely among the joys. Alain Resnais, the 82 years young New Waver ("Last Year at Marienbad"), continues to reinvent himself onscreen with this charming film version of a 1920s French "operetta." It's a perfect follow-up to "On Connait la Chanson" ("Same Old Song"), his multiple Cˇsar-winning original musical lip-synch homage to Dennis Potter.

    A fairly standard French boulevard sex farce set to music, "PslB" features many of the "SOS" stars, including Sabine Azˇma (Resnais's real-life "companion") as the film's leading lady, Gilberte, Pierre Arditi as her trusting and debonair, but foolhardy, husband Georges, and Lambert Wilson as Eric, a prudish American businessman. (This character may well be an anti-American slap-on-the-wrist, given the current international political scene.)

    From Le Co˛t de la Vie in Rendezvous with French Cinema  
    From "Le Co˛t de la Vie"
    Of the newcomers, the remarkably adroit Isabelle Nanty gives a knowing nod to all those b&w musicals of the '30s, playing Arlette, a comically randy spinster (for which she herself won a Cˇsar nod), while Audrey Tautou — the beloved screwball star of "Amˇlie" — joins the Resnais roster as the coquettish Huguette. The subversively fey qualities of Franklin Pangborn and Eric Blore are given a Gallic twist by the redoubtable Daniel Prˇvost as Faradel.

    To even begin to describe who wants whom, who chases whom and who finally gets whom would spoil what little surprise the film contains. Its real charm lies in its faithful, yet knowing, recreation of a bygone film genre. Suffice to say the right hommes in spats get the right femmes in hats. "PslB" may not be a major musical spectacular on the order of, say, "Moulin Rouge," "Chicago" or the upcoming Cole Porter bio-pic "De-Lovely," but Resnais's two "musicals" have tapped into the same musical-nostalgia zeitgeit as our own, winning myriad Cˇsar nominations and awards along the way.

    Among the other upbeat films in this series are a pair of bourgeois comedies: "Le Co˛t de la Vie" ("The Cost of Living") and "Apr¸s Vous" ("After You"), both revolving around similar themes and settings — money, love and restaurants — both asserting that without the former, neither of the latter two could exist — and both films fairly screaming for instant American remakes.

    Phillippe Le Guay's "Le Co˛t de la Vie" emits an Altmanesque texture and complexity with its rondelay of skewed characters starting with Coway (Vincent Lindon/"Friday Night"), the debt-ridden bon vivant owner of a trendy restaurant. Lindon, a rugged Jean Gabin "working man" type, is Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford rolled into one and thus a perfect foil for Brett (Fabrice Luchini/"Beaumarchais"), a fussy little rich, but miserly financier.

    But the richest of the lot is Nicolas de Blamond (Claude Rich/"La B˛che"), a tycoon whose decision to divest himself of wealth sets off a chain reaction among the workers in the factories he shuts down. On the distaff side are Laurence (Isild Le Besco/"Sade"), a pretty but klutzy waitress (who is not what she seems), Mil¸ne (Camille Japy/"When the Cat's Away"), Coway's long suffering lady and Hˇlˇna (Gˇraldine Pailhas/"Don Juan de Marco"), the working girl who makes everyone — especially Brett — pay. The Ce'sar even coughed her up a nomination.

      Danie Auteuil in Apr¸s Vous in Rendezvous with French Cinema
      Danie Auteuil in "Apr¸s Vous"
    LeGuay balances their various affaires, both business and pleasure, with a musical conductor's dexterity as they constantly teeter and totter on the brink of success or failure, both financial and amorous. It's the flip of a coin whether one is rich or homeless, happy or sad, coin being the operative word. If money talks, in this film it rules!

    "Apr¸s Vous" never ventures into the lives of the upper class, its comical mˇnage a trios is comprised of the hard-core working class or the petit bourgeois, especially the guys. And what guys! Daniel Auteuil ("Sade") is Antoine, the genial maitre d' of a small-time but successful Parisian restaurant. Antoine rescues the hapless Louis (Jose Garcia) from a suicide attempt and then inexplicably takes on the responsibility for his rehabilitation. Louis has failed at every pathetic job he's ever held — the list is not only sad, but fall-on-the-floor funny — and he's also lost Blanche, the love of his life.

    "Apr¸s Vous," reunites Garcia with his "Beaumarchais" co-star Sandrine Kiberlain, she of the wistful, waifish beauty that so perfectly suits her character, Blanche. In his heroic attempts to save Louis, Antoine not only hires him as sommelier at the restaurant (with the inevitable devastating results) but searches out Blanche for a reconciliation with Louis. Since this is a French film, Jacques may not get Jill and Louis may not get Blanche, but there is a gallic happy ending of sorts for all. Although it's not a musical, I dare anyone to leave and not start whistling the film's catchy theme song, "Allo Charley, Tango Papa."

    A word about Auteil, who (like his comp¸re Depardieu), is the kind of supreme actor capable of convincing the audience in any role. Whether comedy, tragedy, historical, pastoral ... or well, anything, he's equally credible as a hunchback swashbuckler ("Le Bossu"), a Parisian nebbish ("The Closet") or the malevolent Marquis de Sade. This no doubt accounts for his 11th Cˇsar nomination for "Apr¸s Vous." (For the record, Depardieu has 14 nominations and each actor has won twice.)

    Festival articles



    After You

    Do-anything actor Daniel Auteuil sparkles in this endearing French ménage ą quatre.


    Grande Ecole

    A confused, stiffly acted drama about an elite French school is somewhat redeemed by a lot of hot love scenes.


    The Time of the Wolf

    Survivors try to survive the post-apocalyptic world of "The Time of the Wolf," an exploration of civilization vs. savagery.


    Twentynine Palms

    The self-consciously empty "Twentynine Palms," by the French director of "The Life of Jesus" and "Humanitˇ," is almost two hours of anti-American tedium punctuated by twenty minutes of random badness.


    Who Killed Bambi?

    Belying his track record, writer Gilles Marchand lets director Gilles Marchand down a bit with a script that doesn't give enough smarts to the would-be thriller "Who Killed Bambi?"

    MARCH 21, 2004

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