Summer in France

TIFF Bell Lightbox July 13 – September 2 / Criterion films

TIFF Cinematheque at TIFF Bell Lightbox is going seriously Francophile this summer with a dazzling line-up of films that span that country’s great filmmakers, films and stars, featuring as they put it “popular classics, buried treasures and the latest restorations and new prints”. 

That’s some kind of merveilleux considering the quality of the films and prints and the current theatrical alternative these dog days of summer.   And there are dozens of titles to whet appetites. CLICK HERE for more films that will be available.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End or Oliver Stone’s Savages?  Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game or Magic Mike?   François Truffaut’s Hitchcock homage The Bride Wore Black featuring the music of Bernard Hermann, The 400 Blows or Jules et Jim or Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection?   Just because its summer, there is no excuse to wallow in the mediocre when brilliant French gems are available on the big screen.

In the mood for cool noir?  Then Louis Malle’s black and white chiller Elevator to the Gallows will feel right. Or Henri-Georges Clouzot’s murderous meditation Diabolique will surely drop the temperature in dizzying fashion. 

France and style are long time comrades and Last Year at Marienbad drives the point further home with its manicured mystery, even though its set in a German hunting lodge. Godard’s metaphysical enigma offers plenty to think about and sublime visuals.

1960’s Parisian street culture sets the stage for Agnes Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 as a pop star wanders the city burdened with knowledge that her life may end soon.  She is transformed over the course of 90 minutes and given pause when she meets a soldier headed for the Algerian War the next day.

Catherine Deneuve appears in Louis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour as a housewife who seeks dark masochistic adventures. The film hasn’t been available for public viewing in twenty years. The ground-breaking Breathless, from Godard concerns a woman who prefers to dish out trouble.

The much admired manor house drama The Rules of the Game in which upstairs and downstairs boundaries disappear in lethal love games features filmmaker Jean Renoir in a key role.  The sexual abandon of the Gallic characters contrasts enormously with comedies of that came out of the UK at that time, just a few miles across the channel.

The stars that illuminate Summer in France come brilliantly to life for a new generation of fans – Jean-Pierre Léaud , Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Delphine Seyrig, Romy Schneider, Jean Seberg, Jean Paul Belmondo, Francois Dorleac, Simone Signoret, Arletty, Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux, Annabella, Jacques Tati and Jean Gabin.  Google them. 

Programmer James Quant cites “the recent triumph The Artist” as a starting point for the retrospective, when he was reminded of the vastness and artistry of French film, comparing it to America’s as an “originating” industry.

Tati’s Playtime, a masterpiece of visual comedy and its score of city sounds revolutionized comedy when it was released in 1967. Tati ignored the rules and recreated the genre.

Godard’s Week End, the absurdly funny yet profound story of an amoral husband and wife on the run to kill a relative for the inheritance. Their mission is complicated by miles and miles of traffic jams, smashed cars, bloodied dead bodies scattered around, a seemingly endless horror that they barely notice but ultimately create. 

Godard’s unique style, colors, backdrops – mostly in the natural world, garish mid-stream graphic announcements, political grandstanding and nonsensical, often sickening events make this a revelation about the human condition and how easy it is, in the right circumstances to go berserk. 

The blame is placed on increasing consumerism - w ell it was the 60’s - and the political upheaval in Europe since the World Wars.  And yet it somehow looks like today.

Not in Toronto?  For the “ultimate staycation”, many of these rare titles are available through Criterion Collection Home Entertainment,

Further Reading on M&C