Dateline: October 21, 2019
The Tournées French Film Festival will be held at The Princess Theatre in Decatur, Alabama from November 3 – November 20. Athens State University’s Art Department received a nationally competitive collegiate grant from the French American Cultural Exchange (in partnership with the cultural services of the French Embassy) for the acquisition and screening of six recent French-language films on campus.
The films selected for the festival and their screening times are as follows:
Sunday, November 3 at 2:00 pm: I Am Not Your Negro
Wednesday, November 6 at 6:00 pm: The Raven (Le Corbeau)
Sunday, November 10 at 2:00 pm: A Faithful Man
Wednesday, November 13 at 6:00 pm: Shoah: Four Sisters
Sunday, November 17 at 2:00 pm: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales
Wednesday, November 20 at 6:00 pm: High Life
All screenings will take place in the historic Princess Theatre. Admission is free.
Speaking on behalf of the festival organizers, Jamie Adams, Assistant Professor of Art, said, “We are thrilled to be hosting the Tournées French Film Festival for the very first time, and I feel quite certain that everyone who attends will be able to find something that speaks to them. This year’s festival has a little bit of everything: two powerful documentaries, a beloved animated film, a quirky romance, a science fiction masterpiece, and even a historic masterpiece that helped redefine French cinema.”
Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s brilliant documentary on racism in America is an essential work for our era, drawing a clear line from the Civil Rights struggle to today’s Black Lives Matter movement via the thought of James Baldwin, one of the most lucid, fearless American thinkers on race (and many other matters). Based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, which considered the history of racism through memories of Baldwin’s friends, the civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, I Am Not Your Negro analyzes white denial and black experience of racial oppression in a historical and contemporary context, bringing Baldwin’s observations into the present through powerful juxtapositions of his words (read in voiceover by Samuel L. Jackson) and, for instance, images of the Ferguson protests. Peck also generously culls from archival sources, notably the extensive talk show appearance in which Baldwin, an eloquent and spirited orator, publicly expresses that the “negro” is a white construct, and anything but a definition of who he is. By providing an impassioned, accessible introduction to James Baldwin’s work and thought, Peck has given us a crucial reference to address ongoing injustice in the United States.
One of the most influential films in the history of French cinema, Le Corbeau describes the breakdown of civic order in a small provincial town when a rash of poison-pen letters spreads suspicion among the local citizens: adultery, theft, even murder—there is no limit to the allegations set forth in the anonymous letters signed with the mysterious image of a crow. Many of the accusations focus on Doctor Rémy Germain, a recent arrival who is known to help women facing unwanted pregnancies, but who is probably not alone in having a secret or two. Made under the German Occupation, Le Corbeau was a tremendous public success upon its release, but its coal-black depiction of French life—and its not-so-subtle reference to the culture of denunciation under the Nazis—proved highly controversial after the Liberation. Clouzot was initially given a lifetime ban from filmmaking; it took several years for him to be reinstated and for Le Corbeau to be recognized as a masterpiece of mise-en-scène, mood, and moral complexity. In France, it remains the go-to reference whenever the veil is lifted on some ugliness simmering beneath the surface of an apparently tranquil community.
Abel is leaving home for work one morning when his live-in partner, Marianne stops him with a surprising news flash in three parts: she is pregnant, the father is Abel’s friend Paul, and she and Paul are getting married in ten days. Flash forward ten years and Abel catches sight of Marianne at Paul’s funeral. The couple reunite, which is where the trouble begins: Marianne’s son Joseph does not want to share her attentions with anyone and sets about convincing Abel that Marianne killed Paul. Meanwhile, Paul’s little sister Eve has blossomed into a beautiful young woman and is determined to woo Abel. With his charming second feature as a director, the actor Louis Garrel establishes himself as a worthy heir to the François Truffaut of the Doinel cycle of Parisian entertainments, smuggling a layer of disquiet and genuine eccentricity under a fizzy sheen of romantic comedy. Co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière—the supreme iconoclast behind the late films of Luis Buñuel—A Faithful Man is delightfully fast and brief but lingers in the memory through its peculiar details, its oddball narrative turns, and career-best performances by Louis Garrel as Abel and his real-life partner Laetitia Casta as Marianne.
The late Claude Lanzmann’s towering documentary film Shoah, an examination of the Nazi extermination of Eastern European Jews, is that rare film both to have defined our understanding of a historical period and to have set a formal model for how to deal with the unthinkable in cinematic terms. Over the eleven years that he was making Shoah, Lanzmann conducted interviews with many witnesses who were not included in the final cut and whose testimony was used as the material for later films focusing on specific aspects of the Holocaust. His last film Four Sisters consists of self-standing interviews with four Eastern European Jewish women who survived the deportation: Ruth Elias, who gave birth in Auschwitz under the supervision of the perverse Doctor Mengele; Ada Lichtman, one of three survivors of a convoy of 7,000 Jews to the Sobibór extermination camp; and Hanna Marton, one of 1,600 “privileged” Jews to have been transported from Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland in view of Palestine. In a time of rising anti-Semitism and generalized outbursts of intolerance, the eyewitness accounts to the atrocity in Four Sisters are simply essential viewing, as a way to understand both the past and the present—the film’s great underlying theme is the foundation of Israel—and to arm ourselves for a better future.
Adapted from an acclaimed series of comic books written and illustrated by co-director Benjamin Renner, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales is a delightful animated film, charmingly old-fashioned in its graphics but sly and witty in its contents. Consisting of three stories featuring a recurring cast of hapless farm animals, the film is presented as a theatrical revue, with the “big bad” fox (who is, in fact, anything but) appearing on a stage before each segment to introduce the action. The first story features the adventures of a rabbit, a pig, and a duck who takes over for the stork when she gets sick and tries to bring a human baby to its parents. This is followed by the story of the fearful fox who is so bad at being a predator that he winds up protecting three chickadees from a wolf. The final story finds the rabbit and the duck attempting to deliver presents on Christmas Eve after they destroy a plastic Santa Claus and become convinced they’ve killed the real one. Combining an infectious warmth and a surprising slapstick sensibility, The Big Bad Fox is a treat for the whole family.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the great Claire Denis chose to cash in on her immaculate artistic credibility and cater to box office demand with this English-language science fiction film starring the bona fide megastar Robert Pattinson. But you would be wrong. High Life is a weird and wonderful a film as Claire Denis has made in years, and while it is indeed a dystopian space tale, its core is the messy human stuff that Denis has always been so good at examining: the relationship between a father and his infant daughter, the complicated allegiances formed by sexual attraction, the taboos that make us human. Pattinson stars as Monte, a galactic vagabond floating in a space ship alone with his daughter, years after he and several death row inmates were allowed to save their lives by agreeing to embark on a one-way exploratory mission into a distant galaxy. A fragmentary flashback structure reveals the conflicts, experiments, and unanticipated relationship that led to the deaths of the other reluctant astronauts and the birth of Monte’s daughter. Aided by stunning production design by leading visual artist Olafur Eliasson, Denis creates a mood that is both ominous and surprisingly tender, proving once again that her trademark is the unexpected.
This is the first year that Athens State University has hosted the Tournées Festival, which over the last 24 years has been held at over 350 American colleges and universities and has made it possible for over 450,000 students to discover French-language films.