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Chicago French Film Festival: Naturalist dramas and formalist filmmaking

Wim Wenders's astonishing poetic documentary, Alain Resnais's brilliant manipulation of space, and more

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The Chicago French Film Festival runs Friday, July 26, through Thursday, August 1, at the Music Box Theatre. Now in its third year, the series spotlights the sort of solid genre filmmaking that U.S. distributors tend to pass up in favor of art-house fare. This year's selections lean towards romantic comedies and suspense thrillers, though the nation's art cinema is represented too, with some naturalistic dramas (You Will Be My Son, The Dandelions) and formalist filmmaking (Alain Resnais's You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Jean-Pierre Melville's Dirty Money, aka Un Flic) rounding out the program. Tickets are $10; a nine-screening pass is $50; an all-access pass is $75. Unless otherwise noted, all films are in French with subtitles. —Ben Sachs

Carré Blanc Jean-Baptiste Leonetti's debut feature (2011) is a visually striking if thematically familiar piece of dystopian science fiction. It imagines an overcrowded future where the issue of population control affects nearly every part of daily life; if anyone upsets the social order, he's liable to get killed and ground into food. The protagonist is a poor orphan (Sami Bouajila, a veteran of Rachid Bouchareb's films) who internalizes the violent system and grows up to become a powerful executive or something like that. Leonetti deliberately obscures certain narrative details to preserve the otherworldly tone; the strategy is effective so long as the images are compelling, which is fairly often. —Ben Sachs 77 min. Sat 7/27, 9:30 PM; Wed 7/31, 5:15 PM

Dirty Money Released as Un Flic, this 1972 film, the last by the great noir stylist Jean-Pierre Melville, is a murky disappointment despite a stellar cast (Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Richard Crenna). Crenna plays a corrupt cop who sets up his drug-dealing friend Delon for a bust; there's a chase on a train, a robbery in the rain, and other Melvillian set pieces that never congeal. —Dave Kehr 105 min. Wed 7/31, 7 PM.

11.6 Francois Cluzet stars as Toni Musulin, a real-life armored car driver who in 2009 made off with 11.6 million euros and managed to evade capture for several months. In its slick, professional style and carefully timed plot twists, this French crime thriller often recalls another Cluzet vehicle, Tell No One. Like that film, it's engrossing if relatively impersonal genre storytelling, often a little too polished for its own good. This never takes us inside the head of its shifty antihero, but it doesn't render him especially enigmatic either. What you see is what you get, though at least there's plenty to see; director Philippe Godeau is consistently inventive in his wide-screen compositions, and cinematographer Michel Amathieu achieves some rich, ominous effects during the night scenes. —Ben Sachs 102 min. Thu 8/1, 7:30 PM.

Fly Me to the Moon In this French romantic comedy, Diane Kruger plays a successful dentist who's afraid to tie the knot with her longtime boyfriend; no woman in her family has found true love until her second marriage, and this would be only her first. To solve the problem, she plots to marry and divorce a random stranger. Unluckily for her, he turns out to be an eccentric travel writer (Dany Boon, a popular comic actor best known in the States from Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs) who gets them both stranded in the middle of Kenya just hours after they meet. Some of the narrative developments achieve the sweet illogic of a 30s screwball farce, while others are merely inane. Still, the players are always in high spirits, and director Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker) keeps the action bright and bouncy; the slapstick's well executed too. In subtitled French and Russian. —Ben Sachs 101 min. Fri 7/26, 7:15 PM.

The Prey Since the success of Tell No One (2006), the French seem to have fallen in love with convoluted action-driven crime thrillers, sometimes even one-upping Hollywood. But that love crosses over into amour fou in this 2011 prison-break caper by Eric Valette, who puts a jailed bank robber (Albert Dupontel) through more hoops than a circus tiger. While he's behind bars the thief is menaced by sadistic guards, Russian thugs, and a greedy member of his old gang; once outside again, he has to contend with obsessed cops, a serial killer, and the vengeful father of one of the killer's victims. The frenzied excess is all too silly, including a cliched climax that's literally a cliffhanger. —Andrea Gronvall 105 min. Fri 7/26, 9:40 PM; Mon 7/29, 9:30 PM.

[Recommended]Wings of Desire Wim Wenders's ambitious and audacious feature (1988) focuses mainly on what's seen and heard by two angels (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) as they fly over and walk through contemporary Berlin. These are the angels of the poet Rilke rather than the usual blessed or fallen angels of Christianity, and Wenders and coscreenwriter Peter Handke use them partially to present an astonishing poetic documentary about the life of this city, concentrating on an American movie star on location (Peter Falk playing himself), a French trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin), and a retired German professor who remembers what Berlin used to be like (Curt Bois). The conceit gets a little out of hand after one of the angels falls in love with the trapeze artist and decides to become human; but prior to this, Wings of Desire is one of Wenders's most stunning achievements. In English and subtitled French and German. —Jonathan Rosenbaum 128 min. Sun 7/28, 6 PM.

[Recommended]You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet Alain Resnais reflects on some lifelong themes—the presence of history in contemporary life and the ability of art to remove us from time—and though this drama is characteristically eerie, it also conveys a calm that's rare in his work. Actors gather at the home of a recently deceased theater director who led them through productions of Jean Anouil's 1941 play Eurydice; his strange final request is that they watch a new production filmed by a young theater troupe, and as the movie screens, it casts a spell on the actors, making them spontaneously re-create their old performances. Resnais shows how great art connects people to the infinite, not only through his brilliant manipulation of space (the setting seems to expand and contract at different points) but also through rhymes in the dialogue that suggest the ancient story of Eurydice will echo into eternity. —Ben Sachs 110 min. Sat 7/27, 2 PM; Tue 7/30, 5 PM.

[Recommended]You Will Be My Son Great talent and a monstrous ego often come as a package deal, as illustrated by this insightful, taut 2011 drama set in Bordeaux. Niels Arestrup (A Prophet) stars as the brilliant but arrogant owner of an esteemed Saint-Emilion vineyard, who regards other people solely as objects to bend to his will. The son he disdains (Lorant Deutsch) competes for his father's approval with the dying estate manager (Patrick Chesnais) and his hotshot son (Nicolas Bridet), who's fresh off a stint as "Coppola's head winemaker." How blood and soil mix is a motif that resounds throughout; how director-cowriter Gilles Legrand offsets the sun's kiss with death's chill is a marvel. —Andrea Gronvall 102 min. Sun 7/28, 3:30 PM; Wed 7/31, 9:15 PM.

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