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New French Cinema Film Festival

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The fourth annual New French Cinema Film Festival, presented by Facets Multimedia Center and French Cultural Services in Chicago, runs Friday through Thursday, December 1 through 7, at Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $7, $5 for Facets members. For more information call 773-281-4114. Films marked with a 4 are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1

Love Troika

Wonderfully stylish, precisely mounted, and deeply reflective, this 1998 first feature by Gilles Bourdos weaves together two narratives from pivotal moments in the history of communism. In 1989, Louise's lover dies, leaving her the diary of his father, Alfred Katz, a self-taught poet and Trotskyite who vanished mysteriously near the beginning of World War II. In 1938, Trotsky's followers are fleeing Stalin's assassins (the film's French title, Disparus, translates as "Disappeared"); Katz, invited to a surrealists' party by Andre Breton, falls for Mila, a model for Man Ray. She marries Katz but also keeps her Stalinist lover, and the entanglements that ensue capture the messy collision of human affections and political theory. Bourdos conveys the urgency of the characters' beliefs, but the fall of communism in 1989 (represented by demonstrations on TV) also renders their passionate commitment as hopelessly irrelevant, absurd in the face of history. With nary a frame nor inch of screen space wasted, the film's taut style reminds us that past and present are always interconnected. 110 min. (FC) (7:00)

Empty Days

A working-class housewife looking for a job (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and a manager who's just been laid off (Patrick Dell'Isola) meet by chance in a supermarket, and with time on their hands they become romantically involved in spite of themselves and their satisfactory marriages. In contrast to someone like Claude Lelouch, director Marion Vernoux dispenses with rapturous kisses and saccharine music to emphasize the affair's tawdriness and the bland, Americanized life of a French suburb where people are too dulled by daily chores to make emotional contact. But her approach is so understated (the lovers first recognize their feelings when their knees touch) that the relationship never seems like anything more than shared boredom. This 1999 film runs out of gas after Dell'Isola finds a new job, and only his and Bruni-Tedeschi's performances rescue it from trite kitchen-sink drama. 105 min. (TS) (9:00)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2

Lise and Andre

A high-class hooker, hoping to heal her comatose son, cajoles a gruff parish priest into accompanying her on a pilgrimage to petition the Virgin of Abbeville, a journey that introduces them to a parade of colorful folks. Writer-director Denis Dercourt explores the differences between the feisty woman (Isabelle Candelier in a heartfelt performance) and the priest (Michel Duchaussoy), who's skeptical of miracles. His terse dialogue is revealing, and while he makes no explicit connection between their prayers and the boy's possible recovery, their silent glances and the sublime music of Bruckner and Schubert heighten the sense that true faith can prompt divine intervention. 87 min. (TS) (1:00)

Coming to Terms With the Dead

Pascale Ferran's moving debut feature (1994) deftly intercuts past and present to tell three separate stories of people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. A man, a woman, and a boy each observe another man constructing an elaborate sand castle on the beach, and Ferran reveals how each has dealt with the trauma of death (the man collects and classifies insects; the boy visits a secret, candlelit room). Ferran's narrative structure shows how a crucial loss can render the psyche unstable and fragmented, and the sand castle becomes a key metaphor: destroyed and effortlessly rebuilt, it reminds us that we can endure by remaking the past into a memory or memorial. 108 min. (FC) (3:00)

Homeboys on the Beach

A box-office hit in France, this lively 1998 comedy concerns teenagers from a Paris housing project whose faked documentary on a drug dealer and addict wins three of them a beach vacation in Biarritz (the fourth, who played the dealer, soon joins them). Leaving their neighborhood for the first time, they behave like and are sometimes treated as misfits, bumbling about, encountering racism (one is Arab, another African), running out of money and food, and mostly failing in their attempts to pick up girls. First-time director Djamel Bensalah, himself 21 at the time, mixes video and film to heighten the sense of dislocation; even the busy stylistic quirks, such as his pointless pans and tilts, contribute to the sense of youthful energy in search of an outlet. 90 min. (FC) (5:00)

Tenebrae Lessons

Vincent Dieutre's 1999 diary film chronicles his sojourns in Utrecht, Naples, and Rome, its haunting video and Super-8 images (some shot clandestinely) recording the cities' museums, bars, and alleys. In a voice-over he evokes the sufferings of Caravaggio, Pasolini, Proust, Saint Sebastian, and other gay icons, while the occasional liturgical music reminds us that the film's title refers to hymns for the passion of Christ. Dieutre juxtaposes remembrances of a lost lover with his furtive embraces of men he picks up during his trip, but his doleful musings on love, beauty, art, and mortality reveal so little about his past that it's hard to care much about his gloom and alienation. 77 min. (TS) Dieutre will attend the screening. (7:00)

Louise (Take 2)

Elodie Bouchez (Wild Reeds) plays a youth in Paris who hooks up with cheerful young Gaby, who's been abandoned temporarily by his prostitute mother, and Remi (Roschdy Zem), a fast-talking womanizer. Constantly on the run, they support themselves with scams and petty crimes, while Paris itself--from a ballet rehearsal room to the gritty Metro--becomes an additional character, reminding us how exposed the homeless are to their environs. Using a handheld camera, writer-director-composer Siegfried captures the trio's anarchic energy and shifting allegiances as they take life day by day; this 1998 feature, his first, is sustained mostly by its diverse and clashing rhythms but marred occasionally by arty indulgences. 110 min. (FC) (9:00)

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3

Empty Days

See listing for Friday, December 1. (1:00)

Tenebrae Lessons

See listing for Saturday, December 2. Director Vincent Dieutre will attend the screening. (3:00)

Sombre

See Critic's Choice. (5:00)

Marie's Counter

Film editor Sophie Tatischeff, the second oldest child of Jacques Tati, was born during the shooting of Jour de fete and a few years back helped to restore the color version. This 1998 feature, Le comptoir, marks her debut as a director, and to her credit she's pretty much her own person as a filmmaker. Apart from a penchant for long shots, the only thing "Tati-esque" about this is its lighthearted nostalgia for traditional French life and its curiosity about the changes brought to it by technology. Marie (Mireille Perrier) purchases a bar for her family's tavern when she moves into a village in Brittany, and much of the film follows the history of this imposing object and the village, before and after the arrival of electricity, during wartime and the occupation, and after the arrival of tractors. Tatischeff seems more comfortable in portraying the present than in imagining the past, and her film suffers at times from its dispersed focus. But this is a likable, low-key effort with an especially good feel for locale and landscape. 93 min. (JR) (7:00)

Lise and Andre

See listing for Saturday, December 2. (9:00)

MONDAY, DECEMBER 4

Life Doesn't Scare Me

This 1999 coming-of-age drama follows four girls from high school to college in the Paris of the late 70s and early 80s, painting an affectionate portrait of their lives together. Their backgrounds and personalities differ markedly, yet their friendship survives family turmoil, academic setbacks, and boy troubles. As in the harrowing Forget Me, director Noemie Lvovsky coaxes powerful performances from her actresses (Magali Woch, Ingrid Molinier, Julie-Marie Parmentier, and Camille Rousselet), and her dead-on re-creation of the 70s is greatly enhanced by Bruno Fontaine's selection and arrangement of period songs. 111 min. (TS) (7:00)

Love Troika

See listing for Friday, December 1. (9:00)

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5

Louise (Take 2)

See listing for Saturday, December 2. (7:00)

Homeboys on the Beach

See listing for Saturday, December 2. (9:00)

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6

The Sexual Revolution Did Not Take Place

Judith Cahen directed and stars in this 1999 cyberfantasy about a woman pushing 30 who exchanges psychobabble with comrades and former lovers at a community radio station they run and reevaluates her life by plugging into alternate realities. Cahen looks gawky and sexless, and the special effects are uniformly cheesy, but the most puzzling aspect of the film is her dated notions of gender roles and femininity (with images of an effeminate guy in drag, a woman being carried by a muscular hunk, and the protagonist exchanging personas with a man). There are isolated instances of conceptual brilliance (such as the satirical pornographic film loop that casts her and her friends as a housewife and a plumber), but this sort of quasi-SF material demands greater clarity of thought and execution. 120 min. (TS) Cahen will attend the screening. (7:00)

Life Doesn't Scare Me

See listing for Monday, December 4. (9:00)

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7

The Sexual Revolution Did Not Take Place

See listing for Wednesday, December 6. Director Judith Cahen will attend the screening. (7:00)

Sombre

See Critic's Choice. (9:00)

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