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July 10, 2009

French Flicks at the Roxy — Worth a Trip?

French-film-festival You may have noticed Burlington Waterfront Festival producer Jay Craven's write-up of four French films playing as part of the festival in today's Free Press. The Vermont filmmaker explains that the screening of these films at Merrill's Roxy — one per day, Saturday through Tuesday — results from a "partnership with Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and the Consulate General of France, Boston." He adds that "I think the fun in programming pre-release films comes from being able to discover them before critics get their chance to vote thumbs up or down."

Well, that's sort of true. All four moviesThose Who Remain [Ceux Qui Restent, not to be confused with a Mexican documentary of the same title], Towards Zero, Welcome and Versailles — have already played in French theaters in the past year or so, and some are out on DVD in their homeland. Subtitled versions have screened at some international film fests, too... so, as is often the case with such things, if you really want reviews you can find 'em.

Here's the word on Towards Zero — a mystery based on an Agatha Christie novel, pictured here — from an English-language publication, and a review of Versailles from industry bible Variety. And here's a U.K. preview of Welcome, which delves into an immigration controversy familiar to the Brits and French, but not so much to Americans: It's about refugees desperately trying to make it across the English Channel, sometimes by swimming. One Calais (that's the French Calais) moviegoer called it "the most beautiful and most upsetting film I have ever seen."

None of these films caused the sort of festival stir that would lead to a quick distribution deal in the U.S. — unlike, say, The Prophet from this year's Cannes festival. So this may be your one and only chance to see them subtitled on the big screen in 35mm.

My take (sight unseen): If you want a ripped-from-the-headlines French film similar to The Class, check out Welcome (it's also the most recent, released there in March). Expect it to be gritty and disturbing.

Same for the quieter Versailles, about a homeless woman who abandons her kid with a man who camps out near Marie Antoinette's former dwelling. If you've been to Versailles — one of the world's most gorgeous, exquisite, overwhelming tourist traps, where practically everything is covered in gold or faux gold — you may be intrigued by the notion of its grounds as a haven for the homeless. I know I am.

All I could find about Those Who Remain is this French review, which basically says it's a low-key, character-driven film about a man and a woman drawn together as they both tend to their terminally ill significant others. I wouldn't expect any laughs, but the acting sounds good. (Note: The review describes it with the word glauque, which appears in every single French film review I've ever read. It means "sea-green" — or something like "sinister." French culture lesson for the day: sea-green sinister is sort of a good thing.)

And finally, if you just want to relax with a mystery that has some Gallic atmosphere, I would go for Towards Zero (which has also recently been adapted for British TV). It sounds like the most conventional of the lot, but the actors will give you your money's worth. Have fun au cinéma!

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