An annual festival of French film returns to JHU for a third year

For many viewers the world over, Hollywood is the movies. But for cinephiles, it’s hard to resist the French. While the heyday of the Nouvelle Vague is decades in the past and French films don’t dominate American art-house screens and film-nerd discourse the way they once did, contemporary French filmmakers continue to create cinema with its own je ne sais quoi. Over the next week or so, Johns Hopkins University’s annual Tournées Festival of Contemporary French Cinema enters its third year of presenting a varied slate of recent French films not to be missed if you managed to during their prior Baltimore runs. In addition, each screening will be hosted by JHU faculty members (including luminaries such as local filmmakers Karen Yasinsky and Matt Porterfield and actor John Astin) and several will be followed by panel discussions; see the festival web site at for details. All screenings take place on JHU’s Homewood Campus; all start at 7:30 p.m. (Lee Gardner)


Feb. 28

The Illusionist

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

Gilman Hall Room 50

This charming animated film comes from the director of the much-loved The Triplets of Belleville. Like Triplets, The Illusionist is spare in dialogue and lavishly rich in animated detail, with delightful caricatures, such as a squat puppeteer who, forced to pawn his puppet, continues to converse with his own gesticulating hand. But Sylvain Chomet’s latest film also boasts a back-story: The script was written by 1950s and ’60s filmmaker Jacques Tati, and the trench-coated main character—a sad-sack magician who takes a poor young girl under his wing—is clearly an homage to Tati’s famous alter ego, Monsieur Hulot. But you don’t need to know that to appreciate this sweet, sad story about the passage of time and the fragility of life. (Andrea Appleton)


Feb. 29

A Prophet

Directed by Jacques Audiard

Mudd Room 26

No question about it, A Prophet is difficult to watch. Not only is it a ruthlessly violent prison film, but it is also relentlessly, detail-by-detail, about the making of a criminal to the point where you begin to doubt the strength of your own morals. Malik (Tahar Rahim), a young, vulnerable Franco-Arab, finds himself in a prison in the midst of a civil war between two opposing gangs, one Corsican and the other North African. Through a sort of forced obedience, Malik begins to find what passes for success: He earns respect, and fear. In two and a half intense hours, one sees his transformation, step by brutal step. A brilliant depiction of the less than redemptive aspects of incarceration. (AA)


March 1

White Material

Directed by Claire Denis

Hudson Room 110

In an unnamed and unstable African country, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) is trying to keep her family’s coffee plantation running in the face of a spreading civil war. As the rebels advance, her workers flee and the male members of her family—her ex-husband (Christopher Lambert), her ex-father-in-law (Michel Subor), her grown son (Nicolas Duvauchelle)—respond to the growing chaos with lassitude and resignation. Director Claire Denis’ cameras rarely fail to find tiny Maria active, wrangling farming gear, changing outfits to either labor or charm, and aiding a wounded rebel leader (Isaach De Bankole), but Denis also slyly isolates her in cracked-open doorways, and, more blatantly, as the one white woman on a bus of indigenous Africans. By the time everything comes apart, however, the narrative itself disintegrates as well; the racial dynamics of the story carry through, but character dynamics don’t. (LG)


March 2

Love Songs

Directed by Christophe Honoré

John Astin Theatre

Writer/director Christophe Honoré makes obvious and in some ways contrived allusions to his French director forefathers—specifically Jacques Demy, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Truffaut—throughout Love Songs, but such cheeky awareness doesn’t wear thin. Ismaël (Louis Garrel) and his girlfriend, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), have brought Alice (Clotilde Hesme) into their relationship, and the ménage is already fraying every seam of the relationship. So Ismaël surprises Julie at a movie, and when she’s still a little mad at him, he bursts into a randy pop song about how much he loves and hates her. It’s an artificially flamboyant moment that Honoré treats matter-of-factly, and such interesting choices run throughout Love Songs, a very Godard-like love essay that straddles Truffaut’s romanticism and Demy’s bittersweet fatalism. (Bret McCabe)


March 5


Directed by François Ozon

Gilman Hall Room 50

Based on the play of the same name, Potiche follows the rise of a trophy wife (Catherine Deneuve) from submission to power. When her tyrannical husband, the owner of an umbrella factory, is held captive by his employees, Suzanne steps in, proving herself to be a surprisingly strong and capable leader. Set in the ’70s, a time of great social tension in France, Potiche shows the swiftly changing roles women were taking, and it’s got some sick costumes and hairstyles to boot (Deneuve in a red-and-tan-striped track suit is not to be missed). There are some nice nods to the late director Jacques Demy, and the candy-colored palette of the film makes for an all-around pleasurable cinematic experience. (Erin Gleeson)


March 8

Of Gods and Men

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

Gilman Hall Room 50

In the spring of 1996, seven French monks were beheaded in Algeria, capping two months spent as hostages of an armed Muslim group during that country’s decade-long civil war. This is the vague and minutes-brief close of Of Gods and Men: men led into a snowstorm by their captors, accompanied by an epigraph. That’s not a spoiler, just history. Of Gods and Men chronicles the months leading up to what becomes an inevitable outcome, as a place of peace and aid (the monastery) becomes a target. The soul of the movie is deliberation: What would it mean to leave the monastery and flee to safety—not just to the village, but to a monk’s faith? An infinitely empathetic, crushing, and, on its release last year, vastly underappreciated film. (Michael Byrne)

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