Films francais

The Sacramento French Film Festival happens June 15 through 24, at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street. Tickets are $10-$16 per night. Weekend and all-festival passes are also available. For more information, call (916) 455-9390 or visit

Crest Theatre

1013 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 476-3356

As it happens, the penchant for ripping procedural melodrama from the headlines is not exclusively American. The French have been doing it beautifully for generations. Cases in point abound at the Sacramento French Film Festival, whose annual two-weekend residency at the Crest Theatre begins this Friday. Polisse, an extraordinary ensemble drama from 2011 just now arriving stateside, plays out very much like a grand, Gallic episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But instead of a tautly topical formula best suited to a half-watched TV, it sprawls with unruly big-screen dynamism and doesn’t dare let go of your attention. As seen by a shy photographer, played by director/co-writer/force of nature Maïwenn Le Besco—or, as the credits call her, just Maïwenn—it’s ostensibly a group portrait of short-fused cops at the child-protection unit. “We don’t judge; we don’t care,” one officer says, coaxing a confession, and it is the movie’s great privilege to investigate that claim. What’s miraculous is the degree of lyricism it derives from unquenchable and innately compassionate psychological curiosity.

On the other hand, French movies obviously specialize in miracles such as this: The glittering ensemble piece par excellence is Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise, from 1945, an exemplar of poetic realism and a towering achievement in the cinema of France or anywhere. Luminious with moonglow-drenched city streets and with yearning, burning eyes, it too teems with both delinquency and human understanding. Set in the 19th-century theater district of Paris’ so-called “Boulevard du Crime,” Carné’s masterpiece, scripted by the poet Jacques Prévert, involves a mime, a stage actor, a sly criminal and an aristocrat all vying for the affections of a single courtesan, played by Arletty—another one-named woman at the center of everything. “Jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to no one,” she says, prophetically. Also, when told she’s bewitchingly beautiful: “I’m just alive is all.” In retrospect, that too sounds like prophecy, magnificently fulfilled by these and the festival’s dozen other films, whose ultimate throughline is vitality.