French ruckus

“Pssst! Can you stop that, please?”


“Can you please stop clicking your pen?”

That gets him. The offender stops clicking his pen long enough to stare at me for a minute, then loudly rises up, walks 30 feet away and plops down in the farthest corner of the Crest Theatre’s main auditorium. This is the Sacramento State French professor who will lead the post-film discussion.

It’s 11 a.m. on the opening morning of the Sacramento French Film Festival, and I’m already yelling at the frogs. I understand the French aren’t famous for their manners, but can we at least get un petit amour pour le friggin’ cinema?

After all, the SFFF is one of the best things Sacramento has going, a two-week excursion through the past and present of French film. Festival head Cécile Mouette Downs was seemingly everywhere at once last weekend, and her selection committee assembled one of its strongest lineups yet, an eclectic mix of inarguable classics, art films and popular fare.

The most accessible was the Friday night festival opener Paris, an affectionate ensemble piece linking all walks of City of Lights life, from the runways to the universities to the fish markets. It’s likable enough, but little more than a fatalistic version of the steroidal rom-com Love Actually.

The Beaches of Agnès, in which the 80-year-old New Wave icon Agnès Varda takes a playful and moving look back at her life and career, needs no defense—even Varda’s serial name-dropping is adorable. It’s her Sans Soleil (appropriately, Chris Marker appears as a cartoon kitty), and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make my top 10 list.

Claire Denis’ unwatchable 35 Shots of Rum, however, was the low point of the festival’s first weekend. I don’t need Zach Galifianakis kicked in the testicles to be entertained (unless I’m doing the kicking), but this was a slow, boring buildup to nothing. Born in ’68, which follows a group of student radicals and their children from May 1968 to the present, takes a disastrous turn into Forrest Gump nostalgi-drama after a strong first half.

SFFF’s selection of classics is especially stellar this year, starting with Costa-Gavras’ 1969 Z, whose revolutionary glare was refracted through every political thriller of the following decade. Max Ophuls’ sublime Technicolor masterpiece Lola Montès was shown Saturday night, although the film’s sumptuous romantic atmosphere was disrupted by walkouts from bewildered attendees of the preceding fashion show.

This weekend, they’ll be showing Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and Jean Renoir’s masterful Rules of the Game. The new releases include the historical drama Séraphine, the romantic comedy I Do, and the horror flick Fear(s) of the Dark.

I urge everyone to attend the SFFF, but if you must make a ruckus, have class enough to point your finger at the screen, scream “J’accuse!” and storm out of the theater. I’ve only attempted this once, at a Mick Martin and the Blues Rockers concert, but the effect was far more devastating than any ballpoint pen.