The French invented film, and then they invented it again. And again. And again.
American Thomas Alva Edison may have started work on it before anyone else, but it was the French in 1894 who first perfected the cinématographe. In 1895, La Sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers leaving the Lumière factory at Lyon) was the first film ever shown, and in 1902 the great Georges Méliès turned the whole thing into art: Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), filled with special effects and hand-painted color shots, was the first science fiction movie and still holds up to this day.
Ever since, the French have done it all: they invented serious film criticism with the 1951 launching of Cahiers du cinéma magazine, which included in the staff several critics who, tired of reviewing bad movies for the popular press, decided to do it themselves: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol are the most notable ones, and the New Wave they created changed the course of cinema again.
But despite the eclectic nature of French film (from elitist-artsy to massively hilarious), the public-at-large (especially in the U.S.) have a one-dimensional view of what French film is all about. Some students and faculty at UTSA are trying to change that.
“People have a sense of French cinema as sort of slow or difficult to understand, with not a lot of action,” said festival organizer Marie-Therese Ellis-House, assistant professor of French at UTSA. “We chose films that are specifically trying different things and have integrated different cinematic influences, and they should be accessible for young, international audiences.”
The themes of the five movies selected range from eroticism to immigration and racism, and the issues inevitably overlap often. But the common link in these films, besides the usual visual beauty of French film, are fast-paced, engaging stories and intelligent dialogue.
The festival opens with Karin Albou’s The Wedding Song. Set in Nazi-occupied Tunisia in 1942, the movie explores female sexuality, religious tradition, and politics. The film’s super-charged eroticism between the two female stars never falls into cheap manipulative shots. The festival’s other erotic film, Christophe Honoré’s The Beautiful Person, is all you would expect from a sexually charged French film, but with unusual depth. Set in contemporary France, the film is based on Madame de Lafayette’s 1678 novel La Princesse de Clèves. Meanwhile, André Téchiné’s The Girl on the Train, loosely based on a 2004 true event, features the great Catherine Deneuve as the mother of a non-Jewish woman who portrays herself as the victim of an anti-Semitic attack. Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum is an engaging observation of family relationships, and Philippe Lioret’s Welcome is an award-winning view on love, racism, and illegal immigration.
The festival is free, and it didn’t have to be.
“We got a grant from the French Consulate and we could’ve charged if we wanted,” said Ellis-House. “But with the support of our own UTSA administration and specifically our UTSA Executive Vice Provost Julius Gribou, who was very proactive in finding a generous amount of money for us, we were able to show all these movies for free. It has been a tremendous amount of work, but we’ve all learned a lot and the students want to do it again every year.”
Friday, March 4
Main Building 0.106
5pm: Opening banquet in the lobby
6pm: Opening remarks by Modern Languages and Literatures Dept. Chair, Marita Nummikoski, and UTSA Executive Vice Provost Julius Gribou.
6:30pm: Le chant des mariées (The Wedding Song, France, 2008).
Saturday, March 5
Science Building 2.01.12
1pm: 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum, France, 2009).
3pm: La belle personne (The Beautiful Person, France, 2008).
5pm: La fille du RER (The Girl On The Train, Belgium, 2009).
7pm: Welcome (France, 2009).
Sunday, March 6
Retama Auditorium, UC 2.02.02
3pm: 35 Rhums
5pm: La belle personne
7pm: La fille du RER
Wednesday, March 9
Retama Auditorium, UC 2.02.02
5pm: 35 Rhums
7pm: Le chant de mariées
Call (210) 458-5214 or writefor more information. UTSA’s Main Campus is located at One UTSA Circle. Free admission.