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French Film Festival

"Shifting Power"

All films are subtitled in English, and will be shown in The Bytwerk Theater on the campus of Calvin College in the DeVos Communication Center. Free admission. For more information call (616) 526-6361.
Sponsored by the Calvin French Department
Co-sponsored by the Calvin College Film Forum

Des Dieux et des Hommes (Of Gods and Men)
by Xavier Beauvois (2010)
Thursday, September 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Xavier Beauvois’s sublime tale of faith and doubt is based on a real incident from 1996 that still reverberates in France. Eight French Trappist monks settle in an impoverished village in Algeria, offering medical assistance and gaining the locals’ trust by taking part in Muslim traditions. Life, in many ways, is idyllic for the Catholic brothers as they tend to their honeybees and exalt God’s glory; led by the abbot, they are frequently seen chanting and praying. This harmony is disrupted by the arrival of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), fundamentalist terrorists who demand that the monks leave, a request that is soon seconded by the Algerian military. Not wanting to abandon the destitute citizens who’ve come to rely on them, the brothers take a vote, ultimately deciding to stay—a resolution that seems even more perilous after Croatian volunteers are killed by the GIA. As the film leads up to the monks’ inevitable doom, Beauvois considers the intransigence of religious belief: both for his white-robed martyrs and their brutal captors.
Rated PG-13. Running time: 120 min.

L'Affaire Farewell (Farewell)
by Christian Carion (2009)
Friday, September 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Christian Carion’s nail-biting espionage drama is based on little-known true events from the early 1980s that helped bring down the Soviet Union. In a neat bit of casting, the two leads of Farewell are played by prominent European filmmakers. Emir Kusturica (the Serbian director of 1995’s Underground) is Sergei Grigoriev, a KGB colonel who has become completely disillusioned with Communism under Brezhnev; he leaks highly classified documents to a French spy, Pierre (Guillaume Canet, an actor director best known for helming 2006’s Tell No One). This top-secret information makes its way to the head of French intelligence, the CIA, and President Reagan. Beyond the Cold War international intrigue, Farewell is also a compelling study of the domestic lives of secret agents. Sergei, based on the real-life Vladimir Vetrov, constantly clashes with his teenage son, Igor, who’s obsessed with Queen and the music of other forbidden “decadent” Western pop artists. Igor has no clue that his father hates Brezhnev as much as he does—or that Sergei is undertaking his traitorous activities in the hopes that his son will have a better life.
Not Rated. Running time: 112 min.

White Material (White Material)
by Claire Denis (2008)
Thursday, September 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Marking the first collaboration between two titans of French cinema—director Claire Denis and actress Isabelle Huppert—White Material unfolds as a fever dream, a haunting, enigmatic look at the horrors of colonialism’s legacy, a subject that Denis first explored in her semiautobiographical debut feature, Chocolat (1988). Set in an unnamed African country during an unspecified time, White Material centers on Maria Vial, a coffee-plantation owner who is blindly determined to continue her business while civil war rages on around her. Chaos engulfs the nation, but Maria implores her workers, many of whom have already fled, to stay and harvest the coffee crop. Amid the increasingly violent anarchy, an injured rebel leader known only as “the Boxer” takes refuge at Maria’s farm; she offers him assistance but then becomes too distracted by her obsession to harvest the beans. Maria’s folly—though she’s a native Frenchwoman who immigrated to Africa to exploit the land, she proudly distinguishes herself from “dirty whites”—is matched by the sheer madness of child soldiers roaming the country, rifles in one hand, stuffed animals in the other.
Not Rated. Running time: 102 min.
Co-sponsored by Calvin College AADS

Potiche (Trophy Wife)
by François Ozon (2010)
Friday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m.

The thrillingly incongruous image of Catherine Deneuve, the long-reigning queen of French cinema, in curlers and a cherry-red track suit is just one of the many delights in François Ozon’s 1977-set comedy, a very loose adaptation of a boulevard-theater production. The film’s title translates as “trophy wife,” the position that Deneuve’s Suzanne Pujol has held for decades in her loveless marriage to philandering umbrella-factory owner Robert. When labor unrest causes the high-strung Robert to suffer a collapse, the intrepid Suzanne steps in, endearing herself to the workers and rekindling a romance with a Communist ex-lover and union liaison, Babin. Much as he did in his 1950s-set film 8 Women, Ozon creates a stunning period piece, perfectly re-creating the 1970s through costume, hairstyle, décor, and music, epitomized in Suzanne and Babin’s outing at a disco. But above all, Potiche is a showcase for the formidable talents of Deneuve, whose comic timing proves just as impeccable as her dramatic delivery. As Suzanne breaks free of her coddled life, she realizes, just like many other women who discovered feminism in the 1970s, that the personal really is political.
Rated R. Running time: 103 min.
Co-sponsored by Calvin College Gender Studies Department