I love foreign films more than most. I don’t mind the subtitles. I can get over slow-moving plots. And I definitely don’t need a star, action sequence or CGI to get sucked in. I’m looking for escapism at the movies and what better way to get it than by looking through the lens of another culture.
So, one of my favorite weekends in Richmond is when the VCU French Film Festival takes over The Byrd Theatre, the gorgeous old movie palace that’s just two blocks from our house. French natives and Francophiles come from all over (this year from Oregon and Washington state and elsewhere), the streets were filled with buses from area lycees, or French schools, and Can Can Brasserie was brimming all weekend with espresso-sippers (including us). But the French Film Festival let us down this year.
It did everything right, as it always does. Festival directors Francoise and Peter Kirkpatrick went to Cannes and elsewhere to scout for current French films, many that hadn’t gained distribution yet and premiered at the festival. Top French actors and directors flew over to introduce their films and answer questions in stilted English afterwards. The crowds flocked (reportedly 10,000) filling seats all the way to the last row of the balcony.
We just chose wrong. The first film we saw “L’après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas” or “The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas” (above) was incredible. No American would have ever made that movie — and many refused to sit through it. This is a movie about an old man waiting for his daughter at the top of a valley, who — spoiler alert — never shows up! Two hours later we’ve heard the wind gush, we’ve seen him adjust himself in his rickety chair but we never get the satisfaction of seeing the daughter he (and we) patiently wait for all damn movie long. How rude.
Our second film, however, was a winner. “Cliente” was a lighthearted glance the at the complicated life of a male gigolo. He goes into it for the money and all is fine until his wife finds out. Desperate for money, she begs him to continue but it tears them apart. It reminded me of “Requiem for a Dream” in that way. It’s all over once you ask your loved one to do something horrible for you. “Cliente” is both heavy and humorous. A thoughtful look at sacrifice and trust.