The three leading ladies of French cinema play major roles in the 20th New Orleans French Film Festival.
So do the classic films that inspired the recent hit musical “La La Land," along with Louis XIV, France’s Sun King.
Presented by the New Orleans Film Society, the Consulat Général de France a la Nouvelle-Orléans and the Prytania Theater, the French Film Festival runs Friday through April 27. The festival returns this year to its traditional venue, the Prytania.
Damien Chazelle, writer-director of “La La Land,” cited the movie musicals of French writer-director Jacques Demy as a major influence on his 2016 musical, the winner of six Academy Awards.
It’s no coincidence that the 2017 French Film Festival is screening two Demy films: 1964’s Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (April 22) and 1967’s “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (April 23).
Catherine Deneuve played her breakthrough role in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard, French cinema’s reigning actresses, are all featured in films at this year’s festival.
Binoche appears in the comedy “Slack Bay” (April 22 and April 27). Cotillard co-stars in Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World” (April 24 and 25). The sixth film by the 27-year-old filmmaker from Montreal, “End of the World” won the Grand Prix at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
“The Death of Louis XIV” (April 23 and April 26) stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, the actor who made international impact in 1959 as the young criminal in François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.”
Before the April 23 screening of “The Death of Louis XIV,” Loyola professor Mike Miley will present a 30-minute talk, “Jean-Pierre Léaud — King of the Nouvelle Vague.” The free lecture begins at 6:15 p.m.
“The Death of Louis XIV,” said French Film Festival co-curator John Desplas, is as much about the actor who plays Louis XIV as it is about the dying king.
“Because Léaud is an icon of the French New Wave and, by extension, French cinema,” Desplas said. “When you follow actors, you’re not only following their films, you’re also following their lives. You see the characters they play and what their presence projects as they age.”
Desplas, the New Orleans Film Society artistic director emeritus, co-founded the French Film Festival. The event began as two-day affair showing a few French films on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It gradually grew into a popular, weeklong festival.
“I’m amazed at how well-supported the French Film Festival is,” Desplas said. “People ask me about it as often as they do about the big festival in the fall.”
The French Film Festival’s move from summer to spring this year was prompted in part by major movie studio booking policies that affect the Prytania Theatre. Moving to spring gave the single-screen Prytania a better chance to book studio tentpole films this summer, one of the busiest seasons for moviegoing.
The season change also gives the film society’s staff breathing room between the French Film Festival and the fall’s New Orleans Film Festival.
“The three, four months before the New Orleans Film Festival are incredibly busy,” Desplas said. “It was a drain on staff resources to try to give full attention to the French Film Festival while we’ve got this big event hovering over us.”
Serendipitously, Desplas said, the films available for spring exhibition this year are better than films that will be available this summer.
“A film festival is only as good as what’s available,” he said. “There were lots of not only potential crowd pleasures but also movies film buffs will want to see.”
"Frantz": April 21, 7:30 p.m.
Set in Germany and France immediately after World War I, Francois Ozon’s “Frantz” focuses on the time of mourning that follows war. Anna, a young German woman, lost her fiancé, Frantz, in the trench warfare. Adrien, a French war veteran, mysteriously arrives in Ana’s town and places flowers on Frantz’s grave. France, Germany; 1 hr., 53 mins.
"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (Les parapluies de Cherbourg): April 22, 12:45 p.m.
Catherine Deneuve stars in Jacques Demy’s movie musical masterpiece from 1964. Deneuve plays an umbrella shop girl who becomes separated from her mechanic boyfriend (Nino Castelnuevo) when he’s called for military service. France; 1 hr., 41 mins.
"Slack Bay" (Ma Loute): April 22, 4:45 p.m., April 27, 12:30 p.m.
After members of an eccentric bourgeois family settle into their cliff-top villa above Slack Bay, their normal summer routines are interrupted by a pair of inept police inspectors. “Slack Bay” is both a mystery and a slapstick comedy, a la Peter Sellers. The cast includes Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. France, Germany; 1 hr., 22 mins.
"My Life as a Zucchini" (Ma vie de courgette): April 22, 3 p.m., April 24, 3 p.m.
In this stop-motion animated feature, a police officer befriends an orphan named Zucchini. The officer, Raymond, accompanies Zucchini to a foster home. Zucchini struggles to find his place. With Raymond’s help, the boy seeks a family of his own. Includes an introduction by L’Alliance Française. Germany, France; 1 hr., 45 mins.
"Cezanne and I" (Cezanne et Moi): April 22, 7:30 p.m.; April 24, 12:30 p.m.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Danièle Thompson directs this drama about novelist Émile Zola and artist Paul Cézanne. The film follows a decade of friendship between Cézanne, a struggling painter, and Zola, a writer who, despite poor origins, achieves fame and success. France; 1 hr., 57 mins.
"Love in the Afternoon": April 23, 10 a.m.; April 26, 10 a.m.
In Paris, a relationship blooms between a sheltered young woman (Audrey Hepburn) and an older man (Cary Cooper). Billy Wilder directs this Hollywood classic from 1957. Maurice Chevalier co-stars. United States; 1 hr., 30 mins.
"The Paris Opera" (L’Opera): April 23, 4 p.m., April 25, 12:30 p.m.
This behind-the-scenes documentary about the Paris Opera features performers, the cleaning crew, the opera’s director, Jean-Stéphane Bron, and a public-relations nightmare involving the company’s ballet. France; 1 hr., 50 mins.
"The Young Girls of Rochefort" (Les demoiselles de Rochefort): April 23, 1 p.m.
Jacques Demy followed “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” with this musical about missed connections and second chances. Catherine Deneuve and her older sister, Françoise Dorléac, co-star as sisters Delphine and Solange, a dance instructor and a music teacher who live a small port town and long for romance. Dorléac, 25, died tragically in an auto accident the year the film was released. Gene Kelly has a supporting role. France; 2 hrs., 5 mins.
Before the screening, Manon Bellet from Le Français a la Carte, will present a French language and culture class, “Le cinéma et les mots,” at 12:30 p.m.
"The Death of Louis XIV" (La mort de Louis XIV): April 23, 7 p.m., April 26, 1 p.m.
Jean-Pierre Léaud, a leading actor in French cinema for nearly 60 years, portrays Louis XIV in his dying days. Albert Serra directs from a script based on medical records and the memoirs of Duke of Saint-Simon and other courtiers. Portugal, France, Spain; 1 hr., 55 mins.
Before the April 23 screening, Loyola professor Mike Miley will present a free 30-minute talk about Léaud at 6:15 p.m.
Before the film’s April 26 screening, Manon Bellet from Le Français a la Carte will present a French language and culture class, “Le cinéma et les mots,” at 12:30 p.m.
"The Unknown Girl" (La fille inconnue): April 25, 7:45 p.m., April 26, 5:30 p.m.
Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne tell a story about Jenny, a young doctor who feels guilty after a girl she refused to treat is found dead. When Jenny learns that the police cannot identify the girl, Jenny makes it her mission to discover the child’s name. Belgium, France; 1 hr., 53 mins.
Three films: April 24, 5:30 p.m.
This 100-minute program features three short films.
"Minh Tâm": A drama about a Vietnamese-French woman struggling to raise an autistic son while she deals with her traditional mother. France; 25 mins.
"Haramist": A film about the love-hate relationship between two Muslim sisters. Director Antoine Desrosières will participate in Q&A following the screening. France; 40 mins.
"A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky (Un ciel bleu presque parfait)": A dark drama about a man’s complex relationship with the roommate for whom he’s the sole caretaker. France; 35 mins.
"It’s Only the End of the World" (Juste la fin du monde); April 24, 7:45 p.m.; April 25, 5:30 p.m.
In Xavier Dolan’s sixth film, a writer (Gaspard Ulliel) returns to his hometown to tell his family that he near death. But his mother, (Nathalie Baye), volatile siblings (Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux) and besieged sister-in-law (Marion Cotillard) all insist upon their own agendas. The film won of the Grand Prix at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Canada, France; 1 hr., 35 mins.
"Things to Come" (L'avenir): April 26, 8 p.m., April 27, 3 p.m.
Isabelle Huppert plays Nathalie, a philosophy teacher whose settled existence evaporates when she learns that her husband of 25 years is leaving. France, Germany; 1 hr., 42 mins.
"Swagger": April 27, 5:45 p.m.
Using a blend of genres, including musicals and science fiction, “Swagger” concentrates on 11 children and adolescents who live in some of France’s poorest housing projects. France, 84 mins.
"Personal Shopper": April 27, 8 p.m.
Kristen Stewart, who played Bella Swan in the “Twilight Saga” movies, leads the cast of Olivier Assayas ghost story set in Paris. Stewart plays Maureen, a medium who can communicate with the dead, and is also a personal shopper for an elite Parisian model. Germany, France; 1 hr., 45 mins.