As women in film make their voices heard more loudly than ever, the French Film Festival's retrospective of work by Oscar-nominated director Agnès Varda couldn't be more timely, says John Desplas, festival co-programmer.
The 89-year-old Varda's latest film, “Faces, Places,” has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary. The nomination follows the honorary Oscar that Varda received in November, given in recognition of her 63 years of filmmaking.
“I’ll be surprised if ‘Faces, Places’ doesn’t win the Oscar for best documentary,” Desplas said.
“ ‘Faces, Places’ is such a great movie,” he said. “And she is the only female director connected to La Nouvelle Vague. This is the perfect time to acknowledge her place in French cinema.”
Jean Brager, an assistant professor in Loyola University’s Department of Languages and Cultures, will give a talk on Varda at 5 p.m. Sunday, prior to the 5:30 p.m. screening of “Faces, Places.”
With “Faces, Places,” Brager said, Varda returns to her roots in photography and depictions of ordinary people. “She’s doing location shooting and using locals. Tradesmen and tradeswomen, laborers, industry and factory workers. It’s a way to give them a voice.”
Despite having only one commercial hit, 1985’s “Vagabond,” Varda is a major cultural figure in France.
“She is typically French in a way, but also very much an iconoclast,” Brager said. “That makes her a big winner in the hearts of French moviegoers and critics. Whenever she’s interviewed she says, ‘I’ve never had a career in film. I just made films.’ ”
Varda responded to challenges she found in financing her films by forming her own production company, Ciné-Tamaris, with her daughter, Rosalee Varda.
“She went against the system,” Brager said. “She is, in a way, a rebel, but not in a violent, revolutionary way. You can look at her as a feminist auteur, but she was very specific about the way she fought for women’s emancipation, and the way she showed women on the screen.”
The New Orleans Film Society’s 21st French Film Festival features 17 features, a short film program, lectures and an expanded number of musical performances. Films include opening night’s “Back to Burgundy,” a family drama directed by Cedric Klapisch; closing night presentation “Double Lover,” directed by the enfant terrible of French cinema, François Ozon; and a Sunday morning showing of Jean Luc-Godard’s new wave classic, “Breathless.” For many years a summer event, the fest moved to early spring two years ago. The annual celebration of French cinema runs Friday, Feb. 23, through March 1 at the Prytania Theatre.
Tickets and passes are on sale at neworleansfilmsociety.org.
“Back to Burgundy”: Friday, 7:30 p.m., and Monday, noon
French director Cedric Klapisch’s “Back to Burgundy” reunites three dissimilar siblings after they inherit their father’s vineyard in Burgundy. Prodigal son Jean and his sister Juliette and brother Jérémie must decide if they want save the family estate.
“Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge”: Saturday, noon
Marie Noëlle directs Polish actress Karolina Gruszka in role of scientist Marie Curie. Curie and her unconventional life defied France’s male-dominated academic establishment.
Short films program: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
This 100-minute program features five short films by new filmmakers, including “Le Grand Remix,” a film about a young African teacher working at a French immersion school in New Orleans.
“This Is Our Land”: Saturday, 5:15 p.m.
Pauline, a formerly apolitical nurse, agrees to join a right-wing group and run for office. As her star rises, the right-wing political machine increasingly dominates her life.
“Nocturama”: Saturday, 7:45 p.m.
Young, angry predators stalk the streets and subways in “Nocturama,” a that film mixes politics and style with terror.
“Breathless”: Sunday, 10 a.m., and Wednesday, 10 a.m.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg star in Jean-Luc Godard’s crime-and-romance classic, “Breathless.” The film helped launch France’s Nouvelle Vague movement.
“Souvenir”: Sunday, noon.
Isabelle Huppert plays Liliane, an ordinary woman who works in an industrial pâté factory. A new employee at the factory, Jean (Kévin Azaïs), believes he recognizes Liliane from a European singing contest he saw as a child.
“After Love”: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Bérénice Bejo, whose performance in “The Artist” earned an Oscar nomination, and director-turned-actor Cedric Kahn star in this intimate family drama. After 15 years together, Boris and Marie, an unmarried couple with two children, have fallen out of love.
“Faces, Places”: Sunday, 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday, noon
In this Oscar-nominated documentary by Agnès Varda, the 89-year-old director and photographer J.R. invite villagers to pose for photos, which they later mount on the sides of buildings for all to see.
“Ismael’s Ghosts”: Sunday, 7:45 p.m. and Tuesday, noon
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin, the opening night selection at last year’s Cannes Film Festival stars Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) as a film director whose life becomes a complex, Hitchcockian plot. Although Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard co-star.
“The Gleaners”: Monday, 5:30 p.m.
Agnès Varda embraces digital video and “gleaners,” people who live on the margins of French society.
“4 Days in France”: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
One ordinary night in Paris, Pierre takes a final look at his sleeping lover, Paul, before leaving the next morning. With no destination in mind, Pierre lets his Grindr app guide him on a series of encounters with characters across the French countryside.
“Montparnasse Bienvenüe”: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
Dumped by her boyfriend of 10 years, Paula (Laetitia Dosch) refuses to be a passive victim. She embarks on an odyssey through Paris, seeking to reclaim her independence.
“All That Divides Us”: Tuesday, 8 p.m., and March 1, noon
A bourgeois family dwelling in a mansion in the middle of nowhere clashes with slum-dwellers in a housing project. Catherine Deneuve and Diane Kruger star in this film noir mystery
“Le Bonheur”: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
One of Agnès Varda’s most provocative films, the deceptively cheery “Le Bonheur” examines fidelity and happiness in a selfish, modern world.
“Félicité”: Wednesday, 7:45 p.m.
Félicité, a proud and independent woman in the Congo, works as a singer in a bar. Her life is thrown into turmoil, however, when her 14-year-old son is injured in a horrific accident. Directed by Alain Gomis, “Félicité” won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
“Catch the Wind”: Thursday, March 1, 5:30 p.m.
Edith, a 45-year-old textile factory worker, sees her life turned upside down when the factory downsizes. Desperate for employment, she leaves her native France to move to the relocated factory in Morocco. Sandrine Bonnaire stars.
“Double Lover”: Thursday March 1, 8 p.m.
François Ozon directs this erotic thriller. Years after Chloé, a beautiful young woman, becomes romantically involved with her therapist, she suspects he is not the man she thought he was.
“Trailblazer: Agnès Varda”: Sunday, 5 p.m.
Jean Brager lectures about Varda’s journey as a female filmmaker in a male-dominated industry. He’ll also speak about Varda’s role in France’s New Wave cinema movement.
“From Congo to New Orleans”: Wednesday, 7:15 p.m.
Freddi Williams Evans makes the connection between the Congo and New Orleans, as explained in her essay in the new book “New Orleans & the World: 1718-2018 Tricentennial Anthology.”
French Film Festival
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 23, through March 1
WHERE: Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St.
TICKETS AND PASSES: neworleansfilmsociety.org