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Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Close encounters of the Gallic kind

New films by directors Jean-Jacques Beineix ("Diva," "Betty Blue") and Jacques Doillon ("Ponette") are just two of many good reasons to check out this year's Festival du Film Francais at Yokohama Pacifico. In addition to 19 new films, fans can enjoy a film-buff-friendly atmosphere, where the stars -- including such luminaries as Nathalie Baye and Emmanuele Beart -- are fairly accessible, taking questions after screenings and hanging around afterward for photos, autographs and conversation.

Jean-Hugues Anglade and Helene de Fougerolles in "Mortel Transfert"

All the films screening will be Japan premieres. Some, such as Beineix's "Mortel Transfert," or Gerard Corbiau's "Le Roi danse," are already slated to open later this year. Others, including not a few remarkable films, have not been picked up by local distributors yet, so this may be your only chance to see them.

One such film is "Martha, Martha," by director Sandrine Veysset (whose previous film, "Victor . . . pendant qu'il est trop tard," opens here in July). Earning the director the International Critics' Award at Cannes this year, "Martha" is a powerful realist work about a high-strung young woman who struggles, unsuccessfully, to settle into the role of mother and wife. Actress Valerie Donzelli simmers in the lead role, while Yann Goven lends a light touch as her long-suffering husband, but it's little Lucie Regnier who steals the film with a touching and entirely unaffected performance as the couple's daughter. Never an "issue film," "Martha" is an intimate and moving look at the tension between personal freedom and family bonds.

Jacques Doillon's "Carrement a l'ouest" is another one that may not open here, since it lacks the cute factor of his previous film, the tremendously successful "Ponette." But it's clear the director's strength lies in exploring intense emotional situations. Here, he keeps three characters in tight orbit in a hotel room over the course of an evening: a small-time dealer (Guillaume Saurrel), the girlfriend of a college student who owes him money (Lou Doillon) and a girl they have picked up at a club (Caroline Ducey). Thus commences a mind-game of seduction and manipulation, the ultimate goal unclear . . .

For those fans who've waited eight years for a new Beineix film (he's been dormant since 1992's "IP5"), you'd do well to catch his new one this Sunday; general release is slated for fall. "Mortel Transfert" is very different in mood from most of Beineix's work, a kinky psycho-sexual black comedy that recalls Davd Lynch. Nevertheless, the all-enveloping sense of atmosphere, the seductive imagery and the theme of obsessive love remain pure Beineix. Jean-Hugues Anglade, who played the lead in "Betty Blue," is back playing a psychiatrist, who has a problem with a certain femme fatale patient (Helene de Fougerolles) -- she's dead.

Other films worth checking out are "Un crime au paradis," featuring France's Queen of Comedy, Josiane Balasko; "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse," an insightful, meandering documentary by Agnes Varda, touching on the wastefulness of modern society; "Roberto Succo," the latest from noted auteur Cedric Kahn; and "La Repetition," featuring the ever-popular Emmanuele Beart, which won't even open in France until late summer.

The Ninth Festival du Film Francais at Yokohama runs June 20-24 at Yokohama Pacifico. Tickets available from Ticket Pia. Complete schedule available online at www.unifrance.org (choose "festivals" from left-side menu of the front page). Screening times for recommended films are: "Carrement a l'ouest," June 21 at 12:30 p.m.; "Le Roi danse," June 21, 5:30 p.m.; "Roberto Succo," June 22, 12:30 p.m.; "Martha, Martha," June 23, 10 a.m.; "La Repetition," June 23, 12:30 p.m.; "Un crime au paradis," June 23, 3 p.m.; "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse," June 24, 11 a.m. (Landmark Hall); and "Mortel Transfert," June 24, 5:30 p.m.

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