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LABOR DAYS

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Work, work, work. In the latest installment of the "New French Connection" film series at BAMcinematek, work is a prominent theme: people meet on the job and form relationships; they learn life lessons through the tasks they must perform; the workplace is even used to explore the experiences of legal and illegal immigrants.

In some ways, young corporate characters are the cinematic cowboys of the new millennium, with issues a bit grayer than those met by the characters in classic Hollywood westerns.

While BAM’s Florence Almozini, who curates the series, doesn’t search for works with similar ideas, at times it just happens.

"I look more for quality than certain themes or common traits," she told GO Brooklyn. "However, I do try to find a balance between genre and style." These types of films, then, vary from comedy to period drama to documentary.

The strongest film in the series, which runs Oct. 21-24, is a documentary that explores the workings of one aspect of the French justice system. A hit at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, "The 10th District Court: Moments of Trial" (Oct. 21 at 6:50 pm) is the latest film by French photojourn­alist/film­maker Raymond Depardon, whose films were presented in a BAM retrospective last April. Depardon has placed his somewhat stationary camera in a Parisian courtroom to record the comings and goings of defendants in what seems to be the equivalent of criminal misdemeanor court. All types of humanity parade in front of the Honorable Michèle Bernard-Requin ("Requin" is French for shark.) - from petty thieves to illegal immigrants. All look to her for their freedom. Some beg, while others are outraged at their own bad fortune. Through it all, the judge attempts to dispense justice while maintaining order.

This film plays in sharp counterpoint to Depardon’s earlier court documentary, 1994’s "Caught in the Act," in which various defendants meet with their attorneys. "The 10th District Court" comes to BAM straight from its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 9.

Filmmaking brothers Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, whose mid-length film, "Roland’s Pass," was shown in the New Directors/New Films festival at the Museum of Modern Art in 2001, have made an intriguing study of a man-woman relationship. "A Real Man" (Oct. 21 at 4:30 pm and 9:15 pm and Oct. 24 at 2 pm and 6:50 pm) follows a couple through 10 years of existential trials. Mathieu Almaric is Boris, a wannabe feature filmmaker who makes industrial films. When we first come upon him, he’s just been tossed off a project for a "skills network" company. He does, however, take up with Marilyne, a junior executive at the firm. They’ve just met, yet he proclaims his undying love for her - through song.

Jump ahead five years.

Boris is home with the kids; Marilyne just arrives back from a business trip. She’s now senior management. She takes Boris and the children with her on a business trip to Ibiza, where things deteriorate. It’s not just that she has the career and he doesn’t; she doesn’t appear that interested in him or the children.

Once again we leap forward five years, when the two come together again in the beautiful Pyrenees. (The brothers have used this mountain setting in their earlier work, as well as using Almaric, who plays the bourgeois French Every Man with such aplomb.) "A Real Man" has a fresh approach to telling the story of a relationship, primarily by jumping ahead in time just at the precise moment when something momentous occurs, and by their judicious use of music. There’s quite a bit of singing to relate emotions to the audience, and while it is not always successful, it is a delight to go on this strange journey with them.

Stephane Vuillet’s "25 Degrees in Winter" (Oct. 22 at 6:50 pm) concerns immigrants, more motherless children and work once again, but this time in Brussels. Miguel, whose family immigrated to Belgium from Spain years before, works for his brother’s travel agency. Driving to pick up a client at the airport, he finds an illegal immigrant, Sonia, in his car. Seems Sonia was about to be sent back to the Ukraine when she was "rescued" by anti-deportation activists.

Miguel’s wife has been in New York trying to jump-start a singing career. They never speak but manage to leave messages on each other’s voice mail. She sends postcards, and dolls for their daughter Laura. As he tries to retrieve and deliver plane tickets to his brother’s client, Miguel also tries, with his mother (played by the incomparable Carmen Maura) in tow, to help Sonia find her husband, who left the Ukraine before her and seems to have disappeared. The film contains a lot of slapstick humor, which is refreshing in a film dealing with serious subjects.

Work even figures in Bruno Podalydès’ "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" (Oct. 22 at 4:30 pm and 9:15 pm and Oct. 23 at 2 pm and 6:50 pm). Well, perhaps it’s a stretch, but detectives do have to work to search for the killer in this period piece based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, which stars Sabine Azéma. All in a day’s work, as they say.

But a man’s occupation is practically a leading character in Jean-Marc Moutout’s "Work Hard, Play Hard" (Oct. 23 at 4:30 pm and 9:15 pm). Philippe (Jéremie Réniér) is a young efficiency expert who tries to maintain his work life and his love life.

On the metro, on his way to his first day on the job, Philippe meets Eva and falls in love. Meanwhile, his first assignment at work is to prepare a small, family-owned company for a corporate takeover. Philippe is so good at his job that he is then charged with firing part of the staff. Now he has to try to hold on to Eva as well as to his conscience. In this first feature, Moutout examines capitalism run amok. More than any other film in the series, "Work Hard, Play Hard" shows the implications of career vis-a-vis family.

"New French Connection" doesn’t show a large number of films (five will be screened this year; four were screened last year), and BAM certainly isn’t the only local place to see French cinema. But a small series actually makes it possible to see all the films in the program. And Almozini finds movies that might otherwise fall through the cracks of U.S. exhibition.

"There are a large number of films produced in France every year and while many of these films get shown in New York in various showcases, festivals, or even distribution, there is still a great amount of work that never makes it to the U.S.," she said.

Here, then, is another opportunity for French film fanatics to catch up on more of the current crop of imports.

Marian Masone is the associate director of programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chief curator of the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center.

 

"The New French Connection" film series runs at BAMcinematek (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene) Oct. 21-24. Tickets are $10. To order, call (718) 777-FILM. For more information, visit the Web site www.bam.org or call (718) 636-4100.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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