Female Directors Dominate French Film Showcase

Grand Central

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York highlights work of up-and-coming women filmmakers

French women filmmakers may be under-represented in the competition lineup of Cannes Film Festival, but they’re surely gaining ground in recent years, accessing high-profile casts and delivering singular, often emotional films that spark international critics’ enthusiasm.

For its annual Rendez-Vous in New York, French promo org UniFrance has chosen to turn the spotlight on these up-and-coming helmers standing on the frontline of this new wave.

“These new filmmakers are showing international audiences that French cinema isn’t limited to a few directors and actors’ names: They dare to portray every aspect of our society in a modern and creative way and tackle serious topics,” says Isabelle Giordano, UniFrance’s managing director.

“The films of this latest French new wave are notable for their freewheeling energy and immediacy, and for their willingness to tackle head-on the complexities and contradictions of 21st-century France,” says Dennis Lim, Lincoln Center Film Society head of programming.

“More than a third of the films in our selection are first or second features,” he notes, and while the original French New Wave was very much a “boys’ club,” nearly half of these new films were directed by women.

The filmmakers and their films include: Rebecca Zlotowski with “Grand Central,” a tale of forbidden love set in a nuclear plant, starring Lea Seydoux and Tahar Rahim (world premiere: Cannes’ Un Certain Regard); Katell Quillevere with “Suzanne,” a coming-of-age story toplining Sara Forestier (world premiere: Cannes’ Critics Week); Emmanuelle Bercot with “On My Way,” a tender dramedy starring Catherine Deneuve as a former beauty queen in her sixties who embarks on a road trip after being abandoned by her longtime lover (world premiere: Berlin film fest); Axelle Ropert with love triangle drama “Miss and the Doctors,” starring Louise Bourgoin (market premiere: Toronto); and Justine Triet with “The Age of Panic,” a comedy-filled drama about a thirtysomething former couple on the verge of a nervous breakdown (world premiere: Cannes’ Acid program).

While these pics run the gamut in terms of style and themes, they all share an intimate, naturalistic approach to storytelling and strong female characters. And unlike many of their male counterparts, these women directors seldom dive into U.S.-style genre films, thrillers or actioners.

“I come from a generation of directors that doesn’t have a unique mentor but a multitude of inspirations,” Zlotowski says. “There are big differences (among us. Some) are inspired by documentary filmmaking … others clearly refuse realism.”

She adds that many of these filmmakers come from similar Paris backgrounds and graduated from the prestigious Femis film school. Triet has said she draws her inspiration from American comedies from Billy Wilder to Judd Apatow, and such series as “The Wire.”

While French sales agents have for the most part cut down on homegrown fare, select companies such as Elle Driver and Gaumont are eagerly sourcing new talent to come up with original stories and fresh concepts.

“There’s nothing more exciting and enriching than following this new generation, seeing them evolve, and doing what’s needed to help their films get discovered in international territories, even if the context is very difficult,” says Adeline Fontan Tessaur, who’s repped Bercot’s “On Her Way” (picked up by Cohen Media Group) and Zlotowski’s “Grand Central,” and recently started selling Audrey Dana’s comedy “French Women.”

Fontan Tessaur adds: “A marquee name is always a valuable asset, but in the end, distributors don’t look for a name or a new generation. They’re just looking for good movies, wherever they come from.”

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  5. GKN says:

    Gaumont isn’t looking for “new talent” or “original stories”. They’re looking for packages to be dropped on their laps, with known names attached. They told me so this week. (Just so you know. We wouldn’t want to be giving false hopes out to anyone.)

    • Saint Macary says:

      Et pourtant nous recherchons bien des nouveaux talents et des idées originales.
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    • elskes says:

      Gaumont is indeed looking for new talent and original stories but as I wrote in this story, many of the films coming from this new generation of directors have known names attached, whether it’s a high profile actor/actress or a well-established producer. If you look at Gaumont’s slate, in the last couple years they’ve done very well with original movies from emerging directors, and the most recent example is Guillaume Gallienne’s feature debut “Me, Myself and Mum” (winner of 5 Cesar awards, BTW), but there’s also “Paris or Perish,” “Paulette” and “Porn In The Hood.” And in every case, these films don’t have big casts but they are backed by producers with solid track records (LGM, Legende and Mandarin…).

      • Gail NOYER says:

        This is very odd. I go back to the article, and this comment isn’t there. First time I’ve seen that…   But elskes, you and I are saying the same thing. Attachments, ‘high-profile actors’ – and that tireless French ‘auteur-theory’:  i.e., only directors can be ‘authors’, though barely a quarter of them know how  to write.  They no longer look at scripts (i.e., “stories”) at all (among other producers). At least, that’s what I was told.   And I’m a credited writer.  20 + years in the SACD. 8 in the French scriptwriters guild (which I’ve now left). Lord knows how it is for “new talent”.

        > Message du 06/03/14 11:55 > De : “Variety” > A : gail.noyer@wanadoo.fr > Copie à : > Objet : [New comment] Female Directors Dominate French Film Showcase > >WordPress.com elskes commented: “Gaumont is indeed looking for new talent and original stories but as I wrote in this story, many of the films coming from this new generation of directors have known names attached, whether it’s a high profile actor/actress or a well-established producer.”

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