French films coming to a fest near you

Gangster sagas, Creole hauntings among fare

“Public Enemy No. 1″/ “Public Enemy No. 2”

This diptych of films about one of France’s most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine, will be utterly dependent on star Vincent Cassel’s pulling power. Can Cassel do for Mesrine what Al Pacino did for Tony Montana? Like “Scarface,” the Mesrine films have a ’70s setting, so expect lots of dandy clothes and dubiously decorated nightclubs. Pics are directed by Jean-Francois Richet, whose last film was a middling remake of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13.” Thomas Langmann’s outfit La Petite Reine is producing. “Death Instinct” will be released in France later this year, its sequel in 2009.

“White Material”/ “35 Rhums”

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There are no less than two tales of existential yearning to look forward to this year from director Claire Denis. The first, “White Material,” stars Isabelle Huppert and Nicolas Duchauvalle and is set amid the coffee plantations of Cameroon. Pic, which comes out in France in August, is from a screenplay by novelist Marie N’Diaye. The second, “35 Rhums,” which was co-written by Denis and her usual collaborator Jean Pol Fargeau, is about a father (Alex Descas) who has to bring up his daughter alone after his wife commits suicide.

“In the Electric Mist”

Bertrand Tavernier has chosen to film a James Lee Burke novel for his first English-language pic since “‘Round Midnight” (1986). Shot entirely on location in Louisiana, pic stars Tommy Lee Jones as grizzled detective Dave Robicheaux hot on the track of some ghostly Confederate soldiers. Pic, which is out in France on March 26, is produced by Ithaca Pictures along with Tavernier’s Gallic shingle Little Bear. TF1 Intl. is handling world sales, which it will launch at Cannes.

“Parlez-moi de la pluie”

Agnes Jaoui‘s third directorial feature, again written in tandem with her partner Jean-Pierre Bacri, stars one of France’s most popular comic actors, Jamel Debbouze. The title of the film, which also stars Jaoui and Bacri, is from a popular Georges Brassens song. The film, which takes place in the world of French politics, could very well emulate Jaoui’s other pics and go straight into the main competition at Cannes. Expect something exquisitely bittersweet.