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Rendez-Vous With French Cinema Showcases New Generation of Filmmakers

The broad and diverse selection of French movies at the Cannes and Toronto festivals last year show that the health of Gallic cinema rests in the hands of its booming new generation.

As part of the 20th edition of its Rendez-Vous With French Cinema — co-chaired by Martin Scorsese and Gallic actress Nathalie Baye — Unifrance, in partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, will showcase the up-and-coming filmmakers and actors driving this trend, notably Thomas Cailley’s feature debut “Love at First Fight,” which won three Directors’ Fortnight awards; Melanie Laurent’s sophomore outing “Breathe,” above; Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis’ “Party Girl,” winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard; Thomas Lilti’s Cannes Critics’ Week closer “Hippocrates”; and Abd Al Malik’s “May Allah Bless France,” recipient of Toronto’s Fipresci prize.

The events runs March 6-15 at various theaters in Lincoln Center, the IFC Center and BAM Cinematek (filmlinc.com).

“We first turned the spotlight on what we called France’s ‘New New Wave’ at last year’s Rendez-Vous, and we earned great feedback from U.S. participants who were impressed by the youth and large representation of women directors in our industry,” says Isabelle Giordano, co-managing director of French cinema promotional org Unifrance. “Looking at the great year French cinema has had, it only made sense to look once again at emerging talent with this time around a focus on ‘New French Noirs.’ ”

Indeed, a number of emerging directors like Cedric Anger (“Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart”), Frederic Tellier (“SK1”) and Cedric Jimenez (“The Connection”) have tackled the film noir genre in a subtle way that seems more inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville’s and Claude Chabrol’s pics than American classics.

The dynamic French talent pool hasn’t gone unnoticed by U.S. distribs. Along with such players as Sony Pictures Classics, the Weinstein Co., IFC Films, Magnolia, Music Box and Kino Lorber, many more distributors, from Film Movement, Cohen Media Group, Strand Releasing, Drafthouse and Distrib Films, have demonstrated a significant interest in diverse French movies, taking risks on newcomers and pics with emerging actors and no stars.

“I think France has some of the most exciting new talent in cinema today, with (filmmakers such as) Celine Sciamma (‘Girlhood’), Abd Al Malik (‘May Allah Bless France’) and Thomas Cailley (‘Love at First Fight’).It’s really thrilling to see the vibrancy,” said Marcus Hu, co-founder and co-president of Strand Releasing, which recently picked up all three of those films.

“Malik’s film is really a great new voice; it reminded me of the first time I saw ‘La Haine,’ ” adds Hu, referring to Mathieu Kassovitz’s movie following three young men from the suburban housing projects on a fateful odyssey across Paris.

Like “La Haine,” “Allah” is a black-and-white urban drama shedding light on youth growing up in housing projects and being drawn into delinquency. Rapper-turned-director Malik was inspired by his own life experiences when he conceived and made the film.

As Michael E. Rosenberg, CEO of Film Movement, sees it, many rising French directors such as Laurent are bending the codes of New Wave cinema.

“There are risks these filmmakers are taking to imbue their art with a fresh perspective, while standing squarely on the shoulders of the original New Wave artists who so solidly put France on the filmmaking map,” says Rosenberg, whose Film Movement acquired “Breathe.”

Being the work of young voices, these movies — including “Love at First Fight,” “Allah” and “Breathe” — can also appeal to younger demos, which, per Giordano, remains one of the priority goals for Unifrance as it looks for ways to boost arthouse audiences across the world.

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