Rendez-vous With French Cinema New York Puts Focus on Female Filmmakers

julia ducournau raw
ducournau: Bertrand NOEL/SIPA/ap

A new generation of French women helmers is boldly mixing personal and genre cinema to create a fresh image of Gallic cinema abroad.

“Sometimes Americans are curious to see why we have so many women directors, with such strength of vision,” says Unifrance director Isabelle Giordano. “Women directors tackle pressing issues from new angles, with daring, sometimes provocative, approaches, often confronting hard truths in a frank and original manner.”

Almost half the filmmakers attending the Rendez-vous With French Cinema at Lincoln Center that runs March 1-12 (filmlinc.org/festivals/rendez-vous-with-french-cinema) are women, ranging from veteran Agnès Varda — who is scheduled for a talk at the event — to younger helmers such as Emmanuelle Bercot (“150 Milligrams”), Justine Triet (“In Bed With Victoria”), Julia Ducournau (“Raw,” and one of Variety’s 2017 10 Directors to Watch), Rebecca Zlotowski (“Planetarium”), Katell Quillévéré (“Heal the Living”), and Stéphanie Di Giusto (“The Dancer”).

Top female executives attending the event include Haut et Court founder, Carole Scotta, who recorded major successes in 2016 as producer of “150 Milligrams” and as executive producer of TV series “The Young Pope,” and French power agent Cecile Felsenberg of UBBA, whose client list includes Bercot, Dany Boon, Guillaume Canet, and Mathieu Kassovitz.

Ducournau took Toronto by storm with “Raw.” French films usually spurn the horror genre, but Ducournau’s stark depiction of a student’s descent into cannibalism mixes genre elements with a highly individual auteur outlook.

“My generation is less fixated with auteur cinema,” says Quillévéré. “Our inspirations include American independent and mainstream cinema, we’re not afraid to mix genre and auteur elements.”

Justin Taurand, who produced Quillévéré’s “Heal the Living,” says “films du milieu” (“midway films”) have earned that name because of their midsized budgets — typically between $3 million and $8 million — but also because they lie halfway between the genre and personal films, driven by the fact that their helmers both want, and need, to tap into a wider audience.

“My generation is more interested in genre and reaching an audience,” says Quillévéré, who cites an eclectic range of inspirations, from Douglas Sirk, James L. Brooks, Kenneth Lonergan, and Blake Edwards to David Simon’s “The Wire.” “I love filmmakers who explore emotions, the power of emotions within a story.”
Quillévéré is prepping her first TV series, co-written with Helier Cisterne, and produced by Taurand and David Thion, about French hip-hop group NTM, set in the 1980s.

Zlotowski says the new generation of French filmmakers is based on common interests, and above all friendships and working together. She’s co-writing a script with Thomas Cailley (“Love at First Sight”) based on a graphic novel.

“There’s amazing new talent emerging in France,” she says. “We sometimes show each other our work in the editing room. It’s not really a new wave, or a film movement, like in Argentina or the Philippines. Essentially, we’re all from the same middle-class backgrounds, from Paris or the suburbs. We share an interest in social issues, rather than a specific aesthetic approach, but we like strong visuals. We want to explore new territories, but always with a strong social concern.”