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New Faces of French Cinema Making Waves at Cannes

UniFrance hosts talks 9:30 a.m. May 13 with New Faces of French Cinema at the UniFrance Terrace.

Leïla Bekhti

“Sink or Swim”

After debuting with supporting roles in such films as the gonzo-horror pic “Sheitan” and offering the sole female presence in macho juggernaut “A Prophet,” actress Bekhti became movie star Bekhti with the release of her 2010 comedy “All That Glitters.”  Though that breakthrough role landed her a César and increased her box-office clout, the Parisian has not allowed herself to get too comfortable in any one gear.

“All my roles have to scare me,” she says. “Fear is reassuring; if one day I arrived on set and didn’t feel a bit afraid, that would be the end. Being afraid doesn’t stop me, it pushes me forward.”

So she has continually sought out first-time filmmakers, and is trying her hand at producing, developing a feature with theater director Julie Duclos. “It’s very moving to pay witness to an artist’s first work,” Bekhti notes.

The actress took the lead in the Scandi-noir series “Midnight Sun,” which required a move to Sweden and a crash course in English. “I’d never spoke the language before,” she laughs.

And when the then-expecting star was offered a part in Cannes out-of-competition comedy “Sink or Swim,” she happily accepted, on the condition that the film make no mention of her current state. “I didn’t want my character to be pregnant. That was my personal life, and I didn’t want to share it. On the other hand, seeing myself like that gave me a kind of freedom!”

That freedom, and her search for it, keeps Bekhti going. “I don’t want to be blasé,” she says. “I want to stay wonderstruck. The day I no longer feel wonder, I’ll stop.”

Pierre Deladonchamps

“Sorry Angel,” “Little Tickles”

Deladonchamps arrived at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival a relative unknown and left on the fast track to stardom.

Before landing his first leading role in “Stranger by the Lake,” the actor spent a decade working bit parts in films and TV; then, he hit Cannes, and soon enough his lead debut carried Deladonchamps to the Césars, where he won the most promising newcomer award.

The critically acclaimed film “changed many things in my life,” says the actor. “It gave me a kind of legitimacy, recognition, and confidence.”

Since then he’s worked regularly, returning to the Césars with Philippe Lioret’s “A Kid” and to Cannes with André Techiné’s “Golden Years.” This year, he is back on the Croisette with a one-two-punch of “Sorry Angel” in competition and “Little Tickles” in Un Certain Regard.

“The public discovered me with ‘Stranger,’ which was a radical, very austere work. I didn’t breakout with a mainstream hit, and so I’m not the first person people think of when casting such films,” he notes.

That may change later on this year, when he co-stars in the dysfunctional family comedy “Big Bang” alongside a number of popular comic stars. While the lighter crowd-pleaser may be somewhat of a departure from his usual weightier fare, the role still fit the actor’s high standards.

“When offered a script, if I see something important to say, I’ll take it,” he says. “While there are plenty of comic bits, the film is not only laughs for laughs sake … I like comedies that use laughs in service of an affecting story. That’s why I’m trying to do.”

Vanessa Filho

“Angel Face”

From rock star (the duo Smoking Smoking) to art photographer to documentarian, Filho has worn many hats throughout her career, but one thing has always remained a constant: since the age of 13, she has always wanted to direct features. And “at a certain point, I couldn’t keep on several different paths at the same time. I really threw myself into writing.”

Though the filmmaker had to put certain artistic pursuits on pause while making “Angel Face,” which stars Marion Cotillard as a wayward mother and premieres in Un Certain Regard, the project is something of a culmination of her diverse experiences.

“Music and film are indistinguishable to me,” says Filho. “There’s a lyrical dimension to film, and music is an intrinsic part of the creation of the overall work.”

Indeed, the project presented itself as but one more opportunity to work with longtime collaborators Smoking Smoking bandmate Audrey Ismaël and rocker Olivier Coursier, for whom she has directed several music videos.

Moreover, Filho’s background in music and photography most helped when working with 8-year-old actress Ayline Aksoy-Etaix, around whom the film is centered.

“Working with a child is a singular experience,” says the filmmaker. “It’s full of accidents and emotions and things out of your control. I really like that way of working: you plan as much as you can and then give yourself up to surprise and improvisation.… You always want that combination where things are prepared to the maximum, and then to be able to forget them in the instant and let yourself be guided by emotion.”

Romain Gavras

“Born Free”

Every time Michèle Ray-Gavras would produce one of her husband, Costa-Gavras’, films, their family home would become the shoot’s main production office, with actors and set designers waltzing in and out. So, naturally, their son Romain never once considered another career. “You don’t become a lawyer or a doctor or something that makes sense for the parents. I didn’t see any other routes,” says Gavras fils.

Though the filmmaker followed his parents and siblings into the family business, he’s made his biggest impact in the world of music videos, directing clips for the likes Justice, M.I.A., Kanye West and Jay-Z.

He’s developing an urgent, politically agitated style that uncomfortably matches our current fractious landscape. “I should ask for a copyright for a lot of those apocalyptic [images in the news] because it seems like they’ve been ripped off from some of my videos,” he offers with a grim laugh.

Still, despite his vast experience shooting in L.A. (“If you want a guy that has only one leg, and a prosthetic he can blow up at the same time, you can find that!”), when it comes to features, Gavras prefers his native country.

“I think my voice is more interesting in France,” he explains. “For me, Europe is a playground that has a lot of unknown territories in terms of pop culture. In terms of modern film grammar, there’s still a lot to do in Europe. I would go to Los Angeles to shoot commercials and stuff like that, but you make films so much better in your own voice.”

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