Look ahead to the films at Rendezvous with French Cinema

A scene in “The Five Devils.”
“The Five Devils” unfolds without much tension, making it hard to care about the characters.
F Comme Film

A handful of films by or featuring LBGTQ folks will screen at this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema program, and a free talk Friday March 10 at 4 pm — entitled “Queer Identities on Screen” — will feature out gay filmmakers Christophe Honoré and Florent Gouëlou. Here is a rundown (in chronological order) of what to watch.

“Diary of a Fleeting Affair” (March 3, 4:00 pm; March 6, 9:30 pm)

This is a glossy, talky romantic drama about the “rational relationship” between Charlotte (Sandrine Kiberlain), a single mother, and Simon (Vincent Macaigne), a married man. They meet regularly for sex — chapter titles indicate how much time has passed between encounters — and insist they will not fall in love. Their fleeting affair has its ups and downs as well as jealousies. When the couple agree to a threesome with Louise (Georgia Scalliet) — because they are curious to explore the fantasy — the women are seen kissing while Simon prattles on nervously next to them. This development may alter the future of the couple’s relationship. This slight film invests viewers in Charlotte and Simon’s double lives as they seek romantic love in part because the leads are so engaging.

“The Five Devils” (March 4, 3:30 pm with Q&A; March 8, 3:45 pm)

Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is unhappy in her marriage to Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue) — a fact that does not escape their 8-year-old daughter, Vicky (Sally Dramé). One afternoon, Joanne discovers that Vicky has an extremely perceptive sense of smell. Vicky spends time collecting scent jars and mixing things, even entering a state of unconsciousness when she inhales a particularly potent scent. When Jimmy’s sister, Julia (Swala Emati), comes to stay, Joanne is initially against her sister-in-law’s visit. But it soon becomes clear that Joanne and Julia were lovers back in the day — before Julia committed a crime that sent her to prison and Joanne married Jimmy. Vicky gleans all of this as she goes into trances and, apparently, back in time to witness Julia and Joanne touching each other under a table or kissing in a car. Now Vicky wants Julia to leave, perhaps because she is further splintering her parents’ already fractured marriage. Director/cowriter Léa Mysius takes this intriguing premise and adds some filler with scenes of Vicky being bullied by her classmates as well as Joanne’s dad (Patrick Bouchitey) voicing his displeasure about his daughter’s girlfriend. These moments may add to the overall unease and discomfort, but “The Five Devils” unfolds without much tension, making it hard to care about the characters despite strong performances by Exarchopoulos and Dramé.

“Forever Young” (March 5, 9:30 pm; March 10, 1:00 pm)

“Forever Young” is an affectionate drama, based on director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s life as a student at Les Amandiers, a theater school run by gay directors Patrice Chéreau (Louis Garrel) and Pierre (Micha Lescot). From auditions and casting to a trip to New York City where the students perform acting exercises, to the staging of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” the film traces the lives of a handful of actors, (not unlike “Fame.”) While Bruni Tedeschi focuses largely on the relationship that develops between Stella (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), and her drug-using boyfriend, Étienne (Sofiane Bennacer), other minidramas take shape, including an HIV scare after three students all sleep with the same possibly infected cast members. There are also plenty of crushes, jealousies (both professional and personal), and pregnancies. Moreover, various characters kiss and declare their love for others — some of these episodes are same-sex — and there is also some inappropriate behavior, as when Patrice tries to seduce a male student, or when an actress takes advantage of a passed-out Pierre. In addition, Patrice’s embrace of an actor to show how to perform during a rehearsal is later mocked by two students in a bathroom. Bruni Tedeschi captures the intense emotional experiences of these impulsive, and certainly dramatic, youths as they build things up — relationships, the play — and things break down. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, with the magnetic Bennacer a standout in the showiest role.

Writer/director Christophe Honoré’s most autobiographical film to date, “Winter Boy,” (March 9, 3:30 pm, March 11; 6:15 pm with a Q&A) is an intimate character study about Lucas (Paul Kircher), a gay teen in France. His life changes when his father (played by Honoré) dies in a car accident. He, along with his mother, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche, excellent), and brother, Quentin (Vincent Lacoste), cope in different ways with the tragedy. Lucas goes to stay in Paris with Quentin and has a series of experiences — a conversation in a church; a hookup with a stranger (or two); and a crush on Quentin’s roommate Lilio (Erwan Kepoa Falé) — as he searches for truth and vows to live life on his own terms. However, he becomes emotionally overwhelmed and has episodes of acting out. Kircher gives a remarkably unselfconscious performance, which captures his fragility, despair, sullenness, hope, and courage. Honoré’s deeply moving film is unbearably sad but also quite life affirming.

“Three Nights a Week” (March 11, 3:15, with Q&A; March 12 6:15pm)

“Three Nights a Week” expands themes from writer/director Florent Gouëlou’s 2020 short “First Love” into a feature-length drama. Baptiste (Pablo Pauly) is fascinated by Cookie Kunty (Romain Eck), a drag queen he meets at an HIV/AIDS medical site where his girlfriend, Samia (Hafsia Herzi) works. Baptiste starts taking pictures of Cookie as well as Bobel (Harald Marlot) aka Jerrie, and soon immerses himself in their drag scene first as an onlooker — going to bars, and dancing with his new friends — but then as Cookie’s lover. With his relationship with Samia on the skids, Baptiste, who is transfixed by Cookie, begins an affair with the performer’s male identity, Quentin, forcing him to determine what he wants. “Three Nights a Week” makes this “straight” man’s walk on the wild side a compelling reinvention story, even if Baptiste is possibly exploiting the drag queens he photographs as he gains sensitivity to their lives by witnessing episodes of homophobia and queer bashing. The relationship between Baptiste and Cookie hits all of the expected notes in the familiar tale of a drag queen improving a straight man’s life, but there are many sweet moments between the men. Alas, a “Drag Olympics” contest that Cookie and Jerrie perform in — and Baptiste photographs — is a letdown for drag performance, but it does give Baptiste the opportunity to make a heartfelt speech, which generates some emotion.

“Rendezvous with French Cinema” | March 2-12 at Lincoln Center