Rendezvous with French Cinema Offers Three Queer Films

PARIS 13TH DISTRICT – Still 2
Lucie Zhang as “Émilie,” Noémie Merlant as “Nora,” and Makita Samba as “Camille” in “Paris 13th District.”
IFC Films

Oh, la la! The 27th annual edition of Rendezvous with French Cinema offers a trio of films by queer filmmakers or featuring LGBTQ characters.

“Guermantes”

One highlight of this year’s program is “Guermantes,” which is by out gay filmmaker Christophe Honoré. The film features a cast of more than a dozen actors from the Comédie-Française troupe (playing themselves) as they rehearse a production of Proust’s “Le Côté de Guermantes.”

As the film begins, the show has been cancelled because of the pandemic and it will likely never be staged. However, Honoré, the director of the production, encourages the cast to keep rehearsing — “just for us.” The staging provides some interesting insights about the relationship between actors as well as with their director. But it is the off-stage antics that makes “Guermantes” interesting.

The film has a fabulous hangout vibe as the actors spin off into their own little worlds. Laurent Lafitte shows off the trailer for his new film and stresses over an upcoming production of “Cyrano.” (He puts a real homoerotic spin on that text, getting all touchy-feely with the actor he is running lines with one night.) At a group meal, someone who overheard an actress’ phone call misunderstands the context of the discussion, prompting an embarrassing moment.

Other mini-dramas arise. Sébastien is upset that Anne has been sketching him (naked, he claims), while another actor assumes the relationship between Serge and his boyfriend Léolo — who is 30 years younger than Serge — involves a financial arrangement.

“Guermantes” has an easygoing rhythm that makes it enjoyable to watch the cast have a meal, break off to sleep in the theater, play ping pong on stage, or dress up and hole up in a suite at the Ritz (a la Proust). It becomes fun to spend time with these people as they discuss love or run lines by a fire in their underwear. Honoré’s film is not the play, but “Guermantes” emphasizes that there is beauty in the gesture of making it — even if it is futile. His jovial film captures the dynamics at play during the production, and that, itself, has merit.

Rendezvous with French Cinema offers moviegoers the chance to see two films prior to their theatrical release in April.

“Anaïs in Love”

The title character in “Anaïs in Love” (Anaïs Demoustier) is a carefree young student who is late for every appointment, behind on her thesis — about passion in 17th century literature — and owes two months’ rent. Her charms may mollify those who are impatient with her (her landlady, her thesis advisor), but they also capture the attention of Daniel (Denis Podalydès), whom she meets at a party one evening. The much older man, a publisher, is smitten with the impulsive young woman and they begin an affair. However, it ends almost as abruptly as it begins.

Moreover, Anaïs soon becomes infatuated with Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a writer who is Daniel’s partner. She feels a deep connection to this woman she barely knows, especially after reading one of Emilie’s books. Hoping to live out her desire, Anaïs pursues Emilie at all cost, and the two women do bond at a literary symposium, where Emilie is speaking. But as they dance closely one day, Daniel shows up. His efforts to control the situation — to keep Anaïs away from Emelie — only propels the young enchantress to up her game and seduce her crush. Will love win out? “Anaïs in Love” succeeds on Demoustier’s irresistible appeal — if viewers don’t find her manic character irritating.

Paris, 13th District

“Paris, 13th District” is a stylish romantic drama directed by Jacques Audiard, who cowrote the screenplay with lesbian filmmaker Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) and Léa Mysius. The interlocking narratives are adapted from stories by Adrian Tomine. The film, lensed in glossy black and white, opens with a marvelous tracking shot that introduces Émilie Wong (Lucie Zhang), an aimless young woman, and Camille (Makita Samba), a teacher who becomes her roommate and, briefly, her lover.

When Émilie becomes jealous that Camille has taken up with Stéphanie (Oceane Cairaty), he moves out. Cut to Nora (Noémie Merlant of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), a law student who is mistaken for porn star Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth). One night, Nora befriends Amber on her website. She also quits school and takes a job working with Camille in a real estate agency.

Nora and Camille become lovers, but their connection is more emotional than physical. As Émilie re-enters, Audiard films all the personal and professional ups and downs with elegance, employing split screens and time jumps as he tracks all the coupling, uncoupling, and recoupling.

The attractive and frequently naked actors are enjoyable to watch as they experience their romantic trials and tribulations. However, despite its potential, “Paris, 13th District” is not an especially queer film; there is only one same-sex kiss (maybe two) in the entire film, but it has a nice payoff.

For tickets, showtimes, and the complete lineup, visit www.filmlinc.org.

RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA | March 3-13 | Film at Lincoln Center

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