The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Five Funny French Films festival is the MFAH's alternative to hopping a plane and heading to Paris. "The lag time between when a film made the festival rounds and then finally gets general release can be significant," the museum's Curator for Film and Video Marian Luntz tells Art Attack. "This is a way for people to see the latest French films without having to [go there.]
"What we've been trying to get at is what the French comedic sensibility is and how that translates on film. We had the coup of being able to secure what is essentially a sneak preview of what is a hot new film, The Untouchables. That's been a box office sensation in France but no one in the states has seen it yet."
The film, by director Eric Toledano, is based on a true story about a very wealthy man who becomes disabled and the street smart guy who's his caregiver. "Their contrast is part of the appeal of the film. And it's an interesting and unlikely connection that these two characters make." If you miss seeing it at the museum, you'll have to wait a few months for its stateside summer release.
"The films have humor and other elements. These are really hybrid films. With the exception of Low Cost, none of them is just funny. They're rom-com, romantic comedy or dram-com, drama comedy," says Luntz.
The most obviously romantic among the Five Funny French Films offerings is the sweet and lighthearted Les émotifs anonymes (Romantics Anonymous), by Jean-Pierre Améris, scheduled to screen on Friday. Isabelle Carré stars as the painfully shy Angélique. Her boss, Jean-René (Benoît Poelvoorde), is equally bashful. Strongly attracted to each other, the two begin a comedic courtship dance riddled with awkward moments and false starts. At risk is not only the pair's future happiness, but the success of the chocolate-making company where they both work.
"I think the hesitation and shyness of the two characters in Romantics Anonymous, those are things that are touchstones for the audience. People will find that funny sometimes and sometimes poignant."Le nom des gens (The Names of Love)
Sara Forestier's performance in Le nom des gens (The Names of Love) won Luntz over, cinching a spot for it in the festival. "I think she was just delightful. Through sheer force of will the character is able to make a connection with everyone around her ... in a mostly positive way," she laughs. "I also liked the complexity of their backgrounds, how that was depicted. It becomes sort of a history lesson as their backgrounds are revealed. "
The spirited and biting Names of Love, by director Michel Leclerc, which is set for a Sunday showing is the story of a mismatched couple, Forestier as Baya Benmahmoud, and Jacques Gamblin as Arthur Martin (which happens to be the brand name of a popular washing machine). Baya informs us she is the only person with that name in all of France. Arthur, on the other hand, tells us he shares his name with some 15,000 of his countrymen (and that washing machine). She's young and beautiful, a sexual extrovert with few inhibitions, while he's a middle-aged, rather plain-looking, repressed loner.
Leclerc punctuates the humor with biting satire about prejudice, family secrets and political hypocrisies. For example, despite his vanilla-sounding name, Arthur is the Jewish grandson of Holocaust victims, something Baya thinks is wonderful. "It makes you interesting," she coos.
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Family relationships play a role in almost all of the films. Luntz says that's one of the reasons American audiences relate to the stories despite the language and cultural barriers. In Jennifer Devoldère's Et soudain tout le monde me manque (The Day I Saw Your Heart), Justine (Mélanie Laurent) a 27-year-old woman struggles with her 60-year-old father and his much too young, pregnant wife. The fact that he was mostly absent from Justine's childhood, but is now ready to be a doting father for his new baby has sent the resentful and jealous Justine running into the arms of yet another new boyfriend. Justine's older sister, Dom (Florence Loiret-Caille), is equally troubled by the news. She's been trying to have a baby for years but has been unable to conceive with her husband.
In Low Cost a group of passengers who tried to save money by taking an economy flight are stranded on a hot, stuffy airplane for eight hours. Fed up with the ill treatment, they stage a revolt. "Low Cost, is kind of nuanced, but still it's almost a French version of Airplane. It's in a very limited space, and, of course, they want to make us feel that as viewers. But they are able to create very interesting and realistic characters."
Things kick off on Friday with Les émotifs anonymes (Romantics Anonymous) at 7 p.m. and Et soudain tout le monde me manque (The Day I Saw Your Heart) at 8:45 p.m. On Saturday, Intouchables (Untouchable) screens at 7 p.m. and Low Cost at 9:15 p.m. On Sunday, Le nom des gens (The Names of Love) shows at 5 p.m. Screenings are at the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, visit www.mfah.org or call 713-639-7515. $6 to $7.