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Chicago French Film Festival puts the Gallic in italics

 

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Point Blank

Point Blank

Not to be confused with Facets Cinematheque's Festival of New French Cinema, this is the first edition of a new event presented by the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport, 773-871-6604. Tickets are $10; a festival pass, good for all screenings, is $40. Following are reviews of selected films; for a complete schedule see musicboxtheatre.com.

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life French pop star Serge Gainsbourg was as much iconoclast as icon, so it's fitting that this fanciful biopic is both affectionate and irreverent. Writer-director Joann Sfar, an award-winning comic-book author adapting his own graphic work, uses animation and puppetry in the macabre first act, in which the protagonist, a precocious Jewish art student born Lucien Ginsburg, escapes deportation from Vichy France by hiding in the countryside. In the second act the adult Lucien (Eric Elmosnino) chucks painting and his old name for composing, and though Serge Gainsbourg soon takes Paris (and such 60s beauties as Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Birkin) by storm, he's plagued by alcohol and a grotesque, beak-nosed alter ego (Doug Jones of Pan's Labyrinth). Songs are plentiful, but the actors do their own singing. In French with subtitles. —Andrea Gronvall 122 min. Sat 7/23, 8:30 PM.

The Hedgehog Lacking any depth of its own, this upper-middlebrow French drama (2009) resorts to the old trick of referencing acknowledged masters. Leo Tolstoy and Yasujiro Ozu are featured prominently; both were anything but schmaltzy, which makes the movie's story—about a prickly concierge who opens up with the help of a saintly Japanese tenant—seem all the more disingenuous. Adapting Muriel Barbery's novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, first-time director Mona Achache mixes feel-good platitudes with quirky conceits (including animated interludes and narration by an 11-year-old girl) to put across some hoary old notions about bourgeois neuroticism and hypocrisy. Meanwhile, the somber cinematography by Patrick Blossier (who shot Agnes Varda's Vagabond) and an insistent score by Gabriel Yared work overtime to create the illusion of seriousness and romance; they almost succeed. In French and Japanese with subtitles. —Ignatiy Vishnevetsky 100 min. Balasko attends the screening. Sun 7/24, 7 PM.

Point Blank In this finely calibrated neonoir, a nurse's aide (Gilles Lellouche of Mesrine: Killer Instinct) foils an attack on the wounded thief in his hospital ward (Roschdy Zem of Outside the Law) but is soon forced to help him escape. The hero races against time to save his pregnant wife (Elena Anaya), who's being held hostage in an unknown location, and gets further ensnared with the vengeful criminal and even more menacing police. As in Hitchcock the hero is an everyman forced to improvise to beat the bad guys at their own game, while the laconic, elegant thief belongs to the French cinematic tradition of enigmatic antiheroes (he's named Sartet after Alain Delon in The Sicilian Clan). Fred Cavaye directed (his previous film, Anything for Her, was remade by Paul Haggis as The Next Three Days). In French with subtitles. —Andrea Gronvall R, 84 min. The movie returns for a commercial run in August. Fri 7/22, 10 PM.

Romantics Anonymous Benoît Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog) and Isabelle Carré (Private Fears in Public Places) play a would-be couple who work together at a chocolate factory; both struggle with severe social anxiety, but neither is willing to admit it. Good comedy is often just one step removed from real emotional pain, but this Franco-Belgian trifle (2010) has a pervasive cutesiness that dulls the pain and the comedy equally. Director Jean-Pierre Améris leans heavily on intentional kitsch, including a few musical numbers; still, he manages to realize the potential of the premise in a handful of set pieces, such as the disastrous first date when Poelvoorde must repeatedly abscond to the bathroom to change shirts. Though only intermittently funny, the movie is too featherweight to be truly frustrating. In French with subtitles. —Ignatiy Vishnevetsky 80 min. Ameris attends the screening. Fri 7/22, 7:45 PM.

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