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Festival of New French Cinema 

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Presented by Facets Cinematheque and the French Cultural Services in Chicago, the seventh annual Festival of New French Cinema runs Friday through Thursday,

December 5 through 11, at Facets Cinematheque. Tickets are $9, $5 for Facets Cinematheque members; for more information call 773-281-4114. In French with subtitles unless otherwise noted. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5

If I Were a Rich Man

Gerard Bitton and Michel Munz's spirited romp (2002) stars Jean-Pierre Darroussin as an unsuccessful salesman of beauty products who alienates his long-suffering wife (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) with his spending. The couple agree to separate as the husband's boss develops a passion for the wife; then the husband wins 10 million euros in the lottery and, eager to conceal it from the divorce lawyer, maintains a workingman's facade while furtively living it up. Pointed observations about sex, marriage, and work animate the film, but the coarseness of the humor ultimately derails this comedy aimed at a beleaguered middle class. 100 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (7:00)

* Nickel and Dime

With nods to Bob le flambeur, Belle de jour, and Goodfellas, director-cowriter Sam Karmann examines a week in the lives of some affable small-time crooks who hang out at a Parisian dive owned by an ex-con. Slackers of the criminal underclass, they're long on talk and short on action, except for the two youngest, a dreamer (Jacques Gamblin) and a live wire (Clovis Cornillac) who are itching for a big score. They get bolder when an old pro (Gerard Lanvin in a Jean Reno-esque part) returns from prison, and as some menacing former associates pursue him while the kids look to make their move, the passing of each day raises the ante. There's also romance, both sweet and sad; compulsion vies with honor among these thieves, and though love may not conquer all, it does offer hope. 100 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (9:15)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6

A Piece of Sky

Severine Cancele (L'humanite) is a former factory worker incarcerated at a women's prison; Sophie Leboutte plays her former colleague, who faces a similarly oppressive environment on the factory floor, in this feature directed by Benedicte Lienard, a former assistant to the Dardenne brothers. 85 min. (1:00)

* Nickel and Dime

See listing for Friday, December 5. (3:00)

Stormy Weather

A French psychiatrist (Elodie Bouchez) becomes obsessed with a mute, mysterious female patient (novelist Didda Jonsdottir), to the extent of trying to gain legal custody over her after she's returned to her family in Iceland. Writer-director Solveig Anspach (Raise the Heart!) creates a convincing medical milieu in France and makes good use of desolate Icelandic landscapes. But she never establishes why the doctor is so committed to this particular woman (who seems to be her only patient), or why the patient is so traumatized (beyond the fact that her husband is a drunk), or how the U.S. can create a health care system in which doctors altruistically follow needy patients around the globe. 88 min. (JJ) (5:00)

A Real Man

A romantic musical comedy about the fluctuating relationship between a screenwriter and industrial filmmaker (Mathieu Amalric) and a businesswoman (Helene Fillieres), directed by the Larrieu brothers, Arnaud and Jean-Marie. In English and subtitled French and Spanish. 120 min. (7:00)

Sansa

The title character (Roschdy Zem) of this feature wanders the world in a fog, occasionally impeded by encounters with police or immigration officials seeking proper documents; his peregrinations are rarely explained, but he seems determined to bed as many pretty women as possible. As he travels to Italy, Russia, Egypt, Japan, and elsewhere, he keeps crossing paths with an aged, equally enigmatic musician-conductor who shares his appetite for young babes. Sansa may stand for the displacements of globalization, and writer-director Siegfried evokes nervousness and disorientation with his handheld camera. But this and related techniques wear thin, and locales are often established with trite travel imagery (a long montage of Indian faces set to Hare Krishna music, for instance). In English and subtitled French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and Hungarian. 118 min. (FC) (9:15)

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7

* Feathers in My Head

A couple in a small Belgian town are devastated by the accidental death of their young son in this uneven but nonetheless stunning first feature by Thomas de Thier. The boy is fascinated by animals, expressing a wish to "migrate" like birds (which later leads him to wander off), and the sense of wonder reflected in de Their's nature imagery just as easily colors a scene of the boy enveloped in the light of a TV tube. The long mourning section, which finds the mother mad with grief, is less effective cinematically, though some of the opening's magic is recovered when she has a fling with an adolescent loner whose immersion in nature mirrors her late son's. 100 min. (FC) (1:00)

A Real Man

See listing for Saturday, December 6. (3:00)

Beautiful Memories

A man and a woman suffering from amnesia (Bernard Campan and Isabelle Carre) meet at a clinic in this comedy-drama (2002) by Zabou Breitman (who also plays a doctor's assistant at the clinic). The film won a Cesar, as did Carre and Bernard Le Coq, who plays the doctor. In French and Yiddish with subtitles. 110 min. (5:15)

* Our Precious Children

Humor doesn't always export well, but that's not a problem for Benoit Cohen, whose charming ensemble comedy slyly satirizes domestically challenged yuppies. A headstrong young mother (Romane Bohringer) runs into her ex-flame (Mathieu Demy) while grocery shopping and, mistaking his horror for surprise, makes good on her promise to keep in touch by bringing her husband and two children to the country home her ex shares with his neurotic wife and new baby. An immediate antipathy divides the two women, and tensions escalate when three adult friends arrive with a tiny tot and a big secret. Like About a Boy, this warm and engaging film asks whether the children of its title might not in fact be grown-up. 83 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (7:30)

A Piece of Sky

See listing for Saturday, December 6. (9:15)

MONDAY, DECEMBER 8

* A Big Girl Like You

This wise and direct coming-of-age story from Christophe Blanc (An Outgoing Woman) considers the liberty of a bold and amply endowed 16-year-old (Mercedes Cecchetto) living in a small town with a father who grimly advises her that life is "shit from A to Z." She seeks solace in sex ("the only real thing," she tells one boy) and in her friendship with an Arab schoolmate who dyes her hair blond, hoping to pass as French. After an errant slap from her father, the girl moves to Paris for the life of an aspiring model, but her new world moves a lot faster than the one she's left behind. The story's outcome isn't particularly surprising, but it ably records the first bitter taste of adult responsibility. 87 min. (JJ) (7:00)

* Our Precious Children

See listing for Sunday, December 7. (9:00)

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9

The Challenge

Acclaimed choreographer Blanca Li makes her feature debut with this 2002 break dancing musical inspired by Hollywood classics. As two Paris crews prepare for a competition that will send the victors to New York for the world championship, an 18-year-old dancer (Benjamin Chaouat) moves out on his wealthy, overprotective mom (competently played by Li). Hoping to get closer to him, she joins the rival crew, showing them tapes of old musicals in her fancy apartment to teach them new moves. There are some laughs and plenty of lively choreography, though the dancers' near-balletic unison seems a far cry from break dancing's anarchic origins and the dance-conquers-all finale is treacly enough for a bad sitcom. 98 min. (FC) (7:00)

Beautiful Memories

See listing for Sunday, December 7. (9:00)

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Sansa

See listing for Saturday, December 6. (7:00)

The Challenge

See listing for Tuesday, December 9. (9:00)

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11

* A Big Girl Like You

See listing for Monday, December 8. (7:00)

In My Skin

From Marina de Van (who acted in Francois Ozon's See the Sea and cowrote his Under the Sand and 8 Women) comes this fiercely uncompromising psychodrama (2002) infused with a keen intelligence and a sinister primordiality. De Van stars as a young marketing professional who attends a party, explores the estate grounds, and stumbles into a construction area where she badly gashes her leg. She allows the wound to fester, ignoring the seriousness of her injury as her career jumps to the executive track, and gradually becomes fascinated with pain while adding to the corruption of her flesh by slicing bits of it away. Self-mutilation is the radical outcome of her self-absorption, as her increasing derangement threatens her job, her lover, and her best friend. 93 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (9:00)

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