USC Sumter hosts French film series

FROM STAFF REPORTS
Posted 1/23/18

University of South Carolina Sumter's Division of Arts and Letters began the return of an annual French-language film series on Monday night at Nettles Auditorium.

The college also distributed a news release Monday on the series, which continues …

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USC Sumter hosts French film series

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University of South Carolina Sumter's Division of Arts and Letters began the return of an annual French-language film series on Monday night at Nettles Auditorium.

The college also distributed a news release Monday on the series, which continues for the next five Mondays at 5:30 p.m. at the auditorium through Feb. 26.

A grant from the French-American Cultural Exchange Council has allowed USC Sumter to show recent French-language films through the Tourn es Festival Film Series, a college spokesperson said.

All films are free and open to the public, according to the college. Each screening will begin with a short introduction and then will be followed by audience discussion.

Monday's film was Ziad Doueiri's The Attack from 2013, tracking the growing disillusion of a highly successful Palestinian surgeon who lives and works in Tel Aviv.

Following is the schedule for the five remaining films in the series, along with a brief synopsis of each film provided by the college.

Monday, Jan. 29: April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

This one-of-a-kind animated adventure film ushers the viewer into an alternate reality in which the Bonapartes still rule France, electricity was never discovered, trees are a distant memory and a steam-driven cable car connects Paris to Berlin.

In this dystopian steampunk landscape, scientists have mysteriously disappeared for decades and April Franklin, the brilliant young descendant of a long line of chemists, is in danger of being next. With the help of a shady drifter called Julius and her talking cat Darwin, April sets off to find her missing parents, while trying to keep the "invincibility serum" she has developed out of the hands of the imperial police - and those of a nefarious group of intelligent Komodo dragons!

Based on the unmistakable blend of urban grit and historical fantasy found in the drawings of Jacques Tardi, one of France's most influential graphic novelists of the last half century, April and the Extraordinary World is not only an engrossing, wildly imaginative entertainment for the whole family, but also a slyly feminist statement, an ode to science and an earnest plea for world peace. It is also one of the finest showcases for the visionary work being done in contemporary French animation.

Monday, Feb. 5: The Missing Picture (2013)

How can a filmmaker portray incomprehensible barbarity, especially when he himself and everyone he knew and loved was directly affected by this horror?

Rithy Panh ingeniously uses carved and painted figures to represent himself and his family (and many others) who had to flee Phnom Penh for agricultural labor camps on April 17, 1975, the day that the Khmer Rouge seized Cambodia's capital city.

In calm, occasionally astringent first-person narration (read by Randal Douc), we learn that Panh was 13 when Pol Pot began his genocidal regime; by 1979, the year that the Khmer Rouge leader was removed from power, the director's parents, sisters and a niece and nephew were dead, among the millions who perished. The title refers to the fact that almost all of the documentary footage - snippets of which is interspersed throughout the film - that exists from the Khmer Rouge's horrific four-year reign is nothing but propaganda that glorifies the party and its commander. What was never documented was the legions of Cambodians and their relentless suffering.

Against intricately detailed dioramas, Panh's small clay human surrogates inexorably, almost magically, assume the qualities and dimensions of real people.

Monday, Feb. 12: The French Minister (2013)

Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, this razor-sharp satire of politics - both those enacted on the world stage and within the corridors of workplaces - originated in first-hand experience: The film is adapted from graphic novels written by Antonin Baudry, who worked as a speechwriter for Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister during the lead-up to the 2003 war in Iraq. (Baudry co-wrote the screenplay with Tavernier and Christophe Blain, who illustrated the books.)

As the Baudry surrogate, Rapha l Personnaz plays Arthur, recently hired by the imperiously named, high-ranking diplomat Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermitte), a man who speaks in orotund outbursts. These thickets of words, which grow more hilarious and nonsensical as the film progresses, combine egregious clich s, lofty quotations from the sages of ancient Greece and impenetrable bureaucrat-speak.

As Arthur scrambles to figure out just what, exactly, his highly capricious boss wants from him, the crisis in "Lousdemistan" (clearly a stand-in for Iraq) deepens. The new hire must also contend with the petty office squabbling of his territorial colleagues and their bids for power; meanwhile, the overweening Alexandre quite literally creates chaos wherever he goes.

Monday, Feb. 19: Panique (1947)

Critically lambasted and shunned by postwar French audiences upon its release in 1947, Julien Duvivier's Panique has since come to be recognized as a long-overlooked treasure of French film noir. The film was the first of several adaptations of Mr. Hire's Engagement, one of the finest novels by legendary Belgian crime writer Georges Simenon, a coal-black tale of the scapegoating of the eccentric bachelor Mr. Hire following the murder of a woman in his Paris neighborhood: Mr. Hire has the double misfortune of knowing too much for his own good and falling for the real murderer's girlfriend.

Yet as played by the towering, stony-faced Michel Simon, the prim and proper oddball is anything but meek and pathetic: Simon's Mr. Hire is an enigma but also the film's moral center. Viviane Romance, one of France's brightest stars of the period, gives a chilling performance as Alice, the hard-luck woman whose blind love for an unscrupulous crook leads her to become a ruthless femme fatale and frame Mr. Hire. While Panique is first and foremost a thrilling movie, both for its iconic performances and Duvivier's confident use of set pieces (several scenes in a fair, a desperate rooftop escape), it also provides deep insight into the mentality of the lynch mob and the pessimistic world view that existed in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Monday, Feb. 26: Elle (2016)

The first French film by Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch provocateur behind such sneakily subversive Hollywood fare as Robocop and Basic Instinct, Elle is a work of startling moral complexity, a constantly surprising narrative that provides an in-depth, occasionally uncomfortable portrait of a well-to-do Paris woman with more than a few secrets.

The film begins when Mich le Leblanc, the co-owner of a successful video game company, is sexually assaulted by a masked man in her own home. Through Mich le's unusual response to her assault and eventual discovery of the culprit, the viewer learns about her past and comes to understand what has shaped her blunt, sometimes shocking personality.

Elle explores the dark, mystifying sides of the psyche but with a light touch and fast pace that allow Verhoeven to make the most of his characters' comic foibles. One only has to compare Elle's bumbling men to its powerful heroine to realize that this is a feminist film, one that furthers the discussion on rape and trauma, but, most importantly, portrays women in positions of strength.

Nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for her work in Elle, Isabelle Hupper delivers another brave, illuminating performance. As Verhoeven has stated in interviews, one always sees what Mich le is thinking in Huppert's eyes. In a film that plumbs the depths of human complexity, this access to the intricacies of the mind is nothing short of riveting.

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USC Sumter's Dr. Damien Picariello and Dr. Andrew Kunka serve as directors of the film series for 2018. For more information, contact Picariello at (803) 938-3812 or picaried@uscsumter.edu; or Kunka at (803) 938-3718 or ajkunka@uscsumter.edu.