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Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014

Festival of Films in French

A week of new movies and classics at UWM

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French films? Mention them and certain impressions come to mind, whether the breezy insouciance of Breathless or romance on the banks of the Seine—preferably the Left Bank. If nothing else, Polisse explodes some of those preconceptions. The 2011 Cannes prizewinner dives headfirst into the office of the Paris police Child Protection Unit, where an officer patiently tries to draw out a child who may have been sexually abused by her dad.

Polisse is like “Law & Order: CSU” on steroids—a muscular speed rush of scenarios involving a squad tasked with cracking some of society’s most despised crimes. Polisse jumps from cops to perps, from personal to political. It’s one of the attractions on the closing weekend of this year’s Festival of Films in French at UW-Milwaukee.

Directed by Maïwenn Besco, Polisse’s police squad offers a group portrait of postmodern France, with Gallic, Arab, sub-Saharan African and Indo-Chinese faces. And yet France remains French: the cops drink red wine in the police cafeteria during lunch break. Aside from disturbing child abuse case studies, Polisse includes a good amount of steamy sex between consenting adults. Questions are asked: If pedophilia is a sickness, wonders one boy, then why aren’t pedophiles sent to hospital instead of prison?

More in keeping with everyone’s image of French film is the 2011 Les Bien-Aimés (Beloved), with Catherine Deneuve breaking out in song on the streets of Paris. The story follows a carefree young Parisian from the ’60s (played in old age by Deneuve) and her love trek across the Iron Curtain and back again. Beloved has too many melancholy moments to be called a comedy, but the overall tone is as light and breezy as any cinematic romp down the Champs-Élysées. 

The 17th annual Festival of Films in French includes a pair of important silent movies, René Clair’s Entr’acte (featuring Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp) and Abel Gance’s scathing denunciation of war, J’accuse, along with Jean Renoir’s 1937 classic La Grande Illusion, a perennial on the Best Films of All Times list. The festival represents the Francophone world beyond metropolitan France with selections from Senegal and Quebec. Many films in this year’s festival are already out on Netflix and DVD, but as festival sponsor Richard Stone maintains, “It’s a different atmosphere in a theater. It’s more social. The screen is still bigger, even if you have a big screen at home. There’s popcorn. It’s just a different experience, seeing these thoughtful films in the cinema.”

The Festival of Films in French runs Feb. 7-16 at the UWM Union Theatre. Admission is free. For more information, go to www4.uwm.edu/cie/frenchfilm/‎.