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New and classic movies screen at French Film Festival 

The festival returns April 21-27 at Prytania

click to enlarge Cezanne et Moi focuses on the friendship between Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne).

Cezanne et Moi focuses on the friendship between Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne).

With the lifelong and at times rocky friendship of painter Paul Cezanne and writer Emile Zola at its core, Cezanne et Moi invokes the richness of French culture and the tumult of mid- and late-19th-century France, making it a marquee inclusion for the New Orleans Film Society's 20th French Film Festival, produced in partnership with the Consulate General of France in New Orleans and Prytania Theatre.

  The festival screens recent award-winning French films, classics and short films April 21-27 at Prytania Theatre.

  Cezanne and Zola met as boys in Aix-en-Provence and both moved to Paris, though Cezanne returned to Provence, enraged at initial rejection by the Parisian art establishment, which wasn't ready to move past the Impressionists. Though Cezanne was born to a wealthy family, he became estranged, and he scraped by economically until late in his career.

  Born to an Italian father, Zola was an outsider who became wealthy through his writing — a rare writer embraced by critics and popular audiences at the same time — as he pioneered the idea of literary naturalism. Cezanne bitterly confronted Zola over the successful book, The Masterpiece, about a painter, seemingly based on Cezanne. Zola was better known for characters such as Nana, a prostitute who used a wealthy clientele to climb into society's upper classes.

  Writer/director Daniele Thompson's film envisions Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and Zola (Guillaume Canet) as each other's confidantes and critics. We see the outlines of their careers as they converse in Zola's estate and in outdoor settings in Provence, richly captured by cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou. The film also dwells on their relationships with women, particularly the longtime bachelor Cezanne, though Thompson delves into the two men's views and less on what the women had to say. The film was on the short list of French films considered for submission for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It's an engaging if romanticized period drama.

  The festival opens with Frantz, a drama set in the years after World War I. In it, a German woman distraught by the loss of her husband to brutal trench warfare meets a Frenchman who visits her husband's grave. The film drew 11 Cesar Award nominations, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards.

  Kristen Stewart stars in the closing night film, Personal Shopper. Steward plays Maureen, a personal shopper who works for wealthy clients in European capitals. She's disturbed by the death of her twin brother and drawn to his home to make sense of the loss in the psychological thriller.

  The festival screens the restored version of the classic musical film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which helped make Catherine Deneuve a star and won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964. Also in the festival is director Jacques Demy's follow up to Umbrellas, The Young Girls of Rochefort, also starring Deneuve, as well as American star Gene Kelly.

  The festival also includes comedies, documentaries and animated films. Slack Bay features an odd family living in a seaside town where tourists have gone missing. The film descends into slapstick comedy as bumbling detectives arrive to investigate. My Life as a Zucchini, nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, is the story of a boy trying to adjust to a new life after the death of his mother. Swagger is a stylized documentary about underprivileged children and their dreams. The kids live in a poor area on the outskirts of Paris, Aulnay-sous-Bois, where riots followed accusations of police brutality in 2005.


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