Celebrating French Cinema Today: Bleu, Blanc, Beur and Much More

Celebrating French Cinema Today: Bleu, Blanc, Beur and Much More
The glory that is the French cinema matches the diversity of France in general. Gone are the pre-Nouvelle Vague days (and for that matter post-Nouvelle Vague days) when French movies might entertain or provoke with a special élan, yet still represent a narrow demographic. The most interesting movies made today feature talent, behind and before the camera, reflecting a wide range of backgrounds—racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual orientation. The mix might collide, mash and sizzle, but in the end we get the rich stew that is devoured greedily by film buffs the world over. At a time when pundits are wringing their hands over whether French openness can still work, or even survive, these filmmakers and their films show not only that it does work, but that the result isn’t just the sum of its varied parts. Here is a sampling of a number of key figures in French cinema today. Tahar Rahim, Actor: One of the most powerful actors today, the French Brando. He comes from the provincial town of Belfort, child of parents from Oran, Algeria. After uninspired studies his talents were awakened in a film program at university in Montpelier. After several minor efforts, he appeared in Jacques Audiard’s The Prophet, a worldwide smash. He won César awards in the best actor and best new actor categories (the rules were changed to prevent one person from “accumulating” prizes for the same role). He has gone on to international as well as French roles, and starred recently in The Anarchists. Maïwenn, Director/Actress: Maïwenn, who goes by one name, is the daughter of an aspiring actress of Algerian descent and a Franco-Vietnamese father. She began as an actress, but soon began directing her own films. Her first feature was autobiographical, deriving its power from her own tumultuous family life. Since then she’s made films (Poliss, Mon Roi) that explore the violent links between private emotions and contemporary urban society. Having won top César awards for Poliss, she has become established as one of France’s premier filmmakers.   Jacques Audiard, Director: Audiard comes from French film royalty, son of the great screenwriter Michel Audiard. But his films are anything but traditional. He specializes in troubled characters on the margins of French society. His most recent movies include The Prophet, about a young delinquent’s unholy progress in prison; Rust and Bone, about the romance of a woman (who lost her legs to an Orca) and a mixed martial artist; and Dheepan, about a Sri Lankan migrant in France.   Abdellatif Kechiche, Director/Actor: The Tunisian-born Kechiche first made his mark with local color works like Thé à la Menthe, and his first directorial efforts, La Faute de Voltaire, about an undocumented immigrant, and L’Esquive, about school kids in the banlieues putting on a play by Marivaux. His breakout film was La Vie d’Adèle, a controversial, very explicit film about a gay woman’s coming of age.       Adèle Exarchopoulos, Actress: The eponymous star of La Vie d’Adèle is Adèle Exarchopoulos, born of a Greek father and French mother. Although she lives with the actor Jérémie Laheurte in real life, she brought stunning verisimilitude to the role of a young woman who discovers and explores her gay nature. She won prizes at both Cannes and the César Awards. She currently stars with Tahar Rahim in The Anarchists, and has also recently shot a film with Sean Penn.   Guillaume Gallienne, Actor, Member of the Comédie Française: Guillaume Gallienne came to public prominence playing Pierre Bergé in the biopic Yves Saint-Laurent, but he’s distinguished himself on the stage, TV, and even radio. He grew up identifying as a female, but instead of going the trans route he considers himself to be bisexual, and is married (to a woman). His personal background helped with the role as YSL’s lifelong partner, but he immersed himself even more deeply in autobiography in Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table! The film won five César awards, including Best Film.   Omar Sy, Actor: Sy was born in the French provinces, but his father was from Senegal and his mother from Mauritania. He emerged from hard-scrabble working-class origins through comedy, teaming up with Fred Testut, especially on television. His breakout was Intouchables, a comedy hit about a paraplegic and his caretaker. Sy has become a sort of French Eddy Murphy, winning a “best actor” César. Since then he’s gone on to playing in serious films, directed by the likes of Michel Ondry, and international blockbusters in the X-Men and Jurassic Park franchises.   Dany Boon, Actor/Director: If Sy is France’s Eddie Murphy, Dany Boon, born Daniel Hamidou, is its Jerry Lewis. He’d been a premier stand-up comic for years, then moved to television and movie roles. His Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis, which took the micky…

Lead photo credit : Still of François Cluzet and Omar Sy in The Intouchables (2011). Copyright Gaumont.

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.