Queen Margot. Image courtesy of the Kobal Collection.
Nine films will screen in celebration of post-New Wave, award-winning French filmmaker Patrice Chéreau. The series, “Patrice Chéreau: The Love That Dares” (February 28 – March 5), gives a curated taste of the works of Chéreau, whose filmmaking spanned over 30 years. The series will be a lead-in to Film Society's annual celebration of French film, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
Rarely seen early works by Chéreau that will screen in the series include his debut thriller The Flesh of the Orchid (1975), starring Charlotte Rampling as a fugitive keeping a step ahead of murderous gangsters, and The Wounded Man (1983), a volatile tale about a teenager obsessed with an older, violent man that pre-dates Alain Guiraudie’s similarly themed A Stranger By the Lake by three decades. The Academy Award-nominated Queen Margot (1994), a sweeping period drama that gave Isabelle Adjani one of her finest roles and won Chéreau the Jury Prize at Cannes and Virna Lisi a Cannes Best Actress Award, will screen in a restored director’s cut that had its premiere in the Cannes Classics section last year.
Other titles in the series include Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (1998), an emotionally wrenching group portrait of a late painter’s friends and family as they converge on his funeral, and Gabrielle (2005), a formally daring Joseph Conrad adaptation about the devastatingly emotional disintegration of a marriage starring Isabelle Huppert. Intimacy (2001), meanwhile, was Chéreau's first and only English-language film and sparked controversy upon its release for its depiction of obsessive lust and unsimulated sex scenes.
Beyond his filmmaking, Chéreau, who died last October at age 67, is also known for his work on stage, directing revisionist adaptations of Marivaux, Racine and Labiche. His visionary opera productions included the first complete three-act staging of Alan Berg’s Lulu, a shattering take on Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, and the legendary Bayreuth re-interpretation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
“Patrice Chéreau’s passing was an enormous loss to the worlds of film, theater, and opera,” said Dennis Lim, Film Society’s Director of Cinematheque Programming. “What unites the films in this series—and aligns them with his great works in other mediums—is his interest in the irrational side of human motivation and his fascination with the transforming effects of passion.”
Patrice Chéreau: The Love That Dares runs February 28 – March 5. Tickets go on sale Thursday, February 6.
Intimacy. Image courtesy of the Kobal Collection.
Films, descriptions and schedule:
The Flesh of the Orchid (La chair de l’orchidée) (1975) 110 min
After nearly a decade of groundbreaking theater work, Chéreau made his film directing debut with this grim, visually stunning gangster movie-cum-fairy tale. A beautiful young woman (Charlotte Rampling), imprisoned by her aunt in a castle-like asylum, flees for the open road, only to wind up in the company of another fugitive: a horse-rearing outsider (Bruno Cremer) on the run from two murderous gangsters. Anchored by Rampling’s strong performance and magnificent, rain-drenched cinematography from the legendary Pierre Lhomme—plus a knockout cameo by Simone Signoret—The Flesh of the Orchid is an underseen genre gem, not to mention a testament to Chéreau’s enormous range: a year after directing this pulpy thriller, he premiered his now-legendary Bayrouth staging of the Ring Cycle.
March 1 at 7:00PM
March 4 at 9:00PM
Gabrielle (2005) 90 min
Chéreau’s bold, theatrically stylized adaptation of Conrad’s short story “The Return” begins as a lavish turn-of-the-century period piece, with a dinner party thrown by a wealthy bourgeois couple (Pascal Greggory and Isabelle Huppert) who appear to be a model of stability and propriety. When Huppert suddenly announces her intent to leave the marriage, Gabrielle takes an abrupt turn into more painful territory. The film becomes a wrenching confrontation during which layer after layer of psychological armor is dismantled and tossed aside; in the end, all that’s left is a man and a woman, with their two radically opposing visions of love and happiness. Chéreau, his actors, and his wonderful cinematographer Eric Gautier take their material to dizzying heights and terrifying depths, eventually arriving at a level of emotional grandeur worthy of Strindberg or Bergman.
March 2 at 3:20PM
Intimacy (2001) 119 min
Chéreau’s first and only English-language film, adapted from the work of author Hanif Kureishi, drew controversy on release for its explicit, unsimulated sex scenes. But Intimacy, a chamber piece about an isolated, divorced bartender (Mark Rylance) who longs to know more about the nameless woman (Kerry Fox) he meets every Wednesday for bouts of passionate yet emotionless sex, is less an exercise in épater la bourgeoisie shock therapy (like some of the New French Extremity films with which it’s since been lumped) than a sad, tender portrait of emotional and spiritual isolation. Chéreau documents the couple’s increasingly tense, tangled relationship with extreme precision, pushing his two leads to unforgettable performances in the process.
March 5 at 9:00PM
Judith Therpauve (1978) 125 min
The great Simone Signoret (famed for her roles in pre-New Wave masterpieces like Casque D’Or and Diabolique) stars as an aging veteran of the French resistance who agrees to help protect a struggling left-leaning newspaper from its powerful competitors in Chéreau’s tragic second feature. Miles away from the fantastical, fairy-tale-inflected territory of The Flesh of the Orchid, Judith Therpauve is an unsparing social realist fable both contemporary (regional, free-agent presses were dying out at the time in France) and timeless. In Chéreau’s words, it’s the story of “a lone woman who fights with dignity, amid confusion and uncertainty, for what she knows is a lost cause.”
March 2 at 8:30PM
March 5 at 6:30PM
Persecution (2009) 98 min
It was with Persecution, his final film that Chéreau arrived at his most whittled-down vision of self-inflicted loneliness. Daniel (Romain Duris), the disheveled, tormented young Parisian at the film’s center, is adored by his long-suffering lover Sonia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), clung to by his emotionally needy best friend, and stalked by an admirer (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who suddenly professes his love. From its jarring first shot—of Daniel slapping Sonia in public—to its wrenching, Antony-scored final moments, Chéreau’s film is a portrait of a man who persecutes everyone in his orbit—not least himself. “At the end,” Chéreau said in one interview at the time of the film’s release, “you must save him. You must love him.” Who else will?
February 28 at 9:20PM
Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train. Image courtesy of the Kobal Collection.
Queen Margot (La Reine Margot) (1994) 159 min
Chéreau’s highest-profile film was also his biggest departure: a lavish, blood-spattered, gold-spangled costume drama starring a trio of French superstars (Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil, and Vincent Perez). In the heat of the 17th-century Wars of Religion, the ruthless French queen Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi) gives up her daughter Margot (Adjani) in marriage to the prominent Huguenot Henri of Navarre (Auteuil) as a peace offering —while secretly arranging for the mass slaughter of thousands of Protestants. Margot soon falls for a dashing Protestant soldier (Perez); bodice-ripping love scenes, court intrigue, poisonings and beheadings ensue. Chéreau captures it all with gleeful, operatic bravado, setting the movie at a pitch delirious enough to elevate it far beyond traditional period-piece territory. This is a “restored and enriched” version of the film, which debuted last year at Cannes in the festival’s Classics section, though the few changes made by Chereau have not altered its original running time. A Cohen Media Group Release.
March 2 at 5:20PM
Son Frère (2003) 95 min
Chéreau followed Intimacy with another stripped-down relationship drama about the shaky, sporadic connection between emotional and physical life. Here, the relationship is between two estranged brothers: one straight, the other gay; one healthy, the other incurably ill. With equal parts compassion and clear-eyed observation, Chéreau documents the pair’s extended string of hospital visits, surgical procedures, seaside retreats and moments of intimacy. A remarkably frank look at illness and death, Son Frère finds Chéreau returning to several of his recurring obsessions: the emotional distance between people, especially those—friends, siblings, lovers—who are allegedly closest to one another, the tension between romantic and familial commitments, and the limitations and frailties of the body.
March 1 at 9:20PM
Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (Ceux qui m’aiment prendront le train) (1998) 122 min
The title of Chéreau’s devastating 1998 melodrama is adapted from filmmaker François Reichenbach, who insisted on being buried in a small town hundreds of miles from Paris. The film’s large, crisis-torn cast of characters are also taking the train to a funeral—that of the self-described “very minor late-20th-century master” painter Jean-Baptiste Emmerich (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The guests include Jean-Baptiste’s nephew (Charles Berling), trapped in a failing marriage; the painter’s ex-lover François (Pascal Greggory), who fears he’s about to lose his current lover; and a mysterious transgender woman (Vincent Pérez) with a surprising past. Once they arrive at the late man’s estate, their fragile peace quickly crumbles under the weight of old tensions and new revelations. With its panoramic scope and its sympathy for the plight of the excluded and abused—even when they’re pitted against one another—Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train is one of Chéreau’s most empathetic and moving films.
March 4 at 6:30PM
The Wounded Man (L’homme blesse) (1983) 109 min
Chéreau came fully into his own with his third feature, the story of a young man (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who falls hard for an older male hustler after a chance encounter in a train-station bathroom. On one level, The Wounded Man is a pioneering work of queer cinema, evoking—like Alain Guiraudie’s recent Stranger By the Lake—a closed-off, marginal world in which gay love is closely associated with danger and threat. (The film was released on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic.) On another level, though, it’s simply a powerful reflection on the danger and ecstasy of succumbing to the pangs of first love—or, as Chéreau once put it, “the game of desire.”
March 2 at 1:00PM