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French Films Due at Bing

Times Staff Writer

“Discovering New French Cinema,” nine films screening over the next two weekends in the County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater, contains several gems made by such distinguished veterans as Claude Sautet, Alain Jessua and Claude Chabrol and is richly deserving of American distribution.

A presentation of Unifrance Film, the stylish series is a welcome treat, especially at a time when French films are not shown as frequently as they once were.

All five films in the first weekend’s offering are handsome and notable for the high quality of their performances, which are as controlled as they are luminous.

After an absence of five years, Sautet returns to the screen with “A Few Days With Me,” perhaps his finest achievement--and a fresh take on his theme of friendship. Screening Friday at 1 p.m. and again at 8, it teams two of France’s major young stars, Daniel Auteuil, the homely, hapless dupe of “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring,” and Sandrine Bonnaire, who was Agnes Varda’s determinedly self-destructive “Vagabonde.”

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Auteuil this time plays an affable rich man, recovering from a breakdown, whose well-meaning attempts to play Lord Bountiful wreak havoc in the lives of a group of working-class people, including Bonnaire’s lovely, self-possessed housekeeper.

“A Few Days With Me” is at once satirical and poignant and boasts one of Sautet’s typically large casts, which includes Danielle Darrieux, Vincent Lindon, Jean-Pierre Marielle and Dominique Lavanant.

Bonnaire also stars in Andre Techines “The Innocents” (Friday at 3 p.m.), a murky melodrama in which a young Arab (Abdel Kechiche) is the object of much grand passion on the part of men and women alike. Bonnaire is the key innocent of the film, which includes Jean-Claude Brialy as a married, small-town symphony orchestra conductor who is among those enamored of Kechiche. Techine seems to be commenting on the plight of the Arab in France, but if so, in a rather muddled way. “The Innocents” is also typically French in the utter humorlessness with which it treats all-consuming love.

“A Matter Between Women” (Friday at 10 p.m.) finds New Wave pioneer Claude Chabrol at the peak of his powers in this bleakly ironic story, set during the German Occupation, of a small-town abortionist (Isabelle Huppert). Through Huppert, playing--with a marvelous, even shocking, detachment--a young wife and mother coolly determined to survive and better herself, we see the corruption and the hypocrisy of one of France’s darkest periods. This film is a triumph of terse understatement, and Francis Cluzet is heart-breaking as Huppert’s increasingly ineffectual and unwanted husband, left wounded and shell-shocked after serving in the French army.

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Cat-and-mouse suspense was never more taut than in Alain Jessua’s “In All Innocence” (Saturday at 8 p.m.), starring Michel Serrault and Nathalie Baye. Serrault, unforgettable as the hysterical Zaza of “La Cage Aux Folles,” is here an esteemed architect whose inability to forgive his daughter-in-law (Baye) for her infidelity turns them into deadly, conniving enemies. Jessua’s grasp of the psychology of obsession remains as acute as it was in his memorable “Life Upside Down.” (Jessua--and Sautet--will be present at the screenings of their films.)

Elisabeth Rappeneau’s “Listening in the Dark” (Saturday at 10 p.m.) is a standard, even predictable lady-in-distress thriller, but it’s sleek, scary and entertaining nevertheless. It is also enlivened by the star turns of Catherine Deneuve (as a radio talk show psychiatrist menaced by one of her listeners) and of Andre Dussolier as her brother, who happens to be a chief inspector for the Paris police.

Information: (213) 274-5450.


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