"Roman de Gare" -- a witty yet ultimately poignant guessing game in which nobody is quite what he or she seems -- is arguably Claude Lelouch's best film. Its title translates as "airport novel," and Lelouch pays homage to the lure of those high adventures by mining one of his typically extravagant plots for both humor and pathos, raising provocative questions of identity and of the confusion of truth and fiction.
After a flurry of foreshadowing moments, the film settles on an attractive but insecure Paris hairdresser (Audrey Dana), who is ditched at 3 a.m. at a gas station by the fiance she is taking to meet her parents. Along comes a middle-aged man (Dominique Pinon), whom she persuades to pose as her fiance to save face with her family. But who is he? He could be a runaway high school teacher with a wife and two children back in Paris. Or he could be a serial killer. The second half of the film focuses on Pinon and the timelessly elegant Fanny Ardant, never better as a bestselling novelist whose encounter with Pinon sets off a series of dizzying developments, culminating in a breathtaking turn of the tables that explodes like a string of firecrackers. The freshness and originality that flow through "Roman de Gare" now burst into full flower, revealing the director's depth and perception.
-- Kevin Thomas
"Roman de Gare." In French with English subtitles. MPAA rating: R for brief language and sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. In selected theaters.
A tender look at coming of age
Celine Sciamma's absorbing, quietly illuminating "Water Lilies" depicts a group of high school students in the throes of coming of age with seriousness and sensitivity. The skinny Marie (Pauline Acquart) and her plump best friend, Anne (Louise Blachere), are frequent spectators of the graceful performances of the synchronized swimming team, and soon Marie becomes enthralled by its captain, Floriane (Adele Haenel), a dark blond beauty who exudes self-confidence and a limitless sense of entitlement. Floriane is an enigma in which her surprising vulnerability vies with her reflexive manipulativeness. She is pursued by Francois (Warren Jacquin), the handsomest member of the boys' swimming team, who is viewed with longing by Anne. The three girls are naturally experiencing the full onslaught of sexuality and emotions, and it is Sciamma's particular gift in her assured debut film that she evokes how ill-defined these feelings are. The elegant "Water Lilies" is not about answers but about discovery of self and of others in all its pain and pleasure.
"Water Lilies." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.
On the trail of Jesus and Mary
If the Catholic Church fumed over "The Da Vinci Code," wait until it gets a load of "Bloodline," an ambitious, sharply intriguing documentary exploring the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had children with her, did not die on the cross, was never resurrected and was, therefore, not divine. Holy moly. Director Bruce Burgess goes the Michael Moore route, appearing on screen throughout as he travels the South of France with an ace camera crew to unravel the film's explosive supposition. Like a burly, British Indiana Jones, Burgess follows a series of ancient clues that may lead to a Holy Grail of buried treasure along with the tombs of a mummified Mary Magdalene and, the shocker, maybe Jesus himself. With hands-on assistance from amateur archeologist Ben Hammott, plus input from theologists, authors, researchers and even a member of the church's shadowy offshoot, the Priory of Sion, Burgess goes the distance to posit that maybe it's not the proposed Jesus-Mary "bloodline" that needs defending but, rather, Christian doctrine itself.
-- Gary Goldstein
"Bloodline." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. In English and French with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
Firsthand account of ALS sufferer
More video diary than polished documentary, the gripping "Indestructible" is still one of the most intimate and challenging real-life depictions you'll likely see about degenerative illness. The film also rewards in perspective-altering ways, the kind sure to make viewers grateful they can perform basic tasks like removing a T-shirt or taking a bath without the Sisyphean effort of the film's courageous writer-director, Ben Byer.
Byer, who at 31 was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- better known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- turns the cameras on himself as he charts a three-year quest for physical and spiritual healing that took him across the U.S., to Greece, China, Jamaica, Israel and Egypt. En route, the upbeat Midwesterner, a former actor and playwright, interviews such neurologists as "Awakenings" author Oliver Sacks and YongChao Xia, creator of the intense herbal remedy BuNaoGao, along with ALS sufferers. But it's Byer's bold decision to undergo a controversial fetal-cell transplant that offers the film's most powerful moments. The commitment by an atrophying Byer and his father, Steven, to battle this "Grim Reaper of neurological disease" poignantly underscores the roulette-wheel nature of human suffering.
"Indestructible." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. In English, Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese and Tibetan with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex Cinemas, 345 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.