What to Watch: The Robert Classic French Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

By Rob Levy
In Culture

Francophiles meet cinephiles at the Eighth Annual Robert Classic French Film Festival each weekend from March 4-20 at Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium. Co-produced by Cinema St. Louis and Webster University’s Film Series, the fest features 10 films that celebrate both the cinematic achievements of France and St. Louis’ Gallic roots.

Presented with English subtitles, this robust program cuts a wide swathe by mixing restored prints, including a pared-down version of the 13-hour opus “Out 1: Spectre” and Jean Luc Godard’s “A Married Woman,” with the frolic of “la Cage aux Folles” and the once again socially relevant “Hate among several other important films. Each movie will be accompanied by an introduction and a Q&A hosted by a local expert, teacher or film scholar.

Because seeing every offering presents a Napoleonic challenge, ALIVE has boiled down the slate with five suggested picks for this three-weekend event.

“Elevator to the Gallows”
Saturday, March 5, 7:30 p.m.

Elevator to The Gallows

Photo courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

What happens when you mix the great director Louis Malle with a seminal score from Miles Davis and a harrowing tale about two lovers whose devious plans come apart at the seems? The answer: “Elevator to the Gallows.” Dark and brooding, it is a masterpiece of taught emotion and cunning vengeance. The use of lighting, music and shadows underpins the narrative, making it an important milestone in both film noir and the French New Wave.

“La Cage aux Folles”
Sunday, March 13, 4 p.m.

La-Cage-Aux-Folles

Photo courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

The Classic Film Festival lets it hair down with this 1978 romp about Renato and Albin, a gay couple who are forced to hide their lifestyle from the not-so-liberal future in-laws of Laurent, Renato’s son. As the charade continues further hijinks ensue, culminating in comedic splashes of raucous fun accompanied by a terrific score from Oscar winner Ennio Morricone. Its box office success spawned an award-winning musical adaptation in 1983.

“Diabolique”
Friday, March 18, 7:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

Photo courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

The profound influence of “Diabolique” (not the awful 1988 remake) cannot be ignored. Its style, pacing and edgy temperament are still being felt today. This Hithcockian-like thriller from 1955 intertwines the lives of two women—a wife and mistress—who hatch a dastardly scheme to murder the man who has brought them so much cruelty. However everything goes awry when a body goes missing.  Its creepiness, immorality and Cold War paranoia still resonate today, establishing it as one of the best horror/crime films ever made.

“The Passion of Joan of Arc”
Saturday, March 19, 7:30 p.m.

joan1

Photo courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

Kick it old school as the The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra accompanies Cinema St. Louis’ presentation of “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” a towering achievement in filmmaking from 1928. Once believed lost, it was found intact and eventually restored, which is a good thing too because even after eight decades, Carl Th. Dreyer’s stark depiction of the travails of the French saint is a penetrating work of filmmaking.

 “Rififi”
Sunday, March 20, 7 p.m.

Rififi3

Photo courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

This caper, also from 1955, is the prefect end to the proceedings. Director Jules Dassin, a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, emigrated to France and crafted this mother of all larceny on a skimpy budget with no big stars or studio funding. However, the passage of time has not diminished this masterful slice of French film noir about four ex-cons determined to pull off a seriously big robbery in Paris. This intensely potent crime drama is highlighted by a nearly silent half-hour robbery sequence that leaves audiences on the edge of their seat. Succinctly, without “Rififi,” the heist flicks of today probably would not exist.

Compiling a diverse overview of French film from the 1920s- to 1990s is not easy. There’s a lot to squeeze in and ten films isn’t nearly enough to fully gauge its total significance. Nonetheless this year’s Classic French Film Festival offers a little something for everyone, whether they be a student of cinema or just an ordinary film buff.

For more information on the Robert Classic French Film Festival visit cinemastlouis.org.

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