July 13–Sept. 2 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
“Everyone has their reasons,” muses the rotund raconteur Octave in Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939). It’s a very famous line that has been interpreted by some as a summation of the great French director’s worldview, especially since Octave is played—in a performance of boisterous energy—by Renoir himself.
But like any truly enduring maxim, it can be applied to a number of situations. For instance, TIFF Bell Lightbox’s programmers certainly have their reasons for mounting a warm-weather series of classic French films: It’s a formula that worked long before the building had a blueprint. It doesn’t matter that Summer in France is sort of all over the place in terms of its titles, with the canonical likes of The Rules of the Game (July 13, 9 p.m.) and Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (July 23, 6:30 p.m.) giving way to more forbidding works by directors like Maurice Pialat (Van Gogh, screening Aug. 25, 1 p.m.). The boundaries of French cinema are so ecstatically elastic that they easily accommodate this kind of curatorial grab bag.
It’s hard to single out just a couple of jewels in such an embarrassment of riches, but a few have a particularly distinctive luster. Marcel Carne’s Children of Paradise (July 21, 1 p.m.) is a big, glittering bauble—a tale of romantically entangled 19th-century thespians twirling along effortlessly during the peak of French poetic realism. By contrast, Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (July 26, 9 p.m.) is a hard, sharp little diamond. Its account of a bourgeois housewife’s grateful transformation into a high-end hooker is adorned by Catherine Deneuve’s amazing performance, which puts a placid mask on simmering eroticism—a perfect mirror of her director’s slyly insinuating style.
Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (Aug 17, 6:30 p.m.) is also all about immaculate surfaces and the weirdness lurking underneath: Be sure that Stanley Kubrick was taking note of its maze-like spaces and spooky metaphysics when he made The Shining. In lieu of a haunted hotel, Marienbad offers up a high-end garden party of the damned, with amnesiac protagonists struggling to remember the nature of their previous relationships. (The tone might be described as “voulez déjà-vu avec moi?”) Stranger still is the Chris Marker double bill of La jetée and Sans soleil (Aug 21, 6:30 p.m.), the first is an existentially inflected time-travel tale that inspired James Cameron and Terry Gilliam, the second is a globe-hopping documentary so radical and big-picture perceptive that it seems like a piece of science-fiction. Finally, Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Who Wore Black (July 27, 8:45 p.m.) presents perhaps cinema’s ultimate tale of a woman scorned: When it comes to the methodical pursuit and execution of five very different men, Jeanne Moreau’s title character certainly has her reasons.