The American Cinematheque November screenings

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Enjoy lavish Versailles on the big screen with this series of classic French films set at the famous French palace, a chateau that is gaining renewed celebrity in the wake of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette! Versailles is not only an important part of French history, but also of our American heritage. It’s at Versailles that the New World took a new path when LaFayette and Benjamin Franklin convinced Louis XVI to engage France as the United States ally in the War of Independence. It’s at Versailles that President Woodrow Wilson organized a conference in 1919 that confirmed the United States as a world power, changing the map of Europe. From the Revolution to the Versailles Treaty, the Versailles castle is at the center of world history. It has its place, too, in the history of cinema, from the Brothers Lumiere to Hollywood, from Sacha Guitry to Renoir, from W.S. Van Dyke to Sofia Coppola.

Series compiled by Olivier-René Veillon; Yann Marchet, Gwen Deglise.

Royal Affairs In Versailles (Si Versailles m’était conté)
Friday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Directed by Sacha Guitry
With Jean Marais, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Louis Barrault, Bourvil, Claudette Colbert, Daniel Gélin, Gérard Philipe, Edith Piaf, Micheline Presle, Jean Richard, Tino Rossi, Charles Vanel, Orson Welles, Jacques François…
France, 1954, 165 min.

With his usual wit and exuberance, director Sacha Guitry traces an episodic history of Versailles over 300 years. Favoring bedroom antics and poetic observations, the writer-director himself stars as Louis XI alongside a gargantuan cast that also features Jean Marais, Claudette Colbert, Edith Piaf, Brigitte Bardot, Gérard Philipe and even Orson Welles in the role of Ben Franklin. Among Guitry’s final films – the 1885-born writer-director died in 1957 – it proved the biggest success of the French box-office in 1954. Currently, the film is only available in the United States in a dubbed, black and white VHS that shaves off an entire hour of the film’s original running time of over 160 minutes. (Original Uncut Version! NOT ON DVD).

Danton
Saturday, November 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
With Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Patrice Chéreau, Anne Alvaro, Jacques Villeret, Wladimir Yordanoff…
France/Poland/Germany, 1983, 136 min.
Directed by Andrzej Wajda while in exile, the Polish filmmaker’s French language debut is set in the French Revolution’s immediate aftermath. A Paris under the Reign of Terror is lorded over by the Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak). Against this horrific regime arises Danton (Gérard Depardieu), onetime ally of the leader. Seeking an end to the bloodshed, Danton attempts to foster peace, but seen by Robespierre as a threat, he is imprisoned. Facing a trial that excludes reporters, negates the defense’s right to call witnesses and even muzzles him from vocally addressing his charges, Danton awaits the guillotine with steely resolve. Andrew Sarris professed in the Village Voice that “I do not know of any play or movie that has ever come so close to suggesting the fascinating complexity of the French Revolution.” Critic J. Hoberman would call it “Wajda’s last great movie.” (NOT ON DVD).

La Marseillaise
Sunday, November 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Directed by Jean Renoir
With Pierre Renoir, Lise Delamare, Louis Jouvet…
France, 1938, 135 min.

Jean Renoir illustrates events of the French Revolution leading to the fall of the monarchy in 1792. Starring his brother Pierre in the role of Louis XVI, Renoir refuses to depict the king or his patrician allies as villainous caricatures. There are the soldiers from Marseille who carry with them a song that will become France’s national anthem (after which the film itself is named). The king, while crowds are ransacking the Bastille, ponders a tomato and regrets its absence from his diet. A peasant (Edouard Delmont) flees to the mountains after being sentenced to death for killing an aristocratic pigeon. Marie Antoinette (Lise Deamante – whose costumes are designed by Coco Chanel) campaigns against the new hygienic practice of brushing teeth. “Jean Renoir’s great accomplishment… so contemporary, so captivating, so human.” – Louis Aragon. Later, Truffaut hailed it as a “neorealist fresco” with “the look of newsreels.” (NOT ON DVD).

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