Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Francophile Film Buffs Find Plenty to Watch

English-speaking cinema fans may have several high-profile cinemas around town, but Moscow's less numerous francophone community is equally fortunate when it comes to going to the movies.

The current treat for French cinema buffs has just begun at the Cinema Museum: Russia's first complete retrospective of films by the French new-wave director Eric Rohmer. The retrospective got an extra boost Thursday with a visit from actress B?atrice Roman and Rohmer's assistant and director, Fran?oise Etchegaray.

"Conte d'Et?" ("Summer Tale") opened the retrospective Wednesday, giving a real test to the Russian public, which is familiar with such masters of French new wave as Jean-Luc Godard and Fran?ois Truffaut, but have never seen anything directed by Rohmer.

"The viewers' reaction was hard to predict, but they accepted the film very well and the room was so full that some people had to sit on the floor," said Naum Kleiman, director of the Cinema Museum.

Rohmer's films, often united in cycles without any common characters or themes, create a film encyclopedia of life of French youth over the last 30 years. The director, who is a connoisseur of French and European literature, is sometimes called a "novelist in cinema." Literature often figures largely in his work, as when he "interviews" the 19th-century poet St?phane Mallarm? as if he were our contemporary.

"If I were to define Rohmer's style, I would say it's fluidity, calculated and premeditated, with a great sense of harmony. He never does a montage because he has everything in his head," said his assistant Etchegaray.

"Flowers in his garden never fade," said Kleiman about Rohmer, who is also famous for psychological portraits of his characters. "These are not artificial, but real flowers."

The Rohmer retrospective is the most recent in a program to introduce Russia to one of the most artistic and intellectual cinema cultures of the world, a program that has included numerous, critically acclaimed series by celebrated French directors and meetings with such film stars as Pierre Richard.

The person behind it all is the French Embassy's audiovisual attach?, Elfrida Filippi, who is in charge of, as she put it, "what the evil tongues once called propaganda" -- that is, popularization of French culture in Russia. A passionate cinema lover herself, she started showing French films in a tiny hall at the embassy during the Brezhnev era, the "epoch of 'The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe,'" a French film starring Richard.

"I've never seen a people more interested and open toward the French culture," said Filippi, who has worked in the same capacity in Canada, Ireland and Sweden. "Russians have their own ways of living and loving, but when it comes to culture, they are very European. Russians traditionally know a lot about French culture, and when they don't know something, they are very curious to learn."

Russia's own cinema culture is currently experiencing a difficult period of its history. Hundreds of Moscow's movie theaters have been turned into stores, casinos and offices, and those still surviving are empty as a result of bad choice of films and outdated equipment.

Foreign films are no longer dubbed into Russian by professional actors, which costs a lot of money and takes very long to do. Now more often than not the sound is simply turned down, and a translator's voice drones over all the dialogue.

"Seeing in what bad shape the Russian cinema was, I felt a need for a strong move," Filippi said, adding that in the past Russia had one of the highest rates of cinema attendance. "I thought that cinema had to be relaunched in Russia."

Her first move, about two years ago, was to start a series called "Mondays at the Illuzion," showing a new film in French every week at the Illuzion movie theater at Taganskaya Ploshchad. "Mondays" instantly became popular, attracting a few French nationals and a few other foreigners, but the majority of the attendance -- about 80 percent -- are French-speaking and simply francophile Russians, Filippi said. Many of them don't understand the dialogue, but prefer to watch a good quality copy of a film in its original version than to see it voiced-over in Russian.

When new material is not available, Filippi shows films from the rich funds of Russian state film archives Gosfilmofond, which owns the Illuzion theater. And there is much room for improvisation. A recent showing of the archive's Abel Gans's "Napol?on" (1927) doubled as an interesting cultural event with historian Jean Tulard speaking about Napoleon and his era.

The Cinema Museum, Moscow's cosmopolitan film Mecca, joined the fun shortly afterward, hosting the French Club on Saturdays for cinema buffs and the more sophisticated Montparnasse Club for students of Moscow's French University College. More recent films, subtitled upon Filippi's initiative and with her participation by the Most Media distribution company, show regularly at the Cinema Center and Khudozhestvenny cinema.

For details on the Eric Rohmer film retrospective and for showings of other French films, see the Movie Guide in MT Out, page XII.