Thursday, March 08, 2012

French Rendezvous ’12: Last Screening

Sylvain is like a little Hugo Cabret who grew up to be a serial killer. Raised on classic films and angst by his overbearing mother, he now manages a revival cinema, but not for long. As one might expect, Sylvain does not handle its imminent closure well in Laurent Achard’s Last Screening (trailer here), a selection of the 2012 Rendezvous with French Cinema in New York.

Sylvain has a thing for Renoir’s French Cancan and dangling earrings. Both can be traced back to his mother, as is so often the case with psycho killers. Though he is supposed to be shutting down the theater, Sylvain seems to be operating in a state of denial, which somewhat annoys his boss. On the upside, Sylvain actually talks to a girl: Manon, a young actress who lost her earrings during French Cancan. Despite showing the classic signs of an anti-social loner, she seems sort of-kind of interested in him. Likewise, Sylvain is interested enough not to kill her.

He kills plenty of other women though, but not in an especially tightly scripted way. Rather, he just seems to drift into killings, after closing up the theater for the night. Indeed, Screening is aces when it comes to atmosphere and set-up, but it does not have much of a third act. Lacking a clear-cut antagonist for Sylvain, the film essentially invites viewers to watch him press his luck.

Still, there is something appealing subversive about Screening’s premise, particularly when it screens at a festival like French Rendezvous for an audience full of hardcore cineastes. As Sylvain, Pascal Cervo sells it quite well, with all the appropriate twitchy awkwardness. Charlotte van Kemmel is also quite solid as the innocent Manon. For French audiences though, the presence of film critic-actor-director Noël Simsolo as a loyal patron adds a bit of sophisticated irony.

In a film like Screening, the madness ought to accelerate, but instead it essentially plateaus. Nicely realized by its game cast, but not exactly fulfilling its promise, Screening is still the closest thing to a midnight movie at Rendezvous 2012. For intrigued genre fans, it screens today (3/8) at the IFC Center and Saturday (3/10) at the Walter Reade Theater.