The Museum of Fine Art’s annual Boston French Film Festival (July 12-29) kicks off with Agnès Varda’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “Faces Places,” screened outdoors at 7 p.m. on the museum’s Huntington Avenue lawn.
“Faces Places,” Varda’s road trip through French small towns with her codirector, the artist JR, is a fitting start for a festival that celebrates the rich tradition of French cinema, past and present. “Faces Places” is a journey into memory and the soul of cinema itself, especially when Varda, at 89, pays a visit to director Jean-Luc Godard, along with Varda the only surviving filmmakers from the French New Wave.
Godard is represented by his rarely screened 1963 film “The Carabineers” (July 21), a comedic antiwar parable about two poor farmers (Marino Masé and Patrice Moullet) who are recruited to fight in a war in a fictional country.
Writer-director Jean-Paul Civeyrac pays homage to the French New Wave with “A Paris Education” (July 15). Shot in luminous black and white, it follows Étienne (Andranic Manet) as he leaves Lyon and his girlfriend (Diane Rouxel) to attend film school in Paris. Divided into chapters, it’s a screen bildungsroman as Étienne argues about cinema with professors and classmates; sleeps with his roommate (Jenna Thiam); falls for a second roommate, the political activist Anabelle (Sophie Verbeeck); endlessly smokes cigarettes; and struggles to finish his own film despite increasing insecurity that he’ll never be a great director.
Léa Mysius’s debut feature, “Ava” (July 19), is a coming-of-age film without cliche. It opens on the colorful, crowded seashore in France, where 13-year-old Ava (Noée Abita) is sunning alongside her single mother, Maud (Laure Calamy), and her baby sister. The visual richness is central to the story as we learn that Ava is quickly losing her eyesight due to retinitis pigmentosa. The often-surly Ava steals a dog that leads her to its owner, Juan (Juan Cano), who’s taken refuge on a deserted stretch of beach after being hurt in a fight. The two teens become bandits, embarking on a crime spree that becomes Ava’s last flicker of youthful light before darkness closes in.
Audiences who missed the too-brief theatrical run earlier this year of Cannes Jury Prize winner “BPM (“Beats Per Minute)” get another chance July 26. Writer-director Robin Campillo drew on his own experiences as a member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in Paris in the early 1990s. Argentine actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart’s star-making turn as a fiery activist leads a powerful ensemble cast in this affecting tale of love during a time of plague.
Biscayart also stars in Albert Dupontel’s “See You Up There” (July 20), his ambitious adaptation of Pierre Lemaitre’s novel about three soldiers in Paris scheming to profit from the chaotic aftermath of World War I. Dupontel also plays Albert, the humble soldier who’s rescued on the battlefield by Édouard (Biscayart), an artist, after their sadistic commander, Pradelle (Laurent Lafitte, the rapist in “Elle”), orders a disastrous advance. As the three cross paths later in Paris, Dupontel blends surrealism and crime drama in this epic story of the brutal scars left by the war.
Another highlight of the festival is “Let the Sunshine In” (July 27), the latest from director Claire Denis and a bit of a departure. Best known for the stark imagery of such powerful films as “Beau Travail” and “White Material,” Denis this time examines the complex longing for a romantic life of recently divorced artist Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), who dates a succession of flawed men. Denis and the magnetic Binoche convey Isabelle’s yearning sensuality and disappointment with perception, humor, and poignancy.
Go to www.mfa.org .
The Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Boston Society of Film Critics (of which I’m a member) dedicate the July 9 Big Screen Classics showing at 7 p.m. of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (1979) to the late Boston Globe film critic Jay Carr. Tom Meek, society president, will introduce the film. Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” features iconic performances from Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, and Robert Duvall.
Go to www.coolidge.org .