French Film Goes on Tour

Published January 18, 2011

 

SCENE FROM BUS PALLADIUM. FILM STILL COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON

If your knowledge of French cinema begins with Jean-Luc Godard and ends with Gérard Depardieu, brace yourself: uniFrance and Allocine make a new generation of emerging French filmmakers accessible with its first-ever juried online French film festival, from January 14–29.

One of the online festival’s best films, The Last Summer Tour (Bus Palladium) screened last night at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) on 59th Street, followed by a discussion with its writer and director, Christopher Thompson. Thompson, a New York native with a French mother and English father, has crafted a great, timeless rock film.  Set in 1985, the film follows the rise of a young, Rolling Stones-obsessed garage band, named Lust, as they play dive-bar gigs, grab the attention of a label’s Debbie Harry-ish A&R exec, venture into a recording studio, hear themselves on the radio for the first time, and set off on a cross-country tour in their van.The lead singer, Manu, and lead guitarist, Lucas, are portrayed by the exceptionally talented Arthur Dupont and Marc-André Grondin (who are Adrian Grenier and Keanu Reeves lookalikes, respectively). When gorgeous groupie Laura (Elisa Sednaoui) casually sleeps with Manu and then Lucas, the band slowly unravels from the love triangle tension (dubbed “John and Yoko”).

The two friends grow further apart as Manu’s heroin habit deepens (he steals from his drummer’s grandmother to buy smack) and Lucas turns to his “Plan B”—an architecture career. The film questions whether real artists have a “Plan B” or if their intensity is all-encompassing.

“The core of the film is this coming of age story, leaving the cocoon of adolescence behind,” Thompson told Interview after the screening. “The two main characters are the center of the film, how they’ve built on each other; Manu is radiant and beautiful but excessive and fragile; it’s like he’s on stilts.  Lucas is solid, down to earth and has options besides rock.  Manu does not.”

Every frame of Thompson’s pensive film is drenched in his passion for bluesy rock, with a classic soundtrack, including The Stones, The Band, David Bowie and Ten Years After. Contrary to Americans’ bias against French rock, Lust’s performance sequences—scored and largely recorded by superb FFF guitarist Yarol Poupaud, are simple, great roots rock with a Led Zeppelin-meets-Aerosmith sound.

Thompson’s hipster Paris is all moody rooftops and boho garrets bathed in blue light and cigarette smoke.  White ceramic-tiled kitchens with bedroom altars to Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC and Muddy Waters, and snake-hipped, squinting boys in leather jackets, all have a cool languor and sparseness that recall Jim Jarmusch.  Bus Palladium (named for a legendary Parisian club) pays homage to the great rock films, from the sweaty mosh pits of Sid and Nancy to the golden road scenes of Almost Famous.

An actor-turned-screenwriter, Thompson was nominated for a Best Screenplay César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for his film La Bûche. Bus Palladium has been a festival hit, including at the Torino Film Festival.

The Tribeca Film Festival’s 2010 launch of its own online film festival was highly successful, providing moviegoers without access to urban arthouses with the indie experience.  We asked Thompson about the significance of the first online French film festival. “UniFrance is a great institution that promotes French films all over the world,” said Thompson. “It’s a real proper festival with a quite diverse selection of films. We’re working hard at launching the festival as an alternative for people who are thirsty for seeing French films.” Drink up.