Rendez-vous with French Cinema is the best showcase of a contemporary national cinema that I have seen at SIFF. The eight films in the series range from good to great. None are crap. Even the one I don't like, The Last Screening, isn't bad; I just hate films about serial killers (this killer happens to work at a small movie theater that's about be closed by greedy capitalists).

One great film in the series is Alain Cavalier's Pater. It stars the director and Vincent Lindon (one of my top three French actors—Lambert Wilson and Alex Descas are the other two). How to describe this strange film? At first, you will think it's a documentary about Lindon preparing for a lead role in a movie about modern French politics. Recall Xavier Durringer's The Conquest, a movie concerning the rise of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Imagine Denis Podalydès (he plays Sarkozy) preparing for the role in his apartment, or while eating lunch in a cafe, or while hanging out in a park. He goes over the lines with the director. Sometimes he stops talking about his character and talks about his own life. Sometimes the director talks about his own life. Sometimes extras are in the apartment's kitchen listening to Podalydès go on and on about that bastard Jacques Chirac. This is what Pater feels and looks like. But this is not a preparation. This is not a documentary. This is the actual film.

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And what does it all mean? Why make Pater in the first place? Because it shows that power is a performance, power takes practice, and, ultimately, power is an illusion. (Lindon is also in another movie in this series, Moon Child, which is about a teenager with some rare skin disease. Moon Child also has something that only the French can get away with: a teenage sex scene.)

Smuggler's Songs, a film directed by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche about an 18th-century French rebel, has a treat for the lovers of continental philosophy: The philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy (Hegel: L'inquiétude du négatif and The Intruder, which was adapted into a film by Claire Denis) has not just a cameo but an actual role in the film. Nancy, the Hegelian philosopher, actually acts (he plays a gloomy bookmaker) and does a pretty good job. If seeing a famous French philosopher act is not your thing, then I recommend 17 Girls, a film about a group of teenagers who upset their small town by becoming pregnant at the same time. This is art house. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown, March 16–18. recommended