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March 26 - March 28

The 2010 Genevieve McMillan Award: Abdellatif Kechiche

Born in Tunisia and raised in France, where he continues to live and work, Abdellatif Kechiche (b. 1960) is the recipient of the eleventh McMillan-Stewart Fellowship in Distinguished Filmmaking, awarded by Harvard's Film Study Center. In honor of this occasion, the Harvard Film Archive presents a retrospective of his three features which all focus on the lives of France’s Arab communities. While mainstream French cinema typically associates this community with criminality and drugs, arranged marriages and fundamentalist Islam, Kechiche instead devotes himself to patiently detailing the daily life of the richly diverse communities made up by French Arabs, from teenagers in the Parisian suburbs’ gritty apartment blocks to multigenerational families in the country’s lush South.

Kechiche began his career as an actor, and his theater training is evident in the spontaneous performances of his often non-professional actors whose vivid presence often recalls the work of John Cassavetes. And like Cassavetes, Kechiche has adopted a loose, observational visual style that gives his work an improvisational, even documentary feel. His characters are often emphatic, but they rarely seem larger than life; rather, their exuberance brims with real emotion. In Kechiche’s hands the carefully modulated performances of his actors and his evocative yet restrained visual style are important tools to capture the specificities of a vibrant community without exoticizing it.

This program is co-presented by the Film Study Center at Harvard. Special thanks to this year's selection committee members: Dominique Bluher, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and David Pendleton, as well as to Ross McElwee, Ernst Karel and Heidi Carrell of the Film Study Center.


Free Screening and Awards Ceremony
Friday March 26 at 7pm

Games of Love and Chance (L’esquive)

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, Appearing in Person
With Osman Ekharraz, Sara Forestier, Sabrina Ouazani
France 2004, 35mm, color, 117 min. French with English subtitles

Built around a high school production of Pierre de Marivaux´s eponymous 1730 play, Games of Love and Chance is set in the housing projects on the Parisian outskirts that are home to many Franco-Arab families today. While the youth in these same areas have rioted occasionally in recent years in response to police violence, Kechiche pointedly avoids any sensationalizing of their struggles. The film instead focuses on a teenager pulled into the play’s cast by his unspoken attraction to a classmate. Using the blossoming relationship between the young couple as its spine, Games of Love and Chance expands outward to a wide cast of characters, reveling in their singular use of slang and other everyday behaviors, and expressing Marivaux’s humanist vision of class differences transcended.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Free for HFA Members and Harvard ID Holders

Saturday March 27 at 7pm

The Secret of the Grain (La graine et le mulet)

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, Appearing in Person
With Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Faridah Benkhetache
France 2007, 35mm, color, 151 min. French with English subtitles

Kechiche had long wanted to make his latest film, which is dedicated to his father and set in the Mediterranean port of Sète, where an aging Arab patriarch struggles to keep the peace within his family and to make ends meet. Complicating his task are his wife and mistress and his impulsive decision to open a restaurant when he loses his job. Like Cassavetes’ Opening Night, The Secret of the Grain is a richly characterized ensemble film that draws its engaging drama from the struggles of a disparate group to cooperate even when they realize that the unstable center does not hold. The figures of the elderly immigrant father and his mistress’ daughter are particularly important in the film as the vivid embodiments of two poles of the contemporary Franco-Arab experience.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Free for HFA Members and Harvard ID Holders

Sunday March 28 at 7pm

La faute à Voltaire

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, Appearing in Person
With Samy Bouajila, Elodie Bouchez, Bruno Lochet
France 2000, 35mm, color, 130 min. French with English subtitles

The perennial theme of French cinema—l’amour fou—is wonderfully updated in this tale of an illegal Tunisian immigrant and his struggle to stay in France. La faute à Voltaire begins with observational sequences following the daily reality of young Jallel as he deals with immigration officials and life in a shelter. When a volatile relation with a single mother lands Jallel in a mental hospital, he meets another woman, played by celebrated French actress Elodie Bouchez, and the troubled gamine and the lonely immigrant form a couple, only to find that the emotional problems of one complicate the legal troubles of the other. Roughly translated, the title means “Blame it on Voltaire,” a somewhat ironic reference to Voltaire as one of the fathers of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

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