Friday, March 27, 2015

Walk Behind Me

When the French flag is flying over the Byrd Theater, I know it's time for my annual binge-watching.

While it was tough to abandon a sunny, 77-degree afternoon to enter the darkness of the Byrd Theater, no self-respecting French film lover would do otherwise.

Given that it was the first day of the festival, what surprised me was that it wasn't more crowded, although 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon isn't ideal for the 9 to 5 set.

As the first film of the day, it came closest to starting when it claimed it would. If there is one thing the French Film Festival is not, it's punctual about starting.

"Do you know why you're special?" Peter, the FFF organizer, asked of us about the film borrowed from the British Film Institute. "You're about to see the only 35 mm copy with English subtitles of this movie in the world."

I'll be the first to admit that I get a kick out of knowing that sort of thing,

The film was Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" and considering I'd only seen one Truffaut movie in my entire life ("Wild Child"), I figured I owed it to myself to be there to see the cinematographer and stunt coordinator of the film introduce it.

When the film started, I was immediately reminded of how much I enjoy watching movies on film and not video. I love the look of film.

The 1973 film was about a director (Truffaut acting) making a film (maybe that's why it won the Oscar for best foreign film) and starred Jacqueline Bisset, an actress I'd forgotten all about, but remember all the guys being hot for at the time.

It had plenty of very French moments - "Walk in front of me so I can look at your behind" - as well as a story that involved everyone falling into bed with everyone else oh-so casually. Or maybe that was more of a '70s moment like a package arriving in brown paper tied up with string.

"Do you think women are magical?" one immature guy asks his co-workers. "Some are and some are not," he's told by a woman. By a man, it's, "No, but their legs are because they wear skirts and we wear pants."

I already had an inkling of that.

When filming on the movie within a movie ends, it's with one character's simple conclusion: "My sweet, my darling, you're wonderful. We all need that." Do we ever, none more so than those who don't get it much.

So now I've seen my second Truffaut film, enjoyed it immensely and realize I need to see more.

Walking out of the theater, the air was almost as soft and warm as when I'd walked in, although we were on our way to sunset.Still, it was a treat to not be the slightest bit chilly going outside.

Having taken a pass on the next French offering, I headed straight to the Valentine for the opening of "Beard Wars," a brilliantly curated new exhibit.

Making my way through a crowd that included some of the most awe-inspiring beards you can imagine, I found myself in front of a wall of photographs both new (by the multi-talented Terry Brown) and old (no doubt from the collection).

On the left hand side of each was a Civil War general with a picture and a description of the man and what he was known for. On the right hand side, a picture of a Richmond guy with a very similar beard and a bit about him.

I knew we had some world-class beards in this town (hence the Richmond Beard and 'Stache League) but I have to say there were some magnificent match-ups.

One guy's wife asked him to shave his beard because it was scratchy and he compromised by shaving his chin, leaving his mustache, mutton chops and side beard, also knows as "friendly mutton chops." Friendly to the wife, I suppose. See? I was learning new things.

Another guy had come out at the First Annual Mid-Atlantic Beard and 'Stache Competition, figuring it was the best way to show people how he self-identified. Well done.

Midway through the show, I ran into a photographer friend, IPA in hand, and chatted with her long enough to learn that she checks my blog any time she runs into me to see if she merits a mention. This is that.

Yet another said he first grew facial hair when he hit puberty because he hates to shave. Hate, he repeated in case we weren't clear on that. One used his nipple-length beard as a conversation starter. Curly, straight, gray, red, blond and brunette. One guy's mustache was wider than his face.

There were also on display four shaving mugs and a rare silver-plated mustache cup (to keep your beverage out of your 'stache) from the collection.

Turning from the cups, I almost ran into a guy with mutton chops and a fabulous handlebar mustache handing off his beer - complete with straw - to his mother. She and I chatted for a bit and I joked that her son should have brought a mustache cup so he wouldn't have to use a straw. "I offered to bring mine for him but he said no," she claimed. So much for my joke.

Turns out her son has a sponsorship from a facial hair grooming product company, meaning his visage has appeared in a British sporting magazine and he's gone to Austin to compete in beard competitions on the company's dime.

Who knew facial hair had such big payoffs?

In case you can't tell, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit and a big part of that was because of how it had been curated with the generals for comparison. It was like a cultural lesson in the similarities in facial hair between now and 150 years ago.

Leaving the show, I walked past three bearded guys shooting the breeze in parking lot. Two of them had beards past their arm pits. It truly was impressive.

Back in Carytown, I dropped by Secco for a glass of J. Mourat Collection Rose and a hilarious story. As a guy is leaving Secco, his friend spots him from across the street, yelling to ask what in the world he's doing at a wine bar.

"This where bitches be at!" he hollers from Secco's front door all the way across Cary Street. The owner is thinking of having that screened on t-shorts for the staff. I seconded the motion.

From there, I went on to admire photographs of a friend's mother from the '60s, '70s and '80s. What a stylish creature she had been despite a cigarette frequently in hand. Some were even taken in Paris, making them an ideal prelude to my next stop: more French film.

The crowd for "The Return of Martin Guerre" was half the size of the one for the 7:00 film, but I guess that's to be expected on a school night when you're talking about a film that doesn't start until after 9 p.m.

Introduced by its director, Daniel Vigne, the film appealed to me because it was one of a handful of the films that made up my first exposure to foreign films and I still recall being moved by it, partly because it had been based on a true story.

Something that struck me tonight that would not have occurred to me in 1982 was that it was a film about identity theft in the 16th century. How au courant a theme is that? And, get this, the village where the story took place faded back into obscurity after the notoriety of the film, only to grab the headlines again four years ago because a terrorist cell was discovered there.

Mon dieu, it was fascinating to see Gerard Depardieu young (34) and not as big as a whale like he was in "My Afternoons with Margueritte," which I also saw at the FFF.

Just as compelling was how much more relatively realistically the 16th century was portrayed in 1982 than it would be now. People's clothing looked dirty and hand-sewn. If the actress who played Martin Guerre's wife had on any make-up at all, it was undetectable. It's ridiculous to see a woman playing a peasant and see that she's wearing mascara or even the palest of lipstick.

That said, I don't buy Martin returning from fighting wars after nine years with a bowl-cut haircut. Seems unlikely.

What I particularly enjoyed was watching the love story unfold between the Martin pretender and the neglected wife of the real Martin. The actors conveyed a very touching and sensual relationship.

Being totally engrossed in the film, I couldn't have been more surprised when the two women in my row got up and left an hour into the film. What, you don't like a well-acted true story, shot in a real medieval village and scripted to use words like 'calumny'?

Be gone, ladies. Obviously we're not cut from the same cloth.

Your legs must not be as magical as mine.

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