Canada turns 150 years on July 1 and the world's second-biggest country is planning a full year of birthday bashes. But first, a flash history lesson: North America's first successful colony, New France, was established in 1605 in what is now Nova Scotia -- yes, the French were here first -- but what Canada is tooting its horn about throughout 2017 is Canadian Confederation. That's when the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick joined together as the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. It continued to add territories and provinces until Newfoundland signed on in 1949 to create what is today's Canada. Although the epicenter of the sesquicentennial -- "sesquie" for short -- celebration is in the national capital of Ottawa and most activities are local and community-based, there are many fun, educational, creative and crazy events taking place from coast to coast to coast (Pacific to Atlantic to Arctic). Here are a few to get you started, in no particular order.
If the French Ministry of Culture were to hold hearings on why there are so few innovative young French filmmakers today, Claire Simon's documentary "The Graduation" ("Le Concours," better translated as "The Entrance Exam") could be Exhibit A. (It played last fall in the DOC NYC series and this past weekend at the True/False Film Fest, which is where I saw it.) It's entirely possible that France's movie-doldrums are merely a passing chill and that there's an underground current in the French film world that's soon to burst forth with inventive energy. But, for the moment, it's hard to avoid noticing that France hasn't produced a historic director in three decades. Many excellent French movies have been made in that time; many talented directors have arrived on the scene with noteworthy débuts--and most of them have become quickly less audacious after a first film or two. Some exceptional filmmakers have built unusual careers on the margins of the system; some have worked within the system to bring distinctive worlds to life; none have revolutionized the art.
In the first installment of the year of its monthly pedestrian and cycling days, the Champs Elysées in Paris went car-free Sunday, meeting with encouragement from tourists and locals alike. The famous French boulevard, which can hold up to 10 lanes of car traffic at its peak, was quiet of the sounds of honking and free of the smell of exhaust. "All of Paris should be like this," one local Parisian told Agence-France Presse. "We have to stop poisoning people; we need to open up the city. There should be more public transport and more taxis, but we don't need cars in Paris."
It's always big news when a new film by Claire Denis touches down on these shores, and her latest one, "Fire," opens this year's edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which runs March 3rd to 13th at Film at Lincoln Center. Denis is one of the greatest directors working now, and also one of the most variable of great directors, one whose ardently attentive artistry is sparked in large measure by her choice of subject and her cast. When the spark catches, as it does in "Fire," the result is a kind of ecstatic vulnerability that embodies its powerful emotion in a distinctive form. "Fire" is a cinematic family reunion; it's Denis's second collaboration with the novelist Christine Angot, who co-wrote the script, her third with the two lead actors, Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon, and her eighth with Grégoire Colin, going back to 1994. As with any good reunion, the movie's subject is the endurance of the past in the present, for better or worse.