The person next to you on the bus can tell you that German films are depressing, British films are unintelligible and French films are, on some level, trifling, nonsensical or too sexy. Am I oversimplifying? I recently saw a would-be sophisticated website going on about Jean Vigo's sublime L'Atalante (predating Beasts of the Southern Wild by some 80 years). Baffled by incidents of magical realism, the two master debaters came back to a mantra: "You know, it's French."
And that settled that. Yet the series "Rendez-vous with French Cinema," continuing this week at Summerfield Cinemas, offers a glimmer of what Petaluma's own Pauline Kael meant when she said that even the best American movies aren't good enough.
Patrice LeConte, whose light attitude toward mortality goes at least as far back as The Hairdresser's Husband (1990), takes that attitude all the way to The Suicide Shop (March 21, 7pm), a lovable, witty and macabre animated musical. On a gray Parisian side street, Maison Tuvache (established 1854) has been selling potential suicides ropes, poisons, razors and even samurai swords. (They're not cheap, "but there are no pockets in a shroud . . . or a kimono.") Their motto: "Life a failure? Make death a success!"
The lady of the place (voiced by Isabelle Spade) is one of those chirpy Parisienne shopkeepers Karin Viard does so well. Her husband, Mishima, is a debonair Gomez Addams look-alike, but tragedy strikes when they have a child whose disgusting zest for life interferes with the family business. Highly recommended to goths, fans of Sweeney Todd and Tim Burton fanciers. Alas, this movie in need of a cult does end on a positive note. What can you do? Dead people don't buy movie tickets.
The series also includes Alice Winocour's Augustine (March 20, 7pm), which comes from the casebook of Sigmund Freud's most important predecessor, Professor Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon). And the experimental Rich Is the Wolf (March 24, 1pm) traces the disappearance of a husband and the clues left behind via VHS tapes. A woman watching hours of videotape, struggling to understand what it all means? Sounds like French cinema in a nutshell.
'Rendez-vous with French Cinemas' runs through March 24 at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.522.0719. www.summerfieldcinemas.com.