Rendez-Vous under way in N.Y.

This year's lineup heavy on Cesar nominees

PARIS -- The recent love affair between U.S. filmgoers and French movies will be reignited Thursday evening as Unifrance's 14th annual Rendez-Vous with French cinema kicks off in New York.

The event launches in Alice Tully Hall with the U.S. premiere of Christophe Barratier's musical period piece "Paris 36," the director's follow-up to international hit "The Chorus," about a Depression-era music hall in Paris. Sony Classics will release the film stateside April 3.

"The fact that we were sold out before the fest even began says that, while French films might be scrambling for a small little bit of the U.S. boxoffice, there's an enduring appetite in the U.S. for French movies," Unifrance's N.Y. bureau chief John Kochman told The Hollywood Reporter.

Organized in partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, this year's Rendez-Vous lineup of 18 titles reads like the nominees list at Friday's Cesar Awards ceremony.

"Seraphine," a biopic of 20th century painter Seraphine de Senlis that claimed seven Cesars including best film, is among those screening. Set for U.S. release by Music Box, "Seraphine" has seen its ticket sales in Gaul increase by 250% since the Cesars.

Jean-Francois Richet's two-part "Mesrine" also will be screened before hitting U.S. theaters via Senator Entertainment in early summer. Richet was named best director and his star, Vincent Cassel, took home best actor at the Cesars. "It's something we can never predict, but it's a really happy circumstance," Kochman said of the Cesar-flavored lineup.

The Rendez-vous will feature new efforts from such well-known directors as Claire Denis ("35 Shots of Rum"), Agnes Varda (best documentary Cesar winner "The Beaches of Agnes"), Andre Techine ("Girl on the Train"), Costa-Gavras ("Eden is West") and Benoit Jacquot ("Villa Amalia").

And what would a French film festival be without Gerard Depardieu? Legendary filmmaker Claude Chabrol will screen his latest title, "Bellamy," which stars Depardieu as a police investigator.

The Rendez-Vous will take a bittersweet turn when Pierre Schoeller's "Versailles" is screened, since the film marks the last starring role for Depardieu's son Guillaume, who died in October. The young Depardieu also can be seen in Sylvie Verheyde's "Stella," also screening.

Other highlights include Francois Dupeyron's "With a Little Help From Myself," Samuel Collardey's "The Apprentice," Anne Fontaine's "The Girl From Monaco," Ilan Duran Cohen's "The Joy of Singing," Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic's "The Other One" and Daniele Thompson's ensemble comedy "Change of Plans," the director's follow-up to "Avenue Montaigne."

Only five of the 18 films screening already have U.S. distributors -- Magnolia will release "The Girl From Monaco" and the Cinema Guild has snagged rights to "The Beaches of Agnes." Festival organizers are hoping the festival will give the other films visibility so they can be snapped up by U.S. distributors. Last year, seven titles were sold during or directly after the Rendez-Vous.

"French sales agents are always anxious to follow their films to New York because they can initiate or close deals with distributors. There is a real emphasis on distribution here," Kochman said. More than 30 producers, filmmakers, sales agents and journalists are expected to cross the Atlantic for the event, which runs through March 15 in New York.