'Bande de Filles'

The cast of 'Bande de Filles' directed by Céline Sciamma. The film will be included in the Tournées French Film Festival at NAU this week. Courtesy photo.

Spread across three weekends, the Tournées French Film Festival is returning to screen a vibrant cross-section of dramas, thrillers, comedies and one animated film surrounding murder, treachery and illicit activities.

Dubbed “C’est une crime!” or “It’s a crime,” audiences will follow the thread through award-winning cinema brought to Northern Arizona University to share in francophone culture.

“Tournées” launches Thursday, Feb. 18. All films are shown in French with English subtitles and are screened in Liberal Arts Room 120 on NAU’s north campus. All start at 7 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays through March 4, except “P’tit Quinquin,” which starts at 6 p.m. March 3. Thanks to a grant from the French American Cultural Exchange, all films are free to attend. Learn more at nau.edu/cal/events/tournees-film-festival.

With dozens of hours logged since last summer, French department lecturer Michael Rulon and associate professor Erika Hess have assembled a list with broad appeal from the more serious to more lighthearted cinematic fare. Their mutual love of mysteries inspired the pair to follow the thread of crime throughout the series’ offerings.

The selections, Rulon said, are intended to spark conversations about films not often available overseas, in a community with a thirst for cultural diversity.

“I really think one of the highlights of a curated film series or festival is the communal enjoyment. Part of that enjoyment is discussing it afterward,” he added. “The films take on the question of crime in different ways. We thought it would be neat to show these films together and see what the audience thinks, how they react, what they say.”

The series kicks off with “Bande de filles” or “Girlhood,” directed by Céline Sciamma, on Thursday, Feb. 18. Her third shot behind the lens, Sciamma continues to explore the trials of young females. Set in the poverty-stricken banlieues or “projects” surrounding Paris, the film tracks Marieme who attempts to gain confidence and reinvent herself by joining a gang.

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Friday’s film, “L’Enlévement de Michel Houellebecq,” intersects with the College of Arts and Letters’ International Film Series. In the 2014 film, Houellebecq — France’s beloved and equally controversial author — plays a version of himself as he is abducted by three amateur kidnappers. Inspired by real-life incidents in 2011 that caused media outlets to speculate whether Houellebecq was really missing, Guillaume Nicloux’s comedic quasi-documentary fills in the gaps of what could’ve been.

“I like seeing the intersection of crime and comedy,” Rulon said of this abduction story. “I think comedy is terribly underrated as a film genre. People tend not to take it seriously, but a lot of times what makes us laugh says a lot about us as a society.”

Following in the comedic vein, “Le Roi et l’oiseau,” or “The King and the Mockingbird” by Paul Grimault is the only animated selection. Though released in 1980, critics still laud the creator’s seminal work that has seen its own share of ups and downs. With introductions by French department faculty and students, it will be interesting to hear what they have to share about these classics, especially “The King and the Mockingbird.”

“In Tournées we like to have French faculty do the introductions. Each of the faculty has a very different area of specialization, which is nice because when we present the films we are all presenting a different aspect of it. It’s neat to see people with such different academic backgrounds present a film in a meaningful way to the audience.”

The series takes a thrilling twist with “La French/The Connection.” A sort of companion to William Friedkin’s 1971 classic, “The French Connection,” Cédric Jimenez’s 2014 adaptation follows the high-energy, true-crime exploits of a law enforcement officer’s six-year quest to bring down a drug kingpin.

Darkness and light are not only opposite but complementary. Bruno Dumont’s dark slapstick piece “Li’l Quinquin” originally aired on French television as a four-part miniseries. The story follows a series of grisly murders where the killer’s M.O. is to shove body parts inside livestock. While two bumbling cops are cold on the trail, a group of students with nothing better to do — led by the title character — investigate on their own.

Closing out the series is “The Blue Room," starring one of France’s beloved actors, Mathieu Amalric, who also co-wrote and directed this adaptation of Georges Simenon’s novel. Flashing from present to past, the film follows Julien (Amalric) who finds himself in police custody on the wrong side of the interrogation table. Flashes of memory cause him wonder who is really a murderer.

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