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Central Outsider: The Films of Maurice Pialat

February 5 - March 3

"One of the greatest, most influential, and most misunderstood modern directors." – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"To say that Pialat marched to the beat of a different drummer is to put it mildly." – Kent Jones, Film Comment

"No one emerges from a Pialat film unscathed. Least of all the audience." – Julien Allen, Reverse Shot

From February 5 through March 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center, in partnership with the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France and the Institut français, presents Central Outsider: The Films of Maurice Pialat, a series of nine features and one short, all presented in 35mm, by the supremely individualistic French filmmaker.

Defiantly, resentfully, often self-destructively, Maurice Pialat (1925-2003) stood alone. He belonged to no school or movement. He has been likened to Renoir, Cassavetes, and Bresson, but such comparisons seem incomplete at best. His style is difficult to define and at times seems more like an anti-style.

Nevertheless, director Arnaud Desplechin said in 1996, “The filmmaker whose influence has been the strongest and most constant on the young French cinema isn’t Jean-Luc Godard but Maurice Pialat.” Besides Desplechin, Olivier Assayas, Xavier Beauvois, Catherine Breillat, Bruno Dumont, Gaspar Noé, Sandrine Veysset, and Eric Zonca are among the important contemporary French filmmakers who flowered under the sun of Pialat. Cahiers du cinéma called him a “central outsider” (marginal du centre) — one of the many contradictions that reflected Pialat’s personality and nourished his art.

Born in the Auvergne countryside but transplanted at an early age to a Paris suburb, Pialat was a painter and a salesman before turning to cinema with a series of short films. He did not make his first feature, NAKED CHILDHOOD, until 1969, when he was 43. Pialat missed the French New Wave that had buoyed other filmmakers of his generation — an exclusion that he both resented and embraced, frequently berating the New Wave group for their elitism.

Fitting in comfortably with neither the art house nor the mainstream, Pialat craved both commercial success and critical approval. Remarkably, he managed to achieve both. His films won major awards, and several of them enjoyed a box-office success far beyond that ever attained by his New Wave rivals. Yet, his attitude toward the filmmaking establishment, his collaborators, and his audience remained largely (and perhaps purposefully) antagonistic — most notoriously when he denounced a jeering audience after winning the Cannes Palme d’Or in 1983 for UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN.

Pialat avoided the Paris-centric orientation of the New Wave, setting his stories in the “deep France” of provincial and small-town life. Similarly, his preferred characters were drawn not from bohemia or the bourgeoisie but from the humbler ranks of shopkeepers, factory workers, supermarket cashiers — what he called “people who take the subway.” His subject-matter is intensely personal and often transparently autobiographical; critic Michel Boujut said, “Every film by Maurice Pialat is a film about Maurice Pialat.” His stories focus on dissolution — things coming apart or coming to an end: childhood, marriage, love, families, faith, life itself.

New Yorker critic Richard Brody described Pialat’s style as “pugnacious naturalism.” Its blunt, volatile immediacy is built upon relentless long takes, middle-distance compositions, abrupt transitions, and off-balance shifts in perspective and tone. Although Pialat’s relationships with his actors were often acrimonious, he drew unprecedentedly authentic performances from the likes of Sandrine Bonnaire, Gérard Depardieu, Jacques Dutronc, and Isabelle Huppert by taking them out of their comfort zone. The same principle might be applied to his viewers: Pialat’s confrontational, combative style takes us out of our comfort zone, but the rewards are an unsentimental compassion and bracing candor achieved by few other filmmakers.

Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming

Supported by the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France and the Institut français. Special thanks to Denis Quenelle and Laurence Geannopulos of the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France in Chicago; Amélie Garin-Davet of Cultural Services of the French Embassy; Susan Oxtoby of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA); MJ Peckos and Maggie Cohen of Dada Films; Tim Lanza of Cohen Media Group; Brian Belovarac of Janus Films; Alex Kopecky of Olive Films.

Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Pialat film on any Saturday in February, and get a ticket for the second Pialat film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)