Cinema is slowly resuming at the MFA with the return of the Boston French Film Festival
Like other arts institutions early in the pandemic, the Museum of Fine Arts halted all public programs, including film exhibits. A layoff of 57 staff in August 2020 made the film’s future there less certain, if not downright dire. A few months later, the museum reopened its galleries, but suspended film programming.
After two years in the dark, slowly and somewhat quietly, cinema has resumed at the MFA. Kristen Hoskins says the program is in a trial period, being rebuilt.
Before the pandemic, Hoskins served as the museum’s director and curator of public programs — a role that no longer exists — with nine full-time staff members. She and MFA chief film curator Carter Long, both affected by the layoff, went on to create a new company that produced the Boston French Film Festival last year, among other arts events; their business, the Department of Time and Space, has since closed. Hoskins joined the museum as director of lectures, classes and community celebrations in February 2022. Currently, she and another full-time staff member manage these events, as well as films and concerts.
The first theatrical screenings took place in June as part of the Roxbury International Film Festival. According to Hoskins, by November at least, the museum will host films about three days a month. Before the pandemic, they held daily screenings. This announcement coincides with the return of one of the museum’s flagship festivals, the Boston French Film Festival. Hoskins tapped former MFA assistant curator Katherine Irving as an independent contractor to make this year’s selections. From August 18 to 21, the festival presents a small but powerful lineup of seven contemporary French-language feature films.
Despite his allegedly nefarious and potentially criminal off-screen behavior, Gérard Depardieu appears twice on the Fascinating Slate, notably playing a version of himself as the spoiled but vulnerable movie star Georges in “Robust (Robust).” When Aïssa (Déborah Lukumuena) agrees to replace him as temporary security guard, the couple forms a tender, if unexpected, bond.
Lukumuena, who drew critical acclaim for her breakout role in 2016’s ‘Divines’, does more than stand up to France’s biggest movie star. “Robust” impresses Irving for “passing the torch to an up-and-coming actor who will be a real powerhouse in the future.”
Depardieu plays a more predictable supporting role as a pompous editor who puts profits before truth (sound familiar?) in the period drama”Lost Illusions (Lost Illusions), based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac. While the ambitious qualities of ‘Downton Abbey’ or ‘Bridgerton’ might escape heavy class analysis, while still being whimsical, ‘Illusions’ takes a hard swipe at capitalism’s corrupting influence on media and expression. artistic. It also captured the French imagination by winning seven Césars, including Best Film. “It’s a bit like the French taking a fluffy genre and giving it political resonance,” says Irving.
When choosing this year’s films, Irving used a guiding principle: “They should have something unique to say about the times we live in.” For her, the message in “My Life in Pink (My Life in Pink)on the nebula of gender, still resonates after 25 years. The 1997 queer classic resists any identity confusion from its trans frontman, 6-year-old Ludo. Instead, Irving points out, “everyone in the movie has to catch up.” She says she always wanted an excuse to show this memorable film (it’s screened in 35mm) because of its smoothness, lightheartedness and “surreal candy-colored daydreams”.
One of the riskiest choices, tonally and formally,”Hold me tight (Hold me tight)closes this year’s festival. Vicky Krieps brings airy, vaulted devastation to all that broke her family. The fragmented narrative frequently disrupts the family timeline, suggesting lives that could have been lived if only circumstances had differed. A mystery, or held secret, propels the story forward, which makes it counterproductive to spell it out here. Krieps manages to appear hollowed out by absence one moment, then swollen with unconditional love the next. Ultimately, the story, directed by Mathieu Amalric, tries to capture the inequality of grief, which Irving says rings true for so many of us right now. Together, these titles and the three remaining titles offer an emotional realism often present in French cinema and for Irving, a cathartic and satisfying way to process a pandemic or other trauma.
As Hoskins looks to the future, she says she’s excited to bring pieces of the film program back to the MFA. However, she explains, “We’re not trying to do exactly what we used to do.” Instead, with limited staff and an eagerness to rebuild festival partnerships threatened by the pandemic, she says they will test the waters, monitor ticket sales and ask, “What can we offer that people need ? By the end of 2022, moviegoers can expect a fall showcase of the Boston Women’s Film Festivalthe return of the Internal Film Festival of Iran as well as the program organized by the community Boston Palestinian Film Festival and Boston Turkish Documentary and Short Film Competition. Beyond that, Hoskins says she hopes the program and support from her staff will grow in the coming year. But she’s not sure.
What she does know, she says, is that community engagement is key. Calling herself more of an intermediary than a curator, she questions the role of museums in public life. “We all belong here,” she said. She wants curatorial power “to rest with other people”.