Film: `I'm part of a cinema of resistance'

Jeanne Balibar is riding a new New Wave.

In the UK, French art films have always had something of an image problem. Even the French call them - derogatorily - nombriliste, which means navel-gazing. But in Olivier Assayas' forthcoming Late August, Early September, the on-screen partnership of two young performers - Jeanne Balibar and Mathieu Amalric - looks strong enough to widen the appeal of a genre that traditionally appeals to minority tastes.

In the film, Balibar and Amalric play a couple negotiating the breakdown of their relationship and the death of a mutual friend. In life, they are married and, when I met them in Paris, were about to take off on holiday with their two children.

The couple first acted together in Arnaud Desplechin's 1997 film My Sex Life (How I Got into an Argument). Immediately they became the two principal faces of what is referred to, somewhat amorphously, as "the Young French cinema". Amalric plays Paul, a boyishly likeable if infuriating presence, a Jean-Pierre Leaud for the 1990s. And Balibar was electrifying as Valerie - a she-devil philosophy student who enchants Paul, then utterly terrifies him with her unpredictable behaviour.

Though Balibar was plausible as a contemporary character, there was a quality about her as an actress that could belong to the French cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. "I'm constantly being told that," she laughs. "It's getting a bit tiresome, having this air of anachronism." She can change from interrogatory silences - holding her partner with luminous, piercing eyes - to skittish action, emphasised by her expressive angularity. But it was mostly in the quality of her voice, which is able to skip across several pitches in the space of a line and to suggest a cajoling, curious intelligence that was never very far from the comic.

This unpredictability is well to the fore in Late August, Early September. The film opens on a scene in which she and Gabriel, her ex-partner - played by Amalric - are showing prospective buyers around their flat. Gabriel keeps up the salesman patter, leading the other couple from room to room. Balibar does little other than hug the wall, her face switching and twitching. The dismantling of what was once their shared domestic space hurts her. And she shows this without saying a word. "Jeanne is a changeling in front of the camera," Amalric says. "You never know quite how far she'll go."

Late August, Early September is an anatomisation of emotions, reminiscent of older directors such as Claude Sautet and Andre Techine; and that's part of its interest. When films like Sautet's A Heart in Winter or Nelly and Mr Arnaud reached our shores, they did so partly on the star-power of Emmanuelle Beart. But they were also attempts to find a younger audience for this sort of cinema. Late August continues this tradition, but with a stylistic lightness that will be familiar to those who saw Assayas's Irma Vep - his sixth feature but the first to get a release in the UK. It was a cult success, a kind of loose-limbed remake of Truffaut's Day for Night with the Hong Kong action-movie starlet Maggie Cheung essaying the part of the French silent cinema icon Musidora.

Carrying over the hand-held camerawork of Denis Lenoir, the cinematographer with whom Assayas has shot all of his features, the style of Irma has been brought to bear on Late August, a story whose concerns - friendship and work, love and death - are treated in a fragmented narrative. Gabriel's friend, a writer named Adrien Wilier (Francois Cluzet) dies and the repercussions are felt by his circle of friends. We don't see the physical death. Instead, Assayas chooses to show the emotional impacts and consequences that Adrien's social death has on a terrific ensemble cast, which includes Francois Cluzet and Virginie Ledoyen, who's soon to appear opposite Leonardo Di Caprio in The Beach.

Balibar's particular place in French cinema is as the embodiment of cultured, middle-class, and frequently Parisian femininity. There's little doubt that she could play the glamorous costume-drama queen or even take the route to being an international token of class, a la Juliette Binoche or Irene Jacob. But for the time being her chosen place is in the low- budget end of auteur cinema - which brings us back to the accusation of "navel- gazing". Balibar has no time for it. "You know, this sort of cinema is often seen as being about sons from good families with existential problems and, while I don't want to come across as paranoid about these things, that attitude is part of the war between a very commercial, Americanised cinema and an auteur cinema in France. The films of directors such as Assayas and Desplechin are part of a cinema of resistance, one that resists the heavy artillery of big-budget movies by talking about things that are delicate, subtle and literary. It's a cinema that's more on the side of art than spectacle and that has more to do with details than special effects."

Balibar's own background is comfortably part of this milieu. The daughter of the French philosopher Etienne Balibar, she was bound for an academic career from an early age and lived in England for two years while doing research in 17th-century English history at Oxford and Cambridge. But when she returned to France, a spell at the Conservatoire in Paris put a stop to her studies.

Her partnership with Amalric has seen them cast together recently in another low-budget feature, Three Rivers, directed by Jean-Claude Biette.

Amalric himself, whom Assayas describes as "the essence of contemporaneity", has been around film-making since the age of 17, when he lived in Moscow with his journalist parents and was cast in a film by the Georgian director Otar Ioselliani. "I wanted to do what the director was doing," he recalls. He has since made several shorts and is preparing his first feature, in which he will direct Balibar. It's an adaptation of an Italian novel called Wimbledon Stadium. They're due to shoot in south London next autumn. But a lot could happen in these careers between now and then: "the faces of the new French cinema" have scarcely begun.

`Late August, Early September' (15) opens on 20 August

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam