Hiver NomadeDans la maison (François Ozon)

Francois Ozon returns to the murky meta-fictional territory of Swimming Pool (2003) with this adaptation of a play by Juan Mayorga, in which a high school teacher (Fabrice Luchini) encourages his student to pursue writing a story about a family, until he gets too close for comfort. Since much of the story that plays out onscreen comes from the young student’s writings, and since certain scenes are rewritten from different styles and viewpoints, it’s hard to tell what is reality in this film, or if the film even has an objective reality. Dans la maison speaks to the cinephile’s ultimate fantasies of living in a movie, as life becomes a narrative over which the author has complete control. There’s a voyeuristic thrill to Dans la maison; like Hitchcock, Ozon fetishizes the house as a place of secrets usually seen only from the outside. As the protagonist penetrates deeper into the house, we’re increasingly overtaken by the desire to see and to know all.

Renoir (Gilles Bourdos)

Like many biopics, Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir is weighed down by unnecessarily melodramatic acting, unexplained details, and a plot so self-consciously “true to life” that it becomes anything but. These vices may be pardoned only because it seems that the film’s main goal was elsewhere: to create a kind of cinematic impressionist painting. The film’s delicately-constructed tableaux emphasize the motion of the natural world: the fleeting sunlight highlighted and reflected on the face and body of a young model, or the gentle swaying of a field in the wind—slight movements that Auguste Renoir captures in quick brushstrokes, but which Bourdos suggests can only really come alive in a film. Every scene is beautiful, even if it’s just surface beauty without depth – much like Renoir’s own paintings.

Hiver Nomad (Manuel von Stürler)

Manuel von Stürler’s elegant, poetic documentary takes us on a transhumance journey across the Swiss Alps in the company of two shepherds and 800 sheep. Daily tasks are filled with adventure (the travellers must fight off the bitter cold in order to survive), humor (the sheep are often gently chided for their antics), and pathos (the animals, destined to be killed, are treated with great tenderness). Rather than try to manipulate our emotions with dramatic music, Sturler emphasizes the sounds of nature, capturing every sheep’s bleat and every clink of their bells. But even as it poses philosophical questions on modernity—the silence of the snow-covered mountains, for instance, stands in sharp contrast to the noise of motors zooming on the highway—Stürler’s film goes after a point both simpler and more profound: silence in nature does not exist.

La Religieuse  (Guillaume Nicloux)

Pauline Étienne, only 23 years old, plays Suzanne Simonin with force and passion in this beautiful new adaptation of Denis Diderot’s novel about a woman forced to become a nun. The Belgian newcomer seems both young and old at the same time, and she passes through the film like a tormented angel. Thematically and visually, La Religieuse recalls the harshness and grace of Robert Bresson or Cristian Mungiu, as small quotidian gestures give us a palpable sense of the claustrophobic and repressive environment inside the convent. Nicloux emphasizes the theatrical and frightening aspects of the order’s ceremonies, but La Religieuse isn’t anti-religious in itself; rather, it’s an historically specific portrait of an unhealthy era. Augmenting this malaise, Isabelle Huppert gives a surprising and aggressive performance as the head nun who tries to seduce the young woman.  As Suzanne submits to unimaginable tests, she still fights back; it’s difficult not to think of her as an 18th-century Joan of Arc.