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French diva Anouk Aimée (née Dreyfus) at Cinémania

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Anouk Aimée

Legendary French actor Anouk Aimée (the stage name of Françoise Sorya Dreyfus) will be feted at this year’s Cinémania film festival, the 19th edition.

Festival founder and president Maidy Teitelbaum has drawn on her extensive connections within the film industry in France to lure the now 81-year-old diva to Montreal for Cinémania, which runs from Nov. 7 to 17 at the Imperial Cinema.

As always, the festival presents recent French-language films, mostly from France, with English subtitles, many of them North American premieres.

The centrepiece of the tribute is the screening of the new documentary Anouk Aimée, la beauté du geste by Dominique Besnehard and Muriel Fils-Trèves.

Aimée, who will be in Montreal from Nov. 7 to 11, will appear with Besnehard to introduce this film on Nov. 9. That day, she will also host a free-admission master class that will be broadcast live on TFO television.

She will also be present for the screening of one of her more recent films, A Birch Tree Meadow (La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux).

Aimée, who personified the screen goddess in her time, has had roles in more than 70 movies since 1947. She starred in such classics as La Dolce Vita, Lola, A Man and a Woman and 8 ½, and worked with such greats as Frederico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Claude Lelouch, as well as American directors Robert Altman and George Cukor.

Despite her international stature, Aimée has always been a very private person. In the documentary, she opens up about pivotal events in her life, including growing up under the occupation and how she narrowly escaped Nazi persecution.

She recalls leaving school one day and the other girls denouncing her as a Jew to a passing German soldier.

“Her fame and beauty never detracted from her natural warmth, which served to transform relationships into lifetime friendships,” Teitelbaum said.

The homage to Aimée will continue at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, where eight of her movies will be presented, including The Joker (Le Farceur), A Leap in the Dark (Le Saut dan le Vide) and the iconic A Man and A Woman, which Aimée will be on hand to introduce with the composer of the soundtrack, Pierre Barouh.

Teitelbaum notes that there are several other films of particular Jewish interest in the lineup.

It Happened in Saint-Tropez (Des gens qui s’embrassent), directed by Danielle Thompson, is highly recommended by Teitelbaum.

This is a fast-paced comedy about a dysfunctional Ashkenazi family, starring Monica Belluci and Kad Merad. Two brothers, one a successful jeweller, the other a violinist and observant Jew, are always at loggerheads over what’s important, as the materialist vs. the spiritualist.

Meanwhile, the violinist’s daughter meets a young man on the Eurostar train to Paris and falls in love, not realizing that he’s on his way to marry her glamorous shopaholic first cousin. The scene cuts to a yacht in Saint-Tropez, where the confrontations and betrayals continue.

For a Woman (Pour une femme), directed by Diane Kurys, is set in the 1980s. After the death of her mother, a woman (Melanie Thierry) discovers an old photo of a mysterious uncle who lived with her Jewish parents after World War II.

Intrigued, she travels to Lyon, where she was born, to investigate. Until her uncle returned after the war, her parents seemed happily married, and that’s when the daughter was conceived. Then things changed.

Kurys, whose personal history parallels this story, brings to the screen the chaos of the postwar period: the vengeance against Nazi crimes, the rise of communism, and the first signs of women’s liberation.

Where We Grew Up (Rue Mandar) by Idit Cebula is about how three estranged siblings cope with the death of their elderly Jewish mother, a Polish immigrant to Paris. Argumentative Emma returns from Tel Aviv after a long absence to reunite with neurotic psychiatrist Rosemonde and control-freak Charles.

“This non-observant trio are played by a stellar cast who beautifully act out amusing situations as they adapt to burial and shivah rites totally unfamiliar to them – as memories flood back, the dynamics and antics of the bereaved family are endearing, bittersweet, and very, very funny,” Teitelbaum said.

In A Birch Tree Meadow, which was released in 2003, Aimée plays Myriam, an Auschwitz survivor who returns alone 60 years later to the death camp to confront the horrors of the past that have scarred her both physically and psychologically. She meets a young German photographer, the grandson of an SS colonel, who is seeking to understand and to try to atone.

For full details on Cinémania, visit www.festivalcinemania.com.

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