Rounding out the current wave of French imports to US screens is "Lumiere and Company," made to celebrate last year's 100th anniversary of cinema.
Presented in Paris in 1895, the world's first picture show consisted of single-shot documentaries filmed by Louis and Auguste Lumiere, whose original camera has recently been restored. The producers of "Lumiere and Company" invited directors to make their own films in the Lumiere style, using the antique camera and shooting for less than a minute with no editing or synchronized sound.
The results of their efforts are uneven but often fascinating. Spike Lee made a home movie of his baby boy. James Ivory and Ismail Merchant filmed a Paris street with classic European architecture framing a McDonald's. David Lynch and Peter Greenaway cheated a bit by editing their shots, but came up with forceful images recalling the dreamlike power of their feature-length projects.
Some of the world's greatest filmmakers flunked the test. China's Zhang Yimou tosses off a silly joke - blasting rock music in a dignified setting - and France's Jacques Rivette fills an evocative urban space with trivial action.
Other directors surpass one's expectations, though. Andrei Konchalovsky, who made "Runaway Train" and "Tango & Cash," crafts a haunting moment on a misty hillside. Arthur Penn abandons the realism of "Bonnie and Clyde" for the surrealism of a mysterious vision.
Many of the other participants - about 40 in all - comment on their work in the documentary scenes. Sarah Moon supervised the experiment and brought together the screen artists who agreed to play her good-natured cinematic game.