03/08/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated May 08, 2014

Catherine Deneuve Kicks Off Rendez-vous With French Cinema

"You're stunning," an admirer shouted out at the Paris Theater on Thursday night, when Catherine Deneuve, the undisputed queen of international cinema took the stage. In bulk-enhancing horizontal striped mink, a standout among the others of the French delegation, her first words were, why was the mike given to me? And then poised and elegant she welcomed the crowd to the opening night feature, On My Way. The focus of every frame, she stars as an aging beauty queen on a road trip in rural France. As daffy as that premise could be, Deneuve pulls this romp off with comic aplomb: after a lover's betrayal, Bettie sets out in search of serenity and a good smoke. A man with sausage fingers rolls a cigarette in excruciating slow motion. Bettie has a one-nighter with a guy half her age, a photo shoot during which she faints, a bonding with her adorable grandson, a surprising rapprochement with family, and a romance. It was only later I found out, the French find this movie serious.

But it's that kind of discovery of sensibility that makes the Rendez-vous so rich, vital and entertaining every year. Curious about our culture since the time of deTocqueville, they are fixated on movies, as we are of their culture. Mining the experience that is distinctly Gallic, the French produce films that, at times, don't play well here, or, more often, charm by feeling quaint and foreign. My favorite of the series this year is Agnes Jaoui's Under the Rainbow with its take on love at first sight for a cast of amusing, neurotic characters. The movie evokes fairy tales, like the big bad wolf in the form of a heart breaking theater critic; yes, there is a happy ending.

What would it take to upstage Deneuve? Julie Gayet, the young actress involved with the French president, is set to participate in "Action! French & American Women Filmmakers," at the Alliance Francaise co-hosted by Unifrance and FIAF. A panel will feature several Rendez-vous directors, among them Axelle Ropert (Miss and The Doctors), Justine Triet (Age of Panic), Rebecca Ziotowski (Grand Central), and Katell Quillevere (Suzanne). American filmmakers Ry Russo-Young, Stacie Passon and Deborah Kampmeier will join in the conversation on women in film. In addition to having made the documentary, Cineast(e)s, about women filmmakers from the perspective of 20 acclaimed directors, Gayet plays a role in Bertrand Tavernier's The French Minister, the Rendez-vous' closing night feature. Being blasé about presidents and their girlfriends, now that's very French.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.