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Already in his 30s when he made his first feature in 1986, French director Olivier Assayas is nonetheless youthful both in style and interests. His work is characterized by fluid handheld camera, an improvisational feel, and sudden bursts of emotion—usually cued to rock music. Like such ’60s precursors as Godard, Rivette, and Rohmer, Assayas wrote film criticism for Cahiers du Cinema before directing his debut, Desorde. His American breakthrough came a decade later with Irma Vep, a witty, richly allusive film about an aging director’s attempt to incorporate the energy of Hong Kong action movies (personified by actress Maggie Cheung) into overintellectualized French cinema (March 22 at 4 p.m.). Although darker and less playful, the two films that open this program have much in common with Irma Vep: Both Paris at Dawn, a romantic triangle involving a father, his 19-year-old-son, and the father’s 18-year-old girlfriend (March 14 at 2 p.m.), and Cold Water, a tale of two alienated ’70s teens who flee when the girl is faced with institutionalization (pictured, March 14 at 3:40 p.m.), feature casual structure, freewheeling spirit, and naturalistic performances. Also included are A New Life, in which a 20-year-old woman meets her father for the first time (March 15 at 4 p.m.), and Winter’s Child, the tale of a man who decides to abandon his longtime lover, who’s pregnant with their baby (March 15 at 6:30 p.m.). The series concludes with Assayas’ 1997 documentary about a kindred spirit, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien (March 29 at 4 p.m.). At the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th & Constitution Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 737-4215. (Mark Jenkins)