THE BIOGRAPH Theater begins a 10- week, 40-film retrospective of recent and classic French films Friday with a double bill of the Costa-Gavras thriller Z and Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. It's been four years since the last collection of French films at the Biograph, so Alan Rubin has thrown in everything from Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game and A Day in the Country to Ettore Scola's underrated Le Bal and Diane Kurys' distaff-buddy movie Entre Nous.
There are three area premieres in the schedule: Robert Bresson's L'Argent (a sensation at the 1983 Cannes festival) plays February 22-24; and novelist-turned-filmmaker Christopher Frank's 1982 marital drama Josepha (which co-stars Miou Miou of "Entre Nous" fame) debuts with the 1983 comedy LaBoum on February 27 and 28. Directed by "Josepha" co-star Claude Brasseur, "La Boum" features Brigitte Fossey, who also starred in The Return of Martin Guerre and La Balance (both of which are also in this series).
There is one change in the printed program: Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee has been withdrawn from release, so his Chloe in the Afternoon will play with Pauline at the Beach January 15-17. For complete program information, call 333-2696. Group rates are available for educational institutions.
As part of its continuing multi-disciplinary exhibit called Options '84, the Washington Project for the Arts is presenting a program of short films and videotapes by local artists Friday night at 8 at the WPA, 400 Seventh Street NW. Admission is free; call 347-4813.
The local premieres continue: Julie Christie, Ann-Margret, writer Hugh Whitmore (Stevie), producer Ann Skinner and production designer Luciana Arrighi (who has designed all of Gillian Armstrong's films from My Brilliant Career onward) will appear at the benefit premiere of the new British film The Return of the Soldier Tuesday at 8 at the KB Fine Arts Theater, 1919 M Street NW. The showing is to benefit Women Make Movies IV, the fourth international women's film and video festival, which opens March 8. Tickets to the benefit are $100, $250 and $1,000. Depending on the price, the ticket includes a pre-screening party at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Stevens Jr., orchestra seating at the theater, and/or a post-screening party at the Regent Hotel -- all with the special guests in attendance. For further information, call 337-0762. "The Return of the Soldier," by the way, stars Alan Bates and Glenda Jackson in addition to Ann-Margret and Christie.
Depending on whom you talk to, the Washington run of Henry Jaglom's newest film, Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?, was scuttled last fall either because the distributor of the film pulled it at the last minute or because an advance press screening yielded not a single favorable response. Now "Cherry Pie," which co-stars Karen Black and Michael Emil as two not-so- lovable losers trying to make a go of it in the big city, will have its belated Washington premiere at The American Film Institute Theater Wednesday at 8:30 and January 18 at 6:30.
Jaglom, whose casual, off-the-cuff style isn't everyone's cup of tea, is probably best remembered as the man who edited a garbled mass of exposed footage into Easy Rider and as the director of such minor cult films as the feminist fantasy A Safe Place and the Vietnam homecoming drama Tracks.
"Cherry Pie" begins a segment of the AFI's Cross Currents of the New Waves program called New American Independent Cinema. For information, call 785-4601.
Some tentative openings of the more attractive studio and art-house pictures: Both David Lean's A Passage to India and Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields open next Friday, the former replacing the lackluster Dune in an exclusive engagement at the Uptown Circle. Also set to open January 18 are MGM's archival dance anthology That's Dancing, and Nightmare on Elm Street, the latest horrorfest from Wes (The Hills Have Eyes) Craven.
February 1 brings Czech expatriate Ivan Passer's latest, Creator, with Peter O'Toole as a genetic scientist determined to regrow his dead wife.
The screen version of Mass Appeal, with Jack Lemmon apparently acting Deadly Serious again, opens February 8, a day that should also bring to town Gillian Armstrong's Mrs. Soffel (with Mel Gibson and Diane Keaton) and Joel Coen's imaginative tongue-in-cheek thriller Blood Simple. Looking beyond that, February 15 should see a number of openings, including the new Timothy Hutton film, Turk 182!; the Studs Terkel-narrated Spanish Civil War documentary The Good Fight; Andrezj Wajada's A Love in Germany; and The Breakfast Club, the newest comedy by the hot team of writer/director John Hughes, (National Lampoon's Vacation) and actor Anthony Michael Hall (The Geek in Hughes' hilarious Sixteen Candles). Rob Reiner's new film, The Sure Thing, is set to open March 1. Alan Parker's new drama Birdy (adapted from William Wharton's disturbing novel) and Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas have been pushed back from their originally announced dates; both pictures should open by the end of February. All dates, of course, are subject to change, especially if business continues to be as strong over the next couple of weeks for Choose Me, Stop Making Sense, Carmen, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and other "little" pictures, all of which Washingtonians seem to love right now.
THE PAGES OF FILM HISTORY: Celebrities celebrating birthdays this date include Eva Le Gallienne, Mitchell Ryan, Lionel Stander and Rod Taylor. On this day 30 years ago Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly appeared in their first film together; the movie was Ziegfeld Follies, Astaire's 19th and Kelly's ninth.
Fifty-six years ago Saturday, Rin Tin Tin successfully negotiated the transition from silent to sound films with the release of Million Dollar Collar. Five years before that, on January 12, 1924, MGM executives attended the first and only screening of the nine-hour, 42- minute version of Eric von Stroheim's silent classic Greed; for general release, the film was cut to two hours, and the missing footage remains a Holy Grail to film buffs everywhere.
Martin Agronsky, Bill Burrud and Luise Rainer have Saturday birthdays. Rock and roll music got one of its first big-budget TV showcases when "Hullabaloo" premiered on ABC (are you ready for this?) 20 years ago Saturday.
Sunday's birthday roster includes Army Archerd, Gwen Verdon, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Billy Gray (Bud Anderson on "Father Knows Best"). Finally, it was 19 years ago Sunday that Adam West and Burt Ward swung into America's living rooms as the caped crusaders in TV's tongue-in-cheek "Batman." Pow! Biff! Sock!