Tuesday, March 04, 2008

French Film Festival Preview

The French Film Festival is a strange beast. Outside of the Melbourne International Film Festival, it is easily the most popular local film festival. I find it amazing to see how crowded the Como cinema (my preferred venue) can get, and not just on a Saturday evening – for that you really have to book ahead. And that’s despite charging heft ticket prices ($16.50, plus another $1.00 per ticket if you book online).

Mathieu Ravier of Last Night With Riviera has already documented some of my criticisms of the festival, though he seems more passionate about some of the festival’s shortcomings than I. Mathieu’s main complaint is that in spite of paying top dollar for tickets, there is little or no non-film events that one expects of a cultural or regional film festival.

I decided soon after last year’s festival to take up French language classes at Alliance Française. I was at AF Melbourne for my class last week and I raised some of Mathieu’s and my concerns with Patrice Pauc, the new Chief Executive Officer of AF Melbourne. I had met Patrice a couple of days earlier at the media screening preview for the festival. Patrice acknowledged the points I raised and said he will look into what can be done for next year. The festival is curated from AF in Sydney, so we’ll see if anything changes.

This year there’s a large line-up of films: 37 films (2 of those are shorts), which represents a significant increase on last year’s line-up of 25. Of last year’s 25, 11 had distribution deals lined up prior, whereas as far as I can ascertain, only 9 of this year’s are slated for a cinema release. And check out these stats: last year, 13 were marketed as comedies compared with 7 for this year.

I mention these stats because from my perspective, the comedies and commercially released films are nearly always middle-of-the-road (i.e., puerile, boring, formulaic, etc) films that cater to the Toorak toffs who have little appreciation for film per se and seem to regard the festival as simply a social outing to be seen at. They are also the worst audiences I have ever encountered, chatting ceaselessly during films (especially middle-aged to elderly women) – “Ooooh, Daniel Auteuil! I love Daniel Auteuil!” They drive me crazy.

So, at a glance, the mix of films this year looks a bit more balanced towards French films of a more serious nature, which is as it should be. A French film festival should be a cultural event that showcases the best the country can offer, especially films that would not be otherwise accessible to local audiences, and not just commercial films that are getting a cinema release anyway.

I love French cinema more than any other country’s output and yet last year 6 out of my worst 10 films of 2007 were French. The French Film Festival requires a bit of navigation to unearth the gems and avoid the ‘crowd-pleasers’. I spent a bit of time doing my research (and special thanks to Mathieu for his input). If you share my taste in the more gritty French fare, you may wish to take advantage of my recommendations (in approximately descending order):

  1. Anna M. (Michel Spinosa)
  2. The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge, Albert Lamorisse) + White Mane (Crin-Blanc, Albert Lamorisse)
  3. The Secret of the Grain (La graine et le mulet, Abdellatif Kechiche) [1]
  4. Love Songs (Les chansons d'amour, Christophe Honoré)
  5. After Him (Après lui, Gaël Morel)
  6. To Each His Own Cinema (Chacun son cinéma, Various) [2]
  7. Gotta Dance! (Faut que ça danse !, Noémie Lvovsky)
  8. Waiting For Someone (J'attends quelqu'un, Jérôme Bonnell)
  9. The Flight of the Red Balloon (La voyage du ballon rouge, Hou Hsiao Hsien) [3]
  10. Water Lilies (Naissance des pieuvres, Céline Sciamma)
  11. The Year After (L'année suivante, Isabelle Czajka)

[1] To be released by Palace Films on 20/3/08. I’ve seen this, loved it and a review is coming.
[2] To be released by Madman, but most likely straight to DVD, date unconfirmed. I’ve seen this twice, loved it and a review is coming.
[3] To be released by Madman on 3/4/08.

I’m also planning to see Azur and Azmar.

For your information, the other films with a confirmed distribution are:

  • The Age of Man (L'âge d'homme... maintenant ou jamais !, Raphael Fejtö) Hopscotch, date unconfirmed
  • Chrysalis (Julien Leclercq) Rialto, date unconfirmed
  • The Dinner Guest (L'invité, Laurent Bouhnik) Dendy/Sharmill, 20/3/08
  • Molière (Laurent Tirard) Hopscotch, 24/4/08
  • A Secret (Un secret, Claude Miller) Dendy, 24/4/08
  • Paris (Cédric Klapisch) Icon, 17/4/08

The French Film Festival opens in Melbourne tomorrow night at the Como with Paris and continues until Wed. 19 March. It is also touring Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth. Check the official website for further details. Also check out the festival preview post on Last Night With Riviera.


HarryTuttle said...

I've seen only 7 on this list... And you've selected everything I would recommend already.

In this order for me:
-Le Ballon Rouge / THE RED BALLOON
-Crin Blanc / WHITE MANE
-Chacun Son Cinema / TO EACH HIS OWN CINEMA
-La Graine et Le Mulet / THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN
-La Naissance des Pieuvres / WATER LILIES
-Les Chansons d'Amour / LOVE SONGS
-J'attends Quelqu'un / WAITING FOR SOMEONE

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for dropping by, Harry. I've only seen the two I mentioned and look forward to seeing the others. It's good to have another opinion; hopefully I'll enjoy the others I'm planning to see (12 is a lot in 2 weeks when you work full-time).

Matt Riviera said...

It's just been announced that Catherine Deneuve will make the trip to Australia, so the FFF may be doing something right after all!

John B said...

Hi Paul as a big fan of all the Palace Film festival I'm always at my most cautious with the French. This year I've found a website with lots of trailers www.allocine.fr and there is also mymovies.it which has some of the French movies and also some of the Italian ones for that festival.

Normally each year I'd go to perhaps 5 of 6 at the FFF and most years find one gem. This year we saw Love Songs first which to be honest was extremely disappointing and truly a waste of the actors and their talents in this case. And has one of the ugliest naked male backsides it's ever been my misfortune to see. The Menage a Trois is a little misleading as this is more a film about loss. Poor old Ludvine Saginier so stunning in the 2003 film Swimming Pool has bags under her eyes in Love Songs that would befit a woman twice her age.

From the trailers on allocine I picked out my festival favourite Odette Tourlemonde and saw this at Westgarth yesterday. It's a romantic comedy with Catherine Frot just perfect in the lead role.
This film as the festival booklet states is a "joy". I don't think I'll bother trying a 3rd FFF film although some of them will get a commerical release.

I can only hope that someone in France having done Piaf in La Vie en Rose will soon tackle a real French singing star, Yvonne Printemps. Frot who is 52 could do this with her little finger. In Odette she is miming Josephine Baker, has a backside with moves when dancing that would make an African American applaud. The big question is how did I miss Frot for so long. Time to seek out the Pageturner and Les Soeurs fâchées where she played what looks to be similar role against Isabelle Huppert.

John B

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the links, John, though as I've seen nearly everything I intend to, I can't utilise them for this festival. I've seen 11, and two have been excellent (Azur and Asmar, and The Year After).

John B said...

Paul no problems I hope they may assist you in the future. 11 films... you are a trouper! Some festivals I might have approached this dragging my poor suffering wife along. Not sure if it has been different this year with 3 Melbourne venues as both films I saw (Love Songs & Odette Toulemonde) the cinemas were about 40% full.

Other festivals (German and Greek for example) with less screens you have to book ahead more and commit to sessions earlier. QUite a few times the cinema's been packed or sold out.

I'm going to try and stick with my current formula of trying to narrow down and only see movies I stand a chance of enjoying.

The gems are what make all this worthwhile!

Paul Martin said...

John, most of the sessions I went to were heavily booked, and that was avoiding peak times. I must say, that in spite of the additional cost ($1/ticket), I like Palace's online booking system, that enables you to select your own seats. I think that is really smart use of technology that could be used more widely.

From my experience, the French Film Festival is the most popular of all the regional festivals, especially at the Como, but also at Westgarth and Balwyn. I prefer the Como, but I got to the other venues at least twice each, and they were all doing good business. It's interesting to note the difference in the clientele at each venue. Balwyn has an aging middle-class demographic, quite staid/conservative. Como has the Toorak bitches (and I called two of them just that to their faces), self-absorbed, Liberal-voting, blond big-hair, lots-o'-jewels and fancy handbag types who have little interest in film, but like to be seen at the festival. And talk al through the bloody films. Fortunately, I avoid the light middle of the road comedies they usually go to (and think themselves so sophisticated for attending a foreign language film).

Of the 11 I saw, it was more than 2 gems: I also got to see The Red Balloon (1956) on the big screen, and there was about 2-4 other good films, so all-in-all, it wasn't too bad. Check out my other posts on the festival.

John B said...

Hi Paul agree with you totally on pre-booking and especiallly the seat allocation. For us row M at the Westgarth in downstairs Cinema 3 is preferred, similarly rows L, M and N at the big Cinema 3 at Balwyn.. I've hardly ever been to the upstairs ones at Westgarth where Cinema 3 is a gem, probably even better than the Rivoil. But when are they going to give the poor old girl a coat of paint outside. Como is a haul for us but if the right movie in on, that's no problem. Balwyn we'd normally go to most.

I confess to liking most the French romantic (comedies) in brackets. But of course the French can go stupid at time like the Flying Peugot 406 in Taxi.

But normally I'm not a big fan of Depardieu, Autiel, all those stupid Dinner Game type movies or even indeed the opening night films at most of the Palace festivals. It's the small gems I'm after. But the best of the french (or is it the ones you like) are well worth the trip.

For true panache I'm a big fan of the Classic Elsternwick and the Vodka Bar next door (great food).
SOme of their preview screenings they go the extra mile. Also like the Dendy Brighton. That's miles from home. But when is distance an issue when going to the pics!

Regards John

Paul Martin said...

John, the furthest I have travelled is across the Westgate Bridge and all the way to Karingal for a mini film festival at the cinemaplex. This was two years ago, and I was between jobs.

I saw Grizzly Man, Masai and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (well ahead of its release). I'll go any distance (within reason) to see a good film, if it's not showing elsewhere. Masai never got a release, and I think Grizzly Man may have had limited screenings the previous year.

The French films I like most are the ones that generally are shunned by audiences. I don't mind a crowd-pleaser if it's well done, but it's not what I look for in French cinema.

John B said...

Similar here Paul. Used to be a big Rivoli Camberwell fan but the parking is difficult and perhaps the movies there are not quite so much my taste anymore. And the Balwyn is closer although I miss the little cafe a few doors up that changed it's name and staff a year back. Otherwise will make the trip to the Sun Yarraville from time to time (love the bookshop next to the foyer), love the Classic, Dendy Brighton, Bay St Palace, Westgarth is close and the foyer has a buzz. The Cameo Belgrave is another cinema to admire and out that way the Knox City complex is pretty good for a multiplex.

Perhaps I'm a snob but cannot bring myself to go to any of the tilt slab suburban multiplexes like Northland or Greensborough.

Card carrying member of Palace, Carlton Nova, Village EMC, Classic and even the Royal at Ballarat which is very impressive in the foyer and box office. If one were to live in Ballarat getting your movie fix would be easy at the Royal.

ACMI I find problematic. But perhaps it's a question of approach. We recently had tickets to a special Melb screening of "All My Friends are leaving Brisbane" an excellent movie that shoud get a national and international relese IMHO. There's some 4 hour meters down next to the Fitzroy Gardens which appears to overcome the parking issue if you drive in on say a Sat or Sun afternoon. Movie tickets happy to pay for. Commercial parking no way. Although the missus has been known to pay $2.20 to park across the road from the Balwyn in the old servo there. Como we normally have some luck in Chapel St or up a back street on the weekends before 6pm.

So for us it's about what else is around the cinema, food wise, the feel and vibe of the cinema and of course what's playing.

I think the serious cineophile could indeed in the ideal world buy a house considering it's proximty to his favourite cinema.
If that were the case I'd be looking at something within 5 or 10mins of the Classic Elsternwick.

Paul Martin said...

I don't usually have parking problems, as I ride a motorbike. I park just out the front, be it the Rivoli (where I was yesterday), ACMI (my most frequented cinema) or anywhere.

My favourite cinema is the Kino, for a number of reasons. I like the seating, the cinema layout (esp. cinemas 1 & 2), the programming (usually), the customer service, amenity, pricing, competitions and club benefits. In most of those areas, I consider them no. 1 in Melbourne. And you get 2 hours free parking if you bring a car, and only $2/hour after that.

When I drive a car to ACMI, we park across the road; it's about $8-$10 (I can't remember, I don't use it much). But as an ACMI member, I usually only pay $10 for a ticket, so if there's two of us, it's $30 to park and see a film, which is fine. I saw about 140 films at ACMI last year, nearly half of all the films I saw. ACMI definitely has the best programming overall, but of course, those generally aren't cinema releases (except when screening a preview, like Paranoid Park recently).

I get to the Classic from time to time. I used to live one block from it, and walk past it to go to school. I also used to play hockey with Eddie, the previous owner of it, and current owner of the Cameo.

Editor said...

Read a review of 'Waiting for Someone' by Jérôme Bonnell here: http://www.focusonlinemagazine.com/iWeb/FOM/FOM%20/717AC7FE-6BA0-4C2B-BE9E-97B9585A40EB.html at FocusOnlineMagazine.com.

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