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
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):
- Anna M. (Michel Spinosa)
- The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge, Albert Lamorisse) + White Mane (Crin-Blanc, Albert Lamorisse)
- The Secret of the Grain (La graine et le mulet, Abdellatif Kechiche) 
- Love Songs (Les chansons d'amour, Christophe Honoré)
- After Him (Après lui, Gaël Morel)
- To Each His Own Cinema (Chacun son cinéma, Various) 
- Gotta Dance! (Faut que ça danse !, Noémie Lvovsky)
- Waiting For Someone (J'attends quelqu'un, Jérôme Bonnell)
- The Flight of the Red Balloon (La voyage du ballon rouge, Hou Hsiao Hsien) 
- Water Lilies (Naissance des pieuvres, Céline Sciamma)
- The Year After (L'année suivante, Isabelle Czajka)
 To be released by Palace Films on 20/3/08. I’ve seen this, loved it and a review is coming.
 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.
 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)
, date unconfirmed Rialto
- 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