Thursday, February 25, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 2

The French Film Festival open in Melbourne next week. In this post, I offer brief comments on five more films. My pick of them are the family-oriented films: OSS 177, Lost in Rio and First Snow.
  • OSS 117, Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117, Lost In Rio, Michel Hazanavicius, France, 2009)
  • Regrets (Les regrets, Cédric Kahn, France, 2009)
  • La journée de la jupe (Skirt Day, Jean-Paul Lilienfield, France/Belgium, 2009)
  • Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, Rémi Bezançon, 2008)
  • La première étoile (First Snow/The First Star, Lucien Jean-Baptiste, 2009)
OSS 117, Lost in Rio
Michel Hazanavicius has reprised the role of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, agent OSS 177, again played charismatically by Jean Dujardin. He is perfect for the role, a caricature of James Bond in much the same vein as Maxwell Smart or Austin Powers. He has an egotistical, overstated view of his capabilities and sexual prowess, yet always gets his man (and woman, as you'd expect). Dujardin's ability to effortlessly depict charm and incompetence with his handsome Connery-like looks are really what keeps this film going. His comic timing ain't bad either.

OSS 117, Lost in Rio uses every cliche in the book, but that's a given and hardly a criticism. It's set in the 1960s, the Connery era and so plays with the style of that time - the technology, cars, clothing and social changes. It's all a lot of playful fun without adding much to the first film in what I presume will grow to become an OSS 177 franchise like James Bond.

I note that like most films screening at the festival, OSS 177 has an MA festival classification. Theoretically, you could take an accompanied child and - if you don't have a problem with children being exposed to women's naked breasts - children should enjoy this. It's a good family film with good old-fashioned humour.

The first thing that occurred to me as I started watching this film is that not only does France seem to offer more opportunities for female directors to practice their craft (though this one is directed by the male of the species), but it also offers more opportunities to good actresses. But perhaps more importantly, French cinema seems to strong roles for women. Elsewhere in the world, particularly English-speaking countries, women - despite their obvious acting talents - are largely confined to support, side-kick, tokenistic and window-dressing-type roles. Jane Campion's films, including the recent Bright Star are rare exceptions. French cinema values and nurtures a style of film that gives rise to greater equality to the depiction of the sexes. Regrets is one such film.

Valeria Bruni Tedechi is a prolific actress, though unfortunately I've not seen much of her work. She seems a very credible and naturalistic actress and her performance in Regrets is strong and convincing. I know even less of Yvan Attal who in this film plays Mathieu, a Parisian architect crisis. His mother has suddenly fallen into a coma and he rushes to her provincial home to be by her side and her prognosis is not good. While in town, he chances across a college flame and they quickly fall into a passionate affair, despite both being married.

I had problems with the film, which possibly says more about me than it. I found the descent of this couple into crazy and unsustainable situations very disturbing. Mathieu in particular is depicted in a very clumsy manner. That's not a critique of the film or the story as the film accurately depicts how a person can totally lose it. I found him embarrassing and though there is nothing shocking on screen, it was at times as disturbing to me as any social-realist or violent film. I doubt others would find it so. I think Regrets will be well-received by the festival regulars, but it's not my thing.

Skirt Day
Watching this film, I was often reminded of Matt Ravier's comments about it being better suited to television. His suggestion that it might have bitten off more than it could chew intrigued me and, if anything, encouraged me to see it. I like risk, even if it's not completely successful.

I didn't find the film very successful at all.The acting is patchy and the story is improbable, though I presume intentionally so. It takes some topical French issues and rather than being didactic or social realist, it dresses them up in satire, black comedy and melodrama.

While the incompetence of Isabelle Adjani's character (a teacher) may seem implausible, I discussed this at some length with my partner (also a teacher in a school with a similarly difficult demographic) and the conclusion was that this level of incompetence certainly does exist. Some of the scenarios, however, are a little over-the-top, and that's where this film will make it or break it for you depending on your perception.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
This is a fairly run-of-the-mill French family drama/comedy and I suppose, if you're just out for a social evening and don't have a critical bent, you might enjoy it. For me, though, it has a lot of problems, most of which it brings upon itself. First, it's stretched over a number of years (1988 to 2000), inviting criticism of attention to detail. Hair styles don't match periods, characters don't age convincingly and it seems the point was just to play music of those times. I find the device all a bit tired, though maybe I'm taking the film too seriously.

Other problems push incredulity to the extreme, like a mother taking a minute to notice the smell of marijuana smoke in her child's room, or undressing in front of her doctor son. The film is overtly sentimental, and unfunny when it means to be There are staged contrivances that are designed to titillate an undemanding audience. It's obviously not my kind of film, but there's a market for it, and it may well do OK business.

First Snow
First Snow is not listed as a children's/family film, but it has a G-classification and is a good-hearted family film that children of most ages should enjoy. My 9-year old enjoyed it. Basically it's a fish-out-of-water comedy that plays on various stereotypes - a French-Carribean family take a holiday in the snow. The dad (played by first-time director Lucien Jean-Baptiste) is pretty much a loser. He's out of a job, gambles and is struggling to hold the family together. The three children's performances are quite enjoyable and I recommend this as a child's introduction to French cinema.

And from the festival, more information the visiting directors:

MEET THE DIRECTORS at the 2010 Alliance Française French Film Festival!

We are thrilled to announce that Directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Philippe Lioret and Jan Kounen will be in town to present selected sessions of their films during the Festival.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who wowed audiences with the spectacular Amelie, will introduce his hugely anticipated new comedy-thriller MICMACS on the Opening Night, 7pm Thursday 4 March, at Palace Cinema Como. Good seats still available!

Philippe Lioret will introduce the 6.45pm screening of the absorbing new drama WELCOME on Wednesday 17 March at Palace Cinema Como and Thursday 18 March at Palace Westgarth. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A.

Jan Kounen will introduce the 6.45pm screening of the opulent new drama COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY on Monday 29 March at Palace Cinema Como and on Tuesday 30 March at Palace Westgarth. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival opens on Thursday 4 March with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs and runs until Sunday 21 March at the Palace Como, Balwyn, Westgarth and Kino cinemas.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2009 - The Year in Review

I'm a bit late with my year in review, largely because of what the past year brought me. Most prominently, I had two close shaves with death. The first was a motorcycle accident in January. It didn't really affect my film-going, though I was home-bound for a week, during which time I couldn't watch any DVDs with sub-titles as my vision was impaired. While I walked out of hospital on the day and was back at work a week later, it would be another four months before I felt confident enough to commute by bicycle, which threw my health campaign behind significantly. My motorcycle was written off and replaced by insurance, though I used my motor scooter for a couple of months.

The second set-back was pneumonia, which I developed just after MIFF, and which I attribute to being run-down. The consequence of that is that there have been very few late nights, hardly any second films at Melbourne Cinémathèque (which normally finishes around 11pm or later) and less late-night blog entries. I bought a new laptop around the same time and I've had all sorts of problems with accessing files. At one stage I thought I'd lost a heap of valuable data, but it was a false scare, thankfully. I'm still not set up where I want to be, but it's do-able and I expect to be there soon.

2009 stats
Before I post my best-of lists, I thought I'd jot down some personal 2009 stats. During the year, I saw 269 films, of which 31 were DVDs, 75 were cinema releases, 97 were retrospective screenings and the rest (66) festival and other special season screenings. Only 88 of these screenings were attended with family or friends; the remaining 181 I watched alone.

Melbourne Cinématheque really is the year-round film festival and accounted for 52 of the films I saw, followed by 35 at MIFF, 11 at the French Film Festival, 9 at La Mirada, 8 for ACMI First Look screenings, 7 for ACMI Australian Perspectives screenings, 6 at the Spanish Film Festival, 4 at each of the ACMI Focus on Girls 247/ and the ACMI Focus on Hopper's America. Other ACMI Focus seasons accounted for another 7 films. Other festivals I attended included the German, Italian and Turkish (3 films each), Jewish, Israeli and Russian (1 each), and various others.

I saw 110 films at ACMI, 28 at Nova, 18 at the Forum (MIFF), 17 at the Kino, 15 at the Como, 14 at Hoyt's Melbourne Central, 11 at Greater Union (MIFF), 9 at the Sun and 16 other films across 7 other cinemas.

Repeat screenings
I saw two films more than once on the big screen: both Avatar and Inglourious Basterds I saw three times each.

Nominal countries of release
Many films are multi-national productions. My count is based on the primary or first-mentioned country. The top four countries remain pretty much the same as for the last five years: USA (72), France (47), Australia (38) and UK (16), followed by Italy (13), Spain (13), Japan (8), Germany (8, included West and East Germany), Poland (6), Sweden (6), with 50 films from another 25 countries (Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hong Kong, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and USSR). That's a total of 34 different countries, more or less my average of the last few years.


121 of the films I saw during the year were unclassified. Only 4 had an R-rating, a disappointingly low number and down from 8 the previous year. I suppose this reflects the lack of risk cinemas are taking, or the lack of interest from cinema-goers in risky films, depending on your perspective (and I tend to think that the exhibitors are responding to conservative market demand). 31 were MA, 74 M, 30 PG and 9 G.

Year of release
135 of the films I saw were released in 2008 or 2009 and another 21 from 2000 to 2007.
10 were from the 1990s, 15 from the 1980s, 32 from the 1970s, 33 from the 1960s, 11 from the 1950s, 7 from the 1940s, 4 from the 1920s and 1 from the 1910s.

It's interesting to reflect on the year past, to look over the long list of films seen and pick out the highlights. Each year there are so many special moments, so many special films, for so many different reasons. As usual, I've compiled various lists: cinema releases, festival screenings and retrospective screenings. I'll also list my worst films of the year and those I found over-rated. Voila !

Top 10 cinema releases
Special mention:Note that these are not in any particular order, except I'd nominate The Limits of Control as my no. 1, the next four listed as equal second and the rest pretty much tied. As with any list, it's subject to change and any one of a dozen or more films could have easily slipped into the bottom of the list. Most of my top 10 did something special. I'm very fond of Jarmusch's films, but this is the best of his I've seen. Some found it style over substance, though for me the style is the substance. Summer Hours is on the surface a bland French family drama, but sneaks under your skin in a subtle way, capturing emotions in a rare way. Most of what I considered flaws or shortcomings in my initial take of Inglourious Basterds seemed to evaporate on repeat viewings. This might come to be seen as Tarantino's masterpiece in years to come. Samson and Delilah is not just the best Australian film of the year, but the best since 2006's Em 4 Jay by Alkinos Tsilimidos. It's handling of indigenous culture and use of music and sound are simply sublime and unique. The Wrestler has such pathos that is so wound up in the real-life story of its lead and has an ending to die for.

The Hurt Locker is easily the best film of the recent Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, one that takes you on a first-person perspective - the seminal war film of the time. My words about The Wrestler are just as applicable to JCVD, which is basically a black comedy. Revolutionary Road cements in my mind Sam Mendes' insights into the complexity of human relationships, refusing to take the simplistic and populist views that prevail in society. And he does a damn fine job of depicting it on screen.

Top 10 festival screenings
  • En la ciudad de Sylvia (In the City of Sylvia, José Luis Guerín, Spain, 2007)
  • Das Weiße Band (The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, Austria, 2009)
  • Kynodontas (Dogtooth, Giorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2009)
  • Pandora'nin kutusu (Pandora's Box, Yesim Ustaoglu, Turkey/France/Belgium/Germany, 2008)
  • Julia (Erick Zonka, France/USA/Mexico/Belgium, 2008)
  • La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008)
  • La vie moderne (Modern Life, Raymond Depardon, France, 2008)
  • L'instinct de mort (Public Enemy Number One - Part One, Jean-François Richet, France/Canada/Italy, 2008)
  • L'ennemi public n°1 (Public Enemy Number One - Part Two, Jean-François Richet, France/Canada, 2008)
  • Palermo Shooting (Wim Wenders, Germany/France/Italy, 2008)
  • Sonbahar (Autumn, Özcan Alper, Turkey/Germany, 2008)
Again, no particular order, though I think I'd nominate Guerín's film as no.1. I missed it at La Mirada film festival but caught it at Melbourne Cinémathèque. The following three come second, followed by the remainder. I love the mystique of a Haneke film, the way he poses more questions than he answers. The White Ribbon was my MIFF favourite. It leaves you thinking about the story and who did or didn't do what for hours or days after. Two films from the Turkish Film Festival made my list and, from memory, there were only eight films programmed. This is a festival to watch out for. Palermo Shooting was poorly received by most, but it resonated with me because of it's handling of the subject of death. I connected not just with the theme, but exposition of the nature of death (personified by the always great Dennis Hopper).

Top 10 new discoveries of old films
  • Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1957)
  • Léon Morin, prêtre (Leon Morin, Priest, Jean-Pierre Melville, France, 1961)
  • Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963)
  • Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo From 5 to 7, Agnès Varda, France/Italy, 1962)
  • Le feu follet (Louis Malle, France, 1963)
  • Au revoir, les enfants (Goodbye, Children, Louis Malle, France/West Germany, 1987)
  • Overlord (Stuart Cooper, UK, 1975)
  • Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle, France/West Germany/Italy, 1974)
  • Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, USA, 1970)
  • À bientôt, j'espère (Be Seeing You, Chris Marker, Mario Marret, France, 1968)

Special mention:
  • Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Jeanne Dielman, Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 1975)
  • En construcción (Work in Progress, José Luis Guerín, Spain, 2001)
  • Wanda (Barbara Loden, Barbara Loden, USA, 1970)
  • Sonnensucher (Sun Seekers, Konrad Wolf, East Germany, 1972)
  • Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, Australia/USA, 1971)
The top five above are all sublime masterpieces. The Seventh Seal has haunted me since I saw it shortly after my motorcycle accident. I completely related to Von Sydow's character being stalked by Death. Both Bergman and Malle featured heavily in this list. Malle I discovered for the first time at Melbourne Cinémathèque whereas my appreciation for Bergman has been a slow distillation process. His The Silence almost made the list, a film that left me nonplussed at MIFF a couple of years ago. With each successive Bergman film I've seen, my respect for him and his insights has snowballed, so that when I revisit one of them, I see it with new eyes.

The second five are also brilliant, but I place them just behind the others. But really, with Cinémathèque, there are so many gems to discover from the history of cinema, and this section of the films I see is definitely the strongest.

Top Australian films
My favourite local films were:
  • Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009)
  • Mao's Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford, Australia, 2009)
  • Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, Australia, 2009)
  • Last Ride (Glendyn Ivin, Australia, 2009)
  • The Combination (David Field, Australia, 2009)
I won't include Three Blind Mice. Though it was released in 2009, I saw it in 2008 and it was my favourite Australian film that year. A special mention to the Warwick Thornton shorts that screened at the Nova, namely Green Bush (26", 2004), Payback (10", 1996), Mimi (13", 2002) and Nana (6", 2007). Green Bush is my pick of them. While Samson and Delilah revealed Thornton as a hot new talent, these shorts demonstrated that his talent has been brewing for quite some time, awaiting the recognition that culminated in Samson and Delilah
winning the Un certain regarde prize at Cannes and multiple AFI awards.

Worst films of the year
  • My Life in Ruins (Donald Petrie, USA/Spain, 2009)
  • Dying Breed (Jody Dwyer, Australia, 2008)
  • Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, UK/Australia/USA, 2009)
  • The Spirit (Frank Miller, USA, 2008)
  • Caos calmo (Quiet Chaos, Antonio Luigi Grimaldi, Italy/UK, 2008)
  • Rudi y Cursi (Rudi and Cursi, Carlos Cuarón, Mexico/USA, 2008)
  • Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, Australia, 2008)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a pretty dumb comedy but funny, because its depictions are based on a reality that those of us who have anything to do with our respective Greek communities will recognise. In my case, the male protagonist mirrored my experience, right down to being vegetarian and I could relate to every scenario. But My Life in Ruins is just a disaster. The writing is poor, the characterisations trite and I found nothing to laugh at, at all. Dying Breed is schlock horror but I found it putrid and it was the first film in quite some time I walked out of half way. Sherlock Holmes? That's not Sherlock Holmes, but rather just another bland action hero film by a mediocre action film-maker.

There must be a strong market for mediocre Italian family drama in this country. And you'd think that's all Italy produces, going by what is distributed locally. I could have walked out of the ridiculously manipulative Quiet Chaos at any time from the five minute mark. Puerile shite.

You'd think the same duo who starred together in one of my favourite Mexican films, by the director of that film, would come up with something a bit better than this. Just because a character is stupid doesn't mean the screenplay should be. With Rudi and Cursi, it is.

Most over-rated films of the year
  • Elegy (Isabel Coixet, USA, 2008)
  • Two Lovers (James Gray, USA, 2008)
  • Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2009)
I suppose this last list is contentious, because I'm defying the general trend. Each of these films was lauded but I was completely underwhelmed by them. In fact, Elegy I hated (read my review if you want to know why). Two Lovers simply did nothing for me and I couldn't buy into the story. Fish Tank seemed too derivative for me, a clone of Ken Loach in a genre that even he seems tired of - mind you, I'm kinda over Ken Loach, especially after his MIFF grandstanding.

So, how do I see the year overall? I don't know, it just was. I find it hard to compare one year with another, but looking at my 2008 year in review, I'll give it a try. Good theatrical releases are always the thinnest part of my cinema experience. Overall, 2009 seemed comparable to 2008 in this regard, though my top films in 2008 (Paranoid Park, Transylvania and The Edge of Heaven) were a lot less mainstream than this year's (The Limits of Control, Summer Hours and Inglourious Basterds). Last year, 3 of my top 10 were English-language films compared to 8 this year (or 7 if you exclude Samson and Delilah).

The overall quality of festival screenings seems a little down on 2008 also, by my estimation. 2009 has only a couple of real stand-outs compared to about 6 in 2008. However, the retrospective screenings look much stronger. Even though I missed many Cinémathèque screenings, the number of stand-outs for me roughly doubled compared to 2008.

This kind of talk is somewhat irrelevant. One meal is better than another, but overall as long as we're nourished, does it matter? What's important to me is the exposure to different cultural and artistic experiences, diversity and challenge. I can't really conclude that one year was better than another; overall I'm happy with what I saw. There was a large number of films that did little for me and the challenge for me in 2010 is to be more discriminating and to try to avoid films that are 'just OK'. Let's see what the year brings.

A question re: blog spam

I have a question, mostly directed at fellow bloggers - how do you deal with blog spammers? A year ago, it was virtually non-existent for me but has recently increased to a rate of 2-3 a day. I've added comment moderation for older posts, and this is capturing 90% or more but I suspect that one or more of my so-called followers is using the 'Follow' feature to spam new posts.

The whole point of this kind of spam is to have as many links to their bullshit site so that when Google's web-crawlers come looking for new links, their site rankings are raised in a Google search. If you're a spammer, it's unlikely you're reading this but, if by chance you do, you're wasting your time as I remove it promptly. Do yourself a favour and (1) get a fucking life and (2) earn an honest living, scumbag.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

French Film Festival 2010

The Alliance Française French Film Festival 2010 is once again approaching and I must say the line-up this year looks impressive, perhaps the best I've seen. The last couple of years or so I've seen about a dozen films each festival but this year, even on first glance, I identified 8 films I want to see just by director alone. Names like Tony Gatlif, Claire Denis, Christophe Honoré, Robert Guédiguian and others - some of my favourite French directors. And the French Film Festival - my favourite outside of MIFF - always has lots of hidden gems to be discovered from emerging directors. This year I'm hoping to see 16 or more of the 42 films on offer, and that's weeding out most of the comedies and mainstream family dramas.

Three of these are reviewed below, with more to come between now and the festival's opening on 4 March. Matt Ravier's festival preview is also essential reading - he's reviewed and recommended a number of films.

As I've written before, I'm a big fan of French cinema (selectively, of course), and this was behind my decision to take up the French language a couple of years ago. Perchance, I took lessons with Alliance Française, though I must say with family, work, life, etc, I feel it's a struggle. I really must get to France to learn it seriously - that's my wish.

While we might find pre-screening sponsor advertisements annoyingly repetitious, my involvement as a committee member of Melbourne Cinémathèque has made me appreciate how important sponsorship is to programming and other elements of a festival. Patrice Pauc, the Melbourne director of Alliance Française, yesterday mentioned that thanks to the financial support of Unifrance, there will be a number of visiting directors attending the festival. Three are confirmed so far: Philippe Lioret (Welcome), Jan Kounen (Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Micmacs). I'm not sure what Q&A sessions will be held, but I'm told by Patrice that Jeunet will be giving a masterclass at the VCA during his visit.

These are the titles that are at the top of my list - I plan not to miss any of these:
  1. Korkoro (Liberté !, Tony Gatlif, 2009)
  2. White Material (Claire Denis, 2010)
  3. Making Plans For Lena (Non ma fille tu n’iras pas danser, Christophe Honoré, 2009)
  4. The Army Of Crime (L’armée du crime, Robert Guédiguian, 2009)
  5. Wild Grass (Les herbes folles, Alain Resnais, 2009)
  6. Micmacs (Micmacs à Tire-Larigot, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 209)
  7. Bellamy (Claude Chabrol, 2009)
  8. Welcome (Philippe Lioret, 2009)
Gatlif's cinematic celebrations of the Romany culture has always resonated with me, culminating in his previous film, Transylvania, my equal favourite film of 2008. His latest film, Korkoro, is "an historical drama based on real-life stories of gypsies rounded up in the German-occupied
France of 1943." This is top of my list. Denis' White Material is not far behind. After the great Kieslowski's Three Colours: Blue, her Beau travail is my favourite French film. It leaves me breathless and I have a lot of her earlier films to catch up on. Meanwhile, I make it a point to catch all her new ones.

Honoré's Ma mère blew me out of the water, one of the most powerful transgressive films I've seen. While his more recent films haven't affected me in the same way (but, it should be said, did they try to), I'll see anything by him. Guédiguian is a director whose social themes really resonate with me, and I love the way he's used the same crew for decades. I love Jeunet, in spite of his unapologetically populist films. They're quirky, dark, affectionate and they move me.

François Ozon is another of my favourite French directors. His latest film, Ricky, is screening everywhere except Melbourne, because it has an exclusive season at ACMI from 25 February to 10 March.

All these look worth seeing - I plan to see as many of these as possible:
  1. Anything For Her (Pour elle, Fred Cavayé, 2008)
  2. Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Jan Kounen, 2009)
  3. Gainsbourg : Je t'aime… moi non plus (Gainsbourg (vie héroïque), Joann Sfar, 2010)
  4. I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive (Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante, Claude Miller & Nathan Miller, 2009)
  5. In The Beginning (À l’origine, Xavier Giannoli, 2009)
  6. Regrets (Les regrets, Cédric Kahn, 2009)
  7. Skirt Day (La journée de la jupe, Jean-Paul Lilienfield, 2009)
  8. OSS 117, Lost In Rio (OSS 117, Rio ne répond plus, Michel Hazanavicius, 2009)
Some of these are on my list due to Matt Ravier's recommendations. OSS 117 is a [not-so-] guilty pleasure - I loved the previous film's James Bond/Maxwell Smart spoof. French comedies generally don't appeal to me, but the earlier film was a blast. I'm Glad My Mother is Alive is a film I want to see simply because it was produced by Jacques Audiard. His earlier films have impressed me, none so much as his just-released A Prophet. If you haven't see it, do it - you'll be lucky to see another French film as good and strong as this and, had I seen it a few weeks ago, it would have made my top 10 of 2009 (which I have yet to post).

If, like me, you try to focus on films that aren't getting a cinema release, for your information, these are the films getting a commercial release:
  • Micmacs - 1 Apr
  • Welcome - 1 Apr
  • Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky - 15 Apr
  • The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life - 6 May
  • Leaving - 20 May
  • The Hedgehog - 3 Jun
  • Mademoiselle Chambon - 2010
  • Wild Grass - 2010
  • Gainsbourg - Sep 2010
  • Father Of My Children - TBC
And these are the films I've already seen (notice they're all by women):
  • Every Jack Has a Jill (Jusqu’à toi, Jennifer Devoldère, Canada/France, 2009)
  • Queen To Play (Joueuse, Caroline Bottaro, France/Germany, 2009)
  • Father Of My Children (Le père de mes enfants, Mia Hansen-Løve, Germany/France, 2009)
Every Jack Has A Jill
OK, I admit it. Since Inglourious Basterds, I have an obsession with the talented Mélanie Laurent (Shoshanna) and Every Jack Has a Jill is a guilty pleasure. There's something about Laurent's face, her ability to convey conflicting emotions, exuding both unconventional beauty and intelligence. I found that so with her role in Don't Worry, I'm Fine, directed by Philippe Lioret, whose Welcome is also screening at this year's festival.

Every Jack Has a Jill (gee, I hate some of these English translations, which have nothing in common with their original titles) is a romantic comedy, not a genre I normally have much affection for. But it does have a lot going for it, if you're prepared to suspend some of your critical faculties and go along for the ride. Which of course you should if you're going to see this genre of film. It's certainly not the style of film that Emmanuel Mouret makes (oh how I hated Change of Address and Shall We Kiss?). Rather, it's more in the style of L'appartement (Gilles Mimouni, 1996), a kind of romantic thriller.

Director Jennifer Devoldère has crafted an impressive debut, though not quite as strong as Mimouni's film. It looks great with it's use of naturalistic colours and lighting, subtly stylised with muted blues and greys and strategic placement of brilliant reds. There is a number of path-crossing like L'appartement (and a shot straight out of Fight Club) with a sense of inevitability like Sleepless in Seattle. And like that American film, this story concerns two long-distance potential lovers. One an American, the other a Parisian. Their shared idiosyncrasies, personality types and circumstances pull them into close proximity but as fate would have it, not close enough.

The film is every bit as contrived as Sleepless in Seattle (another guilty pleasure) and that's part of the enjoyment. This is a good date flick, a fun film - at times downright silly - but I enjoyed it most for Mélanie Laurent. As an aside, you may recognise the hotel receptionist as the Algerian Majid, who comes to an abrupt and bloody end in Michael Haneke's Caché.

Queen to Play
The best thing about the rather ordinary 1995 romantic comedy French Kiss was Kevin Kline's sleazy Frenchman alongside Meg Ryan. In Queen to Play, Kline plays a role like nothing else you've seen. It's completely serious, quiet and understated - and all in French. He looks great and is well-cast as a widowed Doctor Kröger on the island of Corsica.

Sandrine Bonnaire plays Hélène, a hotel chamber maid who develops an interest in chess. She is tutored by Kröger, whose house she also cleans. Hélène's life is routine and a struggle both financially and emotionally. Her progress in chess is a metaphor for her journey as she seeks personal fulfillment.

In Australia, we have Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong but few other female directors who tell universal stories of substance. France seems to have more opportunity for women directors, or at least, there are more who take up that option. Queen to Play very much has a woman's touch, but it's no chick-flick. It's a human drama by director Caroline Bottaro, and it's an impressive debut.

The film looks beautiful with the unique Corsican landscape as a backdrop. The lighting is naturalistic with lots of muted blues and greens. The performances are strong - Bonnaire is always good value - though sometimes the story is less than subtle (a minor criticism, really). The film will no doubt be very popular among the mainstream Palace crowd, and I also found it quiety satisfying. And - despite the fe

Father Of My Children
Father of My Children is the second feature by talented Mia Hansen-Løve, which won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes last year and the French Lumiere award for best screenplay this year. Inspired by the story of Humbert Balsan, an independent film producer, the film is both a touching and insightful family drama as well as an ode to the role of producer in the making of films.

The film does very well what I love about French cinema and what I feel makes it unique (at least the arthouse films). It doesn't have a conventional linear narrative (though events are certainly depicted in a linear manner). It doesn't necessarily have a point to make, nor are all matters raised reconciled, leaving many loose ends - which leaves much to the imagination, a wonderful thing in my book.

I don't want to give much of the narrative away (not that I usually do) because much of the joy is to not know where the film is going. In this respect, the film has an almost thriller element to it (though it is no way a thriller). It has much in common with L'heure d'été (Summer Hours) in that it's a quiet meandering film, with a story that doesn't seem to go anywhere in particular, yet in its course, it says much. Incidentally, Alice de Lencquesaing plays the teenage daughter in both films and may be the real-life daughter of Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, who plays her father in this film (both pictured above). The performances of the leads in this film are just spot on, and the three children are all delights. Father of My Children has more to say about the film industry than family, but these two elements are skillfully interwoven to produce a story that is immensely satisfying, in a way that only the French seem to be able to pull off. Viva les françaises !

The Alliance Française French Film Festival opens on Thursday 4 March with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs and runs until Sunday 21 March at the Palace Como, Balwyn, Westgarth and Kino cinemas.

Links: Official Website / Palace Cinemas / Last Night With Rievera Preview