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


Nicolas Whatson (Palace Films) said...

Hey Paul,

Very glad to hear you liked FATHER OF MY CHILDREN - it's one close to our hearts. But it most definitely is not releasing April 1 - that's when we release WELCOME. A decision will be made as to whether a theatrical release for FOMC is pursued after the festival, where we get the chance to gauge audience and critical interest/response.


Paul Martin said...

Thanks Nicolas. I just received an email from Ned & Co correcting the mistake.