Sunday, March 21, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 12 (I'm Glad My Mother is Alive)

Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante (I'm Glad My Mother is Alive, Claude Miller & Nathan Miller, France, 2009)
My last film of the French Film Festival was a disappointment. It's not a bad film, but not a good one either. I was surprised at the size of the audience at the Como - it was nearly full - given the film is reasonably serious and certainly not of the mainstream populist variety that normally pulls in the big numbers.

The film announces at the start that it's "based on a true story" and I made a mention to the missus that that's always a concern. It's sometimes an indication that the film-maker is going to attempt to pull a swifty on the audience and get away with things because, after all, it's a true story. And so it came to pass, at least partly.

An adopted boy cannot find peace with his adoptive family, because of the rejection he feels. He needs some kind of resolution and seeks out his birth mother. What eventually transpires is quite a jolt, because nothing preceding it prepares one. This climax, if you will, is perhaps the best moment of the film but doesn't save the rest of it from mediocrity. Not an overwhelming mediocrity, but a pervading sense that the story's potential is not being realised. It's not helped by the very dull cinematography, which I presume is the result of a cheap transfer from digital camera to 35mm film (not that I profess any expertise in these technical elements).

The performances are generally OK. The problem is that the screenplay is a bit flat and the direction is certainly not inspirational. The whole film seems like it's made for TV and would probably do better in that format, perhaps screened over consecutive nights on the small screen.

After the screening, I bumped into first Peter Krausz, chair of the Australian Film Critics Association. I think Peter and I are two of the most dedicated to promoting world cinema in Melbourne through our respective media. I shared with him my opinion that this year's festival has the best programming ever, to which he agreed.

Shortly after, Patrice Pauc, director of Alliance Française stopped by and I put this to him. I was wondering if it was just a coincidence, due to the availability of titles from many renowned directors, or whether it was a concerted effort by AF to broaden the appeal of the festival beyond cinéma populaire to cinéma d'auteur. Patrice mentioned that, among other things, it's largely due to the maturing of the relationships that the festival programmers (primarily in Sydney) have established with the French distributors. All-in-all, I had a wonderful time with this year's festival and hope to see the quality of the programming continue for the following years.

I saw 22 films at the festival this year, exactly double the number of the previous two years. My quick reference guide gives my opinions at a glance of each of the films I've seen. In short, there are two must-sees: Robert Guédiguian's The Army of Crime and Mia Hansen-Love's Father of My Children. These are both definitely worth hunting down. The number of highly recommended films is quite awesome - seven, no less - and includes proven and veteran film directors such as Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Tony Gatlif, Christophe Honoré, Claire Denis, François Ozon and Denis Dercourt. That makes nine top quality films in just over two weeks - not bad going at all.

Of the remaining films I saw, I count one as good (Queen to Play) and six as good fun (mostly children's films and comedies). There's six I'd have been quite happy not to have seen at all: three that are OK but flawed and three that I downright didn't like at all. I actually hated Anything for Her and In the Beginning. So that makes 16 out of 22 films that I was happy with, a much better success rate than I've had at MIFF in recent years.

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