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Features/Film

French Film Festival: vive la difference!

4 March 2022

While English-language cinema has narrowed down to blockbusters, horror flicks and off-beat art movies, French cinema continues to capture the full spectrum of human experience. Mark Naglazas previews this year’s French Film Festival.

It’s one of the most enduring cliches in world cinema – that French cinema are only about bored bourgeois couples in restaurants and cafes battling to overcome l’ennui to talk, talk, talk about art, literature and their latest illicit love affair. However, if you examine any single year at the movies in France you will discover a diversity of subject matter unmatched in world cinema.

That richness can be traced to France’s astounding film-making tradition (rivalled only by the United States), an audience with a voracious appetite for homegrown product (French movies routinely draw more than Hollywood imports), a tax system that ensures a constant flow of money into the local screen industry and a cultural awareness that means French films look like France itself.

Take a cursory glance at the program for this year’s Alliance Francaise French Film Festival and we get comedies both broad and subtle, with Jean Dujardin’s latest outing as the moronic James Bond-like superspy OSS 117, From Africa With Love, sure to draw an audience; we get period dramas such as Lost Illusions, Xavier Giannoli’s Cesar-winning adaptation of Balzac’s novel about a young poet trying to make it in the shark tank that is Parisian salon society that, on all reports, speaks powerfully to the present moment; there are romantic-comedies like Anais in Love, about a young woman who falls for a married man but quickly moves on to the wife; there’s the futuristic thriller Paul W.R.’s Last Journey, which has been described as a mash-up of Blade Runner and Mad Max, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Don’t Look Up!; a biopic, Authentik, the story of the hip-hop duo Supreme NTM; and a legal thriller in the mould of Steve Zaillian’s A Civil Action, Goliath.

The diversity of French cinema is underscored by the ages of the filmmakers and actors. While it is rare to see an Australian film made by a director over the age of 60 cinema this year’s French Film Festival features new work by Robert Guédiguian (68), Jacques Audiard (69), Patrice Leconte (74) and Claire Denis (75) plus an array of stars well into their autumn years, such as Vincent Lindon (62), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (68), Gerard Depardieu (73), Pierre Arditi (78) and, of course, the great Catherine Deneuve (78).

Jean Dujardin is a superspy in the French comedy ‘OSS 117 From Africa With Love’. Photo supplied

My argument about French cinema – that it presents a spectrum of life that has disappeared from American and Australian films – is true of European cinema in general, which is why film festivals continue to be terrific business despite the flourishing of streaming services. It would be a barren landscape without film festivals and I’ve listed a sample that enlarge and enliven our filmgoing experience at the bottom of the article.

This year I did not get the opportunity to preview any of the films (apart from the very solid and engaging Goliath) so I’ve cast my eye over the program looking for prospects based on the track record of directors, the allure of the actors, the sizzle of the premise and, of course, reviews and awards. Bon voyage, mes amis!

WIN tickets to the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2022

FIRE

I recently caught up with the romantic comedy Let The Sunshine In (currently available on SBS on Demand) and was so charmed by this tale of an older woman searching for a satisfying relationship in a world of hopeless men that I can’t wait to see the new pairing of star Juliette Binoche and director Claire Denis. This time Binoche plays a Paris radio journalist whose relationship with her partner (Vincent Lindon) is tested when an old flame (Gregoire Coline) walks back into her life.  Fire recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and Indiewire wrote, “Denis creates a contained backdraft of a film that’s as volatile and untamed as an inferno.”

ANOTHER WORLD

The great Lindon also stars in Stephane Brize’s drama about an executive grappling with the demands of downsizing his company and dealing with his crumbling relationship with his wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) and son. Brize, Lindon and Kiberlain made the superb romance Mademoiselle Chambon (2009) so I can’t wait to see what they do with this Ken Loach-like drama about a man being pulled in multiple directions. It is also the third in trilogy of films by Brize starring Lindon (The Measure of a Man and At War being the other two) about the impact of global capitalism on bosses and workers.

RISE

Cédric Klapisch charmed us with When The Cat’s Away (1996), The Spanish Apartment (2002) and Paris (2008) so I am looking forward to this romantic-comedy about a young classical ballet dancer (Marion Barbeau) whose promising career is disrupted by both injury and a cheating boyfriend. She retreats to Brittany where friends, a new love and a switch to contemporary dances allows her to piece her shattered life together. Barbeau is a dancer so this is a film that takes its subject matter seriously, with extended sequences shot backstage at the Opera de Paris.   

PARIS, 13th DISTRICT

Jacques Audiard is one of the most versatile contemporary directors (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet, Rust and Bone) so it is no surprise that he now tackles an adaptation of a graphic novel by American cartoonist Adrian Tomine about a group of young people who all live in the high-rise towers on the outskirts of picture-book Paris. “These characters all radiate a classic French cinema glamour – they’re as swoon-worthy here as any nouvelle vague beauty or heartthrob,” says Britain’s Daily Telegraph while Variety called it “a silky, soulful black-and-white tapestry of millennials seeking connection.”

A vintage, pixelated photo of a young man wearing no shirt and sitting behind the wooden tiller of a boat with blue sky and ocean behind him
Alain Delon captures the mystique of Tom Ripley in the 1960 French film ‘Purple Noon’. Photo supplied

PURPLE NOON

This year’s festival is light on archival films but the one on offer, Rene Clement’s 1960 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, will be of interest to those who still dream about Anthony Minghella’s lush 1990 version with Matt Damon, Jude Law and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. In Clement’s Purple Noon the chameleonic psychopath Tom Ripley is played by Alain Delon who assumes the identity of a rich man’s son after bumping him off during a boat ride. Ripley has been played by a number of actors over the years (Damon, of course, Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich) but it is Delon that most regard as the ultimate iteration. “Damon and Hopper come close to conveying the ruthlessness and ambition of Tom Ripley, but Delon effortless captures his mystique,” wrote one critic of the famously beautiful Delon.

Film festivals to watch out for in 2022

MORO SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL (April 27 to May 5)
Luna Leederville, Luna SX

PERTH UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL (May 13 to 15)
The Backlot

GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL (June 2 to June 22)
Luna Leederville, Luna SX

OVER THE FENCE COMEDY FILM FESTIVAL (June 8 to 12)
The Backlot

REVELATION FILM FESTIVAL (July 7 to 17)
Luna Leederville, Luna SX, The Backlot

SCANDINAVIAN FILM FESTIVAL (July 21 to August 8)
Luna Leederville, Luna SX

ITALIAN FILM FESTIVAL (September 22 to October 10)
Luna Leederville, Luna SX, Windsor Cinema

BRITISH FILM FESTIVAL (October 10 to November 11)
Luna Leederville, Luna SX, Windsor Cinema

The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is on at Palace Raine Square, Luna Leederville, Luna SX and Windsor Cinema from March 9 to April 6.

Pictured top: the black and white tapestry of Jacques Audiard’s film ‘Paris,13th District’. Photo supplied

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Author —
Mark Naglazas

Mark Naglazas has interviewed many of the world’s most significant producers, writers, directors and actors while working as film editor for The West Australian. He now writes for STM, reviews films on 6PR and hosts the Luna Palace Q & A series Movies with Mark. Favourite playground equipment: monkey bars, where you can hung upside and see the world from a different perspective.

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