The 26th French Film Festival opens tonight in style at Palaces Verona and Norton Street cinemas with Anna Fontaine’s classy new film GEMMA BOVARY starring two of France’s finest actors, Gemma Atherton and Fabrice Luchini. Fontaine’s film is an adaptation of Posy Simmond’s graphic novel and is a fresh take on the classic Gustav Flaubert novel.
This year the Festival will screen some 49 movies. With so many films to choose from, and only so much time available, it helps to have some guidance as to what films to select.
In a great initiative, the Festival this year invited our two most famous film critics, David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, to be patrons of the Festival and asked them to choose their picks from the Festival. This may go some way in helping you to make your choices.
3 HEARTS (3 Coeurs)
Director: Benoît Jacquot
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chiara Mastroianni & Benoît Poelvoorde
Benoît Jacquot has created a sublime, if painful, romance with fate intervening in the lives of a taxman, played beautifully by Benoît Poelvoorde, and two sisters – sublime performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni. To add to that duo of fine European women, Jacquot has cast iconic Catherine Deneuve as their mother. Mainly set in a provincial town south of Lyon, the coincidence of two sisters falling for the same man in a ‘coup de foudre’ is both bizarre and yet totally understandable. The ramifications of that situation lead to a powerfully emotional film that references great romances of the past. This a moving, unmissable movie experience.
FAR FROM MEN (Loin des Hommes)
Director: David Oelhoffen
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb & Antoine Laurent
Viggo Mortensen must be one of the most adept film actors with language. Here he speaks a slightly accented French, as befitting his heritage as Daru, the son of Spanish settlers in Algeria. The year is 1954, the year the National Liberation Front began its uprising. Daru is a teacher in a remote location and is aware of the tentative safety of his position. Does he stay or go? That decision is made for him when a prisoner Mohamed (a wonderful performance by Reda Kateb), is delivered to Daru with instructions to deliver him to the court in Tilsit, where he will almost certainly be found guilty of murder and executed. Loosely based on a short story by Albert Camus, The Guest, Far From Men unravels in spectacular landscapes as an exploration of moral dilemmas in the guise of a Western. Music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis adds enormously to the atmosphere of this film by David Oelhoffen.
THE LAST HAMMER BLOW (Le Dernier Coup de Marteau)
Director: Alix Delaporte
Cast: Romain Paul, Clotilde Hesme & Grégory Gadebois
If you remember Alix Delaporte’s debut film Angèle et Tony you will be impelled to see her second feature, in which the stars of Angèle et Tony, Clotilde Hesme and Grégory Gadebois once again occupy centre screen, but this time not so much together. The connecting link in their relationship is their son Victor, an electric performance from young newcomer Romain Paul (who won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the 2014 Venice International Film Festival). Victor lives with his mother, who is suffering from an unknown disease, in a trailer park on the edge of the sea. He’s a talented young soccer player whose coach sees his potential. His estranged father is a famous conductor who is visiting the nearby town of Montpellier to present a Mahler symphony. Victor’s attempts to deal with his mother and connect with his father are the heart of this terrific film. Delaporte has subtext down to a fine art. Her scenes are subtle and incredibly moving.
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Cast: Niels Arestrup, André Dussollier, Burghart Klaussner, Robert tadlober & Charlie Nelson
Volker Schlondorff’s intense adaptation of Cyril Gely’s 2011 play unfolds during the night of August 24-25, 1944 in the Hotel Meurice, the Paris hotel that serves as the headquarters of General Dietrich Choltitz, the German Governor of the occupied city. The Allies are at the city gates and, following Hitler’s orders, Choltitz is prepared to destroy the city and its monuments – until an intervention from Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling, who, during an intense and emotionally charged argument, puts forward the case for saving the city. Niels Arestrup as Choltitz and André Dussollier as Nordling, give commanding performances in this totally gripping drama.
THE BLUE ROOM (La Chambre Bleue)
Director: Mathieu Amalric
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Léa Drucker, Stéphanie Cléau, Laurent Poitrenaux & Serge Bozon
For his second feature film as director, Mathieu Amalric has turned to a book by crime writer Georges Simenon about a passionate small-town love affair that ends in death and retribution. Amalric himself plays Julien, a married man who embarks on a clandestine affair with Esther (Stéphanie Cléau). Lovers of well-made thriller and tasteful eroticism will be amply rewarded by Amalric’s stylish and intelligent treatment.
TOKYO FIANCÉE (Tokyo Fiancée)
Director: Stefan Liberski
Cast: Pauline Étienne, Taichi Inoue, Julie Le Breton, Alice de Lencquesaing & Akimi Ota
This film recounts the experiences of Amélie a Belgian girl who attempts to make a life for herself in Japan. Stefan Liberski’s version of Amélie Nothomb’s eponymous novel gains enormous benefit from the charming central performance by Pauline Étienne, whose love of all things Japanese quickly develops into a passion for Rinri (Taichi Inoue), a rich youth who pays for her to give him lessons in French.
GRAND ILLUSION (La Grande Illusion)
Cast: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Julien Carette, Eric Von Stroheim
Jean Renoir’s timeless anti-war classic, made in 1937, stars Jean Gabin as a French POW during World War I. The screenplay, by Renoir and Charles Spaak, is based on a true story, and the film is memorable because of Renoir’s approach to friendship and the loyalties forged by class, so that the aristocratic French prisoner (played by Pierre Fresnay) has more in common with the German camp commandant (a great performance from legendary director Erich von Stroheim), than with his fellow countrymen.
This year’s Festival runs until Sunday 22nd March and is playing the three Sydney Palace cinemas- the Chauvel, the Verona and Norton. For more information and bookings visit the Festival’s official website- http://www.affrenchfilmfestival.com.
Sydney Arts Guide has five double passes to give away to the Festival. Be one of the first to email the Editor on email@example.com. In your email please provide your postal address. Winners will be advised by return email.