Saturday July 28, 9:20pm
Director: Joann Sfar
Starring: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta
Saturday August 4, 9:20pm
Anything for Her (2008)
Director: Fred Cavayé
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Diane Kruger, Lancelot Roch
Saturday August 11, 9:20pm
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (2008)
Director: Rémi Bezançon
Starring: Jacques Gamblin, Zabou Breitman, Déborah François
Saturday August 18, 9:20pm
Largo Winch (2008)
Director: Jérôme Salle
Starring: Tomer Sisley, Kristin Scott Thomas, Miki Manojlovic
Saturday August 25, 9:20pm
The French Kissers (2009)
Director: Riad Sattouf
Starring: Vincent Lacoste, Anthony Sonigo, Alice Trémolière
See all of the French films screening across SBS ONE and TWO during FRENCH CINEMA SEASON. FULL SCHEDULE
CLICK HERE TO ENTER FRENCH FILM SEASON GIVEAWAY
It is impossible to encapsulate the French cinema. Ever since the Lumiere brothers held the first private and then public screenings of projected motion pictures in 1895, France has been at both the very centre of the movies and forging ahead. It is the country that gave us Jean-Luc Godard, Abel Gance, Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Claire Denis, Robert Bresson, Agnes Varda, Jacques Tati and countless more filmmakers. You could spend your entire life solely watching French movies and never finish the task.
An upcoming season of recent French releases that screens on SBS One on Saturday nights – Gainsbourg on Saturday 28 July, Anything for Her on Saturday 4 August, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life on Saturday 11 August, Largo Winch on Saturday 18 August and The French Kissers on Saturday 25 August – doesn’t try to satisfy expectation about what constitutes French film, it simply shows how diverse and sometimes unexpected that country’s cinematic output is. These are films linked to the past, but they also suggest a future.
Joann Sfar’s Gainsbourg is a strong starting point, if only because this mannered biopic of the revered but controversial French songwriter and musician showcases a man whose songs informed films and whose assignations included the likes of Bridget Bardot, here played by Laetitia Casta. The movie (trailer below) casts Gainsbourg, who passed away in 1991 at the age of 62, as a rebellious outsider, a Jewish child who came of age wearing a yellow star during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II.
Sfar, a creator of comic books, brings Gainsbourg’s interior world to life, showing him in conversation with his artistic creations, and the richness of this life helps to compensate for the necessary narrative trajectory that most biopics must embrace. Gainsbourg was a man who was increasingly defined by his own pleasures, but Eric Elmosnino’s fine performance, full of rakish charm and licentious disdain, never quite explains what remained of young Lucien Gainsbourg after he became the famous Serge. Still, it’s a fascinating, uneven ride through a stormy life.
There is a clichéd, irrelevant take on French film that says it focuses on romantic foibles and minor emotional phrasing, and that a middle-class couple such as Julien (Vincent London) and Lisa Aucler (Diane Kruger) in Anything for Her is the perfect subject. Fred Cavaye’s thriller turns that upside down within minutes, when Lisa is arrested for the murder of her boss and sentenced to 20 years jail. An increasingly desperate Julien, fearful of his son losing a mother and Lisa literally giving up, decides he must free her.
A taut work (subsequently remade in 2010 by Paul Haggis and Russell Crowe as The Next Three Days), Anything for Her (trailer above) is a procedural with a moral edge. Julien must not only research and perfect an escape plan that can get his family far away from France, he must discover what he is capable of, exploring the underworld and making sacrifices that grow ever more extreme. To save the woman he loves, Julien must become the kind of man he can’t imagine her loving.
Rémi Bezançon’s comic domestic drama A Happy Event is currently screening in cinemas locally, and his previous feature, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (trailer below), shows his fascination with the currents and dynamics that flow through a family’s life together. The story of a couple, Robert and Marie-Jeanne Duval (Jacques Gamblin and Zabou Breitman), and their three maturing children, Albert (Pio Marmai), Fleur (Deborah Francois) and Raphael (Marc-Andre Grondin), the movie uses one key day from the life of each member, spread over 12 years, to examine their lives.
The filmmaker captures distinct moments, switching easily between wry humour and bursts of confessional anger as the unspoken assumptions and concerns that are part of family life are slowly challenged. Much of this is now a staple of commercial television, but Bezançon shows how a mastery of visual tone is crucial to separating genuine experience from crafted melodrama. It’s all smartly done.
Part of the misperception about French cinema stems from release patterns: often in Australia we get smaller, finely wrought French independent cinema as opposed to commercial successes. France has always had crowd-pleasers, in comedies and then action films, and Largo Winch (trailer below) is the country’s take on the glossy international thriller, complete with glamorous, atlas-hopping destinations, corporate intrigue and impossible stunts.
Jerome Salle’s adaptation of the popular Belgian comic book has Tomer Sisley as the title character, a dashing young man who must claim control of his father’s vast business empire after the patriarch is assassinated. Sisley has an iconic physicality that suits the widescreen set-piece, while the supporting cast includes Kristen Scott-Thomas as a corporate executive and Karel Roden as a rapacious Russian arms dealer. Watching Largo breathlessly escape from a Brazilian prison should forever put an end to any claims that nothing ever happens in a French film. The movie is slight, loud and stylish.
Riad Sattouf’s The French Kissers (trailer below) is an amusing, nuanced Gallic take on the teen flick, with these Rennes adolescents stumbling through their teenage years without even realising that they’re tripping themselves up. By using newcomers as the various high school students (with experienced actors as sundry parents), the movie captures the unexpected triumphs and major tragedies of teenage life. Unlike an American teen film, which prizes the rigid social hierarchy, these kids can be gawky and popular, nerds and boyfriends.
What the likes of Herve (Vincent Lacoste) and Camel (Anthony Sanigo) don’t have is insight. The two 15-year-olds are serial mastubators learning about life on the go. And if they can’t always express themselves to the likes of Aurore (Alice Tremoliere), who becomes Herve’s girlfriend, a development that both delights and terrifies the boy, then the handheld aesthetic captures their actions as vindication. Adolescence in The French Kissers is a messy ongoing affair, but it has the ring of authenticity, and even the Lumiere brothers would have been pleased with that.
FULL SBS FILM SEASON SCHEDULE
French Classics Season
Sunday August 5, 10:45pm
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring:Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, Michel Piccoli
Sunday August 12, 10:45pm
Belle de Jour (1967)
Director: Luis Buñuel
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli
Sunday August 19, 10:30pm
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Henri-Jacques Huet
Sunday August 26, 10:45pm
Director: Jules Dassin
Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel
French Favourites Season
Tuesday August 7, 9:30pm
Tell No One (2006)
Director: Guillaume Canet
Starring: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, André Dussollier
Tuesday August 14, 9:30pm
Director: Laurent Tirard
Starring: Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Laura Morante
Tuesday August 21, 9:30pm
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam
Tuesday August 28, 9:30pm
The Singer (2006)
Director: Xavier Giannoli
Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Cécile De France, Mathieu Amalric