Having trouble sorting out your must-sees from your maybes in the French Film Festival program? Don’t fret – Sandy George has you sorted.
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4 Mar 2014 - 4:21 PM  UPDATED 4 Mar 2014 - 5:43 PM

Bright Days Ahead

Director: Marion Vernoux
Christophe Mallet, French Language executive producer at SBS Radio and in charge of SBS Chill, didn’t hesitate to name this film when asked for his pick of the crop. “I love this ‘frank’ romantic comedy, as it’s been described, despite the subject of love being used [probably too much] in some French films,” he told me. “I really enjoyed the characters, especially Fanny Ardant. She’s just sublime as Caroline, a recently retired dentist that needs to find things to do to occupy her days and discovers she may actually have a second shot at life. The film is beautifully edited and singer Sophie Hunger’s rendition of Le vent nous portera adds an additional layer. You cannot leave the theatre without a smile on your face.”

 

Camille Claudel 1915

Director: Bruno Dumont
The apparently riveting performance of Juliette Binoche as the troubled sculptor Camille Claudel, and the promise of an underlying and unapologetically challenging exploration of the driving forces behind creativity and the price of that creativity, particularly earned the biopic Camille Claudel 1915 a place on my must-see list. Watching films about artists can be very rewarding because of the way their preoccupations can infiltrate. This one was in competition at Berlin. Dumont is a director that regularly courts controversy and some criticised him for having mentally ill patients among the supporting cast.

 

Finally, Sunday

Director: François Truffaut
Fanny Ardant as a “sarcastic amateur detective” in a thriller made when she was about 30 years younger than now? (Not that I have anything against older women.) And it’s made by one of the biggest names of the French New Wave? I’m there. Finally, Sunday is François Truffaut’s last film and was made during the few years when the pair lived together. His debut feature, The 400 Blows, made after several years as an often highly critical film critic, is also in the program. How thrilling that his films can be seen on the big screen across Australia this month, courtesy of the festival.

 

Folies Bergère

Director: Marc Fitoussi
Didn’t everyone fall in love with Swedish-born Michael Nyqvist, the good guy among the many very bad ones in the Millenium trilogy? His character in Folies Bergère takes a shining to Brigitte (Isabelle Huppert) after she impulsively heads for Paris, leaving her husband (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) at their cattle stud. Being in a world premiere crowd is a thrilling prospect even if world premieres are risky propositions too because no guidance is available via reviews. Folies Bergère sounds like a delightful comedy though with heart and earthiness: are they really Murray Greys in the film? And just look at Brigitte’s fetching fur hat… The director and Huppert previously collaborated in Copacabana.

 

Going Away

Director: Nicole Garcia
A lot of the reviews that flowed from the Toronto International Film Festival made much of the realism inherent in Going Away. A teacher (Pierre Rochefort, son of the director and Jean Rochefort) gets tangled up with a woman (Louise Bourgoin) and her son but there are ample complications, driven by her dangerously acute financial problems and his past. Directors who have been in front of the camera themselves often create very interesting characters who take time to reveal themselves and Garcia is a former actress. There are no big marquee names or big themes but it sounds like there’s plenty of compassion and moodiness.

 

Jappeloup

Director:Christian Duguay
Patricia Noeppel-Detmold, National Manager of Alliance Française French Film Festival and Cultural Events Manager at Alliance Française de Sydney loves Jappeloup. “It has everything you need,” she told me. “It’s a true story with amazing substance, it has great actors – Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet and Tchéky Karyo to name only a few – and, of course, it has some romance. It is a film that stays with you, I think because it tells such an inspirational true story, in which success and victory are achieved through passion and determination. It is also an underdog story because of how the incredible and the unexpected happens. It shows everything is possible.”

 

La Monique, A Caledonian Wound

Director: Vincent Pérazio
What a mystery that 60 years after the La Monique disappeared, the wreckage has still not been found. This documentary explores the rumours and the facts that swirl around why the 18 crew, 108 passengers and the cargo never made it to Noumea – and the enduring impact on those who still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. Three one-hour films in all are being shown to acknowledge France’s connection to the Pacific under the auspices of FIFO, a documentary festival and conference held each year in Tahiti.

 

Me, Myself and Mum

Director: Guillaume Galliene
Cinema is littered with coming-of-age stories where gay protagonists bravely come out. In contrast, Me, Myself and Mum centres on a boy who everyone assumes is gay. But the character of Guillaume is not just any boy: the story is based on the director’s life and his overbearing mother. The film picked up two awards at Directors Fortnight at Cannes, was one of the biggest local hits of 2013 in France, and in February this year it dominated the Cesar Awards. That it’s an adaptation of a one-man stage show makes sense of the fact that Galliene directs and plays the character based on himself as well as the mother. (Pictured top)

 

On the Other Side of the Tracks

Director: David Charhon
The Intouchables was a funny and captivating film that earned Omar Sy much acclaim and, frankly, I’m dead keen to see him again and this is his first lead role since. Mismatched cops is a familiar story but this one sounds like a lot of fun with its action sequences and class-conscious banter and, apparently, direct references to Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop. Sy’s co-star is Laurent Lafitte, currently a member of France’s state theatre company Comédie-Française. It’s in the ‘giggle and grin’ part of the program; sometimes it’s a relief to leave the brain at home.

 

Populaire

Director: Regis Roinsard
Populaire is a heavily stylised rom-com set in the 1950s in the world of speed typing competitions. That description didn’t immediately appeal but then I read a review in Screendaily.com, which referred to the “positively nuclear” chemistry between the two leads, Romain Duris from Heartbreaker and Deborah Francois, whose first film was The Child, from the Dardenne Brothers. The review also notes that Francois manages to “combine the peppiness of a Doris Day with the sulky intensity of a Noomi Rapace”. Also in the cast is Bérénice Bejo, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in The Artist.

The French Film Festival takes place from March 4 - April 28. Visit the official website for more information.