© Jane Freebury

Allons au cinéma, cinéphiles! There are 49 films to choose from at the French Film Festival this year. Even more options than last year. As the season unfolds during March-April in eight locations across the country, the easy part will be savouring the menu, the hard part will be making the choices.

French films have long had an enviable share of the domestic box office and a standing in world cinema to die for. UniFrance reported 111 million admissions for French films abroad last year. Within France, home-grown films wrested back some of Hollywood’s share of the box office, making 2014 the ‘second best year’ since The Intouchables were an immense hit in 2012.

It’s hard to get a handle on so much choice on offer at the AFFFF, but if popularity at home works for you, then The Belier Family, a movie that contributed magnificently to French box office last year, will screen be screening. French audiences also loved Asterix: the Mansions of the Gods and Samba. The pint-sized Gallic hero needs no introduction, but it will be interesting to see what we have in Samba. It is from the same writing team as The Intouchables, and features Omar Sy as one of the leads.

Gemma Bovery will open the festival. It’s Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary by way of Posy Simmonds and her graphic novel, Gemma Bovery, which can be said to be parody, stand-alone story and modern adaptation. The Anne Fontaine movie is set in a small town in Normandy, with British actors Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemyng in the lead roles as husband and wife. Fabrice Luchini (Cycling with Moliere and In the House) has a key part as the local baker who knows his Flaubert.

As festival guest in 2013, director Benoit Jacquot made an impression with his moody period piece, Farewell, My Queen, on the last days of Marie Antoinette at Versailles before her imprisonment in the Bastille. His new film centres on three women, a mother, with two daughters who have unwittingly become involved with the one man. The delicacy of the entanglement is heightened by the casting. Catherine Deneuve is the mother, Charlotte Gainsbourg one of the daughters, and Chiara Mastroianni the other. Mastroianni is Deneuve’s own daughter and how she looks like both Deneuve and her father Marcelo Mastroianni in equal measure!

Festival patrons this year are Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, who have made a selection of their critics picks. As to be expected, they have each drawn up a list of different films.

Jacquot’s new film Three Hearts gets a special mention from Margaret. She has also singled out the award-winning drama Far From Men, an existential survival tale about a French teacher (Viggo Mortensen) who helps a villager accused of murder escape the authorities in 1950s colonial Algeria. It is based on a short story by Albert Camus.

David’s picks include one of the greatest films ever, the 1937 anti-war classic La Grand Illusion. He has also chosen the latest from the great Volker Schlondorff who has continued to make fine films with a strong political flavour since his landmark films of the 1970s—TheTin Drum, Germany in Autumn and The Lost Honour of Katerina Blum. Schlondorff’s Diplomacy, is a historical drama with Niels Arestrup set in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Checking out the acting talent is another way in to the vast array on the AFFFF program. In French Riviera during the casino wars of the 1970s, Catherine Deneuve takes part in her seventh collaboration—remember her in Thieves and My Favourite Season?—with director Andre Techine. Breathe, about adolescent friendship on the verge, directed by actor Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) will also screen.

Other French actors with international profile such as Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional; Ronin) and Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace; The Grand Budapest Hotel) also appear. Amalric appears in The Blue Room, adapted from Georges Simenon’s crime fiction, a film he also directed. Romain Duris appears in The New Girlfriend, a psychological drama that ventures into comedy and thriller, as one might expect from the very interesting Francois Ozon (In the House, Swimming Pool).

Yet another film about Yves Saint Laurent appears, the second of two about the grand master of style to appear in 2014, though this one, Saint Laurent, was in competition at Cannes. However, if you prefer documentary in the area of haute-couture, there’s Handmade with Love in France that explores the work and lives of artisans behind the scenes.

The options are open, as always, at the French Film Festival.