Published in The Canberra Times on 27 February 2016, and in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald online.
© Jane Freebury
A snippet of film that ran for under one minute was projected at a trendy cafe in Paris in 1895 and the rest is history. The film of workers leaving the Lumière factory in Lyon at the end of their shift was made with a portable technology that encouraged the razzmatazz of moving pictures to take hold across the world in Tunisia, Russia, Persia, India, Japan, Australia and elsewhere. Hollywood was getting going too, however France, where cinema as such was born, has always had something different to offer. Vive la différence.
In keeping with its ongoing role as something of a champion of things cultural today, France celebrates writers and artists by inviting them into its prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Writers, artists and other creatives are invited to become members of the Order each year. The recipients of the award are not all French nor are they all from the older, more traditional arts. A large contingent of people in the film industry like Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan, Taiwanese director Ang Lee, and actors Donald Sutherland, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett have received this honour.
The respected veteran critic David Stratton is a member and so is that rare Australian who has given the international blockbuster an Australian twang, director George Miller (the Mad Max and Happy Feet films). It has been announced that Miller will be president of the jury at Cannes International Film Festival this year.
Stratton and Miller are both patrons of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival this year, which the organisers describe as the biggest French film festival after Cannes. It grows year by year. The percentage increase of seats filled nationally in 2015 on the previous year was more than 20%. In Canberra, it was 27%.
This year’s AFFFF, the 27th, opens across seven Australian cities from early March with a massive array of 42 films, and includes for the first time some choice samples of French television.
What have we got to choose from this year? The impact of world affairs offers itself as a theme at this year’s festival in a film like All Three of US, a comedy about a spirited Iranian family that leaves its turbulent homeland in the 1970s to begin life anew in suburban Paris. It is directed by Tehran-born, French stand-up comic Kheiron.
One of this year’s highlights is Dheepan, winner of the 2015 Palme d’Or at Cannes. A new film from the consistently masterful Jacques Audiard (A Prophet; Rust and Bone; Read My Lips) who has hit his stride in recent years directing his own screenplays. Never one to shy away from controversial themes, Audiard here explores the predicament of a former Tamil fighter re-building his life in France.
The White Knights explores how, when an organisation tries rescuing young orphans from Africa, altruism can become tainted by corruption. Actor Vincent Lindon appears in this and also in The Measure of a Man, in the role for which he won the award for best actor at Cannes in 2015. In The Measure Lindon plays a decent family man, head of security at a supermarket, who also becomes enmeshed in moral compromise. This year ‘David’s picks’ of the festival include both these films with Lindon. Other picks are Courted, Microbe & Gasoline, and Taj Mahal.
In Taj Mahal an 18-year-old French expat in Mumbai with her parents is left alone watching DVDs at their hotel one evening when the terrorists attack. It is 2008. The experience is not so much the horror, mostly out of frame, so much as the terror and confusion as a young woman faced the nightmare alone.
Microbe & Gasoline, from Michel Gondry who made the unforgettable Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is also in its way about adolescent search for meaning beyond family and school. A sweet on-road adventure.
The search for a better moral compass also underpins The Brand New Testament from writer/director Jaco Van Dormael, the creator of that hit comedy of 1991, Toto the Hero. In his new film, God, who is apparently a grumpy, middle-aged man living in a shabby Brussels apartment, has to search for his 10-year-old daughter who has run away in search of six new Apostles.
Reminding us of the French New Wave filmmakers who shook things up some 60 years ago there is a special screening on closing night in Canberra of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mepris) when its star the ‘sex kitten’ Brigitte Bardot was at her sultriest. Although there are some sensational shots of Bardot, you can expect Godard to be having a go at Hollywood and its commercial values.
Director Claude Lelouch, a contemporary of Godard though not a New Wave insider, returns with an elegant romance entitled Un plus une. Lelouch is irreversibly connected with one of the greatest screen romances ever, A Man and a Woman, and here his romantic couple, including male lead played by Jean Dujardin (The Artist) meet and fall in love in India.
It is romance gone wrong in Philippe Garrel’s new film, In the Shadow of Women, about a filmmaking couple of filmmakers who fall out of love and into affairs against the backdrop of the city they are shooting, Paris, a mighty monument of living history. It opened the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes International Film Festival last year.
It is never possible to have enough of Isabelle Huppert or Gerard Depardieu which means that Valley of Love is a double treat. In Guillaume Nicloux’s film they are on screen together as a couple reunited in Death Valley on a bizarre mission of discovery directed by their dead son. Like a number of films screening at the AFFFF, it was in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes festival last year. Huppert also appears in Macadam Stories.
Juliette Binoche is in the line-up too, as a mother, awaiting or grieving her absent son when his girlfriend comes to visit. Set in Sicily, The Wait is an Italian-French coproduction. And Julie Delpy makes an appearance too, directing herself and popular comedic actor Danny Boon in her new film Lolo.
There is some intriguing critical opinion on Mon Roi, which I haven’t yet seen, from writer-director Maiwenn (Polisse) in which a woman hospitalised after a skiing accident is forced to reflect on her former husband the jerk. It has received the AFFFF critics’ award for 2016, but not everyone is a fan. This is definitely good enough reason in itself to go along and find out for yourself.
Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2016 is screening until 29 March at Palace Cinema, New Acton, ACT.