France on film

Albert Dupontel in "Bye Bye Morons". Image: supplied.

The 32nd annual French Film Festival is about to begin in Sydney. Rita Bratovich takes a look at this year’s program and highlights some prime picks. 

Since 1989, the Alliance Française French Film Festival has been presenting a selection of France’s finest recently released and classic films to Australian audiences. It is now the largest foreign film festival in this country and one of the premier cultural events. After dealing with interruption and postponement last year, organisers are thrilled to be screening a program of 37 films this year, all to live audiences in Sydney and several other major cities (with strict Covid-safe conditions in place). 

The French diaspora in Australia is predominantly concentrated in Sydney, so the AFFFF is always très popular here. The Sydney season begins on 2 March and will be hosted across six cinemas around the city, including the Chauvel in Paddington; Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne; Palace cinemas in Central, Darlinghurst and Leichhardt; and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta (later in April).

An upward trend in female representation in French cinema in recent years continues with the 2021 festival. Many films feature strong female characters and, perhaps more significantly, many have female directors, writers, producers and technical personnel. It’s a fact that is noted with enthusiasm by the festival’s new Artistic Director, Karine Mauris. 

“Next, we make way for the women. In 2021, we have more female directors than ever before, and the female characters are talented (Aline), fierce (The Rose Maker), free-minded (The Godmother) elegant (Appearances), and as bubbly as champagne (Antoinette in the Cévennes).”

Subject matter among the films is truly eclectic: love, death, space, crime, tennis, chess, war, gender, history, food, perfume, and of course, a giant fly. Film makers and stories come from around the globe and in a variety of genres. 

The Sydney Sentinel had a sneak peak at five of this year’s films. 

The Godmother

Isabelle Huppert is magnificent as Patience, a police interpreter who doesn’t always faithfully translate everything she hears. After rescuing the son of a friend from a drug bust, Patience sees an opportunity to make some much needed extra cash. With the help of large, round sunglasses and some Hermes scarves she transforms herself into Mama Weed, a tough, shrewd hash dealer. It’s sharp and comical with moments of emotional poignancy. 

Kamel Guenfoud, Isabelle Huppert and Youssef Sahraoui in The Godmother. Image: supplied.

Love Affair(s)

The ‘s’ in the title is in parenthesis but perhaps it should be capitalised; the plot is like a square dance of swapping partners and going in circles. It’s not, however, a swinging romp about free love. The film explores the temporal vicissitudes of love; the fragility of attraction; the complexities of morality. Maxime, a young man, decides to visit his cousin in the country but arrives to discover his cousin is away for a few days and he has been left in the care of Daphne, the cousin’s pregnant wife. After some obligatory sightseeing, Daphne and Maxime begin exchanging intimate stories about past loves and these stories are played out in flashback. It’s sensitive, probing, yet also quite humorous. 

Niels Schneider and Camélia Jordana in Love Affair(s). Image: supplied.

Summer of ’85

Set in the mid-’80s against the sun-washed light of a small seaside town, this is a tale of youth, love, life and the frailty of all the above. The film opens with Alexis, a fresh-faced, teenage boy, being walked through a prison corridor by a guard. As he tries to explain to various authorities, the circumstance that put him there, we are taken back to the beginning of the story. Alexis is out sailing one day when his small boat capsises. He is rescued by the handsome, confident David. Their mutual attraction is immediate and soon an intense romance blooms. Alexis thinks it’s forever; David soon gets restless. The arrival of a young female tourist doesn’t help things. There’s a wonderful nostalgic soundtrack and lots of product-filled hair in this enjoyable, soulful film.

Benjamin Voisin and Félix Lefebvre in Summer of ’85. Image: supplied.

Bye Bye Morons

With a title like that, obviously this is a comedy–- a rather dark, complex comedy. Suze is in her mid-forties and very ill – dying, actually. She embarks on a quest to find the child she was forced to give up for adoption after becoming pregnant at 15. Jean-Baptiste is an IT security maven with a government agency who, after years of dedicated service and distinct achievements, is passed over for promotion in favour of a younger candidate. Suze crosses paths with Jean-Baptiste in the most bizarre circumstance and she enlists him to help her track down her child. En route, they also pick up Serge, a public servant blinded through inept police action and relegated to basement archive facility. It’s a combination of characters and inane events that harkens back to classic era comedy, but there’s a lot of warmth and wry social commentary, giving this film more depth than may appear at first glance. 

Virginie Efira and Albert Dupontel in Bye Bye Morons. Image: supplied.

Skies Of Lebanon

Quirky and charming, this film incorporates various devices including clay-animation, surrealism, special effects and even absurdist theatre, along with straight-forward narrative to deliver a story of joyful family life devastated by Lebanon’s civil war. Alice escapes her detested home in Switzerland by finding work as an au pair in Lebanon during the 1950s. She meets Joseph in a cafe, they fall in love, marry, have a child. Alice has a talent for drawing and sells her artwork to galleries. Joseph is an astrophysicist who desperately wants to build Lebanon’s first manned rocket. The plot unfolds over several date-stamped periods, until they come to 1975, when civil war bombs literally shake the foundations of their homes and lives. It’s a beautifully told story with a likeable cast and no tropes.

Wajdi Mouawad (centre) and Alba Rohrwacher (right) in Skies of Lebanon. Image: supplied.

 


2 – 31 March


8 – 11 April

Chauvel Cinema, Hayden Orpheum Cremorne, Palace Central, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona


Riverside Theatres Parramatta

For more info and to book tickets, visit www.affrenchfilmfestival.org.