Alliance Française is back to delight Australian film-lovers and Francophiles with the 28th edition of the French Film Festival, running through March and April with a showcase of the best in French cinema from the past year. Opening in Sydney on 7 March and wrapping in Adelaide on 23 April, the festival will present screenings of 45 feature films, representing the finest in French cinema, over the month.
Overflowing with talent, the 2017 festival will celebrate contemporary French cinema through a combination of special events, exclusive screenings and celebrated films from France’s most esteemed and astounding directors and actors. Among the offerings are performances from some of France’s most renowned acting talent such as Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Juliette Binoche, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Auteuil, Berenice Bejo, Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve and works directed by Nicole Gracia, Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Emmanuelle Bercot and Bertrand Tavernier.
Launching the festival on is The Odyssey, a dazzling biopic centred on the life and work of celebrity oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, directed by Jerome Salle and starring Audrey Tautou and Lambert Wilson in the titular role. It is 1943 and the eccentrically ambitious naval officer Cousteau (Lambert Wilson) dreams of adventure. His magnificent new invention of the Aqua-Lung promises to bring him just that. Newly armed with the ability to breathe underwater for long periods of time, Cousteau dedicates his life’s work to his obsession with the sea, becoming the first to create underwater films that dazzle audiences worldwide. His success comes at a cost, however, as his wife Simone (Audrey Tautou) and sons Philippe (Pierre Niney) and Jean-Michel (Benjamin Lavernhe) struggle to keep up with the stormy seas of Cousteau’s fierce and unfailing determination, the ultimate price of which is yet to come.
Dance enthusiasts and regular cinema-goers alike will be intrigued by Stephanie Di Giusto’s, The Dancer, an inspiring take on the true story of two rival pioneers of modern dance and theatrical performance in late 19th-century Paris. French singer-actress Soko (Augustine, 2012) and ingénue-of-the-moment Lily-Rose Depp lead a star-studded cast in this biopic, inspired by the true story of two rival pioneers of modern dance and theatrical performance in late 19th-century Paris.
Nothing in her background destined Loïe Fuller (Soko), born in the American Midwest, to become the toast of the Belle Époque cabarets, or to perform at the Paris Opera. Yet with her revolutionary “Serpentine” dance she enthralled audiences and became the blazing symbol of a generation. Even as the physical effort risked destroying her back, she never faltered in the quest to perfect her art. But it was Loïe’s meeting with Isadora Duncan (Depp) – a beautiful young prodigy hungry for glory – that threatened everything: her stature, her confidence and her sanity.
Another festival highlight is the profoundly moving, multi-award winning Things to Come, directed by Ma Hansen-Love (Eden) and featuring the incomparable Isabelle Huppert as a fifty-something woman who is suddenly forced to reinvent her life. Nathalie (Huppert) teaches philosophy at a college in Paris. Married with two grown-up children, her spare time is devoted to the books she publishes as a sideline, to former students who have become friends and, above all, to her overly possessive mother (the great Édith Scob). But out of nowhere, Nathalie’s husband Heinz (André Marcon) announces he is leaving her for another woman, the first of a series of events that will completely upend Nathalie’s world, and force her to reassess her future.
Also not to be missed is Xavier Dolan’s 2016 Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Winner It’s Only the End of the World, starring a bevy of celebrated French actors. After a 12-year absence, prize-winning dramatist Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns home to tell his estranged family that he is terminally ill. Upon his arrival, he is greeted with bickering and recriminations from his family who have been left behind. Beneath their affections for Louis, each encounter shows the confusion and disappointment felt by his long unexplained departure. As old tensions begin to surface, the gathering of his mother (Nathalie Baye), brother (Vincent Cassel), sister (Léa Seydoux) and meek sister-in-law (Marion Cotillard) develops from a tight-lipped greeting into a fully-formed storm. All the while, the beautiful and doomed Louis is waiting for his moment to break the news.
Among the more unusual festival features is Daguerrotype, a thriller from acclaimed Japanese master of fear, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Working outside Japan for the first time, Kurosawa has created an engaging and gorgeously atmospheric Francophone ghost story, resurrecting a long-lost art form in a way that will both haunt and linger.
A Gothic tale resplendent with intrigue, Daguerrotype invites us to delve into the world of Jean (Tahar Rahim), a young unskilled Parisian who lands an unlikely position working as the assistant to famed obsessive photographer Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet). Within the isolated confines of a vast, decaying mansion, Jean helps him to create vivid, life-sized daguerreotypes – one of the oldest forms of still photography which captures images on a silver plate. Most often, these are taken of Stéphane’s daughter and muse, Marie (Constance Rousseau), who longs to escape the pervasive gloom of her father’s house, and sees Jean as the way to break free.
The Alliance Française French Film Festival cities and dates are:
Sydney: 7 – 30 March
Melbourne: 8 – 30 March
Canberra: 9 March – 4 April
Perth: 15 March – 5 April
Brisbane: 16 March – 9 April
Adelaide: 30 March – 23 April
Hobart: 30 March – 8 April
Parramatta: 6 – 9 April
Casula: 8 – 9 April
The full line-up for this year’s festival, including premiere screenings and French-themed special events, is available at: affrenchfilmfestival.org.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Moro Spanish Film Festival 2019 – movie preview
- German Film Festival 2019 – preview
- British Film Festival 2020 – movie feature
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television