One can generally always be assured that the Alliance Française French Film Festival will deliver an array of thought-provoking, innovative and entertaining flicks from a nation who arguably does art house better than any other.
If Lukas Dhont’s Girl is an indication of the calibre of this year’s selection, then 2019 will certainly live up to expectation.
Girl is a coming-of-age tale about a female teenager, Lara, trapped inside the body of a male and the struggles she faces while awaiting gender reassignment surgery.
Lara, played with incredible poignancy and sensitivity by newcomer Victor Polster, is training relentlessly as a ballerina at a top dance academy in an environment where her peers and teachers are all aware of her transitioning.
As is her single father, in a wonderfully touching portrayal by Arieh Worthalter, whose support is determined, passionate and full of love.
Save for the occasional upsetting moments of external bigotry, most of the demons Lara face are within herself, as she battles with a body she despises and feels all but foreign to.
Director Dhont manages to hit just the right chord with the tone and pace of the film, without labouring too indulgently on the darker aspects, and the performances he coaxes from his actors are exquisitely subtle, natural and endearing.
The subject matter is explored delicately, yet realistically, and while aspects of the story are at times harrowing, there is an equal measure of tenderness and joy as well as some beautiful symbols and metaphors the French are so renowned for.
One of very few films to include a transgendered protagonist, it is heartwarming to see such a masterful exploration by way of Girl, and I urge all film lovers to partake in the experience.
Girl screens 5 March – 10 April at selected Palace Cinemas across Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.
Redemption and new beginnings in contemporary Western
By Lois Maskiell
In the dry and mountainous Kyrgyzstan countryside, a desperate mother takes her troubled son on a horseback journey. Her reasons for the trip are initially unknown, but slowly and purposefully director Joachim Lafosse invites us into their histories and into a web of trauma, redemption and new beginnings.
Keep Going (Continuer) premieres in Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival after its nomination for best film at Venice International Film Festival in 2018. Making a strong addition to Lafosse’s steadily growing filmography (Our Love, The White Knights, Our Children), this tightly knit two-hander allows the Belgian director-screenwriter to flex his skills in adaptation as it is based on Laurent Mauvignier’s French-language book of the same title.
Prompted by the death of Samuel’s (Kacey Mottet Klein) grandfather, Sybille (Virginie Efira) takes her son on a cross-country trek with high hopes. Absent throughout Samuel’s childhood, she has returned to find her teenage son drifting: from violent run-ins with school staff and the risk of being sentenced to a correctional facility.
Desperate to pierce through Samuel’s anger and build a connection, Sybille forges – with perseverance – through both the stark countryside and her son’s wild temperament. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister, Being 17) plays the conflicted Samuel impressively, balancing fury and desire for love in a captivating and convincing performance.
The stunning location captured by the skilled hand of cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens is featured in an abundance of extreme long shots. The union of expansive landscapes and bouts of silence in the dialogue creates a lean sensory experience allowing the psychological events between Sybille and Samuel to strike harder.
The soundtrack choices sometimes worked, particularly the scene where Samuel is found dancing atop a mountain to a thumping EDM song, but the more emotional tracks seemed to force sentimentality rather than allow the plot and acting to do the heavy lifting.
Joachim Lafosse successfully depicts the complex bond between a mother and son who seek hope in their lives. Sophisticated in its simplicity, moving its psychology, Keep Going (Continuer) captivates and surprises.
Keep Going (Continuer) screens 5 March – 10 April at selected Palace Cinemas across Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.
Celebration: Yves Saint Laurent, directed and written by Olivier Meyrou, is a behind the scenes exploration of Yves Saint Laurent, the man and the Parisian fashion house.
There is no, one discernable narrative. Filmed over a period between 1998 and 2001, the documentary combines snippets of film from interviews with Saint Laurent, scenes from fashion shows, fittings, the workshops inside the fashion house and some more personal scenes of Saint Laurent at work and at home. There is some fascinating footage from the many vaults containing the vast array of collections spanning the 40-year career, as well as brief glimpses at the monumental YSL fashion show that preceded the 1998 World Cup soccer final, bringing Haute Couture to the television and millions of people.
Yves Saint Laurent is depicted as a fragile recluse, whose creativity and vision took both a personal and physical toll. Nevertheless, many he worked with comment that his contributions to fashion, his sharp eye and attention to detail never wavered. Pierre Bergé, carefully manages Saint Laurent and it’s perhaps not a surprise that he, until recently, suppressed the film’s release. At times almost tyrannical in his control, it is clear that Bergé was, and perhaps still is, fiercely protective of Saint Laurent and the brand they built.
The footage was taken nearly 20 years ago, and at permission to release the film in 2016, Meyrou revisited the film, to produce, what at times feels disjointed, documentary. However, like the couture the film is capturing, there are small threads that carefully and purposefully hang the overall narrative together. Black and white footage of Saint Laurent is juxtaposed with the more colourful and bustling world of the workshop and fashion shows. The soundtrack is at times disruptive and unsettling, but it calls your attention to what is happening on screen. There is no narration, only the conversations of the documentary’s subjects that are captured, often interrupted and unfinished. Meyrou’s documentary seems to be void of an agenda, except to immerse his audience in the everyday world of fashion designed and worn by very few.
I was left still not knowing very much about Yves Saint Laurent himself, perhaps with the exception of his penchant for French bulldogs. I was, however, left with a new appreciation for the work and accomplishments of Yves Saint Laurent and the people who brought his vision to life.
Celebration: Yves Saint Laurent screens 5 March – 10 April at selected Palace Cinemas across Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.
Australian audiences will adore the quirky treasure of a film, Our Happy Holiday (Premières vacances). Somehow, French romantic comedies hit the spot that their American and British contemporaries can never quite tickle. You have your eccentric characters, and their eccentric situations, without a moment contrived from the rule book.
Like so many modern romances, Marion (Camille Chamoux) begins with enlightening her tinder date Ben (Jonathan Cohen) to the gamut of her Tinder dating experience. Things rapidly escalate into an impromptu holiday to Bulgaria, comfortably between Biarritz and Beirut where the characters are respectively intending to go prior to their quick night of passion.
Our Happy Holiday is a first-time direction from writer Patrick Cassir, and in the first half of the film it shows. The emphasis on the dialogue, particularly the first conversations between our lovers has a tendency to feel forced, despite excellent acting from the leads. It’s unsurprising that Cassir becomes hooked on the dialogue, but like magic, the writing and direction take flight in the second part of the film when we are very much in the depths of a Bulgarian sextopia of a retreat.
Frustrated with Marion’s excessively carefree ways in a dirty local’s home for a first stop, I am eventually enlightened to her way of thinking after watching Ben stand by for a dull afternoon shared with a repugnant six-year-old. There are some fantastically poignant moments as our characters learn to engage with each other despite their vastly different approaches to taking a break. For anyone else, this plot could have been a silly mess, but Our Happy Holiday is a shining benchmark for what we should expect of our romantic comedies.
Some standouts include the gorgeous Camille Cottin’s monologue whilst holding an iron, a James Bond style escape from a moving train, and a very French way of insulting someone and expecting that person to still pay for your goods.
Despite a shaky start, I absolutely loved this film, and it will certainly make for a memorable romantic comedy.
Our Happy Holiday screens 5 March – 10 April at selected Palace Cinemas across Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.
Loss and hope in the aftermath of Paris terrorist attack
By Samuel Barson
On 13th November 2015, Paris was hit by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks, completely devastating the peaceful city. In Amanda, writer-director Mikhaël Hers has invented a similar attack on the city and people of Paris, a tragic event to disrupt the lives of the film’s protagonists.
Killed in the attacks is Sandrine, who leaves behind her 7-year-old daughter, the titular Amanda. Sandrine’s brother David finds himself responsible for his little niece, and the film’s story is the journey of these two characters and the bond they create in the aftermath of such an horrendous event for their family.
As David, Vincent Lacoste is terrific. His ability to ascertain the emotions born from his character’s turbulent situation is striking: he balances stoicism for the sake of protecting his niece and expresses the explosive sadness that overcomes him in quiet moments. He also has the chance to explore a more charismatic side to his character in scenes with his love interest Léna, who was also injured during the terrorist attacks.
Isaure Multrier fittingly pulls the audience’s heartstrings in the titular role, with the majority of this film’s loss and devastation being seen through the eyes of this innocent, pure and sweet young girl.
Complimenting the cast’s powerful performances is Anton Sanko’s music composition. As the characters go through their respective roller coasters of grief, Sanko’s composition beautifully joins them and the audience on their ride.
Cinematographer Sébastien Buchmann plays a pivotal role in presenting audiences with a sense of hope and positivity that is desperately needed in a heavy narrative such as this one. He captures the beauty of Paris, despite the horrors that have occurred within and leaves us with a welcome feeling that this gorgeous city could never truly be destroyed, and neither could its people.
Despite some momentary weaknesses in the script, the exquisite performances and touching theme of loss make Amanda a very worthwhile contribution to this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival.
The largest line-up to date will screen across selected Australian cinemas to celebrate the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. 54 films, which captured the critics’ attention at the international film festivals in Cannes, Berlin and Venice, feature on the programme with the vast majority previously undistributed.
“This edition will be literally plugged to the history of cinema through genres with the western, the science fiction and the horror film, even the Bollywood film makes an appearance,” says artistic director Philippe Platel.
Platel, also the Cultural Attaché at the French Embassy in Australia, curates the festival for the fourth consecutive year in collaboration with Alliance Française and Unifrance Films.
Comedy fans can prepare to be spoilt for choice: the festival launches with the explosively witty The Trouble with You (En liberté) and features a selection of achingly funny films. Directed by Pierre Salvadori The Trouble with You is “a poetic take on comedy at the intersection of many genres,” says Platel. “It’s a comedy, romcom, thriller and cop film with tarantinoesque effects.”
Sink or Swim (Le grand bain) by Gilles Lellouche is “the big success for this year with 4 million spectators in total in France,” he says.
Box-office hit Dumped (Larguées) pivots on a simple plot: two daughters take their recently single mother to an island resort where she recovers on a diet of cocktails and an unexpected love affair. “It’s sweet and salty, it’s a margarita for your brain,” says Platel.
For the serious cinephile, the key film on their radar is pioneer auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book (Le livre d’image). At 88 years Godard never ceases to polarise the critics’ praise with his strikingly contemporary work, “he is so innovative, he reinvents cinema every time,” says Platel. Now it’s your turn to cast the verdict.
Claire Denis’ highly anticipated science fiction High Life starring Juliette Binoche will also appeal to the film buff, as will Virgil Vernier’s Sophia Antipolis and Jacques Audiard’s western Sisters Brothers (Les Frères Sisters) featuring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal.
For a spectacularly visual experience, Alain Resnais’ 1961 Last Year at Marienbad (L’Année dernière à Marienbad) is not to be overlooked with costumes by fashion icon Coco Chanel. “It’s an amazing film and it’s a very central piece in the line-up because the restoration is incredible,” says Platel.
Actress Vanessa Paradis leads in Yann Gonzalez’s spin on the slasher movie, Knife+Heart (Un couteau dans le coeur), which has already attained cult status since its Cannes premiere. “Paradis plays the role of a lesbian producer of gay porn films in the ’80s, facing a serial killer killing all of her cast,” he says. “It’s very fashionable with a trendy soundtrack by M83.”
Backing this variety of films are prominent industry patrons including Australia’s foremost film critic David Stratton and leading Australian producer Rosemary Blight. “Since 80% of our audience is Australian, we’re definitely an Australian cultural event,” says Platel. “It made sense that we have this entourage of Australian patrons from the industry.”
The festival’s enduring popularity affirms Australians’ affection for France’s unique brand of cinema, and what better way to celebrate this birthday edition than with a superb range of films in which to escape, explore and discover.
“There is a very strong appetite for French culture in Australia,” says Platel. “I’m amazed by this very sincere Francophilia found everywhere.”
The 30th birthday edition of the Alliance Française French Film Festival screens 5 March – 18 April 2019 across selected cinemas in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Avoca Beach, Paramatta and Byron Bay.