France is not only the birthplace of but also the spiritual home of cinema. From the invention of the moving image by the Lumière Brothers to Godard, godfather of the groundbreaking French New Wave and modern masters like Abdellatif Kechiche and Jacques Audiard, it’s a region that is renowned for producing some of the world’s most unique, cinematic visions. Hosted by Palace Cinemas, and playing Melbourne’s Inner North at The Westgarth, The Alliance Française French Film Festival is back for its 27th year to celebrate the very best in French film culture. Dedicated to showcasing sophisticated, vibrant and daring works, this year’s festival will present 45 full-length features as well as a host of special events and guests from all around the world. Kicking off in Melbourne on March 8, the festival opens with the local premiere of Jérôme Salle’s The Odyssey, a searing biopic about the life of French adventurer and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and closes with Nadège Loiseau’s A Bun in the Oven, an uproarious comedy that follows the misadventures of Nicole, a 49-year-old first-time mother-to-be.
As always, this year’s program is comprised of several different thematic strands to ensure there are films to please everyone’s palette. For those in the mood for something fun there’s the ‘Laugh It Off’ strand, featuring the World Premiere of Carine Tardieu’s Just to be Sure, a multi-generational exploration of the joys and convolutions of paternity, kinship and romance. For those who love their horror with a little depth, there is Japanese master Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s atmospheric Daguerreotype, a French-set gothic fable about the tense relationship between a photographer, his muse and his assistant. There’s even something for the kids, with the expertly animated adventure Adama. Incorporating elements of sculpture, 2D and 3D animation, it tells the story of a young boy who must journey through West Africa to war torn France to rescue his recently enlisted older brother.
Taking a closer look at the festival, the ‘Little Bit of Cannes’ strand is, unsurprisingly the festival’s centerpiece, packed with award-winners that previously screened at the world’s most prestigious film festival. The standout here is Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay a.k.a Malout. Famed for his meditative treatments of faith, spirituality and violence, here the unpredictable and versatile Dumont turns his hand to absurdist-slapstick comedy. Still imbued with the transcendental imagery that is his trademark, the film stars Juliette Binoche and follows a small family of cannibalistic fisherman who must do their best to avoid arrest by bumbling Inspectors Machin & Malfoy. From the legendary Dardenne Brothers comes social realist murder mystery The Unknown Girl, the chilling story of a young doctor who takes on the responsibility of solving a death she may have prevented. Prodigious talent Xavier Dolan also presents his electrifying melodrama It’s Only the End of the World, winner of The Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2016.
Another award winner also screening at the festival is Delphine & Muriel Coulin’s The Stopover, which won Best Screenplay in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2016. Bolstered by a pair of gripping performances, the film offers an intense character study that delves deep into the psyche of two female soldiers tackling the traumas of war. This year’s program is noticeable for featuring a large number of films produced and starring female creatives, brought together in the festival’s ‘Girl Power’ strand. Here, fresh from her Oscar Nominated turn in Jackie, Natalie Portman stars in the visually lush Planetarium. Alongside Lily-Rose Depp, the pair plays two sisters travelling across pre-war France, searching for fame and fortune in the world of psychics, mediums and clairvoyants.
Elsewhere, there is the ‘On the Road’ strand, which features films that share the motif of travel. Gérard Depardieu shines in Saint Amour an irreverent romp (from Gustave Kervern, director of Louise-Michel and Mammuth) about the father-son bond that lavishly winds its way through the picturesque wine-regions of France. The festival also features a select number of powerful documentaries. There is actor-turned-filmmaker Mélanie Laurent’s enviro-doc Tomorrow, which explores some of the world’s grandest environmental problems and the grass-roots movements across that are springing up across the globe to create practical solutions. For those who consider themselves Francophiles and Cinephiles in equal measure there is also Bertrand Tavernier’s A Journey Through French Cinema. Comprising hundreds of clips, the film functions as a joyous ode to the extraordinary visual style, uninhibited morality and elegant pessimism that so characterizes French cinematic history.
In his first year as Artistic Director, Philippe Platel accurately describes the French cinema landscape as “more vibrant and alive than ever before.” With this year’s lineup, Platel has curated a selection of films that invites viewers to “travel the world and through time…dance and sing…fall in love, and [above all] dream.” So whether you’re a dreamer at heart or just a lover of all things French be sure to get to the Alliance Française French Film Festival in March for a veritable smorgasbord of the finest in French cinema.
The Alliance Française French Film Festival will be screening at Palace Cinemas across the state, including the inner north’s Westgarth, from March 8th – 30th. Tickets are available here.