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Event: French Film Festival 2011 Preview

The Alliance Française French Film Festival kicks off in Sydney on Tuesday March 8th, and those of you who enjoy a Gallic flair to your films are in for a treat. Now in its 22nd year the festival showcases the best in French cinema.Over four weeks the festival will tour six cities screening more than 40 films. With romances, thrillers, dramas, comedies, animation and documentaries there is sure to be something for everyone. But with such a large programme how will you pick out which films to see?

still from Opening Night film 'Potiche', starring Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve

While there are the obvious internationally acclaimed films to check out like Olivier Assayas’ Carlos and the Oscar nominated Of Gods and Men, there are plenty of lesser known titles to investigate. The festival’s programme is separated into eight sections designed to help you find the right French film for you. Whether you’re after an extraordinary true tale as showcased in the Beyond Fiction category, or a story about passion from the All You Need Is Love selection or a film about crime and (sometimes) punishment from the Police and Thieves section, all cinematic tastes are covered.

Here are reviews of three films I was lucky enough to watch prior to the festival.

Carlos/Le Chacal

(from the When History Seizes the Camera selection)

Olivier Assayas‘ (Summer Hours) Carlos was originally shot and cut as a five and a half hours TV miniseries (which won Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television at the Globe Globes 2010), it has since been cut down to a two and a half hour film, and this is the version screening at the FFF. Looking at the exploits of infamous Venezuelan terrorist/revolutionary Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, this film paints a very negative picture of the man who is better known as Carlos the Jackal (Edgar Ramirez, The Bourne Ultimatum).

At the beginning of the film we see a very confident young Carlos travel to Beirut to join The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1970. We follow Carlos up until his 1994 capture and arrest in Khartoum, Sudan. Throughout this time although Carlos’ alliances chop and change as he is involved in European communism, Arab nationalism and Islamist causes, his revolutionary persona grows to iconic proportions as he become the poster-boy for international terrorism through the 70s and 80s.

Early on in the film during a heated debate Carlos is told by another Venezuelan revolutionary “That’s what you want-to be admired.”. Shown as an egotist and a chauvinist, Carlos’ commitment to ‘the cause’ is perfectly highlighted by his involvement in the 1975 OPEC raid where he shows himself to be both self-serving and self-preserving.

Travelling between many countries and covering the geopolitics of three decades the film picks up the many hypocrisies of the regimes and organisations Carlos is associated with; such as the PFLP leader who couldn’t care less about the persecution of the Kurds in Iraq, or the German communists debating the difference between anti-semitism and anti-zionism.

Carlos (Edgar Ramirez)

Refusing to allow in any of the idealisation of Soderbergh’s Che (2008) films, Assayas presents a man whose narcissism sees him go from idealistic revolutionary to public enemy number one and whose vanity ultimately places him as a forgotten page in Cold War history. Edgar Ramirez’ performance as Carlos is, of course, the glue that holds the film together. Playing the Lothario revolutionary, the gun-obsessed criminal and the image-conscience terrorist, Ramirez beautifully executes all Carlos’ personas giving us the man behind the myth.

On Tour/ Tournée

(from the Viva Le Différence! category)

Mathieu Almaric (Quantum of Solace, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) directs and stars in this film about an American Burlesque troupe on tour in Western France. Almaric plays Joachim a failed Parisian TV producer, who is hoping for a triumphant return to France after a stint in America. Joachim has brought five American burlesque performers with him for a pre-arranged tour of Coastal France. It isn’t long before plans start to fall apart and Joachim isn’t living up to the performers’ expectations.

This very loosely scripted film stars real-life New York performers such as Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz and Mimi le Meaux. Practitioners of what is called Neo-Burlesque, these buxom and bawdy women define their style of performance as ‘women doing burlesque for women’. As the troupe travels from chain hotel to chain hotel, performing at less and less glamourous theatres, the film shows the growing tension between the group and the sardonic Joachim, who moves between charm and insult in dealing with his unruly American performers.

Director and star Mathieu Almaric with his Burlesque stars

Filmed in both English and French, On Tour is one of those great films which offers you a little slice of life, without much concern for plot or cinematic polish. Almaric is fantastic as the weasely promoter, Joachim, who having burnt all his bridges before going to America tries rather unsuccessfully to reunite with former colleagues, friends and his children. But somehow this almost pathetic character is also likeable and his genuine respect for the burlesque performances and his desperate attempts to keep everything on track are endearing. There is a particularly lovely throwaway scene between Joachim and a petrol station attendant (played by Aurélia Petit) with a delightfully playful dialogue that highlights Almaric’s talents as a filmmaker.

Winning best director as the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 for this film, Almaric’s naturalistic approach to filmmaking serves him very well in this setting. While the acting performances of the burlesque artists aren’t always convincing, their unique and sassy personalities win you over. This witty, saucy and rambunctious film is a refreshing change of pace to conventional cinema fare.

My Father’s Guests/ Les Invitiés de mon Père

(from the Women Behind the Len selection)

Actor turned director Anne Le Ny (Those who Remain/ Ceux qui Restant) gives us a tale of immigration and family in modern France with her second film, My Father’s Guests. This comedy takes more than a few pot-shots at bleeding heart liberals as it looks at the difference between rhetoric and practice. Focusing on a well-to-do middle class Parisian family, the film looks at the dynamics between middle-aged siblings Babette (Karin Viard) and Arnaud (Fabrice Luchini) and their 80-year old father Lucien (Michel Aumont).

When ageing humanitarian Lucien decides to open his doors to some illegal immigrants, his family is split in their reactions. While his G.P. daughter and daddy’s girl Babette and his politically active granddaughter (Flore Babled) applaud his decision, his rich lawyer son and daughter-in-law are less impressed with the idea. However when the family find out Lucien has married a beautiful 28-year old Moldovan refugee, Tatiana (Veronica Novak) to allow her and her young daughter to stay in the country, the family have trouble reconciling this reality with the image of the illegal immigrants they were expecting. As Tatiana’s behaviour towards their father begins to look suspicious, Babette and Arnaud connect over their distrust.

While Le Ny and co-scriptwriter Luc Béraud start out initially giving us as a satirical comedy exploring the values of Paris’ bourgeoisie and poking fun at their left-leanings views, there is definitely a mood shift about half-way through the film and the immigration aspect that has been used to fuel the comedy is buried for the more fruitful topic of family.

Arnaud (Fabrice Luchini) and Babette (Karin Viard)

Viard and Luchini have a great chemistry as brother and sister, whose father’s increasingly worrying behaviour sees them growing closer. Veronica Novak also gives a great performance as the tough-as-nails Eastern European immigrant. In a film that offers ample opportunity to laugh at the characters and their mores, it is Tatiana’s story which will give audiences the most trouble with the moral ambiguity which is offered by Le Ny, but never resolved.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival opens on Tuesday March 8th in Sydney, with Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide following. For full programming information and tickets please visit their website

Images 1,3,5 & 6 provided by The Alliance Française French Film Festival

Images 2,4,7,8