The Alliance Française French Film Festival has been running for 22 years, and remains Australia’s primary portal for accessing French language cinema from around the world – but mostly France. As the largest foreign film festival in Australia, the Alliance Française French Film Festival (AFFFF) maintains a prestigious roster of films and is often the first and only place Australians will get to see these films outside of their homeland. Kicking off nationally next week, beginning with the Sydney season, the AFFFF tours the country these days, with stops in Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane.
France has long been associated with high quality cinema, and a look through this year’s program is indicative of why this remains the case in 2011. With no less than a whopping 40 Australian premieres, screenings include films that have been official selections at the Cannes Films Festival, The Toronto International Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival. Only last week, France’s Cesar Awards proved how right the AFFFF had got it this year, with numerous awards for films screening this year, including the Best Picture (Of Gods and Men), Best Actress (Sara Forestier, The Name of Love), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Alvaro, The Clink of Ice), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Lonsdale, Of Gods and Men), Best Male Newcomer (Edgar Ramírez, Carlos), Best Costume Design (The Princess of Montpensier) and Best Cinematography (Of Gods an Men).
The gala opening night salvo is traditionally a French farce, and 2011 follows this tradition with Potiche (Trophy Wife). From seasoned director François Ozon (Eight Women), Gérard Depardieu appears alongside Catherine Deneuve who plays a housewife in the 1970s, who unexpectedly finds herself in charge of her philandering husband’s factory when he is taken ill. While French comedy is often hit and miss for anybody outside of France, this one promises to be a little more satirical and knowing that most of its brethren. The opening night screening is a gala invite online event, but it will have multiple screenings around the country by the time the festival is done.
Undoubtedly, one of the most anticipated films of the festival will be Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux), winner of three Cesar awards and the Grand Prix winner in competition at Cannes. The ensemble drama starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale. Playing for the first time in Australia, the timely film examines the relationship between some French Cistercian monks and the local Muslim community in the Algerian mountains after they become the targets of Islamic fundamentalists.
The epic Carlos (Carlos Le Chacal) follows in the footsteps of Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 in elevating an infamous criminal to cinematic proportions. This theatrical cut of Oliver Assayas’ (Summer Hours) five-and-a-half hour TV mini-series follows the life and crimes of the Venezuelan revolutionary that became one of the world most wanted terrorists.
Bertrand Tavernier (In the Electric Mist) is always a director to watch out for, and from all reports Princess of Montpensier (La Princesse De Montpensier) is no exception. Lush historical dramas tend to be crowd pleasers, and with a Best Costume Design Cesar under its belt it should be gorgeous to look at if nothing else!
For films with a different (Viva La Différence!), there is always Bertrand Blier’s The Clink of Ice (Le bruit des glaçons) and Mathieu Almaric’s fourth turn as director in On Tour (Tournée). In the former, a man is confronted with his own cancer in the form of a suit-wearing man. Regular viewers of the AFFFF will remember Blier’s How Much Do You Love Me? played at the festival in 2006, and remains a crowd-pleasing favourite. Meanwhile, Almaric – perhaps best known for his performances in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Quantum and Solace – casts himself in the world of burlesque as it goes on tour. You’ve seen the Hollywood take on Burlesque, now see what the winner of Best Director at Cannes last year has to say on the subject.
There are an impressive number of documentaries this year, from the French occupation of Indo-China (Empire of Mid-South) to a kindergarten that discusses philiosophy (Ce n’est qu’un début). Of particular interest is L’Amour Fou, tracing the life of designer Yves Saint Laurent and his lifelong partnership with Pierre Bergé. Lovers of film will find much to like about Two in the Wave (Deux de la vague), examining the (sometimes tempestuous) friendship between French New Wave directors Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Featuring clips from the works of both filmmakers, archival footage and press of the day, this is a must-see for all film buffs (which we assume you are if you have made it this far into the article).
These are just a handful of almost 50 films being screened at the AFFF this year, featuring globally known stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Audrey Tatou, Gérard Depardieu, Marion Cotillard and Clémence Poésy. Screening details are below, but for more information you can always visit the Alliance Française French Film Festival website.
The 2011 AFFFF dates are:
- Sydney: 8 – 27 March
- Melbourne: 9 – 27 March
- Brisbane: 16 March – 3 April
- Canberra: 16 March – 3 April
- Perth: 23 March – 10 April
- Adelaide: 23 March – 10 April