Parky At the Pictures (30/11/2022)
(An overview of 30th French Film Festival)
Always one of the highlights of the autumnal film calendar, the French Film Festival has reached its 30th edition. Primarily based in Scotland, but with an increasing number of participating venues south of the border, FFF has become known for catching the features that slip through the distribution net to ensure that cinephiles can keep up to date with developments in Europe's oldest, largest, and most consistently innovative film industry.
Harking back to the dawn of screen history, the Femmes First strand includes 13 short films by Alice Guy-Blaché, the Gaumont secretary who became the world's first woman director and who ran her own studio on the east coast of the United States. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi are better known for their acting than directing, but they respectively draw on personal insight for Jane (a documentary about Gainsbourgh's mother, Jane Birken) and Forever Young, which centres on the hopefuls at a prestigious acting school.
Two of the world's best current screen performers can be seen in Blandine Lenoir's Angry Annie and Emily Atef's More Than Ever, as Laure Calamy campaigns for an abortion law in 1970s France and ailing Vicky Krieps leaves behind boyfriend Gaspard Ulliel in order to convalesce in clean air of Norway.
Similarly, illness isn't the only thing to come between Moroccan marrieds Ayoub Missioui and Lubna Azabal in Maryam Touzani's The Blue Caftan. And there's more impassioned activism on show in Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon's documentary, Feminist Riposte, while Julie Ledru strives to impress in the macho world of motorbike riding in Lola Quivoron's Rodeo.
Some of the biggest names in French cinema have pictures in this year's Panorama section. Perhaps the most eye-catching offering is Patrice Leconte's Maigret, which sees Gérard Depardieu taking the role of Georges Simenon's famous detective. But the prospect of Depardieu playing an ageing actor opposite Fanny Ardant in Jacques Becker's The Green Shutters is equally enticing, as is his supporting role in Xavier Giannoli's adaptation of Honoré de Balzac's Lost Illusions, which won seven César awards.
Pierre Niney has two features in this strand, as he takes the contrasting roles of an air crash investigator in Yann Gozlan's Black Box and a chemical corporation lobbyist in Frédéric Tellier's Goliath. The latter co-stars Gilles Lellouche as a lawyer and he returns as a diplomat whose efforts to bring culture to a remote part of Siberia incur the wrath of the Kremlin in Jérôme Salle's fact-based thriller, Kompromat. Another foreign mission goes awry, as Isabelle Carré heads to Sicily to organise a visit to a migrant camp by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in Swiss director Lionel Baier's Continental Drift.
Sandrine Kiberlain also doubles up, as a single mother falling for the very married Vincent Macaigne in Emmanuel Mouret's Diary of a Fleeting Affair and as a comic-book author helping actor Vincent Lacoste clear his name of murder in Nicolas Pariser's The Green Perfume. Tahar Rahim and Virginie Efira also play thespians who are irresistibly drawn to each other in Serge Bozon's Don Juan, while there are more backstage melodramatics on view in François Ozon's Peter von Kant, a reworking of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), which centres on the complex relationships of film director Denis Ménochet.
Emotional strain also characterises the connection between siblings Marion Cottillard and Melvil Poupaud in Arnaud Desplechin's Brother and Sister, while Reda Kateb faces a wall of silence when he tries to ascertain the truth about his younger brother's death at the hands of the police in Rachid Bouchareb's Our Brothers. Pablo Schils and Mbundu Joely aren't related, but they have become inseparably close since arriving in Belgium and their bid to improve their lot is chronicled in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Tori and Lokita. Escaping the constraints of patriarchal control is also the theme of Robert Guédiguian's Mali Twist, a 1960s saga centring on socialist Stéphane Bak and abused bride Alice Da Luz.
Election night 1981 changes Charlotte Gainsbourg's fortunes in Mikhaël Hers's The Passengers of the Night, as she encounters a troubled teenager while hosting a late-night radio show. A terrorist attack on Clermont-Ferrand throws another unlikely couple together, as middle-class liberal tries to befriend a homeless Muslim youth in Alain Guiraudie's Nobody's Hero. The call of the provinces also proves too strong for ballerina Marion Barbeau, as she heads to Brittany to get over a broken romance and discovers contemporary dance in Cédric Klapisch's Rise.
Five tweenagers transform themselves into eco-warriors to destroy the factory polluting a Corsican river in Pierre Salvadori's The Little Gang, while sous-chef Audrey Lamy's conscience gets the better of her after she accepts a job at a migrant shelter café in Louis-Julien Petit's The Kitchen Brigadce. A Parisian café provides the setting for Jérôme Bonnell's The Love Letter, as Grégory Montel sits down to ponder what went wrong with his relationship with Anaïs Demoustier.
She also crops up as a dinner guest, as Léa Drucker and Alain Chabat show off their new home in Incredible But True, Quentin Dupieux's typically left-field tale of age-reducing trapdoors and electronic genitalia. Meanwhile, a stag party reunites a group of old friends who haven't quite resolved past issues in Nicolas Vanier's Champagne, whose ensemble cast includes the marvellous Elsa Zylberstein and Sylvie Testud.
The pair are reunited in Olivier Dahan's Simone, A Woman of the Century, which sees Zylberstein and Rebecca Marder play Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, who became a force in French politics in the 1970s. What a fine double bill this would make with Fred Cavayé's Farewell, Mr Haffmann, which charts the deteriorating friendship between Jewish jeweller Daniel Auteuil and assistant Gilles Lellouche after he sells him his Parisian shop in 1941 and has to take refuge from the Nazis in the cellar.
Always ahead of the game, FFF's Discovery sidebar seeks to identify the creative stars of tomorrow. The focus in 2022 falls on emerging Belgian film-makers, with Lukas Dhont's Close starring Léa Drucker and Émilie Dequenne in a story about a young boy coming to terms with the loss of his best friend. Equally poignant is Emmanuelle Nicot's Love According to Dalva, in which 12 year-old Zelda Samson is taken into care and taught to be a child again after being separated from the father she had trusted.
Completing the Belgian triptych is Yves Hinant and Jean Libon's A Fistful of Fries, a documentary account of the investigation conducted by Inspector Jean-Michel Lemoine and Judge Anne Gurwez into the murder of a Brussels prostitute. The pressures of working every hour to feed a family begin to mount on Laure Calamy in Éric Gravel's Full Time, as a single mother has to cope with a transport strike in an effort to get to her hotel cleaning job on the other side of Paris. Both Calamy and Gravel took prizes at the Venice Film Festival for their work.
The pace is considerably slower in the last two offerings, as Sète oyster farmer Yasin Houicha ponders a way to atone for a botched marriage proposal in Emma Benestan's Hard Shell, Soft Shell, while thirtysomething technician Ahmed Sylla discovers that aspiring politician Bertrand Uschat is his twin brother in Olivier Ducrey and Wilfried Méance's comedy of racial manners, Two of a Kind.
A devoted daughter pays a fond tribute to her father, as Amandine Fredon joins with Benjamin Massoubre for Little Nicholas, an animated account of how 1950s writer René Goscinny (Alain Chabat) created a loveable comic-book scamp with cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé (Laurent Lafitte). Blurring between real life and the action on the page, this is joined on the Specials shelf by Michel Hazanavicius's Final Cut, which sees Romain Duris and Bérénice Bejo being attacked by zombies while making a film about the living dead, and Claude Lelouch's The Best Years of a Life, which reunited Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée for one last outing as Jean-Louis Duroc and Anne Gauthier, the characters they had played in the Palme d'or- and Oscar-winning A Man and a Woman (1966) and its sequel, A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later (1986).
Speaking of classics, FFF is celebrating its 30th anniversary in style with Marcel Carné's masterpiece, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), being accompanied by Christian-Jaque's Fanfan la Tulipe (1952), Jacques Becker's Falbalas (1954), Philippe De Broca's Chère Louise (1972), Jacques Demy's A Room in Town (1984), and Claude Chabrol's Madame Bovary (1991). A deal has also been struck with Curzon @ Home to give festival audiences a chance to catch up on some recent releases with a 15% discount. Roll up now if you missed Claire Denis's Both Sides of the Blade, Emmanuel Carrière's Between Two Worlds, Nabil Ayouch's Casablanca Beats, François Ozon's Everything Went Fine, or Jacques Audiard's Paris, 13th District.
Wrapping things up is an Extras selection of recent releases that allows audiences to catch up with items that didn't reach their local cinemas. The much-lamented Bertrand Tavernier's The French Minister (2013) sees Raphaël Personnaz's idealism take a blow when he becomes a speechwriter for Foreign Minister, Thierry Lhermitte. Also released a while back, Alain Chabat's Christmas & Co. (2017), in which the director stars as Santa Claus making an emergency trip to find replacements for this 92,000 toymakers, who have all fallen ill at the same time.
A clutch of titles date from 2020, including Bruno Dumont's France, in which Léa Seydoux excels as a famous TV journalist whose career does into decline after a traffic accident. Down in Marseilles, Halima Benhamed has to try and keep her family together in Hafsia Herzi's Good Mother, while Sandrine Kiberlain does her level best to expose Denis Podalydès's domestic secret when he goes to work for a whizzy new company in Bruno Podalydès's French Tech.
Also dating from 2020 is Philippe Béziat's Gallant Indies, a documentary showing how some street dancers reinterpret Jean-Philippe Rameau's baroque masterpiece on the stage on the Paris Opéra. The toe-tapping continues in 1980s Brittany, as brothers Thimotée Robart and Joseph Olivennes get into pirate radio in Vincent Maël Cardona's Magnetic Beats. A dance competition provides middle-aged couple, Olivier Saladin and Lorella Cravota with a chance to pay off their debts in one of the strands woven together in Jean-Christophe Meurisse's state-of-the-nation satire, Bloody Oranges (both 2021).
The plotline is equally busy, as police chief Jérémie Renier has to deal with everything from drunken rowdiness to suicide and child abuse in the Norman town of Étretat in
Xavier Beauvois's Drift Away Albatros. The mountains of Cantal provide the backdrop for Denis Imbert's Vicky and Her Mystery, which sees Vincent Elbaz discover that his troubled eight year-old daughter's new puppy is actually a wolf cub.
Concluding one of the best FFF programmes for some time are two costume dramas. Éric Besnard's Delicious reveals how chef Pierre Manceron (Grégory Gadebois) left the employ of a nobleman to set up France's first restaurant on the eve of the 1789 Revolution, while Marc Dugain's Eugènie Grandet (both 2021) revisits the Balzac novel set against the 1819 Restoration to show how the arrival of a Parisian orphan (César Domboy) impacts upon the life of Saumur miser Félix Grandet (Olivier Gourmet) and his sheltered daughter (Joséphine Japy).
Flight investigator Mathieu Vasseur (Pierre Niney) has acquired a reputation at the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis For Civil Aviation Safety for being brilliant, if erratic. But, when Atrian Flight 800 crashes in the Alps and he hears the phrase `Allahu Akbar!' on the black box cockpit log, everyone accepts his judgement that the 300 passengers and crew were victims of a terrorist. Wife Noémie (Lou de Laâge), who is about to join Atrian from the Pegase security company run by Xavier Renaud (Sébastien Pouderoux) is proud of him, as is boss Philippe Rénier (André Dussollier). But Mathieu is bothered by the fact that senior colleague Victor Pollock (Olivier Rabourdin) has gone missing after visiting the crash site. Furthermore, he comes to doubt his initial finding after receiving information from disgruntled pilot Alain Roussin (Grégori Derangère) and journalist Caroline Delmas (Anne Azoulay).
What follows is both fascinating and frustrating, as Mathieu uncovers new snippets of information and even risks his marriage in order to ascertain the truth. Yet, while director Yann Gozlan and co-scribes Simon Moutaïrou and Nicolas Bouvet-Levrard maintain the level of suspense, there are so many twists and late-arriving characters that the action becomes increasingly implausible, especially after Mathieu learns about an autopilot glitch and discovers the secrets contained in the basement of a country house and a nearby lake.
With the camera often fixed on computer screens or the obsessive Niney's face, as he strains in a darkened room to pick out sounds from the static on the recording, the visuals may not be particularly thrilling. But he brings an intensity to proceedings that are further complicated by the flaws in his character. The supporting cast is admirable, even though it's pretty obvious from their first introduction who the villains are. But it's intriguing to discover what they're up to and why.
Jilted on his wedding day, womanising actor Laurent (Tahar Rahim) keeps seeing Julie (Virginie Efira) in every woman he meets. Deciding to get out of Paris, he accepts the lead in a production of Molière's Don Juan in the Norman resort of Granville. However, Marina (Louise Ribière) proves too inexperienced to play Elvira and the director (Jehnny Beth) hires Julie to replace her. Love blossoms a second time, but a man mourning the loss of his daughter (Alain Chamfort) is keen to deny Laurent a happy ending.
Dotted with songs that comment on the action and reveal the singer's feelings, Serge Bozon's study of toxic masculinity is both sharp and sophisticated, as it condemns a seducer to his fate. However, as Efira notes in the guise of a local schoolteacher, neither Don Juan nor his victims are interesting in isolation and Bozon and co-scenarist Axelle Ropert place the viewer in an uncomfortable position as Laurent and Julie are confronted by the similarities between life and art.
Rahim, Efira and Chamfort do well enough with a difficult song score that is stronger on lyric than melody. But the character of `the quiet man' feels somewhat arch and his appearance at the wedding party strains as much as the dance routine that sees Laurent get his comeuppance. However, the scenes n the cemetery and the hotel bar have a poignancy that contrasts with the spiky playfulness of the encounters in which Efira dons a range of outfits and wigs to expose the predatory nature of a powerful man convinced he is God's gift.
FAREWELL, MR HAFFMANN.
As soon as the Nazis announce a round-up of Jews in May 1941, Parisian jeweller Joseph Haffmann (Daniel Auteuil) makes a deal with the local butcher to smuggle his wife and two children into the Free Zone. He also gifts the shop to his assistant, François Mercier (Gilles Lellouche), on the proviso he can claim it back when the war ends. However, Joseph is unable to leave the city and seeks sanctuary in the basement. The infertile François agrees to post letters to Joseph's wife if he gets his own spouse, Blanche (Sara Giraudeau), pregnant. But he also needs Joseph to keep making jewellery after Commandant Jünger (Nikolai Kinski) becomes a regular customer.
Adapted from a 2016 play by Jean-Philippe Daguerre, this compelling study of corrupted intentions and abused power is intelligently opened out by director Fred Cavayé and co-scenarist Sarah Kaminsky to contrast Joseph's incarceration in the confines of the cellar with François's entrapment, as the temptations of a new milieu lure him out of his depth. Caught between them is Blanche, the laundress who is powerless as her decent husband becomes a stranger.
Auteuil and Giraudeau are superb, as their relationship evolves during the moments in which they are left alone in order to procreate. But Lellouche stands out, as the everyman who loses perspective, as he is feted and respected for the first time in his life.
Exploring the nature of collaboration with insight and sensitivity, Cavayé avoids easy conclusions and forces the audience to share in the growing tension by using handheld shots within the confines of the widescreen hideout. The inevitable denouement is slightly disappointing, but it leaves the way open for a sequel about single mother Blanche, the returning Haffmanns, and even a spared François.
It's 1962 and Mali has just gained its independence from France. Samba Touré (Stéphane Bak) is a committed socialist who travels to rural villages with Jules (Saabo Balde) and Bakary (Ahmed Dramé) to spread the revolutionary spirit. In one village, he meets Lara (Alice Da Luz), who wants to come to Bamako to escape her arranged marriage to the drunkenly abusive Maliki (Alassane Gueye). He comes to the city to reclaim his wife, just as Samba begins to lose faith in party bigwigs Namori (Diouc Koma) and Gabriel (Abdoulaye Diakhaté) when they target his merchant father, Lassana (Issaka Sawadogo).
Despite straying from the L'Estaque district of Marseilles, Robert Guédiguian continues to focus on the class war in this potent, if occasionally melodramatic study of Mali's transition to independence. Some may question whether this story should have been told by an indigenous director, but Guédiguian demonstrates his customary empathy for those striving to do the right thing in spite of the economic, social, and political odds being stacked against them.
Several of the songs on the soundtrack might have been released after 1962, but Guédiguian and co-writer Gilles Taurand capture the vibrancy and optimism of the period. But they don't shy away from the problems that Modibo Keïta's government created for itself and failed to solve, as power started to corrupt. Indeed, the debates about traditional and imported culture, the redistribution of wealth, and the status of women in a patriarchal society are more compelling than the Samba-Lara love story and her pursuit by a brother who believes she has brought shame on the family name.
The performances are solid, as are the period trappings inspired by the contemporary photographs of Malick Sidibé. However, a closing sequence questioning the control imposed by Islamist militants feels forced and emphasises Guédiguian's position as a well-meaning outsider.