It’s French Film Festival time in Australia! March 2–April 22, 2021
The Alliance Française French Film Festival screens around Australia from March 2–April 22. Hopefully this year there will be no lockdowns preventing us from our annual immersion in French cinema.
Two films I’ve seen so far are ‘The Godmother’, a beautifully crafted blend of French noir, comedy, drama starring the legendary Isabelle Huppert; and the François Ozon film ‘Summer of 85’.
The Godmother — La Daronne
I came for Isabelle Huppert and wasn’t disappointed.
Huppert is wonderful as a police translator making extra money on the side as a wholesale hashish dealer. Not an original storyline, but engaging nonetheless.
Patience Portefeux (Huppert) is a single mother who works as an Arabic-to-French translator for a squad of Paris narcotics officers. She is conscientious and does her job well, but her mother’s (Liliane Rovère (‘Call My Agent’)) nursing home is expensive, and she has her dead husband’s bills to pay.
She sees an opportunity – by not translating everything, she prevents a drug bust and takes a tonne and a half of Moroccan hash and works out how to distribute it herself.
Patience transforms herself with flowing robes accessorised with some beautiful Hermès scarves, gold bling, dark sunglasses and red lipstick. But this is not a film showcasing French fashion (unfortunately) but it has humour, drama, and a failed romance. There are also good old-fashioned foot chases, mistaken identities, and bumbling dealers.
She almost gets caught a number of times – by the police and the people she stole the drugs from – but always manages to just save herself. Her lover and boss is mildly suspicious but he can’t quite believe she’s a criminal, plus he’s besotted, so he tries to push that idea out of his mind.
Huppert’s talent shines on screen. She has created a complex character – cunning, compassionate, tough, resourceful. And Nadja Nguyen as Patience’s landlady is an undiscovered (for me) comedic delight.
Summer of 85 — Été 85
As soon as I saw this is a François Ozon film, it went on my list. This is a perfectly crafted film but won’t be for everyone. It’s not a feel-good film, and as the film itself warns us in the opening narration, if death and corpses don’t interest you, “then stop right here”.
It’s an Ozon film, so darkness in the light is to be expected. The light is the blossoming romance between two young boys at a seaside resort town in Normandy, with beautiful scenery – white cliffs, blue sea, overgrown country paths. The eighties fashion is also entertaining.
While boating, Alexis (the handsome Félix Lefebvre) panics when he sees an approaching storm and his boat capsizes. David (Benjamin Voisin) rescues him, pursues him, and a romance is born.
The giddy passionate happiness of a new relationship set in a summer holiday vibe with motorcycle and boating trips, can’t last forever and they end up wanting different things. A sudden and heartbreaking tragedy ensues, and we see two stories in parallel – the romantic journey and the grief of loss.
Near the end of the film, there’s an interesting Buddhist-like discussion about how we project the person we want onto the person we are with, and this may not always match, which leads to trouble and hurt. We love the idea of the person we’ve ‘created’ rather than the person themselves. That’s what you get from an Ozon film – philosophy, as well as an exploration of feelings.
It’s a slow moving film, but with great acting all round that makes you feel the joys and the inevitable heartbreaks.
Beautifully shot on super-16 by cinematographer Hichame Alaouie.
For those of you who enjoyed ‘Call My Agent’ on Netflix, the delightful Laure Calamy who played Naomi stars in the romantic comedy ‘Antoinette in the Cévennes’, set in the mountains in the South of France.
Kirstin Scott-Thomas plays the mother of a fading French tennis star in ‘Final Set’.
The biographical drama ‘De Gaulle’ starring Lambert Wilson also sounds interesting.
So many films – more reviews to come; meanwhile check out the line up here.
The French Language—Alliance Française
And of course a short plug for the marvelous Alliance Française and the French language in general!
The French language naturally helps us to understand the culture, and therefore a greater appreciation of French cinema, but it’s always a delight when you can watch the films without having to always read the subtitles!
I’ve learnt some French using the Duolingo app, which is useful for short sharp practice when waiting for a train or queuing for a croissant, but my times at the Alliance (in Paris and Melbourne) have always been more than useful. In fact, it’s always challenged me, not least because everything is spoken in French so I had to concentrate extra hard, but because I had to speak French, in sentences, telling a story. And the more you progress, the more you learn about the culture as well. Since I’ve stopped attending [classes at the Alliance Francaise], thinking Duolingo would do, my French has gone downhill, especially since my last trip was in January last year just before Covid really hit the world.
I am a freelance journalist, TV researcher and media trainer based in Melbourne. I write about tech, film, sustainability and travel among other things - and of course, all things French for MyFrenchLife.org. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram
Come with us to experience French life beyond the cliché. Magazine – Events – Experiences
Would you like to work with our team?
Wherever you live, if you’re a francophile or French and you’d like to join our team of Contributors then we’d love to hear from you – check out oursubmissionspage. We’re also constantly seeking savvy interns – please check on availableinternships