Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021… until April 22

The Alliance Française French Film Festival in Australia never disappoints. This year, in particular, is so special because we can’t travel to France, so let the Festival bring France to you. The Alliance Française French Film Festival screens around Australia from March 2–April 22.

I choose films based not only on the story, but the director and cast.

  • So Final Set with Kristin Scott-Thomas piqued my interest.
  • As did Skies of Lebanon, because stories from the Middle East I find fascinating.

I’ve given my opinions below on these two films, but what do you think? How do you choose films at the Fest? And which films have you seen so far? What do you recommend? 

Final Set – 5ème Set 

Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 - - Final Set

Kristen Scott-Thomas plays the mother of Thomas Edison (an excellent performance by Alex Lutz), a former young tennis prodigy who desperately wants to make a comeback. Ever since a major knee surgery dashed his career, he’s been slogging away playing in backcourts and teaching at his mother’s tennis school.

But is he now too old to follow his dream?

She’s no Isabelle Huppert or Catherine Deneuve, but Kristin Scott-Thomas always puts in a solid performance. And here she speaks flawless French, albeit with an almost too perfect accent – her pronunciation is so crisp and clear (so British? Or so Parisian?); there’s not even the slightest of guttural tones!

This is a slow moving film, and we see a lot of tennis. Sombre music and relentless references to Thomas’s age dominate this film. There are moments of joy, however this is not an uplifting film. The mental and physical struggles of this aging former star are keenly felt. 

But we also feel Thomas’s determination to succeed. This is an interesting story about following your dreams. For those of us who try to make our dreams real, we will recognise Thomas’s struggles and the obstacles he faces. His wife has her own aspirations and is sick of giving up her life for his ambitions, his mother dints his dream with pragmatism, and he constantly battles with talented younger players – both in his head and on the court.

If this were a Hollywood film, we’d know how it ends. But we can never be sure in a French film – who knows? C’est la vie!

Skies of Lebanon – Sous le ciel d’Alice

The capital of Lebanon, Beirut, was once known as the Paris of the Middle East due to its French influences – café lifestyle, chic fashion (home to designer Elie Saab for example), and a vibrant cultural and intellectual life. 

Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 - - Skies of Lebanon

Now Beirut is more thought of as war-torn since civil war broke out in the seventies, as well as subsequent bombings and political violence.

So I was interested in a story set in Beirut that begins in the fifties, hoping to see some Parisian chic! The narrative is based on writer/director Chloé Mazlo’s grandmother’s recollections from that time.

A Swiss nanny, Alice (Alba Rohrwacher), is offered a job in Beirut and Frankfurt. Alice only tells her parents of the Beirut offer and off she goes, and eventually falls in love with Joseph (Wajdi Mouawad), a rocket scientist who dreams of a Lebanon space program, settles there and starts a family.

To learn Arabic, Joseph reads her poetry – what a wonderful way to learn a language!

Themes of family – separation and new beginnings – abound in this film, as well as identity, politics, and clash of two cultures.

This film mashes animation with live action, which is cute but sometimes distracts from the story, and sometimes the animation made me feel emotionally disconnected from the characters. On the other hand, once I got used to it, there is some interesting imagery, such as thick roots bound to Alice’s feet and reaching all the way to her parents in Switzerland.

It’s a lovely film, a window into a family’s life in Lebanon – parties, piano recitals, and Alice developing her life as an artist. There is also a dark undercurrent showing us the traumatic personal effect of the war. Decisions need to be made – does the family escape to the safe haven of Switzerland, is Lebanon really the place for Alice? 

So many wonderful films to see – more reviews to come; meanwhile, check out the lineup here

What are your thoughts on these films? What have you seen so far? What do you recommend?

The Alliance Française French Film Festival screens around Australia from March 2–April 22 – Don’t miss out.

More reviews of this year’s array of French films here.

About the Contributor

Cynthia Karena

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 You can find me on Twitter and Instagram

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