In choosing what to include in the Alliance Française French Film Festival program, artistic director Karine Mauris looks for films that will make audiences laugh, cry, think or be surprised. Judging by the wonderful wide-ranging feast of French cinema that she has lined up for this year’s festival, we think she has nailed it.
The French Film Festival begins on March 5 and will continue around Australia until April 21, screening in 14 capital city and regional locations – the largest number of Australian locations to date. The 41 movies being shown include four world premieres, an indication of the regard in which the festival is held. It is the largest celebration of French film outside of France.
French Film Festival program features best of the best
This year is the 35th edition of the festival, and at the media launch in Canberra, where she is cultural attachée to the French Embassy, Karine confidently declared: “I can really say this is the best of the best.”
This is Karine’s fourth and final year as artistic director – a “dream job”, in her words, as she gets to attend the Cannes Film Festival to see what’s new and exciting and wowing audiences.
The whirlwind program she has come up with features some of the French film industry’s greatest directors, such as Catherine Breillat, Michel Gondry and Albert Dupontel. It also features its biggest stars, including Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve, Daniel Auteuil, Laure Calamy and Camille Cottin, while also focusing on emerging talent.
The festival opens in Australia with an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel, The Three Musketeers. Directed by Martin Bourboulon, The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan was France’s biggest box-office success of 2023. It has been nominated for six César awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars.
It is actually a two-part blockbuster, with the sequel The Three Musketeers: Milady also screening during the festival. A number of Australian locations will have double feature screenings so audiences can watch both on the same day, if they are up for a long sitting.
Fittingly, the festival embraces The Three Musketeers’ motto “All for one and one for all” by diving into a diverse array of films, from heart-warming comedies to gripping dramas, classic masterpieces, and stories about affairs of the heart, extraordinary lives, family ties, and more. The two over-arching themes, says Karine, are “diversity and humanity”.
Some great food films
Established by the Alliance Française and presented this year by MSC Cruises, the festival always has some great food- and wine-themed offerings. Keep an eye out for The Taste of Things, billed as a deliciously sensual adaptation of Marcel Rouff’s classic 1924 novel The Life and Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet.
Blending cooking with romantic love, it won director Tran Anh Hung the Best Director prize at Cannes and has netted three César nominations. “Please eat before you go to see this movie,” says Karine.
Another one to watch out for is A Great Friend, directed by Éric Besnard, who whips up another tantalising blend of culinary delights and human bonds. Grab a glass of French wine and prepare to lose yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the French Alps, where laughter, friendship, and unexpected connections come together.
Festival fans were invited to vote for a film they felt most encapsulated the joy and wonder of French cinema. Topping the poll was The Intouchables, a film that stole hearts worldwide and has been seen by around 11 million people to date. If you’re not one of them, or if you want to see it again, here’s your chance.
We heartily recommend The President’s Wife, screened at the media preview, in which legendary actress Catherine Deneuve plays Jacques Chirac’s wife, Bernadette. In her debut film, Léa Domenach skilfully blurs the lines between fact and fiction, presenting a captivating portrait of this unexpected feminist icon.
A must for cinema lovers is the three-hour-long masterpiece, Children of Paradise, filmed in black and white in Nice in 1945, during the Nazi occupation. Karine sees it as her legacy in curating the festival. “I can promise it’s magical,” she says. “(Actor) Hugo Weaving said it was the movie that changed his life.”
Closing the festival, from director Albert Dupontel, a renowned troublemaker in French cinema, comes Second Round, an audacious and at times hilariously savage portrayal of modern politics and media.
For more information about these and all the other great films that will be shown during the Alliance Française French Film Festival, check out the program at www.affrenchfilmfestival.org