As avid filmgoers, we’re incredibly grateful that we can once again enjoy going to the cinema in Australia, unlike in many other countries where it simply isn’t safe. One of our favourite events of the year, the Alliance Française French Film Festival, takes place around the country this month. After taking a big hit last year because of the pandemic, it’s such a treat to have this joyous and evocative celebration of French culture restored to its rightful place on the film calendar.
And we have something extra to be thankful for too. Generally, the festival features two world premieres in Australia, but this year it features nine! That’s because the dire Covid situation in Europe means that films that would otherwise have premiered in Europe can’t be shown there.
The 32nd Alliance Française French Film Festival this year includes 37 films catering for a wide variety of tastes. Between them, they have netted a total of 52 nominations at this year’s César Awards, France’s equivalent to the Oscars.
There are films from both established filmmakers and emerging talents. The festival’s new artistic director, Karine Mauris, is passionate about nurturing new talent and discovering the diverse stories that shine a spotlight on the many rich facets of French life. Renowned filmmakers include Anne Fontaine, François Ozon and Nicolas Vanier, while filmgoers can discover new auteurs such as Kaouther Ben Hania (The Man Who Sold His Skin), Manele Labidi (Arab Blues) and Chloé Mazlo (Skies of Lebanon).
We had a small taste of some of the films prior to a preview screening of The Godmother at the festival’s launch. Many of the films explore the powerful urge to overcome obstacles. Appearances is a thriller where a couple’s privileged existence threatens to implode due to infidelity and revenge. Miss is a joyful, yet thought-provoking film about a boy who dreams of transcending traditional binary gender definitions by entering the Miss France beauty pageant.
In Final Set, an ageing tennis player takes one last shot at winning the French Open. Inspired by the life of singing sensation Céline Dion, Aline is the story of a teenager from Quebec whose powerful voice propels her onto the world stage to become the darling of millions.
Comic relief comes in the form of The Rose Maker, a gentle comedy in the grand French tradition about a once-prosperous rose grower who finds salvation from an unlikely quarter. There’s also Bye Bye Morons, a madcap quest filled with adventure, peril and bewildering encounters.
As intrinsic to French culture as breathing, ‘l’amour’, in all its intoxicating complexities, is another recurring theme. It’s explored with delicate sensitivity in Love Affair; via sophisticated humour in The Wedding Speech; and with empathy in Summer of 85. France’s enduring gastronomic love affair is depicted via the first French restaurant in the splendid 18th-century period drama, Delicious.
This year’s program will also highlight diversity through titles such as The Man Who Sold His Skin, a modern Faustian tale selected as the Tunisian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards; the devastation of civil war as depicted in Small Country: An African Childhood; Arab Blues, a sparkling ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy about adapting to a new culture; the fraught Night Shift, which explores the moral dilemmas faced by police when dealing with illegal immigrants; the lyrical and poetic 1950s drama, Skies of Lebanon and Fahim, the Little Chess Prince, the story of Fahim Mohammad, the Bangladeshi refugee boy who became a national French chess champion.
Presented by Alliance Française in association with the Embassy of France in Australia, the Festival is held at Palace cinemas in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart, Perth, Byron Bay and Parramatta, until April 20.
Visit the Alliance Française French Film Festival website for the full program.