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Six Must-See Films at the 2017 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

See Audrey Tautou on a boat, Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp in pre-war Europe and France's equivalent of an Amy Schumer movie.

Every time you enter a darkened cinema to spend a few hours gazing at the silver screen, you pay tribute to French movies. More than a century ago, the European nation was at the forefront of the medium — its filmmakers are not only responsible for the oldest surviving film in existence, but also the 46-second piece considered the first true film ever made, as well as many influential early efforts. They're still helping shower audiences in movie delights today, of course, with New Zealand's Alliance Francaise French Film Festival providing an annual snapshot of just how busy and bustling the French film industry remains. When you're selling more than 212 million cinema tickets to eager audiences in a single a year, as the country did in 2016, you need plenty of great flicks to show them.

As far as our slice of Gallic cinema in New Zealand is concerned, the numbers keep coming: reaching its 28th year, the 2017 festival will screen 36 films in 12 different cities and towns, and will try to exceed its record breaking admissions from its last outing. That all adds up to a great problem for a cinema lover to have: being spoiled for choice. Should you opt for watching many a French movie star? Exploring many an intriguing tale? Or try to combine both? Let us help steer you in the right direction with our six must-see picks of the fest.

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THE ODYSSEY

When The Odyssey starts relating the tale of Jacques Cousteau, you can be forgiven for expecting to see Billy Murray's face, hear Brazilian versions of Bowie tracks and laugh at Wes Anderson's sense of humour. We all love The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which comically paid homage to Cousteau — but, taking to the seas for a biopic of the famous French oceanographer, director Jérôme Salle favours a much more traditional approach. With Lambert Wilson playing the man in question and Audrey Tautou co-starring as his wife, expect more than a few waves to result as the film examines Cousteau's professional and personal lives. The Odyssey opens this year's Alliance Francaise French Film Festival with a splash, which is exactly how you want things to kick off. View sessions herecp-line

IN BED WITH VICTORIA

When it premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival, In Bed With Victoria earned comparisons to Trainwreck. So if that's your kind of film, get excited. Yes, that means you should expect an account of a woman's quest for romantic success, relayed in both a frank and funny fashion. It also means you'll be falling for an engaging lead performance, with Up for Love's Virginie Efira more than handling the task of playing a Parisian lawyer and single mother trying to navigate the ups and downs of life, dating and finding happiness. View sessions here

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IT'S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

Prepare to question your life choices. In the last nine years, French-Canadian writer/director Xavier Dolan has made six films, five of which have screened at Cannes. He'll turn 28 this month, and he's currently working on his seventh effort, his English-language debut starring Kit Harington, Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, Thandie Newton, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon and Room's Jacob Tremblay. That's quite the accomplishment — and while his most recent movie, It's Only the End of the World, has received mixed reviews, there's still plenty of emotion-dripping French family drama and eye-catching visuals to enjoy. Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel and Marion Cotillard star, with the film taking out Cannes' 2016 Grand Jury Prize. View sessions here

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A JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA

We've already told you that France and cinema go hand-in-hand, but there's no need to simply take our word for it. Trust the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival to screen just the movie that'll teach you everything you ever needed to know about French filmmaking, with veteran writer/director Bertrand Tavernier's A Journey Through French Cinema an informative and engaging guide. Be warned: because there's plenty to cover, you can expect to get comfy for more than three hours. And remember to clear your schedule for months afterwards, because you're going to want to spend every waking moment delving into as much French movie history as possible. View sessions here

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PLANETARIUM

With a title like Planetarium, writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski will have you thinking about stars — and seeing them as well. Expect to be dazzled not by the shining lights above or a place dedicated to them, but by the talents of Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp (yes, Johnny's daughter). The two combine to bring a pair of American sisters to life on a stylish journey through pre-war Europe, complete with seances and other paranormal phenomena, as well as the process of bringing supernatural magic to the movies. View sessions here

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THINGS TO COME

Come on, admit it: we were all hoping that Isabelle Huppert's name would be read out at the Oscars this year. Alas, there was no envelope mix-up in the best actress category. Elle wasn't the only astonishing performance that the French actress gave in 2016 though, with her work in Things to Come just as moving and revelatory. Under the affectionate direction of Eden's Mia Hansen-Løve, Huppert is once again at her best as a philosophy professor forced to reassess her life. And, if you can't get enough of all things Isabelle, she also pops up in fellow festival effort Souvenir. Double feature, anyone? View sessions herecp-line

The Alliance Française French Film Festival will visit Wellington from March 1 to 22, and Auckland from March 2 to 22. 

Published on March 08, 2017 by Sarah Ward

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