Ten 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.
Sarah Ward
Published on March 07, 2017

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 Australia'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 Australia is concerned, the numbers keep coming: reaching its 28th year, the 2017 festival will screen 45 films in nine different cities and towns, and will try to exceed its 168,000 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 ten must-see picks of the fest.


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 here


It's okay if Being 17 sounds familiar — it has been doing the rounds of Australia's major film festivals over the past year. However, one of the great things about the AFFFF is the opportunity to catch up with movies you might've missed elsewhere. And, if you haven't put this vibrant coming-of-age flick in front of your eyeballs just yet, make sure you rectify the situation. The story itself makes a certain impact as it charts two teenage boys exploring their feelings for each other, then grappling with the uncertainty that follows, as told with sensitivity and insight by Girlhood director-turned-Being 17 screenwriter Céline Sciamma. View sessions here


Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is well known for dwelling in horror territory — in fact, his last movie screened at the Japanese Film Festival late last year. Here, he makes the jump to France to tell a Gothic ghost tale, enlisting the help of actors Tahar Rahim and Mathieu Amalric. At the centre of the film sits the titular form of photography, which involves capturing images on a silver surface, and requires those getting snapped to sit still for hours on end. The film moves similarly slowly; however, it doesn't take long for its Gothic charms to work their magic. View sessions here


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


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


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


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


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 here


Cinema has made a habit of following those in habits, pondering faith and exploring the space where religious beliefs and the realities of life meet. Add The Innocents to the contemplative pile, as a young French doctor visits a Benedictine convent to tackle the one scenario that's not supposed to happen: several pregnancies. Set at the end of the Second World War, Anne Fontaine's film proves all the more compelling by taking its tale from a true story. No wonder it got audiences talking when it screened at last year's Sundance, and no doubt it'll do the same again at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. View sessions here


After wowing audiences as one of film's most memorable cinema owners in Inglourious Basterds, Mélanie Laurent hasn't just continued to pop up on-screen — she has stepped behind the lens as well. In fact, the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival gifted Australian audiences with the chance to see her last fictional feature, Breathe, and they're coming through again. This time, Laurent turns documentarian with co-director Cyril Dion to dive into today's environmental issues, and just what they might mean for tomorrow. If that sounds powerful, it should. It also won the duo the Cesar award for best documentary at France's top film awards. View sessions here

The Alliance Française French Film Festival will visit Sydney from March 7 to 30; Melbourne from March 8 to 30, and Brisbane from March 16 to April 9. 

Published on March 07, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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