Twelve Must-See Films at the 2019 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
This year's lineup features big name stars, touching dramas and veteran filmmakers trying their hand at English-language flicks.
March 08, 2019
Cinephiles have many reasons to love France. After its early filmmaking pioneers played an enormous part in establishing the medium, the country's New Wave of fresh talents helped revitalise it more than half a century later — and in the decades since, the nation has continued to make a considerable impact. Among its many achievements, it's also home to the most famous film festival on the planet, as well as the highest density of cinemas per capita. In short: the world loves the combination of France and film, and the country itself does as well.
For the next month around Australia, it's time to say oui s'il vous plaît to all of the above. And, with apologies to anyone who'd love to be jetting off to Paris, it's time to do so by visiting a cinema screen near you. As it has for the past 30 years, the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is currently treating much of the country to the best, brightest, latest and greatest movies that the European nation has to offer. If there's ever been a reason to escape into a darkened room with a glass of wine and a cheese platter, this is it.
Touring Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Avoca Beach, Parramatta and Byron Bay until April 14, this year's AFFFF brings a feast of 54 films to Aussie audiences — big name stars, touching dramas, weird and wonderful delights, and veteran filmmakers trying their hand at English-language flicks all included. If you're feeling spoiled for choice, we've watched and picked the 12 titles you should seek out. Joyeaux viewing.
In one of her three appearances on the 2019 AFFFF lineup, Juliette Binoche explores the complexities of living a creative life in Non-Fiction. Despite its title, Olivier Assayas' latest film isn't based on fact — and while Binoche once again plays a famous actor, she's not aping her own existence or revisiting her character from the director's Clouds of Sils Maria. And yet, this witty affair still steps into the dramas of combining the actual and the imagined, as writer Léonard (Vincent Macaigne) earns acclaim and fame for infusing his personal love affairs into his latest book. He's also romantically entwined with Binoche's TV star Selena, while her husband Alain (Guillaume Canet) is Léonard's publisher, setting the scene for a smart, amusing and perceptive dissection of life and love in today's always-online, always-sharing times.
Already one of the best films of 2019, and of any other year for that matter, High Life is as audacious and alluring as it sounds. As should be expected from inimitable writer/director Claire Denis, this sci-fi flick is as intelligent and profound as the rest of her filmography, too, and as craftily determined not to be pinned down. Worlds away from the romance of Let the Sunshine In, Denis re-teams with Juliette Binoche for an existential — and sometimes sexual — nightmare that unravels in the clinical surroundings of a prison spaceship that's hurtling towards the edges of the solar system. But, among a high-profile cast that also includes Mia Goth and Outkast's Andre Benjamin, it's Robert Pattinson who's the star of the show. Playing a man and father haunted in a plethora of ways, the continually impressive actor furthers his hot streak of exceptional, challenging roles under the direction of similarly exceptional, challenging filmmakers.
A FAITHFUL MAN
As he did with 2015's Two Friends, Louis Garrel writes, directs and stars in this ruminative romantic comedy, which marks the actor-turned-filmmaker's second stint behind the camera. He plays Abel, who's quickly discarded by his pregnant girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta) in favour of his best friend — and, years afterwards, becomes an object of affection for his former pal's now-grown sister Eve (Lily-Rose Depp). Told from multiple perspectives and shot with a probing eye for beautiful sights, A Faithful Man is the epitome of bittersweet, with Garrel proving a keen observer of human intricacies as both a performer and a helmer. Indeed, while this infidelity-driven affair is light from start to finish, it's also steeped in genuine feeling and drawn from a deep vein of thoughtfulness.
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
For his debut English-language feature, Jacques Audiard pans for gold with The Sisters Brothers — and finds it. The French filmmaker's first flick since winning the 2015 Palme d'Or for Dheepan, this slice of old west life delivers a rich, rewarding, contemplative and comedic western, combining the genre's recognisable grit and verve with its own melancholic spirit. For Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix), the gun-slinging, bounty-hunting assassin trade is a dream. For the elder Eli (John C. Reilly, taking part in another great double act after Stan & Ollie), it's losing its shimmer. Then their latest job goes awry, with their advance man (Jake Gyllenhaal) teaming up with their prospector target (Riz Ahmed) in a quest for riches, sparking shoot-outs and soul-searching in equal measure against a magnificent backdrop.
THE WILD BOYS
The Wild Boys might bake its influences into every lurid frame — think Guy Maddin, Jean Cocteau, John Carpenter, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, David Lynch and more — but this wild ride could never be described as the simple sum of its parts. Story-wise, Bertrand Mandico's feature debut follows five unruly teens who commit a crime at the turn of the 20th century and, in an act of both punishment and rehabilitation, are subsequently taken on a sea voyage to a mysterious island. Just like the libidinous quartet, audiences are gifted a sensual swirl of stimuli and subversion; however to say much more about the narrative or the cast is to spoil the movie's many surprises. Whether flitting from flickering black-and-white to bursts of luminous colour, emphasising his exaggerated sets or experimenting with framing, Mandico ensures that every second of The Wild Boys is a vibrant and textured delight.
Collecting awards and nominations around the globe — Cesar and Lumiere nods in France, a prize in Venice and the top spot at last year's Tokyo Film Festival — Amanda is an involving drama that never takes the obvious route. Its title refers to the seven-year-old niece (Isaure Multrier) of 24-year-old Parisian David (Vincent Lacoste), who comes into his sole care after a devastating tragedy. Subtle rather than overt, and never blatantly tugging at the heartstrings, this is a tender yet clear-eyed account of coping with life's unexpected developments. While director Mikhaël Hers (This Summertime Feeling) approaches the material with a bittersweet tone, he also displays a a delicate and even effervescent touch. His leading man helps considerably, with The French Kissers, Eden and Sorry Angel's Lacoste fast becoming on of France's most compelling young talents.
A striking debut from writer/director Coralie Fargeat, Revenge stalks across the screen with all of the rape-revenge genre's violence and horror — and with visceral style and a firm feminist punch as well. During a desert getaway gone wrong, the attractive Jen (Matilda Lutz) segues from mistress to the arrogant Richard (Kevin Janssens), to victim of his brutish pals (Vincent Colombe and Vincent Colombe), to avenger of the myriad of savage wrongs committed against her. The storyline is standard; however Fargeat approaches the film's visuals, mood and energy with the same do-or-die determination as her persistent protagonist. Lutz, too, puts in an all-consuming performance, aptly conveying the feature's specific blood-soaked tale while embodying the fury of every woman who has ever had to fight back against overwhelmingly cruel and vicious forces.
THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
Zombie movies are as common as ravenous, human-eating crowds after a horrific on-screen outbreak; however The Night Eats the World gives a distinctive taste to the genre's familiar flesh. The first feature from writer/director Dominique Rocher, the sparse horror flick plays out like a cross between I Am Legend and 28 Days Later… with a dose of expected survivalist antics and a few borrowings from single-settling thrillers; however this atmospheric, evocative film boasts a tone that's never less than intriguing. When the world turns from normal to undead in the space of an evening, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) is left to fend for himself. His only company is a zombified neighbour (Denis Lavant), and his own ingenuity is all that's keeping him safe from the attacking hordes outside. There's a rich flow of existential dread coursing through this addition to the genre, not only about mortality but also isolation and loneliness.
At last year's AFFFF, BPM (Beats Per Minute) broke hearts and burrowed into souls with its depiction of 1990s Paris — a time when queer men loved passionately and fought proudly for their place in the world, but always found their existence lingering under a cloud. Consider Christophe Honoré's Sorry Angel not quite its successor, but its dance partner, with the two films sashaying through similar space while unleashing their own moves. Here, writer Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) meets student Arthur (Vincent Lacoste) and, as a bond grows between them, the former's illness and the latter's idealism shape their relationship. Sublimely blue in its melancholy mood and its exacting colour scheme, the end result is a layered, almost novel-like, always tender and touching study of life and love. — SW
BY THE GRACE OF GOD
Exploring sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, By the Grace of God was always going to prove both topical and sorrowful, regardless of its timing. Based on a real-life French case, the film's ripped-from-the-headlines storyline has recently seen two figures portrayed within its frames take legal action, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to block its release. In Australia, the movie arrives hot on the heels of high-profile local legal proceedings; however, the anger, dismay and empathy the Silver Bear recipient inspires is all its own. Focusing on three men (Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet and Swann Arlaud) who were inappropriately taken advantage of by the same priest (Bernard Verley) as children, this is a measured, moving, sensitive and sobering picture from filmmaker François Ozon, who ventures worlds away from previous efforts such as Swimming Pool and Young & Beautiful.
KNIFE + HEART
It's 1979. Someone is savagely murdering gay porn stars, all of whom work for successful, ruthless producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis). And, as she tries to keep making movies while her actors keep dropping like flies, she's coping with the end of her relationship with her editor. Kudos to writer/director Yann Gonzalez for Knife + Heart's exceptional premise, which also features films within films, creepy legends, spooky woods and rather inventive weapons. Still, it's his eye-popping execution that makes this a weird and wonderful delight. In his hands, nothing is too much — and we mean nothing. The end result is an assault on the senses that's as brutal as its slasher set-up and as theatrical as its campy tone. — SW
THE WORLD IS YOURS
There are heist films, and there are heist films. The World Is Yours has earned comparisons to Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino's work; however it's no mere derivative take on a well-worn genre. Instead, it's a splashy, stylish, skilfully executed and supremely entertaining effort in its own right, and a mighty fun time at the cinema. Perhaps best known for making music videos for M.I.A., Simian Mobile Disco, Kanye West and Jay-Z, and Jamie xx, French filmmaker Romain Gavras turns this account of small-time gangsters dreaming big into a cool, comic and confidently engaging caper that drips with energy and charm from start to finish. Veterans Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Cassel take to their roles with glee, but it's A Prophet's Karim Leklou who stands out among the movie's stars — playing the son of a seasoned grifter who just wants to pull one last job so he can sell icy poles in North Africa. — SW
The Alliance Française French Film Festival tours Australia from March 5, screening at Sydney's Chauvel Cinema, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Palace Central and Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace from March 5 to April 10; Melbourne's Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth, Kino Cinemas and The Astor Theatre from March 6 to April 10; Perth's Palace Raine Square, Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX, Windsor Cinema and Camelot Outdoor Cinema from March 13 to April 10; and Brisbane's Palace Barracks and Palace James Street from March 14 to April 14. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the AFFFF website.