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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Must-See Films at the 2020 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

This year's lineup features an ethereal zombie thriller, Eva Green as an astronaut and an Oscar-nominated drama inspired by 'Les Misérables'.
By Sarah Ward
March 09, 2020
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Ten Must-See Films at the 2020 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

This year's lineup features an ethereal zombie thriller, Eva Green as an astronaut and an Oscar-nominated drama inspired by 'Les Misérables'.
By Sarah Ward
March 09, 2020
  shares

UPDATE: MARCH 18, 2020 Organisers have announced that all remaining sessions of the 2020 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival have been cancelled from Thursday, March 19 — hopefully to be rescheduled at a later date, but with further details to be decided down the line. The decision comes "following the Australian Government's additional restrictions on non-essential social gatherings". Ticket holders will receive a full refund.

To find out more about the status of COVID-19 in Australia and how to protect yourself, head to the Australian Government Department of Health's website.

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It's the country responsible for everything from A Trip to the Moon and The 400 Blows to Amelie and Portrait of a Lady on Fire — and, every March, Australia celebrates accordingly. The largest of the nation's annual cultural cinema showcases, the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival has been highlighting the latest and greatest in French flicks for 31 years now. Unsurprisingly, it's charging forth in 2020 as it always has.

For movie buffs in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Avoca Beach, Parramatta, Byron Bay, Bendigo and Ballarat, that means 49 new and classic French flicks, all as part of the fest's huge country-wide tour from March 10. Start with opening night's The Extraordinary, which dramatises the real-life efforts behind a Parisian shelter for autistic youth who aren't cared for by the system otherwise, then dive into Oscar-nominated dramas, the latest work from top directors and an odd little curio about a coveted jacket.

If you're feeling a little spoiled for choice, that's where we come in. Grab a glass of wine and a cheese platter, then nab a ticket to one of our top ten picks of the fest — and say 'oui' to a very French night at the movies.

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ZOMBI CHILD

After making one of the best films of the past few years — 2016's mesmerising and provocative Nocturama — writer/director Bertrand Bonello is back with another instant standout. Don't be fooled by Zombi Child's name — this isn't your usual undead thriller. Instead, the film weaves together two tales. Firstly, in the 60s, Haitian man Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou) is turned into a zombie through a vodou ritual. That part of Zombi Child is actually based on real-life details. Later, in the present day, Parisian boarding school student Fanny (Louise Labèque) befriends Haitian student Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), with the latter's cultural background proving of particular interest. Bonello's ability to challenge, confront complex themes and topics, and create an atmospheric, ambiguous piece of art remains in this folklore-infused colonial critique, as does his winning ways with moody imagery, an ethereal vibe and pitch-perfect soundtrack choices.

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PROXIMA

Even astronauts have to deal with work-life balance. Indeed, that seemingly elusive concept comes into sharp focus in Proxima; however Sarah's (Eva Green) situation is a little different to most folks'. A single mother to Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle), she's in training for year-long space mission 'Proxima' — an already complicated task that's made all the more so by her guilt over what it means for her daughter. A space-related saga with a firmly female mindset, this is the latest film by Mustang co-writer Alice Winocour, who filmed the feature on location inside the European Space Agency. Co-starring Matt Dillon, Toni Erdmann's Sandra Hüller and real-life French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Proxima benefits from its formidable leading lady, too. From Casino Royale to Penny Dreadful, Green makes an impact on-screen like few other actors.

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A BROTHER'S LOVE

Amusing, delightful, awkward and relatable all at once, A Brother's Love doesn't just understand the state of existential turmoil that bears down on most of us — it happily, savvily dwells in it. Sophia (Anne-Élisabeth Bossé) has hit her mid-30s, has just received a PhD that won't get her a job, and has no choice but to move in with her older brother Karim (Patrick Hivon), whose life is as orderly as hers is chaotic. When he starts dating her gynaecologist, Sophia goes into freefall. Well, she plummets further. The pair have always been close, but this new development completely unsettles her sense of self. Writing as well as directing, French Canadian actor-turned-filmmaker Monia Chokri clearly learned a thing or two from featuring in Xavier Dolan's breakout hit Heartbeats. In her first stint behind the lens, she blends spot-on insights with an energetic style (not to mention an outstanding performance by Bossé), resulting in a film that always feels both unique and universal.

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LES MISERABLES

Ladj Ly's Oscar-nominated crime-thriller takes its name from a very obvious source, and its Montfermeil setting and exploration of class clashes as well. In the process, it openly invites comparisons to Victor Hugo's famous, much-adapted work, all while twisting its various components into its own compelling and confronting piece of cinema. Taking to the banlieues of Paris, Les Misérables spends its time flitting between cops, kids and gangs, as tensions between all three reach boiling point — over the usual prejudices, long-held beefs, stolen lions, a wrongful shooting and some highly sought-after drone footage. Unrelentingly terse, deftly choreographed and unafraid to filter real-world unrest through every frame, it's not always subtle; however, given the complicated terrain that it traverses, Ly's film needn't be. What it occasionally lacks in nuance, it feverishly makes up for both emotional and visceral power.

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DEERSKIN

How far would you go for the perfect piece of clothing? And can one ideal fashion item completely change your life? They're two completely relatable questions that Oscar-winning The Artist star Jean Dujardin faces in Deerskin, after his character Georges — an aspiring filmmaker — takes a strong liking to a fringed deerskin jacket that he just can't live without. It doesn't matter that said coat costs $9000, or that it looks just a tad too small while he's wearing it. Far more important is how it makes Georges feel, and the fact that it catches the attention of a small-town barmaid (Portrait of a Lady on Fire's Adele Haenel). The latest film by Quentin Dupieux, Deerskin is also the writer/director's latest movie to obsess over an inanimate object. If you saw the filmmaker's 2010 cult hit Rubber, then you'll know just what kind of weirdness you're in for — but Dupieux also layers this offbeat delight not just deadpan performances, but with commentary about consumerism and male egos.

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MATTHIAS AND MAXIME

Turning 31 this year, Xavier Dolan has enjoyed the kind of career that every wannabe filmmaker dreams of. His first movie, I Killed My Mother, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival — which is quite the feat given that he was just 20 at the time. Since then, thanks to Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways and Mommy, Dolan has helmed plenty of acclaimed hits. As an actor, he has also popped up in Boy Erased, Bad Times at the El Royale and IT: Chapter Two. But there's a particular resonance to Dolan's movies when the French Canadian talent both directs and stars. Thriller Tom at the Farm benefited from his presence both in front of and behind the lens, as does romantic drama Matthias and Maxime. Here, the filmmaker examines the intricacies of a lifelong friendship after the two eponymous characters lock lips for a student film — a gesture that completely changes the dynamic of their relationship — with both Dolan and his co-lead Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas shining in intimate performances.

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INVISIBLES

Tackling homelessness among women in France, Invisibles doesn't just steep its narrative in an important topic. It does just that, clearly; however it also features several real-life homeless women playing themselves. That's the kind of empathetic, observational approach behind Louis-Julien Petit's comedy-drama, which balances its crucial subject matter with both a big-hearted and light-hearted mood. Set in Anzin in northern France, this social realist-leaning film steps into a shelter that's earmarked for closure, with the local powers-that-be arbitrarily deciding that it isn't meeting their targets. Cue a secret operation to keep the doors open, giving women a place to sleep each night while instilling them with the skills they need to secure jobs during the day.

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THE TRANSLATORS

One book. Nine international language experts. A leak, a ransom and one big mystery. That's the nuts and bolts of The Translators, which twists the world's current crime fiction obsession in a clever direction. Assembled to work on the final novel in a best-selling French trilogy that's been compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — adapting it into English, Danish, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Greek, Portuguese and German — a team of translators is placed on lockdown. Alas, that doesn't stop the manuscript's first ten pages from somehow getting out. Whodunnits have been increasingly in big-screen popularity of late (see: Murder on the Orient Express and Knives Out, both of which proved such huge box office hits that they're getting sequels), with this film starring Olga Kurylenko (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), Alex Lawther (The End of the F***ing World), Riccardo Scamarcio (John Wick: Chapter 2) and Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld) adding another to the fold thanks to Populaire writer/director Régis Roinsard.

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THE WOLF'S CALL

Add The Wolf's Call to the sizeable list of films that find tension and chaos at the bottom of the sea. It's hardly surprising that filmmakers are drawn not just to the ocean's depths, but to activities, antics and alterations on submarines — trapping a motley crew of characters in confined surroundings and watching what comes next is a common movie setup, after all, and this is the perfect location for it. Directed by novelist and comic creator Antonin Baudry, The Wolf's Call chronicles the efforts of a French submarine crew on a rescue mission. The movie leans heavily on all of the expected tropes, but this kind of action-thriller premise keeps popping up on-screen for a reason. Claustrophobic, obviously, this stint of naval intrigue focuses on sonar technician Chanteraide (François Civil, Who You Think I Am); however the high-profile cast also spans Omar Sy (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Mathieu Kassovitz (Amelie) and Paula Beer (Undine).

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OH MERCY!

Towards the end of this year, when No Time to Die finally releases after its coronavirus-inspired delay, French actor Léa Seydoux will return to the Bond franchise. She's also part of another highly anticipated new 2020 movie, aka Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch — but first, she's dabbling with a murder-mystery in Oh Mercy! In fact, her character Claude is one of the main suspects after an elderly woman is killed. It's a brutal case in the northern French city of Roubaix, and police station captain Yakoub Daoud (this year's Cesar Award-winner Roschdy Zem) is determined to get to the bottom of it. Inspired by a 2008 television documentary, this true-crime drama boasts a stellar cast, and also marks the latest feature by Jimmy P, My Golden Days and Ismael's Ghosts filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin.

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The Alliance Française French Film Festival tours Australia from March 10, screening at Sydney's Chauvel Cinema, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Palace Central and Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace from March 10–April 8; Melbourne's Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth, Kino Cinemas and The Astor Theatre from March 11–April 8; Perth's Palace Raine Square, Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX, Windsor Cinema and Camelot Outdoor Cinema from March 11–April 8; and Brisbane's Palace Barracks and Palace James Street from March 18–April 14. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the AFFFF website.

Published on March 09, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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