This almost month-long event – which is the biggest festival of French films outside of France, believe it or not – is touring nationally and kicks off in Melbourne this week with a special gala premiere of The Finishers, a compelling, sporty tale about persistence, passion, humanity and family. The festival will close with the Oscar-winning classic Mon Oncle by iconic actor/writer/auteur Jacques Tati. In between, however, there is a sophisticated, diverse and colourful selection of flicks on offer – 43, to be exact. We select seven worth their weight in popcorn.
Grand Central (2013) In this anticipated sophomore film from writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski (Belle Epine), emerging stars Tahar Rahim (The Past, A Prophet) and Léa Seydoux (Midnight in Paris, Blue is The Warmest Color, The Grand Budapest Hotel) pair up for this intense, ménage à trois drama set in an isolated community in the French countryside. When out-of-towner Gary (Rahim) picks up some risky work at the local nuclear power plant, he catches the eye of his tough co-worker’s fiancé (Seydoux) and soon the two are dangerously playing tumbles in the grass and, against the unnerving, clinical backdrop of the power plant, tension beings to simmer and stir.
Camille Claudel 1915 (2013) Starring the ever-magnificent Juliette Binoche and directed by the maestro of Gallic gloom, Bruno Dumont (Flanders, Humanité), Camille Claudel 1915 is based on the true story of Claudel, the ill-fated, turn-of-the-century sculptor and mistress to Auguste Rodin who was famously – and as many have argued, wrongly – committed to a mental asylum where she died 30 years later. This bleak but gripping mini-biopic centres around just three days of her life in the lead up to a visit from her brother, creating an atmosphere layered with hope, anguish and ultimately, despair. A brilliant visual work by Dumont, and of course, another stellar, if unnerving, performance by Binoche.
It Boy (2013) Fast-paced and bubbly, this charming romantic comedy stars the stunning Virginie Efira as Alice, a cautious 38-year-old fashion editor gunning for the top job as editor-in-chief. That is, until, her publisher drops the bomb that, unlike her good-time gal, ex-stripper colleague Lise (Amélie Glenn), Alice just doesn’t have enough spark. All this flips when she meets 19-year-old student Balthazar, played by loveable rising star Pierre Niney (currently garnering praise for his performance as Yves Saint Laurent in the upcoming biopic), and is Twitpic’d in a mistakenly compromising position. Alice’s new cougar status and sexed-up persona suddenly have her back in the race for the promotion, she just has to play along. Feel-good, just for fun and nice to see the French sugar-daddy cliché turned on its head.
Möbius (2013) This sleek espionage thriller has been gathering Hitchcock comparisons due to its winding plot, cool styling and love (read: lust) story thread. Set among the glamour of Monaco, Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) oozes cool as a Russian secret agent commissioned to spy on Russian businessman Ivan Rostovsky (Tim Roth) who falls for French-American financial expert, Alice (played by the wonderful Cécile de France) who is also spying on Rostovsky. Like the Möbius strip itself, the plot twists and turns into a tangle of trysts, lies, double plays and intrigue.
Venus in Fur (2013) Deliciously provocative and wickedly psychosexual, Venus in Fur is everything we’ve come to expect from auteur Roman Polanski. In this adaption of the David Ives play – set solely within the confines of a crusty theatre – Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mrs Polanski) plays hot-mess, auditioning actress Vanda, who battles it out with Tomas (Mathieu Amalric), the shows director, both of them using their sexual prowess as their weapons of choice. Despite the simplicity of the two-character cast, Venus In Fur is enthralling, aided by the claustrophobia of the one-location setting. It’s hard to imagine another director pulling this off with such bravado.
Populaire (2012) Styled to within an inch of its life, and channeling retro classics such as Funny Face, The Seven Year Itch and Pillow Talk, Populaire is a delightful and quirky rom-com soufflé that already has cult-status in the States and found a fan in Harvey Weinstein. Set in 1958, it centers on Rose (ingénue Déborah François), a young secretary with a blazing skill for speed typing. Her handsome boss Louis (Romain Duris) decides to enter her in a typist competition and, with the nostalgic charm of the manual typewriter at its heart, what follows is a whirlwind of colour, romance and excitement, all wrapped up in a wonderful homage to the golden age of cinema.
Violette (2013) Auteur Martin Provost (Seraphine, Le ventre de Juliette) has once again turned his lens to exploring the strength of uncompromising female characters with this superb story based on the life of influential French feminist writer Violette Leduc. Starring Emmanuelle Devos as Leduc and Sandrine Kiberlain as fellow literary star Simone de Beauvoir, the performances are only surpassed by the incredible art direction, from the autumnal colour treatment to the stunning costume design. An inspiring story that literary die-hards will love.
Mademoiselle C. (2013) To those who worship at the altar of Vogue Paris, ex-editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld is a provocateur, artist and an icon. Her signature leather, lace and kohl-rimmed eyes became, and still is, the style set’s uniform, and her aesthetic of erotica-meets-elegance redefined the fashion editorial of the 2000s. Packed with celebrity cameos including Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld and even Kanye West, this documentary by Fabien Constant follows Roitfeld as she dives into her post-Vogue project, CR Fashion Book, and gives a fantastical fly-on-the-wall look inside her glamorous world.
Alliance Française Film Festival is on in Melbourne from March 5–23.