It seems three decades of critiquing films is a hard habit to break. Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, iconic hosts of ABC’s At the Movies and SBS’s The Movie Show supposedly retired last year – or at least went their separate ways. Stratton has been made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to cinema and continues to review films for The Australian, and Pomeranz is soon to start reviewing films at Foxtel. But everyone’s favourite platonic TV couple is not done bickering sweetly about cinema yet because they are ambassadors for the Alliance Française French Film Festival. We talked to them to get their festival picks.
DAVID: I saw The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue) in Cannes last year. It’s the second feature directed by Mathieu Amalric, and it’s a thriller based on a book by Georges Simenon, who wrote hundreds of crime novels. It’s a simple enough story set in a provincial town, where a couple meet up for an illicit love affair. It’s done in a very classical way, even to the extent that it’s shot in the old, pre-widescreen square ratio, which gives it a very retro look. I think it’s just very intelligently done: very tense, very interesting.
MARGARET: 3 Hearts (3 Coeurs)is a sweet, romantic melodrama. It’s set in a provincial town and beautifully performed. But it does require a little bit of suspension of disbelief. You’re faced with the fact that two women fall almost instantly in love with this man. He’s very charming, played by Benoît Poelvoorde, and the women are gorgeous, played by Chaira Mastroianni and Charlotte Gainsbourg. But I mean, wow – this guy’s got something. Almost instantly, these women are prepared to drop everything in their lives and be with him. But there’s a real sadness about it as well. It’s gorgeous.
DAVID: Diplomacy (Diplomatie) is a film based on a very successful stage play. Sometimes that sort of thing works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think this works brilliantly. It’s a two-hander between two intelligent and powerful men played by two great actors, Niels Arestrup and André Dussollier. It’s a very tense story – it’s set the night during 1944 when the allies were about to enter Paris. The Germans have been ordered by Hitler to destroy everything – the whole city. Dussollier plays the Swedish consulate who is desperately trying to persuade him not to do it. The fact it’s based on true events makes it even more interesting. It’s directed by Volker Schlöndorff, a fine German director who has been around for a long time.
MARGARET: Far From Men (Loins De Hommes) is set in Algeria at the beginning of the revolution. Viggo Mortensen is a charismatic star, and he seems to be able to take on any language. It’s also magnificently shot with the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. Essentially it’s a western with great moral dilemmas at its heart. And the soundtrack (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) is fabulous.
DAVID: Tokyo Fiancée
is the second film based on this particular story. I was quite charmed by this, mainly because of the performance of the lead actress. Pauline Etienne plays a young woman who was born in Japan but moved with her parents back to Europe when she was quite small and she has always yearned to be Japanese. She moves to Tokyo and establishes her life there. The film really looks at Japan through the eyes of a European in very interesting ways. It’s amusing and revealing and in some ways it’s more Japanese than French. But it’s a charmer. It presents as a romantic comedy, but it’s more than that – it’s about someone exploring a completely alien culture.
MARGARET: Finally, for me, is The Last Hammer Blow (Le Dernier Coup De Marteau). A young boy’s attempts to deal with his mother and connect with his father are at the heart of this terrific film. I’d seen Alix Delaporte’s last film, Angèle et Tony and really liked it. There’s something about her work that I really respond to. I think she’s got a great heart, great subtlety. And Delaporte gets a fabulous performance out of that kid [Romain Paul]. It’s lovely when you find a filmmaker whose work you respond to. She’s got a great delicacy about the tales she tells and the way she tells them.
DAVID: If a film with the stature of The Grand Illusion is in a program, you simply have to pick it. It’s one of the great movies. Made in 1937 by Jean Renoir, who was one of the most important French directors of the 1930s, it’s a film which shows quite vividly that during the First World War the upper classes had an awful lot in common with those serving under them. It’s got a great cast, including Jean Gabin, who was the most popular French actor of the period, and Erich von Stoheim playing the German aristocrat, who is extraordinary. It’s just got such a lot to observe and register about war and class and futility. People have said that it was the greatest war film ever made until two years later, when another war began.
The Alliance Française French Film Festival runs from March 4–22. www.affrenchfilmfestival.org