Celebrating film festivals and slippery festive moments

The three-week-long, highly successful  27th Alliance Francaise French Film festival has finished in Brisbane. In this blogisode, I will write about several of the nine films I managed to see. I had planned to write instead on another topic dear to my heart, a personal story about a dreaded qi vampire, the she-devil ‘Shauna’, who has unexpectedly re-emerged in my life, a story that may or may not find its way into a novel and/or film script. Who knows, this may one day become a film screened at a festival.  I am getting ahead of myself here of course. As it turned out, I wasn’t happy with that writing effort, and I have put it on the backburner, for now.

Talking about films already crafted – some treats for cinephiles and Francophiles

As signalled in my last posting, the political film about refugees from Sri Lanka, Dheepan, was certainly worth a look.  This is a gritty study of a ‘family’ of strangers suffering from post-traumatic stress, struggling to adjust to a new culture in a difficult crime-ridden banlieu in outer Paris.

A fascinating film showing the grim reality of being a new arrival in France

A fascinating film showing the grim traumatic reality of being a new arrival in France

This film was directed by the distinguished Jacques Audiard (The Prophet, Rust and Bone). The final sequence seemed to be an absurdist dream rather than reality, and did not really gell with the rest of the narrative, which was probably the point. The film won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2015, though I gather Audiard had to hurry to complete the film by the Cannes deadline. Nevertheless, I would rate this film highly. The group of six of us who saw it together, agreed.

Another great film with a very different tone was L’Hermine / Courted, tightly scripted and directed by Christian Vincent, starring the wonderful Fabrice Luchini as a grumpy judge, and the beautiful Danish actress from Borgen, Sidse Babett Knudsen, as a mysterious juror.

The imposing judge with unexpected depth

The imposing judge with unexpected depth

A looming slippery slope..

I ended up seeing this beautifully modulated film twice, not by accident, as I am easily persuaded to see a good film again, especially when a cosy dinner with close friends will follow. However, the second time, I arrived, bright-eyed, at the wrong cinema complex. Thankfully I managed, after some consternation, to get to the correct place across town in peak hour, with just 30 seconds to spare. This was a low point in my formerly impeccable film-attending career, impeccable at least where time and place are concerned. Is this the stark beginning of a slippery slope for this floundering film buff? After that slip, I now rather neurotically check and recheck all film programs, in order to halt any more signs of such a dithery decline. Savannah Burgundy was very pleased, and even quite smug, that for once I was the late one, while Bella was simply patient and amused at our rather wild crosstown dash…

A madness of two…

Mon Roi - a powerful film

Mon Roi – a powerful film

Another highlight for me was Mon Roi, directed by Maiwenn, a very interesting woman director.  This emotional rollercoaster film starred one of my favourite actors, the breathtaking Vincent Cassel. Who can ever forget him bursting onto the screen as Vinz in the superb La Haine, a film still evergreen after 20 years. The main female role in Mon Roi was played astonishingly by Emmanuelle Bercot, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes. The film explores a turbulent relationship that hurtles into a ‘folie a deux’, a madness of two.

The closing film on the final night, Godard’s Le Mepris / Contempt, starring the glorious Brigitte Bardot also explored a marriage descending into a kind of vicious, claustrophobic hell.

Stunning Bardot in classic Godard fare

Stunning Bardot in classic Godard fare

I am still haunted by the dizzying design and endless steps of the film producer’s house in Capri, improbably clinging to the cliffs. Charlotta and I were astonished that no one in the cast and crew actually slipped and crashed into the sea.

Thanks to my dear friend and former film studies colleague Marguerite, who gave a stirring introduction to this screening.

A saga of opening nights…

A less complex film journey was with Rosalie Blum, a surprisingly enjoyable film with a clever script and great performances.

A pleasant surprise - warm, funny, quirky.

A pleasant surprise – warm, funny, quirky.

I had been a bit wary of this film, unfairly and simply because it was featured on opening night, an event which, more often than not, I tend to avoid these days. Having been to more festival opening nights than I care to remember, I do have many happy memories of dressing up and hanging out with a buzzy crowd  over a swag of film years. Sadly, however, I have been finding that festival films showcased on opening nights have slowly but surely descended in quality, hence my wariness about Rosalie Blum. Moreover, the event itself has not really been delivering value for effort and money. Blandness has descended on a spirited event, once full of memorable twists and turns…However, I am still ever-ready to be proven wrong!

In recent times, the often broad middle-of-the-road appeal of the films chosen on opening nights is grudgingly understandable,  as the sponsors, PR people and sundry VIPs are invited to come. This bunch of invitees don’t usually go to foreign films, rocking up on opening nights mainly for the bubbly and the socialising.   Who can really blame them? Such people also may not wish to be confronted by an edgy film, and are, in any case, rarely sighted again throughout the festival.

The deteriorating standard of the opening events themselves, however, is inexcusable, given the high cost, the sparse, rather boring food and drink, and the lack of meaningful cultural entertainment, allowing for dancing…. Hence, unless the film is a precious standout, I have been rather ‘ho hum’ about opening nights across the board, especially with the national festivals.

I saw Rosalie Blum in the main body of the festival, as, luckily, most films were repeated several times across two cinemas at the French Film Festival, giving greater flexibility – but also keeping everyone on the alert. Lorelei, Lillibelle and I enjoyed seeing it in a packed house on Good Friday evening. This was 15-year-old Lillibelle’s second favourite French film of all time, her favourite being the magical Amelie.

Checking the festival calendars

A new surprising addition to the extensive annual lineup at Palace cinemas is a small festival targetting ‘oldies’ like me, called the Young at Heart, tucked in between the more lavish French and Spanish festivals.  I am looking forward to seeing  Grandma, starring the irrepressible Lily Tomlin. This film also screened at the recent Queer Film Festival. Unfortunately I missed getting a ticket there, as it sold out so quickly in that program. One to savour.

Hot on the glamorous French heels, with a little detour into the spry young-at-heart, the dashing Spanish Film festival will commence on the 19 April at the Palace. I am feeling a little sad about the Spanish, as my dedicated Spanish companion, the delightful Juanita, will be overseas. Together we have experienced some wonderful films from Spain and other Spanish-speaking cultures, such as Chile and Argentina. We have also endured some cringeworthy downers, although that is, inevitably, part of the risky fun of any film festival. Later in the year, after several more mini-national festivals here (Italian, German, whatever), I plan to attend the amazing Melbourne Film Festival again, experiencing many great films there over several packed days, hopefully turning up to the right film in the right place at the right time…