Alliance Française French Film Festival

The French Film Festival returns to New Zealand cinemas this year, travelling to nine centres—Christchurch, Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Dunedin, Nelson, Palmerston North, Havelock North, and Hamilton—over a nearly six-week period. The festival is this year presented by the Alliance Française, as well as by its usual principal sponsor, the French Embassy.

The festival’s 2012 lineup is larger in scope and more ambitious in its programming choices compared to previous years, and what’s more, the festival makes its home in Auckland at the Rialto and Bridgeway Cinemas, and in Wellington at the Paramount—a change of location from previous years for Auckland. Of the fifteen films in the main programme, more than half are Official Selections of the 2011 Cannes, Toronto, London and New York Film Festivals—an impressive feat for such a small, localised venture. The programme also includes an adjunct section entitled “Paris au présent,” a themed category of recent but not brand-new titles preceded by short films that each in some way celebrate the City of Light. A few highlights from this year’s festival appear below.

Gala Opening Nights
Valérie Donzetti’s La guerre est déclarée (Declaration of War)

After premièring in the Semaine de la critqiue section of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the new film by actress-director Valérie Donzetti (La reine des pommes) took the French box-office by storm, accruing an impressive 500,000 admissions in its opening fortnight. It went on to be submitted as the official French entry in competition for the Foreign Oscar earlier this year. The film stars Donzetti and her real-life husband Jérémie Elkaïm, with whom Donzetti also wrote the screenplay. Inspired by true events, it follows a young couple, Roméo and Juliette, whose whirlwind romance quickly leads to the birth of their first child, Adam. Their carefree lifestyle is disrupted, though, when their infant son is diagnosed with a brain tumour. (Trailer)

Souvenirs de la maison close

Known in its homeland as L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close)—and marketed in the US and most other English-speaking markets under the titles House of Pleasures and House of Tolerance—the new film from the often controversial director Bertrand Bonello (The Pornographer, which some have called “unconvincing drama, but interesting porn”) is a luscious-looking historical drama set in a fin-de-siècle Parisian brothel. It stars a cotérie of largely unknown actresses alongside Noémie Lvovsky (Copacabana, Actrices) and Xavier Beauvois (director of 2010/2011 festival hit Des hommes et des dieux). (Trailer)

Un amour de Jeunesse
New work from festival-circuit favourite

Goodbye, First Love, the new film from Mia Hansen-Løve (Tout est Pardonné; Le Père de Mes Enfants—nzff ’10) is a personal coming-of-age tale for the actress-turned-director, a favourite of festival-goers the world over. The film opens in 1999, when Camille (Lola Créton, Cathérine Breillat’s Barbe bleue), is 15 years old, and head-over-heels in lust with her 19-year-old boyfriend—but he leaves her to travel around South America. Cut to four years later, and Camille, studying in Paris, falls for her Danish architecture professor. Caught between the two, Camille must decide if she wants to return to that first, rapturous love, or embrace the stability of her newfound amour. (Trailer)

Other offerings
Elsewhere in the programme…

  • In Le Look (pictured above), subtitled “un autoportrait à travers les autres,” viewers are treated to an up-close study of one of the French cinema’s greatest actresses, Charlotte Rampling. Part bio-doc, part “series of musings on life and art,” this New York Film Festival winner is hotly anticipated.
  • Après le sud is an extremely gritty realist drama about four characters whose lives intersect and influence each another in profound ways by first-time director Jean-Jacques Jauffret.
  • Catherine Deneuve stars in Les Bien-Aimés (Beloved), the new film from Christoph Honoré.
  • Cédric Klapish, whose L’Auberge Espagnole (2002), Les poupées russes (2005), and Paris (2008), were each immensely popular, returns with Ma part du  gâteau, a “Ken Loach-style social comedy” about a single mother from the industrial north, and a hotshot stock-market trader.
  • Tous les soleils, the sophmore effort by Philippe Claudel (2008’s Il y a longtemps que je t’aime), includes a cameo by Anouk Aimée.
  • The third feature by Le premier jour du reste de ta vie director Rémi Bezançon, Un heureux événement, details the struggles of a young couple in adapting to life with their first child.
  • L’art de l’aimer, a new comedy by Emmanuel Mouret looks to be slightly more straight-faced than his previous rom-com outings, which include 2005’s Un baiser s’il vous plaît (Shall We Kiss?).
  • …and many more. The full programme is on the festival’s website.

Paris au Présent
Newly-created section celebrates the City of Light

Finally, this year’s programme includes a new adjunct section, “Paris au Présent,” highlighting recent films that “capture the true essence” of the city. These features—Julie Delpy’s Deux Jours à Paris; Claude Berri’s Ensemble, c’est Tout; and the Oscar-nominated animated film Une vie de chat—are ingeniously prefaced by short films from up-and-coming filmmakers, most of which were made within the curriculum of their respective Parisian film schools.

The 2012 Alliance Française French Film Festival began on February 29 in Christchurch, and in Auckland last night. It finishes in Hamilton on April 4, having in the meantime visited Tauranga, Wellington, Dunedin, Nelson,
Palmerston North, and Havelock North.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

For more reviews, browse the “French Film Festival 2012” tag on this site,
and follow @French_FilmFest on Twitter.