French Film Festival: 5 of the Best
Above: Gemma Bovery
The French film industry is heavily subsidised (in part via a levy on ticket sales) and the result is a huge output of films, many of which would not otherwise have been made. Anyone who follows French cinema will know the films that reach New Zealand are always competently made but can be saccharine or simply undercooked, despite the talents involved. But when French films are good, they’re often excellent.
The French Film Festival has more than 30 on offer; here are five well worth seeing.
Hand Made with Love in France (Le Temps Suspendu)
This fashion doco takes us on a guided tour of three ateliers — a pleater, a maker of wooden lasts for hats, and an artificial flower maker — each servicing the big fashion houses in Paris. They’re all highly talented craftsmen but they are also a doomed species as international fashion manufacturers such as Chanel and LVMH buy up the last of the independents and shift their services in-house.
The trio are close to retiring, and they have no one willing or able to take over their business. Each tells their story ruefully, aware they represent the end of an era.
The most engaging of an entertaining bunch is master pleater Gerard Lognon. Childless, and about to turn 69, he describes himself as a “dinosaur”, who’ll have to find a “dinosaur’s child” to pass on his skills. He doesn’t own a computer or use email but knows how radically things are changing. He says he does a lot of work with women from Dubai who, although they wear the veil and burqua, may have a diamond G-string underneath.
You don’t have to have read Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to enjoy this update of the famous novel, but it certainly helps. The central character, Martin, is a bourgeois bohemian and literature lover who settles in a Norman village as a baker.
When an English couple move into the farmhouse next door he is fascinated that not only are they called Gemma and Charles Bovery, but their behaviour seems to mimic that of Flaubert’s characters. Starring the lupine Fabrice Lucien and English rose Gemma Arterton, it’s a witty, engaging take on a masterpiece.
Nicholas on Holiday (Les Vacances du Petit Nicolas)
A diverting summer confection about a French family on holiday by the sea, filmed in Fruju colours and set in the 60s, with plenty of scope for nostalgia, whether it’s polka-dot skirts and period sunglasses or old Peugeots. The gags are obvious but well set up, the characters are engaging, the story flicks easily between the adults and children — and as a comedy that borders on farce, it never drags.
Love at First Fight (Les Combattants)
It has become a cliché of modern screen life: the tough young woman who is the match for any man, even in unarmed hand-to hand combat. This tale of two young army recruits, who start as enemies but become more than friends, plays with the conventions of the warrior princess genre enough to maintain interest during a very slow-burning, tantalising romance. But if you like pace and tension, be warned: you’ll find this film pretty sedate and terribly slow.
May Allah Bless France! (Qu’Allah Bénisse la France!)
French rapper Abd Al Malik has adapted his 2004 autobiography of the same name and brought it stylishly to the screen in black and white in his directorial debut about his rise from rough state housing in Strasbourg to being an acclaimed artist.
He’s a gifted student in languages and literature who makes a living as a pickpocket and drug pusher. In the weekends, he packs out the local hip-hop clubs. Islam and a devoted girlfriend help keep his ambition on track, but this is not an entirely uplifting story. Most of his unemployed Arab friends have dismal prospects, even if they have diplomas or degrees, and it’s hard to see change is likely any time soon, particularly after the rise of anti-Islam parties, inflamed by the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
French Film Festival: Rialto and Berkeley cinemas, February 19-March 8. frenchfilmfestival.co.nz