Film Carew's Favourite Finds From The French Film Festival

27 February 2016 | 9:31 am | Anthony Carew

"Here, in advance of the fest’s 27th edition, is a survey of all the AFFFF flicks your old pal Film Carew’s seen so far."

The Alliance Française French Film Festival opens in Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra this week, and tours around the country through March and April. The French FF long ago established itself as one of the biggest events in the local cinematic calendar. Here, in advance of the fest’s 27th edition, is a survey of all the AFFFF flicks your old pal Film Carew’s seen so far.

all about them

The ever-great Anaïs Demoustier, now firmly established as French cinema’s most interesting young actress, plays a lawyer whose twin affairs are playing both sides of a couple. She’s already been getting around with pouty songwriter-cum-barista Sophie Verbeeck, but when Verbeeck’s just-as-hot boyfriend Félix Moati arrives back in town, she starts making out with him, too. Though its milieu is closer to social-realism and its characters uniquely human, director Jérôme Bonnell at first turns to sitcom-ish hijinks, like the old sneaking-out-the-backdoor-semi-clothed-in-a-case-of-comic-coitus-interruptus bit. But, slowly, the trio must all come together, and they do with a sensitivity —and, begetting stereotypes of French films, a sexiness— that respects the complexities of desire.

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bang gang (a modern love story)

Eva Husson’s electric debut chronicles a high-school crew of bourgeois Biarritz kids staging regular after-school orgies. Fucking without strings but with video rolling, it’s equal parts sexual social club and social media performance; these teenagers trying on ‘libidinous libertarian’ like any other assumed adolescent —and online— identity. Eventually, things turn dark: feelings get hurt, dudes get more aggressive, STDs run rife. But this never plays as cinematic punishment, Husson never sitting in moral judgment. Instead, as her script passes from character to character, their behaviour is portrayed as equal parts heartening and horrifying; a sweet portrait of the sublime idiocy of youth.

blind date

Sitcom contrivance sits at the centre of this semi-conceptual rom-com, which gives plausibility the flick with its premise. When uptight (she wears glasses AND pins her hair up! Just wait til she takes the specs off AND lets her hair down!) Mélanie Bernier moves in next door to Clovis Cornillac’s ramshackle inventor, the thin wall separating them makes it feel as if they’re living together. At first, there’s hate: each out to antagonise by making an ever-escalating racket. But then there’s love: they fall for each other without ever having laid eyes on the other, and want to keep it that way! Hijinks —and clichés— ensue.


One of those childhood-flashback dramas about familial secrets and lies, Boomerang stars Laurent Lafitte and Mélanie Laurent as grown-up siblings still harbouring old wounds from the mysterious drowning of their mother 30 years before. When Lafitte’s life starts falling apart —marriage, job, health— he becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering the truth beneath the long-held silence, shaking skeletons out of the closet like there’s no tomorrow. There’s nothing particularly exceptional about François Favrat’s drama, but fans of Sundancey dramas that slowly build towards a singular revelation will be all too content.

brand new testament

In Jaco van Dormael’s absurdist black-comedy, the vengeful God of Old Testament Christianity is Benoît Poelvoorde, a balding, angry couch-potato from Brussels who hands down calamity and death from a dusty, turn-of-the-century computer. When his scampish 10-year-old daughter —in league with an animated WWJD-esque Christ figurine called ‘JC’— make public the dates that Belgian citizens will die, chaos, comedy, Catherine Deneueve, and Jean-Claude Van Damme references ensue.


This frothy fashion-world farce —at-the-end-of-her-rope fashion-house matriarch finds new-collection inspiration from her bumpkin gardener— is blessed by a central turn from Fanny Ardent; who brings gravity and grace to a leading-lady role that others may’ve played as zany comedy.


Though set at a local court, Courted isn’t a standard courtroom drama. Instead, Christian Vincent’s excellent, unexpectedly-downbeat drama is a character study of all those people —judge, bailiffs, lawyers, jurors— that make up this legal community; following them from behind-the-curtain onto the ‘stage’ on which they perform.


Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2015. Echoing his past hits like Read My Lips and A Prophet, it’s a socio-realist drama that slowly, almost imperceptibly tilts into a crime thriller. Here, a trio of Tamil refugees pose as a family to earn exile in France; though, sentenced to live as caretakers in a crime-riddled council estate, it feels as much like imprisonment as it does liberation. Audiard oscillates between grim realism and sweet poetry, and the tropes of genre are shot through with a mix of vérité and irony; the film at once a heartbreaking portrait of the immigrant experience and a wry commentary on the myth of the promised land.


There’s a fabulous sense of slowburn to Raphaël Jacoulot’s sweaty rural thriller. With local tensions mounting over drought, failing crops, and expensive new water-pumps, the local sex-pest (Karim Leklou) becomes a loathed figure; turned upon with a swift dose of angry-mob justice, his scapegoating carrying an almost pagan, crop-driven bloodlust. After so many films painting the French countryside as bourgeois idyll, here Jacoulot delivers small-town prejudice, superstition, isolation, and oppression.

in harmony

Bourgeois, arthouse-light, telemovie-esque ‘inspirational’ melodrama in which Albert Dupontel plays a horse-trainer and stuntman who, after an on-set accident, is paralysed from the waist down. Then along comes Cécile de France, former concert pianist turned sexy insurance assessor, who’s in charge of handling Dupont’s case. And that’s not all she’ll handle! Soon enough, there’s enflamed passions, and a man inspired to return to the saddle, and etc.

in the shadow of women

Old nouvelle vague dog Philippe Garrel is in most Garrelesque form with his latest film: a black-and-white drama about a filmmaker having an affair that features ponderous monologues, stilted dialogue, portentous voice-over, and cold feeling. There’s few concessions to modern existence, in either behaviour or filmmaking, but that out-of-time-ness —characters literally drop letters to each other, not texts— lends In The Shadow Of Women a minor charm.

la belle saison

A slice of sunkissed, non-threatening arthousery from Catherine Corsini, La Belle Saison finds Izïa Higelin as a country lass who falls into the budding feminist movement, and into bed with Cécile de France, in 1971 Paris. At its worst, the film feels like bra-burning, bell-bottomed game of ’70s dress-ups; yet another winsome valentine to baby boomer protest spirit. But when the film abandons campus radicalism for life on the land, there’s a sense of rural realism that creeps into both milieu and character.

the last panthers

An international prestige-television co-production, this slice of starry event-TV just screened in England, and will soon play locally on SBS. The AFFFF will show the first two episodes —out of six— as a quasi-movie; and The Last Panthers is definitely big-screen worthy. It charts the fall-out from a jewellery heist in Marseilles through Serbian gangs, French cops, and English insurance adjusters. Though couched in the tropes of crime-movies, it’s essentially a scalding portrait of the globalised world; the twin trades of finance and criminality, as always, one and the same.


Julie Delpy’s latest directorial effort is a huge disappointment; a straight farce with a hokey premise and a starring turn from way-popular buffoon Dany Boon. Here, Boon is the well-hung bumpkin who becomes the unlikely new squeeze of Delpy’s fashionista. Much to the displeasure of her self-obsessed son, Vincent Lacoste, a smirking mummy’s-boy who turns vindictive in a game of sitcom one-upmanship that leads to few laughs.

the measure of a man

Vincent Lindon delivers an amazing leading-man turn in this sterling slice of socio-realism, playing a recently-downsized factoryman who must try and find work —and money, and self-worth— in an unforgiving economic climate. It may not measure up to the great works of the Dardennes or Laurent Cantet, but The Measure Of A Man is in the same cinematic ballpark; finding humanity in its depiction of the service industry, and profundity in its quotidian dramas.

microbe & gasoline

Here, the great Michel Gondry tones down the Gondryism for something approaching realism, even if there’s no doubting his presence in story and spirit. Its titular scamps —gender-queer tomboy Microbe, maligned grease-monkey Gasoline— are outcasts at their high-school, kindred spirits lost in fantasyworlds. Each are expressions of Gondry’s own childlike impulses: Microbe an artist, forever sketching, scribbling, daydreaming; Gasoline an inventor, a tinkerer, out to build outlandish contraptions. Eventually, they hit the highway in a shed-on-wheels, kooky roadtrip begetting sincere coming-of-age.


Maïwenn, one-time Besson ingénue turned filmmaker, was last seen serving up one of the worst films of the decade, the scenery-chewing paedophile-cops racket Polisse. Here, however, she turns her questionable cinematic tendencies —actors either over-laughing or screaming and throwing shit, montage after montage, film rolling out like a souped-up bulldozer— towards better-suited material. Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel (both excellent) play a pair of lovers eyeballs-deep in an impassioned, tempestuous affair that only grows stormier once they’re married-with-kid; the big-picture viewpoint —told in parallel narratives— allowing the filmmaker to indulge in all her over-the-top hysteria without it seeming too on-the-nose.

my golden days

The latest film for the beloved shaggy-dog of French cinephiles, Arnaud Desplechin, is a middlebrow coming-of-age movie tinged with adolescent nostalgia, Cold War hysteria, and childhood trauma. Here, Mathieu Amalric, playing the same character he did in 1996’s My Sex Life… or How I Got Into An Argument, harkens back to his rose-tinted salad days; the warm, winsome flashbacks likely tangled up with its makers’ own memories.

one wild moment

Male sex fantasy turns male anxiety nightmare in Jean-François Richet’s thrillerist remake of Claude Berri’s 1970s sexual-liberation satire. Here, Vincent Cassel bangs Lola Le Lann, teen-temptress daughter of his old pal François Cluzet, whilst they’re away on a divorced-dads-and-daughters beach holiday. Only, she gets instantly obsessed with him; her hot-chicks-are-crazy craziness threatening to turn their sexy secret loose. In a better film, this could be turned into a sharp satire on the fragility of the male ego, or parable on public shaming in the social-media era, but, sadly, there’s naught so thoughtful here.

the student & mr henri

Naïve country-girl moves to big city, and into the apartment of crotchety old coot. He yells at her, then warms to her, then —as all old people in cinema must— dies. Comedy never ensues, and emotions are forced; this a lamentable film about stereotypes enacting clichés.

taj mahal

Gripping on-the-ground survival thriller that places its lead —teenaged Nymphomaniac debutante Stacy Martin— in the middle of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Director Nicolas Saada largely moors proceedings to her perspective; even when that means hiding out in the dark of her hotel bathroom, the horrifying sounds of gunfire growing closer with each passing minute.

the white knights

Whilst it’s not a satire of the lamentable sub-genre of ‘White Savior’ movies, the knowing title of Joachim Lafosse’s searing drama shows the critique at its heart. Here, the members of a French NGO —Vincent Lindon, Valérie Donzelli, über-babe Louise Bourgoin— are on the ground in an unnamed African country, peddling the gospel of Orphan Rescue. But, beyond its feelgood PR façade, the NGO is its own roiling, corrupt political institution; and Lafosse —last seen making the claustrophobic family tragedy Our Children— is unflinching in his depiction of the hypocrisies of charity.