Festival caters to our love of French cinema

A two-part film about the legendary Three Musketeers – one starring former ‘Bond Girl’ Eva Green – gets the French Film Festival off to a swashbuckling start, but this year’s fare also includes romance, science fiction and a touch of culinary magic.

Mar 19, 2024, updated Mar 19, 2024
A scene from 'The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan', which is screening as part of the French Film Festival. Photo: supplied

A scene from 'The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan', which is screening as part of the French Film Festival. Photo: supplied

Australians have become such fans of French cinema that this annual festival is now the largest paid celebration of French film outside France.

Cultural attaché to the French embassy Karine Mauris, in her fourth and final year directing the event, says 180,000 people attended the Alliance Française French Film Festival last year.

“It is an incredible festival, a gem, and it does not exist in any other country,” she says. “Australian audiences love French cinema and it is a beautiful festival.”

Mauris is opening this year’s program of 41 films with France’s biggest box-office success of 2023, The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan. Directed by Martin Bourboulon (Eiffel), the big-budget tale follows a young swordsman who finds friendship, honour and love on his journey to join the King’s Musketeers.

“We can really call this a blockbuster because it is big – it is the biggest success of this year and everything in this movie is huge,” Mauris says. “It is a big action movie and a beautiful love story and it is a lot of fun.”

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, starring François Civil, Vincent Cassel and Louis Garrel, is the first of a two-parter on the Musketeers; the sequel, The Three Musketeers: Milady, was released at the same time, with former Bond girl Eva Green (Casino Royale) in the lead role. The films took six months to shoot and Mauris says that once audiences have seen the first, they will not want to miss the second.

“At the end of D’Artagnan is a surprise and you want to know what happens after.

“I have learnt a new word – it is a swashbuckling movie. And the casting is exceptional, with Eva Green, who everyone thinks is American but she is French.”

Nine movies based on French history are included in this year’s program, among them the much-anticipated Jeanne du Barry, which stars Johnny Depp as Louis XV alongside the multi-talented Maïwenn, who wrote, directed and stars in it. The film follows the rise of Jeanne Bécu, the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress, through the court of Louis XV where she becomes his mistress.

It is notable for being one of two films in which prominent American actors speak French ­– in this case Depp, who was the partner of French singer, model and actor Vanessa Paradis for 14 years. Mauris was initially surprised Depp had been cast as the French King, but she thinks he is very good.

“He doesn’t speak a lot, so when he is speaking, we don’t hear the American accent; I was very afraid of that. He doesn’t have so many long sentences – and the King himself didn’t speak very much because each word that he was saying was analysed and studied, and he never spoke in public. So it works well.”

Also speaking in fluent French is American actor John Malkovich, who lived and worked in theatre in the south of France for a decade. Malkovich stars in Mr Blake at Your Service, a romantic comedy also featuring Fanny Ardant.

“He speaks French with a charming English accent and he has a lot of dialogue, and it’s a funny, cheeky movie,” Mauris says. “It is good for anyone who is learning to speak French because he speaks French very slowly and very well because he wants people to understand him.”

Two former real-life partners, actors Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel, are reunited in The Taste of Things, a film about gourmet cooking that opened last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The adaptation of Marcel Rouff’s 1924 novel blends cooking with love and won Tran Anh Hung best director at Cannes.

‘‘You see on the screen the beautiful intimacy between them ­– you can feel their connection,’’ Mauris says of Binoche and Magimel.

‘‘It’s sensual, it gives you an appetite, and it blends cooking with romantic love – and please eat before, because it is a lot of food and cooking.’’

In a similar vein, Éric Besnard (the director of 2021 film Delicious) returns with A Great Friend, this time mixing food and wine with friendship and connections in the magnificent French Alps. Mauris chose the film because it fitted the values of diversity and humanity that she wanted her final festival to represent.

‘‘This one is full of humanity and I really like that it is in the mountains – I have got many movies in the mountains this year, maybe because I come from the Alps,’’ she says.

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One of the most outstanding representations of diversity is Rosalie, an unusual film again starring Magimel, about a young girl born with a congenital oddity that sets her apart. Set in the 1870s and based on real events, it is described by Mauris as a lovely story about difference.

‘‘It is beautiful; it is a film that could have been made by Jane Campion.”

The Animal Kingdom stars Romain Duris (Eiffel) and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Passages) in a science-fiction thriller about a wave of mutations turning people into animals. Mauris, who saw the movie in Cannes, nominates it as one of her top three films in the festival, and suggests that people shouldn’t be deterred by the nightmarish scenario it presents.

‘‘There is something for everybody. Some people can be touched by the relationship between the father and son; it is full of humanity, beautiful poetry, family, drama. And I’m a baby, you know – I can’t go to see horror movies – and I was quite okay. It was touching.’’

Two of France’s best actors, Emmanuelle Devos (Perfumes) and Daniel Auteuil (Farewell, Mr Haffmann) join forces in A Silence, about a high-profile barrister and his wife whose lives are derailed part-way through a year-long trial.

‘‘These two actors are just remarkable and it’s a true story and I won’t tell you what happened but it shocked Europe,’’ Mauris says.

After four years of selecting from around 100 films a year, Mauris is prouder than ever at the way Australians are willing to embrace the style of French filmmaking that focuses more on characters than events.

“We produce so many movies, different movies, we have got very good storytellers, but it is quite different to what we see in the USA. Even our blockbusters are not the same in the way they are speaking about life.”

She is particularly pleased to be showing 12 movies whose actors have been nominated for the annual French César, including Léa Drucker (War of the Worlds) for her role in Last Summer, about a married woman who begins an affair with her 17-year-old stepson. ‘‘There is a twist in the movie and you can see then what an amazing actress she is.’’

As her farewell gift to festival-goers, Mauris has programmed Children of Paris, a 1945 black and white film about Parisian theatre set in the mid-1800s. It is regarded as a miracle of cinema because it was made during the Nazi occupation. Mauris, who saw the film in her 20s, says she continues to be transported by it.

‘‘Please go there – you will not regret it because it is a moment of cinema that you can’t see any more.’’

The Alliance Française French Festival is on at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect from March 21 to April 16.  See the full schedule here.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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