French Film Festival

Top Picks

Trailer Icon 03 The Trouble With You (Opening Night)
Yvonne is the principled young widow of the local police chief who was killed in the line of duty. Each night she puts their young son to sleep with tales of his daring and bravery, and so naturally Yvonne is horrified to learn that her husband was not the embodiment of virtue as she had been led to believe-an innocent man named Antoine, has spent eight years falsely imprisoned as a result of his corruption! Yvonne decides to do everything she can to help return the hapless parolee to his regular life and devoted fiancé. Unfortunately, Antoine has trouble adjusting back to society, and soon blows a fuse that leads to an hilarious trail of destruction, where moral, social and romantic obligations are put to the test in a spectacular way.
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David is a carefree 20-something in the throes of a new romance with Lena, and lives a carefree life until an incident abruptly forces him to assume the guardianship of his seven-year-old niece, Amanda.
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Alexandre lives in Lyon with his wife and children. One day, quite by chance, he discovers that the priest who abused him when he was a member of a boy scout troop is still working with children. Determined to see justice served, Alexandre re-establishes contact with his boyhood friends – also victims of the same priest – François and Emmanuel. The men vow to ‘lift the burden of silence’. However, as the institutional weight and power of the Catholic Church bears down on this defiant group of survivors determined to tell their story, no one is left unscathed.
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Two decades after its filming, Olivier Meyrou’s controversial yet exquisitely drawn portrait of France’s last great fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, has finally seen the light of day, having previously been withheld from release by Saint Laurent’s business partner, Pierre Bergé. Echoing its ambiguous title, Celebration goes behind-the-scenes to present both Yves the Legend and Yves the Man, as he prepares his final collection before the fashion house was sold to Gucci in 1999. Icons of the glamour industry and the many top models who have donned Saint Laurent’s gowns – show their unerring dedication to the fashion house and its namesake. And then there’s Yves himself – on the one hand, larger than life and, on the other, astonishingly reclusive, irritable and even inelegant.
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Lara is an adolescent transgender girl from Belgium. Her struggle is not so much with her gender identity as with her passion to become a professional ballerina. Supported by her Francophone father and younger brother, she commences her journey into gender reassignment, yet her teenage impatience and the immense pressures of ballet push Lara to the brink.
☆☆☆☆ Eye For Film
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☆☆☆☆☆ Slant Magazine

In Safe Hands throws us deep into the milieu of the French social assistance services where the fate of one baby boy exposes the conflicting conundrums faced by many women – those giving up their babies and those desperate to have their own. When baby Theo’s birth mother surrenders him to adoption, child protection services, and officers such as Karine, are called to action, and the harsh realities of the adoption process are pulled into sharp focus. Karine entrusts Theo to Jean – no stranger to the foster system himself – who takes on the responsibility of the newborn until a suitable home can be found. Meanwhile, Alice has never given up the fight to be a mother and faces the prospect of this dream finally coming true, although nothing is certain.
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Over half a century has passed; yet, Alain Resnais’ para-surrealist masterpiece is as powerful today as when originally released at the height of the French New Wave. Set within a breathtakingly ornate Baroque mansion seemingly frozen in time, which the camera captures through continuous panning of its sumptuous interiors, Last Year at Marienbad focuses on two central, unnamed characters – one a French woman and an Italian man. They may have been lovers at the hotel the previous year but the woman denies knowing him, while another man – possibly her husband – asserts his dominance by constantly challenging and beating the Italian man at the mathematical game of nim.
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☆☆☆☆☆ The Movie Waffler

Promise At Dawn is the ‘fictionalised’ telling of author and diplomat Romain Gary’s early life. We’re thrown into a tumultuous trajectory that twists and turns across a difficult childhood in Poland, a sun-drenched adolescence in Nice and through to piloting adventures in Africa. At every touchstone in Gary’s life, his mother Nina leaves her ineffaceable mark. With boundless dreams and huge aspirations, she is the momentum that propels Gary forward, eventually culminating in the novel of Promise at Dawn that he feverishly writes as his life comes to a close during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico.
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A disparate group of 40-somethings – all in the throes of mid-life crises – form a localswimming pool’s inaugural, males-only synchronised swimming team. Staring down ongoing ridicule and contempt from all angles, they engage a fallen champion, Delphine as their coach, supported by her tough-as-nails former swim partner Amanda. Unwittingly, the team members embark on an unlikely journey of redemption that sees each one of them rebuild some sense of their self-worth.
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☆☆☆☆☆ The Upcoming

Pierre-Paul is a listless loser with a PhD in Philosophy who feels his job as a delivery driver is well below him. His mundane life is turned upside down when, by luck, he finds himself saddled with a princely sum in stolen cash. Enlisting the help of an ex-con with a finance degree, Sylvain, and a Racine-quoting callgirl, Aspasie, Pierre-Paul considers what to do with the loot, as he tries to outmanoeuvre the heisters who want ‘their’ money back.
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Based on the remarkable true story of Joseph Ferdinand Cheval. Set in the south of France in 1879, Cheval is a humble postman. He leads an unassuming life, seemingly revelling in the solitude of his 20-mile delivery routes and daydreaming about the world of wonders that he only sees through the postcards and magazines he delivers. He meets and falls in love with the breathtaking Philomène, and the arrival of their baby daughter, Alice, causes him to look at things in a different way. He sets about building a castle for Alice – one fit for a princess – that consumes the next 30-plus years of his life. This castle eventually becomes recognised as an enduring and important French historical monument.
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This documentary offers ample servings of energy and enthusiasm, as it introduces us to the renegades – the rebels, the critical thinkers and the ethically minded – who have waged something of a revolution in Catalonia, in the south of France, as part of a rising global movement in improved taste and sustainability. In doing so, they’ve chosen the hard road but one of immeasurable satisfaction. As one of the winemakers confesses, “I’m giving birth; that’s what it’s like.” With Wine Calling, you won’t bear witness to a meditation on pastoral tranquillity; but rather experience something far more rock ‘n’ roll in spirit.
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Trailer Icon 03 Kiss & Tell (Closing Night)
Julien is a man haunted by a secret. Julien’s son, Alex, finds out that 17 year-old Eva has neglected to tell him he’s going to be a father. Eva’s mother, Véro, fears the worst for her grandchild. While Elizabeth, whose husband, Bertrand has disappeared into thin air, witnesses her home trashed by a search warrant.
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Rob Bray
Rob Bray
5 years ago

I have had a late start writing these up this year – but here is my first batch

Un Amour Impossible / Impossible love *****
A young woman in regional France falls for a charming, but selfish and chauvinistic scion of a rich family. The affair ends when he leaves the region and leaves her pregnant. The story is narrated by her daughter who she raises as a lone parent and recounts their lives and both of their reconnections with the mother’s lover, the child’s father, and eventually between each other. The story is at times fraught and harrowing with the film providing an intimate insight into this history. It is a film with authenticity – both in the relationships, and in the context and historical detail. Brilliant direction by Catherine Corsini, and amazing acting by (and makeup for) Virginie Efira.

En Liberte/The Trouble with you ****
A widowed mother of a young boy tells her son bedtime stories about the heroism of his father a detective dead in the line of duty. The widow who is also a detective discovers her husband was a bent copper – and that an innocent man had been sent to prison to cover up one of his corrupt schemes. After his release he however is severely maladjusted and as their lives entangle chaos emerges. This is a very enjoyable comedy littered with deteriorating bedtime stories, misunderstandings, an S&M brothel and a guilt ridden mass murderer. At the same time it does leave some questions open – what does a person maltreated by the system owe the society?

Sauver ou Perir/Through the Fire ***
A young fireman gets horrendously burned while fighting a fire. His rehabilitation is slow and partial and his families – both that of the fire service and with his wife and young daughters fall apart. He slowly seeks to rebuild a new life. While providing an almost documentary, and at times possibly too long, a coverage of this story, for me the most interesting was the picture it paints of the Sapeur-Pompiers of Paris – which are one of the two military based fire services in France – and the life and culture of the fire service.

Pupille/In safe hands ****
A movie which commences with many loose threads around adoption and foster care and slowly draws these together into a narrative centred on the fostering and adoption of a child born to a young mother as a result of a one night stand and for which she is not ready. In many ways documentary in its presentation it touches upon the many complex issues faced in making the decisions and commitments in this field. Whether the focus on attachment theory in the first days of a child’s life is correct or not I don’t know – but in this film the hypothesis provides a strong basis for narrative. Very good performances by Sandrine Kimberline who brings an intense fragility to her role as the case worker in the agency and Gille Lellouche in a warm hearted role as a foster parent.

La dernière folie de Claire Darling/Claire Darling ****
Is this a really good movie – or is it just that Catherine Deneuve who stars along with her daughter Chiara Mastroianni – who plays her daughter, remains a mesmerising actor. Claire Darling an aged wealthy widow wakes up one morning after a dream which convinces her that it is her last day. She decides to hold a garage sale and sell off (or virtually give away) all of her possessions – a massive collection including objets d’art which she has built up over the years. Childhood friends of her daughter contact her to tell her what is happening, she returns to her mother’s home after 20 years of absence. The film returns through flash backs, both in terms of actual flashbacks and in the mother’s memory, to the traumatic events which ruptured the family. Not all is clear, the film drifts into fantasy at time, and who is the little girl collecting items, and is she just haunted by memories – or more. The cinematography is very good – and the film leaves open a big question about the nature of possessions and whether she was disposing of, or saving, her collection

Le grand bain/Sink or swim **
A group of middle aged depressives, outsiders and losers in regional France decide to form a male synchronised swimming team initially to just muck around – but then seize the opportunity to enter the world championships. Under the direction of two coaches – the alcoholic poetry reading Delphine and then the wheelchair bound disciplinarian (who does reign with an iron rule) Amanda — they triumph. Despite its stars it simply doesn’t work and rarely ever seems plausible, or for that matter all that funny. It doesn’t hold a candle to the 2018 similarly themed ‘Comme des Garçons’, featuring a women’s soccer team.

Rob Bray
Rob Bray
5 years ago

Promise at dawn / La promesse de l’aube ****
A biopic of the early life of the French writer Romain Gary based on his (possibly unreliable) memoir, or perhaps tribute to his mother, of the same name. It commences with his childhood in Poland, adolescence in Nice and his adulthood and war service as a navigator/bomb aimer in the free French forces in the second world war, with his nascent writing career spanning the second two phases. Central to the story is his mother, a minor Russian (Lithuanian?) actor, raising him as a single parent as she struggles to make ends meet, but with a burning, and stifling, ambition for her son. A role well played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. A movie with both touches of comedy and pathos.

In your hands/ Au bout des doigts ***
Ok this movie is a cliché. Young man in one of the rougher parts of the Paris banlieue is spotted by the head of the Paris conservatory playing a piano at a railway station and after various rebellious incidents finally realises his potential. Treat it as entertainment, as music, and as an insight to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2.

Who you think I am/ Celle que vous croyez *****
An older divorced woman adopts a younger avatar on her internet dating to pursue, seduce and fall deeply in love with a younger man, emotions which are returned. Can the relationship translate from the digital to the real, and what is the real? The story emerges with hidden truths and lies, and imaginary and potential outcomes. Juliette Binoche is powerful and believable in her role as Claire/Clara. A disquieting movie well worth seeing.