The Alliance Française French Film Festival launches its 2016 season in Auckland this week, celebrating 10 years with their biggest line-up yet. Boasting a diverse range of French-language cinema that caters to all tastes, the 37-film programme includes the New Zealand premieres of Palme d’Or winner Dheepan, Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu vehicle Valley of Love, Pascale Ferran’s truly surreal (and recommended) Bird People, a new Michel Gondry film (Microbe and Gasoline), and César Awards frontrunner Marguerite, as well as a new ‘TV Out of the Box’ section featuring new shows The Last Panthers and Un Village Français. You can find my five most anticipated picks of the programme below, and for further details head to the French Film Festival site.
5. APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD (Dir. Franck Ekinchi, Christian Desmares)
When you consider French cinema, animation is probably not what comes to mind, and yet some of the medium’s most original and unconventional films have been French-language in recent years: Ernest & Celestine, A Cat in Paris, Persepolis and, of course, The Triplets of Belleville. Graphic novel adaptation April and the Extraordinary World looks to be another intriguing entry: set in an alternate 1941 in which Napoleon V rules France and all the scientists have disappeared, the film follows April (Marion Cotillard), a teenage girl who is searching for her missing scientist parents with the help of her talking cat, grandfather (Jean Rochefort) and a young scoundrel.
4. THE WAIT (Dir. Piero Messina)
French treasure Juliette Binoche explores maternal grief on screen for the first time since 1993’s unforgettable Three Colours: Blue, this time portraying a Sicilian mother who lives with her son’s fiancée (rising star Lou de Laâge) and refrains from telling her that he will not return. The Wait is the directorial debut of Piero Messina, who previously worked as the assistant director on Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, and Sorrentino’s stylistic influence is clearly felt in this film’s trailer.
3. DAYBREAK (Dir. Marcel Carné)
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Marcel Carné’s death, the 2016 festival will close with a restoration of one of the great director’s masterpieces, 1939’s Daybreak (Le jour se lève). Starring the iconic Jean Gabin, the film was released on the eve of World War II and has a storied history. Once thought to be lost, it re-appeared in the 1950s and has since been considered one of the key examples of poetic realism.
2. MEDITERRANEA (Dir. Jonas Carpignano)
Mediterranea promises to be the most topical entry in this year’s programme, as it follows the struggle of two West African migrants attempting to start a life in Europe. “Rarely has the phrase ‘ripped from the headlines’ seemed so literal,” writes Jordan Hoffman in The Guardian, one of many early reviews praising Jonas Carpignano’s directorial debut.
1. DHEEPAN (Dir. Jacques Audiard)
Cannes insiders were a little shocked when Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan unexpectedly took out the Palme d’Or last year, beating the heavily favoured likes of The Assassin and Carol. The film was conspicuously absent from the 2015 NZ International Film Festival line-up, but Kiwi cinephiles will at last be able to judge for themselves thanks to the French Film Festival. Audiard has proven to be one of the most consistent filmmakers of his generation, crafting unique, genre-defying character studies centred on mesmerising performances, such as 2009’s masterwork A Prophet. If Dheepan is on par with the rest of his impressive 2000s run (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Rust and Bone) it is guaranteed to be a 2016 favourite.