Preview: The 22nd French Film Festival

A look ahead at the lineup of this year’s French Film Festival

by Philbert Dy

For over two decades now, the French Embassy Manila has been putting together an annual showcase of French films, giving Filipino moviegoers a chance to see something other than the usual Hollywood fare. This year’s edition will be screened at Greenbelt and Central Square, with special screenings at the Cinematheque Manila and Circuit Makati.

 

Here’s a preview of this year’s selection:

Opening Film: Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

 

 

For a while, it seemed like we were actually going to get this in regular cinemas, the trailer occasionally popping up since late last year. It kind of makes sense, given that it has a recognizable star (Kristen Stewart), and some familiar horror movie elements that might have sold it to a more casual audience. But make no mistake: this is an Assayas film through and through, his French arthouse sensibilities shining through in this tale of a young woman who alternates between picking up haute couture for her celebrity boss and trying to make contact with ghosts. It’s a strange film that cannot be classified other than for being distinctively French in construction.

Filipino Flavor: Ma’ Rosa (Brillante Mendoza, 2016), On the Job (Erik Matti, 2013), Anino (Raymond Red, 2000), Nakaw (Noel Escondo, Arvin Belarmino, 2016)

 

 

The French Film Festival has, in recent years, been making room for local films that made their way to Cannes, typically screening them on Independence Day. Ma’ Rosa and On the Job make for an interesting pair, both essentially about the corruption that plagues Filipino society, but tackling the issue from two very different angles. Anino won the short film Palme d’Or back in 2000. Nakaw is fresh from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, having competed in the Short Film Corner.

 

Family Fare: Le Malheurs de Sophie (Christopher Honoré, 2016), Tour de France (Rachid Djaidani, 2016)

 

 

If you want to take your kids out to see something French, try out Le Malheurs de Sophie, which is an adaptation of the 1858 novel by the Countess of Segur. It is about a mischievous little girl who, with the help of her friends, takes on her horrible stepmother. Also appropriate for families: Tour de France, which tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a young rapper and a character played by Gerard Depardieu. We know that sounds crazy, but give it a shot.

 

Romantic Entanglements: Geronimo (Tony Gatlif, 2014), L’ombre des femmes (Philippe Garrel, 2013)

 

 

Geronimo transplants the Romeo and Juliet story to the South of France, where racial tensions between minority groups adds interesting contemporary flavor to the timeless tale. L’ombre des femmes is shot in black and white, and seems to fashion itself as a tribute to the French New Wave, studying a case of marital infidelity with a cool sobriety that further highlights the messiness of the emotions involved within.

 

The World Is a Complicated Place: Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016), Je suis un soldat (Laurent Lariviere, 2015), Le chevaliers blancs (Joachim Lafosse, 2016)

 

 

Some go to the cinema to escape reality. Some wish to be confronted by it. In the wake of various terrorist attacks around the world, a film like Nocturama, which is about a group of people who pull off a series attacks in Paris, might seem like a bit too much. But the film provides an interesting perspective, in that it seems to present attacks like these as an inevitability that goes beyond extremist ideology. Je suis un soldat is about a disenfranchised woman who gets involved in a dog-trafficking racket. It’s a grimy, at times unpleasant film that plays at the plight of people in the wake of European austerity. And there’s Le chevaliers blancs, which studies French NGO workers involved in overseas adoption. The title, which translates to “The White Knights,” is painfully ironic, as the film coolly depicts a situation where good intentions don’t necessarily result in anything good.

 

On the Lighter Side: Un chateau d’Italie (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, 2013), 21 nuits avec Pattie (Arnaud Larrieu and Jean-Marie Larrieu, 2015)

 

 

So maybe you don’t want to walk out of the cinema struggling with the broken pieces of your soul. There’s lighter stuff in the lineup as well. There’s Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s semi-autobiographical Un chateau d’Italie, which is kind of a fictionalized chronicle of her family’s decision to sell off their estate in Italy. If that sounds thoroughly bourgeois, that’s because it totally is. But that’s not a bad thing in itself, and the personal nature of the material brings some surprising resonance. 21 nuits avec Pattie starts out as a whodunit, with the main character trying to figure out who stole her mother’s corpse. But then it gets weirder as things go along, revealing magical-realist undertones to go along with its droll, at times racy sense of humor. It’s a real trip.

 

Parisian Thrills: Le Dernier Diamant (Eric Barbier, 2014), Bastille Day (James Watkins, 2016)

 

 

Folks looking for a little more adrenaline in their cinema will be served well enough by Le Dernier Diamant, which is about a recently-freed convict lured into trying to steal an absurdly large diamond. Unsurprisingly, he runs up against some very dangerous people. There is also Bastille Day, which isn’t really a French film, and has already been screened in local cinemas. But it stars Idris Elba and it has him beating up a bunch of dudes on the way to preventing a terrorist plot. So it’s all good.

 

The French Film Festival runs at Greenbelt and Central Square BGC from June 9 to June 17.