What you need to know about the 32nd Alliance Française French Film Festival

french film festival 2020 bastilledaymelbourne

This year Alliance Française French Film Festival returned for its luminous 32nd season.

Presented by the Alliance Française in association with the Embassy of France in Australia, this joyous and evocative celebration of French culture screened in splendour at Palace Cinemas across seven cities and two satellite locations between 3 and 31 March 2021. The strictest Covid protocols were adhered to in each state, including social distancing, sanitising and circulation of clean air, to ensure a safe cinema experience.

For its 2021 outing, the Festival was delighted to have the generous patronage of esteemed Presenting Sponsor, Peugeot Australia. With over 210 years of rich history, Peugeot delivers award-winning excellence in its mobility solutions for the modern motorist.

This year’s festival was also noteworthy for being the inaugural season of Artistic Director, Karine Mauris.  Hailing from a background immersed in cultural creativity, Karine is passionate about nurturing emerging talent and discovering stories that cast a spotlight on the many rich facets of French life. 

Karine assembled 37 incredible features from established filmmakers including Ruben Alves, Éric Barbier, Éric Besnard, Quentin Dupieux, Marc Fitoussi, Anne Fontaine, Yann Gozlan, Éric Lartigau, Gabriel Le Bomin, Emmanuel Mouret, François Ozon and Nicolas Vanier, alongside emerging talents such as Kaouther Ben Hania (The Man Who Sold His Skin), Manele Labidi (Arab Blues) and Chloé Mazlo (Skies of Lebanon).  Adding further spice to the mix will be movies from multi-talented actor/directors including Valérie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Géraldine Nakache and Samir Guesmi.

Two films in the 2021 line-up were honoured at the recent 2021 Académie des César awards, with Bye Bye Morons taking home a string of accolades including Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, while Laure Calamy was awarded Best Actress for Antoinette in the Cévennes.

This year’s festival special events were highlights of the program, starting with a marvellous Opening Night at the Astor Theatre, conducted in true Melbourne style. A special screening of Aline at Palace Pentridge Cinemas was a must for Céline Dion fans, whilst the Taste of France special screening of Delicious at the Kino was an unforgettable culinary and sensory experience!

Many films in the 2021 season explored the powerful urge to overcome obstacles, no matter the situation, or sacrifice demanded. 

Passionate examples included Appearances, a taut thriller in which a couple’s privileged Viennese existence threatens to implode when a husband’s infidelity propels his wife into a spiral of revenge; Miss, a joyful, yet thought-provoking film about a boy who dreams of transcending traditional binary gender definitions by entering the Miss France beauty pageant; Final Set, a must-see for sports fans, as an aging tennis player takes one last shot at winning the French Open, The Rose Maker, a gentle comedy in the grand French tradition, about a once prosperous rose grower, who finds salvation from an unlikely quarter; Bye Bye Morons, a madcap quest filled with adventure, peril and bewildering encounters.

As intrinsic to French culture as breathing, ‘l’amour’ in all its intoxicating complexities, was also a recurring theme throughout the 2021 line-up.  It explored with delicate sensitivity in Love Affair, with sophisticated humour in The Wedding Speech, empathy in Summer of 85, whilst France’s enduring love affair with gastronomy was depicted via the first French restaurant in the splendid 18th century period drama, Delicious.

This year’s programme also highlighted diversity through titles such as The Man Who Sold His Skin, a modern Faustian tale, selected as the Tunisian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards©; the devastation of civil war as depicted by Small Country: An African Childhood; Arab Blues, a sparkling ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy about adapting to a new culture; the fraught Night Shift, which explores the moral dilemmas faced by police when dealing with illegal immigrants, the lyrical and poetic 1950s drama, Skies of Lebanon and Fahim, the Little Chess Prince, the story of  Fahim Mohammad, the Bangladeshi refugee boy who became a national French chess champion.

The festival’s Encore Screenings (a selection of eight of the most popular films in the festival, screened immediately after the festival) provided great additional entertainment for Melbourne audiences over Easter. It was also wonderful to extend the festival to regional audiences, with a special mini Alliance Française French Film Festival at Bendigo’s beautiful Star Cinema over the weekend of 23 – 25 April.

Bringing these stories and more to life was possible thanks to Europe’s finest actors, from Jean-Paul Belmondo, Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Carré, Alain Chabat, François Cluzet, Camille Cottin, Emmanuelle Devos, Lou de Laâge, Gérard Depardieu, Laeticia Dosch, Romain Duris, André Dussollier, Virginie Efira and Catherine Frot, to Grégory Gadebois, Blanch Gardin, Ana Giradot, Golshifteh Farahani, Isabelle Huppert, Kad Merad, Tchéky Karyo, Vincent Lacoste, Alex Lutz, Isabelle Nanty, Sylvain Marcel, Pierre Niney, Denis Podalydès, Kristin Scott Thomas, Omar Sy, Patrick Timsit, Karin Viard and Lambert Wilson.  The audience also discovered rising stars such as Félix Lefebvre, Finnegan Oldfield, Emma Mackey, Benjamin Voisin and Alexandre Wetter.

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