Home French The best dramas at the 2023 French Film Festival

The best dramas at the 2023 French Film Festival

by Bernard O'Shea

Australia’s annual French film festival is in full swing around the country, and extra ‘on demand’ sessions have been added to the programs in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra. These dramas are among those you shouldn’t miss.

Tenor Ténor

Things get saucy when a sushi delivery guy delivers a meal to one of the rehearsal rooms of the hallowed Palais Garnier in Paris, and we’re not talking about soy sauce!  Having handed over the meal, working-class economics student Antoine (Mohamed Belkhir, aka rapper MB14) lingers, enthralled by the singing. When he’s told to bugger off by an arrogant student, Antoine retorts in grand style – with a mocking impromptu rap song (he enters rap competitions by night.) Then, to rub salt into the snooty student’s wounds, he bursts in to classical song, an impressive tenor.

The singing teacher, Mrs Loyseau (Michèle Laroque, above, with MB14) is so impressed she invites him round for a private singing lesson but before you can sing Do-Re-Mi she’s got her paws on his diaphragm. He storms off  but, enrapt with opera (it sure beats accountancy and tax law) he takes up the challenge of preparing for an audition under her tutelage. In trying to navigate between two worlds, though, there’s the danger Antoine will end up in neither one nor the other, losing his family, friends and roots in the process.

Tenor (in French it has an accent, Ténor) is an absorbing, poignant film, spiced with humour and pathos. The most astounding aspect is Belkhir’s singing. What a voice! And yes, he’s appeared on the French version of the The Voice, in 2016 and in an ‘all stars’ contest in 2021, finishing second and third respectively.

Louis Garrel and Noémie Merlant have a tête-à-tête in The Innocent.

The Innocent L’Innocent

Director and co-writer Louis Garrel (above) has done a magnificent job with this film, which was nominated in 11 categories at the 2023 César Awards, winning two: best original screenplay and best supporting actress for Noémie Merlant.

Garrel stars as Abel, a grieving widower who’s unhappy because his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) has fallen in love with a convicted burglar Michel (Roschdy Zem) and they plan to marry after the latter’s release from jail. Abel suspects that Michel will carry on with his criminal activities, and starts spying on him. Before long, Abel himself and his best friend Clémence (Merlant) are caught up in the underworld, and living dangerously.

It’s a terrific film that veers off unexpectedly into emotional side alleys just like the vehicles do in the high-octane car chases that ensue. When Clémence – initially a passive, background figure – has to come to out of her shell, Merlant grasps the opportunity with relish and steals the show. She’s fantastic. (I’m looking forward to seeing her in Tár alongside Cate Blanchett.)

On The Wandering Paths Sur Les Chemins Noirs

Initially I had no intention of seeing this film as I thought it would be too grim. Based on explorer Sylvain Tesson’s autobiographical book Sur Les Chemins Noirs – it’s about a man who, after drunkenly and stupidly falling from a window, is in a coma for eight days. When he wakes up, he’s  told he’ll never walk again. But, being a stubborn bastard, he determines to do hike the length of France. It will involve a lot of pain, puffing and panting

Once I saw the trailer, though, I had to see the film on the big screen. The scenery on the 1300km hike through the most remote areas of France is stunning, and the music by Wouter Dewit has a beauty to match.

Jean Dujardin (above), one of France’s finest actors, was the lucky, plucky actor chosen to play the role of Tesson, who also has a cameo in the film. And, judging by the extracts of the book that we see and hear on film, Tesson is a terrific writer.

More than anything, though, On The Wandering Paths is a paean to the beauty of our world, and a lesson in how we should appreciate it and care for it. See it on a big screen in surround sound if you can. M5R

Photos courtesy of Palace Films and the Alliance Française French Film Festival.

See also

The best comedies at the 2023 French Film Festival

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