Home French Hits of the 2024 French Film Festival

Hits of the 2024 French Film Festival

by Bernard O'Shea

February and March are sans doute glorious months of the year for cinemagoers in Australia, thanks to the Alliance Française French Film Festival, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Forty-one films are involved, and here are three of our favourites.

The Book of Solutions/Les livres des solutions

Pierre Niney does a magnificent job portraying “the brilliant and chaotic mind of visionary filmmaker Michel Gondry” (to quote the festival program) in this engaging, dizzyingly hyperactive film. Gondry won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as co-writer of the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which he also directed, but I remember his 2015 French-language film Microbe & Gasoline with more affection. The Book of Solutions, apparently, is loosely based Gondry’s experiences making the 2013 film Mood Indigo/L’écume des jours. His films are never run-of-the-mill!

Niney plays Marc, a filmmaker whose bizarre latest project has been rejected by its financiers, and he flees to his aunt’s house in a village in the Cévennes to try to resuscitate it, accompanied by his small but loyal film crew. Their patience is tested as Marc methods become totally bonkers Their ultimate humiliation comes when he hires an orchestra to record the score, sacks the conductor on the spot and takes the baton himself. He has no musical training, and there’s no music sheet for the orchestra. But in a fantastic scene, he manages to pull it off. Later, there’s a surprise appearance from Sting (playing himself), who accepts an email invitation to sing and play bass on the score.

Seventy-nine-year-old actress Françoise Lebrun is adorable as Aunt Denise, who’s all calm when Marc’s all chaos, and a woman with a beautiful soul.

Second Round/Second tour

Writer/director/actor Albert Dupontel is back and in top form once again with Second Round, the follow-up to the hilarious smash hit Bye Bye Morons (Adieu Les Cons), which triumphed at the 2021 Césars, winning six awards including Best Film.

Bye Bye Morons satirised the banalities of office routine drudgery; Second Round‘s target is cult worship of a heroic political saviour (who may or may not have any heroic qualities but has lots of money). Donald Trump would be the obvious example, but in Second Round at least the worshipped hero – played by Dupontel himself – is reasonably eloquent. Political and sporting journalism is also subjected to amusing, biting scrutiny.

Cécile de France, the female lead in the hit of the 2022 French Film Festival, Lost Illusions, AF FFF22) plays Nathalie, a TV political reporter who has been demoted to covering football/soccer for overstepping the mark. The ensuing skits are hilarious (my first job in journalism was as a sports reporter). She’s paired with a TV cameraman who’s been in the game so long he can lip-read swear words in many European languages, a skill that comes in handy in perilous situations that lie ahead when they’re called in to help cover the French presidential election.

Dupontel is gifted at making his films dash down the most unexpected routes. Suddenly the dialogue switches into Romanian and we’re probing the emotional fallout of that country’s awful Cold War-era orphanages. Next we’re racing around remote French countryside, where only a seemingly retarded, poverty-stricken beekeeper can help avert the biggest crisis in modern political history! French-style nail-biting cinema at its finest.

A Chance to Win/Pour L’Honneur

Who doesn’t love a story about underdogs, misfits and losers triumphing against the odds? Pour L’Honneur (‘For Honour‘) is not the epitome of the genre, but it elicited many chuckles at the well-attended cinema session I went to. Aussies love their sports, and when it’s served with witty dialogue, even better.

Here it’s about long-standing rivalry on the rugby field between two teams from neighbouring villages in south-west France, Trocpont-sur-Vézère et Tourtour-les-Bains. The former have had the upper hand in recent times, but when the good villagers of  Tourtour-les-Bains allow a group of refugees to start a new life in the village, the local rugby coach (played by Olivier Marchal) spots some stars in the making. One is a beefy wrestler, another is a talented soccer player who hasn’t the strength to take on beefy rugby blokes, and neither has a clue about the rules of rugby, but never mind!

Writer/director Philippe Guillard is a former top-grade French club rugby player who moved into sports journalism and feature films. He was born in Guadeloupe, and lived in other parts of the Caribbean as well as Guyana in South America before moving to France, and his appreciation of other cultures and viewpoints is evident. Ultimately it’s the initially unwelcome outsiders who bring the ailing village back to life. A Chance to Win is a warm-hearted comedy that even people who care little about rugby will enjoy. M5R

You may also like

Leave a Comment