23 February 2024

C'est incroyable! Stellar lineup marks 35 years of Alliance Française French Film Festival

| Dione David
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Crowd of people at French Film Festival 2023

Experiences are a big part of the French Film Festival. Photo: Michael Franz, AF FFF 2023.

This year marks 35 years of the Alliance Française Film Festival in Canberra and Karine Mauris’ final year as artistic director – and she’s determined to go out with a bang.

“For the past 35 years, we’ve had just one directive: to bring together the best of the best of French cinema,” she says. “This year is no exception.”

Among the 41 movies in this year’s lineup are four world premieres, two debut movies, seven selected at the Cannes Film Festival and 10 nominated in the national film awards of France, the César Awards.

This includes the Festival’s film for the Opening Night Gala (7 March), The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan – the first in a two-part epic saga.

The box office smash hit is a huge get for the Festival.

“You don’t have to have watched the first to see the second, but if you do see the second, I guarantee you will be compelled to watch the first,” Karine says.

“And it’s a film you must see on the big screen!”

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The Festival prides itself on films best enjoyed on the silver screen – like Jeanne du Barry, starring Johnny Depp alongside Maïwenn in the title role.

The ‘ Pretty Woman of period films’, which opened the Cannes Film Festival, follows the tale of one of the mistresses of King Louis XV (Depp) as she rises through the ranks.

“I must admit I was initially concerned, as it’s the first time Depp has spoken French. But Louis XV was a very taciturn; he didn’t speak much. The few lines Depp does deliver, he delivers perfectly,” Karine says.

“From the costumes to the production design, this film is majestic; a true feast for the senses.”

Still from Les Intouchables

To mark its 35th anniversary, organisers polled festival goers about their favourite films over the past 15 years. Award-winning masterpiece The Intouchables (2011) was the people’s choice. Photo: Intouchables.

The same could be said of The Taste of Things, which will show four times during the Festival but for one night only is accompanied by the Taste of France event (21 March). On this night, audiences will partake in French delicacies while embarking on a culinary journey with the deliciously sensual tale of the partnership in the kitchen between renowned cook Eugenie and discerning gourmet Dodin as they create culinary magic.

“If you’re coming to any other screening of this film, make sure you eat first, or it will be your nightmare,” Karine laughs.

“This film is only about food. They create in front of you some recipes and almost the whole movie they’re either cooking or eating in front of you.”

As with every year, experiences are a big part of the French Film Festival. This is punctuated by special events such as Ladies Night (14 March), which this year screens The President’s Wife, a debut movie starring the legendary Catherine Deneuve.

“It’s kind of Legally Blonde à la Française. Catherine plays Bernadette, the wife of President Jacques Chirac. It’s based on a true story and presents a captivating portrait of an unexpected feminist icon,” Karine says.

“You get to see this woman take her destiny into her own hands. It’s hilarious and uplifting and will be a big hit.”

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Classic Movie Night will be held on 24 March, for which Karine has chosen Children of Paradise – a French romantic drama by Marcel Carné, produced under war conditions in 1943, 1944 and early 1945.

“This is my legacy to the festival – a film I adore and wish to share with Australian audiences,” she says.

“I was speaking with Hugo Weaving and he told me this was his favourite film ever, and that it was this movie that made him want to become an actor.

“I also hope people look at some of the films without big names, like Ama Gloria. This movie is about a six-year-old girl and her nanny. The actors are unknown. It’s a little movie, but it’s remarkable – a symphony of pure emotion.”

Pouring Champagne

The Taste of France event is accompanied by a mouthwatering screening. Photo: Michael Franz, AF FFF 2023.

Karine says the lineup of movies – and events – summarise the greatest things about French cinema.

“When we go to the cinema, it isn’t just for entertainment, but to share something with others in the room and reconnect with humanity,” she says.

“When someone laughs in the room beside you, that moment of shared emotion lifts the experience for you. In fact, I would argue that a big part of the movie-going experience, aside from what happens on the screen, is what happens in the room.

“In French film, the storytelling is of supreme importance. We have many incredible true stories and we know how to present them. We seek to surprise and delight. Often, you’ll leave the room changed, sometimes in profound ways.”

The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival in Canberra runs from 7 March to 2 April at Palace Electric Cinemas.

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