French Film Festival includes French take on Yes Minister

Raphael Personnaz and Thierry L'Hermite

Oreal / Alliance Française French Film Festival
February 20 – April 23

The full programme for this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival was released last week in the lead up to the major film event which will see French films screened in 11 cities nationwide

This year will be the festival’s largest and most diverse film selection to date. The selection, which features 27 films, includes successful French titles that have recently premiered at international film festivals.

Hot off the success of their Toronto Film Festival screenings, Nicole Garcia’s Going Away, Sylvain Chomet’s Attila Marcel, Nils Tavernier’s The Finishers and his father Bertrand Tavernier’s Quai d’Orsay will all première during the festival.

Bernard Tavernier’s Quai d’Orsay is the director’s first comedy after 40 years of film making and it combines the drollness of Yes Minister and the chaos of The Thick Of It.

In the film Raphael Personnaz plays Arthur Vlaminck, a newly appointed young speechwriter in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs specially chosen by the minister Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry L'Hermite) to write his speeches, which are supposed to be new and invigorating and also expressing the minister’s approach to foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the minister’s view on most things is elaborate clichés or quotations from the philosopher Heraclites. The Greeks poetic and cryptic utterances and his pairing of contrary ideas appeals to the minister but makes for impossible speech writing

Arthur’s lack of previous political experience makes him an easy target for the power struggles and back-stabbing of the minister's support network of advisers and back room staff. And it's not long before he's spinning between the minister, his chief of staff Claude Maupas (Niels Arestrup) who is a laidback version of Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister and the other equally spinning staff. There is, however, no real equivalent of Malcolm Tucker and his fiery outburst.

One of the other main characters is Arestrup, as the faithful, world weary eminence gris, the perfect counterpoint to the high-maintenance foreign minister and his calm presence often acts as a brake to stop the action from spinning out of control.

The film derives from a comic strip and some features are morphed into the film. Whenever the minister approaches, doors slam like explosions and the energy preceding him blows papers all around the offices. Much of the editing is inspired by the cartoon-like cutting between scenes and carefully cropped views and the film is interspersed with captions from Heraclites.

Other highlights include François Cluzet and Guillaume Canet in Christophe Offenstein’s Turning Tide, Katell Quillévéré’s emotional powerhouse Suzanne, and Swiss director Yves Yersin’s documentary Blackboard, which chronicles life at a remote mountain school for over a year, focusing on the pupils who share the same class, along with their successes and failures.

Similarly, Guillaume Gallienne’s acclaimed comedy Me, Myself and Mum, which won the Director’s Fortnight category at the Cannes International Film Festival 2013, will screen in an exclusive series of three screenings in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.

The festival’s opening night film will be acclaimed director Cédric Klapisch’s final instalment of The Spanish Apartment trilogy, Chinese Puzzle, starring French acting royalty Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou.

“We’re really happy with this year’s selection,” says festival director Sarah Reese, “I think it’s fun, diverse and enthralling. I’m sure people will find films that appeal to them and I hope they may even explore new genres and styles as French cinema offers such a diverse range of filmmaking.”


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