French Film Festival: Sex, scams and a dash of Homer

The fourth French Film Festival opens next month in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch with a line up 18 recent features, most of them from 2008 as well as two that came out last year.

They are all having their first New Zealand screenings and feature some of Frances’s major actors and directors, including Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Costa-Gavras and Claude Chabrol.

The films also provide a variety of French landscapes such as Rennes (French Kissers), Nimes (Bellamy) and Corsica (Queen to Play). In Public Enemy No 1 we race around various locations in France, Canada, Spain and Morocco following the exploits of the legendary French gangster Jacques Mesrine, who was declared to be Public Enemy No 1 in both Canada and France in the 1970s.

French Kissers, which was screened at the official opening of the festival, is a French version of all those terrible films about teenage boys and their encounters with the opposite sex.

Directed by Riad Sattouf, who has previously written several comic books including Retour au College, the film is an astute portrait of young men and women and their sexual awakening and awkwardness.

The film has universality about it with just the right amount of information, humour, pathos and social analysis. Every teenage boy and his parents should see this, although they shouldn’t sit together.

The film also manages to give a brief insight into the nature of French secondary teaching and the ambivalent attitudes the French have to race, sex and religion.

Costa Gavras’ Eden a l’Ouest (Eden is West) is one of his more personal films and although it is not autobiographical it is close to his story of being a Greek immigrant making his way to France in the 1950s. The film also echoes Homer's epic The Odyssey and the tale of the Greek hero Odysseus, who spends 10 years on a journey to return home after the Trojan War.

Costa Gavras says of the film, “Just as in The Odyssey, the adventures of Elias (played by Ricardo Scarnacio), our hero without a legend, begin in the Aegean Sea on the same sea, under the same sun and the same sky as the beginning of civilization.

“After many incidents and eventful moments, including a stopover in Paradise and a short stay in Hell, his epic story magically finishes in Paris where all wanderers see their deepest dreams shine in uncertain sleep.”

In Joueuse (Queen to Play), Kevin Kline, in his first full French language role, plays the mysterious Dr Kroger, who lives in a small Corsican village and intrudes on the life of Helene. a housemaid in the local hotel.

She has become obsessed with mastering chess, which leads to a metamorphosis in her life as well as providing a sensuous counterpart to Kroger.

Veteran director Clause Chabrol has based his film Bellamy on the true story of an insurance rip off. Gerard Depardieu plays a police investigator confronted with personal and professional problems in a convoluted story where fact and fiction are unclear and where reality and appearances become blurred.

French Film Festival
Sponsored by Tefal
Auckland, Rialto Cinema, February 10-18
Wellington, The Embassy, February 17-25
Christchurch, Rialto Cinema, February 23-28

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