French film festival sets new record

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The attendance figures from the Alliance Française French Film Festival in Australia have just been released, and once again a new record has been set. All up there were 184,713 attendances – a 5.8 per cent increase on the previous year – at the 50 films screened across 23 cinemas.

FrenchfingerThe festival was especially popular in Sydney, where attendances rose by 9 per cent to 57,427, helped in part by the opening of the Palace Central Park cinema complex near Central station. The figures for the other cities are not yet available.

The most popular film was the one that got the festival off to a rollicking start,  C’est La Vie.

It will be interesting to see if the Spanish Film Festival, which has only just ended, achieved similar growth. I suspect it will.

MORE REEL DEALS

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As one festival ends, so another begins: the German Film Festival is on from May 22 to June 10 in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, to be followed shortly afterwards by the Scandinavian Film Festival (July).

Romances languages will be back in focus with the Italian Film Festival (September) and Cine Latino Film Festival (November).

Images from Pixabay.

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Mysterious motives in Spanish pawn movie

The Chess Player

If you want to brush up on your Spanish, French and German languages – and possibly your chess skills too – then here is the film for you: El jugador de ajedrez (The Chess Player). I saw it at part of Australia’s 2018 Spanish Film Festival, which at the time of writing is still running in Adelaide, Brisbane (till May 13) and Perth (till May 16).

A female French journalist Marianne (played by Melina Matthews) barges in at a crucial moment in a championship game involving a handsome Spaniard Diego (Marc Clotet, above) and a not so handsome fat guy. Marianne is the not the only woman in the room but she is the only lady in red and stands out amid all the black, brown and grey and the wafts of cigarette smoke. She doesn’t know much about chess, but that’s journalism for you –  journalists are expected to quickly become experts in anything they are sent to cover; it requires rapid wit and intelligence, which is why I am one, haha. Luckily for Marianne there is another suave Spaniard, Javier (played by Alejo Sauras), on hand to explain to her the finer points of chess and the mind games involved.

Needless to say, the ugly fat guy loses and the beautiful people go out to celebrate over glasses of champagne. But which handsome Spaniard will woo the French femme? More mind games!

Then things get sinister, first with the Spanish Civil War, then World War Two and the Nazi occupation of Paris. This is your cue to watch the trailer…

Just when it seems there is no hope for Diego, suddenly the chessboard is back on the table, courtesy of Colonel Maier (Stefan Weinert), who likes chess and Anton Bruckner (“the greatest composer since Beethoven” – I am with him on that one) and has a sharp mind, making interesting observations on religion and society. Diego becomes his protégé. “I hope you understand my motives,” the Colonel says. Even though I am a very intelligent journalist, I hadn’t a clue what his motives were!

Pawns

El jugador de ajedrez is not a perfect film by any means but it is a gripping wartime drama, covering the whole gamut of human emotions: love, hope, despair, desperation, betrayal, courage, strength, brutality and bullying – war is the ultimate form of bullying, is it not? Don’t be put off if you don’t know much about chess: the game is peripheral to the action. This is more about how humans can be used or sacrificed as pawns. And maybe even sometimes the pawns can come out on top.

Maître Gims is back, so is Vianney. Are you disturbed?

It’s been a while since I listened to French music so I thought I’d see what some of my favourite singers have been up to. The first name I typed in Google was the “Master” a.k.a. Maître Gims. My timing was fortuitous – he has just released this third album after three years. It’s called Ceinture Noire (“Black Belt”) and already it has topped the charts in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

It’s a double album with 40 tracks on it, among them a number of collaborations, including this track, La Même (“The Same”), with Vianney, which is the No. 1 song in France at the moment. It’s very catchy, and as the video below with the lyrics shows, there is a lot of clever word-play in it.

I didn’t know much about Vianney and while I think they make great collaborators (I love Vianney’s vocals in the chorus), the fact that they had teamed up together must have raised eyebrows, for they’re quite different in style: Maître Gims with his hip-hop background, Vianney the geeky troubador. Here’s his most successful single to date as a solo artist, Je m’en vais (“I’m leaving”), which made No.2 in France two years ago.

Le Parisien did a detailed interview with Maître Gims about his latest album, you can read it here. Maître Gims says Vianney is like Ed Sheeran, but with more “urban zest”. Ouch, Ed! Still, as the following track shows, Vianney can be cheerful and chirpy too, and it has a zesty African feel (Vianney was born in France, Maître Gims in the DR Congo).

Vocabulary

The chorus of La Même is mostly Si je vous gêne, bah, c’est la même.

  •  gêner  = to embarrass, bother, disturb.
  • c’est la même implies it’s always the same thing (c’est toujours la même, nothing changes, so what’s new.
  • bah implies contempt, disdain, exasperation! 

Rollicking start to French Film Festival

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Australia’s biggest foreign language cinematic celebration, the Alliance Française French Film Festival, is under way in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane, and will start soon in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart. There will also be screenings next month in Parramatta and Casula, in western parts of Sydney. All up, there are 50 films to choose from.

I was lucky enough to go to the opening night party in Sydney, at the National Art School, and as always there is a wonderful selection of French food and drink to go with it. I made a beeline for le fromage, purely for photographic purposes, you’ll understand.

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The opening night film, C’est La Vie, was fantastic, one of those films in which even the extras have wonderful roles to play, and you get totally absorbed in the quirks and lives of all the major and minor characters. Originally titled Le Sens de la Fête, it was a wedding party film with a difference (the focus was on the caterers) and there were many moments when the audience was laughing out loud. It’s funny and witty, and I highly recommend it – see it if you can. Here is the trailer.

The film scored 10 nominations for the 2018 César Awards, including for best film, best director (Eric Tolédano and Olivier Nakache, who were also nominated for best original screenplay), best actor (Jean-Pierre Bacri), best supporting actors (Gilles Lellouche and Vincent Macaigne), best female newcomer (Eye Haïdara, who was superb in her role), best male newcomer (Benjamin Lavernhe) as well as best editing and best sound. However, it did not win in any category, which just goes to show how strong the competition must have been. C’est la vie, eh?

My favourite character in the film, though, was the lazy, hopeless philandering photographer Guy (played by Jean-Paul Rouve), who kept scoffing all the food instead of working. He reminded me of me! (We underpaid journalists and photographers need all the nourishment we can get.) Here’s another revealing photo I took from the opening night party.

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Later his nerdy photographic apprentice taught him how to download dating apps on his phone, with hilarious consequences.

Don’t Miss BPM

The festival is in its 29th year, and last year had a record attendance of 174,500. The good news is that film that dominated the César Awards this year BPM (120 Battements Par  Minute) is included in it, as are other best film nominees Au revoir là-haut (See You Up There), Barbara and Petit Paysan (listed as Bloody Milk in the festival program. These films also scored notable César Awards – details here.

 

Throw a canary on the barbecue? Surely not!

After my close encounters with Uma Thurman, I have had another awkward moment with my phone’s predictive text. I was using Portuguese to describe a typical Australian Christmas meal …

Nós comemos muitos camarões (“we eat lots of prawns“) was what I wanted to say.

Sydney Xmas 2017 edited (19 of 94)

Exotic prawns spotted by Bernardo at the fishmarket. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

What my phone came up with: Nós comemos muitos canaries

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How would you like to munch on these? Image: Pixabay

Now that I have whetted your appetite, why don’t you join me for a seafood extravaganza?

RELATED VOCABULARY

  • French: manger (to eat), un canari (a canary), une crevette (a prawn)
  • Italian: mangiare (to eat), un canarino (a canary), un gambero, un gamberetto (a prawn)
  • Portuguese: comer (to eat),  um canário (a canary), um camarão, (a prawn)
  • Romanian: a mânca (to eat), un canar (a canary), un crevete (a prawn)
  • Spanish: comer(to eat), un canario (a canary), un camarónuna gamba (a prawn)

Note: For simplicity’s sake, I’m treating shrimps and prawns as the same. Portuguese also has the word gamba, but it may be more used in Portugal than Brazil.

France’s Eurovision winner this year is … Isabelle Huppert. Ooops! Sorry, wrong envelope, the real winner is …

Eiffel on flagThe Eurovision Song Contest is just around the corner, and there is a great French film doing the rounds that will put you in the mood for it. What’s more, it stars the superb French actress Isabelle Huppert.

The film in question is Souvenir. In it, Isabelle plays a woman who was once a child star but her world came crashing down after she was beaten at a Eurovision Song Contest by ABBA. Oh, the indignity!

Now she lives a humdrum life and makes pâtés for a living at a suburban factory, where a young spunky co-worker cum amateur boxer (Kévin Azaïs oozing great charm and innocence) recognises her. He buys her flowers and chocolates, puts some spark in her life and soon they are in cavorting together in the bathtub. In the midst of this he urges her to make a comeback. He even gives up his, ahem, promising amateur boxing career to become her manager. And yes, she enters the contest to be France’s next representative at Eurovision. What a comeback it would be if she won – the French music industry story of the year!

I wish I could find a video clip of Isabelle singing the song that may or may not cast her into the international limelight, but unfortunately there does not seem to be one around. Nor can I find a trailer with subtitles. But here is the French language trailer, which will give you some idea of the tensions involved in showbiz.

AND NOW FOR A DOSE OF REALITY

So, who is going to represent France at Eurovision this year? That honour falls to an as yet little known singer, Alma, whose debut album is to be released shortly. (You can read more about her here). Her song is Requiem which, under the terms of the French selection process, has to have at least 80 per cent French language content.

The contest takes place in Kiev, Ukraine, from May 9 to 13. Bonne chance, Alma!

THE LYRICS TO ‘REQUIEM’ 

Des amours meurent, des amours naissent
Les siècles passent et disparaissent
Ce que tu crois être la mort
C’est une saison et rien de plus
Un jour lassé de cette errance
Tu t’en iras, quelle importance
Car la terre tournera encore
Même quand nous ne tournerons plus
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi sourire au beau milieu d’un requiem
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi danser jusqu’à ce que le temps nous reprenne
Ce qu’il a donné
Will you take me to paradise?
With you nothing ever dies
You take my smile and make it bright
Before the night erase the light
I won’t go below silver skies
The only dark is in your eyes
On pleure mais on survit quand même
C’est la beauté du requiem
Les étincelles deviennent des flammes
Les petites filles deviennent des femmes
Ce que tu crois être l’amour
C’est un brasier et rien de plus
Nos déchirures, nos déchéances
On pense qu’elles ont de l’importance
Mais demain renaîtra le jour
Comme si nous n’avions pas vécu
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi sourire au beau milieu d’un requiem
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi danser jusqu’à ce que le temps nous reprenne
Ce qu’il a donné
Will you take me to paradise?
With you nothing ever dies
You take my smile and make it bright
Before the night erase the light
I won’t go below silver skies
The only dark is in your eyes
On pleure mais on survit quand même
C’est la beauté du requiem
Des amours naissent, des amours meurent
Ce soir enfin je n’ai plus peur
Je sais que je t’aimerai encore
Quand la terre ne tournera plus
Des amours naissent, des amours meurent
Ce soir enfin je n’ai plus peur
Je sais que je t’aimerai encore
Quand la terre ne tournera plus
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi sourire au beau milieu d’un requiem
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi danser jusqu’à ce que le temps nous reprenne
Ce qu’il a donné
Embrasse-moi, tell me that you love me
Embrasse-moi
Embrasse-moi, tell me that you love me
Embrasse-moi

 

French film festival update: here comes the extended version

ETERNITY_14Great news for Francophiles in Sydney and Melbourne: the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival has been extended in both cities until April 5. And if Sydneysiders still can’t get enough, don’t forget there are screenings in the suburbs of Parramatta and Casula from April 6-9 and 8-9 respectively.

Here is the amended schedule. I have included all starting dates, so you can roughly plan ahead for next year too.

  • Sydney (March 7-April 5)
  • Melbourne (March 8-April 5)
  • Canberra (March 9-April 4)
  • Perth (March 15-April 5)
  • Brisbane (March 16-April 9)
  • Adelaide (March 30-April 23)
  • Hobart (March 30-April 8)
  • Parramatta (April 6-9)
  • Casula (April 8-9)

Go here for films and session times: the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival.

The image is from Éternité (Eternity), the first film in the French language from Vietnamese-born director Tran Anh Hung of The Scent of Green Papaya fame. It examines the lives of three generations of an aristocratic family, and stars what Variety calls “an embarrassment of great actresses” (as does the whole festival itself), including Audrey Tautou (above), Bérénice Bejo, Mélanie Laurent and Irène Jacob.

Highlights from the French Film festival – and a Danish gem

In Australia the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival is in full swing, and I have been trying to immerse myself in it as much as I can in my spare time. By coincidence or not, I have mostly been cast back in time to the Second World War. I guess it is a period in history that still fascinates, and still nags at our conscience. It produced so many dramatic stories showing the best and the worst of humanity – heroism, cruelty, hate, bravery, love and compassion –  that we can now get to see in the comfort of a cinema, unlike the poor souls who had to live (if they were lucky) through such ordeals.

Here is what I have enjoyed so far.

Planetarium

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Lily-Rose Depp and Natalie Portman share a sisterly smoke in Planetarium

Planetarium is set in prewar Paris. Lily-Rose Depp and Natalie Portman star as two broke American sisters who hold seances with the dead.  Initially you suspect they are charlatans. But when they conduct a seance for a wealthy movie producer (played by Emmanuel Salinger) it seems someone from the dead wants to strangle him, and nearly succeeds. And he seems to find this erotic, and becomes fascinated with the whole process! And so we venture into the strange world of the dead and the decadent world of the 1930s European elite, until the war looms and things get sinister. Visually, it’s an enthralling spectacle.

The film starts off as a mix of English and French, but as the two sisters (newly arrived from Berlin) get more fluent in the local language, the English fades away.

A Bag Of Marbles

Tournage Un sac de Billes

A lighter moment by the seaside for the young heroes of A Bag of Marbles.

This is a great new film based on Un Sac De Billes, the memoirs of Joseph Joffo – a film of the same name was made in 1975, two years after the book was published. It tells the hair-raising and harrowing story of two brothers Joseph, 12, (played superbly by Dorian Le Clech), and Maurice, 17 (Batyste Fleurial). Being Jewish, they have to flee Nazi-occupied Paris for the demilitarised zone in the south, getting separated from their family in the process, but as the war progresses, so do the perils.

When we came out of the cinema, I heard a mother ask her teenage son what he thought of the film. “It was fantastic, really fantastic,” was the reply. I couldn’t agree more.

Land of Mine

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Not so fun times on the beach in Land of Mine.

Still on the Second World War two theme, at the cinema there was also a preview screening of the Danish film Land of Mine, which was a finalist in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars this year. It too is fantastic, really gripping. Young German prisoners have to stay on in Denmark in the immediate aftermath of the war, clearing all the landmines on the beaches. Explosive stuff. It opens in Australia on March 30.

Don’t miss out

The French Film Festival is Australia’s largest foreign language film festival, and this year is the 28th in its history.

  • Sydney (March 7-30)
  • Melbourne (March 8-30)
  • Canberra (March 9-April 4)
  • Perth (March 15-April 5)
  • Brisbane (March 16-April 9)
  • Adelaide (March 30-April 23)
  • Hobart (March 30-April 8)
  • Parramatta (April 6-9)
  • Casula (April 8-9)

Photographs supplied courtesy of the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival and Palace Films.

 

Say cheese, say French Film Festival, see Audrey, Juliette and Marion

The media launch of the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival took place in Sydney during the week, and I was eager to attend, spurred on by the thought that there might be some free food and wine to go with it. Journalists are easily persuaded.

img_0735And my instincts were right. Look what I found.

That’s a plate of cheese (fromage in French).

Or it was. In my hands it soon became a plate of discarded toothpicks, albeit fancy toothpicks with the French flag draped on them. And very tasty cheese it was too.

I even kept some of the toothpicks as souvenirs. Journalists are shameless scroungers!

The French Film Festival is Australia’s largest foreign language film festival, attracting some 160,000 patrons. This year, the 28th year in its history,  the festival will be screening in:

  • Sydney (March 7-30)
  • Melbourne (March 8-30)
  • Canberra (March 9-April 4)
  • Perth (March 15-April 50
  • Brisbane (March 16-April 9)
  • Adelaide (March 30-April 23)
  • Hobart (March 30-April 8)
  • Parramatta (April 6-9)
  • Casula (April 8-9)

Here is the official festival trailer, plus trailers of some films that will be featured. Looks good!

Here’s one for those who like snorkelling, scuba diving and Audrey Tautou.

Here’s one for those who like period dramas, loopy families and Juliette Binoche.

Here’s one for those who like Mr Wrongs, Mr Rights and Marion Cottilard.

Another award for Elle at the Goyas; The Distinguished Citizen is distinguished

The French rape-revenge film Elle, for which Isabelle Huppert won a Golden Globe and is in the running for the best actress Oscar, picked up Spain’s Goya Award for Best European Film, beating films from the UK and the Hungarian film Son of Saul, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film last year. Despite Huppert’s performance, Elle did not make the Oscar nominations for Best Foreign film this year.

Having been to South America recently, I was curious to see which film would win the Goya for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film – the four films in contention were from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela.

The winner was El Ciudadano Ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen), a comedy from Argentina.

One to look out for should it ever come your way.

The Venezuelan film, Desde Allá (From Afar) was a strong contender, having won the Golden Lion at the 2015 Venice Film Festival. Its topic is confronting.