French Film Festival

Breaking rules and pushing boundaries is what French cinema is all about.

Article by Katie Smyth | 06 Mar 2008

Wow, wow, wow, wow. No, it's not another BAFTA acceptance speech from La Vie en Rose star Marion Cotillard, but an appreciative musing on the recent offerings of French cinema. La Vie swept the board at last month's BAFTAs and Cotillard again looks set to "wow" at the Oscars while her fellow citoyennes, Mesdemoiselles Tautou and Binoche, continue to fly the flag high in Hollywood. So with all the current hype for Gallic film, the French Film Festival UK could be forgiven for resting on its laurels this month. But non mon Dieu, remember these are the French we're dealing with - breaking rules and pushing boundaries is what it's all about.

Now in its 16th year, La Fete du Cinema returns to the UK with 32 films screening in ten cities between 7 and 20 March. This year sees the Eden Court in Inverness make its debut as a host, extending the Scottish contribution beyond Glasgow and the capital. Blending films by established directors and features from emerging new talent, this year's programme is set to tackle the Franco-Algerian war, the Paris v the rest of the country rift, and the sexual reminiscences of an HIV sufferer, while taking a fond retrospective look at the Mai '68 demonstrations. Yet far from being, as a friend described it, "up its own arse", French cinema also reveals its lighter, more playful side with Audrey Tautou appearing as a golddigger in Priceless, and Lola Doillon's Just About Love? bearing testimony to teenage angst and hormones raging just as highly across the Channel.

Though stripped of the glamour, finesse and cinematic heavyweights of Cannes, La Fete will play host to a number of guest speakers including veteran director Jean Becker, actor Melvil Poupaud and Oscar-nominated Lionel Bailliu, who will give informal Q&A sessions at their screenings. The educational theme continues with presentations by the Ecole du Cinema and those wishing for a further encounter with the stars can take advantage of a unique exhibition of cinema portraiture at Edinburgh's French Institute by award-winning photographer Fabrizio Maltese.

Just as British and American cinema has sought to exercise its war demons in recent years, this French Film Festival would appear to be seeking some sort of emotional purging. Intimate Enemies, Bled Number One and Mon Colonel all deal with the Franco-Algerian colonial conflict. Intimate Enemies, screening at The Filmhouse on 11 March and the GFT on 17 March tells the story of young Lieutenant Terrien, posted to the remotest backwater of Algeria as a replacement. Quickly he finds his hitherto unwavering professionalism challenged as he comes up against the barbarity of the fellagha nationalist fighters, led by a Second World War veteran who only two decades before had fought under the French flag. The film charts Terrien's increasing difficulties in resisting the inhumane and illegal methods employed by his enemy and his contemptuous sergeant. Similarly Mon Colonel, by emerging director Laurent Herbert, explores the use of torture by French troops during the conflict, pitting the tactics of Lieutenant Guy Rossi against those of the shrewd Colonel Duplan. Like most of the titles in the festival these films are not set for general release in the UK so this may be your only chance to explore this hangover of French colonialism.

Shifting away from war, another preview to look out for is Avril with screenings in Inverness, Glasgow and Aberdeen. A bit like The Sound of Music set in Camargue and minus the guitars, Avril sees a young novice nun abandon the convent in which she has spent her childhood, in search of her twin brother and a new life without restriction. Another 'quest' in the festival appears in Priceless, as jilted waiter Jean pursues confused golddigger Irene (Audrey Tautou) to the French Riviera after a night of passion and mistaken identity. Sexual confusion also reigns supreme in Just About Love?, or should that be 'American Pie a la Francais?' Told from the female perspective, two high school girls make a pact to lose their virginity by the summer holidays while their friends are left worrying that instead of looking for Mr Right they are happy to settle with Mr Right Now.

Finally, ahead of the Mai '68 40th Anniversary, this year's festival offers a unique opportunity to see May Fools on the big screen again. Let's hope that like this Louis Malle classic, the festival itself will provide enough of the political to attract and inspire while catering for those of us more content to follow the subtitles of a rom com with a glass of something red. Vive la difference!

The French Film Festival runs from 7-20 March, at the Edinburgh Filmhouse, the Glasgow Film Theatre, the Belmont in Aberdeen, Eden Court in Inverness and the Dundee Contemporary Arts Cinema.
See for details.