French Film Festival 2019: Five highlights

Another eclectic mix of old and new titles from across the Channel arrives in UK cinemas courtesy of the French Film Festival. Highlights among the 2019 crop include love story Portrait of a Lady on Fire and submarine thriller The Wolf's Call

Feature by Josh Slater-Williams & Jamie Dunn | 17 Oct 2019
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire

From some of the cream of the Cannes crop to restored classics and mainstream hits, the French Film Festival is a much-appreciated annual event for the UK’s Franco-cinephiles. The 27th edition is packed with new works from heavy hitter directors like Bruno Dumont, Céline Sciamma, Quentin Dupieux, Arnaud Desplechin and Christophe Honoré, which feature such onscreen favourites as Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Léa Seydoux, Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel and Fabrice Luchini.

The entire programme’s worth checking out, but here are five we’re particularly keen to see:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma)

One of the buzziest titles from this year’s Cannes competition, where it picked up the Best Screenplay prize, the latest from Girlhood director Céline Sciamma is a 1760s-set lesbian romance anchored by incredible performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. The former plays a painter commissioned to do the wedding painting of the latter, who’s a reluctant bride-to-be, having left convent life to be married off for her family after her sister’s death. Marianne and Héloïse grow close and eventually romantically intimate over the course of the painting of the portrait, the completion of which will, of course, bring an end to their relationship [JS-W]. 2 Nov, GFT; and various other venues across the UK

Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)

Although the consistently lauded Dardenne brothers picked up the Best Director(s) award at Cannes this year, the general critical reception to their latest, Young Ahmed, was decidedly mixed, with many accusing the writer-director pair of deliberately courting controversy. The French Film Festival offers British audiences what might be one of the few chances to decide for themselves, as, unusually for the Dardennes, the film is currently still without a UK distribution deal. The story follows a Belgian Muslim teen hatching a plot to kill his teacher after a seemingly sudden radicalisation via an encounter with someone spouting an extremist interpretation of the Quran [JS-W]. 4 Nov, GFT; 8 Nov, Aberdeen Belmont; 9 Nov, Edinburgh Filmhouse; and various other venues across the UK

Delphine and Carole (Callisto McNulty)

One of European cinema’s greatest stars, Delphine Seyrig was a key part of enduring classics from the likes of Chantal Akerman, Alain Resnais, Marguerite Duras, Joseph Losey, Luis Buñuel, Jacques Demy and many more. Callisto McNulty’s documentary focuses on her collaborations with activist Carole Roussopoulos during the 1970s and 80s, when they made innovative use of new video technologies to fight for the women’s movement [JS-W]. 7 Nov, GFT; 15 Nov, London Ciné Lumière; 17 Nov, Filmhouse

On a Magical Night (Christophe Honoré)

French Film Festival favourite Christophe Honoré is back with a bittersweet farce that we’ve seen compared to The Awful Truth and It’s a Wonderful Life, which is recommendation enough for us. Set over one night in a hotel apartment, the film centres on middle-aged lecturer Maria (Chiara Mastroianni), whose husband (Benjamin Biolay) has just discovered she's had a string of affairs throughout their marriage. Over the course of the evening, Maria is visited – Christmas Carol-style – by people from her past, including former lovers, romantic rivals and the 20-something version of her husband she fell in love with in the first place [JD]. 4 Nov, GFT; 8 Nov, Ciné Lumière; 12 Nov, Filmhouse

The Wolf’s Call (Antonin Baudry)

The most pulse-quickening picture in this year’s French Film Festival lineup could be The Wolf’s Call, which looks to be France’s first entry in the proud cinematic tradition of the submarine thriller. Set in the near future, the film concerns a young sonar genius (played by Francois Civil) whose “golden ear” can pick out any vessel in the seven seas. But one day he comes across something fishy that he can’t identify (and it ain’t no fish). We’re told The Wolf’s Call has shades of submarine classics like The Hunt for Red October, Das Boot and Run Silent, Run Deep, but has Gallic pleasures all its own. If the sound of sonar pings on the soundtrack send your heart racing, this is the film for you [JD]. 5 Nov, GFT; 12 Nov, Ciné Lumière

The French Film Festival runs from 1 Nov to 15 Dec in various cities across the UK, including Edinburgh and Glasgow.
For full programme details and tickets, head to