This year, a line-up of 15 contemporary French films are featured in the festival. Movies that mostly explore the depths of human relationships and the importance of family.
“For nearly a quarter of a century, the French Film Festival has been attracting audiences to discover and rediscover films that offer a particular French aesthetic—those that tell stories that make you laugh, cry, or reflect on the human condition in our society,” said French Ambassador Nicolas Galey at opening night.
We picked 8 of the 15 films to highlight, not including the 4 local films included as homage to Pinoy cinema.
GIRLHOOD (Bande de Filles)
2014’s Girlhood is about young women of color and how the lives of such minorities, in low-income households, create both a sense of yearning for belonging and an atmosphere of dead end life.
Marieme is a normal, shy 16-year-old student who desires something above than succession of prohibitions that teenage life in the inner city has dealt her—from the casual abuse by her brother, the bullying of neighborhood boys, and the futility of getting a chance for a normal high school life and instead being pushed to trade school by her educators. A chance encounter with the school’s all-black girl gang changes this and soon Marieme is running with her new hood sisters Karamoh, Fily, and Lady, taking lunch Euros from the weak, talking brusquely, and assaulting other girl gangs on the subway.
While First World French girl gangs, even ones in the minority, dress better and are overall less violent in their exploits or petty criminalities, director Céline Sciamma paints an intimate and affecting portrait of Marieme and the teens growing up like her: poor, brimming with love and potential, and also full of ambient outrage and sorrow. Filipino teens will find they have much in common with this French posse ala 2012’s Foxfire.
JUST A BREATH AWAY (Dans la brume) (2018)
Genre: Science fiction
What happens if an earthquake suddenly hits Paris and a deadly fog seeps out of the earth? Yes, folks this is a tight and sharp post-apocalyptic film, albeit on a budget. Don’t let the small production purse fool you though, there’s plenty to dig here and director Daniel Roby makes the most of his French-Canadian funding by making this catastrophe caper a cozy tale of rescue: a mother and father must get their 11 year old daughter out of the hermetic chamber she’s been living in since birth, due to a rare childhood illness.
While the tale is solidly on the shoulders of the excellent Romain Duris (as dad Mathieu) and Olga Kurylenko (as mommy Anna), the film feels a lot more roomier than it is with the collapse of Paris and the effects of the killer gas mirroring that of a Sarin attack. It’s a race against time as their daughter Sarah’s bubble sanctuary run out. It’s solid meat-and-potatoes sci-fi and horror, exciting and watchable enough to hold its head above the fray of these “deadly fog” movies even if in reality the story takes place just inside the family’s apartment and a few blocks of the same street.
THE IDEAL PALACE (L’Incroyable histoire du facteur cheval)
One of three banner films for this year’s film fest, director Nils Tavernier’s 2017 drama is based on the true story of an ordinary mailman who devoted 33 years of his life to build a castle for his daughter. It’s set in Southern France, in 1879, and the real “Ideal Palace” is located in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
Ferdinand Cheval, said rural mail carrier, enjoys long, lonely 20 mile walks as he does his postal rounds, but while daydreaming about a world full of wonder and beauty he sees only through postcards and magazines. A moment of revelation after the birth of his child Alice motivate shim to build a castle to make her a true princess, even if he has zero architectural background. Yes, it’s as wondrously magic realist as it sounds, even if it’s not as entertainingly consistent. But the palace is, as you might surmise from the trailer, truly a sight to behold.
SINK OR SWIM (Le Grand Bain)
Like the Full Monty meets synchronized swimming, don’t watch this if you are averse to seeing dad-bods on-screen. Otherwise, it’s 2 hours of director Gilles Lellouche’s heart-warming, comedic gold about a group of 40-French dudes trying to conquer their respective mid-life crises by banding together and training for their local pool’s first ever synchronized swimming team for men. One of the biggest box office successes in France last year, it’s like the plot of a Filipino comedy with small bikini trunks and plenty of bad cardio except executed with kindness, pathos, and cheeky self-awareness (aka, as well as can be). Who knew the two prongs of teamwork and water skills could lead to the path of recovering much self-esteem?
CUSTODY (Jusqu’à la Garde)
While it’s a run of the mill domestic legal drama, director Xavier Legrand gamely explores how a divorce can fray not only the bonds between a couple but adversely affect the kids in a deep, scathing way. Unflinching and sometimes uncomfortable to watch, the story of how Miriam Besson and Antoine Besson undergo their divorce proceedings and each try to claim custody of their son, Julien, turns as ugly as you please, especially when Miriam claims Antoine has violent episodes towards his kids.
THE FINISHERS (De Toutes nos forces)
Director Nils Tavernier makes no bones about tugging the heartstrings on this one. Marinated in sentimentality and easily relatable, handicapped teen Julien dreams of adventure with his distant and absentee father Paul. Except Julien is confined to a wheelchair. So when Julien prevails on dad for both of them to join the Ironman triathlon in Nice, it’s at once absurd and emotional as it seems (can a handicapped, wheelchair-bound guy even qualify in real life?). But the strong father-son bond can’t be denied and it’s hard not to get teary-eyed rooting for Paul and Julien when they actually participate in the race. Even if the end is predictable, how about this one for the triumph of the human spirit, hmmm?
A PARIS EDUCATION (Mes Provinciales)
While it’s 2 hours and 16 minutes of that rambling and visually elegant French movie about a provincial guy going to Paris to study filmmaking at the Sorbonne, director Jean Paul Civeyrac manages to make the most out of his sprawling commentary on friendship, love, and choosing your artistic battles well. Andranic Manet as Etienne mostly carries this one with his contrasting world weariness and wide-eyed, naïve desire to make the world a better place through art and movies. And talk about all those beautiful Parisian women, who all seem to be enrolled in film school.
VARDA BY AGNES
The weirdest of the bunch and also the only documentary on the festival. Veteran director Agnès Varda’s new, uh, project, claims that intersection between autobiography, dramatized documentary, and her own brand of what she calls “cine-writing” as she travels from Paris to Los Angeles and Beijing. Try to watch this only if you’re feeling adventurous and open. It also helps if you’re familiar with The Beaches of Agnes, Cleo From 5 to 7, Le Bonheur or any of Varda’s playful visions of the French New Wave.
The 24th French Film Festival screens in Metro Manila from June 12 to 18, 2019 at the Bonifacio High Street cinemas & Greenbelt 3 cinemas.
Then the festival goes to the Ayala Center Cebu from June 20 to 22, 2019, in Davao City’s Abreeza Mall from June 28 to 30, 2019, and then in Bacolod City’s Ayala Capitol Central Mall from July 10 to 12, 2019.
Schedules are subject to change.