It was 1992 when a small film festival first appeared in two Scottish cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow celebrating the rich cinematic tradition of our Gallic neighbours. Fast forward to 2012, and the French Film Festival is now one of the UK’s most enduring and exciting film festivals. Major cities across the UK such as Manchester, Bristol and London are now participating in this fête that showcases the best offerings of francophone cinema’s past, present and future – and for its twentieth anniversary, the FFF has assembled a typically eclectic list of films that will undoubtedly entertain cineastes of all ages.
Opening this year’s festival with the latest cinematic adventures of Astérix and Obélix,was undoubtedly a crowd-pleasing choice. Uderzo and Goscinny’s comic characters are much loved by generations of readers who grew up with the stories about the little Gallic village that resisted the roman occupation and the previous four film adaptations were all box-office hits. Add to this the exciting premise behind the title of the new entry in the franchise – Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia – and the intriguing casting of legendary actress Catherine Deneuve in the role of the Queen of England and you have a definite winner.
Ducoboo is also based on a popular comic series whose titular character is an eleven-year-old dunce who finds inventive ways to cheat during school exams but always gets caught in the end. For the definite capture of children’s mischiefs however, look no further than War of the Buttons, the latest film adaptation of the classic novel by Louis Pergaud about two rival kid gangs in a little village of post-war France who cut off the buttons from the clothes of their adversaries and keep them as combat trophies.
Various films in this year’s FFF reminds us French cinema’s knack for producing delightful and sophisticated romantic films. Happiness Never Comes Alone (pictured) offers the winning combo of the sublime beauty of Sophie Marceau and the timeless soulful melodies of classic Motown hits, while Paris- Manhattan is a love letter to the genius of Woody Allen. A hopelessly romantic pharmacist is obsessed with the works and general philosophy of the New York auteur and much like the typical Woody character, she is unlucky in love. As for My Worst Nightmare, the names behind and in front of the camera (the film is directed by Anne Fontaine, responsible for BAFTA-nominated Coco Before Chanel, and stars Isabelle Huppert, winner of two Best Actress awards at Cannes) should be enough to attract every cinephile’s interest.
Mathieu Kassovitz, whose uncompromising film La Haine still lingers in the mind of everyone who’s seen it, returns with Rebellion that tackles another controversial subject, the 1988 Ouvéa cave hostage taking incident. Elsewhere, the fest sees The Minister, another gripping political thriller. Having won 2 Cesar awards (for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor) as well as the 2011 FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, it should make for essential viewing.
The FFF not only highlights the extremely healthy and exciting state of contemporary French cinema but also reminds us about its glorious past. The whimsical universe of Jacques Demy is celebrated with the screening of five of his most beautiful films (the academy award nominated musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is his most famous work but Bay of Angels is arguably his finest masterpiece). Then there are two bonafide classics that you do not see often on the big screens: Georges Franju’s atmospheric horror film Eyes Without a Face and René Clément’s extremely touching Forbidden Games. Finally, there is Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, the 1902 film that is regarded by many as the first ever science fiction film and whose use of state-of-the-art effects paved the way for all those Hollywood’s special effect-heavy blockbusters like Star Wars and Avatar – another example of how something small can grow up into something huge. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)
The 20th French Film Festival UK runs until December 2nd 2012 in various cities across the UK. For more information go to www.frenchfilmfestival.org.uk/FFF2012