Par Excellence: the IFI French Film Festival 2009

A Prophet

Sarah Griffin gives us the low-down on the IFI’s latest installment of the annual French Film Festival (19–29 November 2009).

The festival opened amid a breakdown in French-Irish relations [Don’t mention the handball! ed.], but cinema has always transcended such concerns, and applause was suitably raucous as the curtain rose on yet another delightful foray into the minds of those purveyors of the magnificent: French filmmakers. The suitably frivolous Micmacs began the festival in merry style, Jean-Pierre Jeunet beguiling and comforting with the same humour, kookiness and ingenuity that so entranced Amelie’s audiences 8 years ago. The scene was set for another year of top-quality film that all too frequently gets relegated to short runs in single cinemas.

The fabulous Yolande Moreau bounces loudly onscreen in Micmacs, but then surprisingly delivered a perfectly nuanced performance in the seven-César-winning Séraphine. An exercise in subtlety and tone, Martin Provost’s lauded characterisation of the titular artist has already garnered a fully-deserved further release, and amazing reviews.

Onwards, then, to a massive programme of festival films to suit any taste. Genres were teased and tasted throughout, and often broken apart and jumbled together. Whilst Someone I Loved heralded a return to melodrama in an exquisitely-told, heartbreaking flight of fancy, Bellamy brought back the detective story (of sorts), with Depardieu as an aging police commissioner caught up in a holiday mystery. American Pie-esque teen-comedy gets an injection of continental fervour with The French Kissers, standard romantic comedy fodder is given a French twist with Emmanuel Mouret’s Please, Please Me!, and even a zombie movie – The Horde – managed to creep into the line-up. Anyone undertaking the annual French Film Festival at the IFI will think twice before making presumptions about the type of film to be screened! The fascinating insights into an unfinished masterpiece from an unquestionable master offered by Henri-George Clouzot’s Inferno sat alongside a finished masterpiece from a burgeoning master, Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet – perhaps the best crime drama of the year. And, of course, no French Film Festival would be complete without the appearance of the wonderful Isabelle Huppert, in an impressively (even for her high standards) engaging role. Her fifth collaboration with director Benoît Jacquot, Villa Amalia tells the story of a woman on the edge, but lends a weight of emotion and mystery to a tale that could otherwise have wallowed in banality.

The closing film aptly marked the 50th anniversary of the French New Wave with a screening from Jacques Rivette, a New Wave director par excellence. In Around a Small Mountain, Rivette’s working method of actor improvisation is given stage a-plenty as the film follows the characters of a small travelling circus around France – their dialogue is suitably theatrical throughout. More of a niche film, it was perhaps not the best option for closing a festival that had offered so much life in terms of cinema, but then again, it does what French cinema has done best for generations: it pushes the boundaries and inspires creativity.

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