IFI French Film Festival: Friday

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Day 2 of the IFI French Film Festival began with the screening of Jean Becker’s My Afternoons with Margueritte (La tête en friche) – a slow-burning tale of friendship and family starring Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus. Depardieu plays Germain, a semi-literate 50-year-old, who lives in a caravan beside his ageing mother who is losing touch with reality. Germain is a figure of fun to his friends in the village and through a series of flashbacks we see what a difficult upbringing he’s had, being chastised by his mother and teachers throughout his youth.

Germain tends his garden and in the afternoon feeds the 19 pigeons he has befriended and named in his local park. It is here that he meets Margueritte, a 96-year-old who introduces him to books by reading aloud to him in the afternoon and encouraging him on his own journey. Their friendship blossoms as her love of literature and words feed his inquisitive mind, which has hitherto lacked stimulation and was never an object of interest. As Germain grows and his life is enriched, the film itself also extends beyond the early flashbacks of his childhood to reveal more about his family.

The two performances raise the film above being merely a sweet, simple story of friendship. Casadesus (a star of stage in France) is remarkable in her role and works with the script in a beautifully naturalistic fashion. Depardieu is in fine form here and harnesses his acting in a spot-on underperformed role that allows his vulnerable and sensitive side to shine through. Together they make the relationship come to life.

Unashamedly sentimental, My Afternoons with Margueritte is a charming affair with a mature script and a big heart.

The festival continued with an evening screening of Chicks (La vie au ranch) – the debut feature from Sophie Letourneur, which is a lively comedy focusing on the social lives of a group of female students. The screening was introduced by Michel Ciment, the famous film critic, who himself is the subject of the documentary Michel Ciment: The Art of Sharing Movies, which screens tomorrow and will be followed by a Q&A with Ciment.

Friday closed with Making Plans for Lena ( Non ma fille, tu n’iras pas danser), Christophe Honoré’s film written specifically for its lead actress Chiara Mastroianni, who plays Lena a mother of two dealing with the break-up of her marriage.

The film is set to screen again on Tuesday, 23rd November at 4.15 pm.

Click here for details of the festival’s programme of events.

Steven Galvin

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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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Two Further IFI French Film Festival Guests Confirmed

Michael House, director of the new documentary The Magnificent Tati will join Jacques Tati’s former assistant (and filmmaker in her own right) Marie-France Siegler for a post-screening panel discussion on Saturday 28th November at 1.45pm.

Julie Lopes-Curval, writer/director of Hidden Diary (Mères et filles) will introduce her film on Friday 27th Nov (6.15pm) and Saturday 28th Nov (7.45pm). This portrait of a dysfunctional family stars Marina Hands, Marie-Josée Croze and Catherine Deneuve.

Full details of the IFI French Film Festival programme are available in a special brochure in the IFI and here: www.ifi.ie

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