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THE Alliance Française French Film Festival is the biggest festival of French films outside of France and one of the most intriguing.
And this year, as Philippe Platel, cultural consul at Sydney’s French Consulate, takes over the helm for the first time, there’s even an inadvertent Canberra twist, with two of the inclusions relating to the Palace of Versailles even as the National Gallery of Australia’s “Versailles” exhibition draws the crowds in.
In “Nannerl, the Sister of Mozart”, 14-year-old Nannerl, played by director René Féret’s daughter, Marie, is brilliant but in the shadow of her brother Wolfgang. But she is more lucky in love than her brother and finds both romance and respect through the Dauphin in pre-revolutionary France. And, yes, part of the film was shot at Versailles.
You’d expect that one to be the choice of the Canberra International Music Festival for its special night on March 29, but no, they’ve opted for Benoît Jacquot’s lavish “Farewell, My Queen”, set in Versailles on the eve of the Revolution as Marie Antoinette lavishes intimate attentions upon her personal reader, Sidonie, in a kind of last hurrah.
With nearly 50 films on show this year, Platel is happy to boast that, along with the usual suspects, 17 female directors will be represented and we will see the screen debuts of seven new filmmakers.
As well, he cites an almost Shakespearean list of styles – romance, adventure, comedy, historical tales, thrillers and dramas, loosely divided into 10 sections
The event is presented around the country by the six main Alliances Françaises, with the Embassy of France hovering in the background.
The Canberra season kicks off with “The Odyssey”, in which Audrey Tautou and Lambert Wilson play the Cousteaus of deep-sea fame.
The 2017 line-up includes cinematic giants such as Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche and everyone’s favourites, Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu. But it is the intriguing Isabelle Huppert who has been scoring most of the accolades for her roles in “Things to Come” and “Souvenir”, a romantic comedy where she plays a pâté factory worker hiding a secret past.
An unexpected angle on The Great War is seen in the animation, “Adama”, which shows 12-year-old Adama, whose older brother disappears from their West African village, setting off across Europe to look for him and ending up in the middle of the horrendous Battle of Verdun.
For cinematic buffs the biggest treat will be veteran writer-director Bertrand Tavernier’s “A Journey Through French Cinema”, in which he explores directing from the 1930s up to his own first feature in 1974, “The Clockmaker of St. Paul”.
Platel has not forgotten comedy, so the festival winds up on an hilarious note with writer-director Nadège Loiseau’s debut feature “A Bun in the Oven”, where a reluctant 49-year-old mother-to-be is played by French comedy star Karin Viard.
Alliance Française French Film Festival, March 9-April 4, Palace Electric Cinema, New Acton. Bookings to palacecinemas.com.au