IT’S not every day the director of the Alliance Française Film Festival gets a second chance, but so it will be when Philippe Platel oversees the 2020 festival, cancelled because of COVID-19, and resurrected at Palace Electric on Bastille Day.
“That’s a very symbolic date, July 14,” he says of France’s national day, and even more so because, after fulfilling his tour of duty at the French consulate in Sydney, he’s going back to France.
“I’ve been happy with the way the festival has evolved over the four years I’ve been here and even happier to see the resurrection while I’m here,” he says.
“My contract ends at the end of August and I will see the festival through to its rebirth.”
It’s been one of his major tasks, and a big success in his view, with rising attendances around the country.
“The first thing I had to do was to make sure it would be safe to continue, so we put in place very reliable and strict policing of the COVID-19 regulations,” he says.
“The second thing was that there was a time when we didn’t exactly know where we were going and weren’t sure if we would come back because of complexities involving Australian distributors and French agents.”
The festival was refunded for some films, but the decision to reopen created what he calls “an intense financial situation” so that they weren’t able to buy some films back in.
“Maybe we will be able to show some of those next year,” Platel says.
The reborn festival will feature 27 instead of the 49 films originally planned, but as he points out, that’s already a big film festival and anyway, they’re the best 27 films you could possibly see.
“All the big hits are still there, like “The Extraordinary”, set in a Parisian shelter for autistic youth, which would have opened the original festival.”
But now in the new version, they’ve decided to open with “La Belle Époque”, which he says has done very well at the box office.
“We love it,” he says. “It’s a feel-good movie and it feels like a good way of reopening a festival.”
It also features the talents of glamorous French superstar Fanny Ardant, the long-time muse of director Francois Truffaut.
Platel enthuses about the many other wonderful films.
One of his own favourites is “Alice and the Mayor”, in which the jaded mayor of Lyon encounters a young female philosopher – it’s definitely in the feel-good category.
But “In the Name of the Land”, another movie audiences seem to have loved, where a man takes over his father’s farm, feel-good is not the word – “it’s a drama with a very strong leading role,” Platel says.
And the closing film he’s so proud of?
That’s “The Bare Necessity”, a “twisted“ romantic comedy set in the French countryside.
The ubiquitous Fanny Ardant turns up in this one too, yet again as a middle-aged housewife.
“She’s a legend and we are very happy to have this film… and also the very end is one of the most poetic scenes in all the festival. I truly love this film,” he says.
As for the opening date, July 14, it’s perfect.
“It’s the day when we think not merely of the French Revolution but of a humanistic message… I think it’s a very strong message to open the festival on Bastille Day.
“We are still alive, we are resilient, we are happy again.”
The revised Alliance Française Film Festival is at Palace Electric cinemas, NewActon, from July 14 to August 4, bookings at affrenchfilmfestival.org