Last year I saw seven French films, all at the DCA in Dundee. This was not due to any particular love of French cinema. Just that more French films get shown at the DCA than any other foreign – non English language – films. The DCA is quite good at showing foreign language films, but there is no doubt that French films predominate. They even have a dedicated French film festival. Which I managed to miss, unfortunately. Not sure why so many more French films are shown. There seems to be a lively and successful film industry in many other countries around the world.
Anyway, I enjoyed all the seven French films I did see last year. Though of course some were more enjoyable than others. I have picked out four contrasting films as my French film highlights from 2011.
Little White Lies (Les Petits Mouchoirs) is a delightful, though dark comedy, written and directed by Guillaume Canet. The film focusses on the lives and relationships of a group of friends during their annual holiday in beautiful, sun-drenched Cap Ferret in south west France. What makes this holiday different is that they have left one of their group in a Paris hospital trying to recover after a serious injury, which proves in the end to be fatal. This decision to leave their friend alone in Paris is the catalyst for a dramatic chain of reactions and emotional responses which brings into the open the many little lies that have previously remained hidden. This is a beautifully filmed film with beautiful locations and a cast full of French beauties. It is also beautifully acted with great ensemble performances from François Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Benoït Magimel and Gilles Lellouche in particular.
Farewell (L’Affaire Farewell) is a spy film based on a true story about the leaking of Soviet intelligence to the French government. Sergei Grigoriev works for the Soviet Secret Service, but has become disillusioned by the Soviet system. He wants to bring the system down in the hope of securing a better future for his country. A Francophile, he hopes to achieve this by leaking secrets to the French. The man selected for his contact is Pierre Froment a French businessman who is often in Moscow. Set in the early 1980s mainly in Moscow, the film concentrates on the personal relationship between Sergei and Pierre and how this high risk spying affects their families. This is a very different kind of spy film with little in the way of high powered action. Instead, director Cristian Carion has given us a slow paced drama which keeps us engrossed from start to finish. Great, understated performances from Guillaume Canet (director of LIttle White Lies) as Pierre and Emir Custarica as Sergei. The two leads are well supported by the rest of the cast which includes some well know American actors in some of these secondary roles.
Point Blank (À Bout Portant) is a very fast paced action thriller. Set in Paris the film is directed and co-written by Fred Cavayé. The film is pretty much carried by its main lead, Gilles Lellouche, who plays a most unlikely hero – Samuel Pierret, a trainee male nurse who is forced into action to save the life of his pregnant wife, played by Elena Anaya. Hugo Sartet is also very good as Roschdy Zem, the criminal whom Samuel is forced to help. As with many thrillers, the plot is not the key to the film. Rather we are swept along by the non-stop action which is pretty brutal most of the time. Nevertheless we are always confident that there will eventually be some kind of happy ending. The Goodies usually win in the end.
Mademoiselle Chambon is a delicate and tender exploration of the power of sexual attraction. Set in some town in the provinces, the film revolves around the slow burning mutual attraction between Jean, a house builder, and his son’s teacher, Véronique Chambon. The complicating factor is that Jean is married. Though they are clearly attracted to each other, both are reluctant to consumate their passion. So instead of a series of sex scenes, we are offered a sequence of meetings, apparently innocuous, but nevertheless imbued with a subtle eroticism. Both of the main characters are somewhat enigmatic. Jean is a rough and ready working class builder, but is clearly aroused by Véronique’s simple sophistication expressed through her violin playing. Véronique is even more enigmatic. She is middle-aged, unmarried and never seems to stay in the same teaching post for more than one year. Two slightly kooky people who unexpectedly find a passion for each other. We are kept in suspense as to how this passion will end, right up to very last scene. Directed by Stéphane Brizé who gets impressive performances from the two leads – Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain.