The West

Quai D'Orsay. Picture: Supplied

This year's Alliance Francaise French Film Festival contains the usual line-up of intense dramas, passionate romances, frothy comedies, pulse-quickening real-life adventures, penetrating documentaries, edge-of-the-seat thrillers and a rare example from a genre that barely exists in France - the political movie.

The political process has been grist for the mill for American movies and television since the days of Frank Capra and even the Danes are getting in on the act with the very good series Borgen. However, French cinema has largely steered clear of goings-on in the Elysee Palace and beyond.

Veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier made the observation to me several years ago during a visit to Perth for a previous AFFF, arguing that his colleagues had avoided politics for fear of giving offence to those who make decisions about the heavily taxpayer-funded film industry.

Rather than continue to complain Tavernier has now made his own political comedy, Quai D'Orsay, a Preston Sturges-inspired farce about a bumptious, blustery, self-regarding foreign minister modelled on Dominique de Villepin, the aristocratic statesman who delivered the famous speech to the United Nations against the invasion of Iraq.

Curiously, one of the stars of the film is Julie Gayet, the blonde bombshell who is reportedly having an affair with President Francois Hollande. Hopefully, it will be a case of life imitating art.

The fast-paced, zinger-filled Quai D'Orsay has had terrific reviews and should be one of the highlights of this year's French Film Festival, which in its 25th year should continue its exponential growth to become the most ardently patronised event of its kind in Australia.

Also high on the must-see list is the latest from Roman Polanski, Venus in Fur, an adaptation David Ives' Broadway hit that itself incorporates the 1870 Austrian novel by "the "Danube bondage buff" Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. According to one review Venus in Fur features lovely performances from Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric and a wonderfully light touch from Polanski, who seems to thrive on claustrophobic psycho-sexual dramas like this.

Also sure to be of major interest is Camille Claudel 1915, in which incomparable Juliette Binoche plays the troubled turn-of-the- century sculptress who was committed to an asylum following her affair with fellow artist Auguste Rodin.

It is a challenging work in which Binoche gives a riveting performance, according to reviews.

Binoche's rival as France's greatest actress, Isabelle Huppert, returns to the AFFF in a much lighter mood in Folies Bergere, in which she plays a jaded empty-nester from a rural area who sets off for Paris under the guise of a doctor's appointment and sets about reinvigorating her life.

Female midlife crisis is also the subject of Domestic Life, in which the wonderful Emmanuelle Devos plays a dissatisfied mother from the suburbs who hooks up with a group of equally unhappy friends in what has been described as a Gallic Desperate Housewives.

While this year's AFFF is the usual showcase of contemporary French productions, real film buffs look forward to the retrospective screenings, such as last year's dazzling Children of Paradise.

This year the focus shifts to Francois Truffaut, arguably the most beloved of all French directors who died at the tragically young age of 52 in 1984.

We'll be seeing The 400 Blows, one of the films that kicked off the French New Wave; the giddy romance Jules and Jim and Finally, Sunday!, which stars Fanny Ardant and Jean-Louis Trintigant, who was so magnificent in Michael Haneke's Amour.

The West Australian

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