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Some of France’s leading filmmakers and actors are assembled in the 2008 programme curated for Alliance Francaise by Jean-Jacques Garnier, the biggest in the Festival’s 19-year history, with 38 films, 36 of which have never before screened in Australia, reports Andrew L. Urban, like Opening Night film, the appropriately titled, Paris.

Cedric Klapisch (When The Cat’s Away, The Spanish Apartment, Russian Dolls) has assembled a top cast - Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, François Cluzet, Albert Dupontel, Karin Viard and Mélanie Laurent - for his latest film, Paris, which opens this year's Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. (Not to be confused with last year’s Inside Paris, dir. Christoph Honoré, which also stars Romain Duris…)

Duris plays Pierre, a young man unexpectedly confronted with his own mortality. For the next 24 hours, his tour through the city will weave with those of his beloved sister, his neighbours (some known, some not), their friends and workmates, and their interconnected stories of love, familial bonds, loneliness and compassion.

"a world away"

It’s a world away from one of the other highly anticipated films in the fest, The Dinner Guest, a lighthearted comedy from director Laurent Bouhnik, starring Thierry Lhermitte, Valérie Lemercier and the iconic Daniel Auteuil. The film is neither a remake or any other relative of Francis Veber’s The Dinner Game; the only connection is the presence of Thierry Lhermitte in both, but Lhermitte appears in dozens of movies.

Unemployed for three years, the hapless Gerard (Auteuil) has landed a job in Indonesia. Gerard’s new boss somehow invites himself to dinner but as Gerard’s wife Colette (Lemercier) has no culinary skills, and their apartment is a mess, the impending event is a terrifying notion. But then suave neighbour Alexandre (Lhermitte) offers to give their place a makeover and even help with the dinner – a rather over-sophisticated menu. Things don’t go smoothly, though, and after a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, Gérard and Colette open their door and welcome
their dinner guest…or is it?

A Secret, which was a critical and box office success in France last year, is adapted by Claude Miller from Philippe Grimbert’s autobiographical novel. It’s the story of a Jewish family in post-war Paris, told through the eyes of a frail but intelligent young boy who senses something is amiss with his beautiful parents (Cécile De France & Patrick Bruel). Also stars Julie Depardieu, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric and Yves Jacques.

"another secret"

And another secret … one of the most outstanding and critically acclaimed French films of the year, The Secret of the Grain, comes from celebrated director Abdellatif Kechiche, whose L’esquive stormed the Cesars in 2005, winning four awards including Best Film. This new drama - a touching and resoundingly humanistic story set in a small harbour in the south-east of France - cements his reputation. It also won the Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Venice Film Festival.

One of my favourite French actresses, Emmanuelle Devos (see her in Read My Lips, for example) stars in Jérôme Bonnel’s J’attends Quelqu’un (Waiting for Someone), a film full of superb performances (Jean-Pierre Darrousin, Sylvain Dieuaide, Eric Cavaraca) and observations about human nature. Set in a small French town, where the divorced Louis (Darrousin) who runs the local bar, is paying for sex with the local friendly hooker. Devos plays Agnes, Louis’ sister, a teacher married to Jean-Philippe (Caravaca).

One day a young man from her past (Dieuaide) who hides a dark secret turns up in town . . . The film explores these characters whose lives intersect. You’ll be hooked from the opening scene - well, second scene to be precise.

In 2007, the Festival attracted nearly 70,000 attendees to the event’s 333 sessions, with almost 80% of the 2007 audience consisting of Australian viewers. The 2008 fest features a greatly expanded program and more venues.

Waiting for Someone; The Secret of the Grain

Editor’s Note: For the first time, Tefal, the world-leader in non-stick cookware, will be the Festival’s major sponsor. It seems quite appropriate that a cookware specialist sponsor a French film festival – a degustation of movies, if you like ...

Published February 28, 2008

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SYDNEY: 5-19 March
Palace Academy, Palace Verona & Palace Norton Street

MELBOURNE: 6-19 March
Palace Como, Palace Balwyn & Palace Westgarth

CANBERRA: 20-30 March
Greater Union Manuka

BRISBANE: 20-30 March
Palace Centro

The Dinner Guest

The Secret

ADELAIDE: 27 March - 6 April
Palace Nova Eastend

PERTH: 27 March - 6 April
Cinema Paradiso

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